Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Not God's Type: My Type of Book

Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway is a story of love and resistance.

It's a tale I know well. So many similarities: the attraction to and influence of C.S. Lewis, the encounter with Aslan, the lure of poetry and beauty, the stubborn refusal to, as Lewis said, lay down our arms. There was the intellectual thirst to investigate, grasp, comprehend, the need to find real and concrete answers. The relentless search for truth, wherever it led. There was the stop at the Episcopal Church before reception into the Catholic Church, and the recognition that this is not the end of the journey, that surrender is not something now in the rearview mirror but something that is asked of us every moment that we continue down this road.

It was uncanny, at times, to read Ordway's story, as there were many moments that echoed my own experiences -- at times she even quoted the same poems that touched me in my conversion process, with perhaps the most powerful echo ringing from John Donne:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Not God's Type is a beautiful book. I hesitate to say much more about it because Ordway's story doesn't need to be dissected. It is a story -- a reality -- that you should simply breathe in, and you don't need me to tell you how inhale deeply of clean, clear, fresh air.

A Favorite Old Picture from (in a way) the Early Homeschooling Days

This was our backyard (I miss that yard!) two dwellings ago.

Anne-with-an-e (in the Cinderella gown) was about four and a half, and Betsy was almost two.

Although this was before our homeschooling days actually began, this picture (I love this picture) captures the essence of homeschooling in the early years -- what I wanted it to be, what I strove for, what it was at its best.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Giveaway Details: After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing and Hope

Elizabeth Petrucelli, author of All That is Seen and Unseen, has been hosting a contest this month and After Miscarriage will be her final giveaway.

To enter to win After Miscarriage, you can simply leave a comment below, on this post (as simple as, "Pick me!") Your comment can be anything, but please be sure to leave some contact information (Facebook page, Twitter, Google +, a blog, your email address -- anything that will allow us to get in touch with you if you win!)

Comments on this post will be accepted until October 31st at midnight. A winner will be drawn at random from the comments on November 1st.

I hope that you never have a need to read After Miscarriage, but if you have experienced the loss of a baby, please know that you have my fervent prayers. If you have never suffered a miscarriage, you might consider entering the contest in order to win the book and give it away to a friend who may be in need.

Thanks for your interest in and support for After Miscarriage, and thank you, Elizabeth, for hosting the giveaway in this Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Louis Jenkins

I recently ran into one of Atticus's old students, married now, with children. Atticus knew her when she was a gangly eighth grader, when he taught in a small town not far from where we live now. Ramona and I were in Target, looking for paper plates, when I heard, "Mrs. Edmisten?" I turned around and saw a confident young woman but for a brief flash I also saw a kid -- the sort of smart, sweet, kind, funny kid who makes Atticus's job easy.

She and I started the game Louis Jenkins describes in "Old Friends":

Old Friends
by Louis Jenkins

There's a game we play, not a game exactly, a sort of call and
response. It's one of the pleasures of living for a long time in a
fairly small place. "You know, they lived over by Plett's Grocery."
"Where that bank is now?" "That's right." "Plett's, I'd almost
forgotten. Do you remember where Ward's was?" "Didn't they....

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


The round up is at Today's Little Ditty.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Four Things About Today -- Pancakes, Flooding, Atticus, and Wine

1. My college girls were on fall break today and we were all having a leisurely morning so I decided to make pancakes for everyone. Pancakes, and chatter, and laughter and delight. And suddenly I had a flashback to the old days.

Homeschooling three girls, no one needing to rush off anywhere. Just us Little Women. Sigh.

Those were lovely days.

Sweet and bitter and bittersweet is this growing-up business.

2. Due to some poor plumbing (which is not worth explaining, and which seems to be a recurring theme in my life), a clogged shower drain caused an inordinate amount of flooding in our bathroom and -- eeek! Spillover! -- into our laundry room. There was much clean up, the borrowing of a shop-vac (thank you Danae!), much drying out of carpet, lots of laundry and drying of towels and rags, and there was gratitude for the help of my college daughters (who should have been enjoying their day off but instead helped me clean up messes.) We all had a wonderful talk at the end of the day about how God provides. It wasn't the day we'd all looked forward to -- relaxed and lazy and recharging stuff. But if we had to have flooding, the timing was as good as it could be, given the rest of our week's plans, if that makes sense. I told my daughters that it was sort of like the times when there suddenly seems to be extra money, and my first thought is, "Great! Extra money! What shall we do with it?" Then something goes wrong and the "extra" money is needed to repair or replace something. It's always tempting to gripe, "Hey! I had plans for that money! Why did that stuff have to go wrong?" instead of saying, "Thank you, Lord, for how nicely You provided for that repair."

This was not the day I'd planned to have, but in some way it must have been the day I needed to have.

3. The Difference Between Atticus and Me: I was still doing some clean-up downstairs and Atticus said he'd make pizza for dinner. I stressed, "You don't have to cook!" and he said, "No, I need to relax -- I want to cook to wind down after all this mess."

Cook to wind down?  Oh, sweetheart, we are so different.

4. Danae, thanks for the wine you provided along with the shop-vac. It's about to be enjoyed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Response From a Priest to My Post, "Dear Father, Deacon, and Anyone Else Who Has Ever..."

I got some wonderful comments on Wednesday's post and today a priest friend of ours left a comment, too. His comment deserves its own post. 


I know and love Fr. Scott but there is no bias in my recommendation that you read his comment. It's just that he's a wonderful priest with valuable insights. His thoughts are always worth reading.

Second disclaimer:

We never deliberately plied him with pie. We just like pie.

In response to the post, Fr. Scott said this:

A great post, as always! This one’s stuck with me for a few days. 
Speaking only for priests, I wonder if I can offer a suggestion to those who have posted comments. Priests are guys. We’re almost always unmarried and almost always have no experience with fertility beyond what we read or from the people we encounter. We are pro-life, pro-family people. Think, though, what most unmarried non-fathers know about fertility—almost nothing. Think about how couples are different the second time that they are pregnant from the first time. Experience gives perspective and understanding. We don’t generally have either. In particular, young priests are zealous and excited about being priests, but they've got a lot to learn and in a lot of areas. Most of their friends are their age, too, and with couples often putting off even the desire for children later and later, young priests often don’t know many people who have lost children or struggled to get pregnant. If they do, this subject is only recently something people seem to talk about, and often not something people bring up to us. What we rely on is experience gathered from people around us. It doesn’t take long, I don’t think, to see how so many people struggle with fertility and pregnancy, but we need time and experience to see this. So, here’s my suggestion. Just tell us. But, don’t do it right after Mass or in passing. Like everyone else, we receive criticism better when we trust the people giving it. Invite us over for dinner, ply us with coffee and pie, and then bring it up. We become priests because we want to be involved in the lives of the people around us, so involve us (and I reemphasize the pie...).  
In my own experience, the early friendships I made as a priest were incredibly formative. Luckily—and gratefully—people had the goodness to do exactly what I’ve suggested. As a result, I treasure those friendships, in general, and the trust they give, in particular. In short, my friends who have been willing to share their struggles with me and let me share my struggles with them, have helped me to learn how to be a better priest.  
As it turns out, Atticus makes a killer coconut cream pie. 

Thanks, Fr. Scott, as always. For everything.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday, Sort Of

If you have the chance 
To see Lemony Snicket
Know that he's worth
The price of the ticket. 
          -- Karen Edmisten 

Confession the First: We didn't actually pay for a ticket. The event was free.

Confession the Second: I have read only the first book, The Bad Beginning, in A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Confession the Third: I would never have gone to see Lemony Snicket (because I had not even finished the first book -- I did that just last night) aka Daniel Handler, nor would I have planned to stand in line for 90 minutes in order to have my newly-purchased copy of a book I've never read signed by the man, if not for the fact that my two older daughters and the son of one of my best friends loved A Series of Unfortunate Events. This combined love, which spans the ages -- from a nine-year-old boy to 18 and 20-year-old young women -- led me to think that a road trip could be a fun thing and would be a good excuse to drink a lot of coffee at night.

Confession the Fourth: I did not have late night coffee. I grabbed a Coke for the drive home because I do not trust McDonald's to have freshly brewed coffee at 9:30 p.m. and, alas, McDonald's was the most convenient stop. I do not, in fact, trust McDonald's for much of anything, but no one can really mess up a Coke too badly, unless they add far too much ice. Which they did.

Confession the Fifth: My favorite part of the night may in fact have had nothing to do with Snickety happenings. I was extremely tired, and our eta home was about 11:15 p.m. My daughters had promised to talk and sing loudly on the drive home so that we'd all stay awake. I requested that they sing "Frozen."

What I really meant was that I wanted them to sing "Let it Go" but I was tired and the request came out, "Sing Frozen." So they did -- as in, they belted out the entire soundtrack* starting with the movie's opener, the Norse chant of the ice workers, and finishing up with the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever."

I think my favorite rendition was when Betsy and Ramona did "Love is an Open Door," complete with the overlapping duet parts.

But back to Lemony Snicket, because, theoretically anyway, he is what this post is about.

Daniel Handler is an utterly delightful presenter and if you get the chance to go to one of his book signings, you most certainly should.

But do plan on something better than McDonald's coffee for the drive home. And be sure to take my girls with you to keep you awake.


*Except the trolls' song, which apparently does not make a home in the brain as do all the other songs.


The Poetry Friday round up today is at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Dear Father, and Deacon, and Anyone Else Who Has Ever...

... made an assumption.

First of all, the Ginormous Disclaimer:

I know that 99-Point-A-Gigantic-Decimal-Value-That-Means-Almost-One-Hundred-Percent of priests and deacons are sensitive men of God who do not make hurtful assumptions, and even if they occasionally do, they do not make them to demolish anyone. They do it because they are human, as the rest of us are. And we've all made assumptions that could be hurtful to someone we don't know well. So, we're all guilty of this in one way or another. I've been on both sides of this hurt.

But recently I received a comment on my post, A Good Catholic Familyand it broke my heart.

The commenter (who has had nine miscarriages) said:

We were leaving the chapel and walking behind a mom and her six kids. The deacon saw them and said, "Oh how wonderful, what a blessing your children are!" He looked at me and my two kids, turned away and said nothing. 

"Ouch" doesn't begin to describe what happened here. I had something similar happen after my fifth miscarriage, and it took everything in me to hold myself together in the moment and get through it. I told myself that the person reacting to me didn't know me, and didn't mean to be hurtful but I was living with some intense grief, and grief magnifies everything.

The commenter went on to say:

I sometimes feel that the clergy and the Church treat large families as being more holy or blessed than small families. It can be very lonely, especially as a homeschooling mom where the more kids you have the more you seem to be valued in the group and within the Church. 

I know this whole thing gets tricky to even talk about because this stuff leads to defensiveness on both "sides." But there are no "sides" when it comes to large families and small families. There are merely realities.

And since, when we are faced with the visible reality of many kids vs. few-or-no kids, we cannot possibly know what the invisible reality is, we also cannot possibly make a judgment about what's going on in a family, and why would we? It's really none of our business. As I pointed out in "A Good Catholic Family" there are struggles (and losses and pain) in all families -- large, small, and everything in between. Large families have to put up with rude comments about their visible fruitfulness, and their openness to life has often led to miscarriage and other loss in their families, just as it has in the families that have remained small. And there are struggles for those who are single, struggles for those widowed, or divorced, or .... you get the picture. Life is a struggle. For all of us. Let's look for the places where we can build each other up, not judge each other down.

The final hurt this commenter recounted was this:

Another homeschooling mom of six pointed to my children and said,"These aren't your only two?"

Again, I can only sputter that, having been on the receiving end of such things, it, it, it ... hurts when someone assumes she knows why I have the children I have. Please don't assume. Dear Father, Dear Deacon, Dear Acquaintance, Dear Homeschooler, Dear Fellow Catholic, Dear Me (as I always need my own advice) ... don't assume.

Instead, befriend. Listen. Understand. Be Kind. We're all fighting great battles. Do we really need to fight each other?


Updated 10/13/14: 

Ramona the Photographer

She took these as she was jumping on the trampoline and I find them absolutely delightful. 

And this one was on the swingset: 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Poetry Friday: George Bilgere Ruminates on Unwise Purchases

George Bilgere, oh, how I love you. For lines like this:

a woman who has always dreamed of becoming
the kind of woman the man I've always dreamed of becoming 
has always dreamed of meeting.

That's from "Unwise Purchases." It looks like a longish poem for Poetry Friday, but you'll zip through it because it's so personable, as a Bilgere poem is and should be.

Read it here, at The Writer's Almanac.


The round up is being hosted today by the blithesome Jama Rattigan at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I Forgot My Cardinal Rule of Homeschooling (Or, The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow)

(photo credit: FreeImages)

Last week, Ramona and I had a Bad Math Day.

Ah, math ups and downs.

It was just one of those days. Her mood plus + my mood + math did not equal relaxed homeschooling.

Those days will happen, I know that. I don't expect a perpetual state of soma-induced happiness simply because I have dubbed our homeschool a relaxed, unschoolish one. We still have goals and deadlines. We're human beings not homeschooling machines, and no matter how many years I've been at this, or how many kids I've graduated (only two, so I'm no expert), we're still learning. We still break down and are in need of repair some days.

So, math was particularly challenging for her that day and in a different mood that would have been fine. But the combination of the challenging math/mood/gloomy weather had us both out of sorts. Crabby.

On a different day, I would have set math aside for awhile (or even for the day.)

On a different day, she would have risen to the challenge despite how hard it felt.

On a different day, under a different combination of circumstances, we would have been on a mountaintop instead of slogging through a mucky valley.

But this wasn't a different day. It was her bad day, and my dogged determination to make her do something that she wasn't up to that day. When I finally realized that my pushing was making it worse, not better, I pulled back. We took a break. She went and got some rest. A hot shower. A new start to the day.

We were both better for it. I left math alone for a day or two. This week, she has flown through the math lessons. This week has been a great one.

I know there are nay-sayers to an approach like mine: "How will they ever learn to do what's hard if they aren't pushed when things are a challenge?"

That's a valid question. I can say this: I homeschooled my older girls in the same way -- taking into account their humanity and mine, our collective needs, the reality that we all have bad days. And so far I haven't ruined them.

I think, too, that this is actually an authentic, adult, real-world way of dealing with certain problems. Obviously, there are things in life that can't be set aside. I don't ignore that, or teach my children to ignore it and through those things, we proceed. Essentials. But who among us hasn't said, "I need a good night's sleep and I'll tackle this tomorrow," when what's at issue is a non-essential (such as the timing of a single math lesson)?

Regarding my older girls, who are now subject to outside deadlines, classroom rules, and externally imposed requirements, I have seen them take on the real world (if we can even call college the real world) with commitment and responsibility, so I'm concluding that my methods did not teach them to set aside every little thing that is asked of them on a bad day, even if they feel like pulling the covers over their heads and going back to sleep. They get the difference between what they feel like doing and what they truly need to do.

I think my relaxed homeschooling approach taught them that freedom and flexibility are marvelous things to grow up with, and that there's plenty of time later in life to deal with the world's essential schedules and requirements. (See #1 through #9 in this post.)

Ah, math.

Math is not our favorite thing around here and because it doesn't come as easily to any of us, it's the one area I tend to really worry about. But I have found, time and again, that the more I worry and push, the uglier the whole thing becomes. When I stick with tried-and-true methods and remember that there's a reason I love relaxed homeschooling, that I can make certain allowances and learning still happens and thrives, we're all better off. Kind of a natural soma, if you will.

O, Brave New Homeschool that has such methods in it!*


*I'm mixing allusions and metaphors. Sorry. It's my way. I consider cohesion in a blog post to be a non-essential.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Work Here is Done

Tonight, while the girls and I were walking the dog, I realized that I can throw out any quote from The Office* and Anne and Betsy can finish it.

"Cool beans, man, I live by the quarry," I said.

"Hey, we should hang out by the quarry and throw things down there," Betsy said.

(She even got the emphasis on the right word.)

"Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!" I said earlier today.

"Millions of families suffer every year!" Anne dutifully replied.


I'm so proud.


*Or You've Got Mail or Ghostbusters or Parks and Recreation, or Doctor Who, or Lost, or Tootsie, or ....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Continuous Life

(photo credit:

I have come to love the poetry of Mark Strand and poems like "The Continuous Life" are the reason.

Lately I find myself spilling the spoiler of a poem's ending. It's my strategy to tempt you to click through and read the entire poem on this busy day, at the end of a busy week in a busy month, which is wedged into a busy year in your busy life. We are a busy people. But I love to stop and ask myself what I'm  busy with, and does it matter?

Strand (I am learning, as I read more about him) was long preoccupied with the darkness and meaninglessness of life, though I find his wry response, recounted in this bio piece at the Poetry Foundation, amusing:
Strand’s early collections of poetry, including Reasons for Moving (1968), made his reputation as a dark, brooding poet haunted by death, but Strand himself does not find them “especially dark,” he told Thomas. “I find them evenly lit,” he continued.
Perhaps the distribution of light became a constant with his 1990 collection entitled The Continuous Life. In the same Poetry Foundation article mentioned above, I learned:
Strand published The Continuous Life, his first book of poems in a decade, in 1990. In the New York Times Book Review, Alfred Corn commented that the book “doesn’t strike me so much as a capstone of Mr. Strand’s career as one more turning in his development.” Corn pointed to changes in meter, diction and point of view. “This is a poetry written, as it were, in the shadow of high mountains, and touched with their grandeur,” he concluded.  

You be the judge. If you aren't too busy.

The Continuous Life 
by Mark Strand

                            ...Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.


Read the entire poem here, at The Writer's Almanac.


Laura Salas has the round up at Writing the World for Kids.