Never Off Topic

I spent Monday as a substitute teacher in second grade at the parish school. As my training is in secondary education, I’m used to students trying to derail any discussion in order to avoid doing work. Seven-year-olds don’t generally display that level of guile, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t stray off the subject during our school day.

Children that young just want to share. As soon as you mention anything, they make a connection and need to tell you–and the whole rest of the class–about it. Every once in a while, that can be a good thing, if you can manage to capture the moment.

raised handWe were in the middle of a language-arts lesson based on the story of an injured child riding to the hospital in an ambulance. Up goes a hand. “My mommy says that when you see an ambulance you should say a Hail Mary.”

Me:  “Yes, a lot of families do that. It’s a really good thing to do. When you see an ambulance, you can pray for the person who is sick or hurt and for the people who are helping.”

Student:  “And police cars too.”

Me:  “Right. That’s another good time to say a prayer.”

Other student:  “But just for the police. Not for the bad people.”

Me:  “We should definitely say a prayer for the bad people. Do you remember that Jesus told us we should do that?”

Class:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Jesus said that we should pray for people who hurt us, not just for our friends and family. Maybe the people who hurt us need even more prayers.”

Moments like this are why I love Catholic school. Our faith isn’t confined to the schedule block reserved for religion. It can (and should) pop up at any point in the day. I love that the children in this class feel free enough and comfortable enough to bring up the subject of prayer when the thought enters their mind–even during a story about a fictional ambulance ride. I pray that these lessons will be put into practice during a real emergency.

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Small Success Thursday: Winter Wonderland Edition

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This week, so far, we had 5 inches of heavy, wet snow and then an ice-to-rain “event.” Thanks, Punxsutawney Phil. Thanks a whole lot.

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erins vegetarian chiliWhile it was snowing and I had nothing better to do but stay inside and cook, I made a big batch of spaghetti sauce with meatballs and, later, a slow cooker full of Erin’s Vegetarian Chili (I added a can of pink beans and a generous amount of corn). Middle Sister baked some Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

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I was the Substitute Librarian/Tech Teacher on Tuesday morning. Not only did I get paid for doing something I love, but I had all kinds of fun

  • reading Snowmen at Work with the first grade. Twice. Because their teacher changes the words to “1A Snowmen” when she reads a Snowman book with them, and they needed me to do the same.
  • reading Pink Snow with the second grade. We don’t usually choose nonfiction books as read-alouds in the library, but I was looking for something not too babyish for this class, and I wanted to stick with the snow theme. The kids were spellbound and asked good questions. One teacher, whose daughter is in that class, told me Wednesday how much her daughter really loved that book.
  • attempting to convince an eighth-grade girl who was working on a “Contemporary Americans” report that you can’t use rumors as sources for a research project, even when those rumors are published in celebrity-gossip rags. Especially when those rumors are published in celebrity-gossip rags.

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I finally got the Christmas decorations boxed up and moved out of the living room. They’re not completely away yet, but I need the snow to melt so I can get the boxes out to the shed. My deadline for getting that done is the next time Big Brother comes home to spend the night, because right now those boxes are in his room.

Give yourself a little pat on the back for things you’ve accomplished this week! Join us over at Small Success Thursday at CatholicMom.com–leave a comment or link your blog.

And while you’re over there at CatholicMom.com, don’t forget to link to your favorite meatless recipes at our Meatless Friday Link Party! We’re getting our souls–and our kitchens–ready for Lent!

High Expectations

Yesterday, as I waited for Little Brother’s coach to arrive at soccer practice, a mom whose son is new to the team parked next to me. We chatted a little about the schedule for the first game and when our boys would be starting school.

When I mentioned that Little Brother attends Catholic school, she commented that she’d grown up next door to one of the teachers from an area Catholic school that closed 7 years ago.

“Even though she was Catholic, she really wasn’t friendly at all,” this mom said of her former neighbor.

I don’t think this mom meant her comment as a slight toward Catholics. On the contrary:  the implication was that Catholics should live by high standards when it comes to how we treat others. Since the mom I met last night had such high expectations of Catholics, this probably means that most of the Catholics she has encountered do live by these ideals. At least, I hope so!

  • Are we welcoming and helpful to newcomers?
  • Do we anticipate the needs of others?
  • Do we show concern for others?

We don’t have to be the most outgoing people in the world to evangelize by treating our neighbors as we would want to be treated.

Conference Time

CWCO_live_smI’m getting ready for an adventure this week:  I’ll be attending the 3-day Catholic Writers’ Conference that’s being held right here in my home state. It’s more than an hour away (and way more than that given the traffic on the major highway that leads to the conference center) so my family has graciously agreed to hold down the fort here while I *stay overnight* for two whole nights.

(Does anyone have any idea how far out of my comfort zone this is? I’m a homebody to the max. I don’t like to stay overnight anywhere that’s not my own bed.)

So there’s a bunch of stuff–some silly, some not-so-silly, that’s on my mind. I figured that maybe if I write about it a bit, I’ll be able to make some sense of this nonsense. If not, well, then at least I’ve gotten it out of my head, and sometimes that’s half the battle right there.

  1. I haven’t written a book. I do have an idea for a book, and part of the reason I want to attend this conference is so that I can learn what to do with that idea to turn it into a reality.
  2. I worry about talking about my idea for a book. It’s a nonfiction topic, and I guess there’s some fear that if I talk about it, someone else will hijack it and write the book before I do. How awful is it to have that fear when we’re talking about a faith-based topic and a faith-based conference…but there it is. I am hoping that at this conference I will be reassured that this won’t be a problem, and that I can gain valuable insights from people with whom I discuss my idea.
  3. I’m an introvert (in case you hadn’t already guessed). And I’ll be rooming with people I’ve never met “in real life!” One of them seems to have the same Introvert Problems I do, so at least we’ll have a mutual understanding that sometimes we just need to hide out.
  4. Here’s the really shallow part:  I’m worried about wardrobe. I want to look nice…but I have very few clothes that fit properly around my abdomen after my surgery (why didn’t that doctor give me a tummy tuck while he was there?) There’s going to be a good amount of driving on 2 of the days, and plenty of sitting in uncomfortable chairs on all 3 days, and I know what that does to me when I’m wearing my comfiest clothes, never mind “business casual” wear. I’m devoting an awful lot of mental energy to this problem.
  5. I’m also worried about budget. I’ll have to get about 6 meals (including 2 dinners) while there, in addition to lodging. And there’s the Catholic Marketing Network going on, and I’ll want to get stuff.

On the upside, I’m looking forward to meeting Ellen Gable Hrkach, Daria Sockey and Pat Gohn–I think we’re all transplanted Jersey girls! I live in South Jersey now, but grew up in North Jersey, so I’m a “transplant” as well. South Jersey is pretty much a whole different state.

And I’m looking forward to learning everything I can, and to being among people who love to write!

Book Review: Waking Up Catholic

waking up catholicOpening your soul to faith (or re-opening your soul) can be a little scary. You might have objections, reservations, hesitations and misunderstandings. And not everyone is the type to tackle the Summa Theologica.

Chad Torgerson has been there, done that, and he’s written the book on how to handle just this situation. He skillfully interweaves his own journey into Catholicism with concise explanations of just what this all means. If you’re exploring the Church for the first time, rebuilding the faith of your childhood or just looking for an excellent review tool, Waking Up Catholic covers all the bases.

Topics covered in this 156-page book (MUCH less intimidating than the Summa) include:

  • Tradition with a Capital T
  • Guardians of the Faith
  • Shepherds of the Flock
  • The Trinity:  Central Mystery of Our Faith
  • Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church
  • The Communion of Saints
  • More Than Bread and Wine
  • Reconciled
  • Becoming Catholic
  • Heavenly Conversations
  • Everyday Catholic
  • The Next Step

I found this book to be easy to read without being an insult to the reader’s intelligence. It challenged the reader to reflect and pray and consider what the truths discussed in the book mean to them. Torgerson’s honest account of his struggles with certain aspects of the faith and how (and where) he sought for answers drives home his explanations of the “basics” of the faith so that both the reader’s mind and heart are engaged in learning and exploring.

Who should read this book? I’d recommend it to:

  • people considering becoming Catholic
  • people in the RCIA program who seek full Communion with the Church
  • ALL teachers in faith-formation programs (for children, teens and adults)
  • parents of children who are preparing to receive Sacraments
  • anyone who wants to learn more about the Faith

Most of the people on my list above are already Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that any of us are experts. We can all benefit from the opportunity to refresh our knowledge and to have our faith refreshed. Chad Torgerson achieves both these goals in his simply-written yet deeply compelling book.

I read this in e-book format, but I’d recommend that you purchase the print version. You’ll want to mark this book with your questions and comments, and there are sections to which you’ll want to return.

The Fine Print:  The opinions expressed here are mine alone. I received an e-book version of this title, and no other compensation, for the purposes of this review.

Exercise Your Freedom…While You Still Have Some

Whatever it takes to preach a homily that connects the Gospel of the day to the crisis of abortion and the Fortnight for Freedom, Deacon T at our parish has it. And then some.

fortnight-4-freedom-270x140-no-border-animatedOur parish is blessed to have three deacons whose faith very obviously animates and guides them, who are not afraid to keep it real and who speak simply from their own experience. Each deacon, of course, has different stories, different strengths, different gifts that benefit our parish.

Deacon T is an attorney who is well-read, well-informed and well-spoken. He is not afraid to discuss difficult topics from the pulpit.

He made me think of Pope Francis when he began his homily by stating that he didn’t have all his notes because his computer printer had broken–and that he was sure Satan was behind that technical difficulty. (But guess what, Satan–Deacon T managed without those notes, because the force of grace will always prevail.)

Deacon T spoke very plainly about the leading cause of death in our country. It is not car accidents, cancer or heart attacks. It is abortion, which kills more people each year than the “top 2 causes of death” put together. He had the numbers to prove it. He spoke about how our tax dollars pay for this–and how it is absolutely against what we as Catholics believe. He spoke about how, if we are to follow Jesus as he called us to do in this Sunday’s Gospel, we need to take action to prevent government actions like the HHS mandate that rob us of the freedom to live as we believe. He spoke about the tragedy of millions upon millions of lives lost, and how we do not know how those lives would have touched others.

If you didn’t hear about the Fortnight for Freedom at Mass this weekend or last, you can learn all about it here. I encourage you to pray, listen, ask questions, learn and find a way to get involved. It is our right and our responsibility to protect our freedom to live our beliefs and to defend the lives of the most vulnerable. If we do not protect our freedom, we will surely lose it. And too many lives have already been lost.

Summer Reading

My kids have Summer Reading assignments–and now, so do I.

Mine doesn’t come with a test at the end, or a book report to write, or a poster to draw. It does, however, come with the promise of an intriguing online discussion.

That’s because my Summer Reading is coming from the brand-new Lawn Chair Catechism series at Catholicmom.com.

We’re reading Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

Learn how you can read along, or even join the discussion without reading the book. (Try THAT with your traditional Summer Reading assignment!) The series starts tomorrow, but you can still order the book at a deep discount–with free shipping–through June 6.

Find out more!

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

Just trying to keep things normal here in my house, for my kids, and for my husband and myself, as we sit here in Oncology Limbo getting through a few more days until we have a better idea of what he’s fighting and how the hospital plans to fight it.

For the record, he will be treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country; I was there for my non-cancer surgery 6 months ago and we are comforted by the first-hand knowledge of the wonderful care I received as a patient in that hospital.

I am comforted by relatives and friends alike who have showed us so much care and concern (and made offers to help that I know enough to accept–and will do so soon). Some of these people are fighting their own battles with cancer right now. But they have reached out anyway–that means so much. Other friends have beaten cancer in the past.

Today I received a lot of encouragement from Pat Gohn. We were supposed to be recording a conversation to be used in her Among Women podcast, “Midlife Madres” series. I don’t know if Pat got anything she can use or not, but she knows how to listen and she knows what it’s like to go through this kind of scary time. I am grateful for each and every minute we spent on the phone today.

As I told Pat at one point, I am wrestling right now. There will be many decisions to be made. There will be things I’ll have to “outsource” to others, kids’ games I’ll miss, plans I’ll need to lay aside. It’s not so much a “why me?” kind of wrestling as it is a “how do I handle all of what we’ve got going on and keep our collective sanity relatively intact?”

I might look calm on the outside, but my unscientific research is showing that hot flashes increase exponentially along with one’s stress levels. Every so often it reaches its peak and the hot flashes bring along impatience, anger and, yes, tears. Even when I try my hardest to keep that from happening. So yes, calm on the outside, but my stomach is in knots and I think those knots are extending to the rest of me, because my pain level is off the charts today.

But there’s a rosary in my pocket, ever ready for a prayer or ten. I’m getting to daily Mass as much as possible. I’m thankful for the encouragement and advice I have received. And when this after-dinner cup of (decaffeinated) Irish tea doesn’t cut it, like now, I’m glad there’s a carton of chocolate-peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer.

Guess What!

I totally forgot to talk about this, and I really should have said something TWO WEEKS AGO when it first happened, but I am one of a bunch of new contributors to the “Tech Talk” daily feature at CatholicMom.com!  (How cool is THAT?) 


I’ll be writing every other Tuesday about techie topics that are near and dear to my heart as a Catholic, a mom, a Secular Franciscan, a parent of teenagers…


I never considered myself a “Techie,” though I suppose the signs were all there.  My younger brother got a computer when I was in high school (a Radio Shack TRS-80, and if you’re old enough to know what that is, you’re close to my age).  I used that computer as much as he did, learning to write BASIC programs that would print my name 50 times and other useful things like that.  Senior year, I suffered through a half-year of trigonometry so I could enjoy a half-year computer class.  Never popular, I suddenly found myself in demand as students teamed up to work on projects and I was one of the few who knew how to make a computer print my name 50 times.


There wasn’t much wiggle room in college for me to take electives, but I took Intro to BASIC as my math requirement (more making computers print my name 50 times) and found room for a one-credit course on computer applications in education.


After two years of teaching, my career path took a turn for the educational-software industry, where I was paid to break software and tell non-English-speaking programmers what I did to break it so they could make the software student-proof.  (I rocked at that job.)  Eventually I freelanced for that company as a software author, writing lesson “scripts.”


Down the road, I learned about Internet message boards, blogging, Facebook, Twitter and more.  My husband (who’s been a computer programmer since 1995) has kept me in gadgets starting with my very first Palm PDA up through a Kindle, iPad and iPhone.


I enjoy using technology in a variety of ways and look forward to sharing my favorite apps, websites and more, every other Tuesday at CatholicMom.com.  I also look forward to reading what the rest of the “Tech Talk” team shares, and am extremely grateful for this opportunity.


Today’s feature is Digital Prayer, in which I talk about the apps you can use to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Coming Soon: Catholic Media Promotion Day

Here’s where I say that I hope you didn’t give up facebook for Lent!

You see, Greg and Jennifer Willits of my favorite Catholic radio show, The Catholics Next Door on Sirius/XM radio, have proposed that next Tuesday, March 15, be dedicated to sharing our favorite Catholic media resources: blogs, podcasts, websites and more.

Visit the facebook page and “Like” it so you’ll receive all the details. If you’ve got a blog, post about YOUR favorite Catholic media resources–but don’t post that info until March 15. Here’s the instructions:

On March 15, 2011, everyone with a blog, podcast, or Facebook page should list their favorite 3 blogs, 3 podcasts, 3 other media, 3 random Catholic things online, and their own projects. Then, post the link to your list on the Catholic Media Promotion Day facebook page on March 15th. Additionally, to help get the word out, press are asked to write articles and press releases for this day. Lastly, on March 15th, go to iTunes and leave at least 3 positive written reviews for various Catholic podcasts and 3 positive written reviews for Catholic mobile applications.

Spread the word–and share your favorites! It’s not a contest, just a way to get the word out about some great Catholic new media resources.

And after you share them on Tuesday, keep on sharing them! Our parish bulletin prints a link each week, in a regular “Links of Faith” feature. Why not ask your pastor if you can supply a list of new media resources to be published in your parish bulletin and shared with your whole community?