Saturday, July 31, 2010

Living Dangerously

Sometimes a little Boy Scout Camp can be a dangerous thing.

Right now, my back porch is full of Hood Ornaments. That's my nickname for the bunch of Boy Scouts who hang around with Middle Sister and the Boy Next Door. I call them Hood Ornaments because they ride their bicycles in such an unsafe manner that sooner or later (I'm betting on sooner), one of them is going to become one.

I don't usually mind the Hood Ornaments, though they tend to be loud and messy. But they're good kids.

However, they came back from Boy Scout Camp last week, and they're eager to put their newfound knowledge to good use. I just went out there and found one of them standing in the middle of a pile of yellow ropes and large carabiners.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm making a Swiss rappel seat," he informed me.

I warned him to stay off the pool deck, shed roof and house roof, as well as my clothesline. I'm not sure where else he might go with all his mountain-climbing equipment, and I'm not sure I want to. I just hope that when he gets hurt (it's a matter of time), it's on someone else's property.

The Ironic Environmentalists

Little Brother and I spent most of yesterday at the Philadelphia Zoo with a bunch of friends. In total, 6 kids (4 of them 6 and under), 4 moms, 2 vehicles, 1 wagon, and lots of head-counting. Ask me how many animals I saw. I could probably count them on one hand.

It seemed, for a while, that the zoo has toned down its "animals good, humans bad" take on things. I remember taking the Big Kids there when they were younger, long before Little Brother came along, and seeing a sign that stated "This animal is endangered due to human overpopulation."

Yesterday, though, we went to the move on display in the bird exhibit. It was a cute combo of animation and real photography that taught about migratory birds. And there was a lot of very good information in there. The main "character" was an oriole who came from the Philadelphia area, so you had the local link; other featured birds were certain shore birds that frequent Cape May in the middle of their 10,000-mile migration pattern.

However, this lesson in geography, navigation, endurance and instinct didn't come without its own environmentally-correct message. A crane teaching the little oriole about what he'd need to do and where he'd need to go was telling him about these shore birds and how their commute was so much worse than his would be. She mentioned that the birds stopped in Cape May, NJ to "fuel up" on the eggs laid by horseshoe crabs. Unfortunately, she told him, there are fewer horseshoe crabs to lay eggs to feed these migrating shore birds. So she was going to head to Washington, D.C. to protest. Exactly what she'd protest was unclear, but the point was made. If humans can fix it, it must have been humans' fault to begin with.

(Does it not occur to the maker of this movie that maybe all these birds are eating so many horseshoe-crab eggs that there are not enough eggs to hatch into new horseshoe crabs?)

When the short movie was finally over, these directions appeared on the movie screen: "Please migrate to the left as you leave the theater."

"Nice double entendre," I commented to my neighbor.

Here's the thing: animals and plants have been going extinct for as long as there are animals and plants. If they can't adapt to changes in their environment, they don't survive. It's as simple as that. (Yes, I've read Darwin.) Why do environmentalists who decry human intervention in other environmental matters (such as they do in the whole "global warming" thing) insist that humans intervene to "save" a species that is clearly not adapting to the world around it?

"Please migrate to the left as you leave the theater."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Martha, Martha, Martha

Ever since this past weekend, I've been thinking about Martha. On Saturday morning's retreat, our deacon/retreat director/fellow Secular Franciscan asked us to consider the "Mary and Martha" story, since St. Martha's feast is this week. An interesting discussion resulted. Our wise-beyond-her-91-years senior member, whose name actually IS Martha, reminded everyone that while Jesus criticized Martha in that famous story, Martha was the one who showed so much faith and trust when she approached Jesus after her brother died.

That led me to think about Jesus' criticism of Martha. Read the story carefully. Many times people assume that this story meant that everyone should just drop everything they're doing and sit down at the feet of Jesus. That's pretty unrealistic, and that's not what Jesus told Martha to do. The problem he had with Martha was not with the fact that she was doing the kitchen work. He was an honored guest, a good friend, and someone had to get dinner on the table! Jesus didn't criticize Martha for cooking instead of visiting. Instead, his words were, "You are anxious about many things."

It wasn't a problem that Martha was cooking for her guests. The problem was that she was stressing out about it.

I sure can relate to that.  My whole family has been subjected to my "white tornado moments" when I panic about having the house clean or the meal cooked before we have guests or (even worse) a big party.  I'm not pleasant to be around, that's for sure.

So today I will try to listen to the words of Jesus and be a little less anxious.  Anxiety, after all, cancels out hospitality.

Mary, her sister, might have chosen "the better part," but Martha's the one who ultimately became a saint. Go figure.

Saint Martha, pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Neat and Tidy

Here's my MESSY desk as it usually looks!
My desk is always a mess. I think what I really need is one of those desks the size of a twin bed; failing that, one with a hutch on top of it that reaches about as high as I can without leaving my chair. I'm a visual person, so I like the stuff I need to be on top of the desk and easily at hand.

Since I don't have my desk in a room where I can shut the door and hide the mess, but rather in the family room, right by the front door, where anyone who walks in can see just how cluttered my desk can be, I knew that I had to do something about it.  But there's just nowhere to put all the things I like to keep within easy reach.

So I started hunting around for a desktop organizer that would leave me enough room for my laptop, iPod speakers, planner and coffee cup.   And I found this cool organizer at CSN Stores:  the Safco Products Three-Way Radius Front Corner Organizer.  You can set this organizer three different ways on your desk, depending on the space you want to create.  Assembly was required, but it took only about 15 minutes and required NO tools:  the whole thing is put together with glue-coated pegs that needed only water to activate.  (I did find a rubber mallet useful to get the larger sides inserted all the way.)

Nice and neat!
This desk organizer has space for everything!  I tried it all three ways before I decided on the way it fits my desk best, and if I ever move this desk to a different space, I can adjust the orientation of the organizer to fit that location.  There's room to keep all those little things like Post-it pads and iPod cords, and a flat surface on top where I keep my phone when it's charging, a little jar of candy, my mug of small change, and the cup of chore sticks, which deserve a post of their own.

I've got a neat desk now, and it's pretty easy to keep it that way!

Full disclosure: I was provided with a credit to CSN Stores and chose this product for my review. I was not compensated for the review in any other fashion other than the free product.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Have Been to Church

Tonight was our "away game" for the folk group. Once a month, we play at the 5:00 Mass at our parish's other Worship Site.

I found out during the morning retreat I attended that this weekend's Gospel was the Lord's Prayer. Our folk group loves the Lord's Prayer. We used to sing it every Sunday during Mass. It was kind of a signature of the group. It's a peppy arrangement and we'd sing it with gusto, matched with similar enthusiasm from the congregation.

Our current pastor is not a fan of the sung Lord's Prayer, at least not the way we sing it. For him, it's chant during certain seasons or just recite it. Chant really doesn't mix well with our particular blend of instruments (guitars, bass, mandolin, the occasional harmonica or didgeridoo when Big Brother is so moved) but we'll do that when we have to. We were all sad when Father pulled the plug on our favorite arrangement of the Lord's Prayer. We're not allowed to sing it during Mass. Period. No reason given.

People protested to us about it and we told them to ask Father. It wasn't our choice but we are doing as we're told.

Anyway, we're also required to sing a Prelude and Father wants that to be peppy. So we came up with the idea of pitching the Prelude song we'd practiced for tonight and putting in the Lord's Prayer. None of us have taken it out of our music binders--hope springs eternal.

We sang it for Prelude. The congregation at this Worship Site (I hate that term!) wasn't familiar with it, but we were beyond happy to be singing it and did so with our usual gusto. The Prelude is not a song where assembly participation is expected anyway.

After the song was over, we had a few moments' breather before beginning the entrance procession. But at that point, the rest of the songs were an afterthought to me. I had BEEN TO CHURCH.

Never underestimate the power of music to move someone's soul.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Multitasking FAIL

In the interest of keeping to an absolute minimum the time the oven would be turned on, I got started on a baking session this evening. I needed a batch of blueberry muffins for tomorrow morning's Secular Franciscan retreat, and I also wanted to make a pan of brownies for Middle Sister. She's leaving for a week at the beach with a friend's family, and I thought it would be nice if she brought along a little treat to share.

So I got out my two big batter bowls and got started on the ingredients. Right off the bat I made my first mistake by putting the wet ingredients for the muffins in the big batter bowl (dry's supposed to go in there first!) But I figured I could make it work. And then I took the Hershey's syrup out of the fridge--it's the secret ingredient in my box-mix brownies. I poured a generous shot of syrup into the wrong batter bowl: the one meant for the blueberry muffins.

I'd finished off the carton of eggs in the kitchen, so I went to our spare fridge and retrieved the carton I had out there. Note to self: that was the last of the eggs. After dumping out the ruined batter, I went to crack an egg and discovered that those eggs were frozen.

My kind neighbor talked me down from the ledge, handed me two eggs to borrow, and told me that while she completely understood my reasons for attempting to bake two things at once, I shouldn't try it again this evening. Gratefully, I accepted the eggs and the advice.

There are things that just require your full attention. Fortunately, tonight, all that was lost was a couple of eggs, some milk and some vegetable oil. But multitasking can have its price. Just ask a parent who has lost a teenage child who texted while driving.

And what about the spiritual cost? Our attention is divided enough these days. I know that when I'm trying to pray, I struggle with intruding thoughts of shopping lists, chore charts, and what I'll be making for dinner tonight. Multitasking in other areas will only make us less and less able to lend our full attention to what really matters.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It beats Bakugan.

Except for the commercials.

Ever since vuvuzela World Cup Soccer has been on TV, Little Brother has been hooked on ESPN. Each morning he wanders downstairs and turns on Sportscenter. Then I have to listen to Mr. Sports Encyclopedia (otherwise known as Little Brother) spout statistics about sports in which I have zero interest while I make his cinnamon toast.

The end of men's World Cup Soccer did not spell the end of Sportscenter around here. He loves that show. He'll sit under his Snuggie and watch it for hours, then run outside and kick his soccer ball around the yard. Once it gets really hot, he finishes up with a jump in the pool.

Sounds like a perfect summer--and it sure beats the Bakugan cartoons he wanted to watch every morning during the school year. But the advertising on Sportscenter is not geared toward your average eight-year-old. At eight-thirty in the morning one day, I nearly dropped a full basket of laundry when I heard a male voice bragging, "And my libido has never been better!"

I do not want to have to answer the inevitable question, "What's a libido?" after Little Brother hears that!

No, I don't know what product was being advertised. I didn't stick around to find out. But I'm sure that if Little Brother ever sees it in the CVS, he'll be the first one to loudly tell everyone what this product can do for someone's libido. Even though he doesn't know what that means.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tweety Bird and Jesus

This morning I opened up my email and found yet another "forward" from an acquaintance of mine. She has my email address because we both belong to the same organization, but I rarely get any email from her related to that. However, a few days a week she sends me a "forward."

In general, I'm not a big fan of "forwards." They're like the chain letters of the Internet world. I've been told in "forwards" that if I don't forward them to nine people, I don't love Jesus. Other times I've learned that deleting this "forward" means I'm not patriotic.

The email I received this morning opened up with a cute picture of Tweety Bird and then the telltale all-caps, 3-different-font, brightly-colored text. (At least this time the sender cared enough to delete the email address that had sent it to her and to address it to a BCC list!) The email described an encounter with Jesus, as if he had come into the room with the sender, and then informed me that He was being sent to my house. I should not allow Him to sleep there, I was told, but instead I should send Him on to other people.

I just don't have patience for these things. Even though the sentiment is nice, I don't feel like there's a personal connection when one of these is passed along. And while I might have my reasons for being a little cranky this morning, which may make my reaction to this email a little over the top, it was a long time coming. I've used the internet long enough that I've seen (over and over again) most of the "forwards" that are going around.

My love for God, my country, and my family and friends has nothing to do with whether I forward an email. And I think the inspiration in the story about Jesus was more than a little diluted by the Tweety-bird opener.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It Ain't Over

...till it's over.

This morning I'm heading to the hospital for an outpatient procedure to drain a large cyst that has developed on (or near) my left ovary. Apparently it's the size of a softball.

The doctor hopes that one it's drained it will be done and I won't have to worry about it anymore. There will be ultrasound followups periodically, and if the cyst returns I will have to have it surgically removed.

This all should be easy, but prayers will be appreciated!

UPDATE: Thank you! 1/2 liter of fluid (that's a water bottle, folks) has been removed. I can no longer feel a lump in my abdomen. I'm sleepy, but definitely happy to be home and grateful for the prayers and my comfy couch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Free Amazon Prime for Students

I found out tonight that is offering a free year of Amazon Prime for college students! Big Brother will definitely be signing up for this.

You can't miss with this deal.  Pass the info along to any students you know.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Snuggie for All Seasons

Whoever thought that Snuggies were just for winter use has never met Little Brother.

It's nice to have air conditioning, especially with the weather this hot. But the family room (on the lower level of the house) gets pretty chilly when the air's on. If we turn it down, it's too toasty in the bedrooms upstairs.

So Little Brother has come in from the pool, dried off, and refuses to put on a shirt. Instead, he's wrapped his chilly self in his Snuggie and is happily sitting on the floor with a big bag of grapes.

He's making quite the fashion statement with his Snuggie and his "goggle tan."

Keeping an Eye on Things

With the pool in the yard up, running and, as predicted, attracting all the neighborhood kids (as well as some who live outside our zip code), I am in full Multitasking Mom mode. That means that in addition to being Kool-Aid Mom, Towel Mom (but only for people who live here), Snack Mom, and Referee Mom, I'm also Lifeguard Mom.

As I'm not much of a swimmer, that takes some doing.

It's not too hard when Little Brother and his friends are in the pool, since it's always daylight then. But in the after-dark hours when Middle Sister has friends over, things get a little more complicated.

I'm not sure that the outdoor lighting we have is going to do the job. We've got one little bulb on the back porch that barely lights up the porch, and one floodlight that's great for the fire pit area (though with this hot, dry weather we've banned fires for the time being, much to the Boy Scouts' chagrin.) I'd love to hang about ten of these around the perimeter of the back porch, so no matter where in the yard (or pool) the kids hang out, it would be bright as day.  I wouldn't even have to turn on the lights--the motion sensors would do it for me.

Yeah, I'd be popular with the neighbors (about as popular as I'd be with the teenagers.)  But that's a small price for me to pay to have peace of mind!
Disclaimer: The FTC requires me to tell you that this post is related to an upcoming review for which I will be compensated with a free product.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Book Review: Saint Clare - beyond the legend

One thing that was lacking in my formation as a Secular Franciscan was learning anything about Saint Clare.  As the first woman Franciscan, certainly there are many ways in which she can inspire those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the saint.  But I hadn't had much of an opportunity to learn about her life.

Author Marco Bartoli dissects the writings of early Franciscan biographer Thomas of Celano, who wrote a life of Clare as well as much about Francis and the Franciscan.  In Saint Clare - beyond the legend, Bartoli describes the differences in how Clare is depicted in various works by the same author.

This book is not a "birth to death" biography of Saint Clare, but instead a topical treatment of her life.  Some topics include Penitence, Conversion, War and Peace, and the Papacy.  This is a scholarly book; it demands attention and concentration (and sometimes a dictionary!)  It draws on history, both secular and sacred, as well as etymology and spirituality.

I'd recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about a fascinating Franciscan woman and who want to avoid "fluff" in favor of meatier reading.
This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Clare - beyond the legend. I received a review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for the purposes of this review.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Good Deal

It always gives me a little lift when I get a great deal on something. And today's Walgreen shopping trip: SCORE!
I did this in two transactions so I could roll over some Register Rewards on the second purchase.

First purchase:
3 10-packs Papermate pens, 19 cents each
3 5-packs Papermate automatic pencils, 19 cents each
1 Milky Way, 49 cents (with store coupon)
1 pack looseleaf reinforcements, on clearance for 60 cents
Gillette Fusion razor, on sale for 9.89

less a $4 coupon for that razor brought the total to:  8.97 with tax.

And I got a $5 Register Reward, which I rolled over to buy:

1 4-cup coffeemaker for Big Brother to take to college, on sale for $7.99.  After that $5 RR, I paid $3.55 out of pocket for the coffeepot.

My total OOP was  $12.52

My total savings including Register Reward, manufacturer coupon, and store sale was $18.19

Except for the Milky Way (mine!) and the reinforcements (needed for my sheet music for church), all of that went right into Big Brother's Box of Stuff to Take to College.  Not bad!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Take that statistic with a grain of salt

I've been going through some back issues of magazines this evening, since the recycling truck will be by next week and I need to get them out of the living room. Of course, I want to grab the recipes and coupons out of the magazines before I pitch them.

In the process, I skimmed a few articles I'd missed the first time through. And I noticed just how much magazines love statistics. "Recent studies show," or phrases like it, regularly appear in sidebars.

It takes a little discernment to deal with those statistics. If 31% of women prefer perfume as a birthday present, that means that 69% don't. But it's the 31% that gets the column inches, because that number proves some point.

Magazines seem to be about as reliable as Wikipedia when it comes to real information. Sure, they're entertaining; they sometimes have good tips, great recipes and, of course, coupons. But do a little fact-checking on your own before you believe a lot of what you read.