Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Sweet" fiction recommendations, your Catholic Librarian is on the case...

Greetings to all! Happy to be with you again. I'm such a nerd about this blog. I blog nearly every day, but some days it simply isn't possible, like yesterday. And I had been blogging for something like 10 straight days, so a break was fine. But it felt strange not to post yesterday, so I was all excited to get right to it today. But do check my Twitter feed for micro updates (if you care, lol) because I do post something on there every day.

Interestingly, this experiment in the 7 day blogging challenge made one thing clear that I have suspected for a long time: MANY less people read blogs over the weekend. I rarely post things on the weekend, and the two posts that I queued up have significantly less hits than usual. So, since this is a book related post, I wanted to mention that one of those weekend posts was the latest Catholic Book Club entry, on Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to Ten Catholic Traditions. New readers can catch up on all of the Catholic Book Club entries here.

I started the book that I will review next in Catholic Book Club, but I have to be honest and admit that I needed a bit of break from heavy non-fiction reading and wanted a foray into fiction. And so, what kind of fiction does the Catholic Librarian read?

When I read fiction, I want total escapism. Nothing heavy hitting, sometimes even really good thrillers are just too intense for me. I like very sweet romances, usually with an Amish or general Christian theme, and I have been known to read serial romances. (when I was searching for that last link, I found this gem from last year about my adventures in ebook downloading when I first got my Kindle. Go enjoy :))

Right now I'm reading Beth Wiseman's The House that Love Built. I really like Beth Wiseman's work, as I mentioned in the link above regarding my love of serial Christian and Amish romances. She usually writes Amish books, but this is a non-Amish title. I'm about 30% of the way through, and it involves a young widow, and her two children, meeting the new man in their small Texas town who comes to refurbish a landmark old home. He's recovering from an unpleasant divorce to a woman who was unfaithful to him. There's also a very sweet side storyline about the main heroine's mother finding love in her retirement home.

I generally read a TON of Amish romances. I download them regularly to my Kindle when I see a new book out by a favorite author, or when they come up on the Inspired Reads list as being marked down and the description grabs me.  Also on my Kindle for the summer is: A Season of Love (Kauffman Amish Bakery Series), by Amy Clipston, A Plain Death: An Appleseed Creek Mystery, by Amanda Flower, An Amish Kitchen (a compilation which is marked down to $2.50 right now for anybody who wants it), and The Quilter's Son Book 1: Liam's Choice, by Samantha Jillian Bayarr (99 cents right now!)

Also in my fiction queue is a re-read of an old favorite, which is Death by Cashmere: A Seaside Knitters Mystery, by Sally Goldenbaum. I read a library copy a few years ago, and just loved this entire Seaside Knitters series, but this first volume was my absolute favorite. I saw a cheap new print copy on Amazon Marketplace and snapped it up.

Pretty soon (usually September) we will start to see romances set at Christmas time, and those are my *favorite* of the entire year. I have a few on my Kindle that I didn't get to last year (and yes, I have my Kindle books in folders, and one of them is set apart for Christmas books, there are two in there right now waiting for me *beams*). They are A Wild Good Chase Christmas: Quilts of Love Series, by Jennifer AiLee, and Call Me Mrs. Miracle, by Debbie Macomber.

I hope that gives you some good ideas for end-of-summer fiction!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stinging insects, sweat, malfunctioning costumes, and disappearing swords - it's festival bellydancing time!

Looking for some entertainment on a Monday? Look no further, dear reader. This is an all dance post, so if that part of my blog isn't what interests you most, check back in tomorrow or Wednesday. But for those that want to stick around, settle in with a cup of tea. This one is epic.

Yesterday I danced to exhaustion surrounded by my loving troupe at a local art festival. We were scheduled for three 15 minute sets, over a three hour time period. I figured things would be a bit hectic, and that some adventures might be involved. It was that and a whole lot more. Let us begin!

(1) Not Your Average Rite Aid Shopper - With Anne recuperating from a cataclysmic temper tantrum earlier in the morning, I left the house as she was mercifully being put down for a nap. I was running a few minutes late as a result, and so made sure to leave the house ready to perform so that I wouldn't need to do anything upon arrival at Claire's mom's house (our home base for the festival, since it was right down the road from where we needed to be). A few minutes into my ride, I make a disturbing discovery: I forgot something, and it was something that I really needed. Should I go back? That didn't seem wise given the time and Anne situation.

What's a desperate bellydancer to do? She stops on the way and strolls into the local Rite Aid dressed in a voluminous purple caftan coverup with a beaded green skirt peeking out underneath. Pink strappy sandals completed the look. This attracted the curious attention of the teenage boy who rang up my purchase, but who thankfully asked no questions.

(2) Is Everyone And All Their Weapons Accounted For? - I arrived at our meetup location feeling a bit nervous and with a packed trunk. I had all of my costumes with me, plus the tray of flowers for our group balancing number, and a sword for Claire. It's inexplicable, but her sword has gone missing. We're not certain where such a large, scary looking item could be hiding, but all the same it has not been seen all week. I bring mine for her to borrow, and it's a good thing, because wings of isis would have been an absolute disaster, see below.

As Claire practices balancing my sword in the living room, we all trickle in and pow-wow in the designated changing room - Claire's mom's bedroom. (And btw, this is a woman after my own heart. Her house was laden with Catholic statuary and paraphernalia. I even espied a Baltimore Catechism on her nightstand. This will be me when I'm 90). Jan makes the breathless revelation that on her drive down, she stopped off at a fast food restaurant for a cup of coffee to go, and got stuck in the ladies restroom. Without her cell phone. Also in her caftan. A panic attack ensued until she busted the door open with a well placed hip thrust. We all marveled at her bravery as we gathered up our flower trays.

(3) A Stable Dance Surface? Pfft! - We arrive at the spot for our first set to find that, unsurprisingly, they are running behind. Also, the "stage" is just this truck that opens up, so it's both small and not exactly confidence-inspiring. It also has a leak and several wet areas. We wait nervously.

When it's our turn, we're introduced, and to the badly out-of-tune music (good sound guys are very hard to find at these events, sigh) we begin to dance. We did attract a crowd, to be sure. And it went well. We had 2 of our signature group numbers (a pop song, then a drum) and then Clarie did a little bridge dance while we got our trays. The tray balancing went great on the stage. The only downside was that the flowers seemed to interest both (a) a butterfly that would not leave me alone, and (b) a wasp who took up residence in Jan's hair. We finish, trays intact, to many accolades.

(4) "A Performer's Parking Pass? That Doesn't Actually *Mean* Anything" - Unable to locate Claire's daughter, who was acting as our chauffeur, since the parking guys wouldn't let her park in the lot, we ended up walking back to her mom's house in our costumes and coverups, which inevitably happens *every* time we perform, in all sorts of different weather patterns. Yesterday, it was the sun, and that combined with some energetic dancing had us all sweaty just in time to change for our second set. And this second set wasn't at the stage, it was...

(5) Belly Dancing In The Street - This Is Normal. Supposedly...  - We arrive at the location for the second set, and there isn't exactly any guidance as to how we're supposed to actually perform there. There is no tent or other designated performance area. We do what we always do, which is make the best of a confusing situation and set up some veils as a boundary. Thankfully, Claire's sound system runs on batteries. We turn on the music and randomly begin to dance, right in the middle of the street.

(6) An Ill Timed Gust of Wind - Everything goes great, and a good number of people stopped to crowd around us. The only hitch in our perfection is that a gust of wind came through just as we started balancing our flower trays. Now see, this is where swords are our friends. Swords are heavy. Silk flowers and plastic trays from the Hobby Lobby are NOT. Yep, the trays blew right off our heads, but we are resourceful belly dancers, and we grabbed them and kept them on. The best thing to do when you're using a prop and it's not doing what you want it to do is let the audience in on what is happening in a playful way. They enjoy your being a good sport about it. After a bit, the wind died down and the trays stayed put for the final segment. Thankfully. We were grateful, given that by this point we were all sweaty and exhausted.

(7) Thank God, The Costume Malfunction Did Not Result In Any Nudity - Ugh. When *that* is the way that the story is introduced, you can guess that although modesty was preserved, it was all still quite embarrassing.

Ok sigh. It's the third set. So I'm dancing. By myself. In front of a crowd. In the middle of the road. And I'm improvising, so I'm making things up as I go along. It's going well, actually.

Suddenly, I become tuned in to the fact that is something is going amiss with the top of my costume. It just seems...loose. The back on this particular costume has always been a bit loose on me, but I've never had my mother-in-law fix it, since it really hadn't caused me any troubles. Notice the use of the past tense in that sentence, dear reader?

I keep dancing, and do a discreet costume check. Back is unnaturally loose. I glance down, the front is where it needs to be, but it just doesn't look right. I casually do an arm movement so that I can put my hand behind my neck to check the halter. Right, it isn't there.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *HAS.HEART.ATTACK*

Panic with me here a moment, dear reader, share my pain.

In a split second, I realize that something horrific has gone wrong and embrace the fact that I need to fix it. Like, immediately. I give up on being discreet and do a full scale examination of my chest although I do keep dancing. This is where improvisation really saves your fanny. It didn't matter what I did as long as I kept moving. The top is still covering my important parts, but the halter straps have come unfastened and are on my shoulders. I grab them. Modesty is preserved. Unfortunately, I haven't been dancing for all that long and can't pretend this is suddenly the end of my number, nor can I exactly run off in tears.

We're in the middle of the street, there's nowhere to go. :0

No, lol, that's not the only reason. I was in a predicament and dealing with it emotionally would have only made me feel worse later. Costumes are like props. The best case scenario is to act like you meant for all of this to happen, and sometimes you can pull that off. Not in this case, no sir. I *clearly* did not mean for this to happen. The only thing to do is to let your audience in on what has happened and let them know you're being a good sport about it despite the fact that you are praying silently for the Second Coming to please happen right at this moment. Or perhaps for a swarm of locusts to invade.

No insects or clouds opening up in sight, I glance over my shoulder at Claire. I don't really know that anybody else fully knew what had happened yet, only a few seconds had elapsed. Thankfully, there is apparently a heretofore unknown soulmate bond between Dance Teacher and Dance Student, and the instant my dinner plate-sized eyes pleadingly met hers, she read my mind and knew precisely what was wrong. She was at my side in an instant.

Within 10 seconds she had my halter straps knotted tight. The audience of course, is watching the entire proceedings. Good gracious, why me? So what do I do now?

I run up and hop over the veil barrier and dance my little heart out. I smiled bigger than I ever have and I know that I have never danced better or more free. I mean, why not go for broke? It's not like things could get any worse than they had been. (well, actually, that's not true. It could have been  A LOT worse, and thank the good Lord that he made me self-aware in time). The audience, certainly sympathetic to my former plight, seems to really appreciate my efforts.

Every time I turn around I can see my troupe watching me carefully, sending me supportive vibes. I beam at them and dance, dance, dance. When my music ends, I curtsy low with gratitude and head back to the loving arms of my dance friends. They are all wide eyed in appreciation.

"Dude. You were AWESOME. I've never seen you dance so well!"

So, dear reader, let this be a lesson to us all. Shit happens, but when it does the only thing to do is put your best foot forward. When I was a kid, this would have devastated me and scarred me for life (I know this because I once tripped during a school play. I still don't talk about the details). But now I like to think I've grown wiser with age, along with having better hair.

Yesterday was FUN. I can't remember the last time I had that much fun dancing. Although I wish my little crisis hadn't happened, I dealt with it with as best I could, with aplomb and good cheer.

And the bond that I share with my troupe is now stronger than ever. We're all there for each other, no matter what. And the fact that even after my harrowing little experience I still performed the final group number with them? That meant something. It meant a lot. To all of us.

We're a group, and the group sticks together.

It was an adventure, to be sure. Next performance is August 17th. :0

At least this one is inside. And my costume is going to receive some serious sewing action, rest assured.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A prayer to begin and end our week

A few weeks back, our priest during his homily mentioned how dire the lack of new vocations to the priesthood is becoming in our diocese. He said that back when he was in the seminary, young men were being turned away, because there was "no room." They were being told to try studying for other dioceses, as the seminary was overflowing, and each parish already had multiple priests! Now, as our priest nears retirement age, he said that the situation is quite different. The diocese is ordaining only 1 priest this year. Parishes have closed, and of course, have only a single pastor trying to run everything on his own. When a priest needs to take a vacation or attend to a family need, it is a huge stress to find someone to cover Masses for him. And then he sweats out if calls come in for hospitalized parishoners and emergency requests for sacraments off-site.

It's quite a difficult situation. And he mentioned that discussions are now underway to develop regulations for priestless parishes, which is just a terrifying thought. Priest administrators would be undertaking multiple parishes and when he was unavailable at a given parish, lay people would be doing things.

I can't imagine this being a good thing.

So, I thought that anybody who wishes could start their week with a prayer for more priests. I have a few provided below. :)

Prayer #1

O Holy Spirit, Spirit of wisdom and divine love, impart Your knowledge, understanding, and counsel to youth that they may know the vocation wherein they can best serve God. Give them courage and strength to follow God's holy will. Guide their uncertain steps, strengthen their resolutions, shield their chastity, fashion their minds, conquer their hearts, and lead them to the vineyards where they will labor in God's holy service.

Prayer #2

WHO wills that all men be saved
And come to the knowledge of YOUR Truth:
We beg you to send
Laborers into YOUR harvest,
And grant them grace to speak YOUR Word
With all boldness; so that YOUR Word
May spread and be glorified,
And all nations may know YOU,
The only GOD, and HIM WHOM YOU have sent,

Our Lady, Queen of the Americas,
And Mary, Mother of the
Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word,
Pray for us. 

*Prayers from EWTN

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Catholic Book Club: Paths to Prayer

This week, I interrupted my previously scheduled spiritual and fiction reading when I received a book I had ordered from my summer reading list on Amazon Marketplace. Yes, I'm very distractible this way. :) It's a small book, and I've just been on this religious orders kick, and so I picked it up the evening that it arrived and read through it quickly.

The book is Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to TenCatholic Traditions, by Pat Fosarelli. As the title suggests, the author selects ten religious traditions to highlight in an effort to guide readers to a spiritual path they may like to delve into more. The author's hope is that seeing the major schools of spirituality within Catholicism described in one place will aid a seeker in selecting one that would suit him or her best. The ten traditions that are highlighted are:

(1) Augustinian, 
(2) Benedictine,
(3) Cistercian,
(4) Carmelite,
(5) Dominican,
(6) Franciscan,
(7) Ignatian,
(8) Salesian,
(9) & (10) Lay and Mystical spirituality (these last two are a bit amorphous, obviously)

The others that are included are exactly what I was looking for, with Salesian thrown in there as a tradition that I knew little about, so I could learn something entirely new. I started reading eagerly.

Each tradition is summarized briefly, with information about its founder. There is a section breaking down the "Hallmarks of (fill in the blank) Spirituality", describing the charisms that make each order unique. Each chapter is concluded with a list of well-known members of members from that order, and a short bibliography of outside sources to consult for further information.

All right, so my review. This is a small book, and it does what it promises to do. I really wanted more in-depth information about the major orders (I could have lived without the last two chapters) but that's not what this book sets out to provide. I did enjoy what I read. It did seem to me that the "Hallmarks" of each spirituality could often be applied to many others as well, and perhaps that is because the book truly just skimmed the surface. I loved the introductory summaries of each tradition. Some were very short, others were a bit longer, but both types of coverage were solid. The bibliographies were also quite helpful. I went right on Amazon to look up several of the sources in my favorite traditions and put them on my wishlist (The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality is certainly a wish, at nearly $80!).

I am glad that I purchased this book and will have it on my bookcase as a reference. It confirmed my love of Dominicans and Carmelites, and got me quite intrigued in the Cistercians (and their offshoots, the Trappists), as well as in learning more about the Franciscan Poor Clares.

This is a good starting point, which was the author's objective, and this is an very inexpensive book at under $10 for Kindle, and right around $10 for a new or used print copy. It whetted my appetite to do more research and reading into the rich monastic traditions in the Church.

Friday, July 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes {Take 5}

-1- Since I'm participating in Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 post blogging challenge, you'll see rare weekend posts from me this Saturday and Sunday. :) One will be a Catholic Book Club post (on a book from my summer list, but not the one I expected to post on next), and the other will be on...I have no idea, but I'll think of something.

-2-Today is the feast of St. Anne, yay!

My baby girl's patron. I just finished up her novena. Have I mentioned how much I love novenas? Anne is also my mom's middle name, and I've already procured a St. Anne rosary for Anne when she gets bigger. St. Anne is very popular in our house.

-3- I've been experiencing blog link-up fever this week, maybe you've noticed. We had a cry room linkup, an NFP Awareness Week linkup, and the 7 day blogging challenge linkup. I have to admit, I really like these linkups. They're a great way to meet other bloggers and find new blogs to read. They're also a great way to get new readers, and I've acquired some new ones since I started participating in these.

*waves to you happily*

I appreciate you all. I have never minded being a smaller blog without a lot of notoriety, which is good, because that will never happen. :) But it is nice to feel more interaction taking place as more people read and leave comments. Happy to have you! And I've been thinking about hosting a linkup of my own coming up, we'll see. If I do, dear reader, please participate if you have a blog. Otherwise, given that this is already a fairly small community, we'll have a linkup with 2 links and that's no fun for anybody, ha!

-4- In other news, I have finished the multiple annual reports that I am responsible for each year at work. Does anything say bureaucracy more than a painful 12 page form detailing what you have accomplished over the year and including your "suggestions" for strategic planning and other mission-statement-like initiatives?


I am SO glad to once again have this little task behind me, I can't even tell you. I think we all have only so much ability to write in that wordy and professional-sounding way that we are expected to take on in academia. Save us, God, please.

-5- Last week, with really high levels of humidity and dewpoint, our house felt like a sauna. This week, your Catholic Librarian is in heaven. Highs in the upper 70's, lows in the 60's, some summer rain, and zero humidity. This is the type of weather that I love and enjoy in the summertime. Great knitting weather. When it gets hot and humid, the whole family (well ok, *I*) get very cranky. It's nice to have us all normalized this week.

-6- Henry has been chagrined to see the "Back to School!" sales in the stores lately, and in fact on a trip to Payless to try and replace the sandals he wore out, we had a heck of a time finding any sort of sandal selection to speak of. Apparently, despite the fact that it's still very much midsummer, summer items are "out of season." I know that this is nothing new, this season rushing business, but it always makes me furrow my brow anew each year. We're going to need to look into what pieces of his school uniform he's outgrown so that we can buy him what he needs before the selection gets all picked over. And all of this before August. School doesn't start around here until after Labor Day, fyi.

-7- Our dance troupe has been invited to dance in a festival this weekend, and for whatever reason, I'm not as excited about it as usual. Maybe because it'll be outdoors and there are so many factors that are still unknown and uncontrolled. I'm a little relieved that our slots are now only on Sunday (three 15 minute sets) rather than both Saturday and Sunday, as was originally proposed. Also, Claire needed some soloists, and guess who volunteered?


I mean, it's good for me. Dancing solo is like eating my vegetables, I keep telling myself. It makes me a better dancer, and it helps me to come out of my shell generally. But I picked some random Middle Eastern pop song to improvise to (it was peppy and a good length, not too long) and I'm just not in love with it. As I practice, I find a constant refrain in my head that says:


I hope this goes well.

Head over to Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes! Oh, and if you haven't read Jenn's post on alligators vs. scorpions, please do it now. I about died laughing when I read it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's Christmas in July, knitting style

I like to be choosy and temperamental about my knitted gifts

Every year, I make a list. That sounds very orderly, doesn't it? A list. And I'm an orderly person (read: obsessive/compulsive). I make a list of the items that I want to knit and/or crochet for my those that I love at Christmas. A list will assure that I can check items off as I make them, keep track of things, and assure that nothing and nobody gets forgotten. This is all very reasonable sounding.

I usually make this list in the fall. However, I like to think that I gain wisdom with age (we'll ignore the fact that it's taken me years to figure this out; Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D don't let the title fool you, read on about the Christmas Tweed Sweater), and so this year I'm making the list in the *summer*. Smarty pants, yes I am.

But the problem is, dear reader, that I tend to, you know, OVERDO IT. I start the list and it suddenly takes on a life of it's own. I mean, how can I leave out my co-worker's new baby, and somebody asked me for mittens, and my dad needs a fishing hat, and Hank wants new socks, and wouldn't Anne look adorable in that? and the TWINS, my God, the possibilities with yarn.

So I thought I would start nice and early this year with my list of hopefuls. That way I can excise things that clearly denote that I must have been drinking when I decided to add it to my queue and have this all worked out long before the cold weather gets here and I begin to panic.

Ok, so let's see:

Mike - Mr. Rogers-style cardigan. He asked for one, and I think that's adorable. I have the yarn, and it's smashing. I'm knitting this.

Anne - Rainbow cardigan, watermelon hat, mittens, maybe a stuffed bear and/or a saint doll. All right, already I can see that I'm getting carried away. There is no way in tarnation that she will wear mittens, so scratch that. But definitely the hat. I'd love the cardigan and toys. Sigh.

Henry - Socks. He keeps claiming that he wants me to make him some crocheted food, but I'm having a difficult time picturing this actually coming to fruition. Mostly because I doubt that he will actually do anything with aforementioned crocheted food besides stick it on top of his already very crowded dresser top.

Various relatives that I see on Christmas Eve - Dishcloths using some cool patterns that I'm jonesing to try.

Twin nephews - A sweater and a hat per baby.

Mom - Socks.

Mother-in-law - new kitchen cloths and towels.

Christmas exchange gift for a knitting group member yet to be determined - cannot release secret. :)

It's also possible that I could be lured into an Advent knit-along over at the Catholic group on Ravelry, because I mean, seriously, that's like my whole reason for living.

Ok, that doesn't seem so bad. But this of course isn't taking into account the things that I'd like to make for myself this fall and winter. Should I publish that list? That could get embarrassing, because I already own the yarn for all of it, and then that would show you all how much yarn I actually own. Not a good thing.

I mean, the sheer volume of socks and sweaters in my personal queue? A belly dance coverup? Afghan kits that have been waiting patiently for my attention? Shawls? Yes, let's not go there.

Well, this has been educational. It seems doable, but then again my lists always seem doable prior to November 1st.

See other bloggers posting every day this week, over at Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NFP - Isn't that just "the Rhythm Method?!"

It's NFP Awareness Week, and in the spirit of the link-up fever I've obviously been experiencing of late, I'm linking up to collection for the week over at NFP and Me. :)

I won't belabor on definitions, because I know that anybody who isn't familiar with NFP can easily Google all of this, but the acronym stands for Natural Family Planning, and no it is NOT the Rhythm Method. It is centered on physical signs within a woman's body (temperature, cervical mucus) as to when she is fertile. There is no guess work involved, it is based on science.

What I really wanted to write about was my personal experience with NFP. So, here ya go :)

Back when I was in my 20's, long before I was married, I took the Pill. My doctor recommended it because she said it would ease my lengthy and painful menstrual cycles, and I figured what the heck. Did it? Not too much, maybe a hair. Eventually, when I started practicing my faith again, I knew that I ultimately wanted to get married, and if/when that happened, I wanted to follow the Church's teaching on not using artificial contraception (and it's not like I was using the Pill for it's intended purpose anyway). So I stopped taking it, figuring this would give my body time to readjust to life off the Pill and let me learn NFP when I wanted to.

Ugh. Let me tell you, it was *rough*. I didn't get a menstrual cycle for about 6 months, and needed to really nudge my doctor that this was in fact a problem. My skin, always relatively clear, turned into a nightmare. It was 6-12 months before my body fully normalized. It made me realize that I'm SO glad that I did that long before I really needed to. Everything was working correctly and I was freed up to learn NFP after Mike and I became engaged. It also made me realize that no matter what, I will never go back to hormonal contraception.

During our engagement, Mike and I attended a seminar on the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning. It wasn't required as part of marriage preparation in our diocese (unfortunately) but we sought it out anyway, and this is the only method with local teachers. Having a local instructor is so helpful with your confidence in learning the method.The support and encouragement is indispensable.

And so we've used NFP in our marriage both to avoid and achieve pregnancy. It does require some abstinence for a good portion of the month if a couple is trying to avoid. However, using NFP to avoid pregnancy should be reevaluated on a monthly basis, and the method builds this right in. Do we want to abstain? No? Then do we really *need* to abstain? I really love that about the method.

There are lots of Catholics couples who do not use NFP, and by this I mean that they just accept pregnancies as they come, and do not try to avoid at all. I think this is fantastic, but I will say that personally (keeping it real on this blog, like always :)) we do use NFP to avoid (when we deem it necessary, of course). We discern regularly whether or not we want to stop avoiding, but each couple needs to decide what is best for them. It cannot be for anybody else to say what are just reasons to avoid a pregnancy for each individual couple.

So, that's that. NFP has been nothing but a good experience in our marriage. I'm confident in the method, and I love that it just allows my body to do it's own thing, naturally.

We've had our fair share of raucous jokes about family planning directed at us, especially when we announced my pregnancy with Henry mere months after our marriage. We didn't toe the party line on societal expectations for a new marriage, apparently. And we also have received a good number of nosy questions about the opposite phenomena, why did we wait over five years between Henry's birth and Anne's?

I always politely evade those questions, because they're far too personal. I will simply say that NFP has totally satisfied our family planning needs in our marriage.

It isn't difficult to learn, and even women who lack regular cycles can use it. It makes you appreciate the natural stages that your body goes through, and if you do have need to avoid a pregnancy, it works. I get all nostril flarey when people make that horrible "joke" about people who use NFP being parents. Yes, they often are parents, but the reason is far different from what the wiseguy is alluding.

Food for thought Wednesday. :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cry Rooms: Lifesaver or Cross to bear?

Yesterday, I read Kendra's post on cry rooms over at Catholic All Year and it really got me to thinking. So, you know, I figured I'd subject you all to my musings. :)

Kendra was writing about how she took her small children to daily Mass, and was asked by the priest to take them to the cry room. She hates cry rooms, and doesn't feel she should have to use them if she feels more comfortable out in the main sanctuary. She asked for the opinions of others. Here is mine:

Pre-child opinion: I certainly don't think anybody should be forced into the cry room, but I see cry rooms as a wonderful option for harried mothers. So much less stress! No worries about your baby crying and disturbing other worshippers! You can be in the cry room and rest easy. I will definitely take advantage of cry rooms once I have children.

Post-child opinion: I loathe cry rooms with the fire of a thousand suns. And here is why.

After I had Henry I brought him to Mass with me every week. Mike doesn't come to Mass with us every week, so I'm often on my own for child wrangling during this time. Therefore I thought a cry room was an integral consideration in the parish that I chose once we moved to our new house. There are 2 very close to our house, and so I chose the one that had a cry room.

Every week I stuffed Henry and I into that tiny room in the back of the church. Here are the phenomena that we encountered that seem to be present in every cry room I've ever visited:

(1) People without children will sit in there too. Why, you ask? I have absolutely no idea, but the fact of the matter is that it will happen. Therefore, I feel just as stressed and insecure about my baby making noise in the cry room as I do out in the main sanctuary. Plus, the more people that are in there (cry rooms are rarely very large) the "cozier" it is, and the more difficult it is to get up and walk a fussy baby or for mobile children to not be right in somebody's face.

(2) Many parents will not even attempt to keep their toddlers under control because "it's the cry room." Well, yes, but I still think we all need to try and show our children how to behave in church so that they will know what is expected of them when they are older. If we don't do that, Mass becomes playtime. So, chaos can reign in the cry room and it's not a good example for anybody.

(3) The congregation becomes less tolerant of children out in the main sanctuary when there is a cry room present, exactly like what Kendra experienced. And that shouldn't be. Children are *part of* the parish community. If a parent wants to bring them into the sanctuary, and is doing their best to keep them from disturbing others (and children just make natural noises, this should be expected and understood), there is no reason why they can't be there. The Church is not a museum. It is a living thing, and children are an essential part of that.

(4) The cry room is separate from the rest of the congregation, and it is *isolating*. Even though there are speakers in the cry room and a window to see through, I felt disconnected from the liturgy.

I slogged away in the cry room with Henry week after week for months, misery gradually taking hold of my Sunday mornings. One day I drove to Mass and couldn't find a parking spot. What's an emotional new mother to do? She bursts into tears and drives home, that's what.

I arrive home in tears and Mike asks me, with great concern, what was wrong. And even I was surprised by my answer.

"I HATE that cry room!! I'm so miserable in there!! It's so tiny and stifling, I can barely breathe, and I hardly feel like I'm even in the church! I can't take it anymore!"

Yes, that's right. I realized that I was actually *depressed* and that my spiritual life was languishing since I started using the cry room during Mass. The very next week I started driving back to our old parish, which I had left simply because we had moved. But I loved that parish, and clearly, this new situation wasn't working for me.

*angels sing*

No cry room. It was WONDERFUL. This church had pews with a wooden divide halfway through, and when Henry got to be a toddler, that was clutch. It was like a built-in baby gate. Yes, I had to worry about him squawking or having a tantrum or any number of other loud things, but I felt again like I was a part of the community, and I could literally feel my spiritual life blossom again. Eventually, the drive got to be a bit inconvenient, and so I tried the other parish near our house, and that's where I still attend today. No cry room there either. And I LOVE it.

There is a 10 am family Mass on Sunday with lots of kids. All of us parents are in the same boat and the congregation is accordingly sympathetic and supportive. And you know, you do have to deal with things such as I did this past Sunday when I had both Henry and Anne with me.

We had:

Instances of dancing in the aisle - 2

Mounting of the pew in a standing position - countless

Peeling on and off of stickers which resulted in one becoming unwittingly stuck to the back of Mommy's skirt in a most mortifying location - 1

Occurrence of very unladylike, LOUD (I mean, all the missal shuffling in the *world* couldn't cover this up) gastrointestinal-related noises - 2

Times sippy cup was thrown to pew - 2

Instances of whining - 3

Instances of shushing - countless

You deal with it. But I wouldn't have it any other way. Children belong at Mass. WITH the community of believers.

I'm participating in Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 posts in 7 days challenge, so prepare to hear a lot from me this week!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Catholic Nook: Catechesis & Ongoing Formation

 For today's post, I'm very pleased to bring in guest author (my sister!) Shauna'h. :) This is the first part in a series addressing ongoing formation and the role of catechesis in our lives as Catholics. Catholics don't usually call instruction in Catholic doctrine, sacraments and Scripture "Sunday School." Our term for childhood instruction is CCD, or I used to call it "church school," and in fact it was on Tuesdays rather than Sundays, interestingly. (RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, will not be covered in this post). CCD refers to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, an association established by the Church in 1562 to oversee religious instruction and the sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Any cradle Catholic will have memories of their CCD classes I'm certain, whether they be good or bad. And I think that an important thing to bear in mind is that even cradle Catholics need *ongoing* instruction in their faith. It is simply not possible to know everything there is to know about the Catholic Church, good qualities and painful history, and we always need to keep learning. 

Shauna'h wanted to present a brief history of her childhood faith experiences, her doubts as a young adult, and then her reversion in adulthood back to the faith of her youth. The thread weaving this all together is catechesis. Her young faith was formed by it, and it was in teaching CCD as an adult that she came to a fuller and renewed appreciation for her faith. Her teaching was her very own ongoing formation. And so without further ado, here is the first part of Shauna'h's story:

Part I: Amazing Grace

A love for education has been a common thread weaving through my life, and that extended to my faith experiences, including catechism, in my younger years. By the time I was receiving my First Communion, my mother had come back to her Catholic roots, and my youth is infused with happy memories of saying rosaries as a family, attending weekly Mass, and knowing more than my catechist by virtue of attending a weekly prayer group with my extended family. I was a precocious child, and I loved being able to answer questions that not even my teacher could, at times.

I enjoyed attending CCD, for the most part. As I got older I saw it as more of a hassle, naturally, but overall it was a very positive experience for me. I even helped teach one year when the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at our small, Native American parish were short staffed and needed some coverage for a couple of youngsters who would be receiving the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I was kind of a catechism all-star. And so humble, too.

There came a time in my early 20s when I felt very removed from my faith. I found myself questioning the basic tenets of religion itself, not just Catholicism. I stopped attending Mass regularly, and I wrestled with whether or not I even believed in a higher power or the afterlife. In retrospect, I was experiencing what I feel was a healthy exploration of my faith as an adult, without the influence of my parents, but at the time I couldn’t shake my doubts or realize just how much I missed believing.

A few years later my husband and I moved to North Carolina, a bastion of Protestantism. There were only a couple churches within convenient driving distance to us, a stark change from the plethora of churches in western New York, where I grew up. I went to Mass once when my parents were visiting, but didn’t feel a strong calling to that particular church. It felt cold to me, as it was lacking in the gorgeous stained glass and statues I loved in the strongly traditional Catholic churches of my youth. So, I didn’t go back. The following year I felt called to attend Ash Wednesday Mass, and the only convenient evening Mass was at that same church, St. Therese. I talked my husband into attending with me, and off we trekked.

We got there late, and the place was packed. I hadn’t noticed before, but this was a dual language Mass incorporating the substantial Spanish-speaking contingent of parishioners, so it drew a large crowd. We got stuck sitting on folding chairs in the narthex, so I felt very removed from the Mass. I left feeling a small sense of enjoyment, however. It had felt right to be back at Mass again. So the following Sunday I told my husband I wanted to go to Mass. And then the Sunday after that.

I continued to go to Mass faithfully each Sunday throughout Lent. I hadn’t been to confession in probably at least a year at that point, so I abstained from receiving the Eucharist. I mulled over whether or not I wanted to make that leap into the sacraments again.

And then something wonderful happened. One week during Lent, as I sat watching the Eucharist be distributed, the church choir began to sing “Amazing Grace.” I love music and have always been an enthusiastic participant in church, so I sang along.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

By the time I got to the last line in the first verse I became choked up. A wave of emotion fell upon me, and I was horrified to note that tears had quickly welled in my eyes. I quickly brushed them away, but couldn’t shake the strong feelings associated with them. I felt the Holy Spirit move in me that day, and from that moment on I knew I wanted to grow back into my faith. I still wrestled with doubts, but I wanted to confront them head on.

That summer, firmly and happily ensconced in my faith reversion, I debated becoming more involved in my new parish. I had come to love its beautiful simplicity and more modern music. The community was very friendly, as being Catholic in the South draws people together. While reading the church bulletin, I noticed that Faith Formation was starting up soon, and they were in desperate need for catechists.


I hold a Master’s degree in secondary education, but had abandoned my pursuit of becoming a schoolteacher in favor of a different career path. My love of teaching remained, however, and I saw this as a way to combine several passions.

I was nervous, though. I had only recently come back to my faith; was I really ready to shape young minds on the topic? How much of a time commitment would this be? Was this really the right vocation for me? Shouldn’t I just look into becoming a Eucharistic Minister, or something?

I stopped by the Faith Formation office one afternoon after work and spoke with the office manager. She practically threw her arms around me in glee when I specifically cited interest in teaching the middle school grades, as those are the hardest for them to fill. I loved teaching that age, so I was thrilled. I told her I was interested but wasn’t ready to officially commit yet. She gave me the 7th grade textbook and told me to take my time, to “go home and pray about it. God will show you if it’s the right path for you.”

As soon as I began flipping through the text I was hooked. At my parish, students receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in 8th grade, so 7th grade is an important preparatory year for them to begin exploring more adult topics and questions of faith. I signed up to begin teaching the following month.

In Part II, I’ll talk about how becoming a catechist brought me closer to my faith than I thought possible, while drawing me into the parish community.

*Photo courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena at

Friday, July 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday {Take 4}

-1- It's been hot here. HOT. For those of you who know me, you know that I despise heat. I feel totally justified in complaining about this since I do NOT complain about the winter. I hear lots of people say "don't complain about the heat, because in 6 months we all risk becoming frozen to the landscape and not being found until spring, and then you'll complain about THAT, so shut up already!" Well, bring on the snow and ice baby, I don't mind that at all. What I do mind is feeling gross all the time and sweating *even in the shower*. I mean, *shudder of revulsion*.

It also doesn't help that we have a 2 year old that likes to throw herself on the floor and have temper tantrums, making her EVEN MORE sweaty and miserable on a daily basis. Anybody whose child watches The Fairly Oddparents knows fairy baby Poof on there (ADORABLE) and his anti-fairy nemesis, Foop. Therefore, we call this sweaty, out of control version of Anne, "Enna."

-2- The heat also makes it tough to dance, but we have tons of performances coming up, so I'm going to have to come up with a plan for this. Usually it involves shutting my door at lunchtime and dancing in my office. We have a big festival next weekend, which involves both group numbers and solos. I picked a Middle Eastern pop song and am going to improvise for a solo, but I haven't yet actually danced to the song, which is a little scary with the performance only a week away. Improvisation leads to all sorts of frightening last minute choices and dancing by the seat of your pants. Back in my day of carefully choreographed movements, from arm position to time for breathing, I never would have thought this possible. We've even improvising during our *group* balancing number, this should be entertaining. Claire didn't want to subject us to using our brand new Wings of Isis in outdoor conditions (can you imagine this on a windy day?!) so we're keeping our trays on our heads and traveling together for 8 counts, followed by 8 counts of individual improvisation. It actually works pretty well. The studio will be roasting tonight though, sigh.

-3- In other hobby news, I talk often on this blog about my spiritual reading, but I rarely talk about fiction anymore, and I do love to read fiction. I have quite a love affair with Amish fiction. Very sweet romances with strong character development, and I just love the cozy settings. The book I'm currently reading on my Kindle is Falling to Pieces: A Quilt Shop Murder (A Shipshewana Amish Mystery), by Vanetta Chapman. It's very cute. It's the first in a series of 3 books set in Shipshewana, Indiana, focusing on the local Amish community and a non-Amish woman from Texas who comes to take care of her deceased aunt's affairs, including her Main Street quilt shop.

-4- I've also been knitting.

Now that I've finished my official summer top for 2013, I'm on to Christmas crafting in July. Yes, I did place a yarn order, but only for planned gifts that I didn't have the appropriate fiber and quantity for. I feel very virtuous about this. I'm going to be starting on Mike's gift as soon as the yarn arrives, and in celebration of our 10th Christmas together, he's going to be gifted with something in cashmere (and the color I chose for him was on sale, score!). I also have a boatload of dish cloths to crochet, baby sweaters to knit, and several pairs of socks to cast on for. My needles and hooks will be flying.

-5- Speaking of Christmas, the online Fontanini store is having their annual Christmas in July sale, and I couldn't resist picking up some pieces for Hank that I will give him for his birthday in November (I ordered Wednesday, and they're already out for delivery today! They're so fast!!). He received a beautiful Fontanini nativity set last year, along with accompanying Wise Men, shepherds, animals, and angels (the grandmothers got in on the action as well). This year, he asked for a corral for the animals, since there isn't a lot of room for them over by the Holy Family. They need their own digs, now they have them. I also started on the Bethlehem village by purchasing the wine maker's shop, the vineyard worker, and a wine press. We got a free tiny campfire with our order. :) SO excited to give him everything. He would bring out his nativity right now if he could, it's all we can do to hold him off until November, let alone Advent.

-6- I have been loving my new eternity veil from the Liturgical Time shop.

I'm thinking that Advent might be a great time to add to my collection. :) The question then becomes: purple or silver?

-7- The other day I was on an evening reference shift, which was deader than a doornail. To amuse myself, I perused the web sites of monastic communities. I realize that this isn't what most people do in their spare time, but what can I say? I made some interesting discoveries. First, if I had become a nun, I would have most certainly inquired at the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. They are contemplatives, but they also teach in local Catholic schools, and they are Dominican, so they are right up my alley. Plus, they have those gorgeous white and black Dominican habits. :) Get this: this is a contemplative community, very structured and traditional. Yet, since their founding in 1997, they have grown from 4 sisters to *120.* The average age of their sisters is *28* and the average age of new entrants is 21. I mean, did you ever? Who says religious life is dying?

Relatedly, based on this, and other contemplative communities' web sites, it appears that I am officially too old to apply. :) 35 was the oldest upper limit they recommended for entrance. The death of a dream!

Ok, that's it for today. For Monday, expect a Catholic Nook post from Shauna'h, which I have in my hot little hands, and it's *wonderful*! Very personal and engaging. Talk to you all then!

Head over to Conversion Diary for more 7 Quick Takes!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

There is something wrong with this juice...

Conversation heard at my home yesterday morning:

*pitter patter of little feet*

*Anne hands me her princess sippy cup*

"Anne don't like this."

"Oh Sweetie, why not?"

I'm bluffing. I totally know why not. It's because I mixed stool softener into her juice. She just has regular stomach, you know, *issues*, and I want to pave the way for a comfortable bathroom experience.

"Orange juice!"

"This *is* orange juice, Sweetheart."

"Mommy. CHECK IT."

She totally wasn't buying it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Catholic Book Club: The Ear of the Heart

When I originally requested The Ear of the Heart: An Actresses' Journey From Hollywood to Holy Vows, by Mother Dolores Hart, from the library, it was because, you know, it featured a NUN. A memoir about a NUN. How could I not read that?

When Mike picked it up for me I got a real eyeful. At nearly 430 pages, this is not for lazy readers, no sir. This is a serious autobiography, and it chronicles Mother Hart's life from childhood to the present day. It includes a plethora of beautiful photographs  and extensive notes. I knew that if I was going to make the 21 day loan period (with lots of interruptions to change diapers and scrape trantruming toddlers off the floor) I had to dive right in. So I did.

Ok, I'll start with what I *didn't* like and then move to the positives. What I did not like is the way that the book is structured. It is co-written by Mother Hart and her friend Richard DeNeut. The majority of it is in Mother Hart's voice, which is indicated in italics. Richard's contribution is in regular typeface, and all of this is interjected with some direct quotations from Mother's journals which are indented and indicated with a dash throughout her writing. Needless to say, I found this all quite choppy. I like a single, clear voice throughout a book. If a pair writes a book, I think it is better to have each write separate chapters. I do not like a constant going back and forth between voices. I'm still going on about this, so you can tell that it really bugged me. :) It's not my preference, but I stuck with it, and I'm glad that I did.

So, what did I like? I very much enjoyed the story in this book. Mother Hart has led a very interesting life and it's engaging reading. I was most interested in her life as a nun, but all the same, the early part of the book about her family life (somewhat dysfunctional) and her film career (she kissed Elvis!) was fascinating. She was not raised a Catholic, and made the decision in late elementary school to convert, since she went to a Catholic school and wanted to receive the Eucharist along with her classmates. Throughout, I could see God's hand leading her, protecting her, calling her, to her contemplative vocation. It's quite beautiful.

She depicts her exit from Hollywood and entrance into a cloistered Benedictine community with great detail. I was *dying* for information on life in the cloister, and she does not disappoint. We follow her throughout her postulancy and novitiate, and then on to temporary and final profession. When she talked about how unprepared she was for monastic life, and cried every night for 3 years after she entered, my heart broke for her. Her expression of emotion is very easy to relate to.

She does not talk a lot about her decision to take final vows, it just seems that her perseverance led to a blossoming in religious life and it was natural to continue. I would have liked it if she would have fleshed that out more, but I could see the point she was trying to get across.

In the later years of her life, she discusses some changes in her community (they kept to their traditions following Vatican II, including a rite of Consecration of a Virgin that is very important to them, as well as a legal kerfluffle over an expansion into a sister monastery) and in her health as she begins to experience chronic pain in her legs and is ultimately diagnosed with neuropathy.

It's all quite fascinating. This isn't a quick read, but if you are at all interested in the religious life, I highly recommend it.

And so, announcing the next book for Catholic Book Club, which I'm reading right now: Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life, by Paul Wilkes. Yes, say it with me, it's PERFECT.

*angels sing*

I'll report in on it in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, we still do have a Catholic Nook post coming from my sister, Shauna'h. That will be either tomorrow or early next week, depending on how life goes (she does have twin infants :)). Our topic? Catechesis and ongoing formation, interspersed with a reversion story, so exciting!