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."
"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. 


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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

There They Go

Yesterday, I attended a pep rally at the school where I work, and my attention kept being drawn away from the dancers and the flags and the DJ to the students near me.  They were teenagers, but they had disabilities just like my son who is only eight.  Some had gone down to the festivity and been cheered for their sports, some were part of the announcements, but these students, they were each of them, alone in a crowd.  They didn't sit, but they didn't socialize either.

I saw my son in six years.  Or rather, I saw how it could be.

Inclusion is easier in elementary school than anywhere else, and I've witnessed it first hand, but it should be the goal for the upper grades, for middle and high school.  Not that we'll sit with the kids who have disabilities, but that the kids with disabilities will be sprinkled amongst the various clubs, the poms and the tennis, the Korean Pop troop and the flags, the fans and the grades by class, and seamless. I want it not to be inclusion, but ordinary to the point of being the invisible taken for granted baseline of how we will be as a people.

Some might point out that some teens pull away from the crowd, they aren't joiners and in the disablied community, this is no different.  I would say yes, if I thought those teens I saw Friday milling about, not engaged in the pep rally were enjoying their aloofness.  Teens working to not fit in, relish their isolation.  I did not see this in those students.  I saw them engaged in self stimulation, in trying to figure out how to be where they were and fit in, and having neither a plan or a purpose for themselves, not being able to settle, stand, sit or cheer.

At home, my son has the protection of his siblings who constantly teach without teaching, how to get into a group and engage.  They've taught him how to play brawl such that I've learned not to start worrying if I hear him saying, "Help." if he's in the basement with his siblings.  It just means his character is getting beaten and someone needs to give him an assist.  At his school, he has friends across grades, across the spectrum of ability.  I know this because when we've come to events, kids come up to visit with him independent of a club or assignment or a teacher, high five him and visit.  It isn't a long convesation, it's usually "Hey Paul, what's up?"  Paul gives them a "Good" and the high five, and the other kid says something like, "See you on stage." or "Cool science project." or some such, and Paul shows them or says "Yeah" and tries to say the same back, and they know it.

Inclusion isn't easy, but it has to be more than the Compassionate Student Organization will sit with the Special Needs Students for lunch.  It has to be that there are actual relationships being built.  The kids at my son's school know he loves dinosaurs, flags and playing outside.  They bring him toy dinosaurs and books about it to read with him.  (Not as a club, as individuals).  Relationships aren't, I'm doing good for you because I'm good; relationships are I will the good for you, and I enjoy spending the one commodity we all have in limited supply, (time), with you and on you.

These sort of organic inclusion moments are something a mom of a kid with a disability lives for, and always at the same time, can't quite enjoy until after the fact.  We hold our breath when they take place, because the moment can be so fragile.  The thinking goes something like, "Please son don't do something that drives the other kid away.  Please other kid, don't ignore my son.  Please, somehow interact without super sweetness or baby talk, please please please be real."

Going back to the pep rally, I admit, I want a society where interactions between the mentally handicapped are neither artificially created nor imposed.  The kids with the handicapping conditions have a reason to be there, it's a pep rally for their school.  They don't have a reason to be in isolation, because they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.  It wasn't that the teachers or the school were doing anything wrong, only that as a Mom, and as a member of the Education community, I want more for the kids I saw, for they are just like my son.  I know we can't teach "How to act at a pep rally" through task analysis or breaking it down, but we could take a cue from the elementary school and the neighborhood model of friendship.  We need to learn how to be willing to spend time, wasting time with each other.

What does inclusion look like?  Every morning while waiting for the bus, all the kids put their feet together and do "one-potato-two-potato" to start.  My son gets mad if people don't tag him or don't let him be it sometimes, because he knows, as I do, it has to be real.  He has to be it sometimes.  When he's touched, he puts his hands out, giggles and begins to moan as he lumbers toward whoseover he's declared the newest target.  He doesn't need any guidance, he's immersed as they all are.  It isn't a case of "there he goes" to play with the other kids or "there they go to play with him."

It's look: "there they all go to to play.  See how they love each other."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Over at the National Catholic Register

I have a piece over at the Register addressing how we respond to God's love.

Here's a taste of it:

 "My children came to me because they felt lonely and needed reassurance, tangible and emotional. When we come to God, we are asking the same thing."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We're in Week Three of Lent

Tuesday, I took all the petitions with me when I attended a healing mass celebrated by Father Dan O'Leary.  If you read yesterday's piece, you got day one of his talks.  Here's the podcast version of his Day 2 talk.  Father Dan has many spiritual gifts, and one of them is his devotion to the sacrament of confession.  I've seen him see a person leaving because the line was too long and stop whatever it was he was doing, to invite them back.

Standing in line to receive a blessing, waiting became an opportunity to engage in a litany of sorts, for all those I've ever hurt, both by co-mission or omission, and all those who I've nursed hurts against.  I've been to healing masses before, (not often), but I know they bring with them great graces.  It's a sort of oasis in the midst of this Lenten journey, a greater feast than getting to indulge in whatever surrender we've made up to now in our normal appetites.

This past week, I began to reflect on what these first three weeks of Lent have brought.  While considering the purpose and process of Lent, I stated how I started Lent wanting God to give me friends.  I was praying for friends.  Now, I find my desert is full of friends for whom I am praying. This thought germinated into a piece over at the National Catholic Register.   It is a great blessing to be part of all of your lives.  Thank you for honor.  

May I pray for you today?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trisomy 21 Day

It's World Down Syndrome Day, so it's fitting that Paul is the inspiration for the piece which ran today over at Aleteia.  How I Learned Being a Saint is as Easy as Bedtime.  Enjoy.  And if you're curious, we're still battling him on getting to bed.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Woman at the Well

I bring this up because the Woman at the Well keeps showing up or more accurately, Jesus keeps meeting me at the well, and since I didn't come to the well, he keeps moving the well.  It was there on Sunday in the readings.  It was there Monday with Mark Shea and Connecting the Dots.  To top it off, I saw a link to the priest who challenged us to enter more deeply in, Fr. Dan O'Leary.   

Now I love Fr. Dan. I've loved his theology, his homilies, his thinking and his faith ever since he burst into our lives when I was pregnant with Faith. I met him on Easter in 2002. He'd been through the busiest week of priesthood there is, and came to the hospital to anoint me.  I also love him because he was willing to risk our friendship when he saw me holding onto a grudge.  He warned me, I could hold on and be destroyed, or give it over and find peace.  When the Holy Spirit hits you over the head three times with a reading, it's clear if nothing else, you need to go back to it, to consider am I holding onto something, am I keeping myself from the living water?

It was a reminder.  Jesus is there, seeking a relationship with us, breaking down the walls we've created through false gods, through our sufferings, through all the failures we've held onto over the years.  We all are the woman at the well, going to find something that would satisfy, because we've tried everything.  We are all the woman at the well, wanting something more and knowing what we've found up to now, wasn't it.  

So we go again, hoping this time, we'll find the living water.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Because We Should Stop

As writers, we're supposed to take everything in, and pull from our memories, from our heart, and weave together associations through sentences that bridge the gap between the experiences we've all had, and the ones only some ever endure.  Yesterday, a friend on Facebook announced her son battled demons and lost.

I know countless mothers who hold their breath at such stories, because thus far, their children have won, but there's always the chance tomorrow, it will be them taking down the body of the child they carried, because they weren't there at the right moment to make sure this horrible moment didn't happen. 

The internet makes us voyeurs into each other's lives, it can even create real relationships, but it won't let us be flesh and blood to those friends when flesh and blood is what aches. Her heart's cry pierces the internet, because it cannot be answered. It cannot be comforted, not by anything here.
Suddenly, the internet revealed in addition to being a community, it is dust and amusement. We can be cheerleaders and encouragers, we can even be provocative, but what we can't be, is anything other than virtual in this moment when tangibility means everything, because death is such a tangible, bodily thing.

There are no words to give to a mother who found her son hanging in the garage other than, "I'm so sorry."

These sort of moments, the only appropriate response is to give some tangible form of a hug. Food. Watching her little ones. Offering to help with the mass, anything. Instead, I'm here, my thoughts churning over the children I work with, my own children and their trials, and over her. The rosary in my fingers feels inadequate, and yet I know she holds to it too, along with her other children who must also weather this terrible pain. They hold to it like a safety rope, and I want it to be for them. I have to hope it is.

Everything feels too new, too raw, too simple, too pat to be real. This unreality feeling, facing the deepest and worst we can face, will even make the sounds of cars and doors and phones and the television feel alien. Music will cut the air, and conversations buzz through without leaving an impression. As I feel the round beads in my hands, the realness of her raw reality works against allowing me the comfort of doing the familiar. It must. It is immediate. It is too soon. It is too near.
Her pain cannot be rushed or wiped away or easily healed; it must merely be endured. The rosary too, cannot be rushed, not if it is to be prayed. She will grope through the grief. We will all grope through prayers, hoping to add to the graces she receives, and lighten something of the hard cross she carries. So I'm praying for all of the trials to come, for her to feel as she should, and for the whole rest of the world to stop, and be gentle as it can for as long as possible, to give her leaking heart time to be bound.

My friend Simcha has details on how you can give tangible help. Please keep their whole family in our prayers.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Without Sunshine*

by Guest Blogger, Marc Antonetti.

Today March 8, 2017 is "A Day without a Woman" day; and like a day without sunshine, your regular columnist--Sherry--is nowhere to be seen.  

The corporate big wigs at Chocolate for Your Brain however would not shut down the operation in solidarity with the movement and threatened to fire her if there was no column. So she asked for a ghostwriter (that male in her life who is rarely seen or heard from in public) today.

So how is our day without a woman going?  Well, we got up late and the kids had bratwurst and beans for breakfast. Immediately the chorus of "Where's Mom?" began. I answered with my typical straightforwardness, "Not here."  And "Somewhere else." and in homage to that great bedtime book, Owl Moon, "Maybe a fox got her."  

When they saw they were getting yesterday's left overs in their lunch boxes, a second round of "No really Dad, where is Mom?"  I replied, "Go brush your teeth, and your hair."  

I thought I was doing fine until I had to find socks and some sort of remotely matching outfit for each of the youngest two five minutes later. By then the yellow school buses had rolled past our house. It was now 9:10.  After dropping them off at school (itself operating on minimal efficiency) I headed home to telework.  

I put on a continuous loop for the "Hunt for Red October," "A Bridge Too Far" and "Crimson Tide." The day without women was looking up.  I could indulge in films without girls in them (and Gates McFadden and Liv Ulman have too few lines to count in the first two films).  I reprogrammed all the radio stations in the car from Mix 107.5 and the other pop music channels from the "80's, 90's and Today" to SportsTalk 980, the Sports Junkies, and the new AC/DC channel over on Sirius/XM.

Of course, this reverie lasted until I saw it was already 2:30 and time to make the first run out to pick one kid up from school, race home for the next four to arrive by bus and then out again to get the oldest two from after school activities.

By the time I got home, the chorus of "Where's Mom?" started up.

"Can you sign this?"
"I don't understand my homework!"
"I need something for the bake sale."
"My brother did this to me."  "She started it!"  "What's for dinner?"  "I'm hungry." 

The high of watching Sean Connery for the better part of the afternoon wore off, leaving me with the distinct desire to say "Calgon take me away!" or at the very least, "Where's Sherry?" 

On one more serious note, I will be continuing Sherry's prayer requests, so if I may, Can I pray for you?  I would also ask that we all give a prayer, of thanks for all the women in our lives without whom we wouldn't be where we are today, and for greater unity among all of us, no matter what the gender,

Sherry Green Antonetti will Return with Small Success Thursday tomorrow.  I hope.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mom Myth Buster

"You have a lot of kids so the older ones must help out a lot right?"  I get this bit of folk lore from well meaning people and I know other moms of more than two do as well, particularly if there's any sort of gap.  It's not that the older kids don't help out.  It isn't that they can't help.  It's that the presumption when people say such things, is that once children hit twelve, they become something other than teenagers, they become reliable staff.

I can only presume the people or person who created this bit of commonly held wisdom never knew a single twelve to twenty-one year old, and never experienced being anywhere close to that age themselves.  They just skipped all of adolescence and immerged on the scene at twenty-five with a full Wikipedia approved understanding of how to raise multiple children which they generously impart to anyone who has them but doesn't seem to grasp how to do it properly. (Meaning me).

Here are just a few samples of where I've been told, the older ones should pitch in, and where I've found, for various reasons, it's not happening.

Homework:  "The older ones help the younger ones." No. This does not happen.  Not because they can't. Not because they won't.  It's that they have homework too.  Besides, I don't blame them.  I wouldn't want to do one of my younger sibling's homework either.  None of us liked it the first time around and it hasn't become any more beloved a task as part of somebody else's responsibility. Also, the older kids had to put up with my inept support in math, I suspect they've banded together to 1) ensure I maybe one day master 5th grade fractions and 2) no one younger gets out of having to figure it out for themselves after being told the next day by the teacher, they did it wrong.

Laundry:  Despite having a machine which does the washing and another which does the drying, this task remains a labor of either the desperate or me.  No one likes their clothing co-mingling unless they're the squatter adding in, in which case they can't see what the problem might be.

One caveat:  Everyone will very helpfully point out, so and so needs to do laundry, or so and so needs to put away their laundry.  They are also quite willing to serve as nag-o-ramas whether asked or not, to the child who needs to catch up on their wash.

Dishes: I've been told by helpful strangers, to assign each task to two children.  Like all things proposed, it works in theory.  Whenever I try to do pairings to have an older kids work with younger ones, either the older one masters the art of exploitation, the younger one becomes a ninja, incapable of being discovered, or both collude to find something so mommy-tear-jerkingly-beautiful to do I won't insist on the original task.  This third ploy, though seldom used, always works.  I've caught them playing cards, reading stories and practicing music together.  They've made castles, puzzles and colored together.  The result (I'm a sap) is I see this precious moments facade, fall for it every time, and wind up finishing the task for them.  

So yes, the older ones do help the younger ones...to master the art of the dodge.  But what will the younger ones do when they mature and there are no younger ones to use as  human shields to avoid work?  Probably collude writing "How to Parent Properly Such that Your Kids Do Chores Books" and offer to sign one for me provided I pay an additional fee.

Day 4 of Lent

May I pray for you?

I'm rotating between the blog and Facebook to make sure I ask every day, and to keep from sounding like a nag. 

The first thing I've come to know, is there are a lot of hidden crosses.  It is an honor to be allowed to share in such stories of strength, courage and fortitude.  My heart rends for some of these individuals.  It feels inadequate to simply pray, and yet it is all any of us can do given what some of these people face, and in reality, it is what we are asked to do. Also, I know, God's heart rends more than mine, and He can and does act, and is acting. 

Today, I read several posts by people who declared themselves emancipated from organized religion because they wanted to be more in connection with God.  Maybe they have that grace, but going to adoration, I cannot get closer, and I know absent the sacraments, (as I know even with them), it is easy to drift. It is easy to fall into talking to myself.   It is easy to fall asleep. 

However, the names help me anchor.  I have a red book in which I write every name of every person and every intention each day.  Leave your name and/or intention in a like, the com box or email.  Every day but Sunday, the offer will be given.  

So may I pray for you?  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Over at the National Catholic Register/Day 2

It was a pleasing surprise to discover this piece over at the National Catholic Register. It's called 5 Ways to Go Deeper and Deeper Into Lent. I would argue, it is a process and all five steps are necessary.  We're always in need of going deeper and deeper in, and whatever gets us to wade further into the waters, is good.

It is Day 2 of Lent.  Thank you for helping me with my observance.

The other day, I felt the weight of everything (Fat Tuesday), and asked for comfort.  My son who is eight, would not let me alone for the next hour.  Everywhere I went to be alone, to nurse the hurt I felt, he came.  I locked myself behind three doors.  He picked them.  I shut myself in my bathroom. He knocked on the bathroom and I could hear him outside calling me.

I didn't want to visit with my son. I wanted to be comforted, so I put on a coat. When I went outside, he put on a coat and came out. Three times I took him back in, and went back out to allow myself to keep asking for comfort, and three times, he found a way out to come and climb a tree next to me.

It seems obvious and yes,  I figured out, he was part of the answer, as was a phone call from my brother, a text from my oldest son, and an unsolicited hug from a daughter, and the unasked for purchase of a Dunkin' Donut by another daughter.  I also received an email from a complete stranger about an article I'd written, and an invitation to get together with another friend for Thursday, all of which came in short succession.  God hears. God answers, and He's even goofy about it, like encouraging my son to come outside three times to climb trees next to me, coaxing me with donuts and visits from friends.  It was a lavish response to a momentary dark mood. One might even say overkill, except it wasn't.  It was the more, the little extra that let me know, it was God saying over and over again what He always says, "I love you." and "I am here."

So know, I am praying for all of your intentions, and I hope, you get showered with answers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

May I Pray For You?

May I pray for you?

I've been thinking hard on what to do for Lent.  I know one part of Lent will be the 40 bags in 40 days, but I also know, that is a physical discipline and God knows, I need to become more mindful in all things.

Part of Lent is to go deeper into prayer.   My own prayer life has been one big distraction, so I'm seeking to take my own wandering brain out of the equation by giving it others to focus on instead.

This year, this is part of my Lenten observance, to pray for others before the Eucharist.  Each day. Every day.  The offer will be made each day on this blog.  I will take any and all petitions to prayer for the day.   You can email, private message or put your petition in the com box. You are invited to be a prayer warrior for all petitions you see.

What will that prayer be like? It will be simply presenting whatever is received, probably in the course of the Rosary or Chaplet since those are my two favored ways to try to delve deeper into relationship with God.   My brother made a comment to me, which frightened me and at the same time, I didn't argue the matter, because that's what we're supposed to seek when we talked about the purpose of prayer.  Everyone is supposed to seek to have something as close as possible to being able to walk with God in the cool of the day.  He made a comment about my prayer life being direct.

His comment was coupled with a discussion held online where I asserted what I believe, prayer always works.  Not how we plan, not as magic, but it always opens us to going deeper into relationship with God.  Between my brother's comment and the discussion on prayer, I felt the tug to ask, and so I ask again, "May I pray for you?"

The reality is, we all should be more comfortable asking this question but for some reason, I am not.  I can't figure out why, but I am not.  I know it has something to do with how intimate prayer is. but that's not quite it.  I know there is more.  I know that more is the great unknown, the deeper ocean which isn't safe.  It is the desert where everything is vast and I am small.

God doesn't want us to have a safe relationship with Him, God wants intimacy, infinite intimacy and that always requires us to move toward the infinite.  I didn't know until I wrote this, that this idea frightens me, exposes me, somehow unnerves me.  It shouldn't, but it still feels as if it does.  I do so not like and yet love and appreciate how God lets me write until I discover, how the soul clings to the haven of an oasis, staying where I know, staying where it's safe.   Lent is not about being safe.  It helps to have that smear of ashes on the head, again outing us as mortal, and as Catholic.

So if you wish, if you want, may I pray for you?  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea

Today Mark and I talk about Lent, about joyful deaths, about the Orans posture at mass, and about evangelizing Aliens from other worlds. In short, we try to get to as many things as our imaginations can fathom in an hour.  

My take?   I spent some time thinking about this after the show.

Would meeting aliens from another world or finding life on other planets shake the foundations of our faith?

Simple answer?  No.

Why? I think it is possible, we are unique in the universe, in that we are the most sentient (God help us), in which case, it speaks to perhaps needing to recognize our task as stewards of all creation including the suns, moons, planets and stars and get to work caring for everyone we encounter, for they too are made of the same stuff as the suns, the moons, the planets and the stars.

However, I am not troubled by the idea of  not being alone in the universe because even if that first scenario is the case, we have a lot of company.

If there is other life (tangible, living through time and occupying space and having matter), if it is non-sentient, then we must care for it as we are called to shepherd eagles, embryos, humpback whales, butterflies, orchids, redwoods, penguins, lions, wolves, lambs and all that grows or creeps or swims or flies upon the earth.

If we discover life forms with will and intellect, then they are our brothers, and we know, we are always  our brothers' keepers even if they are stronger and bigger and more evolved intellectually, physically or even morally than we are.  Our mission does not change even if our position on the food chain might, it only, (like the universe), would be expanded.  

Catholic means Universal, ergo I'm going to go with the concept that such a faith would include within it, all that inhabits the Universe.  As the bard said, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

We cannot outdo our God in love, in generosity, in creativity, or I would add, imagination. If we can conjure wizards, two-hearted thirteen lives doctors, hobbits, Vulcans and Jedi Knights from our limited minds, who knows what wonders God holds for us to find if we were to venture out past our own safe shores.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hey! Where did Small Success Thursday go?

It's on Facebook over at Catholicmom.com.  I don't know if someone who isn't on Facebook can read that link or not. Please, let me know one way or another.  I'm still mulling over how to manage this weekly counting of the blessings of the past week if it isn't able to be shared beyond the walls of Facebook. 

Suffice it to say, here's the key point:

We went to the zoo.  As happens in most field trips with kids, it got hot. They got hungry. We had to walk everywhere, and there was a temptation to turn what had been a treat into a trial.   We got through it and with that struggle, came this insight.   

Suffering, albeit in a tiny way, somehow made the whole trip more memorable, the way a story becomes more memorable than if once upon a time, everyone lived happily ever after, the end. I thought about this as we prepare for Lent, knowing we're to recognize, the only way to Easter, is through the cross. Embracing suffering doesn't mean seeking pain, but weathering it well, and weathering it with other people when such moments occur, being the Simon or the Veronica to someone whose burden becomes visible. 

So this week's small successes became focused around when we had the opportunity to be a Simon or a Veronica, did we take it?

Please, leave a comment in the com box if the link works or not (if you are NOT on Facebook).   Thank you. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Over at Aleteia Today!

Getting ready for Lent? Want Ideas? This isn't a piece giving you 40 ways in 40 days, but trying to get at the reality of how we should approach Lent, no matter what form of Lenten service and sacrifice we adopt.

Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea Podcast is Up!

You can listen to Mark Shea, Rod Bennett and me talk about writing, the process and some of the inside baseball of the writing life.  It helped me get back in the saddle about submitting.

One of the big issues for writers is isolation, which is why when writers get together and talk shop, time falls away.  For one of the fastest hours on the internet, start checking out Connecting the Dots every day at five o'clock.  Rod Bennett will be back Wednesday as Mark's co-host.  I'd also recommend listening to one of Rod's talks: Four Witnesses Brought Me Home.

I'm honored to be in such company.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Real UnFake Super Serious Threat to the US that is US

So this weekend, the President made writing humor easy when he mentioned the uptick in crime to Sweden, and pundits and newspapers and countries pounced on his mischaracterization of the increase as a form of terrorism.

However, researchers here at Chocolate for Your Brain dug beneath the easy headlines to discover a true national security threat: a threat we've refused to acknowledge despite the danger, a threat we have in our homes, a threat we wear, we drive, we eat, and which is as insidious as an earworm from Momma Mia.

That's right.  we're talking about imports from Sweden.
Now the ambassador has offered to brief the President on how things stand in Sweden, but honestly, what else is the ambassador from Sweden going to say?  They won't acknowledge the danger their export culture brings to our shores, so Chocolate For Your Brain will.  (Being patriotic and all that).

For those who don't know how much hails from that land of Bjorn Borg, we present to you, the top ten threats which must be stopped before further infesting American culture. I also never knew about a site called Highsnobiety, which gets points for the name alone. 

10) H&M clothing.  Designed for people who cannot float because they ski cross country to work, and have less than .002% body fat.  Even the mannequins are sucking in to look good.  For the sake of not shaming all of us Americans who now have the luxury of three different types of Big Macs to choose from on the dollar menu, this particular shop and all its ilk must be stopped at the border. 

9) Swedish Meatballs.  I know, it's in Babylon 5 and the nerd in me wants to give it a pass for that reason alone, but really, I'll put it this way.  Even the Country Buffet which has everything (my daughter's favorite restaurant), doesn't have this on the menu.  So if you're hosting any Narns, you'll have to make your own.  However, again, in the interest of keeping Earth Narn free, it would be best to nix any bringing of this dish onto Yankee soil. 

8) Stockholm Syndrome.  Why?  Because there is no vaccine and so before we catch it maybe we can get the current administration to ban it. He might if we told him, there's no vaccine, or maybe if we told him there was one.

7) ABBA Covers.  There is only one ABBA, and all others are just profiteering. 
Cue music! 

6) IKEA.  I know bringing this up is like shooting Swedish fish in a barrel, because everyone's got an Ikea story.  Nothing ever looks like it does in the store, and no one can ever build them properly.  I suspect there is always a missing instruction which would be available if anyone read Swedish or Norwegian or Danish (which are reportedly similar according to PopSweden.com).  For the sake of our already overtasked, overwhelmed brains, we need less hassle, ergo, this has got to go.

5) This guy may already be in trouble (baring continued intervention by the courts), since the Muppet revamp didn't take and there doesn't seem to be a high demand for his type of cuisine, not even by visiting Narns. 
Stereotyping is bad, so he should be Robert Borked Borked Borked Borked.

4) Besides, I suspect he is the original creator of these.  They are my daughter's favorite candy.  Somehow, I find this disturbing. They look like they should not be edible.

3) If anyone based on class and national origin should be banned, it's this guy.  He comes armed.  He comes with full intent to pillage, and he hasn't been funny in years.  Also, as a preventative measure, it's vital he be sent back to his native land, lest the mentally bankrupt genius types in Hollywood decide we need a CGI generated version of Hagar and the Lost Tribe for our summertime entertainment.   So for the safety of our people and the good of humanity in general, let's say "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, Hey...Hej da."
2) Volvos and SAABS.  Why?  First, they're Swedish and the whole issue is to isolate the threat brought by particular countries correct?  That's the plan, so why not?   Second, Volvos and Saabs do not follow the American Car product model of planned obsolescence. They last.  That's...UnAmerican, not getting a new car every three to six years.  Think of the jobs in finance, in retail, in sales, in repairs, which go unfilled because the Swedes have the audacity to create machines which don't break down.   Besides, I'm running out of ideas that aren't universal enough to exploit for humor's sake.

1) Actors with names involving more than six vowels or who have an umlaut or krouzek. We have enough trouble with just how many consonants these Swedes employ.    Americans struggle with the schwa.  We don't cope well with things that make our English look less processed than our cheese.  This shouldn't be too much of a problem since Hollywood is threatening a strike.   We'd name them but we can't because we don't know how to spell names with an umlaut or a krouzek and we wouldn't want to give them publicity anyway.

*As a final editor's note, sure, you could find alternative sources of information which say none of these things should be banned, but that would require research, critical thinking and above all, judgment.  We're making it easy and digestible for you here.   Why?  Because we love you and we're patriots.
All that other stuff that says nothing is rotten in Sweden, that's all just fake news.  You shouldn't listen to it really.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017


For all who cannot discuss the current resident of the White House without taking blood pressure medication, I have a few questions.  Not to worry, I have some for those who feel it necessary to be defenders as well.   I will probably zero out my followers, my statistics, and eliminate all friends and possibly family when I'm finished.   President Trump seems to have a gift for creating a wall in a metaphorical and philosophical sense, if not in reality.   No one is luke warm.

Question #1:  Regarding the election.  Why would Trump claim election fraud if he was aided by the Russians in securing the office?  Why would he even bring it up?  Caveat, you can't claim he's sly like a fox  and dumber than a bag of hammers in the same breath.

Question #2:  How would targeting the DNC and hacking into their system, affect the election?   I get that the CIA and FBI and Obama administration and members of congress briefed on the matter all agree, Russia backed Trump and attempted to hack into the DNC and gather information from said emails to support him.  I can't say leading up to the election, that I saw any public/media based information to indicate Trump would win.  Here's the best and most complete discussion I've found on the issue. 

Question #3: If through harrassment, public social media trashing, and extreme vetting as it were, all individuals tapped for the task of leading a cabinet are destroyed, as are their families, only the unscrupulious and the lone wolves will be left, those who need not worry or care about public opinion.   How do we attract people of good character to the administration, if their character even solely by association with President Trump, regardless of their own personal faults or history, becomes instantly the social and moral equivalent of slime, putriousness and muck?  How do we preserve our government if as a people, we think it is okay to destroy people when we disagree?How do we get anyone to be willing to serve, if the cost is all peace all the time?

Question #4:  I know people who are convinced, the President should be impeached. On what grounds?  Here's a reasoned discussion, and here's a fact check of what's happened thus far, and here's what keeps people I think feeling keyed up...a quick google reveals nearly an article a week from a major media outlet, Politico, Huffington Post, Salon, Independent, and Chicago Tribune since the election, either advocating it happen or declaring it's a slam dunk certainty.  As I recall, there was a great anger over the use of impeachment on the President (Bill Clinton) as it could be used to weaken the executive branch and should not be engaged for mere political points.  This goes back to the real question, why should he be impeached?  On what grounds?  Most people are willing to say yes, I will take the consequences when there is no sacrifice on their side.  My question is, what are the consequences if this tool is used in this manner?

Question 5:# What would be the principle which would break the social contract between the government and the people?  If we chaffed (and many of us have) at executive orders under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama, we ought to still be agitated now.  We ought to recognize, if conservative principles mean anything, they can't be abandoned when it is convenient.  (See article I cited above).

Here's one of the better articles I've read recently discussing the issue of how necessary priciples are before politics or politicians. 

Question #6: What are the principles we're going to cling to regardless of party?  Regarless of power?  What will we stand for?  If we're going to be a good people, and not merely prosperous, we can't let parties determine our moral values.  Parties have only one objective, power.   Principles are the first thing to go when the option is principle or power.  

Question #7: Are we only talking and not listening?  Are we only saying, "It's our turn now?"  The goal of checks and balances, of divided government, of a democracy, is to create the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people and to be as universal as possible, as fair as possible, as ideal as possible.   Are we?   If not, why not?

It will require of us a higher level of vigilance with respect to this and every subsequent executive who takes power.  We can't only listening to those who agree with us or presume those who disagree are either ignorant or willingly deceptive.  We also have to not go nuts everytime something is said which seems outrageous.  In other words, "Verify, then trust."   That goes for the executive, legislative and judicial branch and media.  

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!