Thursday, March 26, 2009

help wanted

Large yet cozy company staffed by moral, kind, interesting professionals seeking candidate for as yet unnamed position.

Ideal candidate must desire affiliation with a business that will not condone putting work before family. As such, mother of large family and expectant grandmother preferred.

Interested individual must possess strong communication skills and be fluent in languages spoken to disobedient children, husbands who want to know how much those shoes cost, and rude strangers who wonder why you have so many children. Ability to house train puppies and organize junk drawers not required.

Experience must include documented instances of: saving over $100 on a grocery order using double coupons; racing through an airport with five children, while pregnant; and praying rosary for teenagers late for curfew. Passion for doing the right thing, showing up day after day whether you feel like it or not, and washing three loads a laundry a day a plus.

Must be able to easily transition from birthday party for 13 six-year-olds to evening at Boogie Fever. Ability to keep checkbook balanced, mouth shut, and weight steady insignificant.

Ideal candidate is funny, creative, and loyal with a strong inner life. Must sincerely desire to serve others while remaining true to herself.

Pay commensurate with number of times awakened from a deep sleep to clean up vomit.

There's got to be a job out there for me, right?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

beers to you

"I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal." -- St. Brigid of Ireland

Facts about beer from today's reading in the "Little Black Book":
--In the Middle Ages, beer was one of the safest, most nutritious drinks available.
--Bock beer is brewed in the fall, aged throughout the winter, and served in early spring. Beer festivals traditionally began on March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph) and often included the blessing of the new beer.
-- Many monasteries brewed their own beer, referring to it as "liquid bread" because of its nutritional qualities. This was especially true during the lenten fast, when solid foods were restricted.

Enjoy a beer (perhaps a green one?) today. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

on my mind

Imagine for a moment that you have a medical condition that makes it impossible for you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Whatever crosses your mind - no matter how inappropriate - is on your lips.

Scary, huh?

Fans of "House" will recognize this scenario from last week's episode entitled "Social Contract." The contract refers to the unspoken pact that civilized people have with one another, the one that makes us keep some things ourselves, and to lie to comfort and console. It's the agreement that we make with each other every day about what we'll hide and what we will reveal. You bite your tongue, and I'll bite mine. You tell me I don't look fat in these pants and I tell you that of course that mole can't be cancer.

When I watched the show found myself frantic at the thought of what I would say if every thought I had was vocalized. Like the character on the show, I would certainly be offensive. I would hurt strangers and loved ones alike. I would occasionally make interesting observations, but mostly I would land square between sophomoric and vile.

Have you ever wondered if others can read your mind? It was kind of like that, pondering this rare condition that might strike at any moment. What if everything I thought was out there for the world to see? How horrific.

I share a lot here on the blog, share it with the whole wide internet world. But of course I don't really reveal what's on my mind. That would be scary for the both of us.

But this really got me thinking today, thinking about thoughts. I realized that so much of what goes through my mind is negative, faithless, and even cruel. I am often vulgar and vindictive. I'm extraordinarily impatient, and supremely vain.

My husband, who is remarkably wise, is always reminding me that my thoughts have power, and that I will become what I think about. He is no doubt familiar with this scripture:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy-keep thinking about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

If I want to speak things that are true, and honorable, and fair and pure, that's what I need to be thinking about.

Just in case I'm stricken with that strange malady, I'm going to work on my positive thinking.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” -- Buddha

Saturday, March 14, 2009

remembering my baby girl

Celeste would have been four today.

I'm sharing the video (again) that I made last year on her birthday.

Thank you for remembering our family in prayer today!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the power of a compliment

I heard once that when someone has a negative experience, they will share it with (on average) ten people. When a person experiences something positive, however, they usually tell only one person.

Let's change all that, shall we?

Today I was on the receiving end of several compliments. Now, we can talk at length about receiving compliments,and how hard it is for some of us (particularly us girls.) I've actually trained myself to receive compliments graciously ("thank you.") What I'm pondering today is how absolutely good a compliment can be - to both receive and give.

A very creative friend of mine, a musician, told me this morning how much she likes my writing. I'm still floating on that one. It means a lot to me because I know she doesn't hand out compliments easily - she is always genuine.

When the lady at the cosmetics counter told me I had beautiful skin, I liked hearing that, too. It may just have been her sales training doing the talking, but that's OK. It was nice to hear something positive.

I felt so good after hearing these good things today that I decided to do a little experiment. I know it is great to receive compliments, but I also realize it is pretty cool to hand them out.

Recently I met a young woman at the Crisis Pregnancy Center where I am a volunteer. She is 32 and expecting her fifth child. Like many of the woman who come to the center, she is overwhelmed. She has so much responsibility, not much support. As I got to know her I was wowed by her intelligence, courage and ingenuity. I was impressed by how much she had sacrificed for her children. I was absolutely amazed at how hard she was willing to work to make her life better for herself and her children.

So I gave her something in addition to some diapers and clothing for her baby: I gave her a sincere compliment.

She smiled a beautiful smile, and her eyes absolutely shone. I could tell that she did not receive genuine praise very often. I was hooked.

So today, after I was fortunate enough to hear a few good words myself, I started that experiment in earnest. I sent my husband a text message: you are a good husband.

He texted me back, then called and left a voice mail.

First: "the suspicion is rising."

Then: "OK, so what did you buy? Either you bought something, or you want to buy something, or you want to go somewhere. So text me and tell me, what did you buy, and where do you want to go."

Apparently I do not compliment my Big Man enough. Or perhaps my compliments appear to be only well-placed bribes.

My goodness. Now I'm on a mission to give my husband - and the other wonderful people in my life - real, honest, non-self-serving compliments. I really need to work on this.

By the way, YOU look mahvelous!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

when God says no

Some time ago I wrote about prayer. Convinced that God is most definitely not Santa Claus, and that He is more interested in making me a saint than He is in making my wishes come true, I may have come across as more of a cynic than a saint.

My husband and son called me a "negatron", incapable of a positive attitude. I prefer the "realist" tag, and I wear it proudly, right next to my smiley face button.

Anyway, since it's Lent and all, I've been pondering prayer once again. I've been considering the kind of prayer that I'm most familiar with: the type in which I talk to God, ask for something, get an immediate answer - a simple, unqualified no.

OK, that's not entirely true. Sometimes He takes days and days to answer. Sometimes months. I wait patiently then, and keep asking, pleading even, and I always get an answer eventually.

And it's no.

I learned about this type of communication at my mother's knee, literally. By her telling, she has had a lifelong history of requesting things - a date for the prom, money to purchase her childhood home, a cure for cancer - that have not been delivered to her (at least not to date.)

My husband attributes my negative attidude to Mom's example, but I can't really blame her. I've had enough first hand experience. That job I really coveted? Didn't land it. A date with the most popular boy on campus? Uh-uh. An expansive home with a modern kitchen, whirlpool tub and fireplace? Not so much.

Many, if not most, of my requests have been selfish. But I have certainly prayed for some things that seemed only to be good - for others as well as myself. At least that's what I thought, what I earnestly believed. Why can't my friend, a good Catholic man, find a job so he can support his large family? Why can't my single brother find a nice girl to marry?

Why did my daughter have to die?

Before we all go off the deep end of despair here, let's return to reality. Reality is about a Father who says no to His children - even when they can't possibly understand why.

I started reading a book today. The story, a true one, tells of a woman who is known world-wide for the horrors she has endured and for her great faith.

So far, I don't like it. It's really ticking me off, in fact.

I admit I started reading with a prejudice, a bad attitude so to speak. I can't really explain why, but as soon as I learned this woman's story, I was annoyed. She relied so fully on God that she didn't seem real. Her explanations about how she dealt with the extreme challenges in her life - by simply asking God for what she needed - irritated me to no end.

And you thought I was such a nice person!

The friend who gave me the book pointed out a passage at the end, in which our heroine felt called to marriage. She simply sat her good self down, sketched a portrait of her prince charming, wrote out an extensive list of all her future mate's qualities, and presented it to God.

Three months later she met her dream guy. They got married and had two perfect children.


So I've come to the conclusion that 1. I am so lacking in faith that God doesn't even hear my prayers, let alone consider answering them; 2. I am so out of touch with the will of God that I habitually ask for that which lies outside of it; and/or 3. I'm a spoiled brat.

I was discussing this with friends today, and one quoted St. Catherine of Siena as she spoke to the Lord: "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them!"

That rings true to me.

God doesn't answer our prayers because we are His "favorites" or because we know the magic formula.

Scripture does tell us, repeatedly, that if we ask, we shall receive. Does that mean if I don't receive, I haven't asked properly?

Or maybe that I've asked the wrong question?

I wish I could end this post with a pithy commentary on perfection in prayer. I can't. I can only ask questions, and wonder.

And trust.

God is God, and I'm not. He will answer prayer as He wishes, not as I command him to.

I'm going to read the book, and really attempt to open my heart to its message. I can't judge her life through the filters of my experience. God gave her what she needed; He gives me what I need.

And for now, that's enough.

At least it should be, right?

Monday, March 9, 2009

a love story: paperback edition

Have you ever fallen madly in love - with a book?

I realize I have just effectively narrowed down my audience to the one or two of you who don't think I'm in urgent need of psychological treatment. That's OK, those that remain (fellow bibliophiles) know of what I speak.

I've met my share of books over the years. Some, despite their simplicity, have kept me entertained for days, largely because they were so fun and good-looking. They weren't very smart, but they fed me grapes and fanned me, like well-trained Cabana boys.

Others have teased me at first, then left me high and dry, wanting more, unsatisfied. They seemed to have so much promise. I gave them a chance, but sometimes I had to turn away prematurely. I don't feel obligated to finish that type when they don't deliver their end of the bargain.

I've found others to be intimidating, even when more experienced friends assured me I should dive right in. To be honest, sometimes I judged them, unjustly, by their covers. If, for instance, there was lots of small print, or if the author's name appeared to be Russian, I might not even take a sample. I'm cautious when sampling new flavors.

But every so often something scrumptious is delivered to me, and I devour it and wish I could read it every day for the rest of my life.

OK, so maybe that's a bit much. But I am about to finish a book that was just so real, and refreshing, and funny, that I think I want to marry it.

I've already mentioned it here, a few posts back: it's Anne Lamott's classic book for writers, Bird by Bird. So now I've really done it. I've eliminated even more of my audience. It's just you and me now, my fellow-writer-blog-reader pal. (I know everyone else is disappointed, thinking they were going to discover a hot new fiction title or at least a helpful weight loss manual.)

Actually, the subtitle is "some instructions on writing and life," so those who are interested in life, not just writing, might find some gems in these pages as well.
I always regret not having a highlighter in hand when I read (I was taught not to deface books, and I just can't get used to writing in them; it feels like savagery.)
So I'm left with my (poor) memory to find the passages that spoke to me. Oh dear. Let's see...

This is hard, harder than I thought it'd be. That's because this book is just so filled iwth inspiration.

A taste:
"My deepest belief is that to live as if we're dying can set us free."

"...Perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."

And this: "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come."

I will finish the book tonight. I've been saving the last chapter, like a dark chocolate truffle in a box of chocolates. I plan to savor it, enjoying every last morsel.

I know this book has been around for years, and the serious writers have already read it. I'm slow, I know. Slower than me? That's OK. Read this book. Ignore the vulgarity if that sort of thing bothers you; forget the fact that you probably wouldn't like Lamott very much if you met her at a church function or the home of your liberal neighbor.

If you are a writer, or want to be, get this book.

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

heart of stone

One of the things I like best about the internet is that because of it, I have friends.

I'm serious about that. I have a few "real" friends, of course, the kind that I go shopping with and get drunk with and speak to on the phone with when I am having a nervous breakdown. But I mean it sincerely when I say that I have found some friends through the wonders of the "worldwide web." (Does anyone call it that anymore?)

I joined facebook and 4marks (a very cool Catholic networking site) because I wanted to connect with old friends and make some new ones. I believe I am managing to do both of those things, and avoid doing housework to boot. (But that's another story.)

I especially enjoy the connections I've made to Catholic writers, artists and musicians on 4marks. I find those creative types intriguing, and while I may not want to talk to them on a daily basis (many of them are quirky, like me) I really like getting to know them the new-fashioned way: through what they reveal online.

One new friend, Patrice Egging, is a songstress and all-around cool pro-life Catholic lady. Among other things, she collects rocks. But they're not just ordinary rocks - she favors a special kind, those shaped like hearts.

I was out walking the other morning when I came across a whole pile of rocks. They were lined up along side a fence, where other folks have little green plants sometimes. I immediately thought of Patrice, and of my son Luke, who brings home rocks EVERY DAY that he picks up on his way home from school.

I thought maybe I could find a cool rock to send to Patrice. I didn't have much time to search, because I was walking Sophie, and she didn't want to stop to look at rocks that did not smell the least bit like bacon. I also didn't want the homeowner to come out and inquire why I was digging through his stony border, so I glanced around quickly, figuring that if there was a heart to be found I'd spot it, grab it and make a quick get-away.

But I found nothing so I went home.

Don't be ridiculous! Of course I found a rock! A beautiful one! A perfect one!

Here it is:
I was going to send it to Patrice, really I was. But the more I thought about it, I knew it was intended for me. When I look at it, I see a heart. You, or Patrice, or any other normal person probably does not. You see a bumpy misshapen thing, a rock that looks quite ordinary and rough.

I see a heart. One little girl taught me that hearts are sometimes imperfect. They are rarely shaped like valentines, and they are usually kind of crazy and torn-up.

And they are all unique.

I put the rock, the imperfect heart-shaped rock, in my pocket, and smiled all the way home. It reminded me of friends, old and new, and of hope, and spring, and love. It reminded me that you can find the right thing if you look in the right place, and look with the eyes of a child.

Did I mention it's pink?

Friday, March 6, 2009

you lack disclipline

A while back, one of the goofy folks who lives in my house discovered a website that provides sound bites of famous people saying the fun things that famous people say.

We spent many happy minutes at this site. We soon found a favorite: the sage words of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The best of the best? Him shouting "You lack discipline." We laughed and laughed, then went back to looking for other dumb stuff on the internet rather than doing anything productive or meaningful.

Last week I mentioned that my theme this Lent is "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." So we're a week into the season here, and I discovered that once I removed my fingers from my ears and stopped chanting "I'm not listening, I'm not listening" the Lord had plenty to say to me.

I lack discipline.

I think I have discovered something profound and life-changing here, people. I lack discipline. It's real gold, the key to all my troubles.

They say that recognizing you have a problem is the first step in making real change. OK, fine. I'm admitting it here. I am so lacking in the ability to control myself.

I do fairly well when I am given a set of standards, rules to follow. But left on my own, I stink. I just can't seem to get a handle on that most important type of control: SELF control.

It's why I eat too much, drink too much, talk too much. It's why I spend hours on facebook rather than doing research for an article. It's why I started to write this post, got sucked into an episode of "Ten Years Younger" and ended up spending 60 bucks on a pair of red pumps at before returning to finish writing. (Honey, if you're reading this, when you see these shoes you're going to agree that I really, really needed them.)

What was I saying? Maybe I also have adult ADHD, but that's another story.

So what do I do? I'm tempted to do what I always do when I discover some real or imagined fault in myself: eat an entire package of Dove dark chocolate bliss and wash it down with a bottle of merlot. Just kidding. (sorta...) Actually I'm tempted to devise a very complicated "improvement plan" that will include all sorts of constraints on my thoughts and behavior. I will forbid myself to do anything I might even remotely enjoy. Doesn't that sound smart?

Obviously I've found this method to be less than effective, so I'm going to try something new this time. I feel rather like an alcoholic chanting the "one day at a time" mantra. There is true wisdom there. If I bite off more than I can chew, I'll just end up choking.

The path to self-discipline? Must start with something simple. So this morning I got up early, when I wanted to stay in bed. Then I took Sophie for a walk, instead of surfing the net. Later I had a Lean Cuisine for lunch, and ate only two handfulls of Wheat Thins, rather than half the box.

The best decision though, the one that will surely teach me the most? I went to Mass. Received Jesus in the Eucharist, and just sat there for a minute and said "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."

He told me I lack discipline.

But He also told me He'd help me find a way to improve.

Pretty cool.

Anybody else struggling with this? I'd love to hear how you are conquering the out-of-control in your life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

mindless drivel

"While it's fresh in my mind."

If you're a writer of any sort at all, you've muttered these words to yourself. I've just got to get this down on paper, while it's fresh in my mind. Perhaps you just returned from the senior prom, or your first job interview, or the dentist, and what occurred there was so inspirational or stupid that you just must jot it down, for posterity. Or for giggles.

Maybe you're not an "official" writer, but even so, you've done it. You remember something you have to tell your best friend or therapist. You recall the words to that song. You remember what you really need to pick up the next time you're at the grocery store. And while the thought's fresh, you grab it.

The problem I'm having lately is that nothing at all stays fresh in my mind. It's as if someone has left the fridge door open a crack, or maybe knocked the plug clear out of the socket, and now everything in there has gone bad. The eggs are rotten, the milk is sour, the butter is rancid, and don't even think about touching that bread that's sitting on top. It's stale as hell.

I'm not sure if I'm mentally ill or brain damaged, or just tired. Is it hormones? Too much wine? Not enough coffee? Or is it that my brain is just crammed to capacity, like that old 512 megabyte computer we put on the curb?

The old steel trap had denigrated into a crumpled wad of aluminum foil.

I have no real excuse or explanation. It's just that I've lost my mind, and I miss it. We used to be so close, my mind and I. We went everywhere together. Now, I'm left to travel this lonesome road, mindlessly.

While it's possible my mind and I might be reunited someday, I'm not optimistic. I think I just need to accept the fact that things have changed. I need to rely on my kids, and my friends, and a daily planner. That's where I sometimes write important things.

While they're fresh in my mind.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

it's a small (interesting) world

One of the benefits of living with teenage boys and having hip sons-in-law is that I get to hear about all the latest cool stuff on the internet.

Thanks to my son AJ and my son-in-law Giovanni several fun things were brought to my attention this week.

One is the absorbing site Here you can track all the interesting things you have done - and the things you want to do. There are tons of suggestions for new adventures to experience. I figure this fits right into my New Year's Resolution about trying new things! I just signed up and haven't started checking off items yet, but I can tell this will give me a really fun new way to avoid doing laundry.

Thanks to Giovanni I was introduced to "drop box" ( Here you can download a program that allows you to access files from your computer from wherever you are, eliminating the need to email files to yourself or use USB. (Just yesterday I was emailing myself from our main home computer to my lap top. I do own a flash drive but 1. I never learned how to use it and 2. I can never keep track of it!)

I have to say the most awe-inspiring find of the week was google earth 5.0. (No, it was not that nasty SNL short you shared with me, AJ.) I cannot believe the detail that you can see when you google any location on the planet - no, make that the solar system! AJ was showing me pictures of the surface of Mars!

I must admit it was more than a little unsettling to see a pic of my house with my daughter's car parked out front. Big brother, anyone? But as AJ zoomed out from that view, out to a view of my state, our country, and our planet, I was mostly blown away by this thought:

I am very, very tiny.

The sense of the smallness each individual, of our apparent insignificance, left me wondering...

What sort of a god could create so many tiny souls, and remember them all?

What kind of creator could put a planet in motion, fill it with millions of beings, and love each one with a unique and personal love?

What type of man could give his very life to save each and every one of these miniscule specks on the surface of a big blue marble floating through an infinite space?

My kind of God.

My kind of Man.