Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Obamacare will actually save money

...and global warming is a serious issue we must stop in our lifetime.

Here's the best response to this drivel I've seen:

Monday, April 26, 2010


Shock and Awe

My husband just started a PhD program in systems engineering. The nice thing about it is he gets to do it from his jammies! (A homeschoolers dream PhD.) He has two live classes every Saturday from 9 to 5 that he views online along with students from across the globe. Welcome to the 21st century.

The students can see the professors via a live video feed, but they can't see each other. Thus, for his presentation next Saturday he has decided to put up a picture of himself. I tried to convince him to let me take a professional shot, but he opted for the "casual Dad" look and is going to use the picture from my blog. You know, the one where you can hardly see him peeking out from behind all those people. I'm thinking stealth mode would be way better, but he's all for the "shock and awe" approach.

I didn't know you could do that!

Last night I convinced my dear husband to take a break from his homework overload and take me out swing dancing. I had promised a friend we'd help chaperone at her daughter's 16th birthday celebration which was held at a grungy-looking New Age cafe near Denver's largest homeless shelter. Yes, the place looks creepy on the outside, but on Sunday nights they have all-age dancing and free dance lessons before the live band plays swing tunes.

It was pouring rain and we were tired by the time we left the house for downtown. When we got there, we realized we didn't have the right change for the parking meter, so we first went inside to get change. Within minutes of my husband leaving to pay for the parking, an older gentleman asked me to dance. I was totally taken off-guard and politely declined his request. I was also slightly embarrassed for being asked to dance. I didn't want to look like I was there looking for a date! Later, I realized that most of the gentlemen who were there dancing seemed to be looking for a dance partner rather than any long-term commitment. Still, it was the first time I'd been asked to dance by a total stranger since I was single!

To make a long story short, we had a great time dancing and had the best compliment from our 14 year-old daughter, when she said, "I didn't know you guys could swing dance!"

We can't really swing dance. We just fake it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. Padre Pio: The Holy Man of the Gargano

Padre Pio: The True Story Padre Pio: The True Story by Bernard C. Ruffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was a naval officer stationed in Naples, Italy in the late 1980's, my fiancé and I once took a road trip eastward, across the boot of Italy, just to see what was on the other side. Our destination was the Gargano peninsula, the odd-shaped "spur" of the boot that sticks out into the Adriatic Sea and an ancient sea port called Manfredonia.

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On our way there,we saw a huge billboard with a picture of a gray-haired priest, with his hands wrapped in bandages. The billboard said something in Italian roughly translated, "See San Giovanni Rotondo! The home of Padre Pio!"

"Who's Padre Pio?" I asked my fiancé.

"Some priest--I think he has the stigmata," was my beloved's reply.

We drove on.

Several years later I finally learned who Padre Pio was. I read Padre Pio: The True Story. My own copy was published in 1982 and it was perhaps 1990 when I read it. I think it's time for a re-reading.

I pulled it off the shelf yesterday, (when I was writing the post about guardian angels) blew the dust off the cover and began randomly reading it. I'm not sure what is more amazing about this book; the stories of bi-locutions, miraculous healings and spiritual warfare that gives Padre Pio bruises, or the fact that this book was written by a devout Lutheran pastor, C. Bernard Ruffin.

I compared the introduction in my 1982 version with the introduction (available on Google books) in the 1991 revised and expanded edition. I noticed Ruffin left out this section in the new edition:

"My experience in visiting San Giovanni Rotondo--seeing the tomb of Padre Pio, visiting his cell, being shown where he heard confessions and where he ate in the friary refectory--was similar to that of visiting Mount Vernon or Monticello, or like my visit to the sites associated with the founder of my own denomination, Martin Luther, in East Germany..."

I suppose if we had pulled off the main highway and driven to San Giovanni Rotondo that day, I would have had a similar experience. I wasn't Catholic and I really had no clue what the stigmata was or why I should even care about Padre Pio.

Since Ruffin left that section out of the newer edition, I can only assume his thoughts had changed or he decided it didn't matter what his personal thoughts were. What mattered was his telling of the facts surrounding the life of Padre Pio.

I'm putting the new edition on my "to read" list because this is a powerful story that is worth re-reading. And if I ever get back to southern Italy, you can bet I'm taking the detour to San Giovanni Rotondo! Home of Padre Pio!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Fairies and Guardian Angels

Fra Angelico. The Last Judgement. Detail: The Blessed. c.1431. Tempera on wood. 105 x 210 cm. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. 

I grew up a non-church-going Protestant with proper Protestant sensibilities. At least I think that's what I had.

I believed in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and had nightmares that the Big Bad Wolf was going to eat me. In my mind, this fairy-tale world was quite real and alive to me and no one could've convinced me otherwise.

Until the day I found out who really brought the presents at Christmas and replaced my baby tooth with a shiny coin and left me a big chocolate bunny on Easter morning. To say I was crushed is putting it mildly.

Nevertheless, deep within the recesses of my mind I still had the notion of something unseen that was real. Something or someone other than God (whom I knew without a doubt was real) would whisper cautions or give me sudden course corrections. I believe the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us, but this notion I had persisted alongside my belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For as long as I remember, I've had a deeply felt belief in a guardian angel who protected me on more than one occasion. Until now, I've only spoken about it to a very few people besides my husband and kids.

Keep in mind--I had never been taught this by anyone as far as I know. My belief in guardian angels persisted even when I was an adult Protestant with anti-Catholic tendencies. I knew that some being had stopped that car from hitting me when I was riding my bike on a crowded street in Annapolis with roads barely wide enough for cars. I knew that someone had caused my friend to hit the brakes on her car just in time to avoid a collision with another vehicle when I was in the car with her. And I have very vivid memories of driving home from a 12+ hour shift in Naples, Italy when I had a bad case of the flu and a raging fever and all I wanted to do was go home and go to bed and I entered a tunnel on the Tangenziale then a woke suddenly just as my car was exiting the tunnel and crossing several lanes of traffic. Someone had wakened me. I knew it and I said "Thank you!" aloud to whomever it was and I made it home safely with my heart beating wildly with the sudden knowledge that I had nearly died had it not been for my guardian angel. After each of these incidents my first and foremost thought was that my guardian angel had saved me.

I never spoke these thoughts to anyone until after I had been a Catholic for several years. I was married with three children, and I was out of the Navy and living in Virginia. I was visiting with some other Catholic moms with young children and I said something to the effect of, "It's too bad guardian angels are just a fairy tale. It would be so wonderful if they were real." (See, that's what my conscious mind would always tell my subconscious mind once the adrenaline would wear off after one of my "near death" experiences).

My two friends looked at me like I was crazy. They laughed and said, "But they are real!"

I was stunned, but delighted to hear the news.

Nevertheless, I needed verification of this information since my Protestant Bible-only-as-proof beliefs still told me I had to have some scriptural proof of this in order to really believe it. It didn't take very long before I read that Matthew 18:10 is the passage generally cited as evidence that each of us has a personal guardian angel. I know many Protestants don't accept that idea or even see it as a necessity because if God is for us, who can be against us? Of course, God doesn't need to give us guardian angels. He doesn't need to give us parents or teachers either. He could have just made us as fully functioning adults, or as quickly maturing adults rather than children for 18 years. Wouldn't that have made more sense? Why spend 18 years (or more) of our short human lives being dependent on another? But He made us dependent on parents and teachers to help us mature to adulthood.

I don't know why it is part of God's divine plan to give us guardian angels. But the thought of it gives me joy and helps me to know I am always looked after and will there will always be someone there to watch over me. I like the fact that not only does each of us have a guardian angel, but sometimes cities and nations do as well. When I was pregnant, I felt rather blessed because I had two guardian angels, since one of them was my unborn child's. I thought it would be super neat to be carrying twins, because then I could walk around with three guardian angels tagging along.

Parents, make full use of your children's guardian angels. They can be invoked to watch kids (along with the babysitter) when you're not around, or to keep an eye on sick kids when you're asleep, or help kids find missing shoes when they're running late for school, or even help your college kids stay safe when they're hundreds of miles away from home.

I like to tell my kids some of the stories of St. Padre Pio's guardian angel, whom he could see from the time he was a small boy. Pio often had no one to play with, but "Little Boy" would come and talk to him and play with him. Young Pio knew Little Boy was his guardian angel and he just assumed everyone could see and hear their guardian angel. When Padre Pio grew into adulthood and became a Catholic priest, Little Boy stayed the same and would still come to him and talk to him. (You can read more about St. Pio in C. Bernard Ruffin's book, Padre Pio: The True Story. By the way, Ruffin is a Lutheran minister.)

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about angels:

The angels in the life of the Church

In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.201
In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli . . . ["May the angels lead you into Paradise . . ."]). Moreover, in the "Cherubic Hymn" of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Catholics believe we each have a guardian angel assigned to us from the first moment of our conception. And I don't think I'm stretching it when I say from the first moment of our conception since we believe the soul is infused into the tiny person at the first moment of conception, it makes sense to me that the tiny person also has a guardian angel. The actual birth is just an event in the life of the person but it is not the birth that makes one a person. Angels, being pure spirits, don't have the limitations of time and space that we do. They are God's messengers and our guardians. What a tremendous help we have in all our struggles! As a mom, I depend upon my guardian angel, especially when I've had a sick child and I'm exhausted. I can sleep soundly knowing my guardian angel will wake me if I am needed. My guardian angel doesn't have to sleep!

I know all this may sound as crazy as fairies to some. Yet there is so much more to life than what we see and know now. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12.)

Our Catholic tradition tells us that when we die we will finally get to meet our guardian angel and he will lead us joyfully into heaven, telling us all about our countless near misses and we will realize just how tenderly our Heavenly Father cares for us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creative Punishment

Have you ever sent your kids to bed without dinner? I've always felt that was too extreme (even though my husband insists he survived to adulthood despite an occasional missed meal). I've been known to slip the kid a glass of milk or a piece of bread when such punishment is warranted.

This, however, is something I can really sink my teeth into. The dramatic flourishes are what makes it so wonderful..."serve on steel prison tray."

My eldest sent me this link and it is too good not to share. The chef describes the recipe as such: "Barely nutritional meal suitable for all miscreant children."

Love it!

Your Kids Time out Lunch

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday--Kiss the Cross

Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.

He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Isaiah 53:1-7

We were very fortunate today to be able to attend a beautifully reverent and somber Good Friday Commemoration of the Lord's Passion and Veneration of the Cross at Holy Ghost Church this afternoon.

This is the second day of the Triduum, the three days preceding Easter. These are some of the most beautiful liturgies in the Church. I am especially moved by the veneration of the cross, when the faithful are invited up to kiss the crucifix.

That reminds me of a story. Several years ago, two of my girls, Kateri and Lizzy, were preparing for the sacrament of confirmation. Their teacher was a young and very fit professional firefighter for the city of Denver. He could be rather intimidating sometimes because he didn't go for the type of confirmation class that involves playing "icebreaker" games or getting the kids to talk about themselves. I'm not even sure if he asked the kids to introduce themselves and I don't remember him smiling a whole lot, but I think that's because he took his job of preparing kids for confirmation very seriously.

I used to sit in on all the classes and listen to him talk while my fingers were busy knitting something. It was such a blessing for me to be able to sit in on that class and hear his stories. Sometimes he would talk passionately about his job as a firefighter. He would tell us about how a firefighter has to go into a dark and smokey building, and he has to rely on his protective clothing and his oxygen to keep him from being overcome with smoke. But sometimes he might run out of oxygen and be overcome by smoke and fall down unconscious. He might have a buddy who has to find him in the darkness, grab him by the ankles and pull him to safety, saving his life. He might wake up and find he is safe and well, having no memories of the danger he was in, or the buddy who pulled him from death into life. But he really owes his life to his fellow firefighter. Whether or not he acknowledges it, his life has been restored because of the actions of another firefighter. "That is exactly what Jesus did for us," he would say. "He saved us from death, even when we didn't know we needed to be saved. We owe him our lives."

Another time, he talked about the importance of owning a crucifix and hanging it in a prominent spot. He said, "One morning, you'll wake up, stumble out of bed to get your cup of coffee and you'll walk right past the crucifix hanging there on the wall. Then, maybe after you've had a cup of coffee, you'll wake up and you'll see the crucifix, with Jesus hanging there and you'll say, 'Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life!' And you'll go over and kiss the crucifix. You won't be able to stop it. You'll have to kiss him." Here was this big and burly firefighter telling a bunch of puny teenagers they would be unable to pass a crucifix without kissing it. I was always transfixed when he spoke. It was almost as if he had one foot in heaven and he really understood what it meant to love Jesus. I'm so thankful my girls had the chance to have Dan Pittaluga for a teacher.

When Archbishop Chaput came to confirm the kids, he spent about a half hour or so talking with them in the basement of the church before the confirmation Mass. The archbishop liked to quiz the kids who were going to be confirmed, to make sure they really knew their stuff. Archbishop Chaput commented that they were one of the best prepared classes he'd ever seen. And it was all thanks to Dan, who taught them well, without fun and games. It was also one of the most compacted confirmation classes my kids have ever attended. The class met every week for about three months. And he didn't even have them go on retreat!

That would be the last confirmation class Dan taught because he died suddenly and quite unexpectedly of a heart attack a few months later, leaving a wife and several young children behind. I can imagine him in heaven, walking up to Jesus and saying, "Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life...and here I am!"

Still Learning How to Homeschool

I've been wrestling with thoughts of making big changes in our homeschooling for the next school year. No, we weren't thinking of sending our kids to school. In fact, we were thinking of eliminating some outside classes they've been taking for the past seven years. (Like I said, big changes!) My husband and I discuss whether or not we need to make changes nearly every year. As homeschooling parents, we are all too aware of our own deficiencies and those of our children. We know who needs to work on their grammar or penmanship or reading. But this year I felt more unease than usual and felt a stronger than usual desire to make radical changes to the way we've grown accustomed. That is, I wanted to bring my kids home and just do school without any outside distractions.

That's great when you have little kids or very docile children. Mine are neither little nor docile. The female teenagers, in particular, weren't at all happy with that solution.

I investigated starting a co-op, since there aren't any Catholic co-ops for high school kids in our area. But I'm not sure if I have the energy to start the type of co-op I'd like to join, while still homeschooling six kids, ages 8 to 16!

I needed to sit down with my husband and write out our educational philosophy and goals. In reality, I'd been keeping him up late at night for the past few weeks talking about it. For me, writing it out helps clarify my thinking. Plus, I like to be able to look at what I've written and refer to it later.

Here's what we came up with. This is the order with which we came up with the ideas and not necessarily in the order of importance:

--more challenging and broader studies (particularly for our teenagers);
--more classical education;
--challenge them without nagging or punitive grading (grades should be a way to test if the student has mastered the material, not punish them);
--give glory and honor to God using the talents He gave us and learning to use those talents;
--strive for mastery of material (see the note about punitive grading);
--don't waste time doing busy work;
--expand learning opportunities
--more experiential learning, i.e. gardening, camping, hiking, nature study, cooking with Mom, field trips, etc.
(this is more for the three youngest boys at home, but should also include the older kids from time to time);
--prepare for college-level work, (goes with the challenging and broader studies idea);
--more memorization, especially poetry, but also important names, dates, Latin roots, states and capitals, etc.
--grammar and handwriting (weaknesses of particular kids).

As you can see, these aren't anything profound, but they are especially meaningful for us because of some of the issues we've had to deal with this year. Also, these goals could be achieved at a brick-and-mortar school or at home, but for us, the best environment is home. In fact, two of the issues we have dealt with this year (punitive grading and busy work) are from classes taken outside the home. Our kids don't want to give up that time with friends and learning from another teacher, so we are going to try to arrange their outside classes so that they minimize the wasted time and maximize the learning. We also want to balance the amount of outside homework they have with the learning that we want to take place at home.

We included the teen girls in our discussion, since teen boy was off reading his Aeneid homework and the teen girls always like to be included. Once they understood we didn't want to take them away from their friends and put them in a convent (do all teen girls worry about this, or is it just Catholic homeschooled girls?) they were much more relaxed and willing to listen to what we had to say.

I'm particularly excited about one idea we brainstormed together (after teen boy sat down with us). We are going to have the two girls and boy study the same literature and history next year. On tap: Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales, Song of Roland and other Medievel European writings. We'll also have the three of them do the same era for history, in order to maximize our learning time at home. I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before. One of the great things about homeschooling is the flexibility it affords and kids of different ages can study the same things, but at different levels. High school (and junior high) kids have very similar reading abilities, so having them study the same thing for history and literature is no big deal. In fact, now it seems like a big DUH!

It just occurred to me that the 2010-2011 school year will mark our twentieth year of homeschooling! Yep, I must be a slow learner, if it's taken this long for me to figure out something so basic. Maybe by the time my youngest graduates (in 2021), I'll actually know a thing or two.