Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Greetings

I love getting the mail this time of year. Even if I rarely hear from someone, I always love to receive their wishes for a Merry Christmas. I always say a prayer for them. What do I do with my Christmas cards? I hang a long string between two ceiling hooks and put the bifolding cards over the string.

I tape up the picture postcards on the sides of a cabinet. Those cards will stay there all year long. Friends like to peruse the pictures and ask who so-and-so’s kids belong to. Many of the friends who send me cards have large families. Typically they will take a picture at home, where everyone looks happy and natural, rather than posed. The pictures bear witness all year to a culture of life. On the First Sunday of Advent, I take down the old pictures to make room for the new. The pictures will ultimately wind up in our family photo albums.

After January 6, I will take down the greeting cards, wrap them in a string, and put them away. One day I will do something with them. Perhaps I will make myself a Christmas craft room, collaged with Christmas cards. I can take my grandchildren in there and talk about all the traditions we have built for Advent and Christmas.

Now it is time for me to wish my readers a Merry Christmas. I am taking a break from the computer while the children are on vacation from school. Thank you for reading, and please come back in the New Year!

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord…
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:11,14

Pictured above:
"Annunciation, Birth of Jesus and Adoration of the Shepherds"
Nicola Pisano, 1260, Marble
Baptistry, Pisa

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Complaining at Christmas Time

Okay, we all know we are supposed to be full of good cheer this month, but I am sure all of we moms lose patience at least once with all we have to do. So I am going to take this opportunity to gripe publicly. But I promise I have a point and will end on a positive note.

We just read the Old Testament story about how God sent vipers to punish his people for griping in the wilderness. Moses had to put up a bronze serpent so that all who looked on it would not die of their bites. I am reminded of this as I look behind my computer chair at our Jesse tree with the symbol of the bronze snake.

I hate shopping. I mean, I really, really hate shopping. Especially at times like this when stores are a mob, and I am only there to meet a necessity.

My daughter needed a new winter coat, so I found myself on a long line at Kohl’s today with my single purchase and my toddler standing up in her stroller and whining. The lady behind me on the line had a sleeping pre-schooler in a stroller, whom she kept absent-mindedly pushing into my legs. It took every ounce of restraint I could summon to keep myself from spinning around and say, “Do you really think you are going to get to the cash register any faster by smashing your child into my legs?” A few times she left the child there to go a few yards away and look at another sale item. I took that opportunity to inch away and position myself so the next nudge would annoy a little less.

The upside to my ordeal was that I received a real bargain on the needed coat. The cashier was surprised that I had waited on the line for only one item. Upon ringing up the coat, I remarked that it was only computed as 25% off rather than the 60% advertised. A nearby manager, desperately trying to manage the long line, told the cashier to give it to me at 60% off. He calculated it on his cell phone while I quickly worked out the math problem on a scrap piece of paper. When I got home and looked at the circular, I saw that “athletic” coats were excluded from the sale and so, indeed, this had worked to my advantage.

My daughter happened to have a difficult time with her math homework tonight and I promised I had a surprise for her after she had completed it. This helped out with her attitude a bit, and she was very happy with her new coat.

Last time I was in a complaining mood, my husband commented, “It could be worse. We could have been borne in the Middle Ages during the Black Plague.” Having read about that ordeal in Kristen Lavransdatter, I quieted myself and tried to look for a silver lining somewhere.

And there always is. A good friend of ours is about to be shipped off for Navy Reserve Boot Camp, a few days before Christmas. What was his family doing tonight? Personally delivering food, clothing, and Christmas gifts to needy families on Eastern Long Island. (They run a website called Help for Long Island.) Now that is inspiring.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Phillipians 4:8

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Tonight I reach a bloggers’ milestone: 100 posts. As I keep to a simple theme and yet try not to be redundant, it is always a challenge to try to see and say things from a different perspective. And yet every day is new, with its share of blessings and challenges as we walk the pilgrim’s walk toward salvation. The mothers’ tasks are at once the same and ever-changing, like a river. With Christ in our hearts we can take advantage of every moment to live for Him, and to teach our children to do the same.

Tonight we went to the Sat. evening mass, as we are expecting a big snowstorm tonight. Later, after dinner, we waited outside as the local fire department sent round its Santa Claus parade. Then, with candy canes in hand, we read Isaiah 11 as part of our Jesse Tree tradition for Advent. One of the most beautiful images of the Bible is contained therein:
“The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”(verse 6b)

Pictured above: “A Jesse Tree”, by Girolamo Genga, c. 1535, National Gallery, London.

How do I find appropriate art to go with the Bible verses I quote?
I recommend the web site “Bible Art: Resources for Catholic Educators”.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

Before my review I must make a confession. I purchased “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, by Maria Augusta Trapp, for my ten-year-old daughter as a Christmas present. My two older daughters are going to be in our church production of “The Sound of Music”, so I thought the story as well as some original recordings from the family would inspire them.

My friend Leticia Velasquez raved about the book, saying it had served as a great inspiration in her own writing career. (I suspect we can look to her for even more insight into this book if she reviews it on one of her blogs.) So as I was about to wrap the book, I opened up to “The Chapter Before the First”, and by the end of the first paragraph I knew I had to read this book myself before Christmas.

First I must say that readers will be surprised by the creative liberties taken in the making of the movie “The Sound of Music”. Maria never really runs away, for example; nor did she dress the children in curtain material. I always wonder why truth must be taken liberties with, to be made more interesting. There is enough in the family’s true drama to fill more volumes than the 312 pages of carefully chosen moments in Maria’s written memoire.

The Story embodies so much that this blog is about. The Divine Gift of Motherhood was one that Maria was at first afraid to choose. But, like the Holy Mother Mary (how aptly named is Maria!), once she discovered that this is God’s Will, she humbly accepts and embraces this calling.

The children and captain captured her heart, and her theirs. Life is made up of Saints’ Feast Days, Birthdays, and Advent, with some normal days in-between. Maria brings the beauty and wonder back into these celebrations for a family that has recently been made motherless. The descriptions of the European Catholic traditions of Advent alone make this book a must-read for those mothers who wish to keep Christ in Christmas.

The once well-to-do family loses everything when they choose following principles over serving Hitler’s Regime. Thus their poor condition as refugees literally forces them into singing for the public, the gift that ultimately made them famous. How concert after concert came at the last minute to keep them out of debt is a tale of faith lived and rewarded.

Maria’s determination to learn the English language is a story in itself. She copies the Americans on the boat and in consequence misuses idiomatic speech in hilarious ways.

The miracle of a baby born despite Maria’s bad kidneys (and a doctor’s stern warning) comes shortly after the family lands in America. She writes the baby “had not been exactly planned for that very moment, and as far as being wanted is concerned, I would have gladly said many times, ‘Oh, won’t you please be so kind as to wait for just six months.’ Yes, many times on the flight, on the boat, on the bus, on the stage. But thousands of years ago God assured us – it’s in the Book – ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways.’ So if there is any planning to be done, why don’t we let Him do it?”

The Trapp Family truly is a light shining on a hill. They show us how it is truly possible to “live in the world, not of the world”, as the Gospel calls us to do. Despite the American music managers’ original rejection of the Trapp Family due to Maria’s lack of “sex appeal”, she (after a trip to the book store in search of the definition) wins their backing. The family insists on keeping to their costume dress, which is both economical and practical.

A family lodge is built in Vermont, and a Trapp Family Music Camp set up in summertime. The little girls are taken out of boarding school and homeschooled, giving them the precious time needed to sing, practice their musical instruments, and enjoy the outdoors. The family takes on a huge effort to collect and bring food, clothing, and other necessities to their fellow suffering Austrians.

A nice section talks about how courtship could and should be; and even this is managed despite the American way of “going steady”. Nice families flock to the Trapp Family Music Camp, and the children make friends with those who share their values; some find their soul mates as well.

The last section is a moving tribute to the family as they were and have become. You will have to read it to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

O Little Chocolate House

One tradition I have maintained since childhood is that of making chocolate houses at Christmas. I used to make these with my mother. We would go to the candy store at every major holiday and purchase about ten pounds of dark chocolate and five pounds of white. I still have most of the molds for Christmas Easter, and St. Valentine’s Day. One year, my freshman year of high school, I made 66 chocolate houses and sold them around the neighborhood. My mother was then pregnant with my little brother and the smell of all those houses in the dining room would follow her wherever she went.

Now my own children are old enough to help with the chocolate making. Sure, they make a mess, and the ones made as gifts are made solely by me, but it is a fun family activity that one day they will each become skillful at.

To make the house pictured above, you will need:
1 pound of dark chocolate melting bisques (from a candy store – not the kind you find in the grocery store)
1 house mold
a double boiler
confectioners’ sugar for “snow” icing
almond extract (vanilla will make the icing turn yellow)
large multi-colored candy non-pareils
cake icing bag and tip

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. You put enough water in the bottom pot so that the top pot is sitting in the hot water. Let the water come to a simmer but not a full boil. You do not want the water to get into the chocolate. Put the chocolate in the top pot and slowly mix with a spoon until the chocolate is smooth with no lumps.

Remove the pot to a trivet. Using a large spoon, fill the parts of the house with chocolate. Gently tap the mold to make sure the chocolate is flat on top. Refrigerate until the chocolate is totally solid. Gently remove the pieces from the mold. You can turn the mold upside down and gently tap it until they come out.

If a piece breaks, you can “glue” it together with the hot chocolate from the pot. Now stand up one piece of the house. Use a knife to apply hot chocolate to a seam and hold together to the next part of the house until they are “glued” together. Continue until all the pieces are melded together. You may have enough chocolate leftover for a mold of lollipops, or you can dip some pretzels or nuts to use up whatever is sticking to the pot. If you try to eat it all you will get a tummy-ache. (I know from experience.)

Mix a tablespoon or so of water and a capful of almond extract into a bowl of confectioners’ sugar. When it is the right consistency, put the icing into the cake icing bag with icing tip. Cover the “seams”, especially at the top of the roof, and wherever else you want “snow”, with icing. You can also “glue” candy canes and other candies on with the icing. Line the top of the house with non-pareil “Christmas lights”.

This makes a perfect housegift to bring to a Christmas party or to any chocolate-loving friend!

I also make lovely chocolate-covered cherries - but I ate them all before I could take a picture.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St. Nicholas: From Austria to Long Island

How lovely that it should snow here on Long Island on the vigil of the Feast of Saint Nicholas! It also snowed lightly on the First Sunday of Advent. I do believe this is a sign of special blessings to come this Christmas.

I have been entranced with my current reading of “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, by Maria Augusta Trapp. (A review will soon follow.) My timing in reading this wonderful story could not have been better, as Maria seems to mark the events of her life by its closeness to Advent. The First Sunday of Advent was a time looked to with great excitement. The family would light the first Advent candle and from then on meet nightly under the Advent Wreath, which was hung from the ceiling in the family room.

Austrian children were not visited by Santa Claus. Rather, all the children of God wrote a letter to the Christ Child on the first Sunday in Advent. They asked for their secret wishes and made a personal promise to the Christ Child. They put the letter on the window sill and hoped it would be taken. Good children’s letters were taken faster but naughty children were kept waiting a few nights.

On the vigil of the Feast of Saint Nikolaus (Dec. 6), Saint Nikolaus would visit, dressed in his Bishop’s vestments and mitre. He was followed by the Krampus, a black devil. Nikolaus asked the children questions from the catechism. He mentioned all the sins that had been committed throughout the year. Naughty children must promise to mend their ways or the Krampus would threaten to take them away. The good Saint would never allow this to happen and always believed the children’s promises.

The Christ Child and his angels came down from heaven on Christmas Eve to personally deliver gifts to his children.

Tonight Saint Nicholas will come to fill my children’s stockings. We are late writing our letters, as I have just discovered this beautiful tradition, but my intention is for the children to put them into their stockings before bed.

Another nice tradition I discovered this week was that of the Advent Prayer Bead Box. Each child has his or her own box. Each time the child does a good deed he receives a bead to put in his box. On Christmas Eve she puts the box under the tree as her gift to the Christ Child.

After all, Christ gave himself as the ultimate gift to us. Christmas is not a time to ask what he can do for us, but to thank him for himself and ask what we can do for him.

Above: Gentile da Fabriano's 15th century painting,
"Saint Nicholas Saves a Ship from Sinking,"

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kicking Off Advent: Our Christmas and Jesse Trees

Today being the first Sunday of Advent, we had an activity-filled weekend kicking off this wonderful season. My husband went out for a freshly cut fir tree while I took out all the boxes of ornaments from the garage. I had de-cluttered and polished the furniture right before Thanksgiving so that all wooden surfaces would be prepared for decorating.

It is always great fun for the children to look out the living room window and see the minivan pull into the driveway with a tree tied to the top. This year we had the added wonder of our toddler, who took a while to get used to the idea of a tree’s being inside the house. The dog has been through ten years of this, and makes herself quite at home under the tree as soon as it is up.

It is always aggravating trying to get the tree into the stand, and several attempts are usually required before the screws are in at the right angles all around. This time, we had trouble getting the trunk to touch the bottom of the base because there were very low branches in the way. We got out the tree saw and my husband took off several small boughs that were impeding our progress.

Not wanting to waste any of this quality fir, I had my ten-year-old put the loose branches into a large vase. They were enough to form their own little tree, and we put it in a separate room as our very first Jesse Tree.

The Jesse Tree represents the Family Tree of Jesus. Starting with the first Sunday of December, each day has a symbol representing an important event from the Fall to the Incarnation. There is a scripture to meditate on each day in preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas.This year, we have been invited to join some homeschooling friends in an Advent Jesse Tree Ornament Swap. There are a total of 28 symbols, the maximum number of days in Advent. This year there are only 23 days; so only 23 symbols will be used. Ideally, 28 families would pick one symbol and make 28 of one ornament. They get together, also bringing desserts to share, and swap ornaments so that each family goes home with a complete set of ornaments for their Jesse Tree. I thought this was a wonderful idea, which can easily be adapted for use in schools, churches, and other groups. (For instructions on making a Jesse Tree, go to this article in The Catholic Register.)

It snowed this morning, the first of the season, so the children had a wonderful time frolicking outside. The baby quickly tired out, and during her nap my husband and I got the outdoor lights up. We also discovered that we had forgotten to turn the tree to show its “good side”; so all the ornaments were removed and replaced after we were happy with the new placement of the tree.

We finished making our ornaments for the swap, and turned to making Christmas cutout cookies. Meanwhile a beef rump round was roasting for a lovely dinner to celebrate this first Sunday of Advent.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born,
To us a Son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:2-6

We are currently reading "Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration", by James C. Dobson, Charles R. Swindoll, James Montgomery Boice, and R.C. Sproul

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Runaway Bunny

Margaret Wise Brown’s classics “The Runaway Bunny” and “Goodnight Moon” have earned their place on millions of children’s bookshelves. It is difficult to pin down exactly why the stories are so enchanting.

Aha, because they are based on scripture.

In “The Runaway Bunny”, a bunny tells his mother that he will run away from her. She tells him that she will follow him wherever he may go. Clement Hurd’s enchanting illustrations show the mother rabbit as as she takes the form of the wind, a tree, and several other shapes. The boy bunny decides he might as well stay in his cozy home with his mommy who loves him.

As I read this to my toddler, the Psalm came back to me and I knew I was reading Brown’s interpretation, whether she knew it or not.

Psalms 139: 1 - 12
"1 O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!
2 Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.
3 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, ‘Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ –
12 Darkness is not dark for you,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Boys DO Notice Hair!

This afternoon, I went and got myself a long-overdue haircut. I say long-overdue because I HATE to get haircuts. I have very curly hair and do not trust it to the hands of a stranger with a scissor.

The last time I went for a cut, in the middle of the summer, she left my bangs way too long and I wound up taking a scissor to them. I cut them too short and have been self-conscious about them ever since.

Every time I see another woman with curly brown hair and a good cut, I think, “I should do that”.

You could say I had to “hit bottom” before finally putting myself in the chair. This morning I woke up too late to do anything worthwhile with my hair before church and just felt miserable every time it fell in my face as I continually bent over to help my toddler behave “properly” (or come close to some semblance of an effort at reasonably good behavior).

Having fed the kids lunch, put the baby in for a nap, and sent the older ones to help their father with yardwork, I saw my opportunity and ran out the door.

I got there at an early-afternoon lull and was fortunate enough to have a hairdresser with the same type of curl as me. “Oh, you have a pretty face,” she told me as she pulled the hair back. I couldn’t see it under all that hair.” As Iris cut away, I could feel the locks fall into proper place under her expert fingers.

She blow-dried it straight to make sure she had the layers all even. She told me about her three children and her second job as a bartender. I could see she was happy that I was happy – so we both parted with smiles.

When I got home, my husband looked at me oddly and said, “What happened?”

“I got a haircut.”

“Oh, it looks really pretty, you never do it that way.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, but he did mean it as a compliment.

The baby was ready to be taken out of her crib. She looked curiously at my straightened hair and smiled. When we went downstairs, my six-year-old son was coming in the backdoor.

“Mommy!” he exclaimed, “Where did your curls go?!”

“The hairdresser blew them straight. But don’t worry, they will come back after I wash it.”

He ran out the backdoor.

I was amazed at this reaction by my son. I never think that he cares what I look like, but it seems my curls were part of my mommy identity and he was seeing me in a different way.

Within seconds, my other two daughters were running inside.

“What happened? We heard you got a haircut and it looks really good!”

“Ohhhhh, it’s interesting,” they said, circling around me.

About a year ago, I cut off ten inches and it took hours for anyone to notice. It was really amusing to be the center of attention for a change in hairstyle. I just wonder if they will like my curls when they spring back – which everyone with curly hair knows they do!

“Even all the hairs of your head are counted.”
Matthew 10:30

Friday, November 23, 2007

Portraits of a Turkey

Much of New York is shopping today, on “Black Friday”, the commercial kick-off to the Christmas season. The malls were open at 4 A.M. this morning for those who wanted to get an early start. I suspect many of my readers, like me, avoided the sale craze in favor of a warm, cozy day indoors with the children, baking, crafting, or playing games.

The children made me these beautiful turkey pictures for Thanksgiving yesterday. The eldest made the most flamboyant, resembling a peacock as much as it does a turkey. My son also made a colorful one, with a serious look much like his own. My eight-year-old dreamer was aiming for a realistic-looking turkey.

I woke up to her shrieking while they were in the middle of making their surprise cards Thanksgiving morning. She ran to her room and would not tell me what had upset her. I peeked in the garbage and saw a crumpled-up paper with the cutest little turkey head, and a body that had obviously disappointed her. She would not cheer up until she had gotten it right. I think she did a mighty fine job.

I find it amazing how much of one’s self can be found in a portrait of an animal. Posture, pose, and the look of the eye and mouth are likely to be reflected in any picture created by a child. When the children are in school next week, I can look at these turkeys and feel the presence of each of my little ones.

“God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good.”
Genesis 1:31a

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scriptures of Thanksgiving

Psalms 8: 1 - 5

1 I give thee thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing thy praise;
2 I bow down toward thy holy temple and give thanks to thy name for thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness; for thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word.
3 On the day I called, thou didst answer me, my strength of soul thou didst increase.
4 All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O LORD, for they have heard the words of thy mouth;
5 and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.


Sirach 50: 22 - 24

22 And now bless the God of all, who in every way does great things; who exalts our days from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy.
23 May he give us gladness of heart, and grant that peace may be in our days in Israel, as in the days of old.
24 May he entrust to us his mercy! And let him deliver us in our days!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beer, Cigarettes, and Contraception

My husband's work as a process server takes him everywhere. Last week he had to serve a subpoena for medical records on a Planned Parenthood clinic. He could not help overhear a girl asking for “Plan B” contraception.

She could not provide identification to prove she was 19 years of age.

Her friend asked, “I’m 19. Can I buy it for her?”

“Sure!” was the answer from the clerk.

We are so cautious and vigilant in preventing underage minors from purchasing beer and cigarettes, and warn others against purchasing it for them.

Our legislators need to be warned of what is taking place in these clinics!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Day Out with Dad

Today my husband took the children to his mother’s house while I painted the children’s bathroom. It has cathedral ceilings, so quite a large proportion of working time is spent moving the ladder around.

I was working for a full hour in absolute silence, when I dropped my edging brush from the top of the ladder. It fell twelve feet down and hit the bathtub with a resounding CLANG. I reacted, thinking, “Ooh, I hope that didn’t wake up the baby!”

I am so used to doing this sort of work during her naptime, enjoying the solitude and silence, that I had completely forgotten she was not at home! This was quite an odd experience for me.

I could play music! I could play it as loud as I wanted! I ran downstairs to select some fun working music. I turned the volume up so I could hear it way up at the top of the house.

I played three CDs and returned to the quiet. Quiet work is soothing to the soul. I can think my thoughts and pray unceasingly and maybe even hear a word the Lord has for me at the moment.

Several hours later, I had just finished cleaning up when the husband and kids came through the door. They had had a terrific day. They even went to their uncles’ hockey game. They got to stay out late and play video games at the sports complex. They were dirty and smelly and all smiley. A day with dad certainly agreed with them!

“Be still and know that I am God.”
Psalms 46:10

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Little Pink Ball

Sometimes I have a day that is special in its absolute normalcy. I am following my normal routine and somehow every activity is enhanced with a joyfulness that is delicious. I know these days are a blessing from God and are given to us as encouragement and a reminder of his gifts. This happened to me yesterday.

I had a late start getting the baby and myself ready to go food shopping. The telephone rang and it was a relative I had not heard from for a long time. I was delighted to hear from her, and we talked for a while. We complained about how long it takes to go food shopping, but remembered to be thankful we had enough to eat.

I dressed the baby in a pink crocheted dress that had been mine as a baby, and that my second daughter had also worn. Now too short to be worn as a dress, I paired it with a pair of jeans and sweet little cranberry shoes. She looked absolutely adorable!

I had two certificates for free turkeys, as well as two “ten dollars off” coupons, so I made two separate trips into the store, loading up the car to the gills. Mind you, I am not hosting Thanksgiving. We really eat that much in a week.

During my shopping, I met a mother of four with one on the way. We exchanged nice words, encouraging one another. I also ran into a lady from church, who fawned over the baby and how she had grown.

The baby had her eye on a big basket of blow-up playballs, which were on sale for 99 cents. Probably for the first time ever, I bought a toy for my child on impulse. I gave her a pink and orange swirly ball and she giggled with glee. It was a good thing I was almost done shopping, because she then started doing what babies are supposed to do with balls.

At the milk case, she threw the ball onto the floor. It bounced and rolled to an elderly gentleman, who happily bent over to pick it up and hand it to her with a smile. Now at the yogurt section, she threw it to a middle-aged woman, who also was glad to comply. Eggs, ice cream, and we were done, with a few more games of catch thrown in.

I could not have her continue this in the parking lot. At the checkout counter, she lost her ball to me and I snuck it to the cashier, instructing her to hide it. She mistook my instructions, scanned it, and started to hand it to the baby, who was still looking around on the floor for her ball. “No no, hide it!” I whispered to the young lady urgently. Now she put it in a bag and it was out of sight.

Back in the car, I returned the ball and she gave me a laugh that meant, “There it is!”

Once at home, I placed her in the house with the ball. She looked out at me through the glass storm door. Every time I came to open the door, armed loading with groceries, she threw that ball out at me.

Finally, all the bags were in. She stood up and threw her ball, walked to it, and picked it up. She had just learned to walk independently over the weekend, so this was some pretty fancy footwork for her. To me, it was the perfect picture.

I ran and got my camera. This will be one of the days to treasure in this mother’s memories of childhood.

"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.
This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live."
-1 Thes. 5:16-18

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Miller Christmas Spreadsheet

Since childhood, I have always been a list maker. I have always had so many projects in my head, with all the mini-steps leading to completion. In college I would take my deadlines, write them on my calendar, and work my way backwards from that date to set mini-goals toward the end result. I always tried to get things done a few days early in case of unforeseeable circumstances. (I remember one year in high school, having trouble with the dot-matrix printer at 2:00 in the morning when a paper was due in the morning. My father was not happy! It never happened again.)

Now with four children, I would truly feel lost if I did not get it all down on paper. Tomorrow ends the cross-country season, which will allow me more time to prepare for Christmas. I am presently getting my spreadsheets ready for all the holiday preparations. This really helps me to organize myself with all the multitasking required. The major tasks are in bold, with all the mini-steps listed underneath.

For example, for Christmas cards, I need to (1) buy cards, (2) find Christmas outfits for the children, (3) buy a tree, (4) put up the tree, (5) decorate the tree, (6) dress the children for a picture, (7) take a picture, (8) print out wallets, (9) write out the cards, (10) buy stamps, (11) put the cards in the mail, and finally (12) record changes of address and new family members as cards from others come in.

When I see my spreadsheet printed out on my refrigerator, I derive a real sense of satisfaction from seeing little checkmarks next to the various and sundry tasks. Hence Christmas does not become this big, overwhelming monster that takes over the month of December. Rather, Advent is a time in which little goals can be accomplished - and enjoyed - in spare moments that can be found, leaving me with a sense of peace so spiritually I can prepare myself and my family for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

“A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”
Isaiah 40:3

Recommended blog: The True Meaning of Christmas

Friday, November 9, 2007

Catholic Document on Free Will

As promised, I continue on yesterday's topic with a primary source on the topic of free will...


1. A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man,(1) and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty. The demand is likewise made that constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society. This Vatican Council takes careful note of these desires in the minds of men. It proposes to declare them to be greatly in accord with truth and justice. To this end, it searches into the sacred tradition and doctrine of the Church-the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old..."


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Predestination or Free Will?

A reader asks: “As far as God hand picking people for His purposes, do you not believe in free will? Are you prescribing to Calvin's idea of predestination?”

The answer to this question is so important in how we raise our children. One of the first prayers we teach our children is the Our Father. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)

One of the first Bible stories we teach them is that of Creation and Adam and Eve. It is very clear from that story that, while God desired that we would choose Good, he allowed us the choice between good and evil.

“The Lord God gave man this order: ‘You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die’.”
Genesis 2:16-17

Yet throughout the Bible we are told of his Purpose, that God knew us before we were born, that He has a plan for us.

“You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
Wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
My bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
Fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
In your book all are written down;
My days were shaped, before one came to be.”
Psalm 139:13-16

I believe a mother’s job is to best prepare her children to seek God’s purpose for them, to help find and develop the special gifts he has given them for this life, and to give them the skills they need to fulfill that.

If we choose God’s will and obey his commandments, we will receive blessings.

“Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dear to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.”
Exodus 19:5

If we attempt to thwart his will, we will be punished, and His Will will be brought about anyway. It is in following God’s will that we are not enslaved by sin but find freedom in a righteous life.

“The Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.”
Proverbs 1:6

There is so much scripture and doctrine on this topic that I believe I must continue this topic in another post!

"Jesus answered them and said, ‘My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me. Whoever chooses to do his will shall know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him.’"
John 7:16-18

Painting Above: "The Tree of Death and Life"
1481. The Archbishop of Saltzburg's missal.
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Things People Said

This is Part II of yesterday’s post, “Things People Said”.

I was outside after church collecting signatures to stop Governor Eliot Spitzer’s “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act”, S.5829. (Go to to take action.)

A woman was signing the letter when she made the most outrageous statement.

“His mother should have had an abortion,” she said, in reference to the originator of the bill.

“That’s a terrible thing to say!” I replied.

“Well, if he wasn’t around we wouldn’t have this bill.”

Spoken while signing a PRO-LIFE letter.

The whole point of the label “pro-life” is that God is the Creator of human life and we have no right to take it away. God has a purpose for every person conceived. We are all sinners, yet his purpose is brought about in ways we cannot imagine.

God hardened Pharoah’s heart so that he would not let the Hebrews go. Yet in the end his actions brought about a cataclysmic series of events that led to their triumphant break from slavery.

Dictators in every era of history arose – why? In history class my teachers spoke of the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. If it wasn’t Mussolini, it would have been someone else. God handpicked that person for his own reasons. None of us can conceive of his ways.

When we work for any good cause, I hope we can each look into our hearts and pray that our works are done out of love of God and neighbor. And pray that God’s will be done.

“Yet I will make Pharaoh so obstinate that, despite the many signs and wonders that I will work in the land of Egypt, he will not listen to you. Therefore I will lay my hand on Egypt and by great acts of judgment I will bring the hosts of my people, the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt, so that the Egyptians may learn that I am the Lord, as I stretch out my hand against Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their midst.”
Exodus 7:3-5

Picture above: Broadoak St Paul, Dorset

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Things People Said

My involvement with the 40 Days for Life program has been a real eye opener into people’s attitudes, even of those who are involved in the pro-life movement.

Today I was outside after church collecting signatures to stop Governor Eliot Spitzer’s “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act”, S.5829. (Go to to take action.)

I was working with an elderly couple.

“How many children do you have?” asked the woman.


“It’s a lot of work. I have five.”

“Oh, God bless you!”

“Not really. Put your money in the bank. It’s a better investment.”

I am pretty sure my jaw dropped, and she attempted to soften her comment with “I’m just kidding, of course.”

But her further comments led me to believe she really did hold a bitter view about child-rearing.

“There is one thing you can count on.”

I waited for her to continue, then prodded, “What’s that?”

“They will disappoint you one day.”

I looked at her and felt sad for her. But I also was rather shocked at how she would convey this viewpoint to me, I who am just in the messy midst of the raising of young children. She knew this, too, because she had met them before the Mass.

I asked her if she had any grandchildren. She had eight.

I told her, trying to lighten the mood, “I look forward to having big backyard baseball games with our grandchildren.”

“Don’t count on it,” she said, “They all move away.”

I recounted this conversation to a friend later. She said something must have happened recently with one of her children, and to pray for her.

It gets worse – but I will save that story for my next installment, “More Things People Said”.

Tonight I will dream of playing baseball with my grandchildren in my large yard, which by then will be enfenced with roses of all shades and varieties…

[Picture above: Leigh-on-Mendip St Giles, Somerset]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Bicycle Tire

A man walked down the block with his little girl, answering her many questions and letting her pick up little things off the street. He seemed to be working to encourage her curiosity.

“Daddy, what is that man doing over there?”

“I think that’s a lady,” he replied.

That “man” was I, struggling to work a new bicycle tire into the 1 1/8” rim. In old Levi’s, a softball shirt, my hair up in a twist and no makeup, I could see how I might look like a man to a three-year-old. Still, it was not the highlight of my day.

Said youngster ran up my driveway. “I want to see what he’s doing!” she chirped.

“Do you mind if she just takes a quick look?” the father asked unabashedly.

“Sure.” Okay, now the encouragement for curiosity had crossed the boundaries of my property line.

“What are you doing?” asked the girl.

“She’s fixing a bicycle,” answered the father, thanked me, and took her away.

This tire has been the bane of my beloved afternoon bicycle ride. For months, I have filled the tire with air before leaving for a quick ride with my two older daughters on the weekend. I knew I only had ten minutes before it would start to go flat.

A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old burned a hole in her tire, putting the brakes on too hard while flying down a hill. Since then, she has been borrowing her brother’s bike while he used his old, too-small bike.

After our friend installed the baby seat onto the back of my bicycle, he told us that my tire had “wet rot” and needed to be replaced. I knew I needed to go to a specialty store for the parts I needed, so still I put it off.

But the added weight of the baby made the problem even worse. Now I had only five minutes before the tell-tale weighty feeling and extreme bumpiness would let me know the air was not holding out.

So finally, yesterday morning, I walked into the Carl Hart Bicycle store. A $4,000+ bicycle hung in the entry-way.

“How can I help you?” asked the young clerk.

“I have some flat tires,” I replied simply.

“Did you bring the bicycles, or are you buying supplies to do it yourself?”

Wow, I never even thought I had that option!

“I’ll be doing it myself.”

He asked me the sizes I would be needing. For the 27-inch, I had a choice between a $20 or $40 tire. I thought of my rusty old Ross.

“I think I’ll go with the cheaper one.”

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“I’ve changed a tire before but it’s been a long time…”([when I was about your age] I thought).

He gave me a few pointers and reminded me that if I had any trouble I could come back and have them change each tire, for $11 each.

I put the supplies in the garage, looking forward to getting the task done today during the baby’s nap time.

But she slept too late this morning, and nap time did not work out as planned. So I had a bicycle upside-down on the front porch, disassembled, when I had to fetch her from her crib. Dinner had to be put in the oven. My ten-year-old was in tears over a project that was due tomorrow.

Two hours later, with many interruptions, the tire was changed! I took it into the street for a test spin. Triumphant, I called the children for a bike ride.

Were the saints cheering me on? Surely they knew the frustrations that had made up my day, as well as the relief I now felt!

What a glorious thing! To ride around the block with all of my children, on smooth, 90-psi tires and no fear of losing air! That truly was worth all the trouble.

Now that I know what I’m doing, I will change my daughter’s tire tomorrow.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfector of faith.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross,
despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Feelings about Halloween

I do not look forward to Halloween, and have seen my own participation as a reluctance concession to the Americanized version of this holiday. I have always stressed creativity as the one positive virtue my children could get out of it. They always have to dress up as something “good, of virtue, and of good report”, as St. Paul advises on the direction of our thoughts.

With over 100 families in our neighborhood, the doorbell continues ringing from 3:00 through 9:00, and for the past two years I have not answered the door. Otherwise, I would not be able to breastfeed, put dinner on the table, help with homework, and do all the other things I need to do for my children every evening. Instead, I put out a big pot with a nice sign on it. Generally, children have been respectful. I do not put out all the candy at once, but periodically refill it from my supplies. I am relieved when my husband comes home and takes over the responsibility of handing out candy.

There is a terrific guest post by Judith Mathieu-Conley on the blog "Cause of Our Joy", on the topic of the Catholic Origins of Halloween. It made me see the holiday in a more positive light. It is definitely worth a read.

Thank you for the patience of my diligent readers who continue to click over to my site. I have been so caught up with traveling for cross country meets and other family activities that I barely have time to turn on the computer these days. The running season is soon over, and I hope to have more time to devote to sharing my stories and thoughts.

Monday, October 29, 2007

UNICEF: Trick or Treat?

"Tuesday June 20, 2006

Abortion-Pushing UNICEF Back for Hallowe’en – Whole Month of October new Collection Drive

By Hilary White

TORONTO, June 20, 2006 ( – At the end of May, reported that the United Nations International Children’s’ Fund (UNICEF) announced that it would be ending its annual Hallowe’en collection drive. The UNICEF spokesman, Evelyne Guindon, said that the collection of coins by school children that had been a feature of Canadian life for five decades was costing more money than it was worth, but that “alternatives” were being considered.

Now UNICEF Canada is coming back with “Trick or Treat for UNICEF,” a program for schools to encourage children to become involved in the abortion-promoting group.

UNICEF Canada’s website says, “Our vision is to build an enhanced partnership with schools and provide more meaningful participation and educational opportunities for children.”

The plan is to extend the fundraising through the schools for the entire month of October. “Instead of students collecting change in the UNICEF box on Halloween night, schools will receive fundraising kits that can be used anytime during the month of October.”

Pro-life advocates have campaigned for years against the organization’s dedication to the abortion philosophy, calling on them to return to their original vision. In 2002, Joe Woodard writing in the Calgary Herald, revealed that the organization had been transformed into just another branch office for the anti-life and anti-family policies of the UN.

Woodard wrote, “This trend was codified in the 1998 declaration in Geneva of a partnership of the Children's Fund, World Health Organization and UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). That partnership -- the Co-ordinating Committee on Health -- aligned UNICEF with UNFPA's major partner agency, International Planned Parenthood, which ranks second only to the Chinese government in the volume of abortions it provides.”

In the years following the Second World War, the group was founded to bring much needed material aid to children, including the thousands of orphans left destitute after the war. But since the 1970’s UNICEF has shifted its focus to promote the UN's population control agenda, including abortion and contraceptives for children and young people, and sex education under the auspices of "family planning" and "reproductive rights."

In 1997, the Catholic School board of Toronto discontinued its support for UNICEF and Campaign Life Coalition convinced a number of Toronto's Catholic schools to introduce a similar box to collect funds for a local women's crisis pregnancy centre, Aid to Women.

In 1996, the Vatican announced that because of UNICEF’s abortion advocacy, it would cancel its token $2000 annual donation to the organization.

Some pro-life and pro-family international aid organizations assisting mothers and children in the developing world include:

MaterCare International

MaterCare International
8 Riverview Avenue
St. John's, Newfoundland
Canada A1C 2S5
Phone: 709-579-6472
Fax: 709- 579-6501

Canadian Food for Children
3218 - 224 Street, Langley, B.C. V2Z 2G8
Phone: 604-534-4544

Aid to the Church in Need

Bischof-Kindermann-Str. 23
D-61462 Königstein im Taunus
Tel.: 06174 291-0
Fax: 06174 3423

Pro-life supporters looking for a home for their donations can also send assistance to directly through our website:

To contact UNICEF Canada with your concerns:

Canada Square
2200 Yonge Street, Suite 1100
Toronto, ON M4S 2C6
Telephone +1 416 482 4444
Fax +1 416 482 8035

Read previous coverage:

UNICEF to End Hallowe'en Box Collection in Canada

Read the pamphlet:
UNICEF; Guilty as Charged

Read special report:
UNICEF's Other Agendas


(c) Copyright: Permission to republish is granted (with limitation*) but acknowledgement of source is *REQUIRED* (use

NEWS TIPS to or call toll free 1-866-787-9947.

Donate to at "

Saturday, October 27, 2007

40 Days for Life Tele-Rally and Webcast

"To build on the amazing momentum that is growing across
America -- and to learn how people in every city in our
nation will be able to join in the "grand finale" of
this historic campaign -- you are invited to attend a
LIVE one-time-only event:

Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 9 PM Eastern
(8 PM Central, 7 PM Mountain, 6 PM Pacific)

During this important event, you will hear from...

* SAM BROWNBACK, U.S. Senator (Kansas)

* FR. FRANK PAVONE, Priests for Life

* CARMEN PATE, "Point of View" radio talk show

* JIM SEDLAK, STOPP, American Life League

* STACY MASSEY, Abortion Recovery Intl. Network

* SHAWN CARNEY, Coalition for Life

ADDITIONALLY, you will hear from leaders of several of
the local 40 Days for Life campaigns who will share how
God has been working miracles in their communities.

At the end of the live call, we will share a BIG
ANNOUNCEMENT of how people in every city across America
can join together in solidarity with this effort to
bring 40 Days for Life to a powerful finish throughout
all 50 states!

Get all the details and register to join this important
pro-life event

It's going to be EXCITING!!

Yours For Life,

David Bereit
National Campaign Director
40 Days for Life

P.S.- Be sure to register right now for the "BIG EVENT"
tele-rally and web simulcast! There are limited spaces
available, and it's 100% FREE so go register at: <-----------------

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Explaining Abortion to Children

One day late last October, my then-nine-year-old daughter came home from school and told me about an informal poll that had been taken in her fifth grade class.

If they were able to vote in the next Presidential election, whom would they vote for? She said most of the children raised their hand for Hillary Clinton. I do not know who else was offered as a “candidate”, but I was shocked at the support for such a person in a Catholic school.

“Oh, she’s horrible, horrible – evil, even!” I exclaimed.


I could have gone into a thousand reasons – the shocking things she has gotten away with throughout her years in public service. The one that stood out the most in my mind, at that moment, was her stance on abortion.

I quickly weighed in my mind whether or not I wanted to bring this subject up at this juncture. Would I shatter her innocence by letting her know such evil existed? How likely was she to hear the term “abortion” elsewhere in the next year?

I decided to sit her down and explain what abortion was. She had just been through my pregnancy, so she understood what I meant when I said a woman decided to “terminate” her pregnancy.

“But why would someone want to do that?”

I explained that sometimes a woman might feel like she had no options – no husband, no support from family or friends, nowhere to turn. My explanations of procreation had been so entwined in marriage that she didn’t understand how a woman could become pregnant without being married!

She was sad but calm. “Well, at least there is one good thing, the baby gets to go to heaven,” she said.

This past summer, we came across a mention of abortion in the most innocent of movies, “The Singing Nun”, starring Debbie Reynolds. A young woman fainted at a church dance and said, “Don’t worry, I’m just pregnant. I’m not having the baby though. I’m going to have an abortion.” The freshman nun, shocked, yelled at her for even thinking of such a thing, calling it “murder”. “How dare you say such a thing to me!” returned the young woman. The young nun was rebuked by an elder nun, saying she had to find a gentler way to express herself if she didn't want to "lose" the people. It was lost on my six-year-old son. My eight-year-old daughter turned to me and asked, “What is abortion?”

So I quickly and gently explained it to her. As my mom always said, she’d rather I heard about these things from her than from the world. Middle school seems to be the time to explain such matters to our children so they have it in the context of our values.

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Virgin and Child before a Firescreen
Oil on wood, 1430
National Gallery, London

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

St. Philomena and "Bella"

I am so excited about going to see Bella with my daughters this weekend! I would like to share this letter that I received regarding this all-important opening weekend.

"Dear Universal Archconfraternity of St. Philomena Family Members,

I wanted to share some exciting news about a film, Bella, recently produced by fellow St. Philomena devotee Leo Severino. The film took the top prize at Toronto's International Film Festival winning the "People's Choice Award," a distinction that puts the movie in the company of Oscar-winning works. The directors of Bella also were recognized with the Smithsonian Latino Center's Legacy Award honoring positive role models of Hispanic heritage who have made a significant contribution to American culture and society.

You may recall receiving an e-mail recently about Leo and his bride Jacque who stayed at St. Philomena's Sanctuary in Mugnano on their honeymoon in August.

Please join me and show our support for Leo and Jacque and his production crew by taking your family and friends in your community in the United States, or telling your family and friends who live in the United States, to see the film this weekend. The film opens in many U.S. theaters on October 26, 2007.

Your support of the film, which is centered on the value of pro-life, will enable it to reach millions of people in theaters across the U.S. and around the world.

Click here to learn more about the film and specific theater locations.

Leo was recently interviewed on EWTN where he commented that they consecrated the movie to St. Philomena and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Please join us in congratulating Leo and his family and for the continuous intercession of our beloved Saint to promote heroic purity to our youth of the twenty-first century and to encourage all people to commit their fidelity to Christ,

Marie Burns,
Director General of the Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena

Universal Archconfraternity of Saint Philomena
83027 Mugnano del Cardinale
Avellino, Italy
tel:011 39 081 825 7204
fax:011 39 081 511 2733"

We beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant us the pardon of our sins by the intercession of Saint Philomena, virgin and martyr, who was always pleasing in Thy sight by her eminent chastity and by the profession of every virtue.
Illustrious virgin and martyr, Saint Philomena, behold me prostrate before the throne whereupon it has pleased the Most Holy Trinity to place thee. Full of confidence in thy protection, I entreat thee to intercede for me with God, from the heights of Heaven deign to cast a glance upon thy humble client! Spouse of Christ, sustain me in suffering, fortify me in temptation, protect me in the dangers surrounding me, obtain for me the graces necessary to me, and in particular success for the film "Bella".
Above all, assist me at the hour of my death. Saint Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us.
O God, Most Holy Trinity, we thank Thee for the graces Thou didst bestow upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, and upon Thy handmaid Philomena, through whose intercession we implore Thy Mercy.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Not According to Plan

Yesterday was one of those days composed of things not going quite right, yet ending up well.

Sunday morning I had a terrible time with the baby in church. No sooner had we seated ourselves than she ripped off my glasses, scratching the side of my nose in the process. She thought that was great fun, and I had to get my son to hold my glasses. She then proceeded to attempt to remove my earrings.

After I had carefully pried her strong little fingers off my earring, she decided she wanted to have every one of the pew’s hymnals in her possession. This entire scene had been intolerable for me from the beginning. But I knew it was going to be considered an annoyance to others as her “eh? EH?” insistence on the hymnals grew in crescendo.

I motioned to my husband my intention and removed the baby and myself from the church. I have not had to do this since she was a newborn. (Although I have come close many times.) We went outside and sat under a huge old oak tree. She happily and peacefully played with a pile of acorns for the remainder of the mass.

After church, a friend came over to help me secure the baby seat properly to my bicycle. Just as I was putting on her helmet, another friend called. We had been playing “telephone tag” for several days now. My husband handed me the telephone and I explained I was about to go for a bicycle ride.

She loved the bicycle ride but was irritated by the helmet. My six-year-old son ran himself into a curb, close enough to home that my husband was able to run out of the house and bring him home. My eight-year-old daughter was having a problem with her bicycle. Halfway around the mile-long circle that our street runs in, I had two crying girls in tow. My ten-year-old was very helpful in calming them down so we did not disturb the peace in our neighborhood.

I called back my friend. “That was quick,” she said.

“Well, it didn’t go as well as I had planned…”

Have you ever heard of “beef chuck deckle”? I never have, yet I bought a cut of it and made it for dinner. I could not find the word “deckle” in my cookbook, and Webster’s definition had nothing to do with meat. I decided “chuck” meant I should sear and then slow-roast, and it came out delicious.

“Just as you know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother’s womb,
So you know not the work of God which he is accomplishing in the universe.
In the morning sow your seed,
And at evening let not your hand be idle:
For you know not which of the two will be successful,
Or whether both alike will turn out well.”
Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

Photo Taliah Lempert

Saturday, October 20, 2007

College for Kids

My fourth-grader was at St. Joseph’s College for a language arts class this morning. It just so happened that the school was hosting “Make a Difference Day”, a free event for kids. All of the clubs had tables with games, crafts, and junk food for the kids. It was the first such fair I have been to in a really long time in which everything was truly FREE.

We had not planned on staying past the end of my daughter’s class, but there was so much to do that I decided to suspend my usual strict naptime for the baby. There was a magic show and a wonderful Double Dutch demonstration, both of which had my girls talking for hours. Mostly they came away with a very positive image of college.

Previously, I think my children had this mysterious, awe-stricken view of “college”. Where was this place, why were we saving money for it, and who went there? The lovely undergraduates who volunteered today showed them that nice, friendly, good, and normal young people frequent the place, a suburban commuter campus with a clean, no-fuss atmosphere.

It also made me more at peace with the whole idea of college, which is only six years away for my eldest. Being there really took me back to my freshman year at St. John’s University, also a Catholic commuter college with a similar environment. My friend commented, “The kids look so young, I thought they were high schoolers!” It really was not that long ago I was one of them, and I am reminded of the fresh idealistic spirit characteristic of the age. Together I think we can all look forward to this time, not with anxiety, but with an optimistic and excited outlook.

“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.”
Psalms 37:5

Action is urgently needed to remedy a wrong on another Catholic College Campus. Please read the letter below:

“Do I need to tell you why abortion is wrong? Probably not…
But you see, moral relativism just hit a new low at Holy Cross, a Catholic college that rented its conference center to a pro-abortion group called Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. Unless canceled, the convention will be on October 24.
Sign your protest – urgently
According to press reports…
· Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America will conduct workshops during the event at Holy Cross
· Speakers will promote contraceptive methods for teenagers that are contrary to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
Read more.
Good news: Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, issued a firm statement on October 10 urging college president Father Michael C. McFarland to cancel the event.
I am asking you to join the protest today. Then make a polite but firm phone call to…
Fr. Michael C. McFarland, S. J.
Phone: 508-793-2525
And please forward this email to all of your friends. There is strength in numbers. And Catholic education is a cause much too noble for us to remain silent.
Thank you very, very much and may God bless you!
Your friend,
John E. Ritchie
TFP Student Action Director”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All Right, But Done the Wrong Way

“Who do you think your teacher is, me or your mother?” the math teacher yelled at my sixth grader today.

I somehow doubt she would have tread those waters had she known my daughter had been homeschooled through fourth grade.

The skill being taught was the addition and subtraction of negative and positive integers. The multi-step method taught yesterday was not abundantly clear to my daughter, and I could see she did not know what she was doing. I asked her why she was circling all the signs and what she thought she was supposed to do with them. She did not know.

“Look here,” I said, erasing her little circles.

“But the teacher said - ”

“Never mind that. You don’t remember what she said, and I don’t know what she said, so I’ll make it simple for you.”

I circled the two negatives and put a positive sign over them. “Two negatives make a positive, just like in grammar. Now add.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

The light bulb had gone on, and within five minutes the worksheet was done.

She got them all right, but that was not good enough. She had not followed directions.

I could definitely see from where the teacher was coming. However, if she had not explained the process in an understandable way, what was wrong with coming at it from a different direction? And once the work gets set home, isn’t that my territory?

I obviously was a bit miffed at my daughter’s being chastised for listening to her mother. But for me to say anything would be to make it worse. So I’ll let it be – and hope this doesn’t repeat itself too many more times in the next three years.

I seem to remember having a similar problem with my high school teacher, coming to a solution through a thought-process in reverse from what she had taught. But she knew there was “more than one way to skin a cat” (no offense meant to cat lovers here – it was a saying used often in my childhood), and as long as I could show my work there would be no points taken off.

My eldest daughter’s mind works so much like mine – we often complete each other’s sentences. Teaching her math was always a breeze. If I explained the numbers the way they sorted themselves out in my mind, she would catch on quite quickly. Teachers’ editions never worked for me – just give me the problem and let’s solve it.

Not so with Salvation. Jesus was quite clear that there was only One Way to the Father. He may speak in mysteries but they have a mathematical, logical undercurrent.

“Thomas said to him, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?’
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”
John 14:5-7

Painting above:
"The Professor is Out"
by Luigi Bechi

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Communications and a Visit to Highbury

A Visit to Highbury: Another View of Emma”, is an entertaining and well-written novel by Joan Austen-Leigh, the great-grand-daughter of Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh. It takes the form of an exchange of letters between two sisters.

Mrs. Mary Goddard, the mistress of the girls’ school in Highbury, shares the local gossip about the beloved characters created by Jane Austen in “Emma”: Emma Woodhouse, Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax, Robert Martin, Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Knightly, among others. Mrs. Charlotte Pinkney, from her dark and gloomy house in London, speculates on the causes of their behavior and complains about her loneliness in her new marriage.

Although separated by a mere twelve miles, without a private carriage and the means to travel it is like an ocean between them. The last time they saw each other was seventeen years ago, when Charlotte went to help Mary grieve the loss of her children to scarlet fever. Writing almost every day in copious detail, they maintain their closeness and help to lend support and advice where needed. The title comes from the hopes Charlotte has of obtaining permission from her new husband to visit Mary.

Reading the letters made me think of the change communications has brought to us. Although my sister lives several hundred miles away in Tennessee, we are able to talk via telephone and e-mail. A car ride is only one full day away, and a plane ride about four hours.

The written letter has become quite rare and old-fashioned, something I now share only with older relatives who do not access e-mail. How much deeper the letters in this book go than the typical telephone conversation or e-mail! There may be a frequency and ease of contact, yet the depth is something that is often lost in the technology.

On the other hand, with much thoughtfulness we can use our modern gadgets to enhance our long-distance relationships. My grandmother, mother, sister, and I exchange e-mails several times per week. Several years ago my husband bought me a digital camera. I liberally send the photos to share my excitement in a memory made that day.

And my digital camcorder, another Christmas gift a few years later, I use to take home movies of every-day activities that my relatives must miss out on. Last Christmas I made copies of the movies and sent them as Christmas gifts to those who would most appreciate them. This year I will do the same, so they can share in Baby’s First Birthday, Baby’s First Steps, baseball games, and track meets.

Technological communications can distance us or make us closer. It is all in how we make use of it!

Additional Post-Notes:

I will try to get my hands on the sequel, “Later Days at Highbury”, and review it here.

My review should appear on in five to seven days.

Read my post on Austen’s Times.

Read my post on Northanger Abbey.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Backpack Misadventure

I went through a great deal of worry and aggravation today over a relatively minor thing.

My ten-year old ran a cross-country race after school at a New York State Park. I had my six- and eight- year-olds bring their backpacks so they could get their homework done while waiting.

After the race, I wanted to hurry out of there to beat the rush hour traffic. I was feeling pretty good about getting on the road by 4:30, and was making good time.

At around 4:50, something made me ask about their homework and “You did bring your backpacks, correct?”

The answer was no.

Horrified, I made a hasty exit from the Long Island Expressway and reversed directions. Watching the traffic build up in the direction we had just come from, I said, “That’s what we’re going to have to sit in on the way back. And we were making such good time!”

I was very angry.

Forty-five minutes later, I was in the park. From the parking lot I could see the table where we had been sitting. It was totally bare. We got out of the car and searched the ground, the garbage cans, and the dumpster. I imagined having to explain this to the school and order new books.

I prayed that someone from the cross-country team had taken the bags and that there would be a message on our telephone machine to that effect.

At 5:30, we were back at the exit where we had originally made our turn-around. “We could be eating dinner right now,” I complained.

We finally pulled into the driveway at 6:00. Sure enough, there was a message from the coach’s wife that a family had taken the bags home for us. I called them, and the father graciously offered to bring our bags to us! I thanked him and said no, but we would be greatly obliged if his daughter could bring the bags with her to school in the morning. “No problem,” he said.

I wrote notes to the teachers explaining why the children were coming to school empty-handed and that the bags would be arriving momentarily. Meanwhile, my older daughter became excited about delivering the bags to her siblings’ classrooms and meeting their teachers.

When my husband arrived home, I wearily explained what had transpired. “Well, everything turned out all right then!” he responded.

“But it might not have.”

“But it did.”

We go over this same territory now and then, he explaining why I should not be worried and upset over “what could have been”.

“I always expect the worst could happen,” he says, “The thing is to be aware and prepared to react when they do.”

I know he is right, and this thinking is quite consistent with Jesus’ teaching. We are to be sober and wakeful; yet not to be worried and anxious, but trusting in Him. This is a lesson that has been a lifetime in the learning for me.

Unfailing Prayer to Saint Anthony

Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints.

O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God
and Charity for His creatures made you worthy, when on
earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on
your word, which you were ever ready to speak for those in
trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore
of you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer
may require a miracle. Even so, you are the saint of

O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was ever full
of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the
Sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms, and
the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours.

Amen. (Say 13 Paters, Aves, and Glorias)

When something is lost, the simple prayer goes:

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can't be found

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Pro-Life Channel

I was channel-surfing last night and caught an awful idea of George Carlin’s for an unmentionable [anti-life] reality channel. It gave me a rather good idea that could save thousands of lives per day.

Imagine “The Pro-Life Channel: All Life, All the Time”.

Victor sits back in his easy chair after a long day. He has just come home from his girlfriend’s house, where they had come to a unified decision about her unplanned pregnancy. They both needed to finish graduate school, and it seemed like the rational thing to put off having children until they had gotten their degrees, stable professional positions, and a nice house.

He flicks through the channels and stopped at an amazing picture on PLC. He sits mesmerized by Lennart Nilsson’s photography featured in the documentary “The Miracle of Life”.

A commercial comes on for Pampers. They were all too happy to support such an effort. The more babies were born, the more bottoms needed to be covered.

He picks up the phone and calls his girlfriend.

“Turn on your television set.”


“Just stop whatever you’re doing and turn on channel 726.”

“Okay, whatever.”

“You found it yet?”

“Oh my God….”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”


“I guess we’re having a baby, honey.”

“[sniff] Yeah.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Congratulations, Mommy.”

I hope my idea makes it around because I would love to see it come to fruition!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Visitation

The theme of the 2007 Respect Life Program is The Infant in My Womb Leaped for Joy.

[The angel Gabriel had just told Mary the extraordinary news of her immaculate conception.]

“’And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.’
Mary said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.’
Then the angel departed from her.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,
Where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
Cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
Behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
To those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
Dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
But lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
The rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
Remembering his mercy,
According to his promised to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”

Luke 1:36-56

“Annunciation and Visitation”
Unknown master, Flemish, c. 1525
Oil on oak panel, 99 x 33 cm (each)
Groeninge Museum, Bruges

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Like a Little Child

Over the past week, my 14 ½- month-old has experimented with standing up in the middle of the room and taking one small step. At first that step was barely discernible, and I could barely take my eyes off her for fear of missing something important. Today she took two steps, sat down, stood up, then took six steps towards me. The gleam in her eyes showed she knew she was doing something amazing. Gladly I had all her siblings home to witness it. Later we tried to get her to do it for her father, but she refused to cooperate.

As proud she is to stand and take some steps, she is very happy crawling and does not hesitate to return to it. If she is standing and sees something she wants, she pauses, seeming to calculate the easiest way, then drops and crawls. Or, she might see that if she throws her body a bit in one direction, she can make it to the couch and thus avoid having to change her height status. If she has something she desires to carry along with her, she will do a sort of step-crawl, sitting on her rear and using one foot to get ahead.

The children have a ball when they all get down on their hands and knees and crawl around the downstairs in a circle – a central wall divides the three main rooms of the main level – gleefully she follows them around, squealing laughter as they carry on the “crawling races”.

That she does not discern her “lowliness” as a crawler from her altered stature as a walker represents the unselfconscious humility that God desires of us. Yes, He desires that we grow and mature in His Ways, but we are to retain a certain childlike quality while doing so. It is not as simple to do as it sounds.

“Just then the disciples came up to Jesus with the question,
‘Who is of greatest importance in the kingdom of God?’
He called a little child over and stood him in their midst and said:
‘I assure you, unless you change and become like little children,
you will not enter the kingdom of God.
Whoever makes himself lowly,
Becoming like this child,
Is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign.
Whoever welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me.
On the other hand,
It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me,
To be drowned by a millstone around his neck,
In the depths of the sea.”
Matthew 18:1-6

I have received a prayer request for someone who is putting her unborn baby in the position of utmost importance:

Dear Elizabeth,

Late last night, a friend called me with an urgent
prayer request.

As he described the situation, I realized how the young
mother's love profoundly demonstrates the spirit of 40
Days for Life.

While flying to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota this
afternoon, I felt compelled to share this, so you could
fervently pray for this family now, and during the rest
of 40 Days for Life...

Urgent prayers are requested for the health and
development of Baby John, unborn son of Stacey and Joe
Persichetti, as well as for health and strength of his
parents, and the wisdom of his doctors.

Stacey, the mother, was diagnosed with serious brain
cancer last fall and, during the course of chemo and
radiation treatment, discovered that she is pregnant.

Due to her treatment, the baby has been exposed to the
chemicals from day one.

She has been informed by her baby-related doctors that
the chemo is very strong and particularly attacks DNA
growth in cells and therefore the baby. The doctors
feel that there will be neurological damage to the
child, although the ultrasounds have thus far showed
relatively normal growth.

Additionally, her cancer-related doctors have told her
that they do not want her to stop treatment because her
cancer is so aggressive. They said that if she carries
the baby to 40 weeks gestation, she probably won't live
to deliver the child.

Rather than resort to the world's suggested "solution"
of an abortion, Stacey is taking a 10 week break from
her treatment to allow the baby to reach 28 weeks
gestation, when the doctors can deliver via C-section.

The bottom line: Stacey is risking her own life to give
her baby a chance to live, even though her child may
have complications resulting from the cancer treatment.

Scripture tells us, "There is no greater love than to
lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)

Stacey's selfless faith during this difficult time is
showing us -- and the whole world -- this greatest form
of love.

Let's dedicate our 40 Days for Life prayers and efforts
today in honor of Stacey, her husband Joe, and Baby
John, and let's show the world that same kind of love
as we selflessly work to protect all innocent children
in the womb and their mothers and fathers.

For Stacey, Joe, and Baby John,

David Bereit, National Campaign Director, 40 Days for

P.S.- The Persichetti family would be deeply touched to
know that you are praying for their family. Please take
a moment to leave a reply with your prayers for them at
the bottom of today's blog posting.

Watercolor painting above:
Christ Teaching His Disciples and Holding a Child.
Thomas Stothard, c 1780. Tate Gallery.