Sunday, November 30, 2014

Things That Make Me Laugh

An e-card making the Facebook rounds: Good luck this Thanksgiving explaining why you're still single and Charles Manson is not.

My teenage son's take on a holiday classic: Santa got Ebola from a reindeer . . . 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Seven Year Old Boys Run the World

Some years back Disney found itself in hot water over a movie aimed at children, a movie that contained a brief snippet of animation that, let's just say, contained adult themes. Very adult themes. Disney denied, denied, denied, and many viewers thought it was some sort of plot like back-masking everyone used to talk about when I was a teenager.

I don't accept Disney's defense for a minute, but not because I sense there's some nefarious plot afoot. No, I look at these things more pragmatically and operate under two basic theories:

First, having supervised the yearbook more times than I care to recall,  I know that creative people put in long hours and get punchy and crazy and just may succumb to the temptation to insert all manner of barely detectable humor into copy they edit, into photos they crop.

Second, I am now firmly convinced that seven-year-old boys secretly run the world.

Let me spend some time expounding on my second theory.

Dave chaperoned the Scouts on a weekend trip to an airshow in Jacksonville. I perused the website and noted the Blue Angels, a variety of aerial acrobats  . . .  and the Port-o-Jet.

Yes, the Port-o-Jet

Because air shows are organized by seven-year-old boys.

The trip was for older boys, but Dave wanted John to come along if he was willing to forego a class field trip scheduled for the same day. I heard Dave talking to John, reviewing his options. And then I heard John guffawing. Big belly laughs reverberating through the house.

Clearly, they had hit upon the Port-o-Jet, and John was sold.

He's a seven-year old boy.

Yesterday was a veritable monsoon in Augusta. I can enjoy a rainy Sunday. It truly becomes a day of rest. We whiled away the hours playing Shoots and Ladders and then moved on to Pictionary. It was all great fun until Kolbe's turn came up and his word was Colon. Yes, Colon.

Because the makers of Pictionary are seven-year-old boys. And late at night -- punchy and crazy and facing a deadline -- someone added the word Colon. The men proceeded to giggle while the women rolled their eyes.

Kobe's word was colon, and hilarity ensued.


And this all hit a little close to home because someone around here may or may not have celebrated her fiftieth birthday recently. And do you know what the medical community offers patrons for their fiftieth birthday? That's right! A colonoscopy.

Spelling practice.
I was loathe to mention it here, and mostly I've taken the high ground on the whole issue and said things like Isn't it a blessing that we have such great preventive medicine? when what I'm really thinking is something along the lines of We can manage to land a camera on Comet 67P, 317 million miles away, travelling at 317,000 kilometers per hour, but we can't concoct a more palatable solution than Movi-prep?

Movi-prep. Yes, the wretched stuff you down by the liter! before a colonoscopy is called Movi-prep.

Seven-year-old boys run the pharmaceutical industry as well.

And I can tell you without naming names that men and women approach post-colonoscopy recovery rather differently. Judging from the conversations taking place behind the curtains -- and clearly audible to every other soul in the room -- men are fairly excited to get free license to deal with their, ahem, gas issues without restraint. Women, for the record, are aghast.

Seven-year-old boys eventually grow up.

But not really.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Do You Believe in the Devil? Because He Believes in You.

Keep Telling Yourself It's Just a Game

So reads the billboard for a movie coming soon to a theater near you. The movie is ouija. Yes, ouija, as in the board, as in the game that many of us remember from seventh grade slumber parties.

So it's a great time to talk about the devil.

The devil has pulled quite a fast one on all of us sophisticated, rational, modern thinkers. Maybe he hired an image consultant. These days he's the portly, comical, pitchfork-wielding fella in the red tights sitting on your left shoulder sparring with an angel on your right. Or he doesn't exist at all.

So almost no one takes the thought of the devil or demonic activity seriously. I'm pretty sure the devil likes flying under the radar.

Addressing this issue a while back, Simcha Fisher wrote a clear and sensible piece over at Patheos. She begins:
Satan is real, and he is not fussy. He doesn't care if you are kidding or not when you call him by name. This is why I tell my kids to stay far, far away from participating in anything occult — ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. — even if it’s just a game.  An invitation is an invitation, and Satan doesn't stand on manners. You may not see Exorcist-style special effects when the Father of Lies creeps into your life. You may not realize anything has happened to you at all, as the rift between you and God slowly gets deeper and wider.
As we drove to school today, we sang Holy, Holy, Holy. Verse two begins:
Holy, holy, holy
Though the darkness hide thee
I pondered for a moment the darkness that hides God.

We live in a brick and mortar world, and I, for one, certainly struggle to see what we actually can't see, both the good and the bad. Yes, the darkness hides quite a lot -- God's goodness, the devil's snares -- both are obscured by noise and busyness, by piles of laundry and daunting to do lists, by flesh and blood, here and now, clearly discernible realities like a scratchy throat and an aching hip, but by the good things, too, the soft feel of my daughter's cheek, John's enthusiastic eyes, Tim's piano playing.

It's hard to see what we can't see.

We live in a world, my friend Father Brett always reminds us, in which our understanding is darkened, and our will is weakened.

Dabbling in the world of the occult, at the very least, serves only to make these already problematic realities a shade worse. Why make the darkness darker?

I played with a ouija board as a teenager. Seances were standard fare at slumber parties. In neither instance did I experience anything supernatural or dramatic. Lots of giggling, but nothing weird. But, boy, do I know people whose experiences were quite different. No one reports what Simcha calls "Exorcist-style special effects," but they do share a sense of gloom descending, a growing distaste for prayer and more generally for the things of God, a feeling of oppression.

I watched The Exorcist as a teenager. Creepy, creepy, creepy. Bed rattling, head spinning, green vomit flying. Since many of us dabbled with the occult and experienced no technicolor drama, we do exactly what the movie poster tells us to do: We keep telling ourselves it's just a game and write it all off as a lark, as so much childhood nonsense.

And yet I've heard and read too much to accept that brushing up with the occult is cost free.

Over the summer I found myself in the odd position of defending people who don't read Harry Potter. It was odd because I've read and enjoyed Harry Potter. Here's my stand on Harry: I have read and liked (to varying degrees) all the books. I have seen several of the movies and not particularly enjoyed any of them. Tim has read about half the books and was neither enthralled nor dismissive. Kolbe, very picky about what he reads, finished about half the first book and said no thanks to the rest.

That being said, I fully understand why parents would pass on Harry Potter. To wit:
1. Harry attends a school of witchcraft and wizardry.
2. Witchcraft is real.
3. Many of the subjects Harry, Ron, Hermione et al study -- arithmancy, charms, divination --  all exist in real life and are used for the purpose of communing with the dead or gaining supernatural control over people or things.
4. All of these are big time no no's for Christians in general and Catholics in particular.

To me it is significant that the characters in Harry Potter are born witches and wizards, much as Gandalf is a wizard, and Legolas is an elf in Lord of the Rings. Harry doesn't adopt witchcraft as someone could do in real life. Like the Narnia series, there is good magic and dark magic in Harry Potter. The books chronicle a battle between good and evil and highlight the virtues of self-sacrifice and courage, among others.

But they do depict heroic characters engaged in practices that Catholics deem objectively wrong. Parents do well to point these out.

I am a big fan of Michael O'Brien. His book A Cry of Stone has one of the loveliest examples of being poor in spirit I have uncovered in contemporary literature. O'Brien published a piece of non-fiction, Dragons in the Landscape, analyzing images in modern literature, particularity a troubling trend he sees in young adult and children's literature. The trend, he shares, is that good used to be good and bad used to be bad. Literature is full of "types," and these "types" were consistent over centuries, but suddenly and especially in the literature we feed our young, they are evolving. Black and white are no more; the world is increasingly gray.

While I reject some of O'Brien's conclusions (i.e. I read Harry Potter), I agree with his basic premise.

When The Hunger Games trilogy was all the rage, I wrote a long post analyzing the good and the disconcerting in the series. Among the more troubling ideas in the later books are the notions that suicide can be heroic, that killing -- not in self-defense or in time of war -- is justifiable, that assassination is okay .

The world is gray.

I don't think my sons will read Harry Potter and and try to jump on a broomstick and fly, but they may read The Hunger Games and absorb messages that are much more worrisome and much more likely to arise in real life.

Simcha sensibly points out that we have to use discernment with individual children in making decisions about books, movies, video games, what to allow, how much, at what ages, etc. She clearly points out that some kids may be more swayed by disturbing plot lines or images.

My kids vary wildly in their personalities and sensitivities. I had a kid freak! out! during 101 Dalmatians. For that matter, I think Dave's still mildly traumatized by the death of Bambi's mother circa 1967. What parent wants to instill fear in a child?

John has been trudging through Magic Treehouse books. We started Mummies in the Morning, and it's all about an Egyptian ghost trying to get her body back or some such rot, and it was all creepy and off, just plain off, and you know what I did? I threw it away.

Yes, I threw it away.

Kelly, the English teacher, threw it away.

And English teachers aren't supposed to do such things -- banning and burning and pitching books.

We have a zillion other Magic Treehouse books, but I didn't like that one. And we don't have to read everything set before us. Crap is crap, and let's not be afraid to label it as such.

Parents can evaluate Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and any other young adult lit and trust that they have the discernment to sift through the good and the dubious and make informed decisions for their children. And here's the startling news: People of goodwill come to different conclusions about these issues, and that's okay.

After All Saints Day/Halloween, Tim came to me and said that a few of his friends had gone to something I believe was called "Blood Plantation." Would I have let him go, he wondered.  I think it was a bad idea, I told him, but I probably wouldn't have told you no. 

Tim's seventeen years old.

I firmly believe in sheltering very young children. I regret that the little people around here are growing up much faster than their older brothers did. But I also believe that there's a time to let kids begin making decisions -- bad and good -- on their own so that they learn to discern these things on their own.

As for ouija?


We'll pass.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Things That Have Value, Things That Don't

The purge to end all purges continues. If it's not nailed down or registering a steady pulse, out it goes.

When I'm in robo-purge mode, I can be nothing short of dangerous. The kids are nervous though I've assured them again and gain that I'm doing nothing with the things we actually use. Even Dave is walking around with an alarmed look on his face.  But here's my take: Why box up and move things you did not need in the old house, will not need in the new house, did not, in point of fact, even know that you owned?

Once again, I am amazed, confused, perplexed, etc. that there is any stuff left to deal with. Forget the Forty Bags in Forty Days deal -- we've been hauling it away by the truckload. I'm guessing 8-10 truckloads so far.

Dare I say it? We are near the end.

I have tackled every room. I have tackled every closet save two. I have some stuff on hooks behind a door to peruse. There may be a stray box or two in the dusty recesses of the attic (which, for the record, are no longer dusty, really. I've been spending some quality time with ye olde shop vac).

We are near the end.

I could write an epic post covering nothing but the books. Oh, the books! As I excavated one closet, I hit the mother-lode. Here is a rough tally:

 -- Books that I owned multiple copies of: 1984 - five copies, War of the Worlds - four copies, Hamlet - three copies, For Whom the Bell Tolls - three copies. And the list goes on.

-- Books I have recently purchased, but in fact already owned: Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls. And the list goes on.

-- Books I've recently checked out of the library, but already own -- The Great Gatsby. Actually, there were so many of these, I've lost track.

-- Book I do not need to purchase next year: Tess of the D'urbervilles.

The good news is that I found a whole stash I'm ready to hand over to Tim: Mere Christianity, Exodus, Lord of the Flies, Utopia.

The boy is a bookworm just like his Mama.

Of course I get all philosophical about stuff and its true cost,  a cost far beyond the retail price. Stuff, stuff, stuff. We buy it, we haul it, we store it, we move it , we rearrange it, we re-store it, we loan it, we recover it, sometimes we even have to insure it.

As I sort, I consider what has value to me. I recently opened two boxes of crystal and china I inherited from my grandmother. I have such fond memories of meals we shared with Nana. Let me tell you, that woman could rock a pot roast. But never in the more than thirty years I knew my beloved Nana did I ever see fine china or crystal on her table. So I look at these items, and I know they are old, and I know that they belonged to a person I loved with all my heart . . . and they mean nothing to me.

Nine months out of the year, I get out of bed and put on a robe that belonged to my grandmother. That means something to me. I remember her wearing it. In the disorganized pile of papers I call a recipe box, I have two priceless treasures -- Nan's recipe for cream of broccoli soup and her recipe for that rockin' pot roast. The recipes are written in her looping, distinctive script and if the house caught fire they'd be high on the list of things I'd grab once my husband and children were safe. I have a picture taken of Nan and me at Christmas 1994, a mere four weeks before she died. It may be the only photo I have of the two of us. Nan looks fabulous, just amazing. The picture matters.

Scattered throughout the house I have Nan's dining room chairs. I recovered them years ago. I thought I'd begin by removing the worn fabric. And under it I found another chair cover. And then another.. And then another,. And then another. The final fabric was a traditional, rather formal stripe in maroons and golds and every chair looked great except for the armchair that I'm guessing was my grandfather's. His chair was frayed. And somehow looking through those fabric swatches and seeing the tears and stains gave me such a connection with this dear woman who lived at a very different era (the depression, World War II), yet toiled at the very things I found myself doing -- working to bring order and beauty to a dining room.

Nana was a writer, so that, of course, makes her "snooper duper" (in Ainsley's words). Like the robe and the recipes, when I write I like to think of Nana. I picture myself as one of a line of Regans who have found joy and solace in putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. In each branch of the Regan family, there's a cousin especially drawn to the written word -- my cousin Gary, my cousin Anne Marie, and myself -- all three of us writers and teachers of writing, in some form or fashion.

Nan had an agent in New York, wrote an advice column under the pen name Pat Lane, and authored quite a few published love stories. My dad has shared that she would regularly gather with other writers in her Detroit neighborhood to share and critique their work. They called themselves The Inkslingers.

I love it and just may consider renaming my blog.

When we were teenagers, Nan pulled out some of her romance magazines and showed my sisters and me some of her work.

"He said he loved Susan, so why was he seen kissing Martha?"

So -- roughly -- read the cover of one of the magazines. We howled with laughter and scratched our heads that our Grandmother wrote romance stories! 

As we packed up Nan's condominium after she died, I found pieces of half-finished stories in a notebook here, on a scrap of paper there. I found a list written in that same looping, distinctive script that read "Things I'd do if age didn't matter." The first item on the list was "Become a published author."

She was a published author, but more than that she was funny and smart, beautiful and kind. She always smelled great. If I don't fully value the china and the crystal, I fully recognize the real treasures she brought into my life.

I am not against things, Lord knows. In fact when you're moving into a new house, you invest an inordinate amount of time thinking about a host of things -- blinds and trash cans, linens and bathroom vanities, ceiling fans and dining room tables. Ultimately, though, things matter because of the people they serve, because of the memories forged around them.

As the purge goes on, here's hoping I can keep this in mind.

Monday, November 10, 2014

For Grandma and the Aunts

I present the boy who draws arrows through Jesus' head and the girl who spends Mass asking how many songs until it's over . . .

But don't they look saintly? Mary as a young girl and Saint Tarcisius.

Grandma may remember all the lace she shipped me many moons ago. So fun to embellish Ainsley's costume.

Love my little people. Oh, yes I do.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thanksgiving Craft

My favorite Thanksgiving craft. My only Thanksgiving craft. One of my favorite pictures of that rascal John.


 -    16 chocolate covered cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)

-      1 tube orange frosting with piping tips

-     16 small peanut butter cups


1 .    Place cookies on work surface. Place a dollop of icing in center of each to hold peanut butter cups in place.

2 .    Place peanut butter cups upside down on frosting. Press gently.

3 .   Using a round piping tip, draw the hat band and buckle. Let frosting set before storing.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Saints and Saints in the Making

Seven Not So Quick Takes:

1. On my mind today:

Tim meets Saint John Paul II.
Why were the saints, saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful; they were patient when it was difficult to be patient; they pushed on when they wanted to stand still; they kept silent when they wanted to talk; they were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable.
That was all.
It was quite simple and always will be.

- Hanging on the wall in FJ's mom's beach house

HT: Nicki

2. So a friend was asking about the Magnifikid, a weekly missal aimed at young readers. Short answer: We love it; we've subscribed for years and years; keeps kids engaged in the liturgy.

That is until you glance at the cover and are shocked to note that Jesus has an arrow through his head a la Steve Martin and one of the normally clean-shaven apostles has sprouted a goatee and Brother Goodventure, the amiable friar, has, ahem, gas issues.

And this is just horrible, I mean, horrible. And I plan to take really firm action just the minute I stop howling with laughter.

This past week found us driving home from Mass and me perusing a work book belonging to a certain nameless child of mine who may or may not be preparing for First Communion and the workbook may or may not have had fill in the blank thought bubbles that began, "Hi, I'm a Catholic" and ended with, well, much of the same, i.e. dialogue that's essentially Captain Underpants meets Shrek.

As for me, mother of nameless, and, for the record, a Montessori-trained catechist, well, once again I was doing that laughing soundlessly maneuver that involves clutching your middle and reaching for Kleenex to mop the tears pouring down your face all the while ensuring nameless doesn't have an inkling of what's so funny.

Because it's terrible, I tell you, terrible. And Maria Montessori would not approve, oh, no, she wouldn't. And we're putting a stop to it, but first would you please hand me another Kleenex?

3. So I know all my friends are praying for all the picky details surrounding our move and for the one not so picky, not so much of a detail -- namely That We Sell Our House! Sometimes I realize I live a quiet, simple existence. I am far, far removed from high finance. My days in the world of business are long behind me. And I'm surprised at how these transactions don't exactly intimidate me, no, but seem to consume me.

A friend had a bit of excellent advice: Don't spend too much time thinking about things you can do nothing about.

At the heart of it all: Do I trust God or do I not?

4. All Saints' Day is upon us, and I decided to go all out with Ainsley's costume. Sometimes I embark on these grandiose schemes only to quickly regret this course of action once I'm past the point of no return.

Not so this time.

I've been stitching and embellishing and adjusting and thinking all the while how good it is -- how very good it is -- to have a little girl who wants to dress up as Mary, who appreciates the lace trim on her costume, who wants her hair just so.

Costume making for little people is fun because, really, they are easy to please. The girls want to be beautiful; the boys want weapons; they both want accessories. It's all about the accessories. Note that the parents end up carrying the accessories, but for the first ten minutes -- okay, maybe five to seven minutes -- it's all about the accessories. Costume fabric comes cheap, and I get a chance to use all the embroidery stitches on my machine that have no real purpose whatsoever. But they're fun.

Risk free sewing. Love it.

5. Of course, all of the above ignores the fact that I very nearly dropped a pretty penny on these costumes, and I blame it all on Joanne Fabrics. Actually I blame all retailers who do the deep discount thing. You know, ten percent off of forty percent plus a door buster deal and save a little more if you open a credit card.

You can't just shop. No, no.

First you Goggle coupons which sounds easy, but in fact turns out to be time consuming. Then you had better have your loyalty card in hand. And then while you're actually in the store, you had better check and double check which rack your items came from. Was it the forty percent off rack or the sixty percent off rack? There's always the risk that some dingleberry moved the very items you plan to purchase. Ask me how I know this and I'll;regale you with the sad, sad tale of ten Buzz Lightyear costumes someone moved en masse to a rack labelled with the wrong price.

So I had a brief window while John was at catechism class, and I headed to Joanne's. I'm at the cutting table at Joanne's and suddenly find myself with this sinking feeling that these dirt cheap costumes won't prove to be quite so dirt cheap. I grab my specs and see $22 on the ticket and think, "Well, that's a little more than I planned to spend, but not so bad." And I move through the check out line, and I begin to think, "No, $22 is just one cut of fabric." And, sadly, I am right about this. I ask if fabric is returnable, zip out of the store, grab John from catechism class, and head to Walmart -- not my favorite place but a store that does Everyday Low Price rather than the whole deep discount plus the layered coupon thing. Fifteen minutes later I'm heading out of Walmart with $12 worth of fabric. I head back to Joanne's to return $37 worth of fabric .

And is it any wonder I had a migraine by the time I got home?

I don't want to think about coupons. I don't want your loyalty card. I don't want to scrounge up the sales circular to find out if the towels I'm buying will double in price when the clock strikes noon. I don't even want to shop at all. So make it easy for me, please.

6. One of the reasons I don't even want to shop is that the purge of a lifetime continues. Oh my, yes, it does. And when you're in the middle of the big, bad purge, you really are not in acquisition mode. I've already given the kids a heads up that Christmas will be: 1) lovely 2) cheap and 3) small. Think: cds and books.

But back to the purge. The easy, no-brainer purging appears to be over. Now we're making hard decisions. Our current house has lousy closets, awesome attics. Attics as in plural. The new house has awesome closets, virtually no attic. There's storage under the stairs. (I thought of Christine when John spotted "the cupboard under the stairs" and said, "It's Harry Potter's bedroom!") The best news? Our outdoor storage will about triple in size.

I want to haul everything of value and no junk. It's a process. As Christine shared, a cathartic
process, a good process, but also a long process.

7. Wanna buy a house?

Head over to Jen's and add your Quick Takes after you offer up a prayer to Saint Joseph, my main man, for the sale of our home.