Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Scandal of the Incarnation

I can still remember the first time I read Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen and encountered his reflections on the Incarnation. I felt as if my world expanded and deepened in that one moment. I had never thought of the Christ Child in just that way. The short article below was written by me more than ten years ago and I come back to it each Advent.


We worship a God who became a baby! A baby who cried, dirtied His diapers, and nursed at His mother’s breast. We like to think that the Christ child was always clean and never cried. We picture a sterile piety, in spite of the ox and ass in our nativity scenes. Artwork avoids the depiction of the babe at His mother’s breast. It is hard enough to picture God with a mature, powerful, human body. It is even harder to picture Him will little rolls of baby fat on his thighs, and drool dropping from His lower lip. Yet this is our God, this is our Savior!! It is precisely His act of becoming man that brings holiness to the crying of an infant and the nursing of a mother.

The Incarnation is a mystery of the faith. A mystery is a truth that had to have been revealed by God, and whose depths we will never completely comprehend in this life. However, we cannot dismiss a mystery as incomprehensible, and go on our merry way, not giving it another thought. It is through contemplation of the mysteries that we come to know Christ. Therefore, it is the job of each and every mature Christian to contemplate each of the mysteries of the faith. In fact, Holy Mother Church won’t let us get away with not doing it. Which is why she gives us Advent and Christmas so that we will dwell in the mystery of the Incarnation.

When we first set out to contemplate the Incarnation, we begin to see it’s absurdity, it’s irony, the scandal that it causes in our minds and hearts. God becoming man, taking on a human nature in the womb of Mary, is an amazing event. If it doesn’t strike us as an awesome gift, then we are not seeing clearly God’s magnificence and our own insignificance.

Fulton Sheen expressed this paradox of the God-man in his book called Life of Christ:

No worldly mind would ever have suspected ---
Would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath...

Would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle…
Would be dumb;
Would be wrapped in swaddling clothes;
Would lie in a manger.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reindeer Games

Speaking of cultural illiteracy...

My three kids just saw the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon... not the lame one on Netflix, the one I grew up with which we checked out of the library..and here is their analysis:

A: I like the Papa. He didn't want the other reindeer to make fun of Rudolph so he gave him a black nose. The Papa probably had a red nose when he was little, too.

D: (singing the Rudolph song) Dancer and Prancer, Rubard and Cubard...
A: Are those the names the reindeer called Rudolph?

And on the subject of Christmas specials from my childhood, my kids have still not seen The Charlie Brown Christmas special, which was one of my favorites growing up. They have heard the soundtrack, but that is only because it doesn't contain all the meanness. Seriously, those kids are pretty mean to Charlie Brown, and since these Kennedy kids have been pretty sheltered...well, we didn't want to give them any ideas. Know what I mean?

Now, should I introduce them to Frosty and the Little Drummer Boy?....If I do, I'll let you know if they have any profound observations.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A New Church Year

I was over at Reasons For Chocolate this morning and my comment on Patty's post was lost, so I thought I would come over here and blog a little about it. Today is the first day of the new Church Year. Back in my single, young adult days, while living and studying in Steubenville, we had a legendary (at least amongst those Grad-NonTrad students who were there at the time) Church New Years Eve Party. Everyone got dressed up and brought delicious food and drink to Isaac House where we had dancing and eating and talking and celebrating. I believe there was even champagne. And, if memory serves right, we stopped at midnight for a prayer, followed by singing Christmas Carol's, followed by more dancing and celebrating.

I have often thought it would be fun to do that again. In fact, Jim and I did have one Church New Year party with friends and family (I think my parents were there) back when M was a baby and D hadn't arrived yet. That was also fun. But since then we have developed new ways to celebrate the New Church Year. Usually the celebration takes the form of a First Sunday of Advent event.
Today we began with Mass, of course, grabbed a donut on the way to the car, and headed home for bacon and eggs. At breakfast we read the second to last chapter of our saint chapter book (Saint Dominic) that we were trying to finish before Advent began. Then we began the decorating.

The Advent Tree came first. We decorate our Christmas tree with white lights, and some purple decorations. This is used for the Jesse Tree. 
I am so excited about this year's Jesse Tree ornaments. I saw these on Etsy last year and waited with great anticipation for them to arrive. Isn't it cute? It is hand painted wood. No more trying to keep up with coloring one each day. My kids are not avid colorerers (did I just invent a word?) and go through stages of being entirely uninterested in coloring anything!

On the subject of new things this Advent, I came up with something new this last month. It all started with my desire to have a nicely decorated Thanksgiving table. I went placemat shopping hoping to find something that looked fallish, and matched our colorful plates. I found nothing. 
Then, it occurred to me that I could make some, but I didn't feel I had the competence to sew them, nor did I have the time. So, I finally settled on just buying some cute fall fabric (on sale at JoAnn's), trace the shape of my favorite placemat, and cut them with shears so they wouldn't shred. That would serve the purpose for the day (and the table for 17 that I was setting). In the process I bought some purple fabric for Advent. Then I got the bright idea to paint something on it...along the lines of those pretty Advent mantle's you see on the Catholic Mommy Blogs (you don't see those mantles? I see them EVERYWHERE). I bought a stencil and some fabric paint pens and went at it...with only a few mistakes.
THEN...I got the bright idea to laminate them. At OfficeMax. Only cost $2 a piece. Not bad, huh?
Word to the wise, in case you want to try it...the laminating guy (I am sure he has some other more important job, but he laminated for me twice) had never done fabric before and he tried very hard to make sure that the went in flat by holding down the sides and things like that. After four times trying to hold it different ways, with four creased placemats, he put the last one in without touching it...and it was perfect. When I went back to do my Thanksgiving placemats he was there, a little bit wiser, and each of the 20 placemats came out perfectly!
In case you can't read it, on the top is the word PATIENCE in all caps, and on the bottom it says "we wait in joyful hope". Yes, I stole that from someone's mantle (Charlotte, to be totally honest). 
That Advent wreath dates back to Aberdeen days. 

Another addition to the Advent tables here is this new Cradle to Cross Wreath. We were able to use it for Lent this past year and now we will use it for Advent. Another hand-made item to add to our traditions!
Each First Sunday of Advent I have given the kids some gift. This year we added to our nativity scene collection....

(not pictured...Little People and several other Nativity scenes)
...with a Playmobil Nativity scene! I didn't get it at Amazon though. I found it at Barnes and Noble for $10 less!

And that is how we begin the New Church Year in the Kennedy house. At least for this year.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: An American Holiday

 Republished from last year....
For the past few years I have come to appreciate this American holiday more deeply. This is in no small part due to Rush Limbaugh's annual recitation of The Real Thanksgiving Story. 
Now I see Thanksgiving as not just a day for me to be thankful for the blessings in my life, but for us as Americans to appreciate the unique blessings bestowed on our country since before it's founding. 
The story below is my retelling of the Thanksgiving story as I want my children to hear it each year. I share it with you today in the hope that this holiday brings you together with family and friends to reflect upon America's exceptional situation on the world's stage. 
This exceptionalism has nothing to do with our genetic make-up (after all we are a nation of immigrants), or any supposed superior intelligence, but is directly due to the specific vision of freedom and the destiny of man that underpins our founding, and God willing, continues to form us as a nation. 

Thanksgiving and Freedom
By Carol Kennedy
In 1620, a band of Englishmen and their families set sail from England to America on a ship called the Mayflower. There were 102 travelers aboard that ship. They left England to escape an oppressive state religion, the Church of England, and seek the chance to practice their faith freely. They came to be known as Pilgrims (not to be confused with the Puritans who came several years later). 

The trip across the Atlantic ocean took 66 days. When the Pilgrims arrived it was December. The weather was cold and there was snow on the ground. There were no other people living in this spot, no buildings, no stores, nothing to welcome them. 

That first winter was very difficult. The Pilgrims were unprepared and supplies were very low. Many people died. By springtime there were barely fifty Pilgrims left. 

As the weather warmed, the Pilgrims began to work hard to plant, to hunt, and to fish. When they left England, they had agreed to share all the fruits of their labor equally. So each person worked for the whole group. Every field planted, tended, and harvested was split among the fifty pilgrims equally. They also depended on trade and supply ships to survive.
In March of 1621 they met some neighbors. An Indian named Massasoit introduced them to his tribe. The Indians and the Pilgrims agreed to live peacefully. They would work together to fight off unfriendly Indians. 

In the fall of that year there was enough food for everyone. The harsh winter was behind them and they were grateful to God. When it came time for harvest they celebrated God’s blessings on them. The celebration included feasting, sports and games, and their new friends. They gave thanks to God for surviving their first year. 

But, things were still not easy. For the next two years, harvests were barely adequate. They still depended on the supply ships. However, sea travel was so difficult in those days that they were never sure when to expect the next ship. Finally, the Governor and some of the leading citizens got together to make a new plan. They decided that the original system of 
sharing all goods equally was the problem. People resented working for those members of the community who did not work hard. Wives resented doing tasks for men other than their husband. And they were reluctant to encourage their children to work as well. 

The new plan was a system of private property. Each family would receive a plot of land that they could work. And the fruits of that work would be theirs. Each man worked for the sake of himself, and his wife and children. The wives now went willingly into the fields, with their little ones in tow. This change made the community more productive and they finally began to live without the danger of famine so close to their doorstep. 

One hundred and fifty years later, in 1789, our first president, George Washington, declared a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of the month of November. His declaration stated that we should, as a nation, be thankful to God for His providence, especially in the founding of the new country called the United States of America. 
President Washington named specific blessings that he thought this country should remember when giving thanks to God: 
  • for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation  
  • for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable intervention of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed
  • for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness
  • for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; 
  • for the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; 

The Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to come to America, nor were they the first colonists to discover the value of private property in bringing about prosperity. However, each Thanksgiving school children color pictures of pilgrims, dress up as pilgrims and write reports about pilgrims. The Pilgrims have become a symbol of the early beginnings of our country. Each Thanksgiving we recall the lessons learned by these early settlers because they have formed the foundation of a country whose commitment to freedom and liberty is unique in the history of the world. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

I can't believe I read the whole thing!

I read it again. Cover to cover. All 1,124 pages!
My friend Susannah will be glad she wasn't around this time. Jim hopes I never read it again.

This doesn't sound like a great review, I know. But, I have recommended this book to people...mostly women...and I will recommend it again.

It is a life story, from childhood to death in old age (or at least what passed for old age in 14th century Norway...which may or may not be close to MY age). The story follows Kristin Lavransdatter (daughter of Lavrans...isn't that nice and clear?) from her days as a young maiden (love that word for a little girl) frolicking at her father's side; through her blossoming into a headstrong young woman who wanted to follow her heart over her father's will; into her years as a "mother of men" (she gave birth to 8 sons); throughout her stormy relationship with, and her all encompassing affection for her husband; her growth as the mistress of her husband's estate and eventually her father's estate; her care for the people in her village; her final years in a convent; and how all of this culminates in her final battle.

Through the whole book Kristin struggles against her faults and strives to atone for her sins. She learns to love her Lord and see His hand in her life even when she fails to truly love those closest to her.

So...if you haven't clicked away already, you may be wondering why Susannah would be happy to be so far away, and why Jim would hope that he never sees me pick it up again. I think it is my fault....I talk about Kristin. It is difficult to share this book in bits and pieces....all they hear is her awful she finds her love interest while she is betrothed to an honorable young man (chosen by her father) who truly loves her AND she is living in a convent school....she has to sneak away to awful places to meet him....

See? It comes across a bit a soap opera.

Now you are wondering why I would read this once, let alone twice. The truth is, I find the author's account of the effects of sin in our lives to be excruciatingly accurate. Yet her expression of God's mercy, and true virtue are inspiring and uplifting.

I also LOVE the way the people of the time lived according to the liturgical year. The days of their lives were bordered and organized according to the feasts and seasons of the Church year. In fact, rarely is a month mentioned...she will say "on the Thursday before Michelmas"....or "shortly after St Olav's day".

Finally, the author Sigrid Undset, converted to Catholicism within a few years of the publication of her trilogy and became a Lay Dominican. I have heard it said that the research she did for this novel converted her.

Here is the final test to see if you too might undertake the reading of this book...THE QUOTES.

I dog-eared a bunch of pages during the month and a half I took to read this book and even wrote (gasp!) in the margins a couple of times. [on a side note, we have started the habit of writing on the inside cover of the books we are reading the date started and/or finished it....this includes family read-alouds as well as our personal reading. The idea is that we might revisit these books again...or our kids will...and they will see who read it when...kind of a nice record for the family's intellectual history]
now...back to my quotes from the book. They tend to be the theological/spiritual statements of various characters. There is much more to the book--lots about Norway, it's history, the life of the average family at the time, the terrain.

[from a conversation between a very young Kirstin and the very holy monk Brother Edvin]
"There are no other children at home besides me", replied Kristin. "So I will probably marry, I would think. Mother has already filled chests and trunks with my dowry."
"Yes I see", said Brother Edvin, stroking her forehead. "That's the way folk dispatch their children these days. To God they give the daughters that are lame and blind and ugly and infirm; or if they think He has given them too many children, they let Him take some of them back. And yet they wonder why the men and maidens who live in the cloisters are not all holy people..."

[later Kristin's mother give's birth to a little girl who grows sweet and pretty, but at age 3 has an accident that leaves her unable to walk well and with a twisted back [see...when I tell you that part doesn't it sound depressing? But the story of Ulvhild's life is ultimately uplifting]. Again, the holy monk is there]

"Here is the child I told you about, dear Father. Place your hands on her and pray to God for her, the way you prayed for the boy up north in Meldal---we heard he regained his health."
The monk gently put his hand under Ulvhild's chin and looked into her eyes. Then he lifted one of her hands and kissed it.
"You should pray instead, you and your wife, Lavrans Bjorgulfson, that you will not be tempted to bend God's will with this child. Our Lord Jesus himself has set these small feet on  a path so that she can walk safely toward the house of peace --I can see in your eyes, blessed Ulvhild, that you have your intercessors in that other house."

 [much later, as an adult, Kristin's brother in law is having a conversation with one of his nephews who he thinks may have a vocation. He is talking of God's love]

"Then I realized that this mighty love sustains everything in the world---even the fire in Hell. For if God wanted to, He could take our souls by force; then we would be completely powerless in His grasp. But since He loves us the way the bridegroom loves the bride, He will not force her; if she won't embrace Him willingly, then He must allow her to flee and to shun Him."
[As you can see I tend toward the theological....let me see if I can find something different...]

[Later in life Kristin is on a pilgrimage and she stops at a church that has a strong place in her memories]

The chapel stood in a clearing in dense forest; both the building and the mountain behind were mirrored in a pond from which a curative spring flowed. A wooden cross stood near the creek, and all around lay crutches and walking sticks, and on the bushes hung shreds of old bandages. 
There was a small fence around the church, but the gate was locked. Kristin knelt down outside and thought about the time she had sat inside with Gaute on her lap...Then she had prayed so fervently that if this suffering child would be given his wits and health, she would ask for nothing more, not even to be freed from the terrible pain in her back which had plagued her ever since the birth of the twins.... 
....Surely she had never asked God for anything except that He should let her have her will. And every time she had been granted what she asked for---for the most part. Now here she sat with a contrite heart---not because she had sinned against God but because she was unhappy that she had been allowed to follow her will to the road's end. 
Okay, I tried to give you something not theological...I guess technically it is catechetical, or spiritual. But there was that nice description of the chapel, right?

Convinced? If you want to borrow the book, I have it....just don't talk to your husband or friends about it while you read it, tell them that have to read it themselves.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Words Still Matter...Even 10 Years Later

I was reading a post by my friend Patty at Reasons for Chocolate in which she quoted Pope Benedict on this Anniversary of 9-11. I was struck by his words [emphasis mine]: 
On this day my thoughts turn to the somber events of September 11, 2001, when so many innocent lives were lost in the brutal assault on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the further attacks in Washington DC and Pennsylvania. 
I haven't heard the event called a "brutal assault" in a very long time. And so I was reminded of my essay from 10 years ago. I have reposted it the past few years and almost didn't this year. But, thanks to Patty and Pope Benedict here it is again. 

This essay was published in part on Catholic Exchange September 11, 2002. I am publishing it here today as it was originally written shortly after September 11, 2001.

Remember the old children’s rhyme your mother taught you: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Well, I am going to challenge Mom on the veracity of that little proverb. You see, I have detected a linguistic trend in the press since September 11 that illustrates the fact that words can hurt you! There are many words used to describe what happened that day in New York and Washington. However, I have noticed that the word “tragedy” is used most frequently to describe these events. We often hear of the 9-11 tragedy, the World Trade Center tragedy, even the terrorist tragedy. In fact I did a little search on the web. First I typed the word “tragedy” along with “September 11” in Google’s search engine. It turned up 352,000 hits. Then I went to the ABC News website and searched for the same combination of words. It turned up 100 hits. Finally I went to CNN’s website and found 94 articles using tragedy in conjunction with September 11.

Now, it is true that not every one of the hits necessarily uses the word “tragedy” in direct reference to 9-11, but a large percentage do. Just to be sure, I checked several of the referenced articles and found the word “tragedy” used in reference to September 11 in the body of the articles as well as in the names of links, in letters, and in headlines. My research seemed to confirm my impressions.

Though there is no doubt that the consequences of the events of September 11 are tragic—the death of young and old alike and of those sent to save the ones in danger; widows and orphans left behind; businesses ruined and landmarks gone in a matter of moments. Yet, the event itself was far more than tragic… “tragedy” is sadly inadequate to describe what was done that day.

Let’s just examine the word. “Tragedy” is given three definitions in my American Heritage Dictionary.  The first is in reference to the literary genre and the third refers to a “tragic aspect or element”. The second definition is the most helpful to our situation. It reads: A dramatic, disastrous event, esp. one of moral significance. The events of 9-11 most definitely have moral significance, and anyone who has seen Ground Zero would say “dramatic” and “disastrous” are relevant descriptions. 

But let me take you back a few months ago. Image it is some time on the morning of Tuesday, September 11 and you have turned on your TV. You flip to CNN or Fox News and you see film footage of a large passenger plane crashing through the top floors of one of the World Trade Center towers. Then you notice the other tower is in flames and you think, though you are not sure, that those things falling from the top floors are not scraps of iron, but people. Now, you would probably not say to yourself “My, that was dramatic!”  You might say, “This is disastrous!” However when you realized that both planes were hijacked, your tone would become more intense. You would be horrified, angry, outraged, you might even swear. I know these were my sentiments as I sat in front of my TV that morning. When faced with that scene, the word “tragic” does not seem to say enough.

To test out my opinions about the word “tragedy” I consulted my computer’s thesaurus. The words that it gave as synonyms for tragedy were: calamity, misfortune, blight, catastrophe, bad fortune, affliction, grave adversity, suffering, tribulation. These are all great words and no doubt they express the sentiments of many of the people in this country today with regards to 9-11. However, notice they are all pretty neutral when it comes to blame. Each can be used equally well to describe a huge earthquake, or tornado, or an outbreak of a new and deadly flu bug, or a drought. None of these events has a tangible perpetrator—there is generally no one who is culpable for an earthquake or drought. Yet, there were fellow human beings that planned and carried out the events on September 11, and they intended at the very least the consequences that so many are experiencing, and more.

You are probably wondering by now, what word I would suggest to describe the events of that day. Well, I submit that the word atrocity fits quite well. “Atrocious”, according to my trusty American Heritage Dictionary, is an adjective that means extremely evil or cruel; monstrous; exceptionally bad; or abominable. The word actually comes from a Latin word which means cruel. A decidedly more appropriate sentiment than misfortune, or even tribulation.

When I entered “atrocity” in my computer’s thesaurus, it turned up nine synonyms: brutality, wickedness, atrocious deed, cruelty, barbarity, horror, outrage, crime, and inhumanity. These words are the sort that we save for the heinous crimes of terrorists. “Barbarity” doesn’t really apply to a tornado, even a devastating one. But it does fit the murderous act perpetrated by the hijackers on the two flights that demolished the World Trade Center, killing thousands of innocent people.

My proposition is that “atrocity” is a much more accurate word for what happened on September 11 than the word “tragedy”. Though I hadn’t heard it much, I was curious whether anyone in the press was using this word to describe 9-11. So, I tested the same areas on the web. ABC News turned up 9 articles, 2 of which, upon closer inspection, used the word in reference to acts against Moslems. The remainder of those articles used atrocity or a form of it only in quotes, including three by British Prime Minister Blair, and one by President Bush. It seems none of ABC’s reporters were inclined to use the word atrocity, yet “tragedy” turned up 100 hits on that site.

When I searched the CNN website, I found a similar disparity. There were 9 hits with the words “atrocity” and “September 11”, as opposed to the 94 that used “tragedy” with that same date. Finally, I checked Google again. I got 11,600 hits with the word “atrocity” connected to 9-11, as opposed to the 352,000 that came up for “tragedy”.

I realize that my little study is not exhaustive and the numbers might change some if I checked out every hit on all three sites. However, the difference is so great as to indicate the you are many times more likely to hear that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were a tragedy, than you are to hear that they were an atrocity.

Why is this so important? After all, they are just words. This is true, but words convey meaning, and, in many ways, the meaning of the words we hear, and the words we use, determine the way we see the world. If we begin to think of September 11 as a tragedy, much like the rain and tornadoes in the south this past month, then we will forget that someone DID this to us. We will, and I submit that we have already begun to, relegate the event to the list of unfortunate events that has effected so many people in our county—like the Great Depression or the latest hurricane that wreaked havoc on a trailer park.

When we cease to see 9-11 as a deliberate attack on our country, we will cease to be angry. Anger itself is neither good nor evil. It is a passion, a natural emotion that inclines us to act or not to act in reference to something perceived as good or evil.  So, when our senses detect something evil, the natural response is anger, and that anger will lead us to act in answer to that evil. Our decision to act or not to act in one way or another, is where we can fall into sin or respond in justice.

In other words, what we do with our anger is the real issue. The fact that we are angry at the sight of atrocious acts of violence being committed against innocent fellow countrymen is praiseworthy; it is a sign that we are human in the best sense of the word. When we respond to our anger with vengeance, a desire for revenge, we cease to live up to our God-given human nature; we submit to our animal instincts. And, we fall into serious sin when we desire to kill or seriously wound as a response to our anger. However, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, it is commendable for us to impose restitution in order to correct vices and maintain justice.  In other words, if anger leads us to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice then we are to be commended.

Not only is there is a place for righteous anger in all civilized societies, but it seems that a society that cannot get angry about injustice is weak and in danger of being taken over by evil men. Yet, if our press is any indication of the nation’s sentiments, we tend to waver between sentimental sadness and bewilderment when we think of 9-11. How should an intelligent, reasonable person  (i.e. a human being) respond to the atrocity of September 11?

First we should recognize it for what it is—an act of violence perpetrated by other humans meant to send a message to us as a country. It means something to the terrorists, and in their world it seems reasonable. Though it may seem senseless to us, it is not so to them, and therefore we can expect the terrorists to continue to act in similar ways. We know that regardless of their feelings of being right, their act itself was wrong, evil, and barbarous. And we therefore have every reason to be angry.

As a country, though, we must channel our anger into a productive reply. If we are to be responsible and mature human beings, in whose care has been placed the future or our country and the world, then we must respond with whatever method is capable of imposing restitution by restoring justice. If that method must be force (not violence, which is by no means the same thing), then so be it.

However, can we maintain the resolve necessary to impose restitution and protect future generations from the atrocities that we have faced this year? If we continue to refer to this event as a tragedy, we will cease to remember that the falling bodies and burning buildings were not the result of some bad fortune, but the result of a deliberate act by another human being. If this happens, we will not have the nerve to respond to the atrocity of 9-11 with maturity, integrity, and well-channeled righteous anger. And when these same men act again, as they most surely will, and more innocent blood is spilled, what will we say to the victims? “How unfortunate for you. I feel your pain.” In fact, we have had eight years of this sort of rhetoric and we have continued to endure such atrocities as the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the bombing of the USS Cole last year, and finally the attacks on September 11. It is the use of the wrong words that is hurting us today. Maybe we should change the children’s rhyme to “Sticks and stones are breaking our bones and words are making it possible.” 

By Carol Kennedy
Copyright 2001

Carol Kennedy is a Catholic free lance writer with an MA in Theology and Catechesis from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the former DRE for the Spiritus Sanctus Academies in Ann Arbor, MI. Carol writes from California. 

NOTE: I reposted this from last year's post but I couldn't figure out how to edit out comments from last year. one comment from Patty is here again for everyone to enjoy. :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Crickets Sang in the Grasses

They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song. "Summer is over and gone," they sang. "Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying."
...Everybody heard the song of the crickets.
 from Charlotte's Web by EB White
The kids and I read Charlotte's Web this summer. We finished it sometime in mid-August. I know I read this book in childhood, but I don't remember it very well. I am sure I missed the beauty of some of the prose. It is a book about friendship, but also about the passing of time. As an adult it is this aspect that struck me this time.

I was especially take by the chapter about the crickets. I love the sound of crickets. I always have. But I never realized that the sound marked the end of a season, and the beginning of another. At least I was never conscious of it...I may have been sub-conciously aware.

You see, I also love fall. I have always loved the fall. I do not recall mourning the end of summer. By August I was ready. Ready for fall weather, new shoes, pencil boxes and brand new binders filled with blank pages. Possibilities. New chances. I loved it.

A and D at the pumpkin patch last October.

This August, as we read Charlotte's Web and I learned about the cricket's song, I began to listen anxiously for their sound at night. I was amazed at the silence (I mean besides all the neighbor's kids who stay up till some un-Godly hour even when school has started!!!). I listened carefully, night after night. And then, on or about the first of September, I heard it.

"Summer is over and gone," they sang. "Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying."

Though EB White talks of the sadness of summer ending, I don't get it. When I heard the crickets this year, my heart sang: Fall is coming! Fall is coming!

I still love fall. Only now, as an adult, I can add to my list apple pie, pumpkins, butternut squash, fall colors, cooler days, shorter days, and sweaters, jackets, and jeans.
A barrel of pumpkin puree!

It is ironic that as a homeschool mom, and given my relaxed homeschool personality--we don't really have a first day of school in the fall, we just sort of ease into more reading, writing and arithmetic than we did in summer--I still love to see the back-to-school supplies lining up on the shelves in Target. And I have to resist the temptation to look at backpacks and lunch boxes. My kids don't need them.

I did give in and get some binders (with pencil still my heart) so the kids could keep their favorite work for the year. And I may have purchased some crayons (though why would I do that with two gallon zip locks full of perfectly good broken crayons!!).

I even baked an apple pie last week. However, I have drawn the line at pumpkin bread. We will delay that pleasure until October....or maybe late September.

Actually, I still have some pumpkin puree in the freezer from last I have enough time to make some today?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More $$$ for Government: My Brilliant Idea

I have an idea that will bring BILLIONS into the federal government. To pay down debt, to fund entitlements...whatever.

But  BILLIONS, I tell you.

And we can get it from BIG OIL!!

That's right...those BIG BAD BIG OIL GUYS!!

So, ready for my idea?

Here it is....

Wait for it.....


Brilliant, huh?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hope, and When to Change: Commonplace Book entry #3

Title: The Student Whisperer: Inspiring Genius
Author: Oliver DeMille and Tiffany Earl

This book begins as a sort of intellectual biography of Tiffany Earl. She shares excerpts from her own commonplace book throughout her education. I am reacting/responding/pondering her thoughts on what she was learning and reading.  

On page 110 Tiffany is asking herself "What makes a strong civilization crumble?" She is reflecting on the words of Demosthenes to the Athenians. I don't know anything about this story or the all. So I won't pretend to.

However, she then reflects on some words spoken by Patrick I have something in my head to hang this quote onto...colonial times, revolution, founding fathers etc. The quote she copies into her book begins with this

Mr President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope.
Hope. HOPE! Now who comes to mind when you read that word these days. Three years ago we elected a president who campaigned on Hope and Change, and really not much else. What else did he have to offer in his favor? Soaring rhetoric. In interesting story, what little we knew of it.

Ultimately, he was elected on hope...the hope that he would make life easier for those who felt put upon by the system; hope that hate and division would somehow disappear. "Illusions of hope" indeed.

What of that hope now?

Patrick Henry goes on to say (italics are my comments):

We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transform us into beasts. (a literary reference that only tickles a distant part of my brain....thus a need to be more well-read!) Is this the point of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty?
Do we shut our eyes to the reality of what is happening to our country right now? Do we tell ourselves this is just the ebb and flow of politics---one party rules, then the other--? Worse yet, do we despair of ever turning it around and just prepare the bunkers for the coming downfall, clinging to our conviction that we are Catholics first anyway, and this American thing is just secondary. Afterall, Rome fell and the Church remained standing.

It is certainly tempting to dismiss the discussions of budgets, and elections, and debt as just politics. So what if the president has trampled on the rule of law, so what if this administration seems to ignore the constitution. They dismiss us as irrelevant, hobbits, or even terrorists...and therefore dismiss our opinions. Never mind, they are all just politicians anyway....all the same.

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free---if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained---we must fight! 
But how can we overcome the political machine that brought this virtually unknown man to the most powerful position in the world? In spite of all of his failures he still has a loyal following, he has the press sitting at his feet...and we have a bunch of candidates who are going to get "Palinated" by the press if they come close to him.

Patrick Henry continues:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak: unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year?....Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have about us hand and foot?   
In my mind, the moment is now. Rather than inaction...action. Rather than resolved. I am resolved to act. But what does a homeschooling mom of three do?

I can continue to inform myself, prepare for the coming election, join with others to support a good candidate (though I don't pretend to know who that is right now).

Henry says "we must fight". I can only fight the battles here in front of me. I think one of the battles in front of me is my own education. It would be nice to know and understand the situation of Dimosthenes and the Athenians. I should also better understand the founding fathers, the battles they fought (intellectual, moral, military).

I think we moderns forget the importance and power of ideas. Politics is about ideas...whose ideas are going to win the day?

We have to take it upon ourselves to learn. To learn about the past. To ask the questions...What makes a strong civilization crumble?...and look for the answers.

And then, of course, to help our kids do the same thing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hello Mary Lou...Good Bye Heart

On Saturday, August 6, 2011 my brother Matt married his Mary Lou. We couldn't be happier to welcome her to the family!
What else do you do when you are wearing pretty flower girl dresses?
The wedding took place at St Lawrence Church in Redondo Beach. There were six flower girls, and a slew of bridesmaid's and groomsmen. Matt's best man was our brother Mike. Mary Lou's maid of honor was her sister Annie.

As you can tell, this photographer was more focused on the flower girls
than those nicely dressed adults behind them. 
In addition to a new Aunt the kids are excited about their new cousin Jimmy
who joins the crowd in yet another one of those
 "get the kids together for a picture" pictures. 

The reception took place in San Pedro where we dined on a great meal (seriously...great wedding food!) and danced till the stars came out.

Their first dance. 
Matt dancing with mom. 

Mary Lou dancing with her  son. 
Then, the band began to play. Matt's band is called "The Daily Routine" and they played many of their originals along with some specially chosen songs, just for this occasion.

Matt sang "Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye heart" to his bride. 

Everyone danced....
My niece and her dad.
Me and my D...that boy can spin a girl!!
Strictly Ballroom. 
...and had lots of fun...
Flower Girls watching.
Flower girls checking out a beetle named Shiny.
Apparently, Shiny was found in someone's beer and rescued by a curious flower girl.    
We left with sleepy happy kids and the party went on even later.
It was a happy day all around!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wedding story #1: Cutting in

This past weekend was spent celebrating a fabulous family event: the marriage of my brother Matt to his lovely bride Mary Lou. 
There was much dancing at the wedding. In fact, that is Matt's band you hear playing in the video. 

And this is where 7yo D had a first in his life. He was chased by a younger woman!
There he was, dancing with his sister....such a gentleman...and this cute little polka dot girl (daughter of a bridesmaid) decides she wants to dance with the "handsome prince boy".
 D had not met her, to my knowledge, but she must have had her eye on him!
M was rescued by her Papa, just like Mr. Knightly rescued Miss Smith in Emma!

For the record, I had to cut in on them to get my son back!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just saying...

NOTE: The pictures have nothing to do with the text. They are just there to look pretty. 

So, I was thinking. If the Tea Party is holding the economy, their congressmen, and the country hostage, what are they using for weapons?

Their votes?

....and a mighty weapon it is ... when held in the hands of an informed citizen. I can see why Washington is frightened!

The kids hiking Mount Diablo. The pose was D's idea. 

Since this is my "commonplace" book for the time being, here is another quote from my Louis L'Amour book (which I finally finished! and by the way, the author notes at the end were almost as fascinating as the book itself!)

The main character, Kerbouchard, is reflecting on his friendship with a woman who was very influential in parts of the society of Cordoba:

We had met as equals, rarely a good thing in such matters, for the woman who wishes to be the equal of a man usually turns out to be less than a man and less than a woman. A woman is herself, which is something altogether different than a man. 
For the record, when Kerbouchard uses the word "equal" he isn't referring to being equal in dignity, or equal in intelligence...this sort of equality he took for granted. He was referring to "sameness" ...specifically having the same role.

I recalled this quote over the weekend when Jim and I got into a discussion of weak priests, and weak fathers/husbands who have neglected their role as leaders. We noted that often, at their side, were women content to take over that role. In the case of the father/husband that woman is usually his wife, sometimes his mother. In the case of a priest, that woman is the DRE, a major donor to the parish coffers, or even the parish secretary.

The whole discussion also brought back two stories that impacted my thinking while studying theology and catechesis at Stuebenville.

The first was the story my mentor, the head of the Catechetics department, told of her own experience as a parish DRE. She was convinced that the priest had to play a major role in the catechesis of the children or it wouldn't work. She was determined to have him intimately involved, so, rather than manipulate, or lecture, she invited....over and over again. She invited him to administer the sacraments, to speak to the children, to administer the sacraments, to say Mass, to administer the sacraments. Years later, he told her that she had helped him to live his priesthood more faithfully.

She didn't lead. She helped him to lead.

Another story was told to me by a friend about a couple he knew. She was her husband's superior in both intellect and education (did that sound sort of Jane Austen-y? I thought so...I am reading Jane now too!). However, the wife was convinced that her husband...and thus her marriage...could only be happy if he was the leader. So she found ways to help him lead, offering her expertise in a way that never left him feeling that she was "in charge". He led, she was his "helpmate", they benefited from her education and intellect, and they were happily married.

D can be found all over the world posing as Blessed Pier Giorgio. 

One final (I think) quote from The Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour. It is in two parts so I can blabber on about my take on the thought: 

Up to a point a man's life is shaped by the environment, hereditary, and movements and changes in the world about him;
As a parent, this is the part that is mine. Now, I can't do much about the hereditary part anymore....I did my very best when I chose my husband...but the environment is clearly mine. And the the movements and changes in the world? Well, I determine how I respond to these things....which in turn effects how my children see the world about them. 

then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune. The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds. 

Then there comes the day when the parent must let go and let the child become the man or woman he or she chooses to be. Of course, my goal is that my children consult God in these choices, but ultimately it is up to them to do choose to follow God's law, to seek His Wisdom, to continue on the path of virtue. 

Now, for my part, I must impart a love of God, a love of learning, and a deep conviction that these two things are his (my child's) resonsibility. I can't do their praying for them, I must pray that they do it themselves. I can't teach them anything unless they choose to learn.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


"Commonplacing" is writing in a book or journal quotes that speak to you, or that you want to remember. Since I haven't been doing anything else here, I thought I would "commonplace".

These days I am reading several books. One that has taken backstage is Emma by Jane Austen. This is my second time reading Emma, the first being about the time the Gwenyth Paltrow movie came out. Although I have enjoyed this second reading, I haven't dog-eared any of my pages yet (which is what I do when I find a part I want to return to or would be better to write it down, but that isn't always possible)

The book that has risen to the forefront these days is called The Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour. This has had an interesting effect on me. I am a big fan of Louis L'Amour, whom I discovered in my early undergraduate days. I read him voraciously for several years, even belonging to one of those book clubs with the leather bound editions coming each month for $10 a piece or probably more. Incidentally, I just saw a large box of them for a dollar a piece at a library book sale, and probably could have gotten them for much less if I returned on Sunday, but I had most or all of them already.

The reason this book has had an interesting effect on me is the time period it is covering. It is set in the late 1100's (an unusual theme for L'Amour as many of his books are westerns) and therefore at a turbulent time in Church history. So, the "me" that read it the first time did not have a degree in theology from a Catholic university. This "me" is really struggling with my favorite author's take on the Church and history and the theology of the time. I realize that he isn't Catholic, nor is he an historian, nor is he trying to make a statement about the Church (at least I don't think he is) and that his main character (it is written in the first person) could very well have different opinions and experiences than the author himself.

But it is bugging me just the same.

It made me consult some of the Church history books I used when studying at Steubenville. So, I guess that is good.

All that being said, there is some great stuff in this book:

On reading....

...What kind of scholar was I? Or was I a scholar at all? My ignorance was enormous. Beside it my knowledge was nothing. My hunger for learning, not so much to improve my lot as to understand my world, has led me to study and to thought. Reading without thinking is as nothing, for a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think. 

On leadership...

The Hansgraf [the leader of a large army of traveling merchants] drew up by the gate and sat on his powerful horse. He rarely made gestures, but each was a command. I have never known a man who better understood his role. He accepted rights due him without comment or apology, and he made the responsibilities of command seem a privilege. 

On courage in study....
It is a poor sort of man who is content to be spoon-fed knowledge that has been filtered through the canon of religious or political belief and it is a poor sort of man who will permit others to dictate what he may or may not learn.

I am also reading "A Little Way of Homeschooling" by Suzie Andres. It is speaking to my heart about early childhood and how children learn and the optimum times for learning different things. Nothing to quote just now, no dog-eared corners...just simmering thoughts in my brain.

Finally, I am reading lots of information on Leadership Education, specifically Thomas Jefferson Education. Perhaps I will "commonplace" some of those thoughts and readings next. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Taking after Adam: The Naming of the Animals

The naming habit began with the naming of imaginary pet horses (the kids would say they were "real" horses, but since we don't own any horses, don't ride or board horses, and only dream of them (especially A) I must argue they are merely imaginary).
The names that began it all: 
A's imaginary horse -- Paint (there is an argument about whether or not Paint is a male horse. There is no consensus in this scientific investigation)
D's imaginary horse -- Thunder Road
M's imaginary horse -- Taco
My imaginary horse -- Peanut Butter
Jim's imaginary horse -- Bob

Since then, the kids have extended their habit of naming to the general neighborhood. As we drive by some of the local ranches we learn that:
Any white horse is called Bob.
Any brown horse is called Brownie.
Any black horse is called Widowmaker, Lightning Bolt, or Thunder Road (only the Experts can tell which is which).
Any pinto is called Paint.

We have also learned, from our resident naming Experts, that:
Any dark brown cow is called Molly.
Any dark brown cow with a white face is called Molly the White Face (not White Faced Molly, not Molly with a White must be Molly THE White Face!!).
Any Purple Finch is called Frank.
Any pair of Goldfinches are called Coffee and Toffee.
Any pair of Mourning Doves are called Mourn and Thorn.
A particular black bird, which only the Experts can identify, is called Corn.
All blackbirds except Corn are called The Enemy (The Experts are at war with blackbirds. I fear I started this war when I searched high and low for just the right bird seed to attract the finches and not the blackbirds.)

So? Need anything named? Anything at all! 
We are at your service!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Then and Now
Then 2001....

May 26, 2001
St. Dominic's Church
Benicia California

These two pictures were taken from a little scrapbook put together by my good
friend Becky from Michigan whom I haven't seen for so long! 

Then 2002.....

Then 2005.....

Then 2006.....

and now....

Easter 2011

May 26, 20011
Castello di Amorosa Winery
Napa California

On Thursday we celebrated 10 years of marriage. It is hard to believe it has already been ten years. On the other hand, it is hard to remember life before. 
Life before "Jim and Carol", before "the kids"....
That was then. All foundational to what is now.
But now? 
Wouldn’t change it for the world. 
Happy Anniversary to the King of our Castle, 
from your Queen!