Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thoughts on a New Year

This week Craig and I have spent some time dreaming about the future ... What we hope it will be, what we'd like to be doing and where we'd like to be doing it. Time will tell how many of those dreams will become realities ... but the seeds of dreaming, of wishing, of hoping, of planning have been firmly planted.

Craig is 55, I'm ten years younger. Our children are 7 and 9, which means Craig will be retiring when our daughter graduates high school and prepares to begin life as a young adult -- maybe in college, or doing something else. One day I hope they'll spend some time in a different country, perhaps as an exchange student or working on a mission. But that's my dream for them -- they will have to make it their own if it's going to work.

Each season of life has its chapters, its off-shoots. At various times I've been a student, a musician, a missionary, a secretary, an editor, a girlfriend, a patient, a wife, a teacher, a writer, and a mother. Not all at once, and each time I've tried to tend too large a garden, the weeds take over and I wind up doing NOTHING very well.

Any gardener will tell you that if you want a particular branch to bear fruit, it means pruning back the other branches. Last night at dinner I talked with my sister-in-law about this, and she mentioned that in her master gardener cours she learned that one never plants fruit trees for landscaping ... that the pruning required for good fruit production makes the trees a bit unsightly.

So it is with life. Investing our lives in one area means letting something else go. This year my Booster activities required that I give up other things -- the writer's conference, some writing projects, podcasting, and other things. Next year if I wind up going back to school to get my teaching certificate, it may mean that Boosters will need to take a back seat as I study and work to pay for classes.

Is this God's plan for my life? Good question, and one that (like many Christians) I think about often. When I was younger, I imagined that "God's will" was one particular, straight-and-narrow pathway, and that if I zigged instead of zagged -- chose one major over another, or one apartment over another -- I would fall off the grace wagon.

But God is far more generous with us than we are with ourselves. He gives us the boundaries, and sets us free within those limits. He gives us gifts and desires to guide us. Best of all, he takes our mistakes and miscalculations (when we offer them back to him and ask for help) and turns them into a thing of beauty. Or at least a source of wisdom for the future.

Sometimes "God's will" is best seen in retrospect, when the threads and knots of life's tapestry are turned over so we can see the beautiful weaving of God's design in all its beauty.

This year, may you see the beauty of your life from heaven's point of view.

Wisdom from "Domestic Felicity"

From time to time I receive comments -- often long after a particular entry has been posted -- expressing an alternate viewpoint about some aspect of adoption. What to do with those comments is sometimes a perplexing question. When the remarks are really nasty and (let's just say it) a bit "off," I have no problems deleting them.

But when a reader forms a well-thought out and respectful expression of a point of view that differs from my own, however, knowing where to draw the line or how to respond is a bit more challenging. So I was happy to read this post from "Domestic Felicity" that offers food for thought, and I share it here in case other readers have wondered about this same issue.

One of the points that struck home with me: Your readers have certain needs, and regular readers (who share your point of view) don't appreciate having to wade through a lot of negativity and controversy. So as the author, you need to strike a balance between free speech and unwanted diatribe. If someone wants to rant, let them do it in their own space -- especially if it is not contributing to the direction you, the blogger, has set.

Bottom line: Keeping one's "core audience" in mind is important. In my case, supporting adoptive parents. And (secondarily) affirming the idea that every child has a God-given right to life and the safety and security of a loving family. For Mrs. Anna T, the core issue is advocating for women who wish to stay at home and raise their children, and sharing her Jewish heritage and world view with a broader (hopefully appreciative) audience.

Thanks, Mrs. T, for sharing this with us!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lessons Learned This Christmas

It was a quiet Christmas for us ... shared Christmas Eve with our good friends Katy and Todd and their German exchange student Sammy. It was the perfect exchange: I cooked, they did the dishes. (Any Christmas guests who jump up to do the dishes after dinner are welcome at MY table every year! Ha, ha.)

In keeping with tradition, I made a stop at the local World Market to pick up a couple loaves of stollen (Christmas bread) and the traditional exchange student gift: a book entitled A Thousand Places (in the U.S. and Canada) to Visit Before You Die. Sammy liked the gingerbread, but seemed unfamilar with stollen (I guess there are some moms who don't like to bake even in Germany!)

We played a bit in the snow (Chris snow boarded, Sarah tobogganed, Maddy ran in circles, the rest of us strolled at a leisurely pace), then had dinner and opened a present ... Then went upstairs to get a Wii demo from Katy and Todd. My Christmas gift was Wii Fit Plus, and Katy was sweet enough to get on the stamp pad and demo that for me. (I wasn't going to get on it and announce my weight to the entire room for all the fudge in the North Pole).

Things I learned this Christmas ...

* Mashed potatoes taste really good with a generous sprinkle of garlic and a healthy sploosh of horseradish. (Plus lots of butter, sour cream, and a handful of chopped parsley.)

* Mashed potatoes taste even better the next day when you mix leftovers with eggs, cream, Feta cheese, and onion, and pour it in a pie crust to bake like a quiche. Yum. A Christmas morning tradition in the making!

* When you arrive on time to the midnight mass (it was the first time we'd done this since we had the kids), expect to sit in the VERY last row of the cry room, next to the tone-deaf but wildly enthusiastic Knight who feels a personal responsibility to lead the entire room in song ... eight beats behind the organist. Joyful noise, indeed.

* Even if you put kids to bed well after midnight, be prepared to open gifts at 6 a.m. sharp.

* We don't have to travel a thousand or even a hundred miles to have a very merry Christmas. Cuddled up in the family room, we had the cuddliest and most fully present family time I can remember in recent memory. Fa-la-la-la-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

* There really is no such thing as too many Christmas cookies ... I made six containers of the things, and between gifts and various functions, we are down to one small box. On Christmas day. Go figure.

* The most expensive presents are not usually the favorite presents. Sarah's favorite: a $5 box of "Princess and the Frog" press-on nails and manicure kit. Christopher's: $2 light sabers. My favorite: a small pottery jar from my parents, which I can use to melt chocolate for my "Heidi Hugs." Which, judging from the state of the cookie jar, I will need to use very soon.

* Most thought-provoking conversation, courtesy of Christopher, on our way to midnight Mass.

"Mom, Jesus wasn't very old when his father [Joseph] died, right?"
"Well, we don't know for sure, but many people think that he died when Jesus was young because he isn't mentioned later in the Scriptures."
"So why didn't Jesus didn't raise him from the dead, like he did Lazarus?"
"Hmm... Well, God gives every person a job to do when they come into the world. When they finish the job, and learn all the lessons God wants them to learn, they go to be with God. So maybe ... maybe Jesus knew that Joseph's job was to protect Jesus while he was small; once he became older -- like he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph found him -- Joseph finished his job. So it was time for him to go to be with God."
"So he went straight to heaven?"
"Well ... before Jesus died on the cross, all the people who loved God went to a place called 'Abraham's bosom,' sort of like purgatory. After Jesus died, the Bible says he went and released all those who trusted in God. St. Joseph -- and all the saints -- are in heaven with God now. Just as we will be one day, if we trust in Jesus to guide us to heaven ... after our work here on earth is done."

It was a bit of a twist on the traditional Christmas story ... at Christmas we tend to focus on birth rather than death. But Christopher's comment made me realize you can't really separate one from the other. Christmas and Easter. Manger and Cross. And who better to teach us this lesson ... than the Holy Family?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Saxtons!

Okay, so once again I’ve managed to put off writing out my Christmas cards until the last possible moment. Ironic, given how much writing I do the rest of the year, wouldn’t you say? Then again, most of it is “virtual writing,” so perhaps this is apropos.

It has been a good year, generally speaking. Craig has been especially busy at work these past few weeks, although he has been able to do at least some of it from home. I keep slipping him gingerbread treats and tea, and he keeps chugging along like the proverbial engine that could. “I think I can, I think I can….” Tonight he was able to join the family cuddle pile as we curled up together to watch “My Fair Lady.” Those ten minutes, with the four of us snuggled under the covers, were the best ten minutes of my day.

Thomas Nelson just sent out the review copies for my next book “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories.” I’m looking forward to see how this one does – at $19.99. it’s not exactly an impulse buy, but it IS a beautiful book. It is officially released in February – Craig will have the book available for orders on my website soon.

The key word this year has been “balance.” Frankly, I’ve found that very difficult, trying to avoid spreading myself too thin. I’ve been subbing in the office at my kids’ school, and tutoring two days a week. Mondays I teach religious education (20 fifth graders), which I’m really enjoying. And in between, trying to find time to put together the next book. Oh, and I joined the board at a new foster agency starting up here in Ypsilanti, called “Fostering Futures.” Extraordinary Moms Network continues as well.

Christopher started tae kwan do this year, and is enjoying himself very much. He is working hard, and got to be “Super Star” twice already, which made him (and us) so proud! Chris is nine, and is really enjoying school this year. We feel so blessed because of his teacher this year – Mr. Heires was his second grade teacher, and Chris is flourishing in his fourth grade class as well.

Sarah and I hope to start violin lessons, though it looks like the teacher won’t have an opening until sometime in January. Sarah celebrated her first reconciliation last month, and will have her First Communion on May 1. If you’re available, we’d love to have you join us! We’ve been having her tested a lot this year – she is having some focus issues that were concerning both her teachers and doctors. However, we now have an IEP in place and have started her on Concerta. Things are already improving. Thank God.

Christmas is at home this year – I’m hoping Craig will be able to break from work at some point, but either way it will be fun. We got a Wii to enjoy as a family, and I’m looking forward to the family fun nights ahead.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas with your family as well!


Craig and Heidi, Christopher and Sarah

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fundraising Tips

The past few weeks I've spent quite a bit of time on various projects intended to raise money for South Arbor Charter Academy, where my children attend. The goal is to raise $50,000 this year, which in restrospect might have been setting the bar a bit high. But, you know, shoot for the stars and you might just clear the trees, right?

I know a lot of schools are facing similar funding cuts, and I thought I'd share some of our experiences to date, recognizing that some ideas will work better for some schools than for others. However, a few principles would seem to apply across the board.

* Recognize that in every school, the lion's share of the fundraising tends to fall on a small group of parents. You will always have families who will take as much as they can get without a thought of giving back. It will be easier and more effective for you in the long run if you concentrate on a few events and do them well, rather than go back to the well repeatedly, so to speak.

* Look for ways to build community and recognize existing opportunities. So far this year we've had three notable successes: Our "Boosters Plus" program, which enables parents to make a one-time donation to our 501(c)3 organization for a charitable tax receipt; we started this in response to parents who said they didn't want to do any more selling. The second success has been our scrip program, in which parents buy gift cards from a variety of stores at face value, and the school gets a cut (Boosters runs a weekly store, where parents can come to pick up gift cards and shop for treats and merchandise). The third success was a "MAPS Week Beanie Treat" event, where parents could send their child a beanie baby to congratulate them for their hard work. We sold out of beanies in a couple of days.

* Be visible and keep your ears open to match abilities with needs. When we created our recipe book, we invited parents who had home-based businesses to place a small ad in the book, thereby recouping our production costs. One parent with a full-time job offered to donate a Saturday to help us create the books; another working parent gave up a day to make and decorate 50 gingerbread girls.

* Beware projects that are labor intensive -- unless you can "partner" them with another event that provides a high return. Our Booster Store is a regular time commitment, and although we don't make a lot of money each week from snacks, it does accomplish a couple of other important goals: provide a regular opportunity for parents to connect with Boosters, and to shop for scrip.

* Set prices carefully. Perceived value is very important. Selling $6 gingerbread cookies for teachers gifts got a fair number of takers -- but selling gingerbread house raffle tickets for $2 did not. Next year, raffle tickets will be fifty cents ... and I'm hoping we'll get many more takers! Our recipe books are not moving as quickly as I'd hoped ... the $10-12 price point was probably too high. May offer a "super sale" fo $7 books next week!

Do you have any experience with fundraising? What have been some of your memorable successes?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fighting the Bozone Layer: Thanks, Washington Post!

From my college friend, Carol Garborg:

Here are some of the winners from The Washington Post's yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.

Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic fit (n..): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

It's a Dog's Life!

Whenever we leave the house, Maddy assumes her favorite position: Propped up on the back of the sofa, paws and snout rooting for a clear spot in the living room curtains. Judging from the state of our curtains, she generally has to root around for a while before she gets a clean spot of glass.

Judging from the number of images I googled (see left), it appears to be a common problem. Most people, it turns out, shorten the curtains.

Me, I'd like to shorten the dog. No, not really -- most of the time, she's a delightful companion. But why is it, pray tell, that the goals of beautiful home and happy family so often seem to be at odds with one another?
I know. One day I will look around at my picture-perfect domicile and long for the days of nose smudges and markered walls and carpet spots. Or so I'm told.
One day ... but for now, I guess I'll just shorten the curtains -- and take a deep breath!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sarah Gives Thanks...

We've been up since six. Sarah wanted to get a head-start on her turkeys. Each multi-colored feather is labeled with an "attitude of gratitude" that begins: I am thankful for my mom and dad and __________ (brother, toys, baby sister, etc.)

Yesterday Benita, the school secretary, greeted me with six words guaranteed to stop me in my tracks: "Guess what your daughter did today."

It seems Benita was taking around a group of prospective South Arbor moms, and met Sarah in the hall on her way back to class. "What's new, Sarah?" Benita asked my daughter.

Sarah's face lit up. "My mom is having her BABY tomorrow! I'm going to have a Baby Sister, Meghan!" she announced. Sensing she had an audience hanging on her every word, Sarah launched into a heartfelt monologue, giving chapter and verse on how happy she was to be a Big Sister. "If I hadn't known you," Benita chuckled, "I would have been absolutely convinced she was telling the truth." She paused. "You're not having a baby tomorrow, right?"

Every person in the office stopped talking. The principal popped his head out of his office. Dana, the other secretary, stopped talking.

"Not tomorrow, sorry. Sarah's been asking for a baby sister or brother for some time, and I told her to talk to God about it. But at this rate, I'm pretty sure I know what the answer is - I've caught my limit!"

Yes, my daughter can be very convincing. I just hope one day she'll use her gift for good!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gotta Book? What Does It Cost to Publish

Today I came across this insightful post at Rachel Gardener's blog, which gives breakdown of the hidden costs of publishing abook.

Bottom line: A publisher has to be able to pay the bills. So if a publisher is going to invest in your book, is it going to be worth the investment?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beleagered from Battle...

"You gonna catch up on your blog today?" my husband asked as I stumbled out of the bedroom. "You haven't written anything in almost a week now."

I smiled. I didn't think he'd noticed. But Craig had seen me stress out all week, and did a sneaky husband bit -- went to the blog to find out what was REALLY going on. Smart guy. If only I'd written on it!

This week I was reminded again of the importance of "seasons" in life. Not just the BIG seasons like college, marriage, motherhood, and empty-nesting . . . the mini-seasons as well: the cycles of productive activity, celebration, and rest.

This week was South Arbor Booster's first "Holiday Store," selling gifts and scrip for holiday shopping. We've worked hard to create our cookbooks, order the merchandise and scrip, and get everything set up. Too hard, frankly -- Christopher and Sarah were definitely shwoing signs of wear. The end of the second day, Sarah had the mother of all melt-downs in the middle of the school parking lot as Dad walked her to the car. "I WANT MOMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Clearly, Mommy had not been as available this week as usual. And her absence had not gone unnoticed. So I cleared us out of there as quickly as possible, planning to come in the next morning to finish clearing up the mess.

That morning, I was met at the door by an indignant staff member, who lectured me on my responsibility to take care of the facility. It did not go over well. I don't respond well to lectures on the best of days -- and this was not a good day. I fumed. I cried. I felt twelve shades of sorry for myself. And I lectured back, once I was safely out of earshot.

In a word, I had overdone it.

When a seven-year-old has a meltdown, there's no mistaking it: kicking and screaming, snot and tears everywhere. The grown-up version is slightly more dignified, but has many of the same sources. We get overwhelmed, and feel neglected and unappreciated. We want to feel connected and loved. We need a quiet place to reconnect and restore.

Are you feeling beleaguered today?

Monday, November 02, 2009

All Souls' Day

This morning as I put the final touches on my religious education lesson for my 20 fifth graders, I think about how to make the lesson memorable for each child. What will they take away from that class? What will they remember a day, a week . . . dare I say it? a decade from now?

Today, we study the life of St. Miguel Pro, who donned disguises in order to bring the sacraments to the faithful of Mexico who were willing to risk their lives rather than deny their faith. Which raises the question of the day: If I knew that the police were going to rush the sanctuary and arrest anyone who had received Eucharist -- would I be willing to risk it?

As President Obama signs the "hate speech" legislation into law, am I going to speak up publicly regarding the teachings of the Church on natural family order and the theology of the body? Or will I melt into a philosophical pile of relativistic goo, so as not to offend those determined to live outside those parameters?

As we pray for the souls in purgatory, who need the refining fire of God's burning love to cleanse them prior to receiving the beatific vision, will I remember not to idealize my dearly departed, and to allow that they were not as perfect on earth as God will make them in heaven? And will I extend that grace to those who are still living -- being willing to learn from them, and love them despite their flaws and weaknesses?

St. Gertrude, patronness of travelers and souls in purgatory, pray for us! As we travel this road of life, may we read the signs God places in our path and to follow them faithfully.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Trick or . . . Terrified?

Last night when I took my little goblins for their annual "sugar rush" -- circling our friend's development in search of a bucketful of chocolate treats -- the experience was very different than in years past.

While the number of dinosaurs and ballerinas and superheroes and ghosts had not diminished, the number of porch lights certainly had. "Times are tough" commented parents to one another as we passed on the sidewalk. "Or maybe it's the virus scare," said others.

Either way, it was not the Happiest Halloween on record. It was cold. It was dark. And for two little kids who were eager to show off their Halloween etiquette (no walking on grass, always say thank you, take just one, and be ready to burst into song if someone asks for a "trick") it was downright discouraging.

The experience got me to thinking about this time about a decade ago, when the Y2K scare had people hunkering down and squirreling away gallons of water. One relation of mine (I won't mention names here, as we all need covering for our stupidity from time to time) stored so much water on her laundry room shelves that the shelves collapsed, sending about an inch of water to the nether regions of the house. At that time, John Paul II was admonishing the faithful, "Be not afraid . . . open the doors of your heart to Christ!"

This advice is no less relevant today. Given a choice to hide in fear or celebrate life . . . choose life. Hand out penny candy and ask for a trick. Wear gloves and mask if you absolutely must (call it a costume). But bear witness to the community, the need to need each other.

Today at Catholic Exchange, I've written an article on the subject. Here's the link. Enjoy . . . and Happy All Soul's Day!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Pray to the Saints?

I rushed through the house, fixing dinner and straightening the house. The babysitter would arrive any minute, so my husband and I could attend a school fundraiser. As I swiped the bathroom mirror with a cloth, I caught my wedding ring and, not wanting to damage the setting even more than I already have, I set the ring aside to continue my single-minded pursuit of the appearance of domestic bliss.

One week later, the ring is still missing. I finally told Craig about it, who promptly said he’d replace it (as though such a thing could ever be replaced). Then I went online and bemoaned my fate. “St. Jude … help!”

Moments later, I saw with crystal clarity the cultural and theological “devotional divide” that splits my circle of friends and family. The camps were fairly evenly divided between unequivocal support (“Tony, Tony come around . . .”) and chastisement (a.k.a. “Don’t you know you can go straight to GOD for this kind of thing?”). Theology, Facebook style.

Didn’t I know I could pray directly to God? Uh-huh. Well aware of that. God and I have been on regular speaking terms for about forty years now. That doesn’t stop me from calling in reinforcements. The last time I lost my ring, I asked my guardian angel to go and sit on it until I could find it. When Craig and I discovered the ring in the middle of a snow-covered strip mall parking lot, the ring was centered in a heart-shaped “bald patch” on the asphalt. As though the angel had literally sat upon it until we arrived.

Friends in High Places

For centuries believers have sent their petitions in care of Mary and the saints, confident that those perfected in heaven are in a better position to pray in a way that is consistent with the will of the Father. Here on earth, so much obstructs our view: selfishness, pride, and weakness keep us from persevering in the battle as constantly and vigorously as we ought. The saints do not have this problem; the “cloud of witnesses” of which Scriptures speak (Hebrews 12:1) provide essential spiritual reinforcement.

The Catechism (2683) says:

The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were "put in charge of many things" (Mt 25:23). Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

Does God care about the little details of my life, including missing wedding rings? No doubt. He is big enough and wise enough and all-loving enough to handle this and every other crisis that comes my way. And yes, because I am a daughter of God, my every need is only a whispered prayer away from the ear of God.

So why bother to ask others – in heaven or on earth, for that matter – to take up my intentions? Why are we commanded to confess our sins and to pray for one another (James 5:16), and why do the prayers of the saints ascend to the throne of God (Rev 8:4), if each believer has within himself the power to get everything he needs directly from the throne of grace?

Could the answer be . . . because we are a Body? Because the God who created us, made us to be in relationship with one another? When Jesus returned to heaven, He did not leave behind a book but a group of men to guide His Church. And when He spoke of being the Vine (John 15:5), He said that those who continued to “abide in me” would bear “much fruit.”
Nowhere do the Scriptures say that we get cut off from that Vine when we leave earth. Rather, the ongoing teaching of the Church has always been that the faithful are perpetually connected in Jesus.

The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men."197 The Church's first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men's communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues";198 at the same time, the Church is the "sign and instrument" of the full realization of the unity yet to come. (CCC #775).
When we include the saints in heaven in our intercessions, asking them to join our chorus of adoration, petition, supplication, and blessing – from heaven—we bear witness in a particular way of this unity, which will be perfected in heaven.

It is this witness, this acknowledgment of our utter dependence upon God and our need for one another, that is the real need for prayer. Not primarily to get us the parking space, or to find the ring, or to get a temporary reprieve from illness or pain. But, in the words of C.S. Lewis:

“I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time...waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me."

“God of the Gumball”

This realization – that we are in fact in need of changing – is something we as human beings are prone to forget at times. We want God to change our circumstances: find the parking spot, heal the disease, find the wedding ring. We forget that it is precisely through these little struggles that we are forced to grow stronger and taller in grace.

When we lose sight of this, we begin to serve the “God of the Gumball Machine”: put in a prayer, get out what we want. A deeply felt sense of failure washes over some Christians when they ask God for a specific intention, and the answer is not what they’d hoped. Some see it as a signal to pray even harder . . . or to give up altogether, as though the battle has no intrinsic value.
The Catechism offers a third perspective (#2742):

"Pray constantly . . . always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father." (1 Thes 5:17) St. Paul adds, "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the saints." (Eph 6:18) For "we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing." (Evagrius Ponticus, Pract. 49: PG 40, 1245C.) This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer.

The Catechism defines these three facts as follows: (1) It is always possible to pray; (2) Prayer is a vital necessity; and (3) Prayer and the Christian life are “inseparable.” Furthermore, John 15:16-17 shows that there is an intrinsic connection between asking the Father . . . and truly loving one another.

Never Walk Alone

Is there ever a time when we should just hunker down on our own knees, and abandon ourselves to “the Great Alone”? Absolutely. The intimate conversation of Father and child is an indispensable part of family life. And yet, it is not the only part. Most of life is spent in the company of one another, helping each other and conversing with one another.

To abandon oneself to Divine Providence in abject humility and deliberate solitude, is one thing; to suppose oneself not to need – or be in the invisible company of – other members of the Body is a prideful delusion. Just as the Trinity is an eternal flow of love from one divine person to the next, so the Church – the Bride of Christ – is sustained as a Body with an eternal infusion of Spirit.

The “Jesus and me” – devoid of any other spiritual attachment – that predominates in some Christian communities has no more to do with true spiritual intimacy than a teenage crush has to do with married love. True attachment is anchored in family; isolation produces delusion, confusion, and death.

This revelation of unity is more important than any earthly possession. So when I ask the saints to help me find my wedding ring, I’m simply asking my big brothers and sisters in faith to give me a hand. And like any good parent, the Father smiles to see His children working together, and loving each other. He doesn’t worry that they aren’t focused totally on Him. He just sits back and enjoys the camaraderie.

Are we never to approach God on our own? Can we not speak to Him, heart-to-heart? Will He not hear our prayers? Of course we can, and do, and He does.

As does the entire company of heaven, who intercedes on our behalf.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is It God's Will for Us to Adopt? Conversion Diary: So you went against God's will. Now what?

Jen has a particularly great post today about figuring out God's will -- especially relevant for adoptive (and aspiring adoptive) parents. Check it out!

Conversion Diary: So you went against God's will. Now what? - The diary of a former atheist

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Walter Raleigh and the Sacraments

Yesterday was my first religious education class. I've never taught fifth grade before, and frankly I was a bit nervous about my ability to keep this age engaged and interested.

I started out the class by passing around my father's old tobacco pouch, and asking if they knew what it was. They passed it around. "Incense?" "Rose petals?" "Cinnamon?"

Nope. Good old Walter Raleigh, thirty years stored away in a small pouch of leather. "Now, you all know that smoking is a bad, unhealthy habit. But when I was little, my father used to come home at night and light up his pipe . . . He'd sit in his chair and read the paper and smoke his pipe, and we knew that the evening had officially begun.

"Just as I left home, my father's doctor convinced Dad that he needed to give up his pipe, and I asked him if I could keep his tobacco pouch. I traveled all over the world with it - Africa, Europe, Mexico, all over the United States. Whenever I felt homesick, I'd inhale the aroma of that tobacco, and thought of home. It always reminded me of my father who loved me.

"The sacraments are a bit like that old tobacco pouch; they are a tangible reminder of the unshakeable and unconditional love of the heavenly Father. But they are also something more: they are a visible sign of invisible grace, the divine life of the Spirit poured out upon us through those signs, strengthening us to live the Christian life.

"This year we're going to be learning about the sacraments, and about prayer, so you can start to formulate for yourself why they are important to you. You are soon going to be starting preparation for Confirmation, when you begin to use your gifts in the Church as young adults. So it's important that you have a grown-up kind of faith, the kind you hold on to not because your parents tell you to, but because it's real."

I then explain that they will be doing a couple of independent projects on the sacraments and prayer, including a weekly prayer journal in which they record their experiences of talking with God.

I can hardly wait to see what they're going to come up with!

Holy Mother: Eric and Luciano are calling you!

Head on over to Esther's blog for this bit of inspiration ... You'll be glad you did!

A Catholic Mom in Hawaii: Holy Mother

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sometimes You Drop the Ball ...

... other times you feel like throwing it!

Every once in a while my day will spill over into the wee hours of the next morning. I don't know whether it's hormonal, or stress, or simple overload. But sleep simply will not come, and I can either stare at the ceiling or get up and be productive.

So here I am.

Yesterday was a hard day. I had coffee with a recently widowed friend, whose husband was an active member of the Knights of Columbus and a faithful partner with me on our Vacation Bible School programs. Frankly, I'm a little relieved we'd already planned to take a break from VBS this year because of the construction -- I don't know how I'd get through it, feeling that empty hole on the other side of the stage.

She told me that the day after her husband died, one person (who shall remain nameless, but should have known better) called about the money Bob had collected the day before he died, parking cars for the U of M game. This poor woman couldn't even put her hands on her husband's insurance policy, but this jackass (there is no other name for it) was determined to collect, right then and there.

I'm happy to report she hung up on him.

A few hours later, I sat in on a school leadership meeting, where we talked about how to spend the money raised by Boosters. I had wanted to start a ccmpetition between the classrooms, to see which class could add the most to the Boosters coffers. A pizza party would be the prize.

The plan went down in flames. My eye was on the Boosters goal: $50,000. But others were more concerned about hurting the feelings of families that couldn't contribute as much as we wanted them to. They wanted the focus to be the number of families that participated not how much each family gave. I didn't shift gears quickly enough, and my well-intentioned plan was shot down. Ouch.

So here I am, late at night, contemplating these two events and wondering if they are somehow connected. Is this a case of putting programs before people, and money ahead of relationships? Could be. Something to consider: In juggling all the balls, is it better to drop a few . . . or to throw them at the feckless few who don't "get with the program"?

The Type-A in me would prefer the latter. But I'm guessing that is not WJWD.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


One of my least favorite aspects of blogging is getting letters from hit-and-run commenters who think it is their God-given right to pontificate on a pet issue, no matter how tangentially related to the post at hand, and take it very personally if you disagree, or consider it proof of their "rightness" if you refuse to engage them in further discussion. While dialogue is always good, I've learned the hard way that there are some people who will never consider any other viewpoint but their own, rendering further discussion pointless.

Memo to my most recent ranters at EMN: The fact that other people don't see the world exactly as you do does not necessarily mean that we are (a) cerebrally challenged, (b) willfully ignorant or (c) morally depraved (e.g. "unChristian"). Sometimes, it's simply a matter of the available facts going through a different filter, based on a unique set of experiences that gives each of us a certain point of view.

I understand -- truly I do -- why people like me, who advocate strongly for adoptive parents and their best interests, might be easy targets. You see us as part of the problem, because we insist that ALL THREE SIDES of the issue must be held in balance. You feel cheated by the fact that you perceive the legal system favors the adoptive bond -- the adopted child's legal parents.

What I don't understand -- will never understand -- is how little regard you sometimes show for adoptive parents and birth parents alike, or how quick you are to judge our motives and criticize our choices.

You call us "infertiles" (hoping to pick a fight, I guess) or simply "selfish people," because we consider ourselves our child's real family after spending 18-22 years of our lives raising him or her. You minimize and even mock the sacrifice, the struggle, and the fears -- and have not a single ounce of the compassion for those who feel genuine pain over their grown child's choice to "find himself" in another family. And then you wonder why we tune you out, like a mother who ignores a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

In your single-minded quest for what you "lost," you completely disregard what you were spared -- the neglect, the abuse, the untimely death. Now that the danger is past, that's easily done. But we remember where you came from. It's part of your story . . . and in a real sense, part of ours as well. Because we are your parents, who labored for you in ways you can never begin to understand.

So you'll have to make allowances if at times we seem to have more concern for your first parents than you think is right, or if we have little patience for your whining about what cannot be undone. You'll have to realize that yes, we are GLAD, things turned out as they did . . . because we love you and cannot imagine what our lives would have been like had you never been a part of them.

It's not so hard for us to imagine why someone brave enough to choose adoption would object to an untimely reminder of their past (even if they are happy to hear the child himself is well) after having kept it a secret for decades, often due to the circumstances that led to the adoption in the first place. We respect that original sacrifice, and agree that parent should have the option to be left alone, and not have to explain themselves or their decisions to individuals decades removed from the situation. It was hard enough the first time. (If the first parents want contact, that's a different matter. No less painful, but different.)

Yes, some first parents are happy to learn -- years later -- that their child is alive and well. (And yes, the increase in open adoption may very well render the very concept of "closed records" obsolete. Time will tell what this will do for the children caught in the middle.) But others are not, and should not be forced into it. Let's create and improve the national registry, and promote it well. Let's make sure the adopted children have access to medical information. Above all, let's find ways to help the current generation of adopted children, so they don't waste so much time in the emotional limbo of wanting something they cannot have.

Sooner or later, most children grow up and realize that their parents didn't set out to mess up their kids. They made the best possible choices for us that they could, based on the information they had at the time. They couldn't see all the ramifications of those choices, or anticipate how we would interpret those choices twenty or thirty years hence. They probably realized their kids wouldn't always agree with the choices they made for us; that, too is part of parenthood. The best they could hope for is to teach us the skills we needed to recover from our disappointment . . . and stand strong as we made our own way in the world.

This is as true for "home grown" children as it is for adopted ones. Both varieties may have "roots" that have been damaged through our parents choices, and may require some TLC or even professional intervention. Or they may not. I've encountered both kinds of adult adoptees -- and adult "biologicals." The connections between parent and child -- any parent and child -- are individual, personal, and permanent.

Again, I'm not looking for a discussion here. Frankly, I've heard enough. I just want you to know there IS another side.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Common Room: Collected Rules My Mama Never Told Me I'd Need to Make

In need of a bit of a laugh today? Head on over to "The Common Room" and hear all about "The Rules."

The Common Room: Collected Rules My Mama Never Told Me I'd Need to Make

Then head on over to EMN and read about choosing educational opportunities for your child: "School Daze: In Defense of Charter Schools."

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Mass: Ever Ancient, Ever New

Julie Davis just pointed her readers to this website in which the USCCB explains the changes that are going to be incorporated into the Mass in the coming months.

The Lord be with us (and with our spirit)!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life Lessons . . . from Africa

This afternoon I was at the school (Boosters season has officially begun!), and came across Miss Adams, Sarah's teacher from last year. Miss Adams spent part of her summer at a school in Tanzania, working with a local elementary school in a kind of cross-cultural partnership.

I had been looking forward to hearing about her experience, recalling what a formative experience it was for me the year I spent in Senegal, West Africa. And I was not disappointed . . . Like me, she had been startled upon "re-entry," finding it hard to cope with the variety and abundance of just about everything here. "At the end of every school year, we toss away more than these children have!"

My heart went out to her. I remember what a hard time I had with adjusting to life back in the States, and the guilt and shame I felt over my privileged status. The injustice of it all was hard to swallow.

However, I did have one advantage: I was returning to Bible school, whereas Miss Adams is going back to the classroom, trying to convey what she had learned to a classroom of first-graders. How do you get kids that age to grapple with such big questions? It's hard enough for the adults.

But then, Miss Adams is not your typical first-grade teacher. I look forward to being a little fly on the wall, watching her bring those life lessons ... to life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Never Tap the Mower Guy

Today at "Faith and Family Live" I wrote about my experience at the cemetery, trying to find Father Roger's marker.

Lesson learned: When you need directions, never sneak up on the guy who's mowing the lawn. Especially when he's worked for the park for 35 years, and is two weeks short of retirement.

Thought for the Day: Wisdom from Julie Cameron "The Artist's Way"

My friend Pat Gohn sent this quote to me today, which has applications not only to writing but to all worthwhile endeavors.

"Take one small daily action instead of indulging in the big questions. When we wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers.... It's change grounded in respect for where we are and where we to go.... Large changes occur in tiny increments."

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Publishing Game: Like Farkle ... or Farmville?

Last week when I gave my talk on the "ABCs of Good Writing," I turned it into a game. I had participants take out a sheet of paper and write the letter from A to Z in the left margin, then write beside each letter every word they could think of that was associated with writing (good or bad) or writers (ditto). I had 150 . . . I believe the winner of my "Writer's Gift Basket" had 138. (Way to go, Mary!)

When I got to "F," the two words that immediately came to mind are the FaceBook applications Farkle and Farmville. First of all, both games are delightful distractions (the kind of diversion you're supposed to avoid if you want to be a serious writer). However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that both games are apt metaphors for another kind of game . . . the book publishing game, to be precise.

With Farkle, you roll the dice and come up with various combinations of dice to earn points. It's part intuition (knowing when to stop rolling), part numbers, and part dumb luck. There's really no other word for it. Oh, and it also helps to know a lot of other high rollers, as they send you little chip gifts from time to time, and you constantly try to one-up your "friends" by drawing a higher score.

Sound familiar? Nah, I didn't think so.

Then there's Farmville. Everyone has the same-sized plot of land, and everyone on the same level of expertise has access to the same kinds of seeds, trees, buildings, decorations, and animals. You give your neighbor a hand chasing crows or pulling weeds, rescue the odd lost cow, and send your Farmville friends little presents to help them along. (Think writers' groups.)

And yet, there is a lot of work -- and a lot of decision-making -- you must do on your own. Do I plant crops indefinitely (and keep returning every 4-12 hours to harvest), or put in something that requires less of a time commitment, such as trees or animals? Do I go for the "pretty" or for the unabashedly practical? Do I spend a lot of time running around chasing crows out of everyone else's garden, and let my own go to seed?

Most of all, am I willing to make a plan, and stick with it over the long haul -- even putting in a few dollars of my own resources to make my dream come true, if need be? (I have my eye on that farm house!) Food for thought.

What do you think -- is writing more like Farkle, Farmville ... or something else?

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Birthday Curve

Now that I've reached the midway point of my forties, I really should stop giving birthdays so much attention. And I was all-but-ready to . . . until I woke up this morning in a hotel room with two whiny kids wedged under my armpits. Neither of them was exactly belting out the Birthday Song. More like . . .

"MOM! He kicked me."

"MOM! She looked at me."

"KNOCKITOFF!!!! Seriously, guys. It's only 6:42."

The stage whispers continued in a not-so-dull roar, until I rolled out of bed, shoved my feet in a pair of sandals, and waddled off toward the breakfast room with my little urchins so my nieces (who had been watching the kids this week) could get a few more zzzzs.

A few minutes later, I sprinted for the door to catch the opening session of the writer's conference. No sooner had I stepped into the conference ballroom than my cell rang. It was Craig -- I smiled, thinking he wanted to wish me a happy birthday.

"You'll never believe what happened to me last night," he began a complicated description of his piano lesson and the mini-consult he'd had with his teacher's husband, the doctor. I asked Craig a few questions -- all the wrong ones, apparently -- and tried to sound sympathetic. Then my phone beeped. "Honey, I hate to cut you off, but I need to take this. It might be about the kids."

It was my sister, saying she might not be able to make our sister reunion. We talked for a few minutes -- her upset, me trying to soothe. Then I went back into the conference. My friend Pat saw the storm clouds brewing on my face, and took me outside to chat. Dear Pat. She's always been such an encouragement to me, cheering me on as I try to meet a myriad of little goals. She even prayed for me when I lost my Edirol recorder two months ago, and using it as an excuse not to start my podcast. What a friend.

The great thing about true friends -- good friends, I mean -- is that they can deliver the tough messages no one else will. She encouraged me to think of ways to be supportive of Craig even when I didn't understand what he was going through -- and to understand how hard it is to be the chronically ill partner. My response was something highly mature and constructive having to do with his forgetting my birthday.

"It's your BIRTHDAY?! I didn't know that!" She gave me a big hug and said she needed to get back inside to set up for the next talk. I went to my seat and started digging around in my computer bag . . . and nearly fainted when I discovered a secret compartment that contained the three credit cards I'd recently reported as lost . . . and my recorder.

"PAAAAAT! I found it! My recorder!!!!" And like a true friend, she whooped and danced around with me. Then she sat me down and gave me a lesson on GarbagePail (or whatever that podcasting software for Mac is called).

It was my birthday present from God. HE had not forgotten that, even at 45, His kids like to be remembered. (Thanks, God!)

By the end of the day, everything had turned around. All three of my sisters turned up to celebrate the weekend with me. And I even got to see an old high school buddy who was the musical director of a local production of "Seussical." (Way to go, Rory!)

And now that the day is officially over, and the kids are both slumbering peacefully on the floor, I think I'll get a little shut-eye. Thank God birthdays only come once a year!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Convention Heats Up ...

First day of the Catholic Writer's Conference, and already I'm glad I made it. So many people I've known for years, virtually, I finally got to meet in person. Two of the most important: Karina Fabian and Ann Lewis, who have worked themselves into a fevered pitch just to pull off this lovely convention.

Tomorrow will be a busy day, but today I enjoyed just sitting back and interacting casually with writers coming "up the ranks." Most of the women my age have college-age kids, which is a little disconcerting (I had to excuse myself to go tuck in the kidlets when the party seemed to be warming up for everyone else). But then, as I sit here typing, Chris and Sarah snuggled up to the air conditioner (until a few seconds go Chris had his arm around Sarah in a darling pose that I caught on camera but will have to post another time since I forgot the cable to put it on the computer, dang), I have to say they're cutest when they're sleeping.

And it's good to be "home."

Tomorrow I give my little talk at 10:30. Book signing at 2:30. If you're in the area, be sure to stop in!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Like A Shining Wedding Dress ...

Our first day of the road trip was an unqualified success. Sarah's at the stage where she keeps a non-stop monologue going through most of her waking hours, unless a video is on (in which case she assumes a gratifyingly quiet, glassy-eyed stare).

But today she was mid-sentence in her enthusiastic litany of all the fun we were going to have over the next two weeks, swimming and frolicking and eating in restaurants every single day. Then, just as we crossed the Ohio River outside of Cleveland . . . silence.

"You okay, Sarah?"

"Uh, huh . . . How pretty! It looks like a shiny wedding dress!" I looked up at the pointy modern spire of the bridge, shining in the sunlight.

You know something? Sarah was absolutely right. Just like a wedding dress.

Dinner with the Russells, and as we sipped tea and watched Sarah and Ellie at play I found myself wishing they lived closer. Or at least that I could have talked her into joining me for the writer's conference THIS year.

Ah, well ... there's always next year! (It's gonna be a FULL van, with all the people I'll be picking up along the way, right Sarah?)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Two suitcases ... and a van

Two weeks. Two suitcases. Two tons of . . . paraphenalia (sp?) that we may or may not use. Including the extra rolls of duct tape to affix to various extremeties when the bickering makes my head explode.

I think we're ready. First stop . . . State College, PA! Catholic Writer's Conference, here we come!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Quality Time with Dad

They look happy, don't they?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ten Years Ago Today ...

Ten years ago today, I was living in a farmhouse with my border collie puppy. Only on this particular day the house was overrun with people, flowers, and leftover salads and cookies (from the rehearsal dinner).

Ten years ago today, my bridesmaids were frantically putting the finishing touches on their bouquets (we saved money by ordering the flowers through the mail ...) and watching me get my hair done. It turned out pouffy. Ah, well.

Ten years ago today, my husband and his family were loading up in his brother's RV, dressed up in their tuxedos. They pulled into the driveway just as the bride was making a break for the dressing room. (Craig swears he didn't peek.)

Ten years ago today, my friends and family were tuning up -- and discovered the sound system didn't work. They called Craig (who managed the sound for my 12:30 Mass group), who spent his last few moments as a single man wrestling with recalcitrant speakers.

Ten years ago today, my father misted up as he finally ... FINALLY ... had the opportunity to give his last daughter away. To a good man, he knew would take care of his oldest girl. But he misted up anyway. (Thanks, Dad.)

Ten years ago today, we promised to love each other and be faithful to each other in sickness and health and wealth and poverty and God alone knew what else may come. (That time I misted up, but Father Roger looked positively giddy.)

Ten years ago today, we took our limo back to the farmhouse as everyone else made their way to the reception hall. We wanted to spend a few quiet minutes with our puppy, who didn't show much respect for the dress ... She just brought me the ball to throw, and when (as usual) my athletic prowess didn't meet her expectations, she gave it to my husband. (It felt good to call him that.)
Ten years ago today, we had no idea what was in store for us, or the energy and commitment it would take to stay the road. We had no idea just how many ragged edges needing smoothing away, or how often we would hurt each other in the process. Or how good we would get at forgiving.

Ten years ago today . . . and I'd do it all over again if I could.

I love you, honey!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sarah Palin: Why She's Still My Hero . . .

It's the closest my husband and I have ever come to a fight, I think.

"Don't you see that, once she resigned her post, she lost all hope of ever running for public office? That she'll always be branded a quitter?"

"Well, no, I don't see that. I see someone who 'knows when to hold 'em, knows when to fold 'em. We haven't heard the last of her. Count on it."

(I wonder if Sarah knows Kenny Rogers?) Check this out!

Shared via AddThis

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How to Make an Australian Shepherd Flop . . .

Let me start by saying that I have little-to-no athletic ability (unless you count running my mouth or leaping to conclusions, in which I could compete in the Olympics). My husband knew this when he married me, and he was okay with it.

Yes, it's true that we met at the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club -- and yes, I know dancing is a sport. But then, we haven't done much of THAT lately, either :-)

Anyway . . . now that we have an Australian shepherd puppy, I've had to find ways to keep her occupied. Like most herding dogs, Maddy requires a physically strenuous occupation in order to keep her happy and out of trouble. Maddy's job is to chase tennis balls all over the yard.

I discovered I could make the ball go a lot farther if I tossed it in the air and whacked it with Christopher's metal bat. Babe Ruth I am not (actually, my husband says my form resembles that of a tennis player more than a ball player). But after 20 minutes or so, Maddy is gratifyingly floppy, and will willingly come inside for a nap. (Sadly, this does not work on the two-footed creatures I'm trying to keep occupied this summer.)

Mission accomplished, for at least another hour or two. (Wish I had a picture for this one, but by holding the ball in one hand and the bat in the other, I couldn't figure out how to take the picture with my teeth!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Ramblin': Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

It's been a pretty good summer, though not nearly as structured as I'd planned in May. (The schedule I'd taped to our pantry is now generously covered with dinosaurs and elaborate flower cutouts.)

The last few days have been kinda sprinkly/gray, and yesterday I spent most of the day with my nose in the computer, trying to turn around a few corrections to my latest book: My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. (Published by Tommy Nelson in February 2010; details on that another time.)

So . . . today, we played: a day at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum!!! Four floors of science fun, from rock wall climbing to water tables to giant bubble makers to electronics and a harp without strings. Cool stuff. They have a new infrared display, when you dance in front of it you appear in a spectrum of colors: white, red, yellow, orange, green, blue (in order of descending coolness). I was a big ball of yellow . . . Chris had big bloches of blue, especially his feet. (Turns out he had stomped in a water puddle when my back was turned, and his feet were soaked.)

About 3, an alarm went off -- fire drill! So we ended our day with a trip to Kilwin's for cones and spinkles. Caramel apples in the window, chocolate-cover graham crackers cooling on the side. Yum.

What's your favorite summertime outing -- rain or shine?

Computer Medic: Honest-to-Goodness Customer Service

There are some places that I always walk in feeling at a distinct disadvantage: car dealership, the mechanic, and anything having to do with buying computer equipment. Always that niggling apprehension that I don't know what I'm doing, and that somehow I'm going to be ripped off.

Sad, huh?

So when I walked into Computer Medic the other day and handed over my laptop, per my husband's instructions (after he had conferred with the Hewlett Packard rep), I was a little apprehensive. Even though the guy Mike was very nice and helped me figure out how to download a few documents after I discovered I'd be without a laptop for a week.

"A WEEK? And for HOW MUCH?" Craig exclaimed later. "Did you tell him it was under warranty?" I hadn't, and it was 6 on Friday. So I left a voice mail message.

Monday, I asked another CM guy who called me if they got my message. They hadn't. I repeated that (a) my computer was under warranty and (b) I REALLY needed that computer ASAP, so I would pay for expedited service no matter what the warranty covered. "Okay, that should be no problem," the guy said.

Turns out, as my husband soon discovered, Computer Medic wasn't an HP repair center. So, yeah, it kinda was a problem. We were out $85, and they didn't find a problem with my computer.

Now ... here's the honest-to-goodness, interesting part. My husband talked to the manager, and explained that HP had sent us to them, and that we shouldn't be stuck with the $85.

And you know what? THE MANAGER DIDN'T CHARGE US!!!

And you know what else? THE COMPUTER WORKS!!!

Go figure. Thanks, Computer Medic!

And Hewlett Packard, if you're reading this . . . you really should put Computer Medic on your list!

And Craig? Seriously . . . next computer, a MACBOOK! (Please? Thanks, honey.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comcast: "I feel absolutely good that we were able to chat together."

Last night when I finally persuaded my husband that my outbound e-mail was "clogged," Craig got on the horn with our service provider. I then watched my dear husband (normally a calm, collected, easy-going guy) turn several shades of aggravated, dealing with the customer service rep. "Yes, my wife works from home and uses e-mail for her business dealings. No, she doesn't routinely send messages to more than 25 at a time, though it does happen from time to time. No, you CAN'T interest me in a business account, when you aren't even servicing this one properly."

Phone went dead, and Craig used a colorful word. Which did the trick: magically, my e-mail service was restored. Until this morning ... When we lost e-mail, cable, and phone all in one fell swoop. This time my DH (who was at work) contacted Comcast through their website, and had the following exchange.

Craig > Our service is all down: Phone, Internet, Digital Cable, and Analog Cable
Charmaine> Hello Craig_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Charmaine. Please give me one moment to review your information. How are you doing today?
Craig> OK
Charmaine> It is a nice feeling to know that you are doing that way, Craig.
Charmaine> I understand that you are having an issue with your Comcast services, is this correct? [Insert head smack here. Well, DUH!!!]
Craig> Yes
Charmaine> We appreciate the time that you're taking to chat in today. Thank you for always making us a part of your day. It is with regret that we inform you of a very temporary interruption on our Comcast services.. However, we are also happy to inform you that we are now currently improving our connectivity. We are doing this to continue our quest for excellence with our services and features enhancement. Please do give us some time while we complete the Upgrade process, rest assured that you will enjoy more your services the time everything is done. Your service will usually be back within 2hours.
Craig> So you're saying that this a planned upgrade? Do you know that for certain?
Charmaine> I am so sorry but it is an unplanned service upgrade, Craig since your services has to undergo a system maintenance to regain connectivity.
Craig> OK it looks like it's back up again.
Charmaine> That's awesome! Is there anything else that you would like me to assist you today?
Craig> No, I'm good.
Charmaine> I have just send hits to your equipment to regain connection. It was a great experience assisting you today. I felt absolutely good that we were able to chat together for your concern.
Charmaine> To close this chat, will it be okay if you click on the "END SESSION" button and proceed with answering our short survey please? Please, Craig?
Craig> OK
Charmaine> Thank you so much for bringing Comcast into your home! Comcast appreciates your business and value you as a customer. If you need further assistance, you can chat with one of our Customer Support Specialists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Have a Comcastic day! Charmaine
> Analyst has closed chat and left the room

"Have a Comcastic day!..." She took the words right out of my mouth!

Is it me, or are robots getting a lot smarter -- and friendlier?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Writing Tip of the Day: Write Another Book!

I just came across this blog, written by literary agent Rachelle Gardner, who offers perceptive and indispensable advice for those aspiring to be "real" writers.

Today she offers this chestnut for those who have written a book, and are unhappy with the outcome: Write another one!

Check out her site. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Today I was having this exchange with a reader at "Faith and Family Live" on the subject of reverence ("Driven to Distraction"), and she shared this quote that was so relevant, and so lovely, that I just had to post it here.

Your story reminds me of this wonderful quote from LouisLavelle:

"Gentleness is not the same as indulgence for the faults of another; rather it is the recognition of his existence and his presence in the world. With the practice of gentleness, his mere existence ceases to be an offense to us; we no longer try to thwart him or destroy him, we accept him; we are happy that he should be. We enjoy his existence, so to say, with him. We see it as an invitation to a spiritual cohabitation, physical cohabitation being no more than an image of this.

"Gentleness is active good will towards other men, not for what they are only, but for what they might be. It enables us to see many possibilites which a rougher hand would force underground or blight, and which, perhaps, would never come to the light of day and bear fruit were it not for the attention and confidence we have shown.

"Gentleness enables us to accept all the laws of our human condition, and in so doing, to rise superior to them. He who revolts against these laws shows how deeply he resents them and is their slave, but he who accepts them in a spirit of gentleness penetrates through them and fills them with light. Of these laws also it must be said that their yoke is easy and their burden light...

"True gentleness is so considerate, so tactful and so active that, when we meet it, we are always astonished that it can do us so much good, while at thesame time apparently giving us nothing."

ADHD -- or Sleep Deprivation?

Yesterday we took Chris into a specialist -- he has been having some difficulties with schoolwork that we thought needed some intervention -- who suggested we look into the possibility of an iron deficiency. It turns out that children with disruptive sleep patterns (Chris tends to be a restless sleeper) are often diagnosed with ADHD, when in fact they simply need help with the aches and pains that are keeping them awake.

So ... How do you increase the iron in your child's diet, especially if he is a "grazer"? I found this interesting article at "Kid's Health" about iron -- how much a child needs, and where to get it. Cow's milk, it turns out, is low in iron -- and children who drink a lot of milk may not have appetite for the nutrient-rich foods their bodies need.

Foods with good sources of iron include:
* Red meat
* Tuna
* Chicken legs
* Eggs
* Dried fruits and beans
* Leafy greens
* Salmon
* Iron-fortified cereals
* Serving these foods alongside Vitamin-C rich foods (tomato sauce, broccoli, oranges, strawberries.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Driven to Distraction": Faith and Family Live

Today the lead feature article at "Faith and Family Online" is entitled "Driven to Distraction" by Joseph Pronechen. A perennial favorite: how to respond to distractions at Mass.

I always get a little nervous when people toss around the word “reverent” in describing the behavior of other people, which can be such a subjective standard. I get REALLY nervous when people (like my parents used to) use this kind of thing to justify breaking fellowship with people who don’t quite meet up to their own standards. We need each other, to grow together in grace and holiness. Even those who irk us most. I’ve had to remind myself of that, and fight the impulse to “parish hunt” each time someone on staff does something that rubs me the wrong way. God put these people in my life for a reason ... it’s up to me to find that reason, and learn what I can, and trust Him for the rest.

Reverence is primarily an interior disposition (which is of course reflected in outward behavior—but a little differently in every person). The Therese of Lisieux quote is most thelpful—it keeps the focus where it should be: ourselves, and our own responses (the only things we really CAN control). At Mass and elsewhere, God gives us ample opportunities to grow in patience.

It is true Jesus became angry at the crass commercialism he found going on in the Temple. However, Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for the Pharisees—people who heaped rules and regulations on others out of a legalistic need to control, and elevated the appearance of piety over true devotion (see Luke 11:37-52).

Because we are obligated to attend Mass each week, as Catholics, there are going to be times when (especially our kids) are more outwardly “reverent” than others. They don’t always participate as perfectly as we’d like them to ... but we trust that along the way they will grow in their understanding of what is going on around them, and remember these encounters with Jesus as something positive and joy-filled. I’m sure that when Jesus invited the children to come to Him, He didn’t welcome only the most well-behaved!

One of the most differences I most appreciate between the Catholic faith and the various Christian communities to which I’ve belonged over the years is that the focus of faith is not strictly personal (e.g. “Jesus and me”) to the exclusion of corporal (the “Body of Christ.”) You need both. We absolutely experience this in a profound way through the sacraments, and the corporate prayer of the Church.

In a real sense, we are family—good or bad, quiet or noisy, solemn and focused or squirmy and distracting. Catechesis is needed—and pastors should do their best to lead their “families” toward greater devotion. But so is tolerance. Better the “children” be there, distracting us, than not to come at all. And since correction works better in the context of an existing relationship, the sour-pussed saint is likely not to win many listeners.

The next time you see me and my kids whispering in Mass (which they invariably do), tell yourself they are asking a question about what is going on, and I’ve chosen to use the teachable moment because that is when their minds are open and inquisitive. And if my daughter’s outfit seems a little “colorful” (perhaps even a bit distracting), know that this was her idea of “getting dressed up for God”—and that, as long as she’s covered, I’ve decided to make it a parenting non-issue.

As for the whispering teenagers ... I’m happy they want to be part of the community, instead of hiding out in the bathrooms (as I’ve seen others do!) Finally, if people didn’t run over each other before the last words of the final hymn in their eagerness to “beat the traffic” out of the parking lot, perhaps people would not be tempted to “snag” their friends on the way out the door ... and adjourn to the parish hall!

To those who want to spend a few quiet moments with Jesus ... God bless you. Just remember, he’s there all week. God loves families—he created them, and knows just how noisy they can be! “SUFFER the little children ... forbid them not.”

Thursday, July 09, 2009

When the "Attraction Bug" Bites ...

Today at Faith and Family Connect I posted about a situation I encountered today, in which an acquaintence is enduring a messy divorce because her husband fell in love with their daughter's teacher.

And no one at the table saw anything wrong with it -- because both individuals were separated (though not divorced) when "the attraction bug" bit.

Have you ever encountered this? What do you say to a friend or family member who decides to strike up a new relationship ... prematurely?

Of course, for Catholics it gets even more complicated when we consider the issue of a sacramental union, which doesn't dissolve through a civil divorce. Even more unthinkable ... outrageous.

But if you're dealing with two people who aren't Catholic -- or even Christian -- how do you approach the subject? Especially when children are involved, the stakes are so high -- and the pain runs so deep.

In his most recent encyclical, Pope Benedict calls us to remember the intrinsic connection between truth and authentic love, where social justice issues are concerned. How do you speak truth into a situation where the "adults" are behaving more like self-centered children?

It's a quandry...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

My Thorn in the Flesh ... Right Between the Eyes

Today's second reading is one of my favorite epistle passages ... It presents a human side of St. Paul to which I can readily relate -- can't you? (From 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)
"... because of the abundance of the revelations,a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

No one knows exactly what the "thorn" was. Some suggest it had something to do with his eyesight (others say it was his wife, which could explain a lot of other things ...). As you read the Scriptural account of the life of St. Paul, you can't help but wonder if it had to do with former associates in the Sanhedrin who thought their favorite Pharisee had gone off the deep end. Nothing quite so humiliating as the open derision of people whose good opinion you once valued, or in whose "inner circle" you once belonged. (Not that I'm projecting here...)

To me, the phrase "angel of Satan" also conjures up images of depression . . . something to which many extraordinary moms (and "creative types") can relate. Or possibly another condition with which I have an intimate acquaintence. If you've ever been there, you know what I mean.

One morning you get up and coast in automatic pilot on four whole hours of sleep, Diet Coke in hand, kids dressed. In nearly color-coordinated outfits. (All articles in each ensemble coordinating with each other, not those of the sibling. That would be asking WAY too much.) And an hour later, dishes and a load of clothes in their respective washers, and dinner is in the crock.
Just as you head out the door for an hour or two at the park, a familiar flash of light strikes you right between the eyebrows. Then another, in one temple. Dang, another migraine.

In a way, those searing little thorns keep me grounded. They remind me when I'm taking on too much -- not sleeping enough, eating or exercising properly, or generally getting in over my head. With one of these, I have to depend on others to get me through -- my husband, my kids, occasionally even a friend who will take the kids for an hour so "Mommy Monster" doesn't come for a visit.

I used to think that "Real Christians" didn't let those kinds of things slow them down or ground them ... That putting others needs first, always, was the "right" thing to do. As a more grounded forty-something woman of faith, I now see the painful truth: In the long run, I'm not Superwoman, but someone who wrestles with her thorns and weaknesses. Whatever gifts that God has given me to share with others -- He put them in a somewhat fragile gift box.

And, like St. Paul, I trust He did it with my ultimate good in mind.

How about you? What's your thorn?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Honest (S)crap Award!

Oh, this is so sweet. Leticia gave me an award today ... and at first glance, I thought (honest) it was the "Honest Crap Award." Ooh, boy. I need to go to bed!

But first, let's get this over with. Hmmm... ten honest things about me that the entire universe doesn't already know, courtesy of my no-holds-barred approach to life. Let's see if I can dig up a few more.

1. As I was reminded at CNMC this week, crowds intimidate me. It feels like high school all over again, which frankly is my idea of purgatory on earth. I hate walking into a room and having to strike up a conversation with people I don't know. But I'm glad I went -- there were a few people I've long admired (Hi, Julie) that I got to meet for the very first time. What a kick. And a few more (Hi, Pat and Lisa) whose presence made the whole thing ... downright enjoyable!

2. I usually know my way around a kitchen, but yesterday I made a "scratch" piecrust for the first time in ___ years (I like Pillsbury), and realized just how out of practice I've become. Like chewing leather. DH observes: "Practice Makes Perfect."

3. I'm "California Catholic," and don't mind saying it. I like all those irritating, touchy-feely hymns that drive "serious Catholics" nuts. And holding hands during the Our Father. I collaborated with David Haas on a book project once. And my first liturgical experience at LARE, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Furthermore, I'm very fond of Cardinal Mahoney; his former secretary, Monsignor Clem Connelly, is nearly single-handedly responsible for my being in the Church today -- with a little help from the Holy Spirit, of course. (Still glad you gave me the award, Leticia? :-)

4. Having said that, I get truly irritated with people who claim to be Catholic, but don't think the teachings of the Church apply to them personally, or try to understand and apply those teachings to grow in holiness. If you don't want to play by the rules, don't join the club. There are thirty-thousand something Christian denominations -- just pick one. All right?

5. I get cranky on less than 7 hours of sleep and 24 oz of Diet Coke a day. REALLY cranky.

6. If I won a million dollars, I'd pay someone -- almost anyone, really -- never to have to scrub floors, walls, showers, or toilets. Ever. Again.

7. I can't watch scary movies, or I have nightmares. My poor husband has had to adjust his watching habits accordingly.

8. I once dated someone with a gambling problem, who bet on every sports event imaginable. My poor husband is paying for THAT, too. We had a deal when we got married: If he only watched two games a year, I'd make sure he did it in style (stuffed mushrooms and German chocolate cake). Over the years, I've learned to flex on Red Wings. Love does that to you.

9. I have a recurring dream when I'm feeling stressed-out or at a cross-roads. I always find myself going back to work at the publicity desk of BHP. Even though the place as I knew it no longer exists, and I haven't seen or talked with any of the people I worked with for 25 years. It seems to represent some kind of psychic safety net. Huh.

10. My oldest niece just graduated from high school, my oldest nephew is a soldier in Iraq. But my favorite pictures of them -- the ones I have framed and hanging beside the sink in my bathroom -- they are about 4 years old. Funny how, in the mind's eye, time stands still.

Okay ... now my four "Honest Scrappers."

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Seven-Star Vacation ...

Have you ever looked at hotels at or, and wondered what the difference is between a three-star or four-star hotel is, really? After this trip, I can tell you! We stayed at the three-star Courtyard Marriot Marketplace in San Antonio, after spending two nights at the four-star Hote Felix in Chicago.

Now, I realize that comparing a hotel in Chicago with one in San Antonio is not exactly comparing apples to apples. In Chicago, space is money -- and so perhaps it is understandable that the rooms even in a four-star are less spacious than in the grand ol' state of Texas. (Although I recently discovered that San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the U.S.). However, I did expect that I'd be able to walk from the bed to the bath without impaling myself on the corner of the bed, or tripping over a suitcase. In any event, here's what we discovered about the stars ...

* The four-star room was dominated by the extremely comfy queen-sized bed -- all white, lots of pillows, the kind you didn't want to get out of once you were in. Which was a good thing, because you'd whack your shins on the wall getting in and out of bed -- better just to lie there quietly. Three-star room -- which my husband says is only twice the size of the one in Chicago, not four times per my original estimate -- has a KING bed AND a couch AND a refrigerator. And I still didn't whack my shins even once ... which brings me to my next bullet.

* The four-star room has no microwave, refrigerator, or coffee maker in the room. (They assumed you'd want to avail yourself of room service or restaurant, instead of "camping out.) On the other hand, they do bring you as much ice as you want. And my husband says the decaf in the lobby was exceptionally good. Even after the lid came off as we were dashing down the sidewalk to catch the bus, and he spilled half of it down his shirt. ("At McDONALDS they give you spill-proof lids!" he grumped. Poor dear.)

* The service in a four-star hotel is extremely attentive. They even called to check on us in the middle of our afternoon nap to see if we needed anything else. (Craig had on his c-PAP machine, but the desk staff didn't seem the least surprised when Darth Vadar answered the phone.) The extra star intimidated me into being a bit more generous with the first housekeeper -- but the $5 I left for the three-star maid produced a hand-written thank-you note!

* Bathrooms were a wash, so to speak. The sink in the four-star kept splashing the front of our pants every time we turned it on (it being a "green" hotel and all); no bathtub, but shower was nice and roomy. The three-star bath was larger -- but the soap and shampoo not quite as luxurious.

For the money (including the fact that it cost $42/day to park at the four-star, parking was free at the three-star), I'm probably a three-star traveler overall. Frankly, if I'd paid the rack rate at the first one, I'd be pretty disappointed ... but at the special summer rate of $85/night, it was not a bad deal for Chicago. (We took the train, so parking was a non-issue.)

Next time I think we're going to stay a little closer to Midway, and not shoot for (so many) stars! Of course, now that we're here at the Catholic New Media Celebration, we can star-gaze all we like! Father Rod, Lisa Hendey, Danielle Bean, Julie Davis, Pat Gohn -- now THERE'S a little star-power worth paying for!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Make a Movie!

Today I discovered this cool website ... Something fun to do with the kids on a rainy day. Help them release their inner movie director!

Click here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

"UP" with Fathers!

Sometimes when I speak or write about adoption, people approach me and ask me what to do when one half of a couple (usually but not always the husband) isn’t open to raising an adopted or foster child. Usually I say something about a marriage being a partnership, how each partner needs to trust God to work through the other person to reveal His will and His timing.

While these things are true, after seeing Pixar’s latest offering today I will add the following caveat. “Take him to go see UP.”

As an adoptive parent, I was deeply moved by the irascible Carl’s character – grieving over the loss of his beloved Ellie, he strives to carry out her wishes as best he can, in her memory. What he doesn’t count on is a little stowaway named Russell – a boy with a deep need for a father figure, someone who can show him how to be a man. What touched me so deeply about this movie was Carl’s emerging need to father, to protect and guide the boy as only another man can.

Why Carl and Ellie had no children of their own is not fully explained. Together they dreamed of babies, and even decorated the nursery. And yet, for many reproductively challenged couples, the “why” is never fully explained – and even when it is, is seldom satisfying.

Faced with the devastating loss of his wife, and the prospect of losing even the home that contains his memories, Carl shuts the world out . . . Until young Russell comes knocking, then stows away on the floating home. As the adventure progresses Carl recognizes in the boy a kindred spirit. And in their quest – an adventure marked with great personal self-sacrifice, which is the essence of true fatherhood – the pair formed an extraordinary bond.

Why do I find this movie such a compelling argument for fostering and adoption? Carl does not formally adopt Russell, whose father’s absence is never fully explained. However, in reaching out to the boy, a most remarkable transformation occurs in the man. This movie reminded me that, just as God has placed in every woman the need to mother (which each of us expresses a bit differently), so he places in every man the desire to father. Not simply to provide, as the drive to father can never be fully satisfied in acquiring things (as demonstrated by the Charles Muntz character in the movie). It must be lived out in relationship with other people, and in a particular way with the next generation – whether or not they share a biological connection with those they mentor.

In my blog for adoptive, foster, and special-needs parents, the Extraordinary Moms Network, I frequently write about the natural need God places in women to nurture and protect human life, whether or not they become biological parents. Like extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (who come alongside the ordained minister), Extraordinary Moms come alongside biological mothers – sometimes for a short time, other times for a lifetime – for the sake of the child, to help her raise him to responsible adulthood. In this movie, I saw a poignant image of Extraordinary Fatherhood – a bond very different from a mother’s, but no less important.