Sunday, March 30, 2008

Car Evangelization

A few days ago David told me that he had finally decided what he wanted to give me for my birthday. He asked me to meet him at our local Catholic goods store after work yesterday to help him pick it out. He said he would tell me the category of gift and I would choose the specific one I wanted. I loved the idea.

So we met at Immaculata (it's in the same building as our diocesan offices here in Charlotte) and, after a great chat with our friend Juliette about Catholic retail in general and Immaculata specifically, David led me to a display of front plates for cars. Here in North Carolina we only receive one license plate, for the back of the car. That leaves the front spot open. Most people leave it empty, but I've seen several interesting front plates displaying designs, catch phrases, and advertisements (for favorite teams and radio stations, for example). Ever since I moved to Charlotte I've been pining after a Catholic plate to put on my car. You just never know when a little nudge will help a person turn towards God! Car adornments are a simple way to evangelize.

We do take a little risk when we put Catholic or even Christian markers on our car, though. The silver Jesus fish on the back of my car was vandalized a few months ago. It looks like someone attempted to pull the whole thing off - but only the upper tail broke away. I left it that way as a sign that I'm not going to let someone's dislike of my fish/my faith intimidate me. Also, it seems more fitting in its brokenness - after all, Jesus endured brokenness so that I might have a faith worth advertising.

In the end, I chose this plate:

"Jesus I trust in you" over Divine Mercy image

Now the only thing I need is a pro-life bumper sticker or decal. I recently came across one at Aquinas and More Catholic Store that I love:

Aquinas and More Catholic Goods - For all your Catholic needs

Baby Rosary Shape Cut Vehicle Decal

Baby Rosary Shape Cut Vehicle Decal

In the end, the one who will be evangelized most by my car's Catholic notions is me. Lord, every time I think of them, please increase my faith.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Deo Gratias: the Choice to Serve

"Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray." CCC 311
I once heard that God created the angels and gave them one and only one opportunity to choose: love and serve Him for all eternity OR follow their own way and be separated from Him forever. Lucifer and his followers chose the latter, and thus we have Satan and Hell. I researched this in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"This 'fall' consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign." CCC 392

"It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels' sin unforgivable. 'There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.'" CCC 393
I believe Milton's Paradise Lost fleshes out this idea, but my much-marked college copy is buried in a box of classics. Nonetheless, the concept challenges me. I realize how very blessed we humans are.

God is so good. He opens up before us abundant opportunities to exercise the free will He so lovingly gave to us. Every moment of every day we can choose whether or not we will serve God or ourselves. Alas - we often choose poorly, motivated by selfishness. But God also provides abundant opportunities to repent - and to choose rightly next time. We have it better than the angels in this regard, don't you think?

And yet we have much to learn from them:
"With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God." CCC 329
Lord, help me to serve You with my whole being!
"In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels." CCC 334
Deo Gratias!

Photo credit: swissrolli

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Power of Praying Politicians

The Catholic News Agency published a remarkable story about Our Lady's intercession averting a war in South America. Here's an excerpt:

The crisis between Colombia and its southern (Ecuador) and northeastern (Venezuela) neighbors started On March 1, when Uribe ordered a military raid into Ecuador's territory against a rebel camp used by Marxist guerrillas to launch terrorist strikes. The raid targeted and killed the No. 2 FARC rebel leader, Raul Reyes.

In response, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa cut all diplomatic relationships with Colombia. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Correa’s political ally, ordered a massive military surge to the Colombian border as well.

Quoting Fr. Julio Sol√≥rzano, Chaplain of Colombia’s Presidential Palace, El Tiempo revealed that on March 5, when the rhetoric and blames between the presidents was increasing tensions, President Uribe called for a Rosary to pray for the end of tensions.

The Rosary, prayed at the Presidential Palace’s chapel, was dedicated, upon Uribe’s request, to the Marian to Our Lady of Chiquinquira, Our Lady of Coromoto and Our Lady of Mercy, respectively the patronesses of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Uribe invited all officials at the Presidential palace to the Rosary, as well as the minister of Defense and the Interior.

“For believers –El Tiempo wrote- the prayer was more than effective, since only two days after the presidents of the three countries shook hands during the Group of Rio summit, and for many the crisis was over.”

If only more world leaders would follow suit...

Hat tip to Love2Learn Mom.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The gift of suffering

This weekend's "Intercession for Life" in our parish bulletin struck me:

Let us pray to the Lord for all who are sick, but especially for those who are dying, that we might open our hearts to the gift of their suffering.
Wow. I am used to praying for the sick and dying - that they might be healed, that they might be comforted, that they might be welcomed into Heaven. I am NOT used to praying that I might recognize their suffering as a gift and allow it to change my heart.

Maybe God is trying to tell me something here? I welcome your thoughts and experiences...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Prodigies of Love

Frances writes:

This morning over chocolate chip pancakes, David and I were musing about the human capacity to think and learn. When I commented on the unique gifts and challenges that God gives to each individual, David proposed an idea that knocked my mental socks off.

We recently saw two different movies about young prodigies. In Good Will Hunting (I know, I know, the profanities and se*ual references are awful, but the characters are so real) Will has a knack for math theory and organic chemistry. He can also reference and quote any book he's read (and he's read thousands). In August Rush (which we highly recommend, if you haven't seen it already) August hears and plays amazing music. These and other prodigies are incredibly gifted in one area or skill, be it music, painting, or languages.

David writes:

When I learned to make pancakes, no one told me that when you flip them, you have to push them down a little or the middle might be uncooked. I had to bite into a mushy pancake and learn from my mistake. When I think of a prodigy, like those mentioned above, I think of someone who has an innate ability to grasp the intricate details of a skill or concept and critically think to get it right the first time. Like a sculptor, they can mold and maneuver the material and produce something magnificent. They can just see what it's supposed to be and follow through with that vision whereas I would have to spend decades learning how to do what they have a gift for.

I believe that saints are prodigies. They are prodigies of LOVE. They can look at another human being, and with a "heart of flesh" (Ez. 36:26) love them as God would. They can take the love given to them by the Lord and shape it into a work of art beyond normal human ability and then share it wonderfully. Jesus did it first, but saint "prodigies" have opened themselves up to this gift from above ever since.

Frances writes:

The difference between saints and other prodigies is one of possibility. Some people are born with special talents and intelligences; certainly, they must study to expand their knowledge base and practice to keep their skills sharp, but their capacity for excellence is innate - and rare. Sainthood, on the other hand, is open to us all. Every single one of us has the opportunity to surrender our lives completely to God and His gift of love.

God desires this excellence in love for me, but I can't achieve it by my own efforts. I am at the mercy of God, Who (I hope) will help me grow in grace and love by the prayers and example of our community of faith, the Church. Lord, may I never grasp at Your love, but open my heart and my hands in humble receptivity.

We're praying for you all, saints-in-the-making! Please pray for us, too.

Photo credit: David (taken in Holy Trinity Church, Shreveport, LA)

In my Easter bonnet...

I'm not much of a hat person, but if bonnets were still in style (a la Little House on the Prairie) I'd be all over that fashion trend. So no, no Easter bonnet for me this year, but I did get an Easter BAG!

This morning David and I woke up early (despite a late night due to a late Easter vigil and celebratory reception in the parish hall). Among David's first wakeful words were, "I want a Cadbury egg." The man has been waiting for this treat all Lent - maybe even all year. So I retrieved the Easter box my mom sent and opened it in bed.

In addition to four Cadbury creme eggs for David, the box contained:

  • a bag of other chocolate treats, including speckly robin's eggs
  • a plastic bunny egg containing a wooden beaded bracelet
  • three chalk eggs (which we'll take with us this afternoon to draw on the sidewalk with our 3-year-old nephew)
  • a children's book containing two stories about bunnies (which David and I read to each other in bed)
  • a jar of Mom's homemade huckleberry peach jam (my all-time favorite jam, made with huckleberries my dad picks in the hills of NW Washington state)
  • a handful of pens and a bag of toiletries from hotels my dad stayed in (he's an airline pilot and gets put up in a lot of nice hotels all over the country)
  • and last, but best of all, a handmade fabric bag!!! Can you see the little music notes all over it? I love it!!
My mom has a wonderful mix of practicality and creativity. When my siblings and I were "too old" for Easter egg hunts, she started hiding baskets of goodies for each of us in the house. After a few years of baskets, she started filling all sorts of useful containers with our treats. A tray I got one year is currently holding our office supplies. The plastic box she gave me another year keeps all my hair ties and clips in one place. This cloth bag is a fabulous new idea.

Thank you so much, Mom! Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anticipating Good Friday

I have been looking forward to Good Friday for a week. During the Stations of the Cross last Friday I found myself daydreaming (I know, shame on me) about how I would observe Good Friday. One thing was certain: I would watch The Passion of the Christ again, as I have the past three Good Fridays.

I saw it when it came out in theatres; it took me hours to recover, though I don't know if I've ever fully recovered. The vivid depictions took me to a new level of understanding and appreciation of Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. The anguish, the betrayal, the pain, the mockery, the indifference...he endured it all because of me.

How strange - through the brutality, the blood, the dirt, and my own tears, I realize, again and again, how much I sin AND how much God loves me. I am ready for another dose of that!

Bill Donaghy has been posting an awesome series of reflections on scenes from The Passion. I highly recommend them - and his blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Living Like I'm Pregnant

When we're trying to conceive or even just being open to life, there are two weeks of every month during which I could possibly be pregnant. Ovulation has passed and we can do nothing more to positively influence the outcome - it's all in God's hands. So we wait. And I live like I'm pregnant, just in case. No alcohol, limited caffeine, good nutrition and hydration. I avoid running and other strenuous exercise because I jogged the day before the miscarriage and there's a strong negative association in my mind. I don't want to take chances.

These sacrifices - or maybe I should consider them "special choices" - add up, but I can't really consider them a burden. Every denial of desire (and even my overall intentionality) has the potential to reduce my selfishness and orient me to God, whose blessing I desire more than all else (or should). The real challenge is with my mind. In constantly considering the possibility of pregnancy, I must also constantly fight the expectation of pregnancy.

David and I have often debated the meaning of "hope." In this case, my hope for a baby prompts me to make mental preparations just in case God gives us one. Because I've built up the possibility, when it doesn't come to fruition I find myself feeling disappointed. I have to dismantle the mental preparations that accompanied my precautionary choices - a labor without reward. David tells me I am expecting, not hoping. But where does the line fall?

I hope in God, that He will save my soul, forgive my sins, and resurrect me to spend eternity with him in Heaven. This hope is 99% sure of its outcome. Are there different kinds or degrees of hope?

Perhaps the difference lies with the subject of my hope: is it God, or is it me? Do I hope in the Creator, or in His creation? One never fails to provide what is truly good; the other often gets in the way.

"May your kindness, LORD, be upon us; we have put our hope in you."
Psalm 33:22 (from Monday's Mass readings)

Photo Credit: David (taken in Holy Trinity Church, Shreveport, LA)

Air bags (not the kind you're thinking of)

While putting things away after our trip, I tried to return a "bag of bags" to the hall closet. They had served us well for various purposes (holding clothes, wet towels, clean dishes, and more). But their "home" on the closet shelf was too chaotic for me to stand any longer. I try not to get any new plastic bags when I shop (aren't reusable bags great?), but we still have quite a collection of various sizes, which we use for all sorts of things around the house and in the car. I've wasted far too much time looking for the right size bag in our pile, so I sorted them into regular (grocery bags), newspaper (long and thin), large, small, and deflated air sack.

See them at the bottom of the picture? Long ago I figured out that cutting the top of those air sacks that cushion shipped goods makes them into durable and oh-so-handy little bags. I like that they are clear (so I can see what I put inside of them), small, and waterproof. When I travel I use several to organize my toothbrush, toiletries, hair ties, and jewelry. They also protect books well.

Best of all, they're free!

I'm including this post in Shannon's "Works-For-Me Wednesday" roundup of tips and ideas. Go explore what other bloggers have to share if you have the time!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Deo Gratias: Butternut Squash

I love me some butternut squash. It looks and tastes delicious in its natural state - cooked, of course, but with nothing added. And it's so easy to make!

Here are a couple of squash I've had sitting on my counter for a couple of weeks. They keep amazingly well! I use the big knife to slice them down the middle. Then I scrape out the seeds and stringy flesh with a spoon.

I lay the halves face up in a glass baking dish (some recipes say lay them face down - it probably doesn't matter). Then I put about a half inch of water in the bottom of the dish and cover (with either a lid or tin foil, depending which dish I use).

I set the oven to 350 or 400 degrees and let the squash steam itself for an hour or so - more if the halves are very thick. You can see the spoon marks where I tested doneness - the spoon should meet no resistance.

Finally, I scoop the flesh right into bowls to enjoy all week. Sometimes I sprinkle a little cinnamon or cinnamon/sugar on top, but it's not really necessary.

Do you like butternut squash? How do you serve it?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Banana Nut Muffins

We like muffins for their size, nutrition, portability, and freezability. We keep some in the freezer at all times as grab-and-go snacks. They're one of my favorite mid-morning energizers for work. I whipped up a batch yesterday, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you today.

Banana Nut Muffins
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick; use wrapper to grease muffin cups)
3/4 cup brown sugar (though regular will work if you don't have brown)
2 eggs
2 big bananas, mashed (I almost always use defrosted bananas from my freezer)
1 cup chopped walnuts (I use our food processor to give them a whirl)

I just mix everything together in a big bowl, in any order. I use an ice cream scoop to portion the muffin batter into 12 cups.

20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Ready to bake.

I ate one. Yum!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church, watch over the Church as carefully as you watched over Jesus, help protect it and guide it as you did with your adopted son. Amen

David and I are celebrating the feast of the foster father of Jesus by drinking hot chocolate. Just because we like it and the Lenten fast is lifted for today. Yum!

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Photo credit: David (taken in Holy Trinity Church, Shreveport, LA)


(post title courtesy of my mom)

Now that we're home and getting back into the swing of things (David has already started studying for Pediatrics, an intense eight-week course that begins Monday), I'll provide a report on our camping experience:

David: "it was great!"

Frances: "it was cold!"

Overall, the experience was worthwhile. We found a great campsite (Cypress Black Bayou, north of Shreveport, Louisiana), set up camp without difficulty, cooked a yummy supper (thanks to David's foresight - he prepared meat sauce and spaghetti noodles before we left, froze them for the long ride in the cooler, and then just warmed them up on our Coleman stove that night), and even built a decent fire. Alas, the cold was all-consuming for me. I couldn't really enjoy all the other blessings through my constant shivering. Four layers of clothes, a heavy-duty sleeping bag, and three blankets couldn't keep me warm in the night (in the upper thirties). Am I a hopeless case?

Here are some pictures:

David chopping firewood (before a helpful fellow camper told us where we could find a stack of precut logs, free to campers).

David warming up our dinner on the Coleman stove.

David starting our first campfire (with some helpful tips from a nearby camper, he made an even better one the next morning). David thinks we should invest in charcoal and lighter fluid for next time, but I'm not convinced they're necessary. Maybe in rainy weather, but do I really want to camp in rainy weather?

I really tried to enjoy this camping experience. But I'm afraid trying to maintain body heat that night negated the positive results of my recent campaign to fatten up. So David was incredibly gracious in allowing us to spend the next night in a cozy hotel. (By the way, you know you're a nerd when you finally have the chance to watch cable television and you choose the Discovery Channel. We watched a great program about the brain!)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Irish Go Green!

I just heard about a great move by the Irish government - they passed a tax on plastic shopping bags ($.33 per bag) and, within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94%. You can read more about it in this New York Times article. Journalist Elisabeth Rosenthal reports that, "Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog."

Wow. I can't wait for this to happen here in the U.S. In the meantime, I have a nice little stash of cloth bags in the back of my car, which I use every time I shop. On my sister Beth's recent visit she gave me an early birthday gift - three huge reusable bags from Costco. Yippee!

Hat tip: Green Mom Finds

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pseudo Camping

David and I are leaving on a trip on Friday, so we're busy with preparations. After his maternity final tomorrow morning, David has a week off. We're going to visit David's father in Louisiana for a few days, then his sister in Florida for a few more (with a quick stop in New Orleans to say hi to family). If circumstances allow (which means, if I am not an ice cube due to cold temps), we plan to camp two nights in Kisatchie National Forest.

With great foresight, David planned a visit to a nearby campground this past Sunday so we could familiarize ourselves with all the great camping gear we received as wedding gifts (or purchased with gift cards). We enjoyed the weather, the scenery (daffodils are blooming here!), and the time together. And we learned some things. For example: when you fill the water jug, make sure you screw the lid on tightly before putting it in the car. Water bottles cannot be refilled by water that has spilled all over the floor of the car. They can, however, be filled by campground pumps - at least the ones that have clear water. Second lesson: let the pump water flow out onto the ground to check its color before putting your water jug under the tap. If you accidentally get yourself a jugful of brown water, just dump it out (but not on your shoe!), rinse with clear water from the other pump, and say a prayer that your immune system exhibits great strength.

All that, and we hadn't even gotten to a campsite yet!

But when we did:

We figured out how to clear the ground, lay out the tarp, and unfold the tent.

We got the tent up, covered, and staked.

We sealed the tent and fly seams and let them dry.

We took a break to sit and pray.

David burned the lantern mantles (they took forever to turn white!).

And we brainstormed ways to get the lantern to light (the little matches didn't reach up close enough to the mantles, so David held a match with pliers, lit it with a lighter, and carefully guided it through the hole).

It worked!

We also learned it's not a good idea to spread the tent fly out on the ground, even on a dry day - the underside was wet when we picked it up, so we hung it out to dry on the clothesline when we got home.

Please say a prayer for a successful camping experience for us this weekend, in addition to safe travels. Things will be quiet around here while we're gone.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Amaryllis Update 1: Leafy Greens

Turns out all four bulbs sent up leaves - lots of leaves. I was starting to worry we wouldn't see any flower stems, but a quick online search assured me that the stems don't appear for 5-8 weeks after planting. I also read that leaving half of the bulb exposed encourages stem growth over leaf growth - oops. I might have potted the bulbs too deeply.

Another factor is temperature - apparently these babies like four hours of full sunlight and temperatures around 70 degrees while they're preparing to flower. That isn't happening here - not much I can do about it, either.

We'll see!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hung out to dry

Who says apartment dwellers can't hang their laundry to dry?

Soon after we moved into our home, I strung a line of nylon cord from one side of the balcony to the other. Several months later, I added a second line. We also use a collapsible rack to hang dry smaller items inside the apartment.

Almost all of the articles and books I've read about energy conservation point to the clothes dryer as an energy hog in the average American household. According to the Consumer Energy Center, "A dryer is typically the second-biggest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator, costing about $85 to operate annually." Our apartment does not have washer/dryer hookups, so we use the community laundry rooms for $1.30 per wash and $.30 per 14 minutes in the dryer. I'm currently running our loads for 28 minutes in the dryers and hanging the items that didn't dry completely in that time. In the future, I'd like to use the dryers even less.

If you're looking for ways to use your dryer more efficiently, WorldWise lists some here. If you have any tips you'd like to share in the comments, please do!