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.

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.

Quote Me: Cast Your Cares on God

I’m excited to share that I was recently a guest on a podcastLindsay Schlegel interviewed me for the last episode of the first season of Quote Me, in which guests discuss a favorite quotation and its impact on their lives.

My quotation was “Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds.” It is from the poem Enoch Arden by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

That’s not where I first read it, though.  Listen to the podcast to learn more, but I’ll say this much:  it’s related to my obsession with The X-Files.  Once upon a time I wrote fanfiction, and the story I refer to in the podcast is right here, should you be interested.

I hope you will give my interview–and the rest of the season–a listen and let me know what you think!

A Labor Day Weekend Visit to Cincinnati

Knoxville (my hometown) is four hours away from Cincinnati. I’ve always heard people saying what a great place Cincinnati is.  But I never did more than drive through (and that not often) until Labor Day weekend two years ago.

We had a particular reason for visiting that weekend–we wanted to see a very special exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  We bought our tickets just about as soon as we heard about this exhibit and it was every bit as thrilling as we expected.

The Museum Center, which was undergoing extensive renovations at the time

This is a detail of the prior photo, which had a container of the Emperor’s disgusting fingernails.

Since we were in the museum, we decided to take a peek at another exhibit, which turned out to be even more of a thrill for this English major.

A FIRST FOLIO
Me with an actual First Folio of Shakespeare’s play. I assure you I was way more thrilled than I appeared. I would not have posed for a picture with just anything!
There were interactive aspects to this exhibit, as you can see!

After the Museum, we decided to do a little sightseeing.

 

All of the above photos were taken in Fountain Square.  The fountain itself is a Cincinnati icon, and is well-known to anyone who ever watched the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was why John wanted to go there).  Anyway, it is a beautiful landmark.

Whenever we visit a new place, we try to go to the Cathedral if there is one.  Cincinnati has a beautiful one, Saint Peter in Chains.

Just across the street from the Cathedral is this magnificent edifice, the Plum Street Temple, one of only two Jewish temples of this style in the country and reminiscent of those destroyed in the Holocaust.

As you can see, we had a really full day.  As was the next one, when we visited the Cincinnati Zoo, the second-oldest zoo in the United States and one of the best in the country.

Like cathedrals, we make it a point to visit zoos wherever we go.  And we take them seriously, trying to make sure we see every exhibit.  We saw every animal in this enormous zoo, and it took us EIGHT HOURS.  The photos below represent only a very small sample.

This and the one below is a condor, which we only saw from far away–but just look at that wingspan!

This sign is the introduction to the nocturnal animal exhibit–considerate for the animals, but difficult for observers!

The tribute to passenger pigeons made us all sad.

At the insect exhibit

And that was the end of our short but very busy visit to Cincinnati.  Have you ever been there?

When to Say Yes and When to Say No: Respecting Your Spiritual Gifts

Several years ago my parish decided to bring the Called and Gifted workshop to our parish to help our members discern their spiritual gifts and to encourage them to use them in parish ministries.  As a member of the organizing committee, I traveled to a neighboring state to experience the program myself.  I also received training in facilitating the follow-up interviews and small group sessions that followed our parish’s workshop.  I became and remain an enthusiastic believer in the existence and importance of spiritual gifts.

And yet when I was asked to take on a church ministry that did not align with my gifts, I said yes.

Being on the church hospitality ministry (read serving doughnuts once a month after the Mass we attend) did not seem like a big deal, and I was flattered (let’s face it) to be asked.  But within just a few days after accepting I had second thoughts.

It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t have the right charism mix for serving doughnuts.  I realized this almost immediately and told my husband I wanted to quit.

But he thought it would be wrong to back out.  He said he would take over the job if I did not want it.

You know what? John does not have the right charism mix either.  He carried on miserably for some time before he finally gave up the job.

If someone had asked me to organize and run the doughnut ministry, I would have rocked that.  I have the charism of Administration.

If someone had asked John to recruit hospitality ministers, he would have rocked that.  He has the charism of Leadership.

Every ministry in a parish is important.  Every baptized Catholic is gifted in some way for ministry.  Every parishioner should be offering time and talent in service to the Church.  But heed this PSA:  There is nothing wrong with saying NO if you are asked to participate in a ministry that does not align with your God-given gifts.

If you are not sure what your spiritual gifts are, here is one online test that is similar to the one used in the Called and Gifted workshop.

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Part II

I’ve written previously about our family’s Christmas book tradition and shared some of our favorites.  Just in time for you to order before Christmas, here are five more of our all-time favorites.

Who Is Coming to Our House

I am pretty sure this was the second Christmas book I bought for Emily, so it has been part of our Christmas for over a quarter of a century!  She loved it so much that she memorized most of it.  A big plus is that nowadays you can get it as a board book!

We Were There

Now, there are lots and lots of books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable.  But there were other creatures present that you may not have thought of.  This book was–and is–a hit with our youngest two, who love all things creepy crawly; and it is a wonderful reminder that God made ALL creatures, not just the cuddly ones.

Santa and the Christ Child

From a literary standpoint, this one isn’t going to win any awards.  But I still love the story, and it reminds me of my favorite “Kneeling Santa” Christmas decoration.

Christmas Tapestry

We are big Patricia Polacco fans and several of our Christmas books were written by her, but I think this recent acquisition is my favorite.  Although it’s a Christmas miracle story, it’s also ecumenical and historical and heartwarming.

All Creation Waits

Maybe it is cheating a bit to include an Advent book but we got this last year and I cannot tell you how much we loved it.  We read one story every evening as a part of our Advent celebration.  I bought it for my son the animal lover but we were all enthralled and amazed by the beauty of God’s creation as revealed in these stories.

That’s all for this installment! Tell me about your favorites in the comments–I need some ideas for what to order this year!

 

What This GenXer Wants Millennial Catholics to Know

I am a member of the Catholics Online Directory (and if you are a Catholic blogger or artisan or speaker, you should be too!).  One membership benefit is having promotional posts published on the Catholics Online website.

Founder Amy Brooks of Prayer, Wine, Chocolate interviewed me for this article, in which (among other things) I said: “I am far more likely to be scandalized by people chewing gum or receiving Communion inappropriately than by what they are wearing. At least they are there.”

Want to see what else I said?  Read more here!