Friday, December 31, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Joy and Grief and Sorrow and Silliness


I hope you all had a blessed Christmas! Ours was great (more on that in take number 6) but it came with some sad news. On Christmas Eve my Dad called to tell me that my cousin Greg, the only son of my dear aunt, died suddenly during the night of a massive heart attack. Greg suffered for years with diabetes and all the health issues that come with it. Thankfully my aunt has her five daughters and their families with her, supporting her during this time of unspeakable sorrow. Greg's four sons and their families have been there to comfort their own mother, Greg's wife T. (sorry for the abbreviations, I feel weird about using real names; although my cousin's name really is Greg.)

Please keep Greg's family in your prayers, especially his suffering mother and his grieving wife. I decided earlier this week to begin a novena to Our Lady of Sorrows. I don't know if I've been "doing it right," but I know that Mary, through the sorrowful suffering and death of her only son, will comfort them.


As I was Google searching the Our Lady of Sorrows novena, I came across several different ones, and I discovered a Rosary to Our Lady of Sorrows. As you pray this Rosary you contemplate the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, and pray one Our Father and seven Hail Marys for each one. It's a beautiful prayer; check it out here. I haven't actually prayed it yet; I might just try to get my hands on a Chaplet with its seven groups of seven beads. (Not that I need the beads to pray, of course; if anything it would remind me to pray for those who are burdened by sorrow. I know plenty of people who are.)


I posted my first 7 Quick Takes blog over at "Cooking Nick's Books: A Sparks Fan's Food Blog" earlier this week, with some random thoughts about food, books, blogging, and a little preview of A Walk to Remember and the food we're preparing for tonight's New Year's Eve get together. If you have time, click here and check it out!

I'm glad, by the way, when I started this blog, I didn't know how (or maybe Blogger didn't have this feature yet) to check the stats to see how many people have been viewing it. This blog doesn't get very much traffic as it is, but "Cooking Nick's Books" get next to none. Maybe ten views a week on average, and I figure at least half of those are quick peeks, and they don't even read it. I try to tell myself that when I started "Musings of a Catholic Mom," it probably had similar stats, and the readership has gradually grown over the last two years. I'm having fun with that blog, and I hope I'll persevere and keep it going despite the meager stats; and maybe, just maybe, more people will begin to read it. It's a very small niche, I know, choosing one author (Nicholas Sparks) and making it all about his stories and the food in them, so I guess I shouldn't expect too much.

I like to imagine that Nicholas might eventually run across it (every time I post there I put it on Twitter, and say something like "Check out this lasagna inspired by A Bend in the Road by @SparksNicholas!" That automatically connects it to his Twitter account, so maybe he's already seen it, who knows?) and the thought kind of scares me and thrills me at the same time. It makes me instinctively write each post as though he were reading it. Isn't that silly? I just hope that if he does eventually read it, he doesn't hate it or think I'm some loony nutjob stalker fan.


This morning on Cooking Nick's Books, I posted this quick take of sorts:

Happy Birthday, Nick!

My mother and I will be thinking of you today when we're preparing all this stuff. (Click here and read to the bottom. It's quick.)

I recently celebrated my birthday, too; my sister-in-law baked me a cake and everything. So I hope your day is as fabulous as mine--full of love and laughter and cake!

Happy New Year to you and to all of the five or so people who read this here little blog of mine.

So, my loyal blog readers, do YOU think I'm a loony nutjob stalker fan?

On Tuesday we commemorated the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Sometimes I wonder why we don't pay much attention to this part of the Christmas story. We hear all about how the wise men went to Jerusalem and told Herod they were looking for the newborn King, and Herod gathered all the priests and scribes together and asked them where the Messiah would be born, and they told him it was Bethlehem. Herod goes and tells the Magi this, and says, "Come on back here and tell me where to find him so I can worship him too." You know the story--and angel visits the wise men and tells them that Herod wants to kill Jesus, and they should go home a different way. We often skip the last part, when Herod goes into a rage and has all the boys under two years of age in Bethlehem murdered.

I guess nobody likes to talk about what Herod did to the babies for the same reason nobody likes to talk about abortion. It makes people feel uncomfortable. I heard someone on the radio say that given the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth, somewhere between 20 and 29 babies were murdered. Everyone agrees, I think, that Herod was a bloodthirsty psychopath. Since 1973, more than 50 million babies have been slaughtered in the United States, and it's perfectly legal. What is wrong with us??
Recently I finished reading Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. In the book, seven-year-old Jesus is beginning to learn the circumstances surrounding his birth. As the book progresses, family members reveal bits and pieces of the story to him--the appearance of the angel to Mary, the visit from the Magi, the singing of the angels to announce his birth--but the one thing no one wants to tell him is why they had to flee to Egypt, and just what happened in Bethlehem after his birth. When he finally learns the truth, he is so horrified that he screams and weeps and becomes completely delirious with grief. Don't you think he is just as grief-stricken today every time a child is killed in the womb? Why aren't we?


The last time our family traveled anywhere for Christmas, I was pregnant with Curly. We went to New Jersey where Joe's parents were living at the time, and Larry, who hadn't yet turned two, began puking during the night and didn't stop until morning. The next night it was my turn, and I spent the entire day after Christmas lying miserably in bed. Since then, we've always stayed home for the holidays. When Joe's brother and sister-in-law invited us to spend Christmas with them in Atlanta this year, we figured the kids were old enough to handle it, and decided to go.

We had a wonderful Christmas (except for the sadness from the news of Greg's death), ate lots of great food, attended Mass at a beautiful church (stay tuned for a Get Thee to the Church post!), and the boys--except for Curly, I'll explain in a second-- especially enjoyed entertaining their two little cousins, who are three and one-and-a-half.

We went despite the fact that Moe ran a fever the day before, and I discovered the night before we left that my temperature was over 101. (No wonder I'd been feeling so lousy all day). The doctor in the urgent care center said that Moe didn't have strep and she didn't see any reason why we shouldn't travel, just to make sure we brought along plenty of Tylenol.
By Christmas morning Moe and I were both feeling better, and as we were getting ourselves ready to head over to Joe's brother's house, Curly ran to the bathroom and puked. He spent half the day lying on the couch trying to stay away from the kids. By three-o-clock he felt fine and ate Christmas dinner with everyone. (Maybe it was the chili dogs he ate at the Varsity.)

It snowed. It was cold. We had a wonderful time.


I published my first blog post here on January 1, 2009. Tomorrow will be my two year "blogaversary." I don't know if I'll plan any special celebrations here; I'm sure in the next couple of weeks I'll post some reflections on 2010 and some things to look forward to in 2011. I'm probably going to have to cut back on blogging for a while and concentrate on my preschool work; it's almost time for me to get progress reports together, and I need to organize some of their work and the photos I've taken into binders to give them at the end of the school year. (I didn't say quit blogging; I just said cut back. Still post regularly, but maybe not quite as often. No need to worry. You know I can't stay away from here.)

Merry Christmas everyone, and many blessings for the new year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Get Thee To the Woods, Vol. 22: Cold and Snow and Fresh Air and St. Francis

This is the time of year when we're so busy we often overlook the beauty around us. We're buying gifts and sending Christmas cards and baking cookies and cleaning the house. (Okay, forget that last one.) We spend more time indoors. We only go outside when we have to, like walking from the house to the car, from our parking space to our workplace, and we hurry to get where we're going so we can unwrap ourselves and grab some hot coffee.

On Monday we awoke to a light dusting of snow. It was gone by noon.

By Wednesday morning, our little lake had a thin layer of ice on top.

Curly tossed a few rocks out on the ice and listened to the sound they made as they bounced across it.

Right after I took this photo he decided to test how thick it was by stepping on it. He had to go to school with one wet sneaker.

On Thursday morning school was cancelled, and by eight-thirty it had begun to snow.

As soon as the snow began to cover the driveway, Moe got out Joe's old Flexible Flyer sled.

He made a snow angel too, but it was quickly covered up.

After a while Curly joined him.

I think Moe was outside all day long, only coming in briefly for lunch. When he finally came inside because it was starting to get dark, he peeled off his wet snow pants and exclaimed, "Omigosh, I forgot to change out of my pajamas!"

I think I can take this off of my front porch now.

On Friday Moe and I went out for a little Christmas shopping, and on our way home I saw something strange out of the corner of my eye. When I slowed the car to get a better look, I realized it was a wild turkey running down the street. I quickly pulled over and grabbed my phone to snap a few photos.

The next day our local paper ran an article about an elusive wild turkey that had been spotted by several people, wandering through town. This, by the way, would be the second time Moe and I have encountered a bird behaving strangely, and read about it in the newspaper the next day.

The ducks and geese have stayed mostly out of sight, but they're showing signs of their presence all the same.

I was going to pull my dead plants out of their pots and put the pots away, but they're frozen solid. I know Joe is eager for a warm spell so he won't have to look at them anymore. Meanwhile they've found a hiding spot behind the shed.

Winter can be drab and gray and miserable sometimes, but it's not hard to find beauty if you look.

Let's remember those who have no warm bed to sleep in this winter. Let's take the time to reach out to the cold and homeless and hungry.

By the way (speaking of getting to the woods and reaching out to those less fortunate)--have you ever heard of the Fresh Air Fund? I only just recently learned about them. They're dedicated to helping low-income children in New York City spend time during the summer away from the city where they can enjoy the beauty and freedom of the outdoors. Kids have the opportunity to attend summer camps, and visit with families living in rural areas and small towns. They're not affiliated with any religious group--they're just all about getting inner-city kids
to the country--and to the woods! What a simple way to help disadvantaged children--and not only will they enjoy fresh air and sunshine and exercise, they'll make friends, too! Having been a camp counselor in college, and seeing how being outdoors together helps kids appreciate nature and bond with one another, I get excited when I hear about endeavors like this. (Click here if you want to learn more about the Fresh Air Fund, or make a donation if you wish.)

I'm taking a blogging break until after Christmas. No, really, I am. I know, I've been saying that for the last two weeks but I keep showing up here anyway. This is really and truly my last post until...the 26th? 27th? 28th? I'm not sure; I'm sure I'll have some thoughts and memories and photos to share by then. (I'm sure I'll be reading some of your blogs between now and then, though.)

Have a blessed Christmas, and meanwhile I'd love to hear how YOU've enjoyed nature's beauty amidst all the hustle and bustle and cold weather.

Friday, December 17, 2010

7 Quick Takes: The Advent Edition

Wasn't it just summer? Now it's cold enough to need hats, scarves, and gloves. The lake has a layer of ice on top. It snowed, and we got Thursday and Friday off from school because of it. Everyone is saying how they can't believe there's only a week until Christmas. I spent two hours shoveling my driveway yesterday. Wasn't I lounging in the sun by the pool just last week?


What is your all-time favorite Christmas carol? My sister-in-law asked this question at Christmas dinner one year. I didn't answer because I knew if I did I'd start blubbering right there. Last night the question came up again on Facebook. My favorite: O Holy Night. Why? Because when I was a kid, my mother sang it at our church's annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. We were sitting in the pews with my dad, the lights in the church dimmed, and candles in the windows, and all of a sudden the organ started playing and I heard my mother's voice. I turned around to see her in the balcony with a light shining on her, and she was singing this beautiful carol I don't think I'd ever heard before. She looked and sounded like an angel.

This is the only picture I can find online of the inside of the church where I grew up. It might have looked like this that night. (Sometime I'll tell you about the stained glass window in the front, if I can get a better photo of it. Meanwhile you can read about how I grew from my Baptist roots to my Catholic faith here, here, and here.)


OK, I need some advice. My mother doesn't want anything extravagant for Christmas, but I want to get her something meaningful nonetheless. I'm planning to get a small gift for her to open (which I've already ordered) and then make a donation to a charity on her behalf. My dad says that she would prefer something that is Christian-based. My mom is Baptist, a retired teacher, and she teaches an ESL class at their church. A few years ago we made a gift donation to Habitat for Humanity for her, and this would be fine again of course, but it would be nice to find something different as well. They already support World Vision and Samaritan's Purse; I could give something to the Central Asia Institute (Greg Mortenson's effort to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan) even though it isn't religious in nature, since she and I are big fans of that organization, and since we went to a lecture he gave together. (read more about that here.)
Anyway, If you have any suggestions, just leave them in the comment box. And Mom, if you're reading this--I know you don't see this very often--your suggestions would be the most valuable of all! :-)

(By the way, Elizabeth over at 100th Lamb has a very similar dilemma---head on over to her place and vote in her informal charity poll. They're also trying to decide what organization to donate to.)


I've finally put an RSS link on my sidebar. Now it's easier than ever to access this, your favorite blog. I mostly wanted it so that my mother can find it more easily--I bookmarked it on her computer but she doesn't know how to find it. The only time she gets to see this blog is when I email her the link. I want her to be able to set it up so that the posts go right to her email, but I can't figure out how she can do this using those links. Any suggestions? I have a couple of WordPress blogs that I subscribe to (A Simple Twist of Faith and I Have to Sit Down--and I read almost all of those posts simply because they're right in my inbox); does this work with Blogger too? Help! Thanks!


When Curly and I went to the 2009 March for Life, we caught a glimpse of Operation Rescue's Truth Truck. The pictures on the sides showed tiny unborn babies that had been wrenched from their mothers' wombs, with coins next to them to give you some idea of how small they were. I'm not one to post graphic pictures of aborted babies, mostly because I wouldn't want a youngster to inadvertently run across one. I have some young Facebook friends--mostly sons and daughters of adult friends--who I don't want to traumatize by exposing them to such graphic images. (When Curly saw the pictures on the Truth Truck, I asked him how they made him feel, and he said they made him sad, but admitted they were kind of strange-looking; after all, they were in the very early stages of development.)

Browsing my blog reader yesterday morning I ran across what may be the most disturbing abortion photo I have ever seen. I swear if it hadn't been a real baby I might have thought it was something from a horror movie. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong posted an interesting dialog between himself and an agnostic who was trying to argue that the Bible doesn't teach that abortion is wrong. It's a compelling post (Dave proves, of course, that the Bible does indeed forbid abortion), if you can get past the awful images. Further down there is another image that's almost as sickening as the first one.

Anyhow, if you're already pro-life, the photo here will shock and sadden and sicken you. (Be forewarned; it's extremely graphic.) And if you're still pro-choice after seeing it, you must have a serious problem. I just can't see how any rational person could possibly argue for abortion "rights" after seeing that.

Which brings to mind a question: Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life often says "America won't reject abortion until America sees abortion." He reminds us that people didn't get outraged over slavery and the Holocaust until they saw graphic pictures of emaciated people, slaves with scars covering their backs, and truck beds and mass graves full of bodies. Do you agree? Personally I have mixed feelings about using images of aborted children to spread the pro-life message; on the one hand, they do expose the truth about what abortion really is, but sometimes I wonder if it only serves to enrage pro-choicers and make them more determined to dig in their heels. What are your thoughts?


This is one of my favorite Christmas ornaments because my grandmother made it. She had boxes and boxes in her house of silk styrofoam ornaments, beads, jewels, ribbons, and all kinds of accessories. She used pins to attach little decoratons to them, sometimes threading beads to long hat pins so they'd stick out from the top and bottom. Every year her Christmas tree was covered with all kinds of her homemade ornaments. She didn't make any money doing this as far as I know, but she loved making them and giving them away to friends and family members. We always had several on our tree growing up, and when she passed away, my cousins, my brother and I divided her collection amongst ourselves. I think my mother still has a few that my brother and I had made with her supplies when we visited her. (We never could make them as pretty as hers, no matter how hard we tried.)


Every year we get out this nativity calendar, and every day starting on December 1, we open up the little door and take out whichever piece is behind it. (By the way, can you figure out why I got this at a discounted price? Look at the numbers.) As we get closer to Christmas, the picture starts to fill in, and the last one to come out is baby Jesus. The boys started calling it my "panic calendar," because last year I made the mistake of admitting that watching all the little players arrive on the scene only reminds me how much I still have to do in such a little amount of time.
That's not what it's for, is it?


If you're looking for some last-minute gift ideas, I've got a couple of gems for ya. My friend Rachel's husband Juan is a teacher in the public school system, and he's also a talented writer. He is working on a children's book trilogy, a science fiction saga called Planet Korgg. I bought a couple of copies of the first installment, Planet Korgg: Lost in Space, for my kids a while back, and we listened to an audio version he had made. Our boys loved it. The book isn't very long; I'm sure most kids could probably read it in one sitting. It's about a family living in the future, and they get stranded on a man-made "planet" that was created as a vacation destination. Lots of adventure lurks in its pages (and dinosaurs, and sea monsters), and I was happy to learn that Juan is now working on the second book in the series. You can order a copy at the book's website (click here); he's working on making it available at places like Amazon and Borders and other major book chains. Hopefully if he can sell enough copies this will become a reality. (I never knew how difficult it was to get a book published, much less sold in a regular bookstore.)

Our little niece and nephew aren't quite old enough for Planet Korgg yet, so in the meantime I hope they enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Food Face. My sister-in-law will love us for getting them something that encourages them to play with their food. Especially if Dad encourages them, which he probably will.

Stay tuned for a "Get Thee To the Woods" post (so much for staying away from Blogger until Christmas), and I'll tell you about an organization I recently learned of that's all about getting kids out in the fresh air. I'll also post some pictures of our recent snowfall, and the fun the boys have had with it.

For more quick takes, visit Jenn at Conversion Diary! Now to get some work done.

Friday, December 3, 2010

7 Quick Takes: Thanksgiving into Advent and Beyond

ONE: I hope your Thanksgiving was as lovely as ours! We spent the holiday near Blacksburg with my parents, my brother and his new wife (I need to come up with blog names for them. I'll call my brother Tuba Man because in high school and college he played the tuba in the marching band. My sister-in-law will be Auntie J until I can think of something better), and my parents' friends, Mr. and Mrs. B, came over for dinner as well. We had a lovely meal; Mr. and Mrs. B told us stories of their recent travels to Yellowstone (I blogged here, here, and here about our adventures there) and Alaska--a place we're hoping to visit, possibly this summer or maybe next. Maybe. My dad and Mr. B talked about how when they were kids, they had very little as far as material possessions, and how their home life was rich and full of love and life and how they didn't realize growing up how much of a struggle it was for their parents to raise and provide for them. The only photo I took on Thanksgiving day was this one of my mother's cute centerpiece:

TWO: On Friday Joe wanted to take the kids to a park that had a basketball court so Curly could practice dribbling and shooting. We thought there would be one at a certain local park, but there wasn't. We decided instead to go looking for a geocache hidden somewhere in the vicinity of this caboose. We didn't find that, either.

We finally found a basketball court at the old abandoned middle school building that Tuba Man and I had attended, and where Mom taught many more years ago when it was still the high school.

The hoops were so old and rusted, the boys were almost afraid to use them for fear they would knock them over with the ball.

THREE: While the boys were shooting hoops, I took a stroll around the school grounds. There are a lot of memories here, and it made me sad to see the building standing empty and neglected.

FOUR: Mom celebrated her 70th birthday recently, and we decided to treat her to dinner at Mountain Lake Hotel, where Dirty Dancing was filmed. (I didn't take this photo, of course; it was dark outside.)

Tuba Man and Auntie J, being newlyweds, had been calling each other "Baby" all weekend. (So sweet. Joe and I have never called each other Baby.) During dinner I was tempted to take a photo of Auntie J. sitting against the wall next to one of the stone columns, have Tuba Man standing in front of her with his hand out, and caption it "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." I didn't.

FIVE: On Sunday Joe and the boys performed their annual male bonding ritual, Leaf Blowing, Leaf Raking, and Leaf Hauling. They'll probably be doing that again this weekend.

We lit our Advent wreath (we're pretending that the red candle is really pink)

and had beef stew and cornbread for dinner. (Stay tuned to Cooking Nick's Books: A Sparks Fan's Food Blog for the recipes, which I hope will be up this weekend.)

SIX: When Larry and I visited the National Shrine Basilica a couple of weeks ago, I bought this devotional book:

Each day there is a quote from Chesterton or one of his contemporaries, a scripture passage, a prayer, and an action to perform in the spirit of Advent. Today's Chesterton quote was this:

All ceremony depends on symbol; and all symbols have been vulgarized and made stale by the commercial conditions of our time...Of all these faded and falsified symbols, the most melancholy example is the ancient symbol of the flame. In every civilized age and country, it has been a natural thing to talk of some great festival on which "the town was illuminated." There is no meaning nowadays in saying the town was illuminated...The whole town is illuminated already, but not for noble things. It is illuminated solely to insist on the immense importance of trivial and material things, blazoned from motives entirely mercenary...It has not destroyed the difference between light and darkness, but it has allowed the seller light to put out the greater...Our streets are in a permanent dazzle, and our minds in a permanent darkness.

He wrote these words in 1927. How true they still are today.

SEVEN: Christmas cards have started to arrive in the mail. People are putting Christmas lights on their houses. The whole town will soon be illuminated. Which means I'd better get off my duff and start doing something Christmas, like sending out cards and ordering presents. I'll stop back by here to say hello between now and the 25th, maybe with a Small Successes post about how I've finished everything I need to do way ahead of time and all that's left is to sit around and drink egg nog. Wouldn't that be something?
Head on over to Conversion Diary for Jen Fulwiler's Quick Takes for this week!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Small (Very Small) Successes, Vol. 5

I had three teensy-weensy successes today:

1. It's always hard for Curly to get up in the morning, and often he's wolfing down a cereal bar while I'm pushing him out the door to catch his carpool ride to school. This morning he was more tired than usual after staying up until past 11 pm finishing a homework assignment. He was quite cranky, needless to say. First he couldn't find his tie, then I made him change his shirt because it was dirty (he sure didn't like me for that), and then he couldn't find his shoes and ended up wearing his old ones that were too small. His brothers had already left and my nagging him to get moving so he wouldn't make everyone late wasn't working. Finally I calmly told him I was going upstairs to finish getting myself ready for work, and if he was still at home when I came down I would my neighbor to tell her to leave without him, and he'd be in HUGE trouble. Thankfully God gave me the grace to stay even-tempered throughout his moring drama. I don't always handle it that well.

2. I finally sent our Christmas gifts to our sponsored child in Haiti. I know he won't get it until spring, maybe later (for which I apologized in the letter I wrote to him), but that mailer full of stuff--a paint-by-number set, two balsa wood gliders (I'm not too sure how well those will hold up between here and Haiti), some silly bandz, and photos of the kids--is finally off my desk and in the mail.

3. My trip to the post office took longer than expected, and I was a little late arriving at the boys' school for afternoon pick-up. I ended up in the very back of the line, and was sure we would be late to Curly's guitar lesson. Traffic must have been light, because we arrived there right on time.


Today at church there was a funeral for a thirteen-year-old girl killed in a car accident over the Thanksgiving holiday. Please pray for her family. I can't imagine how it must feel as a mother to lose your child like that.

I expect my blogging activity here will be light between now and New Year's. (I noticed I had 13 posts for the month of November--I think that's my all-time high for the number of posts in one month.) Tomorrow I hope to post "7 Quick Takes"--I'm not making any promises, though--and I need to update my other blog, Cooking Nick's Books: A Sparks Fan's Food Blog, in the next few days as well. If you don't see me here much after that you'll know I'm celebrating Advent and preparing for Christmas, and I'm probably catching up on laundry and housework too. Not to mention working on lessons for my job at the preschool and driving my children hither and yon.
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