Friday, December 30, 2016

Over at Today

I have a piece discussing inviting a Saint to walk with you in the coming year.  This past year, I helped contribute to the Catholic Mom Prayer Companion, a collection of 365 short reflections designed to give the reader a moment to catch her breath and pray.   Because the book is entitled, the Catholic Mom Prayer Companion, I thought it a great idea to have a companion for engaging in the year of prayer.  Hence, I suggested turning to Jen Fulwiller's Saint Generator. 

If you'd like to read the story over at, Walk with a Saint, it will explain what a Saint Generator is, and why you might want to give it a try.  It's fun.

As 2016 is winding down, I thought back and realized, I did make some of my goals this year.

1) I lost seven pounds.  I probably gained two back from the past two days of food, but it's still progress.   I also ran in two 5K's.

2) I read 12 books.  (One a month).  Working to make it two a month in the coming year.

3) Wrote 32 pieces that got published somewhere for pay. (A new high).  

4) Got a job.

Have a great time preparing for the new year, I'm going to make my annual overly ambitious list of things I want to do.

What are my goals for 2017?

1) Lose 10 more pounds.

2) Read 24 books.

3) Write 52 pieces that get published for pay.

4) Grow at my job.

5)  Learn a piece of music a month.  (It's to stretch me). 

6) Reconnect more with family and friends.

7)  Redevelop my prayer life.  (The Saint I got through the Saint Generator is planning to help me).

Have a great last day of 2016!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Small Success Thursday

If you're wondering where that feature of this blog went to the past three weeks, it wasn't that it got eaten by the holidays.  Small Success Thursday is supposed to be a means for people to interact and encourage one another in addition to being a moment of reflection on all the blessings of the past week.  However, we never got the participation in the link-ups we hoped.  People don't have always have the time to write a post about their comings and goings and spiritual victories.  So, to faciliate people being able to contribute to Small Success Thursday, we moved it to's Facebook page. 

While I know how to link a blog to Facebook, the reverse is more tricky.  So I've attached a link to's page, and you'll have to scroll down to read the rest of it.   If you're not a member of Facebook, I don't know that you can comment, but you read this blog so you can post comments here if you wish.  It now has a handy dandy hashtag too.  #smallsuccess.   If you use twitter, you can post your stuff there too.   (I am not a twitter officinado). I have one.  I just don't quite get it.  

Here's a sampling of the past two weeks if you missed Small Success Thursday...the posts are related so you might enjoy the sequence of events. I did.  

Week 1.  Small Success Thursday "Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home," was the translation I heard in the back row where we sat for this past Sunday's Mass. We have a prayer table. We have three nativity sets set up, and a framed picture of the blessed mother in my kitchen. How could I be afraid to take Mary into my home?

This week.

Small Success: She Means it.

Last week, I wrote about rediscovering the need to pray the rosary, and my attempt to put that devotion to Mary back into my life. Christmas happened and we got sick with the stomach flu and my good intentions which started so promisingly last week lay languishing. However, as I recovered and returned to normal life, I began to consider how I'd wasted an opportunity to pray. Prayers when we are ill, are a sacrifice, because when you are sick, ...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

One of Those...

We've all had them, and as a society, we refused to speak of them.  Hence, there are no television specials or songs which remind us of the gory details of those Christmases.

I speak of the years when everybody gets sick.

We've eaten dinner, opened presents, phoned the parents and maybe dug into some of the pile of sweets left in the stockings when somebody says, "My stomach hurts."  Everyone pauses.  We all know what this could mean, but we all lie.  "It's probably because you ate too much."  "Or been up since four."  "And we stayed up late last night, don't forget that."  There are reassurances all around.  It's nothing.  Absolutely nothing.   Until the child in question throws up.  

After the scramble to clean up the mess and scrub down the bathroom, everyone knows, it's a matter of time and still, we repeat the fib for it's ever failing comfort.   "That was exciting." "Hope that doesn't happen again."  The next soul whose stomach doesn't feel great, doesn't feel they should mention it, and suggests everyone should shower up and get to bed.  

By two in the morning, three more people are down.  Everyone left knows the drill. Scrub your hands, wipe down everything and don't eat.  Whatever you do, DON'T EAT.    Alas, we've already eaten.   Doom approaches.  

In the dawn's early light, the body count now stands at seven, leaving one parent, one college student and three of the four youngest.  Even worse, Mom is down.  The victims park themselves with pots and blankets in the middle room, occasionally moaning or begging for ginger ale.  The surviving members of the family wipe everything down with clorox and try to hold off one bathroom for the well people.    The teen volunteers to go to the store ostensibly for cleaning supplies, saltines and ginger ale.   We all know, it's to get away.

The phone rings thirty minutes later, the teen needs a rescue.  In the meantime, two more of the littles have diarrhea.   Aparently, the bug begins with throw up and ends with...well, dehydration and weight loss.  The parent leaves the surviving eleven year old with the phone to hold vigil over her moaning older and younger siblings  and semi-conscious mother, and drives to the grocery store to provide rescue to the trapped sick teen.

Mom begins to show signs of life. She's been spotted helping with the youngest who just threw up. However the effort costs her, and she naps for the rest of the evening.   On the bright side, the day after Christmas, the house has never gleamed so clean.

My mom calls to see how things are going.  My husband manages a "Fine" before handing the phone to one of the teens and going to lie down.   Everyone who visits continues in the same vein, lying that Christmas was great, everyone is having a wonderful time, until we get to the five year old, who hasn't learned what we don't discuss.  

Grandmother had planned to come for New Years.   I think she's flying to Florida instead.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Speak Your Heart's Desire

We'd wrapped until 12, 2 and 4 respectively.  The little ones got up at 5:45 am.

So we woke or tried to, and watched as our children reminded us of why all this happens.  My youngest said when she looked at the tree and the gifts and the lights, "I am filled with the Christmas Spirit." She meant it with fullness known only to the innocent and the graced.  Her heart sang just to know, Santa came.  We were given gifts, all of us.  I think her heart fluttered to know, everyone was remembered.

We came to mass as we always do to everything, with a rush and a push and a hunt for socks, shoes, coats and the right pair of pants for someone.  We took two cars despite having a shift go to Midnight.  Two wore jeans.  Two wore beautiful dresses.  Three wore ties.  One son looked around and said, "We don't look polished enough for Christmas mass."  I whispered back, "Those who came first were the worst dressed, those who looked the best came 12 days late."  He laughed.

Somewhere in the mass, I prayed my whole heart.  More than anything, I wanted to hear my son sing, and all my children sing.   Some of my children have beautiful voices, but for whatever reason, don't sing.  I miss their voices when we're together and they're silent. That's the thing with hearts' prayers.  God hears them. God loves them.  And sometimes, when you ask for a miracle, something you could never find in a store or online or through any other means, God rearranges the world so that the answer is yes.

My son told the priest as he shook hands, "Merry Christmas."  Rita, John and I heard it as did the priest.  It always shocks how immediately, God wants to interrupt my day and remind me, God is, and wants to be so present in my life if only I'd let Him.

That afternoon, the family orchestrated a carol for the grandparents, but before that, there was an impromptu version of Hamilton in the kitchen, and everyone was singing.  Again, the lesson echoed. "Speak your heart's desire."  For His is to be ever closer to us.  

Merry Christmas.  Speak your heart's desire and be mindful, for God has given Himself as a gift,  Now, if only we will come and receive Him.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Braiding Life

As a writer, I live in the perpetual limbo between having just written something I'm proud of, worrying I haven't written something to be proud of, and wondering if I have it in me to write something whether I can be proud of it or not, ever again.  Neurotic and stupid, I know.

As a mother, I spend half my time waiting, counting the minutes until they are all home, and the other half wondering how in the world can I help manage all these people, I never have enough time.  It is every mom's lament, never quite getting to everything, never quite feeling like we're as present as we're called to be. I know, I am anxious about many things.

As a teacher (teaching assistant), I get to be the cheerleader and the gentle reminder, without having to craft the lesson. I can be a tough grader. I don't make the phone calls.  It is like being a teenager in the adult world, half the responsibilities.   Here, I admit, I am not anxious in the least except I have a stack of children in my head, teens who I wish somehow, I could reach, but who keep drifting further into lives of their own shaping, lives which may have more peaks and valleys, more pains and sharp joys than I know.

In each of these worlds, the other two don't seem to interact, and I wonder how to braid all three into a breathable life, where I can be published, be a mom, and be a teacher.  How do I give all that need be given to teaching, parenting and writing?  When I'm not writing and haven't had success in a while, I have to wonder, am I still a writer> (The answer is yes, just not a paid one).  It's rather like the joke I used to make when people would ask me, "Do I work?" With ten kids, the answer is yes.  The benefits are great, the pay, not so much.   I am all these things and more than I planned, even when I'm not living up to it wherever it is.  I've never been good at braids.

Yet, this is the goal of life, to be like the Trinity, a mystery of three fully distincct beings of personhood in one God. I have three fully rendered roles God asks of me, and the goal is to weave them into a seamless thread of one.

How do I make sure I do not simply wring myself out in the process of doing all that a day requires?  I do not know, I only know it is a growing pain which will require the role of Mom, of writer, and of teacher all be stretched outside of their comfort zones, if all three are to thrive.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Do We Need This?

It's the big question. It's really the only question I ever get while teaching.

Why do I need to read this? Why do I need to answer this? Why do I need to write this? Why do you need to test this?  All of it boils down to why is learning this necessary when I can access the answers, the questions, the essays answering the questions, the summary of the books, the anaylsis of the books from multiple perspectives, and the dissent over the same questions, all with the touch of a button on my phone?

What answers can I give to a reasonable question? Their thinking goes as follows: why do I need to know this when I can know it if I need it?  Why not wait until it is needed? Chances are, I won't ever need to know hyperbole or alliteration or how to break down a story into its parts, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, deneoument. Why do I need to read Gatsby?  Why do I need to read any book?  They're all here on my phone if I want, and I don't even have to read them, I can have them read to me.  It is a serious question, even if asked to simply get out of doing work.  It demands a serious answer.

Why is learning necessary when all knowedge is accessible?

When we reduce the need for knowledge to use, any knowledge which does not have an immediate use, is deemed useless.  Functional knowledge becomes not merely the baseline, but also the limit. Nothing further need be explored or explained.   We will become cave men in the electronic age, relying on machines to manage everything, we'll forget what we should not.  There is a beauty and a value to learning to play an instrument, master a sport, reading a book, or discovering the depth of a discipline.  We can only discover it by plunging in deeper, rather than skipping along the surface of all things.

Beauty has a purpose, but not use.  While moving the heart and growing the mind can be the goal as an educator, it cannot be the stated objective.  How do I argue with the reality of holding a library in one's phone?

I argue the reality.  You have a phone with a libary in it.  I have a manual for my washing machine.  I Having not read the manual, I can only do a fraction of what the machine is capable of doing. I've limited my capacity by my wilful ignorance.

Likewise, I have a piano.  I have enough knowledge to play decent pieces.  However, I've not practiced, ergo the skill lies atrophing.  The music is there, the knowledge, all that is required of me, is will and time.

What we can do, is limited by our willingness to encounter it, to wrestle with it, to struggle and suffer with it, to practice, to fail, to try and try and try again, and allow ourselves to be shaped and refashioned by the process.   I become a writer by writing, a pianist by playing.  We become what we're willing to invest ourselves in becoming.

So to my students:   Why do you need this? Because you do not have yet sufficient broad based knowledge to have uncovered all you are called to be, all you could be, and all you might yet want to be.  Such discoveries will require you explore places you would not go, and read books you did not pick, hear opinions you do not favor, and encounter thoughts you did not think.  Everything you take in, helps you take on more.  I want you to be able to take on all the more that comes from everyone else having access to that same library in their pockets.

Part of the why  is rational, functional, even practical. Those with a broader knowledge of that more, and more facile use of that more, will adapt to the moreness better than those who simply view it as the equivalent of a spare tire they might one day need.  I want you armed for the future.  A tool, like my washing machine, works only as well as the person programing it.  It works better for the one who reads the manual.

However the deeper reason is more ambitious on my part: I want them to be able to conduct the symphony, rather than merely listen to it, to write the book and craft the law, rather than simply be affected by it, or have to obey it.   Creation, whether of art or law, requires craft and skill, and such craft and skill only comes by work. Discovering all the ways in which what you know and how you know it affects how you can manage the world in which you operate is the process of becoming educated.    

I learned proper fingering for piano at eight, at fifty, my hands won't let me do otherwise.  We do not understand yet, and yet, it is only by going through things not understanding, that we will come to know what we should, and more than we planned.  This is the why of any education.  We must endure not knowing, and trust the coming to know has innate value in addition to practical and obvious worth of the knowledge won.

My goal is to expose every student I encounter to something beyond their experience; something true, something beautiful, something which tells more than a story. Hopefully, we're uncovering the unspoken truths about ourselves in the process of plunging through Gatsby and Shakespeare, and any other authors we encounter.  "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy Horatio," holds for each of us all the time.   Read and recognize, there might be something in this text speaking to your classmate.  Tomorrow, the text might speak to you.   It might be years before you grasp what struck you.  It might be never, but since we cannot know what will stir each soul, we keep presenting all these things in real time, in tangible ways, and asking you to turn over the prose and poems like jewels, to see each facet, in case one of them catches the light in your eyes.

Why do we need this?  Because I firmly believe all good stories are about more than what we think they are. They reveal who we are, when we encounter them.  The story we read as a child, means something different when we read it to  a child.  The romance we couldn't comprehend, now makes sense.  The mystery haunts whereas before, we were just in a hurry to get to the conclusion.  We need to create layers of understanding and that takes time.  School, and in particular, the arts, are a way of creating those layers which will come into play in later years.  So yes, I will make you read the book. Yes, I will make you write about it. Yes, I will correct your grammer and ask more of you than you want to give.  I hope one day, you will understand, I wanted you to dig deeper, because I knew as you cannot, there are treasures to be found, but only if you're willing to put in the effort.  It's my job to keep you interested in the meantime, and somehow content with not knowing why something is valuable, until you know enough to recognize its value.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Connecting the Dots Podcast

Yesterday's podcast with Mark Shea was about influences, people who helped form who we are and why.   We looked into what makes us, ourselves.  We talk about books, people, witnesses living and deceased, the gospels, and those people we never knew the names of, who taught us things we still hold onto, so many years afterwards.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cleaning House, Clearing the Heart

"Ten kids huh?  You must be organized."   I get this sentence a lot.

I'm not sure who will stop laughing first, my parents, my in laws, my husband, my children, my extended family or my close friends.   I think my acquaintances on Facebook are laughing.

Okay, you guys can stop now.  Seriously.

"You have to be organized." the woman insisted.

No.  I am not.  Not on my best day.   I am someone who knows what to do, how to do it, why to do it, and somehow, never quite gets to everything.   It doesn't take much to derail my very best intentions or to do list.  Oh look, there's an email.  I love this song!  Anyone want to play a game of magic?  Hey Mom, can I make cookies?   (All of this happened within five minutes).  

Take for example, today.  Before mass, I groused about needing to reassert control over our home.  It felt like a disorganized array of sheer clutter.

At mass, the deacon gave the homily and talked about "What are our expectations of Heaven?  What are Heaven's expectations of us here?"  I had to wonder, was Heaven this chaotic mess of rooms with all kinds of stuff everywhere, but because you were in the Divine Presence, none of the little stuff bothered you?  Sort of like when you are joyful, the messiness of the house is invisible, and when you are not happy, it's all you can see?  Or was Heaven expecting me to learn how to clean the house joyfully, and be happy even when it wasn't clean?  

I admit, I wanted to get the house ready for Christmas, so we could put up the tree.  My husband and I began clearing out a room, but each room takes about two hours.  After two rooms, and yes they were working too,  we all needed a break.  The kids retreated to the basement to play video games.  Some went out shopping.  One went running.   My body said "Nap time." and two hours passed.   We watched some football.  I made a flyer and answered some emails.  To re-summon everyone back on task would require draconian type discipline. (Not quite the Christmas spirit).  

So we feasted, thanked everyone for their hard work, listened to Christmas music (Nutcracker Suite), and read Christmas stories.  It was better than being organized, because it wasn't something we could have planned.  This was a touch of the peace of Heaven, the beauty of time spent on each other.

We'd get to the tree, but not because the house was perfect, we'd get to the tree as part of perfecting our hearts.   In the meantime, I'd work on that Blessed Waiting part of Advent, and making room in the inn.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bringing the Stable to the Mother

"Why do we have to go to mass tonight?" one kid complained. "Yeah, why didn't the Church move the feast to Sunday?" The teen sensed a mutiny and fanned the flames. I would have a full scale kid riot for a Holy Day of Obligation if I didn't act.
"We're going to the vigil mass because tomorrow is too full of things for us to make it. The 6:30 will be fine." I soothed. They'd already eaten. They were still dressed.
"I haven't done my homework." one said.
"Me neither." another volunteered.
"You have fourty-five minutes right now." I said and set the timer.
To minimize stress, I lay the coats in a pile, put my purse on top of it with my keys and lined up their shoes. I knew why the eleven year old didn't want to go. She'd had a fight with her two best friends, and the wounds were still fresh. I handed her my phone. "Call them. Say you're sorry. Don't demand anything. Just say what you are sorry for, and that you're also sorry there was a fight at all." She ran off to phone.
I wondered if we'd be spiritually wrecked before we even got to mass, as a shouting match broke out between two over the computer, and the girl with the phone came back, that problem cured, but a new one in tow. She'd been singing a Christmas carol and her brother didn't like it. When her brother didn't like something, he made sure everyone knew it.
I knew why the teen was mad. He wanted to eat. Mind you, he'd had two dinners already, but third dinner promised to be a better one, and so waiting seemed a major injustice. When he's mad, his favorite tactic is to set off as many other people with their own personal mads so that the whole world burns with madness.
I'd hit my limit. I admit, when I start a lecture, it gets a cadence all it's own and it keeps going. "We are going to celebrate and honor the Blessed Mother, and her state of perpetual sinlessness." I put on the first daughter's shoes. "We are going to celebrate a mass as a community and as a family." and handed her a coat. "We're going to sacrifice one hour of our lives to the woman who surrendered her son and didn't scream at the people who killed him." I knocked on the teen's door. "We're going as a family because this is what our faith teaches, it is important, and we're not going to become closer or kinder or better by arguing something none of us have the power to change, only to ignore or accept." I opened the door and they lined up. "Since I accept it and I'm the adult, knock it off and get in the car!"
We drove the three blocks down the road to the church. No one was in the parking lot. The announcement at the end of mass said 6:30, but the mass schedule on the door said 7:30. We went back home. "At least I know, all homework will be done." I said, "And we'll be back, hopefully in a more grateful and celebratory state in an hour."
P.S. They finished their homework and we made it.  The teen took his youngest brother to the back when he needed help quieting down, and when a daughter remarked during one of the songs, "Mary had it easy."  I said, "Nope, she had greater grace, but greater things were asked of her than of you and remember, she had to choose, all her life, to be obedient, even when she didn't feel like it."  Just to prove the point of how difficult obedience is, my son had a slight accident on my jeans.  I sat with him on my lap the rest of mass, draping my coat over the spot.  Mary understood.

I considered Mary's lfe and grace once again.  Mary had and has it hard; she had all of us to deal with, and we're all these messy squirly quarlesome children with different agendas. The mass ended and there was an opportunity to go and venerate a relic from the Blessed Mother.  A piece of her mantle was presented.   After I kissed the relic, I felt a deep sense of knowing, the obedience of grace, is the obedience born of love, that bears all things, hopes all things, and doesn't fail in patience or kindness, even when it seems like it would be so much easier to say, "Knock it off." because I said so.   Walking up, children in tow, smelly, still struggling with the trials of the day and the very real issue of my own wardrobe problem, I felt very much like the stable coming to her, in all its dirty dingey undignified way, coming to be somehow made better by love.  And it did.  Mary's kiss made everything better, even if nothing physically changed, how we treated each other, how we saw each other, did.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Monday's Work

If you missed the talk on Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea on Monday, not to fear, the link for that talk with Tom Hoopes and Mark Shea, talking about Tom's book, What Pope Francis Really Said, is right here. 

I have this book on Kindle and I'm breezing through it, not because it doesn't address things deeply, but because it's written in an easy style, and goes over the ways in which what Pope Francis said things and how they were interpreted, and how they were meant.  It's worth your time.

If you hang around to the 4th quarter of the program, you even get to hear my Yoda immitation.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An Unexpected Hello*

*Edited to include recipe at the end of the story....

For years, I've wanted to make Christmas cookies with my children, but somehow it never got off the ground.  This year, I set my heart, it would happen.  Saturday night, Rita, Regina, Paul, Anna and I donned aprons. I'd set out foil trays, bowls, cups, spoons, and six recipies.  We made Hello Dollies and Rice Crispie Treats.   We danced and sang to whatever Christmas songs came on the radio but Regina got bored and went to play in the other room in between tasks.  We made the pumpkin muffins and sugar cookies.  Paul joined her.  When Anna asked if she could stop, I allowed them to put on a Christmas Rudolf special on TV.  Rita made it through making the bananna muffins and went to watch. It wasn't the full outcome I'd wanted, but it was. Next year, maybe the happy memory would encourage them to stay longer.  I felt happy and at peace to be alone in my kitchen for the final recipe.

The last cookie wasn't one they could eat anyway.

The signature cookie of the season is my dad's Bourbon balls.  He and Mom would be in the kitchen and he'd roll them powedered sugar to put in a tin for whoever was on the list.  I always wanted to like them, but as a kid I never could.

My mom gave me a cook book from my home parish, where the recipe for Dad's bourbon balls is published.  I'd always just scanned the recipe, but yesterday, I found a side story on the page from my mom, reminding me Dad made these from the time he settled in Beaumont for the clerks of the court such that every year, they'd get requests.

It was like Dad saying, "Hello Beautiful." to have that story, (one I've known but dimly), fully stamped on the page.  I made the Bourbon balls and ate one, plunging into memory.

They tasted better than I've ever remembered.

Recipe for Bourbon Balls (as published in Saint Anne's Church Cookbook), submitted by my mom.

1 12 onz box vanilla wafers
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa
1 cup walnuts
3 Tablespoons Karo Syrup (white or light).
1/2 cup bourbon
extra powdered sugar.

Directions:  Crush Vanilla Wafers into powder.  (I use a ziplock and a rolling pin but a food processor does this very well).  Add powdered sugar and cocoa, mix well.  Chop walnuts into tiny pieces and add to these ingredients.  Add the Karo and the bourbon, mix well. (I used my mixer).  Form the cookies by hand and roll them in powdered sugar.  Place in an airtight tin.  If the batter seems dry, add more bourbon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What They Reflect

My four youngest sat on a couch, each holding a section of the paper, each reading aloud what they thought important, giggling at what the paper might consider "serious news," and making dramatic sad faces. I asked what they were doing.
"Playing grown up." one answered. 
"We're on the Metro."
"We're adults." They collapsed into giggling again. One ran over to the kitchen and got a diet coke and my purse.
I thought they had a better handle on how we should approach some of the most serious of things. They looked at the news and read aloud the headlines. They marched back and forth from one couch to another, "I have to cook dinner." "I have to go to work." "I'm very busy." "I'm very important." "I'm very important and busy." They kept building and making their world like the moreness they perceived.
I watched them allow their make believe world expand and collapse, and grow again, flexible as they shifted from journalists to doctors to teachers to lawyers to artists to singers to anything, to everything, and they were able, professional and wonderful. They embraced a whole future as if it were all only for the willing for it to happen.
I wanted that future for them, that touchable future. If I could pray them that possibility, I would kneel until my kneecaps gave out. "Give them this future." I'd beg, and not the one penned by all the limitations revealed by standardized tests and report cards and the expectations of others about how to think or be. For the moment, my daughter who struggles with reading, my shy one and my son who suffers from Downs and my youngest, didn't need anyone's prayers or affirmation to be everything.
Oh, to keep that moment longer than a moment. I sat on the couch with them, "What are you going to be on the Metro today?" My daughter asked. "A famous chef, dancer and professor." I said, and we added to the moments, when everyone could be everything.

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!