Life in the Desert

September 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

We celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary on Sunday, so that means it’s been 12 years since 9/11/01. There are lots of posts about 9/11 on my Facebook feed this morning, prayers for peace, and “I will never forget” badges and the like. Me, I’m going to be spending the day trying to get organized for the kindergarten party on Saturday, getting the Battle of the Books stuff done, and paying bills. I think that’s ok. Life goes on.

I was in Arizona over the weekend. It was 80 bazillion degrees the day we got there – the heat was so intense as soon as we got off the plane, it felt like being punched in the gut. The desert is beautiful, albeit not beautiful in the way my Wisconsin soul typically imagines beautiful. We climbed a mountain, a little one anyway, on Saturday morning. I took pictures of every cactus I saw, fascinated by their foreignness. On Saturday night it rained, just a little, and by Sunday morning, the brown and seemingly barren mountain was green. It had exploded with life in the space of 24 hours.


I think we humans are the same way. Give us half a chance, and like the desert with that tiny bit of rain, we won’t just choose life, we’ll seize it. There are moments when life seems fragile, but paradoxically, it’s tenacious at the same time. We’re tenacious. We have to be.

So here we are, 12 years on, and our country is considering military action in Syria. I don’t have the answer. (Wouldn’t that be awesome if I did? Middle-aged suburban housewife solves Syria question. Sigh.) All I can tell you is what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to teach my children to do: Choose life. Choose peace. Grow.


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Why I Am Still a Catholic

July 9, 2013 at 12:59 am (Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , )

It’s a question I get asked a fair amount. How can you stay in the Church, after the child abuse scandal? when they won’t ordain women? with their stance on homosexuality/health care/contraception?

I sometimes feel like I’m targeted in a special way since I’m a political liberal, and that’s supposed to make me above religion, or beyond it, or something.

I answer that question differently based on the questioner, the day, and maybe especially, my mood, but today my answer would for sure be “the personnel.”

I was sitting with my oldest child before her audition. She was calmly flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine, (and how do I have a child old enough to care about fashion magazines?) and I was freaking out. Not outwardly of course. Outwardly I was able to maintain some semblance of cool thanks to a miracle of multitasking, as I both looked at these shoes, that bag and especially this nail polish, and simultaneously offered up prayers to Saints Genesius, Vitus and Cecilia.

Genesius was a 4th century Roman actor who was performing in a play satirizing Christian baptism when he himself felt the truth of what he was mocking and converted on the spot. Unfortunately the emperor Diocletian was not amused and ordered his execution. Talk about a bad review. Ba dum bum.

Vitus was also executed by Diocletian as it turns out. He wasn’t a performer himself, but became known as the patron of dancers when a cult from the Middle Ages prayed by dancing before his statue. Rather more unfortunately, it also gave his name to a neurological disorder, but nobody’s perfect.

Cecilia is the patroness of music and musicians, also a martyr, and the most well-known of the three I expect. However, I didn’t know until just now that she wasn’t a musician herself, but rather she heard “heavenly music” in her heart. The dates aren’t right for that music to have been J.S. Bach, but whatever. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, I passed the fifteen minutes before my daughter went in for her audition, and the half an hour it took until it was over, saying a few prayers, researching who Saints Genesius, Vitus and Cecilia were, and writing this post. I texted my Jewish husband, asking him, “What do non-Catholics do in situations like this?” He ignored me, being well practiced in that art. But seriously, I was so grateful to have some company while I waited. And there is a saint for every situation and every occasion, always there for the asking. Before I knew it, she was done, it was over, and I had only sprouted two or three new grey hairs.

So you can keep your lonely religions, and your no religions. That’s totally fine by me, I promise! Me, I’m too much of a basketcase. I need at least a saint a day – look, today I needed three in the space of 45 minutes! So I’m a Catholic. Check in with me a different day and I’ll give you a different reason.

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The Vietnam War and Critical Thinking for Kids

June 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm (Kids, Politics, Uncategorized) (, , , )

Setting: The parking lot in front of a Vietnamese restaurant, with posters in the window advertising colorful mixed drinks.

Dramatis Personae:

Emma: Forty-ish mother of three. Possible commie; certified elitist, liberal
Riley: precocious ten-year-old. Reading obsessed.
Henry: precocious eight-year-old. Baseball obsessed.
Lucy: near silent five-year-old. Obsessions as yet undetermined.

Scene 1

Henry: Hey look! A new smoothie place!

Emma: No that’s the Vietnamese restaurant. I haven’t eaten there yet, but we should try it.

Henry: Vietnam! There was a war there that lasted for 19 years.

Riley: Yeah, we didn’t win.

Henry: What was it about?

Emma starts to answer, despite not having ever had a history class ever that made it all the way to the Vietnam War: Well…

Henry: OH!!! I know. Freedom!

Emma, recognizing that a smarter person might avoid these deep waters entirely, but dipping a toe in anyway: Can you explain that answer a little bit more?

Henry tacit

Riley, with the assist: Part of the country wanted a different form of government. Communism, I think. We went over there to stop it, but we didn’t.

Henry: Oh yeah! Communism is really bad.

Emma, clearly possessed by the spirit of Socrates: What’s communism?

Henry: It’s when the government can tell you what to do.

Emma: Can’t our government tell us what to do?

Henry: Yes, but it’s bad when they do.

Emma, wondering when her son became a Republican and going ahead and opening the can of worms: I don’t know about that Henry. But we were talking about communism. Listen. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who came up with the theory that communism was based on? They looked around and saw rich people with a lot and poor people with a little, and they thought it wasn’t fair.

Riley, Henry and Lucy: That ISN’T fair!

Emma, thrilled that the kids appear to be paying attention in church, and really getting rolling: Some people don’t think that the government should be in charge of distributing wealth, and they think that communism stifles ambition. And we can talk about that. But maybe another question is, why should one country get to decide what kind of of government another country has?

The thinking from the backseat is palpable.

Emma, en fuego now: Here’s the most important thing, you guys. Listen up. I can tell you to go to school. I can tell you to do your homework. I can tell you to practice your instruments.

Henry: we get it!

Emma, enjoying the soapbox: I can tell you to go to church. I can tell you to sit down for dinner. I can tell you to go to bed.

Henry: WE GET IT!

Emma: But I can’t tell you what to think. People will try and try and try to tell you what to think, but you have those good, big brains in those enormous heads for a reason. And you have to listen and learn and make up your own minds. It is just so super-duper important that you use your good brains to decide for yourself. I can’t even tell you what to think. I can share my opinion with you if you ask me, but you have to have to have to make up your own minds about things. So when you learn something in school, fine, you maybe have to put it on a test, but I want you to really think about it, and realize maybe it’s not the full story.

End Scene 1

I was thinking about this conversation on my way home from work the same day, and feeling bad that I don’t make things easier for my kids, when I had a revelation: that’s not my job. It isn’t my job to do the heavy lifting for them, unless we’re talking about actual, not metaphorical, heavy lifting, in which case it totally is my job, especially for the five-year-old. I want them to grow up to be critical thinkers, so it is in fact my job to challenge them. They can do the heavy lifting themselves.

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Revolutionary Soccer Moms Unite!

April 29, 2013 at 3:46 am (Community, Faith, Politics) (, )

I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Today’s homily, courtesy of Father Franciscan, belonged to my favorite phylum – we’ll call it:  “Jesus Was an Expletive Radical, and We’re Probably Not Doing it Right.”  (I won’t specify which expletive, since my dad reads the blog and I don’t want to offend him, and also, after the week I had I’m not sure how much credit I have Upstairs…but it rhymes with “plucking.”)

As he mulled over today’s gospel reading (excerpted above), FF asked why there were any poor among us if we were following Jesus’ commandment.  That’s an uncomfortable question to hear posed in our comfortably well-off parish.  I was SUPER uncomfortable when FF brought up St. Basil the Great, who said:

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

There are a LOT of garments hanging in my wardrobe.  My husband calls me a clothes horse, while I would say simply, “well-dressed.”  I don’t really want to share those garments, and in fact, I’d like to add more to the pile.  I told a friend after church today that were I to win the lottery (which would take a miracle, since I never buy a ticket) the only thing that would change would be the frequency with which I buy and the amount I spend on clothes.  So if you tell me that those same garments, both real and imagined, are really the property of the poor, well, I might drop another expletive.

On the other hand, yesterday at mass (double dipping in the church chip bowl this weekend – why aren’t I a better person?!  I should probably go to church tomorrow too), Father Pastor mentioned St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer, which is one of my very favorites of all time:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So I guess the take-home is that Christ wouldn’t be using his hands to order clothes on the interwebs or his feet to walk to the mall?  I have a LOT of work to do.

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The Worst Blog Post Yet

December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics)

Everything is a platitude and a cliche and…stupid after something like what happened in Newton, CT last week. That sentence that I just wrote is stupid in fact – after “something like” – please! Nothing has ever happened “like that” before. Yes, there have been horrors before, but each is uniquely horrific. And I’m sorry, but stop saying tragedy. It’s not a tragedy. It is the mother-loving Mayan apocalypse come one week early, and we ought to treat it that way.

Every night at bedtime, before I leave his room, my seven-year-old says “Promise me I’m safe.” And God help me, I say “Yes.”

Because what can I say? “No Henry, you’re not safe. When you stepped off the curb in front of that SUV turning right, you were about ten toes away from disaster. There’s every possibility that there’s a germ or a gene with your name on it spelling catastrophe. And terrible, appalling, heinous things happen in places where you’re supposed to be safe, like schools, and churches, and homes. Now, go to sleep.”

My mom card would be revoked.

And yet there I go, being wrong some more, (I’m getting good at it by now!) because while, yes, it does sometimes seem like life is nasty, brutish and short, it’s the only one we’re given, at least as far as I know. So we have to just keep livin’, dazed sometimes, and confused often. My oldest last night, in a fit of melodrama, sobbed, “I just can’t make it!” “Through what?” I asked, genuinely bemused. “My life!” she whimpered.

But that’s the task, sweet girl! That’s what we have to do, even in an unsafe world, my darling boy! We have to make it through. And we have to make something of it. And we have to make it count, hackeneyed chestnuts be damned.

And we also have to enact some mother-loving gun control…but that’s another blog post.

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In which the author gets super depressed but is saved by laundry and music

October 9, 2012 at 9:43 pm (Faith, Music, Politics) (, , , )

A Facebook friend’s recent post troubled me.  (Maybe that sentence in itself is troubling, but whatever.)  It was a link to a “Catholic” blog post in which the author condemned (not too strong a word) the voices that question the Church on anything, but specifically birth control.  And then of course, I descended down the rabbit hole of the website, which seems to me to be totally focused on three issues:  abortion (anti),  gay marriage (anti), and health care (anti).  And then I got super depressed, because is it possible for us both to be good Catholics, the Judgy McJudgerson author and me?  Is there really no room for debate on any of these issues?  Am I deluding myself when I try to be a good Catholic, because let me clear something up, not that there was any doubt…I have a lot of questions, and I struggle with the answers I get from my church, I really do.

So here’s what I did.  I went and did some laundry, which is a good indicator of the state of my brain, since it is my least favorite household chore.  And as I was feeling shitty and folding the mountain of clothes on my bed, I listened to my favorite Pandora station.  (Although all of my Pandora stations are starting to sound the same, which is kind of funny).  These two songs came on, one right after each other:

and then:

And you know what?  I felt better…AND my laundry was folded.  A happy ending.

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On Racism and Dog Poop

May 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm (Community, Politics) (, , )

Somebody left a racist pamphlet on my doorstep today. It was in an orange newspaper bag. I saw other orange bags at my neighbors’ houses as I pulled into the driveway. I figured it was an ad for a landscaping company, or something from the village, or maybe a notice about a local food drive or something. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the paper inside was. I took it out and began to read.

It was a two-page article about a Kansas City East High School incident where two kids (black) attacked another kid (white), allegedly because of the color of his skin. In addition to the article were two more pages filled with hatred (and grammatical errors, but that’s another, much less important soapbox) toward “blacks” a word which for the author evidently includes all Latinos and natives of India…and Jews for good measure, of course. I felt physically ill after reading it. The thought that somebody with that much rage in his or her heart was standing at the threshold of my home made me want to vomit. The realization that there are still people who feel this way made me despair.

I wish I could tell you that I calmed myself down by praying, perhaps remembering the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God,” but I didn’t. What really made me feel better was using that orange bag to pick up my dog’s poop as I went on the school run, and then tossing it in the trash. The only thing that would have made me feel better still would have been if I could have delivered it back to the person who left it at my door, saying, “Here’s your shit back.”

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Sticking it to ’em

April 17, 2012 at 3:35 am (Community, Faith, Interfaith, Politics) (, , , )

God bless the whole world no exceptions

Possibly the best bumper sticker ever. Probably the driver of this car should take over the writing of this blog. And get a car wash.

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September 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

Ten years ago, I was in Vancouver, on the third day of my honeymoon.  My husband and I (and it was still very strange to say those words) had woken up early, slightly before 6 am Pacific time and gone down to the hotel’s outdoor pool.  I swam a couple of laps in the freezing cold water before joining Sam in the hot tub.  A middle-aged man was there already.  He was a veterinarian from Michigan, in Canada for a conference.  We talked about bovine spongeform encephalitis, and my uncle Riley who was a sheep farmer.  The world was quiet and dark, sleepy and peaceful.  Only later did we learn that at those exact moments Sam’s hometown of New York was under attack, that when we returned to our house in Washington, DC, our world would have changed irrevocably.

Now a decade has passed.  My oldest daughter, who is named for my late uncle, is in the third grade and has two younger siblings.  Sam and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary three days ago with beer and a Packers win.  Every year on this day I remember that vet, I remember our fear and our deep sadness as we watched the towers come down and I shed a few tears.  It’s good to pause and reflect, but this year, because it’s the tenth anniversary, the memorials have been overwhelming.  They’ve come so fast and furious, I haven’t been able to find a still corner of my mind to think…which is why it was such a gift to see the readings for mass this morning.

Here’s a bit of the first one, from the book of Sirach:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things,

yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;

then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

Could anyone nourish anger against another

and expect healing from the LORD?

Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,

can he seek pardon for his own sins?”

And here’s today’s Psalm:

“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

He pardons all your iniquities,

heals all your ills.

redeems your life from destruction,

he crowns you with kindness and compassion.

He will not always chide,

nor does he keep his wrath forever.

Not according to our sins does he deal with us,

nor does he requite us according to our crimes.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west,

so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

And the Gospel, from Matthew:

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,

“Lord, if my brother sins against me,

how often must I forgive?

As many as seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. ”

For Catholics, the readings are arranged in a three year cycle.  No one looked at the calendar and said, “Oh, forgiveness! that will be great for 9/11.”  It’s a happy accident, or serendipity or divine intervention.  Choose your pleasure or pick your poison.  When I first saw these yesterday as I was preparing for today’s Children’s Liturgy, I hadn’t associated them with 9/11.  I was thinking about talking to the kids about how hard it is to say, “I’m sorry” and how much easier it is to be the forgiver.  But this morning, these readings slapped me upside the head.  It is really expletive hard to forgive.  (I’ll try to clean up my language in the hour before church.)  That’s the job though.  That’s what we’re supposed to do.  If we’re using the anniversary of 9/11 to fan the flames of hatred we are missing the expletive point.  Mercy, compassion, kindness, and healing.  That is my 9/11 prayer for all of us.  All of us.

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Can somebody explain this to me please?

May 6, 2011 at 3:09 am (Faith, Politics) (, , , )

Bumper sticker


Sorry, the picture is terrible because I was sneaking it while I walked past the line of cars picking up kids at school. The bumper sticker says: “Republican Bibles have only one verse: Luke 16:9.”

What am I missing? Here’s the passage referred to on the sticker.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

I don’t understand either the bible verse or the bumper sticker. Do you?

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