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.

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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.