Sunday, July 18, 2010

Little Ninjas

This past week we had our last day of taekwon-do at the Master Wallace Blackbelt Academy here in Aberdeen. M and D have been going twice a week since about March of 2009. This has been one of the highlights of living in Aberdeen and we will miss it very much.  I took some pictures from the last class and you can see them below. The kids picked their music so they each got their own slideshow. M's song is The Climb by Miley Cyrus. She often requests to hear this song on the way home from TKD. D chose Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts from the CARS soundtrack. (Note: if you play the video's on full screen you can see the captions. Otherwise the first word is cut off a bit.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tag, I am IT

This is a new experience for me. My faithful bloggy fan, Patty over at the blog with the great name: Reasons For Chocolate sent me an award (see that pretty green square below?). And now I am tagged to answer some questions and pass it on. So, here are my attempts at following the rules: 

The rules for this award are:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award.

Thank you, Patty, for thinking of me! And thank you for always taking time to leave comments on my blog posts!

2.  List 7 things that people may not know about you...

Hmmmm....I am sure there are tons of things. But here goes, right off of the top of my head:

1. I used to be an elementary school teacher. 
2. I once surfed in San Onofre (the one from the Beach Boys song). I didn't even sit up on the board....that surfing thing is hard!
3. My husband is better at cleaning the house than I am.  
4. When I was in fourth grade I offered the new girl in my class some chocolate (in a lame attempt to win her friendship) and she said she didn't like chocolate. I never trusted her after that. (See why I love the name of Patty's blog?)
5. I met my husband on the internet. 
6. I met Pope John Paul II and have pictures to prove it. :)
7. I would listen to Nat King Cole Christmas music all year round if it didn't drive my husband batty!
3. Pass it on to other bloggers who deserve the award.   

Here are some blogs that I recently discovered but haven't yet added to the list on my blog of places I go to be inspired:

Afterthoughts A place that I am going to learn more about Charlotte Mason. 
Kitchen Stewardship A place that I am going to learn more about eating healthy foods. 

And these are two real life friends that blog: 
A Light to the Nations
This is Carole Brown, one of my former roommates from school days at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  

The Murray Clan
The Murrays are our good friends from California. They are an inspiring homeschooling family of many. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Let the Little Children Come to Me

It is hard to believe this day has finally arrived. Today eight year old M finally received her First Holy Communion. She wore a beautiful white dress, pretty white shoes, a delicate headband, and a smile. And beside her was her brother, six year old D, in his handsome suit and a huge smile. Amazingly enough he too received his First Holy Communion! A doubly joyful day for the Kennedy Family!

The story of our First Holy Communion preparation begins way back when M was 5 or 6. All catechesis in our house was done with this day in mind. And at the time I thought she would receive when she was 7. But our nomadic life left us out of the loop, so to speak. In London, we had a parish we loved, but I figured she was too young so I never asked, though I thought she was ready. I wanted to do it "the right way". Then we moved to Scotland where the process was a little different. The children have their First Confession at about age 7 (though many were 8) and then First Holy Communion the following year. So, we attended First Reconciliation Class (which I taught) at our parish and she went to confession for the first time in June of 2009.

Then, life changed a bit and we began attending Sunday Mass at the Cathedral in Aberdeen. It was actually closer than our other church and had an 8am Mass, which seemed like the best time for the whole family. At this point we stepped up the catechesis for First Holy Communion at home. Again, I knew she was ready to begin receiving, but I was reluctant to push the process. I never even spoke to our priest about it. My mistake.

We worked on a Eucharist Notebook and began thinking about when, and how. We weren't connected to a parish catechesis program, so we were on our own. When it became obvious that we would be moving home this year we began to think about having her receive for the first time back home in California. That way my family could be there and we could have a "proper celebration". But moving day kept moving. Soon it was June and we still didn't have a move date. It began to dawn on us that we would be lucky to be in our house by September. We just couldn't make her wait that long.

Logistics aside, we also began to realize that M would be much more comfortable beginning this new journey in her life here, in St Mary's Cathedral. M has never been a big fan of change and new things, so keeping as many factors constant as possible seemed like the best plan for her.

So, the decision was made! But, we had to wait again. Everything hinged on our conversation with the Pastor of the Cathedral, Father Christopher....who was out of town.

After a week of asking Blessed Imelda's Intercession, and after a bit of phone tag, we finally connected. Jim had been taking one kid to Mass each day for a couple of weeks (this was a once a week habit before, but had begun to be daily). On Thursday he "happened" to take both M and D to Mass and Father Chris "happened" to be saying Mass that day. After Mass, Jim approached Father who said that certainly M should receive as soon as possible. But, he thought D was also ready.
Father Chris said Mass and Father Juniper came to say congratulations. 

We were both surprised even though we agreed! However, we never would have asked that D receive at age 6. But, who can argue with a priest!?  

And here we are, three days later, the day both M and D received Jesus in the form of Bread and Wine for the first time.

During Mass I tried my best to remain in the present moment (and to not write this post in my head, or worry about the coughs and runny noses). This is not easy for my wandering mind, but, through the grace of God, I have been able to do it at least four times in my married life: during our wedding, during each of the kid's baptisms, and during today's First Holy Communion Mass. And like each of those times I held back tears as the Sacrament was being administered.

Each Sacrament holds so much power that I am in awe in the presence of that moment. I was in awe of the moment that I joined my life to Jim's in a permanent, inseparable way. I was in awe each time a child was washed clean and filled with the very Life of God. And I was in awe this morning as those same babies stood in front of me and said Amen, receiving Jesus into their very own bodies. Two little tabernacles walking back to their pew.
Father let each of the kids pick out something from the little store. They chose books and he wrote a note in each one. 

I know you can't go back in time and re-do things, and I know God makes beauty out of everything, even our own mistakes, but I couldn't help reflecting about the difference between the way M and D came to this day.

Ever since my professional catechist days I have been interested in the movement of the Church regarding the proper age for First Holy Communion. One of my heroes as been Pope St. Pius X. He was the one who changed everything for children. He helped make today possible.

Pope Pius X declared that children should not be made to wait until 11, 12, sometimes even 14, to receive First Holy Communion as was the custom of the day (think St. Bernadette). He said children should be admitted to the sacrament by age 7, the approximate time most children reach the "age of reason". This morning, as we were anticipating our big day, I remembered a story I once read about Pope St Pius X. I don't know where it came from, but I had it copied in a document on my computer.

When Pope Pius X became Pope, one of his first thoughts was not only to feed little children with bread, but also to feed their souls with the Body and Blood of Jesus, their Lord and God, under the appearance of bread, in Holy Communion. Many in the Church objected to this, but he loved children and he loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament so much that he wanted them to frequently embrace each other in Holy Communion, as a child embraces its beloved mother. He wanted children to be allowed to receive Jesus as soon as they knew enough catechism to understand that our dear Lord and God comes to them in Holy Communion.
One day an English lady had her four year old son with her at a private visit with Pope Pius X. The Pope stooped down to the little boy and asked him:
"How old are you?"
"I am four," said the boy.
Then the Holy Father continued: "Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?"
"Jesus Christ," answered the little fellow.
"And who is Jesus Christ?" inquired the Pope.
"Jesus Christ is God," was the boy's immediate answer.
The Pope was delighted and turned to the mother and said: "Bring your boy to me tomorrow and I will give him his first Communion myself."
Though D is not as young as the little boy in the story, he is a bit younger than most children are when they first begin receiving the Eucharist. But Father saw in D a readiness, and perhaps a need, for the graces of this Sacrament and so he pastored him. It was the intent of Pope Pius X that the decision of when a child should begin to receive was to be between the parents and a priest that is familiar with the child's spiritual life. How sad it is that this relationship between priest and child is so difficult to find?
After Mass our friends Mark and Katarina and their daughter Bernadette (not in picture) joined us at Starbucks for a little celebration.

In retrospect, if we had been more connected to our pastors over the past four years M may have begun receiving Communion a while ago. But, perhaps God had it in mind all along that she would receive with her brother, here in Aberdeen. Certainly the fact that we made it today through coughs, stuffy noses, and eye infections is a miracle in itself!

Congratulations M and D! Our prayer for you is that each time you receive Christ in this incredible Sacrament that you will know that it is Him, that you will grow in your love for Him, and that you will be more like Him each day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Master Catechist's Kids

I have, in the past, had the title "Master Catechist". I think it refers to my wildly expensive education and the fact that I used to teach teachers. Anyway, kids have a way of humbling you. I thought I should share some of the cuter humiliations of the "Master Catechist Mama". 

Not too long ago, our four year old informed me that her sister, M, liked Jesus, but she liked Lightning McQueen. Some of the evidence for this little factoid was that the chosen car music of M is the Hide 'Em In Your Heart cd's, while A's chosen car music is the soundtrack to Cars.

It is my hope that this might change. Perhaps some evangelization will go on between the two sisters! But who will be the influential one?


This morning as a Cars song was playing, M declared her affection for the song. And A piped up, with utter amazement. "M. likes Lightning McQueen AND Jesus!!!!"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In Which I Whine about Too Much Sunshine

Up here, on the coast of the North Sea, in the summertime, the days are long.....very long! The sun begins to shine through our windows by 4am and roughly 18 hours later those windows are dark again. That is a long day! In the throws of the long nights of winter (think 18 hours of darkness) this seems like a great alternative. Nice long days...who wouldn't want that? But, it's all about sleep. Thick window shades with thick drapes can only do so much. I suppose we could seal up those windows with....I don't know...foil? But then you live in darkness all day....we've had enough of that during winter.
This was taken on the west coast of Scotland after our day exploring the Isle of Mull. It is about 8pm. 

Just about this time of year the kids begin to adjust a little better. They get considerably more time outside than in the winter and so they are more tired by 7:30 or 8pm. The fact that their room isn't completely dark doesn't matter as much. But that 4am sunrise (technically 4:30 these days, but it may as well be 4!) gets them up early. The chances of me getting up before them long enough to get in exercise, prayer, shower and getting dressed are very slim (not that I was able to accomplish this during winter, but that is another story!).  There is usually someone up between 5 and 5:30 and the others are up by around 6 with the occasional lazy bones sleeping till 7am!

For Jim and I, the end of the day can be frustrating. We usually go to bed between 9 and 9:30. It is still quite light out by then and it is just counter intuitive. Just when you begin to adjust to this, the day begins to shorten. For a few short weeks it seems "normal" with sunset shortly after dinner and sunrise after 6am. But then it just get's strange the fall you see kids walking home from school in the dark. It is only 3:30 but it feels like night time. Two years was not long enough to get used to this. I can't even imagine living in someplace like Alaska!

Of course daylight can't be confused with sunshine. That dreary Scottish weather has it's own issues! However, I am sure once we get back to California and experience a hot August I will be longing for the clouds and rain that are out my window right now.  
This was taken in late June. He started with a light jacket, and kept adding layers until he was comfortable. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pass IT on links

Some links to help pass on The American Trust:

Charters of Freedom: read the founding documents online.

Constituting America: learn about the Constitution; motivate your kids to learn; join a movement!

A Funny/Depressing Video: Jay Leno talks to people about the Fourth of July. At the end is a grandfather that needs to Pass on the Trust!

An article about the Declaration of Abroath (see the caption under the picture below of the kids in costume)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pass IT on!

I recently read an article by Thomas Sowell on called Degeneration of Democracy. One paragraph stood out for me. He was referring to the concept of "useful idiots" which Hitler made use of as he built the Nazi Movement. 
Put differently, a democracy needs informed citizens if it is to thrive, or ultimately even survive. In our times, American democracy is being dismantled, piece by piece, before our very eyes by the current administration in Washington, and few people seem to be concerned about it.
The importance of an informed public is obviously not new. I have heard it mentioned many times in reference to the founding of our country. And it's truth is readily apparent. But this time it struck me in a different way.

As a home educator I am feeling the weight of raising my own "informed public" kids: What do I teach them next term? The next year? What do I want them to learn? What do they need to know?
Fourth of July 2005, Danville, California

The subject of America comes especially into focus for this family because we have spent the past 4 years living in the UK. When we arrived here our children were 4, 2 and 9 months, so they have grown and changed and learned a lot in their time here. Being an American is something special to them. On one of our first visits back to the U.S. our then 4 year old son told everyone he met....the check out lady at the grocery store, the waiter at the restaurant, the woman getting out of her car next to us in the parking lot..."We are Americans!" These kids love to celebrate American holidays and couldn't wait to don their American flag t-shirts this weekend. That being said, most of the reality of their young lives is not American. To them, being American is more an idea than a reality.
Fourth of July 2008, Aberdeen, Scotland

In the past four years my own patriotism and appreciation of America has grown. Most specifically, I have come to appreciate and understand the implications of economic freedom. Even here in the UK there are restrictions on economic freedom that effect our daily lives and give us a greater appreciation for being American.

My renewed interest in American exceptionalism doesn't stop there, however. With the current political situation in the U.S. we sometimes feel that our great country is disappearing before our eyes (and ears). We can become easily discouraged and at times outright depressed when we watch the news in the U.S. I have begun to turn to the founding documents, and to attempt to fill in the blanks of my own meager understanding of our history.

The convergence of our family situation (re-patriating) and the situation in the U.S. that Thomas Sowell outlined has brought to the forefront of my mind my article on the different family types. More specifically, it recalls the concept of the Trust that is passed on from generation to generation. As American's we have a unique place in history and in the world. And as American parents we have an important Trust to hand on to our children: the particular concept of freedom and liberty as the founders framed it in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Our American Family depends on the guarding and handing on of this Trust. Now, more than ever.

This task is huge when we look at it politically. The voters must be educated before the next election! The politicians must be urged to preserve the integrity of the constitution! What is a mother of three, home educator, and housewife to do about that? Of course there are many things one person can do politically in her own community, in her own state. But....back to my previous posts on families.
Fourth of July 2009, Aberdeen Scotland

If, in fact, the family, both in structure and strength, affects the government, then I am perfectly situated to help influence. As I said before, I have some of those future voters right here in my house, waiting to be informed. And there is a Trust to pass on to them, to help them hold, and know, and cherish. It came to us through our parents, and their parents, back to our founders. Even though many of us come from immigrant families (Jim's parents came from Scotland and my paternal grandparents from Italy) that Trust was given us by our ancestors who made the courageous decision to come to America. They may not have known exactly what they were getting into, or been able to articulate the vision of the founders, but they saw opportunity, they saw freedom and they came.

In my previous posts I referred, with tongue in cheek sometimes, to the Kennedy Compound. Well, in the fall of 2009 we had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Homestead in Ireland. It is the home where John F Kennedy's grandfather, Patrick, was raised. And it was from there that he traveled to America, leaving behind siblings and parents. Unlike many Irish immigrants, Patrick was not leaving Ireland to escape famine and poverty. In fact, he was quite comfortable working the family farm. But, he heard of an opportunity to put his barrel making skills to work in the U.S. He had a job, and he took it. After his move to America, Patrick married Bridget, the sister of one of the friends who helped get him the job and he opened a business of his own. It seems his wife had an entrepreneurial spirit as well since most of the family's wealth was acquired after Patrick died, through his Bridget's ingenuity.

The point is, they came. And they used this new liberty to better themselves and their children. They looked to future generations. My own Italian grandfather was a sign painter. He painted signs. Simple. His son, my father, was an electrical engineer (though without a college degree). And his son, my brother, is an electrical engineer (with a degree), and his daughter (me) has a master's degree in Theology. And his other children are equally successful in their chosen fields.

It is our hope, that our children, born in the land of the free, will use their freedom to better themselves and their children. We think ahead to the generations to come and hope that this country, this land of opportunity will survive for them as well.
Abroath, Scotland, 2009: The Declaration of Abroath was used by Thomas Jefferson to help him write The Declaration of Independence.

But the burden of passing on this Trust, is not just for the sake of our own great-great grandchildren. We have a responsibility to the world. The American Experiment has made this country a beacon to all who want to be free. Not just those who may choose to immigrate, but to those who want to pursue a deeper liberty in their own country.

This responsibility to the rest of the world was articulated by President Reagan in his famous "Shining City on a Hill" speech, in which he quoted Pope Pius XII:

We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so. The leadership of the free world was thrust upon us two centuries ago in that little hall of Philadelphia. In the days following World War II, when the economic strength and power of America was all that stood between the world and the return to the dark ages, Pope Pius XII said, “The American people have a great genius for splendid and unselfish actions. Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind.”  
We are indeed, and we are today, the last best hope of man on earth. 
The last, best hope of man on earth! Wow! Talk about burdens! 

How can we make sure America remains the best hope of man on earth! How can we continue, now and in the future, be the economic strength and power that stands between the world and the dark ages. 

I think that handing on the Trust is the key. And that can be done best by the family (home educators or not). Schools have failed. But they were destined to. Only strong families can help keep government at the proper size (because we want a government that is a world power, but citizens that are truly free), only informed families can keep the American Dream alive, only families devoted to the founding documents in their original meaning can continue to make America exceptional. 

Things seem very bad out there now. And that Shining City on a Hill doesn't seem so shiny. But I don't think Americans have any intention of letting the world return to the Dark Ages (the real Dark Ages, or the Dark Ages everyone means when they use the phrase). So, let's put out our flags on Independence Day and begin by talking about why it has 13 stripes and 50 stars.  Let's pass on the Trust as we know it today, and get a better handle on it for tomorrow. 

As for me and my family, we are devoting the coming school year to studying the founding of our country. We want to immerse ourselves in the stories of the pioneers, the words of the founders, the principles that make this country work. That means this home educator must read and study the goal this summer is to read the Constitution. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Turning the Tables: Part 2

Name your family 
We have identified three types of family: the atomistic (the weakest), the trustee (the strongest), and the domestic (a cross between the two). Each can be found in most any culture/society at most any time. But, generally speaking, one is dominant. The interesting, and frightening, thing is that the atomistic family type—the small weak family that goes hand in hand with big strong government (sound familiar?)— is dominant just before the collapse of a society. This was the case in ancient Rome and Greece. And… this is the frightening part…it seems to be the case now in the West. Are we headed towards societal collapse? Is the breakdown of the family a sign that the barbarians are on their way through the gates of the city?

I would love to have words of comfort for us fraidycats such as— “modern families are different” OR “American society will never endure what Rome did because we are smarter”. However, though I seldom fall for “end of the world as we know it” theories, I think we might be approaching the end of the world as we know it. It seems that the weak families that predominate in the U.S. and other western countries will not stand up to a strong, increasingly intrusive central government.

But, that is not to say that there isn’t much hope, especially for Christian families. After all, look at what was left standing when Rome fell---THE CHURCH! The Church doesn’t collapse, even when the individual families within her weaken. This is because the Church is a family, the only true “Trustee” family. We hold in trust our faith---The Faith articulated in the Creed and passed on from the beginning—when The Father sent His Son--- until now. This Creed is guarded and interpreted by the ultimate family council, the Magisterium guided by the ultimate patriarch: God the Father, in the Son and through the Holy Spirit.

Parish the Thought
Now, you might expect me to say; “Get Thee to Thy parish and make it Thy Family”. But, though I will always support people going to and getting involved in their parish, this isn’t really the answer to the problem of weak families. Yes, the Church is our Supernatural Family. Yes, we are all united as brothers and sisters by our baptism. However, when we arrive at our local parish, we still find weakened families, battered by the onslaught of a culture antithetical to that which we all hold in trust, our Faith.

After all, most parishes suffer from the same problems as the rest of society. Parishes are places where individuals and small family units have come together away from their, sometimes hostile, extended families, away from the outside culture. Simply jumping into that pool will not get us to strong families.

We must look at our natural family as it exists today, whether we are an example of the atomistic, the domestic, or the trustee family. We must ask ourselves “How can we strengthen the Kennedy (mine, not the one in the Compound) family so that the coming generations of Kennedy’s find themselves in a strong trustee-type family?”

First of all, I don't think we can stop at patching together a trustee family from our existing grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. This is a worthy endeavor, though for many people a difficult, if not impossible one. Even if we have, or can heal, that extended family, it isn't enough.

The Family Trust
We must discover what is needed for our own family unit to become the trustee family of tomorrow. As I said above, the key to a trustee family is the “trust”, something of value passed on from generation to generation for which all family members are responsible. For Christian families this is The One, True Faith, as it is articulated by the Catholic Church. We should be able to say that what we want most from life is for our children, and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children to inherit heaven.

A big difference between the trustee type of family and the domestic type (which looks primarily to the immediate generation, and leaves the future to them) is that the trustees intend for the Trust to be handed on for many generations, really, until the end of time. And the children of the trustees must be prepared to have the same goals.

What then must we do? Well, I cannot pretend to have the whole answer to that question. I can only share what I have gathered from observation, study, and discussion with others. It is really quite logical. If we want to build a strong family for the future, and we want our descendents to inherit heaven, then we must put the Family Trust at the center of family life. Every individual must see the importance of the Trust, and be willing to sacrifice for it, to guard it, to pass it on. Every activity, of the family or any individual, must serve the Trust and never be in contradiction to it.

So, practically this means our primary endeavor as a family must be to know and understand the Faith so that we can live it out better and better each day. Parents must seek holiness through a deeper relationship with Christ for themselves. Children must do the same, with the help of their parents.

The importance of the guarding and handing on the Trust also requires the bond between family members to be strong. This will require a commitment to family togetherness. Lets throw out the “quality over quantity” fallacy, and realize that family bonding requires at least quantity time. So, family meals are crucial. Meals should point us to the heavenly banquet in the sense that there is some sense of ritual and formality about them. Things like setting the table, having certain spots for family members, always room for guests, keeping conversation uplifting, will all help mark mealtime. Also, we will want to tap into the liturgical year so we can feast and fast with the rest of the worldwide Catholic family.

Hospitality is also a lost Christian virtue that can strengthen the family and widen the tent pegs, so to speak. Here is where the liturgical year comes in handy. We can invite other families to join us in a feast day celebration such as a favorite saint’s day, or an Epiphany party, or a Seder meal in Lent, or even a New Church Year’s Eve party the night before the first Sunday of Advent. We should make sure that we include people with whom we may not have a lot in common. This is the mark of true hospitality.

Mission Statement from Heaven
Finally, a family to have a mission statement can be very helpful. We are all called to assent to, guard, and pass on the same One True Faith. And so, every mission statement would include a commitment to the Catholic Church and her teachings. However, the way we live out this commitment can be very different. Some families are called to pro-life work. Some families, especially large ones, are called to be physical signs of God’s generosity. Some families may have a special call to help the poor, or the elderly. Some families may be called to open their doors to foster children, or adoption.

Whatever the call, every Catholic family should have an idea of what God has called them to. A mission statement is a good way of articulating the. It can be used to help parents and children discern, together, what activities fit with the family’s goals. For instance, a family with many children may have to limit outside activities since it isn’t practical to cart ten children to ten different activities every weekday. Another family may choose to put some pressure on local businesses to avoid supporting the abortion industry, and this may mean extra sacrifices.

Upon writing this essay, the Kennedy’s (that’s us, not the ones in The Compound) have yet to clearly formulate their mission statement. However, perhaps by the time you have read this last paragraph, it will be posted on my website. And maybe, if we all work at making our families stronger, when the Barbarians storm the gates of the city, and the weak are swept away in the tide, those still standing will be the Trustee’s of the Catholic Faith. Lets work hard for the sake of our children’s, children’s, children’s children!

Upon writing this blog post, the Kennedy Family Mission Statement is a good 5 or 6 years old and may be in need of revising/revisiting. You can see it on one of my pages (upper right-hand column). 

This ends the essay as it stands from 2002. I am still formulating in my head the thoughts and sentiments about America that have brought me back to this essay about the family. Hopefully by Independence Day I will have them posted here.