Friday, June 23, 2017

Ten Signs of Being Properly Beached

10) There are no alarms.
9) You forget to check your phone or your email.
8) There are reported sightings of multiple children playing cards together or by themselves reading.
7) Lunch is diet coke and chocolate.
6) It also acted as breakfast, because you slept through. (See #10).
5) People take deliberate naps.
4) The Television is off.
3) Stalking the ice cream truck is a competitive sport.
2) Don't know what day of the week it is...not sure of the time...not sure why anyone would need to know this.
1) Offered a pina-colada.  It's not yet twelve.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

New Piece at the Register

It began as an intellectual response to a fellow writer's lament at rage being all the rage these days, it resulted in a piece over at the National Catholic Register.

The Gift of Being Bored


This is a really good article on the gift of boredom.  Now every year, we make what would seem to be a list in direct contrast to the counsel to let your children discover how to entertain themselves, but it's not. It's what I point to when a child says, "Mommmmmm. (and it's always Mommmmm), never Dad, and never with Mom being pronounced with fewer than three sylables.

So here's this summer's list.

100.  Read a book a week.
99. swimming lessons.
98.  play cards.
97. Camp out.
96. Go fishing.
95. make puzzles.
94. eat ice cream from the truck.
93. go to baseball games.
92. blow bubbles.
91. fireworks.
90. hike.
89. crossword puzzles.
88. firefly catching.
87. grow a garden.
86. attend the fair.
85. drive in movie
84. Game night.
83. barbecue --perfect the brisket!
82. outdoor concert.
81. sandcastles.
80. bike riding.
79. chalk drawing.
78.  play pool.
77. make ice cream.
76. water balloon fight.
75. capture the flag.
74. 5k.
73. go to the zoo.
72. aquarium.
71.  Ride on a boat.
70. ride a horse.
69. Stargaze
68. spend a whole day reading comics.
67. paint.
66. get rid of all the broken stuff.
65. picnic.
64. write
63.  Video game contest.
62. Guitar
61. Learn to cook something new
60. hammock time.
59. parade
58. camping in the back yard.
57. for four of them, get summer jobs.
56. for two of them, get fall jobs.
55. overnight trip.
54. shopping at the outlets.
53. paint nails.
52. build a rocket.
51. play wiffleball.
50. beachcombing.
49. rock climbing.
48.  Boogie boarding.
47.  Go-carts
46. Spend time at a farm.
45. make jam.
44. Volunteer with some place.
43. Go to the library.
42. Go to an art museum.
41. Go to the park once a week.
40. Civil War battle grounds.
39.  The Washington DC monuments.
38. Go on a Roller Coaster
37.  Feed the ducks
36. International Spy Museum.
35. Air and Space Museum.
34. Winery.
33. See a horse race.
32. Visit Grandparents
31. Visit cousins.
30.  Throw a party.
29. Write a book.
28. Pass Praxis test.
27. Sleep in.
26. Get Learner's permit for Peter.
25. Paint a room.
24. Skip rocks.
23. Learn new pieces on the piano.
22. Apply for college/graduate school
21. Lemonade Stand
20.  Dance
19. Learn to skate
18. Learn to ride a two wheeler without training wheels.
17. Get hair done.
16.  Bounce House.
15.  Skateboard park
14.  Get to the gym
13.  Study for the SAT
12.  Take the SAT
11.  Audition for a play.
10.  Try out for Volley Ball
9.  Find new places in Maryland to explore.
8.  Make gumbo.
7.  Clean out garage.
6.  Weekly lunch with a friend.
5.  Read with my kids every night.
4.  Rock-band/Karyoke with the kids.
3.  Marathon Movie Weekend --watch HP or LOTR.
2.  Weekly Family Rosary
1.  Adoration once a week.

We don't have to get to all of it, it's just all there for the fun of imagining what we could do, with all this time we haven't yet spent.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Funny Thing When We Pray

The theme kept coming up in my head, about what it means to have awe of the Lord.  I'd seen it in the face of a person who fell to her knees in adoration.  It wasn't the gesture, it was the whole of her.  Just watching, I knew she held the Lord in her eyes the way one holds a newborn or a dying friend in one's heart.  Each moment amounted to an enternity of love flooding the air.

It's one thing to see it.  It's another to hold that grace yourself.  So I asked.

We'd been sitting in the front of mass lately, but today, we wound up near the back.  The kids tend to grow more restless the further back they are and sure enough, there were requests for bathroom breaks, casual interruptions to report so and so had shoes on the wrong foot, and someone else was bouncing their knees.  Try as I might, I felt the whole mass wash over me, up until the consecration.

When Paul walked up for his blessing, of his own accord, he put his hands together and he, like the woman I saw in adoration, came forward with a quiet reverence.  Like so many other answered prayers, it was right there.  Paul didn't have all the mess or distractions in his head or self conciousness, he simply came forward.  And all I could think was, "and a little child shall lead them."

Overthinking it Sherry.  Overthinking it.  Thanks again Paul.  



Saturday, June 10, 2017

Shower of Hope

For the uninitiated, searching for a person to repair stuff in your home is parallel to picking your spouse by throwing darts at the phone book. You might find a keeper. You might find an axe murderer. You most likely will find someone who won't agree to the matter. They'll come, they'll look at your most private room in the house, and it's a tad insulting when they won't even take your money to get the job done.

The first guy I brougth to the master bath to examine the... shower chatted me up. I think he saw how big my family was and wanted to impress. He talked about the fifty year reunion with all his brothers and sisters. He told me how he'd been around the area and his family had for over one hundred years. He told me he'd write up an estimate and get back to me next week after the reunion. I'm guessing his blood line was hit by a plague or wave of Klingon warriors, because I never heard a word afterwords, and I even called and left a message. 

Nothing. 

You'd think I would have read about it in the paper.

Undeterred and still having tile in the shower held together by duct tape, I tried again. I'd gone to a tile shop to ask about what to do. Our shower is circa 1994. No backer board. Could I DIY? A gentleman introduced himself, explained he was the guy to do the job. I took his card. He made an appointment and showed up early.

After looking at my shower, he explained he could do the job, but he couldn't rehang the shower. Right now, the shower door/fixtures work fine, but the tile is bad. He could fix it so the tile would be good, but the fixtures and door wouldn't exist.
"So I'd still have only half a working shower, which would mean I'd still have a broken shower, but I'd pay you for the trouble."
"Yes. I'll write up a contract and email it to you."

I asked if he could get someone to finish the job. He said yes again. I entertained hope. But a week later, no email, no phone call, no nothing. He took my twenty-five dollars and left. I feel soo used.
So I'm back in the hunting season again. Trolling Home Depot like a barfly hoping for a quick fix. This time I'll be smarter, wiser, faster. This time, I'll get them drunk first and I won't let them leave without the equivalent of a pre-nup.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Juneitis

Residents of Maryland know the Governor of our state decided school should not start back up again in the fall until after Labor Day.   However, he missread the tea leaves which counseled him about altering the school schedule.  What we really needed, was to end school at Memorial Day Weekend.

The freshmen tell us, they're fresh out.
The sophomores are acting, sophmoric, and the juniors tell us, they have junioritis, a variant on Senioritis, which has plagued high schools since seniors and any class time after March, was invented.

No.  They have Juneitis, a recessive seasonal trait encouraging within each human being, a desire to be like Phineas and Ferb, or at least have 104 days of summer vacation once pools open.   My own children are not immune.

Regina's holled up on a hammock reading her sixth book of Harry Potter.
John's pledged to use every lego in the house.
Faith and Marta are searching for a binge worthy summer series.
Paul thinks the only thing greater than Lego Batman is going swiming, and dresses with hopeful anticipation each day he finds his swimsuit.   These are the beginnings of Summer.  Rita and Anna are lobbying for afternoons at the pool.   Peter's gone on trail runs until sunset each day.  Mind you, they still have school, they just aren't taking it as seriously as they are the pursuit of summer.

I tried to think of a reason they shouldn't.  I can't.  Normally we make a list of all the things we want to do, but this year we didn't because instead, we've already begun doing them.  So I did the only thing I could do, scooped myself some ice cream, took over the hammock and read.   It's going to be a delicious sticky summer.  I hope we never recover from Junitis until September.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

They did it!

When they were younger, I'd tell them the cable's out, and change the code to the TV so as to cut screen time.   I've been known to hide the plug to the Wi-Fi on occasion as well.  So when the cable company which provides both the internet and television streaming on demand cut out, my children naturally presumed the culprit to be me. 

One thought the reason for the "cable outage" was exam week.  "You just want us to study."
Well yes, but no, I didn't do this, I promise. 
Another two thought, "This is just a ruse to get us to read or exercise more."
"No, but it's not a bad idea. After all, you can't do anything else." They went to stare at the box, in hopes maintaining a vigil would entice the cable gods to relent.  

Not that some of them didn't try.  One sought to play his DS, but without the link up to his friends DS games, it wasn't much fun. Another watched a DVD and for a time, entertained the masses with movies, but most of our movies now are digital, and they've grown accustomed to On Demand for any show, so not being able to access a show, vexes more than one might think it should.

The older ones ran  for the comfort of Netflix, but that doesn't work on a computer when the internet is out.  To prove it wasn't me, I spent an hour on the phone with the cable man convincing him that yes indeed, we did have a problem which couldn't be solved merely by turning the machine on and off or replacing the batteries in the remote.  The cable guy is coming sometime on Thursday between eight in the morning and eight in the evening.  He's said he'll call.  In the meantime, we're old school in all things.  

Come Friday, there will be channels again.  By coincidence, exams will be over.  I promise I didn't do it...but I may have to send my cable company a thank you note once the report cards are in, and file away the idea of having a seasonal outage whenever test taking rolls around.     

It's just, for the record, this time, it wasn't me. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

DIY Food Network Fallen Star

I love cooking shows, but they're very unrealistic. Even the Top Chef competitions don't really challenge cooks to push themselves past their comfort zones. They have fully stocked kitchens and sous chefs and secret exotic ingredients. Most people who cook don't have to worry about crazy ingredients they must incorporate, but rather essential ingredients they can't.


For example, you begin to make french toast for dinner, and find out you have no eggs, but only after you've put the milk and cinnamon and vanilla together, so you dump a whole box of banana muffin mix into the milk cinnamon mix and make banana pancakes. Preparing to make hot dogs, you discover you have no onions or mustard. Welcome to the world of inventive condiments! Yes, putting cauliflower tater tots on top of the hot dogs wins cool points, and drizzling them with the trace elements of ketchup from the leftover packets from the car might make for good tv drama, but no freshly dressed MC ever stepped out of the kitchen cabinet to award me with Top Chef points and a cleaned kitchen for making a silk purse dinner out of a sow's ear stocked refrigerator.

It's not that I don't plan a menu or shop for the meals or cook, it's that at any given moment, I must cope with all the want-a-be iron chefs or at least Food Network Star Judges, who want not just food but the right food, the perfect food, the food they don't know what it is, but want served now, hot and beautiful.
Real Conversation:

 "MOM! There is no food in the house! Can you go to the store and get bananas?"
Me: There is food in the house. There just aren't any bananas.
Son: There are no eggs.
Me: There is bacon.
Son: There is no bread.
Me: There are rolls. There are tortillas. There is dark wheat bread, plain ordinary store white bread and the ends of at least three loaves all stuffed in one plastic bag and five blueberry bagels.
Son: There is no lunch meat.
Me: There is steak-um, I already said bacon, there is peanut butter, there is provolone and if you forage, I think, some chicken.
Son: There isn't any food that's easy to make.
Me: So if I get up and make you food from what we have, would you be happy?
Son: Yes! I'll even practice the S.A.T.

Because I want the S.A.T to be practiced, I'm willing to be bribed. I begin work on hot dogs.
Daughter comes into the room. "Hot dogs? I don't like hot dogs! Mom! Can you go to the store, there is no food."
Son now points out there are tortillas, bacon, peanut butter, blueberry bagels....daughter sticks out her tongue at each, but pulls out a box of mac and cheese. "Can we have this?" It goes with the hot dogs, so I roll with it. I'm getting a chorus of yays! and I'm thinking, this is good. I'm a good mom...they'll eat, they'll be happy...

Another player entered the kitchen. She got out the celery and nutella, and peeled a mango before announcing, she ordered out because she doesn't like hot dogs or mac and cheese and does anyone else want anything? They deserted me faster than I could spell dessert.

When I served the mac and cheese and hot dogs to the remaining children, I got the question, reasonable in my younger childrens' minds, "why didn't they get to order food too?" I recalled a neighbor who used to make her kid eat her dinner for breakfast and lunch, and snack, until it got eaten. I used to think this a cruel parenting practice. I admittedly reconsidered but revenge is for the unimaginative, so today I posted a message in the kitchen, explaining the reality of things in the family mess hall.

Dear Family

I considered declaring food martial law. If you don't pay for the food, make the food or clean up after the food, you get no say in what the food might be or alternatives to eat.

However, I recognize, there are twelve different diets, different palates to please and I've yet to hit upon the magical combination of fruits, vegetables, proteins and carbs that can accommodate all of your ever shifting appetites. In recognition of my inability to create a dish which uses all of the unknown secret ingredients necessary to the competition, and because that which is created is not up to industry standards as determined by all eleven judges in this house, I'm sorry but Mom has been chopped.

Whoever the other competitors are in this kitchen, I've taken away all of the car keys. Please, open the pantry and you have thirty minutes to create an entree and your time starts now. Oh, and I've been told repeatedly, there is no food. 

Good luck.

Love, Mom

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mom Hours

Everyone thinks when you have a newborn, sleep is something you aspire to have.  However the reality of parenting is, for pure sleep deprivation, nothing tops teenagers.  

Babies nap.  Babies have simple needs.  Eat. Change.  Hold.  Sleep.
Teens send you text messages at ten in the evening while you're folding laundry, "Are you going to the store?  Because we're out of bananas."  I sent back, "Where are you when you texted this?"
"In bed."   "So you want to know if I would get up, get my purse and drive to the store...before or after folding the laundry?"   The teen had the grace to send back, "No. I'm not in bed. I'm at school and I've been hard at work all afternoon, studying, studying, studying. I in no way would ever dream of asking you to go out after working all day if I'd not done the same.  Good night!"  

Evening patrols to guarantee lights out mean policing cell phones, taking the cord for the Wi-Fi on occasion, and reminding people that yes, there are after hours, when everything including the kitchen should be closed.   I find the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 to be most likely to be in compliance, but it's never quite a lock..  

At five, I've heard one rising with the proposal of a morning jog.  Believing in sleep as a normal part of life, I've explained,  once we get to morning hours, if the sun isn't up, you aren't to be out.  However I have the equivalent of electronic roosters all over the house.  My cell goes off at 5:50 and there are at least four alarms which blare at six, though to my knowledge, none of them rouse actual children, just me.

So nestle up with those newborns and enjoy this restful stage of life and remember, this is all just training for later.  This part of the road of parenting you're on?  It's the wide easy part.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Always Another Page

Writers, like teachers and parents, are fundamental optimists.  We begin with the unknown, the story we can't quite see but know is in our brains, or the unknown student, or the child in the womb.  Each day, we pour everything out like the ocean, and hope some of what we present, sinks in.  The cumulative effect of writing, of teaching, of parenting, is the outcome of all we give and all the reader, the student, or the child brings to the process.  In all three cases, it is also a journey and an act of faith, to every day begin again, even if what you wrote yesterday stunk, the classroom didn't sing, and your mom skills yesterday didn't quite measure up. Begin again. Begin again. Begin again.

That's the advantage in each of these vocations, they're as much about love as they are about knowledge and practice.  They're callings which demand one do even when not inspired, and one do and do and do again, regardless of outcome.  They are professions which care deeply about both the process and the product as it were, but can't be reduced to process and product.  You can't be a writer, if it is only about success, or only about generating word count. The words have to be about something and pointing toward something bigger than the mountain of cyber space they take up.  The story has to matter, has to move.  It is about relationship.  The story reflects both the author, and the reader's response, and is a thing itself.

Likewise, you can't be a teacher if all that matters is test scores or lesson plans, you have to work at those things, but teaching is about relationship, both to the students as individuals, and as a class, and to the topic.  It is a triangle.  Student-Teacher-Topic.  How do I reach them today?  How do I reach them tomorrow?  And also, what did I learn about them today?  What did I learn about myself in the process?  What will we learn tomorrow?  It is an ongoing snowball process, which should always build upon itself.

Parenting begins as a reflection of the Trinity, Mom, Dad, child, or if you go one step back, Husband, Wife, God.  It is always about trying to reveal to the other (in this case, the child) who God is by what we do.  To the extent we get in the way, we mess up.  However all of these processes are something which must begin again each day, and which build upon whatever came before, regardless of how well or poorly executed.

Writers Block, like teacher burn out, and distracted parenting, is when the person cannot get out of the way of either the process or the outcome.  Rededicating, rechristening one's self to the process, and not demanding that feelings or inspiration, supersede the act of doing, of being present; of working at writing rather than worrying about what to write, of teaching, or of parenting.

The solution is always self surrender, begin again and to try not to get bogged down in minutia or overwhelmed by the longevity of the task itself.  These are infinite professions.  There are ends to stories, to school years and stages of parenting, but the act of writing, art of teaching, and role as a parent, goes on infinitely.  Even silent, we will be telling stories.  Even without a classroom, we will be teaching the world, and we cannot cease to be parents, only better or worse ones.

In each of these vocations, the act itself often brings us to places we'd never reach on our own.  The journey on the blank page, into the classroom, or within our own home, is often a joyous surprise.  And when it is not,  the good news in all three roles is, there is always another page.  We can always begin again.  There are always more stories to tell. There are always new things to learn, new things to share, new ways to reveal knowledge and to invoke wonder.  Each day, we can begin again and love better, love more deeply, and get more out of the way.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rewards

Today, I spent the day at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. Usually, it's a tad difficult for me, because I dream of being at one of those pavilions, giving a talk on the process and writing itself.  However this past week, we ran crafts as we always do at the fair, and we were so busy painting faces, I never had a moment to even grow whistful....until after the festival ended.

Life gave me a small irony, I received my writing scores on the Praxis today.  Scoring a 190 ought to make me proud, but I'm wondering what I lost the ten points for in the scoring.  (A perfect score is 200).   Now I just have to study up for the English Exam and the Pedegogy Praxis in July.  I'm thinking maybe next week will slow up, after the 5K, but before exams.  Maybe.

Everyone hosting a booth, selling books is really showing to the world, their dreams.  Their supreme goal is to be on that podium, or even if they are on that podium, to move the hearts and minds of whoseover listens.  Writing, while a solo act, is done ultimately with the goal of reaching everyone, of somehow being something as close to universal as we can make it.

So all the authors trying to convince us to part with our ten, twelve or twenty dollars, they're really trying to get each of us to be willing to peer into their minds, their souls, and see if they enjoy what they see.  I didn't get to browse the stacks for new favorites. Instead, today I've painted 35 unicorns, 27 Spidermans and at least 1000 pokeballs on people's faces.

I did meet one author because his kid wanted a Bird of Paradise.  We talked books.  We talked about the fun of researching books and writing.  I wasn't on the podium, but I was still getting to talk with someone who loved what I loved about what we both loved.  It was a nice little moment inbetween the glitter and the paint brushes.  

Maybe one day, I'll get to tell people about it on a bigger scale than one on one.  It's a dream of mine, to have a place as an author.  But the greatest moment in the whole day came when a four year old girl made her way back to my table to give me a pink puppet she made with stars and flowers and hearts all around it, as a "Thank you" for her unicorn.  It was a podium moment and a treasure.  

It also meant, I'll be back next year, happily painting more faces.





Thursday, May 18, 2017

True Mill Stories

Today's work...
1) Explain to the students they will be writing a four paragraph paper.
2) Require students to state their thesis in a question format and then, answer and defend it.
3) Find research on topic, 2 for, 1 against, and compose the argument using those citations.

Student 1 --with the topic of weed, "I think it should be legal." 
Me: Okay, you can want that all you like, but you have to explain why it should be.
Student --It's recreational, we could tax it to help the government provide programs.
Me:  Like...for people dealing with addiction?
Student --yeah. 
Me:  That's fine. You still have to deal with the arguments against it. You have to beat them in you paper.
Student --like?
Me:  It can be a gateway drug to other illegal substances.  It's something which has different effects on different people, and we might not want a society where judgement is so impaired.  Do you want a nation of people smoking pot?  Surgeons, firefighters, teachers, police....
Student  --can I switch topics? 

Me: Sure.  What topic?
Student:  Gun Controls.
Me: For or against?
Student: It should be easier.
Me: Do you know what is required now?
Student:  ...

Pulling up website of state government to show regulations, "You'll have to argue the process is too difficult and demanding or constitutes an undue burden."
Student: How will I do that?
Me: "You'll have to prove the regulations aren't effective or don't affect outcome."
Student: How will I do that?
Me: "I don't know, you'll have to find out if the regulations have worked." I pulled up Brady Campaign to show results of gun restrictions over the course of years. 
Student: "This doesn't help me.  It shows that the laws have helped."
Me: So you can't use that argument. 
Student: I....don't like this topic. 

Third time's a charm. 

Student: I've got a plan.  Cell phones in the classroom.
Me: for or against?
Student: For.
Me: Okay. Why?
Student: They're my property. I pay for it.
Me: That doesn't prove why you should have them in the classroom.
Student: Okay.  I can use my phone to do research.
Me:  That's true.
Student: And it would be a way I could always keep track of my work if I did my work online.
Me: Also true.
Student:  I could find out answers if I needed to.
Me: These are great answers.  Now back them up.
Student: How?
Me: ... Maybe use your phone to find articles that prove your point and illustrate it like you suggested?
Five minutes later, find student playing pool on his cell. 
Me:  This is why people argue against them.   










Saturday, May 13, 2017

Over at the Register Today



I dream of one day being a regular reporter/writer for a paper, but until then, I'll rejoice each time I make it onto the page of any paper.  I've got an article over at the National Catholic Register, You Will Be Used, So Get Used to It.  Please, share, like, leave a comment, tweet, or Google plus. I'd really appreciate it.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

None of the Above

Last week, I took a standardized test; the first such exam I've taken in about twenty years.


Three hundred minutes of multiple choice, a computer monitor and me.   We had headphones for silence.  We had to sign in, and sign out. We had ten minutes allotted to bathroom breaks to be used as we wished.  In short, everything about the test conditions had controlled parameters....except my brain.

Half way through the math, an earworm made its presence known.  I'm doing a problem with square split end roots or radios or some such  and not loving life.  Instead of thinking of the process I needed to solve the equation, my mind went to the mental equivalent of X.  J

"Welcome to my secret layer on Skull Crusher Island...."  Mark Shea introduced me to the silly lyrics of Johnathan Coulton during one of our Connecting the Dots podcasts.  Stupid silly fun stuff, not very helpful for jogging the cobwebs off my brain from math I fought with over two decades ago. 
I flicked the thought away and perused the answers, looking to get rid of the outliers.  

"You like monkeys...you like ponies...you maybe like monsters...not quite so much..."
and I had a moment of clarity.

Next problem.  But the lyrics did not go away.  



I finished, fighting down the song the entire rest of the exam.  If I don't pass this math test, I'm going to blame Mark Shea.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Writer Guilt

Whenever I miss a day of writing, even if I've been in a slump, writing junkola that will never see the light of day, I suffer from writers' guilt.  Writers' guilt is different from every other kind of guilt, because even if you binge write for three days straight, dripping beautiful prose onto the page, if you declare a sabbatical for the forth day, you suffer.

The muse demands daily faithfulness, and is slow to return favors if you blow off a day. 

Recently, my humor writing has been reported awol.  Reports of the death of my funny bone however, are premature.   I still have eight of ten sources of inspiration in the house, and two due to return home in the next month.  I'm sure they'll think of something if they haven't already.

As if on cue, I heard from the other room, "Paul, stop throwing that monkey."  I am certain I should stop and check.  I am equally certain, I don't really want to know. 

The cure for Writers' guilt is pure maintenance.  Write every day.  Write when you have nothing to say. Write junk if you have to, but don't leave a day without leaving something on the page.  
However, I've decided there is a caveat to surviving Writers' Guilt. I need a Writing buddy who will solemnly swear upon my death to access my blog and delete all the junkola I wrote and didn't submit for your reading pleasure or pain as the case may be so that all the drafts sitting on the back page of my blog get squished.

In the meantime, you're stuck with me complaining about writers' block and writers' guilt and blathery pages like this one in part because I'm still thinking, I don't want to go out there and find out what happened with Paul and the monkey.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017

He Keeps Surprising Me

My son's communication device has afforded us many moments we might otherwise have missed.  "Alligator, frog, bug" means "I want to watch the Princess and the Frog."  "Pig, porcupine, elephant" is how he lets me know he'd prefer to watch "Sing."  Some movies require a more direct approach.  He'll fall down and say, "Oh no!" if I pick the wrong one, but a fist bump followed by a fa-la-la-la-la means "Big Hero 6."  Using this method, I can usually figure out what show he wishes to see.

This past week, let me say, my fifteen year old and I had a disagreement.  We both took ourselves to our rooms to calm down.  Paul took his communication device and punched in the words "Love Faith, love Mom, Paul Love, eat food, love Mom, Love Faith, Paul love."  (It happened just before dinner).  

I thought an older sibling imitating Paul, typed in the words, but the words worked for both of us.  The next day, I met with Paul's teacher to visit a site for his schooling next year.  She asked if we'd put any new words in his communication device. (I hadn't).  She informed me he'd punched in, "Paul sister Bonnie come home today."  Bonn wouldn't be home until Sunday but still, the sentence made me think, maybe he did write the other note too.  

Still, much of Paul's ability to communicate is dependent upon the rest of us thinking about what he's thinking and more importantly, why.  Last night, I took him to Faith's play. Her school put on "Once Upon A Mattress."  After the show, Paul clapped enthusiastically, and stood up and clapped and yelled when the King took a bow.  He even ran over to shake the King's hand. 

The next day, I puzzled over why he found the character of the King so appealing and it was so obvious, I wondered how I ever didn't see it.  The King in the play is mute until the end, and spends his time using sign and gestures which his musician and jester interpret. He identified with the King. 
Now I wish I'd taken a picture of Paul with the King, but it does give me an insight into how he sees himself, and probably how he sees me...I'm guessing I'm the jester. 

All of which leads to why it is that this family needs Paul, all of which leads to why I wanted to share all of this as a story.   Bill Nye, science guy recently spoke with a panel about population control and the need to penalize families who have more than whatever it is that now is considered reasonable via policy.  My son would be in that stack of the unreasonable number, and I object to the idea, much less the presumption entailed in that discussion, that some people are extra, that some people are unnecessary, and that some people should decide how many children other people should have.  I object to using force of law to hurt those who don't agree with such "enlightened" policies.  

We would never get to Paul in that world.  We would never get to most of my children, and my life, and my family's life would be poorer for it.  However, returning to only focusing on the one child we know will not be a world player as it were, Paul is the one society might come to think most easy to whittle out because of his condition. 

Let me say,  Paul has an extra chromosome. Paul himself, is not extra.  He is not part of the surplus population, and he is not a drain on society, he is a breath of fresh air.  He is a gift, designed to reveal to the rest of us, to remind the rest of us, about what is and is not important.  He makes sure everyone comes to the table to eat.  He always wants a bed time story and prayers, he always wants a bath and he always picks and gives me a flower if he sees them when we're walking to the bus.  He dances with abandon, he enjoys slapstick and adventure movies and musicals, and greets  his sisters and brothers as if he hasn't seen them since forever. 

If there's extra beyond the genetic replica of a chromosome in a person with Down Syndrome, it's the gift of being able to love easily and love well.  I would say to Bill Nye, and anyone else who views my son or anyone else with a permanent mental and physical disability as extra or unnecessary, the world has plenty of people who work, plenty of people who are very smart, but it needs every person it can find, willing to love easily and well. 



Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nice...

On Thursday, I cleaned out a closet of leftover shoes and donated them.  When my six year old came home, she pretended to faint in front of the now empty space on the floor.  "I'm sorry Mom," she explained, "I have to fall down.  It's just so beautiful."

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Swan Song with Connecting the Dots

Mark Shea's program with Breadbox media is becoming a podcast only program, and as such, my Mondays have been freed up for my kids to ask me, "What's for dinner?" and "Can you drive me to the mall?" and "Can we watch a movie?" As such, while I'll still stop by to visit Mark on his show from time to time, it won't be a regular fixed gig.

For the past few months, I've been able to post a note on my door at five o'clock on Mondays "On Radio," and thus insured that no one bothered me for a full sixty minutes. 

 I'm thinking, I might not tell them just yet.  

Here's the most recent and last episode of Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea and Sherry Antonetti. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dial 144 for Misinformation

For Easter, I purchased a landline phone as a present for my husband. The kids saw me assemble the thing and place it on their father's desk. They gave the machine a wide birth, and the first time one of them had to answer it, one would have thought they picked up a poison adder.

"Hello?" My son said, his voice quaking as he held the cradle a foot from his ear. "I can't hear." His sister came by and overheard her dad's voice coming out of the mouth...piece. "Is that you DAD?" she shouted.

Empowered with new knowledge, my son began shouting at the phone as well. A second sister entered the room, attracted by the shouting. "Can I have a turn?" Their father tried to explain to anyone who might possibly hear him, "You don't have to scream. Just talk in your normal voice with the phone next to your ear and mouth."

The gaggle of children began telling their father about their day, "I'm going on a field trip!..I am too! NO You're NOT! YES I AM! I got an A. Did you pick up the X-box? CAN WE HAVE PIZZA FOR DINNER? "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" The chorus swelled.


From the phone I heard their dad comment, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Spousal code for me to interrupt the party line.
"Hello love."
"Hey Sher."
The kids filed out of the room during our brief conversation, for fear they might hear adult stuff like the word love.

"That was...loud."
"Yes."
"I don't think they know how to operate the retro phone."
"Why don't you test that theory. Tell them, I'm happy to get pizza if they call and order it."

I summoned the troops and gave them the conditions of the test. I also collected the smart phones from the two teenagers, and turned off the computer. I wrote down the number for the pizza place and left the room.

Twenty minutes later, I found the teens in the kitchen, boiling water for pasta.
After I learned why, I phoned my husband, "Just come straight home."
"They couldn't figure it out?"
"They could push the buttons."
"Then what was the problem?"
"They couldn't figure out how to hang up."

Imagine if I'd made them use the phone book.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Act Now and You Can Too!

This weekend, I lost over fifty pounds.

I did it without surgery, medication, diet or exercise.
In a matter of hours, I felt lighter, younger, more in control of my life.

What's more, it cost me nothing but the time I invested.

What did I do?

I cleaned out my son's closet.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Connecting the Dots

Every Monday, Mark Shea and I enjoy a good talk.  This past week, we shared Easter Sunday stories and delved into the great mystery that is The Shroud of Turin.

Surprised to Find

A piece I wrote Monday night, is up at the National Catholic Register today.  If you remember the piece I wrote at the beginning of Lent, May I Pray for you, this is the bookend to that one. It is why in part, I've continued the question on Facebook.  Admittedly, I also miss the experience of community I felt during Lent and so I am thinking, it might be good to continue.

Here's the piece:
 What does an Easter People look like?

and here's the question for today, "May I pray for you?"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Lessons Learned?

My favorite Star Trek Series is Deep Space Nine.  One of the characters that made it such a joy to watch, was Mr. Garak.  As a former spy, now exiled on an alien space station with the Federation in power, he forms an unlikely friendship with the straight laced Doctor Bashir. 

One day, Dr. Bashir explains to him why no one trusts his advice or stories by telling the tale of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. 

Mr. Garak asks if the moral of the story is what Dr. Bashir claims it to be, "Be honest."  Dr. Bashir asks, "What do you think the moral is?"   He answers, "Never tell the same lie twice." 

So when my daughter asked me, "What is the moral of Disney's The Little Mermaid?"  I had to consider, what did I want the lesson to be? 

I asked my friends on the internet, and gathered their wisdom, so without further adieu, I present to you, the top ten lessons that should be learned from Disney's "A Little Mermaid."

10) Never trust anyone with a creepy familiar(s).  


9) Learn Sign Language.

8) If your first act of adulthood involves selling your soul, mutilating your body and renouncing all the collective wisdom of your family and people, you better hope everyone comes to your rescue because this is not a good decision on your part. 

7) Crustaceans make lousy "in loco parentis." 

6) If the guy can't figure out it's you without your singing...maybe...you want someone smarter. 

5) If the girl combs her hair with a fork...maybe...you want someone smarter. 

4) Catchy tunes can make people forget your lack of character,  (See Ursula, Dr. Facilier, and Gaston).  

3) If the dog likes a character, this is a good person, marry her. If the dog doesn't like a person, that person must be a villain in disguise, attack and kill.  

2) You can marry all you wish, but few survive parenthood in a Disney universe. King Triton is a single dad monarch, and Prince Eric, an orphan for some time.   Sebastian is a singleton, Flounder seems to have no family, and Ursula, seems to have some relationship with Triton, maybe an evil Aunt or Sister, but there are no complete families anywhere.  You've been warned. 

1) Always read the fine print. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

National Catholic Register Today

I have a piece on what we're supposed to be about over at the National Catholic Register, These are the Things Time was Made For. 

Of course, now I have to make sure tomorrow, I work out, write, read to my kids and pray, and that in doing these things, the other tasks of the day get taken care of in the process. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Who is the Crucifixion For?



As a child, I believed, and even as an adult, I have said in jest, "The fireworks on the 4th of July?  They're for me."  Why?  Because as a child, I thought them wonderful and why wouldn't we do something wonderful for my birthday?  Why wouldn't my birthday go beyond one day?  As an adult, it's fun because it means I always know, my family will have off when it's time to celebrate.  

However, the joke is a joke because it's not true. 

The Crucifixion however, it is for me.  It is true.  It was always for me, and I always needed this, just to have a shot at something better beyond this life.  The same is true for each of us. The Crucifixion is a gift, an outrageous gift of over the top love from God to each of us, a sign, symbol and reality of the lengths to which, God will go to win us back. 


There are many excellent reflections and exercises one can use on this Good Friday to honor that gift.  The easiest one I know, is to hold a crucifix in your hands.

Consider His feet.  His feet which the woman washed with her tears, dried with her hair and anointed with perfume, are now pierced all the way through with a nail which someone physically drove into him. and someone else held down so it could be done. 
Next, consider his hands, which he used to make clay to place on a blind man's eyes, and to break the loaves and fishes, which he used to touch a man's ears and say, "Be opened."  They are pinned to a cross.  I don't know about you, but when I consider the nails, I tend to hold my hands, to pull back, because the idea of it is almost too much. 

At the idea of an idea being too much, I consider the crown of thorns, which pierces all over, which he cannot remove, which digs into his skull.  There are a thousand splinters, an untold number of lashes, and all the bruises from the walk and the falls with the cross. These are just the physical agonies we inflicted.


Now we add the cowardice, the grief he felt from being alone, from knowing those He did this for (us, or if I'm doing this examination alone, me), would shout "Crucify him!" The ones he did this for, would play clever, asking, "What is truth?"  The ones he did this for, would say they did not know him, would run away, would betray him, would scatter, and at best, they would watch. 



It was at this point, I hit the snag of "why did Mary, Mother of God say nothing?" 


However, Mary knew her heart would be pierced.  She knew this was the means of salvation. She'd heard his teaching. She'd heard his prediction of having to suffer and die, of having to take up the cross.  She must have pondered it in her heart, and resolved to do God's will.  Suffering her son to die, this must have been the hardest act of obedience of her life, to watch the spectacle, to not go and gather the apostles, yell at them and get them to go back and at least witness with Jesus, to stay with Him, and watch him surrender his spirit.  I cannot imagine a harder task for anyone.  Her prayer must have been a constant fiat at this point, "Let it be done according to Your will." just to hold to being a person without sin.



As I pondered her at the foot of the cross more, when you're faced with the total gift of self offered on the Cross by God for each and all of us, all you ultimately can feel, is silent awe.  So I'm guessing there was some of that in Mary's heart as well, because she would have held all those who fled, all those who shouted, all those who begged for Barabbas and all those who crucified Him, in her heart as well.  "Love God with all your heart, soul and body, and your neighbor as yourself."  Mary had to somehow, be loving those around her as she loved her Son to endure seeing Him on the cross and taking Him down. 

Who is the crucifixion for? It's for each of us, because we've been every role in this drama of the Easter story except for two, and those are the two we are to emulate.  We've been weak like Peter, we've sold out like Judas, we've been envious like the Pharisees, we've been fired up and eager like the crowd, equivocating like Pilate, desirous of having proof, of being able to command God, like Herod, cruel like those who scourged Him, violent like those who nailed him, and scared like the apostles who ran off in every direction.  The more we dig, the more we can find to prove we need God to show us, He will love us even through this, even in spite of this.  "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."  His words of forgiveness even from a cross, to each of us, for the reasons we put Him there.

Have a Great Good Friday, knowing He held onto the nails, not the hurt, and asking each of us in our lives, in our sufferings great and small, to do the same and repeat the words of Mary, "Let it be done to me, according to Your Will," and of Jesus, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Connecting the Dots

I'm sorry I didn't get to this yesterday, it's been a busy week.  You'd think having Spring Break, I'd have more time to write.  Somehow, it seems there is less time.  I'm guessing that's how it always feels, you never have enough time to do everything you would will, and when your time is free, projects line up like jet fighters to take it away. 

All of which is a long prologue to a link to Monday's Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea. We talked about Palm Sunday.  Or as I call Connecting the Dots, Sherry's private public CCD experience where she pays attention, with a good friend as the teacher.

It's Holy Week, and I feel I'm crawling to the finish.  Somehow, my prayer has become ever more scattered as we've drawn closer.  I still take all the intentions to prayer, but my capacity to focus, to sit, and to pray seems to be less and less.  I suspect this is God's way to make sure I don't attribute any success in this Lenten journey to me, but rather consider myself to have been borne through it. Someone who wakes up from having been sick for a long time, cannot take credit for losing weight, even if they do, but reap the benefit.  I vote for that explanation of why I think my prayers have become more a tangled mess of intentions, and intentions about tangled messes.

However, I did hear one really solid podcast I also want to share. I've been following Fr. John Riccardo's Rerouting series, and the most recent one, hits hard.   Before you listen to it, take a calculator and figure out how many days you've been alive on this Earth.   For example, I calculated I've been alive exactly 18,546 days.   You can use this generator to do it for you. (I was off by two days when I checked it).  That's the easy part. 

Now, if you don't have a lot of time, but can give 8 minutes, listen to this podcast. 
The more in depth homily which proposes this project is here. It's fifteen minutes.  If you don't have time for either, or don't want to do a podcast or can't, the project is to write out all of your sins, from the beginning of your life until now.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show your sins to you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your flaws not as a form of condemnation, but as a revelation of how we required, each of us, the crucifixion, and to prepare us for the great goodness of Good Friday.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wikipedia Roulette

The assignment was to look at ten random Wikipedia threads and link them together somehow. 

To begin with, what I learned....

I learned about a church called "Xc 'konk" (That's pronounced something like The Konk maybe but don't swear by it, it's Wikipedia) in Armenia which was 4/5ths of the way blown up in the 1920's.


Next, I discovered an artist named Gerand Van Deynum who painted still life in the style of Jan Davidsz. de Heem.  It would have been nice if they posted a picture he painted, rather than that of his inspiration's.  

A few more clicks on the randomizer and I met a philosopher Henryk Breit, murdered under mysterious circumstances. Wikipedia also claimed he belonged to the "Society of the Enthusiasts of the History of Lwów." It felt like the beginnings of a Dr. Who episode, except that was all she wrote. There wasn't any trace of his philosophy or what about the history of Lwow that made people so enthusiastic or likely to disappear for expressing such zeal for the hometown. 

  Wikipedia's random button introduced me to the village of Taqiabad, Kalat, population 585 in Iran. I wondered if they likewise had a "Society for the Enthusiasts of the History?" and if they don't, why not?
 
Next I found out about the wingspan of a Deroxena Conioleuca Moth; it's between 14 and 16 millimeters, or for those who don't do metric, just over half an inch. No mention of who did the measuring but you can bet, it wasn't an American educated before 1980.  

In my wanderings on the internet, I found myself becoming acquainted with a radio show before there was Angela Lansbury, Lois Lane or Nancy Drew, there was Kitty Keene Inc.  Only four episodes of her show survive. But why? Now there's a mystery. 

I skipped over a few countries whose names were even more impossible to pronounce than the ones I'd already discovered in this internet voyage, and the bio of a Matthew Collins, biologist, which felt too much like reading a write up for a Star Trek the New Generation Character. Here I was, skimming Wikipedia, and wanting to be dazzled, and irritated when I wasn't. It felt overindulgent, like my brain was insisting on too many toppings for a Sundae.

So I resolved to discipline myself. I would take the next offering; "The Lord of Opium," a sequel sci-fi novel by Nancy Farmer. However, I didn't find myself anymore compelled by the ongoing adventures of Matt Alacran than I did by the research of Collins, except this time, I spent more time on Collin's page and discovered his research focused on the persistence of proteins in ancient samples, modelling to explore the racemization of amino acids and thermal history to predict the survival of DNA and other molecules.[3] Using a combination of approaches (including immunology and protein mass spectrometry) his research detects and interprets protein remnants in archaeological and fossil remains. Hello Jurassic Park Reality? I had to rescind my indifference to the good professor if the possibility of owning a Good Dinosaur might be in the making.

Next I found Melissa Brown, Ophthalmologist and three time Republican Candidate for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. That's all she wrote.

Having looked at all the words I had to write and rewrite to simply explain what I read over the course of ten minutes, I learned one more thing from the exercise.

That Wikipedia is full of names of people and places and things I can neither pronounce nor spell and that since I want to be in the collective data dump of history, I'd better get to work creating a book about the Opium Lord of the Radio Program about a Politician hiding in a church in Armenia, heading the Society for the Preservation of 1/2 inch moths, membership 585, whose secret plans for reintroducing dinosaurs onto the earth, are conveyed in still lifes hanging in the Hague. 

Also, I should just stay away from the Random Wikipedia button.

1000 Stories, 1000 Words, Even More Memories

My brain today announced, “Due to excessive lack of use, the management has declared it will no longer take requests from the general public to perform on demand.”  I offered to eat fish.  I offered to exercise.  I even suggested I’d do both in the same week. I’d read Joyce.  I’d finish a medium level Soduku and listen to Mozart. 

I sat down to write.  Nothing.  I tried looking in my book of prompts.  I solicited family for suggestions and went on the internet searching for inspiration.  Finally, I had time, I had a computer and I got this:

So you get what I always do when I can’t think of something to write, you get me complaining about my AWOL muse and why Sherry can’t think anymore. 

One reason is simple.  Writing served as a means of self-affirmation while a stay at home mom.  Now that I’m working, the need for affirmation is not as desperate, ergo, the motivation is less.  That’s pathetic and sad really, but it’s also not wrong (much as I might wish otherwise).   On the positive side of that argument, perhaps my ego isn’t as needy.   (Ha!).  I know writers write even when not inspired, even when tired, even when they can’t think of a blasted thing so I’m here, whiffing at my own softball pitches.

Another reason is maternal.  Teenagers, while as amusing and entertaining (and they are), don’t struggle from massive cute disconnects which can be easily exploited for humor purposes.  I don’t want to document adolescence the way I did toddlerhood, because the chaos of teenagerhood is more about figuring out how to help them grow up, and that requires time and space and preferably, not sardonic, sarcastic or even light humor remarks from Mom.  

There are more reasons.  Physically, I know I’ve been running on fumes, both physically and intellectually since around September.  Negotiations with the brain have indicated there isn’t enough caffeine in the universe to make up for the lack of consistent rest, ergo if I want the grey matter to work, I need to invest in more REM time.  Will work on it, especially during Spring Break.

Inspiration. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve told all the jokes I have, and there aren’t any stories that aren’t either repeats of what’s been done, or somehow not what they should be.   I don’t want to force laughter or force humor.  But writing is a lot like fishing, you have to be patient and some days, even if you do everything correctly, you get skunked.   I know. Write anyway. Fish anyway.  Fish until you have no bait left even if they aren’t biting.  Write until you’ve hit 1000 words, even if they don’t sing.


Writing is hard.  Comedy is hard.  Writing comedy is harder than both.   A person who fishes but gets skunked is still a fisherman.  Is a person who writes but comes up with nothing still a writer?  Yes, but like the fisherman, frustrated as all get out.   I don’t want to just write words.  I want to write stories.  I want to somehow evoke a mood (other than boy is Sherry irritated with herself and in need of a diet coke, chocolate bar and a good 3 mile walk, maybe a book, a glass of wine and an early night).  

Back in 2004, I began writing and it seemed, everything would just pour out.  As I look at those early attempts, I wince at my own creations.  They seemed beautiful then, the same way prom pictures and art work and poetry written in adolescence seem meaningful and lovely.   Maturity has a way of rubbing off the glow of those early pieces, because you can see what you could have done, what you should have done, but what those early pieces have that isn’t there now, is fire.  Fire that came from feeling semi-fearless, like I could write anything. 

Somewhere in thirteen years of writing, telling the stories of what happened became something I wouldn’t do, and with that, telling stories became harder.   I lost a piece I’d worked on, with only 356 words to show for it, and I can’t for the life of me remember a word, not even the concept. Discouraged, I wondered, is it gone?  Is it time to just stop.  But that’s always been my problem.  I stop just before things flower, just before things take off, I sabotage myself by not fighting through whatever it is.  So I’m here, banging on the typewriter, blathering about my writers block and hoping somehow to pull out of my head, the practiced habit of writing, to restart with the vigor of knowing, every day there are 1000 stories waiting to be told.  My writing coach holds no sympathy for writing block. "You have ten kids.  Write."

It's a true formula, so I made a timeline.

We ate bacon and bagels, hot cross buns and fresh tomatoes for breakfast and John and Rita served the seven o’clock.  Paul brought me a lily he plucked from the outside and I placed it on the mantle.

 Today my almost ten-year-old reenacted light saber battles with whiffle ball bats.  She and her sisters planned a birthday party and bribed their parents to host a slumber party by cleaning the basement. 

We planted tomatoes and went to a band concert.  My son demanded to quit band because he doesn’t like it.  I offered a bribe.  He agreed with the proviso, I not make him go to Summer Camp. I’m still deciding if I agree to these terms.  At the concert, I met a couple who used to go to Saint Martin’s, they talked about the charism of Fr. Dan, which I agree, is remarkable.  I thought about his gift to bring others to the faith and how he helped me in a hard time.  The kids scored an excellent and I watched and wondered why one conductor refused to smile.

The kids planted Gladiolas, wild flowers, and played with kites in the back yard.   Paul came to me with his communication device and punched in, “Alligator, bee, toad.”  Which meant “I want to watch The Princess and the Frog.”  He’s also typed in “Fish, Jelly, Turtle,” code for “Turn on Finding Nemo.”  That evening, we took Paul and John to see a Capitals Game and Paul held our hands and jumped up the stairs and across crosswalks in downtown DC.  He said “Hockey” and signed to a girl his size, “I like your shoes,” because she wore caps sneakers. We got him a jersey and he wore it to bed, he felt so pleased.  All of this in one day, when I thought, I could think of nothing, because I was thinking what can I write, as opposed to “what happened?”  There isn't always a line connecting everything other than one thing preceded another, but writing out the events of the day allows me to look for ways to connect the events.  What happened?  A lot of life which, if I hadn't written it down, might have been forgotten.

First rule of writing, write.  Second rule of writing, get out of your own way when you’re writing.  Third rule, finish strong. 

Paul's first game, Palm Sunday, and a band concert, it was a good day to remember.   Sitting down to finish this piece after the game, I thought, "They're all good days, even the bad ones." I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pray and Fast and Give Alms for Peace


The Syrian crisis is as complex as anything one might imagine.  Here are some of the key points from the past four years alone.  Suffice it to say, 250,000 individuals have died and 11 million have been displaced from their homes.  Every once in a while we get worked up over a picture, because a picture as the saying goes, is worth 1000 words.  Nikki Haley held up pictures asking how many children have to die before Russia cares? I'd change the word Russia to world.

Seeing people dying in a horrible quick fashion that is frightening, that makes us want to take action.

This sort of horror, like the picture of the boy washed up on the shore, like the picture of the boy in the back of the ambulance, somehow gets us more invested than say, this picture:
or this one: 

Which makes us want to change the channel because we can't wrap our heads around it and don't have a symbolic action we could do which would let us go back to not paying attention. 
So remember folks, you can kill with indifference, denial of humanitarian aid, bullets and bombs all you like, but if you do a chemical weapon drop, we'll send missles.  Please, go back to killing and oppressing your people in less emotionally gripping and disturbing ways.  To avoid further strikes, only oppress and kill in ways which are approved by other civilized nations.

I'm sorry if that sounds too sharp to some ears. I'll concede it might deter Assad from authorizing further flights from airbases he contols to drop chemicals on civilians who do not favor his regime, but it also might draw us into a high stakes conflict with Russia, since Russia suspended an agreement of military cooperation between the US and Russia, since Russia is an ally of the existing Syrian regime. Additionally, while surgical strikes provide symbolic relief, no one even pleased with the US response, believes this limited action will result in the regime having a change of heart.

While I hope the missles got the places that hold chemical weapons, no one should feel comfortable that the US sends drones or missles into countries where we have not declared war or been given sanction to act in a military fashion or that Russia has promised to bolster Syrian air defense systems and is sending a frigate to monitor Syria's port to the Mediteranean.  It has the feel of brinkmanship, and not "the art of the deal." Military action, like all other things we do, ought to be the result of reflective, deliberate policy and thoughtful examination.  This act, (in contrast with the talk up until last week), is reflexive and reactive.  I didn't like it with the past presidents, I still don't like it.  

So what do we do as we watch powers and principalities play out a game of live chess with real people?

If we remember, back when war with Syria seemed inevitable in 2013, Pope Francis asked the Church to pray and fast for peace.  Somehow, the U.S. need to go to war which seemed unavoidable, evaporated...overnight.

Perhaps it is time to make that request again, and this time, add alms giving in the form of each parish taking on a family. If the Pope asks our fellow Christians and Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters to each take on a family at each church, each mosque, each temple, we will be able to whittle that picture of endless despair down, and perhaps help prove there is another way to address "such relentless hate," by riding out to meet them.  Problems aren't intractable just because they're difficult to resolve. Problems remain intactable because people refuse to be moved or to move. What is required is embracing the cross.  Somehow, we have to know, if we are Catholic, everything always requires embracing the cross.   Somehow, we have to know, peace isn't the merely absence of conflict.  Anyone who ever had a silent fight knows how a house feels when two people aren't getting along.  On a global scale, we can't know peace when we wilfully ignore suffering so as to "get along."

What we keep forgetting, as individuals and whole peoples, is when we ignore a problem because it is hard, it gets bigger.  It's true with weight. It's true with debt.  It's true with education. It's true with politics.  It's true with everything that matters in life.  When we ignore problems because they are difficult, we eventually wind up ignoring people.    We need to take on this crisis we've ignored. 

How?

We can eliminate the humanitarian crisis by helping one family at a time, via one community at a time.  Risk is always involved when we reach out to a stranger, to an other, whenever we offer love but to do otherwise, is indifference (which is the simplest path and what we've done as a world whenever we thought we could).  We've tried indifference. It has lead to where we are now, with millions searching for room in the inn of the world, pictures of the dead and the dying and stories of suffering, waste and pain with no respite.

Here's some links to ways we can get involved.
Seven Ways to Help Syrian Refugees.
Here's one more, which has some of the same information but is still worth reading as I'm pleased it's from a secular source: How to Help.


Petition your bishop, your pastor, and your friends to encourage everyone to do the same.  As we prepare for Holy Week, we ought to ramp up our prayers, fasting and alms giving, storming Heaven, asking for the peace the world cannot give.   If we show we are not living as this world would have us, but as the next, perhaps we can have better pictures and better stories to tell.

So Pray the Rosary for peace.
Fast as penance for all the pain we've created via neglect, indifference and not being willing to act,
and give alms, so they will know who we are.

It may seem unreasonable to pray for peace in such a wartorn and conflicted country. How could it possibly happen? That's okay. God loves unreasonably.  We can be unreasonable with God in our prayers, and God wants peace for these people, for all of us, even more than we do. It may seem crazy to give alms when there are so many in need. How could our little be sufficient?  That's okay. Give what you can. God will do the multiplying. He's done it before.   It may even seem scary to take on caring for people of a different faith, people we don't know, and to invite them into our lives. Again, that's okay. 

Love is always unreasonable, generous and courageous.  So be unreasonable, generous and courageous.  This week, this about to be Holy Week, be love.  










Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea

So here's the link to our podcast on Monday. I hope you're having a great week. I'm going to be on Spring Break next week, so hopefully, you'll see more writing, less double postings hey, I have a link here kind of stuff.  

Hang in there, this is the week of Palm Sunday, and next week, we get Easter.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Writing Humor/The Theory Behind it

Why is comedy difficult?
Well in most writing, you have a story and it can go up and down and around and people don't necessarily have a specific emotional response they must have. Unlike a western or sci-go or historical fiction, humor is a genre of mood, not place or time or parameters of how reality is understood. In humor, there is an expectation, to be amused.
If we don't laugh, it's not funny. Pure and simple, that straight forward, and that daunting at the same time. People can write a sad story, and though you may not weep, you may feel sadness and thus consider the story emotionally to be a success, but if a joke draws indifference, it has failed. It is not a joke. It's just a bad line or a stupid line or a poor bit of writing poorly told.
There are so many ways for a joke to fail, it is the souflee of the writing world. When it works, it's light, it's fluffy, it's magnificient and you want everyone to enjoy it, but it can't last. The joke is a pleasure of the moment, and once the moment is gone, it can't fully come again except in someone else experiencing the pleasure of the moment. All jokes are essentially one night stands in the brain.
What does that mean? It means everything you write in Comedy, has to be something someone else never wrote. Every bit of humor has to be a joke no one else told. You can copy a style of delivery, or of writing, but people know the voice/stamp of comedy in a way they don't often in any other genre, such that the jokes will become stale even before their told if the voice of the writer and the humor being created don't match up.
So how do you write humor? The same way we write anything else. Start with the story.
1) Can you exhaggerate it? Make the stakes what they are not.
 "The fate of the universe depends upon me, and to a lesser extent, you." --Ace in Chicken Little
2) Can you diminish it? Make the consequences what they are not. "You are a sad, sick little man and you have my pity." --Buzz Lightyear.
3) Can you find an orange to compare to this apple? Associative connections are your friends. "If she weighs as much as a duck, she's made of wood..." --Monty Python's Holy Grail
4) Can you create an assertion that has no basis in reality and make it stick? "Donuts, is there nothing they can't do?" --Homer Simpson
5) Can you use logic to destroy all reasoning? Spock: "Your logic was impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger.”
6) Can you play with language like legos? Puns, tropes, alliteration, assonance, oxymorons, hyperbole and metaphors are your friends.
"Marie Antoinette could have avoided that whole nasty business if she'd just issued an edict authorizing the distribution of food to the poor, but she couldn't. Because you can't have your cake and edict too." --Mr. Peabody.

7) Invert all your feelings on the matter. Ugate: "You despise me don't you?" Rick: "If I gave you any thought, I would."
Bonus if you can manage all seven in one piece.  Ultimately, the rules of humor follow one ultimate rule. Make 'em laugh.  Humor is a way of connecting the idiosyncratic to the universal and the universal to the individual  I don't have to be what the comedian is, to enjoy the stories the comedian tells.  Likewise, the humor reaches across ages.   
Consider whatever scenario you craft to be the diving board for the humor. Now, take a deep breath and dive deep.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Forced Practice

Yesterday, I tried to writes something funny. No dice. Nothing happened.  I just looked at the page. Today threatened to be the same way.  The rule about writers block is ignore it. Write anyway, even if it's just junk. So I'm writing.  Sometimes, life is like this, where everything seems so ordinary I can't find something to put onto the page that would somehow amuse, delight or reveal.

The rule of writing is open a vein, but even giving blood requires a 56 day lag time in between donations.   So I'm here trying to tap something, anything that might reveal why it is that my funny bone is awol.

It could be the pressure of work, which limits freetime.  Humor is work, but it does require time and reflection to create.  It could be the routine of life these days, which despite having ten kids, has a certain ordinariness which I feel I've already told all the stories.  We're into adolescence and middle school and high school and beyond. Those stories aren't mine to tell.  I've made a promise to them not to exploit their angst, only mine.

It could be, I'm tired and so the associative component of my brain is resting.  It could also be I'm out of practice.  I used to write three humor pieces a week.  These days, I maybe get one a week, with the other pages of the week being filled out by a published link or the podcast.

Fortunately, they keep growing.  So they keep creating new stories for me.   I started gathering the news of the day.  Paul today said, "Sheep" when we stopped at the farm. He's now using his communcation device to nag me to put on a movie.  Anna is wearing a red sparkly dress.
Regina is karate chopping her sister on the back, while John is gaming, Peter is running, and Rita is fixing a snack. Today is Faith's birthday and we're waiting for the meet to be over so we can get on to the serious business of celebrating. "There's nothing to do." one said.  "There's nothing to watch." another echoed.  "I'm hungry."  "It's too cold outside." "There's no one to play with." The chorus kept growing.  In short, they were bored.

Bored. Bored. Bored.  They begged me for something to do.

I suggested we play a game.

Now there is a debate about what to play.  For people who want something to do, they want it to be the right thing and have no idea how to get to it.

Sometimes, being the parent means being the diplomat, but today, it meant being the dictator.  As soon as I demanded everyone play, everyone found something to do that entertained them more deeply than before.   They drew.  They practiced their instruments, they shared apples and rode around on the garden cart taking turns.   No one needed any help coming up with something to do once I suggested something to do.   Paul came by, smakcking on an apple and gave me a pat on the shoulder.  I'm not sure but I think he meant, "Nice work Mom. You fixed it."

Now I sit at the table with three games no one wants to play and nothing to show for it. I have time.  I have a stupid blank page.  Theoretically, I should be writing something.  I'm still waiting for the writing muse to come play with me.

I know when I'll think of something...when everyone's home and we have something on the schedule.

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!