Saturday, August 31, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday ...on Saturday

1.  This week school started.  I didn't realize how tired I was from school starting until I went to bed Friday 10...and slept...until 8....then napped once I'd had breakfast.   It's a good thing next week is short, we'll ease back into this full throttle schedule. 

2. I don't want to. I don't want to. I don't want to.  There are pools to swim in, berries to pick, beaches to walk on, ice cream to eat, just so much more summer that shouldn't just be packed up into a box and stuffed in the  basement until Memorial day weekend. 

3.  It's no secret, I hate homework.  It's like the equivalent of laundry in the school world. It's never finished, it never ends and no one is ever grateful, they only notice if it's done poorly or not done at all.   End of rant  1.  

4.  Laundry, like homework; expected, constant, time consuming soul sucking, theoretically necessary and tedious. When is Spring break from the laundry? I want to know.  End of rant 2

5.  The ice machine of our refrigerator broke. It leaks such that I had to pay a repairman to properly break the ice machine so it would stop leaking.  Breaking it properly didn't stop the machine from leaking, it just changed where the ice machine was making the ice.  I now have to use a hammer to smash the ice to keep it from leaking onto my floor and then clear out the ice which causes the floor to once again, get very wet.  The dryer is also not working, which makes it very hard to get wet clothes dry, a problem when you've banged up the ice and cleaned it up, and your clothing is no longer dry as a result.  My life right now is measured in irony. 

6.  Sometimes I forget things.  I write stories so often, some of them get lost.  One of them even got published and I forgot all about it until the book showed up in my mailbox.  Big Hearted by Patti Armstrong and Theresa Thomas is a collection of stories by families that could safely be categorized as larger than average.  There's a piece in the book about our travels down to Texas for my brother's wedding last year.  I think our story acts as a lighter fare, a sorbet before some of the meatier stories, to refresh the reader before heavier things are served.

7.  Yesterday, I went to confession and mass.  I'd been getting my daughter ready for school when she announced to me, "Today we are going to mass to learn how to behave at mass. My teacher is taking us.  You will come won't you?"  It's hard to resist such an invitation.  I didn't. 

Against my better judgment, I took Paul (age 4) and Anna (2) with me to the 9 o'clock.  Each of them had eaten. Each of them had two toys.  The players were a car, an elephant, a sabre tooth tiger and a horse.  At my church, there is a cinder block wall in the back that serves as the cry room for squirmy toddlers.  Parents look through the not quite see through glass and listen to the priest through the speaker and there is a kneeler right against the brick wall.  On each side of the wall is an opening to the rest of the church. 

People like me who show up without a stroller (dumb I know but it was wet from having been taken out of the car the day before to be able to load the car with laundry and thus subjected to the rain), spend mass praying neither child makes a run for it down the aisle.   They didn't.  However, within five seconds, my son had baptized the elephant and the car and dropped both behind the kneeler.  I couldn't reach them.  He sobbed.  It was growing loud.

Looking around, I spied a green umbrella someone had left in the back of the church.  I fished the toys out of the pit behind the kneeler during the homily hoping the woman with her beautifully behaved daughter weren't too appalled by my behavior or my children's.  Stupidly I gave the toys back to my son.  I grabbed the car before it returned to the pit but missed the elephant.  I decided to wait on fishing until after mass.  My son then went to get a book to drop in the perfect slot pit so my son's elephant could continue to follow along the mass even if the mother was now hopelessly distracted. 

The well behaved kid came over to me at the sign of peace and told me my son's toy was trapped.  The usher moved the kneeler and I quickly recaptured the elephant.  However in the meantime, my son fished the car out of my purse and it took the pachyderm's place.  Discouraged, I left the hot wheel for some other mom's lucky kid. 

By the end of mass, my children were reasonably placid so I figured, why not go for broke and grab an opportunity for grace.  Alas, there was a line that filled quickly both in front and behind me.  I'm sure some of the people thought I was being pious as I kneeled to hold onto both children.  It was more to get a better grip on them and avoid being pulled over by either. 

The sacrament itself proved tricky as my son kept trying to throw back the curtain.  At one point, his feet were sticking out as he was lying down facing the ceiling. It looked like a murder scene from an Agatha Christie movie complete with the screaming which I felt slightly grateful for, as they drowned out anyone else hearing my sins.   I told the priest, today God needed a laugh so He said, "Let's try Sherry."  He laughed.

Grace always comes with laughter, willful cooperation for me is always marked by humor.  Next time I decide to go to a daily mass, we're going toyless.  Besides, I can always just go fish out the green truck behind the pew.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Small Success Thursday

Week 2 of the restart of being grateful once a week (at least) formally, for all that I have been given. 

So today, I am mindful of the gift of my oldest son, William.

This week, we sent him back to school to start his Junior year.  It is hard to believe.  I will miss this son that sees when things are chaotic and  plunges in to help.  He  makes dinner. He does dishes. He makes his closest sister laugh and smile more than anyone else.  He takes himself to mass and the sacraments.  He is a gentle brother, he loves them all, even the ones who drive him crazy, and he plays with them, all of them, on their level.  He always seems to have time or make time for his family.  It is a great gift to all of us.  

Again, this week, I thank God for my friends, especially those who call out of the blue and are willing to waste time on the phone and help me laugh at the things that can zap the joy out of life. 

I also am very thankful for my mom.  She is  a profile in courage and love.  Today she takes my father to a new home where he will hopefully have a better opportunity to heal.  It is a hard thing to move him.  She shepherds him well in this hard journey.  In their house is a picture of my father and her, carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, my sister and I both love it even as it haunts, for it tells their love story very simply as all good pictures must. 

Amongst my small successes, I'll announce:

1)  I am working on paperwork.  Since I hate paperwork, even starting takes an enormous amount of energy.  Yay me.  Now...quit blogging and get back to work.

2) I wrote a birthday card, now I have to find the address book so I can mail that sucker.

3) My kids have made it to and been picked up from school on time this week so far.  One forgotten lunch bag, one forgotten homework assignment, different children.  I'm not yet nuts. 

Your turn.  I'm going back to the paperwork mines. Pray for me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism

Welcome to the final session of Lawn Chair Catechism, using Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

In your own faith:
  • What action are you inspired to take as a result of studying this book over the summer?
Honestly, my first reaction is panic.  I've become accustomed to the weekly jog of the soul to think beyond itself.  Having spent the summer reading and digesting this book while discovering other people's interior journey via the blogosphere, I now am thinking  "Now what?"  and my mind goes completely blank. What am I supposed to do?  

Answer: Share my faith with others through witness, through story, through research, through reason, through daily actions and look for the opportunities the Holy Spirit is presenting.    


This was the tricky part.  I don't know.  Except I do.  Today, a daughter came home and needed comforting because she witnessed to being Pro-life, and was mocked for her words.  It hurt deeply.  I reminded her that these were teens, they  would grow and mature and deepen in knowledge and their opinions might change in time.   

It still stung.  So I told her the story of her own life and how as a baby, she inspired someone to not abort simply by being.   I'd been at the gym working out after baby #3 and coming back to the childcare room, my youngest needed to nurse.  Draped in a cloak, I knew I must look like the Earth mother with one daughter pulling on one arm, my son chatting me up on the other side, and holding an infant under my coat while nursing.  I felt ridiculous.  But the teen who worked at the gym kept peppering me with questions, the kind that tell you, there is more to this than mere curiosity.  She was pregnant and alone.  Seeing the three of my children, especially the happy baby, inspired.  

We talked.  The following week, she got medical attention.  She got help and support from his family.  She found a place she could stay.  I brought her maternity clothes and an extra bassinet.  She had the baby I know, but the story vanished from that point on, I didn't see her anymore despite multiple attempts to connect.  The witness was not one of argument, argument would not have swayed the day.  Witnessing allowed her to ask questions. 
  • How will you put the concepts and ideas that struck you most into action?
I don't know.  Part of this question deals with discernment, and I frequently find my best discernment is after the fact, after I've plunged into something.   What resonated with me, was the intentional component of discipleship.  I've always been organic in my faith, deciding I need to pray more or study more or do more, but it is something I would fall in and out of as the impulses dictated.  Discipleship is by nature, more disciplined.  I will have to Will it.  
  • Who will you share this book and the ideas in it with?  My family, my parish, my adult children, and I will reread it.  Like others, I would have raced through this book absent the deliberate nature of this past summer's project, and I would have missed much.  As it is, I still think I read too fast and need more time to steep in these thoughts to answer this question.  
I will miss this weekly moment that kept calling me to deeper waters, because I'm afraid my tendency will be to stay in the safe shallow areas.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And Now the Not News

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Miley.

By now, the whole world knows this Disney Princess has chosen to out Gaga gaga, both in dress and style. I'd add substance but I'm not sure we've got enough to qualify in either case.  Both recall Madonna, the performer who for all her flash and dance, revealed herself to have the "heart and soul of a cash register." That description is a remembered one from some scribe back in the 80's opining about the material girl who aped Marilyn Monroe. I googled but couldn't find the exact quote to give full credit. However, the point remains that all three of these women were in the business of selling music as sex and sex as music and themselves as the icon of both.  It's just that Miley only recently jumped into the sharknado.  She's doing what she can to ensure everyone forgets Hanna Montana.  She is Sandra Dee of Grease at the end of the movie, because she wants to be popular and current and she, like so many of her generation, is both bored with her life as is, and desperate to be relevant.  

Then again, this was the Music awards so is the surprise that she was so lewd or that it was her?  What gives me hope, is that apparently, the entertainment world can still be shocked.   Here you have people who thrive on creating buzz, whose whole world is get your name known, your brand known, your face known, get people to talk about you you you you you you you.  Here, a young woman has taken that challenge to heart.

This is the lesson of Hollywood, of the Vanity Business that is Stardom for Stardom's sake.

You will be forgotten if you do not make people notice you.  You lack the beauty, grace, capacity to get people to notice you, so you must be more than you.  Cue airbrush, hair weaves, botox, facelifts, radical diets, insane outfits, etc. etc. etc.  You cannot be normal if you want to be noticed.  You cannot be you if you want to be a star. You must be something other, because you as is, is not star worthy, is not enough.

This is the messsage drilled into every model, every singer, every performer's head, that whoever they are, they are inadequate want-a-bes, until they are a star, then, they are it, however that "itness" is fragile, it is not a secure orbit.  The stars become inadequate once they age, then they become hasbeens.

Come to think of it, it was the message of Hanna Montana too.  She couldn't be both the singer and herself, they had to be two different people to allow for a normal life.   However eventually, the lure of fame and desire to be affirmed in all things won out and she disclosed her identity, so that she could be just the pop star.   Now we add hard core to the formula.  Hard core being the in case of emergency, push this red button means of restarting yourself in the Hollywood world.

The message over and over again for years, "You will not be loved, you will only be used." left a scar.
We saw that scar gyrating on the stage --or read about it.

Our nature requires love.  If we cannot be loved, we will be hungry, we will seek to fill that hole with something.  Miley had everything and she was still full of need.  Perpetually we see it, child to adult celebrities do not understand need. They've never had to cope with needing. No need to list the Disney divas that have fallen before her.  They all share the same inability to cope with anything other than the unreal world of fame, and the hardness of that unreal world not satisfying. That sort of profound isolation and lack of connection, to themselves and anyone else, must be unbearable.   The pattern of these women indicates, it eventually leads to fleeing --Madonna away from the spotlight for years, or destruction Lindsay Lohan.

One could almost see the crazed thinking that went into this decision.  The something she needed must be something outside of what she had. She has everything, but she still needs, so she must need MORE, more fame, more notice.  How to get more?  This need is awful.  I need it to be fixed fast! How to get the MORE fast?

The child star became the porn poll dancer, everything real burnt away in favor of something other than the self, something of a naked mask that is caked in stage makeup and eyeliner and spandex.  It is a cartoonish almost demonic re-envisioning of the performer that she was, self loathing even as it self promoted.  It was foolish and it succeeded.  She has more.  People are talking about her, about her performance, about her transformation, about her act and actions.   All press is good press if fame is the goal.  Infamy works as well as anything.  It worked for Madonna and Lady Gaga...and sadly, for Miley too.  Today.  

But this sort of need is never fed by More of the wrong thing.  So Miley will try again, to capture that moreness that made her start down this road in the first place.  Worse for her, one day, she will try everything she can think of and that moreness will still not fill what is wrong.  Some day, someone will out Miley Miley, for the same reasons she outdid Lady Gaga, and she will wonder, when she grew old and why? And there will be a great emptiness that howls far louder in her heart than any buzz she won from the other night.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. End of Summer

Bet he was thinking, Book Reports!

2.  So Naturally, I start a New Project...
Normally, I'm more of a Hammond fan, but James May is on to something...

We began the great house purge of 2013.  Children will remember it as the day Mom went utterly mad.  She took all toys downstairs. She started sorting. Three days later, you can walk from one room to another, but some children may still be trapped in the undertow of legos and the bed is sagging from the sheer volume of stuffed animals.  I'm stating for the record, Christmas, birthdays, random generosity presents...think gift cards to food and or movies and or i-tunes/book stores.  I am fairly certain if I really worked at it, I could replicate our house out of random assorted blocks in the event things ever got dire.  

3.  Epiphany!
Found this lovely image when I googled Epiphany and it fits the moment I took all the laundry to the laundry mat!  What would have taken at my conservative estimation 4 days minus the folding, was done in two hours.  I have something of my life back.  I may never use the damn machine in our house again. My mother and one of my best friends have been telling me to do this, I know why I haven't...I'm stupid.  I'm one of the shepherds out there, not one of the wise men.  So I had to be told...get over there and finally, once I got there I thought...I am the weirdest person in the world.  Why?  Because other women go to the spa.  But me, I was beyond joyful because the machines were washing my stuff.  I came home. I still have to fold. (talk about a bummer), but I still considered driving back again to finish off any and all spare clothing that needed to be washed.  I may yet.   Because I need more projects.  

4. I'm Not Nuts...I'm Just Busy

Yesterday was so full, I still can't wrap around all that transpired.  We got up at 6 so I could take the oldest daughter to high school to start her senior year. Then I came home, fixed breakfast, cajoled four children to consider their math books, went down to work on the basement, scheduled a visit with the 4 year old's teacher, forgot about open house, bathed two children who needed it, shopped for uniforms for the three that needed it, fostered world peace amongst the warring nations in the house, made an emergency trip to Best Buy for the oldest, got the refrigerator fixed and realized at 9 o'clock, I'd still not purchased school supplies or shoes for the elementary set.  For the record, I decided to blog instead of flogging myself to the store last night.  Today, I will be going.  But not yet.   

5.  Today my husband comes home!!!! He's awesome because he gets our family to do together, what alone I cannot.  Back on July 5th, I told all of you about the Vine! Here is the video proof that what we worked on to pull out, was actually a monster sized weed.  

I don't have anything to add to this other than YAY! 

This time, it's because we went to Disneyland. We had premo would have been the coolest ever Flat Stanley opportunities and we were...Flat Stanley-less.  
We go to Disneyland, all 12 of us...maybe I could help her make a project of "Where's Flat Stanley?" and show everywhere we went without him.  

7.   Because this 7 quick takes has been largely a picture portrait of the week, I thought I'd try out a new Catholic meme.  I made one, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to get it from there to here, so here's the link.  Maybe one day...sigh.  I remain technology challenged. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Small Success Thursday

For a time, I inherited a Catholic meme called Small Success Thursday, but as the weeks passed, no one came.  I liked counting my blessings and recounting the triumphs of the past seven days but it seemed more of a song of myself than a honest assessment of how God's grace was working in my life and through it.

Besides, I told myself, this is a humor blog (or was), so having this oddity in the middle of the week didn't quite work, except it did.  Humor is a form of grace, and humor is pain+time=healing.  Ergo, having a moment to say Thank you, to recognize how humor had carried me through things, is important.  So it doesn't matter if no one plays. It doesn't matter if no one comments. It doesn't matter if other blogs have far more people participating in their weekly formats, including me.  What matters is recognizing every week, that this past week, there was grace. This past week, grace abounded.  This past week, I would not have survived without grace.

So I'm restarting it.

This week, I am thankful for...

1. My husband.  He wrote me many letters over the past two weeks when he was away so that I could hear his words and know his presence even in the midst of trying to get 10 people settled for the fall and ready for school.

2.  My daughters.  Every one of them brings me something different.  My oldest is a confidant, someone I can talk to as an almost adult, and she often knows what's going on with who in the house and keeps me in the know. She also gives great hugs when they are most needed and can rally the troops.  My next oldest nurtured her younger sister over the summer. They went jogging, they shared beauty tips, musical taste, went shopping together, and ultimately, it helped the younger one blossom and the older one feel rather wonderful about helping her to begin to fly.  My middle daughter is always generous of heart.  She cares deeply about her siblings and is first to offer a bandage or an ice cream. She also served as a tutor for one of the younger sisters.  Pinky Pie keeps me soft.  She is soft, so she requires that I stay soft.  And my fearless one gives the best huggies, in part because they are random so you get squeezed at any point in the day.  It's lovely. She also likes to play uno and will tell me, "Mom.  Pay attention to the game." No multi-tasking with her around.  And the youngest, she dances, she sings, and being two, her favorite words are "Mom.  Look." and that is what she does, call me to wonder, "Mom.  Look" and there is a deer or a butterfly, or a sunbeam or a shadow.

3. My sons keep me laughing, they are also en route to being solid men.  The oldest takes charge. He makes dinner unasked, and even does the dishes sometimes, unasked.  He thinks about birthdays long before they arrive and no one has a dearer heart than he.  My next can be the kindest soul, he took charge today when there was a crisis, he obeyed when it was absolutely necessary and has shown that kind of courage in the past.   He struggles with our large family as it is overstimulating to him in many ways, but he also loves them fiercely and always wants his siblings outside and playing.  He is also very generous to the poor, often giving away much of his money from birthdays or other chores.  My next son is sweet. He is my morning bird and comes to help with making breakfast. His natural default setting is kind.  His natural tendency, to say yes when asked to help even if the task is yucky.  My youngest is impish and sweet and mostly non verbal, but he understands his siblings.  When his sister cried, he ran to get her a drink.  When his brother knocked on the door, he ran to get help to open the lock.  He comes into my room in the morning and says, "Mom! Wake up!"  He claps three times and turns on the light before heading to the kitchen.  

4.  This blog, which allows me to wind around all of the things that happen and to remember them in internet amber.  The past two weeks we've had an ice machine break, the dryer quit for a time, trips to three different airports, a computer crash onto the floor, homework meltdowns, a job that kept the oldest out until 12:30 every night, teacher meetings, doctor appointments, lab tests, open house, a book launching, a holy day of obligation in addition to Sundays, and two kids with the sniffles.  I haven't bought school supplies or shoes yet for all of them.  We are reorganizing for fall so the basement is carpeted with toys until we get them all sorted.  My cup runneth over, but as I learned of other people's sufferings, I know, there is always a bigger cross.  Mine is nothing, it's just work in the vineyard which I agreed to do.  Now I have to joyfully will it into being.  

So Happy Small Success Thursday even if it's late.  You can join if you wish.  I'll be here next week too, counting my blessings and realizing, all is grace.  All is grace.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sauce for the Goose

Patrick Archbold over at Creative Minority Report and National Catholic Register created a piece called, "If I Hated Women," so I thought, turn about is fair play.  Thus I give you the counter point that also might be considered, How Screwtape intends to destroy men, If I Hated Men...

If I hated men, I'd systemically destroy any value they could derive from providing for their family through work, any self worth that could be found from being a husband or a father, and tell them all the time, they aren't needed, they aren't necessary.

If I hated men, I'd tell them that by just getting the woman to take a little pill every day, their work load will be easier, fewer mouths to feed, that there is no need to love more.

If I hated men, I'd create a constant stream of new stereotypes that portrayed all married men as ignorant slavish thuggish buffoons.  
If I hated men, I'd make them presume every relationship is erotic or pre-erotic, such that they'd be afraid to get to close to anyone, male or female for fear of being used.  

If I hated men, I'd saturate their days and nights, their every waking moment with images of pornography. I'd make sure they were constantly focused on sex as a form of recreation and release, and not a means of intimacy and love.  

If I hated men, I'd make them want to constantly take pills to fix everything, from hair to not feeling like one was sexualized enough.  I'd make them worry constantly that they were somehow less than normal for not being constantly on the hunt.  

If I hated men, I'd look to destroy every activity they ever liked by portraying it as always being in poor taste, or oppressive or exclusive or outdated, so that no one could ever catch a pass, hunt, fish or box or do anything considered once "manly" without extreme guilt, thus eliminating the pleasure.

If I hated men, I'd make them worry about every thought they had being patriarchal and thus innately oppressive and sexist, such that they would engage in reflexive self loathing correction to ensure their own words always received approval.

If I hated men, I'd constantly put down the accomplishments of men, declare that all evil in the history of the world was purely the result of men, and declare that all the ill that is in the world now, is also the results of mostly men and thus all men's fault in all cases, that we'd be in utopia by now if the men of this world and the history of the world, had just gotten out of the way.  

If I hated men, I'd tell them they are gross vulgar creatures that women humor out of a misguided indoctrination from their less evolved parents, and that the best they can hope for, is a society of women that tolerate their presence.  

If I hated men, I'd tell them that they need not be fathers or husbands or gentleman, that they need not be courageous or strong or faithful or steady.  They must only play as women would dictate, and should not introduce their own sense of wonder into the world, because it's probably not as wondrous as they think it is.

If I hated men, I'd tell them they're not as capable of love, they're not as capable of being loved, and they're never going to evolve to be as good as women. 

Lawn Chair Catechism, Last Chapter

Ever have a moment where the Holy Spirit taps you on the shoulder and shows you something of yourself you've been avoiding? 

Boy.  Does it stink. 

It stinks because it seems like everything was so obvious, and yet here I was, blind.  It stinks because it then requires something other than what has come before.  It stinks because wherever it is that the Holy Spirit shows you yourself, you have to either answer the call, or reject the Holy Spirit, and the human spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak from the atrophy of not doing.  

I know what you're thinking. Sherry...when are you not doing?  And it isn't a question of how busy you are, but of the spirit with which you are being busy.  This is my great struggle in everything.  I like to be involved, connected, invested, but it is partially an ego trip, because then I can say I'm involved, connected, invested.   I like to read books, but again it is partially an ego trip because it is to be able to say that I am well read.  I like to write but again it is partially an ego trip to get my name out there, to get published, to get praise, to get paid, to be thought of as a writer. 

But to work with the Holy Spirit, for Christ, I have to will to do something for anyone, everyone, other than myself.  Even cleaning the house can be an extension of my ego, when it is not an extension of my vice of clutter and vigilant sloth.  It is a hard thing to recognize that I am a desperately needy soul.  It is equally hard to embrace the reality that God loves my desperately needy soul, He doesn't tire of it, though He knows I tire of being so damn needy. 

What does God want me to do as a disciple, how does God want me to be an intentional disciple bringing Christ to others?  How do I know when I've hit the mark?   And for me, more importantly, how do I know when I've missed or am going off track? If I think of Mary as a compass, she always points to Christ.  If I look at my actions as the wind, is my soul's sail moving toward Christ, or not?

I've felt flat in prayer, flat in what I do, a spiritual flatness that indicates whatever else I am doing, I am not moving, I am drifting, my sails are not tight, and I lack the spiritual direction I should have.  You can't lead if you are adrift. You cannot call others to Christ if you are stagnant. How do I get unstuck? Unflat?  In sailing, you tighten the lines, align the rudder to the wind and follow the compass. 

Who is the compass?  Mary, The Church, scripture, Christ's words.  What are the lines and the rudder and the sails?  The lines are prayer.  I've fallen down on prayer, flatness does that, and the soul, trying to feel less pain at the dryness of prayer, thinks not praying will feel better. It doesn't.  The rudder translates to the sacraments, the gifts of grace that orient one toward Christ and bring the wind of grace to the sails --the will of me that wants to cooperate so desperately but often tacks wrong.

Going back to the mirror.  This is the last week of the Lawn Chair Catechism. This week, the question was,
In your own faith:
  • Have you ever felt isolated in your quest to follow Jesus?
Yes.  I believe that's just exactly what I just described. I suspect part of the isolation is due to my husband's brutal work schedule as of late.  It's not his fault.  It's not mine. It just is.  But it is not good for me to be alone.  I don't find God as easy to find absent the company, the community of others.  I love the mass, especially going up to receive the Eucharist.  I feel a wave of grace and overwhelming gratitude to everyone that is there.  I hope all their prayers are answered and that they know it.  I love them for coming.  It happens often to me, seeing all of the people come up to receive.  They are all bringing their crosses, their joys, their troubles, their worries, everything and it moves me every single time.  It is a gift of great beauty, their coming and I'm so grateful.  My kids always find me near tears after communion because of the sense of gratitude I can't deny and it is for the Eucharist and the body of Christ I see witnessing in the Church.  If I have a momentary taste of Heaven, of being wrapped in joy, it is then. 

When I am at home, even surrounded by people that love me and that I love, I sometimes feel the isolation of being a stay at home mom, bound to the house, and the isolation of being a very small fish on the internet, a blogger that makes a clanging noise of words on the internet demanding "look at me."
  • What are ways you have built a community of spiritual companions?  This is where I've fallen down, I used to be active on the Parish Council, then on HSA, then as a leader of the Fall Festival, but last year, I did not actively participate in part because I felt overwhelmed by the tasks more readily at hand, managing two kids in high school, two in middle, three in elementary, one in college, one in pre-k special needs and one toddler.  I pulled back, hoping I would serve the more immediate people in my life better.  Somehow, pulling back did not translate to more or better time.  I'm not sure why but it was a year of lying fallow that while perhaps necessary, was equally isolating.   I need to sail in a fleet of ships, all pointed toward Christ.  Perhaps I need to let the sails fill and start moving and others will follow.  How?  I don't know. 

  • But Sheryll Wendell gives a good template for starting at the end of her book when she quotes CS Lewis about how it is impossible to think too much about the glory in t he hereafter of one's neighbor. Again, the mirror was held up, my experience after communion is the vision of all of my neighbors in their glory of the hereafter.   It's time to stop drifting and get to work making this soul of mine ready for deeper waters.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Guest Post over at Suzanne's blog

Last week, I interviewed a villain. (Excuse me, antagonist).  This week, my heroine's foil visits Suzanne's blog.  It's all new material written simply for this post, so go take a look at a verbal snapshot of Queen Polyoxo over at Suzanne's Thought For the Day.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Quick Takes Friday

1.   Family!

 I got to see my mom this week!  So writing was light, as  it should be. 
Of course, we didn't think to take a picture until it was time to go.  But time with Mom always zooms.  We had to snatch visits in between laundry, serving meals, convincing the daughter with a broken arm she couldn't do tricycle races down the hill, hyperventilating about school being 10 days away, teaching a 15 year old about makeup, getting haircuts, ordering some books for high schoolers, finding books lost during summer, insisting that yes, you all have to start getting back to bed at civilized hours and supporting a 20 year old through his temporary job at the fair that runs 7:30 am to 12 midnight. We did rebel a bit and leave the teens in charge to get lunch out. 

2.  Book Launching:

First, I've learned a few things.  Don't watch the Amazon ranking too much, it will drive you nuts. One minute you're ranked 28th in Alternative History (highest ranking I received that I know about) and the next, you're unranked and 118,677 overall. 

  Just write, revise, review and promote.  Most authors want reviews and will thus do swaps, but there's a thing about reviews, don't agree to one you wouldn't want. I had to back down from a book I wouldn't/couldn't read.  Not a fun moment, a rookie mistake.  Still looking for reviewers for Helen and hoping some readers will rank her on Amazon.  

3.  Speaking of Reviews:  Creative Minority Report  did a review of my book yesterday, but I'd already posted twice and didn't want it to get lost in the shuffle.  Every review is a gift of real time and effort and I want to properly acknowledge anyone who takes the time to write one. Here's the link to my longtime blogging friend, Matt Archbold.  Thank you.

4.  School Supplies

I've bought crayons and three ring binders long enough to wonder how far to the moon I could get stacking all of them end to end.  People have asked how do you do it?  I make a spread sheet.  Then I go to the store. Then I get frustrated at some point or off list or can't find what's on the list or forgot where I was on the list, buy too much, go home, sort and make two more trips to get it all done.  That's how I roll. 

5.  She Who Must Not Be Trimmed

This week, my daughter took her senior portrait for high school.  I got a bit misty when I saw her.  I also made her get 2 1/2 inches cut --truthfully, I wanted 5.  I asked for 3.  2 1/2 was the compromise. I think she altered it to 2 when they went back to get her hair washed.  She's still annoyed.  I live in fear of searching for a graduation gown.   When does this get easy?  It does get easy right?  At some point?  Stop that laughing.  I hear you.

6.  What An I Reading?

Right now, I'm really enjoying Stephen King's On Writing.  In addition to fleshing out things I've heard over the years about the craft, (no adverbs, head hopping, passive voice), he's quite funny in detailing the story arc of his own life in episodic fashion. 

7.  What am I Writing?

Well, I'm working on learning how to use Scrivener while drafting The Book of Penelope.  She's revealing herself slowly (very Penelope like) and I'm collecting supplemental material.   One of the things I've collected is Proverbs 31.

The Wife of Noble Character
10 [b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
This is Penelope in a nutshell, her actions reveal her character, not her words. Penelope is a woman of few words, which makes crafting her so that the reader can know her, difficult.  How do you convey a contemplative spirit without telling? Telling in a story is dull dull dull and a writing no-no!   
I'm researching weddings of the time, so I can create the three day feast that normally took place and was set in three places, the home of the woman, then a separate place, sacred, and then the home of the man.  It should also reveal something about Penelope and Odysseus, as all weddings do reveal not merely  something about the individual actors involved, but about their relationship in specific.  That's a fun bit of writing I get to do, and I have no idea how to do it yet. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism


The St. Catherine of Siena Institute has a primary mission of helping parishioners uncover and begin to use their charisms.  The discernment process may yield unsettling results:
After working with tens of thousands of Catholics in the discernment process, we have noticed something important: Not all charisms are welcomed and valued at the parish level.  This is almost never intentional or bad-willed, but it hampers the work of the Kingdom all the same.
. . . Which charisms are we not likely to welcome? The charisms primarily aimed at starting new initiatives, evangelizing and proclaiming Christ, forming disciples and apostles, and freedom for unusual ministry and prophetic change.
An essential ministry is the formation of small faith groups by those with the gift of “pastoring”. The last thing new disciples need is to feel isolated and alone within their parish.

For discussion:

In your own faith:
  • How would you describe what your spiritual gifts are (or might be)?
What are my spiritual gifts. This is a hard question because it's much much easier to list my spiritual flaws.  I know them.  I know my gifts too but it's easier to talk about the warts than the beauty.  Spiritual gifts...humor, easy friendship, enthusiasm, intellect and kindness.   I also pray, so I'm willing and even sometimes, obedient. 

  • In what ways could you evangelize or disciple others using those gifts? 
Leave the house and get involved.  It's a reality.  I have as of late, withdrawn from life outside of our home.  Part of it is logistics.  Raising ten children and maintaining their home takes time, energy, effort.   It means I can do less outside the realm of my house.  Part of it is my children are young, so they also are semi-house bound.  Paul is 4, Anna is 2. Both are not potty trained. There are simply limits.  And I have stopped in the past few years, seeking to go past them.  Writing this, I admit I don't like limits, but I have allowed the dull ordinariness of everyday to wear away at my willingness to push past them.  The domestic life of serving them does lead to a sort of passivity that is perhaps, unhealthy if I would be a disciple.  I am a lesser mother and follower for having allowed this, because I've let myself use sloth as a reasonable excuse to be less.

Being inside the house, being on the computer, it is safe to be Catholic. I can witness all day on my little patch of cyberspace, it does very little, it demands even less.   Witnessing is physical, tangible, touchable.  Witnessing requires that one see and be seen.  Words without actions are empty. Living inside a controlled environment of my own making, it is easy to not deliberately do harm, but it is equally almost impossible to enact good.  

To awaken other souls to beauty, to life, to God, requires I reveal beauty, life, God to others.   God will do the rest, but He wants (not needs), and He knows I need and even in the deeper parts of me, want to do just this, to reveal beauty, life and God to others. Our world needs the fullness of all of our imaginations and hearts infused into everything, which requires we do the dangerous thing of going out our doors.   I have to be willing to be an unsafe soul, secure in the reality that we were always in danger of being devoured by the world, that we are called to be witnesses to the beauty that is beyond the world and cannot be devoured, and that we will be safe and secure and loved, not from or by the world, but for all eternity by the one who is Beauty, is Truth, is Love.

Then I wondered, am I feeling sorry for myself?  (Probably a bit).  Am I being overly harsh on myself?  My 4 year old son Paul had the answer.  He ran out of the house, still in his pj's, no shoes, because the outside beckoned.   Bringing him back inside, I promised, we'll get back out there after we're dressed.   But the message was clear, get out there. You don't have to be so prepared, just go out the door.  Forget your walking stick.   You're going on an adventure. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Interviewing a Villian

The hard part of writing a book after you've written it, is getting people to know about it, and making the story fresh for new audiences.

 My friend Suzanne de Montigny hit upon doing interviews with characters, specifically, the antagonists of our respective books. 

Antagonists are necessary otherwise the story goes like this: 

Once upon a time, there was a princess.
She grew up, got married, and everyone was happy.
The End. 

Pretty dull.  Stories are driven by the poor choices and the bad acts of shallow characters, weak people, stubborn people, greedy creatures darker or sharper than we'd hope to know in our own circle of friends.   Thus, the villain becomes critical to the story, driving the action.  So who are these difficult people that make everything follow?  We decided to do a villain (excuse me) antagonist exchange.

With this as a prelude, I give you an interview from my encounter with The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy.

Today I’m interviewing a most curious man. He’s dressed in long, hand-woven gowns, has a long beard and hair. What did you say your name was?

It’s Ishmael. What’s happened? Where am I?

Well, I opened up Suzanne de Montigny’s The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy and out you popped.

But where’s the town? Where are the people? I have to prove to them the unicorns are real flesh.


Okay, okay, let me start from the beginning. My wife, Adiva, and our little girl, Ali, were happy living in another land when a giant fireball swept through the sky one night changing our world into a barren desert. We gathered up what we could salvage and journeyed to a beautiful valley that was lush and green, and there, with the help of the other survivors, began building a new life.

Then what happened?

There were these creatures there – most beautiful creatures. Unicorns. They’re like horses only more delicate and they have this horn.

Yes, I’ve heard they existed long ago.

Well I’m a merchant, and I saw potential to become rich if only I could train them. But they were so stupid I couldn’t even lead them around on a halter.

You beat them?

Of course. They’re just  animals. They don’t know any better. I nearly gave up except that the plague hit our town. My own daughter Ali was dying and I was worried I’d catch the disease. Then Adiva carried her to the holding pen where one of the mares touched her with her horn. And that’s when I realized the unicorns had healing powers in their horns.

Did you say you were worried you’d catch the disease?

Of course. Who wouldn’t be?

But she was your daughter.

Doesn’t matter. She survived. And so did a lot of other people because of that mare. I figured out the reason I couldn’t train the unicorns was because whenever I beat them, they’d heal each other just as soon as I’d turn around. So I separated her and beat her into submission.

After she saved your daughter’s life?

Hey, it’s just a dumb animal. Gotta show them who’s boss, right? Then I led her into town where I cured dozens of people. The town was so happy they made a statue of me.

And what happened to the mare?

She died. But it was okay because I had lots more to choose from.

And what happened to them?

They all died too. After a while I realized it would just be a lot easier to saw off their horns.

Like what they do in Africa to rhinos and elephants?

Umm,  where? It doesn’t matter. Like I say, they’re just animals.

But they’re not just animals. They were unique and so far as I know, there aren’t any left in the world?

There aren’t?

No. It’s the same with rhinos and elephants. They’re nearly extinct because, like you, all poachers care about money.

Money? What’s that?



No buts. I’m closing the book and hoping you’ll meet your fate.

No, wait…

The Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy, top ratings and the Kindle Book of the Week. It’s also a finalist in the Orangeberry Hall of Fame Awards. Leave a comment for a chance to win an e-book copy. Here are the links:





Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Apocalypse

It's August. Which means it's time to buy shoes, get haircuts, school supplies, find the math books that I've stopped hounding about, find the book list that I put in a prominent place so it wouldn't be lost, schedule dental appointments, or....or....or....we could go to the pool this afternoon and I'll order us dinner from the stand, chicken fingers, French fries, lemonade and funnel cake.  

Okay. Maybe we could schedule all those things and find all the things but instead of the pool, which would wipe us out physically, we go berry picking or buy ice cream?  Or go the park? The movies?  Play baseball?  Fish!  We haven't gone fishing yet this summer.  How about that?  That would be fun and kinda (sorta) kinda educational.   Yeah.  We could go to the aquarium!  That would really seem educational.  Or the museum! Or the mall to see the monuments.   We could play in the hose!  We could make tomato salad and grill corn on the cob.   See a parade, a concert, go to the fair.  I'll buy us fried oreos or fried something if we go to the fair.   We could see cows, we could go horseback riding.   We could visit a farm and get eggs and pet sheep.  

It doesn't have to be huge, but it could be. Let's hike Sugarloaf mountain or skip stones in the creek near our house.  Let's rent a canoe or go biking on the trail next to the C&O Canal.  I'll take us to the airport and we can watch takeoffs and landings and sip Slurpees.   We'll stay up late and watch meteor showers or go out at dusk and catch fireflies and watch the bats.  Anything. Everything.  All things but please please please please please....don't tell me school starts August 26th.  I'm the parent, I'm the grown up, I'm the adult for crying out loud, and I'm so not ready for summer to end.  

Friday, August 9, 2013


The Book of Helen is available to purchase. 

I'd begun to think I was stuck in one of those Dr. Who episodes where you get to the 2 minute from over mark and find out it didn't happen.  But it did. It did!

I didn't wake up this morning and find my computer had turned into a puddle of milky goo left over from the explosion of what I thought was my book.

At last...

I now unleash my beautiful creation on an unsuspecting public.  Go forth! Read it!  Enjoy it!  Share with friends! 
Oh, and if you enjoy it, leave a review on Amazon or where ever it is that you purchase/read the book. E-books thrive via reviews so thank you in advance.  I now return you to this regular blog post as the party continues.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism This Week

I have really loved doing this Lawn Chair Catechism, it's like the midweek jolt to my soul. "Wake up stupid! You're supposed to be doing something!!! Do you even know what that is you are supposed to be doing?"  I need a GPS with the step by step directions out of the driveway for my soul, every day.  Even though I've been trying to drive this route every day.  

Resurrection, Ascension, New Life, Adoption, and the Kingdom:  The Cross is not the end of the story.  Seekers can investigate the historical evidence for the reality of the resurrection.  Satisfied with that evidence, they can move on to asking, “What does this mean for me?”

In special education, there is a diagnosis called "learning disabilities" which is a general term for wherever along the process of seeing/hearing (visual disorder) interpreting (processing disorder/language issue) analyzing (associative disorder) responding (writing/speaking), the information gets stuck.  I think the soul gets stuck in the process along the way as well. 

Many of us hold the seed in our hearts, we have heard the resurrection story and we believe it.  We see/hear correctly.  But we might think it either impossible to get there (despair) or spend our lives wringing our hands over everything in a false attempt at perfection (also despair) making ourselves miserable and thinking this is what God wants. (form of gnosticism and scrupulosity mixed together, toxic spiritual cocktail).  It is why we need the gift of knowledge that Jesus ascended to prepare a place for us. He is anticipating us coming to him as his friends, as his guests, as his family.   He is preparing a room, it has already been set aside, we have to will to get there.  Predetermination is not in play here.  It is an invitation. He has invited us.  How we live determines our RSVP. 

To take on new life is to revision everything we do.  But we forget.  We forget often. I know I do.  So we need the reminders of the sacraments and scripture, of daily prayer and corporeal acts of mercy and the lives of the saints, sacramentals, all of it, to pound through to our heads and hearts, you're invited. Come to the table. Come to my heart.  Come.   

But we might still think, He can't mean me.  And if He does mean me?  What does that mean?

It means we've been adopted.  That's radical, we've been grafted into His family. At any celebration we want every guest to come. We want everyone at every reunion, even the crazy uncle who smokes and has tattoos. (I had one of those, he gave us quarters and told scary stories, he smelled of tobacco and was both fascinating and frightening at the same. He suffered from schizophrenia).  We need to recognize, for all our preening, we aren't that different from the crazy uncle.  We're still invited with all our faults, all our failings, all our sins.  

And that means, being the Kingdom here, not waiting until death.  Starting today.  If I smoked, it would be time for a cigarette to steady the nerves.  
The seeker thus comes to a final set of thresholds: Jesus asks me to follow him.  He forgives my sins.  I’m ready to drop the net and become a disciple.

For discussion:

In your own faith:
  • Are you practiced in sharing the Gospel story? Have you ever heard it told especially well.  
Yes.  I've watched it lived out in the story of my parents, in their friends and in their care for their family, both immediate, extended and adopted.  They took in cousins. They took in crazy uncles. They took on other missions along the way.  It was never about them.  Even now, my mother goes every day to the home where my father receives 24-7 care. She brushes his teeth. She sits with him at meals. She brings him the Eucharist.  

My father for many years of my life, took me to church, made me say the rosary rather than talk or fight with my brothers, read to me from books I could not understand, like giving a novice a taste of fine wine.  I could not understand the highlights or the special nature of the drink, I drank anyway.   Now, he does not do these things, but I have seen him and he still lights up to receive. He holds in the deeper parts of his memory and fights through the Alzheimer's for bits of the rosary and to take communion.  His face lights up when he sees Mom, it is a form of "Hello." It is silent, but it is real.  

I know the Gospel story, I know how to splice moments into everyday life. My children are well practiced at rolling their eyes, not because I cite scripture or Christ's teachings, but because usually, when I get it nailed down, they agree, fold the resistance and life resumes. I know in my head always to ask,  "Is it right? Is it just? Is it kind?" before speaking and acting.  But I struggle with the living it out part. 
  • How can you become more skilled at explaining and answering questions about the Gospel?  Prayer, reading, and practice.  Plus asking God to place me, to push me, to show me where he wants me to work, and then give me the will to do what he has placed before me, to not be distracted by all the things that so easily distract me.  My daughter came to me and said, "I'm hungry."  I said, "I'm writing. Let me finish this."  She said, "It's going to take a long time." and another daughter agreed, "It would." But when I tried to stay on task (this task), all hell broke lose. There were deer in the back yard which sent a child running at them, a toilet clogged and there was a fight of pecking order amongst two of the middles over a card game.  Everything seemed to spill over and I admittedly ran back to the comfort and safety and illusory control of the computer.  But the words, "I'm hungry." came back to me where I was sitting, so I got up again, and started to take care of things. 
  • I thought I'd finished when a daughter came to me and said, "Mom, when are we going?" I'd forgotten about how yesterday I promised to take two or three of them to the mall for back to school shoe shopping.  Writing would have to be put off again.  The other day a writer asked in a forum, "How do you find time to write and how do you help your family understand?"  
  • The reality is they aren't supposed to understand, they come first.  They have priority. It isn't easy. It isn't always fun, and I certainly don't always have the temperament to sublimate my desires to my vocation.  I come grudgingly to plunge the toilets and hound the child to pick up the toys he just tossed off the table, I come irritated to clean the dishes and fold the laundry and run the errands.  Absent grace I come annoyed to climb the stairs and wipe down the counters and do all that the daily life of a family demands.  But with grace, all these actions become better, become what they should be, acts of love.  
  • So, the call has been given, and I have to serve.  It's a matter of not objecting to the nature of the service, which is where my ego, my sins, my desires wrestle with my soul and what is right.  Another daughter comes into the room. She is sick. I call the doctor to schedule an appointment.  "When are we going?" "Right now."  That is the answer.  It is always the answer.  
I'll be back after I take two to the mall and the other daughter to the doctor's.  

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!