Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A No-Panic Advent: The Monstrously Long Post

It's back! 
Too many ideas for one post! 
And that's why I encourage you to not be insane. 
Don't try to do everything. 
I don't. 
(But I hope you find one or two things that are useful.)

Here it is: 

Watch. Wait. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday: Cheerfulness Taught by Reason

On what could be a dreary, snowy day on which I am captive at home while I wait for a plumber, I am, in the spirit of Hygge, choosing cheerfulness. 
(Hygge is everywhere!) 

Cheerfulness Taught by Reason
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God’s. Had we no hope
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of yon gray blank of sky, we might be faint
To muse upon eternity’s constraint
Round our aspirant souls. But since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop,
For a few days consumed in loss and taint?
O pusillanimous Heart, be comforted,—
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road—
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints?—At least it may be said,
“Because the way is short, I thank thee, God!”


Tricia has the round up at The Miss Rumphius Effect.


Speaking of cheerfulness, if you missed my post yesterday about Lesley Austin's swoony, papery goodness, be sure to check it out. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lesley Austin's Swoony Papery Goodness

Do you know Lesley Austin? If you don't, you should. She's one of my favorite people on the internet. I was first introduced to Lesley by Lissa, way back when Lesley ran Small Meadow Press. I fell head over heels for her swoony papery goods -- notecards, postcards, gift tags, calendars, wall hangings. Things that looked like this:

Photo courtesy of Lesley Austin 

Small Meadow Press has since been reimagined and its current incarnation could be called Swoon-y Papery Goods, Plus Some (except that Lesley's names for things are much lovelier than that.) The "Plus Some" means that in addition to the beautiful planners and calendars that Lesley sells in her Small Meadow Etsy shop -- things like this:

Lesley's Wild Simplicity Daybook

-- she also offers the beauty of her papery goods in an electronic form at Small Meadow Post. I've gotten a little bit addicted to sending these beautiful e-greetings, which feature a combination of Lesley's photography, soft illustrations, vintage pictures culled and collected over the years, and gentle messages for all occasions. 

In addition to the all of the above, Lesley runs Wisteria and Sunshine, a private membership site where women gather for conversation and encouragement, in a gentle atmosphere of support. 

Right now, Lesley is gathering all of her wares into a "Wild Simplicity Basket." She is offering a year-long membership in Wisteria and Sunshine, a year-long subscription to Small Meadow Post, and a 10% discount on all the handmade, beautiful items in her Etsy shop. Details about that offering are here, at Wisteria and Sunshine. 

So, go visit Lesley! 

(This is not a sponsored post and I am not receiving any compensation of any kind for it. I'm sharing the information because I love Lesley's work and her kind, gentle spirit, and I hope to help her spread the word.) 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Talking With Sarah Reinhard About Her New Book and the Rosary

The lovely, prolific, kind, and funny Sarah Reinhard asked me to do a brief interview about my reflection on the word "hour" in her new book, Word by Word: Slowing Down With the Hail Mary. Sarah invited forty people to contribute reflections on each word of the Hail Mary. The result was first a great blog series and now a great devotional book.

Find out more about Word by Word here, on Sarah's blog, and more about the rest of Sarah's wonderful books here.

My chat with Sarah is here, at CatholicMom.com.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Forgetfulness, by Billy Collins (Or, I Almost Forgot It Was Poetry Friday)

My memory is a frightening thing these days. I used to have an excellent memory. When I was younger, when I was single, when I was newly in the workplace, newly married, my memory was formidable. There was so much less to keep track of in those days. Fewer people, fewer responsibilities, and no meal plans, only take-out.

The other day, in response to a friend's question about Halloween, I proceeded to talk about the evening as if he had no idea what'd gone on at our house. In fact, he had stood in my dining room and I had snapped pictures of his children -- Harry Potter, a ninja, Anna, and an owl -- before they went trick-or-treating.

My memory is a frightening thing these days. (Did I say that already?)

"Come read this poem by Billy Collins," I just now said to Atticus.

"Another one?" he asked.

"Did I already have you read a Billy Collins poem this morning?"

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 Poets.org.)


The Poetry Friday round up is at Write. Sketch. Repeat

(Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com.) 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

* Last week included the final primping of Pumpkindore which -- Ramona was delighted to learn -- won second place in the family division of the pumpkin decorating contest, hurray! On Halloween, Ramona trick-or-treated as Luna Lovegood while Anne and Betsy, (aka Joy and Sadness) passed out candy.


 * We also prepped for our Harry Potter movie marathon (Deathly Hallows 1 and 2) and the accompanying feast, which included owl/pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pasties, chocolate frogs, popcorn (not Harry-related, just a movie-viewing must), Atticus's oven-fried chicken, and butterbeer (actually, the girls decided they wanted root beer floats, and I opted for a Sam Adams cream stout.) We finished the book last month, and that whole experience deserves its own post. First, the fact that we kept so many huge spoilers a secret from Ramona delights me to no end. I really thought we'd have inadvertently ruined the books for her over the years, but we didn't, so, yay for all of us.

And then, there was Ramona's reaction to parts of the final chapters: "It's so Christian!" she said, between sobs at one point. Ah, yes, my dear, in so many ways. As I said, it deserves its own post.

It's the end of an era, though maybe not.  I fully expect to talk to grandchildren about Harry one day.


* Ramona and I are now reading A Wrinkle in Time together, and recently finished The Phantom Tollbooth.


* Betsy and Ramona are both participating in NaNoWriMo. It's the third time for Ramona, and the fifth time for Betsy. And in added writerly news, the two girls in Ramona's weekly writing group have decided to join Ramona in the NaNo young writers' program. I couldn't be happier!


* I spent a chunk of last week going over the final edits to my upcoming book. It's due out in February of 2016, and I'll have more news on it soon!


* I just got new glasses. Please tell me I'll adjust to bifocals quickly. Anyone, anyone? I don't care that they make me feel old, I just don't want to get motion sickness from my glasses. Bueller? Bueller?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

She finished the Dumbledore Pumpkin

It was mostly Ramona, I just helped here and there. 
That's his wand propped up next to him. 

Next up: she's working on her Luna Lovegood costume for Halloween. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In Which I Confuse Homeschooling and Wine

The delightful, lovely, and very kind Ana Hahn, from Time Flies When You're Having Babies, is doing a blog series -- "How Do They Do It?" -- about homeschooling. When Ana asked if I'd like to participate, I jumped at the chance to talk about one of my favorite things: wine.

No, wait.

I meant to say homeschooling. (Although I do mention wine in Answer #5.)

You can find my Q & A with Ana here.

Thanks, Ana, for running this series, and for such great questions!

And be sure to check out some of her other installments here, here, and here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Dumbledore Pumpkin is

...taking shape: 

We finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with Ramona last week.

I actually made it through reading Chapter 34 aloud. 


There's a pumpkin decorating contest at the library this week, and Ramona's going to town with her Dumbledore design. She made a nose out Model Magic (I heard her tell her sisters, "I sculpted my first nose today!") that rivals Michelangelo.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poetry Friday: Autumn and Gatsby and Crooker, Oh, My!

Well, apparently I have fallen down on a very important job. Every autumn, I weave this crisply perfect Fitzgerald quote:

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"
"Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." 
                               ~~ The Great Gatsby  
into a post. And I haven't done it yet. I share it because autumn is my favorite season, and although I can't normally say I have anything in common with Jordan Baker, I do share the conviction that autumn will never fail to revive me from my annual summer wilting (and complaining.)

Now I have shared the requisite (but never unwelcome) autumn quote, and will move on to requisite, always-welcome fall poetry.

This week, I've got Barbara Crooker, being her completely marvelous, Crookery self:

And Now it’s October
by Barbara Crooker

the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright

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


Speaking of marvelous selves, Jama Rattigan, Queen of Marvelous Selves, is hosting the Poetry Friday round up today at Alphabet Soup.

(Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com.) 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Remembering My Lost Babies

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month and I'm thinking about the babies Atticus and I lost through miscarriage.

Five losses, and each one shook my foundation ... it never got easier. Miscarriage isn't something one improves on with practice. I was devastated every time, crumpled every time, had to pull myself up and be pulled up every time. Who and what pulled me up? Grace, of course, yes. Prayer. A God who would let me scream at Him, then collapse in His arms, weeping, asking for comfort and for the grace to start over, to try again. My husband, of course, yes. He was devastated, too, but he was also somehow my rock.

And so many good friends. Friends who pulled me up, sustained me, helped me heal. Loving, supportive women, bearers of light and love.

The memories of things that weren't helpful are dimmer, thankfully. Everyone means well, and I always knew that, but we all hear our share of the unhelpful stuff, too, don't we? Words that hurt or seem to blame or that lack all understanding. Part of an imperfect world. I have said my share of stupid and insensitive things over the years, and I can only hope that those on the receiving end of my mistakes forgive me.

If I could offer just a few words about the main things that really helped me heal, and the things that really didn't, I'd say this:

What didn't help: 

1. "It was God's will."

Of course it was, in its way. Everything that happens is either because of God's active will (He made it happen) or His passive will (He allowed it to happen, allowed the problems of a fallen world to unfold.) But in the immediate aftermath of the death of my child, I didn't want to hear that God had chosen this for me. Maybe He did, maybe He didn't -- but I was in a state of shock and grief; I needed to absorb the pain before I could do anything else. Over time, I would slowly come to accept the ways in which God can work all things for my good, but in the first moments, the first hours, the first days, it was too hard. I just needed to cry.

2. "You'll have another baby."

That may or may not have been true. It felt presumptuous to me when people said that. No one really knew, after any of my five losses, whether I'd be able to have another baby in the future. And -- this is the most important part -- even if one could see perfectly into the future and tell me with complete certainty that there was another baby a year, or two, or five years down the road, what mattered most in the moments following my loss was this: no other baby is this baby.

No other baby is this baby. If Atticus died, no one would say, "You'll find another husband." Lost babies are not forgotten objects, easily replaced. Yes, I knew that if I had another baby down the road, I would love it, cherish it. But right now? I wanted this baby, this unique human being, at this moment in history. No other baby would ever be that baby.

3. "At least it happened early, before you really got attached."

I loved my babies fiercely from the moment I knew I was carrying them. Even before that moment, really. I loved the idea of them, the hope for them, the beauty of them, the knowledge that they were the embodiment of the love Atticus and I have for each other. Whether a miscarriage happens on the day of the pregnancy test, or at nine weeks, or at three months, or later, it's hard. Heartbreaking. Awful and confusing.

I was no less attached to my babies when I'd carried them two days than when I'd carried them for nine months. We can't quantify the level of grief a mother should feel based on how old her child was. (As pro-life people, we don't want to go down that road, right? Human beings are not worthwhile by degrees -- human beings are worthwhile, period.) My baby was a baby. I was attached.

On the flip side of the difficult things people said were the things that helped tremendously:

1. "I'm so sorry. I'm praying for you. I love you."

Simple, perfect words. Thank you for saying them. Hugs were welcome, too, as was understanding when I started crying unexpectedly or in public.

2. Listening

Friends who simply let me talk (endlessly, sometimes) about my babies were a treasured gift. Listening to my stories as I sifted through my grief, handing me another Kleenex, asking about my babies' names, listening to my fears and my future plans (or lack of them).... This kind of acknowledgement -- that I had experienced a loss worth grieving -- was so healing. It helped me feel sane and whole again.

3. A Concrete Gesture

Just a card or a note meant so much, even an email (I printed out and saved many of those.) There are so few physical keepsakes of a baby after a miscarriage -- a loving message becomes one of them. I treasured every one I received. My sister gave me a potted mum, something beautiful and alive and growing, an ongoing remembrance. Other friends nurtured my soul through the body: One friend brought an enormous meal, complete with chocolate cake. Another friend brought a bottle of wine. A new friend (someone I hadn't planned to tell, but I spilled after tearing up as we chatted about something else) dropped off a basket of teas and cookies. I didn't expect any of these things, but every one of them touched me deeply.


I remember my babies every day, especially when I ask them to pray for me. Anyone who's ever lost a child knows that we don't need a month officially set aside to remember our children, but the fact that there is one is a beautiful thing. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month says, "This was real. This was terrible. I'm so sorry." It says, "You're not alone." 

And as terrible as every loss was, I can honestly say now that I'm grateful for everything I've been through. The children I lost were -- just as my husband and my friends were -- bearers of light and love to me. My babies taught me, and continue to teach me, about surrender, sacrifice, and hope. Each of them taught me a different lesson. They have changed me forever. 

And my lost children, who are not lost to the Lord, are every bit as much a part of our family as Anne-with-an-e, Betsy, and Ramona are. I have a whole family in heaven that I -- God willing -- will see one day. I know they're praying for me. I feel it. They want me to keep slogging through, with the goal of meeting them face to face. And on that day, when I meet God and my children, I will know in fullness and for eternity the thing I cling to in this life, the thing that makes everything else make sense: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and He will wipe away every tear. 


(Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Talking with Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle about The Kiss of Jesus

It's an honor to be a part of Ignatius Press's blog tour for Donna-Marie's latest book!

The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross is a beautiful memoir of suffering, faith, courage, and hope.

Some of Donna's past work has offered peeks into the challenges she's faced in life but in The Kiss of Jesus we find the entire, compelling tale. Donna-Marie's story is an illustration of the powerful truth that God’s grace bursts through all barriers, that He can and will transform every suffering, no matter how bleak our lives feel in times of great trial, into redemptive beauty.

In a brief interview, I asked Donna-Marie to share a little more about the process of writing her memoir:

The Kiss of Jesus is your most personal book to date. What prompted you to share more intimately with your readers at this point in your life and career? 

I really believe that it is God’s timing on my memoir. It is my twentieth book. During the past ten years I have been writing books to teach the faith, to encourage hope in others, and to inspire faith. Now, it’s time to tell more of my own personal story because I believe that by doing so, readers will relate to many of the trials and struggles that I have endured and will feel a sense of hope knowing that if I could get through the challenges and dark corners, they can too.

As well, I think that sharing more intimately will help others who have seen me on EWTN or have heard me on the radio and don’t realize that I have had a crazy crooked path in life. Quite possibly they may see that they can more readily trust the message I strive to express, because I can understand their pain and struggles since I have been in those dark corners too.

Was this book easier to write than you thought it would be, or was it more difficult? 

Good question, Karen! It was really a bit of both. Some parts flowed effortlessly while other parts which described some of the traumatic parts of my life were very tough to do. It wasn’t that it was difficult to formulate the words to express those parts. But, rather, it was hard to relive the events during the telling.

In addition, another difficult part of the journey in writing this book is that I needed to be very mindful and careful because I wanted to protect all of the people in my book.

Readers will find the answer to this in the book, but perhaps you can give us a little preview: You have endured a great amount of suffering, and yet you never lost your faith. Did you always feel the Lord's guidance, even in the darkest times, or did you go through some dark nights of doubt? 

Many of my struggles were deep and intensely painful. While I did not lose my faith, I did experience many arid times when our Lord was completely silent. I believe that He wanted me to continue to surrender my heart to Him and ask Him to show me the way despite whatever I was feeling at the time. We can never operate on mere feelings. I am thankful to have had a foundation of prayer instilled in my heart early on which prodded me to retreat to prayer whenever things were tough. Possibly, this grace has prodded me to do what I can to encourage parents to raise their children in the faith.

Looking back, it would seem that the theological virtue of hope was actively working in my heart and kept moving me forward in faith and love. Thank God for that beautiful gift of hope!

If you had to sum up, in just a few words or sentences, the answer to, "How do we handle the sufferings that come our way?" what would you say? 

We pray. The answer is very simple—we must pray. It’s the only way to survive. It’s the only way to grow in holiness throughout life’s challenges. I believe that our life is a journey in which we work out our salvation so that we not only make it to heaven one day. But, also because of our lives of love (through the choices we make and the people we serve), we will help to bring countless souls there too.

Our Lord wants us to grow closer to Him and He allows us to partake in some redemptive suffering at times throughout our lives. At those times it would be beneficial to try to remember the “eternal weight of glory” (“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” 2 Corinthians: 4:17).

Thank you for your interview, Karen!


And many thanks to Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle for taking the time to answer my questions and to share a little more about her latest book.

You can read more about The Kiss of Jesus, or purchase a copy here, at Ignatius Press.

Visit Donna-Marie at her website and blog

Friday, October 16, 2015

Poetry Friday: October

I hope the October you're having is as crisply beautiful as the October we're having here. This poem by Helen Hunt Jackson says it all. 

Helen Hunt Jackson

Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

("October" is in the public domain.)

Read more about Helen Hunt Jackson (who befriended Emily Dickinson when they were children) here at The Poetry Foundation.

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater has the round-up at The Poem Farm.

(Photo above courtesy of FreeImages.com

Friday, October 09, 2015

FLOURISHing During a Busy Week

It's been a crazy week. I've been out of town a couple of times because we're working on helping my parents find a place to live that is much closer to our family than they've been, well, ever. We're hoping that by next spring or summer, they will settle on a place and be within a two hour drive of us,rather than a two-day road trip. Hurray!

So, it's been a good week, a productive week, but a slow week on the blogging front. So I thought I'd share some alternative reading with you:

Here's the latest issue of Sarah MacKenzie's Flourish.

It's an online magazine/newsletter, and if you're not reading it, you're missing out on some robust encouragement, companionship, ideas, and fun. And this month, I had the fun of contributing an answer to the monthly question: "What does teaching from rest look like in your homeschool?"


Monday, October 05, 2015

Head to Kelly's for a Big Giveaway

Kelly Mantoan is hosting a mega-giveaway during her Link-toberfest! I'm offering a copy of Through the Year With Mary: 365 Reflections and there are loads of other books and prizes. The giveaway is for both bloggers and readers. Kelly's instructions:

This is how it will work; link up your blog for an entry. Link up a Seven Quick Takes post every week between now and October 23 for up to four chances. Readers, leave a comment for an entry. Leave comments here [at This Ain't the Lyceum] every Friday between now and October 23 for up to four chances. Bloggers, for a bonus entry, answer the featured question in your takes each week, and leave a comment here so I know. Readers, for a bonus entry, Tweet me @kellymantoan with your favorite Takes of the week, up to four times between now and October 29th. Winners will be selected at random and announced in the October 30th Quick Takes.

At This Ain't the Lyceum, you can find a complete list of the prizes, and either link up or leave a comment.

Have fun!