Thursday, March 23, 2017

What a perfectly lovely book

"Reason, beauty, poetry, and excellent conversation were his preferred tools for settling disputes." 

-- The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

Late last month, Betsy, Ramona and I went to see the filmed version of the Broadway show Newsies. They're big fans of the movie (which I've never seen) and they couldn't wait to see the stage version (on film, that is.) It reallly was a lot of fun, and we had a great evening. 

For more than a week I couldn't get some of the songs out of my head. On Ash Wednesday, "Seize the Day" was still pulsing through my brain but as I fasted that day, my hungry, addled brain kept changing the lyric to "Feed the Day." 


I took my writing group girls to a coffee place last week. Our Brave Writer freewrite prompt was:

Imagine that the different kinds of food on your plate are angry at each other. Write a scene with dialogue so we can hear them fight!

Ramona wrote about the drinks we had all just ordered. Addressing the peach and cherry Italian sodas, 
Mom's coffee scoffed. 
"I will not trouble myself with such petty disagreements. I am the most mature, most robust, most sophisticated drink out there." 
Cherry Soda guffawed. "Yeah, right. You're bitter, and you stain teeth." 

I had no idea my coffee was so snooty.

She said she was channeling Jane Austen as my coffee wouldn't trouble itself with petty disagreements.

I love our writing group.


I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Discussion, anyone? (Tamara, I'm looking at you. Expect to be brought into an email loop for discussion.) Anyone else who wants to discuss it here? Leave a comment. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Billy Friday

Photo courtesy of: Marcelo Noah, of D.G. Wills Books
and WikiMedia Commons

Heidi Mordhorst, this week's Poetry Friday host, is having an all-Billy Birthday Extravaganza. It's a Collins-fest, an All-Billy-All-The-Time post, a Billy Collins Friday...Huzzah!

Heidi encouraged everyone to post a favorite Collins poem. Of course, it's impossible to choose just one favorite Collins poem. I am practically paralyzed by the proposal. I was going to share that painfully cute little boy reciting "Litany" because that's definitely one of my favorites. But Heidi had the same great idea (do go listen to him), so I am on to something else. Should I choose "Marginalia"? "Passengers"? "Today"? What about "Aimless Love"? Or maybe "Books." What about "Morning"? I love that one so much.

(Don't make me choose!)

Deep breath.

Okay, so, this one is not necessarily my favorite Billy Collins poem. Really, naming a favorite would be akin to saying I have a favorite child, just impossible. But I love this poem almost as much as I love my three favorite children. (That's hyperbole, by the way, for anyone scandalized by the idea that I love a poem as much as I love my offspring. Hyperbole is one of my favorite words -- don't ask me, though, to choose just one favorite word.)

I think I forgot what the point of this post was.

What was it? Oh, yes.


I had forgotten how much I love it.

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

(Read the whole thing here, at


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday: I'm Hosting! (And getting this post up on Thursday evening for you plan-ahead types.)

We're anticipating a snow day tomorrow as Winter Storm Quid (really?) makes its way across the country. Personally, I'm tired of Winter Storm Fill-in-Silly-Name and I'm ready for Spring-Day-That-Is-Insanely-Lovely. 

Oh, wait. We got that on Tuesday of this week when it was 70 degrees. Quota met for February, I guess. Moving on to another revolution of snow. At least we have Billy Collins to keep us company. 

Snow Day 
by Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
(Read the whole thing here, at The Poetry Foundation.)


I have the round up today!

Mr. Linky is handling the links for me:

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"My beloved copy of the book began to crackle when the cover was lifted."

I recently mentioned that we do a freewrite every week at our writing group. I'm sharing Ramona's from last week because I just loved it so much. The prompt came from the Brave Writer blog:
Think of something that started out new then gradually wore old. It might be a clean softball, a bike with no rust, a fresh coat of nail polish, or a brand new year. Tell the story of how it began bright and shiny then grew worn and well-used.

Here's Ramona's response. She wants me to include the disclaimer, though, that I am not the mother she mentions, as the following is a dramatization. What's true, however, is that she deeply loves Little Women. And we do indeed have old copies that are falling apart.  💙

Is there anything better than a new book? I picked a book off of the many shelves in the store. The title was Little Women. I got home and read the whole thing. A few months later, I read the whole thing again. I read and reread my favorite parts over and over. It quickly became one of my favorites of all time. My beloved copy of the book began to crackle when the cover was lifted. With every turn of a page, a cozy popping sound emitted from the binding. One day, my mother asked, "Wouldn't you like a new copy of Little Women? This one is falling apart." I replied, "Yes, I would like a new copy, but I will not part with this one." 

If you want your kids to love writing, keep reading, reading, reading. Keep writing (for fun, without pressure.) Keep it joyful, focus on delight. Love your books until they fall apart.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"The library was a little old shabby place...

... Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church." 

~ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

Dear Lent,

Hey, old friend! It's been awhile. How are you? I'm looking forward to seeing you. I always love a good trek in the desert.

Funny thing about you, though -- you always sneak up on me. Well, not exactly ... I always feel as if you steal in through the back door, but the truth is, you're stirring in my mental house for weeks before you arrive. I may tell everyone, "I have no idea what I'm doing for Lent this year - I haven't even thought about it," but in truth, the thoughts are always there, somewhere. Buried, perhaps, a bit hidden, even from myself. They're mostly prayers -- sometimes spoken, sometimes silent -- for guidance about what I need to do. (What to give up? What new habit to establish? How to deepen my prayer life? Time to examine the maxim I say I want to live by, but so often fail at: "Lord, let me serve without counting the cost.")

So, I've got about ten days before you arrive on my doorstep, Lent. Will you come bearing gifts? Surprises? You're good that way. I never know what to expect from you. (Like that year you yelled at me to give up coffee.) Sometimes, I must admit, you exasperate me. Especially when I've planned for us to have a particular kind of get-together, and then you pull the rug out from under me and bring up stuff I hadn't planned to deal with during your visit. You know how to push my buttons. That's okay. We're good enough friends, we can weather those storms. And, come to think of it, I always come away from the confrontation feeling stronger. Better. Recharged. Huh. It's almost as if you knew it would happen that way. Maybe you aren't trying to be annoying?

Oh, Lent. You always give me something to ponder. Can't wait to see you.



If you've been writing letters to Lent lately, too, or if you're just looking for ideas about the season, you can find lots of them in this series of posts: 

(I'll be on Relevant Radio's Morning Air on Tuesday, at 6 a.m. central, talking about Lent.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: How to Be a Poet by Wendell Berry

How to Be a Poet
Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.  
Sit down. Be quiet.  
You must depend upon  
affection, reading, knowledge,  
skill—more of each  
than you have—inspiration,  

(Read the rest here, at The Poetry Foundation.)


The round up today is at Check It Out

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Meaningful Lent: The One-Stop (Monstrously Long) Post

Updated and cleaned up a bit. This was originally a series of posts, written in 2009. I pulled them all together to have a one-stop post for most-things-Lent. Hope it's helpful -- enjoy!

(Intro from 2009): 

As I did at Advent, I've compiled all of last year's posts about the upcoming liturgical season into one, long, wordy post, and here it is. The title of the series, "A Meaningful Lent," comes from then-six-year-old Ramona's protest that she would not give up something such as talking back to her sisters, but rather, she planned to give up something "meaningful!" Our attempts at meaning follow.

Part 1. A Meaningful Lent 

The other day, Ramona told Betsy that instead of giving up sassiness, she was going to give up something meaningful.

But what does "meaningful" mean? How do we enter into into Lent in a way that will really make it meaningful? I always start by asking, "What to Give Up?"

We sometimes hear this debate: Should we give up something "good" or something "bad"? I see no reason to debate. All I have to figure out is the answer to this question: "What will help me grow closer to God?"

On the "good" side of the debate are those who say we must give up "a good" or it's not a sacrifice (a sacrifice being the giving up of an objective good for a greater good.) On the "bad" side, are those who say that giving up "something bad" (a bad habit -- complaining, smoking, caffeine) is just as difficult as giving up something good, and therefore, is a great spiritual exercise.

I declare a draw. Both sides are right.

The key is in our perception: if it's a struggle to give it up, we're inordinately attached to it.

When we give up an addiction, we say to God, "You are more important to me than this thing. I'm giving it up for You." It's the act of love that counts, but our acts of love often lead to real and positive change. When we offer an addiction for God, we find Him working on our hearts, ridding us of painful, controlling attachments.

In that sense, it's certainly an acceptable Lenten sacrifice to give up "something bad."

On the flip side, when we give up something that is objectively good, we get the joy of that thing's return on Easter Sunday. And this is a beautiful thing to experience. We see, in a small but concrete way, that sacrifice leads to Resurrection. ("Break out the chocolate bunnies! He is Risen!")

There's still a bit of room for debate: is chocolate an objective good or an unhealthy addiction? (Umm, okay...that's not up for debate. God invented the objective good of chocolate right after Adam, Eve and the staggering way we love our children, right? They don't call chocolate the food of the gods for nothing.) What about moderate alcohol use? Blogging, Facebook, Twitter? Meat every day? Dessert every night? TV? Movies? Music?

There's often some overlap. I have to ask myself, "Am I addicted to what, in moderation, would be an objective good?" Perhaps, when Easter arrives, I'll find that God has helped me to let go of the attachment, and enjoy the thing as it's intended to be enjoyed.

That overlap is the reason it can be helpful to choose several things to give up -- something in the "bad" category ("God, help me get rid of this vice forever!") and something in the "good" category ("Grill a steak! Pass the wine! Celebrate the Feast!")

It's all so personal. What's easily managed for one person might be a torturous attachment for another. That's why we really shouldn't debate about the "right things" to give up for Lent. If giving it up will help you grow closer to God, then it's the right thing.

Various things I've given up in the past that have been spiritually fruitful for me: meat on all days of Lent, wine, the radio, the wearing of any jewelry, all sweets, chocolate, complaining.

(ETA, 2/15/10: One year I gave up all purchases that were not a necessity. I got the idea from Jenn at As Cozy as Spring.)

Part 2.  Why Give Up Anything?

The short answer is, "Because Mom said so."

Mother Church knows what's best for us. And when we follow her advice, we find that our actions bear good fruit, even if we didn't initially understand the reason for them.

But, we always want the long answer, don't we?

Occasionally people say, "You don't have to give anything up -- just take on something positive." I have a couple of thoughts about this perspective. While I understand the intention behind the "positive spin" (that instead of giving up candy or some other trifle which can seem meaningless one is trying to do something of more"importance") I think it overlooks the good that is inherent in fasting.

At the same time, I want to point out that in "taking something on" we are making a sacrifice. If we sacrifice leisure time in order to do something else (more prayer, spiritual reading, volunteering somewhere) that is certainly a sacrifice offered in the spirit of Lent. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy that yield real results, both seen and unseen, all "count."

Additionally, on the subject of results we can see, here's a small, but concrete benefit of a fast: if we save the money we would have spent on trifles (how much is a bag of M&Ms? What's the beer budget? The cost of meat for forty days?) and donate it, we see the concrete results of our sacrifice. Our children see it. Trifles suddenly aren't such a trifle when we realize how much we normally spend on them.

But, why do we feel the need to put a "positive" spin on something that is already positive? For a Christian, isn't sacrifice always a positive? If what Jesus did for us isn't the ultimate positive example, then I've got the wrong religion.

Sometimes, I know what the answer is for me: I'm looking for loopholes and an easier road. But, there's no easy road to avoiding sin. It's an uphill battle for us, fallen lot that we are. So, let's listen to Mom and give Lent the spin it deserves.

I never say anything better than the Catechism of the Catholic Church does, so I'll direct you to a couple of passages that discuss sacrifice, mortification, and spiritual progress.

Paragraph 2015:
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.

Paragraph 2549:
It remains for the holy people to struggle, with grace from on high, to obtain the good things God promises. In order to possess and contemplate God, Christ's faithful mortify their cravings and, with the grace of God, prevail over the seductions of pleasure and power.
And, from Scripture:
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." -- Matthew 6:21

During Lent, we are called to "pray, fast and give." In taking on additional prayer time, or attending daily Mass more often, or praying the Stations of the Cross, or other devotions such as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, in fasting from festive food and drink, or from various entertainments or areas of excess, and in freely giving of our time and money, we see that it's not a matter of "either/or." We don't ask, "Should I pray more? Or should I fast from something? Or should I give of my time? Give away a few more dollars?"

To pray, to fast and to give are all intimately connected. Progress and growth in one area fuels further progress in the others.


This trinity is the foundation of a meaningful Lent. When I start there, good things happen.

Part 3. Fasting and the Holy Father 

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent, 2009:
(Found in its entirety here.)


...We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.

...In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18).

...At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him – how does the love of God abide in him?” (3,17).

...Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21).

As Lent approaches and I consider giving up the foods and other things I enjoy, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. It's helpful to me (a rich American, despite my protests about the cost of the latest van repair or appliance replacement) to consider that the things overwhelming me are often incredible luxuries for much of the world.

And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me.'  -- Matthew 25:40

A reminder from Mom:

If you are a pregnant or nursing mother, or are ill,
Mom (Holy Mother Church, not me) doesn't want you to fast from nutritious meals. There are myriad ways to fast.

Take care of your physical health, and offer the things from which you must fast (sleep, time, favorite foods that affect breast milk, sanity) as your prayer and your offering. Mom knows your situation, and she not only understands, she insists that you take care of yourself so that you may take care of the gift you've been given.

Part 4: Lent with Young Children

Some of our favorite things:

The Lamb of God Calendar

On poster board, draw a picture of a lamb. (I based ours on one I found online, but I can no longer find a working link to that - I'm sorry, original creator of this lamb image!) and now use the pattern to trace a new one each year. This year [2012 update] Ramona colored and added a bell.

Divide the body into squares to make a calendar, covering the entire period of Lent.

Every day, Ramona glues a cottonball on that day’s space. This is such a great way for little ones to count down to Easter and it gives them a concrete picture of the length of the season of waiting. When Easter arrives, we replace the little Lenten notes (click on the picture for a larger version -- you'll see the notes, which say things like, "Pray ... fast ... give ... Love") with big, colorful "Alleluia!" notes. We've been doing this one since Anne-with-an-e was little, and all of my girls have loved this activity.

(To give full credit where credit is due, I have to say that the credit for this idea goes to someone else -- I just wish I knew who! I saw a very similar idea in a little newsletter years ago. They suggested gluing cotton balls on a lamb made from a paper plate. I made a wall calendar instead. So, whoever you are ... you inspired this wall calendar, and we thank you!)

Sacrifice Jar

There are different versions of this all over the place, but here's what we do: We place an empty jar next to a bowl of dried beans. For every sacrifice, prayer, act of kindness or penance performed, a bean goes into the jar.

On Easter morning, the beans will be replaced with jelly beans and M&Ms, reminding us that the rewards of Heaven will be sweet. And, please note: the jar of candy

will be full to overflowing, even if did not get filled with beans during Lent. God's grace is like that, no?


Lenten Caterpillars

This idea is from my dear friend, Holly, godmother to all of my children.

Cut out 1/4 of a cardboard egg carton and paint it for the caterpillar's body. Glue on "googly eyes" (or paint them on) and use pipe cleaners for antennae and legs (or toothpicks and tiny pom-poms.) When Holy Week arrives, wrap your caterpillars in paper or coffee filters (their cocoons.) On Holy Saturday night (after kids are in bed) tear open the cocoon and replace it with a butterfly.

The butterfly will depend on the artistic skills -- or lack thereof -- of Mom and/or Dad. Our butterflies have ranged from drawings, to origami, to a picture from the internet (that was a hectic year) to fun foam and sequins. Add to the symbolism of rebirth with a note proclaiming, “Jesus gives us New Life! Alleluia!”

This was the year that Anne-with-an-e made a Benedict Caterpillar-batch.
Some traditions are still fun to indulge, even when you're in college. 


Homemade Soft Pretzels

1 1/2 c. warm water
1 pkg. yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
4 c. flour
1 beaten egg
Coarse salt

Measure warm water into large (warm) mixing bowl. Sprinkle on yeast and stir until it looks soft. Add salt, sugar and flour. Mix/knead dough. Shape dough into the usual (or your own special) pretzel shapes.

Grease cookie sheets and lay pretzels on them and brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Photo from Pixabay. Ours never look quite this lovely. 


New Prayers

I always choose a new prayer for us to learn during Lent. We say it nightly, at bedtime prayers, and memorize painlessly. (We do this at other times of the year, too, as a way for all of us to learn various prayers.)

Part 5: Confession and Dorothy Parker 

In this post, I want to share my three best tips for a meaningful Lent.

They are:

1. Go to confession.
2. Go to confession.
3. Go to confession.

And, if I haven't mentioned it lately, I also think going to confession would be a good thing to do.

If you love going to confession, good for you. Keep it up.

If you hate going to confession, consider giving up "not going to confession" for Lent.

If you hate to go, but love having gone, you may be a Dorothy Parker fan. (Of her profession, she said, "Hate to write ... love having written.")

I am a Dorothy Parker sort of confessee. Hate to go. Love having gone. Love going regularly, even though I hate going. (And, although it has no place in this post, I'll share another Dorothy Parker quote: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." Love that, although it's completely out of place here.)

And, finally, one more Dorothy Parker quote that does have a place here:

“It's not the tragedies that kill us, it's the messes.”

Confess the mess.

And, that's the last of Dorothy Parker I can share. If I repeat her most famous stuff, I'll have to head straight to confession.

Part 6: His Lent and My Lent

It never fails.

I always make plans for Lent. Plenty o' plans.

But, God always has His own plans for my Lent.

Just a friendly, neighborhood reminder: if your Lent doesn't turn out to be what you envisioned, keep in mind that it's because we aren't really in charge. We never are.

If He hands you a different Lent from the one you planned, be assured that it is truly from His Hand, and tell Him, simply, "Thank You."

Part 7: My Crown of Thorns

When I was received into the Catholic Church, my dear friend Jack gave me an incredible gift: a crown of thorns.

This is not a miniature replica, nor a harmless likeness. It is a real, piercing, terrible, beautiful crown of thorns.

Every year, during Lent, it is prominently displayed in our home. It does wonders for my tiny Lenten sacrifices. A brief, but penetrating gaze upon the thorns penetrates my thoughts, my soul, my desires. It keeps my little offerings in perspective.

The sight of the crown that our King endured keeps me close in thought to Him, the Man Who gave everything for me, the One Who loves me no matter how weak I am, or how petty or selfish. No matter how much I may stray or grow lukewarm, He is there. He is faithful, waiting for the one He loves to return that love and fidelity. All. The. Time.

And that's what Lent is, for me ... a rekindling of the greatest love affair of my life. And, when I am tempted to think that my little Lenten sacrifices are too much, or too hard, I gaze upon that crown of thorns.

And I know that nothing is too much. He showed us what it means to give everything. The least I can do is feel the sting of my small sacrifices.

Part 8: Lent with a Sensitive Child

When Anne-with-an-e was a little girl, she was extremely sensitive. A picture of Jesus on the Cross could reduce her to tears. Singing certain hymns left her spent. The idea of forty days of sorrowful mysteries drained her. I sometimes wondered how someone so little could feel things so deeply.

Lent became a difficult time.

I, being an enthusiastic convert, looked forward to doing everything I could during Lent to challenge myself. But, I realized that my vision of Lent and the Lent I needed to provide for my tenderhearted daughter were two different things.

In a way, it was humbling to create a "more relaxed Lent," if I can call it that, than I had previously practiced. But that's what I needed to do. I pulled back, I stopped trying to do things such as Stations of the Cross for children. Anne just couldn't take it; it broke her heart.

One might argue that our Lord's crucifixion is supposed to break our hearts. Yes, it is. It does. But, a soul in formation has to be handled with the utmost care, and I knew that forcing certain practices on this child would not help her to love God more, and it may even have the opposite effect. Clearly, that was not my vision for teaching my child about how fabulous Jesus was.

All of my go-to "Lent with Children" practices were good: baking pretzels, putting cotton balls on the Lamb, putting beans in the sacrifice jar. But anything too raw, too harsh, too weepy, was just too painful.

As Anne grew, our practices slowly grew and changed, too. Things that had once been too hard were handled, and I saw an extremely sensitive child growing into a beautifully sensitive and perceptive young lady. Now in her teens {2009}, Anne chose her own penance for this Lent (and it's something she really loves, so I do believe she's challenging herself) and she also chose to take on a devotion I hadn't even suggested.

I don't mean to suggest that Lent should be watered down. I offer all of this only to help anyone out there who has found that Lent is "just too much" for their sensitive child. You're not alone, and I can assure you that "pulling back" or "taking it easy" or tailoring Lenten practices to make them work for your particular child in your particular situation is not a compromise. In your case, it's sensitive parenting, and it can bear lovely fruit.

And, the beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching (that the parent is the first educator in a child's life) means that we can and should make careful, prudent decisions about these sorts of things.

Every house, every child, every soul is different.

So is every Lent.

At least, that's been the experience at our house.

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

Part 9: Halfway Through the Desert

We've been trudging through the desert for three weeks, but who's counting?

At more than halfway to Easter, it's a good time for some assessment.

Am I aching for the things I gave up?
Good. That means I'm too attached, and I'm forcing myself to turn to God for strength, comfort and immediate gratification, rather than to created goods.

Am I barely feeling my sacrifices? Hmmm. Maybe I should add something new to the mix. One year I gave up complaining, which is always guaranteed to offer renewed humility and gratitude.

Some places to visit to gather strength for the rest of the journey:

Pope Benedict's Message for Lent this year
Just in case you haven't read it yet
Loads of links here

Lent: Call to Conversion
from Franciscan Media

Part 10: Solemnity of St. Joseph

An oasis in the desert.

A Solemnity (read: "It's as big as a Sunday!")

Celebrate today the earthly foster father of Jesus.
I find nothing sweeter to my imagination than to see the celestial little Jesus in the arms of this great saint, calling him father a thousand and a thousand times in his childlike language, and with a heart all full of childlike love.

~~ St. Francis de Sales,
from The Mystical Flora of St. Francis de Sales

Though we have always celebrated St. Joseph's day (by "always" I really mean, "Since I became Catholic," and "I'll jump on any legitimate feast day,") I've not paid much attention to the Italian traditions that go hand-in-hand with this Solemnity. But, one of the priests in our parish grew up with Sicilian traditions, and he's been sharing them with us, inspiring me to do more with St. Joseph's day than to simply feast on the things from which I've been fasting.

On a more serious note, I always say prayers of thanksgiving on this day for the intercession of St. Joseph, which has been an enormous blessing for our family.

I believe he prayed for us through Atticus's conversion, through miscarriages, through doubts and fears about more miscarriages (which can lead to fears of being open to life) and for the spiritual growth of our domestic church.

My beloved St. Joseph is the model husband and father ... giving of himself completely, pouring himself out in body and spirit, offering a total self-donation for his wife and foster-son. May he hear our prayers and cries for intercession, and may he intercede before the throne of God for our family, for all fathers, and for all who call on him with love and faith in the Savior whom he raised, and especially today for many fathers who are seeking work in these difficult economic times.

One of my favorite prayers for the intercession of St. Joseph:

Oh, Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great,
so strong, so prompt, before the Throne of God,
I place before you, all my interest and desires.

Oh, Saint Joseph, do assist me by your powerful
intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son,
all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So having engaged here below your heavenly power,
I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most
loving of Fathers.

Oh, Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you,
and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach
while he reposes near your heart. Press Him in my
name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him
to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath.
Saint Joseph, Patron of departing souls --

Pray for us.

(Image above is Georges de La Tour's "Christ in the Carpenter's Shop", 1645)

Part 11: Solemnity of the Annunciation

Another Solemnity to celebrate!

We interrupt this Lent to bring you glad tidings of great joy.

I love this sane and balanced attitude of Mother Church. Although we are exhorted to sacrifice during Lent, "Mom" never lets us forget that our Lord is risen indeed, and even during a season of penance and self-examination, there are days on which we are fairly commanded to celebrate. Being an obedient Catholic, that is exactly what I will do.

A couple of other ideas to consider:

Read these beautiful words from St. Bernard, "Arise, hasten, open."

Consider doing a spiritual adoption of a child conceived at this time of year, and in danger of abortion. No, you don't know the child's name, but that child is out there. (It was my friend Andrea who first introduced this idea to me when I was a new Catholic.) Then, pray for that child through the nine months from today until Christmas day (don't forget to point out to your children that the Annunciation is celebrated exactly nine months before Christmas.) At Christmas time, donate baby items to a crisis pregnancy center (some parishes do spiritual adoptions as parish-wide prayer project, holding a "baby shower" during Advent to collect needed items for donation.)

Or, consider "adopting" a child through a sponsorship program, such as Unbound, through which individuals and families can sponsor children, the elderly or a religious vocation candidate.

However we observe and celebrate this feast, I pray to remember the lesson that is at its core: Mary's fiat ... her "yes" to the Lord.

Where am I withholding my fiat? Is there something I need to say "yes" to that I'm resisting? If so, I pray that the Lord will grant me to grace to say, with Mary, "Let it be done to me according to Thy Word."

(The painting is "The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1859-1937. There are so many incredible, beautiful pieces of art from which to choose for the Annunciation -- just Google "Annunciation" under "images" -- but I love the portrayal of the angel in this one, as something that is beyond our vision and comprehension.)

Part 12: Avoiding God's Gaze

During Lent, and especially during Holy Week, Atticus and I frequently recall the gifts and graces that led to our conversions as we examine the ongoing conversion that is known as "life." This post is from 2008:

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus ~~ Luke 24:13

A year or two before Atticus came into the Church, I was at Mass one Sunday and heard this Gospel reading. I stayed after to pray that day, and I poured my hurting heart out to God: "When will he be open, Lord? When?"

I prayed a bit more, and cried a little bit, then sat and tried to listen. What happened next was not something I heard, but something I saw and felt inside:
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. ~~ Lk 24:15-16
I had an image of Atticus ... Jesus was holding onto him, His hands on Atticus' shoulders, trying to catch his eye. Atticus looked away: right, left, anywhere but straight ahead, into the Eyes of Jesus. He was avoiding God's gaze. I knew that trick; I had done it myself.

And then I knew the answer to "when." It was only a matter of time.

Jesus was that close to my husband. And it was only a matter of time before Atticus stopped looking away, could no longer avoid Him, would look up and gaze straight ahead, into the eyes he would recognize as those of his Lord. Their eyes would lock, and that would be it.

My tension slipped away. It might be months. It might be years. But Jesus had His hands on Atticus. I knew it in my heart and in my gut.

Sometime after that, I don't really remember the exact timing, Atticus did indeed surrender and looked straight into the eyes of God.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him
~~ Luke 24:30-31
When Atticus received his first Holy Communion, he recognized his life and God's claim on it in a new way. I remember marveling at all that he felt and sensed that Easter Vigil night, at all that we discussed. He knew what he was leaving behind and he knew -- as much as any of us can "know" -- what he was gaining.
Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
~~ Luke 24:35

We recount what has taken place, and how He was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

And our marveling continues.

(Painting: Christ on the Road to Emmaus, Roelant Roghman, 17th c.)

Part 13: A Collection of Reminders
A Collection of Reminders:
  • Check on all the usual suspects: clothes for the children? Shoes that fit? Tights? Things for Ramona to do before the Easter Vigil begins. Baskets. Eastro-turf. Candy, candy, candy and candy.
  • Waterproof mascara
  • Eggs. Boil or prep them early so that when it's time to dye them I do not fall into sins of anger.
  • Wish our priests a happy anniversary on the commemoration of Christ's institution of the priesthood (Holy Thursday.) Thank God for the gift of the priesthood. 

Part 14: Quotes from St. Teresa of Avila 

"Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life ... If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing."

"Do not dismayed daughters, at the number of things which you have to consider before setting out on this divine journey, which is the royal road to heaven. By taking this road we gain such precious treasures that it is no wonder if the cost seems to us a high one."

"The time will come when we shall realize that all we have paid has been nothing at all by comparison with the greatness of our prizes."

Part 15: Looking Back and Looking Ahead (Alone at My First Easter Vigil)
    The nice thing about being in your late forties and having a blog is that the blog can step up to the plate and pinch hit for your brain. When I can't remember something, I turn to the always-reliable search feature.

    Last night, we were trying to remember how old Ramona was when we first took her to the Easter Vigil. I couldn't access the memory so I turned to the Search box and found out she was three. This will be our fourth year to attend the Easter Vigil as a family. And that has me thinking back to what Easter used to be like around here.

    My history of attending the Vigil is a history of growing up and growing into my life as a Catholic and as a Catholic wife and mother.


    The year I was received into the Church, I attended the Vigil alone. Well, no, not entirely alone -- my lovely sponsor was with me, of course. Her name was Carolyn. We had first met the night they told me she would sponsor me. I felt so alone that night, so pitiful. A stranger as a sponsor? How weird is this, I remember thinking. The whole class must feel sorry for me.

    I had wanted my friend, Jack, to be my sponsor, but a weekly two-hour drive for RCIA classes was impractical, so Carolyn was assigned to me and slowly we got to know each other.

    So, I had Carolyn at the Vigil, and Jack came, too. And he brought along a friend, just to keep him company on the two-hour drive to the Church (and for the two hours he would drive home that night.)

    Carolyn, Jack, and someone I barely knew. Atticus stayed home with Anne-with-an-e, who was about 18 months old. He didn't want to stop me from becoming a Catholic, but he didn't particularly want to be a part of it, either.

    That first Easter Vigil was a frightening, incandescent event. Fear and awe mingled with an odd detachment, an observation of all that I was doing, of what was happening. At the last minute, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to be one of the candidates who would help to carry the gifts up to the priest. I remember shaking a little as I carried the decanter of wine. This is going to become the Precious Blood of Jesus, I thought. And I will consume Him -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And I am here alone.

    No, not alone! I scolded myself. Your friend is here, and all these people are here. And God is here.

    And yet, in a specific way, because I am a married woman, I felt alone. My husband was not there.

    When I received Holy Communion for the first time that night, I did not experience magic. I didn't instantly change, nor did my feelings. I was not suddenly transported to a new place of giddy joy. Something I wished for (spiritual unity in my marriage) was still missing. And yet, I felt ... what? Grounded. Firm. Certain. I did not have a single regret about what I was doing.

    I wasn't sure how I could feel quiet exultation and deep sadness at the same time, but I did. I knew this was the right thing.

    Perhaps it's because I knew, down to my bones, this:

    I was not alone. (To be continued ....)

    Part 16: Looking Back and Looking Ahead (In Which He Makes My Crooked Ways Straight)

    I left my first Easter Vigil knowing that despite my sadness over my husband's refusal to consider Catholicism, I had a steadfast companion. Jesus had not let me down, and the quiet exultation I felt while in His presence continued.

    I attended my second Easter Vigil as a sponsor. Actually, as a neophyte, I had no business sponsoring someone else so soon, but no one knew better, and I was eager to help. My family was not really a part of Holy Week that year. Atticus stayed home with two-year-old Anne. I was very pregnant with Betsy, but otherwise, it was just Me and My Candidate. I reveled in sharing Holy Week with someone who was excited about it and full of questions.

    The next year, I was on the RCIA team. Holy Week was again a time to share my excitement and joy with others -- candidates and catechumens. Still, no Atticus. He stayed home with our two very little girls.

    I continued to be a part of the RCIA team the following year. I loved it. Really loved it -- listening to others' stories, teaching, answering questions, learning more all the time ... I loved it so much that when I began to feel that God was calling me away from it, I didn't want to listen to Him. He couldn't possibly want me to stop, could He?

    But, the whisper I kept hearing was that I needed to pull back from "church work" ... pull back from witnessing to others, and witness in a different way -- in my own home. To my husband. I felt God nudging me to show Atticus that my love for him and for the family God had given us was my overriding call, my vocation, and the most important thing in our world.

    And so, with a heavy heart I resigned from the team, at least temporarily. And when Holy Week rolled around that year, it felt very strange to me to be home on Holy Thursday night. Instead of the gorgeous Mass I had come to love, I was at home with my little girls, creating a "Holy Family meal" and coloring pictures of the Last Supper, and watching five-year-old Anne-with-an-e build a crucifix out of blocks. Instead of being absorbed in behind-the-scenes RCIA prep and busy-ness in those final days before the Easter Vigil, I was home, calm, present. Instead of being out late on Holy Saturday night with people Atticus didn't even know, I was at home with him. That year we went to Mass on Easter Sunday morning, as a family (though he was adamant that he was still not considering the Catholic Church; he was merely being courteous to me.)

    I was also expecting another baby, though we lost the baby the month after Easter. I asked our baby to intercede for his father.

    Then, later that summer, something changed.

    Atticus and I had been having a lot of conversations about faith. He had been thinking, he said, about the nature of evil -- about how evil really comes down to being separated from God. I will never forget the moment when he said to me, "And I don’t think I want to be separated anymore. I want to be where you and the girls are."

    I remember where I was sitting. I remember the tears that welled up in my eyes. I remember my disbelief ("I can't believe he believes!" I thought.) And, I remember cautiously imagining that we would become a Catholic family.

    But, not so fast, Missy. Atticus assured me that what he meant was simply that he wanted to further explore things.

    Hmm. I happened to know an RCIA team that could use another member. I grabbed the chance to rejoin the team and to let my husband "tag along" and listen in. The priest and the RCIA director were entirely open to allowing Atticus as an unofficial participant for as long as he liked. (It didn't hurt that the priest was the one who had suggested the year before that we both pray to St. Therese for Atticus's conversion.)

    The Easter Vigil of 2000 brought a joy into our lives that, at one time, I thought I'd never see. Five years after the Vigil in which I'd been received, Atticus came into the Church. (Lots more about that in You Can Share the Faith.)

    For the next few years, we sacrificed experiencing the majesty of the Vigil for the things that worked best for our little family. Our young daughters handled Mass on Easter Sunday morning better than a late Saturday night, so that was our tradition for awhile.

    When Ramona was two years old, I decided to take the older girls to the Easter Vigil while Atticus stayed home with Ramona. Anne-with-an-e and Betsy were excited to attend, as I'd been preparing them for it, and teaching them about what they would see.

    The following year, when Ramona was three, we tried the Vigil with the whole family. It worked fairly well, except that Ramona slept through the whole thing, and then was up for hours after we got home. (Not so good if the Easter Bunny is waiting to come to your house.) The next year, when she was four, all the pieces fell into place.

    Our whole family now attends the Vigil together, no one falls asleep, we all look forward to the baptisms, my daughters try to predict when I'll start crying, Atticus and I reminisce, and then we head home and celebrate with delectable food and drink.


    There have been so many times in my life when I've had no idea what God would do next -- times I couldn't see through the dark tunnel to the light at the end. I had to walk in blindness until He would lead me to the next step.

    That's what faith is -- a series of tentative steps in the dark, with wholehearted trust that my Guide is leading and won't let me fall.

    When I converted alone and lost unity with my husband, when I left a ministry I loved, when I lost babies and arguments and every sense of firm footing ... God was still at work.

    I just had to trust.

    And to hold on, with all my strength, to the knowledge that I was not, I am not, alone.

    "I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I do for them, and I will not forsake them."

    ~~ Isaiah 42:16

    "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

    ~~ Jeremiah 29:11

    Friday, February 10, 2017

    Poetry Friday: Before a Painting

    For everyone who has ever been overcome by ineffable beauty:

    Before a Painting
    James Weldon Johnson

    I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
    What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
    He had created life and love and heart
    On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
    Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
    Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
    Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
    But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

    And over me the sense of beauty fell,
    As music over a raptured listener to
    The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
    Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
    There falls the aureate glory filtered through
    The windows in some old cathedral dim.

    (This poem is in the public domain.)


    James Weldon Johnson gets me, every time. Read more of his work here.

    The round up is at The Logonauts today.

    Friday, February 03, 2017

    Poetry Friday: Langston Hughes

    "Then let us hurry, comrades, the road to find." 

    I look at the world
    by Langston Hughes

    I look at the world
    From awakening eyes in a black face—
    And this is what I see:

    (Read the poem here, at The Poetry Foundation.)


    (photo: Library of Congress)

    Thursday, February 02, 2017

    The Annual Groundhog Day Shrinklit

    I rerun it (almost) every year, in honor of the movie, Bill Murray, and groundhogs everywhere.

    I wrote this shrinklit years ago. Remember Shrinklits? They were witty, succinct little retellings of classic works. Here's my version for one of my favorite movies.

    And here's to six more weeks of winter, or perhaps only a month and a half?

    Karen's Groundhog Day Shrinklit

    Phil: at first, a selfish jerk
    Focused on his fun and work
    Women were a toy or game
    Till every day became the same.

    Quite suddenly, no rules apply
    Steal some money, tell a lie
    Nihilism's worth a spin
    until despair comes crashing in

    Suicide just didn't take
    Surely something is at stake
    Could it be that it is worth
    Striving for a true rebirth?

    Self improvement: worth a try?
    Though all past ways it does defy?
    Selflessness for its own sake?
    Letting go of all that's fake?

    Helping, saving, giving, tears
    Authentic feelings, first in years
    Letting go of all that's old
    Lets in truth, releases cold

    Something genuine and kind
    Allows this man his best to find
    Is this conversion? God at work?
    Or one colossal cosmic quirk?

    Friday, January 27, 2017

    Poetry Friday: Coffee, How Do I Love Thee?

    I've been sick with a cold all week. That means, yes, you can feel sorry for me, and yes, I've been operating on partial-fuzz-brain, so I've relied heavily on coffee. (Oh, let's be honest...when do I not rely heavily on coffee? This week was no different than any other week, except that it involved a larger number of Kleenex boxes and lot of coughing.)

    At any rate, my coffee dependency made me think of this poem I wrote way back in 2007.

    Happy Poetry Friday, happy coffee drinking, and here's to health!

    How Do I Love Thee, Coffee? Let Me Count the Ways 
    by Karen Edmisten
    (with sincere apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My cup can reach.

    I love thee to the level of everyday's
    most quiet need (which is to start the day with you.)

    I love thee freely (as I strive to awaken.)
    I love thee purely (as one who is addicted.)
    I love thee with a passion (which is embarrassing.)

    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    when I was pregnant
    (and had morning-noon-and-night sickness)
    but my love is so strong
    it was reclaimed when all sickness had passed.

    I love thee with the breath (though coffee breath be not pleasant)
    with the Smiles, tears, of all my life!

    and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death,
    for surely there is coffee in Heaven.


    Carol Varsalona has the round up this week at Beyond Literacy Link

    Sunday, January 22, 2017

    Bits and Pieces of Our Reading Life

    I haven't read much this weekend. I was walloped with Atticus's cold on Friday night, and I've spent the weekend mostly craving naps.

    But here's a rundown of 2017-Reading-to-Date:

    The Highly Sensitive Person (mentioned in this post) by Elaine Aron.

    Anne's House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery. Sigh.

    The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver (Ramona had read this one and told me how imaginative she thought it was. I read it, too, so we could talk about it.)

    The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (Read-aloud with Ramona. It's a fun murder mystery for middle-grade/YA. We both enjoyed it.)

    The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines (Ramona and I are listening to the audio book together. Chip and Joanna read, so it's delightful. We've had fun watching Fixer Upper together, too, which we only just discovered last fall. I liked the first season the best, as the clients and the budgets just seemed more real.)

    Stitches, by Anne Lamott I'm about halfway through this one. I love Anne Lamott because she's so honest and real.

    "What I resist is not the truth, but when people put a pretty bow on scary things instead of saying, 'This is a nightmare. I hate everything. I'm going to go hide in the garage.'" 

    ~~ Anne Lamott 

    Tuesday, January 17, 2017

    What Our Writing Group Is Doing These Days

    Way back when Anne-with-an-e was a sophomore in high school and Betsy was in 8th grade, we started a weekly writing group with two of the girls' friends.

    The rules we established and stuck to for our no-pressure group:

    1. The girls could bring anything they wanted: a story, a novel in progress, an essay written for a school assignment, a book review...anything. It could be a first draft or something they'd polished.

    2. After each reading, the first reaction from listeners must be positive and encouraging: what they liked about the piece, a description, an intriguing character or plot development they admired. Then we could move on to other constructive criticism, ask questions, or share ideas.

    3. When we finished the discussion, the girls headed off for lunch while I re-read the papers and offered ideas via my trusty red pen.

    4. The last rule: Don't Be Afraid of the Red Pen. I assured the girls the red pen was their friend.

    The most important thing for young writers to understand is that rough drafts are called rough for a reason. I don't want my suggestions and corrections to discourage them, so I stressed that edits don't mean, "Wow, you're a bad writer! Look at all the marks I had to make!" I wanted them to understand that the better the writing, the more they would see my red pen (because as their writing improved they were giving me more to work with.) If I taught them only one thing about writing, I wanted it to be that the real work of writing is in the revision. I told them I became a real writer the day I realized a great editor was my friend and biggest asset.

    Our writing group became the highlight of our week. The girls shared silly stories, serious stuff, novels (completed and abandoned), essays, history reports, and stories composed entirely of inside jokes. Some weeks we dug around for a writing prompt and the girls all wrote stories for the following week based on that prompt. Sometimes we went out for hot chocolate, because all writers need to hit the coffee house now and then.

    These days, our little writing group is made up of Ramona, another 14 year old, and a twelve year old. The basic rules are the same, and hopefully the kindliness of the red pen is still understood. We've also added a couple of things to our weekly itinerary.

    After the girls share the stories they've brought, we do a freewrite. I usually use Julie Bogart's prompts from her Friday Freewrite.

    When I first introduced freewriting to Ramona's group, they wrote for only two minutes. Completely unintimidating, and they were excited to do it. I told them that the only rule about what they wrote was that they had to keep writing until the timer went off. (Julie thoroughly explains the process of a freewrite here.) Kids love having permission to write stuff like, "I can't think of anything to write...I am blank...Ramona is laughing while she's writing...I am hungry." After a few freewrites, we extended the time to 6-10 minutes, depending on the prompt.

    Last week, I pulled a random prompt from a different site instead of using one of Julie's. The prompt was, "The happiest moment of my life." I always do the freewrite along with the girls, and when we finished, I told them, "I don't know about you, but this was the most boring freewrite I've ever done. The last thing I wrote before the timer went off was, 'This is so stupid.'" The girls thought that was hilarious and it prompted good discussion about writing in general, zeroing in on concrete details, and trying to write about broad, bland topics.

    The girls' favorite freewrite from last semester was this one from Brave Writer:
    I slowly opened my eyes.  Moonlight streaked across my blanket. I turned over and hoped to drift back to sleep. But…what was that sound? Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Was it coming from under my bed?! I…
    We came up with such fun stories. Mine was about finding a trap door under the bed, and descending the stairs to ... I don't know where yet, but now I want to write that story.

    The other new thing we added this year was at the girls' suggestion. One of Ramona's friends suggested the girls write and bring a haiku every week. I thought rather than having one more thing to bring to the group, it might be fun to write the haiku while we were together. So now we each write a haiku that pulls together details from each of the stories the girls brought that week.

    Final writing group note:

    Last week, one of the girls brought a story about zebras. Then we all wondered what a herd of zebras is called, so, we looked it up.

    A dazzle of zebras.

    Made my day.

    But then, writing group always makes my day.