Sunday, December 21, 2014

What We Can Learn From the Benedictines

It was a mild December night in Minnesota as a hundred Catholic adults converged upon the beautiful house of a lovely young couple in order to meet a monk. They entered the house and, having been welcomed with a smile, dove right into the fudge and wine and entered into conversation with the other like-minded acquaintances present.

After and hour of socializing, the monk, Fr. Cassion Folsom, O.S.B., the founder and Prior of a new community of Benedictines, began to speak.
He told us about his order, which established themselves in a monastery in Norcia, Italy, the birth place of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, in 2000. Benedictines had been in Norcia for hundreds of years until they were suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. This group of monks has been growing well and is nearing 20 monks.

It is not a coincidence that the Benedictines are drawing new vocations. The work in which St. Benedict engaged, preserving the Church, community life, knowledge, and virtue, is a work that is again of immense importance today. Fr. Folsom shared this quotation from Alasdair Macintyre, from a book published in 1981, which is still relevant today:
“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are.
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead — often not recognizing fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.
 If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.
This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict.” (After Virtue, p. 263)
Macintyre and Prior Folsom both believe that people seeking to live virtuous lives need to build communities that foster their virtue. We need to do something now, while society deteriorates around us, to preserve all that is good in Western culture. Now maybe things are not as bad and secularized here as they are in parts of Europe, but the possibility is looming. We see the need for better local communities in recent events, such as the recent Michael Brown shooting and the reaction to it in Ferguson, Missouri. A good community preserves morals, teaches them to our children, and never stops seeking to become better.

Prior Folsom spoke of the importance of the pockets of Catholic community that we already have in the United States. We need to cling to them, be formed by them, and allow our wider communities to be transformed by them. Having a good Catholic community is more and more essential to being able to actually live a Catholic life in the modern world. It is also easy enough to find online community support, but the real, live, in-person community matters the most.

I don’t have a ton of practical advice on how to build community, but probably the best place to start is in your home life. Monks model for us a real community built on rules and a schedule that requires prayer, work, and community. When I first read the Rule of St. Benedict, I realized how helpful it was to planning a good family life. There is a beautiful book The Little Oratory that gives great advice on establishing a life of family prayer. The routine of family meals, family prayer, and extending hospitality to others are basics of community life that are not hard to incorporate.  We can imitate this in our own families, bring it to our community of friends, and to the wider communities we live in. We need to be making conscious efforts to bring the goodness of our Catholic communities to those around us. Transformations must begin at the most basic level. So, we must begin with ourselves, transforming our own minds and our own lives of virtue and then grow out from there.

Originally posted at Truth and Charity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Cookie Kind of Day

The kids have a cold over here, and as a result they have all been a little bit more cranky and screamy than normal. It has been pretty rough on all of us. I know it is just a cold. I do wish we could just have the sick people lay in bed for the duration like they did back in the day, but that does not normally work with little kids and why don't we do that anymore?

Anyway, when I managed to get my pregnant self out of bed this morning to see M off to his last day at work for the semester, tried to sneak in coffee and breakfast before the kids woke up, and failed at that, I decided it was time to sit on the couch and look at the lit Christmas tree in the dark of the morning. So, G, L, and I put on some Nat King Cole, snuggled together and did just that. F somehow slept through it, so, she missed out.

Then I decided to do minimal school: G read us her reader from the library (Fred and Ted Go Camping), and then we had breakfast, and spent the rest of the morning making Christmas cookies.
Before cookie girls.
I don't know if you have ever made cookies with a 5, 4, and 2 year old all wanting to help, but it is certainly interesting and a test of patience. This is actually an area I could do better as a mom. I would much rather do it all myself than have to guide children through "helping" me. I prefer not to do the activities that take a lot of time or make a huge mess, but I also realize that those are the kind of activities that they love. They are the ones that make me grow in patience, and they are the kind of ones that the kids will remember.

They will remember that I let them use crazy amounts of sprinkles on their Christmas cookies, even if I sent them out of the kitchen so I could sweep.
G will remember that I let her stand at the stove and melt chocolate in the double boiler, and L will remember that I let me form her own peanut buttery filling balls all by herself.

That is the recycling bin, not the trash can, I promise.
I write about these things because it reminds me that I need to do this more. Sometimes we just need to skip the mom's group at church, stay home with our colds, and make cookies, no matter how big the mess. And the best part? When we were done making the cookies, the children played happily until lunchtime, without fighting, and giggled the whole way through lunch over silly things little girls say and think.

Bonus Baby Bump picture (for my sister who asked):

16 weeks along.
I think I must be growing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Friday, December 12

1. This is my first time linking up with the new hostess of the Seven Quick Takes, Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum. Last week quick takes did not happen, but I was on writing and publishing overload. I posted most things to my blog Facebook page, but in case you missed them, I will go ahead and link things here.

At Church POP:
10 Reasons Some Women are Wearing Veils in Church Again
12 Secular Christmas Songs that are Actually About Advent
The 20 Best Religious Advent Songs

At Crisis:
Popularity of the Latin Liturgy is Not Unfortunate

2. The reason I have not been writing this week is largely due to Jane Austen. I am using the pregnancy excuse to read all afternoon while the kids rest...
I always come back to Jane Austen and St. Francis de Sales. Pure insight into humanity.
3. I can't believe we did this, and I promise I am not an Advent sell out. My only defense is that it was St. Nicholas day, a party at M's work, and the kids wanted to see the "man dressed like St. Nicholas."

4. Someone turned four two weeks ago.
L had the time of her life at the crazy, bounce house filled, Christmas party last weekend. She may have also had a major emotional crash later that day... She also had a nice birthday after Thanksgiving with breakfast with Daddy, the science museum, and grandparents and an aunt visiting.

5. Here is a math problem for you: What do you get when you mix together 42 packets of Kool-Aid and 15 white silk scarves?

15 colorful play scarves! And if you want to know how I did this: I bought the scarves here, and used this and this tutorial. I managed to make them for 1/3 the cost of buying pre dyed play scarves. It took about 3 hours to do the whole thing: two evenings of dying and one of ironing.

6. Today is M's last day of classes for the semester, and finals are next week. While this means a lot of grading, it also means that his 6 week winter break has almost arrived! We will do the normal tour of the Midwest to see family, a lot of staying at home, home schooling, and M will do research, writing, and class prep.

7. Oh, Jane Austen is calling my name, do I have anything else to say?
Only that we have discovered a new to-us band. Gungor. We like their album Ghosts Upon the Earth the best and only a few songs from the other albums. This has been my favorite lately:

Friday, December 5, 2014

In Memory of Our John Paul

The plot where you are. Photo by Paul Hasser.
"I believe when they put [you] in the ground
I think they buried part of me
Because I've been searching, I've been looking all around
But I cannot find the heart of me, the heart of me"

-All That I Have Sown by Bebo Norman

My dear John Paul, I think I dreamt about you last night. Today was the day we thought you might come when we learned of your existence in March. We looked forward to this Advent with the hope of having you in our arms. And last night you were born in my dreams. You were born, and you were perfect. And I held you. But it was just a dream, you are not here on earth with us.

I delivered you already alone in basement bathroom on April 29 after you passed away and found your little body to bury in consecrated ground. The day you were buried was the day I planted the seeds in our garden, and oh what a harvest we had.

Your remains are in the ground in the sweet cemetery plot for miscarried and stillborn babies. We visited your grave to pray for you in November, but hope tells me that you are praying for us.

You have blessed our marriage and our family. Your existence, your passing, and your communion with God has been for us more that we could ever have imagined. You are a gift to us, and even though we do not have you in our arms, you are still a gift. Your father and I have grown closer yet because of you, our love and life together has been strengthened. Your sisters still think about you and talk about you. And your new younger sibling is growing well. But these things you all know, and you know that you have part of me with you always.

We love you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Overcoming the Advent Grumpies...

Our Christmas Visitor by coblat123. In the Creative Commons.

My favorite Advent was the year my second was born. She was due the second week of December and I decided to do all of my shopping and card writing in November so that I could just rest and not worry about the physical Christmas preparations. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I decided that we had to finish everything for the baby even though we were still 12 days before the due date; I had a hunch. And sure enough, I woke up in labor at 4 am on the First Sunday of Advent. My daughter was born before dinnertime, and because I had been so well prepared, I spent all of Advent not worrying about the physical Christmas preparations and just contemplating Our Lady waiting for her newborn baby.

There was something nice about not being apart of the busyness normally associated with Advent. I sat on the couch, nursed my baby, read to my toddler, napped all the time, and watched it snow almost everyday that December in Buffalo, NY, and was readying my heart for Christmas day. I was free from the pre-Christmas craziness.

Without a due date to motivate myself to do things early, I am not usually done by Advent, but I do get most of the shopping and card writing done by the first week of Advent. I do not see it as getting caught up in Christmas early, but preparing for Christmas in all the many ways that we have to. We also have a number of family Advent traditions, such as the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent calendar, and not decorating until closer to Christmas.

But how are we supposed to deal with the neighbor across the street who has a huge Santa Claus plastered across her door the day after Thanksgiving? Or the house with the lawn covered in light up residents of the North Pole by mid-November? Or the Christmas trees and lights all over stores with the blaring Christmas carols?

I used to be a huge grump about these things. I suppose one could call me an Advent purist. I still cringe a little thinking about putting up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, though my husband and I decided it would be best since we always travel over Christmas. I found myself not able to enjoy Christmas music when Christmas came because I spent all of Advent critical of the music being played. When I spent all of Advent not joyful, it made it hard to become joyful when Christmas arrived. Then my daughters started noticing decorated house and stores before Christmas, and I had to change my attitude.

I learned to not be so grumpy by explaining the early Christmas festivities of others to my children. When it came to music, we discovered some great Advent music, but also noticed the large number of secular Christmas music that is actually about wintery things and could be considered Advent songs themselves. Certain hymns I prefer to save for Christmas, but others I have given myself permission to enjoy in Advent. Christmas lights on houses we explain as people’s way of getting ready for Christmas. The lights can serve us as a reminder of what Advent it for, preparing for the light of Christ to come. I think that December 13, the Feast of St. Lucy whose name means “light” would be a good day to light ones lights. As for the stores and shopping, we just view everything as a way to prepare for Christmas. If stores did not have things up early, then we could not get ready in time. And sometimes we just explain that a lot of people do not wait for Christmas day to celebrate Christmas, but we do. We wait to celebrate birthdays and open birthday presents until the actual day, and we do the same for Jesus.

And then there is Santa Claus. My children just call him St. Nicholas. We do St. Nicholas day, but we don’t do Santa on Christmas. I know there are lots of opinions here, but we simply think the recent Santa Claus tradition to be unnecessary for us to celebrate Christmas seeing as it is a big detraction from Jesus’ birth. The presents on Christmas are in honor of the Christ child and the Jesus that dwells in each of us.  As for St. Nicholas day, my children put out their shoes on December 5, and eagerly look to see what we put in their shoes “in honor of St. Nicholas.” They do not care that we do not pretend that the small gifts and candy are brought by the great saint himself. We have traditions for other and feast days throughout the year, and St. Nicholas day has its own special tradition. They also know that some children think Santa comes of Christmas, but that does not change their enthusiasm for Christmas morning or presents.

I discovered that when I stopped being critical all of Advent that it made my Advent a more prayerful experience, and that sometimes the early Christmas music helped me experience the joy of Christmas day more fully. It is not everyday that we celebrate the anniversary of our God’s birth. Advent and Christmas are both beautiful seasons, and I love all of the decorations and lights. I am glad that I am able to appreciate them all more fully now.

Whether you are an Advent purist or not, grumpiness during Advent is never helpful. Don’t let the early secular Christmas be the Grinch that stole your Advent, just find a way to make it part of Advent, and you can enjoy the waiting and preparation that Advent really is about.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How We Do Advent in Our Domestic Church

On Sunday our pastor at St. Agnes promoted Advent booklets with family prayers that had been put together for the parishioners to take home and use. He emphasized the importance of our domestic church and keeping the liturgical seasons there as well. There are so many options for Advent and it might have to do with the overwhelming secularization of Advent with Christmas decor everywhere. We try to keep things simple at home and slowly get the house ready for Christmas. We start with the Advent essentials in out home, Advent wreath and Jesse Tree.

This is our Jesse Tree:

It sits on our family altar.
This little tree was M and my first Christmas tree, and when we moved into a house we decided to switch it to the Jesse Tree. I have been not very good at cross stitching our ornaments, so we mostly use our hand-drawn paper circle ornaments. Maybe that should be a goal for this pregnancy, to get them done... I grew up with the Jesse tree and always loved hearing the story of Salvation history from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ every day for all of Advent. I want this to be a part of my children's experience of Advent as well. We take the readings from this book, The Jesse Tree: Story and Symbols of Advent.

Under the tree we also have an empty manger to remind us of what we are waiting for in Advent, Jesus.

We have one main Advent wreath this year with beeswax candles:

We had fun rolling the sheets of wax into candles. These ones are only supposed to burn for 4 hours. Anyone know of longer burning beeswax Advent candles?
Since we do not always dine in the dining room, I set a small one up in the kitchen nook for use at breakfast, lunch, and dinners in the kitchen. My husband is casually into minimalist art, but he wishes we had just done rocks on a stick of bamboo.

Some have accused this of not being a wreath; they clearly do not understand minimalism.
I, also, put together a simple front door wreath which I will switch over to Christmas themed when the time is right.

The other daily thing we do for Advent is open the door on our little paper Advent calendar. I have seen many beautiful reusable calendars, but this is what we use for now.

Our church handed these out last year. I have no idea who made them.

What does your family do for Advent?

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Little Bit of Summer on a Winterish Sunday

There is this really great place in St. Paul, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  (And it is free, with a really low suggested donation!) We usually go there in the warmer weather for the zoo part, but in the cool months we like to go see the plants.

We have only gone there once each past winter, but decided to go at least once a month after our early Sunday Mass this winter, just to keep ourselves sane during the long, freezing, barren winter.
These flowers smelled wonderful.
It is so refreshing to sit on a bench and just smell plants, to be with plants, to feel the humidity of plant life.
These koi were in one of the gardens.
They have five or so separate green houses with a sunken flower garden, more rainforest type plants, a spice room, a fern room, and one other more Japanese themed. We also ventured over to the rain forest house in the zoo and saw the fish and animals there.

Then we braved the cold, wet day and went around to a few other zoo exhibits before some children could not handle the outing any longer. I think we should probably go back more than once a month just to be with green things.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, November 21

1. This week my mind has been largely elsewhere, thinking and praying for peace in St. Louis where I grew up, and praying for all of those in Buffalo, NY where we lived for four years. Both the places and the people in those places have my affection. It is hard to see suffering and to only be able to stay here in Minnesota and pray for them.

2. You know my first snow storm in Buffalo was a pretty big one. We maybe got 12 inches in the North towns, but the South towns got close to 24". It happened about 5 days before Christmas, and I-90 (our route to visit relatives) was closed for a day due to the snowfall. I ended up going into work the day of the storm and being ignorant of snow driving decided to drive on the right side of the road rather than the less deep left side of the road. I got stuck. I was six months pregnant, barely ever had driven in deep snow conditions, and stuck. I saw a man shoveling his driveway a few houses down, and being the good neighbor Buffalonian that he was, he got my car unstuck. He showed me how to put on the gas and rock the car back and forth until you get it out. And I know that is the kind of stuff going on in Buffalo this week. People are helping each other.
Our yard before the spring thaw last year. These poor snowmen were frozen all winter and then went the way of Frosty.
3. I also know what it is like to have 4+ feet of snow melt from your yard in a short amount of time. That happened to us last spring, and we had a minor basement flood. It turns out that it is a good idea to shovel snow away from all around the level surfaces, especially patios that go right up to your foundation. This is much more easily done when you get your snow in 2-8" layers over the course of a winter than in 48 hours. So, I will continue to pray as the snow in Buffalo melts this weekend.

A snow angel the size of a five year old girl. :)
4. Speaking of snow, we have a little ourselves. But could someone please explain to me why we are down in the single digits already? Yesterday when I was out with G, it was 9°F. It is only November. We are supposed to hit the 30s this weekend, but then look at Thanksgiving:
iPad screenshot, woot!
I am pretty sure that people should not have settled here. I might need to squeeze in a rereading of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter along with my Jane Austen, so I can realize that we have it a lot better than they did.

5. Another snow question, do you think we can convince our elderly neighbors to let us build a snowman on their rock? Wouldn't that be awesome?

6. Do you think it is time to potty train when the two year old hears me mention the word and then tries to drag me to the bathroom yelling, "POTTY TRAIN! POTTY TRAIN!"? I am not sure if it is worth it five weeks before a long visit with family. Maybe it is. Maybe I should just let her do it before she loses the desire. I have never potty trained without a younger baby around, so maybe it will be a breeze. Plus, she takes a good long afternoon nap, so it would just be in the mornings that I would be doing it alone. hmmm...

7. Last of all, for some reason, my giveaway only has two entrants right now... Don't be shy, enter the giveaway, even if you don't have a girl of your own, I bet you know a girl who would love Christmas with Bernadette, and I bet you would enjoy the Advent features of the Magnificat Advent Companion App. :)

Linking up with Kelly who is filling in for Jen at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Magnificat Advent Companion App and Christmas With Bernadette

Advent is coming and the Catholic world is full of great suggestions of how to prepare for Christmas. I have been given the opportunity to review a book for children, Christmas With Bernadette, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App. One is a sweet story of a young girl and her family throughout Advent, and the other is a beautiful spiritual resource designed to enrich your spiritual life this Advent.

Christmas With Bernadette

Christmas with Bernadette is the second volume in the delightful children’s book series authored by Emily Ortega and illustrated by Meg Whalen. I reviewed the first book of the series, I’m Bernadette, earlier this year.

Bernadette is a spunky first grader in a Catholic elementary school. She is the oldest in her family with two younger brothers and a baby on the way. It is refreshing to read children’s literature about a loving but not perfect Catholic family. Bernadette has the typical struggles of an oldest sister with her two younger brothers who are set on destroying things and share none of her interests. And of course there is school and remembering her items for the Christmas party.

Christmas With Bernadette is a great story for showing children the traditional Catholic way of preparing for Christmas with a full season of Advent. We follow Bernadette and her family from the beginning of Advent through Christmas day, with tales of the Advent wreath, helping Mama in the kitchen, Daddy solving the problem of figuring out Christmas presents, and wondering when that baby is going to be born and if it will be a sister this time.

The book itself is 106 pages long with easy to follow chapters. A child ready for simple chapter books would be able to read it alone. My pre-reader daughters, a five year old and four year old, really enjoyed listening to the story, which took us about a week reading aloud one or two chapters a day.

Advent is the perfect time of year for children to read this story. (I am planning on sending it to my nieces for St. Nicholas Day, so that they can follow along with Bernadette during Advent.) I doubt that there are many other children’s chapter books that contain the liturgical year, a growing Catholic family, and a likeable, believable, and kind main character. If you know of any young Catholic readers or almost readers, Christmas With Bernadette would make a great gift this year for Advent or for Christmas.

The Magnificat Advent Companion App/eBook

I had the print copy of the Magnificat Advent Companion last year, and used it along with the daily readings to prepare for Christmas. This year, I have had a chance to preview the Advent App, which features much more than the print copy. In the app there is the daily Advent Meditation, but there are also prayers for the morning, evening, and night, the daily Mass readings and prayers (including the Order of the Mass), and a whole slew of other Advent features. There are recordings of Advent chants, an Advent penance service, the Advent stations, prayers for the “O” antiphons, and even blessings for your Advent wreath and Christmas tree.

Furthermore, the app is very simple and intuitive with the same format as the print Magnificat on the screen. One can easily switch from one screen to another. And there is a calendar feature to allow one to choose the day, though the current date is automatically chosen. The prayers on the app run through Christmas day.

With this app on my iPad (I still have a lame phone), I have all the liturgical resources I need for this Advent. I am pretty excited to use the meditations for my personal prayer time and the other prayers for our family Advent practices.

I will be conducting a giveaway of both items ending on Wednesday, November 26. There will two winners, one for each item.

If you wish to simply purchase them, they are both very reasonably priced. Christmas With Bernadette is available for less than $8 here, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App is available for only $0.99.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 17, 2014

12 Week Update: Jane Austen and Pregnancy

It has been 5 weeks since our first trimester ultrasound, and now is our traditional time for announcing pregnancies. But you are all so lucky that we went ahead and did it early, because I love having lots of people praying for a healthy baby.

In the past five weeks I have had lots of pregnancy symptoms, but have been fortunate enough to not throw up, so that is cool.

Today I ventured out in the cold (13°F here in MN), but thankfully sunny day, with the three girls for the 12 week visit. It was the normal "tell me about your previous pregnancies" questions and normal how are things going with this one. He also seemed to think it was possible that the flutters I have been feeling are actually the baby. And we finally at the end of the appointment got to hear loud and clear the baby's heartbeat on the Doppler. That is all I really cared about today. I did not even mind having six vials of blood drawn out of my arm. And G impressed the nurse by telling her that her birthday was on the Ides of March. It was an all around good appointment. I even let the kids have suckers afterwards. And to make things better I had leftover pizza for lunch, and felt some uterine flutters while driving home. 

And now I will prove to you that I am officially showing; I am pretty sure this counts. I am even isolating my transverse abdominal here, so yeah. Every baby deserves online bump pictures.
Our bedroom walls are not this bright, I promise.
And since I found rereading C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy to be a struggle for my pregnancy brain, I am officially rereading the Complete Works of Jane Austen. M seems to remember my pregnancies better than I do, and tells me that I do this every pregnancy. Good old Jane. Maybe I will pick up on more of her virtue ethics this time around.

This 1930s complete volume and my down comforter make the perfect combination for winter reading. I just need a cup of hot tea.

P.S. I am justifying rereading my favorite books by explaining that I am listening to audiobooks during my treadmill workouts, so I am getting through new literature. (And by new I mean classics that I have not read yet.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Renewed in the Spirit

Just a reminder: Blessed is She is selling a beautiful Advent journal. It is not too late to order yours! We hope to have all orders in by November 15 to get them shipped in time.

And now for something more reflective than normal from the devotion I wrote for today:


Just as the lepers received physical healing through the Holy Spirit, we have received spiritual healing. Saint Paul tells us of our own sickness, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, . . . but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” We have been cleansed in our Baptism, not through our own merits, but through the mercy of God...

Read the rest along with the daily readings at Blessed is She.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Was Like Christmas Morning Over Here...

I managed to wake up before the kids this morning. I willed myself out of bed to wish M off to an early start for the day and see if the snow forecast had been accurate. After looking out the window, it was clear that the weather man had been right. A white layer of powder covered everything, and it was still coming down.

I sighed, trying to brace myself once again for six months of cold, snowy weather (please, let that be an exaggeration), and got dressed. I shuffled in my slippers to the kitchen, and started to get my coffee brewing. M and I greeted each other, and he hurried to get out the door.

I had about 30 minutes of blissful morning quiet over my coffee and breakfast before the first little feet came plodding from the bedrooms. "Mommy," a sweet little girl voice said, "May L and I get up and play?" I told her that they might, and that they would need to get dressed soon. "I looked out the window and saw white!" she exclaimed before running back to her room. I could here them both standing at the window, giddy about the fresh snow, making plans for playing.

Once G and L were dressed and eating breakfast, anticipating snow play after our morning school time, I went to get up two year old F. She first asked about her grandfather who had left just two mornings before after a visit. I got her dressed and as soon as she walked into the living room, she saw the snow out the front window. She went to the window and stood there for about five minutes, staring and saying to herself, "Snow....snow....snow..."

School was more of a struggle than I had planned, but we managed anyway. And they were all excited to bundle up in their snow gear and head outside. Their mother, on the other hand, has been a bit of a wimp about the cold, and decided to stay inside and do a few chores.

As I peaked from time to time out the window to make sure everything was okay, I discovered that my children are perfectly okay with cold weather. They also taught me that the slide on our swing set is good for winter use as well. There is nothing like a snow suit to pad the landing after flying down a wet, snowy slide. They threw themselves on the ground in glee making snow angels. They ate handfuls of snow. They slid down the little hill that ends at the neighbor's garage. They had a good 20 minutes before it started to sleet, and that was too cold and wet for them.

Maybe if we stay get above 10°F most days this Winter, the kids can actually play outside everyday. I don't think they will tire of the snow anytime soon. Further, once we get their super warm water proof mitten in the mail, I would guess that they will stay out even longer.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Friday, November 7

1. My (philosopher) husband just called, and I asked him if I should write quick takes today. His response?

"There are no Quick Takes; Only the Mind."

2. Two years ago right now I was in labor with this one (the one that looks 2, not that other one):

A realistic depiction of a child: frizzy hair and food on her face.
Now she eats corn dogs. I have never had all of my out-of-womb children over the age of two. Does that make sense?

3. For her birthday, I decided to replace the long destroyed toy stroller cover. I sewed it in about 90 minutes last night. No, I am not opening an Etsy shop, though I know you all really want hand made, badly machine stitched, toy stroller covers. I am pretty pleased with the result, and so is F. We let her open two presents first thing because she would have just about lost it if she could not find her stroller all day. She is happiest about having a buckle.

NOT for sale. I love this fabric pattern.
4. F and I finished weaning this week. We were down to naps and bedtimes and well, being pregnant makes barely nursing not very nice at all. So, we decided it was time to be done. Two years is the longest I have ever nursed a baby (17 and 19 months for G and L). She seems cool with it, and we make sure to be cuddly before bed during our old nursing time. And for the record, I have now been pregnant and/or nursing for 6 1/3 years straight.

Things I made in this picture (all recycled from previous years): St. Joan's armor/vest, St. Gemma's cloak, St. Lucy's skirt.
5. Here is our All Saints picture. I did not have time to take one before the evening Mass we went to, so we only have a poorly lit, after party, past bedtime, high on sugar photos.

6. When I got home from the grocery store last Saturday, the children spent about 10 minutes pretending to be cows and pushing around gallon milk jugs before I decided that the milk should probably be put away. Who would have thought milk could be so much fun?

F is getting so big.
7. So, did I just prove that there actually are quick takes and not just the mind? I don't know. But you philosophers out there can debate that amongst yourselves. I am going to go have some snickers bars now... (fun size)

Linking up again with Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Working Vs. Staying at Home: The Decisions American Women Face

G hard at work at my desk years ago when I took her to work with me.
There was an outrage on Facebook last Saturday about President Obama’s statement about stay at home parents:
 “Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
In context, he was talking about having tax payer funded preschool so as to allow parents to not have to choose between a job and having children. And while perhaps he did not mean to reject entirely the idea that parents should stay at home with their children, he pretty clearly stated that he thinks that working is the best choice for everyone.

I understand that when a parent makes the choice to leave a career and stay at home with children, she is making a life-long financial sacrifice. She is losing the chance for career advancement. But the choice between a career and staying home is much more complicated than the issue of money.

I personally began to think about the choice between stay at home parenting and having a competitive career when I was in high school. A young woman thinking about college, adulthood, and discerning religious life considers all the possibilities. At my highly competitive, all girls Catholic high school, the issue of working and raising children often came up. A motivated, intelligent young woman does not know if and when she will get married, but she does know that she is expected to go to college and choose a career. My personal goal at the time was to become a sports journalist. When I applied to colleges, I planned on being a communications major. I even got into a pretty good local school known for its journalism program, Webster University. It was five minutes from my house, and I was offered a nearly complete tuition scholarship. I could have succeeded academically there, and I could have made my way into the world of journalism. But when it came down to it, and I imagined life as a journalist, I realized that it would not be compatible with my dream of family life. I could not be the beat writer of the St. Louis Cardinals and be the type of mother that I wanted to be. I had no idea if I would get married and have children, but I hoped that I would. I made a choice to move away from a lucrative career back when I was 17, not when I decided to stay at home with my children.

By the time I got my financial aid package from Franciscan University, I was already wavering on whether to go into journalism. I could have chosen a lucrative career path, but went instead with the college that I thought would best form my character. I started off as a communications major, switched immediately to undeclared, and within three semesters had switched to theology and philosophy and was participating in the Great Books program. I am so glad that I made these choices.

My college experience formed me into the person I am now; I am not sure what I would be like without this experience. I learned to value virtue, family, and religion above material wealth and worldly success. I learned to discern what God had planned for me, and it was made pretty clear halfway through college that I would marry the man I was dating. While I focused on that, I always thought that, if for some reason I am unable to have children, I would pursue a doctorate. However, within a month of marriage, I was already on track to be a stay at home mom.

It was not easy to be a stay at home mom, even with my 12 hour a week, bring the baby along part time job, on my husband’s meager graduate student income. But we knew that it was important for our family for me to be at home. During my first years of marriage and parenting, I had close female friends who were all making economic sacrifices to stay at home with their children. Some of them had part time positions that they could work from home, and some of them had free grandparent childcare. I lived in the subculture of college educated, single income, stay at home moms. If anything, it reinforced my choice. My pro-life Catholic friends all valued spending time raising their children more than their careers.

When we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to advance my husband’s career (we moved for his tenure-track academic job), I became friends with a number of moms who had Ph.D.’s. Most of my husband’s departmental colleagues who have young children at home have all made the choice to have one parent at home with the children, whether it be the mother or the father. In philosophy, the decision of who stays at home is often based on who has the tenure-track job. All of the academic parents who stay at home also adjunct classes and write. I have spent many a play date with these Ph.D. moms discussing the life and career that they had thought they would have until they met their husbands in graduate school. They are fully aware that by staying at home they are setting aside chances at a successful career in philosophy, but they realize that their children will only be young for so long and that it is important for them to raise them.

I am not claiming that it would be wrong for both parents to work and have their children taken care of by someone else. I think that having a thriving career is a good thing and that many women are meant to have competitive and lucrative careers. I am so thankful for my doctor, who is a mother of six, and who delivers my babies and looks into my children’s ears. I am thankful to my mother for keeping her nursing career going while my father pursued a new career path. Both of them had a strong presence in the lives of their four children. I am sure there are many mother journalists who are happy in their lives and jobs and have growing families. I really think that we cannot make a sweeping judgment about what is best for “Americans.” Every family makes a decision about what is best for their family.

And some families decide that a parent spending the weekdays with his or her children is more important than how much money they make later in life. Couples decide that, yes, they can make ends meet with a single income, and they go for it. It is not an easy decision to make, and career advances are sacrificed. But if anything is worth sacrificing income for, the care of a human being is. The life and formation of a human being is far more important than the salary one brings home. The salary provides the material needs, the parent at home provides so much more. The working parent, hopefully, finds fulfillment in work and home life.

Other families have both parents working. Some arrange schedules to have one parent at home at all times. Others have grandparents who can help with the childcare. Others hire childcare. I do not think that it means that these parents value or love their children any less than those who are able to stay a home. I have spoken to working parents who wish that they could stay at home, but they cannot make that sacrifice.

For a mother or a potential mother in a society that values so highly education and then “doing something with that,” the tension between work and family is always there. Feminism has brought this upon mothers. But no mother who stays at home should be made to feel that their choice was not worth it. Because, while children change ones life forever, human lives will always be more valuable than worldly success.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity...

Monday, November 3, 2014

What I am Eating...and what I wish I could survive on...

This wine I wished I had drunk, but the spaghetti carbonara I did eat last week. I really hope I can eat it this week...(it was that good...)
Today has been the queasiest of all days so far. I even came close to vomiting twice. Usually some sort of protein helps me overcome my nausea, but today that has not been the case. Even my normally favorite foods have the wrong texture in my mouth, but in case you were really wondering, what is Susanna eating at 10 weeks pregnant without discomfort, let me tell you:

1. Ice cream: A guaranteed stomach settler

2. Take Out Chinese Egg Rolls: We got some of these after the 10 AM Mozart Requiem Mass yesterday. They were amazing.

3. Snickers Bars: I am so glad I snagged a bag of these when I bought Halloween candy.

4. Potato Chips: Those seem to be going down fine.

5. Pizza: Duh...

6. Flavored Sparkling Water

So, while I do not feel that great, and I am eating a lot of junk, I am forcing down things like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats...

But I am also thankful, because I am pretty sure the fact that my pants are tight does not have to do with the food I am eating but the fact that the baby is growing and so is my uterus. The baby websites are telling me this. The more pregnant I feel, the more I am thankful for a baby growing and that will hopefully be joining our family.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, October 31

1. I am going to rally my spirits and try not to get distracted or become lazy and give you all some quick takes. First trimester is rough, let me tell you. And I know I am not the only one having trouble blogging during it, because two ladies, Mary and Blythe, who write blogs that I follow have confessed to the same lack of writing motivation. Blythe has even gone to far to convince her husband to keep her blog up for her for the next 30 days.

2. While I am not quiet willing to give up the blog entirely while I am tired and nauseated all day, I did offer M an opportunity to guest post once a week. He refused in the same manner that he refuses to grow a beard. His colleague T and I have been encouraging him to try a beard again (he last had one in college), and he stands firm. In the same way, he resists blogging for me. No amount of pressure will work. In fact, the more pressure you put on him, the less likely it is that he will do it. So, there we go, M will not be blogging here and will not be growing a beard, much to all of our disappointment.

I am getting a new memory card in the mail next week, and then no more grainy iPad pictures...
3. I had been putting off buying a pumpkin all October, and yesterday I realized that we did not have one, and it has been a necessary tradition for M to carve a pumpkin with the girls. So, I ran out to nearby house that has a random urban farm in their side yard. It turns out that they also grow pumpkins up north. I found a nice pumpkin and brought it home. M did the carving with the girls and I took my Thursday shower. I would take a picture of the finished product, but that would require going outside in the cold, so I won't. Imagine two triangle shaped eyes, a diamond shape nose, and a toothless, crooked happy smile. That is our Jack O' Lantern. We don't get super creative, but we keep the tradition.

4. I have been delighted this month by my friend Anna's series on things she has learned from her parents. There are 31 of them over at her blog for the month of October. Today was the last one, and I am going to miss them. Is it weird that I have a sort of parent crush on them now?

5. Last week, I bought an extra blue hubbard at the farmers' market. On Monday I decided to roast and puree both the farmed one and our home grown one. It turns out that ours was not fully ripe. I really have no idea what we did wrong or if we did anything wrong. I really did not look into how long it takes squash to ripen or anything. Oh, well. I still scraped out the green stuff, but we only had four 15oz. bags of puree this year. I think next year I will just use the garden space for something else and by a bigger farmers' market squash.
6. This has been a daily requirement for my stomach. I am addicted to naturally flavored carbonated water.

7. This has been a fun last week of visitors. M was at another conference over the weekend and his mother came to town to help with the kids. My patience and endurance have decreased significantly since his last trip only two weeks before. Pregnancy hormones really mess you up emotionally, I tell you. (No more conferences until next Fall!!! HOORAY!) Then my brother came to visit. My baby, almost 25 year old, first day of work as an engineer today, brother came to visit by himself for the first time ever! He has come with my parents to St. Paul once as god father to F, and I think he came to Buffalo maybe 3 times total during our 4 year stint there. It was a real pleasure to have him here. I am pretty sure he came just for me to cook for him, because he brought a new cookbook of his made by the chefs on America's Test Kitchen, which is one of his favorite shows. However, since I have no pictures of his visit, I can not prove to you that he was here. (I suppose I could photograph his unmade bed, but that would require getting up...)

Bonus: Did you here about the Advent journal being sold at Blessed is She? Order your copy today!!

And lastly, I am linking up with Jen, the wonderful hostess of Quick Takes!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Four Ways You Can Help the Souls in Purgatory

Author's Hill, Concord, MA. Photo by M. Spencer. Used with permission.
It was the hottest week of the year in St. Louis, and we were making our summer visit to my parents’ house. We slept in the nice cool air-conditioned basement bedroom that was my bedroom when I lived at home. One night towards the end of the trip I woke up with a chill over my body from a dream. It reminded me of waking from nightmares as a small girl in the same bed, praying for comfort. But my dream had not been a nightmare; it had been a reminder. I don’t remember the bulk of the dream, but at the end I had been outside with various members of my family in a mowed hilly field. A silver four-door sedan pulled across the grass and stopped with the driver’s side next to me. My deceased great-grandmother rolled down the window and asked me with a solemn face, “When are you coming to see me?” She then rolled up the window and drove away.

I awoke, wondering how I was supposed to go back to sleep after that. When was I coming to see her? What did she mean? Was it actually her asking or was it just my imagination at work? I had not really thought about her for a while, so I am not sure why my subconsciousness would bring her to mind. But what I did realize was that we only had one day left in St. Louis, and during that last day, I could go see her. I could go to her grave, and pray for her soul. And in doing so, I could be granted a partial indulgence for her soul.* I do not know if she is still among the souls in purgatory, but I do know that I have a Christian duty to perform the spiritual work of mercy of praying for the dead. As I mulled and prayed about my dream, unwilling to go back to sleep, my alarm went off. We were going to an early daily Mass. After Mass we went to the cemetery and visited the gravesite of my deceased great-grandparents, grandparents, and great-aunt and uncle. My husband, three children, and I prayed for these souls, and I plan on visiting their grave again when we visit St. Louis next.

We are all called to pray for the dead.  With All Souls’ Day coming on Saturday we have an opportunity to earn indulgences for the souls in purgatory in several extra ways, in addition to the prayers we can pray all year round:
From the Manual of Indulgences (Fourth Edition, 1999)

A plenary indulgence (full remission of temporal punishment due to sin), applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who
1. on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed;
2. on All Souls’ Day (or, according to the judgement of the ordinary, on the Sunday preceding or following it, or on the solemnity of All Saints), devoutly visit a church or an oratory and recite an Our Father and the Creed.

A partial indulgence (partial remission of temporal punishment due to sin), applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who
1. devoutly visit a cemetery and at least mentally pray for the dead,
2. devoutly recite lauds or vespers from the Office of the Dead or the prayer Eternal rest.

Requiem aeternam
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. (Order of Christian Funerals)
Please also note (from Fr. Z's blog):
Requirements for Obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on All Souls Day (2 Nov)
  • Visit a church and pray for souls in Purgatory
  • Say one “Our Father” and the “Apostles Creed” in the visit to the church
  • Say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Holy Father’s intentions (that is, the intentions designated by the Holy Father each month)
  • Worthily receive Holy Communion (ideally on the same day if you can get to Mass)
  • Make a sacramental confession within 20 days of All Souls Day
  • For a plenary indulgence be  free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin (otherwise, the indulgence is partial, not plenary, “full”).
You can acquire one plenary indulgence a day.
So, this week of All Souls’, get thee to a cemetery, and say a few extra prayers for the dead at Mass on Sunday. Intercede for them, and they will intercede for you!
*From the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Indulgences:
1478    An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.
1479    Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.”

Originally posted at Truth and Charity...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week Eats Link-Up: Meal Planning

I am going to do a quick link up with Nell and her new meal plan sharing link up, and share our meal plan for the week.

I plan Saturday through Friday, and always shop Saturday mornings.

Saturday: My awesom MIL is making it easy with my husband being away at a conference, and came to help with the girls and is taking us out for dinner tonight. The kids choice is Culver's. We normally do eating out once a month or so, so this is a big deal.

Sunday: We are going to a Confirmation party for a cousin in Wisconsin... I really have it easy this weekend!

Monday: Chicken Kiev (from Joy of Cooking 75th anniversary edition, using dill instead of parsley), Dill mashed potatoes, and roasted green beans.

Tuesday: Spaghetti Carbonara (mmmm...bacon). I use the Joy of Cooking recipe, but since my brother is visiting, I am going to look into trying some of the tips from America's Test Kitchen. And some veggie, whatever we are in the mood for.

Wednesday: Garden vegetable soup and french bread. The link it not to my exact recipe, but a similar one.

Thursday: Pot roast in the crock pot, potato "risotto" (when M gets an endowed chair I will start making the beef tenderloin that goes with this recipe), and some veggie.

Friday: Pizza at the All Saints day party at church! Easy peasy!

This is a strange meal planning week because we have three nights not eating at home, but next week there will be more serious planning.

Also, if you have any meal ideas, I know Nell would love some help!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, October 24

1. I am mentally planning a post on our favorite Mass books for different ages, but today I just have a funny story to tell about one of them. F (23 months) has an illustrated Mass book that goes through the parts of the Mass. She really likes the page at the consecration of the Precious Blood where you can see the consecrated hosts in the ciborium, and always points to them saying, "Cookies!" I told this to M, and he suggested that maybe I should redirect her to understand that the hosts are not cookies. So, last Saturday at morning Mass I explained to her that the hosts were Jesus. During her second flipping through the book, she paused on that page, pointed to the hosts and proclaimed, "Jesus cookies!"

Jesus Cookies. From We Go to Mass.
2. Also, last Saturday, when I was busy in the morning, M winterized the vegetable garden. I am eternally grateful to him for doing this chore. I really am. It makes me really happy, thankful, and loved. He dug up all the dead plants and turned over all the soil, and trimmed back the lilac bush which tries to shade the garden. We plan on throwing some mulched leaves into the beds to add to the soil, and I am still planning on getting a compost bin for the garden stuff. We really should compost, I know, but the garbage disposal is soooooo nice.
The Empty Garden. Here you also see our crazy oregano plant and the hearty parsley.

3. My friend, Jacqui, mentioned to me that she loves my food/canning posts, but due to pregnancy I have been having a really hard time eating things that are not either made out of beef, are junk food, or are extremely bland. Maybe I should share my favorite whole wheat pancake recipe, which always works to settle a pregnant stomach. I can't really think of anything else worth sharing...

4. Speaking of food, I discovered that my yogurt recipe works even if you let the crock-pot go on low for an extra hour (solo bedtimes will do that to you). It went all the way up to 195°F, which seems to be the limit on other yogurt recipes. But I cooled it to 115°F and added my room temperature starter, and it worked. I was pretty nervous that I had wasted 8 cups of milk plus a brand new yogurt, but instead I ended up with super creamy yogurt. I think I might have to let it go to a higher temperature every time. Maybe after a little experimenting I will update my yogurt recipe.

5. We pray a litany of our family patron saints every night during family prayer time. Tonight, L (almost 4) decided to throw out a few suggestions, wanting to repeat her patron saint as well as her sister's. I explained to her that we do not need to do saints more than once because they are always listening when we pray to them. Her response, "I don't always listen." At least she is honest, right?

6. And now it is G's (5) turn. M has been doing some home school with her twice a week in the afternoon, and one of the topics they have been covering is geography. Lately, they have been working on states. However, M, as a native of Michigan seems to favor Michigan above all other states. You can take the man out of Michigan, but you can't take Michigan out of the man. The other morning at breakfast, G held up her hands to represent the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and said, "Mommy, this is Michigan. It is like two hands!"

7. In case you missed it, I am running a giveaway of a beautiful rosary book. The giveaway ends at Midnight at the end of the day Monday/beginning of Tuesday. Click on over to see the review and enter the giveaway!

And as always, I am linking up with the lovely hostess of Quick Takes, Jen at Conversion Diary.

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