Not so holy: How did your Lent go?

March has been a busy month — all the more so because I’ve been getting ready for what I’m calling “Crazy April.”

Monday morning, bright and early, I’m headed to the airport so I can travel to Cincinnati and represent Today’s Catholic Teacher¬†magazine at the NCEA convention and help host a banquet for the Innovations in Catholic Education Awards.

(Related: I had to buy a fancy dress. And shoes that, I hope, will allow me to stand for the better part of the day on a trade-show floor and walk a few blocks each way to the hotel. Tendonitis in both feet and an old stress fracture in one isn’t a good combination when this is on the agenda.)

After four days of travel this week, I’ll have about 10 days at home before I drive to Worcester, MA, for editorial meetings for the magazine.

So I’ve been prescheduling as much content as I can at CatholicMom.com and CatholicTeacher.com, working on final edits for the coming summer issue, and, well, generally neglecting things around the house. On Wednesday it occurred to me that while I’d finished most of the work projects, I had no Easter-basket treats for my family and no idea what I’d be serving for Easter Sunday dinner.

Meanwhile, in the course of my routine correspondence with the authors I work with in both of my jobs, I’ve been getting some variation on the theme of, “How was your Lent?” I’ve even been editing articles along that line.

When you work in Catholic media, you can’t help being bombarded, this time of year, with recaps of people’s holy Lents. And, well, my Lent hasn’t been so very holy.¬†It’s not that I’m not keeping my eyes on my own paper, so much that other people’s papers are being shoved right under my eyes in the course of my job.

I bought this beautiful Lenten spiritual workbook, Above All, from Take Up and Read. I haven’t touched it in weeks. If I’ve completed 1/5 of it, that’s a lot. I just haven’t made the time.

I did manage to give up espresso beverages … whoop-de-do.

But honestly, it’s all been about time management. I love the work I get to do: I have terrific and supportive colleagues at both my jobs, and the writers I work with are wonderful. I call many of them my friends, and I look forward to meeting several more of them this summer at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference. My problem is, in an occupation where there is always new content to prepare, I can get swamped under that and let it spill over into the time I should be allotting for other things.

So I’m packing my copy of When the Timer Dings, and a blank bullet journal, into my tote bag for the airplane trip. I find that when I’m in a different place, I can get out of my head and think more creatively. I have some daydreaming to do about my goals and wishes for next year’s magazines, but I need to do some daydreaming about the way I manage my time (or, more accurately, don’t manage it.)

Lent this year just hasn’t been so holy. Beating myself up about it isn’t going to help. So while the business trips I’m taking this April are taking me way out of my comfort zone (and my comfortable sweatpants) I’m beginning to feel grateful for the opportunity to reboot the way I schedule my work.

After all, Lent isn’t the only season of the liturgical year in which you can grow in holiness. Maybe with improved time management, I’ll be better able to nurture my spiritual life during the Easter season and beyond.

How did your Lent go? If it wasn’t so holy, what can you do about that during the Easter season?

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Fresh Start

My cooking energy evaporated yesterday after our trip to CHOP for an afternoon of diabetes education. dexcom g4This is not an iPod; it’s a continuous glucose monitor that tests Little Brother’s blood sugar every 5 minutes. He’s been using one for several weeks, and we had the chance to ask questions and learn interpretation techniques yesterday.

But when I came back, I was tired. And Hubs had to go pick up Middle Sister, who was at the shore for a few days. There was a series of 3 car snafus involved in that pickup–culminating in a flat tire that he had about 20 miles from home. In the rain. On the interstate.

He just got new tires 2 weeks ago.

The refrigerator that Hubs and the kids picked up at his mom’s house on Friday is still on the back porch–dead center, not neatly parked in the corner where it will live. That’s because the old refrigerator is still in the corner, still full of food. That’s because we didn’t have the part for the “new” one until Tuesday. That means we’re going to have a fridge transfer in the middle of today’s cooking frenzy, and I’m probably going to have to flip out before someone finds a place to stow the old one, because you can’t just put these things on the curb the night before a party.

And there are 90+ people coming here tomorrow and I’m hoping the weather clears up as promised because my house cannot hold that many people. I certainly don’t want the little kids in here playing on the Wii when there’s a perfectly good pool outside for them to swim in. Double that if the little kids are wet from the pool and decide they want to come in.

I was absently scratching my left arm last night when I realized I had hives. Well, more accurately, hive. When I’m stressed, I get one hive.

That’s when I bailed. I washed the last few dishes in the sink and just gave up. My list for today is ready. It’s a new day and I’m about to hit the ground running.

Making Sense of It All

Yesterday was an extraordinarily difficult day.

I already knew I’d be spending the evening attending a wake service for one of the Secular Franciscans who’d passed away after a long illness. Much as we are relieved that her suffering has ended, we mourn her loss and grieve with her family.

When I stopped at the parish office for a Mass card, the secretary was mourning for one of her own family members who’d passed away. All I could do was squeeze her hand across the counter as she wept…I’ve been praying for her since then.

One of the other Secular Franciscans has a birthday today. She will spend it at a funeral for her longtime friend and neighbor.

Little Brother had a half day, so he got home around 1, and in the middle of arguing with him about what constitutes a “clean” family room, I started seeing news reports about the horrible events in Newtown, CT. People on social media were saying, “hug your kids” and my 10-year-old is accusing me of not loving him because I wouldn’t let him play a video game before he’d finished his chore.

28 people died in Connecticut yesterday. The story just kept getting worse and worse. The media interviewed traumatized little kids and mis-identified the shooter.

And the parents of 20 little children will have to get through Christmas without those children. They will be wishing for the opportunity to tell their child to clean up his toys.

After dinner I went to the funeral home for the wake, where the deacon wisely began the prayer service with a prayer for the New England community that had suffered such a tragedy. And we all agreed that Mary M, a mom of 6 and grandmother of 9, was probably welcoming those little children to Heaven yesterday.

I was glad, last night, to have all my kids under the same roof when I went to sleep. I hope that they know every day that I love them. Even when I take away their video games, make them clean up their own messes, and enforce curfews. Someday they will realize that I do these things BECAUSE I love them, that I wouldn’t be loving them very much at all if I didn’t.

Today, when they wake up, I will hug them all just a little harder. There is just no way to understand this. All I can do is try to be better at loving my family. And I pray for Mary, for the people of Newtown, CT, and for our parish secretary, Mary’s family, our Franciscan community and all others who grieve.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

And may the Lord comfort those who mourn.

Updated to add:  I was asked in the comments how to get to the point of praying for the shooter. I don’t know. I just don’t. But Friar Charles has a good starting point here.

Tiber River Review: Style, Sex and Substance

Don’t let your pride get in the way of your reading this encouraging book. I’ll admit that mine did, for a while; I’m pretty sure that most of the 10 contributors are a good bit younger than I am. But after reading several excerpts of Style, Sex and Substance online, I was convinced that while the women whose essays are featured in this book may be younger than me, they’ve got plenty of wisdom to share. The writing is honest and real, and by the end of each chapter you’ll feel that its author is a new, trusted friend.

Don’t let the title fool you; I found that this book is a whole lot more about “substance” than sex. Yes, there are humorous, real-life stories (and I loved those!) There are also reflection questions at the end of each chapter that would work as well for small-group study as they do for individual reflection and journaling. A small sampling of these include:

  • sins vs. quirks
  • nurturing yourself
  • putting your schedule in order
  • fostering intimacy in marriage
  • personal holiness for single women
  • making rash judgements
  • healthy friendship
  • building your marriage
  • goals for motherhood
  • the Christian life and popular culture
Not all chapters are for every woman at every time, but this book doesn’t need to be read start-to-finish to be appreciated. Start with the introduction and chapter 1, then pick and choose as the Spirit moves you. You’ll be hooked, and you’ll want to keep this book around for encouragement in the various seasons of your life as a Catholic woman.
Style, Sex and Substance would be a great gift for a young woman just starting out on her own, a bride-to-be, a new mom or even a “woman of a certain age” like myself who’s in need of a new perspective.
After all, there’s always something new to be learned–even from women who are younger than you.

My compliments to editor Hallie Lord and all the contributors to this excellent book.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Style, Sex and Substance for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

A review copy of the book was provided to me. I did not receive other compensation for this review.

Upside Down

I spent the morning yesterday in a hospital waiting room. My husband was there for same-day, minor surgery. I drank a lot of coffee, prayed the Rosary, and tried to ignore the overly-loud, overly-large TVs. I was nervous, of course, but not very worried, because we’d been told so many times that it was ” probably nothing.”

I should have known that my uncharacteristic optimism was misplaced.

I kept thinking to myself that it would be No Big Deal, all the while in denial of just how easily No Big Deal can turn into a Very Big Deal Indeed. Minor can go to major in less time than it takes to spell my last name. And your whole world turns upside down as the surgeon says those 3 words nobody wants to hear.

As we try to let it all sink in, as we think of how to find the words to make the kids understand, we simultaneously scribble down specialists’ phone numbers on Post-It notes and assemble folders full of referrals, test results and form after form after form after form.

It is all these details, I think, that will make me crazy and at the same time keep me from going crazy. If I concentrate on the details, I won’t have to think about the big picture. I don’t want to see the forest for the trees.

We will have to wait more than a week before the next step can be taken, before all the results are in and appointments can be made with just the right doctors. And all those other minor-league problems we’ve been dealing with? We’re not feeling the need to deal with those just now. Can we please just put that stuff on the back burner for a while?

One thing at a time, Lord. It’s hard to turn this over when I want to take the ball myself and run with it. I’m a ball-hog in that regard, just as much as some of the hotshots on Little Brother’s soccer team. It’s hard to turn it over because if I abandon it, if I relinquish the control I try to hard to maintain, I might just go to pieces when it is least convenient.

Mom doesn’t get to fall apart, you know. That’s a rule. And if nothing else, I’m a rule-follower.

Even–perhaps especially–when our world has just been turned upside down.

Pray for my husband, if you would; for his doctors; for the kids and for me as we negotiate this new and scary road.

And thank you to Barbara for the beautiful Rosary!

Fat Police

This morning, Little Brother and I went grocery shopping. Everything went well for the first 3/4 of the trip. We got nectarines, cucumbers, melon, bananas, celery, Cheerios, peanut butter, cookies (I had a coupon) and EVOO. Then we got to the dairy aisle, and that’s where things got ugly.

I reached for a gallon of milk, the kind with the red top that screams, “Full fat!” at the casual observer, and my skinny 10-year-old took me to task.

It’s got to be the propaganda that’s behind it. First of all, the kid doesn’t even drink milk–hasn’t in more than 8 years. I am the main consumer of that weekly gallon of milk, and I like my milk whole, thankyouverymuch. But boy, was I in trouble. “Why don’t you buy 2%, Mom?”

“Because I don’t like 2%. I like Real Milk.” We went along this way for a while, as I wheeled the cart along and picked up a pound of Real Butter and 18 Real Eggs and then headed toward the Coffee Nirvana section, where I once again bemoaned the fact that ShopRite never has quarts of light cream anymore.

“Half-and-half is just as good, Mom,” said my young Food Policeman.

“No, believe me, half-and-half is not just as good,” I sighed as I placed a quart of half-and-half in the cart sadly.

“Mom, I agree with that governor of New York about this,” he commented. (I think he meant “mayor,” but whatever. I was arguing for my Real Milk, not accuracy regarding government officials.)

Kid, I’m all for healthy, which is why I bought nectarines, cucumbers, melon, bananas, celery, Cheerios and peanut butter, and also the EVOO. But when it comes to dairy, I’m a full-fat kind of girl. And no one, not any governor or mayor or president or surgeon general or doctor on TV is going to tell me not to have my nice big glass of milk with dinner every night.

Real milk. With the red top. Ice cold. It’s the only way. I’m willing to sit down with the Fat Police over a cold one and discuss this, and I will not back down.

Of Goodbyes, Long and Short, and Birthdays

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. Three years ago it stopped being a happy occasion.

On his birthday three years ago, we stood next to each other, all lined up in fancy clothes, alongside his father’s casket. Pop had passed away two days before after a short and unexpected illness. Some of the people at the wake remembered that it was my husband’s birthday and awkwardly wished him a happy birthday along with offering their condolences.

It was weird, and a pretty crummy way to have to spend a birthday.

The other day we gathered with my mother-in-law, as well as my husband’s sister-in-law and 3 nieces, to attend a Mass for Pop. After that we got some pizza. No one made sure there was a cake, or candles. No one even sang or suggested the idea of it. You don’t commemorate the anniversary of a death with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of “Sto Lat*.”

My mother-in-law did not call her son yesterday to wish him a happy birthday. I don’t know if she remembers that his birthday was Sunday; during the past couple of years it has become apparent that she is suffering from Alzheimer’s. On Friday evening, after we got home, my husband confided that it’s really hard for him to see his mom like this.

Hard as it was to lose Pop, his illness was mercifully short. In early August of that year, we were arguing with him that he should see a doctor because of a few symptoms he was having. By the 24th he was gone. In between those two points were a horrible couple of weeks in which my husband spent his time shuttling between his job and his parents so that his mom could get to see Pop in the hospital. There was no time to think about what might happen, what it would be like with Pop gone. There was no time to think about anything.

Now, all he has is time. He knows that he is losing a little bit of his mom with each passing day. It’s just a question of how many days will pass before a family agreement must be made, because the time will come (sooner rather than later) when she cannot continue to live on her own. In many ways, already, she is no longer “on her own,” depending on my husband and his sister-in-law for things like errands, food shopping, paying the bills, doctor visits and filling her medication organizer.

This is an awful way to lose someone.

Right now, what is lost is the short-term memory stuff: the “where did I put my keys” and the taking medicine as scheduled and the writing out of checks to pay bills. But we know what’s coming. And the hardest loss of all, I think, will be the loss of the relationship: the time when she no longer remembers her son, when she cannot recognize her grandchildren.

One way (out of many) in which my husband and I are opposite is that he is a relationship person and I am a logistics person. It’s something that I admire and am frustrated by, sometimes in the same minute. But while I worry about his mom largely in terms of the logistics, he is grieving, in advance, the loss of the relationship with his mother, even as he must deal with the logistics of her physical needs.

And that is a pretty crummy way to spend a bithday.

*”Sto Lat” is a Polish happy-occasion song. The lyrics, loosely translated, mean “May you live 100 years.” In my husband’s family, it is always sung at birthdays.

 

To love, honor and obey

Every January, my Secular Franciscan fraternity celebrates with a ritual called Extraction of Saints, in which we are assigned a patron saint for the year, a virtue to develop, a maxim to live by, and another fraternity member to remember in special prayer.

This year, my virtue was Obedience.

I knew I was in for it when that one came along. Ask God for a virtue and He’ll generously respond with a challenge to help you get there.

This is not to say that I think God is in any way responsible for the medical condition (endometriosis) that led to my recent surgery. I don’t think that’s how things work. But that surgery is an opportunity for me to use God’s grace to grow in virtue.

It’ll be another three weeks, at least, before I’m allowed behind the wheel. I can’t be running down the basement stairs, hauling laundry, mopping, vacuuming, and bending over to get heavy pots and pans out of the cabinets.

They sent me a babysitter in the form of Mom for this week, to make sure I don’t do anything I shouldn’t. Next week, my husband will be working from home with the same end in mind. But I admit, I’m not super-tempted to cheat at this point. Thought about it on Monday, then reconsidered.

The resentment about not being able to do my usual things is evaporating. Offers of help from friends are accepted, tough though it can be for me to let someone do things for me. Grace has been busy, I guess. And I am very blessed, and very grateful.

 

Hello, yes, it’s been a while…

Here I am, hanging out on the couch at home. I am recovering well thanks to the insistence of my family that I spend this time resting. They even sent for a babysitter in the form of Mom, because I definitely require that kind of policing.

My house has never been so clean.

Middle Sister held down the fort in the after-school hours quite admirably last week. She cooked, cleaned up, and fussed at the hygiene-averse Little Brother.

Once I recovered from the Evil Epidural from Hell, which kept me semi-anesthetized and completely glazed over for several days before I said no to drugs and kicked the double vision, I was on my feet quickly. My incision is smaller than what I was led to expect, and it’s held together by Crazy Glue. (Don’t go there. Yes, it’s probably appropriate.)

I got very good care at the hospital, but a separate rant about facility design is in order. But the staff? Top notch.

Awaiting My Marching Orders

A tale of woe, told in as many cliches as I can dredge up.

I’m in a bit of a holding pattern these days.  After nearly 2 years of post-hysterectomy complications, which have resulted in (in no particular order) regularly-scheduled pain and bleeding, visits to 2 different GYN-oncologists, 2 MRIs, 1 CAT scan, innumerable ultrasounds of the invasive variety, a few rather unpleasant tests at the urologist’s, 1 burst ovarian cyst resulting in 1 missed Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, and 1 cyst drained “just in time” of 1/2 liter of fluid, my GYN has finally decided that it’s time to shut down the rest of the system.  The plan is to remove my ovaries to cut off the estrogen supply that’s feeding my endometriosis.

I have a cyst larger than my own fist in my left abdomen (they always show up on the left.)  It’s painful, and it takes up a good amount of space.  Hence the wearing of the sweat pants (or, as Little Brother insists on calling them, athletic pants) as much as possible unless I have to actually get out of the car, in which case I suffer through the wearing of the jeans.

Frankly, I’m going to be glad to get this over with.  Even though it means going to a hospital with “Cancer” in its name.  I have not been diagnosed with cancer, but my GYN says that this doctor is the best surgeon to deal with the type of problems I’m having.  I keep telling myself that when I freak out a little bit about the name of the hospital.  I keep telling my husband that when he freaks out about the name of the hospital.  And I hope that none of my kids check the caller ID on the phone, because the word “Cancer” comes up in the name when I get the robo-call to confirm my appointment.

On Tuesday afternoon I’ll see the surgeon and receive my marching orders.  Until then, I have no time frame, no plan.  Anyone who knows me knows how crazy that makes me.  I’m guessing that something is going to happen soon, because my GYN said that they’ll want to take care of that cyst before it explodes on its own.  It could be done separately, or together–whatever the specialist decides.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or more accurately, back at the split-level), I’ve got a part-time writing gig that would have to go on hiatus, I’ve got arrangements to make for leadership at Secular Franciscan meetings, I’ve got kids to drive around, I’ve got “work to be done–an estate to be run–a boy to raise.”  Other than laundry and cooking, the bare minimum is getting done around here because physical stuff like scrubbing, vacuuming, mopping and taking down curtains is painful.  If I feel good enough, I do it.  Otherwise, I let it go.  There’s been a good amount of letting it go lately.  There have been afternoon naps, probably because I’m a little too keyed up to sleep well at night.  There’s been a lot of comfort eating.

I don’t feel like baking cookies, I don’t want to start up another sourdough starter, and there’s no use making a meal plan for April when I don’t know what April’s going to bring or when it’s going to bring it.  Other than Instant Menopause–I know I’m going to get that after the surgery.  Won’t that be fun for everyone lucky enough to live with me?

Meanwhile, I wait, and I worry.  I go to the high-school musical to take my mind off things (50 kids tap-dancing on the biggest stage in the county will do that for you).  On Tuesday, I’ll drive to Philly and find out how things are going to go.  And then I’ll drive home in rush-hour traffic and get on with it.