Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fed-Up with February

February, I’m through with you! 

I’ve had enough of your bad news,
Winter blues, and worn-out shoes.
I can’t wait until I can march on over
into something that resembles Spring. 

I’m ready to have a word
with this Punk named Phil. 
They say he’s so tawny,
but my sources say he’s scrawny.

Groundhog, get back into your hole.
It’s time to slow your roll.
I’ve had enough ice and snow.
This slush fund gotta go. 

Stop hibernating and listen.
Your latest ratings are fizzing
Out like a light, blow out a candle
I’m gonna guess this
Is more than you can handle.
You’re billed as the prediction to follow.
Too bad your meteorology’s hollow.

Even the movie about your day
Is nothing but a broken record
stuck on play.
If Bill Murray’s willing
to kill all the gophers
Without any reason,
Then you best be looking out
For even the slightest
scent of treason
instead of allowing
this lousy lingering season
to last even so long as
another month and a half.

No tunnels are deep enough to escape dynamite.
Dina might blow her horn,
put a stop to your whole operation,
Your systemized manipulation 
of adults who should have better sense
than to give recompense to a furry creature
clueless as to what’s happening
from sapping their long-time gimmick
too silly to fit in a concise limerick
about two pouncing cats,
street scrappers without any clappers

left standing at the end of the day. 

February, it is so over.
Go ahead and get gone. 
I'm ready to get my spring on!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not the Mama (My Nanny Diary)

I’ve been thinking about how eleven years ago I was taking care of two little boys who I loved and cared for as if they were our own.  Most weeks, I took care of them for 50+ hours, so we became very close.  We were together so often that not a day or long weekend would go by that I wouldn’t be thinking, talking, or dreaming about them.  By Sunday evening, if not sooner, I always missed them and was grateful I would get to see them bright and early Monday morning.  

One weekend, Kevin and I took care of one of “my little guys” so his parents could get a much needed couple of nights away, just the two of them.  Their son was so used to me taking care of him and Kevin coming over to visit that he never once asked where his parents were. 

Not even when I was the one to come and get him when he woke up in the morning.  His only comments were about what I was wearing: “Glasses.” (He usually only saw me when I was wearing contacts.) and “Stripes” (The pattern on my pjs).  He didn’t spend the weekend sulking or pouting that his parents were gone.  Of course, he was incredibly excited to see them when they came home.   

That weekend was the annual Walk for Life held by our local Pregnancy Resource Center.  We made posters, and my family members took turns pushing his stroller during the walk which began at Immanuel Baptist that year.  Back then my dad was still able to join us for the Walk as well as Mass at Church of the Epiphany.  He was actually quite thrilled to have one of our family’s favorite little guys at church with us. 

Sometimes when I watch our nephew playing, I remember what my dad was like when he’d come to visit or meet up with me and “my two little guys.”  Dad always loved being around kids and came up with a seemingly endless array of ways to entertain them without any toys.  There are times when I feel as though my heart is being pierced because I don’t get to see our nephew and my dad playing together, at least not in person on this side of Heaven. 

Lord, thank You for the blessing of the children You have brought into our lives to care for, love hold, dry their tears, laugh with, sing, dance, and pray with over the years.  Please help us be open and loving to those children who remain in our lives or will come into them soon.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Birthday Party: Oldest of the Three Silly Sisters Turns Five

 They know how to throw a child’s birthday party.  Snacks, drinks, and birthday cake were offered.  Chairs were lined up around the room for optimum visiting opportunity.  One of the twins would let out a jubilant yell each time someone else would come in the front door.  The birthday girl would run to hug the latest guest.  Everyone was welcomed and free to be themselves. 

Her aunts and uncles enjoyed playing Tic/Tac/Toe and Hangman on the magnetic erase elephant they spotted.  In other words, there was an elephant in the room, and they made good use of it.  Balls of tissue paper kept flying across the room as certain (older) siblings couldn’t resist the temptation to pelt each other whenever possible.  New stuffed animals were passed or tossed around.  The fluffy sheep made the rounds of the family members who have the sound that particular animal makes in their last name. 

Both sets of grandparents were in attendance.  The birthday girl was enthusiastic and efficient about opening presents.  Once some of the more elaborate toys were unwrapped, batteries added, and such, a roomful of intelligent adults and three young children watched intently as a pink puppy dog and matching car motored around on the floor. 

I decided I wasn’t going to risk using my phone camera for this event.  Yes, my camera was probably the oldest one being used and likely has the lowest number of megapixels per square anything, but so what.  I feel I was able to capture the spirit of the party and the essence of what was happening all around. 

I’m grateful that these friends of ours do not feel it is necessary to come up with any party games or specific activities they want everyone to participate in.  They just let people come, love on their three adorable girls, and enjoy spending time together over cake, an assortment of old toys and some brand new ones.    

The event was scheduled to last (and did) a reasonable for young children when cake and presents are involved amount of time of two hours.  I imagine if Kevin and I had children of our own, that celebration is very much what their birthday parties would look like: laid back, fairly simple, enjoyable for adults as well as the under six age group, and fun. 

Lord, thank You for the gift of this family and this beautiful little girl in our lives.  She has brought so much joy, laughter, and blessings to us in such a short time.  May she always know how loved she is by You as well as her family and friends.  Amen.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Let's Hear It for the Boys! (My Nanny Diary)

This week I received a photo card that brought a huge smile to my face.  Though it's still easier for me to envision the little blond cutie as an infant and toddler, he's a quite handsome young man now.  I've already been thinking about how eleven years ago I was taking care of two little boys who I loved and cared for as if they were our own.  

Most weeks, I took care of them for 50+ hours, so we became very close.  We were together so often that not a day or long weekend would go by that I wouldn’t be thinking, talking, or dreaming about them.  By Sunday evening, if not sooner, I always missed them and was grateful I would get to see them in the morning.    

One weekend, Kevin and I took care of one of “my little guys” so his parents could get a much needed couple of nights away, just the two of them.  Their son was so used to me taking care of him, and Kevin coming over to visit that he never once asked where his parents were. 

Not even when I was the one to come and get him when he woke up in the morning.  His only comments were about what I was wearing: “Glasses.” (He usually saw me wearing contacts.) and “Stripes” (The pattern on my pjs).  He didn’t spend the weekend sulking or pouting that his parents were gone.  Of course, he was incredibly excited to see them when they came home.   

That weekend was the annual Walk for Life held by our local Pregnancy Resource Center.  We made posters, and my family members took turns pushing his stroller during the walk.  Back then my dad was still able to join us for Mass at Church of the Epiphany.  He was actually quite thrilled to have one of our family’s favorite little guys at church with us. 

Sometimes when I watch our nephew playing, I remember what my dad was like when he’d come to visit or meet up with me and “my two little guys.”  Dad always loved being around kids and came up with a seemingly endless array of ways to entertain them without any actual toys.  There are times when I feel as though my heart is being pierced because I don’t get to see our nephew and my dad playing together, at least not in person on this side of Heaven. 

Lord, thank You for the blessing of the children You have brought into our lives to care for, love hold, dry their tears, laugh with, sing, dance, and pray with over the years.  Please help us be open and loving to those children who remain in our lives or will come into them soon.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Time to Grieve, the Need to Mourn

I had a heavy heart and felt that I was close to tears for most of that day, but I wasn’t sure all of the reasons why.  I could identify some of them.  It's been a rough month for our family in year's past. My grandma was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in February of my Freshman year of high school.  A loved one suffering from depression needed to be hospitalized for the first time that month to stay safe and remain alive.  Both of my grandmothers' funerals were in the beginning of February: one when I was 11 and the other just two years ago.  My grandmother who had cancer lived to the ripe old age of 89.     

Last year February was pretty miserable unfortunately. What's worse, three years ago, the sadness seeped into March with news that my cousin John Niermeyer had taken his life.  The last time I had seen John was at my dad's funeral in 2009.   

Tears didn't start streaming down my face until I read on Facebook that 13 years ago on February 8th was when a friend of ours lost his son to suicide. The message below and photo above are from Robert's dad, whose last name is also Potter.  (He and his wife are siblings in Christ to Kevin and me, but not blood relatives, as far as we know). 

"It was 13 years ago you chose to leave us. Miss you and love.
Thanks to the great people that I saw today at Church of the Sacred Heart and St. Edward's, though you may not have said anything today, seeing you reminded me of all the good in this world.
A special thanks to Chris D for the tears of joy he brought me this afternoon.
May God continue to bless all that have lost a loved one to suicide."
Daniel Calder

We are blessed that Galen and his wife Janet have shared their faith journey with us.  We know them through Cursillo, but we've gotten to know them even better as they are in our Spiritual Direction class with us.  The four of us are paired up as spiritual direction partners for this year. Seeing this Facebook post reminded me of the heart-to-heart we had during our Spiritual Direction retreat in September when Galen shared with me about what had happened with his son.

Last spring, I served on team with Julie, whose son Daniel took his life in 2013.  During our team overnight at Richmond Hill, I asked to speak with Julie after people had retired to their rooms.  I told her that I have experienced bouts of depression for years, including periods of wishing my life would just end.  I asked her to pray for me.  I know that she did and has been. 

I still don’t know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one due to suicide or some other tragic and unexpected death.  I’m sorry for your loss isn’t adequate.  I’ll hold you while you cry seems more appropriate.  I can do that.  I’ll pray for you is the best I can offer, so I do.  I know I don’t have the ability to take away someone’s pain, but I will be present and prayerful in the midst of their hurting.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Write is to Write is to Write

Last month, reading On Writing Well and The Writer Who Stayed by William Zinsser raised some interesting questions for me.  Am I writing predominantly for the sheer joy of it and/or more because it helps me process my ideas and record my thoughts in a place where they are safe for me to mull over without external interference? 

As I have been reading different columns and magazines, blogs, and online articles in addition to good old fashioned books, it’s occurred to me to wonder what my motivation is for writing.  I like to write and feel compelled to do so.  More recently, I have felt more aware that it is a talent I’m meant to use and need to be responsible for. 

When it comes to what I’m passionate about, sometimes I get lost in a sea of my own “coulds” and “shoulds.”  No matter where I look, it seems I’m reminded of another thing I could or should be doing: organizing, cleaning, decorating, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, doing laundry, writing thank you notes, composing another blogpost, reworking a piece and submitting it to a publisher of periodicals, reading and reviewing books, coming up with some dances to do to the new CDs we have at school which I’ve brought home to listen to during the break… 

I don’t like feeling uneasy, unable to concentrate on or be fully present in the moment.  I feel that I should always be doing something useful and beneficial to other people with my time.  I could be praying or reading something uplifting.  I could always be doing something, but then I’m reminded that I’m a human being addicted to doing.  Do I really believe way deep down in my soul that God, my family, and close friends would love me even if I was not frantically running about from one activity to the next?

Yes, I believe that about God and those closest to me, especially when I slow down long enough to listen and allow myself to be loved and accepted just the way I am.  

I’m brought right back to the theme of my Cursillo weekend in June 2006: “Be Still and Know.” That message and practice of being in God’s presence came at a time when I was pretty anxious and unsure of what was next.  Here's my favorite book on the theme by a local author and fellow Cursillista: Sabbath Presence.  

Can You Hear Me Now?

“This isn’t about me.  This is about a 4th Day obedience to prayer,” a gentleman said, holding up a stack of his journals.  I knew the man giving witness talk at last Friday’s Ultreya was talking to me.  Sometimes, I get away from writing even though I know it is good for my ongoing discernment, prayer, personal growth, and processing through the written (or typed) word.  I had never been to an Ultreya before last Friday at which the witness focused solely on journaling as an important and powerful form of prayer.  Yes, God, I’m listening.  Got the message loud and clear.  Just write! 

Someone asked if my journals are written in the form of letters to God.  I have both regular this is what I did today journals as well as those that are specifically prayer journals.  Often my journal entries in recent years have been a hybrid of the two.  Many times, processing events, thoughts, and feelings through writing leads me to prayer and contemplation.  I used to keep one report of the dailies sort of journal as well as a prayer journal. 

I also tend to write poetry, prose, and verse in some longer pieces of journal entries.  Some of it I share with others and others I don’t.  If only one person on the planet gets to read or hear it, usually that would be Kevin and/or occasionally a cloistered Carmelite.  

On Friday at Mass, the priest spoke about the importance of personal prayer time as well as sharing the riches from that with the community.  I have often thought that if I don't spend ample time in prayer and contemplation, spiritual reading and study, that I won't be grounded or well-read enough to have anything worthwhile saying.  I realize some saints weren't even literate.  I know what I'm lacking in holiness can never be made up or compensated for by how many books I've read.     

Lord, thank You for reminding us in a myriad of ways how we can pray, become closer to You, and live out all of the vocations to which You have called us.  Amen.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Dominicans Rejoiced and So Did We!

From the time a friend announced on Facebook that she would be taking her Final Promises as a Lay Dominican, I was inspired to be there to witness it.       

Kevin and I went to St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish in Charlottesville for the final profession of lifelong promises that Pam Pilch and a number of other men and women took on the Feast day (January 28) of St. Thomas Aquinas to become lay Dominicans (formerly known as the third order)

That night I felt was a coming together of past, present, and future.  Last August, Kevin and I went to St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish for the funeral of Monsignor Chester P. Michael, the man who developed the program for laity that is known as the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI).  Kevin and I are currently taking the two year course in spiritual direction which he created.  

The first time since the funeral in August that we returned to St. Thomas Aquinas was on the Wednesday evening towards the end of January to support Pam living out her vocation to prayer, contemplation, preaching, teaching, and service as a lay Dominican. 

I actually don’t know Pam all that well personally.  What I do know and have witnessed is that she is a prayerful, faith-filled woman who is actively seeking, discerning, and doing her best to live out God’s will for her life.  God comes first, then her husband and their three sons.  Another thing that inspired me to learn more about Pam is that her ongoing vocational and career discernment has by no means ended, and I can totally relate to that.  (One of my favorite poems/ prayers for discernment St. Teresa of Avila’s "In Your Hands," which you can read here).         

Each person, whether taking temporary promises for three years, one year, or final promises for life, chooses a formal name by which they’ll officially be known in the community.  Pam chose Sister Catherine Scholastica as her name. 

This is the profession that each candidate made kneeling before the altar: “To the honor of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and of Blessed Mary, the Virgin, and St. Dominic, I ___________, in your presence, Marta, the Presider of this Fraternity, and Fr. Scordo, in the place of the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, promise that I will live according to the Rule of the Laity of Saint Dominic for life.” 

After the blessing of the Large Scapulars, this was prayed: “O God, the author and perfecter of all holiness, you call all who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity.  With the aid of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, look with kindness on your servants, who devoutly receive this scapular of our Order.  Let them become sharers in the image of Christ your Son, and after they have fulfilled their mission on earth, with the help of the Virgin Mother of God and the Patron of the Order, may they be worthy to enter into the joy of Your house.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Presider says to the newly promised: “Having been clothed with this scapular of our Order, you have been accepted into the Lay Fraternity of Saint Dominic for life, that you may continue to eagerly serve Christ and His Church in the spirit and charism of this Order; and by the power vested in me, I affirm your participation in all the spiritual goods of the entire Dominican Family.”   

Pam’s husband and three sons were in attendance for the Mass.   We saw them across the church, but we didn't get a chance to say hi in person.  They weren’t up for staying through Evening Prayer and the reception afterwards, so Kevin and I got to be Pam’s guests.    

It was great to be there with Kevin for the Mass and reception, see people I recognized from other activities such as 40 Days for Life, and support a God-centered friend.  Again, past, present, and future collided, and I could see a glimpse of brighter light, hope, and opportunity than I had before.   

Lord, thank you for the gift and blessing of faith-filled friends who inspire us to draw ever closer to You.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Humble Blogging Beginnings

I have been and will continue to be revamping my blog.  I'm going to have a page for each of the major categories of posts I do.  It's taken me a while to get all of the book review links together since I have over 160 of them--and those are just the full-fledged, official reviews I've done since I started this blog back in August 2009. 

I had a blog before that, but that's when I began the current one, in part, because I attended my first Catholic Writers Conference and felt I should have a blog and website up before handing out my business cards and networking with other authors, publishers, and editors.  I never thought that my first posts on this new blog would be ones I wrote and posted after my father's death.  (This was my very first post on here: Presence and Absence.)

Budgets, Books, and Blogging 

There’s nothing like someone asking me for help, guidance, or advice in an area to make me realize how important it is that I’m doing my best to put into practice whatever suggestions I would make for them.  Last Saturday, I met with a good friend of ours who knows a great deal about budgeting and is interested in sharing what he’s learned.  Before we met, he was leaning in the direction of putting a book manuscript together and trying to get it published. 

Once we were discussing his vision, it became clear that he wants to do this predominantly to help other people.  He’s not looking to make money off of this.  He’s not hoping for sudden stardom or a New York Times bestseller.  He just wants a way to reach more people with the wisdom he’s gleaned from his own life, marriage, raising two daughters, as well as through his 30 years of experience working with individual couples, organizations such as: Habitat for Humanity, Hilliard House, Hopewell Food Pantry, CARITAS, as well as at some local high schools and colleges.

Kevin and I have known this man and his wife for nine and a half years now, ever since I made my Cursillo weekend back in June 2006.  They have become both good friends as well as our chosen spiritual companions/guides/mentors. 

A friend saw my Facebook post about how Saturday was one of the days I was “truly amazed by doors God has opened unexpectedly and things He's had in the works for years that are coming together in new and exciting ways now.”  She contacted me, bursting to know what I was referring to. 

I shared with her my excitement about this new project.  I’m looking forward to serving as blogging and social media mentor for someone who is very passionate about budgeting, helping others, and sharing his gifts of time, talent, and treasure generously.  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 9)

Home for Abused Chips 

Towards the end of a stressful semester, it did me a world of good to be around Kevin, who knows how to have fun and live in the moment.  Laughter and being loved do so much to relieve stress.

Going to an amusement park with a boyfriend had been something I’d dreamed about for years, so one day we went to King’s Dominion.  After getting off a particularly brain-scrambling roller coaster, I went up to a window to order us lunch.  “I’d like two stricken chips,” I told the girl behind the counter.
She gave me a confused look. 

Kevin stepped up and said, “Don’t mind her.  We just got off of a roller coaster.  We’d like two orders of chicken strips.”  We spent the entire lunch laughing hysterically as we ate our chicken and fries, and later I drew a little picture of a house and wrote "Home for Abused Chips" on the front of one of the many letters I sent him back then when we were still dating.  

Enjoy Your Day Here at Busch Gardens 

We had a nearly perfect day at Busch Gardens during the visit when Kevin came down for my high school graduation.  Just the two of us went.  We saw several of the shows, rode all of the roller coasters, and this time we had a delectable meal of barbecue chicken that I didn’t have trouble ordering, because all of the food was already prepared and set out for the taking. 

The moment that really sticks out occurred while we were eating dinner at the Italian opera house.  Feeling rather adventuresome, I selected an Italian sampler platter for my meal.  I’m kind of a picky eater whereas Kevin’s what some would call a food slut (though he appreciates good quality food prepared well, when it comes right down to it, he’ll eat anything). 

I instructed Kevin not to tell me what specific ingredients or foods were in my Italian sampler platter because that might have made me decide not to eat it.  When he’d finished eating his meal, and I was ready to move on to dessert, he polished off the rest of my sampler while I started on the cup of strawberries with whipped cream I’d gotten for us to share. 

We got talking, and I put the big dollop of whipped cream on a napkin, figuring it contained too much sugar for Kevin to consume, then I proceeded to eat one strawberry after another.  When there were only two strawberries left, Kevin asked me if he could have one. 
“Of course, we’re supposed to split them,” I said matter-of-factly, not realizing until then that I’d eaten most of them.

Kevin asked me why I’d put the whipped cream on a napkin.  I explained.  We were both laughing as he dipped the last two strawberries in the whipped cream and savored them.  I just knew it would be an incident he’d remind me of frequently.  Sure enough.  I still get hassled about sharing strawberries to this day, even though one time on his birthday when I was up there living with my grandmother for the summer to be closer to him, I got up super-early one morning to fix him breakfast before he had to go to work.  Of course, strawberries were included.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Reality Check: Get over Your Sulky Self

The other day, I was tired and just wanted to go home, but I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.  We have a new health insurance as of February 1, so I knew it would take longer than usual while they ran everything through under our new plan.  Though I’d called in the refill the day before, they didn’t have the prescription ready. 

It was less than 10 minutes before the woman at the counter determined that our new plan doesn’t cover anything through their particular pharmacy chain.  Oh wonderful!  Not only was I taking up this busy woman’s time, but I wasn’t even her problem anymore.

The second pharmacy I went to had an equally long line at pick-up, but there was only one person ahead of me in the drop-off/consultation area.  I decided I was going to walk down to A.C. Moore.  I texted Kevin to let him know of the latest development in our ongoing healthcare saga, but he was at work, so I knew he wouldn’t get the message until his shift had ended and/or perhaps not until he checked his phone once he was sitting across from me at home.  (It wouldn’t be the first or the last time this has happened even after we finally got smartphones last month.)   
Bright, beautiful colors so deep you could get lost in them inspire me as do arts supplies, project ideas, and décor items.  My imagination was working.    Of course I’d managed to leave the A.C. Moore coupon I’d printed out the other day at home, so I didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to look.  (When telling Kevin about this he reminded me I could have just pulled the coupon up on my phone.  Yeah, we’re new to this whole smartphone thing.  That didn’t even occur to me as an option.)  In this case, looking and liking did move me, though.

I went back to get my prescription.  No line this time. I only had to wait 10 minutes tops before they were finished filling it.  I didn’t have the energy to do any grocery shopping, though I knew we needed some things.  I just wanted to get home. 

I was sighing and whining on the inside as I hauled my stuff from my car.  Then everything changed.

I saw one of our neighbors ahead of me.  This woman had a stroke decades ago and basically only has use of one side of her body now.  She lives alone, has no family in this state, loves the color purple, and usually walks wherever she needs to go.  

Here was an elderly woman before me who had just walked several blocks to and from a nearby pharmacy in the cold of winter.  She held her cane in the hand she can still use, her purse hung around her neck, and her coat was only half on since she can’t get her other arm into the sleeve.  I felt absolutely ridiculous for having even the smallest pity party for myself.  

Our neighbor dropped her cane on the ground as she attempted to punch in the pass code and hold her bag.  I picked it up and held the door open for her.  I gently reminded her that Kevin and I are happy to give her a ride to the store whenever she needed to go, and she responded as though our previous offers were but a distant, faded memory for her. 

I’d certainly been put in my place.  I have a job, health insurance, food, shelter, clothing, a car, a husband that loves me, and God who provides the grace needed for a temporarily self-centered, ungrateful wretch like me to remember all of that when I see Christ in distressing disguise before me. 

Lord, I can be so incredibly blind to the needs of others sometimes.  I get so focused on my own feelings, wants, and needs, I'm oblivious to ones that are equally (or even more) important around me.  Please open my eyes, heart, and mind to those around me who are in need.  Let me love them and care for them as You do.  Amen.    

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 8)

After Christmas 1998, I flew up to Rochester to spend six days with Kevin.  I stayed at my grandma’s place, again.  The first order of business was finding me a suitable winter coat.  The one I had was only adequate for fall or spring in upstate New York. 

Kevin offered me a Buffalo Bills jacket which I refused to wear even inside out since I was born in Texas, and my parents had been diehard Dallas Cowboys fans for years.  In fact, my mom remembers the day I was born as being one of the most joy-filled days of her life. 

She recalls the events surrounding my birth and rather quick delivery, and she also remembers that the Cowboys won that evening.  My stubbornness on this matter of refusing to wear fan gear for a rival football team even for purposes of keeping warm in winter thoroughly amused Kevin, but after hassling me for a bit, he found another coat I could wear during the visit. 

I still kid Kevin about being the only fan the Bills have left in our state, possibly on our entire planet.  Shortly after Christmas 2014 when the Bills played the Patriots, my dear proudly announced that his team had actually won a game. 

“Does the NFL know about this?” I quipped.

He came back with: “Of course not.  Haven’t you ever heard of “fantasy football?”    

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Times Table Testing and Mathmatical Justice

I try to be encouraging when people are working on math, because I learned my times tables and long division under duress, so it took me a little longer to catch on.  

I remember the third grade teacher I had when we moved to Kimberton, Pennsylvania.  That year, in her classroom, under her tutelage is when I developed a significant insecurity about my calculating abilities. One day my teacher was handing back one of our many timed times table tests (say that three times fast or just once correctly).  She got to my desk and handed me a paper with a perfect score on it. 

“I guess we’ll have to take away your crown as queen of doing everything wrong,” she said loud enough for the entire class to hear. 

It was one of those times when I was too shocked and embarrassed to say anything.  I’d really been struggling with math lately, no thanks to my teacher.  She had my desk in the back row, and she refused to move me up when I told her that I couldn’t see the chalkboard.  

Determined it was some sort of ploy for attention, she left me where I was, and I got to have stressful math sessions with my mom in the afternoons and evenings, because I couldn’t see anything she had written on the board.  

At the end of that school year, an incident that became a joke in our family clued my parents into my vision problem. We lived in a house on five acres of property in Kimberton.  Most of the acreage was in the backyard which led up to the woods.  My dad had affectionately named the groundhog we often saw at the tree line Pudgy.  One day our family was in the kitchen, and my dad saw Pudgy and made some comment about him.  I said I couldn’t see him. 

“What do you mean you can’t see him?!” my dad practically yelled.

Our fine furry friend was at the far corner of our property and his light brown color blended in with his surroundings, but it finally occurred to them that I might need glasses. 

Sure enough, I did.  At the end of that school year, my parents took me out of the public school where the wicked witch of the west was teaching and moved me to a much more nurturing learning environment, which in that city at that time we found at St. Basil's School.   

Right now, I'm very grateful to work in a nurturing educational environment.  I get to help elementary school kids with their homework, including their math assignments.   I'm helping some of the students practice their times tables as well as work through some SAT prep problems.  How's that for mathmatical justice?! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 7)

I had fun taking part in the tradition Kevin’s family has had for decades of eating dinner together at the cottage on Sundays in the summer.  His three older sisters and their husbands came over to relax outside, swim in the lake, and have a cook-out.  Dinner was a very informal affair and proved to be quite amusing.  I mostly just listened, laughed, and observed while eating.  

The fan was on and all of the windows were open to let in the breeze.  Kevin tried to put pepper on his salad, and a gust carried it away before it reached the lettuce.   

“My girls don’t even cover it up anymore,” his sister Chari confessed.  I was appalled until I realized that she had to be talking about their female felines peeing in the yard not their children; they have two sons.  

The conversation topics throughout the meal were comical.  They managed to cover everything from out-of-control condiments and peeing pets to how to eat around the scorched spots of corn on the cob and breast reductions.        

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Be the Designated Driver for Your Health in 2015

What steps are you going to take to improve your health this year?
  Below are some suggestions (in graph form) from the American Recall Center:

Here is an article with some good suggestions to get you started on the road to good health.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 6)

My mom and sisters noticed I was trying things when Kevin was around that I never would have done in the past—such as water skiing.  I struggled quite a bit putting on the stupid swim goggles, a clear sign this venture would not lead me to a career in water sports. 

Kevin’s advice to me the first time I tried to get up on skis was “just stand up.”  It’s no wonder I never really mastered the trick.  I asked if he could tell me a little more about what I should do, but he instructed me to do one thing and one thing only, and I couldn’t do it without falling over in a matter of seconds.  I tried really hard over and over again, and though I did manage to stand up, I was never able to stay up. 

In the process, my arms were almost yanked out of their sockets, and I lost a pair of goggles, which at present are likely buried deep under a sand bed in Lake Ontario.  It didn’t occur to Kevin until days after my severe soreness had set in that he probably shouldn’t have started out going full throttle since I didn’t weigh much and had weak knees, not just because I was around him.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Memories, Dreams, and Reflections by Carl G. Jung

Memories, Dreams, and Reflections is the life story of Carl G. Jung as told by him at age eighty-one.  It was recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé.  The writing is very compelling and revealing about his life, thought processes, how he came to develop his studies and theories about archetypes, the unconscious, and conscious.  He talks about how his life experiences and academic influences shaped him and helped him to formulate a general way of looking at, observing, and characterizing people’s thought processes and dreams.  I find it very interesting and quite telling that he didn’t want his autobiography/biography published during his life, because he expected much of his experiences, deductions, thoughts, and theories would be largely misunderstood or ridiculed.  He also had the compulsion and wisdom to include very personal reflections, memories, and unedited dreams, believing that these aspects of his life and work are integral to understanding his theories, deductions, and leanings.

I found myself often thinking that each person has different hang-ups, biases, triggers, prejudices, areas of denial and blindness which prevent them from seeing the whole picture clearly.  No one person has all of the answers, perspectives, experiences, and sympathies that another person has.  We might be able to go a step or two farther than those who have come before us, because of our different experiences and perspectives, but even then others can build upon our ideas and accomplishments far beyond what we could have come up with on our own.  A great example of this in this book is his research and relationship with Freud, who he greatly admired and learned a lot from, but who he ultimately broke away from because Jung’s vision and way of seeing things outgrew Freud’s in some ways.  Jung realized that Freud’s personal experiences and biases were dramatically affecting his research, theories, and the conclusions he came to about human nature and what motivates and influences the majority of our thoughts and actions. 

The following questions came to me to reflect on: who do we look up to, listen to, and tend to believe without much question?  Who has a strong influence in our lives?  How? Why?  To what greater effect?  How are our words, thoughts, choices, and actions, beliefs, and motivations influencing others either positively or negatively?  What is the best way to become a more sound, reliable source of wisdom, vessel of love, model of mercy, and distributor of peace?  A closer walk with Christ, who has no darkness or biases in Him at all.  Will we allow ourselves to be conformed to this world, or are we willing to let God transform us into His image and likeness to become the saints He has created and called us to be?  

(This is one of the books I selected to read and report on as part of the two-year spiritual direction class that Kevin and I are taking.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 5)

It wasn’t long before Kevin started singling me out to do things.  Our first trip alone together was to a music store called Media Play.  During our outing, Kevin said something that led me to believe he was attracted to me.  He recounted the beginning of the lady in the nursing home scene that we’d all been laughing about, but then finished with a different punch line, “you’re still pretty damn cute for a 125 pounder.”  He’d been a great listener thus far—another attribute I noticed early on that no doubt helped win me over—but he certainly misquoted the weight conscious little old lady.  That was one of those moments I played over and analyzed later for possible deeper meanings.  Of all of the ones I came up with, I liked the ‘he thinks I’m attractive’ interpretation best.

On the way home from our rather brief outing, I asked Kevin if he would ever let me drive his car.  He was very into his ride, so I was testing him to see if he’d trust me with one of his most prized possessions.  I never expected his abrupt response.  As soon as the words left my lips, he pulled over on the side of the road, got out, and let me drive.  Not only that, but I didn’t give him the keys back when we returned to the cottage.  That evening he went out to dinner with his dad, his sister Wendy, and her husband Bob.  While they were gone, I moved his car to the crowded Crescent Beach Restaurant parking lot down the street. 

He sought me out right away when he didn’t see his car in the driveway.  He asked me where it was.  I shrugged my shoulders and handed him the keys.  Visions of an accident danced in his head.  He continued interrogating me, and I told him I’d lead him to the general vicinity of where it was.  As Kevin, Theresa, and I were walking down the street, I yelled “Oooooaaaaahhh…psht!” and ran into him sideways, pretending we were two cars crashing.  He laughed and shook his head.  I led him to the hotel parking lot.  He pressed the button to disarm the alarm, and the headlights flashed.  Dead giveaway.  The hunt was fun while it lasted.  

Check out the rest of the series so far Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, and Vol. 4.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Owl Love You Forever!

I had so much fun creating this family of owls for my sister and family who are fans of birds in general, owls in particular.  I used scrapbook paper of a variety of different types, special edge scissors, photo paper, and an orange textured gift box, then I added coffee beans for eyes and tiny shell beads for beaks.  When asked where they should put it, our nephew suggested the nook, which seems like a good fit since they already have a bird theme going in there.  I don't get on Pinterest, because my typical way of avoiding addiction is to not get started, so I was excited that I came up with this all on my own.  Wooohoooo for creative outlets!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Feast of the Epiphany, Activity Ideas, and Some Wise Guys

Stories are fascinating.  As a writer, I’m very interested in how they develop, who writes them down, what they emphasize, include, and/or leave out.  The Feast of the Epiphany is on January 6.  In the US, the feast is typically celebrated at Mass on the second Sunday after Christmas which in 2015 fell on Sunday January 4.   

The Gospel account of this story appears in Matthew 2:1-12.  Go ahead and read it.  I’ll wait.  Interestingly enough, in this passage, there is no set number of wise men, the only person specifically named is King Herod, and the places from where they traveled afar are vaguely described as “from the east.” 

We know from Scripture that the magi were foreign astrologers from distant lands.  They studied the sky and were all drawn to one particular star.  It was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth.  Though we aren’t told how many magi there were, the tradition of having three originated, in part, because three different gifts are given: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (My favorite variation of this is: gold, common sense, and fur, though those three are also an unlikely grouping.) 

The representations of the three wise kings are meant to symbolize that Jesus was born to save people of all races, ages, and locations.  It’s possible there were more than three wise guys who spotted the star and followed it to the most logical place to look for a new ruler of the Jewish people, at the current ruler’s palace.  Some traditions indicate that there may have been as many as twelve magi. 

This was one time when stopping to ask for directions would lead to trouble.  King Herod was angry at the thought of someone else serving in his place as “king of the Jews.”  He tried to get the wise men to come back and tell him the exact location of this newborn, but after having a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went home by a different way than the one from which they came.     

In some cultures and families, it is customary to exchange and open gifts on Epiphany instead of Christmas.  Click here for some fun activities to celebrate with family or friends.

Epiphany Feasting in France

In France they have special cake for Epiphany called a galette des rois.  This King Cake is baked with a little figurine inside of it or a bean.  Whoever discovers the bean or figurine in their slice gets to be king or queen for the evening.  The inedible item I recall finding in one of the galette des rois was a tiny porcelain-like castle of sorts.  Here’s a galette des rois recipe in English.  

During our January term while studying abroad in Paris, I volunteered at a food pantry through the local chapter of Secours Catholiques at a spot near where my host family lived.  I would help stock the shelves with canned goods, some fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and baked items, then I’d assist people who came through with their cart to do their “shopping.”  We had so many galettes des rois left over, I was able to take some home with me.  Stale galette des rois don’t taste all that great, especially when you’re in France, where all of the bakeries have superior standards for their fresh bread and pastries.  

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