Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Subway Sparrow

I read a wonderful picture book with the children today. “Subway Sparrow” is a first book written and illustrated by Leyla Torres. A sparrow accidentally finds its way onto the D train of the New York City Subway Metro in Brooklyn. Together, a young girl, a teenage boy, a Spanish-speaking gentleman, and a Polish-speaking woman gently catch the bird. Wrapped in a silk scarf, they carry it through a crowded platform, bring it aboveground, and set it free. This is a modern-day Good Samaritan story, painting a beautiful picture of the melting pot of New York as a group of individuals with big hearts, who join for a common cause to help a small stranger.

Winner of the 1993 Parent's Choice Illustration Award. Published by Garrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1993; also published in Canada by HarperCollins CandaLtd. Available in Spanish as "El gorriĆ³n del metro". A free teaching guide (in both English and Spanish) is available at the author’s website: http://www.leylatorres.com/subway.html

For the young bird lover in your life, I highly recommend the singing Aububon birds. They are vividly colored, plush stuffed birds with real recorded sounds of bird calls. You love to see all of the series found here… http://www.audubon.org/local/sanctuary/beidler/singbirds.html

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. . .So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29,31

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Trees

My little crawler squishes her toes in the lush green grass in the center of four baseball diamonds. I can see three of my children playing Rookie Ball, Long Ball, and Fast Ball, respectively, each on a different field. She points to a plane overhead. “Birrr”, she says, meaning “bird”. She looks down and spies a bumblebee flitting from one wildflower to another. Delighted, she takes off on all fours in pursuit of the bee. I let her get close, then at the last minute jump off my chair to rescue her from her own curiosity.

In His image God made us, and our feelings, attitudes, and actions toward our children imperfectly mirror those He has for us. He lays down rules to help us live fruitful lives – then hopes for our sakes that we will follow them. He sought to protect us from ourselves when he forbade Adam and Eve the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But the choice was always ours. By creating us with free will, He showed us that He is a God of Undying Hopefulness. The odds of our sinning are against us – St. Paul seemed especially pessimistic on this point – but He wants us to choose the Good , just as we hope for our children.

“Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked,
Nor go the way of sinners,
Nor sit in company with scoffers.
Rather, the law of the Lord is their joy;
God’s law they study day and night.
They are like a tree
Planted near streams of water,
That yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
Whatever they do prospers.”

Psalm 1:1-3

"Early Morning at Cold Spring"
Asher B. Durand, 1850

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Little Hands

Little Hands
By Elizabeth Kathryn Miller

Little Hands
Tightly grasp
A tiny piece
Of her world.
A piece of cloth,
A finger,
A pacifier ring,
Or the air;
Each has something
To tactily tell
Her a small bit
About this earth.

“Hope: Baby Hands and Feet”
By Laura Monahan

Friday, July 27, 2007

Natural Nutrition for Babies

At my daughter’s one-year checkup, my pediatrician asked me if I had started my daughter on whole milk yet. I answered no, that she seemed to be getting enough milk from me. He seemed pleasantly surprised that I was still nursing at 12 months.

It seems to be popular in America to wean by one year. However, in other nations women commonly nurse until ages 4 to 7. And in America, more and more mothers are secretly feeding their babies until two to three years of age. It is so difficult to obtain statistics on this, as they are reluctant to admit this practice.

I came across a lovely piece of research, which gives the actual statistics on weaning ages of those who practiced extended breastfeeding. You can see it at:

La Leche League http://www.lalecheleague.org/ encourages mothers to nurse as long as their baby seems to want to continue, and to lovingly wean them, very gradually, if possible. We all know the benefits of nursing to both baby and mother. Doctors say these benefits are directly proportional to the number of months spent nursing.
You can download a twenty-page report from The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute http://bcpinstitute.org/ that states, among many other factors, that the incidence of breast cancer in women is lowered with each month spent nursing.

Kelly Mom Breastfeeding and Parenting http://www.kellymom.com/index.html is filled with great, well-researched information on such topics as tandem nursing and which herbal supplements are safe to use. She offers links to primary sources so you can see the actual research behind her recommendations.

If more mothers let others, including their doctors, know that they are practicing extended breastfeeding, new mothers would feel encouraged that it is a normal practice and not one to be ashamed of.

On a related topic, Gerber fell more than a notch in my estimation tonight. Normally I don’t even give a glance to the toddler foods. As soon as my babies have teeth, they are eating the same table food as the rest of the family. They compare the contents of the table to what is on their trays. If they notice something is missing, they holler and point to it. I do supplement with jarred food, to ensure the baby is getting a nice “rainbow” of foods. How easy is it to obtain such exotic foods as “apple mango kiwi” except in the baby food aisle? Well, tonight my eye was drawn to a “sale” sign in front of the Gerber Graduates for Toddlers. When I looked at the ingredients of the “popped corn chips” and other offerings, it was clear that they were creating junk food for babies! I was so revolted by this. With all the current research about the dangers of preservatives, added starches, and empty calories, what kind of introduction are they offering to our babies to the world of food?

“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”
Luke 11:11-12

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blogging and the Creative Writer

What, you may ask, does blogging have to do with the novel you are writing?

There are several reasons a creative writer may start an online journal.

First of all, writing a first novel is a very lengthy and difficult journey. Believe it or not, you have time on your side. Being an unknown, no agent is knocking down your door to complete your next book. You can take as many years as you need to perfect your craft and edit your novel to meet your standards.

During this time, it can be rewarding to be able to complete shorter projects and have them published in print or online. Small successes like this tell you that someone out there believes you deserve to be in print. You can tell people you are a writer and point to your publications as proof.

A web log can accomplish this objective as well as give you immediate feedback from your audience. You can also use your web log to draw attention to your print publications, or put your web page in your “bio” to bring print readers to your blog.

Blogging gets you into writing mode and helps you to hone your writing skills. Prolific writer Leticia Velasquez, whose award-winning blog http://cause-of-our-joy.blogspot.com/ brings awareness to many important issues, says, “My blog keeps my writing in top form,and I am learning to edit myself, which is the hardest thing to do. Not every word I type is a pearl of wisdom!”

The blogosphere is an arena in which writers encourage and inspire one another. When I recently contacted my old homeschooling friend Leticia to send her some information about the abortion-breast cancer link (you can read up on this at the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute website which is bcpinstitute.org ), she (who already was quite aware of this issue) told me about her blogs (yes, she has two!).

That same night, I started my own blog. I sent the link to my sister, Joanna Gerold, also an aspiring writer and new graduate, and she started one too! Hers is about the creative process: http://part-of-something.blogspot.com/

It may not seem like one form of writing, such as the blog, may have anything to do with another, such as the novel. However, I have found that the inspiration for each type of writing runs from one to another. For example, when I am writing in my private journal I tend to have ideas for articles I might want to write for magazines. I jot them in the margin of my journal. Sometimes I have a dream that inspires a short story. These go into my idea notebook, which I keep next to my bed along with my journal. During the day, I constantly have ideas for my blog. When I am done blogging, I often think of new ideas I want to put into my novel. So it warms me up for that mode of work.

Once I get into my fictional world, it is very difficult to bring my back to earth. While I blog and write short essays on the computer, I write my novel long-hand in steno books. In the back of the book, I keep a journal of where I think I am going with a character or plot. Occasionally I have an idea for something else I want to write while in the middle of drafting a new chapter. So I don’t lost this idea, I pause what I am doing and write that down on a new page in the back of the same notebook.

I recently read some advice for writers that I did not agree with at all. (Feel free to discard any advice that runs counter to your own intuition - only you know how you work at your best!) This person said that you should concentrate on one project at a time, so as not to drain your energy from what is most important.

I think that is like saying love should not be spread out among too many people. When parents have more children, their capacity for love grows with the size of their family. Parents of large families have very large hearts! Our writing is like our children in that way. As we nurture one facet, it only helps the others.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

Pictured above are me and my sister, Joanna Gerold, when she came last August to help me with my newborn baby.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Miller Family's Angels

My baby talks to angels. She chatters with them, laughs at them, and plays with them. As she turns one this week, I hope she will continue to interact with angels well into her second year. I like to think that all babies are capable of perceiving spiritual beings. I never noticed this phenomenon in my first three children.

She truly is a magical child, with deep, soulful eyes. She looks at paintings so intently that you half believe the pictures will come to life and she could pop into them, as in C.S. Lewis’ “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

It may be that I myself had not been spiritual enough to see what was going on. If any of the first three had seen angels, I was never aware of it. I never had been “into” angels until the few years leading up to my fourth child’s conception. My husband and I decided to purchase a print for our bedroom. He was drawn to the cupid portion of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. He said the cupids reminded him of our children. Inexplicably, friends and family then started giving us angels as gifts.

I finally realized that these gifts of angels must have some significance for me. I had been really scared about having this baby. I had gestational diabetes with the third pregnancy, resulting in an almost-ten-pounder. For this reason along, the doctors had my file red-flagged from the beginning.

I voraciously read all I could about diabetes and pregnancy. I exercised and kept to a diet high in fiber, magnesium, and complex carbs, and low in refined sugars, baked goods, and processed foods. The early sugar tests came back and I was feeling really proud of myself. Then a revised reading came back on my first sonogram.

Over the telephone, the nurse practitioner told me they had found a placenta previa. Not knowing what this was, I immediately went to my encyclopedia, then to the internet. I found that there were three types: marginal, partial, and complete. Complete was the worst, with the placenta completely covering the cervix, making a normal delivery impossible. Partial stood for the placenta partially covered the cervix, leading to a “wait and see” approach with the doctors. Marginal meant the placenta was near to, but not touching, the cervix. The complete and partial could cause bleeding and subsequent bedrest and most likely a caesarean.

I would not know what type I had until my next appointment; but I assumed the worst. I thought I was going to die of hemorrhage. I am not kidding. I purchased a life insurance policy for myself. I made all preparations for the children to be placed in a good school the following year (I had been homeschooling up to this point). I organized my paperwork. I reestablished some broken family relationships.

My previa was marginal, and the “wait and see” approach continued throughout the entire pregnancy. Gestational diabetes never did show up. Each sonogram looked a little better, with the placenta gradually migrating toward the top of the womb. Finally, a week before the birth, the doctor said, “Everything looks great. No caesarian for you.”

It was the easiest birth of them all. I wish I could say she was my easiest child. This one made sure she got her share of the attention! It wound up for the best that the children were in school in the fall. If my eyes weren’t on her, my arms around her, my complete focus on her, she would holler for me.

She would nurse several times per night. I got used to walking around in the dark. When I brought her to my bed, I could see her grasping at things in the air. When she started to babble, she would talk to the mid-air objects. With my lack of sleep, maybe I was more given to feeling the presence of the “other” myself. But I felt the presence of angels.

In March of this year, we were in a freak car accident. I had just parked at the post office, in a parking lot spot adjacent to the street. I was about to unbuckle my seatbelt, when I saw a white minivan jump the sidewalk and FLY through the air off the main road directly toward the windshield of my minivan. I ducked in the direction of the baby, who was in the seat behind the front passenger’s seat. I braced myself and got ready to meet my Maker.

Like a curveball, the white minivan magically curved so that it hit the rear driver’s side. I felt my vehicle lift up, then was brought to rest against another parked car to my right. The baby’s car seat slammed against the side of the vehicle as the car came down. She screamed a scared cry. I was able to get out, with the baby, through the driver’s side window.

All I could think of was the baby, the baby, I hope she’s alright. Not even thinking about myself, I got into the ambulance with her. At the hospital and later the pediatrician, she was declared to be fine. I suffered muscle injuries that had to be treated with physical therapy for several months, but thankfully I was able to walk away from that accident.

If anything had been different – if I had unbuckled my seatbelt, gotten out of the car, or had another passenger in the car – we would not have fared well. I do believe angels guided that other vehicle to hit mine in exactly the location that would enable us all to escape alive.

Since then I have been even more aware of the baby’s relationship with her angels. She babbles in the middle of the night, in the darkness, with the cadence of English conversation. It is pure enjoyment for her.

I wonder if a baby’s ability to see angels comes from their sense of unity with Creation. With the discovery of one’s “self” as separate from “other”, I wonder if something gained results in something lost. When she finally knows herself as “I” will she stop seeing the angels?

Why does Mary typically appear to children? She herself must have been “like a child” – Joseph as well – as the angels appeared in full form to them. Jacob fought with an angel in a dream. The disciples walked with angels who appeared as men.

I do think some people are chosen to see the divine. Only if they can retain that special quality of a child will they keep that gift.

“…Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth Praise..” Matt. 21:16

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kindgdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’”
Matthew 18:1-5

Painting above left:
ALBANI, Francesco. Holy Family1630-35
Oil on canvas, 57 x 43 cm

Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

Monday, July 23, 2007

KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid!) : Love One Another

Today is my fourteenth wedding anniversary. Last week, my sister, was engaged. Oh, I am so happy for her! I wish we weren’t geographically so far apart. Then I could fling my arms around her and wish her the same happiness that I have known. Follow St. Paul’s advice and you can’t go wrong. Love one another, honor God’s commandments, and you will have a beautiful marriage.
See Joanna's beautiful engagement story at her blog: http://part-of-something.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Our Daily Bread

As Christians, we knew about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before he published his great epiphany. The disciples knew they couldn’t let the multitudes go hungry. We know that we have to feed the poor that come into our parish before attending to their spiritual needs. Yet how many of us have coffee for breakfast, running out the door to “do good” for others while undernourishing our own bodies?

If you believe everything you read in magazines, every woman in America designs a weekly menu, goes shopping with a specific list of ingredients, and has a square meal on the table, complete with matching dishes, every night at 6:00. Not so with most women I encounter on a daily basis. At baseball, which we go to between 5 and 8 PM a few nights per week, women are chattering about “What will I make for dinner tonight?” or mentioning McDonald’s as a stop on the way home.

I like to think I have a happy medium. My meals are simple but nutritious. We eat each of our three major meals at roughly the same time each day. By bedtime, I have taken the meat out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to defrost. If we have evening activities, I am typically starting to cook at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and serve dinner at 4:00. Fruits and vegetable are there for the taking as snacks throughout the day, and “snack attacks” are very rare.

As a family of six, we are now eating approximately 1.5 pounds of pasta as a side dish nightly. One night I could not find two boxes of matching “shapes”. I decided to mix-and-match. The result was delightful and fun, with a variety of textures a pleasure to the palate. Pictured is a pound of Barilla’s Celentanni, coupled with a pound of Barilla’s Tri-Color Fiori, tossed with 1.5 tablespoons of butter. (Feel free to substitute soy, margarine, or olive oil.)

Today’s gospel speaks about Mary and Martha, and our priest underscored the fact that both spiritual and material needs must be attended to. As mothers, prioritizing is a constant battle. Remember both to give yourself time to attend to your spiritual needs, and sit down to eat with your family.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Magic of Four

It was on a rainy summer afternoon like today that Lucy peered into a wardrobe and discovered the world of Narnia. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis forms the series of my most beloved books. I discovered them (with the help of my very literate mother) at the age of seven, and read each of the seven books seven times. There were four Pevensie children, and I do believe they are the reason I always held four to be my magic number.

There are two dreams I have had as long as I can remember. The first is to have four children. The second is to write (and publish) novels. Great novels, like those written by George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Hardy (okay, I’m partial to the English), when read during the formative years, become part of you. Without them, the world would seem like a different place.

It is through the written word that God has shared himself through us. The writer – whether consciously or not - attempts to interpret His truths with the reader. She attempts to find the perfect word, to describe the perfect image, to convey the perfect thought.

Is that perfection attainable? My children argued this during the baking of oatmeal cookies today.

“I want them to be perfect!”
“There’s no such thing as perfect!”
“Well if there’s no such thing as perfect why is there the word?”

I have yet to complete my first novel. I’ve been too busy with the rearing of my first dream, the four children God has gifted me. I have the rest of my life to work on the second goal. In a sinful world, none of us can be the perfect mother or the perfect writer. (“All have fallen short of the glory of God.”) Like goodness, which is only truly attainable by God, I can only try to come as close as I can with the tools I have been given by my Creator.