What I Read in November

Oh, look! Here I am again, being all consistent and posting about what I read in November!

Normally our book club reads something scary around Halloween, often something by Stephen King.  The above read (which we discussed outside and distanced around a crackling fire) was not scary at all.  It was well-written but somewhat unsatisfying to me, since the whole point was that the mystery was supposed to remain unsolved.

I also finished my Harry Potter re-read.

Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows is quite simply one of my favorite books of all time.  I consider it a masterpiece, and I think it is the only book I ever read two times in a row, the first time from midnight to 6 a.m. the morning it was released.  It was great fun reading all the books in a row, especially knowing how it was all going to turn out and being able to appreciate all the little clues along the way.

Thanks to Booktober, I got turned on to the Brother Cadfael series and this month I read the second one.

I found it even more delightful than the first one and am excited to read more.  It is always fun to have a series to look forward to.

For fun, I picked up a comfort read to enjoy while soaking in the tub. (Is that TMI?)

I loved Wylly Folk St. John as a child, my favorite book by far being The Secret of the Seven Crows.  Of course, I lost all those books when our house burned down, but my daughter has been buying them as presents for me.  This one is as far as I know her only adult novel, and it is always a fun read.

Finally, this month I participated for the first time in the FemCatholic book club and read this magnificent book.

I did not know much at all about Dorothy Day before I read this, and I fell in love with her.  What makes this book even more amazing than its subject is that it is written by Dorothy’s granddaughter, and focuses on the relationship of Dorothy and her daughter, Tamar.  I read this with highlighter in hand.  It was beautifully written and full of wisdom I want to remember, and it was so absorbing that I truly did not want to put it down.

So, without the challenge of reading a book a week for Booktober, I only managed five books this month.  Still, I did sit down with and read most afternoons for at least a little while.

This month I am tackling a couple of Advent reads, and in January I am taking part in FOUR book clubs so I will have a lot to share then!

I’m linking up with An Open Book.  Click below to see more great reads!

What I’m Reading These Days: Booktober and More

I’ve always been that girl with her nose in a book.  Yet somehow in recent years I have realized that I am spending more and more time reading news online and less and less time sitting down with a good book.

This month I decided to do something about that.  I have made an effort to sit outside on the porch for a little while every day with a book.  My days of reading a book every day are not going to return any time soon, and I did not even make a dent in my massive stack of books-to-be-read (not to mention the ten or more typed pages of books I want to read but do not own); but I am pleased with what I did manage to get through in 30 days.

First up:

I belong to the best book club in the world.  Why? Because it meets next door; there is always plenty of good food, wine, and conversation; and no one gets mad if you have not read the book.  This month, though, I did read and enjoy this discussion of how hardship builds community, which I found especially interesting in light of the current polarized state of the world.

I joined an online book club this month too, Booktober sponsored by The Myth Retold.  Participants voted between two books in each of four genres, read one each week and discussed them in a private Facebook group.  Week one was the first in a series.  Brother Cadfael’s first adventure involved a quest for relics of a saint to bring glory to his medieval monastery–and, of course, murder.  I loved this glimpse of the Middle Ages and plan to read the rest of the series.

I have been doing a lot of anti-racist reading/listening/learning in online groups, so this read was especially timely.  I think I read it all in one sitting.  I learned a lot–especially just how exhausting it is to deal with microagressions. That was a term I kind of bristled at the first time I heard it, but Brown really made me understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end. This book also made me consider how I take my Black friends for granted by thinking that I can ask them whatever about racism without considering whether that is a role they really want.

This was an historical fictional account of a former aristocrat and an idealistic attorney caught up in the French Revolution.  It was diverting enough but ultimately did not really have any staying power–it is already fading quickly from my mind.

This, on the other hand, was my favorite Booktober choice by far.  On the one hand, it was a hard read because being poor in Brooklyn in 1912 was not joke.  But the characters were so well-drawn, the setting so well-described, the stories so true that I did not want to put it down and I have been telling everyone how much I loved it.

Since the pandemic began, our family has been watching a lot of movies.  Lockdown gave us the opportunity for uninterrupted marathon viewings in which we had long wished to indulge, such as watching every Harry Potter movie in succession.  Having done this I was inspired to do what I had never done:  read all the books in succession.  Some of them I believe I had only read once.  It was fun to read the earliest ones with foreknowledge.  I love a well-planned series and it is fascinating to see the clues to the ending that are present from the very first book.  The Order of the Phoenix is not a favorite but I liked it more after having just watched the movie, since the book is vastly superior.

The same is true of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I also read in October.  I had forgotten a lot of the details and it almost felt like reading it for the first time.

Reading seven books in one month, some of them quite long, is no small accomplishment in my current busy life, especially considering that I also read a slew of online content.

I hope to report back at November’s end having read the last Harry Potter book, my book club’s selection for the month, and the pick from another online book club, at least.

I’m linking this up with An Open Book, which you can visit by clicking the button below.

My Catholic Vote

I love voting on Election Day, but wishing to leave nothing to chance in this crazy year, I took advantage of early voting last week.  I marked my paper ballot for Joe Biden, coloring it in very carefully and staring at it for a long time afterward before I scanned it, wanting to cherish the moment for which I had waited so long.

In choosing my candidate I followed a process I laid out here, and my conscience is absolutely clear, no matter how many of my fellow Catholics believe (and are happy to tell me) that my vote is a sin.

In 2008, I sat out the Presidential election.  In 2012, I voted none of the above.  In 2016, seeing Trump as a danger to our country, I voted for Hillary.

When Trump won, my Republican friends said I should give him a chance.  That he would surround himself with good people.  That he would grow into the office.  I did, and he didn’t.  If anything, his presidency has been more disastrous than I could possibly have imagined.

In fact, it has been so disastrous, and I believe him so unfit, that I would have supported any one of the Democratic Primary contenders this year.  If you want to know my thinking, check out the 963 reasons compiled here, rightly referred to below as horrors:

This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.

However, Joe was my number one choice from the get-go, primarily because I believed he was the candidate with the best chance of beating Trump.  His relative centrism, his likable personality, his years of experience, his ability to compromise, his relationships with folks on both sides of the aisle–these are the qualities of someone who could build a broad and diverse coalition of support, as he has gone on to do.  I had always liked Joe, but as I have learned more of his story, I have come to love him.  No longer is my vote just an anti-Trump vote.  It’s an enthusiastic vote for Joe Biden, and here are some of my reasons:

  • Because he writes things like this, and means them:

We all matter in the eyes of God, and it will take all of us to achieve the healing America so desperately needs. To follow God’s Greatest Commandment, and to love each other fully. Together, we can win the battle for the soul of our nation; navigate the multiple crises we face – ending this pandemic, driving our economic recovery, confronting systemic racism; address the scourge of poverty; pursue immigration and refugee policies that uphold the dignity of all; and do everything in our power to ensure that all God’s children have the hope and future they so rightfully deserve. (Read more here)

  • And, maybe most of all, because of this:

Our country is in trouble  We are broken and hurting, scared and divided.  Four years ago I believed–I still do–that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified person ever to run for President.  I would never say that about Joe Biden.  But I DO believe, with all my heart, that he is the candidate most qualified to meet this moment and to bind our nation’s wounds.

More Than Politics

I recently was honored to appear on Julie Varner Walsh‘s brand-new podcast, More Than Politics,  a “podcast for those of us who want something more than what we’ve come to expect from politics — and from our political discourse. Each week, More Than Politics will feature a conversation that helps put today’s politics in context, that honestly and charitably explores the issues of the day, that encourages us to engage in politics in a moral, even loving way.

I have been enjoying the podcast since it began–I feel smarter every time I listen!  Julie and I had a great discussion about feeling politically uncomfortable.  You can listen to it here.

And you can expect to be seeing more political posts from me (or that’s what I currently intend, anyway) as we get closer to the Presidential Election.

Unethical Vaccines: From HeLa to COVID-19

I recently wrote an article on the connection between abortion and vaccines for the American Life League‘s Celebrate Life magazine:

Baltimore, 1951: A young woman lay dying in her hospital bed, her body riddled with cancer. Before her death, doctors scraped some cells from her cervix. Later, without her knowledge or consent, those cells—“the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory”—became instrumental in innumerable medical studies and discoveries.1 They also generated incalculable wealth. 

That young woman was Henrietta Lacks, and if you’ve heard her name, it’s because of Rebecca Skloot’s curiosity. One day in a biology class, Skloot encountered a picture of the unnamed woman whose cells were known as HeLa, their donor little more than a footnote in a textbook. Skloot’s determination to learn that woman’s name led to her best-selling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks’ descendants, many of them struggling in poverty, have never received a penny from the millions generated by her cells.

But Lacks is not the only unknown and unknowing person whose cells have contributed to medical advances.

Read the rest here.

Dear Reluctant Homeschooler

If you are considering homeschooling this coming semester, not with enthusiasm, but with looming dread, this post is for you.

Because a lot of people who have never wanted to homeschool, who looked forward to the departure of their kids on Monday morning, whose kids loved school and thrived there, are staring down deadlines to choose from a menu of unpalatable choices and finding that homeschooling makes the most sense for them and their kids in this very strange season.

I, too, was a more or less reluctant homeschooler once–getting my start because I felt my son would not do well with a particular teacher, the only one who was teaching his grade in the parochial school we were otherwise pleased with.  But what I was forced to do, in the end I came to love, and in total I taught four of my kids at home off and on as their needs dictated.

This year, I will have two kids–a college freshman and a high school sophomore–at home.  They won’t really be homeschooled, since they are doing virtual learning which is not at all the same thing.  But if I had any little kids, I know I would be homeschooling them this year.  And I want to encourage you, if you are considering it–it is not as hard as you think!

To that end, I’ve gathered ALL my homeschooling posts below.  I hope you may find some ideas, inspiration, or just comfort from seeing how easy homeschooling can be.  And I also want to tell you that even though I wasn’t always as successful at teaching my kids at home as I thought I could or should be, all the ones I homeschooled have gone back to conventional schools eventually and excelled despite any inadequacies on my part.  I have no regrets and neither do they.

Homeschooling for Dummies

Old-Fashioned Homeschooling

Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun

Do It Yourself Homeschooling: Spelling

Homeschooling Update: Reading

Homeschooling Win!

Homeschooling Fringe Benefits

Five Homeschooling Favorites

We Are Still Homeschooling

To Everything a Season: Why It’s Okay to Stop Homeschooling

There Is No Foreseeable Future

There is no foreseeable future.

Read it again: There is no foreseeable future.

Now, this isn’t a grammar rant, though that irksome phrase cries out for one.  Because, y’all, unless you believe in clairvoyance (and actually even if you do!), no one can foresee any part of the future–that time which has not yet come.

Still, the ubiquity of that utterance suggests that we think we can, and worse, that we think we should be able to.  And both beliefs are a recipe for suffering, especially in the Year of Our Lord 2020.

2020 Vision

Remember all those memes in December and January, all that clarity we were sure to experience in a year when we would all finally have 2020 vision?  Now we’ve moved on to memes about that most useless of all purchases: a 2020 planner.

If you take nothing else away from this unprecedented year, I hope this is it: there is  no 2020 vision when it comes to the future.

Planning and Control

Many years ago, I encountered a newspaper ad that triumphantly declared: “The secret to a happy life is planning!”  Y’all, I am here to tell you that planning is NOT the secret to a happy life. (Want the REAL secret? I wrote about it right here.)

An obsession with planning reflects a grasping for control.  Guess what? Not only can you not foresee the future, you also cannot control it.

Let me share a couple of examples from my own life, moving from dramatic and life-changing to small and mundane.

Nine years ago, we left town for a few days to attend a funeral.  While we were gone, our house burned to the ground.  I promise we did not see that one coming.  That unforeseeable event changed our lives–it changed our futures.  We moved to a different part of town–somewhere I never envisioned living.  There were new schools and new friends for the kids, changing job opportunities and pastimes for the adults. Even my outlook on life took on an entirely new shape because of that one event.

On a smaller scale, a couple of weeks ago, Lorelei and I were making dinner.  I had the whole evening planned out–I’ve coped with quarantine by devising and living by a regular daily schedule.  But then Lorelei sliced open a finger while opening a can of fruit.  We spent the whole evening in the emergency room–breaking our strict quarantine to hang out in the last place one would wish to go during a pandemic.  That was NOT the evening I had “foreseen.”

Given 30 seconds to think, you would come up with your own examples, of course.  But the truth is that not even our next breath is promised us.

Those who know me might think I’m attempting to justify my family’s haphazard existence–it’s true that we’ve always been a leap-of-faith kind of family.  But I promise it’s not.  I actually love planning things–more than doing them, if I’m honest.  I own a Catholic Women Shine planner and I’ve used it to accomplish quite a bit while safe at home this year.  It’s very natural to look toward the future–which we imagine we can foresee because generally it has a somewhat predictable shape–work, school, vacations.  It’s the absence of that shape right now that is so disconcerting but which also offers us a lesson and an opportunity.

Planning and Worrying

Our attempts at foreseeing the future are especially dangerous for those with a tendency toward anxiety and a predilection for worrying.  It’s called “living in the wreckage of the future” and it is a miserable way to spend your life–imagining every worst-case scenario and suffering RIGHT NOW over events that probably won’t happen.  And even if they DO happen, being miserable NOW, wasting the opportunity you have NOW for happiness, won’t change anything.

I may have mentioned a time or two that we Shollys are extremely focused Star Trek fans.  In the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, Commander Benjamin Sisko finds himself explaining the concept of linear time to the god-like beings called the Prophets who exist outside of time.  At one point they show him a painful memory of his wife’s death, an experience which continues to cause him guilt, anger, and grief.  He says:  It’s difficult to be here, more difficult than any other memory. . .  this was the day that I lost Jennifer. I don’t want to be here.
One of the Prophets replies:  Then why do you exist here?

This encounter helps Sisko to move forward with his life.  Most of us understand that living in the past is a bad idea, but living in the future is just as bad.  As Leo Buscaglia said:  “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”

So I have a proposition for you.  Rather than worrying about everything that could go wrong in the future–in fact, even rather than dreaming about all that could go right with it–what if you do your best to focus only on the day in front of you? What if you let yourself see the future as a beautiful surprise just waiting to unfold?

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Design a Custom Baptism Announcement or First Holy Communion Invitation with Basic Invite

May is the Month of Our Mother, but for Catholics it is usually something more: a time for First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and graduations.  My Facebook Memories remind me that last year around this time we celebrated one nephew’s First Holy Communion, another’s Baptism, and my daughter’s Confirmation and 8th grade graduation!

baby boy in baptism bonnet Confirmation day with Bishop First Holy Communion boy

Well, things are a little different this year, aren’t they? When I watch my parish’s Sunday Mass via Facebook Live, the Prayers of the Faithful prompt me to pray for those who would have celebrated their First Holy Communions or Confirmations on spring Sundays, but who are now having to wait as patiently as possible for the grace of those Sacraments, as we all wait and long for our return to Mass and the Eucharist.

But we WILL celebrate again!  And part of our holy anticipation lies in planning for these blessed events.  Basic Invite is here to help with
baptism announcements, First Holy Communion invitations, and more, and they want me to tell you why you should choose their products to make those occasions special when they arrive.

baptism announcement

[Disclaimer: I was compensated for providing you with my honest opinion of Basic Invite.]

I’ll be honest: after just a few minutes of looking over Basic Invite’s website, I started wishing I needed a baptism announcement or a First Holy Communion invitation.  The tools they provide make it look not just easy to design your announcements and invitations, but even fun!

The first exciting thing, and what really sets Basic Invite apart from the competition, is access to unlimited color combinations.  There are over 180 colors available, and you can change the color of every element on every card.  This is coupled with instant online previewing so you can get your design exactly right.

baptism announcement

But online viewing doesn’t really compare with seeing the real thing, does it?  Basic Invite allows customers to order a printed sample of their baptism announcement or First Holy Communion invitation.  That way you can see and feel the quality of the paper, and know in advance how it will print before placing a final order.

To customize your design even further, you can choose from over 40 different envelope colors!  And for those who don’t enjoy licking envelopes, all Basic Invite’s envelopes are peel and seal so you can get them ready for mailing quickly and easily.

baptism announcement

And about that mailing:  Basic Invite also provides a free address collection service.  Here’s how it works: share a link with your guests via social media or email, collect their addresses, and Basic Invite will print your envelopes free of charge!

Of course you want to know prices, which start at .75 per card and increase depending on factors like shape and the addition of photos.  The cost of each upgrade is clearly marked as you go through the process of designing your card.  And everything is 15% off until the end of the month!

Love Your Neighbor: Wear Your Mask

Once upon a time, a man was given the opportunity to pay a visit to both Heaven and Hell, accompanied by a guide.

Upon arriving in Hell, he was amazed to see a long table laden with a banquet of every delicious food imaginable.  But rather than enjoying the food, the residents of Hell were arguing, complaining, crying.  It was then that he realized the only utensils available to the would-be diners were spoons so long that it was impossible for anyone to eat with them.  The condemned were doomed to suffer an eternity of longing for food they were unable to eat.

Next his guide led the man to Heaven, where he was surprised to see a nearly identical scene–the delectable banquet, the extra-long spoons.  But instead of the wailing and gnashing of teeth he had witnessed in Hell, he saw that the inhabitants of Heaven were smiling, talking with one another, even laughing–and EATING.  The difference? In Heaven, everyone was using their long spoons to feed their neighbors on the opposite side of the table.

I read this story over 40 years ago in one of my grandmother’s old Readers Digests, but I’ve never forgotten it and have often repeated it.  And it rose into my mind abruptly this week when I read a local reporter’s account of the failure of most people to wear the masks that have been recommended while in public as long as pandemic conditions continue.

Every day I read online diatribes from those who refuse to wear masks because this is America or because they are so uncomfortable or because they don’t like being forced to do anything or even because no one should tell them what to do with their own bodies.  Do I even need to tell you how ridiculous it sounds when professed pro-life Christians go around saying such things?

Here’s the real reason people aren’t wearing masks: mask-wearing has a negligible protective effect upon the wearer.  What masks do well, though, is prevent a potentially ill wearer from spreading germs to others.  I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear one to protect me.  Some especially vulnerable folks–like my friend’s medically fragile son–have difficulty wearing masks and are especially counting on the goodwill and compliance of the rest of us.

The freedom and individualism prized by Americans diametrically oppose the idea of being required to do something that only benefits others, not themselves.  However, some 75% of Americans claim to be Christians and should therefore be ready to love their vulnerable neighbor by wearing masks even if it were not required.

Instead, it would appear that we Americans are a selfish bunch doomed to a Hell of our own making.

Faith, Fitness, and Food: Three Quarantine Necessities

So here we are, about six weeks into this very strange time of Covid-19 quarantine, and I am a little embarrassed to admit how much I am enjoying myself, thanks primarily to faith, fitness, and food.

Alliteration is great for blog titles, but I didn’t have to work hard to come up with that one. It really describes my life for the past six weeks, and for this introvert, it’s all been good.

What I HAVEN’t found myself doing, surprisingly, is writing blog posts. And maybe that invites some contemplation on my part. But let me tell you what I have been doing instead to pass the time.

FAITH

We can’t go to Mass and that hurts.  I miss that more than anything.  But there are lots of other ways to practice our faith and I have doubled down on them all.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a whole prayer room, which is a great blessing all the time and especially now.  So I start off every morning there, and I spend an hour there every evening.   On Sunday mornings, I watch my parish‘s live-streamed Mass.  The rest of the family gets their “church” in the afternoon.  We read the readings, and since our pastor generously provides us with a copy of his homily and the week’s Universal Prayer, we read those as well. We recite the creed, say the spiritual communion prayer, sing the Regina Caeli (because Easter) and finish up with the Prayer to Saint Michael.

I take advantage of a ton of resources to make this time meaningful for me, many of which I have written about here and here.  I use Hallow and Pray as You Go daily.  I enjoyed the Pray More Lenten Retreat and the Be Not Afraid conference, which is still online and available.  And I’ve signed up for several other free Catholic conferences.

FITNESS

I wasn’t kidding myself in the past when I said I didn’t have time for exercise.  But I have time now and I am using it.  I was already pursuing some fitness goals when this started, going to the gym three days a week and walking 45 minutes most days.  Now, with the gym closed, I am doing the Jane Fonda workout (yes, the one from 1982) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.  I borrowed some weights from my next door neighbor and I do a little with those and also do some squats and push ups (girl push ups, and not very well) on what would normally have been gym days.

But what I really love to do is walk, and there is a flat paved loop trail at the park a two-minute drive away (and before you ask, there is no safe way to walk there, which is stupid).  I walk for an hour every morning after breakfast if it does not rain. (When it rains, I suffer.) To pass the time while walking loops I listen to Hallow or Pray as You Go or a Catholic talk or podcast.  On Saturdays I switch it up by walking at the track on the All Saints Parish campus while saying the Rosary.  Every afternoon at five, my next door neighbor and I do loops around the bottom half of our street (socially distanced from one another and passers-by). All told, I am averaging over 11,000 steps and almost five miles each day.  Since 10,000 steps was the goal I had set for myself, I am pleased.

FOOD

It was Lent when all this began, as you will recall, and one of my Lenten disciplines was to do a modified Whole 30.  Thus I was unable to bake tasty treats (well I could have, but I didn’t want to bake things and not be able to eat them!) until after Easter. That was a huge blessing, because by then I had developed such healthy habits that I really didn’t feel like over-indulging on chocolate and such for more than a couple of days.  I KNOW I would have turned to food for comfort if I hadn’t been so limited in what I could eat.

But here’s the thing, limited or not, I (and my family) still had to eat.  And the fact is that I had gotten WAY out of the habit of preparing seven dinners a week (let alone all those lunches and breakfasts).  I mean, I don’t think I’ve done that since about 2009 and that is no exaggeration.  John and I go out Monday nights; Lorelei has youth group at our downtown parish on Wednesdays and so we all go our own ways for dinner; and I hang out at Panera Bread alone every Friday evening.  So that leaves four dinners a week for me to come up with, tops, and there are always other things going on that lead us to eat out, or grab fast food, or order in . . . I’m sure lots of you can relate.

But for the past six weeks we’ve eaten together, at the same time every night, primarily meals that I’ve cooked, sometimes with Lorelei and/or Emily’s assistance.  I start by doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen, and I really take my time and enjoy the process.  We use Blue Apron and Hello Fresh so two nights a week the meals are planned for me, and that has been a huge blessing as far as not having to worry about having all the ingredients on hand as well.  I also schedule a regular shipment of produce from Misfits Market.  It has still been challenging to come up with a variety of meals that people will enjoy.  We have only had takeout a couple of times due to reduced income at the moment.  But despite the challenge and doing some complaining about it because it is yet another big responsibility that falls on mostly me, I am also enjoying it and don’t want to go back to how we did things before.

My faith, fitness, and food quarantine coping strategies have something in common and that is ROUTINE.  I have developed daily and weekly routines that I stick to that give a rhythm to the day. This is very satisfying and keeps me on track, not to mention sane.  I get up early every morning (although no longer before dark, which I have always hated).  I do the same things in the same order at more or less the same time every day, and because there are no longer outside commitments that schedule doesn’t get interrupted which is comforting.  I’ve created a nice balance of exercise and office work, personal pursuits and homemaking, relaxation and prayer.  This is something else that I hope I can hold onto.

As I planned this post I noticed the overlap among faith, fitness, and food.  What I am eating contributes to my fitness and my desire for fitness influences what I cook–and don’t cook–for my family.  An hour of my fitness time each day doubles as faith time.  And of course the time I spend specifically on faith in my prayer room grounds me and helps me to do all the rest of it.

I would love to hear how the rest of you are doing in quarantine.  Do you like it? Hate it? Both? Have you developed a routine or are you winging it? Is there anything you’e started to do that you want to continue when we get back to “normal”? Let me know in the comments.