Small Success Thursday!

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HAPPY EASTER!

We Lent pretty hard around here, so we Easter just as hard.  I’ve had candy and meat every day this week.  We even had Taco Tuesday… for LUNCH! With actual BEEF! #solYUMnity

Meatless Lent and Other Adventures with author Erin McCole Cupp

Of course, people who don’t understand Lent think it’s similar to starting a new year and coming up with resolutions for self-improvement.  Really Lent is a time to try to become more like Christ, who gave up every material comfort (and he could have had ALL THE MATERIAL COMFORTS) so that He could show His beloved how to live with Him forever.  I feel like I’m explaining it badly.

Still, in striving to be  more like Christ, Christ can then make us stronger.  It’s not self-improvement.  It’s self-abasing so that Christ can be the One to lift us up… which is kinda the plan for the end of our days here, if you are in fact a Christian.

This was my Lent in a nutshell.

Discipline Was it difficult? Post -Lent
No Starbucks Not really Only if family is going, but I won’t suggest it or get it on my own anymore.
No seconds at meals Yes Still should keep up this practice
No meat (w/rare exceptions) YES!!!! Add in Wednesday abstinence along with Fridays
No Facebook Not as difficult as I expected it to be Saturdays only (unless a promo is happening)
No coffee No coffee = depression :3 Keep drinking coffee
7 minutes of contemplation after Lauds Somewhat but was able to increase to 10min by Holy Week Creep it up to 15 by September
1 hour of adoration weekly Not as difficult as I expected it to be I want to keep this, but how to do so without PREP (weekly visit to parish campus) built in to schedule?

How’s your Easter going? What gifts has the Risen Lord given you as a result of your Lenten practices?  You might even be able to link up with CatholicMom.com and share your Small Successes, maybe? Not sure they do those anymore, but it’s still worth celebrating!

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The Weirdest Lenten Sacrifice

I’ve never done a weirder thing for Lent before.  Even before my current medical-dietary troubles, I’d decided that I didn’t want this Lent to be about food any more than already dictated by canon law.  I’ve made everything in my life about food, and past Lents were certainly no exception.  I wanted this year to be different. So I thought back to the preparatory penance I’d joked about making during this past Advent.

“What if I stopped talking in Sigma’s voice?”

My husband laughed–not because he didn’t know what I was talking about (as you likely don’t), but because it was a weird idea.

“Why would you give that up? It doesn’t hurt anybody.”

“I know,” I said.  “It’s not like there’s anything illicit in channeling your dog’s voice.  I don’t know, though.  Maybe it would be a good way to school my thoughts.”

I didn’t think of it again until the aforementioned gallbladder attack peaked one week to the day before Ash Wednesday.  Giving up Siggie’s voice it is.

What does that mean, even?  It means we’re crazy, that’s what it means.  Lots of people have pets.  Lots of those people talk to their pets.  We, however, make them answer back.  I’ve done this for all of my pets since my first cat at age 9 (his name was Hobie, and his voice sounded a bit like a fat, lazy C-3PO).  This guy…

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… is Sigma.  Isn’t he handome?

“Of course I am, Mommy, and you’re awesome, too!”

Aw, thanks, Siggie.  Siggie sounds and acts a little bit like Emmett from The Lego Movie, only more enthusiastic.

“Tennis ball? Awesome!  You’re taking me for a walk? Awesome! You dropped a french fry? AWESOME!!!!”

We have whole conversations, too.

“Doggies, did the girls feed you?”

Siggie replies, “No, they didn’t, Mommy.  I’m so hungry! Any food is dog food!”

From the bathroom down the hall, “Don’t listen to him, Mommy! I fed him!”

“No, she didn’t.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

Thunderstorm? He’s marching in front of me everywhere I go.  “Don’t worry, Mommy.  I’ll protect you from the scary thunder.”

“Actually, Siggie, I’m not really afraid of thunderstorms.”

“Of course you are.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

It’s a lot of fun having conversations with the dog.  It’s certainly not hurting anybody.  What kind of penance is giving up conversations with the fictional dog voice for 40 days? I didn’t even know… until today.  Today’s first reading is from Jonah, towards the end, where the king of Nineveh declares a fast and penance that extends even to the animals.  Why?  It’s not like animals need to work out their salvation in fear and trembling.  So what’s the point?

“Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth…”

How can covering an animal with sackcloth help humans get closer to God?  Because it gives us a break from using God’s creation for so much pleasure.  Imagine this fluffy sock- and pencil-destroying angel covered in burlap:

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That’s Rapunzel.  Punzie doesn’t talk much, but she is soooo soft and fluffy and cuddly and… soothing.  It’s soothing to have these routines with our pets.

Lent isn’t necessarily about giving up sin.  Life is supposed to be giving up sin.  Lent is about becoming more like Christ in that we accept the cross rather than denying it for the sake of comfort, whether that comfort is malignant or benign. 

So that’s my weird Lenten sacrifice.  What’s yours?  Food? Money? Adding prayer? Adding charitable acts? Don’t toot your horn so much as offer options to anybody reading who might be looking for options of their own.  

7 Books I Read Over Hiatus

A writer never goes on hiatus from reading! Between the Catholic Writers Conference Live, the World Meeting of Families, and assorted review copies coming my way, I have a ton of books to share with you, mes amis!

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The Sweetest Rain by Myra Johnson

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Summary:

As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.

Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.

When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

Call this one another guilty pleasure without the guilt.  The older I get more sweet Catholic romances I read, the more I am being converted to the genre.  By the way, when I say “sweet,” I don’t mean saccharine.  I mean happy-ending-but-not-without-the-pain-of-rebirth sweet.  Sweetest Rain has that plus real characters, believable conflict, and a historical period not often visited but done so in rich, lively detail.  BTW, I had no discomfort leaving this one around for my 11 year-old First Shift to read, even though they don’t like romance. The elder member of First Shift finished it before I did (she does have more leisure reading time, but still).  I enjoyed it, and I hope you will, too.  It’s also refreshing to see a larger Catholic publisher taking on some commercial-style fiction for actual grownups, so if you want to support that kind of undertaking, Sweetest Rain is a valuable use of your time and cash.

The Little Douglings books by Carissa Douglas

I was lucky to meet the author at the World Meeting of Families. Little did I know at the time that perhaps in the very hour when I met Carissa Douglas and set about acquiring Little Douglings books from her, First Shift was at the youth congress, meeting another kid who said, “Yeah, I’m here because my mom’s upstairs selling books.”  Catholic Writers’ Kids know how to find kindred spirits.

Anyway, all of us, young and old, enjoyed these three books.  In each, we see the story of a Catholic family trying to live out the sacraments through the ups and downs of living in an imperfect work.  However, because the Little Douglings choose to live the sacraments/teach each other how to live them, they make those ups and downs holy and fruitful in ways only sacramental living can.

Okay, for a second, ignore all the theology I just (uncharacteristically) poured into that mini-review.  These books are fun-filled ways to introduce big topics, even Theology of the Body (see A Gift of Myself), to pretty much all ages.  So without further ado…

I Go to Jesus

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This book will encourage the little ones in your life (and adults too) to come to a fuller appreciation of Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  Help remind them of His deep love for them and His desire to encounter them often through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.

There’s really not much else to say other than I recommend this book for showing anyone of any age the value of the Eucharist.

A Gift of Myself

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This one is the sweetest little intro to the Theology of the Body.  Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but honestly, I know plenty of adults who could use this kind of intro.  The author starts with family conflict and shows the peace that can be gained by thinking of others… and how the model of a marriage ordered both mentally and physically towards denying oneself for the sake of new life is the manifestation of that peace.  Out of all three Douglings books so far, this one is my favorite.

All Things New

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This latest addition to the Little Douglings series will help the little ones in your life come to a deeper understanding of God’s unfailing Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This would make an ideal gift for the little one in your life preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or for any little one, especially during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  It’s an honest yet sweet look at what that sacrament does, why we need it, and why it’s worth the effort.

Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day by Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore

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Meet the Risen Jesus with an amazing bunny―and his amazing tale―in this beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book. Children will learn about Jesus’ friendship and comfort through the eyes of a timid bunny rabbit who experiences firsthand the love and joy Jesus brings. A new enhanced version will be available Easter 2014, and these first-edition copies are going fast! Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day is sure to be a family favorite every Easter.

I’m linking to Cathy Gilmore’s page, because she’s the author I got to meet at the Catholic Writers Conference.  She’s a good egg, very enthusiastic about what she does, and so approachable.

Anyway, this book is so stinking adorable, and I’m not just talking the illustrations.  The whole story is about a bunny who is scared of everything and about how God uses those fears to give the frightened bunny something, well, amazing.  Yes, this is a great book to prepare kids for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter.  Yes, this is a great book to read during the last weeks of Lent (which, btw, will be here before you know it, so don’t slack, my friends).  However, this book has surprising year-round value, because it shows children (especially kids with many youthful fears, ahem, Second Shift of Kid) how God can work through our fears to give us great gifts.  In fact, that’s a good message for parents of timid children as well.  HIGHLY recommended.

Last but most certainly not least…

The Living Water Series by Stephanie Landsem

The Well

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For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing—except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men—a mysterious young man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus—change their lives forever?

Packed with heart-wrenching emotion and many, many surprising twists, The Well pulled my heartstrings in so many directions… and that’s what makes me downright love a book.  This is another “wish Amazon had six stars to give” kind of book.  Warning: I read it on a Sunday (yes, in one day) without removing my churchgoing eye makeup, and when I finally closed the book, I looked like The Winter Soldier.  Or a tall, plump racoon.  Either way, this book needs a Five Tissue Warning but will leave your heart soaring with delight over how God can turn mess into message.

The Thief

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A Roman centurion longing for peace and a Jewish woman hiding a deadly secret witness a miracle that transforms their lives and leads them to the foot of the cross.

In The Thief, Stephanie Landsem does it again with a tough but vulnerable female protagonist, impossible situations, unbelievable hope, and the all-powerful touch of Christ on the pages of human history, of personal history. The edgy, risky prose makes the relationships in The Thief come alive and make the reader’s heart pound for them with each new plot twist, break for them at each agony, and cheer for them with each narrow escape.  I highly recommend this fresh take on the story of the Good Thief and the Centurion at  the foot of the cross.

Whew!  I thought I’d never get all that out there! However, see how I got the reviews out there without needing to write books about each book?  As I reflected in my December EMC Reader Newsletter, leaving a book review covers several Spiritual Works of Mercy.  No, I’m not  being self-serving in saying so.  With one book review, can you counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, even bear wrongs patiently?  I think so.  I aim to chat about that in another post in the near future, as time permits.

BTW, I can probably make this a…

Seven Quick Takes Linkup

How’s your Christmas season going? Did you get an Amazon gift card? Did you already spend part of it on the It’s Still Christmas Sale?  Please consider spending some more of it on any or all of the above books! Have something else to recommend? Comment away!

Small Success Thursday: The Lent’s Not So Bad Edition

 

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Celebrate the good things in life with CatholicMom.com!

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Oldest Dumpling and I decluttered and reorganized the junk drawer.

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We’re going camping!  With the brutal weather we’ve been having, and with how far along we are in schooling as a result, we skipped formal lessons yesterday and started planning our spring camping trip. This will be our third year doing a girls-only road trip, and each year we get a little more ambitious.  The first year, we did a little study of the Appalachian Trail and stayed one night at the Harper’s Ferry Youth Hostel.  Last year we did two nights at a rustic cabin with our rat terrier, whom we discovered is so territory-attached that he makes a very poor camp dog indeed.

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This year we are working up an itinerary to do a tour of the first Catholic settlement areas in our state.  We are using The Catholic Community of Pennsylvania: Past and Present as our guide.  Having this trip to look forward to seems to have brightened our spirits around here.   I aim to include at least one girls-only roughing-it (as much as we can) trip each year to help our daughters build the kind of resilience and resourcefulness Mary and Elizabeth, the First Disciples, had.

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I’ve not been an utter failure at Lent, because temptation is stupid.  

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Apple image courtesy of WikiCommons/Abhijit Tembhekar.

The first good choice I made was to set tough but not ridiculous goals that gradually increase in difficulty throughout the weeks.  But the biggest help I’ve gotten from the Holy Spirit was the realization that I actually do have willpower and the desire to do God’s will.  See, I’d convinced myself that I never resist temptation, so no wonder I’m such a failure at growing in virtue–especially in outgrowing certain vices.  Then, one day in the checkout lane at the grocery store, I had the temptation to slip a candy bar into my purse.

Are you kidding me? I thought.  That’s a stupid idea.  A grown woman with kids, shoplifting?  That’s ridiculous.

I turned my back on the candy display, paid my bill, and went home, not giving that temptation a second thought.  On the way home, however, I gave my post-temptation thoughts some of my time.  I realized it was no trouble at all to resist the temptation to shoplift, because, come on, That’s a stupid idea.  The temptation fled because my next thought was an exact reason why that particular temptation was so stupid.

What if I told all my temptations that they’re stupid ideas?  The more I thought about it, the more I noticed that agreeing with temptation is the very path away from virtue and towards sin.  After all, take a look at Eve in Eden.  In Genesis 3: 6, we see, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.”  Sounds great, right?  By golly, that temptation sure has some good ideas!

Once I think a sin is a really good idea, I’m likely to do it.  This might be why I have no trouble, say, resisting the urge to scream at strangers who annoy me, but keeping my temper with my kids who do need my correction (“Yelling like this is a good idea, because correcting them is my job, and yelling will make me feel better, and feeling better makes me a better parent, right? Right? Right?“) is so much harder than leaving the Hershey bar behind at the checkout.

So this Lent I’ve been aiming to tell my temptations that they’re stupid.  It’s a little bit of Method Acting, really, using emotional memory to recall times when my character did the right thing and applying that memory to the present challenge.  It’s helping, I think.  Don’t get me wrong:  I still fail a great deal, especially at my favorite sins.  The biggest hurdle is the first one: to realize that my brain is saying stupid things.  However, since I’ve started this Method Resisting, let’s call it, instead of seeing my path to virtue as this long, grueling, Ignatian marathon that I could never possibly finish, each battle just looks like just that–a battle, and one with the grace of God I might actually win.

I hesitated there.  I didn’t want to type anything about me winning anything.  On the one hand, yeah, I really want to be humble.  When you wear your addiction on your body like I do, it’s a bit easier to keep the pride down.  But on the other hand, whenever one of us chooses Christ over ourselves, we become more integrated into His Body.  That’s win-win. There’s gotta be something good about claiming that.

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I almost forgot!  I’ll be giving a talk this Saturday to the he Central Jersey Chapter of The Catholic Writer’s Guild.  This talk will be held on Saturday, March 7th at 10 am at the parish center of St. Aloysius parish, on Bennett’s Mill Rd. in Jackson NJ. I’ll be speaking about -“A Fiction Ministry:  Using Stories in the New Evangelization”

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No registration is required and all are welcome. For information contact Karen Kelly Boyce at 732-928-7981.  Thanks for hosting me, Karen!

Review: Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent

 

I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it here.  You know what cracks me up the most about Margaret Rose Realy?  She keeps telling people she is not a writer.  Just in case her beautifully written blog isn’t enough cause for doubt on that,   Cultivating God’s Garden Through Lent goes and flat out proves her wrong.  If Margaret isn’t a writer, then I’m a toasted cheese sandwich.

Cultivating offers daily reflections for each of the days of Lent.  These reflections come from the writer’s (see?  I’m calling her a WRITER again) experience bringing order to gardens both real and spiritual.  At every turn of the trowel, every sprinkle of seed, every tug of a weed, Realy points out to us the rich, loamy meaning that God has for us, just waiting there quietly, if only we will make ourselves still and small enough to see.  The WRITER does this, shares the fruits of her contemplation with us, and in doing so, invites us to examine our own gardens, wild and weed-ridden they may be.  If we stop and look with her, we will see the kind of quiet, luscious adventure that only a gardener can find.

This is the first book to ever make me wish Lent could be longer than it already is.  The meditations in Cultivating are just the right length to slow you down without dragging it out, and the messages are presented so clearly as to engage even the reader who is least likely to enjoy her time in an actual garden.  I know this because I am that reader least likely to enjoy time in an actual garden.  Anyway, I am very much looking forward to re-reading this gem come Lent 2014.  I cannot wait to see what sorts of seeds come forth from the re-read during that time of cold, silent, invisible growth.