Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Riot of Spring

The tips of the bulbs are making their way through the layer of dead leaves in the yard: Hyacinth, Jonquil,and as many damned Silver Maple saplings as dandelions. The smell of wild onions, our most predominate flora, makes the whole outdoors smell like a happy kitchen.

The dogs have been digging, looking for moles, and they come into the house with damp brown paws and dirt on the tips of their noses. Their craters turn the yard into an obstacle course for the mower—which isn’t my problem, I guess, since my husband does the mowing. But they have made casualties of my Forsythia and a small cherry tree. I find mauled branches with their hopeful green buds left in shreds all over the yard.

The children are causing consternation.

The neighbor called this afternoon to let me know that a couple of my kids were on the roof of the garden shed, and did I know or was I busy with the baby? Well, I knew, but it crossed my mind to act surprised—debated for a minute over which would cause greater scandal, not knowing, or knowing that my kids were on the roof? I admitted that it was fine with me for them to climb there, but if it made him nervous, I’d call them down. Growing up, we had a play deck at least as high, or higher, and we would jump off. No one died, though I suppose we could have.

When they’re not on top of the shed, they are in the shed pulling out the rakes, and spades and shovels to wreak their own havoc on the yard. They’ve enlarged one of the holes begun by the dogs, and turned it into an excavation site. So far they’ve exhumed two large stones, paving stones or pieces of foundation from a structure that possibly once stood behind our house.

I’m haunted sometimes by what the former owners of our home said to us when we purchased their house: “We didn’t want to sell it to just anybody. We knew you’d take good care of it.” I wonder how many times they’ve driven by and thought, “Those people have let our house go to pot.” All the bikes in the yard, the doors left agape, the tiny pieces of obliterated toys mixed in with the gravel driveway.

I don’t know what I’d do about any of it. We seem condemned to a life of lovely decrepitude—and I mean lovely, because I wouldn’t change any of it. It’s life, which just can’t shake the whiff of death. I can’t wait for Easter.

Seems to be a late March thought.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Literary Mentorship

I used to be afraid to write in the margins of my books. Books were sacred, and should not be sullied. But I think my attitude was shaped by an unholy awe of the book, and a misunderstanding of the role books were supposed to accomplish in a person’s life. Books were a sign of intellectual status—like my husband’s insistence on doing crosswords with a pen. Books were their own absolutes, the final word, and as such, there was no need for a lowly reader to add their own mistaken thoughts in the margin.

But I’ve come to see the writing in the margin as a way of marking my territory—to say I’ve been here, covered this ground. It’s a reminder to my future self who may one day come back and revisit the text, and it’s a cave drawing of sorts for any future reader to interpret the “me” who read this book so many years before.

I love finding books in which others have written. I inherited many books from my grandfather, who after his retirement as chief executive of the local power and light company, began reading from ancient Rome and Greece to the age of Christ, past the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, onward through Modernism and up to Pope John Paul II, and ended up converting to Catholicism just before his death.

His books, read in chronological order, serve as an intellectual road map to the Catholic Faith. And his check marks, under-linings, and question marks in the margins form their own spiritual autobiography of sorts.

My Grandfather’s books, and the barrister bookcases on which they sat, are one of the few items of inheritance over which my sister and I occasionally bicker. Fortunately, Grandpa had written down the names of his beneficiaries for his most precious tomes before he died. And it was not uncommon for him to spy us flipping through one of his books and say, “You want to read that? Take it. It’s yours,” even if he knew his frivolous fifteen-year-old granddaughter had no intention of reading Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Even though I didn’t read the Gibbon in its entirety, I did eventually use it for a research paper on the role of Christianity in the Fall of Rome, and Grandpa’s chicken scratches in the margins were like an oracle directing me to the important parts.

I make a point of stealing a little something when I visit certain members of my family—a venial sin, so said my priest—and the items are more like birds flitting to different branches in the same tree (maybe?). It’s almost an act of love to take a little piece of them home to sustain me in their absence, and it gives them an opportunity to grow in charity when they realize what I’ve done (possibly?).

I brought my sister’s “Prayer for Beginners” by Peter Kreeft home with me from Mississippi a) because she said it was good, and b) because she’s written all over it. There’s no better memento of a loved one than evidence of their intimate interaction with words, and with The Word in particular.

Faulkner House Books

I have walked in and out of many a Barnes and Noble without feeling tempted to make a purchase. Too many choices yields indecision.

But the benevolent proprietor of Faulkner House has kept its selection of books sacred and small, so that nearly everything on the shelves was something I would want to read. A perfectly edited stack of books for sale yields certainty, so that when faced with a title I’ve thought about buying for years, I opened my wallet and laid the cover price on the table, and I rarely pay cover price for anything.

Then again, maybe I just wanted the feeling of importance from going into an exclusive bookstore and appearing to know exactly what it is that I need.

My sister and I went back to New Orleans to sit in on some Master Classes at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

As evidenced by the notes I took, the talks left a little to be desired:

In one of the Master Classes, the speaker gave lots of nice tips for developing characters and doing the business of writing (i.e. sitting on your rear and putting words on paper), and finally a member of the audience asked the question that every budding writer wants to know: “How did YOU get an agent and a book deal?”

Turns out, this lady glad-handed an editor at a similar conference, and asked if the editor would read her work. The squeaky wheel got the oil.

Emboldened, I stuck around after the next talk by John Dufresne and tried to lure him into reading my stuff. I asked lots of vague questions on genre and craft, but when it came time to drop the gauntlet and say, “Can I send you my stuff?” I bailed. It feels too pushy, too presuming.

I want publishing to be easier. Isn’t it enough that I came to this lame conference, that I asked good questions, and made myself available? Don’t I look like someone who has written a novel you would like to read? Wouldn’t you like to offer me a literary apprenticeship and then send my manuscript to your agent so I can be published too?

Apparently, that’s not the way things work (So I resort to the possibility that Dufresne googles his own name periodically, comes across my blog, and answers my plea).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts While Driving Home From New Orleans (that have nothing to do with that fair city)

I followed behind my sister’s Volvo from Biloxi to New Orleans. Her daughter and mine sat in the jump seat in the rear end of her wagon, facing out at trailing traffic, waving at truckers, and me. We used to have one of those seats in the back of our old Chevy Malibu growing up, and I never realized how exposed those little faces are to the world back there.

I had already had an OCD thought of my car slamming into them when a pick-up swerved in between the two of our cars, cutting me off, and positioning himself just a few feet from the little girls on the other side of my sister’s bumper. Then he swerved back out again and passed my sister. I don’t remember the last time I had such a visceral response to a stranger. “I could kill you,” I thought. It seemed like a good enough reason to drive up to his window and flip him off, but he was long gone.

I don’t know if that little incident set the tone for the rest of the day, or if it was the result of corralling eleven kids around the city where it’s always Mardi Gras, but sometimes it seems like good and evil have locked horns.

Our old house in Indianapolis was directly across the street from a Catholic Church. Because I stayed home, and often sat out on the front porch, I saw the comings and goings of an urban Church at all hours of the day: A working gal would meet her clients on the steps of Little Flower Parish; Drug deals were passed off in the parking lot; an old man, off his meds, would wander into the Sanctuary yelling profanities.

And just so, in New Orleans, garlands of flowers drip from the balconies, while the aroma of vomit wafts up from the pavement. Palm readers and buskers heckle the people coming out of St Louis Cathedral. Having just laid all my sins on the altar of the Cathedral, I exited the Church just in time to hear a man talking as if he knew something, giving his woman a Church history lesson. “The way to become a saint,” he said, “is to kill everyone who isn’t in line with the Roman Church.”

“Want to see a saint, Idiot?” I thought. “I could kill you.”

It was weird how easily the thought rolled off my brain for the second time this day.

In the afternoon, on the waterfront, one of my boys who had finagled a wooden sword out of the car, was using it on his cousins. I took the sword away from him and walked along with it, feeling a little bit powerful. I had a weapon. And an indigent man said, “Those kids all yours?”

“Mmm hmm,” I answered.

“Man, Y’all weren’t shootin’ blanks.”

“No sir,” I thought, “I don’t shoot blanks….matter of fact… I could kill you.”

They say that a mother who feels her offspring threatened is the most dangerous animal in the world. And we well know people will kill to defend their faith. In an alarming case of two for one, a boy who went to my high school had his children taken away by CPS because he and his wife practiced some religious fasting. They also home-schooled from their mobile home, and one day when the family pulled up to a public library to do school, a concerned citizen thought the kids looked malnourished and called them in. Refusing to cooperate with the system, this man and his wife opted to kidnap their children back at gunpoint. Now they’re both in jail.

But it is so much more likely that harm will be done to my children and to my faith out of my own negligence. Every time I turn my back in the yard the baby runs like a little magnet to the play deck ladder.

And this year has yielded quite possibly the worst Lenten observance I have ever had. I’ve been almost manic about it: taking up smoking during Lent? Drinking? Eating chocolate?—none of which I do during Ordinary Time.

I really do feel detached from any expectations of what my spiritual life is supposed to look like. I’d like to be a spiritual success story, where my past really is my past, upon which I have never looked back. Iron and Wine sings: “No Christian wants to pick at the scab but they all want the scar.” Well, I have no problem picking the scab. Or maybe I don’t want it to heal because I’m afraid of having nothing to do without it.

It’s that little bit of evil that we all hold onto. As Pope Benedict says, “We think that evil is basically good. We think we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being” (“Benedictus” p288).

So the woman who has just laid her sins on the altar exits the Church wanting to harm her fellow man.

Evil is a bit like kudzu. It tends to choke out the good, so that there is a real potential that I could one day lose my faith. I didn’t think it was possible.

I suppose this is something I needed to know about myself.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gone to Mississippi

Driving South on Interstate 65 was like traveling through a stop-motion film. Spring advanced by the hour: frozen rain in Indiana and Kentucky, to mossy green in Tennessee, to Redbud North of Birmingham, and Camellias in Mississippi. And the kids as well, grew progressively more energetic as the morning fog cleared off their own heads, and their bodies became aware of their twelve-hour encapsulation.

The last hour of a car trip with kids tends to be most intense, so I handed over the wheel to my mother, to separate errant brothers from invading their siblings’ personal space. Everyone’s tired of holding up their own heads, but no one wants to be the shoulder to lean on.

“I brought some CDs,” my mom had said proudly at the beginning of the trip—a big duffle bag full of recorded Stations of the Cross, Placido Domingo and “Sissal!” We’d done those already, and I think we were all ready for a little rebellion music. “Don’t you have any Clapton or Marvin Gaye?” my mom asked of the contents of my Ipod. And I did just happen to have “Let’s Get it On,” which my mom started to sing along to, and then I felt embarrassed. “I think we’re in the wrong crowd for this song.”

The kids yelled, “We Didn’t Start the Fire!” from the backseat, which is one of those songs you wish had never been written, and much more that the kids had never heard. They don’t know the words, which I suppose is a blessing, so they yell their own variation packed with potty words.

And at last, we arrived with much noise on my sister’s doorstep. Her six kids opened the door with mutual noise, and the neighborhood was momentarily filled with a cloud of noise that could mask the sound of jets taking off at the nearby airforce base. The ground was rumbling. Boys were boxing. My three-year-old peed on the floor.

“Here we are to break your toys and soil your linens,” I said, orienting myself with the contents of my sister’s pantry and fridge, investigating my sister’s point of view down here, one block from the bay and two blocks from the military base. I’ve missed her so much.

One of my boys is a breaker—the kind that seems not to realize his own strength, or else he does realize it, and enjoys using it to destroy things. He’s a rubber-maid-tub-dumper as well which meant that the floor was an impermeable sea of small pieces within minutes of our arrival. Children in the bathtub splashed water over the edges of the basin. No one wanted to go to sleep.

By nine pm a cigarette was long overdue. I dropped two butts behind my sister’s air conditioning unit that she would find in the morning, and chastise me for using the world as my ashtray. But who wakes up and cleans the area in the yard behind the air conditioner? That’s my sister, the woman who takes care of everything and everyone, who had my baby’s diaper changed before I realized it was dirty.

Being with my mom and sister, I revert to an exasperating age eleven. They cook things, and I stand at the counter eating out of the pan. I go through my sister’s closet and bookshelves looking for things to confiscate. I try on her cosmetics and use her hair products. I will not say that I read her diary….It’s possible she hasn’t missed me at all.

My daughter, in the room with her older cousin, immediately goes to the closet and begins trying on her sandals. “What can I have?” she asks, looking through the dresses, and a new assortment of girly toys and dolls. She sits next to Annie as close as possible, then gets up on her knees to pull her bigger cousin’s long hair into a ponytail. Don’t I wish my girl had a sister?

With kids in bed, the three of us poured some wine, sat on the lanai, and I opened up the Dunhills again.

“You know she taught our little brother to smoke,” my sister says to Mom. Also, my husband’s little brother, if we’re keeping score, and I’ve long threatened to teach my sister’s kids to smoke (which I wouldn’t really do…unless they asked), and it’s only a matter of time before Aunt Betty is the fat, stinky old Aunt with broken capillaries and wrinkles all over her face who comes up asking for tobacco-breathed kisses while her nieces and nephews scatter to the darker corners of the house. I can’t wait. (This is innuendo, of course.)

“I don’t really smoke,” I say, taking a drag.

There was too much to say to keep talking about cigarettes, and as my sister says, “You make me sound like such a spoil sport.” She’s not. She’s always been the brains of the family, while I’ve been the family pet. But in her adult life as a military wife, always on the move, making new friends and raising her children, she’s also become very social. She’s had to make herself known anew again and again, while I have maintained a steady retreat into home life, living not far from our parents, keeping old friends.

Our conversations for the night are content for a different post. After two glasses of wine, all of us were falling asleep. My mom opted to sleep on the hide-a-bed, which left my sister and me to share a bed. And our reversion was complete, back to our youth, sharing a room for the first seventeen years of my life.

We had bunk beds. She slept on top, and I traced her body on the underside of her mattress with a Sharpie. She would lower her head to talk about some boy, or to make a joke, and I’d kick her, or climb up to her lair to build a nest of blankets and stuffed animals.

Mom and Dad tapped through the floor of their upstairs bedroom to tell us to be quiet, but we wouldn’t—not until one of them came downstairs, all of our eyes flinching when they turned on the light. “Go to bed!”

Don’t I wish my girl had a sister?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What I Learned in the First Chapter of This Book I'll Probably Finish Reading in the Car Tomorrow...

I’m writing to the women on this post, so any males reading might want to quietly back out of the room or else make their presence invisible. My little brother used to do this by hiding behind the couch while my sister and I sat on it talking. And my husband: once when I had some girl friends sitting on the front porch, my husband excused himself to go to the workshop. When I went inside to refresh our drinks, I noticed a cord coming out of the mail slot. He’d hidden the baby monitor there so he could listen to our conversation undetected.

Anyway, the point is, Sally T is having a book carnival, where if you’ve opened a book recently and learned anything in the first chapter—whether you’ve finished it or not—you can write it up and link to her linky thing.

I went to Goodwill yesterday morning, and was going through their 50 cent paperbacks and came across a cache of books on chastity. Among them were Dawn Eden’s “Thrill of the Chaste” and “Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional Fulfillment” by Shannon Etheridge. Whenever I find Catholic books or statuary at a second hand store, I can’t help considering it the work of the Holy Spirit somehow—since one never knows what one will find on any given visit. So I bought the books.

And naturally, in my reading last night I cracked open the one with “sex” in the title.

This book is the companion to “Every Man’s Battle,” a book for men that helps them understand the evils of pornography, etc. It’s full of anecdotes, and quizzes that help the reader discern if they are living a sexually authentic life, or if they are allowing their hearts and minds to be led into emotional affairs, whether or not they are acting out on them physically.

While men are more visually stimulated, “for women the battle often begins with a heart full of disappointment…in men, circumstances, God, life, money, kids, and the future.”

Here’s an abridged version of the initial questionnaire. The previous owner had written her answers in the blanks, which was interesting, and let me know that there might be other women struggling with similar issues.

1. If you are married, do you compare your husband to other men (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually)?

2. Do you often think of what your life will be like after your husband is dead, wondering who the next man in your life could be?

3. Do you have sexual secrets that you don’t want anyone else to know about?

4. Do men accuse you of being manipulative or controlling?

5. Do you secretly feel excited or powerful when you sense that a man finds you attractive?

6. Do you have a difficult time responding to your husband’s advances because you feel he should meet your needs first?

7. Is remaining emotionally or physically faithful to one person a challenge for you?

8. Do you often choose your attire in the morning based on the men you will encounter that day?

9. Do you find yourself flirting or using sexual innuendos (even if you do not intend to) when conversing with someone you find attractive?

10. Do you resent the fact that your husband wants sex more often than you do, or wish he would (do something else) so that you would not have to perform sexually?

11. Do you read romance novels?

12. Is there any area of your sexuality that (1) is not known by your husband, (2) is not approved of by your husband, or (3) does not involve your husband?

13. Do you spend more time or energy ministering to the needs of others through church or social activities than to your husband’s sexual needs?

14. Do you use pornography?

15. Do you fantasize about being intimate with someone other than your husband?

16. Do you have a problem making and maintaining close female friends?

17. Do you converse with strangers on the internet?

18. Have you ever been unable to concentrate on work, school or the affairs of your household because of thoughts or feelings you are having about someone else?

19. Do you think the word “victim” describes you?

20. Do you avoid sex in your marriage because of the spiritual guilt or dirty feeling you experience afterward?

Several things stood out for me as being particularly related to the blogosphere in this quiz. The author pointed out that comparing our husbands to other women’s husbands can lead to emotional vulnerability. For instance: her husband always wears a suit to Mass, while my husband wears jeans. Her husband must be holier than mine, which means they must have a better marriage, which means I’m probably less happy than she is and would be happier with someone else.

It seems like two things happen when women write about their husbands on their blogs (and I am susceptible to both): either they acquire an undercurrent of agitation about the things their husbands do, or they present them as flawless heroes. And likely, neither scenario is an accurate description of what’s actually happening in the relationship.

Likewise, comparing ourselves with other women, makes us feel inferior, which makes us particularly susceptible to flattery when it comes from the opposite sex. If we think we have little to offer, we’re surprised when someone points out that we’re actually sort of interesting, and then our hearts can turn.

Then there’s that whole talking to strangers on the internet thing. (guilty)

I know that men and women work together, have conversations with one another, do lunches and business deals out in the world. But I have to admit that when I first started blogging, I was a little surprised by how much back and forth commenting there was between men and women. I looked to other Catholic bloggers for cues, and it seemed like everyone was doing it, so I did too (I know...). And dare I say that there are now a handful of male bloggers whom I consider my friends?

Every now and then, it strikes me as odd though, that commenting on a man’s blog is essentially like going up to a good looking guy at the grocery and saying, “I notice that you’re buying organic greens. I like organic greens too.” I would never do that. But wearing the veil of the blogosphere, I would, often because the topic is of a spiritual nature and it feels innocuous. I want to say that we’re all reasonable adults here, but maybe I’m an incurable flirt, and this is a sin. I generally do like men, which is good because I’m married to one.

So, that’s what I learned in the first chapter of this book. I take it the rest of the book goes into what you should do about it if you’ve discerned that you have a problem with sexual authenticity. (Buy the book here.)

Refraining from attacks on anyone’s character (especially mine) I’m curious what the ladies of the blogosphere think on this subject.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Dorito-Eaters

I went to Florida with Pedge and Irene and another gal-friend of ours, Elaine. Irene’s parents have a condo near Naples, so we received our husbands’ blessings and set off on a sun-quest. It wasn’t meant to be a long trip, just four days, travel included, so when our flight was canceled, it seemed sort of a sign from God, saying, “GO HOME LADIES. Love your children. Clean your house. You don’t need a getaway. And don’t even think about trying it during Lent.”

Turns out our plane had mechanical difficulties. The airline chartered us by bus to the Dayton airport to catch another flight, which was delayed as well. “This would never happen to our husbands,” was our first reaction. Yet at four in the afternoon, sitting in the Dayton airport bar, it occurred to me, “If I had not thought I would be in Florida by now, there is nothing I would rather be doing then sitting here having a drink with my friends.” There was no reason to consider our delays a loss.

We arrived in Naples at 2 am, nearly twelve hours after we woke up to get our jumpstart on the airport. We could have slept in. Irene’s mother had left out a welcoming basket filled with wine and chocolate and matching bathrobes. She had booked a masseuse to come to the house the following day, so that we could each receive an hour-long massage.

It’s sort of funny to consider that the four of us met through Regnum Christi. Our girls’ getaway used to be a weekend retreat or convention. Since the scandal with Father Maciel, we have continued to do Gospel Reflections on our own, though not as a part of RC. We still woke up each morning in Florida and said our morning prayers together. We still went to Mass and said our Rosaries. But it was sort of fun not to spend the weekend sitting in a hotel convention room listening to lay testimonies. It felt very rebellious.

I remember a cousin of mine, once explaining to me why she didn’t want to join Regnum Christi with me: “Sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and eat Doritos,” she said. In light of Father Maciel’s writings on Time and Eternity, I often feel guilty about doing anything that’s not an apostolic activity. So I have devolved into a Dorito-eater. Hopefully, there will still be room in Eternity for me. My entire adult life as a Catholic has been tied up with Regnum Christi, and one of these days I’m going to write a post about how life has changed since I’m not really involved.

Here’s the short version: We went on a marathon outlet shopping trip. Irene’s mom drove us around old Naples and bought us dinner at Handsome Harry’s. We went to see a chick flick, read tabloids on the beach, rode bikes, took walks, played euchre, drank Chardonnay, and we had those massages, which were marvelous.

I have to admit, I’ve put off writing this post for a couple weeks because I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve been on two trips in two months without my kids. You can always find someone to say, “You deserve it! Take a break!” And you can always find someone who looks down their nose at you for actually doing it. I like to think that I have given my kids the gift of time with their grandparents, and I’ve also now given my husband the pleasure of being home with all the kids for a couple days without me. The circumstances are so often reversed. And everyone did fine, of course. The house was tidy, the floor mopped, the kids moderately clean on my return. It seems I could check out of here altogether and life would keep ticking without me, and maybe that’s what’s most embarrassing about it.

It’s been my little secret for the past five months or so, that my life is really pretty easy (though maybe I’m not hiding it very well). I can’t tell if I’m getting better at what I do, or if the kids are just more self-sufficient, or if I’m slacking on my duties and I need to do something to make my life more difficult. I’ve always thought that if life is easy, I’m not doing it right—but maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s just the calm before a storm and I should enjoy it while it lasts.

In a couple days, I’m heading down to the Gulf to visit my sister, this time with the kids, but it will be my third trip in as many months. I’ve become such a party girl this Lent. And due to our airport delays on the Florida trip, we each received two free international round trip tickets that must be used by the person whose name is on the ticket within 365 days. The pressure is on: where to next?

Just for the memories--I do remember when life was hard.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Giving up Nouns for Lent

(rerun: April '09)

It’s always around this time of year that I wish I had given up a noun rather than a verb for Lent, some thing, some arbitrary thing that in and of itself is not bad, but would just be a concrete thing to sacrifice, so that on Easter Sunday, I can partake of it after forty days of abstinence, and mark the end of the Sacrificial Season.

It is good to give up bad habits, like arguing, for Lent. It is good to do more positive things like praying early in the morning. The only problem is that if something is worth doing or not doing during Lent, then it’s worth continuing the practice after Lent.

When I was growing up, my whole family gave up sweets for Lent. My mom did a super cleansing of everything in the house containing sugar, and if we were still hungry after dinner we had to eat something like yogurt. There was always much discussion about whether or not certain foods were sweets, like sugar free pudding—sweet or not a sweet? It has no sugar, and milk is good for you, but it tastes good. Is jelly on one’s peanut butter sandwich a sweet? Technically it’s a condiment, but it’s full of sugar.

These perennial discussions annoyed me in their legalism, as my mom and dad hashed out every item they put in their mouths—which is why, as an adult, I’ve sort of avoided the practice of giving up sweets. Not to mention that come Easter Sunday, my siblings and I would hoover the Cadbury eggs until we fell into a coma.

But here, at the end of Lent, I wish there were something more concrete to signify the end of the forty days. On Easter Sunday morning, I’m not going to wake up and say, “Alleluia! I don’t have to pray this morning!” Nor am I going to spend the day arguing just because I haven’t done it in awhile.

It seems like finding the right thing to sacrifice means finding something that has the quality of luxury. It isn’t essentially good or bad. It is just something I enjoy, of which for forty days, I will postpone enjoyment. I seek a standard of measurement and a signifier that the forty days is over and the Season of Celebration has begun. The Church in her wisdom has supplied us with practices like abstinence from meat. Do I think I’m more wise, more noble than this 2000 year-old institution when I choose some “loftier” personal sacrifice than these mere things?

When I was on the precipice of my reversion back to Catholicism, I spoke to a priest about all my questions. For every teaching of the Church, I had a "But what about (fill in the blank)?" statement to make. I kept thinking I could throw a wrench into his thinking, stump him, and in so doing relieve myself of the burden of this faith (it felt like a burden at the time).

After answering a few of my questions, and realizing I always had another complication to follow the last one, he finally smiled at me and said, "Just be simple." His words held such weight, because this particular priest was anything but simple. I'd sought him out specifically, because I knew he had an appreciation for the complexities of life.

If this particular priest could "be simple" then I had my first inkling that there was some value in the practice of obedience. Some practices of the Church may seem too trivial, too picky to be of any value. Tempting to say, "Well what does the Church know about that?" And I've so often heard obstacles to teachings of the faith framed in reference to the age and gender of the heirarchy of the Church. "What do a bunch of old celibate men know about marriage?" for instance.

The fact is, they don't have to know anything about marriage, though they frequently prove quite wise on the subject. Either the teachings of the Church are inspired by the Holy Spirit, or they're not. If they are, then my obedience to those teachings will be blessed with the light of faith. In practice, comes understanding.

And in this case, as is so often the case, my nonconformance to the standards set by the Church has left me with an empty feeling in my gut, here at the end of Lent.

(P.S. BY NO MEANS am I trying to dismiss the reason on which the teachings of the Church are based. Only saying, if I don't understand it, I'm probably complicating it--because the teachings are so reasonable.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In a Relationship

“This Lent, for whatever reason, I have come to a deeper understanding of my own sinfulness,” Pedge said. Irene and I sat at her kitchen table, having just read the Parable of the Prodigal Son. “So much so, that it’s tempting to despair of ever kicking these sins. How can I say ‘I firmly resolve never to offend you again,’ when I know that I will, later today probably? What I wish I could remember is that it’s not how well I do with this resolution or that temptation, and it’s not about comparing myself with others; it’s about the relationship with the Father.”

I’ve often thought of the characters in this parable as representing two separate Christian vocations: the child who has never severed the relationship with God, the faithful child, and the one who has lived in darkness, but returns, never free from the memories that rear their heads, sometimes with a wink and a smile, sometimes with a sickening wave of shame. But if the Christian vocation is about the relationship with the Father, then both brothers are in about the same place—still standing at a bit of a distance. If the brother who remained at home was really in a relationship with the Father, he would share his father’s joy.

I used to think there was an “on/off” switch between me and God. If I committed a serious sin, I was cut off. Going to Confession would flip the switch back on. I went back and forth between monastic periods of deprivation, and periods of semi-debauchery. If God loved me one day, he hated me the next. There was no relationship between me and God. I was just a graceless creature attempting to live by what I thought were arbitrary standards. After a short time of such extremism, I gave up, exhausted.

If there had been a relationship, not only would I have shared God’s standards, but having fallen short, I might have gotten up and asked for his help and forgiveness. There’s no reason not to do so now, even with Lent nearly over—to hop up again like a dog who can’t be trained not to jump up on her Master (“Down Girl!”). But she’s up again, with muddy feet—never despairing of God’s mercy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

My husband has purchased a lathe. It is the last tool he says he will ever have to buy, which is of course, what all the tools in his workshop have been. It started with a table saw, the gateway drug that led to a bandsaw that led to a planer, and a joiner and a dust collector. He gets the kids involved so that whenever a new tool arrives, they gather around while he unpacks it on the living room floor, as though it's a puppy or a new TV that only plays cartoons.

The lathe required several men to unload it off the truck and straight into the shop, and here the children stood on the sidelines, gawking at the arrival of their new step-sibling, the apple of their father's eye.

If they're good, if they go to bed without whispering to one another, or sneaking out of their beds for a book after lights out, he'll make them...a lathe toy!--one of his practice blocks (pictured above) where he tries out making coves, beads, and rings, working each type of chisel until it feels like an extension of his own hands.

It's always blown my mind how he's able to do this, take to a tool with no prior knowledge or experience and come out with furniture. His genius is in his hands, no doubt, but also in his willingness to work for nothing less than perfection.

His very first project, back when we lived in one half of a double bungalow, was a cd rack I asked him to stain Jacobean brown to match the woodwork. He bought a can of spray-on polyurethane and proceeded to finish and strip and refinish the cd rack no less than five times. I couldn't have asked for a better cd rack, but by the time I'd loaded up all my disks, he had decided to build an entertainment center to house not only CDs, but also the tv, the stereo and all the other bulky technology that took up half our living room back in the day.

From there, it was kitchen cabinets for the first house we bought: solid cherry, natural finish, shaker style, with top notch hardware. No other house in the neighborhood had such a grand kitchen, and when I drive past the old house at night, I can see them still gleaming from outside the kitchen window.

He has made other kitchens since then, built-in-bookcases, dressers, desks, kitchen tables, etc. And this lathe, he promises will ultimately culminate in lifting our mattress and boxsprings from their ten-year run in a pile on the floor, up to a lovely turned-post bed, the likes of which Odysseus could only aspire to make for his Penelope. I'll believe it when I see it. But I have said as much for every long-shot plan he's made, and so far, to my perpetual surprise, he has not failed to deliver.

I hope that one of these days he gets to quit his day job.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Elsewhere Around the Table

Velveeta Mac was served.

With a cilantro garnish, anyone?

("Yuck! I mean, no thank you.")

Betty Duffy Cooks

(about once a year)

It happens every Lent, that while I normally don't relish complicated cooking, I begin hankering for hearty stews, spiced meats, and foods of the Orient. I bought porkchops stuffed with cranberry walnut stuffing the other day, and I have never in my life bought a grocery stuffed cut of meat. Much like one rarely thinks of sex lest one must abstain from it, Lent makes me crave that which I cannot have. Plus, I have more time for cooking when I am less self-indulgent on the internet (one small success).

I like to pick out recipes with fancy foreign sounding names, and figure out a way to make them with stuff in my kitchen. There are a few things I keep in my kitchen at all times for just such a purpose:

curry powder
ground mustard
ground ginger
soy sauce
rice vinegar

Canned or frozen healthy stuff:
canned black beans
canned or frozen tomatoes
fresh or frozen spinach

Dry Goods:
whole wheat pasta (any sort)
whole wheat cous-cous
lentils (red or brown)
barley or rice

Fresh Stuff:
bag of coleslaw (chopped cabbage w/o dressing)
cilantro (I buy this when I feel the mood coming on)

So here are three recipes using the above ingredients (plus a couple other ingredients you probably already have). The first two have no meat, so I like to make them on Fridays.

Slacker Tabouleh
Prepare a box of cous-cous according to directions on the box
(this takes five minutes)
Dump in a can of (drained and rinsed) black beans
add a tablespoon of Olive Oil
and a small jar of salsa
Stir and ENJOY! If you like, garnish with cilantro.
For some reason, my kids really like this dish.

Curried Lentil Soup
Boil a bag of lentils and a cup of barley until tender
(about twenty minutes)
a chopped onion
as much garlic as you like
Two teaspoons curry powder
salt (a couple t-spoons)
1 T ground mustard
1 t-spoon cumin
(I saute onions and spices in oil before adding, but you don't have to)
a can or two of tomatoes
simmer for an hour
stir in frozen spinach or peas slightly before you eat

optional ingredients to add fat, flavor, or bulk:
a couple Tablespoons honey or molasses
chopped potatoes
dash of olive oil
chicken stock
dash of lemon juice

The lentils and barley pop in your mouth in this dish--curious texture. And you really cannot get it wrong. I've added more or less of any of the above ingredients and it always turns out good. If you want it soupy, add more water. If you want it saucy, take the lid off and let the liquid evaporate. If you can chop onions pretty fast, this dish takes only about fifteen minutes to prepare--and the rest is simmering. Allow two hours total. If you want a more colorful stew, use red lentils and add a dash of tumeric--otherwise, it will be brown.

Chinese Chicken Salad (yum yum)
Boil a box of pasta
When cool, add:
chopped green onions
chopped cilantro
bag of shredded cabbage
Cooked chicken prepared anyway you like it
(boil it, bake it, or buy a rotisserie pre-cooked)

1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 T sesame seeds
1 T sesame oil (optional)
3 T sugar (optional)
1 t ground ginger (optional)

Whisk and dump on the the salad. Add bulk without the calories by putting in two bags of shredded cabbage.

This is by far, one of the prettiest things I've ever made:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Divine Privilege

“I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie…but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet…. God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead the country for all I know.” (--Alexis Neiers as quoted in Vanity Fair, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”)

While I was on my girly weekend in Florida, I read a lot of magazines, including this article on “The Bling Ring,” a group of bourgeois Hollywood teenagers arrested for breaking into the homes of celebrities and stealing millions of dollars worth of luxury goods. The magnanimous suspect quoted above was too drunk to remember if she actually participated in the burglary of Orlando Bloom’s home, nevertheless, surely the media frenzy surrounding her trial would make her famous enough to one day become president, because, well, she’s good looking.

Youthful arrogance is not a new thing, I know. There have been times in my life when I thought good looks might open the doors to fame, privilege, and possibly even Heaven. I’m not the best-looking bird in the blogosphere, but I’m also pretty certain I’m not a dog, and in my younger years I thought this meant something. Almost every organization offered a leadership conference when I was growing up. I went to them all, being good looking as I was, I had responsibilities.

I’d heard Christians say before: if that guy, or that girl would let Jesus rule their heart, there is no end to how influential they would be. My own conversion took so many years, and endured so many personal rebellions that I believed God had fought for me. And that once I turned my life over, there would be no end to how influential I could be. I thought I was, as they say, the best thing that ever happened to Jesus.

When I went to work as a co-worker for Regnum Christi, we spent our first month in training—a retreat-like atmosphere that would prepare our hearts to receive our mission. At the end of the summer, a priest came to give us our assignments for the year. Some girls were sent to Ireland or Mexico to work in boarding schools, some to Rome or Atlanta to plan conventions and retreats. I was one of the last to receive my assignment, but remained peaceful, certain they were saving the best for last. I was a leader-girl after all. People had told me so my entire life.

I was assigned to stay in the House of Formation, live with the Consecrated women, and make fliers. There would be no overseas travel allowing me to influence the youth with my beauty and intelligence. I would stay right where I was, in the cloister, doing something I hated.

A tantrum ensued. I had given up so much, all my precious sins, all my bad relationships—to make fliers? You duped me Lord!

And so he did. I still, years later, struggle with new reincarnations of the same old problem.

God: Everybody’s special.

Every now and then I’m tempted to slap up a really gorgeous picture of myself on this blog. Of course it would not be indicative of my real life (as I sit here typing in a nightgown, glasses, and sweaty armpits), but the make-up, the angle, the lighting would be just right to say, “See, Catholicism is for the young, the beautiful, the hip. Don’t you want to join the beautiful people?”

I love beautiful people. I’m attracted to beautiful people. I think beautiful people should go to Church (I’ve written about this before). But as a friend once told me, “Anyone who’s thin enough and has a good dermatologist can be beautiful.” And though it should have been obvious to me years ago, it still sometimes surprises me: Christianity is not about divine privilege, but rather, Divine Sacrifice. It's for the soul who’s willing to make itself small, to be nameless, faceless, a servant, a victim. “You duped me, Lord.”

Such is the price of eternal life. I think I want it.

My daughter brought me this picture the other day and asked which person I wanted to be.

Being that they’re all the same, I was tempted to point to the biggest one, up on top. I couldn’t bring myself to choose one of the little ones on bottom. “I don’t know,” I said. “You choose.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fly-over State

I drove my dad’s truck yesterday. It’s a Nissan Titan, sits up high off the road and drives like a tank. Superior and protected, I felt a sense of benevolence towards a hitchhiker on the exit ramp, so that, had I not a couple kids in the backseat, I might have been tempted to give the guy a lift. I see why hitchhiking is the territory of truck-drivers, not only because of their heavy occupancy of the road, but because of the confidence supplied by the vehicles they drive. I feel vulnerable in a mini-van, such a feminine car, so often packed with precious cargo.

My husband told me about a pick-up he followed into work one day this winter when the roads were icy. The truck slipped on the ice, did a complete 360, then kept on driving at 70 mph without missing a beat. I know they’re controversial, but I think the guy deserves to hang some rubber nuts on his bumper.

It’s too bad the English Language doesn’t specify a gender for nouns. Because of my rural location, and because I’m the mother of many boys, my world is heavily populated by masculine nouns. I’ve grown to love it: le truck, le dirt, le dog, le State of Indiana.

I started to make a Lenten resolution to wear all those fancy clothes in my closet—to quit waiting for an opportunity to dress up, and put on my best for my family. It lasted a week, until the snow melted and the dogs and kids kept the front door swinging open and shut, each entry supplying a new load of mud to clean up. Kids and dogs pawing at my waist to be patted or held—life is messy and good and absolutely excludes high heels.

I was on a plane last week, flying from Florida to Indiana. I’d spent the weekend with my girlfriends at a friend’s parents’ condo in a gated community with pristine landscaping, hot tubs, swimming pools, palm trees and evergreens, all of which have their own charm. But I didn’t realize how much I craved a more spontaneous landscape until our plane descended on the Midwest, and I could see the rivers had not been excavated and redirected where man wanted them to go. Acres of deciduous trees broke up the squares of farmland, where from the sky, I could trace the hairpins made in the dirt by tractor wheels. Why the fly-over state? Thank God, this is the State I fly-to.

I love home, even though those vacant acres were still white with snow on the first of March. Yesterday, when the thermometer hit 60 degrees, my three-year-old said, “Poor little snow, it’s melting.” I wanted to tell him not to exhale yet, as he will probably see snow again before the end of March. The weather here is like that—have detachment.

And I’m not exhaling yet, but after our third sunny day in a row, it’s tempting to think of winter in hindsight, and though this year’s snowy season was long and brutal, my gosh, it was gorgeous.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Writer's Block

Sometimes I think of writing as a sort of weaving. I love it when several different threads I’ve been chewing on come together to form a piece. When it happens, there does seem to be an element of epiphany, or a sort of Supernatural periscope that allows me look at things from the particular distance required to see the whole. It makes me want to dance. And I’ve been out on a walk before, seen the light, so to speak, and done a little weaving motion with my hands because it’s so joyful to me, it requires some sort of bodily expression, until I find the moment to sit down and put it on paper.

Writing is not always like this for me though. A couple years ago, I dragged my husband to a poetry reading by Valzhyna Mort. Someone asked her if she planned to publish anymore books in the future, and she answered that she never knows when she’s going to receive another poem. She hopes to keep writing, but each poem is a gift, somehow, and they might stop coming.

At the moment, I’m having a hard time. I haven’t had one of those joyful epiphanies in awhile, and it starts to make me nervous. Maybe I won’t have them anymore. I choke up and stress out over every word I write.

Alternately, I could just clear my throat, let go of vanity and allow the milk to squirt out my nose if necessary, just so I don’t die. Seems to be what’s happening to me right now. Either I can go fallow, or keep sputtering this stuff out and see what happens.

Just for fun (or not, if you don't like poetry) here's a sample of Mort's poem "Jean-Paul Belmondo" that appeared in the December issue of Poetry Magazine. I rarely return to poems again and again, but this is one of several of Mort's that keeps me coming back:

for you, body and money are the same
as the chicken and the egg.
the metaphor of "a woman's purse"
escapes you.
stealing, you like to mumble:
a purse is a purse is a purse
a real purse in your hand is worth
two metaphorical purses over your mouth.

they tell me
you are a body
anchored to the shore by it's rusting blood.
your wound darkens on your chest like a crow.
i tell them--as agreed--that you are my youth.
an apple that bit into me to forget its own knowledge.

death hands you every new day like a golden coin.
as the bribe grows
it gets harder to turn it down.
your heart of gold gets heavier to carry.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sort of a Weird Day

I got a cell phone not long ago and I don’t know how to use it. The only people who have my number are people whom I’ve called and who have saved my number in their memory. So I’m not sure why I answered my phone this afternoon when I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize.

“Oh my gosh. How ARE you?” the voice asked. It sounded like several people I know. I could identify the deep timbre of my Aunt’s voice, only there was no Southern accent. It could have been my girlfriend from college, the one with the nodes on her vocal chords. I just needed to hear a few more words to make it out.

“I’m good,” I said.

“Are you sitting down?”

I was in the car so I said, “Yes.”

“You’re going to need to be sitting down when you hear what I have to tell you.” At this point I might have asked the caller to identify herself—but it seemed that the conversation had gone on too long to reveal that I didn’t know to whom I was speaking. And I was intrigued. “Jan was killed in a car accident last week. The funeral was Friday.”

I felt bad. But I do not know anyone named Jan, so I could not muster an appropriate response in order to continue the charade. How hard it must have been for the caller to make this call and deliver this information, and now… it was wasted on me.

“I’m sorry, who is this?” I asked.

“Is this Lynne? Are you in Indiana?”

“I am in Indiana, but I’m not Lynne. I think you might have the wrong number.” I said.

“This is the number I have for Lynne. I guess I’ll have to email her.”

“I’m sorry. I was pretending I knew who it was.”

“And you got caught, didn’t you?” the caller said and hung up.

I felt a little off kilter after this phone call, not sure whether I had done something wrong, but indignant that this woman would call me and then get angry because of a mishap related to her failure to identify herself.

The first time I typed the above segment, I was about to press “publish” when my kids called me out to retrieve the dogs who had strayed into the neighbors’ freshly turned garden. I didn’t think it would take long for me to call them in, so I went to the door to yell. One dog came, but the other didn’t.

My neighbor two doors down yelled that the dog was over there, which is about four acres away. I started to walk that way, and my neighbor walked towards me with the dog, and by the time the animal was in my hands, I remembered that I had left the baby playing on the floor in the house.

The baby is now fifteen months old. He’s walking but he’s wobbly. The other day, he turned up with a mystery black eye, but it’s likely he climbed something, a chair or the stairs, or his brothers’ beds, and then fell.

I shook off my neighbor, and ran the dog into the house, where I found the baby standing on my desk, banging on my keyboard. Thank God he had not fallen, but the typing was gone.

I couldn’t really be angry about losing my typing. It seemed a sign that I need to just let all this stuff go. Stuff being blogging, about which I’d like to have an air of detachment. If anything about it makes me angry at my kids, I’m not going to do it.

So I went outside, with the kids this time, to see what would be revealed now that the snow has melted. And what’s under the snow is turds, lots and lots of dog turds.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a beautiful and warm day, and we will want to be outside, and nothing’s worse than being in a sunny yard with stale turds. So I got my bucket and my shovel and started to shovel ‘em in.

We are keeping two dogs for my parents while they are on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, meaning we have three times the turds, and my kids gathered around to marvel at the volume accruing in my bucket. They ran around the yard calling themselves turd-scouts, pointing out the piles for me.

I had a playdate this morning with some women from Church. They both homeschool, and that's great, and I might homeschool one of my boys next year--not sure. Anyway, I realized as I was driving home that I had cussed two maybe three times in the course of the morning with these women.

I really am not a very accomplished cusser. It sounds fake when I try to do it, because I didn't grow up cussing. My parents didn't cuss. I don't like the sound of cussing.

So I can only assume that I was subconsciously positioning myself as the dark horse of the group, being the only non-homeschooler.

Speaking of vanity, I feel compelled to explain that the writing around here is probably going to be a bit subpar for awhile. Detachment. I want to quit thinking about it so hard.

There will be no vignettes from this post making it into TS's "Spanning the Globe" this week, and I'm going to be ok with that.

One final note possibly related to my vanity:

I love my desks.

This is my bill-paying desk.

It has cubby holes for organizing papers.

This is my writing desk, which has lots of space on top for spreading things out.

My desks work in concordance with each other. If I had a swivel chair on wheels I could push off from one and spin around to the other, and feel important.
But I don't have a swivel chair, just this little oak one that I pulled out of the dumpster at the public library--and the fact that I mentioned that tidbit illustrates how vain I am about finding a good deal.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Am Asleep and Awake at the Same Time

(rerun--Feb 09)

I love driving fast on country roads. I like the bobble-headed feeling as my car takes the dips in the road, the drop in my stomach as I coast over the peaks wondering if a car will be on the blind side of the hill. It’s hypnotic. So I was cruising in autopilot along the country roads to a friend’s house when a squirrel ran in front of me, and I awoke to find myself having driven halfway to my parents’ house instead of to my friend’s. I was ticked. If you think driving on autopilot is dangerous, you should have seen me once I turned around, driving like a bat out of hell back towards my missed turn, to make up for the 20 miles I’d driven out of my way (ten out, ten back), and the thirty minutes I’d lost.

In a leap of metaphor, I find myself in a cultural current of late, in which I steadily and absently forge through life on a media-induced soma holiday. Sitting in the doctor’s office I bounce back and forth between the TV screen and the latest People Magazine. Online, I drift through the blogosphere avoiding any reliable news sources. A Valentine’s Dinner date, found my husband and I inadvertently allowing our attention to drift to the E! Hollywood true story taking place on the flat-screen. I have to wonder what the cost of all this complacency will be when we wake up and realize we are off course.

For some reason, perhaps because I subscribe to Harper’s magazine (for the fiction, I tell you), I find myself on the mailing list for the ACLU. It’s interesting to receive their mailings with their presumptuous sermons on how outraged I should be about the state of life in America. I am outraged, come to think of it, not only because they are impinging on my role as the designated deliverer of presumptuous sermons, but also because the ACLU is putting its efforts in the wrong places.

They sent out a survey recently in which I was meant to rank in importance certain items on the ACLU litigation agenda. On issues of religious freedom, they wanted to know how important I considered freedom from religion in the public schools (important, somewhat important, or very important). If they had allowed space for comments, I would have told them, that what I would like freedom from is this mind numbing popular media that intrudes on my life everywhere I go. Talk about an “opium of the people.”

At the gym where I work out, there’s a row of TV screens on the front wall that all the machines face. One day, as I absentmindedly spun on the elliptical machine, I glanced up from my reading material to see three half naked people in a hot tub engaged in an intense make-out session. I looked around at the retirees who work out in the morning alongside me and the other stay-at-home-moms, thinking surely someone would pipe up at the disturbing visual, but everyone else plugged along as though there were nothing particularly scandalous or surprising about a communal viewing of soft porn in a public place at 10 a.m.

I jumped off the machine to complain to the manager, and he said, “Well, you can ask the people around you if they don’t mind if you change the channel.”

“If THEY don’t mind?” I asked, incredulous. “Shouldn’t they ask me if I DO mind watching pornography?” Imagine the possible responses: “Well my wife doesn’t let me watch it at home—so I’d rather you not.”

Has the media not become some sort of secular religion? And if so, I demand to have my thoughts released from its influence in public places so I can think freely and independently, and occasionally in silence. DO YOU HEAR ME, ACLU???

To drive the point home, I leave you with a little quote from my favorite Pope:

“The human person is a being which does not become itself automatically. Nor does it do so simply by letting itself be carried along and surrendering to the natural gravitational pull of a kind of vegetative life. It becomes itself always and only by struggling against the tendency simply to vegetate and by dint of discipline that is able to rise above the pressures of routine and to liberate the self from the compulsions of utilitarian goals and instincts.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

There is our German Shepherd urging us not to be sheep.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Life in My Life

Pedge gave up TV for Lent, so she was sorry to miss the finale of the Bachelor last night. Being a good friend, I watched it for her--and now I remember why I quit watching TV (not movies) several years ago. How many times can a guy say, "I know my heart, and I know what I'm doing is right," steely eyes gazing into the distance? Turns out he can say it about fifteen times a segment, followed by a twenty minute commercial break, after which he will come back and administer his foregone conclusion. My husband said, "Is there any question?: One is a need-machine, and the other has big boobs."

Quote of the show:
Need Machine, sobbing from the back seat of her Caddy: "He brought so much life... into my life."

My husband gave up internet for Lent, and is watching TV instead. Since our internet and TV are hooked up to the same cable, it seems I am giving up internet by default.

Internet is not really what I gave up for Lent. I'm doing a "Conversion of Manners" as I understand it. Things for which I have previously allotted an abundance of time, I now have a poverty of time. For instance, I have thirty minutes a day on the internet after kids are asleep--which means no minutes on the internet, because that's exactly when my husband wants to watch TV. I have thirty minutes a day (no more, no less) to write what I need to write on paper, which means I now have a glut of unfinished sentences.

In areas where I previously rationed myself, I practice gratuitousness. For instance, there is no end to how much housework I can do in my free time. There is no cap on holding my kids. I can pray without ceasing.

No need to fear scrupulosity in my case. I need to become a bit more Martha (In both the Biblical and the Stewart sense).

My sister (a Martha) and I (a Mary) are doing a little switch-a-roo for Lent. I'm a contemplater who needs to get off her rear. She's a do-er. But she points out in this post, that we haven't always been this way. Trying to think what caused the change for me...partially related to the men we married, but I don't think entirely....

I also think that my "Mary-ism" is not the really the Biblical kind. It's a bit more self-oriented rather than Christ-oriented, and so is not really the "better part."

Had conversation with my girlfriends last week about whether or not our mothers are the kind of women we want to be, based on the question "Who is your Star, or your guiding light?" Common denominator among mothers who were our stars was complete unselfishness. They're there when we need them and don't place limitations on what they're willing to give to their families.

At one point in my life, I might have said that I didn't care whether or not I became my grown children's "Star." However, I'd never asked myself who my star is. Undoubtedly, it is my mother, whose resistance of her limitations allows me to remove some of my own limitations. I feel more open to life, more capable of growing my family with the support of my extended family.

The other day, since I'd done my housework and prayer, and I wasn't on the internet, and since I'd already bathed my kids for Mass, and dressed myself, I had...TEN MINUTES WITH NOTHING TO DO.

I sat down in front of my little Pieta statue and looked at it, not really praying. But it hit me for the first time in a long time, that Christ suffered so that we don't have to.

For the past I don't know how many years, I have thought, "Christ suffered so I have to suffer too." It was my excuse for everthing: "Well this is supposed to suck because it's exile, and Christ suffered so the least I can do is embrace the misery of not ever being able to do what I want...Wahh!"

But the reality is not that I'm unhappy with life, but that I'm divided. I'm divided by concepts I have created.

In unifying my hopes to what God has given me, there really is no suffering.

"The urge that drives us to seek God is the same as the urge that drives us to smash things...It is the power that smashes through limitations, leading us either to become visionaries or to become vandals."
(Father Simon Tugwell, O.P.--on the ambiguous role of anger)