Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow: A Lesson in Temporal Beauty

“Where’s my Frosty ?!?” I heard my three-year-old exclaim on Sunday morning, as she went downstairs for breakfast and looked out the back door.

We had had a blizzard the previous weekend, which left behind a record 26.3 inches of snow here on Long Island. The first day it was too dry to make a snowman and the older kids had spent much of the day making trails in the snow for her to walk through. By the third day, there was enough moisture for them to make large snowmen and even a snow bunny. My three-year-old had proudly put the finishing touches on the bunny, adding a purple scarf for it to stay “warm”.

After one week of white beauty, it rained – and rained – and rained – enough for most of all that snow to be washed away. All that was left of the snow creatures were sad little piles of hats and scarves; a carrot; and caps for dishwashing liquid that had served as green “eyes”.

The kids explained to her that Frosty had melted but that it would snow again soon and he would “come back to life someday”.

“IT’S…NOT…FAIR!” she screeched, so that I could hear her from the opposite end of the house upstairs.

When I came back downstairs, I tried again to explain it to her. “The things of this world fade away,” I quoted to the older children, which of course went over her head.

It’s a lesson that children quickly learn; one that can leave them feeling disenchanted, depending on how their parents handle it.

[Here my eleven-year-old hops on my computer and inserts what she thinks my thoughts must be. I leave it because I find it extremely amusing.] I think that it should snow when I want it to snow so I can be happy and have my children not messing the house around so it would be clean and peaceful. Until they come in the house again ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh it is messy again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[Here my twelve-year-old takes a hold of my keyboard and, like her younger sister, comes frighteningly close to the truth of how I feel.] Although the kids mess up the house when they come in from the snow, the peacefulness that I experience when they are out of the house is beyond amazing. Therefore I wish that it would snow anytime I wanted it to. I think that it should be impossible for the snow to come in the house, and then this world would be perfect! Oh yes, and one more addition. That the snow “creations” never melt so that I won’t have to ever hear that snow melting is not fair ever again!!!!!! [Children’s insertions end here.]

Knowing that the world is imperfect, we can find beauty in nature and admire its Creator, knowing that what He has planned for us in everlasting life is way beyond the glimpse He offers us here. We can show our children this, by praising the beauty given us, and letting them know that, although it does not last here on earth, there is a greater beauty beyond our imagination that will go on and on. Snow that does not melt and yet does not make us cold. Leaves that change color and yet do not die and fall to the ground. Greenery that does not make us sneeze and our eyes water.

The stability of the family the child grows up in is yet another glimpse for them into the security of God’s love. As parents we cannot be the perfect Father that God is, but we can give them our unconditional love; the comfort they need as they discover the pain that is inevitable in this world; and the nurturing of their childlike wonder that we should try our best to emulate.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Revolutionary Road: A Review with Spoilers

I find it impossible to review this movie without spoiling the ending for my readers. I have read numerous reviews on Christian sites, which seem to be afraid to talk about the main focus of the movie. Yet the topic of the movie – abortion – is something that the viewer will have wished he or she knew before going into it.

The star-crossed lovers of Titanic have reunited on the set, but their relationship is nothing to be admired. In the story based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates and directed by Sam Mendes, Kate Winslet and Leonard DiCaprio play a husband and wife who have reached the stage of boredom in their 1950s upper-class suburban home in Connecticut. Two children float in and out of the picture, having no real roles but that of accessories, like the bland but elegant furniture in the large house in which they live on Revolutionary Road.

After starting his birthday with a marital argument with his wife April, Frank Wheeler seduces a young secretary at work. When he arrives home, there are tears in his eyes as his wife and children surprise him with a cake. Later, April convinces him that the way out of their unhappy situation is to sell all they own and move to Paris. There, she can take a good-paying job and he can find his purpose in life.

Setting a date for September, she purchases steamer tickets and puts the house up for sale. With some hope on the horizon, the couple seems happy that summer until two things happen that put their decision in jeopardy: she becomes pregnant and he is offered a job promotion.

“Don’t worry, Millie tells me as long as I take care of it before 12 weeks it will be okay,” she consoles him, and he says nothing. When he finds a piece of tubing in the bathroom closet, he knows she is seriously thinking of aborting. The tension grows and she becomes more and more emotionally distant. She frequently smokes and consumes alcohol. While she appears to be in control, there are times where privately she totally “loses” it, including when she gets drunk and cheats on her husband with the next door neighbor.

The night on which her pregnancy is dated at 12 weeks, they have a really awful fight, during which they both admit to hating each other, and he says he wished they had gotten rid of “it”. He later says he didn’t mean it, but he has already triggered a chain of thoughts in her mind that has set her resolve.

The last morning, there is a chilling scene during which she plays the perfect wife, making him a nice breakfast. She has placed the children in her friend Millie’s care, and you know what she is going to do as soon as he leaves the house.

Wearing perfectly starched linens, she carries the necessary instruments to the bathroom and closes the door. When she walks down the stairs, she stands at the window and smiles. She starts bleeding and calls for help. She dies in the hospital.

The movie ends with Wheeler sitting on a park bench, watching his children on the swings and obviously grieving over what he has lost.

I do not recommend watching this movie for fun. I would absolutely not recommend it for minors. I do think the movie tells some important truths, including the facts that: (1) abortion has been around for a very long time; (2) more often than society likes to admit, abortions happen even in upper-class marriages, just because the baby is not convenient; (3) abortion is a life-or-death decision for both the baby and the mother.

This post has also been published on Catholic Media Review.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Art of Motherhood

In certain occupations, such as baking, medicine, and architecture, perfection is of utmost importance. Motherhood is not one of them.

One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn, as a born perfectionist, is that, like cooking and painting, motherhood is an art, with more room for creativity and imagination than we usually take; it can be stymied by trying too hard to adhere to a certain worldly model – that “perfect mother” that many of us have built up in our brains, composed of pieces of motherly characters from books, movies, and real life.

I don’t think I contradict myself to say we should strive to be like Mary. I think she would not have tried to do things perfectly by our modern standard. Everything we know about her motherhood came about the “wrong way” for her time. She conceived a baby out of wedlock, gave birth in a stable, lived as a poor wife of a simple carpenter, lost her son in the temple, and had to watch her son die a cruel death.

When we view motherhood as a gift, we don’t have to pay God back by being perfect mothers. He knows we can’t, and He doesn’t expect it of us. All He asks is we give them Love. Treasuring a child means putting him or her as our first priority and doing our best for them, given whatever circumstances we are in.

A good friend recently reminded me that to think we could do things perfectly on our own is a sin of pride. Let us offer up our weaknesses then, to God, and ask Him for the grace we need to help bring these young ones up to glorify Him.

Luke 1: 46-55 (NAB)

And Mary said: 16 "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 promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Painting: “The Madonna of Humility” by Robert Campin, Netherlandish, circa 1450-70

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to take a cake from crumbled disaster to fabulous

My most recent semi-disaster-turned-to-life-lesson came in the form of a cake. After baking a quintuplet batch of banana bread, I forgot to flour my pans when making my daughter's birthday cake. It was a crumbled mess. Rather than let it go to waste, I got a little creative. My daughter was delighted wth the result. I chronicle the steps I took from start to finish in today's article on Examiner: "How to take a cake from disaster to fabulous".

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Gingerbread House Making Birthday Party

My daughter's eleventh birthday party was a success! Although we were expecting a blizzard tonight and the snow was just starting to fall as the party started, most of the girls who live close by still came. They had a great time assembling their own mini-heroes, gingerbread houses, and cupcakes, while singing to Christmas and radio music. Then they all bundled up and went out to play in the snow. Please go to my Examiner article for pictures and instructions on how to bake the gingerbread house pieces and set up for a housemaking party.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Your shipment has been intercepted" and other gifting disasters

I looked in horror at the tracking information on my computer. “Shipment has been intercepted.”

A few weeks ago I decided to buy Rebecca Reuben, the newest American Girl doll, for my daughter’s eleventh birthday. Why not see if it was going for cheaper on ebay? I went over and found it for about $20 cheaper than the company’s price. With about 11 seconds left to the bidding, I placed a bid and won. I was thrilled!

Eleven days passed. A serviceman at my door mentioned that I had no numbers on my house. I remembered that I had removed the numbers when painting my mailbox over the summer and, having broken some, had neglected to purchase new ones. I wondered if the UPS man was having a problem finding my house. I went to Home Depot, purchased the needed digits, and went out in the 30-degree chill to nail them onto the post.

I checked the tracking information. It had been returned to the shipper! Was it because of the lack of numbers on my house? Looking back a little farther, I found that the doll had arrived at the UPS center two towns away from me two days after I had placed the order. At that point, the shipper had requested an “intercept” of the package and turned it around. Further exploration showed me that the shipper was no longer a “registered user” on ebay. My paypal payment had gone through successfully.

I burst into tears. Maybe this was not an appropriate reaction. At that moment, it seemed to be a total disaster that my daughter was not going to get this doll in time for her birthday.

“Why don’t you tell her about the problem?” suggested my very reasonable 12-year-old daughter, who was busy baking gingerbread cookies in the kitchen.

“Because then it won’t be a surprise,” I said.

But then I realized that that was the best course of action. If I was going to go through the trouble of re-ordering the doll with priority shipping, I should see if this was really something she wanted in the first place.

So I went to my still-10-year-old and explained to her the problem. She was totally nonplussed. She said that she really would like to have Rebecca and that if it did not come on time for her birthday it would still be okay, as long as she knew it was coming.

Her sweet and calm reaction showed me that my own had been just a little over-the-top. I ordered the doll directly from American Girl (serves me right for having ordered from an unauthorized dealer), paying extra for two-day shipping; opened a complaint with E-bay; and wrote a courteous email to the seller giving him one day to reply regarding a refund before I filed a complaint with Paypal.

I realized that I had been temporarily overwhelmed by the responsibilities of organizing a Little Flower group on Friday night, Confirmation Class Saturday morning, and birthday party Saturday afternoon, with a whole lot of Christmas planning thrown into the mix.

Sometimes the things we think are of utmost importance for our children aren’t really that important to them. And when you put them into perspective of the grand scheme of the universe, there is no cause to be upset over tiny details such as finding the perfect gift on time.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why moms should ignore all the dieting articles and enjoy their Christmas cookies

Today's Examiner column is a re-run of a rant I went on last Advent about women's magazines that tell us we can lose five pounds by Christmas. I claim that this is the very worst thing you can do for yourself. We should enjoy our Christmas cookies and start working out in January. Use a little moderation and common sense here. A good friend of mine gained five pounds after following my advice and blaimed it on my article. Please click here to read it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Ultimate Wait

It seems I have spent the better part of this month waiting. ..

Waiting for my turn at parent-teacher conferences…

Waiting for my camcorder tape to transcribe to the computer and then write to DVD (15 hours). ..

Waiting for my computer to install Microsoft Office 2007 (4 hours)…

Waiting for the cesspool company to arrive (6 hours)…

Waiting for the cable company to fix a cable cut by road construction so I could recovery my telephone and internet service (4 hours)…

Waiting for General Electric to come repair my oven (3 hours and counting as I write this)…

Waiting for slow-moving cars and people to get out of my way…

Like most humans, I am impatient when my time is in the hands of others. If I don’t get my mind on something else and try to make the best use of my waiting time, it can be truly maddening and I wind up with a big headache. Yet whatever is at the end of my wait – even if it is just getting home or having something work again - is greatly rewarding.

Thinking about my recent frustrations, I realized it is quite fitting that I would be spending so much time waiting this month. After all, it is Advent, and we are waiting for Christmas. A few minutes or hours here or there are just a drop in the bucket compared to the two thousand years we have been waiting for the second coming of Jesus.

The book of Acts tells us about the disciples as they stood watching Jesus be lifted up into the clouds before them. He had told them, “The exact time it is not yours to know. The Father has reserved that to himself.” (Acts 1:7) They kept staring until some angels asked them why they were still standing there. Then they got to work establishing churches throughout the world. They might have thought they would have to wait a few days, weeks, or maybe years. Here we are still waiting, and working for the Lord in the meantime.

Children are just as impatient as us, and their behavior this month can be extremely frustrating. Their actions simply mirror ours, and we can use this time to teach them some lessons about eternity. The four weeks of Advent waiting for Christmas can be treated as a microcosm of the wait for Jesus to return to take his Bride, the Church, home to Heaven forever. As the tale of the seven bridesmaids tells us, we are always to be ready and waiting. How we use this time on earth is of utmost importance.

Making this month a joyful and prayerful time can help keep the children – as well as ourselves - focused on Jesus.

Some activities that can help include:

Making Christmas cookies or chocolates

Keeping a Jesse Tree and reading the daily Advent scriptures for each symbols

Other Advent Calendars with daily activities or stories

All Christmas books

Lighting an Advent wreath

Putting beads for good deeds in an Advent bead box

Letting St. Nicholas come and put small treats in their stockings from Dec. 6 through Dec. 24; if they are naughty the Krumpus comes and leaves a potato instead.

Painting: 38 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 22. Ascension
1304-06 Fresco by Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tips for saying sane during Advent

It should be the most joyful time of the year. Yet many of we busy moms are so intent on "doing it right" that we miss out on the "Merry" part of Christmas. The "KISS" (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle will help you to feel blessed in these final days of Advent. Please click here for my article that includes 10 tips for saying sane during this wonderful season.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to make a Jesse Tree and ornaments for Advent

If you are looking for a new and meaningful tradition to add to your Advent repertoire, you will love making a Jesse Tree. My Examiner article tells you what a Jesse Tree is and lists all of the 28 symbols, along with the complete scriptures from the Revised Standard Version.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Community outreach activities for families during Advent

My sister Joanna Cummings, a youth and children's minister, has guest posted a column for me on community outreach activities that would be great for families to participate in during Advent.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars by Elena Maria Vidal

I had the pleasure of reading Elena Maria Vidals’ new historical romance, “The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars”, released by Mayapple Press in November, 2009.

The Night’s Dark Shade tells the story of a young heiress, Lady Raphaelle, who is caught up in the turmoil of the Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. En route to meet her betrothed in the castle in the Pyrenees that is hers by right, she is rescued from an ambush by the brave and alluring Sir Martin.

The sparks between the two are flying from the very beginning, while the readers learns of the history of the crusade as well as the mysterious Cathars, a polytheistic sect which claimed to be Christian. In the first chapter the setting, plot, and all the main characters are all well-established. The second chapter instructs us on some history as told by the sweet-smelling knight as he carries her on horseback to her castle. The novel moves on, mixing history and drama, at a good pace. Raphaelle is caught up in several major dilemmas; we can truly sympathize with what she is going through.

Raphaelle is a strong character who insists on doing what is right for her people. All that she does, including following through on her betrothal to a man she does not love, is seen as her duty to them. Even so, she is torn by the feelings she has for another man. She also chooses to harbor an evil object which results in dire consequences. Vidal shows us how even the very best of us can struggle with sin.

The book addresses some surprising delicate moral issues of the time that are seldom brought up in a Christian novel. The Cathars were against marriage because it regularized procreation, and they thought children were evil. The religious midwives used herbs to prevent conception or to abort, even killing live babies if they were not deemed fit to survive. They promoted homosexuality because it did not result in children. People were encouraged to live together without marriage because they were more likely to contracept.

These topics are intertwined through the plot; the immoral acts are alluded to but never described explicited. The historical research is well documented, and moral deductions drawn by the author are all consistent with Catholic doctrine.

The more you read about history, the more you realize that there is truly nothing new under the sun. What is going on in modern society is a rerun of what was happening in the Middle Ages. If you haven’t heard about the “dark side of being green”, many environmental groups have been saying that children are “emitters” and the best thing we can do for the environment is to stop having children! Planned Parenthood is supported by so many large and well-reputed organizations that it is hard to go shopping, go to a movie, or go to a theme park without purchasing a product that will go toward their “cause”.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. I was up until 3 AM reading the suspenseful ending! Justice is served (medieval style!) to the protagonists. The main characters all make turn-arounds for the better and there is forgiveness all around. The choice Raphaelle makes in the end is completely satisfying.

Elena Maria Vidal sent me a copy of the newly released book in exchange for my honest review of her book. The author studied the Cathars at SUNY Albany before receiving her Master’s Degree in European History. She also authored Trianon and Madame Royale. You can follow her blog at

The book is available from and will be available from Amazon in a few weeks.

Signed copies can also be bought directly from the author at her blog

This review also appears as a guest post at Catholic Media Review.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

I was filled with such great joy this morning when I woke up this morning. It is the First Sunday of Advent! Last night I put out some new Advent Bead Boxes for the children, each with one bead to start them off. The beads represent good deeds. On Christmas Eve they will place their boxes under the Christmas Tree as their gift to the Christ Child. Please read my column today, in which I tell about some great Austrian Advent traditions I learned from Maria Augusta Trapp's "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

These chocolates were made by my children today. They are girl and boy pilgrims, bats with baseballs, and turkeys. I am so thankful for them, for America, and for my readers. Happy Thanksgiving!

For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, November 23, 2009

When Mommies Make Mistakes

Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player. ~Author Unknown

I thought I was having a really great Mommy weekend. I managed to spend individual one-on-one time with each of my children. My 3-year-old and I planted some bulbs. I took my 8- and 10-year olds on separate library trips. I played a full-court, no-foul, no-boundaries, no-time-outs, one-on-one basketball game with my twelve-year-old and let her beat me 22-0. We all went out to Friendly’s for dinner and ice cream.

Sunday night I took my two older girls out to buy Thanksgiving outfits. We aren’t big clothes hogs in this house, but for special holidays I like to make sure everyone has something beautiful to wear. They each picked out something gorgeous and I was trying on a flattering red blouse with scarf.

“Maybe I’ll wear this to my son’s Thanksgiving play,” I thought to myself, “When is that again? Friday? Wait, we have off this Friday, which…OMG…OMG…OMG…”

I got home and ran to my son before my daughters could open their big mouths. He was playing Battleship with my husband. “Did you already have your Thanksgiving play?” I burst out. “Yeah,” he said, nonchalantly. The look of horror on my face told all to my husband. I ran upstairs to have a good cry.

I pride myself on keeping our complicated schedules in order. I have my little book in my pocketbook, which gets written on a large dry erase calendar in the laundry room. Around that are corkboards where the important flyers hang. But something went wrong with my system in this one particular case, and I was never going get back the chance to attend my son’s Thanksgiving play.

I emailed an apology to the teacher, asking if she knew of any parents who had videotaped the play. She wrote me back a nice note saying not to beat myself up over it and gave me a name. I emailed the person, who sent me a nice picture and promised to copy the video for me. So I will eventually get the chance to sit and watch the play with my son. In the meantime, I will be taking him out for lots and lots of ice cream.

I woke up still feeling bad, and was glad to find this quote by Henry David Thoreau : “One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors; for to dwell upon them is to add to the offense.”

I also liked Sophia Loren’s “Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.” And how about F. Wikzek’s “If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems. And that's a big mistake.”

I was thinking that I couldn’t go on writing this blog when I couldn’t do something really basic like attend a school play. Then I read Niels Bohr’s quote, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

And finally, from Alexander Pope, in Swift, Miscellanies, “A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”

We are responsible for so much as mothers, and when we mess up the best thing to do is say “I’m sorry”, take a look at our priority list, and move forward.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everlasting Summer

“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.” - Charles Dickens

Reluctantly, my three-year-old and I pulled out the faded marigolds that have lined my driveway since August. She and I deadheaded the plants, putting the seeds away for safe-keeping until the spring. I was sad to see the color go, but happy to see the clean look of the driveway once the leaves and dead flowers were gone.

Usually, the seasons don’t come and go without warning. They ease in and out, and with relatively predictable timing. Still you hear people exclaiming their shock at the “sudden change” in weather.

Children and the elderly are like that too. People are always telling me it seemed like “yesterday” that their children were little. They say it happens when you “blink”.

When the kids went back to school in the fall, the school nurse remarked about how many inches my eldest daughter had shot up over the summer. I measured her and realized that she is taller than me. When did that happen?

An older friend or relative, after suffering through an illness for several months, passes away “suddenly”. From the outside, this is easy to see. From the inside, it is harder to be objective about the time as it passes.

I think of the seasons translating to human development as spring for birth, summer for young to middle-aged adult, fall for the elderly, and winter for death. There is no birth or dying in Heaven. Everyone will have new, perfect bodies and be in the prime of their development. When the universe is renewed at the time of Jesus’ coming, it will be like a one-time spring that turns into an everlasting summer.

Flowers will bloom and never fade! Leaves will bud and never fall off! There will be no weeding, for no plant will be deemed undesirable. We will walk around the garden of life praising God for ever for His Glory.

We will not be sad to watch our little ones grow up, or to watch our elderly die. We will not hesitate to form human bonds, for friendship will never die and neither will our friends.

In the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church entitled “The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth” (section 1042), drawing on sacred scripture, we read:

“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:
The Church…will receive her perfection only in the flory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Send your old Christmas cards to St. Jude's Ranch for Children

Every year I take out the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. Tucked neatly into one of the boxes I will find last year's Christmas cards, tied neatly with satin ribbon. I don't know what to do with them, but I am too sentimental to throw them out. So I put them in a box full of cards from previous years, and place the box back in the garage, along with old, broken, homemade ornaments that I still hold onto.

I always knew I would find a good use for them one day, and now I have...

For the rest of this article published on please click here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Igneous Rocks, Farmville, and the Horses of Death

“So, what’s new in the virtual world?” my husband asks on Saturday evening, kissing me hello.

“Nothing much. What’s new in the real world?”

Dinner has been ready but I have been keeping the meatballs warm in the oven for the past half hour. I take them out and mumble an apology.

“They look like igneous rocks,” he comments.

“You’ll just have to use my sauce then,” I say, “It’s been simmering for the past three hours.” To prove that, the house is filled with the glorious smell of olive oil, garlic, onions, tomato, and basil, with just a touch of White Zinfandel.

The kids come to the table and answer his original question with an explanation of all the new developments in Farmville. My children have never spent much time on the computer, but since they were introduced to online games and it has been raining quite a bit lately, this online game has become a household obsession.

After dinner, I tell them that I want them to stay off the computer on Sunday because it is going to be a nice day.

“But Mom, I just planted $15,000 worth of watermelon seeds! If I don’t harvest them when they ripen, they will wither and die.”

“Don’t worry about your virtual plants, honey. I’ll check on them from my computer and make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“No Farmville for you, either,” my husband teases me.

On Sunday morning we were treated to a reading about the end times. The deacon tells us that this really is about the present times. We are always to be ready, for no man knows the hour at which Christ will come. I think to myself: Would I want to be caught playing Farmville when Jesus returns?

On the way home, I am chastising them for their treatment of each other. During the Lord‘s Prayer my two middle children had been squirming around and not letting the other hold hands. “If Jesus came back right now, would you want Him to catch you mistreating each other?

I am still working my way through The Catechism of the Catholic Church, from front to back, one section at a time. After lunch I pick it up and read:

“Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience…Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away form death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow…”

[quoted in section 1014 in The Catechism; from The Imitation of Christ, 1, 23, 1]

I thought again of the Horses of Death in the recent version of A Christmas Carol. My ten-year-old had wanted to know what they represented. I had explained then that we should have no fear of death if we are in a State of Grace. Scrooge was afraid because he was not.

We went out to set up a new pitching net and spent the afternoon raking leaves and working on softball skills. It was time well spent. Dinner was a hodgepodge of leftovers from the previous three nights. Then we turned on our computers to check on our farms.

Painting by William Blake: “Death on a Pale Horse”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs" by Jeni Stepanek

"Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs”, is written by Jeni Stepanek, mother of the hero of the book, with Larry Lindner. It includes a foreword by Maya Angelou. It was released on November 3, 2009, by Dutton, a division of Penguin Books.

Mattie J.T. Stepanek was this amazing kid who just happened to suffer from a rare disorder that later came to be known as Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy. His three siblings all died by the age of four of the same disorder, and his mother was diagnosed with the adult onset form after having given birth to them. They are the only five people ever diagnosed with this particular form of the disorder.

Told from the first person, Jeni is one of the main characters of the book, as the mother who cared for her son and supported his efforts, yet Mattie is the focus. She sees him as a gift from God and is thankful for the time she was able to share with him and her other children on this earth.

From the beginning you know that he is going to die at the age of thirteen, and the suspense of the reader in seeing how he is going to live his life in between crises, and when he is going to die, is a faint echo of what you know Jeni and Mattie lived through in real life time. Jeni is very descriptive of all that they went through, but the book is much larger than that.

From an early age, Mattie defied the doctors’ predictions, so that eventually they gave up saying there was no hope and just let him go the course. He taught himself to read and write, and was so far ahead of his age peers in school that homeschooling became the best option for him. By middle school he was attending a local college for his coursework.

By the age of three he was writing poetry, and became a bestselling author. He published six collections of Heartsongs poetry and one collection of peace essays. “Heartsong” is a word he coined for a person’s essence. He believed that everyone should share their heartsongs with each other to make the world a better place. His poetry and his life work were all for the purpose of spreading the message of peace and hope.

He was the National Goodwill Ambassador for Jerry Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association for three years in a row, traveling along with his all his life support equipment to give inspirational talks to large audiences and appear on television programs such as Larry King Live and Oprah Winfrey. His final project was assisting Jimmy Carter in the writing of the book “Just Peace”.

The book features never-before-published essays and poems from Mattie’s journals, as well as e-mail exchanges between him and one of his best friends, Oprah Winfrey.

I had a few reservations about the book that I feel I must disclose to the Catholic reading audience. Jeni, herself a Catholic, chose to leave an abusive marriage; divorce is mentioned but not an annulment. Mattie’s best friends are also some of the more liberal celebrities. If you are not a fan of Oprah, you might get tired of reading all of her supportive emails to Mattie. You may not agree with the choices of books and movies Mattie enjoys.

There is one story on p. 203 that gave me pause. Someone asks Mattie if they can put a “Celebrate Diversity” sticker on the back of his wheelchair. When a nurse and close friend explains to him and Jeni that it is a “gay pride” sticker and that people might think he is gay, he chooses to leave it because “God’s love includes all people”. I understand his point of view, but Jeni goes further in stating in the book, “So many people who are antigay point to the Bible to support the opinion that homosexuality is a sin. But Mattie understood that the Bible had to be read with an eye toward historical and cultural context.”

Other than that, the book is profoundly pro-life. The doctors all begged her to get an abortion; she would not. They told her to put Mattie in an institution; she chose to be his mother. She chose to let him live his life as much as he could, and went to great lengths to allow him to see his vision through. When it came to the end of his life, she allowed him the dignity to take part in the decisions about heroic life-saving measures. She and others made sure that all of his wishes were carried out when he was buried. They honored his life through continuing to carry on his message to the world.

Dutton sent me a preview copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. I have to admit that, when I read the description, I was not too excited about it. It sounded like a depressing topic, and I usually like to read to escape reality for a while. But I took the assignment and was glad I did. Other than the reservations I have mentioned, I recommend this book as a tribute to a great young soul with a message of hope and peace.

This article appears as a guest post at Catholic Mothers Online.

For more about Mattie and his life see his tribute website.

For ordering information see Dutton Publishing at Penguin Books.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disney's "A Christmas Carol"

If you are wondering whether A Christmas Carol is too scary for your child, please read my review over at my Examiner column.
Leticia Velasquez also has an excellent review at MercatorNet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Teaching kids historical perspective through the movies

On Friday I took the kids to see the new Disney’s Christmas Carol. It was amazing technically, and filled with real Christian messages. Musical selections included “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World”. The message front and center was that you gain happiness by helping others.

After the movie, my ten-year-old was filled with questions. Why were the horses of death chasing him? Why was the Ghost of Christmas Present keeping two children called Want and Ignorance under his skirts? Did people really have to go to jail because they were poor? I was so glad that I had been able to take them to a quality movie that offered the opportunity to discuss such deep questions.

On Saturday my twelve-year-old surprised me by requesting that we watch Gone With the Wind. This is my favorite movie of all time. Why the sudden interest? She has been studying the Civil War in school and they have been watching Glory, which is told from the Northern perspective.

So we sat and watched the whole thing. We paused the movie many times so I could explain what was going on culturally. The difficulties of those times made me so thankful for the modern conveniences we take for granted. What was chloroform and why did they have to cut off solidiers’ legs without it? Why did they have to boil the soldiers’ clothing?

There were also some tricky moral questions. Why was Belle Watkins considered a bad woman? Why were Scarlett and Ashley kissing when they were married to other people? Why was Scarlett marrying her sisters’ beaus?

I also got to give them a little movie history. I recited for them the names of the actors, the awards the movie and the book had reaped, and why the sunset kiss between Scarlett and Rhett was controversial for its time.

Not only do true classics never go out of style; they offer great opportunities to share your knowledge and make it relevant to the world that your children are familiar with.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

10 steps to planting bulbs with your kids in the fall

Planting bulbs is such a great activity to do with your kids, and they are fully capable of performing all of the steps from the age of 2. Please click here to see my article on 10 steps to planting bulbs in the fall with your kids.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

10 reasons to get your kids to rake leaves

If you have kids, and you have leaves, it should be obvious you should put them together and make both disappear for a while. For those who need some convincing, I have written 10 reasons to get your kids to rake leaves in today's Examiner column.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where’s the water? It’s in the fax machine.

“We’re going to vote,” I told my three-year-old as we walked out the door.

We drove the mile to the nearest school and parked.

“Where’s the water?” she asked me.

“I don’t have any water,” I said.

“But where’s the water? There’s no boat.”

“No, not boat. VOTE. You’ll see.”

We went in and voted.

Next stop was Staples, a long overdue trip.

Last summer, while dusting some shelves, I knocked a small water globe onto our fax machine. This is one of the necessary pieces of office equipment for my husband’s process serving business.

While the perfumy smell of the water fill the room, I tried to rescue the machine from the ravages of the water and broken glass.

It was still able to send, but not receive or copy.

Due to a combination of my dislike of shopping and not wanting to spend the money on a new machine, we have gone for months receiving PDF files from clients via email in lieu of faxes. The problem with this is that my husband does not know how to use the computer. So every time he needs to retrieve a file, I need to be home, download the file, and print it out. Sometimes clients use a program that is incompatible with my computer, causing more frustration.

We also have a weird combination of programs that work on one computer and not another, and printer problems, which result in my having to email files from one computer to another in order to print out a simple document.

The other problem with faxing, which was present before the actual machine broke, was that I had to be home in order to manually switch the line to receive a fax.

All my problems related to faxing were solved today!

I found a display unit on clearance, as well as a machine that automatically switches to receive a fax, without requiring a second line.

Ah, freedom! Freedom from having to retrieve documents online, freedom from having to pick up business calls during the day, freedom from picking up the phone to hear the annoying BEEP BEEP BEEP of a fax machine.

It is so amazing what a simple piece of technology can do to change your life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Beached Whale at Sunken Meadow State Park ?

Yesterday my two older girls ran two races in a row at Sunken Meadow State Park. That they were allowed to do this was purely by accident of the officials. However, I am proud of their courage to do it, as well as their stamina.

Once a year the middle schoolers are offered a chance to run the high school course. The middle school course consists of a one mile run around a moat, often called “the mouse hole” because the trees bend over the path to look like one. The high school course adds another loop to this, which includes “cardiac hill”. This is a very rough, very steep hill, followed by a rather scary steep drop down the hill, for an added 0.4 mile.

The official failed to inform the children that they needed to choose between the two courses. So my girls wound up running both, one right after the other. They needed to do the middle school course so that the girls’ team could get a team score; so I gave them that choice, knowing that it would be difficult but that they were up for the challenge.

When they got back from the first run, my older daughter said, “I felt like I was having an asthma attack – and I don’t have asthma.” Neither of them felt up to the second race, but on they went. They completed it a little slower than normally, but they did it. I was so proud of them both.

After the race, my twelve-year-old daughter said, “I saw something weird in the water. It looked like a dead whale! It was white with speckles. I really want to see what it was. Can we go back and see it?”

So our family retraced the path. I was amazed at the conditions of the hill they had run.

My three-year-old walked the whole thing, propelled by her interest to see the “dead whale”.

“This is really dangerous!” I exclaimed.

“That’s cross-country, Mom,” said both the girls.

Then we came to the “dead whale”. It was a giant white rock, on which were perched several water birds. We all had a good laugh. I realized then that the reason she had never noticed this before during previous races was that the foliage had been thicker, hiding the rock from her view. Now that the leaves had been stripped away, you could see more of the water. I could see how, speeding by, out of the corner of your eye it could look like a whale.

So many things, as well as people, are not what they seem at a cursory glance. It is often worth taking a second look.

*I have entered this photograph into a contest! Please vote for me at

Chapter 11(NAB)
1 The poor man's wisdom lifts his head high and sets him among princes.
2 Praise not a man for his looks; despise not a man for his appearance.
3 Least is the bee among winged things, but she reaps the choicest of all harvests.
4 Mock not the worn cloak and jibe at no man's bitter day: For strange are the works of the LORD, hidden from men his deeds.
5 The oppressed often rise to a throne, and some that none would consider wear a crown.
6 The exalted often fall into utter disgrace; the honored are given into enemy hands.
7 Before investigating, find no fault; examine first, then criticize.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Morning Run

Morning Run
Elizabeth K. Miller

I awaken with thoughts
of things to do today
I try to shut them out
but sleep will not return
I look out through the blinds
The morning star is visible
In the dark sky turning pink
I stretch on several layers
of comfortable clothing
Pull on my favorite old sneakers
Take from a drawer my MP3
Open the front door
Step out into the cold air
and stretch
I start immediately
Up a hill
And feel the exhilaration of adrenaline
Pumping through my body
Towards the top of the hill
My calves begin to burn
But no matter
The pumping music
Keeps me going
Around the block
And to the second hill
Now I feel like I can
Keep going forever
The week ahead of me
Beckons with hope
It feels great to be alive
Then around the last bend
Where I start to slow down
Just in time,
I think,
My body can’t take much more
And home again
To the smell of
Freshly brewed coffee.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First week of Facebook for my pre-teen

It has become quite clear from listening to my twelve-year-old’s friends that just about every middle-schooler has a Facebook account. Most of my daughter’s friends are too impatient to use old-fashioned email.

I was hesitant about letting her have one until after having “friended” a few of my daughter’s real friends and seeing that this was actually a great way to keep a hand in your child’s social life. Was I going to be the only dinosaur that kept their daughter from socializing the way kids do it today?

She has demonstrated responsibility with the use of her email and computer time. Having skipped a grade, she is accustomed to acting more mature for her age. After she was invited to play in a 16-and-under softball tournament, I finally decided to let my twelve-year-old daughter turn thirteen in the cyber-world and have a Facebook account.

Rules include:
1. I set up the account with a password I can remember.
2. I am her “friend” and can see everything she posts.
3. No “friending” anyone she doesn’t actually know.
4. No “friending” any adult without my explicit permission.
5. No status updates that tell people too much personal information.
6. No mentioning of her siblings’ names.

After one week, the positives include:
1. Computer time is a great incentive to get her to clean her room.
2. I can see what kind of things her friends are talking about.
3. She and I can play online games together.
4. We can “chat” between floors without yelling.
5. I can forward her all kinds of information that she is more likely to read because it is in email format.
6. Her little sister, who is ten, has two years to show responsible use of the computer time to earn the privilege of her own Facebook account. In the meantime, she can maintain my “Farmville” for me.
7. It is easier for her to keep in contact with relatives and out-of-state friends.
8. I am happy to see how many friends my daughter has.

The negatives include:
1. Exposure to “text” acronyms threatens the development of English skills.
2. Computer time encroaches on reading time.
3. Status updates encourage the focus on “me” and attention-getting.

So the positives outweigh the negatives. This is the simplest decision-making-algorithm, which I was fortunate to learn early in life.

* Author's addendum:
My new third-person version of this article is published at
I offer some suggestions to alleviate the negatives:

1. Encourage the use of journaliing.
2. Encourage the regular sending of hand-written thank you notes and letters to older relatives.
3. Encourage community service outside the home.
4. Speak about your internet rules to the other adults in whose homes you child spends time.

With the proper precautions, you, the internet, and your pre-teen can all get along.

Part II of my guest post at New Parents Guide

I promise to get some original material up here soon! Part II of my guest post mini-series on jobs that should not be attempted with your toddler around is up at The New Parents Guide here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blog Giveaway: the new aboutBaby.mommy bibby

New moms may want to read my article at about the new aboutBaby.mommy bibby and the story of its founders, two moms from Long Island. This bibby is ideal for both formula feeding and breastfeeding. For a chance to win a free bibby, please leave a comment here with your first and last name and your email address. On November 1, 2009, one winner will be chosen at random and aboutBaby LLC will contact you to send you your bibby.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pure Love by Jason Evert

“Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial.” – Pope John Paul II.

When Evert wrote this 60-page booklet, he was a 27-year-old virgin engaged to Crystalina, who was what we in high school used to refer to as a “born-again virgin”. He wanted to reach out to young people with the message that sex is a beautiful gift that married people should give to each other – after the wedding.

“Why should I wait?” is the question he addresses to both young men and women, in a way that can be discussed in a mixed audience. He talks about rules you can set down so that courtship is conducted in a way that is respectful to each party. How do you avoid temptation? Is there really any such thing as “safe sex”? Why is the manner of a girl’s dress so important?

After they were married, Crystalina Evert wrote her own book, Pure Womanhood, that addresses young women; Jason wrote Pure Manhood specifically for young men. Pure Love is appropriate for both audiences. This is the book that started the Pure Love Club. Members of the club sign the "Pure Love Promise" (included at the end of this book) and wear a purity ring (which has become popularized by some teen stars) that shows they are saving themselves for their future spouses.

Evert brings up points that ideally would be a part of the continual conversation between parents and their children in the years leading up to and through the onset of dating. Both guys and girls need to know why they should wait, and tools they can use to help them to remain pure. They need to know that birth control does not offer complete protection from sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy; and that there is no protection from the emotional and spiritual damage that comes from premarital sex.

For young people who have not received the message that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, this little book might be the eye opener that helps to save them from the heartache that comes with empty sexual experiences and the possible consequences thereof. I would recommend putting this book out among teenage youth groups, as well as singles groups for adults in their twenties, in conjunction with the availability of a counselor who could talk about the questions they might have.

For teenagers who have received all this information from their parents already, this could be used as an added reinforcement. For pre-teens who have not yet been exposed to the dating world, I would recommend previewing the book to decide if the material is appropriate.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received the book for free in exchange for my honest review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Pure Love.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Whirlwind Cross Country/Softball Week

It has been a whirlwind of a week, followed by a tornado of a weekend! Last week we had two cross country races and five softball tournament practices. This weekend my girls each played in four softball tournament games. My older daughter then played a doubleheader for another softball team. Just when I thought I might have to go through softball withdrawal, she was recruited by the opposing team to possibly play in their tournament next weekend.

I could sit and write a whole chapter about each of the past seven days but I will just highlight some of the funny or poignant things that happened.

Last Tuesday, my eldest daughter came in first place at Belmont Lake State Park. ( My second daughter came in at number eleven, which is really excellent for a sixth grader. ) The previous race at that same course she had come in at number three. She was out front for most of the race, and then two runners were able to overtake her at the end. This time she had the stamina to keep up her pace to the finish line.

At both those races, when I saw her come out of the woods in front, I was so proud and joyful I thought I would burst. At the second one, I wanted to give her that last boost and I was jumping up and down cheering for her. My cell phone fell out of my pocket and I didn’t have time to look for it because we had to get to softball practice.

When we got home, I called my phone and a guy named Tim picked up. He was the gym teacher for one of the schools we had raced and was on his way to see the secretary of that school, who is the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends. So I had my phone back the next day. It just shows you don’t have to panic about every detail of your life. If you stay calm things have a way of working out.

Wednesday we went to Sunken Meadow State Park for another race. I had the entire girls’ team in my car and we got stuck in a traffic jam due to a car accident. I thought for sure that everyone else would be stuck in it and the race would be delayed. When we arrived two minutes late, the girls had just started their race and our coach was very worried about us. I had asked my daughter’s friend to take the battery out of my cell phone so she wouldn’t get in trouble for having it in school, and hadn’t yet reset it.

He talked to the officials and they allowed our girls to run with the boys, with our times being tabulated with the rest of the girls. So that all worked out and we continued on to softball again.

Saturday was a really long day. My daughters played in 10U and 12U teams for the SYAG Columbus Day Bash tournament of around 30 teams that were all playing each other. They each had three games that day. I had to sit in the bleachers from 8 AM to 6 PM; let me tell you, it hurts!

Sunday was busy too but more fun for me. They each had a game at 8:30 AM; the fields were about 30 seconds running distance from each other. I left the younger children at home and just kept running from field to field with my video camera. I was able to catch all the best plays of each game!

Then we went on to my older daughter’s 14U softball team. There was some kind of mix-up with the schedule and we wound up scrimmaging against a 16U softball team that is associated with our local school district. When we talked to their coach after the game, it turned out that he was looking for girls to play in his tournament next weekend and he said he might be able to use my daughter. He also handed me his card and told me about a tryout for a boys' baseball travel team for my son.

My head is full of decisions to be made about softball teams and high schools and all the decisions that are to be made when you’ve got a kid with a lot of potential, as well as how to balance what is best for each individual child with what is best for the family.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Small Successes Double Sports Edition

It has been a while since I participated in the Thursday Small Successes at the Faith and Family blog.

1. This week, for two days in a row, I managed to car pool the entire girls' cross country team from school to the cross country meets, get home to serve leftover chicken for dinner, and get the girls to their softball tournament practice, without losing my mind. My eldest daughter came in first on Tuesday at Belmont Lake State Park. Yesterday we got stuck in the parkway due to an accident and showed up at Sunken Meadow State Park 2 minutes late. They let our girls run with the boys, so I will not know their actual placement until the official times are in.

2. I got to the Third Annual Stand Up for Life on Eastern Long Island and wrote about it on my Examiner column, where it was the most popular article for the day.

3. I actually got some reading done. I finished reading Ellen Gable's second book and reviewed it here.

This all feels like bragging but I hope it is inspiring to some. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

Click here for Small Successes Volume 38

My Guest Post at New Parents' Guide

I was invited to submit a guest post at New Parents' Guide. This is part I of a miniseries on things that should not be attempted with toddlers around.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"In Name Only", by Ellen Gable

Last year I reviewed Ellen Gable’s first book, Emily’s Hope , which won an Honorable Mention Award for religious fiction in the 2006 Independent Publisher Book Awards. I asked her to send me her second book, In Name Only, when it came out.

In 1876, Caroline Martin’s father has just passed away and she is on the train with her chaperone to Philadelphia, where she will be taken in by relatives. Here we are first introduced to two brothers, and the stage is set for a romantic courtship. It is difficult to talk about the plot without giving away the many surprises that happen during the story. The book is a very enjoyable read, neither predictable nor formulaic.

There are so many things I love about this book. Gable takes great pains to describe her characters and settings with original metaphors. The heroine Caroline is described by her suitor: strong emotion makes her freckles darken on her pale skin, and her eyes are “the color of Christmas holly”. Caroline reads some of my favorite books: Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, Jane Austen’s “Emma”, and Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. One can see the influence of traditional courtship and style of writing from these classics.

Like the strong, traditionally feminist characters Jane, Emma, and Meg who struggled with social mores and doing the right thing, her character flaunts convention. She refuses to wear a corset, insists on speaking to servants like they are people, and will discuss “inappropriate” topics when necessary. Her actions demonstrate that doing the proper thing is not always the same as doing the right thing.

Through her complex characters, Gable addresses some tricky subjects for couples who are either engaged or married: chastity, honesty, and obedience. For single people, she shows that someone who has made poor choices in the past can choose the right path and stay on it. For all people, death is a part of life and how we deal with it has a big effect on both ourselves and the people around us. Gable says, “ I wanted to write a story that was entertaining, and at the same time, I hope that they will learn lessons about self-giving love, marriage, sacrifice, life and death.”

In Name Only is definitely geared toward adults. Married couples struggle with bedroom issues. One of the male characters is addicted to gambling, sex, and pornography. Midwives assist in abortions (back then referred to as “bringing on a period”). Some of the characters die.

Gable shows the dire consequences of sinful behaviors; but also that it is never too late to turn your life around. The healing power of forgiveness will not bring back the lives that are lost, but it will help the survivors to move on. Gable’s tale is no Pollyanna story. The ending is both uplifting and realistic. I can see it as a good book to read in conjunction with a marriage preparation course.

Ellen Gable lives with her husband and five children in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada. She and her husband James Hrkach have been active in the last 25 years in Catholic apologetics, teaching Natural Family Planning, participating in Marriage Preparation, and promoting chastity. You can order her book or find out more about the author at her website, Full Quiver Publishing.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The FTC Now Regulates Blog Reviews!

This just in: The FTC is now requiring bloggers to disclose if they have received a free book or other payment in exchange for writing a book review. I find this to be absolutely ridiculous. Since the beginning of publishing, authors have been sending free copies of their books to reviewers for publicity. So I am now disclosing, to cover myself for my past reviews, that any books I reviewed for The Catholic Company were given to me for free in exchange for my honest review. I was also given a free book by Ellen Gable in exchange for my honest review of her first book, and am in the process of reviewing her second book, which she also sent me for free.
Thus ends the ridiculous item of the day. Click here for the story from Fox News.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Third Annual Stand Up for Life on Eastern Long Island

Today I went to the third annual Stand Up for Life prayerful vigil in Manorville Long Island. I spoke to several old-timers about why they regularly go to these events. Please read my Examiner article here!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Running the race that lies before us

The first race for the Catholic Middle School Athletic Association this year was run on Yom Kippur at Sunken Meadow State Park. It was a marathon day for me; I choreographed the schedule the night before, including planning for a “meal” in the car.

I had to leave my house in the early afternoon to get to the school, pick up all the girls on the team, and drive them to Sunken Meadow State Park. After the race, we ate pepperoni, crackers, snap peas, and fruit on our way to softball practice. Near the field we stopped at McDonald’s for a 20-pack of chicken nuggets. I treated myself to a chocolate shake.

I remember the first year we started with organized sports. My eldest was 4 years old and we had started our official homeschooling for kindergarten. Soccer practice was the only place we had to be, twice a week; games were on Sundays. There was a family there with several foster children, who were all enrolled in teams in our local sports association.

“When do you eat?” I asked the mother incredulously.

“Sometimes we have to eat in the car,” she answered.

I was shocked. I would never let my family get so busy that we couldn’t sit down for a meal.

Eight years later, the joke is on me, and I remembered thinking that during the drive from cross country to softball. NEVER judge another parent until you have been in their shoes! As any professional runner will tell you, part of “running the race that lies before us” is never looking back to see what the other runners are doing.

You can see my eldest daughter (in the far right of this picture) as she breaks away from the pack and takes the lead in the first leg of this race. She is looking back, something one of her coaches noticed and pointed out to her. She finished up sixth in the race. My second daughter finished around number 20 and kept her focus straight ahead. Who did better? The motto of every runner is: “Do your personal best.”

This point is also made clear in one of the books in the C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Horse and His Boy”. The young girl asks Aslan what happened to a boy who had disobeyed and the answer is: “That is his story, not yours.”

According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “great cloud of witnesses” includes all the saints from the beginning to the end of time. Saints are any people that are, or will be, accepted into Heaven; only the Lamb of God knows who these are for sure, but the Church will occasionally canonize those who have lived such a holy life that they are virtually certain they must be in Heaven.

These witnesses are all cheering us on, as we strive to achieve God’s plan for us. Going to Confession helps us to unburden the sins that are bogging us down. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus, not the people around us, during our race. That means not being too bothered by what others think of us, and not losing our focus by dwelling on what others are doing.

Hebrews 12: 1-2(NAB)
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 perfecter 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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weight loss and fitness just for Moms!

By popular demand, I have written an article for my Examiner column about fitness for moms. A few of my writing friends contributed their success stories, and then I interviewed Michael Carroza, a fitness instructor who runs a boot camp for moms who want to lose weight or just get back into shape. Although he doesn't know what it's like to be a mom, he works with them very closely to help them achieve their fitness goals, and I think he has given very realistic and encouraging advice that includes nutritional guidelines. Read the article here!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My First Day Teaching Confirmation Class

“So God is a stalker?” a boy commented after our reading of Psalm 139, “That’s kind of creepy.”

This was just one of many thought-provoking comments in the stimulating discussions that took place during the hour I had charge of my eighth grade Confirmation students. I tried to explain that God was there in a loving and protective way; but he stubbornly refused to understand and I had to move on by telling him he would have to wrap his head around the concept on his own.

I had to work outside the book today because I had been given the wrong book over the summer, and not enough time to prepare based on the new book that was given to me two days ago. I was upset at first but decided that we had a great deal to talk about to introduce the year anyway. So my plan was to have them introduce themselves, tell me why they want to be confirmed in the Catholic Church, and tell me one thing they really like to do. From there we would talk about Community Service and help them come up with ideas about what they could do that utilized their individual passions.

I played “Make My Life a Prayer to You” sung by Melodie Green (2nd Chapter of Acts, Mansion Builder) while inquiring in the office about getting Bibles for some of the kids. When I got back and asked why they thought I had played that selection, the answer I got back was, “To torture us?” which led on to a discussion of torture, warn, and injustice in the world. A boy mentioned his uncle was in prison for something he didn’t do. I talked about the injustices done to Joseph and Job, and the rewards they reaped in the end for remaining faithful to God.

We returned to the question of life as a prayer. I told them that “praying without ceasing” didn’t mean saying Hail Mary’s out loud all day. If you’re good at softball, I said, doing your best and going for those homeruns is giving glory to God by making the best use of your talents. Psalm 139 was read to start the discussion of how God had a plan for each of us before we were even born. That led to the stalker comment.

“What if I don’t want to go along with God’s plan?” asked one boy. Which made me happy that I had read the part of the Catechism that talks about free will. I talked about what happened to Jonah when he tried to thwart God’s plan for him. “You can be difficult with God,” I said, “but it will make your own life more difficult and He will find a way to use you for His purpose in the long run.”

The two girls in my class kept exchanging looks as the boys kept coming up with these “weird” questions. Actually, they were quite good ones, and I’m happy they were intellectually involved in talking about scripture and theology.

I was happy to hear that each of them did have something they were excited about doing, whether it was a sport or a hobby. (“No, hunting and skinning squirrels probably would not make a good community service project,” I had to explain to one boy.) Why they wanted to be confirmed varied.

“So I don’t have to go to religion class anymore.”

“Because it is important to me.”

“Because I believe in my faith.”

“Because my whole family is Catholic.”

“Because my dad couldn’t get married in the Catholic church because he wasn’t confirmed, and he never went to college, and I want to be able to do all the things my parents never got to do.”

And the last one, who never spoke a word, was spoken for by his cousin, “He doesn’t care about Confirmation and wants to go back to Brooklyn.”

So you can see I have quite the assortment of students to deal with here. There are more to come, as a third of the parish’s children have yet to register.

“But Mom, they’re going to hate you!” my daughter had exclaimed when I told her on the way over that I was going to assign homework. But no one seemed to have a problem when I told them to (1) buy a notebook; (2) write up a community service idea); and (3) thumb through the Bible and find a scripture they like.

I think I am going to enjoy this class, with all the challenges it brings.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fitness Articles at my Online Column

I have been hard at work on some youth running articles for my column. Here is the link for an article on how to start your kids running cross country.

My next article is going to be about weight loss after baby. None of us look like Angelina Jolie, who looks fantastic when she comes out of the hospital! For you real moms out there, if you were successful losing the weight and are willing to be quoted, please email me at and tell me: HOW DID YOU DO IT?

Author's addendum: This article is now completed and will be published shortly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009 Fall Kickoff of 40 Days for Life

Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an
assembly. Gather the people, notify the congregation.
Assemble the elders; gather the children and the
infants at the breast... Let the priests, the
ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare, O Lord,
your people."

-- Joel 2:15-17

Today is day 1 of 40 Days for Life, an intensified effort of prayer, fasting, and action toward the end of abortion in America. Go to to find out about events in your area or to receive a daily update and devotional.

My fast is to give up the computer from 12-2 each day. This will be hard for me to do, but is reasonable because that is the time I am least likely to receive crucial emails. If you catch me with a green light on my email address or on Facebook during that time, please scold me!

Engraving: Prophesy of Joel, Mattheus Merian the Elder 1625-30

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pure Manhood by Jason Evert

“When you decide firmly to lead a clean life, chastity will not be a burden on you: It will be a crown of triumph.” – St. Josemaria Escriva.

In this 52-page booklet, Jason Evert draws from his own experience to address the questions adolescent boys might have about why they should stay pure. He confesses that, although he kept his virginity for his wife, he gave in to temptation in many other ways that were harmful to him spiritually. He challenges boys to think of their sexuality in a very different way from how the world teaches.

Evert asks: Why do we feel protective of our sisters, daughters, and future wives, but take all that we can get from our girlfriends? Would we want our future wives to be doing what we are doing with our girlfriends right now? He brings up points that are too rarely brought up in chastity talks. If you love someone, you want what is best for them. You are not just staying pure to protect yourself. You are doing it to protect the physical and spiritual well-being of your future wife and whomever you might be dating right now.

Evert brings up points that ideally would be a part of the continual conversation between fathers and their sons in the years leading up to and through the onset of dating. Guys need to know why they should wait, and tools they can use to help them to remain pure. They need to know that girls value purity in a man and are actually more attracted to gentlemen who treat them like ladies. And they need to know that birth control does not offer complete protection from sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

For the young man who has not received the message that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, this little book might be the eye opener that helps to saves him from the heartache that comes with empty sexual experiences and the possible consequences thereof. I would recommend putting this book out among teenage youth groups, in conjunction with the availability of a counselor who could talk to the boys about the questions they might have.

For teenage boys who have received all this information from their parents already, this could be used as an added reinforcement. For pre-teen boys who have not yet been exposed to the dating world, I would recommend previewing the book to decide if the material is appropriate.

You may also enjoy my review of Pure Womanhood by Crystalina Evert.

This review was written as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program. For ordering information please visit their website.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just Call Me Jonah

Last year I wrote several posts putting down volunteerism in general. After being very involved for several years volunteering in different arenas, I decided to take a firm stand and do absolutely no volunteering while I had a newborn at home. I really felt comfortable and free, and it became easier and easier for me to say no.

Somewhere along the line I started to get my energy back, and to feel I could take on more challenges. I guess it was around the time we started actually sleeping through the whole night. My youngest was about 18 months old then. It took about 6 months to catch up on all the sleep I had missed, and by the time she was 2 I felt ready to take on the whole world again.

I signed up to teach my daughter’s 8th grade Catechism class, and have been reading The Catechism of the Catholic Church over the summer, in addition to the regular textbook. I picked the earliest Saturday morning slot because I didn’t want it to interfere with softball or cross country after school, or softball games later on Saturdays. I was lounging in the pool or on the beach for half the summer, and the whole task of getting ready for this seemed pretty daunting to me, when I got a request to do something else in addition to this.

Back when we were homeschooling, I helped to teach a Little Flowers group for two years. Little Flowers is meant to be a cooperative effort, with all the mothers taking turns teaching about the saints that little girls should emulate, and the coordinating virtues they should acquire. It is a well-organized program with lots of room for games and friendship time.

My friend was very interested in this program and, know I was experienced with it, asked me if I would consider heading up a group at the church. I told her I didn’t know if I could take on something else right now. I kept hedging all summer, but never really said no. While in Tennessee I decided I would come back and say I just couldn’t do it right now.

The day after I came back, my friend called and asked if I had proposed the program to the church yet. “Umm, no, I thought we were going to talk about it first,” I said, and before I knew it I was in the office of the new Director of Religious Education selling a program that I loved, all the time actually hoping he would say no. “God’s will be done,” I thought, “If He really wants me to do this, it will be approved.”

I was so mad at myself for being so persuasive. Within a day the program was approved by the DRE and pastor, with a room reserved for me through March. (That I made perfectly clear: I am busy with baseball after March.)

I was telling all this to a friend over lunch yesterday and she said to me, “What, are you waiting for a whale to swallow you up? You sound like Jonah!”

Then she gave me several ideas on how to make this a cooperative effort, which is exactly what Little Flowers is meant to be. “You don’t have to be a one-woman show,” she said. I admitted I really don’t enjoy doing crafty things with 12 little girls who need help with gluing or threading needles. The actual teaching and organizational stuff is what I love.

I don’t want to be like Jonah, sitting under a withering gourd in the desert sun, cursing God for the task he was sent to do. I think the lesson of Jonah is more about attitude than anything else. He obeyed God but didn’t enjoy it. We are called to “be cheerful in all that you do”.

By the way, I don’t know why everyone got it into their heads that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. (They also think Adam and Eve ate an apple, when the Bible just says it was a piece of fruit; perhaps it was a pomegranate.) The Bible says he was swallowed by a “big fish”. Whales are mammals, not fish; perhaps it was a great shark.

Chapter 2 (NAB)
But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
From the belly of the fish Jonah said this prayer to the LORD, his God:
Out of my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me; From the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, "I am banished from your sight! yet would I again look upon your holy temple."
The waters swirled about me, threatening my life; the abyss enveloped me; seaweed clung about my head.
Down I went to the roots of the mountains; the bars of the nether world were closing behind me forever, But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God.
When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; My prayer reached you in your holy temple.
Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy.
But I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you; What I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the LORD.
Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.

Painting by Buarnarotti Michelangelo. "Jonah", 1511.