Saturday, January 31, 2015

From the Desk of a Writer Whose Computer is Fried....

A writer writes.  But now I have a box that holds all these stories, but isn't a place from which I can share them.  Currently, I'm waiting for the magicians at Best Buy to give me back the words I put on that machine before it died.  But there's a fear at least in this writer, because writing has to do more than put words on the page.  It has to give the reader a sense of something; beauty, truth, drama, emotional satisfaction, a trip into imagination, something.  

Having spent the past year working on a novel that seems no closer to being finished and yet gets longer, I now have to consider, what to do with it.  What does Penelope promise?  I don't know.  Ergo, I can't finish.   I have to know the answer to finish the book.

How do you promise a something when you don't know what you're doing?  You can't.  

Many a day, I sit down and don't know before I sit down, what will pour out onto the page. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it is poetry, but lately, all the creative waters feel still. That stillness scares me, because I remember how I used to draw all the time. Every notepad had sketches, and even the essay tests were illustrated in the margins. Drawing allowed me to relax, to think,
 and to escape when I didn't want to think or feel. I could just pour everything into the pencil until all of it ran out.
Then one day I sat outside my New York apartment and watched the sunset. Drawing the skyline, halfway through, I felt the end of art in my hand. I stopped drawing because I didn't need to find whatever it was I'd sought in the world of lines and shapes and color, I'd found real people and the two dimensional world available at my fingertips no longer resonated. I put away the pad, and while I've tried from time to time to draw again, everything I put on the paper feels as if it was already said, already done, by a younger and more needy me.
I also play the piano, but quit lessons after high school. The art in my fingers feels the same way as the piano. I have skill, but the same pieces come out, and attempts to learn new ones do not get very far.
So now writing, every day I go to the well, and worry about the day this font runs dry. Will my fingers one day rebel? Will my mind one day announce, you have no new stories to tell, find something else?

That's the fear when you don't have the ending.   

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Small Success Thursday

It's Thursday, so you'll find my latest musings over at, come over and visit!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Over at Eat Sleep Write!

Today's humor involves Christmas, writing and toddlers. Who could ask for more?
Check it out over at Eat Sleep Write!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten Signs You're in the Process of Potty Training....

10) There are M&M's in the freezer for more than one day.  (I've made the error of preemptively consuming the prize when in the midst of potty training and boy does that conversation with the toddler go down hill fast).  This is chocolate I am not even VAGUELY tempted to eat.

9) Endzone dances after success are allowed, though I try to shorten them.  It's quite a treat to hear "I did it. I did it. Yeah Oh Yeah Oh Yeah!" through the bathroom door.

8) She says after one accident, "I want to quit." and you have to summon your inner "Nothing is over until we say it's over" motivational speech.

7) Every errand gets weighed based on how long you will be out, and whether there is an acceptable bathroom available for emergency needs. The answer is always no.  Stay home.

6) You offer the equivalent of The Price is Right Showcase Showdown for said child to be okay with going to a bathroom away from home.  The answer is always no.  And then a demand for payment.

5) Any dreams of reducing the budget by the cost of a case of diapers is drowned by the need to perpetually purchase new five packs of underoos for the weeks of training.

4) The scream, "I need to go." heard anywhere in the house leads to instant racing to get said child to the facilities. Anyone attempting to usurp the favored bathroom of the potty trainee, shall be evicted without mercy.

3) Diaper bags are back with a vengeance.  They include an entire new ensemble for the potty training child, and a spare set of pants for Mom just in case said potty training toddler was sitting on her lap at the time.

2) Every other kid who hoped to cash in on training the child to use the bathroom steps forward to claim credit.

1)  You haven't left the house in 8 days and may be suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency in addition to a loss of sanity, as you say to your daughter with a straight face, "Do you want your Frozen (TM) underwear?" and only afterwards think about what that could mean.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mrs. Alford

The first home I remember was the home on Estate drive. It had a great smooth carport for rollerskating. We'd put on the record player outside and spend the morning perfecting tricks like "water skiing" by tying a jump rope to a tricycle. Our next door neighbor gave us clothes pins to attach cards to the spokes to make it even cooler.
Mrs. Alford had snow white hair perfectly shaped to look just like "Dear Abby's." When it rained, (which was often in Beaumont, Texas, flood capital of the Southeast) she'd wear a plastic triangle shaped hankerchief over her hair. She was for me, an extra grandmother who taught us how to play checkers and listened to my brother and me practice our beginner piano pieces. She taped pictures we colored on her refrigerator and gave out full sized chocolate bars at Halloween.
I loved her except when we'd have to stay through lunch, because she never had peanut butter and jelly and the only drink in the house was ice water or tea. She'd make cookies for us, but they were always cinnamon, never chocolate chip.
We'd sit in the back yard in folding chairs and she'd teach us about the different birds. Sometimes she'd let us put birdseed in the feeders and throw peanuts to the squirrels. She could even get them to come up close. We never could.
Mrs. Alford owned a blind deaf boring dog named Pearl (One eye looked like a pearl) and a cat named White. (It was white). One day we found a puppy which she adopted and named Brandy. Brandy had more life than Pearl, but soon mellowed under Pearl's tutelage and didn't even chase the squirrels. My brother and I worked to no avail to teach Brandy to chase sticks, it just meant we got to pick up a lot of tree branches in her back yard.
Life at her house seemed set to a different speed. Her husband biked to work every week day. They owned a television but I never once saw it turned on. As a kid, I wondered if she ever went swimming or rode a roller coaster. She always let us into the house, but it also always felt like I'd entered a library or a church. Even the air felt settled, stilled. She'd give us coloring books and those Highlights magazines to read. Sometimes I loved it. Sometimes it felt too slow, too still, and I wondered if she ever wore anything red or if anyone ever shouted. Even candles in her home, burned slowly, with no drip and no rush. She had a quiet interior life, I knew it held a deep stillness I'd never known. I found it both attractive and at times, terrifying. I didn't know how to explain it except to say, I loved her, but knew I could not be that still, ever.
But when we moved, I found I missed the quiet next door neighbor whose back yard was always open to us, and biked over at least a few times a year to say "Hi." She bought boxes of chocolate almonds and wrapping paper when we'd knock on the door. She gave me a framed picture of a rose I drew when I was six for a wedding gift.  She saved things, treasured the memories held in things.

"How is Sherry?" she'd ask if she ran into my mom.  Whenever I'd get reports, I could smell the hint of cinnamon and see the card table with a knit tablecloth over it, and the little wooden figurines, a little dutch boy and girl salt and pepper shakers. Mrs. Alford would tell me not to play with them but I always did.
The other day Mom called to say Mrs. Alford died, and I felt the stillness of her home, of her memory grow stiller still and went to the kitchen. I took out a jar of cinnamon spice and sniffed it, and put birdseed on the grocery list for the weekend.

Pray for her soul, and for all those who miss her.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Back to Comedy

Today's piece is over at Eat Sleep Write, but my original source material may be finally maturing such that these sorts of gems may become a thing of the past.  That's right, Day 4 of a 4 year old potty training, and now, Mr. Paul is showing signs that diapers may finally get off the grocery list.  It may be premature but I'll celebrate anyway!

Yes.  1000 people singing Ode to Joy is not too over the top. I've been diapering kiddos without a break since 1993.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

If You Can't March Today

Today is the March for Life in Washington, DC.  I believe all human life is precious, from conception to natural death.  Right now, hundreds of thousands are braving the cold to walk from the mall to the Supreme Court, witnessing and praying for all who suffer the wounds of abortion, and for all those who died because of abortion.  

Even if you cannot march, today you can do something to stand up for life.    I used the number 42 because the decision which made abortion the law of the land happened 42 years ago today.

42) Call your mother.  She accepted you sight unseen.  She said "Yes."
41) Pray a rosary for the unborn and for pregnant mothers.
40) Make a donation of clothing or goods to a local pregnancy crisis shelter.
39) Join your local 40 Days for Life..
38) Fast for the day from something.
37) Make a holy hour.
36) Donate to the Priests for Life, Sisters of Life,, or Good Counsel Homes..
35) Lobby your legislators.   Find your Senators or Representatives.
34) Read "Horton Hears a Who" to your children.
33) Hug your children.
32) Reach out to a friend or family member who is pregnant or a new mom, invite them out to lunch.
31) Bring food to a pantry program.
30) Go to mass.
29) Read Abby Johnson's Unplanned..
28) Tweet the Pope's "Every life is a gift."
27) Consider adoption.
26) Pray before a clinic.
25) Visit someone who can't get out, offer assistance.
24) Register to vote.
23) Join the pro-life ministry in your parish.
22) Read Humane Vitae. (It's short).
20) Read the decision and the dissent of Roe vs. Wade.  Know that the original Roe, now opposes abortion.
19) Read today's readings.
18) Witness to life with your own family.
17) Read Jeremiah's 1:5 "Before I formed you..."
16) Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for those who practice abortion/run the clinics.
15) Discuss this issue with friends.
14) Reflect on the number of people lost world wide as a result of abortion, and then multiply that number by three, to get the number of families scarred by the culture of death.
13) Put a Pro-life sticker on the back of your car.
12) Volunteer in homes for those suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia.
11) Become part of Special Olympics. 90% of those diagnosed with Down Syndrome are terminated in the womb.  Those who survive the rubicon of the womb need our support.
10) Pray to the Blessed Mother, no one understands the impact of saying "Yes" to life more than she,
9) Look at pictures of ultrasounds.
8) Read the stories of Be Not Afraid.
7)  Go to EWTN or Guadalupe Radio to find out what pro-life events are in your area.
6) Study the apologetics of being Pro-life.  Here's one of my favorites: Peter Kreeft.  I just gave you one of his gems. He has more beautiful thoughtful writing at that sight.
5) Follow Jill Stanek.  She's a nurse, she testified about infants being left to die after botched abortions, and stays on top of the political and cultural issues that are pro-life.
4) Get involved in the Susan B Anthony list, an activist group that works to educate both the public and the politicians about pro-life issues.
3) Support programs that help the poor.  I'm partial to Catholic Charities. Poverty is a pro-life issue.  We aren't just about the unborn, we're about life.  Being pro-life means we want to help all out there with the hard business of living.  
2) Watch a pro-life movie.  Some of the more recent possibilities include The Drop Box, Juno, Life is Beautiful, The Giver, Amazing Grace, August Rush, Bella, Children of Men.  I got some of the list from Students for Life.
1) Look for and share articles about the March for Life, they're somewhat rare. The running gag is that 200,000-near 500,000 pro-life ninjas take over the streets of Washington DC every January 22nd. You can watch those masters of stealth witness to life at 12 noon today on C-Span.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rabbit Questions

"God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this."  --Pope Francis

Like Simcha Fisher, I don't tend to get worked up over the Pope's words off the cuff, I presume the Pope was trying to make a distinction; it didn't quite work as the Catholic internet exploded.  Rabbits, Rabbits,  RabbitsRabbits.   Most seemed to understand the Pope's comments to be about how we're not merely creatures, we're not merely breeders, we're supposed to be open to life, but the demand isn't for every family to be the same.  I thought I'd ignore the great lupine battle of our time, but it kept popping up in all the places I frequent.  

So I read the full text of the Pope's interview.

I paused when he talked about a woman expecting her eighth, and having had multiple c-sections "tempting" God.  My brain started churning on things, on questions I'd pose to Pope Francis, if I had the luxury of time to just talk with him about this sort of thing. 

Because these are the sorts of questions that don't come up in NFP classes or pretty much anywhere.  

People who follow the teaching of the church have limited licit options if they are married; abstinence, NFP, and other charting methods for monitoring fertility.  Even being open to life, those practicing NFP occasionally misread, misinterpret, or in the moment, ignore or forget when it is a fertile time in the cycle.  
These misreads or missteps or errors in judgment about when it is a fertile or infertile time to engage in licit sex can lead to children. 

At that moment, the woman and man, if they follow the church, must accept the gift from God of the new person's existence.   It happens. It happens often.  It is part of why much of the world has rejected NFP, because they don't want to have to rely on their own wills to limit family size.  It's not fool proof, and love often makes us fools.   Having done NFP for now going on 18 years, I can say, it's 90% successful, but we still have ten kids from that 10%.  

It's not that we wanted to have a big family, we were simply welcoming when we received the gift of children, (sometimes more gracefully than other times), but they're all wonderful, they're all miracles.  They each teach us different lessons, and together, they keep driving us deeper into communion with God, and each other.  

If the family is the domestic church, then we simply have a bigger parish than most but each parish is designed to bring all of its members to Christ.  Were we tempting God by being open to life?  If we were, it was unintentional, in that neither my husband nor I thought, forget my health issues, let's have a van full of kids!  

Perhaps a better way of approaching this subject would have been to teach in the Marriage Preparation course and the Confirmation course about the discernment process itself.   Perhaps we should be reminded that as adult married Catholics that we're required to be fully integrated in our faith, to attempt to align our faith with reason and desire, and that it might require sacrifice.  Sometimes, even great sacrifice.   

But what is that sacrifice?  And how do we know if it is God's will?

The big question broke down into these smaller ones.

1)  Since all children are gifts from God, all souls are intended.  While that doesn't mean "breed like rabbits," it does mean, accept what you receive, cooperate with God's will (being open to life).  If we accept these two things as truth, isn't what your family size is as  result, theoretically whether you engaged in a rigorous cost/analysis of your family life or not, God's will?

2) How does one discern "tempting" versus "trusting?"  I say that not because I want to be a jerk.  Being open to life does not mean you must have children, only that you must be welcoming to children.  What circumstances or moral judgment makes the act of being willing to have children "tempting God?"   

3) The third question stems from some of the conversations spawned by discussion of the Pope's remarks.  Whenever the subject of big families come up, there are comments about the down side of having many children.  Stories of children in large families feeling neglected or of kids leaving the faith because the life of their parents seemed too hard, or tales of the children becoming estranged because they didn't get enough attention or discipline or love from Mom and Dad, make me worry.   

In fairness, I have diaries expressing these very fears dating back to 1997, when we were expecting our third.   One of the comforts or consolations I take in the process of parenting this large family, is the belief that God will make this possible even if I've mucked it up, because the only way it is possible, is with God.  I know I will muck it up but I also know, God's grace will make this possible despite me.  

Which brings me to my third question.  What would the Pope would have us do, if we have in the past "tested God" and thus failed, and therefore have more children than we would if we discerned, or what should be expected of those who for whatever reason, do not have discerning temperaments? 

One last thing, I love this pope and trust his deep love of this Church, of the whole flock he's been asked to shepherd.  I have no problem with him being the Pope, nor is my faith shaken.

 It doesn't mean I don't have questions.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

At the Catholic Standard today

I have a piece covering the Vigil mass at St. Cyprian's in Washington, DC.  If you have the opportunity to see the Archdiocesan of Washington DC Catholic Gospel Choir, stop what you are doing and go hear them sing.  

Write up of the mass is here. Thanks for going to read it!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Honest Political Slogans

The year 2016 is already looking like a clunker season for political candidates, with no fresh new faces, only those who have run before, and now think by process of elimination, it must be their time. Because none of these candidates have won in the past on their own gravitas or election savvy, I feel it my patriotic duty as a citizen to offer the following election slogans to participants from both parties to use as a means of creating a viral and virtual connection with the disaffected voting public.  It's the least I can do.

10) The Recycled Campaign...reduce, reuse, recycle....Me!

9) Second Chances: I'm running again....because last time, you made a mistake.

8) The Princess Bride Appeal: Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.

7) Cable Argument: I'm the Candidate You Settle For, Because no one else is worth watching more.

6) Pre-Owned Car Model; Only Used by One Election, Mileage in the mid 50-60's. Make an offer.

5) Same Difference: Will Your Life Improve Under the Other Candidate's Rule? Depends....How Much did You Donate?

4) Casablanca Rule: You'd probably despise me if you gave me any thought, because you object to the type of business I do. But through ways of my own, I help. Don't mind a parasite, just object to the cut rate one.

3) Red Rover Red Rover, There's No One Else to Come have to pick me!

2) The Moral argument....In some cases, I'm the lesser of two evils.

1) Hey! I'm Bought and Paid For By Corporations You Like!

Feel inspired...I do. Please remember me when you take hold of power, I'm thinking an appointment to be ambassador to Malta might be appropriate compensation.

(This concludes this week's exercise in cynicism.  We now return to normal humor parameters).  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Small Success Thursday

Please take a break from worrying about the Pope saying he'd punch anyone who insults his mom to count your blessings over at!  I figure, Saint Nicholas took down a heretic with a good right cross, so we're okay.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Progress Report...

For 2015, I resolved to get in shape.  You can read about my adventures at the gym over at Eat Sleep Write!

P.S. Mom, I promise, I didn't really eat that for breakfast.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Be Ready at All Times

Two visitors from a local chapter of a national church that makes home visits came by last week. The young women wanted to give me some encouraging words of scripture.

I said, "Sure."

One woman produced her bible. "These are from Saint James."
"Saint James?" I asked.

"Really? Because if you want encouragement from the New Testament, Saint James is really not your best choice."

"You read the bible?"  They smiled but looked surprised.
"Yes. As Saint Jerome says, "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of God."

"Who is Saint Jerome?"  She asked.
Grateful I'd just recently read a piece on him, I answered.  "He's a doctor of the Church, born around 342 AD."
One of the ladies began to feel a bit nervous and backed away.
"What religion are you?" the other asked.  She seemed excited to have this conversation.

"Catholic.  Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas right now. Like the lights?" Three of my smaller ones came running by the door.  They were singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." and holding dinosaurs, sheep from the Nativity scene and My Little Ponies.

She smiled. The other one took the opportunity."We don't celebrate Christmas..." but her friend jumped in,  "Can I ask you?  I've always wanted to know what the 12 days were."

"Oh.  That's a either French or English carol, depending upon who you ask, and some say it's a means of secretly passing along the catechism of Catholicism from a time when it was illegal in places like England to be Catholic.  There's dispute about it, and I'm not super up to speed.  I know the partridge in the pear tree is Christ on the Cross. But we do celebrate Christmas from December 25th through the feast of the Epiphany." I wished I could give her more, but I didn't know enough to answer.

She nodded.  "Cool." and as an afterthought asked, "Would you like to read some of the writings about our Church?" holding out a pamphlet.

"No thanks. I write that kind of stuff myself, for a Catholic publication."  She asked for my name and as they left, she admired the Christmas decorations.

I'm thinking, if she leaves their church, they'll take our address off the list for places to visit.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!