Monday Recap: December 14, 2015

Monday Recap-What I've been writing

As I do each Monday, I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces. There hasn’t been much this week. A lot of work has gotten done ahead of time for my job, so that there will be time off for Christmas! And this week I completed an outline for a possible book project; that was sent out today.


benedicta album cover

Benedicta: Chant in Honor of the Blessed Mother



365 days to Mercy logoTech Talk: An App for the Year of Mercy

Small Success: Musical Wake-up Call

Small Success dark blue outline 800x800Thursdays at begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

First things first. You need to go over and read Sherry Antonetti’s post that explains why Small Success is such an important thing. There’s not always a lot of participation, but it’s good to do the writing, to reflect on what goes right, to be grateful.

I’ve made my mornings a little easier by coming up with a way to get TheKid out of bed that involves a lot less yelling. His alarm goes off; he ignores it. I call for him 5 minutes later; he ignores me. 5 minutes after that, I head in with my Secret Weapon: my tablet with a Spotify playlist I’ve titled “Teenage Musical Torture.” Here it is, for your listening…um…pleasure.

My friends on Facebook helped me craft the playlist. My criteria specified that I had to be able to put up with the song, so some suggestions were denied because of that.

It’s good, though. He’s laughing, not grumpy, when he gets out of bed.

I find that anything by the Brady Bunch works particularly well. “Disco Duck” is also quite effective.

In other news, both the Big Kids have come home for dinner this week. Not on the same night, but they both came home for dinner. That’s a family success.

And I remembered to buy a set of Advent candles. Let this serve as your reminder, moms: Advent begins in 10 days! Go get some candles!

Share your Small Successes at by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: First Faith Formation Mass

For the past 7 years, faith formation at my parish was held off-site, at the local Catholic high school situated midway between the two churches that make up the parish. Faith formation took place on Sunday mornings, beginning with Mass in the school auditorium and running for two hours after Mass. There were 14 faith-formation sessions per school year.

Faith formation (or religious education, or CCD, or whatever you call it) has largely been off my radar screen because my children have always attended Catholic schools, where they have daily religion classes. I never paid much attention to how our parish did religious education—until the children disappeared.

For the past 7 years, my children were among the very few children at Mass on faith-formation weekends. All the other kids were in the high-school auditorium. And that’s not a good thing. It means that families were separated out from the rest of the parish. This is not the same as designating a particular Mass as a “family-friendly” Mass, with a homily geared toward children and more upbeat, contemporary music.

The families had left the building—or, more accurately, been removed from it and sent to an auditorium whose primary purpose is school assemblies and performances of the spring musical. Projecting stained-glass windows on the auditorium walls is a poor substitute for the real thing that the children could see, up close and personal, at our two church buildings.

Families missed out. They missed out on the experience of being at Mass among people of all ages. They missed that fellowship and, hopefully, that encouragement at the sign of peace, or after Mass, or when someone in front of them turned around to smile at their babbling babies.

The rest of the parish missed out. They missed out on the witness of families who showed up, despite untied shoes, major bed-head, and arguments about whether Matchbox cars are good church toys. (Trust me, families. The parish needs to see you there. That’s how we know the Church is alive and well and continuing into the future.)

And this morning, at the second of two inaugural Masses for faith formation on our own parish turf, it became evident that the children had missed out as well. Case in point:

  • Lots of people sang the responsorial psalm, an entirely new, but very simple tune. Very few sang the other acclamations until the Lord’s Prayer came along. They sang that (again, not as many as sang the psalm, but they sang it.)
  • I watched one brother-sister pair as they made their way through the Communion line. The brother, age 9 or 10, was demonstrating to his sister how she should receive Communion as they walked toward Father. He had it all down—how to hold up his two hands, how to bless himself afterward. I hoped and prayed that his younger sister was actually old enough to receive, and that if she wasn’t, she hadn’t just made her First Communion today.
  • The kids didn’t seem to know what to do in the pews, which makes sense if their entire Mass experience has taken place in an auditorium with no kneelers.
  • And at the end of Mass, after Father prayed the closing prayer and the deacon said, “Go in peace,” they went. Immediately. Without waiting for Father and the rest of the procession to leave first. The rest of the parish followed their lead, so behind the altar servers we had a senior-citizen couple who crept along at a snail’s pace in the middle of a bunch of families. Father and the deacon couldn’t go anywhere.

I’m really glad that the families are back in church. I hope that as the weeks go on, things get better. It was encouraging that they sang the psalm, so we can expect that participation in music will improve.

It was good to see kids watching the musicians. I never mind if kids turn around and watch us play. That gives me hope that they’ll think, “maybe I can do that someday.” That’s what I did as a kid, and I appreciate the encouragement I received as a beginning musician 35 years ago.

There was a little dancing in the aisle, too, during the closing song, which contributed to the procession’s traffic jam, but to which the parents put a quick end.

We had one mom stop by the musicians’ area and ask us about joining our folk group. That’s terrific! I hope she does, and that she brings a friend or three.

Overall, I think the good of having the families back within the parish church far outweighed the bad and the ugly. This is good for the whole parish, and it’s necessary—and not just because we have only one priest now. It’s necessary for the good of the Church to have the families among us, not in some high-school auditorium.

After 7 years, the families are back in our parish church for faith formation. It’s about time. And now it’s time to welcome them.

Things Parents Say…with a NYC Accent

"Dashboard" by Tomo Nakajima (2013), Flickr. All rights reserved.
“Dashboard” by Tomo Nakajima (2013), Flickr. All rights reserved. If this car had Sirius radio, I’d buy it.

Every morning on the way to theater camp it’s the same. The Kid and I fight over what we’re going to listen to on the radio. He punches buttons and I veto his selections.

Then I get, “But Mom! It’s ‘Loota’!”

Me: “We are not listening to people who name themselves after criminals who steal from stores during riots.”

Kid: …

Then I see the display on the stereo screen: Ludacris.

I still made him change the station.

It was a lot easier when he was small and had to sit in the back and couldn’t reach the radio.

And any of you who tell me I need to savor these last 3 1/2 years until he gets s driver’s license and is no longer in my passenger seat, you can have his musical (and I use that term loosely) selections.

#WorthRevisiting: Less of Me

I’m linking up at Alison Gingras’ Reconciled to You blog, where she’s hosting #WorthRevisiting.

When I saw that the theme for this week was “Less of Me” I knew which post I had to revisit. I reached back 9 years into the archives for this one.

This used to be part of the homemade hymnal at Our Lady of the Flower Children*:

Less of Me

Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me; let me praise a little more
Let me be when I am weary just a little bit more cheery
Think a little more of others and little less of me

Let me be a little braver when temptations let me waver
Let me strive a little harder to be all that I should be
Let me be a little meeker with a brother that is weaker
Let me think more of my neighbors and a little less of me

Let me be when I am weary just a little bit more cheery
Let me serve a little better those that I am striving for
Let me be a little meeker to a brother that is weaker
Think a little more of others and a little less of me.

I’m not sure of the composer but I think it might be Glen Campbell.

Regardless of who wrote it, it’s a good reminder of what we all can do for Lent. I can’t help but think that the memory of this song was a gift–a reminder from the Lord of what I can and should be doing.

Turns out it is Glen Cambell’s song! I found a video of him performing it with Judy Collins and Hamilton Camp. So here you go–a blast from the past. I think this song makes a wonderful prayer.

Today’s Ponder Point:

Music can touch the heart and soul in a powerful way. What hymn or song has touched your heart and soul this Lent? What lesson does that song teach you?

*The real name of the church was not “Our Lady of the Flower Children.” But it was the late 60s and early 70s, and we went to the Children’s Mass where we sat on folding chairs in the church basement, and, well, you know the rest. The music made a huge impression on me and, I believe, is a very real part of the reason I’m a musician at church today.

Go on over to Reconciled to You and see the other blogs in the linkup!

Welcome to Sing

I’ve been a musician and singer in church since I was 15. Suffice to say that I’ve been at it for more than 2/3 of my life, even without counting the part where I was a cantor for the responsorial psalm and prayer of the faithful in middle school.

The very first church where I participated as a music minister: St. Bonaventure in Paterson, NJ.
The very first church where I participated as a music minister: St. Bonaventure in Paterson, NJ.

I’ve never been afraid to lift up my voice and sing in church. Now, I’m by no means a solo-quality singer, but I’m happy to blend in with a group (and ecstatic if I get to sing the harmony part.) So even if I’m in the pew instead of in the choir or ensemble, I’m going to sing.

It’s been my pleasure and privilege, for thirty-mumble years, to sing and play in quite a number of folk groups, choirs and ensembles. I’ve seen (and heard) the good, the bad, and the ugly–both while playing and singing and while sitting as part of the assembly.

Jane the Actuary at Patheos Catholic wonders how to get people in the assembly to participate by singing. It’s simple, really. In my experience, people will sing unless they are discouraged from doing so.

How can choirs and musicians show that they don’t want the assembly to sing?

  • Play the song in a key that’s out of reach for all except the deepest bass or highest soprano
  • Don’t announce the number of the song in the hymnal
  • Announce the number of the song, but tell the congregation that they’re invited to sing during the refrain only
  • Choose music that is not in the hymnal
  • Sing the hymn in a language other than what’s in the hymnal or spoken in the community (Latin being the exception here)
  • Use a different arrangement of a familiar hymn
  • Sing familiar hymns whose words have been changed by politically-correct hymnal publishers
  • Sing the hymn in madrigal style so that the assembly can’t find the melody
  • Don’t provide a hymnal or worship aid, or leave all the hymnals stacked on the outer edges of 12-seat pews, so that people who forget to grab one on their way to sit down never get one later
  • Sing with so much technical perfection that you intimidate everyone in the pews

I have seen all of these happen in my long tenure as a musician. And there’s no excuse for any of them.

Finally, this is the story of the Music Director Who Caused a Mutiny. During my junior year in college, the music department hired a graduate student to direct the folk group. The position was usually a volunteer one, held by an undergrad music student in the folk group–but they all graduated. We learned a lot of new music that year, which is always good, but most of it wasn’t in the hymnal, which is usually bad. When we spoke up to the director about the probability that people in the pews would be discouraged from singing, her response was, “You’re performing for God.”

Well, no. We were not performing for God. We weren’t performing for Father, either, nor for the congregation. We were there to lead people in sung prayer, not to put on a show for anyone (even God.)

Our director only showed up at one of the two Masses the folk group played. My friends and I took turns leading the music at the other Mass, and if music that wasn’t in the hymnal was chosen, we’d replace it during the Mass when we were on our own.

When our parish merged with a neighboring one in 2008, we were told that people at the other church didn’t sing. Indeed, many of them expressed surprise at the level of participation in our original parish. But guess what? It’s gotten better! With encouragement, people will sing. Even if they’re Catholic.

Image source: St. Bonaventure Parish Facebook page

Small Success: Just Add Grace

Small-Success-Thursday-400pxThursdays at begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

I said YES to grace this week. I was thinking, Tuesday morning, that I really need to make a way to get to Adoration. We have Perpetual Adoration in our parish–and I’ve been ignoring the opportunity. On my way out of Mass Tuesday, the lady who organizes the schedule for Adoration approached me and asked if I could take over an hour for someone who is ailing and unable to attend anymore. I think it took a whole 2 hours, if that, from the time I originally had the thought of Adoration in my head to the time Pat spoke to me in the church foyer. I start today.

I learned a new song this week. Our folk group is preparing to teach Matt Maher’s “Your Grace is Enough” to the assembly at Mass before the end of Lent. It’s a perfect song to meditate on during Lent (or any time, really.) And I figured out how to download the MP3 to my phone so I can have it with me everywhere. Give it a listen:

And in more practical matters, I came in under budget this week at the supermarket. By shopping the sales and using coupons, I saved $105.44 on my order, paying only $116.78. AND because I bought some stuff in the Dollar Days sale, I walked out of there with $7 in coupons off my next shopping order AND a coupon for a free reusable shopping bag. (WIN!) I buy supermarket gift cards through Little Brother’s school (we get a tuition kickback for that) and it does help me to stay on budget. Since I buy the gift cards every 2 weeks, I’m under budget about $16 for the 2-week period. Just in time for Middle Sister to come home for Spring Break and stock up on laundry detergent, Gatorade, granola bars and other staples of dormitory life.

Share your Small Successes at by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!

© 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Sick Day

Clearly I have pushed too hard in the past couple of weeks.

I had bronchitis over Thanksgiving, which stopped being bronchitis (I thought) after I finished the Z-pack; it turned into asthma that I couldn’t shake. My inhalers did nothing. I could sing–sometimes–but couldn’t sustain a note or phrase; I just haven’t had the air to do it.

Yesterday after school I felt so awful. So, so awful. But it was show night for the Christmas pageant and I had to babysit my homeroom before the show, release them to their parents after the show, and be there during the show to try to keep the kids on tempo during their songs. And being a substitute teacher, I wasn’t sure how I could go about missing this. So I dosed up on Advil and Dayquil, had a bowl of egg drop soup, went to school and got through the show.

Which went fantastically well, by the way. I didn’t have a huge part in this (other teachers did so much more) but I am so proud of how well the kids performed. And they couldn’t have looked sweeter in their tinsel halos and burlap shepherds’ tunics.

I brought all kinds of things that would be needed for today, including sub plans, and left them on the desk.

After the show I came home and texted the two teachers whose cell-phone numbers I have so I could find out how I could go about missing school today. (Again–this is the kind of thing substitutes just don’t know–because how often would you need it?) I reached the principal, who told me which other subs I should call, and I secured a sub for the day.

This morning I spent 2 hours at urgent care, tweeting to pass the wait time.

urgent care tweets

They gave me a nebulizer treatment right there to see how I would respond. It did help, so they prescribed that AND oral steroids AND more antibiotics and sent me on my way.

I came home and rested after all that, and Middle Sister picked up all my medicine PLUS two caffeinated Boost slushies (if you’re not local, it’s like uncarbonated Coke and it’s amazing in a slushy, but chock-full of sugar and caffeine and all the bad-for-you stuff). For lunch, I had a bowl of dry Cocoa Pebbles, one Boost slushy, two Advil, one Amoxicillin and three steroids. I’m wide awake NOW, let me tell you. I’m kind of afraid to try the nebulizer since that made me a bit jittery all by itself!

The worst part of all this is that I’ll be missing the Festival of Lessons and Carols tonight. I’ve been rehearsing since October for this and hands down it’s the highlight of Christmastime for me, musically speaking. The privilege of participating in this event with the high-caliber musicians and vocalists it attracts is a real gift to me, and it killed me to have to bow out. But I know they’ll do great and, at this point, I’m just hoping I’ll be good to sing on Christmas.

Small Success Thursday: Easter Vacation Edition

It’s Thursday! That means it’s time to join up with the rest of the CatholicMoms and celebrate some Small Successes.

Small-Success-Thursday-400pxThis week’s Small Success Thursday linkup at is titled “Time Well Wasted.” That’s also the title of an album I enjoy by the Freddy Jones Band. My favorite track is Take the Time. It’s good stuff. Take the time to listen!

And on to the Small Successes:


It’s Easter vacation, so everybody’s home (including Hubs) and I am trying very hard to just go with the flow here. Sometimes that means I get to be a little bit lazy too. That part is easy. Other times it means I try to say “yes” to those last-minute schedule changes that everyone else in the house come up with. My first response is still usually “no” but if I have 15 minutes to think about it, I can generally get to “yes.”


Easter Sunday Mass was a wonderful celebration. We had so many people show up for the folk group that we ran out of chairs for everyone in the choir area. That’s the best problem to have! We sang our hearts out. We celebrated. After both the prelude (“Tell It Out”) and the responsorial psalm (“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad”) a little kid somewhere in church yelled, “YAY!” It was sweet, and I think it broke the ice a little bit. Mass  was super-crowded, with plenty of kids, and everyone was there in their Easter best and probably feeling a bit stiff. That kid gave everyone a chance to chuckle and relax a little, and there was plenty of smiling and people joining in the singing. And that’s what it’s all about:  sing once, pray twice.

After Mass there was plenty of joking among the folk group members that we should hire that child to come to our Mass every Sunday and cheer for us.


I’ve been cooking, which I love to do! Here are the latest recipes I’ve gotten up on the cooking blog:

Beef Fajitas beef fajitas



Granmas rollsGranma’s Rolls



Easter ham and cheese bakeEaster Ham & Cheese Bake




Enjoy! And Happy Easter!

Lawn Chair Catechism 4.0

It’s time again for Lawn Chair Catechism at!Image


This week we are reading chapter 3 of Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.

A study guide for the entire book is provided here. You don’t even have to read the book to participate in the discussion (either here or at the CatholicMom main link for this chapter) but this is an excellent book that really makes you stop and think about a lot of things you might be taking for granted–or be missing entirely and not even realize it.

This chapter, to be honest, was a difficult one for me to read. It brought up–again–all those feelings I had when I read the introduction to this book. I put off writing about this chapter for a little while, which turned out to be a good thing, because I was able to stop focusing on the whole issue of my own failings in this area and instead found an area in which there has been some success–for myself and, I think, for others.

So I’ll focus on part of the “In Your Parish” section of the discussion questions:

What success stories can you share? In what ministries of your parish is “discipleship thinking” the norm? In what areas is Christian discipleship not yet the standard for ministry?

At the beginning of the chapter, I confess, I was experiencing real feelings of jealousy as I read about the dynamic parish the author described. The pews are full! The kids are there! Everyone’s engaged! Why can’t my parish have that?

I started thinking about the capital campaign that my parish is currently running. In the parish described in chapter 3, that wouldn’t even be an issue. Of course, the parish described in chapter 3 has not just gone through a parish merger within the last 5 years. Want to mess with people’s connection to the Church? Merge (or close) their parish. There has to be a better way. I think our parish has weathered the storm better than many others in the area, but it has been difficult in many ways and, yes, many people have walked away.

But then I started thinking about “charism.” On page 92, “charism” is described as a “‘gratuitious grace’ given to a member of the body of Christ to empower him or her to build up the Church and to witness Christ to the world.” And I started thinking about what’s on my calendar for tonight.

My charism is music. Music, for me, is a way to serve, a way to pray, a way to build community. When I was a fourth-grader beginning piano lessons, my music teacher encouraged all her students to occasionally come with her to the Masses she played at a local parish. She would play the organ, and we children would sing. Two songs that were always on the menu:  “Seek Ye First” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.” In harmony–with almost no rehearsal. I was blessed to have the experience, at the age of 9, 10, 11 years old, of using song as a form of worship. I have never stopped.

For over 30 years I have been part of folk groups–at the various parishes where I’ve lived and at the music ministries of 3 universities. In my current parish, I believe that our folk group has become for me (and I hope for others) a means to discipleship.

Folk groups are not the most popular ensembles for church music these days. And I will be the first to admit that there are times when we are not as reverent as we could and should be. However, we know what we are there to do, and we take that very seriously. We are not there to perform for the priest, the congregation, or for God. We are there to lead the congregation in sung prayer.

When we get together for our Wednesday night practice (also known as folk-group therapy) we are intentional about making sure the hymns we use are accessible to the assembly. Sometimes that means we transpose the music. Sometimes that means we rearrange the hymn selection within the Mass, or swap out one hymn for another as needed. We smile when we see little kids dancing in the pews to the entrance hymn. That means they are feeling the joy that we feel as we play and sing. Our goal is always to sing it like we mean it–and to inspire the assembly to do the same. When people approach us and tell us that we make it easy for them to be able to sing at Mass, we know we are doing our job.

I am blessed to be part of the folk group at my parish. We make a commitment to get together to rehearse each week. During that rehearsal, we practice the music. We discuss the lyrics. We share what we do (or do not) like about particular hymns. All of that makes us better musicians and better ministers. We also laugh together (a lot) and even cry together. Our bond has made us better friends and better ministers.

Hopefully it is making us better disciples.