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 JaffĂ©.  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.  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 4)

As Kevin drove me back to my grandma’s place that night in 1998, he squeezed my hand and said, “I wish you could be the one.”  Fortunately, upon hearing this romantic confession, I had the restraint not to blurt out anything blunt or negative, such as “that’s not an option!”  In fact, I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut and just squeeze his hand back.  I’d been thinking often that I’d love to spend the rest of my life with him.  I didn’t want to go back in my protective shell, always hiding my thoughts and feelings from people.  In some ways, I already knew I wouldn’t put up all the barriers I’d taken down to let in the friend who had come to live with us, nor the ones I’d disassembled in order to grow closer to Kevin.  Going back to that sort of isolated existence would be too lonely.

Even so, I didn’t feel as comfortable talking with other people.  Frequently, I was discouraged from sharing because people didn’t listen very well.  Other times it was because I had it ingrained in my brain that what happened in our family should be kept secret.  For a while, I’d convinced myself others not only wouldn’t understand or care enough to learn about the real me, but also that they’d judge my family and me if I were completely open and honest with them.  

There were so many reasons why I didn’t want what had been one of the best weeks of my life to come to an end.  I’ve always hated not knowing what would happen next, many times, because in the past, major decisions were made without my input, and I had to deal with the consequences.  I wanted to hold on to the memories, the closeness I’d felt to someone else, and the abundance of laughter and silliness we shared.  Kevin had said he’d never been good about writing letters, and I knew my mom wasn’t okay with us spending hours and hours talking on the phone.  I hoped something would change so we wouldn’t lose touch. 

Here are links to the Laughing Together Series Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas and My True Love

The Twelve Days of Christmas is more than just a catchy song.  It’s a rhythmic reminder that the Christmas season lasts longer than just one day.  Yes, you read that correctly!  The Christmas season begins on December 25 and goes until the evening of January 6th.  So it's perfectly fine to keep wish people a Merry (insert the correct day here) day of Christmas right up to the Feast of the Epiphany.

Some sources say this popular song was originally written to help young people learn the catechism at a time when it was prohibited to practice Catholicism in England, either publicly or privately.  The punishments for adhering to the faith of the Church ranged from imprisonment to torture and/or death.  Naturally, those determined to preserve the sacred had to be more subversive and creative in passing on the teachings of Christ.  

Whether or not that was the initial intent for the song or just a myth developed over time, the current rendition and interpretation does include elements of good catechesis.  As you probably already guessed, the “True Love” who does the giving is God.  We as in all of God's children are the "me" who are given all of these riches of the faith.   

Here’s a simple summary from CathFamily to help you remember the song and what it can stand for from a Christian perspective: 

   Along with an explanation of each gift, this article includes ways to celebrate each of the twelve days of Christmas with family or friends.  All of the suggestions are practical, fun and don't require spending any money or acquiring any livestock.      

In case you have forgotten the lyrics (and because I like a good laugh), here's a hilarious skit version of the classic carol:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 3)

In 1998, my mom, sisters, and I expressed our birthday wishes for Kevin with a few gifts.  We gave him a notepad that said, “Experience enables us to recognize a mistake when we make it again.”  I gave him a little wooden box with a star cut out of the lid.  I colored it with markers, put three shiny tugboat stickers below the star, and filled the box with little papers.  That summer my sisters and I would tell someone to be quiet by saying, “I’ve got a whole box of Shh! with your name on it!”  Kevin had heard us use this many times, so I wrote Shh! on several pieces of notebook paper, cut them up, wrote his name on the decorated wooden box, and gave it to him.  He was very amused. 

Our useful gift, or one that at least appeared to have practical value, was a magnet with the numbers of the Coast Guard.  We told him we’d included it so he could call and get the coordinates of the sunken tugboat he still claimed existed.  He’d been disappointed by the Coast Guard in the past, and we’d joked about how much time they spend at local donut shops.  Later we confessed that the phone number on the magnet was really for Dunkin Donuts, not the Coast Guard.  He thought that was even funnier.

We also gave him a set of ballpoint pens with his name on them.  He took this as an indication that he should be writing me.  This was a message I wanted to convey, but I’m sure wasn’t what my mom was thinking when she bought them.  He apologized numerous times for not writing me back.  He explained he didn’t know what to say.  I forgave Kevin and told him his father had written me one of the nicest letters I’d ever received in response to the one I’d sent him.  Of course, this didn’t make Kevin think he was off the hook.

Click here to read Vol. 1 and/or Vol 2.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does)

This is a perfect book to read if you want to embrace the true meaning and significance of Christ becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  

Throughout Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), biblical scholar Scott Hahn includes thought-provoking insights into the culture at the time when Mary gave birth in a barn, placed their firstborn son in a feeding trough, and watched in awe as shepherds and wise men came to pay Him homage. Hahn says that: "Christmas is, for me, the joy and the love that passed between a young woman and the child who had been placed in her arms" (p. 6)

Combined with the wisdom of theologians across the ages and some of the author’s own personal encounters while visiting Bethlehem, we’re given a rich context for the arrival of the long-awaited Emanuel, “God with us.”

I love how adept Hahn is at putting readers right into the heart of the story.  He gives a new perspective to Scripture passages many have memorized or tend to glaze over because they’ve become so familiar.  He describes Mary and Joseph’s heritage, the circumstances of Christ’s birth, and explains how the early years of Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophesies of old about the Savior of the world.

The wonderful story he shares about his visit to the Holy Land with his daughter captures precisely what the season is about and how we can go from being listless and bored, to feeling present, alert, needed, and appreciated by the presence of just one person.  So often we’re closed off to yet another list of “important” facts or statistics, but when we see a real human need before us, we are inspired to do what we can to meet it. 

If this season is about a person who lived 2000 years ago and has no real influence on our lives today, then it might make sense to spend a little time going over the evidence and history of Christ’s life and then calling it a day.  But that’s not the case.  We are invited to encounter the person of Jesus Christ who is just as present today as He was in Mary’s womb for nine months and on the day of his birth in a little backwater town with no accommodations available that had only one star. 

We don’t have to travel a long way to connect with the love and light, hope and joy, miracles and possibilities that were made flesh when God came to dwell among us.  If we’re able to grasp even the smallest ray of light revealed through the birth of the Messiah, then everything in and around us changes.  

First-time parents prepare for the arrival of their child without being able to fathom all the ways, big and small, in which their newborn will transform their lives.  In the same way, the deeper into the mystery of new life and God’s will we allow ourselves to go, the greater the awe and profound reverence we experience.  The more complete the metanoia will be in, through, and around us. 

Complacency seems ridiculous, if not impossible, when we begin to understand the magnitude of this miracle and the implications of it for all of time and eternity.  If the Christmas story has become quaint, small or too familiar to be inspiring or life-changing, I recommend reading Joy to the World to reconnect with the celestial scope and hope of the Incarnation. 

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.  For more information or to start reading Joy to the World now, click here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Christmas Books, Traditions, & Fave Posts

My solution to sending everyone we know or have ever known a Christmas card with our names signed at the bottom.  We don't have kids, and neither of us really want photos of us circulating around the country via snail mail.  We are grateful for any cards and/or photos we receive.  Please try not to be offended if you don't fit the qualifications to be on our short list.  Once you read them, you'll be relieved you didn't make the list! Triage for Christmas Correspondence

5 Great Nonfiction Books about the True Meaning and Significance of Christmas:
I had fun writing this series, a stroll down memory lane, and one that I could add a lot more to and probably will eventually.  
Our Family's Christmas Traditions
Other Cherished Traditions

Don't worry, yours isn't the only family who doesn't have anything close to a Hallmark Christmas Merry-Making Mishaps Series #1 Caroling#2 Decorating Cookies #3 Trees #4 Nativity Set

Something to think about as you're moving the elf from shelf to shelf and trying to get your kids to behave better while hopped up on lots of extra sugar. Santa Claus is Coming?

Making the Best of Where You Are and What You Have Now:

Christmas Plays
Christmas Play Spectacular at Little Sisters of the Poor

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel

     Genuine joy is contagious in the best possible way.  When we have good news, we look forward to sharing it with others in person, over the phone, in a letter, an e-mail, a text, a Tweet, a Facebook message, a they can celebrate with us. 
     A marriage engagement, new baby, new job, a long-awaited conversion, another life saved, a loved one who is healed…are all exciting developments we want to shout from the rooftops.     
     We have the best Good News there is: God is with us and in us.  He became man, suffered, died, and rose again that we might live life to its fullest.  Our time on Earth isn’t all there is.  Because of the Lord’s infinite love and perfect plan for our salvation, we are invited to spend all eternity with our Creator, Savior, and Father.  It doesn’t get any better than that.
     In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (aka The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis expounds upon the advantages of sharing the faith with a spirit of praise and rejoicing.  In a tone and with suggestions reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi, our pope tells us we are called to reach out to the poor, elderly, outcasts, those who are marginalized or on the fringes of society in our own towns and around the world with the love of Christ. 
     Doing what the Lord calls us to do, carrying out His will, taking care of the people He’s placed in our lives, and growing closer to Jesus are what bring us true and lasting joy in life.  Who better than a humble man from Latin America, who recognizes we each have in us a spark of God that is beautiful and unique, to write a proposition for a renewed evangelization? 
     The best testimony of how to evangelize joyfully can be seen in the way Pope Francis lives the Gospel each day.  Whether he is washing someone’s feet on Holy Thursday, calling someone he’s never met to share his condolences, or rallying the youth, he illustrates how serving others, compassion, and relationships are essential to missionary work. 
     There is great need and suffering all around us.  Many of us have a number of gifts and resources we can use to help others have their most basic needs met.  Are we willing to open our eyes to what is happening in our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our country, our world, and allow God to transform us to reach out and take action?  If we are, then we’re ready to participate in the new evangelization.          
     We are invited to be as cheerful and enthusiastic in our discovery and expression of God’s love as we would be if we had a surprise visit from one of our favorite people on the planet.  Hugs, I’ve missed you, I love you are all part of the effervescent greeting.  You feel your heart leap simply being in a dear one’s presence.    
     This past spring I served on a Cursillo Women’s team with a great group.  One of the women on the team lost not one, but two loved ones during our time in formation.  She made a huge impression on me when she quoted this passage from The Gospel of Joy in her talk: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” If anyone could justifiably be a little grumpy or down, she qualified, but that’s not what she did. 
     What's more, she witnessed to me this aspect of the exhortation and included it in her talk:  “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm…. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
     I finished reading The Joy of the Gospel for the second time in mid-November.  The first time I’d read it was when my mom let me have the copy she’d printed out to read.  It is just as uplifting the second time as it was the first. 
     This go-round I was more aware of how difficult it is for me to grasp and exude the sort of hope Pope Francis shows is necessary to draw people closer to Christ.  For much of my life I’ve taken a very legalistic, rule-oriented approach to things—one that by itself isn’t likely to attract or interest anyone in the Catholic faith.  My husband Kevin’s better at joy than I usually tend to be. 
     I find it true poetic justice that while I was rereading The Joy of the Gospel my husband was listening to The United States Catholic Catechism on CD.  Kevin’s not a voracious reader like I am, and he certainly didn’t grow up with a penchant toward knowing and following the rules, like me, so this is definitely a Holy Spirit inspired activity that’s bulking up his knowledge of the faith in which he was raised.  We’ve both been led to grow in areas the Lord knew we needed help with, and hopefully, we’ll be better prepared to live out the joy of the Gospel.

     I highly recommend reading and/or rereading The Joy of the Gospel.  I received a free copy of the book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.  For more information or to get your own copy of The Joy of the Gospel, click here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How to Have an Excellent Advent: Seven Suggestions

What's the purpose of Advent? Click on the video below to check out Busted Halo's 2 minute take on this season of preparation for Christmas: 

    1. Stay Awake 

7. Wait Patiently   

What is God calling you to this Advent that will bring you closer to Him? 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend 2014

     Kevin has recently gotten a full-time job after being out of work for over a year, so we are both thankful and relieved about that blessing.  Since he’s back in retail, he was working on Thanksgiving Day as well as at the crack of dawn for Black Friday.  He’s got a cold, so he chose to stay home and rest up until the time he had to go into work on Thanksgiving. 
     I told him before I left for Mass Thursday morning that people would ask where he was, possibly before greeting me.  I can understand that.  Kevin’s very friendly and can be lots of fun to chat with.  
     I sat with some of my Christ Renews His Parish sisters and the patriarch of our adopted family at Mass.  I went over to our adopted family/close friends’ house for the holiday feast solo.  
     I was warmly welcomed and treated as family.  I spent some time with some of my favorite people, including the three silly sisters and their two cute cousins.  I have missed seeing the girls, but I’ve had to sub whenever I can at school so we can make ends meet while Kevin gets into a groove at work, so I haven't had much energy left to visit after hours.  I finally made it over there last Friday to hang with the girls, and I got a chance to catch up with their parents as well, which was wonderful!       We had some interesting faith-based conversations about saints, particularly married women who were also mothers while we ate at the dinner table in the kitchen amidst little ones who occasionally burst in running and screaming around us.  Eventually, the twins crawled up on their mom and started grabbing food from her plate.  No surprise there.  The three silly sisters and their two cute cousins were served first, but the girls weren't nearly as enthralled by the food on their own plates.  There's something about mom sitting down to eat that tends to turn up the appetites of the little ones.  
     I forgot to bring my camera, so I don’t have a single picture of this Thanksgiving.  Other people took a few, though, I might be able to rustle one up eventually. 
     I really missed having Kevin there a lot!  It's been over a decade since we weren't together for all of Thanksgiving.  I’ve had him at my side for so many holidays over the years both when we were dating as well as since we’ve been married that I sometimes forget how out of place I tend to feel when he’s not there.  I did bring him some turkey, a plate of sides, and a slice of chocolate pie which he thoroughly enjoyed later on.
     I didn’t see any of my biological family at all on Thanksgiving which made me feel kind of sad, but hopefully I’ll be able to get together with them on Sunday.  I have been away from Kevin and my family on Thanksgiving, but it was over ten years ago when I was studying abroad in Paris.  All of us in the study abroad program went out to dinner together.  It was fun, but I really missed my family and our normal fare.        
    I had lots of memories come back of Thanksgivings over the years.  I thought back to some of the ones when we were little and we’d go to Uncle Rich and Aunt Linda’s house in Houston.  There were a couple years when my aunt and four cousins came to spend the holiday with us.  Our visits usually consisted of lots of yummy food and various card games we had all learned from Grandma.  One year was particularly memorable, because we all were having so much fun wearing the slippers Grandma had knitted us and sliding on the hardwood floors in our house in Barrington.  Click here to read about some of our other Thanksgiving festivities across the years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 2)

     Usually Kevin came over to hang out with all of us.  We had some new boat adventures.  One time he took us out again to show us the sunken tugboat.  Despite a thorough search we never saw the submerged vessel whose existence, by the way, the rest of us question to this day.       
     Another afternoon, Kevin took us down to a restaurant on Irondequoit Bay called Newport House.  The only problem was that he hadn’t informed us of our destination prior to leaving the house, so he was the only one wearing shoes and carrying money.  It was around lunch time on a week day, so the outdoor seating area was packed with people in business attire.  My mom’s the queen of spontaneity, so she didn’t mind.  I was just happy to be near Kevin, so I was fine with it. 
     We got some strange looks when I had to put together a makeshift ensemble to go inside and use the bathroom.  I was wearing little black board shorts and my black Speedo bathing suit without any shoes.  I borrowed a bright blue terrycloth jacket, which was at least seven sizes too big, and Kevin lent me his brown boat moccasins, which clearly didn’t fit either.  Kevin waited outside on the sidewalk for quite some time before I returned with his shoes. 

     As luck would have it, I’d started my period.  Of course, I had nothing with me including money and would have been mortified to go and ask Kevin for a quarter.  Fortunately, a kind woman took pity on me and got me a quarter from her purse.  Eventually I came back outside, and Kevin told me he’d been about to send someone with a fishing pole in for me.  He asked what took so long.  I just smiled, shrugged, and gave him back his shoes.  I sat behind Kevin the whole boat ride home and fought the urge to wrap my arms around him or kiss his cheek.  
     To read Vol. 1, click here.  Check back for more posts in the Laughing Together Series.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Philosophy 101: God’s Not Dead

     The first time I watched the film God’sNot Dead with my mom and my youngest sister.  I didn’t catch everything that happened, in part, because we were talking during some of it, someone decided to search for and order a clothing item online, we were texting (people who weren’t present), and my mom had no idea how to backtrack using her remote control.  I jotted down some quotes and phrases in the little notebook I keep in my purse to jump-start my memory later on about possible writing topics. 
     The egotistical Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo) is clearly more interested in building up his own image and spreading his anti-theist propaganda than he is in imparting knowledge or promoting logical thinking.  He concentrates on running roughshod over an entire class because domination rather than education is his primary goal. 
     Throughout the film, we hear various philosophical questions, many of which we studied on the creation of the universe and the existence of God in the Philosophy of Religion course I took from Dr. Downey.   I have concluded that Dr. Patrick Downey, philosophy professor at Hollins University, is the perfect foil to Dr. Death-to-Any-Thought-or-Opposition Radisson.  
     God’s Not Dead reminded me of the hours I spent reading arguments and discussions by philosophers who lived and wrote a number of years ago.  That semester I went to class with all of these different theories, questions, and debates in my head, then Dr. Downey would ask us questions that would make us dig even deeper to understand and explain what these men were proposing, what line of logic they followed, and if it made sense.  He was so good at playing the devil’s advocate from every side that I couldn’t tell from what he said in class whether or not he believed in God.  (It honestly wasn’t until I saw him as part of a group of faculty members who came around to the dorms and houses to sing Christmas carols that I realized he is a Christian.)    
     Someone who is so interested in developing his students’ logic and reasoning skills that he’ll take the opposite side of just about any argument to get them to examine it more closely from all facets is a good philosophy professor.  At times, I could almost feel my mind stretching to new lengths and expanding when faced with these universal questions about God and man. Even if the answers weren’t clear, just knowing the questions people thought to ask made me feel like my brain would have to grow in order to contain all the possibilities.
     My favorite day of this course was Friday. Why? Because Saturday was sure to follow? No, it was because after doing my best to sift through, consider, accept, and/or debate so many concepts, I would get into my light blue Pontiac 6000 and drive through a very picturesque valley. I would get out at the top of a hill and could feel God welcoming me, His mother outside waiting for me to enter.
     I always arrived just in time, gave a quiet nod to the other regulars who had come to worship, and sat down ready to let the clutter in my mind exit, so only faith would remain. Before long, the reasons and questions, some of which reason may never understand, were replaced by truth, hope, and love. I couldn’t help but smile as I professed the Creed, reached out my hands to others to pray the Our Father, and give the sign of peace. I yearned for the Eucharist. I had answers and could embrace, even appreciate, the mysteries inherent and perhaps necessary to having faith.
     I would walk out of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church after Mass feeling refreshed in my faith and grounded in the truth. It was a great way to put the philosophers’ voices and nitty-gritty debates to rest so that the Holy Spirit was easier for me to hear in the present.

God's not dead.  He is truly alive!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 1)

Kevin came over to say goodbye before we left.  I hugged him, knowing I would miss him and our time at the cottage.  In a July 21, 1997 journal entry, I wrote:                                                  
I’ve been overflowing with emotions lately. It surprised me a little how saddened I was when we left Rochester.  I miss all of the friends and family we saw there!  I often find myself thinking about Kevin and our cottage.  On the way home, I was reading about “chance” meetings in a Catholic magazine Grandma let me bring on the trip.  I thought about Kevin and Harry when I read it.  I thank God that we had the opportunity to meet such nice, friendly people.  I would like to write to Kevin and make a card for Harry and one for his wife, who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.  I hope that we are able to keep in touch with them this year and maybe see them next summer if we rent the cottage.
     When we returned to Richmond, Virginia, I was left feeling like I wanted more to come of my relationship with Kevin, but eventually I resigned myself to accepting reality: we are years apart in age; I was still a minor; he already had a girlfriend; and we lived five hundred miles apart.  At that point, the potential problems with me being a devout Catholic and him not wanting to have anything to do with the Church didn't even occur to me."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Curious Man: Robert “Believe it Or Not!” Ripley

      I was so incredibly depressed and disgusted by Ripley's alcoholic bent, womanizing tendencies, and his manipulation of so many people and cultures for his profit, fame, and curiosity that I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading the entire book.
     Author Neal Thompson's writing is actually quite beautiful,  interesting, and smooth.  The style of the writing and layout of the book are both perfectly fitting for a biography about such an unusual character.  The photos included are very telling.  The problem I had with the book came in the subject he wrote about in such minute detail.  The moral depravity of the man in question is what shocked me more than any of the peculiar people or practices he wrote about or drew during his extensive jaunts around the globe.  
     I had planned on reading A Curious Man: Robert “Believe it Or Not!” Ripley and joining a Cursillo friend who’s a librarian for the book club discussion he was leading last month.  A series of unfortunate events that took place during the beginning of that week led me to spend most of my time reading spiritual, religious, and hope-filled books instead of forcing myself to make it through the one about Robert Ripley. 
     The wildly popular cartoonist and world traveler's manipulative manner in his personal and professional relationships showed a complete disregard for the value of human life.  From what I did read it seemed he wasn’t able to recognize or muster an ounce of respect for human dignity.  He’d exploit anyone and anything to satisfy his curiosities, placate his self-centeredness, and indulge in whatever pleasures and distractions fit his fancy at that moment in time.
     Believe it or not, Ripley’s ego was bigger than any of his dwelling places.  He was without a moral compass of any sort.  He lived his life like the consummate frat boy: drinking all the time, using people, shirking responsibility, dodging the truth, sleeping with all the women he could get.  He led the unexamined life of a spoiled but intriguing celebrity with very eclectic obsessions and far-reaching influence.    
      I found it quite disheartening to read about the mess he made of things because of his flippant treatment of women and total irreverence for other cultures.  He tainted newspapers and radio with his unconventional fetishes and raging materialism.  His belief that the only higher power greater than himself was a sultry mix of money and fame underlined his desire to remain in a prominent, lucrative, and highly influential place in society no matter what the cost.   
     At the end of the day and his life, I wondered if he ever really inspired or gave hope to another human being by the way he lived or what he did.  A whole lot of people over a long period of time were fascinated by his reporting, his exotic collections, and skewed view of things, but did he ultimately cause more corruption and scandal, influence greater greed, degrade women, and present a derogatory perspective of other ethnicities and cultures?  It’s hard to know for sure.  Each person’s life is so deeply entwined with those of other people.  I don’t suppose the answers to the following questions would cast him in too favorable a light: how will most remember him? who and what was most important to him? for what purpose did he use his time, talents, and resources?
     That having been said I realize people can’t really be contained in or fully explained by anything they produce.  Each project is only a glimpse inside, a part of the mystery, a fraction of the wholeness God created.  Our essence isn’t something others can grasp entirely, nor is it something they can take from us.  It is clear to the Lord alone who we really are, who He made us to be.  No one else gets to determine that or define us, though they may try to.
     There are some inspiring books I’ve read and a great short film I've seen which treat subjects that would have fascinated Ripley in ways that illustrate these individuals are human beings with inherent value and dignity. I highly recommend the following two books as ones that are heartfelt, faith-filled, and inspirational by a man who was born with no arms or legs: Nick Vujicic. 

Life without Limits and Unstoppable 

     Nick has done music videos, public speaking, and also is in a great short film called The Butterfly Circus. The story's about people with special talents and abilities being exploited in a freak show setting and how they are rescued, become a family of sorts who join together to entertains others, but without dehumanizing themselves or anyone else.
     It occurred to me when reading this book that we have so many opportunities to use our talents to glorify the Lord or instead to cater to our own self-centered desires for pleasure, renown, and success.  The choices we make not only affect those we come into direct contact with but thousands of others who are influenced by the decisions we make for good or evil.  If Robert Ripley had a bucket list, he probably crossed off a number of things on it before he died.  He became famous, got to travel the world, draw cartoons, write, influence many people...But what I’m left to wonder is what was on God’s Bucket list for his life? 

Friday, October 31, 2014

True Halloween Spirit

The Sweetest Treat: A Boo Baby       

     Most of the time we went to houses in our neighborhood, but one especially memorable evening that forever changed our family was unusual in more ways than one.  My grandma was in town, and arrangements were made for us to go trick-or-treating with one of our neighborhood friends and her brother.  Their dad drove us all to an apartment complex where we could get more candy and cover more ground than would be possible on the relatively small cul-de-sac we lived on off of River Road back then.  My sister and I were smitten with the prospect of collecting so much candy.  Our sort of make-shift, last minute costumes didn’t bother us much. 
     We were used to having our parents walk with us to each house, but our friend’s brother was a little older, so his dad just drove around following us from one section of apartments to another.  He had “Monster Mash” blasting out of the car speakers.  The windows were down and the sunroof was open. 
     Back before cellphones were mainstream, and when car phones were still exceptionally rare, we received an extra special message.  Suddenly, “The Monster Mash” stopped playing and we heard the life-changing words: “You have a new baby sister!”  Our lives were never the same.    

The Costume Kid Turned Dancing Diva

     The year she turned one, my youngest sister had a really cute cow costume.  Friends of ours owned a donut shop, and my mom took a picture of her and wrote a sign by it “Got milk?” which they had up at Daylight Donuts for quite some time in the 90s.    
     As a little girl she loved Disney, dress-up clothes and had an unbelievably wide selection of pretty costumes to choose from since a close family friend would get discount costumes from Wolff Fording to use for the annual Musical Revue she put together at St. Mary’s School.  My sister owned a ton of princess costumes which she insisted on wearing everywhere during that particular period in her life.  Some people thought it was really cute and endearing, but as a teenager, I was mortified to have to go around with my youngest sibling dressed in some get-up.     
     I grew up taking dance, mostly ballet, tap, and jazz, so I had a number of costumes for recitals that doubled as ones for Halloween.  I’ve even worn a couple of costumes "Miss Reesa Lynn" wore in her later dance recitals to parties. 
     I had perhaps a little too much fun one year decorating for my sister’s Halloween/birthday sleepover party.  She had a large Lamb Chop's play along stuffed animal which I dressed in a black graduation gown and hung.  I also stuffed a pair of striped stockings with stuff to make it look like a witch had crash landed into the shower in the basement.
     When in high school, the dancing diva told us she wanted all of us to dress up as Disney characters.  Our middle sister asked if she was kidding.  Obviously not, since she’d gotten a Tinkerbell costume to wear that year.  During the day, Kevin had a costume contest at Circuit City.  We dressed up as Men in Black, both in blacks suits, white collared shirts, black ties, and sunglasses.  Kevin went so far as to paint a water gun we had to make it look a bit more like the weapons they use in the movie.  Then that evening, I turned into Mulan for my sister’s Disney themed birthday party. 
     This is our absolute favorite Halloween bit from Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You for the Last Time:” Jerry Seinfeld on Halloween (Stand-up in New York)

"Trick or Trunk?!"    

     I’ve heard of the popular custom of having kids don their costumes to go to a church parking lot and “trick-or-treat” from one car trunk to the next, but I am a bit concerned by the sign outside of one church that I saw advertising a Halloween “Trick or Trunk.”  I’m not sure quite what this entails, but I had visions of extreme trick-or-treating scenarios and possible outcomes.  It sounds like something that a gang might come up with—either that or a group of parents of wayward adolescents that have had enough and are ready to take drastic measures.  Of course this suggestion also seems very much like one father of three silly sisters would come up with as an advisable alternative to dressing up your kids in costumes and walking them around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and demanding candy from strangers.    

Back in the Day

     For a while, because my birthday is near Halloween, we’d have costume parades or parties for my celebration.  There are pictures of a morning costume parade in our neighborhood and donuts that marked one of my under five birthday celebrations. When we were growing up, we didn’t use those little plastic pumpkin buckets for our candy.  We got pretty hardcore after a while and used pillowcases, since those were easy to carry, and you can fit a whole lot of candy in them.  We’d walk as far as we could talk our parents into going. 
     Our ritual at home was the same every year.  We’d sit down on the living room floor and dump all of our candy out in a pile, so our parents could check it for anything suspicious (or particularly delicious).  Our main concern was counting how many pieces we had, in hopes that we’d somehow gotten more loot than the other person.  Then it was time to trade for the candy we liked most with the yucky stuff that we’d resort to only once we’d eaten all of the name brand candy.

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

     One of “my two little guys” who is now in his double digits is going to Disney World with his family for Halloween.  That has got to be such a cool place to be when half the people in there are already in costumes.  I’m looking forward to seeing the photos. 
     I couldn’t resist dressing one of the boys up in the shark costume he had for Halloween and taking him to visit Kevin at West Marine, the retail store where he was working at the time.  I brought goldfish crackers for the boys to eat, and let them play around the dinghies and small personal watercraft on display in front of the store to get some really cute photos. 

A Celebration's In Order

    Today we’re looking forward to celebrating Theresa’s birthday as well as our brother-in-law Jordan’s as a family.  I can't imagine what this life or our family would be like without my youngest sister Theresa in it. She has brought so much joy, smiles, laughter, love, and hope into our family. May the Lord continue to bless you, love you, and keep you ever close to Him as you use the many gifts He's given you to inspire others. We love you dearly! Looking forward to celebrating this evening.
    My mom’s famous homemade chicken fingers, mashed potatoes, and apple pie are going to be involved.  We’re also hoping to see the cutest mailman on the planet.  Our nephew’s dream is coming true: he gets to be a mailman for the day.
    Happy Halloween!  Lord of all souls, Father of all creation, thank You for the gift of loved ones, for the joy of new life, and the hope of eternal life You have given us.  All you holy men and women, pray for us!

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