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Archive for May, 2011

Sure, the author is an old and dear friend of mine and a super person, but those aren’t  the only reasons you should buy this book.  Featuring biographies of several young people who achieved holiness during their teens, it’s beautifully written and put together, and full of nifty ideas to encourage devotion.

Head over to CatholicMom to read Lisa Hendey’s interview with Colleen Swaim. And then head over here to get her book.

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Today Philomena told me she was lonely.

We have a few very good friends down here who we don’t see as often as we should. She misses her buddies up in Maryland, and she’s going through a shy phase, exacerbated by a few nasty run-ins with some alpha toddlers.  We need to do more to make sure she gets at least a play date per week. But this loneliness wasn’t really because of friends. This loneliness was because she knows she doesn’t have siblings.

At the park today, amidst all the social anxiety (a post for another day), she kept seeing pregnant women. I swear, there were at least ten pregnant mamas today, all of whom had at least one other child. Most had two ex-utero. The kids were all laughing and playing a fighting with their brothers and sisters and friends, and there was my little girl, all by herself. A few nice little boys toddled up to make friends, and she very bravely introduced herself, promptly returning to my lap afterwards. She began to talk about her imaginary sister and brother. Seeing the pregnant bellies, she then announced that she had a baby in her tummy, too. And so did Mama.

At this point I thought distraction was a good idea, for me as well as Philomena. The all too familiar ache was settling in my chest again, and I needed to focus on my girl. Off we went to the splash fountain. Off came the shoes, and for half an hour Philomena got soaked.  She had a grand time and got to go home with no shoes on. But something was still not right. She had a bit of a temper flareup over lunch that resulted in some time spent on her own. I made my way to her room, really worried about this social anxiety and the hardship of being an only child.

There she was, curled up in the rocking chair, her toy radio in hand, sniffling. After addressing the naughty issue, I pulled her onto my lap and asked what was wrong. Was she having a hard time?

“Yes,” (sniffle)

Was she sad?

“Yes.”

Why was she sad?

“Because I’m lonely, Mommy.”

Oh my God. How my heart broke. I swallowed back some tears and asked if it was because she didn’t have brothers or sisters. There was a little nod of the head.

“I want a sister, Mommy.”

I quickly said a prayer. How in the world was I supposed to answer this? Then I caught a glimpse of the Holy Family statue on her dresser.

“I know you do, sweetie. I wish I could give you one right now. But I have something to tell you that might help.”

She looked up sadly but expectantly.

“You know, Jesus didn’t have any brothers or sisters, either.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And he got lonely sometimes, too. It’s hard not to have a brother or sister to play with.”

“Yeah.”

“So I have an idea. What if you prayed to little Jesus and asked Him to be your baby brother for a while?”

So I led her in a little prayer, asking Jesus to be her baby brother. It seemed to help. She cheered up. There were fewer requests for babies for the rest of the day. As for me, the ache is still there.

Honestly, this is so, so hard to do. You’d think that with the material hardships my family is undergoing I’d get a break from the lack of fertility hardship.  Or maybe it’s actually a good thing that I’m not able. With no insurance and no job, that would be nightmarish, right? And of course, there’s the ever present threat of miscarriage.  I try not to be whiny. I don’t want to be one of the gals who can’t be around expectant mothers. Individual expectant friends are the exception at this point, because I do truly rejoice with them. But pregnant ladies en masse? Color me not there.

Jesus, have mercy.

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Our sixth wedding anniversary was this past Saturday. I really can’t believe it’s been that long. Six years of bliss and other stuff. I’m happy to report that we are happier now than we’ve ever been in spite of our  best efforts at being right rather than happy, genuine material hardship and the ever-present lack of sleep.  Be sure to toddle over to Conversion Diary for more quick takes.

~1~

We got engaged in South Carolina underneath an enormous live oak tree. We got our  picture taken under that tree the day after the proposal.  A few weeks ago, a friend of ours took another picture of the us under the same tree. There’s another person in this on now.

~2~

On May 21, 2005, in a solemn high mass that started late and ended with the schola singing Ubi Caritas because our organist had another wedding to play at another church, I married Will. It was a beautiful mass, celebrated by Msgr. Charles Pope, who gave the best wedding homily I’ve ever heard. His theme was “Trust God.”  Trust that He knew we were going to be married before human beings were created. That He knew every single one of our struggles and heartaches, and every one of our joys. I still remember it, and go back to it frequently when I need a vocational boost. So, cheers to Msgr. Pope, the most Baptist Catholic preacher I’ve ever known.

~3~

We had no dancing at our reception because our location was, shall we say, last minute. Our original venue was outdoors with plenty of room for dancing, but they withdrew their acceptance. Two months before the wedding. During Wedding Season. In DC. No, I’m not bitter. Instead, we had a dinner reception at  a lovely French restaurant in the country. Excellent food, excellent drinks (at least, that’s what I hear-I didn’t really get to imbibe as much as I should have) and beautiful decor. It was great, but I would have liked to have bust out some sweet moves.

~4~

We’ve had our share of nasty arguments and imbecilic behavior. We’ve also asked for help when we needed it and came away humbler for the help. God is good, and peeling our layers of selfishness back fast enough for it to be deeply uncomfortable, but always with an anasthaetic of consolation.

~5~

I married a man who is absolutely determined to make sure I get to be fully myself. When I second guess myself, he’s the one to tell me to trust my instincts. Last year, I went on retreat for the first time in years to the Sisters of Life. This meant i had to grab a chna town bus for New York at nasty o’clock in themorning and spend the afternoon in New York on my own until I could get myself to Connecticut. It was a life-changing retreat during Valentine’s Day weekend. The Sisters kept saying I married a St. Joseph, because they knew so many women whose husbands would not have let their wives go away for a weekend, let alone THAT weekend. My guy is not yet st. Joseph, but he’s working on it! If I need time away from family life to recharge, he’s the one to make sure I don’t  feel guilty. He encourages me to do what I need to do to be happy in our life together. That, my friends, is pure gold.

~6~

When you’re engaged to a guy and you suggest sweetly that he sits down and watches the six hour Pride and Prejudice, and he squirms only a little, and later on says he liked it and you realize he was sincere but not sappy, you know you’re on to something good. When you’re engaged to a guy and he sweetly suggests that you have a bad movie marathon and he introduces you to the horror that is Battlefield Earth and you actually enjoy yourself while watching Scientology and codpieces on parade, you know you could end up having a lot of fun over the course of a lifetime.

~7~

Each anniversary is different. Our first we bit off more than we could chew-without going into detail, it was not the fun we hoped it would be. The best anniversaries seem to be the ones that involve Mexican food and margaritas. This year was the best so far. Tex-mex, margaritas, compline with the most beautiful Anglican choir and a little sermon that brought us both to tears, topped off with beer at the “most haunted pub” in town. And the Red Sox were playing.  Clearly, God was smiling.

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 I love our park. It’s beautiful,  complete with majestic oak trees, plashing fountains, two playgrounds, and a cafe for those days when you can’t push the swing without a cappuccino. In terms of patronage, it’s kind of like the Church: here comes everybody!  And I do mean everybody! Art students, homeless people, aristocrats, mommies, daddies, nannies, workmen, preachers, itinerant ukulele players, you name it. There are usually a few unsavory types floating about, but they’re usually busy talking amongst themselves. They never stay around the playground. This is another thing I like about the South: people seem to understand that there are some things to which children ought not be exposed. Anyway, I like our city park, my kid is used to it, and I have never once felt uneasy sitting on a bench while Philomena played.

And then there was today.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. We were sitting in the shade, picking up little pieces of mulch, making up a story about them. She toddled about, playing her imaginary games, getting up the courage to head over to where the other children were when I literally felt a sort of wavy, yucky, nausea-but-not-quite feeling come over me.  This happens rarely, and only when something deeply wrong is happening. I turned around and saw a youngish man with overdone curly hair and TIGHT (to the point of bulgy) fitting pants hovering around the playground. He had a vaguely salacious look on his too -puffy  face. It was not a pleasant face. He wasn’t a looker, for certain, but it wasn’t mere ugliness that disturbed me. There was an odd combination of mockery and enjoyment around his eyes and mouth that literally turned my stomach. He kept turning around and glancing over his shoulder, looking specifically at children.  My hackles went up.

I murmured a quick St. Michael prayer and the stranger walked off with the over-careful shuffle of the not-quite-right.

Philomena, of course, was in no danger. The playground was teeming with mommies and daddies, and maybe it had just been my imagination. I half-convinced myself that I was seeing boogey men – I’ve been under considerable stress lately, and that can make me a little paranoid. Then something happened that made me realize that perhaps my antennae had picked up on something real. Two policemen, one of them driving a cruiser very slowly down the center path of the park came up and stood near me. They were having a radio conversation and were looking for someone.The radio crackled and the disembodied voice gave an exact description of the man I had just seen. The police looked concerned. They purposefully made their way down the path to where the man had gone.

Sometimes the Mama Bear instinct isn’t just paranoia. Sometimes it’s your angel, or the Holy Spirit, tugging at your mind and your instincts just enough to make you wary.

Women, I think,  are particularly sensitive to this tugging, particularly after they become mothers. I remember being stunned by how visceral and intense the instinct to protect my daughter was when I knew she was on the way.  It’s not entirely animal, either. The passions have an unfortunate tendency among us Christians to be seen as  very unsafe.  Of course, they are dangerous. That’s why they must be channeled appropriately. The Mama bear instinct is this channeling of a passion,  finely hewn to the point that we don’t often know when instinct begins and reason ends. It’s a passion imbued with the reason inherent to our nature. It is, in a sense, ensouled, because it’s part of our bodies. Wouldn’t it then be reasonable to think that the Lord would work through the biological Mama Bear instinct to make us sensitive to the presence of evil?  If our motherhood is tied up in our very souls and  nature as women, it makes sense that the Lord would work through the biological to bring spiritual realities to birth. This is how he works with us: the natural revealing the supernatural.  Maybe that’s the point to us humans having all these “base” animal passions.  In the case of Mama Bears,  the passion to protect our young is ennobled. It becomes not merely instinct but discernment.

(All this to say that I’m working on a few little pieces on the discernment of spirits. That trying little charism is playing a big role in my life right now. Pray for me, and all who are in the throes of discerning God’s will!)

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I’ve had a lot of exposure to southern culture in the last little while. While some aspects are just simply not okay with me, like redneck jokes, nascar and the proliferation of flatironed blondes, there are quite a few things I really like. Here is a sampling. Be sure to head over to Jen Fulwiler’s for more Quick Takes.

~1~

The mountains in Tennessee. I don’t mean Gatlinburg and the touristy stuff. I mean the green, clear, waterfall festooned ones you can see while driving along a road full of hair-pin turns and wild turkeys. We all know the scary stereotypes about Appalachia, and, frankly, I’ve seen many of those stereotypes turn out to be true, but not ever in Tennessee. We’re definitely going back to make a stay at some point.

~2~

Mountain top family cemetaries. My husband and I are those people. We both like old cemeteries and reading headstones. For him, it’s the history. For me, it’s the gothic sense of adventure, and the fact that I’m mildly superstitious. For both of us, we like praying for the souls. On our road trip we saw a little, steep road going to the top of a mountain with a sign that said “Phillips Family Cemetery”.  So we went and looked. It was at least two hundred years old, meticulous, and full of wildflowers. It was also still in use. These were people who settled in the middle of nowhere in 1800 and stayed. It was isolated, beautiful, and very peaceful. We said some prayers for the dead and then realized we may very well have been the only people ever to do so.

~3~

Bluegrass music. Try as I might, I really can’t get into country music in general. Johnny Cash, sure. Josh Turner has a voice made of pure velvet. But otherwise, I really don’t like it. Bluegrass music, though, is plain old brilliant. It’s complex, dramatic and utterly human. Good stuff.

~4~

The unspoken pressure  to keep your nails looking decent. Being a slightly crunchy, birkenstock wearing type, my nails tend to suffer.  Or at least, they  used to. Then I moved to Georgia and realized I couldn’t be seen with bad nails. It’s a a requirement  for ladyhood down here. You can wear your gardening clogs, or your t shirt and jeans, or your sweats, but by golly,  your nails must look good.  I appreciate the pressure because of my tendency toward self-neglect. It keeps me on my toes, so to speak.

~5~

Grits. Specifically, cheese grits. Even more specifically, shrimp and cheese grits.  I never thought I’d love shrimp and grits, but it is one of the glories of gastronomy. You can make it very fancy, but honestly, basic cheddar, brown shrimp gravy and alive-that-morning shrimp are all you need.

~6~

Going into any gas station in the southeast and being greeted with a smile. For those of us who grew up in the blessed north, we are not perhaps used to  genuinely friendly customer service. We’re more used to being ignored or snapped at. Or, in certain placed in Connecticut, cursed for daring to interrupt a very important private, personal conversation that just CANNOT be interrupted for a mere customer.  We must face facts: the South is better at basic courtesy.

~7~

The presence of pastels on men. There. I said it. Yes, it’s WASPY, yes, it’s preppy, but pastels are  neat and clean looking  and my husband looks good in them. Now, the presence of embroidered marlins or palmettos on pants, I am not so crazy about. Also the omnipresent sportsman’s sunglasses. They just look stupid.

And those are some of the Southern things this Yankee likes.

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It’s All a Blur

Apologies, gentle readers, for my long absence. Perhaps you’d like to know what has been keeping me from coming up with insightful, witty, urbane essays? I have three words for you:

The Kentucky Derby

You see, my in-laws own a horse who ran beautifully and came in fourth. The preparation time for two minutes of actual racing was completely insane. There were clothes to buy, hats to try and shoes to find. There was babysitting to hunt down. There were all the attendant difficulties of visiting in-laws. There was the car to rent. There was a husband to dress up in the finest WASP clothes. Manicures, pedicures, makeup, hair, you name it. It was a week and a half long marathon of superficiality. But, boy, did we look GOOD! The horse did, too.

For my  husband, a Kentucky boy, this was a dream come true. He got to walk the horse out over the track.  I think he may have teared up a little. There isn’t a ton to tell, really, except that the rented bus taking us from the farm to Churchill Downs broke down in the intersection, and we were forced to break into the wine and cheese for sustenance as we waited for our other transportation. We also got off at the wrong gate.  For a little while we were among the hoy polloy of infield attendees, struggling to get to the clubhouse level. Truly, the life of an aristocrat is fraught with hardship.

I spent  Mother’s Day recovering while my husband ran around after Philomena. My birthday was the day after that, and we spent it on the road. It actually wasn’t bad at all. Will took me off the beaten path into the mountains of Tenessee, which was jawdroppingly beautiful. there were copious amounts of ice cream, too, which was a nice little touch. Best of all, we arrived home safe and sound with a full two weeks before the next race.

And that, dear readers, is where I’ve been. Back to regularly scheduled blogging.

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