Betty Duffy

Monday, November 28, 2011

Evil is interesting...

Which is why, when Jennifer at Conversion Diary asked if I'd like to contribute to her series, "Our Father Word by Word," I jumped on it.

I commend the folks who meditated on words like "this" and "but." It takes some serious spiritual insight to draw the depth and meaning out of those words in the context of the Lord's Prayer.

I also offer my highest praise to all of the excellent writers who led us through this journey of prayer. I hope to scroll back through those meditations this Advent and spend more time with them.

And thank you, Jennifer, for the opportunity to add my humble submission to this amazing project.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Avoiding the accumulation blues

I stopped for a coffee yesterday on the way home from the doctor's office, and the man at the drive up window said, "Happy Black Friday! What can I get for you today?"

I almost rolled up my window and drove away. When did "Black Friday" become a holiday? I don't even remember it having a name until a couple years ago. Until then, there was a general understanding among the Sane of this Earth, that one only left the house on Friday after Thanksgiving in the most desperate circumstances--you were in labor, or choked on a turkey bone--lest you get caught up in the rush of madwomen at Toys R Us who would pound one another for the right to purchase a Cabbage Patch Doll.

Forgive me for being a curmudgeon. I'm still trying to get rid of stuff that I've accumulated with much less effort and cash.

The Anchoress also has a post on the Black Friday problem, along with some good gift ideas for the person who has everything.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marian Consecration

Religious tension has always been the primary drama of my life. I've often wondered whether or not I'm doing enough, or doing right, or in tune enough with God's will, or if I missed out on it somehow in the slow leak of self-preservation.

In September, I began the forty days of preparatory meditations for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, also known as Marian Consecration, or Total Consecration. I was not sure whether or not I would go through with the Consecration at the end of forty days, as it was unclear to me for several weeks what exactly Total Consecration even meant. On Consecration day, I went to Mass, Confession (the day prior) and read a prayer of Consecration at our Parish Shrine to Our Lady, privately and without fanfare, and went on living my life as before.

When I started nosing around for some internal shift, the only noticeable difference before and after was that the anxiety and drama were absent. I have no doubts about the fruitfulness of my prayer. It really is all good, even when it's not all that good--because of the offering "All for" or "Totus Tuus." If everything I do is for Jesus through Mary, my sanctity is not my problem; it's not something I can earn of my own will or by perfect performance. I'm a slave, and my intentions are now Mary's intentions, and the graces of my prayers are hers to administer. I have confidence that I also share the benefit of those graces somehow.

My friend Irene consecrated on the same day I did, and she was laughing about how one night, she was having a glass of wine and a bath before bed, and it occurred to her to offer it, "All for!" She felt weird about it at first, but why not offer up our rest, our comfort, our blessings as well as our suffering?

I think one source of the anxiety I've felt in the past is some sense of shame about the goodness of my life. Am I undeserving of Heaven because my life hasn't led me to any significant suffering? The pleasures of having a good marriage, good kids, good friends, reading good books, eating good foods, seem to offer little in the way of salvific value. So rather than offering up those good things, I would discount them completely, choosing to focus my emotional and spiritual energy on the minute discomforts of a relatively privileged life. If nailing oneself to the Cross is the only way to Salvation--I had no idea what to do with my blessings--blessings that God, in his goodness, made it impossible for me to escape.

Offering ALL of it, the good and the bad, has redeemed the mostly good things that constitute my life. And without seeking suffering, looking for it, wallowing in it, I'm free to administer to those who really do suffer.

For those wondering if offering every aspect of one's life to Mary is idol worship, let's say it again: Catholics don't worship Mary. She is a vessel of God. She points always to her son. And Christ is always God. So when Christians offer anything to Mary it sets off a chain reaction, whereby God is the power that draws all good things to himself.

I've found it useful to my Consecration to pray the Shema: "Hear Oh Israel: the Lord, our God is One Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4). This prayer does not replace the Creed, but I love how it takes for granted belief in God, emphasizing, rather, that God is One. God is not this computer on which I'm typing, or any of the other ways I seek to occupy my time. God is One and the only thing that matters. He is what I need to teach my children, what I wake up proclaiming. There is no one else but God, and everything I have is His. All for. Totus Tuus.


When Bearing did her Consecration, she picked out a bracelet to remind her to live her day accordingly. I thought about getting something, but I've worn a Marian necklace for years, and I thought more Mary might be overkill.

Nevertheless, on special days, I can pull out the Our Lady of Guadalupe belt buckle that my friend Biz brought me from Mexico.

Biz also made this Marian toggle for me out of clay. I put it on a thrift store chain, and it's one of my favorite Marian necklaces to wear.

For those with pricier tastes, Instyle Magazine informs me that Dolce & Gabanna have just come out with a new line of luxury jewels, inspired by their Southern Italian Grandma and her religious medals.

Fashionistas might want to be aware, that wearing images of Mary may have the effect of drawing you to Christ. There are, of course, cheaper ways to come to Jesus. Before you splurge on the $17,000 price tag for that necklace, know that you can get a similar look for about a dollar at a Catholic Gift shop.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Today I am Thankful For ...

* Kleenex

I have allergies. When I was very young, I devised a way of blowing my nose that also itches the back of my throat. I'm not really sure how to explain the technique, except that it makes a honking sound.

This morning, I was doing my thing, and my husband revealed that my nose-blowing was a real source of anxiety for him in the early years of our marriage. He used to wonder how he would live with it for the rest of his life, but by the grace of God, he has, over the years, learned to tune it out.

I was a little shocked by the revelation--how could something so integral to my person, as the way I blow my nose, be a source of anxiety to my beloved spouse? He assured me that the children also discuss my method and find it equally disturbing, and that if I found a quieter way to blow my nose, everyone would be thrilled.

So I'm working on it. And Kleenex is an indispensable tool in my search.

* Artistic people who lack The Artistic Temperament:

My husband works on DNA sequencers for a living.

When people ask me what exactly he does with DNA sequencers, I usually say something mysterious like, "I don't really know--it's complicated."

Ask my husband what specifically he does, and he'll tell you in very straightforward terms about various DNA sequencing technologies and how they're used. No mystery there. No romance. Every question has an answer, every problem, a solution.

When he wants to make something, there's no pining about not having the skills, no aching about bringing his idea to fruition. He studies, he gets the right tools, he practices, and then he makes it.

See here, he wanted to make our bed. He turned a couple prototypes, and then he started making the bed--just like that.

I shudder sometimes thinking about what might have happened if I'd married someone with an artistic temperament. We'd never get anything done. As it happens, my husband and I have a nice balance whereby I come up with ideas, and he makes the ideas happen.

The old man turned forty recently too. Never thought I'd be going to bed with a forty-year-old.

* Guano!--or bat feces, which alerted me to the presence of this fellow hanging from my dusty dining room window the other day:

Sleeping bats in daylight are always better than flying bats at night.

* Fenugreek

My family hates my cooking, and there's a reason why. Many moons ago, when I lived in England, I went to an Indian restaurant (Standard Tandoori in Oxford, UK) that served a dish called Dhansak. It is, to this day, the best thing I have ever tasted. I have downloaded many recipes online trying to recreate the taste, and it has become my great white whale, my Moby Dick. Almost everything I cook is some variation on this dish that, even its simplest configurations, contains two to three pages of ingredients. I haven't been able to recreate it as of yet, and I think that's because of my failure to get my hands on some fenugreek. Well, all of that has passed--I bought some fenugreek--and tonight, I think, is the night that we are eating Dhansak.

*This song: Which has been good for five minutes of downloadable happy sentiment while cooking.

Monday, November 14, 2011


The weather has been very moody lately--roiling dark clouds pocked with sunlight, paired with unseasonably high and unseasonably low temperatures, all within the same afternoon. It's the weather that has the most to say about my life these days. I think I've handled November very well so far, all things considered. We've been laying low, sticking close to home, housekeeping, and trying to keep the kids' noses clean.

On Saturday, I cut all the boys' hair, including my husband's. Cutting my husband's hair is one of those things that sounds really romantic in theory. I orbit around his head, periodically bending over to where he would meet my eye, but I'm squinting just to the right and left of his gaze, checking for evenness and effect.

The problem I've realized is that boys, at least the five boys who dominate my life, are very particular about their hair. They have strong ideas about what looks good, and what minuscule irregularities might ruin the next month for them.

They get up from the chair, to glance at themselves in the mirror and see how things are going. They rub their palms over the backs of their necks, and brush hair off onto the floor. And there is a lot of hair, so very much hair, that the romantic prospects of giving my husband a haircut, much like the romantic prospects of making out on the beach, are over-shadowed by logistics that leave you irritable, and itchy all over.

Plus I accidentally cut the back of my husband's neck with the clippers.

Inevitably, one of the boys doesn't want his hair cut at all--and it's the boy with chronically dirty ears, the one whose pants are always too short, the one who most needs a decent haircut, and all the help his mother can give him, really.

I've done the calculation to see what it would cost to send them all to Greatclips--and for five heads, it's about fifty bucks a month, which is about $600 a year in hair-cuts, which is so not in the budget. So there's nothing to do but stand there wagging the fiskers over the boy's head, reigning in tempting digressions about the miseries of pre-adolescent hygiene.

I wish I could say a prayer for serenity, gently squeeze the boy's shoulder to let him know that I love him, but that we've got business to accomplish, and he's going to cooperate. But when the kid keeps wiggling towards the pointed end of your scissors, and you have said, "STILL!" so many times you've quit caring whether or not he gets hurt, it's really best to blow the joint before you earn fifteen minutes of the most unflattering kind of fame.

So I went for a run.

I only have to run for two minutes or so, before I'm in the middle of nowhere. I cross a creek lined with the white trunks of Sycamore trees that have dropped their leaves, and then I'm in the open fields. The corn and soybeans have been taken in, so the brown grasses on either side of the road form the tallest line on the horizon. One could feel overwhelmed by such a desolate landscape, or overjoyed by its openness. I was inclined to feel both that day.

Having appreciated the wonders of creation outside my home, I could think more kindly about the wonders of creation within it. Just kids, back there. Just normal kids, doing normal stuff--being caught up in legos, and not wanting to take baths or get their hair cut. Funny kids, with their own ever-evolving rebellions and modes of escape. Hot and cold kids who, for better or worse, have much in common with their mother.

In fact, it occurred to me, that their mother was the common denominator in all five miserable haircuts administered that afternoon. Perhaps, when that many people are complaining, I can't just blame it on their vanity or immaturity or their male-ness. Maybe I really am not the hairdresser I thought I was.

I'm still not paying for Greatclips.

My Aunt gave us Symphony tickets for Sunday, to the Russian fest: Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov at the Cincinnati Music Hall.

Lots of artsy students come to these concerts, along with older patrons, some families with kids. My husband and I parked in a corner of the lobby to check everyone out.

A trio of blond women stood next to us speaking Russian. They obviously represented three generations of mothers and daughters, all beautiful--which spawned a discussion about which Russian lady was most attractive.

I couldn't decide between the eldest, who was approximately seventy, wore her blond hair in a loose bun, and whose mouth full of grey teeth was set off by the bright diamonds on her ears, and the haughty middle woman, approximately forty, with the tight white pants and stilettos and fur collar on her sweater. She went to get their tickets at will-call, and stood with her hip jutted out, and arms folded, glaring at everyone around her.

I was about to ask which one my husband thought most attractive, when the twenty-year-old arched her back, and reached up to tighten her long pony-tail, a move which put all of her remarkable assets on splendid display.

Time to go in.

When the conductor, a petite Asian lady in a silk suit, took the stage, the first thing she did was signal the orchestra to stand up and play the Star Spangled Banner.

My husband and I were confused, because it was the Russian fest, and much of the orchestra hails from various parts of the world, and theater-goers in general are not a very patriotic people, and I've just never seen such a thing done before.

The crowd gradually stood up, a few of us put our hands over our hearts. Some in the balcony stood with their arms folded. One violist really did look sort of disgusted to be playing the Anthem.

I was completely won-over. OF COURSE you would play the anthem at an arts event in America. Americans don't get exiled to Siberia for infusing their artistic creations with criticism of the government.

The concert was fantastic. I've wondered sometimes if Midwestern audiences give away their standing ovations too freely. Really, almost every performance I've been to in the past five years has received a standing ovation. Maybe our ears are not finely tuned enough to catch a mediocre performance.

I really think we're just grateful people. Heh.

As we were leaving town, a Bengals game was ending, and a river of orange-clad fans poured out of the stadium and into the street. Speaking of appreciative audiences, I don't think I will ever understand sports fanatics--the kinds who paint their faces and are noticeably depressed when their team loses. And there are thousands of them. Right here on the sidewalk. Thousands. Someone should tell them that the party's up the road at the Symphony Hall.

On the way home, we swung by Jungle Jim's, because we were on a date, and everyone goes to the grocery store on their dates, don't they? Anyway, I was a little put off at the entry by the sign that said, "Start your carts!" as though I just couldn't get shopping fast enough. Just a little presumptuous on the management's part, I thought--they're so confident I'll find something to buy.

Just for that, I didn't even take a cart, and I spent the first ten minutes or so, pointing out all the ways that Jungle Jim's is just like Wal-mart, until I realized my husband had slipped away to the miles of beer aisles. And when I found him, he was carrying two sixers and wondering why we didn't have a cart to put them in.

And then I remembered we needed milk, and bread, and stuff for the kids to eat, and I found some fenugreek, which I hadn't been able to find in Indiana. So the short of it is, I got over feeling like I wasn't going to buy anything, and we left the place 80 dollars poorer.

Good thing we don't pay for haircuts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Teaching Chastity

In my last post, I asked to hear from Catholic women with satisfying sex lives: what were the most important influences that helped them reach that point in their marriages? It's not too difficult to get an earful about what's not happening in the bedroom, and why--but positive reports from Catholic women who are happy with their intimate lives are rare. It's not a topic that comes up often in polite company, nor should it. But occasionally, it's good to be reminded that the teachings of the Magisterium do not negate finding satisfaction in the bedroom. Culture so often insinuates the opposite.

The post was in response to an author elsewhere on the internet who posited that her parents' over-emphasis on chastity before marriage made it difficult for her to enjoy her intimate life after marriage.

Pinpointing and addressing the source of sexual difficulties takes a lot of time and effort, and if one is already too tired to think about sex much, it's understandable why she might prefer fixating on one of the only factors that cannot be changed--the past. But present factors are probably way more influential in determining one's interest in sex: hormones, childbirth, emotional intimacy with one's spouse, techniques, time, fatigue, medical concerns, etc. All of these factors are mutable (one's present disposition towards the past is also mutable).

The spiritual and physical danger of premarital sexual liaisons is real. If one has never had the experience of being dumped after sex, of being lied to by a partner, of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, of feeling separated from God or from one's family due to imprudent pairings, then I can see how it's possible to underestimate that pain, and romanticize pre-marital sex as some gentle and innocent exploration of the libido.

Advising a young woman to take on the myriad risks of premarital sex, in the off chance she might have a better married sex life someday, is not something I want to do. Parents who promote chastity to their children are not trying to tie up burdens, difficult for others to carry. They are trying to relieve burdens that their children may have to carry throughout the rest of their lives.

As a parent myself, I assume that my children will have and enjoy their many long years of marriage to figure out what makes them tick in the bedroom. Nevertheless, from the responses to my last post, I noticed two trends that may promote that end:

1. Engaging in age-appropriate dialogue with our kids about bodies, reproduction, and its place in marriage.

2. MODELing appropriate affection with one's spouse.
Let your emotional and physical openness to one another and God be a visible sign to your kids of the fruits of a healthy relationship.

Even still, there are no guarantees that our children will heed the lessons we want to teach them. I enjoyed Elizabeth Foss's recent post noting this fact. And how it's still worth the effort to teach our children well, to embody chaste, healthy physical relationships with our spouses for our own benefit, and so our kids will have that reference as they make their own decisions about marriage.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting in the mood

In preparation for Hallie's book release, I was thinking maybe we should talk about sex a bit more often around here. I want to start things off by asking a question.

I read sort of a distressing blog post this afternoon by a woman raised in what she called "the purity movement," by which she meant the culture of chastity rings, abstinence promises, and father/daughter purity dances.

Her argument was that by sublimating her sexuality for so many years, she then had difficulty feeling ok with sex once she was married.

In preparation for the chapter I wrote in Hallie's Book, about fifty anonymous Catholic women filled out a survey for me about their family of origin, pre-marital sexual history, and married sex lives. A similar trend definitely made itself known: that some women have difficulty making the transition from "No, no, no," to "Yes, yes, yes."

Here's the question I wish I had put in the survey:

For Catholic women who feel they have a healthy attitude towards sex (i.e. they enjoy it, and see marriage as the proper relationship in which to express their sexuality), what has been the most influential aspect in your upbringing that helped you develop this balanced attitude towards sex?

Please comment anonymously, if you like, but I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Here's some news I don't want my mother to know about...

Somebody had to put the sex in Hallie Lord's new book. It turns out that person is me.

Of course there are nine other far better reasons to purchase this book:

It will be available in the spring, but you can go ahead and pre-order it on Amazon if you're afraid you might forget (We won't let you forget).

Now I'm going to go into hiding for a few decades.