Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School with St. Teresa of Avila

The beginning of the academic year has always felt more of a ‘fresh start’ than New Year’s Day.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  Even friends whose children have grown, or friends who are retired, share that September still feels like a time of new beginnings for them.  All “You’ve Got Mail” fans identify with the “fall in New York makes me what to buy school supplies” quote.

As an inveterate planner and list maker, I relish having TO DO lists at the start of the school year.  I confess to starting these planning lists well before the end of the previous academic year.  Making the lists and checking them off brings me a geeky-organizer pleasure.  Oddly, this summer has been different.  I’ve been tending towards feeling a bit overwhelmed at the gap between what I would like to accomplish and what life circumstances will actually allow.

I’ve discovered, over the last few weeks, that I’m not alone.  I keep happening upon wise words from professional writers and amateur bloggers alike, imploring people to find freedom in letting go, in easing up a bit on pressures.   This easing up can take many forms, depending upon each person’s personal struggles: learning to say no, letting go of perfectionism, remembering to live in the moment. The younger me would have scoffed at this as ‘lowering the bar.’  The more experienced me sees this as a humble acceptance of both one’s gifts and one’s limitations.

Teasing at the back of my mind has been St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Book of Her Foundations.”  It’s a book I overlooked the first time I read it, because it seemed to contain mostly dry information about her tasks, duties, obligations, and trying to find time to do them.  A few years later, another reading, and I changed my mind about the book when I found so many spiritual gems in her writing.  So, I think the book “called to me” this summer precisely because I can identify with striving to balance the things I want to get done with the duties foisted upon me by exterior, beyond-my-control circumstances, at the same time trying to discover God’s will in it all.  I knew I didn’t have time to re-read the book before beginning the school year, but I knew I’d be able to find the inspiration I needed from the things I’d highlight during my earlier readings.  An abbreviated version of the quotes that made my top three (full version here): 
“The soul’s progress lies not in thinking much but in loving much.”

 “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.”

 “For people who are always recollected in solitude, however holy in their own opinion they may be, don’t know whether they are patient or humble, nor do they have the means of knowing this.”
My crankiness during the day arises from three things: being interrupted in whatever task at hand occupies me at the moment; despairing that the small, mundane things cannot make a difference to anyone in the world; being forced to engage with the world when I just need some quiet time to myself.  (Gosh, those idiosyncrasies don’t make me seem like a very loving or patient mother, since motherhood so very often consists of those three things.)

St. Teresa of Avila shows that nothing is too small, especially when done with love, and it is my attitude in carrying out these duties that proves my mettle.  Don’t worry so much, just love.  If God is in the kitchen, He’s there when cleaning toilets.  Importantly, I can read inspirational things all day long, but if I shy away from putting them into practice, am I not just that resounding gong or clashing cymbal that St. Paul warns about?

These are the quotes, then, that I’m printing out and placing in the front of my homeschool binder.  (Again, here’s the link to the quotes in their entirety.)  These are the gentle reminders that the small, mundane interruptions of life are life, not deviations from life.  God exists in every moment, in the TO DO lists and the distractions just the same.

Happy back-to-school wishes to everyone.  Whether you homeschool, send the kids off to school, don’t have kids, or have already raised your kids, I send you virtual bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Funny Viral Video

Because siblings will ALWAYS know how to get under each other's skin on a car trip, no matter how old they are!

I love it!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Garden Resident

Our garden was a barren wasteland when we moved in.  Literally.  It was a newly-built house and everything beyond the first four feet next to the house was a rock-laden clay soil, all the way to the back of the property line and beyond.  The builders let all the lovely topsoil wash away.  Not good.

The garden is very much still a work in progress, but it has been fulfilling my "beautiful and useful" dream quite nicely.  Since the first flower bloomed, birds and butterflies have been visiting.  (Please don't interrupt my upbeat mood with reminders of voles, skunks, and stinkbugs.)  Here is a surprise resident:

I discovered this toad when I was filling up the garden fountain.  Luckily, my phone was in my pocket, so I was able to steal a picture.  This was the best I could do; he didn't want his photo taken and he moved very quickly, the moment I hovered the phone over his head.  He scurried under the plastic I put down to deter weeds from growing around the fountain.

Taking a look at Google Maps, it's hard to know precisely where this chubby friend began his life.  The most permanent water source to our garden is at least 500 feet away, as the crow flies.  After leaving that pond, though, any toad coming to our garden has to travel through a tree line as well as a few neighbors' gardens before he'd make it here.

However he journeyed, I'm glad he's here.  Toads are beneficial to the garden.

I'll have to approach the fountain more carefully in the future, if I want a glimpse of our toad.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yet Another Summer-themed Post

So there was a break in the heat.  We headed to the out-of-doors.

I love, love, love these natural play areas that seem to be a trend these days. My children climb, heft large logs, splash, get muddy, play "Billy Goats Gruff," in ways that seem so much more adventurous for them than when using our playset at home.

Now hear this! Reason 4,125,458,994,001.5 why no one should be judging a mom for having her nose in a smartphone whilst her precious ones play.  No one was judging me this day, because we were the only ones at the park.  But I read things online.  I know I would have been self-conscious about using my phone if others had been around.  AND whilst I do maintain that a mom is free to Tweet or skim the news or read an e-book as her children play, I happened to be researching local ice cream opportunities as my children frolicked in nature.  So after playtime, it was time for:

My son's ice cream with Oreos.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gen de Sonis & Integrity in Small Things

Once upon a time, I worked for a national retail chain.  Although I was a lowly part-timer, I qualified for the '15-minute break for every 4 hours worked' guideline.  Those in charge were fairly strict about keeping to the 15 minutes.  It was a courtesy to one's fellow workers.  If you didn't make it back in time, you were leaving your co-workers short-handed or you were making it so that the next one in line couldn't take their break. 

One of the things that bugged the lowly part-timers was how the managers would stroll out every morning for a 45-minute coffee break.  That would be in addition to whatever lunch hour they had coming to them, for working 8 hours.  At the time, I wondered if our crankiness about this was the same juvenile cry of "it's unfair" that kids complain, when mom and dad get to stay up late and even (gasp!) snack before bed. After all, working with me was a long-time (non-management) worker near retirement who would shrug it off, "management has its privileges."

All these years later, I tend to agree with my disgruntled young self.  More than privileges, management has responsibilities to set a good example.  I'm more of the mind of the drill sergeant who doesn't ask the recruits to do anything he cannot do himself.  I think I parent this way, too.  Of course, as a parent, there are certain privileges I enjoy that my children don't.  But I won't pull rank in order to 'break the rules' if the rules don't suit me.

I share this anecdote to illustrate a reason why I believe General Louis-Gaston de Sonis is an example of integrity that we should admire.  And, if in a position of power, an example to emulate.

Consider the following examples, taken from The Life of General de Sonis:
We have said how austere he was in his private life. His tent was a miserable one, and so low that he could only get into it on all fours. His bed was a sheep-skin or a rug laid upon hay or branches, nothing else; a wonderful contrast to the arrangements of his brother officers, whose luxurious appointments caused a general order to be issued by the Emperor, insisting on a diminution of their baggage and furniture. The order was promulgated on the 23rd of June, the eve of the battle of Solferino. But it came too late, the officers did not know how to dispose of their little comforts, and de Sonis remained as an honourable exception to the rest.
 And this:
One day a [soldier] in very bad humour exclaimed that ‘it was all very fine for the Colonel [de Sonis’s rank at the time] to let his men die of hunger, while he himself had a capital meal.’ This speech was repeated to Monsieur de Sonis, who the next day invited the [soldier] to dine with him. The man, though rather confused at the honor, consoled himself by thinking what a good dinner he would get. The evening came, and he went into his officer’s tent. Two biscuits, rice cooked in water, and a ration of lukewarm water out of a leather jug, that was the whole ‘menu’ and was, in fact, the daily meal of his chief. This little incident quickly became known. Everyone laughed, but no further complaints were made.
People respect those in positions of authority who set an example for others by the way they live.  I understand that there are times when a leader has to do something unpopular.  As a parent, I cannot worry about whether or not my children like me all the time.  Don't confuse my desire to act with integrity, for a wish to be liked.  Indeed, a person of integrity could find themselves quite disliked at times.  It happened to the General!

Does this teaser entice you to look more into the life of Monsieur de Sonis?  Get the book!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer Beauty

The day was actually too bright to take many good photos.  As we were walking around, I noticed a man who was capturing photos of flowers using a hand-held diffuser/reflector.  (I'm not a photography expert, so I'm not sure of the difference.)  It has crossed my mind that having a good thing might come in handy. . . .but I'm not sure if it's worth the efforts of a (very) amateur photographer who takes pictures only for her own pleasure to search out the right sized filter, to bring it along whenever she heads out to enjoy the natural world, and to carry it around once she gets there. The jury is still out on this.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Garden Update: Wild

It is not that I've forgotten to keep with my Garden Journal 2015.  It's more that the garden hasn't been doing anything overly dramatic this summer.  I harvest veg when they need it.  We cut flowers for vases whenever the vases need fresh flowers.  I neglect weeds way too often. 

The Black-Eyed Susans are doing very well this month.  The tomatoes have been a bit of a disappointment so far.

The biggest change has happened rather quietly, in the butterfly garden.

Here are some snaps:

This was not the garden that I planted in Summer, 2007.  That garden plan kept steady for a number of years.  Then the voles came last summer and did their damage: they ate my purple coneflower and my butterfly bush.  Last winter/early spring, as I was trying to decide how to approach the stripped-down garden, I happened upon a book review in The Sunday Times.  The review inspired me to purchase the book.


I will do a book review one of these days.  In short, we humans continue to get Nature wrong and the more we learn to get rid of the notion of 'control,' the better off everyone will be.  As much as we have seemingly done damage to local eco-systems by transporting non-natives around the world, we are just as foolishly trying to control the spread of non-natives.  Pearce offers the suggestion that so-called invasives creep in where an eco-system is already damaged and might just help in healing it.  I know! 

So, knowing that I'd been weeding Queen Anne's Lace out of the butterfly garden in previous years, I wondered if I should let go of a bit of control.  I did a bit of research and found out that Eastern Swallowtails happen to like Queen Anne's Lace.  So do some bees, and we know how the bees are meant to be suffering habitat loss.  Some of my favorite birds are found on Queen Anne's Lace lists: goldfinch and bluebirds among them.  All in all, there were compelling reasons for allowing Queen Anne's Lace to live in the butterfly garden.  (I'm ignoring that the stinkbug appears on those lists.)

As you can see from the photos, unless you cannot identify plants, Queen's Anne's Lace was allowed to grow free this summer.  It contributes to about half of the corner butterfly garden.  The Black-Eyed Susan is doing very well.  Earlier-blooming plants didn't seem to care that they were sharing space with the then-immature Queen Anne's Lace.

I've been wondering if I'll feel differently, should my garden complete the transition from its previous multi-variety plant scheme to one of predominantly Queen Anne's Lace and Black-Eyed Susan.  Honestly, though, my goal for the butterfly garden was to combine form and function: I wanted a pretty garden that would host butterflies and birds.  Despite the loss of some of the original garden inhabitants, I have achieved what I set out to do.  The golden Susans and the white Annes are lovely!  And they provide for the beneficial insects that visit my garden.  Letting go of control isn't always a bad thing.

PS: Reminder - I provide links to Amazon for informational purposes only. I'm not making any money off of any product suggestions on this site.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gluten-free Crepe

It is funny how the smallest thing can inspire creativity.

Child 6 was watching Arthur.  Specifically, "The Butler Did . . . What?"  I was puttering about the kitchen, searching for breakfast inspiration.  In the episode that was playing on the television, Muffy demanded a chocolate-orange crepe.  That sounded good!  I wanted a chocolate-orange crepe, but wasn't sure how to go about it.

I went online and compared a handful of single-serving crepe recipes, made with wheat flour.  I cannot give credit to just one web site, as my recipe is an amalgam of recipes.  As well, I have not poached anyone's recipe (pun intended, since there's egg in crepe) and any similarities to others' are purely coincidental.

I decided what I thought  to be the best egg/flour/liquid ratio and substituted rice flour for the wheat.  If you want a wheat-flour crepe, use the wheat flour.  I've tried both flours with this key recipe, and they work equally well.

Rice-Flour Crepe Recipe for One

1 egg
1 TBL sugar
2 TBL flour
dash salt
1.5 TBL orange juice

Mix the ingredients in a bowl, with a fork or a whisk. Melt butter into a skillet (or use the leftover bacon grease already waiting in your cast iron skillet). Pour batter into hot oil. Let the crepe sit until the batter seems to be set; the whole crepe should move easily if you shake the skillet. Flip it to the other side. The edges will begin to curl upward when you know the crepe is about done. Flip it once more, just to make sure the other side looks done. Pop onto your plate.

Cover with chocolate sauce (recipe follows) and roll up the crepe.

Chocolate Sauce

The amounts are approximate, as chocolate chips melt differently, depending upon their ingredients. I use Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips because they are free of soy.

1-2 TBL chocolate chips
1 tsp butter
splash of orange juice

Add the three ingredients to a bowl; melt in the microwave. If the mixture isn't smooth when you've stirred the melted concoction, add a small amount of butter and re-heat slightly until the chocolate is smooth. If the mixture is too watery, add some more chocolate (why not?) and re-heat until the desired consistency.
It is a very simple recipe.  A small luxury on a weekend morning.  And more proof that delicious eating and allergic living are not incompatible.

I shall work on my photography skills, the more food I share online.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thursday, August 13, 2015

General de Sonis: Radio Introduction

Now that the "General de Sonis, OCDS" tab has been added to the top of the blog, it is time to share more about him. 

For an on-the-go introduction, listen to the episode of Carmelite Conversations, in which I was invited to speak about General de Sonis.

“God’s Little General: the Faith of General Louis-Gaston de Sonis, OCDS”


Monday, August 10, 2015

Marriage and Self-Sacrifice

There's a link that was showing up in my travels around the Internet at the end of July.  Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage.  I read it and bookmarked it, intending to share it on this blog, on the date of my anniversary.  But that happy event was last week; obviously, I didn't get to the blog in time.

The article speaks to men, as it was shared on "The Catholic Gentlemen" website.  But the subject of "self-sacrifice" applies equally to husband and wife.

And very fitting for my marriage!  The theme of the homily at our wedding was "dying to self."  Father spoke about the Cross; he shared how marriage is meant to be continual "dying to self" for the other.  I thought I knew what it meant at the time, but I didn't fully comprehend death to self.  In my inexperience, I thought it was akin to "compromise."  As I took my vows that day (21 years ago), I knew there would be times in my marriage where I'd have to give in on something important to me, out of love for my husband.

Funny thing.  Marriage demands more than just "giving in" on movie or menu choices.  It demands more than "giving in" on where to take a vacation or how the walls should be painted.  "Dying to self" is more than give-and-take; it can mean giving more than you feel capable of giving, when the both of you are at the end of your tether.  For me, one way of "dying to self" has meant learning to conquer the need to be right all the time.  I'm still working on that. Ask my husband!

The amazing thing? Learning "dying to self" in the context of marriage has spilled over into every other facet of life.  I hope it has made me a better wife over the years, but I know it has made me a more patient mother, as time goes on.  My friendships are better because I don't take offense easily, as I did when I was younger.  I think I'm a more pleasant customer to deal with when things go wrong in the retail world.  Finally, dying to the need to be right all the time has helped heal wounds that I'd been licking from childhood on.

It sounds funny, but from the very beginning of our relationship, I would say that my husband and I were perfect for each other and we deserved each other.  If I could write a sappy love poem, I would concentrate on the compatible parts, showing that we rode off into the sunset together, to live happily ever after.  Interestingly enough, though, certain aspects of our alikeness have caused the most conflict.  (I don't want to tell his story here, only mine.  But, here's a hint: we both like to be right.)  Yes, we were made for each other . . . but not just for the more pleasant parts of our personalities.

All this makes me see God's hand in our lives together.  Because the ultimate goal of "dying to self" isn't just so I'll be a better person for my husband.  Rather, it's so that I will live a life of not myself, but Christ living in me.  (Galatians 2:20)  During the hard times, when I'm called to a very radical self-denial, it helps to remember that there is something larger at work: whatever I've done for my husband, I've done for God.  (Matthew 25: 40)

The article ends with a message for husbands:
Men, if you want a faithful and happy marriage, you must die to yourself. You must put your wife first. You must love her through sacrifice and self-denial—the same way Christ loved his bride, the Church. This is the simple secret so many miss.

Indeed!  Would that all men approach marriage in that spirit.  But, women, too: we must love our husbands though sacrifice and self-denial, as Christ did the Church.

I love this sweet photo! (Shamelessly borrowed from the linked article.)

One more note: In the various places I've seen this article shared, I have seen comments about selfish spouses, abusive spouses, etc.  None of what I say about self-denial and self-sacrifice applies to an unhealthy relationship.  I would hope that would go without saying, but I am saying it anyway.  My concept of self-denial and dying to self is to be understood in the context of what Jesus did for the Church and for all of us.  When I write of "giving more that you thought possible" or "being at the end of my tether," I am talking about spiritual things.  For Carmelites out there: think St. John of the Cross and self-denial -- someone ought to right a book for spouses using the writings of St. John of the Cross!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Watch those hyphens!

This was a screenshot I took of a news report.  I won't reveal the identity of the news station, as journalistic grammar goofs are dime-a-dozen and no outlet is immune.  Sadly.
  I chuckled over the image of non-life threatening.
Interestingly enough, there are online discussions about whether the phrase should be written as nonlife-threatening or not life-threatening.  No instances, though, where any grammar geek suggests non-life as an option.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Distraction and the Human Condition

A kind of a follow-up to Non-digital Reading.  Building on from that topic.

I happened upon Zach Hoag, in the way that one stumbles upon writers online.  [I clicked from some other site I cannot recall and, thus, cannot give credit for my discovery.]  One way he has described himself: "I'm part Spirit-filled evangelical, part skeptical New Englander. Simultaneously on-fire and frozen-chosen." Some of the people I enjoy most in this life admit that they are a bundle of contradiction.  That's all right.  Go read Chapter VI of Chesterton's Orthodoxy, if you want to ponder the topic of Christian paradox.

As a way to simplify life, as well as help out the budget, Zach and his wife decided to do: Kill Your Data Plan: An Experimental Peace-Hack.  They downgraded their data plan and turned off Cellular Data, meaning that the full-blown smartphone is available in case of emergency, but no longer ever-present.

I appreciate where he points out that "some of the criticism is overblown" about the wifi world and our seeming disconnectedness with the world immediately in front of us.  I don't have to search my memory hard to remember the world before smartphones.  I carried a book everywhere I went.  Commuters read newspapers on the train.  Runners and walkers listened to music on Walkmans as they exercised.  Families watched movies on the TV.  It is not as if the we sat around discussing Kierkegaard when, suddenly, the iPhone sprung up from the bowels of hell to keep us from being Deep and Meaningful with strangers in doctors' waiting rooms.

Furthermore, I believe that distraction is the human condition. The 1950s, the 1870s, the 1490s, 1587BC . . . if you could time travel, you'd find people being both less-than-productive and easily distracted.  No one was ever on-task 100% of the time in the days before electricity. 

In fact, humans have always sought silence and disconnectedness as something separate from daily routine.  The quest for silence goes back as far as ancient philosophers and continues through to today, in varying religious and spiritual traditions.  This proves that silence and meditation need to be pursued; they don't come easily.  If Pythagoras had to preach silence, and St. John of the Cross felt the need to write about it quite a bit, and even Jesus had to retreat up mountainsides to be alone in prayer, then something tells me busyness isn't unique to the modern world.

As a person whose nature is drawn to quiet and silence more than busyness, I read with enthusiasm other people's journeys into simplicity.  That's why I would click on a link titled "Kill Your Data Plan."  And the way I approach others' stories is more along the lines of inspirational/informational rather than prescriptive.  Why?  Because each person's path is unique.  I can be inspired by others without needing to recreate their scenarios for my particular state in life.

I can respect equally those who unplug from technology as I do those who are online all day for their employment.  But it's true that the mere act of unplugging does not guarantee distraction-free quiet time.  I knew a person who was vehemently anti-television, but she had this inability to sit still that drove my comparatively passive nature crazy.  Taking what I've learned about personality and temperament since the time I knew her, part of now me wonders if her dislike of TV had something to do with an unacknowledged or unrecognized aversion to simply sitting still for even a short amount of time.  Zach Hoag isn't anti-technology.  In fact, technology is part of his ministry.  However, he recognized where it became a preoccupation and took the steps to reduce the distraction.

Where am I going with this?  Yes, I believe in the importance of unplugging from the digital world.  Daily unplugging.  However, to blame technology on distraction is to, well, get distracted from the main problem:  I don't think we are good at silence, regardless of the century in which we were born.  Let us inspire each other with our stories at carving simplicity into daily life.  Here's a reminder of my thoughts on the subject.