Category Archives: Our Domestic Church

Be Ready

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. I spent much of my young adulthood trying to “15-minutes-a-day” myself to perfection, and what it has given me 10 years later is a real aversion to anything that sounds like self-improvement.

Attn. World: You’ll have to take me as I am.

But certain times lend themselves to reflection and course correction, endings and beginnings chief among them. Beginnings and endings both require that quality I’ve come to value above improvement: intention.

I have decided that this is my Year of Yes. That is my prime intention. My goal, in times of distress, indecision, anger, or fear, is to find a way to say yes. Yes to whatever is happening at the moment, and yes to myself.

Friends may recall that Yes has been kicking around in my head for a while.

I would like to spend more time around people who say yes. (I would also like it if my children became people who say yes, but that is another issue entirely.)

Saying yes is hard to figure out sometimes. One book I have liked on the subject is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. She has some concrete examples of making the choice to say yes when no seems to be the only option.

In our house this week we are cuddling under a down blanket, watching snow fall and tending to “barky” coughs while reading The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, a story full of Yes. Here is the lovely passage where we stopped today:

As he was about to leave the shop, Sai Fong said, “You want Chinese fortune cookie?”
“I guess so,” said Mario. “I never had one.”
Sai Fong took down a can from the shelf. It was full of fortune cookies—thin wafers that had been folded so there was an air space in each one. Mario bit into a cookie and found a piece of paper inside. He read what it said out loud: Good Luck Is Coming Your Way. Be Ready.
“Ha he!” laughed Sai Fong—two high notes of joy. “Very good advice. You go now. Always be ready for happiness. Goodbye.”


Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother, Our Domestic Church

Weekend Snapshots, and A Poem for Sunday

We’re having a hot and lovely weekend, mostly — there is some eggshell-treading, after a volatile week. While Victoria spent the afternoon with an old friend, Violet, Eggmaster, and I went for a bike ride. We aren’t far from an on-ramp to the bicycles-only Midtown Greenway, which rolls along next to the railroad tracks, and between two of the lakes, and then onto a little shopping area, where we could stop at Whole Foods and pick up some goodies to bring to old friends’ house for dinner. Violet was ecstatic at the idea of cycling not just to tool around, but to run errands, putting our shopping bag in a milkcrate attached to my bike with bungee cords. My legs are feeling it today, but maybe by the next snowfall I’ll be stronger.

Many pangs of not quite sadness, but nostalgia and something more, as we pulled up in front of our old house to have dinner with our old neighbors. As we parked I felt I could just walk in the front door and be home. When our friends didn’t have enough of something, for a second I thought, “I’ll just run across the street and grab it.” I have not quite fully moved into the new house yet, almost 8 months later—my stuff is there, but not all of me. I like it, but it’s still my vacation home.

Today we went to the big city farmers’ market, instead of the tiny neighborhood one we went to last week. It was hot, and the kids were tired, but we managed some little pleasures. The girls had maple candy “just like Laura Ingalls” (those 4 words are enough to recommend anything to Victoria), and then we saw lovely leeks at reasonable (not supermarket) cost. I nearly passed them by, until Violet promised to make us leek pancakes, as she learned at a short Concordia Chinese overnight a few weeks ago. Tonight, however, Victoria and I have a special menu from her new gardening cook books. We’ve made mint syrup and started the “Strawberry Dream Cream” already — new potatoes, peas, and spinach-egg casserole to follow later tonight.

I allowed myself a treat too, a wonderful variegated leafy plant. I have no idea what it is, and Eggmaster had to ask the seller how much sun it needs. I’ve also made arrangements that he’ll water it. I am a black thumb — I cannot touch this plant, but I can still enjoy it.

I am reading lots and lots — Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart, Kathleen Norris’s Acedia and Me. I just love her — who knows what she is like in real life, but when I read her I think, “Ah, we’re just alike. She understands me perfectly. We’re walking a common path, and she is just enough ahead of me to shed a little light.”

She’s also a great finder of quotations. Here’s a nice one for the seekers among us:

Most people come to the Church by means the Church does not allow, else there would be no need their getting to her at all . . . The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner, which creates much misunderstanding among the smug. — Flannery O’Connor

This is a poem from Lynn Park quoted in A Path with Heart. I can find no links to it, or the poet, anywhere, so here is the whole lovely thing:

Take the time to pray—
it is the sweet oil that eases the hinge into the garden
so the doorway can swing open easily.
You can always go there.

Consider yourself blessed.
These stones that break your bones
will build the altar of your love.

Your home is the garden.
Carry its odor, hidden in you, into the city.
Suddenly your enemies will buy seed packets
and fall to their knees to plant flowers
in the dirt by the road.
They’ll call you Friend
and honor your passing among them.
When asked, “Who was that?” they will say,
“Oh, that one has been beloved by us
since before time began.”
This from people who would have trampled over you
to maintain their advantage.

Give everything away except your garden,
Your worry, your fear, your small-mindedness.
Your garden can never be taken from you.

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Filed under Cooking and Eating, Family Fun, I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church, Remedial Domesticity

Slowly Rounding the Corner

. . . or not.

I don’t know. I know that I feel like I’m trying to wake up after sleeping in too long, and too late. Except that there is never a too late.


There is a Kris Delmhorst version of this Rumi poem that I love. It is so like me — too silly, too serious, too many instruments playing at once, a little rough around the edges. I love it when a song seems to mirror you, not just in words but more importantly in sounds.

These words aren’t all in the poem, but I’m trying to remember them in the mornings, especially the third line:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

So I ignore the call of my office and go do something else. Anything else. As yet, I don’t know what I want to do, but I’ve made space for it all the same.

We are also all working on presence. For whatever reason, the girls seem to have a huge need to have me right there, as often as possible, or they lose their way. It’s as if we’re all a little unmoored and adrift, and somehow — well, obviously — it falls to me to bring us back. And you may say, well of course you are, you’re the mother. To which I can only say, having a responsibility hardly qualifies me to fulfill it.

But I do. It’s my new project.

We do yoga together, Victoria and I knit together, and I sit next to Violet at times when my presence seems totally unnecessary but is apparently essential.

I’ve also picked up a new book, Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, whom — rightly or wrongly — I often identify with strongly. No need to read a lot into my choice of books — I’ve had this one on the list for years and finally noticed it at the bookstore. It’s the kind of book I used to read all the time and then, suddenly, stopped.

Now I’m starting again.

Lots of starting planned around here.

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Filed under Gifted Heart and Soul, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Goodbye to Hard Work

I’m suffering a bit of too-many-thoughts paralysis lately — I want to write about everything, and so write about nothing!

But I’m a little excited about this one.

A Facebook friend linked to an article that many friends in the gifted community were annoyed with.

The title of the article pits giftedness against hard work, as if you only get one or the other. Those of us who have already endured 12 years of school hearing that nothing we do counts because “it’s so easy for you” find that tired argument difficult to sit through again.

An old grad school friend — now also a coworker with my husband — made me laugh when he commented on the article by observing that he has spent most of his life avoiding hard work, and it’s going pretty well so far.

(Of course this is not exactly true — this friend has succeeded at several different things since grad school.)

I realized, I may be in danger of passing on to my kids this obsession with “hard work” and being a “hard worker.” I follow the New Parenting Rules and praise them for effort and process rather than quality of product. My daughter wants me to read her NaNoWriMo novel and I say, “Wow, I am so proud of how much time you have put into this.” Is that what you’d want someone to say when they read your first draft of a novel?!

So phooey on that. I’m not going to teach my children to value their efforts by drops of sweat or sleepless nights.

I’m making some substitutions in my vocabulary, at least for myself:

“Hard Work” is now “Passion” or maybe even “Joy”

“Effort” is now “Faithfulness”

“Persistence” is now “Love”

This is where, I think, we’ve been going on our homeschool journey, though we didn’t know it when we embarked. The blessing of falling into homeschool for us is not that the girls “work to their potential” or get “challenged,” though sometimes those things happen. The blessing is that we are all learning and actively looking to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what we are doing.

This allows us to sidestep worries about the dire fates that apparently await many “prodigies,” and the “harsh truths” about the perils of giftedness. Much of the mainstream chatter about gifted kids — apart from the utterly contradictory advice — seems to focus on whether kids are working too hard (“pushy parents,” “unrealistic expectations”) or not hard enough (“underachievers,” “everything comes easy,” “don’t earn their successes”).

We’re exiting that conversation now.

How hard are my kids working? How hard am I working? Who cares?

Are we living and working with joy and passion? Do we love what we’re doing enough to carry on through the inevitable doldrums and frustrations?

I hope so. Whether it’s a massive Thanksgiving meal or a child-size NaNoWriMo goal, I hope that we are giving our whole selves out of joy — the joy of serving, performing, creating, feeling. If we are not — if we are only jumping through hoops, acting out of a sense of obligation, checking off the to-do list, or trying to impress — I hope we will learn to recognize that and correct it as best we can.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is)

Many Thanks

Just a short note of thanks to the people who have commiserated and encouraged with regard to the move. It really helps!

I am on such a roller coaster — I am sure I am wearing my family out! At times I am despondent about the chaos, about the deadlines slipping away, about how dreadfully disorganized and messy we are even when we aren’t moving, about what a bad friend I am being as I am so caught up in my own busyness. And then at other times I am galloping on about how great everyone is, and how great the world is, and how blessed we are and how friends keep turning up just when I need them most.

This can all happen in the space of an hour, several times a day.

It’s a crash course in gratefulness and trust. I am missing church nearly every Sunday as time runs out for meeting some essential deadline and I have to choose between my health/sanity and yet another outing, but this is like Eucharist to the homebound. The bread and wine friends shared with us tonight was yet another unexpected touch of the Real Presence.

I will need to have lots and lots of payback dinners once our dining room and kitchen are mostly box-free.


Filed under I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church

Another Random Assortment

Think of it as a box of bittersweet chocolates . . .

1. Victoria has been spontaneously sharing things she’s learned with us. This is not something Violet does much, or has ever done much. So I am overjoyed when suddenly, from the back seat, Victoria says, “Guess what we learned in science?” (co-op) She proceeded to tell me a little about Stephen Hawking, then ask if I would get her a book about him. I had already mentioned to the co-op science teacher that I had struggled finding a book about him that would be suitable for younger readers, but I’ll try again.

2. Violet has decided to write a letter to Barack Obama about gay marriage, feeling confident that if she explained the problem, he would fix it. I did not have the heart to tell her that Barack Obama is on record as opposing gay marriage. I watched him say the words myself. Like many younger people, her exposure to gay people is the lovely parents of other children we know. No Village People or Will & Grace stereotypes, no HIV paranoia, no clue about the Castro, or West Hollywood, or Provincetown. Just two moms with kids, a family much like ours. The idea that they are less a family than we are makes no sense to her.

Of course there is the official position of our church hierarchy, which I do not discount or take lightly. Yet how do I explain to my daughter we need to follow the moral dictums of people who held slaves and considered women less valuable than men (to put it kindly)? People whose understanding of same-sex relationships bears little relationship to what we now call homosexuality? That the Living Word is dead in this regard?

No doubt some would call me a “Cafeteria Catholic.” And I would call those people some pretty choice words too!

3. Speaking of holier-than-thou Catholics, I was inspired by Sarah’s recent post on visiting a Mass to look again at the “conversation” about the sign of peace during Mass. As Sarah wrote, and as I responded, the sign of peace can be one of the most holy and powerful moments of a mass. (And since St. Augustine proposed the sign of peace to follow the Lord’s prayer in the 4th century, it hardly qualifies as a Vatican II/Protestant abomination.) Yet there is a surprising amount of irrational hatred directed toward the sign of peace by neotraditionalist Catholics. Reading blogging Catholic opinionators you would think that wafers on the tongue and abstaining from handshakes were the first two of the 10 commandments, and that only apostates could think differently.

Which all goes to show that being either a Christian or a Catholic is no protection against being an a**hole. (Poor Sarah, I’m sure she didn’t want her lovely post linked to this coarse sentiment!)

4. For my final crabby sentiment of today, here’s a new rule:

No one who lives outside of Minnesota is allowed to opine on the current recount. Or on the quality of our elected representatives.

For the record: Jesse Ventura turned out to be both smarter and much, much more stupid than I expected. And the smarter part was mostly the really good people he hired. And no, I did not vote for him. He’s an outlier, not any sort of representative of anything Minnesotan except maybe our independent streak.

Al Franken has so far turned out to be even smarter than I expected. Intelligence, sadly, does not make a good politician or even a good senator. But I’m pretty sure that corruption is worse. So I still feel good about Al Franken now, even though I did not originally have a lot of enthusiasm for him. He was strong the debates here, showing a deep understanding of issues.

5. Turning the corner, I continue to love Minnesota and Minnesotans. People here are just so doggone *nice*. (OK, that Lakeville woman who called Obama an Arab may have been having a bad day . . . ) This is a hard place to sustain one’s natural misanthropy.

A little history: after beginning college at Smith (Northampton) I returned to the Midwest and finished at the University of Minnesota. I LOVED the Twin Cities. I was morose when I left for grad school. When my coursework was complete (and my soon-to-be husband agreed) I was thrilled to return. A small part of the reason I did not ardently pursue an assistant professorship (and I can tell that story more fully another day) was that I loved living here and did not want to leave, ever. I have felt a strong affinity for this place since I first came here 20 years ago, and I am happy to be here again, now.


Filed under I'm Catholic Why?, In the News, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

A two-fer for tonight; some thoughts on Catholic tradition

In other news, Violet started her faith formation class tonight, now that the play is done. It seems to be rather old school Catholic, at least compared to the way we normally do things at our parish. (This class is not affiliated with our parish, though they use our parish school to meet.) The normal instructors (homeschoolers, coincidentally!) were not there, so an elderly nun, in partial nun-dress, led the class, including leading the class through a rosary.

I was eager to hear what she thought about the class, so I took her out for a treat. (We also stopped at the yarn shop to pick up “hay” for the “manger” [in real life, a Clementine orange box].) I wondered what she would think of the nun, and the rosary, and the whole traditional Catholic scene. She liked it — she wasn’t jumping up and down, but she liked the nun, she enjoyed the class, and she wanted to do as the nun suggested and start doing the rosary daily so she could cover all the various mysteries on their assigned days.

As we sat at the table sharing a piece of cake she read the rosary booklet, with all the prayers she didn’t know, and descriptions of the mysteries, with very “holy card” illustrations. She spoke very practically about how the rosary was done, and how long it took, and we talked about the addition of the luminous mysteries, which makes perfect sense, and way to go John Paul II. Excellent idea. We talked about the repetition of the Hail Marys as a chant that helps you focus your mind for reflecting and meditating.

I was struck, as I often am, that the Catholic tradition is really a treasure trove of helps for ordinary people to approach God. Yes, yes, you don’t really “need” to pray the rosary. You don’t really “need” saints. You don’t really “need” special seasons of penitence or celebration. A person can be Christian and even a good Catholic without these things. But not this person. So much of being a person, to me, is the rhythm of seasons and daily life. It’s relationships with other people. It’s acknowledging that I’m a part of an interdependent web of other people. I don’t do this easily. I need help, concrete and practical help, and help that sometimes takes a shortcut past my ruminating mind and direct to the rest of me.

So bring out the rosary beads, the advent calendar, the incense, and the orange-crate manger with yarn-hay! We may get this Catholic thing right yet.


Filed under I'm Catholic Why?, Oh Mother, Our Domestic Church, Schoolday Doings

Thanksgiving Greetings

I’m watching the girls watch Santa arrive at the Macy’s parade. All my side dishes are in the fridge, my turkey is in the oven, my friends are coming in a few hours, and my husband is downstairs laughing with his old college friend.

I am thankful for everything today. My most grateful moment of every day is getting in bed, huddling under the covers, and realizing that I am so lucky to live in a time and place with a house, a comfy mattress, nice sheets, and tons of pillows. Seriously — I think this every night as a drift off to sleep.

Some assorted things to be thankful for: Our friends in India are OK, the Obama girls and puppy moving to the White House, a table that can seat 11, a brand new All-Clad giant roasting pan, modern medicine, living parents, beautiful and fun children making music and writing plays, a fun and always interesting husband, discovering homeschooling, coffee . . . Once the list starts, there’s no end.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy, or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys too: be not content with them as joys. They too conceal diviner gifts.

And so, at this time, I greet you.
Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee.

–Fra Giovanni, A.D. 1513


Filed under Family Fun, Our Domestic Church, Remedial Domesticity

Greetings from November

We are all still here, busy and tired, but still plugging along. Some random notes:

Time Warp:
An old friend from grad school days came to visit for a long weekend. As I told her on the way to the airport, it was a double time warp. The time blew by, with morning turning to noon turning to 1:30 in the morning while we did little but talk across the table and entertain very excited children. And suddenly eight years — maybe nearly 18 years — had never passed, and we were instantly chatting the way we did back then. Like when I called to cry that the boy I was pining for would never return my affection (yes, that boy is my husband) or gossip about who was sleeping with whom in the English department. There were times that I felt a little like the me of many years ago — enthused about ideas, writing, music; reasonably articulate; kind of funny. Made me realize that I should 1) spend more time around people who aren’t living virtually the same life I am, and 2) do better at keeping in touch with people who knew me when “Catholic homeschooling mom” was nothing recognizable as me.

Culture Week
Violet has been busy with her play, which has been going well, though I look forward to this Sunday, the last show. She was unable to attend the Brian Wilson concert we went to, but luckily our visiting friend could take her seat. Musicians like that are amazing to me — of course they are working hard, but as they are working hard the music flows through them, as if they were just the messenger. We attended a “Bach to the Future” program today, where some of the composers claimed the same thing. If I wanted proof of God, this could be it: this music in the air that some are both blessed and cursed to hear in its fullness and bring to the rest of us. Sorry if that is horribly cliched. I remember seeing Ray Charles in concert, maybe when I was pregnant with Violet, and he just seemed like a radio tuned to God’s station. It was amazing to watch.
We also attended a production of The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, which was wonderful. I had hoped to find some of the lyrics on the internet and provide them here–and I had been dreading the songs before the show. The song “Come to the Table” was so beautifully Eucharistic I nearly cried. Our children’s theater here does things with stagecraft that never fail to amaze and impress me, and the holiday productions in particular are as wonderful to me as they are to the children. In this show they had Susan and Lucy flying on Aslan’s back, using two flowing blue banners, held at each end by stagehands in black, as the sky, and then a stream. It was really inspired and well done. And Aslan — well, he was a little like the Lion King, but mostly he was both regal and warrior-like. Victoria was terrified in parts, especially in parts involving Maugrim, but she wanted so much to see the whole thing, so she did.

General Ups and Down
Reading the post-election internet has not been a consistently happy thing for me, especially as a Catholic. I don’t care to get into details, but I have been hurt and angry many times, and I have decided that some blogs are better taken out of my reader. Not to punish the writer, but to protect myself from getting all het up over some yahoo commenter. The Communion of Saints is an idea that means a lot to me, so I take it very personally when a stranger effectively boots me out of it. It has been a cause of serious soul-searching.
I’m excited that I may get a chance to be a witness for the senate recount here. The national media is covering this story so poorly, so I want a first-hand look at the proceedings. I am signed up for a fairly late date, after Thanksgiving, so I can’t be sure I’ll get a chance, but I look forward to it.
I am getting healthier. My pneumonia and/or bronchitis is gone, though I did recently catch a cold from Victoria. The thing I am still dealing with is the asthmatic response to all the respiratory trauma. I do wheeze from time to time, still, but the tightness in my chest is gone, and I look forward to returning to my gym, hopefully next week.

We have 2 piano recitals, 4 play performances, and 2 dinners with friends coming up in the next 4 days, in addition to a run of visitors from this Friday til Tuesday 11 days later, and my yearly Thanksgiving extravaganza, so I can’t say I’ll be posting again soon, but try not to give up on me!


Filed under Family Fun, I'm Catholic Why?, Love this Music, Oh Mother, Our Domestic Church

This is Our Curriculum?

In an effort to start tracking our homeschooling in case Violet might enroll in outside classes somewhere (by that I mean a language class or something similar), I typed up some formal-looking lists of what we’ll be doing in various areas. I feel compelled to point out that when I say “high school level” I’m not trying to say “wowee!” but rather “not college level,” which is what you might expect given the provider.

I felt a little guilty that Victoria’s curriculum seems thinner until I realized, hey, she’s 5.

Final caveats before the big reveal: as all homeschoolers know, it’s not like all these things are going to be going on all the time, and who knows which will be discarded as dull or unworkable. And it’s not like we follow the prescribed schedule: a book a week, a geography flash quiz each day, etc. These are just the resources we’re starting with, made to look semi-official and hopefully mildly impressive to high schools or colleges who might allow one of the girls to try a part-time class some day. Also: I don’t have the actual books listed that will take up much of our time. It almost seems like they should go without saying. I look at these and think: this is such a weird representation of how we actually spend our time!

Violet’s resources:

Magic Lens Grammar
Word Within the Word vocabulary
English 7/8 literature via BYU
Creative writing via co-op (local children’s author, instructor)

World Languages
Chinese: Chinese pod and character practice (Beginning Chinese Reader, DeFrancis and/or Reading and Writing Chinese, McNaughton)
German: German 101 via BYU (high school level)

Pre-algebra, assorted textbooks (particular goals: review and become more confident in pre-algebra topics such as linear equations, graphing equations, negative numbers, order of operations, radicals and exponents)
Problem solving techniques

US History via Teaching Company (high school level)
Continued exploration of History of English sources

Trail Guide to US Geography, GeoMatters

Fine arts
Art class via co-op (local artist, instructor)
Private piano lessons, including music theory
Drama (Upstages Musical Workshop, includes theatrical and vocal training)

via coop
1st semester topics: Genetics and Health (genetic traits, human cells, DNA, immune system); Physical Science and Space (changes in state, gravity, simple and complex machine, space exploration)
2nd semester topics: Ecology and Earth (Minnesota geological history, rocks, growth/decay cycle, decomposition); Life Science (classifying plants and animals, parasitic and symbiotic relationships); Careers in science

Faith Formation
Faith and Life curriculum (4th grade) via local parish

Victoria’s resources:

Five in a Row, Vol. 1


World Languages
Spanish via co-op

Five in a Row v. 1
Cantering the Country, GeoMatters

Fine Arts
group piano, including music theory, singing, and ear training
art class, via co-op
dance (combined tap-ballet)

via co-op
1st semester topics: how humans and other animals grow, cells, illness and immunity; physics including friction, magnets, gravity; observation and classification
2nd semester topics: biology and environment, animal habitats; classifying living and non-living things, plant and animal adaptations

Faith Formation
Kindergarten Sunday school
Catholic Mosaic books and activiites


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Resources -- Gifted, Schoolday Doings, unit study -- history of english