Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Exceptionalism

Danielle Bean has an article on the Washington Post website about American Exceptionalism. Here is my comment added to the discussion:

America's exceptionalism is not about Americans being exceptional people, and it is not really about the blessings of wealth and abundance (though they are in many ways a result of what makes us exceptional). 
We are exceptional in the history of the world because of our constitution--which results in unprecedented personal freedoms; a president who relinquishes his office after four or eight years, without exception; an economy that allows for people (not all, but those who work hard, persevere and use their abilities well) to enter it at the bottom and rise to the top; a country who sends it's military to other countries and when it leaves ask only for the land necessary to bury its dead. 
When we speak of American Exceptionalism we are not bragging, or denigrating others....we are saying that this country, as it was founded, is a place where any person from any country can come and be free and succeed. 
Insofar as our constitution continues to be followed, we will continue to be exceptional. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Of Birthdays and Tennis and the Matterhorn...

Last week was my Dad's birthday. I wanted to blog about it, but I couldn't think of anything profound to say. I suppose I could have posted a picture of him....{this moment} style...but I don't have as many pictures of him on my computer as I would like. So....I did nothing.

Nothing but think about him. And birthdays. And what I would be doing if.

I finally decided to get "off my duff" and, in the spirit of this blog, which is largely about documenting life for future generations, post a couple of Dad stories.

Story Number One: A Birthday Memory

In our younger days we were a tennis family. I think I learned to play in junior high. Maybe Mom and Dad started playing about then too. Then I played in high school. Mom still plays with her friends. And we played as a family.

In my late high school/early college years I began the habit of giving my Dad a coupon for his birthday: "Good for one game of tennis and lunch" or something like that.

The running joke between us was that he supposedly had coupons that he had never cashed in...no doubt due to my busy schedule and the difficulty of pinning me down to plan such a day. I would challenge him to produce the paperwork, and he would say he would...tomorrow. Or that I neglected to give him the proper paperwork. Or whatever might get us laughing about it.

Dad with kids (minus littlest brother not yet born) at Mammoth Lakes, California.
Guess which one is me. 


Story Number Two: Funny Family Fable Retold Every Holiday

This is not a birthday memory, but one that has come up because of some recent commercials for Disneyland. We grew up in Southern California, near enough to Disneyland to make a day trip. In fact, it was not entirely unusual for us to be driving (to visit family or other sorts of outings) and be in Anaheim, close enough to see the Matterhorn from the road. But, we were not a "yearly trip to Disneyland" sort of family. Mom and Dad felt that would ruin the magic. Going too often made it routine.

To us kids this felt like "we never go to Disneyland", which was not true, exactly.

This all sets the scene for that fateful Saturday that we were driving the family Ford station wagon (the one with the fake wood paneling) through Anaheim, ostensibly to get a part for the car at some obscure car part place. There we were, right next to Disneyland, peering out the windows at the top of the Matterhorn ride, stuck in a traffic jam with all those lucky people who were really going to Disneyland that day.

Dad was lamenting the traffic, wondering aloud how he would get to the other side of Disneyland to the car part store that was supposedly there. Then, whether by force of the traffic jam, or by the mistaken belief that he could get through the parking lot, he turned right into the driveway and headed for the kiosk where you pay for parking.

All the time he is complaining that he is going to have to PAY to get to the other side to get that part for the car. And we kids are in the back staring glumly out the window, wondering at the luck of all these people who actually get to GO TO DISNEYLAND rather than just drive through the parking lot.

It never ONCE occurred to us that WE might actually be going. So ingrained in our brains was the "we don't do that" mantra.

Even when Dad parked the car, we didn't dare to hope. It wasn't until he ordered us out of the car that we began to think we might... we just might....get to go to Disneyland this time. Could it be?

I don't think we truly believed until we were at the ticket booth!

We didn't jump up and down and scream like the kids in the commercial, not our style, but I am sure we had ear to ear grins!

Friday, November 19, 2010

[this moment]

{this moment} - A Friday ritual.  Photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, visit Soulemama to leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bedtime Vocabulary Drills

I let A go to bed with headphones and an ipod playing one of her favorites: Barnyard Tales from Apple Tree Farm (we got it in the UK--imagine cute farm stories told with a British accent).

An hour after the kids were tucked in we hear someone on the monitor.

4 year old her: (whining and crying from upstairs)

[I make my way to her room]

Me: What do you want sweetie?

4 year old her: Why did pig get stuck?

Me: Ummm...I don't know.

4 year old her: Do clouds make rain?

Me: Ummm...yes. Now go to sleep. I love you.

4 year old her: Why are your hands cold?

Me: Well, uh, it might be because I am eating an ice cream...which is now sitting on the table by the couch...melting!!

Okay, I didn't say that, but I thought it. Whatever I said, it got me out of there a few minutes later.

Then...10 minutes after that:

4 year old her: (whining and crying from upstairs)

Me: What's up sweetie?

4 year old her: What does clever mean?

Me: It means very smart. Should we take these headphones off? It's time to go to sleep.

After some clever negotiations, another quick science lesson, and a plan to get pig un-stuck, I am back downstairs, hopeful that my little dictionary-to-be will be asleep soon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quivering with Excitement...

So...remember those holey jeans? Well, I got creative. I SEWED! Yes! As in needle and thread. No machine here...I am too afraid to make that investment (what if it just sits there on the table sneering at me while I don't ever use it!).

No...no machines here. Just a jumble of needles and threads and patches and scraps which I try to organize in plastic containers that never seem to work just right. So, you can see why a sewing project is a BIG DEAL for me.

I have to admit though...I had inspiration from another blogger. Michelle has made the coolest things from army uniforms and when I blogged about the jeans before I was thinking of her. And then she went and commented on that blog post!! I was really flattered that she even looked at my little blog!!

(Note to Michelle....took your advice and bought some Toughskin jeans and joined Sears Kidvantage as insurance against holes in the knees.)

Ready for the reveal? Here is what I sewed with my own little hands:

No...not him. That cute kid is the inspiration for the sewing. See the crossbow on his shoulder and those arrows peeking out from behind him? How is he holding those arrows? 

Voila! That's how!! His clever mom turned his old jeans into a quiver!

How clever is that? Hold on...don't say anything. Let's wait and see how long the thing lasts! It could be falling apart as we speak. Maybe I could get partial credit?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I can't NOT talk about it....

Okay, so I know the picture in the previous post is supposed to be without words...but I have to tell you about that place! It was a little monastery tucked among the hills in the-middle-of-no-where Scotland. 

Well....I guess it wasn't "no-where", it was somewhere between Inverness (home of Loch Ness) 

and Aberdeen. We got lost multiple times getting there. The country roads were obviously for the local folk as they had NO SIGNS!! Fortunately the scenery was gorgeous. 

When we finally arrived, Mass had just ended and church was quiet. Some of the monks were in adoration...we could see them through a little window. 

The grounds were beautiful and un-manicured. There was a an old cemetery (which is where the {this moment} picture was taken),

an occasional old wooden bench, and farmland around the edges. 

When I look back on the pictures of our adventure in Great Britain it seems like ages ago....world's ago! When it was time to go home we were soooo ready! We wanted all the comforts of home, the "luxuries" and conveniences of American life. And we have really appreciated those comforts and luxuries. 
But....I miss it. The adventure. The feeling of being on vacation....for four years! 

God is good! He has blessed us so abundantly...really, I am embarrassed by His blessings. 
We know we don't deserve His blessings, though. 
All Glory To God!
All Honor is His!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not following directions...again!

I am notorious for not following directions...recipes, games, putting together cheap furniture. I always think I can figure it out.

Well....I just now realized that {this moment} is meant to be something from THIS WEEK! My only two entries have been anything but THIS WEEK!!

The first was 6 years old!!! And today's is a few months old (see tomorrow's post for the story behind that one).

So...I hereby promise to FOLLOW DIRECTIONS next Friday!

(don't I spend every day telling my kids this??? Sheesh!)

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. For more moments go to SouleMama.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What time is it....really?

Do you find yourself asking "What is the real time?" a lot today? What is the real time, anyway?

Daylight Savings Time is a funny thing. Two times a year it turns people like me, who believe in absolute truth, into relativists with respect to time. The clock says 8:30 but it is "really" 9:30.

Depending on how quickly the kids adjust to the time change...which of course directly affects my ability to deal with reality...this relativism can go on for days. It FEELS like 9:30, but it isn't....really....is it?


And that reminds me of another "funny thing" (otherwise known as a pet peeve): when people say "I feel..." when they are about to tell you what they think.

Can we no longer distinguish between opinions, facts and feelings?

"I feel that the government should provide health care for people who can't afford it."

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Are you saying that you feel like this now, but it might change (as feelings often do)? Or are you saying that, since you FEEL this way, I can't argue with you....after all, it is your FEELING!

Or, are you unwilling to THINK about what you feel. I suspect this is the problem.

A perfect example appeared on our California ballot last week. We voted on whether of not a "bi-partisan citizen committee" should decide about redistricting, or should it be "legislators".

Lets THINK about this....
"Bi-partisan" always sounds good. It means people are "getting along", "compromising"....words that we are conditioned to like.
And "citizen"....well those are folks just like us, right?
But "legislators" are politicians, out for themselves alone, just wanting to get re-elected, right?

If we are "feeling" about this, then "bi-partisan citizen committee" feels really good. I feel that regular folks should decide these things, afterall, we can be above all the politics.

But lets THINK about it instead.
Who chooses these non-elected citizens? How do we know they are a bi-partisan group? Didn't we elect those legislators to do these things? Didn't we get our chance to voice our opinion about who gets be a legislator?

Unfortunately, the brilliant California electorate voted for the "bi-partisan citizen committee".

Perhaps I should have been writing about this last week.....

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"60 Seconds of Fear"

Back in 2003 I wrote this short article about the Catholic teaching on death. As we remember those who have gone before us in the month of November, I thought it was a good time to resurrect it. 

“60 seconds of fear”

When I saw the headline declaring that the Columbia crew may have had as much as one minute knowing what would happen before their ship exploded, my Catholic mind sighed with relief. But this was not the response of the writer of the article, or of the world. Why is this? Is it because I am some sort of masochistic fanatic who wants others to suffer? Or is it because the world has little idea of the importance of those last sixty seconds before death.

Happy Death

Catholics have a habit of praying for a happy death. For a long time, growing up, I thought this meant a painless death, one with little suffering. But this is far from the truth. The truth is closer to what a good friend used to say: the best way to die would be on a plane you knew was going down sitting next to a priest. In the Catholic mind, a happy death is one in which we have the opportunity to meet death with a willing heart, and a recently cleaned soul.

Suffering is Good

It is common for the loved ones of those who have died to console one another with the fact that the deceased “didn’t suffer”, “went quickly” or “died in their sleep”. And in many ways these phrases can be comforting. No one wishes that a loved one will suffer. However, imagine that loved one has things in his life that he regrets but has never asked for forgiveness. Or perhaps he has behaviors and habits that turn him from God and he has stubbornly held onto them.

Let’s face it, none of us is without sin, and all of us have neglected our relationship with God in some way or another. It is only in this life that we can freely turn to God and ask for healing and forgiveness. Once we have died, our fate is sealed.
We all know that we will one day die, but seldom do we have a chance to know ahead of time when that will be. Most of us imagine, or at least hope, that we will die at a ripe old age, after those final years of contented retirement during which we spent a lot of time in contemplative prayer.

Necessary Things

However, our death could come today, tomorrow, in ten years, 30 years…or in 60 seconds. Think of the great gift of one small minute when an untimely death comes upon us. In that sixty seconds I can quickly bring to mind the ways in which I have offended God, and ask him for forgiveness. I can recite the Act of Contrition—a perfect formula for getting right with God. I can even offer my suffering, both mental and physical, in reparation for my sins or for a loved one whom I will leave behind.

Sixty seconds could be enough to get me a free pass straight to heaven, without a moment’s lingering in purgatory. Not only should we thank God when others have had those final moments, but we should pray that we, too, have the gift of time to face death willingly, and with true contrition for our sins. And perhaps a little final suffering would come in handy…but only if necessary.

Dear St. Joseph, Patron of a Happy Death, pray for us

Friday, November 5, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. For more moments go to SouleMama.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Church and Politics

From 1999 to 2001 I was the Director of Religious Education at the Spiritus Sanctus Academies in Ann Arbor Michigan. At that time the schools had a weekly letter called the Monday Mailer that went home to each family. I wrote a short essay/article each week for that letter. Here is an excerpt of one of those articles.

The Church and Politics

The Church should concern herself with religious issues and leave political issues up to regular people and their governments. Don’t you think so? Many people do think so! However, a close inspection of the two, the Church and politics, will reveal the real truth.

First of all, politics concerns human beings and their relationships with each other. Politicians make many claims about what is good for men and society. When we vote for an elected official, we are saying that we agree with his assessment of what is best for the people of our city, state, or country.

The Church is an expert in humanity. She guards and teaches what the Creator has revealed about man and his destiny. We learn from the Church that man is created in the image and likeness of God and thus has a dignity that does not depend on his function or place in society, his accomplishments, or even the goodness of his deeds. By virtue of his creation he deserves respect, from the moment of conception until the point of natural death. This truth is at the core the Church’s social teaching and every political conclusion that a Catholic comes to should reflect this core.

We also learn that, by God’s design, each man has a free will and each man is intimately connected with all other men. This means that we are responsible for our own actions and can be held accountable by society for those actions. It also means that we have a responsibility towards our fellow man, as individuals. It is not merely the role of government to care for the poor or the disabled; it is ours, as individuals.

From these facts we can know two very important things about tomorrow. Given the treasure the Church guards and teaches, the Revelation of the One True God, we must consult her on all things concerning what is good for men and society. Those teachings will guide us in making the best choices in each area. And, given that all men are intimately connected with each other, we cannot neglect our chance to participate in this political process.

Practically speaking, we should all vote tomorrow and we should all consider what the Church teaches about the dignity of the human person when we choose a candidate.