Friday, July 22, 2016

Poetry Friday: Prayer at Sunrise by James Weldon Johnson

This is so lovely and speaks for itself on this July morning. More of James Weldon Johnson can be found here, at

Prayer at Sunrise
James Weldon Johnson

Now thou art risen, and thy day begun.
How shrink the shrouding mists before thy face,
As up thou spring’st to thy diurnal race!
How darkness chases darkness to the west,
As shades of light on light rise radiant from thy crest!
For thee, great source of strength, emblem of might,
In hours of darkest gloom there is no night.
Thou shinest on though clouds hide thee from sight,
And through each break thou sendest down thy light.

O greater Maker of this Thy great sun,
Give me the strength this one day’s race to run,
Fill me with light, fill me with sun-like strength,
Fill me with joy to rob the day its length.
Light from within, light that will outward shine,
Strength to make strong some weaker heart than mine,
Joy to make glad each soul that feels its touch;
Great Father of the sun, I ask this much.

("Prayer at Sunrise" is in the public domain.)


The round up is at Books 4 Learning.

P.S. Check out the comments for another gorgeous poem from Johnson. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why Do We Homeschool?

Note: I first posted this two years ago. It popped up as a memory on Facebook today, and I thought I'd rerun it, to catch any new, homeschooling readers! 


When I recently spoke at a homeschooling conference, I wanted to be sure I had enough to say, so of course I over-prepared. There was a section of a talk that I didn't even get to, so it comes to you now as a blog post. Yay! Double-duty writing!


My relaxed methods of homeschooling prompt another question: Are we being academically challenging and rigorous enough?

That gets us to the core questions about why we homeschool in the first place: for academic excellence? For spiritual reasons alone? Do we homeschool to get our children to Heaven or to Harvard?

Personally, I’ve never really asked myself the "Heaven or Harvard" question. In our state, we have to report/declare our reasons for homeschooling by claiming an exemption for either academic reasons or religious reasons. We claim the religious exemption because we do firmly believe the Church’s teaching that we are the primary educators of our children, i.e., that we have the right and responsibility to educate them as we see fit, or to contract out their education to schools if we so choose, etc. But, the academic exemption has always been right in front of us, too, and we could legitimately have chosen that option as well.

When we wanted to pull our eldest daughter out of school it wasn’t because we were afraid that she was being spiritually tainted. She had a sweet, kind Kindergarten teacher (who later quit working outside the home and began homeschooling her own children) and she had made friends with some very sweet and lovely children. But I couldn't bear some of the other stuff: I couldn’t bear that she wasn't allowed to read (in school, I mean) the books that grabbed her. I couldn't bear that her love of learning was being dulled with handwriting practice and pre-reading worksheets. It made me mad, actually. It made me realize that I knew my daughter better than anyone else did, and that I could provide stimulating days and a vibrant education for her at home.

Certainly our goal was to raise our children, spiritually speaking, as we saw fit: saturated in our faith, living it every day. We wanted to provide a particular kind of lifestyle that allowed for exploring the liturgical year rather than the school year, for going to Mass when it worked for us, not just on Sundays, for a holy half-hour in the middle of a "school day" and for digging into a saint's life story if that's what we felt like doing.

But such a lifestyle and accommodations for our faith don't negate or ignore the desire for academic excellence. Atticus and I have always been dedicated to providing a strong and stimulating education for our girls.

On the other hand, we may not define academic excellence in exactly the same way that the world does. Allow me to elaborate. Of course we want to be the best teachers we can be and we hope to provide our children with the best possible education. But that doesn’t mean we're interested in churning out cookie cutter versions of human beings. Not everyone wants to attend a particular university or even a particular kind of university. Not everyone wants to pursue a particular type of profession, either. For us, academic excellence -- the kind that takes into account the very specific needs, gifts, passions, interests, strengths and weaknesses of each child -- will produce everything: plumbers, engineers, nurses, doctors, landscapers, secretaries, stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads, computer programmers, salesmen, philosophers, respiratory therapists, Spanish teachers, and ... on and on. An academically excellent homeschool considers the fact: the world needs all kinds of people and all kinds of jobs.

When it comes to raising and educating human beings with souls, paying close attention in a loving home to our individual children and what they need is every bit as important as an isolated, rigidly defined, supposedly objective standard of academic excellence.

I have never found and have never believed that there is one method, one cookie cutter ideal, one fixed rule, or one predictable outcome to homeschooling.

There is just this one thing in our homeschool: we need to figure out what this child needs at this moment, this week, this month, this year. Homeschooling, for us, is about finding what works, and then doing it.

Excellence, then, while it is about tailoring the academics to our particular children and their needs, isn’t about proving to the world that we can raise the smartest, most stereotypically or predictably "successful" kids possible. As a matter of fact, homeschooling isn’t about us at all.

Should we repeat it? Homeschooling isn't about us at all.

Sometimes we homeschooling parents forget that. There’s so much pressure -- from the world, from family or friends, from interested observers and critics --  to prove that we haven’t definitively messed up our kids. We feel compelled to confirm that we made the right choice, the best choice. And then we forget that it isn’t about us or about how we look. 

It’s about our kids. It’s about cooperating with God in this endeavor. It's about raising the people He entrusted to our care.  It's about helping them to become the people He wants them to be. Sometimes our kids will fit every preconceived notion the world has of success and sometimes they will look as far from it as is humanly possible. And everything on that spectrum is conceivably perfectly okay, as long as we keep on asking ourselves the question, “What does this child need next?”

That's why, for us, it's not "Heaven or Harvard." It's Heaven and Harvard and not-Harvard and everything in between. It's about letting a Kindergartener read Little House books all day if that's how she best learns. It's about letting a high schooler write a novel the entire month of November if that's where her passion is. And it's about having her do some math, too, because that's a practical part of life that we have to address. It's about faith and books and being excited about learning for the rest of our lives.

It's about individual human beings, it's not about me, and it's about a life lived authentically. And that's going to look different for everyone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I Finished A Canticle for Leibowitz

So, I recently finished A Canticle for Leibowitz. I can't believe it took me this long to read it (30-some years? When did you first recommend it, Jack?) Beautiful, horrible, gut-wrenching, and thought-provoking, it delves into the connections among faith, reason, knowledge, science/technology, church, state, and man's ever-predictable penchant for overreaching and destroying himself. 

"Ask for an omen, then stone it when it comes -- de essentia hominum." 

Do you want to discuss? We'll start it in the comments, so as to prevent spoilers, of course. 

(I've got a busy couple of days coming up, so if I don't get a chance to jump right in, please be patient with me...I will get back to the discussion!)

Friday, July 08, 2016

Poetry Friday: In Which I Manage to Talk about Anne Porter, Woodward and Bernstein, Jen Fulwiler, and Gracious Husbands Who Care About Poetry

Jen Fulwiler is on my mind at the moment because I'll be on her radio show later today (details here), and poetry's on my mind because it's Friday and I'm breathing.

As I sat here, mulling over what to do for Poetry Friday, I remembered a post from a few years ago in which poetry and Fulwiler-y things came together on this blog, so I decided to rerun that post. It's mostly about the inimitable Anne Porter, a poet I love dearly, but it's also about not being able to talk without quoting movies, and about husbands who send their wives (and others) all the best links.

So, without further ado, a peek back at a panoply of poetic stuff (and be sure to click through and read some of Porter's poetry):

(from February 11, 2011)

Sometimes, Atticus and I talk in movie lines. You know what I mean -- the stuff that becomes part of your family lexicon.

One of our lines is from All the President's Men. Bernstein goes to see Jane Alexander (I can't remember her character's name) to pry some information out of her. She won't talk, but he leads her to confirm things they already know, such as some initials (but not full names).  The thing is, they don't actually know all of the names on that first visit, but she did confirm that one of the names starts with a P.  Later, they go back and because Porter was on their list of suspects, when one of them says, "Who is P?" the other says, "P we know is Porter," and then when she admits Porter received money, they've got what they want. The scene ends with Jane Alexander saying, "Who told you about Porter?"

None of that has anything to do with today's post, other than the fact that I like to imitate Jane Alexander and when I want to sound confused, I say, "Who told you about Porter?"

There is one thing that the story has in common with today's post, and it's the "P" connection. Today it's not about political crimes but about poetry. And Anne Porter.

The other day, I heard from Jennifer Fulwiler's husband.  You know the wonderful Jennifer of Conversion Diary*, don't you? I feel a kinship with her because we both know what it's like to be an atheist who gets gobsmacked by Catholicism. But that's probably where the comparisons end because, of course, Jennifer is much taller, hipper, smarter and funnier than I am. Anyway, "F" wrote to me (F we know is Fulwiler) because Blogger was not allowing him to leave a comment on my last Anne Porter post (and if it does that to you, will you let me know? I may compile a list of grievances) and he wanted to share this link:

A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise

He rightly clued me in to the fact that no list of Anne Porter links is complete without this article, and I now agree with him. Visit the link to see the article that initially spread the news about the amazing Anne, and read more snippets of her poetry there.

So, the answer to, "Who told you about Porter?" is:

The Writer's Almanac
Janice Harayda
The Poetry Foundation
Archives of American Art 
The Gracious Mr. Fulwiler

Thanks to all of the above, and -- sorry, Woodstein ... you got scooped on this one.


Back to 2016: The Poetry Friday round up is at The Logonauts


Thursday, July 07, 2016

I'll Be On Jen Fulwiler's Show on Friday... talk about her new (free!) ebook, The Our Father, Word by Word

A few years ago, Jen put together a series for her blog in which a variety of writers took turns reflecting--word by word, of course--on this ancient prayer. Now, Jen has pulled all the posts together and published them in an easy-to-read ebook format. You can get a free copy of it here, at Jen's website. 

I'll be talking with Jen tomorrow about my contribution, "Name." 

Tune in to The Jennifer Fulwiler Show, SiriusXM satellite radio, Channel 129, on Friday, July 8, at 2:20 central time to join us! 

More details about Jen's show and how to listen are here

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

On Morning Air Today, Talking About the Liturgical Year

I'll be talking with Glen on Relevant Radio's Morning Air at 8 a.m. central this morning. We're going to talk about incorporating the liturgical year into fun, summer activities, such as the bonfire party for St. John the Baptist that we recently attended.

Helpful resources for activities and recipes that we'll talk about:

Catholic Culture

Catholic Cuisine


The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland

A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year  by Evelyn Birge Vitz

Feast by Haley and Daniel Stewart

Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton


(Photo credit:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What Am I Using?

Sometimes in conversations with stay-at-home, homeschooling moms the topic of education comes up. Not our children's, but our educations. And not suspicious, raised-eyebrow inquiries of the, "Are you qualified to teach your children?" variety, but rather those of the "What are you doing with your life?" stripe.

Someone once said to a friend of mine, "You have all this education and you're not using it. It's going to waste."


I have a couple of things to say about that.

Nothing gets under my skin more than the assumption that a mother who is at home with her children is wasting her education. (Well, okay, there are more irksome skin-burrowing issues in the world, I'll grant you that, but this ranks right up there.)

There are a few situations where the assumption may be true. If Mom is lying comatose on the couch in the living room then, yes, we can safely say she isn't putting that Brit Lit class to use, at least not at the moment, but we can't really blame her, eh? Or, if she leaves her little urchins home alone every day so that she can play keno at the local sports bar, then, yeah -- probably not taking full advantage of the many hours she spent in lecture halls. But if Educated Mom gets up every day and after pouring a cup of coffee pours herself into mothering and homeschooling -- jobs which can be plenty thankless some days, thank you very much -- I think we must assume she is using everything she's got. That should include the assumption that her education is valuable in a home where small, barbaric human beings must be tamed, civilized, and taught cursive writing. And don't even get me started on the psychological nuance and skill that must be employed when puberty hits. (That alone is worth a couple of PhDs.) Homeschooling high school? Not for the faint of heart.

Of course, the first thing that springs to mind is what G.K. Chesterton said in What's Wrong With the World
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. 
There are actually a couple of different things going on with the, "wasting" comments, so we should separate them. First, there's the assumption that being with children all day long is objectively a waste of time and brainpower. Second, there's the idea that throwing a wide net and reaching people outside of our families is far more important than a deliberate gathering-in of those within the walls of our home.

With the first assumption, I have little patience. I can't think of an assumption that devalues children more. Being with babies (then small children, then older children, then teenagers, get the picture) all day can be a great many things, but it has never been a waste of my time or brainpower. Mothering has forced me to become a stronger, more creative, more persevering woman than I have ever been in my life. Thank you, motherhood. You have done what you were created to do.

With the second idea -- that reaching outside the scope of one's home is more important than focusing on what's under my own roof -- I again have little patience and will simply refer you back to Gilbert Keith. Thank you, Mr. Chesterton. I always liked you.

So we return to the question: Has it been a waste? Have I used my education over these many years? Has Atticus used his? I would argue that yes, we have both put our educations to good use, albeit in very different ways. Nothing that led me to the moment when I held my first daughter and realized, with giddiness and horror that Atticus and I were totally responsible for her, was wasted. Not my God-free childhood, nor my college years as a theater major-turned English major-turned dabbler-in-philosophy, nor my conversion, nor my short stint at a particularly challenging time in my life as a Merry Maid. None of it. It all combined and conspired to make me the mother I became, the mother I am still evolving into.

The world will pull us in a thousand directions, and so we must discern shrewdly. There are seasons and years when using one's education predominantly outside the home is right, good, or even best for our families. But putting an education to use in the wider world is not ipso facto the superior choice, it's just more visible. Just as important are the lively interactions and the child-rearing and the education that happens every day in so many homes, hidden though those worlds may be.

Blood is hidden, too. So is a powerful, beating heart. But without them? We would wither and die.

What am I using?

Every hidden thing that I am.


(Photo credit:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Recent Reading

It's nothing if not eclectic:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling 

I like Mindy Kaling. She just makes me laugh out loud and I will always love her for her many contributions to The Office. I liked this one, though I think I liked her first book even better. (I mentioned that one here.) It's lightweight and fun, though whenever I finish a Mindy Kaling book, I find myself sighing, "I hope you find the right guy soon, Mindy. He's out there for you. Don't give up." It's the mom in me, I guess, or the Mrs. Bennett? Deep down, I think Mindy is sort of an old-fashioned girl in a new fashioned world, and I want her to enjoy the old-fashioned charm of marriage-for-a-lifetime.

Brene Brown's The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage 

This one is actually an audio course that pulls from Brown's books and her whole body of work. I've been listening to it when I walk the dog, therefore, if you were to observe my dog-walking lately you'd see me smiling, nodding knowingly, laughing out loud, knitting my brow in concern, or biting my lip as I ponder a cogent point. Before my conversion, when I was still lost, but fighting my way into an authentic life, I considered going back to school to become a psychologist. Brown's work covers many of the things that continue to fascinate and resonate with me: vulnerability, shame, empathy, gratitude, wholehearted living and striving for authenticity. In summary: I really look forward to my morning walks with Brene these days.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty 

Just started this one.

It's the book I pick up when I have a few minutes here and there, so I'm not very far into it yet. I am, however, intrigued, about those missing ten years....

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. 

It's been on my to-read list for about 30 years and I'm finally getting around to it. I'm 1/3 of the way in and though it's rich in insight, the ending of Part One was a huge punch in the gut.

"The whole thing's a punch in the gut," said my friend, Jack, when I saw him yesterday. (He was the one who first recommended it to me some 30 years ago.) A punch worth enduring, though, I gather.

I will forge on, and keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fountains of Carrots Podcast: Chatting with Christy and Haley

Haley Stewart and Christy Isinger's Fountains of Carrots podcast is one of my favorites. Haley (Carrots for Michaelmas) and Christy (Fountains of Home) keep me company on a regular basis when I'm cleaning my house, transforming odious chores into something I actually look forward to. I love the variety of guests and topics, and the fact that they relish TV talk.

In Episode 48, we talked about my latest book, You Can Share the Faith, and lots of other things: sharing Christ through relationships, the difference between proselytizing and evangelizing, examples of evangelization gone awry, conversion stories, sticky family situations, and the part that popular culture can play in the life of a person of faith. It was delightful, and I was honored to be the first return guest of the podcast.

So, if you've got some housecleaning to do, or just need to sit down with a cup of coffee and some chatty friends, you can have a listen here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Song by Gregory Orr

Father’s Song
Gregory Orr

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet

(Read the whole thing here, at

Happy Father's Day, Atticus! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry Friday: Some Glad Morning

Photo thanks to Free Images

Speaks for itself. 

Some Glad Morning
by Joyce Sutphen

One day, something very old
happened again. The green
came back to the branches,
settling like leafy birds
on the highest twigs;
the ground broke open
as dark as coffee beans.

(Read the whole thing here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


The Poetry Friday round up is at Carol's Corner

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bits and Pieces of Our Days: The Facebook Edition

Because I know that not everyone is on Facebook:

June 11 at 7:47pm ·
I'm late to every party but I'm glad the Hamilton party's still going on 'cause I just arrived. Hey, Betsy, I'm holding your cd ransom. Are you young, scrappy, and hungry enough to fight me for it?

P.S. This wasn't on the FB post, but Betsy, who got me hooked, directed me to 21 Steps to Becoming Obsessed With Hamilton.  I don't think I'm obsessed, though. It's just a little addiction.

Updated to note: My family corrects me: I am obsessed.


June 3 at 9:18pm ·
People often say things like, "Just you wait," regarding the teen years. Tonight, my 13 yr. old took the dog out, and came in saying, "Mom! You have to come see the sunset! I couldn't stop taking pictures!" Yes...just wait. You, too, will have lovely moments with some of the most wonderful people in your life...your teens.


May 31 at 10:34am ·
Anne-with-an-e: "What are you reading?"
Me: "A blog post about planners, and about how your temperament fits into what kind of planner you are."
Anne-with-an-e (pauses, then laughs): "That's really dorky." **
Me: "I know. That's why I love it."
Anne-with-an-e: "Where'd you find it?"
Me: "Jen sent the link. It's a homeschooling blog."
Anne-with-an-e: "Of course."
Attention, fellow dorky planners: the post is at Wildflowers and Marbles.

** This is a compliment, by the way. :) :)


May 27 at 12:19am ·
We're finally watching Poldark, which Atticus teases should be called, "Poldark and Handsome."


May 20 at 8:39am ·
Watched Ramin Karimloo's Phantom last night w/ my girls. We were a sloppy bunch at the end.


May 15 ·
Intriguing article about Christopher Hitchens, and a mention of my Deathbed Conversions book in this New York Times piece:

Christopher Hitchens Was Shaky in his Atheism, New Book Suggests

A new book says the impious author of “God Is Not Great” might have been exploring faith before he died in 2011. Mr. Hitchens’s secular friends disagree. Mark Oppenheimer

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bits and Pieces of Our -- No, My -- Days

Where have I been? 

What an insightful question.

I used to blog, right? And then, my children suddenly grew up, my youngest became a teenager, and I mostly clammed up about my girls because they were no longer kid-quote-fodder for my blog (other than sharing the occasional witticism.) There's plenty to ponder about raising teenagers and living with young college women, but not plenty to blog about. It's their life, not mine.


I haven't blogged much about homeschooling, other than books Ramona and I read together, because I keep thinking, "Do I have anything left to say about homeschooling? Haven't I already told everyone it's about Reading Aloud and Talking!? Isn't it all there in the archives?" Maybe, maybe not. I toy with the idea of a book about homeschooling. Not sure.


Then there's what I call Facebook-Creep. What I used to always, always post on the blog feels more like a quick FB post, so I throw it over there. Then I think, "What about the people who aren't on Facebook? Who don't want to deal with its ridiculous, wonky algorithm? Who don't want a social media platform deciding for them what's a 'top story'?" And I think, "Hmmm. I should blog more."


Then I think, "There are so many blogs, and so many who do it so well: homeschool blogging, read-aloud blogging, parenting blogging, bookish blogging. Am I just tired of blogging? Do I even remember how to blog about anything other than Poetry Friday? Not that there's anything wrong with that...."


Then I take a nap.


I will never stop writing. One of the reasons my blogging has decreased is that other writing--and the necessary promotion of that writing, i.e., my books, by way of radio interviews, etc.--has increased. I guess I'm just in one of those regular, "What am I doing?" phases that I go through.


Have been doing lots of radio interviews lately, to talk about You Can Share the Faith. Lots of good, thought provoking conversations about what it does and doesn't mean to evangelize, and about how what flows out of us is rooted in our own, ongoing conversion. It's always fascinating to me to hear people's reactions to this book. I think the cover, the font, the cups of tea, indicate something a little lighter, but I've been told that once people dig in to the book, they find the content to be much more serious than they'd anticipated. If you've read it and we haven't talked, I'd love to hear your take on that.


Coming up: I recorded a Fountains of Carrots podcast with Christy Isinger and Haley Stewart and, as always, enjoyed it immensely. They told me I'm their first return guest. Huzzah! An honor. And of course, it was a lot of fun to talk to them. I'll pass on the link when the podcast is released.


Hey, I think this is a blog post! I'll try to come up with another one. Before the next Poetry Friday.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Poetry Friday: Barbara Crooker, In the Middle

This poem leapt at me this morning. Oddly and justly, only yesterday I looked at the clock on our fireplace mantle, a clock that belonged to my grandfather, and it was 9:20 a.m. I thought, "Oh, I need to wind that. I so often forget...." 

Perfect and poignant, then, for this day, this season, for the elusive hours of our lives. 

In the Middle
by Barbara Crooker

of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,

(Read the rest here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


Friday, May 20, 2016

Poetry Friday: Spring and Today

Photo thanks to FreeImages.

Because it's spring. 
Because Atticus will soon be home for the summer. 
(I can almost taste his cooking.)
Because we are all in need of a break. 
Because Billy Collins is Billy Collins. 

by Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,

(Read the whole thing here, at the Poetry Foundation.)


Margaret has the round up at Reflections on the Teche.