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."