Saturday, December 8, 2018

7 Quick Takes - The Advent of Hope

With the beginning of a new (liturgical) year and almost ending of another (calendar) year, I thought perhaps a few Quick Takes might be in order.  For starters, I want to say that I still love blogging as much as ever, and my new year's resolution (one of many) is to blog more in 2019, hopefully at least once a month.  I miss so many bloggers who have fallen off the radar.  So, what do you say?  Start a blog in 2019? Revive a blog in 2019?  Who's with me?  I would love to have a more active blog roll with a few more blogs listed in the coming year.

It's the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary today and I wanted to share this photo of the bouquet of flowers I bought at our local grocery store.  I love to buy flowers, especially in the winter, and put them in my kitchen.  I always buy the discounted bouquets that have started to fade, and they usually hold up at least a week.  Then, when they are really faded, I move them outside and place them on Francis, Karol and Isaac's graves.  Anyhow, when I found this particular bouquet last Saturday, I wasn't a big fan of the blue and white, because it looked so artificial, but it was all they had in the under $5 category, so I bought it.  Only after I got home did I realize how appropriate the colors were for today's solemnity.  And then last night, just as we were preparing to go to the vigil mass for the holy day, I noticed that during the day, the lilies in the bouquet had opened up and were just gorgeous! The Blessed Mother loves lilies, right? So, I took it as a little sign from her because she's always trying to send us hugs from heaven.

Last night, before the vigil mass, this little guy took a big step in preparing for his First Holy Communion this spring.  Meet my newest little penitent!  I am so stinking proud of him.  He struggles with all things new and unknown, and it was a huge leap for him to enter that confessional alone.  He stepped out with a grin on his face from ear-to-ear and wanted to know if he can go to confession again next week. LOL! He celebrated with a big piece of cake leftover from St. Nicholas day, a real treat since we don't usually do desserts on Fridays (days of abstinence).  What a wonderful way to start off Advent.

Speaking of St. Nicholas day, here are a few pics from that little celebration.  We started celebrating St. Nicholas day four years ago, mostly as a way to move the focus away from the secular Santa Claus and more towards Santa Claus, the saint.  It was a good move on our part because our boys now look forward to this saint's feast day almost as much as Christmas, plus they know the story behind the real St. Nick. They got shoes filled with candy, a few gifts, and we made ribs on the grill and a gluten/egg-free pineapple upside-down cake.  A little gift from God in the form of a light snow the night before, which surprised us with an enchanted white forest outside our windows, was the cherry on top of the day.

Next week, on the feast of St. Lucy, we will hang the lights on our banisters and tree.  I like to add the lights first and then put up the other decorations on Gaudete Sunday.  The decorations remain until the Baptism of the Lord but the lights stay up until Candlemas.   I love doing our decorating in stages like this (much less pressure to get it, and it helps us be more mindful of some of the more notable feasts that occur during Advent and Christmastide.

We still don't have any snow but a good snowstorm is in the forecast for Sunday night.  My boys are so excited because we only got to go sledding one time last year, and they haven't seen a really good snowfall in almost a year.  Even though we homeschool, we do give them "snow days".  The rule is that it has to snow more than 3 inches in order to get a day off of lessons.  So, they keep asking if we will get 3 inches this Sunday.  It's gonna be close, but I have my order in.  Moms like snow days, too!

January 2018

So really, there isn't much news, which is good news.  Life just goes on at a pace that I can barely keep up with.  When lighting our first Advent candle this past Sunday, we read about how it is the "hope" candle.  I have been thinking about that a lot lately...hope.  I thought about it last Saturday while attending a funeral for a longtime friend who died rather unexpectedly.  Driving 80 miles to the church through a cold, hard rain, suddenly the rain stopped and the clouds broke and in the distance on the horizon, just barely visible, was a rainbow.  A sign of hope. And this past week, when my son visited his therapist, whom he has been seeing for years, and she commented that she was being amazed by his progress, I felt hope. And when I reflect upon this past year, the new relationship that God gave us with my child's birthmother, the healing that has occurred in her, and my children, and in me, in the past several months, I can't help but be filled with hope.  None of it has come easy, this healing, the losses, but along every step of the way, God gives us little nudges and signs to keep going.  Maybe it's a rainbow on the way to a funeral.  Maybe it's a lily in a cheap bouquet.  Maybe it's a grin from ear-to-ear after a fear is conquered. Or maybe all our hope is held in just a single snowflake, when God knows that all we need is just a day off from the hard stuff.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ready to Receive: A Call to Adopt

Our family has a new addition!  Meet Chessie.  

It seems appropriate that we adopted Chessie during National Adoption Month, and so I wrote a story about it.


The puppy looked at me eagerly from behind the wires of her cage.  Anxious eyes and a wagging bobbed tail expressed anticipation that she could not keep contained, as her entire little body shook with excitement and apprehension. I slid open the door to her pen and reached for her.  I knew that it was all over now.  I knew that the moment I held her, I would be hooked, and that she would be coming home with me.

I did not really want another dog.  My husband and I had already owned what we knew would be the best dog we would ever have.  A pure-bred mutt, she’d been the most obedient, gentle, loyal, and intelligent pet anyone could possibly imagine.  When we’d found her, left abandoned as a puppy on the side of a forest road, she too had shaken with apprehension mixed with excitement. My husband and I were newlyweds when we found her, and she became our first “child”.  Little did we know that she would be our only child for the next decade to come.  We named her “Sage”, in hopes that once she outgrew her puppy years, during which she acted like she didn’t have much of a brain, she would live up to her name and become a wise and faithful companion.  By the time she passed away, silently in her sleep on our front porch sixteen years later, she’d become all that and more.  She’d become irreplaceable.

Soon after we lost Sage, my children began asking if we could get another dog.  Not yet, I’d said.  Maybe not ever, I thought.  How could we replace a dog that was irreplaceable?  No other dog could ever meet the standard that Sage had set.  Besides, we had three children now, including a toddler, and that was more than enough to take care of.  Getting another dog, especially a puppy, would just add to the load.  And so, for over a year, I’d pushed back when they’d asked.  God will send us a dog when he is ready, I would say, but I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for one.  And as I tried to explain my rationalizations, I felt an old familiar feeling, and my mind went back to a memory from many years ago.

Sage was five years old in this memory, and my husband and I were in our mid-thirties.  We’d been trying for five years to have a baby and had just lost our first pregnancy in miscarriage.  I sobbed and wrapped my arms around Sage, our only “baby”.  I thought about how hard this had all been, how unfair, how perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a mother.  I thought about how old I was getting, how long it had taken to get pregnant just once, how I’d likely never get to parent more than one child, should I ever get that lucky. I thought about how my biological child whom I’d just buried, was irreplaceable.

And I thought about adoption.  But not much.  Not seriously.  God will send us a baby when he is ready, I would say to myself, but I certainly wasn’t going to go looking for one.  How could any child replace a child of my own flesh and blood?  How could I understand any child that did not share my or my husband’s biological background, with all the personality quirks and habits that our genetics express.  It all just seemed too risky, to take on a child with no real knowledge of his or her ancestry, genetics, and with having no control over the environment to which they’d previously been exposed.  Much like taking in a puppy, I wasn’t ready for that load of unknowns and unpredictability. What I was ready for was a child like the one I’d created in my mind, one that I considered irreplaceable.

As time passed, I prayed for the hole in my heart to heal, but instead, it grew bigger and bigger. I begged God to take the pain away and felt abandoned by him as my prayers for a child remained unanswered. Another year passed, and by the time it ended, I was emotionally and spiritually spent.  I had no more energy left with which to fight God. As experienced by so many of the saints, I felt trapped within my own “dark night of the soul”.  No longer convinced that my desires were those of God’s, I slowly began to surrender my plans and slowly open myself up to his.  One night, wiping tears from my face after yet another month of disappointment, I spoke the words that I had been trying to push out of my head for over a year.  “I want to adopt”, I said to my husband.  It was a moment of complete surrender for me and once I actually said the words, I realized it was the calling that I had been resisting all along.  My husband agreed quickly.  His heart ready and now, so was mine.

The healing began almost immediately.  Hopelessness turned into hope.  For the first time in years, I felt like God was hearing me again and helping me along my journey. Was this what he’d wanted all along? We excitedly began the long, arduous process of contacting adoption agencies, weighing our options, calculating the financial costs, starting a home study.  Fingerprinting, background checks, training sessions, profile books, interviews, and writing lots of checks dominated all our free time for the next few months.  None of it was fun nor easy but we embraced it all nonetheless, knowing that each step brought us closer to filling the hole in our hearts.  And then the waiting began.  Waiting to be chosen by a birthmother.  Waiting for someone to say that we were good enough to be their child’s parents.  Waiting for someone to believe that we were irreplaceable.

I thought about all those feelings as I scooped the little black and white puppy in my hands.  As she looked up at me with coal black eyes, she relaxed in my arms, just as my children had done the first time I’d held them.  Her coloring and markings reminded me of Sage, who also had been a black and white lab-mix.  But this was not Sage and I was finally ready to accept that.  I was ready to receive what God had been preparing for me.

Placing the puppy in her crate, I loaded her into the passenger side of my car and took her home to her new family.  To my family.  To three happy little boys, two of whom had come to us through adoption, and who were, without a doubt, irreplaceable.  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Goodbye Summer

I do not care much for summertime (although I do love September).  I suppose that's not exactly the most popular opinion these days. And I also suppose that if I were writing this blog post in late February, rather than late September, I'd be more hesitant to make such a statement. But it is not February and right now, all I can think about is just how weary the summers make me.

When you grow much of your own food, and process it, summer means more work.  A lot more. The long days of sunshine bring twelve or more hours of activity, and by season's end, I am wore out. Rising early and squeezing the most out of every moment before sunset, I parcel my day out into pieces. This summer, in particular, was a challenge, as I added some part-time biologist work (away from home) to an already heavy load.  Tom traveled more than usual on business this summer, and homeschooling, summer camps, and a couple of short family trips filled in the gaps.  Together, we all made it work, and we have a lot to show for our efforts, but I am ready for the season to end.

Right now, at the moment that I write this, I am part of a perfect, universal balance...the autumnal equinox. Beyond this day, there will be more darkness which, for me, brings more rest. Six months from now, the balance will be struck again, and I will feel the anxiety and hurriedness that comes with each extra hour of sunlight. But not today. Today, I celebrate a productive harvest and all that summer brought, but most of all, I celebrate the fact that for a few months to come, I no longer have to keep up.

Happy First Day of Autumn!

looking for potato bugs
chamomile harvesting
sweet potato slips under the jugs
a natural beauty we found in the woods (yellow fringed orchid)
conquering a fear of the water slide
when you forget your swim clothes, you swim anyway

school on the front porch and breaking beans
capturing the morning sunshine full-faced
a furry friend I found while working
too many cucumbers. again.

a sign of summer's end.

and another sign...he just turned two.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Saving the Strawberries (My Take on the Church Scandal)

We're all reading the news about the latest scandal in the church. Like many, I'm very disturbed about it all. However, I remain optimistic that better days are ahead for our church. I need only to look at my children and the many faithful Catholic bloggers and young adults that I know to believe that. If you are interested in doing something in reparation for the sins within our church, check out Kendra Tierney's blog at Catholic All Year.  I will be joining her and many others in small penitential acts and prayer that will hopefully bear beautiful fruit.  Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.


I stared at the grass growing tall in the raised bed in the corner of my garden and tried to find the motivation to start over.  Three years ago, this same raised bed had produced plump, juicy, red strawberries that my sons would squabble over as they picked their way through the leaves to find the biggest one. But that was three years ago, and now, as I stood staring at it, this bed of strawberries looked only like a patch of weeds, and I had no one to blame but myself.  

It’d happened so slowly and so effortlessly. The first summer, I’d allowed the weeds to move into the edges of the bed, and told myself that the strawberries would be fine, that there were only a few weeds and still plenty of strawberry plants mixed among them. The second summer, I’d allowed a few more weeds to move into the spaces between the strawberry plants, and as a result, my harvest began to decline. Now, well into the third summer, I had no strawberry plants left to be seen, and my last harvest had reaped only a handful of fruit.  With feelings of guilt and regret, I now stared at the strawberry bed, and saw it as a lost cause. Was it worth saving? Could I ever bring it back to what it once was?

I took a deep breath and pushed my spading fork into the soil of the bed, lifting the compacted soil with all my might, as the weeds struggled to hold it together despite my effort. As I lifted the great clod of dirt, I turned it upside down, then gave it a hefty thump with the back of the fork. The dirt clod broke apart and the weeds separated.  I reached down, pulled the weeds by their stems, and shook off the remaining dirt, then tossed them into a pile, where they would wither and die in the sun. 

The heat of that August morning was already bearing down on me, and as I pried each hardened clump of weeds up by their roots, I began to rapidly lose enthusiasm.  Better to just give up on growing strawberries, I told myself.  I could just buy them from the local strawberry farm nearby and let someone else do this work for me. Or, I could just cover the raised bed with black plastic and kill everything at once, and then start over again next spring.  Surely there is nothing worth saving still alive in this raised bed, I thought. My mind raced with rationalizations in an attempt to avoid the hot and dirty task at hand.  And as my mind wandered, in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a strawberry plant, brown and dry, nearly hidden under the dirt where a weed clod had been.  I gingerly pulled the strawberry plant out, shook the dirt off it, and scraped its rhizome root with my fingernail.  It was struggling, but it was alive. 

With renewed vigor, I plunged my spading fork back into the sod and pulled up again, turned over another clump of weeds, and found yet another dry and brown strawberry plant hidden beneath.  I separated the strawberry from the weeds and repeated the process over and over.  The sweat ran down my brow and my arms began to ache, but I did not care.  My focus now was on one thing.  I would save the remaining strawberries.

As I finished turning over the last clod of dirt, my curious son ran up to me and observed as I gently placed the old, dry strawberry plants in a tray of water.  “What are you going to do with these?”, he asked. I explained to him that those were our strawberry plants.  “These?”, he exclaimed.  “But these strawberry plants are dead,” he said, as he turned one over in his hands.  I stopped working and showed him how to scrape the rhizome with his fingernail, exposing the white flesh underneath the brown skin. “See?” I said, “It’s alive.”   He still looked puzzled.  “But not very much alive,” he said.  I thought for a moment, then smiled and said, “Yes, but it is alive and that’s all that really matters.  Sometimes, it only takes a spark of life to start things growing again.”   Finished with turning over the dirt in the strawberry bed, my son and I walked back to the house, carrying the salvaged plants with us, my son chattering about how he couldn’t wait for us to grow strawberries again. 

The same week that I tackled my long neglected strawberry bed, the news broke about the widespread and deep reaching scandal in the Catholic church in Pennsylvania.  I read the news stories and, like many others, was angered and disgusted by the level and degree of conceit, betrayal and cowardice that has been practiced by so many leaders of our church for most of my lifetime.  I found myself feeling thankful that my children are still young, and that I do not have to explain to them just yet the intricacies and sordid details that are making headlines today.  For now, my children are very proud to be Catholic and love their faith, and I want more than anything for that to never change. However, scandals like these are just the kind of thing that could jeopardize that.

And even though they are young now, and ignorant of such things, I know that in time, they will be confronted with the task of defending their faith from those who will choose to use these scandals to attack.  Just as the bad actors of the Crusades are still used as a means to attack the Catholic church 900 years later, these kinds of scandals will never be forgotten, and will provide fodder for those wishing to destroy the church and her faithful for generations to come.  It will not be easy for my children to defend a church marred by such ugliness, and I worry that they will have their own personal crisis of faith, just as I did many years ago.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a common trend these days, almost a right-of-passage, for those of us who are part of the post-Vatican II generation to struggle with our faith and our church once we reach adulthood. Unlike our parents or grandparents, we have had to grow up in a church filled with conflicting messages and dying traditions. As I came of age, I learned that the priest who baptized me left the priesthood to marry, the priest who gave me my First Holy Communion did the same, the parish priest who I admired for a decade during my formative adolescent years turned out to not be the man we thought he was and was caught in the 2002 scandals, and the charismatic priest who mentored me and so many other students during our college years left the priesthood a year after I graduated. By the time I’d reached the age of 23, I looked around at the church I’d grown up in and the priests I’d always known and saw no shepherd that I wanted to follow. And sadly, my story is not so uncommon among my generation. So, to read about scandals that happened during this same time period, while disheartening, is not surprising to me. The weeds have been growing for a long time.

But amongst the weeds, there are still strawberry plants.  There are the priests and bishops who love the church and show it by speaking the truth and reflecting it in the way they say mass, approach the sacraments, and encourage the faithful. They do not muddy the waters nor sit on the fence.  It was a priest like that who led me back from my own personal crisis of faith, simply by teaching the truths of the Catholic church and the meaning behind them, and demonstrating with his actions his great love for the priesthood.

I walked away from my garden that week carrying a tray full of strawberry plants that had been overtaken by weeds and deprived of the sunshine and rainfall and nutrients that they had needed to thrive. In short, they were slowly dying due to my neglect. Their potential to produce beautiful, sweet fruit had been diminished by my apathy and delay.  And looking at them, I realized that while strawberries may not have mattered so much to me, I’d robbed my children of one of their little joys in life i.e., picking and eating strawberries fresh from the garden while the juice dribbled down their chin.

 In the end, I decided not to replant those old strawberries that I’d saved from the bed, though they still had life within them. Instead, I will plant them on the edge of the garden, where they may still bear fruit, but I will not depend on them.  For the most part, they have run their course.  Rather, after uprooting the weeds and removing as many of their roots as possible, I decided to replenish the soil of the bed and start with new, young plants.  It will be another year before they bear fruit, but with a renewed commitment to tending them, I am hopeful that my children will soon be looking again at a harvest of sweet berries rather than a patch of weeds.

It is a similar hope that I have for my children as they grow in faith. That, when confronted with a garden that appears to be overtaken by weeds, rather than giving up and walking away, they will search amongst those weeds for the strawberries and anything else worth saving. Perhaps they will remember that even if what once thrived now appears lifeless, that with a little care, it only takes a spark to get it growing again. I pray the same will happen during their lifetime within our church.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Let The Day Begin

It’s 5:00 a.m. when I hear the baby crying.  The house is still dark, with only a hint of light on the horizon. Yet, it is still enough to excite the wood thrush, and I listen for a second as he wakens the world with his flute-like melodies. “Ee-Oo-Lay!” over and over it repeats, music to my ears.  No human has yet achieved what the wood thrush has mastered for centuries, i.e., the ability to produce two sounds at once, creating a duet of harmonies echoing with all their breath through their vocal chambers.  So much music from such a small and fragile creature.

The baby is frightened, of what I do not know.  I cuddle him a bit, change his diaper, and he gazes at me with a grin.  All is well now, and he is ready to play.  But it is still 3 hours from his regular waking time, and I know the consequences it will bring if I let myself be enticed by that playful smile and those eager eyes.  I carry him back to his dark room, lay him gently in his crib, and stroke his forehead.  He whimpers a bit, knowing what is next, but does not fight.  He, too, I think, knows that now is not the time for play.  He closes his eyes and I gently shut the door.

The house is still now, and other than the baby, I am the only one in it. The rest of my family is scattered.  One son at Grandma’s next door, where he spent the night probably staying up too late and eating too much popcorn.  One son 400 miles away, in St. Louis, visiting old friends with his Daddy and having big adventures with his grandparents while Daddy works.  Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will all be reunited again, but for now, it is just me and the morning and the wood thrush.

I head out to the garden, baby monitor in one pocket, pocket knife in the other.  The garden has been neglected for a week and the crab grass and squash bugs now have the advantage.  I open the gas tank on the tiller.  There isn’t much gas in it and I debate whether or not to add more.  However, it is a long walk back to the garage to get the gas can, and so I say a little prayer that there will be just enough, set the choke, and yank the pull cord hard.  The tiller coughs and sputters but finally starts. 

As I work my way down the rows, I get lost in my thoughts.  Seeing the weeds overtaking my row of flowers gives me a story idea.  In many moments of my days, there is a story idea, but I rarely follow their leads.  Perhaps this one will be different. 

The green beans hang from vines, ready to be picked, but not today. Time is running out, the baby will awake again soon.  I shuttle the tiller back to the shed, running on fumes.  One prayer answered already, and the day has just begun.  I close the garden gate and walk through the cobwebs down the wooded path, back to the house.  The spiders waste no time each night rebuilding their walls of web and waiting for an unsuspecting gnat or, in my case, human, to blunder into them.  I pass our little statue of the Blessed Mother and notice that the flowers in the Mason jar have turned brown.  With only a minute to spare, I backtrack to the field, pull out the pocket knife, and pick a hasty bouquet of Queen Anne’s lace and Black-eyed Susans.  Returning to the statue, I tuck the flowers into their jar and tell her good morning.  Her arms, always open, give me a spiritual hug.  I look at the three graves around her, nearly covered with summer-growing vines, and imagine her standing with my three children, arms around them, waiting for me. 

The sun is above the trees now and I can feel the heat of the day pushing hard against the edge of morning. I step up onto the front porch, pull off my boots and look east.  The wood thrush is silent now and will sing no more today.  Let the day begin.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

7 Quick Takes - Joyful June

Coming in just under the wire to get a post up before the month of June fades away into oblivion.  Thank you to Kelly for allowing me to link up with her blog.  Check it out!

Check out my handsome little dude in his First Holy Communion suit.  Oh my, he has grown so fast.  He received his FHC on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Since he was the only child in our church to make their FHC this year (we belong to a very small Catholic mission), we got to pick the date and the Feast of Corpus Christi just seemed appropriate.  He did a wonderful job and it feels like he grew up overnight.  I'm so proud of this little man.  He was ready for this special moment.

The other watershed moment of the month happened on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, when our son met his birthmother for the very first time.  I can't tell you how important and special this moment was that took 7 years to come to fruition.  It's really indescribable.  Let's just say that the Holy Spirit is working miracles and this new relationship we have with his birthmother is simply beautiful. I am so happy for her, for my family, and most especially, for my son, whose smile I think, says it all.  I am so incredibly thankful that the Holy Spirit led us down the path to choose adoption those many years ago. The goodness that came from her selfless decision continues to ripple out to others to this day. My heart is full seeing these two special people in my life getting to know one another now and God is doing wonderful things in his good time.

Springtime brought the usual round of chores.  The garden is off and running and probably the best one I've had yet since moving to Kentucky, most of which is the result of getting up early and working in it for an hour after sunrise a few times a week.  I have loved these quiet, cool mornings in the garden.  We try to grow organic so when the Colorado potato bugs attacked the potatoes, I bribed the boys into picking them off for me by offering them a nickel for each larvae and a dime for each adult bug.  Would you believe they've picked almost 400 bugs off!  I may need to lower my price next year.  However, they decided to use the money they earned to take the family out for lunch, so in a way, it was a win-win for me, and it all came full circle.  The "new potatoes" are ready to eat now and there's nothing much better, cooked up with some fresh green beans and pork.

Counting his tater bugs.

Heat is rapidly replacing spring showers now and our boys are spending a lot of time in the creeks.  I'm not sure about most kids, but my boys cannot resist jumping into a stream during the summertime. Even if they are fully clothed. I used to fret about this kind of thing but have learned that some battles are best left unfought.  It's a good reminder to me that the outdoor world is God's playground for all of us, and nobody probably appreciates that more than a 7 year old little boy.

When not in creeks or picking bugs off the 'taters, John has discovered a new joy in listening to my old collection of vinyl records that he found stashed away.  Doc Watson is his favorite.  Lately, he has been alternating between my Doc Watson vinyl and his father's Dire Straits and Pink Floyd CDs.  He has quite the wide-range in musical taste!

John and his dad also celebrated their patron saint's feast day this month.  If you have read John's birth story, you know that he was named after St. John the Baptist and that the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is a very special day for us. It also happens to be his dad's birthday, as well.  We made the day extra special for them both, with cake and a few gifts.  It was especially nice that the Solemnity fell on a Sunday this year.  The Responsorial Psalm from that day is one of my favorites and a good reminder to all of us just how special we are in the eyes of God.  If you've forgotten it, go look it up.  Psalm 139.

As June ends, I am also finding myself ending six years of voluntary unemployment.  This past week, I accepted a part-time position as a wildlife biologist with a consulting firm.  It's mostly just summertime work, doing biological (bat) surveys and a few reports, so it fits well into our homeschooling routine.  However, it's been a big transition for the family since I have to travel away from home a few days at a time, and they are used to me being with them all. the. time.  I'm so blessed to have a supportive husband who helps make this happen and knows that being a biologist, and not only a wife and mother, is part of what makes me tick.  We'll see how it goes.  And speaking of wildlife, we set up a couple of game cameras on our property to see what's "out there" and I thought I'd share some of the photos we captured here with you.  Looks like my boys aren't the only wild things attracted to creeks (and sardines)!

See you in July!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Better Than Fried Chicken

I have a new story for Peanut Butter & Grace up on their website.  I encourage you to check it out.  Also, please say a prayer for my son, John, who makes his First Holy Communion this Sunday, that he always want to be as close to Jesus as he can get. 

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!


I was scanning my bag of carrots in the grocery store self-checkout lane when I heard the lady behind me say loudly and enthusiastically, “You should come to our church!”

The words caught my attention, and I looked up to see her chatting with another woman who was obviously a friend of hers.  Their conversation went on.

“Bring your family.  We meet at the park just up the road.  It’s really wonderful, AND WE HAVE FOOD!”

I finished bagging my groceries and headed out the door, but as I loaded my bags into the back of my SUV, the conversation between these two ladies kept playing in my head.  Church?  In a park? Outside? With food?  I was intrigued.  I imagined young families like mine, gathered for prayer and fellowship in the picnic shelter; afterwards, the ladies would be enjoying friendly conversation while the men flipped burgers and played horseshoes and the children played in the playground.  Prayer plus play.  Such a winning combination, I thought.   And the food.  Oh yes, the food.  I’ve been to enough Appalachian potlucks to know what that would be like.  Heavenly.  Fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy, deviled eggs and homemade potato salad.  Watermelon, fruit salad, and BBQ potato chips. Three kinds of cobbler, some kind of whipped-topping dessert, lemonade and sweet tea.  I could imagine it all.  {Read the rest here...}

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Dandelions For Dinner

“Mom, can we have dandelions for dinner?”

I’m guessing this isn’t a phrase heard very often in most American homes, but when the cold, cloudy days of our Appalachian winters slowly begin to give way to sunny, blue skies and warm winds, my children and I start anxiously watching for that first herald of spring known to many but appreciated by few…the golden flowers of the dandelion.

I suppose the appearance of dandelions in the yard causes most Americans to groan. Other harbingers of spring such as seeing the first American robin, or perhaps the first daffodil in bloom, or maybe hearing snow geese as they fly overhead to their breeding grounds, are more likely to stir feelings of anticipation for the long summer days that we know lie ahead.  But a dandelion?  Regarded as a weed and despised by lawn care enthusiasts, the lowly dandelion has become for most of us merely a symbol of everything unwanted and unkempt, and is a plant considered worthy of no mercy nor appreciation.

But for children, a dandelion is a thing of beauty and in many ways, it is a plant made especially for them. Romping through the overgrown grass in early spring, my children love to pick dandelion flowers and turn them into delicate bouquets that they then take to our little statue of the Blessed Mother (and sometimes to their earthly mother). If the blooming of the dandelions happens to coincide with Easter Sunday, they know that a flower or two will most likely adorn our Easter cake and cupcakes, along with a few violets and henbit.  When the dandelion flowers go to seed, they, like most children, make a wish and blow the seeds into the wind, then run ahead of them and try to catch them on the breeze. And who doesn’t remember making dandelion jewelry as a child, wrapping the drooping stems of each flower around another flower and turning them into friendship bracelets or a tiara fit for a princess?

But of all the many uses my children can find for a dandelion, their favorite by far is turning them into a much-loved snack that replaces potato chips and French fries for a few weeks of the year.  When those first yellow blossoms appear, shining gold across the landscape, my children and I grab a basket and head out on a dandelion harvesting adventure.  We pick as many as we can find then bring them home, give them a good rinse, dip them in a cornmeal breading seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry them up in a bit of oil.  My children love to help with this and when we serve the fried dandelions for dinner, there is always a squabble regarding who got the most. 

The old saying is that a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place.  I suppose that is what has become of the humble dandelion.  Brought over from Europe by our earliest ancestors, the dandelion was once a valuable herb for both its medicinal and nutritional properties. Considered healthier than most vegetables, it is high in many vitamins and the entire plant is edible.  It has been used for thousands of years in nearly every culture on earth and even has roots (no pun intended!) in Catholic tradition.  For example, this bitter herb was traditionally used as a symbol of the Passion and is sometimes shown with other flowers in historical paintings of the Madonna and Child, or of the Crucifixion.  

But perhaps nobody understood and appreciated the dandelion more than the great Catholic apologist, G.K. Chesterton, for whom the entire philosophy of life could best be defended by means of a dandelion. Known to defend every living thing on earth as a gift of our Creator, it was in the last pages of his Autobiography in which he wrote, “through what incarnations or prenatal purgatories I must have passed, to earn the reward of looking at a dandelion."

I do not know if Chesterton ever actually ate dandelions for dinner.  I like to think that he enjoyed them a time or two himself.  Having attempted to share my fondness for dandelions with friends, I have learned that it takes a certain amount of humility to eat a dandelion, and I think Chesterton would have appreciated that.

Nevertheless, I enjoy making dandelions for dinner for a lot of reasons. The fun of gathering and cooking them with my kids, the knowledge that I am feeding them something that is highly nutritious, and the fact that I can get as many as we need at no cost, are all what I consider benefits to eating this seasonal treat. But there is also one more reason why I love serving dandelions for dinner. I hope that by having dandelions for dinner, my children are learning what Chesterton tried to explain so eloquently.  That is, that even weeds have value, and that they too fit into God’s great design for Creation. As my children grow, I want them to try to see things more as God sees and not as man sees.  Today, it starts with how they see a plant that others consider unwanted.  A few years from now, it may be how they see a person whom others consider unwanted.  My hope is that someday they will realize that, as Chesterton wrote, “The only way to enjoy even a weed is to feel unworthy even of a weed."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Living For Easter (Lenten Update)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 
One year ago today...time, slow down!

Can you believe Lent is almost over?  So, how’s it going? 

I admit, I have fallen off the wagon some.  For example, I was going to start saying the Angelus with the kids every day at lunch, but that hasn’t happened yet. Lunch time in my house might not be the best time for this new devotion and by the afternoon, the boys are outside and going off in different directions. And then there are the times I tried to say the rosary but kept falling asleep.  Bedtime is probably not the best time for me to say a rosary. I seem to have a timing issue when it comes to these two devotions.  

Thankfully, a few things have been going well.  I have been getting up an extra 30 minutes earlier during Lent, and it has made a huge difference in how well my day goes.  Just that bit of extra time gives me a much-needed head start on the day.  It also gives me 10 to 15 minutes to read a chapter from this book.  I highly recommend it to anyone going through suffering or just wanting to walk with Jesus through his Passion.  If you have seen the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, it is very similar to the narrative given in this book.  It is graphic but not overly so (I have been reading it aloud to my 7-year-old).  It just really makes me FEEL what Jesus went through, and my heart breaks with each chapter.

I have given up added sugar (mostly) during Lent and the first two weeks of that were rough!  Now, however, the sugar cravings are finally gone, and I feel so much better.  I never indulged in a lot of desserts but eating chocolate candies was one of my downfalls before Lent.  For reasons I hope to blog about later, most of my family has also gone gluten and dairy free (including me) and that has been a serious penance for me and them.  Transitioning to this new dietary lifestyle has been a big challenge (and huge stressor as I learn new habits and recipes) but I am optimistic that the effort will be worth it in the end.

The boys are doing great with their sacrifices this Lent. They enthusiastically mark off each day on our Lenten calendar.  We established a “bean jar” and they put a bean in it each time they do something good for someone or do something without being asked.  They know that come Easter, the beans turn into jellybeans or candy, so that is great motivation! They also have given up screen time except for one hour a day, during which they want to watch “The Pioneer Woman”.  They have fallen in love with this show (and her, I think) and they like to point out to me how much butter and sugar she uses.  LOL! Joah also has decided he wants to live on a ranch.

My husband decided during Lent to work on our marriage and we have been trying to take more time for ourselves.  A big change has been turning off our phones and screens for at least 30 minutes to an hour after the kids all go to bed and just talking to each other.  That has been much needed.  We also are scheduling “dates” with each other and putting them on our calendar just as we would a doctor’s appointment or other event.  It gives us both something to look forward to on those long days when it feels like we barely see or talk to each other.

This past week, we celebrated Joah’s baptismal anniversary.  He looks forward to this almost as much as his birthday.  For his special day, he requested pancakes for supper (his favorite meal) and a trip to the guitar store with his dad (his dad is teaching him to play guitar now). I also took the boys out to ride their bikes down some dirt trails.  I can’t believe how brave they are on the bikes!  They were ripping down the hills and loving it.  I think mountain biking may be in their future. 

For Joah’s baptismal anniversary, however, the best gift came unexpectedly.  After 7 years, we received a loving note from his birthmother.  For those of you who have adopted, you know how huge this is.  We had not heard from her since Joah’s birth and did not know if we ever would, but we never stopped praying for her.  Turns out, God was slowly working a miracle during those years and every prayer was heard.  It just had to happen in God’s time, a lesson that I seem to keep learning over and over and over.  Praise, Jesus!  I have been enjoying this new relationship with his birthmother so much, sending her photos and trying to get her caught up on the past 7 years of his life.  It is such a wonderful thing to be in an open adoption relationship, and my family (and hers) grew by leaps and bounds during this past week, all of us held together by the shared love of one very special little boy.

And that all got me to thinking (again) about how God works.  I am reminded again and again that God hears every prayer. Even the ones when I am barely awake.  Even when my timing is off. Even when my prayer never gets past my good intentions. Even then, he hears me.  He hears my prayers before I even say them.  And in witnessing this seven- year miracle, I am reminded that it is Easter and not Lent for which I live. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Blog Jump Start Week 5: Burning Down The House

Coming in past the deadline to join in with Donna at her Jump Start Your Blog link-up.  Hopefully late is better than never! Last week's question was, "What would you grab if your house was on fire?"

I am thankful that this is a situation that I have never faced, and pray that I never do.  However, it has crossed my mind a few times, considering the fact that we live surrounded by forested land that literally comes up to our doorstep.  We know that if a wildfire ever makes it to the hill below us, during the right conditions, our cedar-siding home would be very vulnerable.  Thankfully, the odds are not great of that happening since we live in a fairly humid environment, but still, stranger things have happened.

There are not a lot of material possessions that I am overly attached to in my home.  When we moved ourselves from Missouri to Kentucky a few years ago, we did a big purge and it was the best thing we ever did. Each item that I donated or threw out was one less item we had to pack and it felt very liberating.  Somehow, however, we still ended up with much more than we needed, and still have boxes from that move four years ago that remain unopened.

The things that I would grab are probably predictable. Photo albums I've made of the family since our boys were born (I print off photos and put them in albums because I don't trust computers to preserve them) would definitely be on the list.  My laptop and a few pieces of artwork would be nice to save. I'd also grab the personally autographed books written by my grandfather and my father. The one autographed by my grandfather is now irreplaceable. And if there was time, I'd grab my jewelry box, not because it has high value jewelry, but because much of the jewelry has sentimental value to me.  I have jewelry that was given to me by old classmates in elementary school, and a necklace from my grandmother, things like that.

But if the house was really on fire and I had time to only grab one thing in a hurry, I would not hesitate and know exactly what it would be.  I would grab my wedding dress.  My wedding dress, which also was once my mother's wedding dress. And while I rarely wish I'd been blessed with a daughter, when I think about my wedding dress, I wish a bit that I did have a daughter who could one day wear it, too.  When I was a little girl, my mother would proudly show me her wedding dress and say "Perhaps someday, you will wear it."  As a small girl, I started dreaming of one day meeting my Prince Charming and wearing that dress as I walked down the aisle.  Not because I loved the dress so much, but because I loved my mother and her dream of me wearing it someday.

That dream did come true.  When I became engaged, the first thing my mother and I did was pull out that wedding dress from the back of her closet.  I had never dared put it on before, for fear of jinxing our dream. Apprehensively, I slipped it on. It was a perfect fit, and I felt like it was just meant to be.

Today, the wedding dress is tucked away safely in the back of my closet, waiting for perhaps my niece or, if I'm really optimistic, my granddaughter or future daughter-in-law to wear it.  Probably not likely, but it's worth dreaming about. That's what my wedding dress reminds me of, that dreams sometimes do come true, and that is worth saving.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Blog Jump Start Week 4: Who Would I Invite To Dinner?

Another link-up with Donna in our blogging challenge.  This week, the challenge is to answer the question "Who Would I Invite To Dinner (living or deceased)?

This was a toughie.  I had to spend some time thinking about it and I really loved Rebecca's twist on it over at her blog.  Yes, the best people to eat dinner with are always those we love!  Nothing ever tops that and Rebecca nailed it.   I am thankful that my family eats together at least once, sometimes twice a day, but I also take that for granted too many times.  I know someday that I will be calling my boys and begging them to come visit me and their father and have dinner with us.  That day will come all too soon.

But, if I could fantasize and invite anyone, who would it be?  After giving it some thought, these three folks came to mind.  Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, and Flannery O'Connor.  Why these?  Well, Theodore Roosevelt was one of those larger than life people who had big ideas, big adventures and a big mouth (and he carried a big stick, right?).  He had to have been full of stories about Africa, South America, and the Great West.  He was fearless to a fault, and I love trying to figure out what makes people like that tick.

Rachel Carson would be another choice because I think we'd have a lot in common.  Since I was young, I've admired her and I used to want to be a lot like her.  She broke a lot of glass ceilings in her day and could get lost in a book, or on a walk in the woods, or just by watching a bird float on the wind.  I can relate to all of that.

And Flannery O'Connor would be my third guest.  I would love to invite her just to watch the expressions on her face as others around the table spoke.  Having read several of her stories, I think she understood human nature better than almost anyone, and I bet she could cut right through any conversation or story and get to the heart of the matter.  I can only imagine what she would think of Teddy and his boisterous, tall tales! Would she just sit quietly with a knowing look on her face, or would she challenge him with questions, or would she enjoy the antics and encourage him to talk more?  I would love to find out.

So that 's my short list.  I like to imagine Rachel and Flannery sitting next to other.  Two masters of the written word, trying to get a word in edgewise, while Teddy dominated the conversation.  All of us in mutual respect of the other, held together by a love of storytelling and maybe a little too much passion.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Blog Jump Start Week 3: Something from the Drafts {If Pro-Lifers Don't Promote Adoption, Who Will?}

Linking up with Donna for Challenge #3 of the Jump Start Your Blog series.  This time, the challenge was to publish something that has been hanging out in our "Drafts" folder.  This is a post that I wrote in 2014 that I never published.  But considering that the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is approaching, publishing it now, in light of Donna's challenge, seemed timely.  Thanks, Donna!

A few months ago, I packed up several bags of baby clothes and took them to a local pregnancy resource center that is always looking for donated items.  This particular pregnancy resource center does wonderful work, is 100% pro-life in their cause, and has helped hundreds of pregnant women locally and probably thousands nationally.  I love supporting them and their work.

While handing off a few donated bags of clothing, I spoke to the very kind and friendly woman who volunteers at the center.  I know her fairly well; she is very pro-life and leads her church's Respect Life Committee.  She donates her time to the pregnancy center, so I have tremendous respect for what she does and who she is.

Considering the fact that my husband and I are waiting to adopt, I thought maybe she would be a good one to share this fact with, since she meets many women facing crisis pregnancies on a weekly basis.  So we talked, and the conversation went something like this:

Me:  We've been waiting to adopt for almost a year now but our approval ends in about 6 weeks and it's not looking like we'll get  a baby.

Her:   Oh, if it is God's will, it will happen.  Why don't you think you'll get a baby?

Me:   Well, it takes a long time, and some couples never get chosen. There just aren't enough babies available domestically for couples like us who want to adopt them.  It makes me sad because I really wanted another baby after we adopted our son, and I don't think biologically that is going to happen now.

Her:   Yeah, when you get around 40, you need to start thinking that way.

Me:  Actually, I'm almost 45.

Her:  Oh!  Well by that time, you really don't want to have another baby!

Me, somewhat awkwardly:   I would love to have another baby.

Her:  What about going to another country to adopt a baby?

Me:  We don't really want to do that and aren't in the position right now to do the travel necessary.  It is also often much more expensive.  But a lot of Americans do go overseas to adopt partly because not many babies are available domestically.

Her:   You know, we almost never get a client [pregnant woman] who is thinking about adoption.  I think last year all year, we only had one client who said she was thinking about adoption, and in the end, she didn't do it.

Me:   It's unfortunate that adoption isn't promoted more but sadly, it has a lot of negative stereotypes. Just the phrase "giving your baby up" suggests that the birthmother is giving away someone who she doesn't want, which implies that she is a terrible human being and incredibly selfish, when really, choosing adoption can be an act of extreme unselfishness.

Her:   Oh, we never use the phrase "giving up the baby"; we try to say, uh, well, what we say is, well, we just say "give your baby life."

Me:  Oh yes, give the baby life, but why not give it even more? Why not ask them if they have thought about adoption?

At this point, I shared a little about our personal experience with our son's birthmother and her parents and how much love they had for him, so much so, that they chose adoption for him.  

After we parted, I reflected on this conversation.  As pro-life people, we are well versed in the "Choose Life" mantra.   We put it on our bumpers, on our t-shirts, on our billboards, and on our Christmas cards. This is a wonderful thing to do and has no doubt changed hearts and saved lives.   But what happens after many women choose life?   Do their babies live in homes free of domestic abuse?  Can they give their baby a father who guides them and protects them?   How many of these babies will end up available for adoption anyway in 8 or 10 years because they have been placed in foster care and their parents couldn't properly care for them?

I totally get why a birthmother would not want to consider adoption.  A single-mother is considered a hero in our society (true, many are), whereas, a mother who chooses to place her child for adoption is more likely to be viewed as "avoiding responsibility" or "thinking only of herself". And then there is the grandparent factor.  Many adoptions are stopped by grandparents who step in and say "I will raise your child" which makes them the de facto parents, but then who fills the doting, spoil-them-rotten role of the grandparent?  They say "don't you dare give up MY grandchild" for adoption.   How could anyone, especially an already extremely stressed and exhausted birthmother, handle such pressure, even if she was considering adoption?

I myself have never had to make that decision and so I can't say that I would be able to choose adoption if I were the one facing a pregnancy for which I was unprepared.  But I do think that if I heard positive and encouraging stories regarding adoption, if I lived in a society where choosing adoption was held in high regard and considered a very loving and unselfish decision, if I had the encouragement of my parents and my friends (and pregnancy resource center workers), then I would be much more inclined to give it some serious consideration.  Unfortunately, this is not what most birthmothers experience today.

Back in November, which was National Adoption Month, I waited for at least one pro-adoption story in our diocesan newspaper.  There were none.   But the month before, October, which was "Respect Life Month", there were weekly stories about various pro-life efforts around the diocese.  

As Catholics, we are very good (and rightly so) about promoting the "Choose Life" message and helping the mothers who make that choice.   And I was pleased to see that the theme of this year's March for Life was adoption. However, unfortunately the  "Consider Adoption" message still needs some serious marketing and as pro-lifers, we shouldn't hesitate to share it.   That message too, will save lives, and might even make a few lives better.