Thursday, June 13, 2013

"They Have No Wine"

It's Carnival Time at Little Brother's school and the attached parish.

I'm no fan of Carnival, but my kids are. Little Brother was sad last night because the Big Kids went there without him (he's going tomorrow!)

At dinner Little Brother asked what happens to the money that is made from the event. "Do they use that to pay for the Carnival workers?"

I explained the difference between gross receipts and profits, and listed a few of the things that the parish would have to pay for, such as ride rentals, game prizes, and the workers' salary. Then he wanted to know where the extra money goes.

"Some goes to help the school, and some goes to help the parish," I told him.

He had an easy enough time figuring out some of the things the school would do with the money. But he was mystified at why the parish might need cash flow as well. After considering it for a bit, he said, "Well, I guess they use that to buy bread and wine. There's never enough wine."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism 3.0

Once again I'm linking up with's Lawn Chair Catechism series. This week we're reading and discussing Chapter 2 of Forming Intentional Disciples, "We Don't Know What Normal Is."

Even if you didn't read the book, you're welcome to participate. But I highly recommend that you read this book. It's like a retreat in book form. (You can still get it with free shipping from OSV!)

When I hit page 54, I might as well have been looking at a picture of myself when they describe the Catholics who have received their sacraments and actively practice their Faith, but really have not developed a "personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in active discipleship."

I'm an introvert. I don't live life out loud anyway. But after reading this chapter, my conclusion is that the author is talking about what I'm supposed to be doing as a Secular Franciscan:  going "from Gospel to life, and life to the Gospel." Sherry Weddell uses the word "kerygma" and defines it as "the essential nucleus of the Gospel that awakens initial Christian faith." (page 66)

On to the discussion question du jour:  "Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?"
No, I'm not. I do better writing about it than talking about it, maybe because I have the delete button and arrow keys to help me rearrange the words and figure out exactly what I want to say, rather than stumbling over my clumsy spoken words. And because I can't see my audience, though I do tweet about my faith occasionally with people that I see in person. I can discuss God with one of my neighbors, and with some of the members of the folk group I've been singing with since 2006, but not so much with my family and not with strangers, either.
Plus, I'm not sure I have a good handle on that relationship. I've got a long way to go. And when others talk to me about their relationships with God, I just wind up feeling like a fraud--which proves that I do, indeed, have a long way to go.

My greatest inspiration right now is Pope Francis. Every time I read an excerpt from his homilies, or see his tweets, I am reminded--and challenged--about what it really means to follow Christ. I marvel at his ability to show the world how to live as a disciple.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Bells Are Ringing

This morning I went to Mass at the school, because they were honoring the parents who volunteered during the school year. Usually I avoid this event (it's a social-anxiety thing) but Little Brother was persistent in telling me he really wanted me to be there.

He's 11. How much longer is he going to be happy to see his mom volunteering at school? I returned the form saying I'd attend the Mass and social afterward.

When I got there, dripping from the rain because TheDad had mistakenly taken both our umbrellas to work with him, a smiling student met me at the church door and told me that all the volunteers were supposed to sit up front. So I did, because Little Brother wanted me to be there.

Fortunately there was no naming of names, just a group "all volunteers please stand up so we can thank you" at the end of Mass. I could deal with that.

Afterwards, we went into the cafegymatorium for a nice little reception. There were two decorated tables with these cute gifts that the first and second grades had put together--with handwritten thank-you notes from the kids. There were smiling seventh-graders pouring our coffee and juice and inviting us to take fruit and pastries.

I sat next to a mom whose oldest son is in Little Brother's class, and across the table from a mom whom I don't know, but who had a beautiful one-year-old daughter with her. The little girl had made an impression on me during Mass; she was very quiet most of the time, but when the altar server rang the bell, she exclaimed, "Yay! Bells!" Both times.

That reminded me of Little Brother at the same age. Big Brother was an altar server then, and I was up front with the choir. TheDad would sit in the back with Little Brother, and when the servers rang the bells, Little Brother would yell, "Big Brother's ringing the bells!" You could hear him throughout the whole church.

I was telling the other moms at my table about this, and the mom with a boy in Little Brother's class said that her sons used to ask her why the servers rang the bells. Her answer was that they ring the bells to show that this is an important moment. Of course, the next week, when the bells would ring, one of her boys would (loudly) say, "It's an important moment, right, Mom?"

I was dreading that reception, and even thought about ducking out on it, but I'm glad I went. I'm glad I sat with moms who bring their children to Mass. I'm glad my child attends this school where the kids are taken to church and can learn about Jesus and why it's an important moment when the bells ring. I'm glad that the parents can share, through funny stories about what their own kids did in church, how we help our children understand those important moments.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism 2.0

Joining up with Lawn Chair Catechism, hosted at!

I'm not through chapter 1 of the book yet, but it starts out with some distressing stats about retention. Specifically, is the Church keeping the folks it baptizes? (Sadly, not very well.)

I'm a cradle Catholic, as are my parents, my husband, my siblings and my children. But participation varies, despite childhoods centered on Catholic school and Mass attendance.

Right now I struggle with my older kids' attitudes about Mass. I wish that all my kids wanted to go to Mass on Sunday, wanted to find a way to serve the Church and to know God better.

I am here to say that bringing them to Mass each and every Sunday of their lives is not enough. Sending them to Catholic school is not enough. Praying Grace before meals is not enough. All of these are good things. None of them are guarantees.

I wonder, sometimes, if that fact that my own relationship with God has not been enough to inspire my family. Do I show them that faith is a joyful, difficult, exciting, scary struggle? Or do my actions (and words) lead them to believe that faith is less about living and more about following the rules?

To form intentional disciples we must first become intentional disciples. Does the faith I have on the inside show on the outside? Do my actions speak louder than the Tau cross I wear around my neck?

I've got a lot of work to do.

(My impression of the book, Forming Intentional Disciples? So far so good! You've still got time to order it at the discount price of $10 with FREE shipping, through Saturday, June 8!)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Thinking Ahead

Little Brother:  "My pen pal this year has so much in common with me! He wants to be a Marine or a soccer player, and I want to be in the Army or a soccer player."

Me:  "The Army? Not the Air Force?"

LB:  "Definitely Army."

Me:  "Why not Air Force?"

LB:  "Air Force is too dangerous."

Me:  "They're BOTH dangerous."

LB:  "Yeah, but if you get hit in a plane, you definitely die. Unless you have a parachute."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism 1.0

Lawn Chair Catechism has officially launched over at! I don't have my book yet, since I only just ordered it yesterday, but I'll be sure to catch up on the Recommended Reading once my copy arrives.

In the meantime, I read the introductory discussion that Sarah posted this morning. There's discussions going on in the comment box, and there's a link-up for blogs as well, for longer responses to the questions raised.

I really related to the story of the parish leader who confessed that she didn't have a "relationship with God." I have felt that way myself. I remember attending a Christ Renews His Parish retreat shortly before I was married. My husband was very involved in that retreat program at the time, and he encouraged me to go on the women's retreat. It seems to be a self-seeding organization--you attend a retreat and then you're on the team of presenters for the next one.

I was 25--a good bit younger in years and life experience than most of the other women there. That was fine during the retreat itself, but in the weekly meetings afterward where we began to prepare for the next retreat, it became an issue. We were supposed to be able to give a talk about the moment where God really came into our lives.

I didn't have a big, dramatic moment. All the other women did. I actually fled the meeting in tears, feeling like a fake because I couldn't come up with some time in my life when God smacked me in the head and made me notice Him.

Throughout most of my life, I have been a leader in my church:  through music ministry, campus ministry, religious education, and Secular Franciscans (where I hold a leadership position in my local fraternity.) And many, many times I feel like a fraud because I don't have that outward, obvious Relationship With God for all to see. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I play music at Mass and attend daily Mass when possible. I wear a Tau. And I find myself leaning on God more, and trying to do the right thing.

Am I an Intentional Disciple? I think I'm working on it. I'm getting better. It's a SLOW process, this growing-up-in-faith, and baby steps seem to be the name of the game, at least for me. Could I define my Relationship With God? I don't think so, and if pushed, I'd probably flee in tears, just like I did at that meeting 22 years ago.

Recently on Twitter, someone mused that she wished she had a thicker skin. I replied that I wished the same for myself, but that a thick skin can keep love out just as effectively as it keeps hurts out--and God is love, so praying for a thicker skin might be counterproductive.

The fact that I recognized this is, I think, a sign that I'm opening the door a crack--a door that I've kept closed far too long.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Reading

My kids have Summer Reading assignments--and now, so do I.

Mine doesn't come with a test at the end, or a book report to write, or a poster to draw. It does, however, come with the promise of an intriguing online discussion.

That's because my Summer Reading is coming from the brand-new Lawn Chair Catechism series at

We're reading Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

Learn how you can read along, or even join the discussion without reading the book. (Try THAT with your traditional Summer Reading assignment!) The series starts tomorrow, but you can still order the book at a deep discount--with free shipping--through June 6.

Find out more!

Monday, May 27, 2013


Little Brother is just so desperate to be a Big Kid. As the youngest in a family with a wide age spread, that's not such a shocker.

For at least a year he's been asking me to buy him Axe. Since he's not one to be restrained in his use of anything, there was no way I was going to let him get anything he could liberally spray all over himself.

But just before Easter I was in CVS and I noticed that Axe makes shampoo and body wash. I'm all about encouraging cleanliness, so I bought him a bottle of shampoo and tucked it in his Easter basket. He's been a happily clean kid for almost two months now.

This morning after his shower, he came over to me and asked, "How do I smell?"

Me:  "Um, you smell like Axe."

LB:  "Yeah. I'm going to get all the girls."

Me:  "Oh really?"

LB:  "Yeah. That's what happens when you use Axe. Girls really like it."

Me:  "Not this girl."

LB:  "You don't have to like it. You already have a husband."

Friday, May 24, 2013


I'm holding a grudge.

OK, I'm holding many grudges. I'm good at multitasking that way, and my superpower is hanging onto a hurt/annoyance/outrage and blowing it out of proportion.

Holy Mountains-out-of-Molehills, Batman!

But even I knew that this one particular grudge was getting out of hand when I started to consider going out of my way to avoid something that the Grudge-Target and I both enjoy, because it reminds me of said Grudge-Target.

Can you say, "What, are we in middle school?"

Just for the sake of example, let's say that the Thing We Enjoy is root beer. (Because it's not. I can't stand root beer. But it works in this story).

Root beer is widely and conveniently available. Therefore, reminders that root beer exists happen quite frequently. When I am reminded that root beer exists, I am reminded of the Grudge-Target and how this person likes root beer.

And here's where my Inner Middle-Schooler is tempted to avoid choosing root beer, even though I like it, because the Grudge-Target likes it too.

I have a fear that if I bring this up in confession, Father will just laugh at me, because he has no idea what it's like to be a middle-school girl.

At the moment, making peace with the Grudge-Target may not be possible. But I have decided that it's ridiculous of me to stop drinking root beer just because it reminds me of someone with whom I have a conflict.

I need to do something else instead. I need to pray for the Grudge-Target. I need to pray for myself, too, that I will have the courage and strength and grace needed to make peace with this person.

So I have resolved that each time I have a root beer, I will pray. May God bless me with the grace to forgive, and may He bless the Grudge Target as well.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Pink Ukelele

There's a little girl whose parents bring her and her baby brother to the 12:00 Mass every Sunday. They've started sitting near the folk group, and she keeps her eyes firmly on the musicians.

One recent Sunday, she escaped from the pew during Communion and her mom had to chase her as she ran up to the altar. After that Mass, a bunch of us told her embarrassed parents that they shouldn't worry about it, and that they shouldn't stop bringing her to Mass. It would get better. We're all parents too, and we've had our share of embarrassing kids-in-church moments.

Yesterday, there they were, in their usual spot. But the little girl did not arrive at church empty-handed. Besides her little pink purse, she had a tiny pink gig bag. Her dad placed it carefully at the edge of the pew. It looked like a very, very small guitar case, and we all whispered to each other before Mass that the little girl was here and that she'd brought her own guitar.

Of course, we were completely charmed by that idea. I was wondering how long it would take for her to break out the guitar and abandon her parents in the pew for the folk group across the aisle.

She left her gig bag alone during Mass (amazingly) but afterwards her dad helped her unzip it, to reveal the cutest little pink ukelele. She let Little Brother try to play it.

More than just a cute and sweet moment, though, this tells me something:  despite the liturgical-music snobbery that "folk-groupies" like myself often encounter, what we do has the power to touch lives. That little girl, no more than three years old, clearly wanted to play music in church. She sees us do that, she likes it, and she wants to do the same.

Church music doesn't have to be written before the turn of the 20th century to be inspiring. There's a little girl in our parish who has found herself inspired by the music we play each Sunday. It's not everyone's favorite, but it has touched her heart. I hope that in a few years, this little girl finds that she has a musical gift, and looks for a way to use that gift to honor God and serve others.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Much Ado About (Paying) Nothing

Because I write for several shopping blogs, I come across a lot of offers for free or inexpensive items. It's my job to choose several of these each week to highlight at one of these blogs.

Many of these offers come from the Facebook pages of shops, restaurants or other companies.

Usually I just write up the deal, link to the source and get on with things, but in the past couple of days I've read a few of the comments attached to the posts announcing some of these specials.

Yesterday, as I printed out my weekly coupon from the Dunkin' Philly Fan Zone, some of the comments on the page were blasting Dunkin' Donuts for offering a breakfast-sandwich coupon instead of one for iced coffee. On other posts for past coupons, people complained that other stores were offering better deals. Or they complain that these coupons are only good Monday through Thursday.

Today, I was posting a deal for teachers from Chipotle Mexican Grill and saw that many commenters complained because the restaurant hadn't offered a freebie for nurses, daycare providers, student teachers and homeschoolers.

What an entitlement mentality!

I'm a former teacher, so I don't expect Chipotle to give me free food tonight. And I'm happy for the low-priced breakfast sandwich coupon, but if I weren't a breakfast-sandwich fan, I just wouldn't print a Dunkin' Donuts coupon this week. Next week, after all, there will be another.

These stores issue coupons to get customers in the door and generate some goodwill in the community. I didn't see a whole lot of goodwill on the Facebook pages for either establishment regarding these offers, and that's a shame. It's people like those commenters on Facebook that will ruin things for everyone else, because the stores will eventually give up and stop giving out coupons and freebies.

Can't use the coupon this time? Don't qualify for the free offer this time? Oh well! Maybe next time you will. In the meantime, be grateful that the store still offers special deals and stop blasting them because each and every deal is not for you.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

12/Year: April in Review

I have a nice camera, but if it weren't for my iPhone I wouldn't have ANY pictures at all most of the time!
I'm linking up with Barbara's 12 a Year.

Recommended reading.
 Evidence of an afternoon well-spent. We went to Tampa, Florida for a few days during Easter vacation. Fun in the sun!
Beautiful sunset over the Gulf.

Little Brother worked on his Science Fair report. For his project, we baked together!

The very first lilacs of the season.

Little Brother, at the dollar store:  "Look, Mom, a really big toothbrush!"

Kitchen equipment--needed to feed 125 people dinner for 5 days during Tech Week at the high school. The "play parents" make sure the kids have a good, hot dinner before those extra-long rehearsals. This year, I was the Dinner Mama.
The pool's open! (Yes, he knows it's only April. He'd open it on the first day of spring if he could.)

Polar Bear Plunge, April 23. The water was 55 degrees. The air was 50 degrees.
Middle Sister got her hair done for prom. She looks great in curls!

 Middle Sister on her way to prom!

All packed up for the first night of Tech Week dinners. My garage looked like an episode of "Hoarders:  The Restaurant Edition."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adrenalin Overload

Great band name, hm? It's been keeping me from sleeping these last couple of days.
I'm a mess right now, as a result.
A year ago today I could barely get off the couch as I recovered from endometriosis surgery. This week I have been coordinating and serving dinner for 130, 5 out of 7 nights, for the high-school musical's Tech Week. It's a tradition at school to get all the actors, crew, and musicians together for dinner an hour before rehearsal begins during that last week of rehearsals before opening night. It's fun. And it's exhausting.
I have had a lot of help; about 18 people volunteer each night to help set up, serve and clean up. But the vanload of paper supplies and other items is all mine, every night.
I'm surviving right now with the help of caffeine, Advil, and my heating pad. I have to say, the physical work is taking its toll, and I come home sore every single night--despite all the helpers. It's nothing like the pain I was in before the surgery; well, it's in the same place, but it's not as intense. (I'm not worried about the pain. I'm working muscles that haven't been worked too hard in quite a while, and I'm seriously out of shape.)
And then my inner cynic gets going. This is one of those jobs that needs to get done but nobody wants to do. It's work, but it's not terrible. People are thanking me up, down and sideways for doing this job, and after a while I start to wonder:  "Am I doing that good a job, or are they just happy that they don't have to be the one to do it?"
Does it really matter?
I just smile and say I couldn't do it without all the helpers, because that's true. It takes a village to serve 130 people dinner every night.
It's a pleasure, even with the pain and the fatigue. I've met a bunch of nice parents, gotten my fix of polite high-school students, staff and alumni, and tasted some amazing salads and cookies.
Tonight I will enjoy the night off and laugh with some friends--and, hopefully, get a good night's sleep.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

12/year: really belated

This blog has been sorely neglected lately, so I decided to (belatedly) link up with Barbara's 12/year photo roundup! Most of the pictures were taken on my phone, but at least I've got a few pictures!

In March,
I received an "Honorary Doctorate" for reading to the pre-K when the school celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday.

I spun a science-fair-mishap into a delicious cookie/brownie combo!

We had much better luck with our second attempt at the science fair cookie recipe! Read all about it--the cookies were terrific!

It snowed--the most snow we got all year.

Little Brother is a Boy Scout now, so he got to help with the Easter Vigil fire. Here's the "before"...

...and the "during." You can't see Father; he's on the other side of the flames. 
Alleluia! Easter sunrise.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

21st-Century Conclave

Yesterday's "white smoke rising" moment really brought home just how connected the world is. The Papal Chimney Watch was in full swing in the early afternoon, and I was in the car listening to commentary on satellite radio's The Catholic Channel. My husband was with me, commenting that he felt sorry for the radio personalities, who had to just keep talking until they had certain information.

We got home just as the announcers stated that the marching band was entering St. Peter's Square. I refused to get out of the car until I'd started up the satellite-radio app on my iPhone. I didn't want to miss a moment.

I was frustrated to discover that there was a 5-minute delay between the radio broadcast and the online version, but I set my phone next to me on the desk and listened as I headed to YouTube on my computer for the Vatican TV live feed. I started Twitter on the iPad.

I didn't even bother with the regular TV. For the last conclave, that's all I had. But this was amazing--using various media to receive information in real time (or as close as an online app for satellite radio could get.)

Then I watched the clock. It was getting close to 3, dismissal time for Little Brother's school. I was sure that they'd be watching in class, and didn't want him to miss "the Big Reveal" while he was on the school bus.

Pope Francis reached the balcony at about 3:15. We barely had time to digest the news and try to find out a little more about him when Little Brother exploded through the front door, yelling, "We have a new pope, and his name is Francis!"

"How did you know? They didn't announce his name until after you were on the bus!"

"Somebody on the bus has an iPhone and we were all watching it on the 3G."

This is probably the best use of an iPhone on a school bus EVER.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Be an Angel

A few weeks ago, I read with sadness that Aquinas and More would be closing. I've had a long association with them and especially enjoyed being part of their Tiber River Book Review program as well as writing occasional articles for the site.

Here's one piece I wrote last year about preparing your child for first Reconciliation.

Aquinas and More stands out, in my view, for its staunch no-China policy. This means that inventory selection is carefully guided by the source of the item.

Today, Aquinas and More owner Ian Rutherford announced an unconventional fund-raising effort that would keep the store's online presence available to its customer base across the country. If you can lend a hand to a retailer that's committed to bringing authentic, orthodox Catholic religious goods to its customers, won't you consider donating?

No donations will be processed until the fund-raising goal is met, and there are rewards for donating that are pretty sweet. You've got 14 days to help out.

Be an angel and help Aquinas and More continue its mission.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Murphy's Law Morning

I have been awake for less than 5 hours today. And already, the following "glitches" have taken place:

  • Little Brother was most ungracious (not to mention greedy) upon finding out that the Tooth Fairy had left her usual $1 instead of the $5 that some of his classmates get.
  • TheDad informed me that his car HAD to go to the mechanic TODAY because some "your car will explode if you don't go to the mechanic" indicator light had lit up on his dashboard.
  • That meant that I had to commandeer Middle Sister's car and take her to school and force her to (indignity of indignities) ride the bus home today.
  • Little Brother came thisclose to missing HIS bus because he hadn't packed his schoolbag last night, like I'd asked him to.
  • Middle Sister had a pretty empty gas tank.
  • I had to follow TheDad to the car dealership and then he had to take me back home. ALL of this was before I even got a cup of coffee, not to mention breakfast.
  • I thought maybe there would be a diner run on the way back from Hyundai City, but no...(and poor Hubs is first of all not a mind-reader and second of all WAY too busy at work right now so I know there was no time for a diner run. But a girl can dream. Especially when she needs coffee.)
  • Middle Sister started sending me angry texts because the discombobulation of HER morning meant that she'd forgotten some important papers on the coffee table.
  • A piece of the splashguard of my stand mixer detached itself when I was making cookies for Big Brother, who's coming home for dinner tonight.
  • Little Brother's coach emailed the date and time of the CYO basketball playoff game:  smack in the middle of a Tech Week rehearsal for Annie Jr. (I'm dealing with that by praying for snow.)
  • I found a broken zipper pull in the dryer's lint filter. Inspecting the laundry, I discovered that it had come off the Notre Dame hoodie that I JUST got for Christmas.

None of this is "big stuff" but it's the little stuff that really gets to me.

I could really use a reboot here, especially since in just a couple of hours, I have a Secular Franciscans meeting and there will be guests, so I am WAY outside my comfort zone on this one (introvert problems). It's not that the guests aren't welcome--I'm glad they'll be there. But I find it tough enough to conduct a meeting when it's "just us," never mind up to 10 extra people, some of whom are strangers.

And I have to make sure I'm out of that meeting on time to pick up Little Brother and his friend at Chess Club after school.

At the moment, I'm kind of afraid to touch anything or go anywhere! I could really use a double dose of Grace and Dignity right about now.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Short-Order Cook

Little Brother has been sick all week. After two trips to the pediatrician, we've got a diagnosis of an ear infection and a Z-pack. He's feeling quite a bit better this morning, and his appetite is returning.

"Can you please cook me an egg?" he asked me.

"Sure. How would you like it?"

"Sunny side down."

" mean 'over hard' or do you want it still a little runny?"

"I don't know! The way I usually have them. I don't know all the flavors of eggs."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heartbreaking, Heartwarming

In case you missed it, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation yesterday, stating that he no longer has the strength of mind and body to carry out the duties of his office.

This had to be an extremely difficult decision for the Pope. My feeling is that he did not want to leave the Church "unshepherded" in any way due to his own physical decline. It was heartbreaking to watch Pope John Paul II as his illness swallowed him up. This will give Pope Benedict the opportunity (if asked) to serve as a mentor to his successor, and it gives a wonderful example to the world of how to bear with great dignity, and even generosity, the indignities that come with the aging process.

It is telling, I think, that he has announced his decision to spend the rest of his life dedicated to prayer. In a fast-paced world, that is an excellent reminder to the Church of the importance of prayer, something which it is all too easy to neglect when things get busy--or we just get lazy.

I am saddened that it had to happen, but I believe that Pope Benedict made his decision with the good of the Church foremost in his heart.

As to the insinuations I have heard that he is running away from the sexual-abuse scandals, it's hard to believe that this would be the case. He's not the type of person to run away from a challenge or to walk away when the going gets tough. There is a difference between that kind of escapism and the simple acceptance of the fact that his physical condition will no longer permit him to carry out the duties of the office.

And to those who think that this is an opportunity to in some way "modernize" the Church, I will just say that my prayer is that the next Pope will be faithful.

I pray for Benedict XVI and for his successor, and for the Church.

image credit:  Kelly Wahlquist

Saturday, February 09, 2013


This morning, while waiting for Little Brother's basketball game to start, I was talking with his Cub Scout den leader (whose son was on the opposing team). He mentioned that after next weekend's Blue and Gold Dinner, which will feature the boys' crossover into Boy Scouting, his son probably will not continue in Scouting.

That's a shame.

At first I thought that the boy just didn't feel like Scouting was for him. I told the den leader that my older son had felt that way for a while, and we asked him to just give it a certain amount of time. If he still didn't like it after that time, he could walk away.

Apparently, though, that wasn't the case. This young man is having academic difficulties in school. His parents are considering after-school tutoring to help him improve his reading skills. That's a good course of action to take, and I hope that it helps. But then, the den leader went on, they had decided that if he does go to a tutoring center, he won't be allowed to go to Scouts until his grades improve.

That's an even bigger shame. Before the opening buzzer to the game sounded, I tried to convince this dad that Scouting was definitely worth the investment of time, and that his son would learn about managing his time as part of his Scout training.

I probably failed, unfortunately.

In this town (and many towns surrounding mine) the emphasis is ALL on sports. Little Brother is one of the few boys his age who is held to a strict "one sport per season" limit. I've known several kids who play on two or more teams for the same sport during the same season, and always wondered what happens when the inevitable schedule conflict comes up. The boy in question here plays multiple sports in a season, sometimes on travel teams whose games are an hour or more away. I'm not against sports--my kids are athletes too--but a steady diet of nothing but sports is awfully limiting for an eleven-year-old.

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.--the Boy Scout Law

Yes, you'll get some of that in sports. Ultimately, though, the goal in sports is to win. The goal in Scouting is to fulfill that Law. By doing so, it's not only the Scout who wins.

And when a child's punishment for poor grades (or poor conduct) is removal from his Scout troop, he definitely loses.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Day: Made

This afternoon I was handed a packet of thank-you notes written by the 5th grade at Little Brother's school. Every child in his class wrote me a thank-you note last week, during Catholic Schools Week, because I am a weekly volunteer in the school library. The notes were hand-written on stationery that the kids decorated themselves. I know this class well, because I've worked with them for 4 of the 6 years I've helped in the library. This is a great bunch of kids--they've been together since kindergarten and as a group they're pretty tight.

As to the sentiments expressed in the letter, they were often at the corner of Funny and Sweet, because that's where ten-year-olds live. Here are a few of my favorite gems:

"We are all very grateful for you donating your time for the school. You're a very thoughtful person. As they say in Spanish, gracias!"

"It is a massive responsibility for you to go to the library every single Friday."

"Every time you come on a Friday it makes me feel happy inside."

"When you are supporting us we are supporting you."

"I hope you are proud of yourself!"

"I am thankful because you could be doing something other than helping."

"You are the greatest book stamper ever!"

Two kids wrote "Go Notre Dame" on their letters as well. (After all these years together, they know me well. And I know them well enough to know that for one boy, that was a big thing--he's absolutely not a Notre Dame fan. But he wrote it on my letter because he knows that I am.)

And one child made a special point of thanking me for finding a copy of a book she'd been looking for, and setting it aside for her until her class came to the library. That's what it's all about.

That packet of letters made my day. I love helping the school by lending a hand in my favorite place!
Plus, it's good to know that my book-stamping talent has not gone unnoticed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Not User-Friendly

And now it's time for my annual Re-Registration Rant.

It's time to sign up Middle Sister for her senior year of high school. (All together now:  "She's a senior ALREADY?")

When registration time comes around, the school emails me a link to her account. (Full disclosure:  This account is not maintained by the school, but by the tuition-management service contracted by the diocese. None of the issues I encountered were things the school could have remedied or prevented.) In the email, it said that that if I signed in using this link, it would display my student's information. So I signed in at the link, fortunately remembering my username and password.

I should have known I was in for it when I was asked to enter my returning student's name, despite what the email from the school told me. After filling in that form, I came to a screen that instructed me to click the button labeled "Add Student"--this despite the fact that I'd already filled in the student's name, and that a little link labeled "Start" was next to my daughter's name. I followed the directions, though. Doing so took me back to the ADD screen, which I did not want.

Trying again, I clicked that "Start" link and continued registration.

The form remembers none of the information from previous registrations. Everything must be entered again.

Although I checked the box for "Married" after "Parents' Marital Status" and then the box for "Child lives with both parents" I still could not go on until I filled in Custodial Parent Information. The form is set up so that I would have to designate one of us as Custodial and one as Non-custodial.

I called the customer-service number of the management company that handles the registration website, but I'd have had to wait 12 minutes to (maybe) speak to a person. That's way too long to listen to cheesy "on-hold" music punctuated by smarmy messages reminding me how important my call is to them, so I bailed. I considered calling the school, as I've had to do at least once before when filling out this form and reaching this step. The whole process comes to a screeching halt because the system cannot deal with a child in a traditional two-parent household.

Then I noticed that underneath the boxed for "Name of Custodial Parent" and "Name of Non-custodial Parent" there was a check-box labeled "Not applicable." The same was true for the addresses (and phone numbers) of the custodial and non-custodial parent. Several checked boxes later, I was able to proceed with the next step.

I'm quite sure that it's not very hard to have those "Not applicable" boxes automatically fill in when the box "Child lives with both parents" is checked.

I was asked to fill in my student's religion in two separate places. Similarly, I had to fill in the names of both parents, and our address, several times throughout the process.

If all this is tied to an account that I created years ago, why doesn't it remember any of that information?

I did notice at the end, however, that it had my bank account number on file so it could easily and automatically deduct the registration deposit of $490. That was the only convenient part of the whole process.

That's right:  it doesn't remember my kid, my address, my phone number, my religion, or what to do when both parents live in the same house, but it's got access to my checking account. That's more than a little unsettling.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cleaning Up My (Linguistic) Act

A few times in the past couple of days, there have been discussions involving swearing. Patrick Madrid, on Tuesday, hosted an episode of "Right Here, Right Now" where he called out people who use profanity in social media (or anywhere, really).  Then, Katharine Grubb, the 10Minute Writer, brought up the topic in the context of her ongoing series on chivalry.

I'm not one to use the F-bomb, but I do have a couple of other "choice" words that could stand to be eradicated from my vocabulary. Especially the whole "taking the Lord's name in vain" thing.

It's been on my mind.

So this morning I was on my way to school, same as any other Friday morning. My timing must have been a bit off, because I got stuck behind a school bus that I don't usually see. As I drove through the neighborhood, that bus kept turning down the same streets I was about to use.

I hate following school buses, especially the ones that go to the early-elementary school, because they take for-ev-er to go anyplace, and kids' moms stand there chatting with the bus driver while the little STOP sign sticks out from the side of the bus and the red lights blink, so I can't pass.

School buses just don't drive with the same sense of urgency I do.

Once again, that bus turned the same way I was about to go.  "Jesus Christ!" I yelled.

Then I thought better of it, figured I'd turn it into a prayer. "Have mercy on us, and on the whole world."

Immediately, the bus made yet another turn--down a street that was not on my route.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Score One for the Big Box

I shop at "big box" stores as much as anyone else. Around here, there doesn't seem to be much of a choice. We don't have a Main Street in town; instead, it's strip malls along a state highway.

But when we (infrequently) host parties, we've always gone to Party Land to get our supplies. Because of the store's location, it's close but inconvenient--less than 1/2 a mile to get there but three times that to get home. It's worth the trip, though; it's a local business and we'd rather purchase plates, cups and tablecloths there than at (insert name of big box store here).

As the kids have gotten older, birthday parties have gone by the wayside, so except for graduations, we haven't needed to visit the party store. I go there every February to stock up on colorful tablecloths for the Cub Scouts' Blue and Gold Dinner.

This year I did that shopping a little early, because Party Land won't be here in February. Just before Christmas, Party City opened directly across the street, in a strip mall owned by the same landlord. It's got the advantage of a location with much more foot traffic.

I told Little Brother when we first saw the signs for Party City that Party Land would close within a year. Unfortunately, it only took a month.

So yesterday I headed over to Party Land before it closes its doors for good--to pick up blue and gold tablecloths for next month's Cub Scout dinner.

As I told TheDad this morning, I felt really crummy doing so. And I don't quite understand why. I needed to get those tablecloths anyway. I was going to buy them at Party Land anyway. I just wasn't going to buy them until February. Yet when I walked into that store yesterday, it was crowded with five times more customers than I'd normally see in the middle of a school day. People were loading up carts with all kinds of things, squealing over going-out-of-business bargains.

All I bought was a dozen or so blue and gold tablecloths. That didn't stop me from feeling rotten as I stood in line behind people with loaded-up shopping carts.

I'm glad that this will be the last year I do a Blue and Gold Dinner. I don't think I could stomach getting those tablecloths at the competition.

And now my town will have one more empty storefront as one more family business owned by a local guy for over 25 years will close its doors.

That doesn't really feel like progress to me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Future Green Builder Of America (and maybe a deacon too)

Little Brother spent most of the car ride to and from tonight's play rehearsal to discuss his future aspirations. He wants to play professional soccer and then become a deacon--if it doesn't take too long to prepare for Holy Orders. He also wants to be a doctor. (I didn't bother to burst his bubble by telling him that it's probably quicker to prepare for the diaconate than for a career in medicine.)

As we passed a new neighborhood-under-construction, he mentioned that one of his classmates might move there. "The builders took all the trees down," he observed. "What do you think they did with them? Will they use those trees to build the houses?"

"They don't build houses that way anymore," I told him. "I don't know what they do with the trees; they might grind them up right there, or they might take them someplace else to use for firewood or something. But the builder is going to get his materials from a lumberyard that has everything already processed."

"That's a bad way to build houses," he commented. "When I grow up and become a Builder of Houses, I'm going to use the trees I cut down to make part of the houses. And if I have any leftovers, I'll give them away so someone can make notebooks."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Library Tales

I was the substitute for the librarian/computer teacher at Little Brother's school today. I'm there every Friday anyway as a volunteer helper, so I know the routine--but it is different when you're on your own.

Someday I want to bring my resume along, because there's a pre-K aide who seems to think I'm generally clueless and inexperienced. It's true that I haven't taught 4-year-olds before, but I am a certified teacher who has taught grades 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and college. Maybe I'm misinterpreting her remarks that I was "brave" to go it alone today. Brave or not, I'm qualified to do the job.

The day kicked off with a very pleasant second-grade class. They like to tattle, but that's their only issue. I don't like tattling so I don't reward it, and that drives them crazy. I love this bunch of kids, though, and we had a good time and enjoyed a story after they checked out their books.

Normally when the librarian brings a class into the computer room I stay in the library to shelve books, make bookmarks or organize displays. When I'm substituting, those tasks wait until the kids are back in their classrooms, and I'm in the computer room with them as they work on projects. I enjoy helping them with their research, though their keyword skills can make me crazy. The 5th grade is studying explorers and using Pages to make brochures with biographical information. Some of them needed assistance, like the boy who found that googling "Cartier" didn't produce the results he was looking for. "Does 'Cartier' mean something else?" he wondered.

One of his classmates, meanwhile, was mystified by her explorer's cause of death. She wanted to know the definition of "dysentery." I asked if she really wanted to know, because it was kind of gross, but she insisted that she wanted to I told her. She was horrified. "People died from that?"

"Well, in the 18th century, yes," I said. "It's not like they could just take some Immodium. They didn't have all the medicines we have now."

I should apologize right here and now to the 5th-grade teacher for my "TMI" description of this disease. I'm kind of curious about how it will play in the final report.

I expected the eighth grade to give me more trouble than they did, after I wore a Notre Dame shirt to school last week and the boys all yelled "Roll Tide!" I was prepared to eat crow over Monday's game, but a couple of kids made quick remarks and then that was over with. They were chatty, but busy, and our biggest problem was that no one could figure out how to print a Powerpoint slide in "portrait" instead of "landscape." Finally I gave up and just told them to save their work until the librarian returns and can show them how.

After two 20-minute whirlwind classes with the 4-year-olds it was time for lunch duty, where I supervised the beverage table and then wandered around the cafeteria making sure kids ate their lunches. I called one 3rd-grader by name, which surprised his classmates who then quizzed me on the name of every kid in the class. I got them all except the new boy, and since I haven't seen these kids since June, I was pretty pleased with that.

Then I had half an hour to eat my own lunch before heading back to greet the kindergarten. Everyone checked out books, then we read a story. They enjoyed the story so much that they didn't even notice their teacher returning to pick them up.

The biggest wrinkle in the day came after all my classes were done, because the 4th graders came in to use the iPads. The secretary had given me the code to the locked cabinet, but there's a trick to opening that lock and I couldn't figure it out. I sent up a distress signal in the form of a text message to the librarian, who clued me in on what to do and the cabinet opened right up. And then I had the chance to kick off my shoes and go on Lysol Patrol in the computer room, wiping down tables, chairs, keyboards and mice. Oddly enough for this time of year, I didn't have to run Tissue Patrol all day--there was no visible snot. I used the cleaning time to listen to a podcast on my phone. Now the computer room and library are neat and clean and ready for the librarian to return on Monday.

And I am tired.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

I Played My Best for Him

I love Christmas carols--always have. If you ask me to choose my top 3, it's an easy choice:  "O Holy Night," "Silent Night," and "The Little Drummer Boy."

That last one hardly fits into the category of "traditional Christmas carols," but I can't help it. That song makes me cry every time--always has. I don't think I've ever been able to sing the line, "I played my best for him" without choking up.

The Little Drummer Boy gets it right. He brings his gift--not something that can be opened, but his talent--and he gives his best effort to honor the newborn King. As a musician, it's what I try to do, Sunday after Sunday. And I love that after the Little Drummer Boy offers his humble gift, Baby Jesus smiles at him.

Pass me a tissue, please.

Why would I choose bongo drums to illustrate this post? In art, the Little Drummer Boy is always pictured with a snare, sometimes slung around his neck, and drumsticks in his hands.

But my Little Drummer Boy (AKA Little Brother) has bongo drums. We sang "The Little Drummer Boy" on Tuesday at church and will do so again today. (It's not "orthodox;" it's not in the hymnal, but it's better theology than a bunch of what is in there.) Little Brother has learned to play the song on his drums. On Tuesday he knelt beside the guitarists and nailed that drum part, even meriting a thumbs-up from Bill, a former drummer who's very particular about how percussion is played.

I love that my kids have had the opportunity to offer their musical gifts in worship, to play their best--even when they're beginners musically. I teared up on Tuesday when my Little Drummer Boy played his best, right alongside me. And it's pretty much a given that I'll cry again today.