Friday, 22 February 2013

Everything is Beautiful

...in its own way.   Now that the song is going through your head (you're welcome), I can continue.

I am fascinated by this site: Wind Map., which I found in this post at Open Culture.   It is an art piece created by artists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenburg.   Overhead images of winds are uploaded every hour and added to the moving piece which records the wind patterns across the United States.  

screen capture of one of the maps



I was especially amazed at this map as Hurricane Sandy as it built and pushed its way onto shore:

http://hint.fm/wind/gallery/oct-30.js.html

Please try the link since it shows the winds moving.

Wind, with all its destructive potential and power, is still an ordered and even beautiful phenomenon of nature.   We can witness its slow shaping of our landscape or its capacity for destruction in these artistic maps.   From a distance of space and time, we can observe and appreciate, or more likely and better, just gaze in wonder and awe.



7 Quick Takes

Here are my 7 Quick Takes as part of the link-up with Jennifer at Conversiondiary.com


1

The first time I noticed a post from this link-up, it was abbreviated 7qt.   I thought it was a link to a canning recipe or maybe Tupperware had a new big bowl, since I just glanced and saw what I thought was an abbreviation for 7 quarts.   Have to admit: little disappointed for a brief moment.   I really like my big Tupperware bowl.


2

My children are really getting bigger.   The girls helped me fill out birthdays on our calendar and I couldn't believe I had to write 7th and 10th on their birthdays.   I was blessed with some sleep sweetness this week and glimpses to remind me they're still little and it's not all gone by yet.



The boy.   I didn't catch a pic of big sister sleeping

3

I really enjoyed an article on Word on Fire this week: Lent: What I Have Done and What I Have Failed to Do.   Ellyn von Huben looked at different pieces of art with a Catholic eye.   It was fascinating and made me want to see the painting in person one day:

That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do by Illinois’ own Ivan Le Loraine Albright. It is known also by the simple title, The Door.

Over the years, I’ve started to see The Door in a different light, with a real sense of pain and understanding of That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. Now there are things that I should have done that I did not do: some small, some egregious. Seeing the decay, the funereal wreath, well beyond wilted, the withered hanky-clutching hand with a single pip of lily of the valley reaching for the door knob reeks of regret. The monumental size of the painting drives home the reality. Is this not a visualization of the words in the Confiteor “. . . in what I have done and in what I have failed to do”?

4

In an attempt to make my living room more cozy, I rearranged the furniture and began to rearrange the wall hangings.   I still have some old family photos and other pieces to hang, but it's a start and an improvement, I think.





I was happy to get more of Mama's paintings up in a more visible location.




5
Well, I finally had others to talk to about season 3 of Downton Abbey.  I watched it early after it aired in the UK.    I loved season 1, but 2 and 3 were a bit soap opera-ish, although 3 was an improvement on 2.   Without giving away any spoilers, I was very sad at Sunday's episode for the sake of one character, Mary.   It was especially sad as she expressed how only one person knew her true self.   But, I'll be honest, the way IT (the surprising event) happened was a little hokey.  I kept expecting an animated bluebird to sit on Matthew's shoulder as he drove.  I was feeling bad about that until I spoke to other friends who agreed.

6
I found this article, How Elementary Silenced Its Critics, about the CBS copy-cat Sherlock Holmes program, Elementary, where Holmes is set in modern times like the BBC original, Sherlock.    I was struck by this part of the piece, though, as the author talked about the difference between his viewpoint and that of the general viewing population:

Just as our Twitter feeds provide a warped porthole onto the outside world, magnifying a niche event until it feels as if everyone (not just that every one of the few hundred people we’ve chosen to listen to) is talking about it, so do sites like this. At any given time, plenty of people are getting on with their lives and planning to watch a bit of telly after work, not reading multiple reviews of the same thing and getting stuck in with the online debates. Den of Geek and its ilk spoil us for the real world.

It reminded me of a real danger for us in this internet age as we customize our own little world with opinions that mirror ours.   We run the danger of being too narrow in our understanding of what's going on in the world and limit our appreciation of God's beauty and truth in all its forms.   It's hard to make informed decisions with incomplete information.

I think of this when I see people arguing back and forth on Facebook (I'm not talking about reasonable discussions).   There are literally billions of people on the planet who have no idea of the controversy igniting tempers, who have no idea who you are, and I dare say, could care less.   Perspective.   A person can stay above the fray and still be a part of the New Evangelization in social media.

7
 Some of my dear friends, Lauren and Julia, and I have started a new Pinterest account called This Catholic Life.   You can find us at http://pinterest.com/CatholicLife/ as we pin favorites to inspire, encourage, or just to give us a good laugh.

Check out other Quick Takes at: Conversion Diary.com!




 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A New Painting: A New Reminder

As part of my recent attempts to cozy up our home (since it's only been almost two years since we moved in), I finally hung up this little painting I purchased in November.





I bought this from the artist at a festival.   It reminded me of the rolling farmland we saw from our windows on our many trips to east Texas over the past few years.   All those trips we made to my parents' home after my Mama's death and after my dad went into a nursing home.   All those trips to check on the house, to clean out the house, and to finally sell the house.   All those heavy, hard trips which left me drained and emotionally wrung-out.

But, take my word for it,  this picture is beautiful and it's bright.   It reminds me not of the heavy, hard trips, but of the glimpse of beauty and the true pleasure I took in seeing that beauty as we drove to our heavy destination.   It's a reminder of God always being there, of friends like Amber  who would meet me at the house and help me clean or watch the children.    It reminds me of the good of the past and all the good there still is in the future.

And we all need those little reminders every day. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

7 Quick Takes



My only camera right now is my iPhone and I can only take pictures for texting or posting on Facebook.   I lost my camera roll and can't save photos to my phone.   So, Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary is a great way to catch up on the blog.

Papa!



Not another one.   Not so soon.   Not the loss of another person so dear to me, who I look to for so much.   I still cry if you show me a tribute video of John Paul II.   But, I trust in God and I love His Church and this great Servant of Servants, Benedict XVI.   One of my favorite informative and thoughtful posts about the abdication was this one by Fr. George Rutler, the Anglophile par excellence:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/benedicts-decision-in-the-light-of-eternity

Here's an excerpt:

'In a grand paradox, nothing in him has become so conspicuous as his  desire to disappear. Christ gave the Keys to a Galilean fisherman with a limited life span. He chose Peter; Peter did not choose Him. When the pope relinquishes the Petrine authority, he does not submit a letter of resignation to any individual, for the only one capable of receiving it is Christ. This is why “renunciation” or “abdication”  is a more accurate term than “resignation” in the case of the Supreme Pontiff. Unless this is understood, the danger is that a superficial world will try to refashion the pope into some kind of amiable but transient office holder...But the papacy’s authority is absolute and not gratuitous, and its exercise cannot be only conditional and validated by human approval. Pope Benedict pays tribute to that imperial obligation of his office by  willing to relinquish it.'

"In the Light of Eternity": it's the only way to really consider anything.

Novel Approach

Last month, I read After This by Alice McDermott for my book club.   I wrote a post about it that was ridiculously long and felt too formulated, like a freshman literature essay, but I just felt and thought so much about the novel that I just couldn't contain it all, or manage how it came out.   Last week, I read my second McDermott novel: At Weddings and Wakes.   Why is her name not all over Catholic blogs (or have I just missed it)?   It was thoroughly Catholic and another beautiful work.   This one hit me much more, on a more personal level.   It is such a vivid description of dysfunction within families.   I am ready to devour and then savor the rest of her work.   I will be forever grateful for finding her; I leave her novels enriched and in awe of her abilities and their source, God, whose presence is so real in our lives if only we have "eyes to see and ears to hear."

Sick and Tired of Being...well, you know the rest

My sweet nine-year-old was able to return to school yesterday after being sick since Friday.   She had a fever and a scary cough, so I took her to the pediatrician who diagnosed her with bronchitis and put her on a Z-pack antibiotic.   The next day, she was unable to keep anything down,  had fever and bumps covering her body, so I took her to an urgent care clinic where a physician's assistant said she had an allergic reaction.   Emmeline told her she was starting to break out before we filled the prescription.   To which she received the reply, "Honey, I've been doing this twenty years, I think I know an allergic reaction when I see it."   That was Saturday.   Sunday, when the rash didn't go away, the fever spiked and the vomiting returned on Monday (after stopping the antibiotic on Saturday), we were back at the pediatrician's office.   Not an allergic reaction, Honey.   It was sad to see my child so sick, but I loved having her home.   Baby brother really loved it.   No fever and that cough is not so worrisome now.   Thanks be to God!

The Thick of It

No, not a diet update, that's coming up later.   I discovered a British comedy on Hulu Plus called The Thick of It.   It is hilarious classic British satire that has me laughing so loud I'm afraid I'll wake the children.   Warning: it does have British language.   There's a certain word that's vulgar here, but not considered so vulgar there, so it's not censored on British television.   The show follows the activity (antics) of the  Department of Social Works (ficticious).   Instead of any real accomplishments, the staff spends their time spinning stories, answering to the Prime Minister's enforcer, and cleaning up the mess of its incompetent Minister.   It could easily be a show about American political inner workings and if open mic tapes have taught us anything, the language of politics can be pretty salty, from any camp.

A Rose By Any Other Name



Even the Bard can't stand against technology.   Yesterday, one of the stories on BBC 4 Radio was about modern commercial hybrid roses.   For the sake of longer shelf life and uniformity, their scent and delicate appearance has been sacrificed.   Forget another name, even by rose, the modern commercial variety does not smell as sweet.   I couldn't get the report out of my mind as I passed tent after tent in parking lots yesterday.   Those temporary tents offer customers last-minute gifts so the Valentine's Day obligation is fulfilled.   An abundance of roses, but they lack the fullness of what makes a rose.   How many consumers even know the glories of a full-bodied, delicate rose whose fragrance is sensed before you are even close enough to touch it?   It reminded me of the post I read from Heather King about what processed food lacks compared to real food, in addition to what pornography lacks compared to real sex and ultimately to what really feeds us, satisfies us: The Eucharist:

 http://shirtofflame.blogspot.com/2013/02/food-rant.html

 Love The House You're In



I've been missing my old house lately.   I am SO grateful for our new home, but it just doesn't feel as homey and charming as the other one.   I realize I'm probably missing the time, not the house.   We lived there when our babies were small.   Things seemed so much more simple then.   This post at The Inspired Room was one to which I could really relate and I was motivated to hang some of Mama's paintings and her favorite prints in our living room, in attempt to get back to my real eclectic style:

http://theinspiredroom.net/2013/02/14/fall-in-love-with-your-home/


The Good Ole' Days?

I found this gem whilst looking for public domain images:


For more 7 Quick Takes, check out Conversion Diary:
 
http://www.conversiondiary.com/2013/02/7-quick-takes-friday-vol-207.html









Progress: Dieting During Lent

My Serious Diet, as compared to my other half-hearted 'I'm just going to eat better' attempts over the past few years, is going on week five now.   I didn't weigh during the first two weeks, determined that I would not let my life be ruled by a scale.   I finally gave in on week three, though.   My latest weigh-in today showed I've lost 14 lbs. since I first weighed.    Yay, me!   I'm hoping I'll soon be able to wear my wedding bands again.   On my finger.   Otherwise, that sentence may not make perfect sense and reminds me of a great Designing Women moment (as do most things):




It's interesting to diet during Lent.   I've never dieted during a real observance of Lent before.   It means none of my Lenten practices involve giving up any kind of food product beyond those requirements of Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday.   I'm already eating the minimum number of calories a person my current size needs to eat to have a healthy, well-balanced diet.   My big treat each day is to measure out a tablespoon of sunflower seed kernels and mix them with twelve chocolate chips.   It reminds me of a Reese's peanut butter cup candy and makes a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon energy booster.   On Mardi Gras, I saved all my fat allowances to have shrimp bisque and a slice of king cake.   Then, I went for a two-mile walk.   Valentine's Day, I used all my fat and some of my starch allowances to eat maybe 1/4 of a homemade brownie square.   No sunflower seeds & chocolate chips for me that day!  

I was living the dream...of another generation.

I love the particular diet program I'm using: the Richard Simmons Food Mover that I mentioned in a previous post.   Each day, I wake up to open windows in all the food groups.   Then, I get to choose what I will eat.   I can have anything, in a reasonable portion size, as long as I count the windows and balance it with my other choices throughout the day.   There are even windows for water consumption, motivation (I honestly never use these), vitamin, and exercise.   It gives boundaries, but within those boundaries, you are free to play.  It develops discipline and self-control as I measure and re-learn what makes a normal serving size.   Food tastes better as I appreciate it more in smaller amounts and with less frequency.   I can have potato chips as long as I count them out (12) and close 1 starch and two fat windows.   But then, I really recognize the kind of fat I'm eating and realize that can only be a maybe once a week or two weeks treat because those two fat windows aren't as healthy as they would be if I had closed them for something like grapeseed oil or an 1/8 of an avocado.



 Foods taste fresher and brighter with cooking techniques and seasonings becoming more important than saturated fats for flavor.   And it's so much cheaper to eat fresher rather than processed and convenient.   It really IS less expensive, but it takes more work and time.   It's a trade-off that involves paying it forward when it comes to health care.   The Food Mover is also a great system because it can be used for multiple purposes.   You could use it to lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight.   I lost motivation during my first pregnancy, but I initially asked the doctor how many calories I should eat, inserted that calorie card into my food mover and closed windows for a well-balanced diet.  In its versatility of purpose throughout various stages of life, it kind of reminds me of NFP!  



I've often wondered what a spiritual version of my food mover would look like.   Some sort of Soul- or Spirit-Mover, I guess.   It could be a system of accountability for making sure we made choices to use our time in the best way possible.   A fantastic guide for using our time is the spiritual classic Holiness for Housewives and Other Working Women.  You'd still need the windows for food, water, exercise, and vitamin because we must take good care of our bodies since they are a temple of the Holy Spirit into which we receive the Blessed Eucharist.   *The #1 Reason To Eat Healthy By The Way (Sorry, Vogue & Dr. Oz; I love much of your style & advice, but you're outranked here)*



At the bottom, instead of motivators, we could add the following windows and look forward to seeing them all closed at the end of each day:

1. Make a morning offering.

2. Pray at least one decade of the Rosary.

3. Attend daily mass or read & pray along with the church liturgy.  (Sunday of course is a day of obligation:))

4. Read a meditation of the day's gospel & pray over its meaning for me.

5. Read a portion of a spiritual book.

6. Evening prayers (including blessing my children)

7. Make an examination of conscience.

Hmmm...boundaries of guidelines and obligations w/freedom to play/pray within, all the while protecting us for our best well-being...sounds kind of like the Church, now, doesn't it?!

Then, we could use a few more windows for:

--Read from a good book.

--Listen to beautiful music and/or look at beautiful art.

--Spend at least 10 minutes outside.

--Good conversation

--At least 8 hours of sleep (ahem--guilty of not meeting this enough, but I struggle with falling asleep)

There's no reason I can't use my motivator windows for spiritual exercises.   I've crossed some sort of line and I'm in my healthy-eating groove now.   It's not as hard and it requires less thought.   Repeated, good choices becoming habit!   Now, I can keep it up and focus on the soul within this body.   Distraction of my physical self removed so I can focus on Christ and become the interior self that God intended.  Now, that's a Spirit Mover!


  

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Clean Sweep: Ash Wednesday


Each year at midnight, the hour which begins Ash Wednesday, this is the scene in the French Quarter.   Behind the last of the parades and revelers comes mounted policemen who line up across the entire street to sweep the crowds away.   They are followed by clean-up crews and street-sweepers so that by the time the sun casts her first rays on the Crescent City on Ash Wednesday, all but the smallest signs of the season's excess and sometimes, debauchery, have disappeared.

There's something so hopeful, so decent about this physical, concrete image.   Even in a city that prides itself on good times, there is still some respect and some solemnity left.   How many more tourist dollars could they bring in if they just allowed the party to continue?   Maybe turn the French Quarter into an amusement park where it's Mardi Gras all year?   But no, the streets are swept and the party people are sent home to assess their damages, regroup, and move ahead through the rest of their year.   Ash Wednesday still holds some draw on people so that our churches are packed with daily communicants standing alongside people who may not have been to mass since the previous Ash Wednesday or those who aren't even Catholic.   I've listened to several Ash Wednesday homilies where digs were incorporated about people coming on Ash Wednesday when they don't come the rest of the year.   Maybe the line between habit/superstition and mystery is blurred to our feeble earthly eyes.   Maybe this is one of those things beyond our explanation that we should revere and see as an opportunity to share the love of Christ.   Maybe in criticism, our focus on Christ is blurred as we focus on ourselves and what we believe to be our superiority because we are at mass every Sunday.   Maybe that effort to get there-- to get that physical mark-- has a desperate beauty in it that we miss.  There is beauty in the desperation of Zacchaeus from his treetop perch and in Mary Magadalene's tresses soaked to anoint the feet of her saviour.   Through the gospels, Christ gives us the example of how to meet people in their curiosity and desperation and to recognize our own desperate need.  

Last night, after the children were allowed to attack our Mardi Gras mantle and parade around the living room in their masks and beads, I did our own sweep.   The happy, gaudy decorations of the season were packed away and visual reminders of Lent took their place.   I'm a visual person and these items help remind me each time I glance in their direction.  It's a reminder not that the fun's over, but that our focus must be regained.   If we are open to the fun of the party, the celebration of the miracles and the entrance into Jerusalem, then we have to also be fully open to the sorrow of the betrayal, the trial and the crucifixion.   Close your heart to sorrow and you're closed to the full experience of joy.

 The impact on the children and our family mood when yesterday we saw this:



only to wake up the next morning to this was huge.


The museum poster, a detail from deVinci's painting of Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Infant Jesus, is a reminder to follow these two saints and keep my gaze fixed lovingly on Christ.




 So, this morning, this bright and beautiful Wednesday, we look forward to a season of forty days to spiritually clean up our act.   Let us rise up, begin the work of sweeping the darkness and sin from our hearts in order to tend to the Kingdom of God.   It's time for us to assess our damaged selves, regroup with the sacraments, penance, and fasting, and make our way through the beauties of the rest of our Church year.




From Prayer for the Morning in Magnificat:

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Distribution of ashes)

"During Lent, let us spend the gift of time seeking wisdom of heart taught by self-sacrifice, so that, dead to sin, we may rise to new life in Christ in whom death has died."

Entrance antiphon at Mass:

"You are merciful to all, O Lord,
and despise nothing that you have made.
You overlook people's sins, to bring them to repentance,
and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God."

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Sharing a Poem



A poem to share from the latest post at If Flannery Had a Blog :

ON VISITING FLANNERY
O'CONNOR'S GRAVE

Milledgeville, Ga., 1988

--MAXINE KUMIN
...but first, an historic detour just this side
of what the local intelligentsia
in fond self-deprecation call Mudville
to take the cart track up to Andalusia,
the family seat, a serene remove from town,
as in a good Victorian novel.

Here, from the first-floor bedroom window
even on those last dark days, she could see
her beloved peacocks pecking and fanning,
the tribe of philoprogenitive donkeys
ambling down to the farm pond in the meadow,
a grove of ancient pecan trees bending
to be picked. Not antebellum grand,
but commodious Andalusia, with real gardens
harrowed every spring with real manure,
so that it's touching but not surprising that
when Mary McCarthy remarked, years before,
she had come to think of the Eucharist as a symbol,
O'Connor, considerably put out
by lapsed Catholic rhetoric, flared,
"Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."
...

Not as I pictured her, enthroned
on high, fiercely Promethean
with eagles, say, or lions on the headstone --
but the square, unlandscaped family plot
sans even a drooping willow seems right.
Aligned with her father, three great-aunts opposite,
space for the mother who outlives her yet,
Flannery lies unadorned except by name
who breathed in fire and fed us on the flame.

[from Looking for Luck: Poems (W. W. Norton &; Company, 1992), pp. 45-47]

Lent: On His Authority

I was one of those people who woke up Monday morning and thought there was a mistake on my Facebook news feed.   A mistake or a joke.   The Pope, our beloved Papa Benedict XVI, had resigned?!   My nine-year-old was still snuggled up beside me in bed, where she's been for several nights due to fever and other symptoms upon which I needed to keep a close watch.   I said aloud, as I read, "The pope resigned this morning."  

"Can he do that?" was her response.  

"If he's doing it, that means he certainly can," I replied. 
   


 There are few mortal individuals who have ever understood what a pope can or cannot do--or most topics related to the Church and theology-- as well as the brilliant Benedict XVI.   Later, came the flood of posts on social media about the other popes in history who have abdicated and the licit nature of the act according to Canon Law.  

I'm good with this.   I mean, I'm terribly sad and I still need time to process losing my second dear Papa.   I wish this wasn't the end of his papacy.   But, I'm good with his prayerful, thoughtful decision.   Even more important, I'm good with the Church through all of this.   I am stunned, but not shaken.

I couldn't help but think how this announcement fell into place with the Lenten idea that has been occupying my thoughts lately.   I've found that some of my best times of spiritual growth during Lent have been when there's been a theme to the season for me, rather than a personal To-Do/Not-To-Do list with items to mark off.   Sometimes, the theme was not chosen, but was only recognizable later as a result of the circumstances of my life at that time.   For example, pregnancy during Lent or Advent has been very fruitful (see what I did there?) for me.

This year, based on so many things happening in my personal life, my community, and the larger Catholic world,  the theme Authority seems to be foremost in my mind.   My conversion story, like most, is long, but my major conversion actually happened a few years after I first became Catholic in 1997.   It was in 2001 that I realized that I couldn't pick and choose my beliefs as I had done before I belonged to any church.   I came to the realization that I had to delve deep into the faith and that meant I might not like what I found.   That might mean leaving the Church and potential fall-out from that move for my marriage that was only a little over three years old.

By the grace of God, I delved deep, but found that it was not individual doctrines that made me secure in my decision to become Catholic.   Every study found me coming back to the issue of authority.   Part of that was natural because of my past.   Although I was raised un-churched, anti-Catholicism was part of the very air around me in the mostly-Protestant section of Louisiana where I lived.   It was when I could see the historical proof  and logic of Christ having given His Church--His one, holy, and apostolic church--the authority to speak for Him and carry on His teaching on earth that the foundations of my faith became secure.   It was when, through the total gift of faith, I accepted that authentic authority as being enough for me that I found peace.

The Church's authority is what keeps me from worrying about mass in the vernacular or women not covering their heads or. well, a pope abdicating, because if the Church says it's licit, that's enough for me.   As one of my favorite Catholic speakers, Rosalind Moss, shares from her own experience as a zealous convert, "You don't have to be more Catholic than the Church."   If you are personally called to do something like fast longer than the minimum 1 hour required before receiving Holy Communion, that's beautiful.   But, it's a personal calling that you don't have to place upon other Catholics who fast for only 1 hour.  I'm not saying that we should always be content with the minimum, but we should prayerfully discern what we are called to in our practice of the faith.

If the theme of my Lent is Authority, what will this look like?   

Authority In Practice:  As We Experience It Through the Church's Bishops and Priests

During this Lent, I want to focus again on my faith.   I plan to return to some solid works of Church history and apologetics.   I also want to avail myself of the sacraments more often.   We live only a half - mile from our parish and there's no reason I can't get to the adoration chapel  daily and worship at more daily masses.   I want to establish a better schedule for simple family prayer and make sure we keep to our schedule of eating around the table on time.

I live in a community where we have five Catholic parishes, with 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration available at most of them.   We have parish priests offering beautiful masses in lovely sanctuaries.   These same priests would all welcome any person who wanted to meet privately for counselling or for confession and reconciliation.   We have a parish bookstore full of great Catholic books and a lending library.  I haven't been able to participate in all that is offered through our parish and diocese.   We are privileged to have it all at our disposal and I want to get myself and my family on our knees at home and through the church doors more often.

Authority In Practice: As We Experience It In Our Home


When we spent our second summer in England while my husband was doing historical research, I found myself with time on my hands as he pored through archives in the library at Liverpool.    In London, I went all over the city while he was in the archives, but in Liverpool, I stayed in the library and brought along my own reading.   One of the books was a gospel study and the following verses had a huge impact on my life:

Matthew 8:5-13
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly." Jesus said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?" The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

At the time, I was an elementary school teacher who had previously taught middle school.   From my first year of teaching, I developed a reputation for classroom management and an ability to handle some difficult students.   Instead of humbly accepting those abilities as a gift, I began to be prideful.   I took great pride in knowing how well-managed my classroom was and how rare it was for me to ever have to seek help from an administrator in my classroom.   When I read the verses above, my whole focus in my classroom changed.   It ordered my goals as a new parent, but in recent years, I have found myself in need of a refresher!

In this painting, the centurion's very posture shows him kneeling before Jesus' authority.


In the passage above, we find a centurion asking Jesus for help.   A centurion was a Roman officer in charge of a century made up of 60-80 men.   It took years as a soldier to become a centurion and they were the backbone of the Roman army.   This centurion was a military man, raised in a system of rules and order.   The rules and order were not for pageantry, but were necessary for a well-run army and navy.   The military can only be effective when there is a true team working to complete a task or accomplish a goal.   A key part of this teamwork is recognizing those who are in authority and then responding promptly to the exact directions of those persons.   It places a responsibility on the officers to be just, well-informed, and well-trained.  

This particular Roman centurion recognized Jesus as being a person with authority.   Due to his military training, he was well-trained to respond to authority once he recognized it.   His recognition of Jesus' authority was a gift of faith.   His ability to respond to Jesus and to accept his word because of his authority was a result of his years of training.

 So, this Lent, I want to focus on my role as an authority figure in my home.  That means a renewed commitment and effort to being just, well-informed, and well-trained, so my children will grown up in a system of just authority in our home.   That means they also need to see me as I respond to the authority of the Church in my own life.   What do my words and actions say about how I feel towards the Church, her bishops, and her priests?   Am I faithfully kneeling to the authority of the Church?



The goal for order and discipline in my home and our family time must not focus on efficiency, good citizenship, or avoiding embarrassment in public.   The focus of our family's structure and time needs to be: responding properly to authority.   And that starts with me.   How do I use the time I am gifted with each day?   What example do I set for how we should use our leisure time?   Are my instructions given in a just manner or are they a result of frustration or anger?  Do I exercise my authority differently when in the presence of "witnesses?"

Leave it to Holy Mother Church to take care of me.   She provides me with the season of Lent to focus on Christ, through prayer, fasting, study, and the sacraments.   It is my prayer that this Lent leads to a more just and better-prepared mother for my children and a structure for our home life that is more conducive to them responding properly--and lovingly--to my authority.    The small earthly goal for Lent, so that we can hope to receive the same response as the centurion one day, in heaven: "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." 

May your Lenten journey be fruitful and may God bless the Church through this time of transition.   Amen.









Monday, 11 February 2013

What a Week!

I think we'll all be a little tired come Saturday!


Monday: News that we're losing our Papa Benedict XVI as he announces his abdication.


Tuesday: Laissez les bon temps rouler because it's Fat Tuesday, cher!



Wednesday: Penance and Fasting on Ash Wednesday as Lent begins



Thursday: Celebrate because it's St. Valentine's Day!

Friday: Penance and Fasting for the first Friday of Lent


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Book Snobbery



It's funny the ideas people can get about you.   I have been met with so many surprised reactions when I expressed my belief in play being the most important learning activity for my children before kindergarten.   I didn't push them to read early or to memorize impressive things.   Then, there was the grammar thing.   I like grammar memes and cartoons.   This goes back to my teaching days and sharing frustrations with fellow teachers over common mistakes that just irritated the everlasting stew out of us.   Since I've shared these on Facebook or Pinterest from time to time, I've earned a reputation as some sort of Grammar Nazi.   I ask you, would any self respecting Grammar Nazi submit this paragraph?



I think people are also surprised by my recommendations when it comes to children's literature.   If they know me well enough, they know I was a teacher and I love reading, especially classics.   So when I share favorite children's literature, some of my choices probably appear pretty shabby alongside their expectations of what might come from someone who loves reading and sharing that love of reading with children.

I am on a little crusade to expose people to more picture books and to help cultivate genuine respect for them.   It's always been a gripe of mine when I see people dismiss picture books as baby books.   Too often, chapter books are seen as the highest form of reading a child can do.   Parents are ecstatic to say their child is reading chapter books in kindergarten and first grade and picture books get shelved in favor of this more impressive achievement, even though some picture books are classified at a higher reading level than some novels.   It's about literary elements and vocabulary, not length.

I suppose this attitude towards picture books in children's literature is not that different from that which exists amongst those who consider poetry and short stories to be lesser works than novels in literature.  Both attitudes are the result of ignorance.   As I tend toward the verbose in my own writing, I have tremendous admiration for any author who can develop characters, plots and themes with a small amount of words.   It's a special gift and not to be considered less than those who do so in works of longer length.   Picture books in children's literature are like the poetry and short stories: equally fine works, but in a different form.   To shelve good picture books as a child gets older is to deprive them of literary nourishment.   I used picture books in my middle school Pre-AP (Advanced Placement) classroom to teach many higher-order literary concepts.   Exposure to those books was probably more effective in helping me teach those concepts than exposure to novels at that grade level.  To never enjoy good picture books as an adult is also a loss.  

An easy place to start your exploration of quality picture books is with the Caldecott Medal award list.  This list gives the Medal winners and Honor Book winners from 1938-present.   Like the Newberry award for children's novels, you can trust the books from this list to be of high quality.   It should be a goal to expose your child to as many of these books as possible.   There is no age/grade cut-off for reading picture books!

 The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. 

Past winners include:

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans 1940
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey 1949
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 1963 
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 1964 
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig 1970
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble 1979
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg 1986
Tuesday by David Wiesner 1992
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 1999


Two of my personal favorite authors of picture books are Tomie dePaola and Patricia Polacco.   You can find a list of  dePauola's books at his website.   I used his books in many a lesson when I was student teaching.   They were guaranteed to keep the attention and spark the imaginations of my middle schoolers, boys and girls alike.  Tomie dePaola has probably done more to improve the perception of and attitude toward native peoples in North America than any special interest group.

When I think of authors of any genre, for children or adults, Patricia Poloacco is always in my list.   Her talent as a story-teller is remarkable.  Please take the time to listen to this amazing master of personal narrative.   Her book, The Keeping Quilt, is one of my favorite pieces of literature.   If you can read that aloud without crying at the end, you're a better person than me. 




The point of this post is not to give a comprehensive list of my favorite picture books.   That would be such a longggggggggg list!   I will try to make a separate post with more favorites, though.   Instead, I hope to bring about recognition of these books as being quality literature, on equal footing with any children/young adult novel.   Yes, I want every single child to read and enjoy classics such as Treasure Island, Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green GablesThe Little House on the Prairie series, anything by Beverly Cleary (who honestly is often not given her due by literary snobs), and so many others, but I don't want the beauty and treasure in picture books to be relegated to a few short years early in a child's development and then dismissed for more "serious" or "real"  literature.   Long live the Picture Book!   Death to Book Snobbery!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Goulash: It's What's For Dinner (A Lot)



One of Mama's go-to meals is now a standard in my meal rotation.   I always keep ingredients on hand, so when in doubt, I know we can have goulash.   It is an easy, quick, nutritious--and even cheap--meal that may be easily multiplied.   It warms up well, also.   My children love goulash (the corn makes it sweet), especially when served with green beans and homemade buttermilk biscuits. 

I use half turkey and half beans for the protein component of this recipe.   I drain the beans in a colander and then rinse them to remove some of the salt.   I usually buy no-salt added canned diced tomatoes and sauce.
I usually use whole-grain pasta.  

Mexican-Style Goulash

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. lean ground turkey (93/7)
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed with water
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, no salt added, undrained
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce, no salt added
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoons -1 teaspoon salt, according to tastes
2/3 cup uncooked whole-grain elbow pasta

Instructions:

In a large skillet, cook turkey, onion, bell pepper and garlic over medium-high heat until meat is no longer pink.   Add black beans.   Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn, water, chili powder, oregano, and salt.   Bring to a boil.   Add pasta.   Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Serve topped with shredded cheddar or grated Parmesan.


Servings: 5 (1 cup each)
Exchanges: 3 lean meats, 2 vegetables, 1 starch

A Recipe for Mardi Gras: King Cake

My post this month is up at Bourbon and Boots.com and it’s all about the star attraction at any Mardi Gras gathering: King Cake.

Check out a little history of the holiday and a recipe for a delicious homemade King Cake:

One common element of the celebration, enjoyed by schoolchildren, families, and French Quarter revelers, is the King Cake. Made from a traditional yeast dough, the ring-shaped cake is frosted and decorated with colored sugars. The cake is named after the Three Kings who visited the baby Jesus and it is first served on Epiphany, the day which commemorates their visit. It is the custom to place a small baby figurine inside the cake. The person who finds the baby is responsible for bringing the next king cake or throwing the next party. Every teachers’ lounge and break room in south Louisiana will have at least one of these pastry treats every Friday during the season.   




Sunday, 3 February 2013

God Made A Farmer

I watched most of the first half of the Super Bowl tonight.   I tried to watch the half-time show, but I had to change the channel.   I am not a prude, but I was saddened by the show.

Then, there was a bright, shining moment from Dodge.   Their commercial for their Ram trucks focused on the heart of America: the farmer.   There is no more noble profession than that of the men and women who toil and till the land, who raise the crops and livestock which feed our nation and the world.   In the midst of wondering what is to become of us as a people, there was this glimmer of hope in what built this nation and who still lies at the heart of what makes it great.

The commercial reminded me of my farming ancestors, of my life on the farm, and of those many times when our family would sit in the car, after we arrived home, waiting to hear the end of Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story."   God Bless the Farmer and God Bless America.




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