Friday, November 29, 2013

7QT (Vol. 64): Evangelii Gaudium

I've been slowly reading my way through the first apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium. It is such a beautiful challenge, a call to real evangelization, to sharing first the love of God. All doctrine and dogma comes forth from "the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead." If we cannot share that truth, we have no business trying to enforce anything else. Here are excerpts of some of my favorite parts, so far (up through #64).

Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.
If news is good enough, we're motivated to spread it simply to have someone with whom to share our excitement. Sharing our faith shouldn't feel like an obligation, but should simply spring forth from the joy we have in it.

In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.
This is something I've been evaluating in my own life. I seek out others with a faith like mine, looking for encouragement and community. There is value in this, but I wonder if it blinds me to how "the others" perceive the world. I need to keep a healthy balance, staying engaged with society while remaining in a vibrant faith community.

In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them.
This one struck me because I wanted to skim over it. I believe he is absolutely right. Traditions that do not bring us closer to God may be worse than useless if they make new members of our church feel confused or uncomfortable. But, but... I like them! It's not particularly pleasant to see that I think more of my enjoyment than another's soul.

The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.
This will raise some hackles, I'm sure. It is so tempting to justify our closed-door policies, especially in poverty-stricken neighborhoods or in the aftermath of robbery or vandalism of our church building. But again, we cannot put our own pleasure above the possibility of drawing souls to Christ. (It may also be useful to remember this is addressed to the Church throughout the world. There are parts of the world in much worse shape than the most violent areas of our inner cities.)

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.
Yeah. Excuse me while I find a mirror so I can get this plank out of my eye.

We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all treated as being of equal importance – and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.
Yes yes yes! HOW? I've been discussing this with friends and family recently, even before reading this. We have developed almost no solid plans to improve the current system. This, perhaps, should be a post of its own. Does your parish provide this kind of education? How do they do it?

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Peter, Gymnast Extraordinaire

As close as possible to his teacher

Absolutely refuses to try this alone :-)

"I can do the slide all by myself!"

Demonstrating a knee scale for his class

This he can do!

Tipping over during his "safety roll"


Monday, November 25, 2013

Things You Never Wanted to Know about Me

It has been a long, hard day for me. Instead of any post of substance, I will resort to being utterly shallow and self-centered. Here is a list of things that never crossed your mind to ask.

1. Every movie I've seen in theaters was G or PG, except Bruce Almighty. It wasn't worth it.

2. My pinkie toes kind of slant under my ring toes. And yes, I call them ring toes.

3. I once scored a goal in soccer from the midfield line while playing defense. It was purely accidental.

4. I memorized a quote from Return of the Native in high school, although I can't tell you anything about the story any more. "What did she say? Surely nothing that can't be got over." "'Get out of my sight you slim twisted slack-witted 'maphrotite fool' was the woman's words to me."

5. Every boy on whom I've had a crush was Catholic, ended up in the military, or both - except for the three I actually dated. Jeremy became Catholic while we were dating... so I guess that's less interesting than I thought.

6. As a child, I desperately wanted to wear contact lenses because I really liked watching my cousin put in hers.

7. When I was in fifth grade, I got a palatal expander as part of orthodontic treatment for my cross-bite. I gave an oral report the same day. On Saskatchewan.

8. We had king-sized candy bars to celebrate the feast of Christ the King.
It looks all Instagram'd, but it's really just a bad exposure

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bedtime is Forever

Peter's bedtime routine can easily take an hour. I brush his teeth, then Daddy takes over. He helps Peter use the toilet, take a bath or shower, and get into his night diaper and pajamas. Together, they read a story, then call me (and Anne if she's awake) up to pray with them. Jeremy takes Anne downstairs while I lie down with Peter. We sing three songs, pray the introductory prayers, one decade, and closing prayers of the Rosary, then sing two more lullabies. Then Jeremy comes back up to cuddle for awhile, sometimes taking Peter downstairs again to the rocking chair for a few minutes.

Does it seem to take forever some nights? Definitely, especially if we have company. On nights he's tired, Jeremy has fallen asleep up there. But we don't have any plans to change.

Peter, like most little children, loves routine. Why mess with success? I know he is capable of calmly going to bed with a much shorter routine, which is what I use when Jeremy isn't around for bedtime. Since Peter is happy this way, though, I can't think of a compelling reason to change it just to allow me more time on Facebook.

Also, we're making memories. At the end of his day, Peter is guaranteed some individual attention from each parent. He is enjoying reading with his Daddy. He is sharing quiet prayer with his Mommy. He is learning songs I love. We keep this routine believing he will treasure these memories throughout his life. Bedtime is forever.

Peter, age 2 months

Monday, November 18, 2013

In the Silence

I am
between chores and diapers and meals

No five-teeth smiles
or little boy hugs
to "the best mommy in the whole world"
sweeten this moment

Furnace and fridge
hum a lullaby
to the man of my dreams
for another day
of work and fatherhood

I am
in twilight
where moods are
neither bright or dark
and night
may still be
cloudy or full of stars

I am
neither lonely
nor alone
as my soul settles
for His whisper

m51 - Whirlpool Galaxy
Whirlpool Galaxy by afrojim123 on Flickr

Friday, November 15, 2013

7QT (Vol. 63): Bruises, Rhymes, and Other Lessons

Anne is an independent baby. She took her first steps last weekend, making our lives that much more exciting. She is fearless and determined, which will eventually serve her well, but currently results in a lot of bumps and bruises. I have high hopes of having both a family Christmas portrait and her one year old portrait done within the next month. I am waiting for her face to be free of bruises before scheduling either sitting, though. It might be awhile.

Peter loves rhyming. I've capitalized on this to practice reading with him, writing and illustrating a group of rhyming words for him to read. Once he sounds out one of them, the rest are easy. He gets such a kick out of being able to read to me!

Since some rhyming words don't have the same spelled ending (i.e. fly and pie), sometimes I just draw pictures and have him sound out only one word. Recently, I decided to do this and make the word an unknown one. Here's the picture:

His answer suggests I need to improve my art ability. "M. Mmm... magnificent tree frog."

Anne is starting to make meaningful noises. While visiting her grandparents last weekend, she was quite enthusiastic about grapes and began to say, "Ray ray!" when we put her in her high chair. She also makes a "bwuh" sound when she wants the crust from my husband's sandwich, which we think means bread. Yesterday morning, Peter came in and whispered, "Mommy, will you get up so we can have breakmast?" (I have no idea why the f becomes an m in that word.) Anne immediately came fully awake and said, "Ray ray! Bwuh!" Her small stature is certainly not due to lack of appetite!

I have not been nearly as conscientious with my second child about teaching sign language. The only ones I've really used have been nurse, more, food, all done, please, and apple. Despite my laziness, she has managed to pick up the sign apple, which we use for applesauce. Or at least a sign that I know means apple. She opens and closes her fist near her mouth. Close enough. :-)

Actual sign

Peter is thrilled about his gymnastics class through the town recreation department. He has learned the terminology for quite a few stunts, although his ability to perform them is a bit more limited. He is having fun and learning something new every week. Plus he looks adorable in his gym clothes, which in itself might justify the cost.

I almost never watch videos online, preferring to read the information. But some things just cannot be done justice with a still photo or text. If you want to watch my budding musician, turn down your speakers first!

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aren't they unhappy rear-facing?

The safest way for kids to ride in a car is a rear-facing car seat , assuming they're within the height and weight limits. As long as they don't know anything different, they're quite content. (In related news, Peter still takes a bath in an infant tub. He hasn't discovered that some baths use more than a gallon of water...)

I'm happy reading in my seat, too!

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Gratitude

Today I am thankful that all my friends and family who have gone into combat have returned safely.

I offer my condolences to the many who cannot say the same.

I am also grateful to all those who sacrifice comfort, safety, and sometimes even their lives to improve the quality of life for others: social workers, military, counselors, police, firefighters, ministers, EMTs and more. Thank you.

America, America, God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law

Friday, November 8, 2013

7QT (Vol. 62): Labyrinth of Discernment

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? It's not a maze. There are no dead ends, no blind corners. Physically, it is a journey to the center and back to the place you began. Spiritually, it can be an experience of self-reflection and enlightenment, truly about the journey rather than the destination. So is discernment. My husband and I have been discerning God's will about where to live, whether to stay in upstate NY or move elsewhere. Originally, we had planned to move just a few miles away, to an area where the children and I could easily walk to church, a playground, the library, and grocery store. Then we began to reconsider.

We spent a lot of time in prayer, weighing our options and on our knees begging God to direct us. At the end of that period, we thought God was calling us to leave NY. I was specifically drawn to the story of Gideon, a man who answered God's call very cautiously. Before beginning the task God placed on him, Gideon asked for very obvious signs. In that spirit, I asked God to use the sale of our house as a sign that we were headed in the right direction.

My husband wanted to relocate based on evidence that there are locations where people are happier. In the first round of decision-making, we considered the following criteria: close enough to drive home in a day, low risk of tornadoes or earthquakes, minimal predicted water shortage in the next 50 years, homeschool laws, winter lows no colder than Rochester, and happiness ratings. We ended up deciding to move to Milwaukee, WI. I told people at the time, though, that this was all contingent on the house selling. I didn't want to presume I was certain of God's will.

Our real estate agent was astounded that we weren't getting any offers. We were the most active of his properties for first showings, but had yet to book a second showing. We began to look around at other options. This time, we focused on healthy dioceses, as based on vocations to the priesthood and religious life along with number of new members through RCIA. We wondered why we hadn't thought to consider this aspect earlier. We decided to move to Harrisburg, PA.

Earlier this week, we decided to move within the greater Rochester area. We've come back out of the labyrinth and are back where we started. Has Rochester changed? Only slightly. A new bishop has been assigned, Bishop Matano, who has a good track record of reviving a failing diocese within five years. We hope to see changes here in the near future.

Mostly, though, we changed. The idea of moving to a happier place pushed us to be more conscious of our own negativity. Our willingness to uproot for the good of our mental health and our children's faith reaffirmed to each other our commitment to our family. Knowing that there are healthier churches out there has encouraged us that there is hope for our diocese and parish.

The journey is not complete. We haven't decided where to move. We don't know whether to stay with our current parish and see how things change in the next few years or switch to a local parish known to be more what we want. We haven't sold the house. Like Gideon, we continue to ask God for a sign, confident that he will lead us. His will be done.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Saints

I would include Halloween pictures, but they're stuck on my laptop that once again won't charge.

Monday, November 4, 2013

My First Date

My first boyfriend and I became a couple when I was sixteen. It was a storybook start to my high school romance, but it wasn't my first date. That had happened about ten years earlier.

I have two brothers. The older one, Shane, is more than seven years older than I, so we were spared most of the squabbling that happens between siblings. (Keith and I, not so much!) Being that much older, he was occasionally assigned babysitting duty. I have a lot of great memories from him babysitting, including my first date.

For whatever reason, it was just the two of us. Mom and Dad went out to an event; I think Keith may have had a sleepover. I was frustrated and upset that I didn't have anything special to do when "everyone else" had something fun. (In retrospect, I'm sure babysitting me didn't make Shane's top ten list of fun things...) After listening to me whine for a bit, Shane suggested he take me out for a date.

I'm not certain of our ages, but Shane was still too young to drive. He decided we would go to a local ice cream shop - a mere mile and a half away. On the way there, the excitement of my first date kept me going. I was out with my big brother! I was having a date! He was going to buy me ICE CREAM and I didn't even have to ask for permission! It was super-exciting.

By the time we had to walk home, though, even the sugar rush couldn't keep me going. I was somewhere between six and eight years old. It was getting late. I was tired. No problem. My big brother picked me up and carried me all the way home.

I've had some wonderful dates since then. But nothing beats a first date.

Happy Birthday (in 2 days), Shane!

Friday, November 1, 2013

7QT (Vol. 61): Birthday Breakfast Ideas

Anne's first birthday is coming in a couple months. Two days after Christmas, to be exact. I didn't spend much time or energy planning for Peter's first birthday, but his was easy. With a July baby, a cookout with cake and ice cream was a no-brainer. But two days after Christmas? No one will be excited about cake and ice cream (including me) because it will just be one more dessert gathering in the middle of week of festivities.

When she gets a little older and might care about her birthday being overshadowed by Christmas, we have a couple alternatives. She can celebrate her half-birthday or her Baptism day, which is in early February. For this year, though, I'd rather do it while her out-of-state aunts, uncle, and godmother are in town. What to do? Breakfast! My brother's boy inspired me with his party last weekend, which was...

Crepes! We had our choice of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, banana slices, and real whipped cream - all laid out on the counter, ready to go. Jam, spreadable cream cheese, and peanut butter also work well as spreads with fruit. We also had juice, coffee, sausage, and scrambled eggs. It was absolutely delicious and a whole new way to celebrate.

Photo from Yog Frozen Yogurt and Crepes

Another option is an oatmeal sundae bar (idea courtesy of Turtle Magazine). Serve plain oatmeal and set out a variety of toppings. Possible toppings include raisins, dried cranberries, banana slices, Greek yogurt, chopped apples, graham cracker pieces, chopped walnuts, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and peanut butter. For the dairy-free crowd, I've found that almond&coconut "milk" makes a very tasty oatmeal.

Pancakes or waffles are another good breakfast option for feeding a crowd. As each batch is ready, set it in a warmed oven until you're ready to go. Many of the toppings for crepes or oatmeal also go well with pancakes and waffles. You might also mix fruit or chocolate chips into the batter before your bake. Pumpkin pancakes are another way to make this breakfast more special. If you want a sweeter treat, serve waffles with ice cream and traditional sundae toppings.

Photo from The Muqata
Click to read about a Hebrew idiom's Biblical roots. Pretty cool!

If you have a smaller group and a chef more skilled than I, omelettes might work. Have a variety of fillers available - ham, sausage, bacon bits, mushrooms, apple slices, avocado, tomato, feta, swiss, provolone, monterey jack, or cheddar cheese, green onions, broccoli, or caramelized onions. Don't stop there! Consider the following for toppings: sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and pesto.

If you're feeling really festive, any of these can be served with special beverages. Tea and coffee come in a multitude of flavors. A selection of fruit juices and be served straight or mixed as a punch. Smoothies can be made quickly with frozen fruit and either a yogurt or orange juice base. (You can make a smoothie out of just about anything, really... Look around to find recipes you like.)

Happy Birthday!

7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary