Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spirograph Brave

My little son does not like shots. He hates them.

When he learned he would have to endure two for his kindergarten physical, he said to me, "I think I can summon up some bravery."

I hugged him and assured him I would hold his hand and it would be okay. I told him about how at his age, I didn't like shots either and that my mother got me to stop going on about having to have a vaccination by making me chose an item that I could earn if I was brave enough.

"What was it?"
"A Spirograph."
And I explained what a spirograph was and how much I had enjoyed it, and how his sister had one up in her room.
"Well I don't want a spirograph for a shot."

So we went on to negotiate a suitable prize.

The day of the physical arrived. Having scheduled a double up, my daughter in first grade attended as well. Her doctor's appointment went first. She got her shot and said "Ow." When it came time for the shot, my son cried hard.

He cried as we left the office. He cried as we went down the elevator. He cried as we walked through the parking lot. Getting into the car, he was still going on about the pain.

My daughter, ever solicitous, put her arm around him and said, "You were so brave." He was at this point, howling from it, saying over and over again, "I hate shots. I don't like them. It still hurts."

But when she said that, he looked at her with moderate annoyance, "I wasn't brave. That wasn't bravery."

He may not take a hit well, but he's ruthlessly honest about his state of being. I think I'm going to buy him a spirograph.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why the Notre Dame/Obama Scandal Matters

My husband and I met at Notre Dame on the third day after we arrived on our respective campuses. After four years of dating while at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, and two years of engagement wherein I received a Master’s of Education at Boston College, and my then fiancĂ©e attended NYU law school, we were married by the Bishop of Beaumont, Texas, Bishop Bernard Ganter in 1990. Nine children and no small number of Notre Dame T-shirts and sojourns out for games or to visit friends later, we find ourselves looking at a school we no longer recognize as the place that helped preserve our pure spirits, that helped keep youthful desires in check with such quaint restrictions as visiting hours.

Where we once argued against Mario Cuomo and were not scoffed at, now we see a school that seems both hard headed and in part, hard hearted. We do not understand this beautiful place that no longer recognizes the source of its fundamental beauty. When people of good character and deep faith ask how this school (which they know we love), can authentically represent Catholicism, (indeed, Mary in all her glory), if we cannot recognize life at its beginning as being sacred to those who do not believe it, I have no answer.

We will be praying the rosary. We are praying the rosary. We pray for the President to have the scales fall from his eyes and for this most anti-life of all presidents in the history of our country to become like Saint Paul. We pray for Fr. Jenkins and those who stand fast with him on this point. We pray for their hearts to be softened by the weeping and anguish of the faithful who see this as a far more egregious assault on Catholic sensibilities than the erotic pseudo intellectual musings of an artistically contrived lesbian play. The later is self absorbed mental porn packaged as art, the former is a rejection of everything our Lady stands for and everything her life means, for the sake of a photo-op and the bragging rights amongst Universities for hosting the current President of the United States.

The rejection of the timeless for the transitory, of the prayerful for the powerful injures more than just those graduates and families and alumni who may not be entirely thrilled with President Jenkin’s choice. Those who never loved Notre Dame but love the policies of the current President of the United States, seem to find almost perverse glee that the faithful, (who cannot be anything but pro-life), agonize over this once crown jewel of Catholicism falling so far from her truly once upon a time deserving heights. Being the body of Christ, all of the Church, all of us that make up the countless unknown laity that line up for the Eucharist on a weekly basis or more, we suffer each time a Catholic in a position of leadership denies Mary, denies Christ, or denies the authentic reality of each person, by their policies and actions and words.

The University of Notre Dame should mean something. It should embody the beauty of Mary, the humility of Mary, the obedience of Mary, the purity of Mary, the whole dedication to Christ of Mary. It should be a place that creates people of steel and fire, people who know how precious life is, and how important it is to be obedient to God in all things. The University should radiate the essence of Mary in all its policies and in all of its classes, and in every bit of ground.

No one who contemplates this Queen of heaven with a sincere heart, cannot be softened by her witness, by her love, by her life and her instruction. “Do whatever He tells you to do.” This should be the great lesson that all students come to master as a result of their experience at this campus, whether in physics or art or sociology or economics.

The purpose of a Catholic University is not to win accolades or host world leaders or build the largest endowment in the history of man or have the greatest number of federal dollars in grants for its research purposes. The purpose of a Catholic University is to via the craft and art of instruction, through the sense of place and the beauty of minds and persons represented in the faculty and staff, to turn souls towards God while putting before the students, the richest banquet possible of all the best thoughts, practices and experiences available. The purpose of a Catholic University is to pursue the Truth in all things. Modern sensibilities would parse Truth and reduce it to being merely a religious tenet, and that only scholarly truth should be so ruthlessly sought in the academic world.

But Christ tells us clearly, “I am the way and the Truth and the Life.” If we would be Catholic, if Notre Dame would be Catholic, it must know Truth, it must love Truth, and it must pursue Truth over politics, over power, over prestige. And the Truth in this circumstance is humble and small and achingly real in the person of Mary.

Notre Dame Our Mother, Pray for us. And Our Hearts forever, Love Thee Notre Dame.

The Should Expert

Because I belong to two writers' groups, there is always talk about how to get one's self noticed and what we should do. The experts claim that use of the internet to convey and create publicity is a necessity in the modern publishing world. Viral videos, greater circulation, we need to create an audience hungry for us. We should do this.

So I thought about it.
I probably should facebook more.
I probably should tweet.
I know I don't Digg and I don't Youtube.

Then I started thinking about all the "shoulds" that I have on my list.
I probably should read all the books my high school Senior English teacher assigned.
I should eat less fat and exercise more.
I should probably ballance my check book, put away my credit cards and learn not to impulsively stop through the drive thru of Chick Filet for a cookies and cream milk shake on days when the temperature soars above 90.

There are so many things on my list of shoulds....

I should weed the front yard that is checkered with dandelions.
I should have preread the Twilight series before my daughter got her hands on it.
I should know the names of all of the kids in each of my kids classes but I don't.
I should bake cup cakes for the treat sale this Thursday, but I'll probably punt and get Krispy Cremes.
I should volunteer more and shout less.
I should probably buy a converter box or get cable.
I should probably update my phone.
I should spend time counting my blessings instead of patrolling the house for dust bunnies, trash and laundry that has had time to grow crunchy.
I should write real letters instead of email, and I should talk to my two brothers and one sister on a weekly basis, not just when something happens like a car accident, a baby born or a job change.

I should fish.
I should sleep more.
I should know how to sew.
I should know how to can food and make jam.

I should read every day to my kids for 20 minute a day, but that comes out to three hours and that eliminates time I should be spending doing my hour of exercise, recycling, managing our money, staying informed about what is going on in the world and weeding the garden so I can smell the roses.

There are fifteen loads of laundry needing to be folded, 11 already in baskets and eight waiting because of the dryer fiasco of last week. I should defrost the chicken now so I can make dinner easy tonight. I should take a multi-vitamin. I should schedule a physical, two dental appointments, one audiologist, one opthmologist and one endedontist. I should also floss.

But back to writing.
I should write every day. I should edit every day. I should read/research every day and submit every day.

I should have DSL. I should own a blackberry.

I should bend the laws of space and time to get one son to his baseball game ontime and then get to a seperate field in a seperate town ten miles away to drop off my daughter. Then I get to ping pong back and forth until both games are over, while picking up my son from Metro because he has late band practice this evening and thus can't take the bus home.

So what am I doing? I'm sipping a diet coke, blogging and coloring with my kids. They have brown/blue/orange/green on their arms. It's great.

You should do this. Trust me, I'm an Expert.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Notre Dame chooses between God and Country

At Georgetown last week, the President's people had the university cover up the Lord’s name (IHS) in the room where the leader of the free world spoke. Scandal to the faithful is becoming very politically correct.

Man how I wish the Jesuits had responded, “If you wanted those things covered up, you should have been here during Lent.”

But this is DC and power commands. Power is currency, even in institutions dedicated to learning and knowing God.

Just yesterday, Georgetown honored the Vice President for his service to women. (They wanted to show the world that they are just as enlightened about how to be a good little catholic school that doesn't upset anyone who matters) as Notre Dame.

However, they must have consulted different cannon lawyers than President Jenkins, as they did not feel any compunction to withhold honors and awards from Catholics in positions of power and authority who advocate positions antithetical to Church teaching. Maybe they considered Joe Biden to be not truly Catholic…or maybe not truly powerful, or both.

(For those not up to speed on the latest turn in the Notre Dame Our Mother Pray for Us Scandal, President Jenkins consulted unnamed cannon law experts other than the 35 bishops or his own Bishop, so as to provide a rationale for his decision). The logic asserted after this august meeting of unknown minds, that granting an honorary award to the President does not conflict with the mission of the University of Notre Dame, stems from the fact that the president is not Catholic and thus need not follow cannon law. It is a discreet legal argument.

My problem? The President may not be Catholic, but presumably, Fr.

I derive mild amusement and probably should not, from envisioning President Jenkins arriving at the Pearly Gates and asking for admittance. Saint Peter would explain, he’d need to plead the case and to choose appropriate counsel for the occasion. Fr. Jenkins would smile as he saw his friend and ally Douglas Kmiec waiting with legal briefs in hand.

Then, Sir Thomas More would show up for the prosecution.

I don't imagine any more of the scene because I just want to stay with that exquisite moment when cleverness for cleverness sake comes face to face with wisdom.

Keep praying for the conversion of President Saul. It’s the only hope we have for change.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Okay, I listen to Laura Ingram --gave her up for Lent but it's Easter now...and heard about this guy who runs the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement --not that they're advocating dying now...just dying out...because the Earth would be so very happy if we all just followed the path of the dinosaurs. I thought this was a brilliant mock until I recognized, it was real.

I was beginning to wonder if satire in this day and age is possible, then I decided one could write about a husband and wife that loved each other and raised children to be loving responsible citizens and consider it satire because of one wink at the beginning of the novel, the words (This is ironic) as a footnote to the first word.

People would line up to buy the book so they could look smart while plowing through a story about lives as one would hope it could be, without all the mess and nastiness that the news presents us with on a daily basis. The novel would involve people who struggled and suffered occasionally, and made mistakes and asked forgiveness and sometimes spent too much or ate too much or blew things off but mostly tried and tried hard to live lives of quality and grace. They would even pray.

Buyers of the book could say they read it because of the delicious irony even as part of their souls craved that it be authentic. The adults in the book would find their identity and true callings within the constraints of a real and traditional relationship, rather than acquiring it via a sexual revolution or awakening with another man, woman, alien, sperm whale...but that would be okay because it would be safe to think so. After all, it was ironic.

The author would be on Oprah and CNN, she would be hailed for her sagacity and tight prose. It would be required reading as part of 21st Century literature. Kids in college would wear black and sip coffee that was straight because it was now chic to do so, and cheaper, much more honest, and tap their heavily thumbed and highlighted copy. The cover would be black and the title would be, The Real Life.

Eventually, the writer would become an acclaimed professor, sought after for convocations and speeches at political rallies. She would be wealthy but that would be okay because it was the result of enlightening others.

Then one day, the author would ask people, "What was ironic about that piece?" and no two people would answer the same thing....ah, the true irony of it all...excuse me, I have to get writing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where's My Warrantee?

When the vacuum, dryer and dish washer all die on the same day and the microwave is hiccupping as it goes through the motions of melting cheese onto a tortilla, how do you do triage assessment of the most dire needs? Even more, how do you survive the next 48 hours?

1) Substitution. No dish washer. Hello paper plates, paper cups and plastic utensils. “You two children over there using glasses and a real knife to spread peanut butter, congratulations, you're our new dishwashers and dryers.”

After being called back three times including once for just putting the pots away sans a foray into the sink for hot water, they figured out I was serious and suddenly, you know, those paper plates were looking pretty good.

2) It's not Easy Being Green.

I admit, I’d prefer to be using an electrical machine rather than sun and wind power to dry our towels, but I can at least say we’re being friendly to the earth. While it’s not exactly beating a sword into a plowshare, making an extension cord, two garden shepherd's crooks and three bicycles appropriately spaced substitute for a non heating dryer had a touch of environmental irony.

Looking out at the drying shirts out in the back yard, my son commented, "Can I get my bike from the laundry room tomorrow?" He grinned impishly waiting for my response.

"Only if your baseball uniform is dry."

3) The microwave still worked, it just cut out at random intervals requiring that one station a sentry by the machine whenever it was in operation to push the buttons again when it stalled. I viewed this as popping the clutch.

When someone complained, I pointed out that the alternative was another pot to wash and a volunteer quickly came forward to supervise the microwave in its operational duties.

4) Surrender. I'd swept. I'd swept again, and then yet again, but the Shop Vac with its 4.5 horsepower engine and 12 gallon tub is something I've become accustomed to, and the broom and dust pan just weren't cutting it. So needy was I, that a venture into the local Wal-Mart with eight kids in tow seemed a mere trifle for the prospect of less gritty floors.

I'm a bit ashamed to say how completely happy I was with the reunion.It was 9:30pm when we go home (spring break), and though I had to wait to assemble until the children got to bed, my high school son did observe me working with it in the living room, positively beaming.

"Mom, you're weird, you know that don't you?" I nodded and carried on with my cleaning.

They'll have memories of me, baby in one hand, bottle feeding with my chin and the shop vac tube firmly lodged in the other, getting all those stairs and the corners of the room but I don't care, my floor got clean!

On the subject of why these things all died at once, the microwave we got in 2007, the dryer in 2006 and the vacuum in 2008. None of these things were in the same room, but admittedly all were used daily, usually at least three if not six times in a given 24 hour period.

Given the workload, I can only conclude, our things age in dog years.
I sure hope that doesn't include me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thank You Notes Delayed equal Thank You Notes Denied

The following is a cautionary and true tale.

A few years back, we held a party. People brought presents. As we were cleaning up after a day of feasting, we began to open the gifts given to welcome and celebrate our daughter's birth and baptism. I remember saying, "We need to write this down." Paper was not readily found in the moment, so the back of a blue envelope was used.

Dimly, it registered in my brain, this was unwise.

But on I pressed, making a careful record of each gift and the giver as we went through the stack of bounty so graciously and generously given. The pen I had ran out, so I grabbed a pencil. That too eventually became a stub of wood, such that the last three presents were written in blue crayon on the front of the envelope in dull large print.

You know what happened next.

The envelope disappeared. I searched everywhere for days. I undid trash bags looking for it, but ultimately concluded it had gone out in the recycling. I mean, it was the back of an opened envelope.

I racked my brain and tried to rewrite the list from memory but knew I was failing as I tried. Unable to do anything other than sputter, I allowed myself to swallow hard and hope for finding it. It never happened.

So this past week during Spring Break, I announced to the children lounging over breakfast discussing video game strategies, "We're going to write Thank you notes."

A chorus of "For What?" and "Awwwwws." went up as I produced a stack of paper, pens, envelopes, crayons and stamps.

But I had decided. Everyone was writing someone, even the toddlers. As the addresser and stamper of the letters, I hadn't planned to be a proof reader, but after a few drafts, we held a tutorial to establish the rules of Thank You writing etiquette.

1) Editorial comments about one's sibling and how much he hogs the present given are not germane to the whole "gracious thanks" concept and should be nixed.

2) More than three misspellings and either an eraser and a dictionary or a rewrite is required.

3)Drawings are permitted but must have some tangential connection to the gift/giver/recipient. The connection is relative to the age of the creator. From a five year old, "Thomas the Tank Engine" wants to say thanks works just fine. The rest of you older ones, I expect actual prose.

4) Hints of upcoming birthdays/holidays and desired items while in the process of giving thanks are in poor taste.

5) Even if you saw them in person and said thanks, write it anyway.

6) You loved every gift. Even the ones you didn't.

7) Neither broken crayon nor torn art work nor loss of seat when you got up for a snack shall stop you from the appointed task.

8) Never mention that the gift was 1) broken or 2) a duplicate, in actual discourse or in print.

9) Mom is the final arbitrator of the thank you note.

10) Stamps are not stickers even if they do stick.

That morning resulted in six written stamped addressed letters which I promptly took out to the mail box even though it was raining. The mail had already arrived but I put the flag up and felt satisfied in a job well done.

The next day was trash pick up and recycling day and I called out for volunteers. Two children scrambled eager for the opportunity to walk in the rain intentionally, even if it was just to take out the garbage. When they returned from their task, sopping wet, my daughter handed me a stack of mail. "These were in the mail box waiting for you Mommy, I got them for you."

Six written stamped addressed envelopes sopping wet lay on the table.

"Thank you honey." I murmured as I sighed internally thinking “Every task somehow takes three attempts to get partially done!”

So if you didn’t get an acknowledgement, just give me a bit more time, I’m still searching for that blue envelope and a stubby pencil or crayon.

Then, I promise not to mail them on recycling day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Uping Caligula

Minnesota is planning to seat satirist an all around nuisance, Al Franken as a senator.

I'm guessing in these economic hard times, they had to cut back.

And as such, only certified half of a horse.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Bedtime Story...Nighty night.

*Credit is due to John Batchelor (Radio Talk Show Host on Sundays from 7-10, brilliant), who suggested that the current response by the administration to the Economic problem is a bit like reading Goodnight Moon. He had the idea but did not write the meter. This is my homage. I'm going to send it to him as well.

In the great oval room,
there was a telephone
as the problems loomed,
and a paper telling of –

the Dow falling in a swoon,
and Banks and Bears and market shares,

And the Big Three

And the House and the Senate
And a young President,
With a Core full of Press
All thinking smartly about the whole mess.

With smug Pelosi
And Unctous Harry Reid
Bet the house on spending
Because more government’s what we need.

Goodbye all those trillions
And however many more
Congress will pass in spending
With no ceiling, only floor.

Goodbye stocks.
Goodbye 401k’s.
And if you happen to make some money,
We’ll tax it all away.

Goodbye Freedom.
Goodbye cash.
Goodbye neighborhoods
That are foreclosing fast.

Goodbye good jobs
From companies too big to fail.
You’ll get money
While we get to bail.

Welfare for the richest
And for the very poor,
For the rest that’s just it,
There isn’t anymore.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Moving Day

Blogging here has been a load of fun, but to stay competitive and keep adding markets for writing, I've joined Associated Content, --a consortium of writers that provide what is affectionately known as "filler." As such, they want any blog to be via wordpress, a more "professional" than personal blog provider. So, Chocolate For Your Brain will be moving. I've already transfered all past comments and pieces so you can still find all the good stuff. Think of it as getting a King Size rather than a regular snicker's bar. Same humor, same stories, just more of them, plus little extras on the side. (Yes, my informative and drier stuff will be here too).

I don't know when the moving day will be, as I'm still packing the blogging boxes at this point and settling on a paint scheme. It will be some time in the next week.

But, I thought it only fair to say, "Heads up."

There are More Things Horatio

My eldest son is in high school.

There is a band of four atheists (alright, self proclaimed non believers who probably just found out about existentialism by reading something in Wikipedia and decided it would be cool), that tries to give him a hard time.

They know he went to the March for Life. They know he comes from a big family. They know the faith means something to him. So they gather to heckle him at regular daily intervals.

The other day, as my son walked by, they jeered, "God is dead."

"No," my son responded, "That happens Friday."

Please excuse me while I pump my fist and whoop a bit.

As a side note, only three showed up to try and talk to him the next day.

Monday, April 6, 2009

If God is Laughing, You're in Deep Trouble

Once is just a happenstance...

Friday, it was an early dismissal. The forecast was for scattered showers and a gorgeous afternoon. The one sheet of pure monsoon occurred while trying to load four children into the van for pick up. My pants were wet from my ankles to my knees.

Twice is coincidence...

Today I wanted to go to confession and so I loaded the van, drove to the church and when we got out to load the stroller so I could then push the kids across the parking lot to the building wherein the sacrament of Reconcililation was being held, the momentary but completely drenching rains came again. I was moderately damp the rest of the day as a result.

Three times and it's getting personal.

It hasn't happened yet but I wanted to try and head off the possibilities by letting the Almighty know, I'm paying attention.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Queen

Most of my stuff is slightly altered to create fiction out of what would otherwise be embarrassing reality. I want my kids to still speak to me when they're adults. Some of the crafting of stories for blog entrees are hard to polish. Others are easy. Then there are those that quite literally, get dropped into your...

My nearly two year old often mistakes me for a chair. Being a toddler, she considers herself the Queen of my lap.

I am her favorite spot to think.

She also is considering the prospects of testing pottying. More than once, she has "tested" the seat in imitation of her older sister.

Today, she sat on me and after giving a fierce hug, said, "Spssssssst." "Spssssssst."
Then she got up and toddled off.

"I think she was pretending." I said as I got up in a hurry.
"So do I." My husband responded.

"I may substitute for a throne but not that kind."

"Cheer up, at least it was number 1."

Long live the Queen.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The other day, my adolescent daughter came to the car and her whole body screamed "Miserable." I asked her what was wrong. (Classic mistake of Rookie Moms to teen girls everywhere). I thought it signaled concern, love, a desire to know what made my child sad.

Based on the reaction, I thought "F" or "Detention" or a major blow out with a friend."Humph." was all I got. Over the drive home, I pestered her, trying to make her laugh, get angry at me instead, anything. "What would make you happy?" I asked. I'd offered chocolate. I offered computer time. I offered time with a friend. Nothing.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Finally I mentioned I'd be happy with chocolate, computer time and a visit with friends. The chorus in the back of the car now viewed chocolate, computer time and play dates as an oral contract and was singing the "We Love Mom" chorus all the way home, making the unhappy person even more unhappy.We got home. Fortunately, the distractions of raising 9 children prevented a long nagging investigation. She was allowed to sulk in peace for the bulk of the afternoon.

The thing is, sulking doesn't feel nearly as satisfying if it's done in isolation. There must be a audience pained by the expressed silent angst of the sulkee. So she followed around the rest of us participating in life via snacks, cleaning, homework, all the time occasionally letting forth a moan to signal her deep pain. Gentle "Do you want to talk about it?" prods brought scornful stares.

Finally after dinner, I was hooked. I wanted to know what happened. After I'd bathed the babies, fed them all and done the bed time routine for the non sentients, I demanded an audience. (She had skulked to her room to angrilly sit and read). The music was loud and sad.

"Tell me what happened or knock it off." My bedside manner is a cross between Dr. Laura and Olympia Dukakis in Moonlight, sort of a Moral and intelligent Rosanne if such a thing can be imagined. She blinked, as if surprised that anyone would find her behavior of the past four hours out of the ordinary.

"Oh, I got the king spot in kickball and then it landed on a line and I got voted out."

..."That's it?"

"Well, I really like four square."

For those of you looking for a reason for this story, it's tax time and the reminder of how lovely adolescence is, should make even the most swamped procrastinator addressing 1040's feel just...oh, so much better.

For those being audited, I have seven more to go.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Every day before I pull out of the parking lot at school, I ask everyone if they have everything they need and if they need anything we don’t have at home that I must get from the store.

Today, my kids got in, started chattering away and I asked the questions. Half way home, one of my children remembered that he forgot a paper that is due the next day. I dutifully turned the car around. We got to school. The classroom was locked. I spotted the teacher in the hallway and flagged her down. My son then added that he needed to ask the teacher a question about the assignment, that the page she had prescribed didn’t exist in the workbook when he checked. This is a kid that sometimes does his work in the car and as such, I didn’t question his concern. He's meticulous about his work.

We returned to the classroom and the teacher asked about the incorrect page. The little imp grinned. “April Fools.”

It took a lot of convincing to make me stop at the CVS on the way home for some markers.

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!