Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hearts for Home June 30, 2009

Gae at Cherished Hearts and Home writes:

”In my weekly 'Hearts for Home' post I am encouraging myself and others to commit to thinking about what 4-6 things we can do each week to bring our thoughts, prayers and actions to keeping our 'Hearts for Home'.”

Last week I only succeeded in doing #4 and #5 on my list of 6 items. I am going to make this one shorter, and much more attainable. Here is my list for this week. I am going to print out this list to help stay focused on these goals.

1. Read one scripture a day to the children.
2. Not yell if someone knocks over a vase of flowers.
3. Have at least one child practice the piano each day.
4. Establish a “reading hour” during which everyone in the house does nothing but read.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Downstyle makes headlines easier to read

As part of my training for my new job with the Examiner, I have been instructed to use Associate Press Downstyle for my headlines. They say this style is being adopted increasingly in reporting because it is easier to read. Only the first letter of a title, proper names, and letters after punctuation are capitalized. Capitalization breaks up the flow of reading when the eye has to go up and down.

Headlines are also supposed to say straight-out what the article is about. This takes away some of the writer’s ability to come up with clever titles, but makes it easier to locate an article using a search engine, and also easier for the reader to know which articles to read.

One of the things I love about blogging is that no one can tell me what to write about, or how to write it. So sometimes I will use downstyle, and sometimes I will use classic titling.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is there baseball in Heaven?

“Do you think there will be baseball games in Heaven?” I asked my husband over dinner.

“I don’t know.”

”I’m just postulating. What do you think?”

“I thought Heaven was an unknown,” he answered.

I was thinking about my Poppop. My father-in-law said he would miss him because he was so much fun and always made people laugh. I wondered if he was making God laugh up there.

I pictured him with a whole bunch of guys around him, all laughing at his stories. His dog Penny would be there, of course, along with a whole bunch of other dogs, because he loved dogs and they loved him back.

Then I saw my daughter in her Marlins shirt and thought of how he liked to watch the Marlins play the Mets, because he lived in Florida but was born a New Yorker. That made me wonder if they watch our games from up there, and perhaps play their own.

There’s no crying in baseball, my husband always tells my son, and there are no tears in Heaven either. So maybe they do play. And both sides always win.

Chapter 12

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.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sunday Snippets - Catholic Carnival

This week...

* I received news that my grandfather passed away

* I participated in a new Hearts for Home forum

* My daughter lost her championship game but still played great and had fun

* I listed my Small Successes for the week

For more Sunday Snippets please go to This That and The Other Thing

Family Photo Meme

Loren Christie has tagged me in a Family Photo Meme. Post a family picture with a story behind it and write about it.

This picture is of my sister Joanna Stephanie Gerold-Cummings with my youngest daughter. When she was about three weeks old she started to get really colicky and I thought I was going to go out of my mind. She was crying constantly and the only thing that would stop it was nursing her. So I was forever breastfeeding and, not having a hand free to eat with, thought I would starve to death. My sister came from Tennessee to help me through this most difficult week. She took care of the other three children so I could concentrate on taking care of myself and the baby. I gave up dairy and gassy foods and my newborn became content.

I tag Leticia, Karen, Violin Mama, Lisa, and Angie, and whoever else wants to play along.

My First Paying Writing Job

I can now officially call myself a Freelance Writer! I have a new, paying, column at Examiner.com that will be up and running in a week or two. I will announce it here as soon as it is live. My title is Long Island Motherhood Examiner, and I can write about anything pertaining to motherhood on Long Island, which to me is a pretty large umbrella topic. I am really excited and will be hard at work on my first column over the weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Small Successes: End of School Edition

This is a list of my small successes at the end of this school year:

1. We ended the school year with all children passing with flying colors!
2. I landed a column at Examiner.com which will debut very soon!
3. I read several books on my own this year: some on the recommendation of my friends, some to advance my knowledge of Catholicism, some to relive old favorites, and some to make my list of Classics I Must Read a little shorter.

This is a list of things I have been thankful for this week:

1. My eldest daughter made it to the championship game and played well.
2. My youngest daughter is now completely potty-trained.
3. My grandfather is at peace with his Heavenly Father.
4. I got a new computer mouse and now can cruise and click around my pages with ease.
5. My husband is always ready with a hug when I need it.
6. My readers.

Visit Volume 23 of Small Successes at Faith and Family Live!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Championship Game

It was like a miracle that my twelve-year-old daughter’s softball team made it to the final championship game. My husband even came home early so he could see the second half of it. The most important part was that we were there. As one dad said, “The rest of it is just gravy.”

We were the first from our team to get there and the other coach was apparently unaware of my daughters’ presence as he spoke to his girls. “He said they are going to win by a huge lead!” my ten-year-old reported to me. We love that coach because he is in charge of the travel teams, where they are learning a great deal, but she was indignant. She had made enough cupcakes to share with the other team and decided then and there that she was not going to share them.

Numerous complaints had been made over the week by the previously undefeated team that we had beat in the playoffs, attempting to protest on every ground possible. Therefore the head umpire was present, along with four of his best underlings. Several times per inning they all huddled together as we parents looked at each other quizzically.

We held them well until the third inning, when they started to score. I really didn’t care about the score; I just wanted to see what kinds of plays my daughter would make at first base.

I looked every now and then to check on my other children. My almost-three-year-old was adorable horsing around with some slightly older girls. My eight-year-old son had brought the boy next door and the three of them were over on a huge dirt hill, throwing dirt and pebbles; the coach’s son was wielding a huge sewer pipe from a trash heap. My ten-year-old daughter was playing near the boys with another coach’s daughter.

His cell phone rang. “The girls have to use the bathroom,” he reported. Only in 2009 will a girl use a cell phone to talk to her dad when they are only a few hundred yards away! My husband was now there to take our toddler, so I ran over to take the girls to the school.

We found that the soap was working but the sinks were not; however, the water fountain was in order. The girls were busy playing with the soap and looking curiously at the wrestling team as they practiced in the gym. I walked out of the school just in time to see my daughter bat a run in – one of the only two runs we would score in that game. I jumped up and down in excitement.

We lost 7 to 2, but we were happy. My toddler was just happy to finally be allowed to eat the cupcakes we had made for the occasion. There were enough siblings from our team that they all disappeared quite quickly.

I got an email from that other coach that my daughter played a great game - and so, he was forgiven quite as quickly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hearts for Home June 23, 2009

Gae at Cherished Hearts and Home has started a new Tuesday forum.

She writes:

“In today’s busy and aggressive society mothers at home are not given much encouragement to be committed to their role in being home.

In my weekly 'Hearts for Home' post I am encouraging myself and others to commit to thinking about what 4-6 things we can do each week to bring our thoughts, prayers and actions to keeping our 'Hearts for Home'.”

Here is my list for this week, which is the first week the kids will be home for the summer. I am going to print out my list to help stay focused on these goals.

1. Get up early and make a pancake breakfast.
2. Plant some flowers together.
3. Read one scripture prior to Grace at dinner every night.
4. Keep the vases full of June roses from the yard.
5. Read a George MacDonald book out loud to all the children.
6. Make at least one comment a day in public that will give testimony to mothers keeping their hearts for home.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Grandfather Has Passed Away

John S. Nagy, Sr., NYPD and veteran of war, is survived by his loving wife Delia Nagy, four children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My favorite memory of my Poppop is when we used to go walking with his little dog Penny and he would tell me stories. "You're funny, Poppop," I would say, and he would laugh and say, "You're funny, Lisa Bear."

I have several beautiful heirloom pieces of carpentry in my house that were made by him. My little cousin said that he went to join the great Carpenter in Heaven.

You can view a picture here of my grandparents together at their wedding anniversary.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival

I don’t always write about religion per se, but you will find a little bit of faith built into everything I write about.

On Sunday I wrote about how Francie was forced to grow up too fast in Book Four of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.

On Tuesday I wrote about the conclusion of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and the importance of dealing with one’s family history.

On Wednesday I wrote about how my daughter’s losing softball team beat the undefeated team to proceed onto the championship.

On Thursday I wrote about a new newsletter called Devotional Catholicism

On Friday I wrote about my son’s recorder concert at school and about my kids’ “small successes” in playing ball.

For more Faith-Filled Posts please go to the Sunday Catholic Carnival over at This and That.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Beauty in the Eyes or Ears of the Audience

Late last week, I received an invitation from my son’s second grade teacher to go to his “Mini Recorder Concert” at the school. This was the first I heard he was playing a recorder. So I showed up Monday afternoon not knowing what to expect.

The second, third, and fourth graders were all divided into sections on the stage, with Learn the Recorder books on their stands. Although the music teacher asked them to be quiet, they all did a sort of warm-up of their own accord.

She explained that they would be playing in order of difficulty, starting with a one-note song. This was played by all three grades, pretty much on cue, but with many early or late on their execution. The next song had two notes, and the third song had three; this was the extent of the second graders’ expertise.

I watched the children’s faces as they played. Although the sound bordered on cacophonous, the looks on their faces were beautiful. They all looked so intent on mastering their notes. This was especially impressive with the boys, who usually are seen clowning around.

The second graders were ushered off the stage as the third and fourth graders played a few songs of intermediate difficulty. Then the third graders left, leaving the fourth graders to play a few more advanced songs, culminating with Amazing Grace.

I watched the music teacher’s face as she conducted. She was so patient, and so proud of them for having come so far. She explained that it was a little more difficult than she had thought they could achieve, but she had decided to try it anyway.

If you didn’t have a child there and just heard a recording of this concert, you might have covered your ears. But there is a beauty to be found in such an event that cannot quite be explained.

My son got to bring his recorder home after the concert. I found that he really did know how to read – and play - the music. It suddenly made sense to me why he had caught up so quickly to my older daughter in their piano lessons. I have the foresight and forbearance of one music teacher to thank.

Chapter 16
"Strike up the instruments, a song to my God with timbrels, chant to the Lord with cymbals; Sing to him a new song, exalt and acclaim his name.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Devotional Catholicism

“Each month there are particular devotions and novenas for saint feast days. Devotional Catholicism is pleased to be able to present this information on their blog but we here at Devotional Catholicism also realize that sometimes you don’t get to your internet every day or you don’t follow the blogs religiously. That is why we are pleased to offer The Devotional Catholic, a monthly newsletter focusing on specific devotions for the month, helpful spiritual hints, and a blast from the past taking a look at the traditional devotions of the Church. In addition we offer all the novena prayers for that specific month. For the month of July, we are pleased to announce that we are allowing a free download of The Devotional Catholic.”
- from the new blog Devotional Catholicism

Go over to this post at Devotional Catholicism to download their July Newsletter for free! Please mention The Divine Gift of Motherhood if you subscribe – thank you!

Update 7/16/09

"Grettings Blogger Affiliates,

In the past week if you had visited our website you would have seen that we were offline. That was because Mathew and I were discerning the future of Devotional Catholicism. Our attempt to launch a Catholic periodical at this time failed, in the few weeks that we had promoted it and even purchased advertising, the number of subscriptions were not meeting our very low quotoa that we had established. Realizing the amount of work each issue took, we were unable to proceed with that type of apostolate for Devotional Catholicism at this time. However, by no means does this not mean Devotional Catholicism will not one day publish a monthly periodical, it just means that we are simply waiting for when there is a need for this specific apostolate.

However, after much discernment, we have decided to continue with Devotional Catholicism. However, there is a new direction for the apostalate. Instead of providing a monthly devotional periodical, we will providing a devotional blog and a devotional website. I have clear vision for where I wish to take this apostlate because I feel I have alligned it with the will of God. This is an exciting time for this apostoalte. Now more than ever, our devotional content for devotional readers is needed! Given our times, not only economically but given the moral demise of our times, there will come a point and time when people will hit rock bottom and they will have no where else to turn but to the Church and her ancient devotions. DevotionalCatholic.com will be there for them when they need it.

In the next few weeks we will be launching a new Catholic website and really taking our apostalate to a new level. I, Damien Joseph will remain the founder and overseer of the apostlate and Matthew will be a Traditional Catholicism contributor, but we are opening the apostolate to contributors who will assist in providing devotional content for devotional readers. We have a few positions that are still open, right now we have had interested exhibited in the saints and novena contributor position, but there remain other available options. If you would like to become a contributor to this new apostolate let me know and we would be glad to welcome you aboard.

In the end, this email serves as an update. We no longer are doing a "blogger affiliate" program per se, since there is no product we are selling. I did feel that you should be aware of where this new apostolate is heading.

To Jesus Through Mary,

Damien Joseph"

Small Successes: Spring Softball Edition

This week my successes belong to my athletic children. When we mothers give up so much of our time to our children’s endeavors, the fruits of that feel like a success for us as well. This feels a little like bragging, but I’ve shared the failures on our way as well, so here goes…

1. We ended the spring ball season for my younger two without my having a heart attack from having to occasionally be at three games at the same time.

2. My eldest daughter’s losing-streak softball team beat the undefeated team in the playoffs! This felt like a victory for us parents as well because we had to encourage and suffer along with them all season.

3. My two daughters made the summer softball travel team and have already started to learn a great deal, even through losing their first summer travel game.

This is a list of things I have been thankful for this week:

1. Sitting on a sunny field where kids are playing ball games everywhere and my toddler is on top of a giant dirt hill in her pretty pink dress and white sandals. (Later, I would be thankful all the dirt washed out.)

2. Going to a friend's house and sharing life stories.

3. Having the kids asleep in their beds after a long, busy day.

See what small success other moms are thankful for over at Volume 22 of Small Successes at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Impossible Dream

I wrote last week about the unusually unfriendly (for our league) rivalry between my oldest girl’s softball team, which went into the playoffs with a 0-16 record, and another cut-throat team, whose record was 16-0. We played them tonight in the play-offs.

The other team had assumed they were going to beat us and advance to the championship game. Before the game, they commented that this was their practice game for the next one. Our team had a little bit of hope, as our last game against them had been quite close.

There was no score through the second inning. With two outs on us, we suddenly scored four runs. We held them at 4-0 until the fifth inning, when they scored two runs. My toddler fell asleep on my lap and I was unable to move, clap, or yell. I was so emotional I knew I was going to cry at the end of the game.

The head ump said the second one didn’t count. At the top of the sixth, he changed his mind and gave it back to them; we scored no runs. At the bottom of the sixth, they scored one more run. It was 4-3, 2 outs, with a girl on third base and no more steals allowed. We got the last out of the game and I did burst into tears of happiness.

There were a few tears shed on the other side as well, tears of disappointment. There was great rejoicing on our side. We had finally won a game and were advancing to the championship game – one that many had crossed off their calendars.

I have written in the past about how failures must be celebrated. In this case, our success here was made even sweeter by the bitter taste of failure that had preceded it. The coach of the team we will be playing next week was cheering us on as the underdogs. It doesn’t even matter who wins that game – we proved that anyone can be a winner, with persistence.

Sirach Chapter 11 (NAB):
One may toil and struggle and drive, and fall short all the more.
Another goes his way a weakling and a failure, with little strength and great misery-- Yet the eyes of the LORD look favorably upon him; he raises him free of the vile dust,
Lifts up his head and exalts him to the amazement of the many.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Full Closure: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”: Book Five (Chapters 55-56)

Please click on key word A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for previous installments in this series.

I think it is imperative to find out as much as possible about one’s heritage, to examine it with truthfulness regardless of whether it hurts or not. They say history is doomed to repeat itself when people are ignorant of it. The same thing goes for families. Francie is an example of someone who came ahead a stronger and wiser person because of her clear-headed decisions made in full knowledge of where she has come from.

Francie comes just short of saying that her mother’s marrying her father was a mistake. Then she very nearly steals a man from another woman, just like her mother. She falls head over heels for a young man who has already said he is engaged, but that he plans to call it off. He says he wants to be intimate with her before going to serve his country. She says no, but has second thoughts about her decision when she finds out he has married his fiancĂ© after all.

I found her conversation with her mother to be very interesting. It is wonderful that she is able to share her emotional conundrum with Katie, and that Katie can be so understanding. Francie knows that waiting for marriage is best, and promises to do so, but wants to know if she did the right thing in this instance. As a woman, her mom says, she did not. She missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

But on denying herself that, she also eliminated a lifetime of regret that could come from either stealing another woman’s man, giving herself away before finding her lifetime partner, or possibly becoming pregnant or contracting a disease. She did the rational and moral thing at the time, rather than follow her emotions, which is what her mother did when she set about to steal Johnny from her girlfriend. This is what sets her apart from her mother and what will eventually allow her to find a true love that will last.

Francie gives up the passion for Lee in exchange for a more quiet and respectful romance with Ben. They do share the same kind of shy smile, and I do think that Francie was initially attracted to Ben, but he did not “need” her enough to pay her any attention for so long that she found love elsewhere with Lee. The book leaves it up in the air whether she will settle on him or not.

Has Katie found true love in Sergeant McShane? It is hard to believe that one could love from afar as they seemed to begin to do when they first met. They would see each other randomly in public and each kept the other in his or her thoughts as the health of their spouses deteriorated. They have a physical attraction for each other, and can see the qualities that each had to offer. This is a more rational type of love, one that will trust on time to build.

As Francie says goodbye to her old neighborhood, the book comes full circle back to many of the particulars described in the beginning of the book: the tree, the librarian and her bowl of seasonal flowers, the prizes at Cheap Charlie’s, and the little girls watching the big girls get ready for their dates. At the end she says “Goodbye Francie” to the girl across the street, although her name is Florrie. (In book one, as a small girl she would watch Flossie across the street.) The last sentence is: “She closed the window.” She has had full closure and can continue her life – a life that she herself will build.

I hope you have enjoyed my reflections on this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. I may have more thoughts to ponder after meeting with my Long Island book buddies. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Growing Up Too Fast: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”: Book Four (Chapters 43-54)

Please click on key word A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for previous installments in this series.

In our present time when high school is a given and adolescence a time for teenagers to fool around, hang out, and be eased into adult responsibilities, the story of Francie’s sudden growing up is a little shocking. She finally gets to cross the Williamsburg Bridge to work in the city at the age of fourteen, pretending that she is sixteen. She is disappointed in both the city and the life of working with adults. Recognizing how much this world is changing her, she says that if she does not enter high school within one year she will be too old for it.

There is an important scene in which the family attends mass on Christmas morning, “for the repose of Johnny’s soul”. She is wearing fancy lace underwear that she has bought herself, and regrets the decision because she is very cold. She dwells on the details of the decorations in the church, as well as the symbolism they represent. She believes “with all her heart” in the Holy Eucharist. She loves her religion for its beauty and mystery. She is sorry for sometimes saying she doesn’t believe in God, because she does, and she wishes she could be a better Catholic. She has truly come to peace with both God and Johnny’s death.

Another moment worth remembering is the headline declaring war in 1917. She is working as a newspaper reader and knows this moment will change everyone’s life. The way she purposely stamps this headline into her mind shows she truly has the mind of a writer.

On New Year’s Eve, Katie tests her children by offering them alcohol as a toast. She wants to see if they can be trusted to use the substance wisely. They recognize it for what it is, take it, and say they don’t like it. Then they share a warm moment on the roof. This is important because it shows the children can value their father’s soul and yet not repeat his mistakes.

Aunt Sissy gives birth to a healthy baby, after having ten stillbirths. This is her first baby born in a hospital, and the first time she hears the word “oxygen”, which saves the newborn’s life. I had to wonder if those first ten babies could have been saved by oxygen as well. How sad for her – and how wondrous that she can finally have happiness! She turns into a whole new person, becoming a devout wife after living as a flirt her entire adult life. Francie misses the old Sissy in a way, but has to be happy for her. (I thought back to when she dislikes the quiet, thoughtful man that Johnny became when he was not drinking. We truly do become accustomed to our miseries.)

It was hard to believe that Katie cannot find a way to send Francie to high school. She has to send one of the children to work, and chooses to send Johnny to school because he doesn’t want to go to school. This strikes Francie as unfair, but Katie explains that she knows Francie will find a way to attend school because she wants it so much. Katie is very smart but very tough!

Francie does find a way, by attending summer college courses. (I felt so proud of her!) She has found a women’s college where she can go to school for free. She is studying her brother’s high school textbooks so that she can pass the college entrance course.

When Sergeant McShane proposes to Katie, it is like a breath of fresh air for the family. They will never have to worry about money or security again. Katie truly does love him, and accepts for only romantic reasons. I thought back to Francie’s disgust of plays in which a hero comes to the rescue at the last minute. He is offering to pay for the children’s college after she has already found a way to send herself. She does not have to rely on this hero – but it is nice that he came, after all!

Francie and Neely pity their sister, Annie Laurie McShane, because she will grow up privileged and miss out on all the “fun” they had!

(I’ll leave the bit of romance experienced by Francie to the next installment.)

Follow me as I explore the rest of this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.

Please Join In Our Book Club Conversations At Any Time!

I had a few questions about catching up on the book club selections and joining in on the conversation at a later date. I would love it if some of you would send me your comments after reading some books at home. I will be meeting my Long Island reading friends in the beginning of July to discuss "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" at greater length. At that point, I may have more to add to my current observations, and can possibly build your comments into a post. Also, if you look at my reading lists I have posted and have some observations about books I have read, I could possibly do something with that as well. We are looking at reading Brideshead Revisited and a selection by Flannery O'Connor over the summer. As always, thank you all for your comments and thank you for reading!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

I am joining a weekly Catholic Carnival over at This and That, where bloggers highlight their faith-based posts for the week.

This week I mainly talked about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which a young Catholic girl describes the challenges of growing up in poverty. Although she questions her faith at times, she says she will always believe in Jesus.

On Wednesday, I talked about teaching opportunities we parents can take advantage of when bad sportsmanship is displayed at sporting events, and quoted Sirach’s advice on child-rearing.

And on Thursday, I joined the Faith and Family Live’s Small Successes Forum in sharing the most recent developmental successes of my toddler.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Family Pride: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”: Book Three (Chapters 15-42)

Please click on key word A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for previous installments in this series.

Francie is made to feel shame in many social arenas. The doctor comments that she and her brother are dirty. A girl whom she admires for being chosen to beat erasers spits on her. The teachers ignore her and she is forced to wet her pants because she is not allowed to use the restroom. Referring to stories she has written about her father, her teacher tells her that she should not write about “sordid” things, and she stops handing in English assignments; she receives a C in English as a result. Francie is saved from the ultimate shame by her mother, who shoots a rapist before he is able to harm her.

She is particularly conscious of the shame others are made to feel, as in Joanna, the teenage mother who proudly showed her baby around, only to have the local mothers throw stones at her. Her brassy Aunt Sissy is also gossiped about, so much so that they are forced to move. She knows that she is not a “bad woman”, and her father points out to her that even a street walker is not bad; she has been brought low by life circumstance.

Although she has inherited a certain degree of pride shown by her mother in certain things, Francie will not refuse to stoop to lying or taking charity if she really wants something. In one case, she takes a pie offered by the teacher, saying she wants it for a “poor family”, and eats it herself on the way home from school; she is caught. In another, she lies and says her name is Mary, so that she can receive a doll destined for a “poor girl named Mary”; she confesses to her mother and finds that her first name really is Mary! A teacher teaches her an important lesson on how she can write about a desired ending, while telling the truth in real life.

But she feels pride in her heritage: her parents are “real” Americans because they were born in Brooklyn! She can read, and she knows she can write well. She hates perfectly written endings wherein someone comes in and saves another from their situation. This seems to foretell an ending for the novel in which she saves herself from a life of poverty through her own hard work. She is strong, and with her brother is able to withstand the cruel throwing of the Christmas tree in order to bring home a large tree for free.

The entrance of Sergeant McShane, as well as the deteriorating health of Johnny, makes us think that he might be a future second husband for Katie. This would improve the economic situation of the family and bring up their social stature as well. But what about Francie’s strong aversion to depending on a hero to save one at the last minute? We are left wondering as to how things will turn out.

While constantly struggling, both parents do their best to get them the little things that will help them to get ahead in life. Her mother finds a way to get them all piano lessons. (The piano was left in their apartment by the previous tenant, who could not afford to have it moved.) Her father does his part by writing a letter stating that she has moved, so that she can go to school in a nicer part of town. This makes a big difference in the way she sees the world. Suddenly it is bigger and just a little kinder and prettier.

The influence of teachers on a child’s state of mind cannot be overlooked. There are nice and happy music and art teachers who travel from school to school and treat all students fairly. And then there are hardened “old maids” – mostly because married women were not allowed to teach back then – who seem to be absolutely heartless. They shower all their favors on the pretty rich girls and ignore the “unwashed” masses.

On the point of germs, it is both funny and horrifying to hear how their mother kept them free of both lice and disease-causing germs. She would wash Francie’s hair in kerosene and make her wear necklaces of garlic to school! Hence her only friends are the books she borrowed from the library.

When Johnny dies, her mother makes sure the cause of death is written as “pneumonia” only, and not “alcoholism”, although both were going to be written on the death certificate. This is a point of pride for her. But Betty Smith is setting the record straight. Why? She wants the truth to be told, and thinks that dignity can still be preserved without hiding the ugliness of her parents’ struggles. In fact, if a family continues to bury their secrets, they can never learn from them. This is another point in which she and her mother differ on the issue of “pride”.

The family situation goes from bad to worse when Johnny dies, as Katie is pregnant and must find a way to support three children now, while not able to take on more work. Mr. Garritty, the saloon keeper, offers work to the children; this gets them through elementary school and the time of her confinement. Francie’s little sister is born with her help. She and her brother graduate. Although they can barely rub two nickels together, her mother leaves a large tip for the waiter who serves them ice cream.

We are left wondering how Francie will be able to attend high school…

A friend of mine says it is important to tell these stories about family: the good, bad, and the ugly, because no family is perfect and showing how a family can stick together through thick and thin is very important as a model for others who may also be struggling.

Follow me as I explore the rest of this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Mother’s Wisdom Finally Recognized: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”: Book Two

Please click on key word A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for previous installments in this series.

In Book Two (chapters 7–14) of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, Francie Nolan breaks off from her own adolescent memories to tell her life story from the point of view of her mother, Katie. She has already told us that she prefers her father, but we can see that as she pieces together her history she understands a bit of what her mother has gone through for her children.

Katie won Johnny over from her best friend and they married four months later. Soon they learned that she was pregnant and her father never quite got over the fact that he was responsible for this new life. From that night, he would drown his sense of incompetence in drink.

Even the name Johnny, to me, seems to confer the title of a lovable boy who refuses to grow up. Most men will cast of their childish nicknames once they become responsible, mature citizens. He would never change.

There is much description of all the siblings of both Johnny and Katie. The tacking-down of family characteristics is one that only comes of several generations sitting down together and sharing story after story. Francie can identify which of her characteristics came from which side, which from the books she reads, and which were just God-given. Although she may question God multiple times throughout the book, He is an every-present given that she cannot deny.

To her own mother, a saintly, uneducated, first-generation immigrant named Mary who is married to “the devil”, Katie bemoans the circumstance that she has brought a girl into the world, who she fears is destined to live a poor and hard life like her.

People of my parent’s generation didn’t want their children to have to work as hard as they did. They worked to save college money. I remember my parents telling me how they had to work through high school in the evenings. They wanted me to get the most of my education. That was my job, they said. They wanted me to be a kid. They gave me odd chores, such as leaf-raking and babysitting, to have some of my own money, and they paid for all my essentials. Others of my peers had more given to them: designer clothes, ski trips, and fancy cars. Many of them never did learn to fend for themselves. The next generation seems to be even more spoiled. Now video games and cell phones are provided to most children. Where is the fine line dividing what should be provided for children, and what should not?

Mary, who has never herself learned to read or write, offers some sage advice.

1. Read to them a page a day each from Shakespeare and The Bible, until they can read for themselves. She doesn’t even know that Shakespeare is a writer, not the name of a specific book, but she has heard it is a great book. She specifies the Protestant Bible because she thinks it sounds lovelier. Although they do read this translation, the Nolans are very Catholic in their beliefs and their ways.
2. Save a nickel a day toward the purchase of land. In ten years she would have $50, enough to purchase a lot of land. Her words will turn out to be true, in a weird and kind of ironic way.

Another child quickly follows, seemingly a mystery to both of them. These youngsters still don’t understand how biology works. A mid-wife offers her a bottle of medicine that will terminate the pregnancy, but her mother refuses it, saying she will find a way to get along.

Katie follows Mary’s advice, no matter how hard, and her children help her in carrying it out, having its importance deeply engrained in their minds through her own dogged self-discipline. How the bank is built and attached, and how the Bible and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare are obtained are whole stories in themselves. Betty Smith is so descriptive and colorful that you can see the tin can nailed in its dark closet, and the old volumes that would be the entire family library for many years.

Katie mother admits to herself that she loves her son more than her daughter. She knows this from the moment she holds her strong son, while her one-year-old daughter is still failing to thrive.

It must have been heart-breaking for Francie to know this as she grew up, sub-consciously at first, and later quite clearly. I wonder how many deep, tearful conversations they had together when Francie got older and was able to discuss this all at depth with her mother.

One night, which seemingly portends an early death, Johnny tells Francie that their new apartment will be “my last home”. She misses the “my” part until reminiscing in her narration. They are standing on the roof, watching a boy steal a pigeon from his family. “Maybe the pigeon wanted to get away from his relatives,” says Johnny. Alcohol is stealing him from his family and, most of the time, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Francie has so many very colorful characters in her family. I think that she has learned to be very non-judgmental in her own world view as a result of her poignant observations of her relatives, including circumstances that have made them stray from the straight-and-narrow, analysis of their good intentions, hope that God will have mercy on them in the afterlife, and the sting of those outside the family who would cast aspersions on her and her loved ones.

Follow me as I explore the rest of this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.

Small Successes: Toddler Edition


As my allergy-induced laryngitis continues and I am unable to voice my frustrations at the challenges of toddler-hood, celebrating my small successes is extremely important. This week my “small successes” come in the form of developmental advances my toddler is making. Soon I will be calling her my pre-schooler rather than my toddler.

1. She used the potty. There was great rejoicing throughout the house, a phone call exchanged with Daddy, and stickers to be placed on blank pages in her baby book.

2. To acknowledge that she is a “big girl now”, I removed the rail on one side of her crib. I did this while her sisters were reading her a story in my room. When she came to her room, she said, “Gate broken! Fix it!” We showed her how she could crawl into her bed and get out on her own. We placed pillows on the floor in case she fell out, and gave her her own grown-up pillow to sleep on. She fell asleep with no complaint. The next day, she arose and called me from her crib as usual without getting out, much to my surprise.

3. At naptime, I was afraid she would use her freedom not to go to sleep. Over the baby monitor, I heard her playing with her xylophone, which we keep under the crib. But then she settled down. I peeked in and saw her sleeping in her crib. I breathed a sigh of relief and used my time to write.

Click here to visit Volume 21 of Faith and Family Live's Small Successes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Playing Dirty

This year my eldest daughter happened to be placed with the worst team of the league. It isn’t that her teammates can’t play – several of them have great raw ability and were selected for the summer travel team. The problem is that they have received no coaching this spring. The coach has called no practices and doesn’t have much to say during the games. The parents have picked up the slack, yelling from the sidelines where the plays are supposed to be going to. Most of the time, I have had to be at games for my younger children and have missed out on the horrible experience of watching a team that looks like the Peanuts gang.

They have not won a single game. This has been extremely discouraging for the girls. At the All-Star Game, we were teamed up with the best team in the league, much to the other team’s chagrin. One girl, who happens to be physically an excellent athlete but socially displays a really bad attitude, was selected for the All-Star Team and refused to play with us because she said we would make her lose! When news got around of this the girls were not too happy.

The All-Star Game actually was quite excellent. But when we played against them this Monday night, tempers were hot (parents included, although we keep our complaints to whispers and are polite to the other team). For most of the game, the other team would not hit any balls that were pitched to them; they waited to be walked. One of our pitchers got such a severe headache that she had to go on the disabled list. One of our girls was hit hard in the leg by a ball, en route to first base, and also had to go out.

Another of our pitchers decided to take matters into her own hands. She hit the snotty above-mentioned girl in the rear end. It looked to us like she had walked into it, and we had to laugh when she said, “Ooh, you got me in my booty!” and ran gingerly to first base. Said pitcher was next up at bat and coincidentally also got hit in the rear end.

At the last inning, my daughter was pitching to the snotty girl who had started it all. She gave her a good pitch and the girl returned it, hard, a line drive down center field. My daughter caught it and ran to home with it before the girl got to first, and she was out – the last out of the game.

My daughter was horrified when her friend confided to her that she had purposely hit the snotty girl in the rear end. I said that I was proud of her for doing things the proper way. We were all glad for the game to end on that note. But I was sad to see the poor teamswomanship that had been displayed during this dramatic ball game.

Later, my husband told me this was part of the intimidation game between pitcher and batter that normally goes on in professional baseball. But, I said, these are young girls, and most of them are friends on and off the field. Shouldn’t this cut-throat behavior be prohibited in friendly Little League games?

Moments like these are real teachable moments for all parents involved. We have to talk about the behavior we have seen. It is hard not to be judgmental about the characters of those who have not acted well. We are trying to show them that how they act in such situations really does build what kind of character you will have – yet not condemn the guilty individuals as being bad characters already, at such an impressionable age.

Chapter 30
He who loves his son chastises him often, that he may be his joy when he grows up.
He who disciplines his son will benefit from him, and boast of him among his intimates.
He who educates his son makes his enemy jealous, and shows his delight in him among his friends.
At the father's death, he will seem not dead, since he leaves after him one like himself,
Whom he looks upon through life with joy, and even in death, without regret:
The avenger he leaves against his foes, and the one to repay his friends with kindness.
He who spoils his son will have wounds to bandage, and will quake inwardly at every outcry.
A colt untamed turns out stubborn; a son left to himself grows up unruly.
Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief.
Share not in his frivolity lest you share in his sorrow, when finally your teeth are clenched in remorse.
Give him not his own way in his youth, and close not your eyes to his follies.
Bend him to the yoke when he is young, thrash his sides while he is still small, Lest he become stubborn, disobey you, and leave you disconsolate.
Discipline your son, make heavy his yoke, lest his folly humiliate you. “


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Remembering our Childhoods Even-Handedly: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, Chapters 3-6

Click here for my reflections on Chapters 1-2, which set up the story of this autobiographical novel by Betty Smith.

Francie Nolan deals with memories of both her parents fairly even-handedly. It is amazing to me how she can tell her story in the voice of a mature, wise woman, while reflecting on how she actually did see things while a young girl.

There is no real tenderness between her and her mother, Katie; yet she reveals the particulars of the painstaking ways her mother used to get by for the sake of her children. Her father, Johnny, is an alcoholic, bringing home very little income on his on-and-off-again job as a singing waiter; yet he has a beautiful soul that endears his children to him. She confesses that she did not know she was “supposed to be ashamed” of him.

It is during adolescence that she chooses to start this story; this is the time when the rosy glasses through which we see childhood start to come off. Then comes a stormy several years during which a growing girl’s mother seemingly does very little right, and her father can do no wrong. When we get older, and bear children ourselves, we see more clearly the sacrifices our own mothers have given for us, and see also that our fathers have some foibles that we hadn’t admitted before.

Katie is a genious in the kitchen. She can make all kinds of named dishes out of stale bread. She sends the children off for pennies worth of small ingredients to make a real meal. She has taught them all the “tricks” of dealing with the local shop-owners, such as how to make sure you receive unadulterated, freshly ground meat.

I have inherited the ways of this era, from tales of my second-generation maternal grandparents (whose parents came from Hungary and Italy), and refuse to waste a scrap of food. Rather than use recipes, I go by what I have fresh in the refrigerator. Whatever is oldest is used first. No meatloaf is the same; there is always some “secret ingredient”, which is perhaps some salad dressing that had to be used up soon. And when I make an egg-white cake, I save the yokes. These are whipped up for little ones that need the protein and fat for their developing brains. Ground eggshells can be used in the garden.

And yet, despite all her ingenuity, they always feel hungry. The reader can only feel pain for their empty little tummies. We wonder how the father could possibly drink away his sorrows while knowing he has two starving children at home, collecting junk to sell so they could buy stale bread. And how could he let his wife slave her youth away, scrubbing people’s tenements, including their own so they could have free rent? All he has to do is provide their food, and he is incapable of even that. His daughter truly is gracious in her memory, and yet she is allowing us to see the truth.

Certain quotes of her parents are remembered with sadness. It seems that she got them wrong when she was little, through her desire that things would be a bit rosier. But the actual conversations were clarified as she got older and saw things more realistically.

One night, Johnny goes off in a tangent, confiding to his daughter how he wished he never had any children; that he was never ready for this responsibility and it ruined his life. Suddenly he seems to see the effect of his words on his daughter and he tells her that he loves her.

Their lives are so imperfect, and yet the parents share a tenderness that is hard to believe amidst their turmoil. As Francie lies awake she hears them talking through the night, sharing and reminiscing. These moments, along with the hours spent with her books out on the fire escape in the shade of her beloved tree, seem to give her some peace of spirit.

Why has the author chosen to reveal these painful memories of her past, mixed with the solace of small pleasures? What has this to do with the tree that stubbornly grows through the cement? She has said that this particular tree thrives only in the poor neighborhoods. Is she saying she would not have become a great writer if it was not for her hardships? Certainly her writing would not have the same flavor, the descriptions of a life that could only be shown this way from within.

Her belief in God and faith in his plan is revealed here as well. He knew what He was doing when he planted her in the poor tenements of Brooklyn, with two young parents who didn’t know what they were getting into.

Follow me as I explore the rest of this novel, whether or not you have read it or plan to. “A Tree in Brooklyn” has become a commonly used metaphor in American life. In America, you are what you make your life to be.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Poem at MWLM

Today I am reposting a poem over at Mom Writers Literary Magazine blog that I wrote in 1997 and that first appeared here in February 2009.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What book should I blog about next?

If you enjoy reading my reviews of books I have read, or following my thoughts as I read through a book, maybe you can give me some ideas of books you would like for me to blog about. If I have read it I will review it here. If I have not, and it is a classic on my to-read list, I will consider it for my next selection. Over the next week or two I will primarily be writing about "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", but will try to make it interesting for those who are not reading it as well. As always thank you for reading and commenting!

Friday, June 5, 2009

How Times Change, and How They Don’t: Reflections on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, by Betty Smith: Chapters 1-2

Along with Loren Christie and one or two of our friends, I have just started reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, the autobiographical novel by Betty Smith that has earned its place in the Canon. This is a book I have long wished to read, if only for its title. My father, who grew up on Long Island, used to take the train daily to attend Brooklyn Preparatory High School, and has long prided himself on his “Brooklyn accent”, which he claims is the “King’s English”.

I don’t think anyone can read this without comparing the life of poverty led by the childhood character Francie with the way things are now. She and her brother Neeley would spend the week collecting recyclables and bring them to the junk shop every Saturday. Half was put into a tin can for family savings and the other half was split between the siblings, to be spent at the five-and-dime on silly trinkets.

Recycling has become the fashionable thing to do for those of all walks of life. I like to play a game to see how high I can fill the recycling containers – and sometimes even a second pail full – and then am happy to see the Town of Brookhaven take it away, sometimes even operating at a loss for the Town. After a party, I like to bring the soda cans to the grocery store and get some change in my pocket, even though I know I paid that deposit up front.

Back then, collecting and cashing in a recyclables was a necessity just to make ends meet. Even if the kids did not work for an income, this was a way they could contribute to the household budget. Nowadays, I still see several characters in our town roaming up and down the main road with grocery carts, picking up cans. If they are lucky, they will come up with enough to buy a 99-cent burger and a cheap bottle of wine to keep them warm at night.

If Francie let the junk shop owner pinch her cheek without flinching, she would get an extra “pinching penny”. It is so interesting to me how she and Neeley understood there was something wrong with this, and yet allowed it so she could get that extra penny. Sprinkled throughout that first chapter were mentions of other adult characters that the children knew to stay away from. And yet they were allowed free roam of the streets from dawn until dusk.

Nowadays we keep a good eye on our young ones, and many now have cell phones so their parents can know where they are at all times. Dangerous people have always been out there – what is the salient difference, I wonder? It seems to me that children back then were a lot more grown up, and trusted to be able to deal with the danger that is part of life.

The children go out to buy stale, day-old bread, and cheap cuts of meat for the family dinner. Three times a day they are allowed bitter, black coffee with condensed milk on the side; they are permitted to have plain coffee without milk as often as they like. Francie is permitted her coffee with milk although her mother knows she will pour it out after dinner. She just likes to hold the warm cup and smell the coffee. It makes them feel rich to be able to waste something.

This seems like such a significant trifle to mention. That, along with the fact that Francie will hide her day-old bread in a paper bag, shows that Francie’s family, although poor, has pride. Her mother cuts a fine figure, not looking like she cleans houses for a living. Her father is a drunk, but is well-loved by everyone in the neighborhood.

I loved the second chapter, in which Francie goes to the library. It makes me happy that Ben Franklin started the first free public library and that most towns have one. Her dream is to own ONE book of her own. That makes me thankful that I have so many, and that my kids have an abundance of them. It makes me feel very rich.

Francie reads a book a day, going through alphabetical order, thinking that eventually she can read every book that was every written. This draws her character close to my heart. I remember as a child reading how Anne of Green Gables was reading the dictionary one page at a time and I started to do the same thing. On the back of one of my books was a list of the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written and I vowed I would read them all; I am still working on it.

Read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” along with us! I will be blogging on this book as I go along.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Small Successes: Spring Gardening Edition


This spring I have had more time and energy to start new gardening projects, not because I am less busy but because my toddler now will let me work and enjoys helping as well.

In March I built four small raised beds. On March 27, the kids each took ownership of one and planted one crop in each square. We have already eaten some of the spinach and it was the sweetest and best I ever tasted! Here are pictures of what they look like today:

Mommy and Two’s Scarlet Nantes Carrots

Twelve’s Straight Eight Cucumbers

Ten’s Calabrese Broccoli

Eight’s Correnta Hybrid Spinach

In May, my eldest daughter turned over a larger vegetable bed for me. We planted several types of seeds in there. So far, we have a few string bean plants that have germinated.

And I finally staked a large rose vine to an arbor over my gate. I used to have this growing up my house, but the staples and thorns were damaging the shingles. When I found this wire arbor at Family Dollar, I took it home and carefully roped the rose vine to both the arbor and the fence. I also gave it a few good feedings. This promises to be a real beauty this year.

Click here for Volume 20 of Faith and Family Live’s “Small Successes”.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is Your Life Exciting or Boring?

I thought for sure that this blog quiz would tell me I led a boring life. After all, my vacations are all but non-existent and I haven't been out to eat at a restaurant in ages. But it seems that attitude counts more than circumstance. Here is my result:

You Live an Exciting Life

You are anything but a bore. You make sure that life is full of excitement.

You have an adventurous spirit, and you don't like to sit still for too long.

If you feel like doing something, you don't think about it. You just do it.

There's no way you could ever live a boring life. There's too much to do and not enough time.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In Celebration of Small Failures: A Gardening Disaster

I do love the new “Small Successes” forum that I have discovered on Faith and Family Live. Although I shared my own successes for last week, I have slipped into a series of small failures that are really just plain annoying and energy-draining. If failure is more common than success, why don’t I see more of it on the Catholic blogs I read?

I have discussed this with some of my personal blog friends, who publicly admit to having the frailties and weaknesses common to the human race. We find it annoying that so many bloggers are constantly putting up pictures of perfectly finished sewing projects. I know, because I sew as well, that on the way to that perfect finish there were seams that had to be ripped out, possibly even accompanied by some mild cursing.

One of my major muscle-building outdoor projects this spring has been working on my driveway, the one thing in the front of my house that really could use some improvement. It has not been repaved in a few years; grass was growing through the cracks throughout the middle, and the edges are crumbling away.

On one side I had a dozen Hosta bordering the edge, but so much grass had grown around them that my husband mowed over them the first mow of the season. When I had to mow the week approaching my son’s First Communion, I realized how very difficult it was to mow around them. I weeded around them, creating a nicer border garden, but the Hosta grew back a little straggly looking. I put down Preen weed control to prevent grass from coming back there.

On the other side, the grass had grown several inches over the edge of the driveway. (I’m probably scaring you now into thinking I have a Desperate Landscape. Really, I promise, the driveway is the only thing that looks this way!) I used a shovel to cut back to what I thought was the real edge, and painstakingly removed all the grass. I used all the dirt and grass I had removed to fill in a huge hole that the kids had made in the back lawn.

When I was done, I looked at what I had done with horror. Surely all the neighbors passing by were laughing at me. The edge I had trimmed started off narrow at the top of my driveway and widened to almost ten edges at the bottom of the driveway! Then I got sick and had to leave it that way for a week.

[On a side note, I lost my voice for the greater part of the week and was unable to yell at my kids. I made the slightly ironic discovery that people in the house will actually listen to me when I am whispering!]

In the meantime, I killed the weeds with vinegar. Yesterday I got out the crack filler. I checked the weather to make sure it was not supposed to rain in the next 24 hours. Then I got down on my hands and knees and painstakingly filled in the multitude of cracks that ran through the driveway. When the stuff stopped squeezing through the applicator tip, I opened it up and dumped the rest of it into a slightly large hole. Over the hole I placed a bench so that no one would step on it while it cured.

But, alas, it rained this morning! Although the majority of the filled cracks had solidified, the stuff in the hole was bleeding down the driveway. When the sun came out, most of the messy stuff evaporated away, but the filled hole is so soft I wonder if it will ever harden.

I got out the yardstick and, carefully measuring this time, removed an even twelve inches of grass in a strip running all along that edge, to match the other side. Then I took some Hosta from another area of the yard, divided it into twelve roots, and planted it every yard, also matching the other side. Now the only difference between the two sides is that the one side has Hosta their normal height, and the other side has Hosta that were dwarfed due to having been run over by the mower that one time.

I showered, made dinner, and rushed the kids to my son’s baseball pictures, only to find out that they had been rescheduled without a telephone call to me. On the way home, I suddenly discovered I had the full service of my voice back and hate to admit I did not use it well.

On the way to our successes, we have many small failures. If we can learn from our mistakes, that is one small success in itself.

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Essay about Me by my Son

This is the essay I received in my Mother’s Day card from my eight-year-old son. I just love to see how he really sees me, and can only try to live up to the ideal way in which he describes me.

Memories with my Mom

Christmas is my favorite holiday to spend with her
because we open presents.

The thing I admire about her the most is
when she hugs me.

The best advice I ever got from her is
don’t fight.

She always says to
wear a jacket.

I love her because
she is my mother.

She’s special because
she is nice.

She’s happiest when
everyone is listening.

She’s the funniest when
she finishes a crossword puzzle.”