Sunday, July 31, 2011

Letter Perfect

The kids are on notice.

That stack below the sign contains 6 towels that have been left here over the course of the summer.  I don't launder them anymore--I just hang them on the line, fold them, and pile them next to the Lost & Found basket that contains someone's bug spray, someone's swim goggles, someone's sunglasses.  When kids come over here I interrogate them about whose towels these are.  No one knows--but the teenagers use them anyway (ewwwwwwwww).

I wonder if any of these towels will miraculously find a home in the days to come, or if the ManageMOM will get to dispose of them as she sees fit?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Real Person, Real Saint

Today is the feast of Saint Martha, one of my very favorite saints.

It's the saints like Martha that give me hope for ordinary people like me.  So many times we put the saints on a pedestal.  We think that they were always perfect, always praying, always doing the right thing.

People tend to do that with their heroes, saintly or otherwise.

But we never get the chance to put Saint Martha on a pedestal.  She starts right off by ratting out her sister to Jesus, their honored guest.  And Jesus gives it right back.  He lets her know that she is just way too stressed out and that she's letting her anxiety get in the way of her hospitality.

I've had way too many "Martha moments," and I'm not talking about Martha Stewart.  I'm talking about the Screaming Meemie Party Mom who often inhabits my house before we have company.  It isn't pretty.  It isn't fun, for me or anyone else.  I'm sure Saint Martha wasn't having fun that day either, especially when she was embarrassed in front of all her guests as Jesus took her to task.

She redeemed herself later, though, when she confidently proclaimed her faith in Jesus and who He was.

Saint Martha reminds me that saints are, in fact, real people with real faults, real challenges, real attitudes and real faith.

Saint Martha is the patron of cooks, servants, homemakers, single women, laundry workers, innkeepers, dieticians and travelers.

Read an interview with Julie Davis, another Saint Martha fan, right here!

Image credit

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Poetry Fan?

This morning I came upon a quote from one of my very favorite poems.  Despite the fact that I was an English major in college and grad school, I've never been a poetry reader.  Yet again and again, I've run into two or three poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and that makes me realize that there can be magic in poetry.

Here's Pied Beauty:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918

Maybe the rest of the time I've just been reading the wrong poets.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: In Name Only

Historical fiction is not generally my thing, but once I started reading In Name Only by Ellen Gable (author of Emily's Hope) I was hooked.  The winning combination:  characters I could believe in, an interesting plot, and a setting in 1876 Philadelphia!  I love books with a local flavor, and even had my Philly map spread out so I could follow the characters' paths through the city.

I found myself rooting for several of the characters--even ones I didn't like at the beginning of the novel.  Here's the story:  an orphaned teenager who spent most of her childhood and teenage years caring for her chronically-ill father travels to Philadelphia to live with relatives after his death.  On the train, she meets a caring young man and his crass older brother, who turn out to be her neighbors.  Caroline believes her life is destined to be a fairy tale--until tragedy strikes, and the unexpected happens.

This novel covers a wide range of topics:  Catholicism, alcoholism, difficult pregnancies, social conventions and more.  The characters' personalities grew and matured throughout the novel, and the historical detail pointed to diligent research on the part of the author.  Ellen Gable really made this time period come alive in the book.

This novel has a lot to recommend it--and I definitely recommend it.  I'm looking forward to the author's next book, due out in September.

Fine Print: I won a free electronic edition of this book as part of an online giveaway. I received no compensation for this review, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

It's Good to Know

I first started working as a home-instruction tutor when Big Brother was about 3 years old.  I'm still listed as a tutor with one of the 3 districts in which I worked; the other two have contracted out the home tutoring.  While I'm not often assigned students anymore, I do enjoy the one-on-one work with a student who is too ill/injured/postpartum/pregnant/anxious/depressed to attend school.  (Yes, I've had students in each of these categories--as well as a few discipline cases and a couple of malingerers.)  There are students I've only taught for 2 weeks or so before they return to school.  Most of them, I never hear about again.

Every once in a while I run into one of my students, who lived here in town and had a baby girl during her senior year of high school.  I was paid to be her English tutor, but I also did a good bit of informal encouragement; this young mom was breastfeeding her daughter, keeping up with her classes, and handling quite a bit of the housework.  She later married the father of her baby and they have another child as well; now she's a stay-at-home mom, although she did work quite hard when her little girl was young, managing a Domino's Pizza.  Her resilience, determination and dedication served her and her family well, and it touches my heart that every so often, SHE recognizes ME.  She is eager to tell me how things went for her family and I love to hear how well they are all doing.

Today's local paper features a story about one of my former students.  I taught her for an entire spring, when she first became ill during her junior year of high school.  I remember cancellations due to specialist visits and medical tests.  She never felt well but she tried hard to stick with the schoolwork.  She's 27 now, married, and recently received a kidney transplant from her older sister.  There are complications with her disease, though.

If you read down to the end of the article, you'll see that she recently attended a Mass of Healing at the Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia--and her family welcomes prayers.  It's lovely to see that in the paper, and my former student Christine can count on mine.  It's good to know how things are going, and it's good to know that although 11th-grade English is long over, there is still something I can do to help.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Deliver Me from the Mall

Whoever wrote the lyrics, "Someone told me it's all happenin' at the zoo" had clearly never been to the Cherry Hill Mall.

I go to malls as infrequently as I possibly can.  And I hate to shop on Sundays.  But I had promised to take Middle Sister to the mall for jeans, and if we went today, we wouldn't have to bring Little Brother along.

The clothes shopping was actually quite pleasant.  She tried to find some jeans for me, but that was a lost cause in the store we were in.  I did find a cute pair of capri pants, a scarf and a peasant blouse that I liked--all on sale.  And she got her jeans.

Then we headed to Forever 21, where I expected to see the kind of clothes aspiring hookers would wear.  I was happily surprised to see plenty of very sweet tops, with feminine lines and floral patterns.  I don't follow fashion--is "sweet and girly" suddenly back in?  I sure hope so.

The rest of the time, I was people-watching while Middle Sister spent her own money, that she earned pet-sitting for our neighbors this week.  Being all "browsed out," I sat on a bench while she shopped--there's only so much blaring rap music and perfumed air I can handle in one afternoon, and I'd hit my limit.  You can do a lot of people-watching when you sit on a bench at the mall for 20 minutes, and you see some scary stuff.

A family stopped outside Victoria's Secret:  mom, dad and two little boys.  Mom took the younger one into the store with her, despite his loud protests, saying, "Mommy needs you!  You have to help Mommy put on her panties!"

An impossibly skinny girl tottered past, dressed head to ankle in "junior hooker" garb--and shoes that would be more-likely found on a denizen of a retirement home.

And doesn't it say something about the clientele of a particular store when you have to show your ID to use your own credit card?

I'll stick to internet shopping, thanks.  The only people-watching I'll have to do is staring out the window, waiting for the UPS truck.

Christmas in July

Little Brother and 3 friends are sitting here, deep in negotiations about what to play.  While they work out how to pair off for "teams" in a game, one of the kids is paging through a church hymnal left on the table after choir practice the other day.

"How about we play on teams for one round and all together for another round," one friend suggests.

Meanwhile, another child is announcing the next hymn--and they all drop the discussion of teams and open up a music book and start singing "Go Tell It On The Mountain."

Their great enthusiasm makes up for their lack of perfect pitch (not to mention tempo.)

Sing on, kids!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Following Up on the Sultan and the Dilemma

Thank you all so much for your words of advice as I made the decision.  A fellow Franciscan, Lisa of Franciscan Focus, suggested checking into a book called St. Francis and the Conversion of the Muslims.  When I visited the website she recommended, I found a link to an interview with the author.

I printed out this interview and brought it to the meeting.  I decided to head this member off at the pass.  I handed her the printout and told her that I knew she'd be interested in reading this, and if she thought that this book would be beneficial to the fraternity, we'd order a copy for the fraternity library.  The idea of guest speakers was not mentioned.  She was happy to receive the interview and said she'd let me know if she thought we'd be interested in the book.

So there we are!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Sultan and the Dilemma

As the minister of my local Secular Franciscan fraternity, I don't make decisions in a vacuum, but there are decisions that I have to be the one to make.  When decisions are made, the good of the whole fraternity must be considered--it's like being a parent in that way (except that in my fraternity, I'm actually the "baby" of the family!)

One of our members has brought up again and again that she wants to invite a Muslim to speak to our fraternity as part of our ongoing formation.  She has not really answered the question of what topic she would want a Muslim to speak about.  She has no particular Muslim in mind--she's thinking of cold-calling a local mosque to invite someone.

I know that this member is concerned that all Muslims are being painted with a broad brush as a result of 9/11 and the War on Terror.  I know that she is convinced that, as Franciscans, we are to be peacemakers.  And I know that she is aware that St. Francis himself met with the Sultan during one of the Crusades.

But there are a few things that I don't believe she knows.  When St. Francis met with the Sultan, he fully expected to become a martyr as a result of that meeting.  While he did not consider the Sultan his "enemy," he had no illusions about what would probably happen to him--even though that did not turn out to be the case.  He was not insulting toward the Sultan's faith, but neither did he pull any punches about his own faith and that he hoped to lead the Sultan to the right way to God.   He saw the Sultan as his brother, but he also saw an opportunity to attempt a conversion.

Someone once called me "practical," which at times seems at odds with what it means to be a Franciscan.  St. Francis was, usually, anything but practical.  Yet I worry that this member's proposal would not be for the good of the fraternity.  With no particular speaker or topic in mind, that opens the door to who-knows-what--IF she could even get someone to agree to attend the meeting.  And as no one in the fraternity has any relationships with any Muslims, we do not know if the random person she finds to ask is truly faithful to Muslim spirituality.

And, frankly, this might sound a little insular or provincial or whatever, but I believe that there is plenty for us to learn and discover and by which to be inspired right here within our own Faith.  We don't need to look outside our own yard for more traditions, more rituals, more ways to prayer.  There's plenty right here that we have yet to get to know.

This is going to come up again tomorrow at the meeting--I'd love to hear someone else's thoughts!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

To Be Fair

I don't want to paint all 15-year-olds with the same broad brush.  I arrived home from an errand today to find Middle Sister and two friends (one girl, one guy) in the pool.  TheDad told me that when the visitors arrived, they came in (without being asked) to say hello before swimming.

We had some grilled hamburgers, baked beans and salad for dinner.  The teens ate, talked, laughed, and then bused their own dishes without being asked--politely checking with me to see where I wanted them to put the dirty plates.  Before leaving, they both thanked us for the meal and the swim.

Visitors like THOSE are welcome anytime.

You've Got Some 'Splaining to Do

Little Brother has a friend here for a sleepover tonight.  Many of his classmates are surprised, when they come over, to learn that Little Brother has a Big Brother, since during the school year, Big Brother isn't around much.

"Big Brother, when did you graduate from St. Charles?" the friend asked.

"I never went to St. Charles," Big Brother replied.

The horrified response:  "Why NOT?"

Little Brother explained:  "We didn't know about it."

Um, well, that's really not the story, but Little Brother was too young at just-turned-four to have a grip on the real situation.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Gourmet Meal

Our neighbors got home from vacation very late Wednesday night.  Little Brother was thrilled to see his two friends again--he's really been missing them.

I was making a huge batch of spaghetti and meatballs, so I invited the whole family to come for dinner.  This way, the mom could have a break from cooking on her first day back (I knew she was busy concentrating on laundry).

She insisted on bringing a salad to contribute to the meal, and Little Brother enjoyed the croutons that came along with the salad.

This morning he noticed that the rest of the bag of croutons was still on my kitchen table.  "Did the neighbors leave the croutons here?" he asked.  "I really liked those.  I ate, like, 5 handfuls of croutons last night.  They were soooooooooooooo good."

Zits hits the nail on the head

I'm beating Ellen to the Friday Funny today.  We have a few things in common, including a connection to our local diocesan high school and a love for the movie My Cousin Vinny.  And we both enjoy the Zits comic, which chronicles life with teen boys--the kind of teen boys who are basically good kids but just, in their own way, completely oblivious.  That comic makes me laugh, because there are so many times I can picture the exact situation.

Here's today's Zits:

That's life with Big Brother.  Except he has an old beat-up Hyundai, not a van.

And here's one from earlier in the week, which is a good description of Middle Sister's friends:

I could totally picture some of them doing this--which is why they require more supervision than 15-year-olds want to have.  In some ways, these kids are just like toddlers, only larger and stronger (and thankfully, potty trained).

Sunday, July 03, 2011

He's Been Waiting for This Day

Pardon the blurry shot--we had the
flash turned off.
...and so have I.

Little Brother has wanted to be an altar server for oh, so long.  He was a toddler when Big Brother began altar-serving, and even though TheDad sat with him waaaaaaaaaay in the back of the church and I was up front with the musicians, I'd hear Little Brother at Consecration time:  "Big Brother's ringing the bells!"

At the end of Mass, the altar servers would process to the back of the church, where Father would leave the procession and the servers would turn the corner and go down the side aisle to the front, leave the cross in the sacristy and then proceed to put away the altar linens.  It wasn't long before Little Brother joined that parade, and the "Hat Lady" would allow him to put the finger towels into the laundry hamper in the sacristy.  She had her eye on him; no, not just the eye that watched over the altar servers and made sure they served reverently, but the one that paid attention to children in church who seemed to have more than the usual spark of interest.

Middle Sister has been serving for several years now--so many years that she's just about outgrown the longest altar-server robe the church has.  And Little Brother has wanted to serve.  He asked, at the beginning of this school year, only to be told that he should wait until fourth grade.  Well, third grade is over and this morning he came running down the stairs to see if he can be an altar server now.

"You can ask Father about that when we get to church," I told him, making no promises.

When we arrived, we saw that the pastor was not assigned to our Mass today--instead, it was the assistant, who thought it would be just fine if Little Brother served.  So Middle Sister helped him find a robe in the right size and showed him all the ropes, including how to carry the cross in the entrance procession.  He did quite well for his first day, and after the closing prayer Father H announced to everyone that it was Little Brother's first day as an altar server.

He's eager to do it again.  I'm grateful that Father H did not brush him off but instead encouraged and allowed him to serve.  And how cool is it that he got his "on the job training" from Middle Sister?

I think the "Hat Lady" would be proud.  I know I am.