Monday, August 24, 2015

what we did for (part of) our summer vacation, or, the saga of the shoes.

                                    Jeff, Kaden and Malaika, expertly posing at the base of one of the waterfalls.

This June and early July, Malaika and I were able to spend three glorious weeks in Michigan with Meghann and family.

Meghann, lover of waterfalls and also Adventure Planner Extraordinaire, did some research and combined those things into a lovely camping trip for us all to do together. So, exactly two days after our car made tire tracks in her driveway, we all piled in it and headed for Starved Rock State Park, located in Illinois, about four hours from said driveway.

That part of the country had been getting lots and lots of rain, so the waterfalls were flowing beautifully. However, that also meant the mud was flowing pretty well, too.

 This is a gazebo outside the office where we got our trail maps. The trails are situated near and along the Illinois River, which had gone over its' banks. A bit.

But we had driven four hours with a seven year old and all the camping gear, so dang it, we were going hiking.

                                                     While we were still clean.

I don't know if you can see just how far down that goes.


It was a particularly humid day. And for any of the down stairways, there were also many up ones.

Inhalers were used.

Here is one of the flooded areas of the trail.

And here is the result.This was day one of a two day hike, so that night, we tried to dry our shoes out by the campfire in the hopes of knocking the dried mud off the next day.

1. The heat from the fire melted Jeff's soles so his shoes fell apart the next day, held together only by a couple of Malaika's hair ties, and that only poorly.

2. We could not leave our shoes out all night, because of the raccoon that stole Grandma's dentures once. So they hung out in the car overnight. When we opened the car up in the morning, well, just conjure up the smell of slightly melted, pungent mud, sweaty foot smell...

That's all the humorous, sort of messy details, but here are some of the beautiful rewards.

  A natural sculpture of an alligator or horse, or something. Depending on which angle you look at it.

                                                        that's Kaden behind the water

                     the light was so beautiful. it was pretty slippery here, as you can see where the greenish areas are. there were a few butt-falls and slides.

here is Malaika.

Second day, we were lucky to be mostly on these board trails. Or Jeff would probably have lost his shoes completely.

I'm sad I forgot to take any photos of our campsite. But here are our shoes after a trip to the laundromat. Jeff had to throw his away and get new ones.

We did lots of other fun and wonderful things, which I hope to share with you soon!

Friday, May 29, 2015

the 3 quickest takes ever

Because I should be doing something else.

1. My absence from blogging was mainly because of a mini health crisis. I had symptoms x,y and z, which pointed potentially to roughly 137 ailments, some of which were serious. So I had several tests, a couple that were unpleasant. I came away with a few thoughts.

           a. Increased respect and a small understanding for those that go through this stuff much more than I do, and who don't always get good news or good outcomes. It's a whole other world, that of sickness and pain. It opens wider the eyes of faith, and so many of the things I spend time and energy worrying about become kind of ridiculous.
           b. Just how much our bodies are linked with our emotions. When you carry stress around like a backpack full of bricks, eventually, you'll notice the weight. Or, say, if you keep ingesting something that you know is bad for you and tell yourself it is gone now because it's out of sight, guess what? It's going to come out somewhere, somehow, whether you want it to or not! The same with stress. You can only take in and harbor so much, until it starts exiting your body, whether it be in headaches, stomach ailments, anxiety attacks, you name it.

         c. Along with the stressful uncertainly about what might be percolating in my abdomen, there was a lovely peace and assurance that whatever the outcome, I had the support of my family and my Lord. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, which also increased my appreciation of everyone and everything around me. My garden, the birds singing in the mornings, the ability to get comfortable when I lay down at night. Good stuff.

        d. The long and short of it is that 1. All the tests ruled out the scary stuff.
                                                      and  2. Still have some of the symptoms, but am taking a break to forget about it all for a while. My own gut, pardon the pun, tells me it is probably along the lines of IBS (yay, another difficult to nail down thing) and was exacerbated by stress. Workin on that part.

2. Happy and proud to be an American. Just thought I would throw that out there. Hoping the future generations come to appreciate all that we have and what it means to be free.

3. The Duggar debacle. I have read so very many posts excoriating them and of course Christians in general for "causing" what happened with their son and the girls. Sigh. So many people in the "I would never" club. Listen. There is NO sin out of bounds for anyone. It is only God's grace that keeps us at every moment. Now, because I say that, am I defending anyone or anything they did? Because that's where it always jumps. NO. All I am saying is, unless you are actually inside their shoes, you don't know why-- anything. Their being Christian, conservative, in TV, whatever. I don't know their motives. All I can do is pray for them. So, please, jump down off your bandwagon in case it goes into a ditch.

That's all I have time for today. Hope to be back again before my summer road trip!



Thursday, April 30, 2015

on cognitive dissonance

That's the fancy name for living in a way that is in conflict with your conscience.

It's like a permanent stone in your shoe, or a feeling that something is always just, well, off.

Some who live in a way that is not in alignment with our deepest beliefs experience depression, anxiety, and even physical ailments. I remember having this conversation with myself at different points in my life:

Me #1:
"I wish I knew why I am feeling this overwhelming sadness and having all these frightening, negative and critical thoughts"

Me #2:
"But you do know!"

Me #1:
"Do not!"

Me #2:
"Do so!"

(after several repeats)

Me #2:
"Look, there are these several things that you are doing that you know you really don't feel good about, and they are actually hurting you, spiritually, emotionally and physically." 

Me #1:
"But to stop any of it would mean major changes. It's too scary! I don't know what my life would be like! What if I will be lonely, or lose my friends?"

Me #2:
"It's true that there is an element of the unknown, but who's to say it would be a negative change? Maybe good things will happen. One thing is true, that at least you will be free of the burden that is eating you up on the inside!" 

Me #1:
 "Maybe I am just like this. Maybe I should just accept the way things are now. I can rearrange the furniture and put a new coat of paint. Maybe then I will feel better about everything. 

"That's pretty much what you have been doing, How's that working out?" 

"Okay, I know. I guess I really have known. Maybe it is harder to try to keep the plates all spinning than to hope for some peace. Maybe I will do one thing and see how that goes."

Me #2:
"Yup. And you will find that if you do the first thing, the next one will be easier."

I'm sure you have heard the saying, "Better to face the devil you know than the devil you don't."
Perhaps this is one rationalization we have for staying stuck in patterns in life that are holding us back. I would say that if the "devil we know" is the thing we are finding comfort in and the "devil we don't" is the thing we are afraid of on the other side of change, then, friends, the only devil is the real one who is whispering in your ear that you just can't do it.

For my part, changing my life was not something I did on my own. All I did was humbly admit that my own tactics of never confronting my fears or challenging my methods was definitely NOT WORKING. I knew deep down all along, that God was calling me to follow and trust Him, and all my efforts to do it _my way_ were only amounting to sadness and harm. I had several light bulb moments that pretty much woke me up to the fact that I had to do SOMETHING and soon.

The biggest thing I did was to simply allow God in. I considered what He had to say to me, and asked His help. For me, the turning point was the hardest part. Overcoming the fear was like the drop of oil that got the gears in motion. It wasn't all kittens and picnic lunches from there, but the huge relief that ensued from gradually resolving the cognitive dissonance was like being able to breathe again. It was one step at a time, and frankly, still is.

Cognitive dissonance, in the language of the Church, is simply conviction of sin. And it is a huge grace, not a negative, shaming thing at all. The only shame is in refusing His love and grace.

I think living the Christian life is one long, continual conversion, as we allow Him to conform us to His life for us. It is resolving cognitive dissonance one sliver at a time, towards ultimate peace. The Church provides the vehicle for us to ride upon, partaking of Christ in the Eucharist and the other sacraments that help care for us in this life, and assist us to the next.

It is a great gift and grace, to be able to lay our heads on our pillow at night, and be able to sleep in peace and security. We know that we are not perfect, but that we are on the road with Him, going where He leads, and not flailing around on our own.

I would ask your continued prayers for my family and for me.



Friday, March 27, 2015

7 quick takes, the Lenten foible edition

I don't know about anyone else, but hasn't this been the Lentiest Lent ever? I am ever so glad to nearing the end. Yes, there is the big stuff, but it's the little stuff that threatens the sanity.

Station of the Cross, when we get to --

"I searched for comforters, but I found none."

here is where my mind goes.

2. Our exchange student made himself some hot dogs:

3. Two kids had this happen at the same time

4. I had a new dryer installed and nobody could be happier than I am about not having to be a laundromat dweller anymore. But the vent keeps coming loose and so I have this metal tape I have to put on, resulting in something like

5. Slightly stressing out over different things one day, decided to go to bed after dinner and watch Rainman on my Kindle. Forgot it was Stations night at church. Ate these while watching movie.

Not good for Lent or diet, or the fact that they were meant for Easter baskets. I did only eat a few handfuls, and only the pinks and purples. That's Lenten, right?

6.  Maybe it was that prayer I prayed, you know the one. Goes something like, "I
am willing to suffer for this and that prayer intention, for the good of my soul and others..."

Perhaps that was a mistake.

7. When this movie begins echoing my life---

--makes about as much sense as the real version.

See you on the other side, God willing!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

De Sales strikes again!

Happy St. Joseph's Day! I especially think of my friend Joyce today, and her special love and devotion to Glorious St. Joseph.

I want to share with you another bit of Roses Among Thorns

This is from the Chapter called, Saint Peter in Chains.

Do we love our sweet Savior? Oh, he knows full well that if we do not love him, we at least desire to love him. Now, if we love him, let us feed his sheep and his lambs, for that is the mark of faithful love. With what shall we feed these dear little sheep? With love itself, for they either do not love at all, or they live upon love. Between love and death there is no middle. We must die or love, for he who loves not, as St. John says, remains in death.
Or Lord said to St. Peter, "When you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you to carry you where you do not wish to go"(cf. John 21:18). Young apprentices in the love of God fasten their own belts. They take up the mortifications that seem good to them; they choose their penances and make up their own minds about God's will. But the old masters of the craft allow themselves to be bound by others and submit to the yoke imposed upon them, and travel down paths upon which they do not wish to travel. In spite of the resistance of their inclinations, they voluntarily allow themselves to be governed against their will and say that they would rather obey than make an offering, and this is how they glorify God, by crucifying not only their flesh, but also their spirit.

All I can say is. wow. With typical clarity and yet profundity, St. Francis de Sales strikes again. 

For me, this has been a very Lenten Lent. God knows how hard it is for me to put aside my own plans and preferences, so He has arranged that I am  mostly doing things that I am called upon to do, with a little of what I wanted to do for Lent and a small bit of  just what I want to do period, thrown in. I have also been dealing with some aches and pains, illness, emotional ups and downs and just a whole bunch of challenges from within and without. But this passage encourages me in that typically Saleseian way. 

His loudest message, to me, is always, not to fret about the limitations of my life or my humanity, but to graciously accept everything and also offer everything. Though I am worlds away from the "old masters" referred to above, I take heart that the small ways I am able to serve God through my daily life's path of running about doing small services, are taken into account.   

Lastly, friends, know that I am praying for you and offering my small struggles. Please pray for me also, especially my family and friends who are going through trials galore.

I am still being blessed with moments of joy this Lent, despite everything else! Not doing super great with some of my self imposed disciplines, but trying to hold that all loosely and let God lead.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pardon Your Heart

I wanted to do a 7 Quick Takes on Friday, but the snowstorm on Thursday pushed all my errands to Friday, plus there is a nasty cold going around my house of which I was one of the lucky recipients. I am still coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose. And my voice has dropped an octave. I made it through work this weekend, but missed mass, Today I am trying to do some chores but also get some rest, which is admittedly not very realistic. But blogging is at least a sitting down thing, so. All that as a preface, here are some things I wanted to share.

This lovely passage from Roses Among Thorns, which I will type out, to avoid that weird box that comes with pasting text.

  Be patient with all, but especially with yourself. Do not trouble yourself about your imperfections. Always have the courage to pick yourself back up and begin again every day, for there is no better path to success in the spiritual life than always to begin again and ever to think that you have done enough.

Pardon Your Heart

We must always desire to carry out our spiritual exercises well and with precision, both prayer and the exercise of the virtues, and we must never be troubled, anxious, or surprised if we fail to do so. Our desires depend upon our fidelity, which should always be total and yet should grow from day to day; our failures are caused by our infirmity, which we will never be able to leave behind during this mortal life. When we have committed some fault, we should immediately examine our heart and ask ourselves whether we retain a lively and thorough resolution to serve God.
One hopes for a heart that would rather suffer a thousand deaths than fail to keep this resolution. We reprove our heart, "Why, then, are you hesitating now? Why are you so cowardly?" And we make our excuse,:"I was taken by surprise, and I hardly know how it happened, but now I am again thinking of my resolution." The heart must be pardoned. It is not through infidelity that it failed, but through infirmity. It must be corrected gently and calmly, that it not be brought to anger or further trouble. We should say to it, "My heart, my friend, in the name of God, be courageous. Let us walk together, taking care as we go, lifting ourselves up to our help, to our God." And, we must be charitable toward our soul, not taking it to task severely, provided we see that it is not offending purposefully. Do you not see that in treating it this way, we practice a holy humility?

It really strikes me how many times he unapologetically uses absolutes and commands; always, never, must, should. We in this present day are taught to avoid speech like that, yet if you read it and glean the message, it is anything but offensive, just clear and forthright. Yet, the message is one of having patience, compassion, and clearly seeing oneself. Which is as De Sales says at the end, the very definition of humility. Seeing ourselves as we really are.

My Lent has been full of such messages, and I do take them to heart as being straight from God. Not only as a way of dealing with myself, but also with others. The tender conversation between the person and his heart is so gentle but spot on in its message. "Okay, that thing happened, (maybe AGAIN). Let's go forward and offer it to God, asking for the grace to remember next time before we do that." Or something.  If you have kids, what a good message about correcting with patience and without rancor. That correlation of God as Father and we as parents can also be applied to our souls/hearts. 

For those of us enjoying our first tastes of Spring, hurray! Right? 



Friday, February 27, 2015

A fast and sloppy 7 quick takes. with a lot of links.

                                                                                                                                                            Because I have to go to the laundromat, and my idea-maker, also loosely referred to as my brain, is not working at optimal speed.


1.  This blog is one of my favorites to read. Not only is it inspirational, instructional and beautifully laid out, the monks are based in Ireland, where I dearly would love to go someday. Today's post about fasting is outstanding. And I am referring to this one throughout Lent, as a reminder. And Ireland.

2. Our Chinese student, who I will refer to as Chili to protect his identity, and because that is what I actually call him, had a birthday this past week. we took him to an Italian restaurant (owned by a couple that happen to live on our block, and have incidentally appeared in an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares). It was definitely no nightmare, the food being the kind of Italian you enjoy at your Nonna's on a Sunday. Chili likes Italian second best to Chinese. And waffles. Oh and Bacon, eggs, cereal, hot dogs, steak...anyway. He is 18, so. But the POINT is, Lent went out the window that night. As it rightly should have for a birthday celebration. But so did Bob's diet, my sorta kinda diet, and any sense of restraint. Chocolate Mousse Cake. I am still burping a little. Scusi.

3.  You should also read this blog. Today's post is funny AND spiritual. Good combo. But if you, like me, are bookish, you will like it all the time.

4. One of the good things I am reading a lot about this Lent is that we shouldn't try to do things that interfere with our vocation. Such as, the well worn scenario of the woman that goes to mass all the time and neglects her family. Or the person who fasts so strictly that he or she feels terrible and can't do their work well. Stuff like that. Something that comes to mind when I want to say, go to a morning weekday mass but can't due to duties or chores is this: When Bob and I used to play/sing music weekly for our parish's Sunday 5PM masses, we liked to arrive as early as possible to set up and rehearse in the church before people started to come and sit in the pews. Father Kelley would sometimes be praying in the empty church, at the side of the altar. We would come bustling in, lugging Bob's keyboard and all our stuff, and when we saw him, would apologize for having disturbed his prayer. I forget his exact words, but he never made us feel bad, saying something to the effect that he never would complain about that, because people were more important. I try to remember that when I am trying to BE SPIRITUAL but, people.

5.  If you like to cook or bake, or know anyone who does, this is the very best recipe blog around,  Any time my kids ask me for "that cheesecake recipe"or "that chili, or chocolate cake recipe'" it's always from Smitten Kitchen. She is a funny writer as well, and has wonderful step by step photos.

6. On a more serious note, I would ask you once again for your prayers for my family. Everyone has their own thing right now. Also for a couple of dear friends going through deep trials. Also for a family that has recently been in a terrible car accident and are all in various stages of injury, some serious. Their last name is Kurtz, they are from the area west of Philadelphia, and they are an amazing pro life family, having adopted 20 and helped scores more. This link takes you to the St. Francis house, which they helped start. It tells the story and asks for donations.

7. And now, because the laundry awaits, a joke,

GOD   to    ST. FRANCIS :
Frank:    You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet?   What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago?   I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I  expected to see a vast garden of colours by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

   It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with   grass.

   Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colourful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

   Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

   The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.  

   Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it - sometimes twice a week.

   They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

   Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

   They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

    No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away!

   Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw 
it away?

   Yes, Sir.

   These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

 You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

 What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

   You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

   No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

   After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

    And where do they get this mulch?

   They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch .

   Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

   'Dumb and Dumber,' Lord. It's a story about...  

   Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Happy weekend everybody!