KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Old Dog--New Tricks




I am trying to figure out how I missed out learning about the the food mill. I just bought one and it is wonderful! I've been making lots of fresh applesauce with the wonderful apples I've been getting from local farmers. With this handy gadget it is super easy. I just quarter the apples and fill up my stock pot until it is about half full. No peeling, coring or seeding is required. I add a cup of water, cover and simmer on the stove until the apples are very soft--mushy soft. Give the apples a stir every now and then to make sure the bottom apples are not sticking to the pot.  I position my food mill over another stock pot and ladle the soft apples in. I just start cranking the handle and beautiful applesauce comes out the bottom. Peels, stems, and seeds stay up top. You turn clockwise to get the applesauce but remember to give a frequent counter-clockwise turn to reposition the apples. You can process the applesauce for canning if you like, but I just ladled it into freezer safe containers and put it in the freezer. I could have used a food mill back when my children were eating baby food. I am looking forward to trying it out on a variety of fruits next summer.

Discovery number two is liquid chalk markers. I like using stick-on chalkboard labels for reusable storage jars in my pantry. It works pretty well but the regular pieces of chalk were not easy to use when I wanted to print small letters. With repeated handling of the container the chalk writing smudged easily. I just tried these liquid chalk markers. They are as easy to use as a pen and the liquid chalk flows on easily. It is also more durable. It wipes off easily with a damp cloth.  Even after 30 years of housekeeping there are still things to learn.




I guess the point of this post is just to remind myself that I never know it all. There is always one more thing to learn or one more innovation to try.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Evangelize Like A Star

My latest article for Catholic Stand is up.  Head on over and read the whole thing.  Here is a snippet:

While the gifts of the Magi offer worthy and valuable meditations, I would like to concentrate instead on the star. 
The Wise Men were drawn to Christ by the light of a single Christmas Star. The star made no sound. There were no blaring trumpets or chorus of angels. There was only light. In that sense, the star’s role in the Christmas narrative seems passive and almost unintentional. Yet it was enough to inspire three kings to leave the comfort of their homes, traverse an unknown path, and bow down in homage to a child.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lessons Learned



As I mentioned in the previous post, we have now reached the empty nest phase of our lives. Children still come through our doors but they are visitors, not residents. Overall, I feel very blessed by my children. I know I did the best job as a mom I could do at each stage of their lives. Of course, that does not stop me from musing about "what if's". There are definitely some things I would have done differently if I had the wisdom at age 25 that I now have some three decades later.

The Advent and Christmas seasons bring this to the forefront. I did always mark the season of Advent with a nativity scene and an Advent wreath. But I was probably ten years in to this parenting adventure before I really appreciated the value of the liturgical calendar. The rhythm of the liturgical seasons with their special feasts and traditions keep a family focused on God's time, not the world's time.

So just looking at Advent and Christmas there are some things I wish I had done from the very beginning and other things I am grateful that I figured out early on. I had Christmas dishes but they stayed in storage and were brought out for Christmas entertaining and on Christmas Day. It was hard to justify the storage space for these dishes when they were used so infrequently. Then I realized that if Advent and Christmas are seasons, I can use the dishes throughout the season. So part of the first Sunday of Advent ritual was changing out the dishes. From the First  Sunday of Advent through Epiphany I use my Christmas dishes. This was a daily signal to the kids that Christmas is coming.

What I didn't take advantage of were all the wonderful feast days during Advent. For example, it has only been in the last ten years that I consistently marked the Feast of St. Nicholas. The Feast of St. Lucy is the perfect day to begin Christmas baking. I wish that I had promoted a family Rosary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to distinctly mark these Marian days.

Christmas is a season, not just a single day. Yet after putting up decorations in October the secular world stops all Christmas carols and takes down the decorations as soon as the day is done. It is not uncommon to see discarded trees on the curb on December 26. I am sorry to see so many neighbors stop turning on the Christmas lights once Christmas Day has passed. I do understand after the mayhem of Christmas morning it is tempting to quickly put everything back in order. All of those New Year's resolutions to be more organized are looming and there is an urge to get a running start on discipline. I think part of the problem is that all of the gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day so there is nothing anyone is really looking forward to after that. Christmas is defined by the material and not the spiritual.

My solution that I did not implement with my own children, but I wish I had stems from basing our celebrations on the liturgical calendar. I would begin Advent as always. I would mark St. Nicholas Day with candy or other small treats in their shoes and perhaps a small wrapped package at their dinner place.

I would try to keep the focus of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on family and on Mass. We would have our big family dinner and and attend Mass together but gifts would be de-emphasized. In the current culture it is unrealistic to make Christmas Day devoid of gifts. However, I think I would make it a stockings only gift day. If family is visiting and leaving soon after Christmas Day we could exchange gifts with them. However, all other packages would stay under the tree.

My mother told me that in her Hispanic community as a child, most gifts were received on Epiphany. I wish I had done that. The gifts given and received are tied to the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. I also like the idea of keeping the Three Kings from our nativity scene wandering about the house throughout Advent and Christmas and having them arrive at the manger scene on Epiphany.

I don't think I failed at celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons with my children and I don't think there was anything wrong in the way our Christmas traditions evolved. I am not even certain that doing the things I described above would be better and not just different. I just wish I had been smart enough back then to give it a try.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Empty Nest Advent



This has been a very different sort of Advent. For the first time since 1986, I have no children in the house as we wind our way towards Christmas. The good news is that the house will be once again filled on Christmas Day. But that does not change the eerie quiet of the last few weeks. There was no discussion of who lights the Advent wreath or where the penguin ornaments should be hung or whose turn is it to mark the Advent calendar. Even one grown child living at home gives me more incentives to mark and observe the season well. My husband went out with no kids to help him and bought the tree. He put the lights on and I put the ornaments on. Just two old adults getting ready for Christmas.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. This is just a different thing. After decades of Advents with traditions geared towards keeping children focused on the true meaning of Christmas it is interesting to continue the motions and realize that I am doing this for my husband and myself now. The music, the decorations, the lighting of Advent candles, the Nativity scene, and the prayers have less of a catechetical mission and are more introspective.

I know there are single adults, couples without children, and other couples who have been doing the Advent without children for a while. This is just a transition for us that I didn't anticipate. I know we will figure it out and learn what is valuable for us to do and what is no longer relevant. In the meantime, I am just muddling through this Advent, wondering when my house got so quiet.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Gratitude for Imperfections and a lost potato masher.


As a military wife for 30 years I dealt with the unpredictable life of short-notice relocations, deployments, and household emergencies. It just seemed to be the rule that major appliances break when my husband is away. Blizzards, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes are all more likely when I am on my own.

Perhaps because there was so much disorder that was out of my control, I was very protective of the order I could control. This was and is still especially true of my kitchen. (When my husband retired he was given strict orders to keep his engineering optimization tendencies away from my kitchen!) Family members only visited one or two times per year because we lived so far away. They would often try to help me in my kitchen. I found it very stressful. They did not know my system and it seemed a futile exercise to try and teach them the system when they were going to leave soon and probably not visit again until we were in a new house with a new system. Once they were gone, I felt burdened by trying to find all my things that had been helpfully put away but not where I normally put them. I remember breaking down into tears because I could not find the potato masher.

However, that lost potato masher made me take a hard look at myself. I was sobbing over a five-dollar kitchen tool. No one intentionally hid it from me. No one was trying to create chaos in my life. Someone had tried to help me out and ease my burdens and I was angry because they had done it imperfectly. So I recast the situation. Wasn't I fortunate that someone cared about me enough to want to make my life easier? Wasn't I fortunate that family members wanted to take time out of their lives to visit me? Wasn't I fortunate that my family members were still healthy enough to be able to visit? The lost potato masher seemed pretty insignificant in comparison.

I always think about that around Christmas when there are so many memories of wonderful family visits. I would not trade a perfectly organized kitchen for any of those memories. I am grateful for that lost potato masher because it offered a moment of grace to rethink my priorities and to be thankful for imperfections.

Friday, December 05, 2014

A "Gruber" Moment?

  • Upfront admission. I dared to disagree with Simcha Fisher on her Facebook page a few months ago and was thoroughly castigated by her friends and  fans. I swore I would never try to have a reasonable discussion in a Facebook combox again. I was called uneducated, a wannabe writer, and a troll who was just trying to get clicks for her own blog. 
  • Which is why I am writing here. Her most recent article for the National Catholic Register, Broken Windows and Depersonalization is actually very good. So it is really frustrating to see the following exchange between her husband and Register columnist Mark Shea in her Facebook comments about this article: 

  • Damien Fisher The Register commenters are living up to expectations. The real culprit in Garner's death seems to be the welfare state. Also, fatherless homes require a police state, so what are you gonna do? Plus, the protesters are making people late for work, which is really inconsiderate.
    17 hrs · Edited · Like · 6
  • Mark Shea Damien Fisher: You beat me to it. A cop could walk up to a black guy, shout "Revenge for the South!" and discharge his service revolver right between his eyes and there would *still* be a good 5-10% of Register comboxes posts explaining that it was justified, the victim had it coming, and we need to reverently never question the Power Figure in Uniform when he deploys Sacred Fascistic Violence against the weak person in dark skin.
    15 hrs · Like · 2

This is coming on the heels of Fisher's post on inappropriate responses to allegations of rape that she claims are coming from "Conservative Catholics". She names no names and links to no web sites. She just says this is what conservative Catholics are saying. You know, her point could be made just as well without smearing Catholics in the process. I would guess that most readers of the National Catholic Register would consider themselves conservative, orthodox, traditional, faithful, or some other such adjective.

So do Simcha Fisher and Mark Shea really regard their readers with such disdain? Are they the Catholic equivalent of Jonathan Gruber and laughing all the way to the bank as they manipulate those clods who read the Register?

I have no idea. You will have to ask them. What I do think is that this sort of broad brush labeling is exactly the kind of depersonalization Simcha Fisher is arguing against in her piece linked above. We don't need more labels and categories. We need to listen to each other as individuals and address each other as individuals. It is very lazy to refute an argument by just claiming someone's viewpoint is unworthy of consideration because of some ideological label. For example:  "You know his opinion is suspect because he reads the National Catholic Register, likes the Latin Mass, works at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, votes Republican, etc."

I am also very certain that you can search my blog and come up with a long list of examples where I have done the same sort of thing. I am guessing that many of us are guilty of this. What I am suggesting is that we make ourselves more aware of how destructive this tactic is. It is great for preaching to the choir and rallying your base. But it does nothing for reconciliation and advancing civil discourse. We accomplish nothing if we depersonalize and demonize those with whom we have ideological disagreements. 

This is not to say that we ignore statistics. We can analyze demographics for trends and use that information to help craft solutions to poverty, crime, addiction, or any other social ill, but individuals are not statistics. They are unique human beings with unique stories. Likewise, I can assess the odds of a person having a given viewpoints based on whether he reads the National Catholic Reporter or the National Catholic Register; whether he votes for Democrats or Republicans; whether he drives a pick up truck or a Prius. However, I cannot know for sure until I talk to him. I drive a Prius and love to shop at the farmers' markets but contrary to many people's assumptions, I am not an environmental activist. 

It would have been very easy to write this post without giving specific examples and just complain about "professional Catholic bloggers", the "Patheos" mafia, and other euphemisms as is often done in the blogosphere. But such vague and veiled references offers no opportunity to correct misunderstandings. So I am going to do my best to talk about specifics and avoid such imprecision. If others do as well, perhaps we can recover some degree of civility in public discourse.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Where have I been?!





I have been at my keyboard but the words have been showing up in places other than here. I thought I would catch you up.

My most recent article is up at Catholic Stand today. I've covered the topic on this blog before, but it is always good to remember that we are all prodigal sons and daughters so when lost sheep return home for Christmas we should welcome them with love and mercy.

I still have a monthly column at Zenit.org. My November column looked at the many ways our culture diminishes femininity and demeans women.

In October my Zenit column argued against the perception that physical and intellectual challenges make life disposable. Read Down syndrome Does Not Make Life Disposable.

In September I looked at the next issue to be advocated by the architects of Obamacare: age based rationing of health care. See When Utilitarianism Designs a Healthcare System.

I have tons of ideas for blog posts swimming around in my head. I hope to get more of them on paper.

Advent blessings to all!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Decluttering my heart


I just returned from a visit to my father's house. It is still hard saying, "to my father's house" instead of "to my parents' house". This February will mark four years since my mother died. For some reason, I felt her absence in the house more acutely than I had on previous visits. Maybe it was because I was there with my daughter who as the only granddaughter held a very special place in my mother's heart.

As I do every visit, I picked a corner of the house and helped my Dad sort and purge. This time it was the room my mother had used as her office as she worked tirelessly for Gabriel Project or promoting the Divine Mercy devotion. Amidst the stacks of papers and prayer cards was the evidence of decades of service. I wish I had expressed to her my admiration of her work. Though in hindsight, I am not sure I really appreciated all she did. I was far too focused on our mother-daughter relationship to be cognizant of the world she inhabited outside her role as Mom.

Our relationship was complicated. But I don't think that is unique at all. Literature, television shows, and movies are quick to show the grossly dysfunctional relationships or the idealistically beautiful ones. What is rarely captured is the realistic messy day-to-day love of imperfect human beings. Mom and I loved each other but we hurt each other too. I don't think either of us were malicious in our intentions but we often struggled to forgive and move on. Yet in spite of our pride, selfishness, and insecurities we muddled through.

In today's me-centered ethos the psychologists would be quick to encourage each of us to protect ourselves from the hurts and leave the relationship. Don't let the other saddle you with baggage. You don't have to take this anymore. I have to admit it was tempting at times to follow that path. But in my heart I knew that I could not turn my back on my mother any more than she could really turn her back on me.  

Walking through the house now, I am so grateful for the grace that kept us together. Perhaps because our relationship could be so challenging I cherish our loving bond even more. In every room there is some kind of memento of our times together. A birthday gift, an item purchased on one of our many shopping adventures, or a plant purchased when she visited my home all remind me of the joyful times we shared. 

My mother was a bit of a pack rat so after one of these sort and purge sessions I always have the urge to return home and clean out one of my own closets. Clutter accumulates insidiously and it is easier to attack it early instead of waiting until the task is overwhelming.Today, however, I am thinking about more than the clutter of paper, old clothes, and  worn out household items. I am pondering the clutter of my heart. I can look at several relationships in my life that are cluttered with old hurts, grudges, petty annoyances, and selfish pride. Perhaps it is time to do a little purging. I am under no delusions that these relationships will be easy or that I can just will away the hurts and hurdles. But what I can do is pray for the grace to forgive and to be open to reconciliation. I can love in spite of the mutual imperfections.  I know it is possible because that is what Mom and I did. I can hope that one day others will do the same.






Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Occupations and Vocation

Today at Catholic Stand I revisit a topic I have written about several times: balancing professional and domestic life. This most recent reflection approaches the topic from my role as a teacher of college students.

Another semester is beginning, and I am back in the classroom, teaching young college students about the parts and pieces of the human body. I stand before them and introduce myself as “Dr. Hunnell, a family physician”. At some point in the coming weeks, I will begin to get the questions:
“Why aren’t you seeing patients anymore?”
“Don’t you feel like you are wasting your education?”
“Couldn’t you make more money being a doctor?”
They come every semester, and I still hesitate a little bit when I answer them. How do I encourage them to push themselves to reach their professional goals when I have walked away from my own career as a doctor?
Head on over to Catholic Stand for the answers to these questions! 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

God's Handwriting

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God’s hand-writing—a way-side sacrament; welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower, and thank for it Him, the fountain of all loveliness, and drink it in, simply and earnestly, with all your eyes; it is a charmed draught, a cup of blessing.--Charles Kingsley


We went to Mass last night so this morning offered an opportunity to walk through my garden. I haven't tended it as much this year as in other years because we have done so much traveling, but the beauty is still there.
jalepeno peppers
basil


rosemary & thyme

turtlehead flowers with a few mums in the foreground

white hydrangeas with pink aster in the background

morning glories

the last of the summer four o'clocks, yellow canna lilies, and the fall sedum just starting to turn pink


Aster and coneflowers

Moonflower

pink climbing roses

large marigolds

small marigolds

Lots of marigolds grown from seeds gathered from last year's flowers

Friday, September 05, 2014

7 Quick Takes: The new and the old


Teaching a college anatomy and physiology lab from 7pm to 10pm on Wednesday night followed by two Thursday morning labs from 7:30am to 1:30pm sounded like a good idea at the time I was arranging my schedule. When the alarm went off at 5:45am on Thursday morning I had second thoughts. However, enough coffee conquers all and all three labs went smoothly.
Walking around somewhat lost on a college campus brings back memories of my college freshman year. That was over 35 years ago. It must be easier for introverts these days because no one is making eye contact. They are all walking around looking at their phones.
In addition to starting a new teaching job and still continuing my old teaching job, I have started a new fitness program. I am tracking my food intake and exercise with MyFitnessPal.com. I had done this before and really did lose weight but eventually my tracking trailed off. Now my husband has joined me in the effort and it is a lot easier to keep up when we hold each other accountable. The database for foods is amazing on this site. There is certainly a lot more motivation to exercise when you get the instant gratification of more calories added to your daily allotment.
My husband and I walked the dogs to the nearby lake. It is just shy of three miles round trip. Was surprised to see there are already the first hints of fall colors. It is mostly in the low brush shrubs in the woods and not in the trees but there is no denying that our summer is waning.
The good news is that the farmers market is still going strong and will be open at least two more months. Picked up butternut squash, a tomato, some onions, bell peppers, and sweet corn. The sweet corn seems to be lasting a long time this year. My mother-in-law taught us a neat way to cook the corn quickly. Leave most of the husks on and throw in the microwave for 3 minutes per ear. The husks and silks just slide right off leaving nothing but the delicious corn. I also picked up a cantaloupe. Since our trip to Italy, cantaloupe and prosciutto has become a staple lunch.
Fresh farmers market produce makes meatless Fridays delicious. Last week I made polenta and topped it with sauteed squash, tomatoes, and onions. Today we grilled shrimp with the onions and bell peppers I bought yesterday, seasoned it with Cajun seasoning, and served it over brown rice. Topped it with diced tomatoes and had corn on the cob on the side.We've been sticking to meatless Fridays for a few years now. It is amazing how such a minimal sacrifice can help focus your faith.
Hoping to have three of our four children home for Sunday supper this weekend. Once the nest empties it feels like Christmas when more than one child is home. I am looking forward to hearing the lively voices and laughter that always accompanies their voices. Sometimes the dogs try to fill the noise void with their barks and howls. Definitely doesn't compare to having kids at home, even when the kids are all grown up.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Marking Time


Clock Tower, Piazza San Marco, Venice Italy


After a 30 year military career, we are used to marking time by our assignments. Memories are labeled according to where we were stationed. We were always on the move staying anywhere from one to four years in one spot. Stories usually begins, "When we were stationed in...".  The last twelve years, however, have been in one place. My husband came to the DC area thinking that it would be a one-year assignment. Instead, it ended up being three back-to-back DC assignments that spanned nearly 10 years. We put down a few roots over that time and when retirement came, we stayed put.

This past week I realized that when we moved into our previous assignment in Florida, my youngest child was the same age my granddaughter is now! How did that happen? That was just one assignment ago but it is actually a whole generation ago. In this new phase of our lives we have to mark time a little differently. I now think about events in terms of their relationship to military retirement or a child's wedding or a birth of a grandchild. I am learning a whole new frame of reference.

How do you mark time?

Friday, August 22, 2014

7 Quick Takes!


The youngest moved into the dorm this week! The 85 pound Lab/German Shepherd mix who shared his bed at night has decided he is lonely and wants to sleep with Mom, Dad, and the 65 pound Lab/Springer Spaniel mix who has already claimed a spot in Mom & Dad's bed.
The youngest moved into the dorm this week! Apparently so did my laundry baskets and laundry detergent. I guess I wanted new ones anyway.
The youngest moved into the dorm this week! But he is only 20 minutes or so down the road. And guess what?! I just got a job as an adjunct professor at the same university. I think I will be reclaiming some laundry baskets.
The youngest moved into the dorm this week! It is so hard to cook for just two people. I think it is time to invite the other empty nesters in the neighborhood to dinner.
The youngest moved into the dorm this week! And I think I should check the temperature of the Netherworld because he left his home bedroom and bathroom scrubbed clean and vacuumed!
The youngest moved into the dorm this week! I already miss him terribly. Praying for him and all the students starting school in the next couple of weeks.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Assisted Suicide is not Authentic Compassion


My latest article is up at Zenit.org. I address a bill being considered by the British Parliament to authorize physician assisted suicide. The article is being passed around a bit and the phrase that seems to be catching the attention is : "In every other instance, suicide is viewed as a tragedy...Why should it be any different for the disabled and dying?" 
I wrote and submitted this article before Robin Williams committed suicide. However, after the very public and passionate discussions of depression and suicide that followed his death, the publication of my article and that particular phrase has struck a chord with some. Here is an excerpt, but do go over to Zenit and read the whole article.
It is mental anguish, not physical suffering, that is the impetus for most patients requesting physician-assisted suicide. The legalization of assisted suicide suggests these fears are reasonable and hastening death is a viable solution. There is nothing compassionate about legalizing assisted suicide when it promotes such abject despair.
In every other instance, suicide is viewed as a tragedy. Those left behind often wonder what they could have done or said to prevent such an act of desperation. How could they have given the deceased hope and fostered a will to live? Why should it be any different for the infirm, the disabled, and the dying?
Instead of hastening their death we should be offering authentic compassion. The word “compassion” literally means to suffer with. We should be reassuring those who are tempted by assisted suicide that even though they are physically broken they have dignity and are cherished members of our human family. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Blessed Feast of the Assumption of Mary to All!

The Assumption of Mary by Pietro Perugino (1513)


Today is the Solemn Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This is a glorious day. Mary is the first to experience the resurrection of body and soul and join in the eternal joy of Heaven. But this is experience is promised to each of us who is saved through Christ. 

This feast day can be confusing for those who are not Catholic. The dogma of the Assumption does not make Mary a deity. It is not a new dogma that was invented by Pope Pius XII in 1950. The dogma of Assumption was promulgated in the Papal Apostolic Constitution MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS on November 1, 1950 but it has been part of the Church teachings since the early centuries. It is part of the dogma of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The wonderful folks over at Aquinas and More Catholic Bookstore have a nice, concise recap of both the dogma and the history of the celebration of this feast.

I would also recommend the reflections of  Fr. Dwight Longenecker on 10 Things To Remember about the Assumption of Mary.

And for those who are used to abstaining from meat on Fridays, this is a feast day so enjoy a burger in Mary's honor.

In all seriousness, today is a beautiful reminder of the glory that awaits all who abide in Christ.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

TBT: Sacramentals for college students...and college grads



It has become all the rage on Facebook to post TBT (Throw-back Thursday) items. These are usually old photos or accounts from "back in the day". I thought I would do something similar on my blog today. Back in 2006 I did a post on sacramentals for college students. As many college students are in the process of packing I thought I would re-share these thoughts from sending a son off to college:

As I reviewed his final round of packing I made sure he had a good supply of sacramentals. He received a small desk-top crucifix for graduation. He has at least one Rosary. I kept pressing holy cards on him. St. Michael, St. Monica, St. Augustine, St. Benedict. He had already packed his Bible. 
He is very patient with me as I fret about his spiritual well-being. I really am not worried. He seems to be pretty grounded in his faith. I was also interested in his take on all the Catholic paraphernalia I was sending with him. He told me appreciated it but he would let his Catholicism publicly unfold gradually. He said, “If I wear my Faith too conspicuously I hear minds shut as I approach. It is better to let them discover my Catholicism after they know other things about me first.” 
I do understand his point. I don’t expect him to make a shrine in his dorm room. If the holy cards occupy a place in his desk drawer, that’s okay too. I know he will see them occasionally and remember his mom and a whole bunch of saints are praying for him. I hope he will then remember to say a prayer too.
This was written in the early years, as I was just starting to send children to college. Now my baby is starting his junior year in college. Would I do anything differently? Not really.  So far, everyone is exiting college with a faith at least as strong if not stronger than when they entered. But my son was very wise when he said he would let his Catholicism unfold gradually. No need to hide it, but there is also no reason to wear it like a flashing neon sign. Catholicism should be something organic to who we are, not an awkward add-on.

Now my children are building their own nests and I have to admit I still add to their collection of sacramentals. When I returned from Italy this summer I had a new Rosary for every child and grandchild. Holy cards make great bookmarks. I still want to remind them that Mom and the saints are still praying for them.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

School Daze for us Martha types



In just over a week it will be back to school for me. Of course it is a different sort of back to school when you are the teacher instead of the student. Once again I will be teaching Anatomy & Physiology at the local community college. However, I am also adding George Mason University to my teaching venues. I will be teaching three sections of the Anatomy & Physiology lab.

In addition to the teaching I have added Catholic Stand to my regular writing gigs. And I am hoping to revitalize this blog a bit. I still have a monthly column at Zenit.org and I still contribute to the HLI Truth & Charity Forum.

A few days ago I blogged about my empty nest. I guess this is what happens when you no longer have soccer practice, Scouts, high school science projects and college applications to oversee. I am one of those who has a problem sitting still.

So my struggle during these upcoming months of empty nesting is to face the quiet time. I will force myself to look away from the computer with its never-ending stream of pro-life issues that need to be addressed as well as the lectures and lesson plans that need to be polished. I will sip my coffee slowly in the morning and indulge in a glass of wine in the evening every now and then. I will stop bustling like Martha and try to listen like Mary.

When LIfe Begins and Why it Matters



Head on over to Catholic Stand and read my latest article about when life begins and why it matters. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Gratitude in Public

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell

Recently, Mary's Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, NC was in the news because the staff often offered a 15% discount to patrons who publicly offer a prayer before eating. Even a simple silent bow of the head before chowing down could earn the discount. It was just a feel good story.

Apparently, not everyone felt good about this practice. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has forced the restaurant to discontinue the discount on the allegation that it is illegal and discriminatory. Rather than become embroiled in a lawsuit, the restaurant has discontinued the discount.

Well, patrons may not get a discount, but they should still feel free to take time to bow their heads and thank God for the food in front of them. I say grace any time I sit down to a meal. It doesn't matter if I am by myself at the kitchen island, with my family around the table, or at a public restaurant. When we are in public we merely take a moment to bow our heads and quietly recite the classic Catholic grace, Bless Us O Lord and these thy gifts. If I am out with friends who do not usually say grace, I do not insist that they join in or even call attention to the fact that I say grace. I just pause before digging in and silently acknowledge my gratitude to God.

There should be no embarrassment or apologies for this pre-meal ritual. I am not offended by those who choose not to pray and they should not be offended if I opt to offer thanks for my meal. I do not know why the public display of religion is so offensive to some people that they feel the need to shut it down. I understand why Mary Haglund chose to discontinue the discounts for praying. It is asking a lot of a small business owner to endure the litigation of militant atheists. While the intolerant FFRF may have stopped the financial rewards earned by prayer, they cannot touch the spiritual rewards. And maybe folding your hands in public even when there is no tangible immediate gratification will serve as a witness to others that serving God is more valuable than a 15% discount on a meal.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The case against oral contraceptives continue to grow!


My opinion is that oral contraceptives are following a path parallel to tobacco products. Initially they were presented as something healthy and enjoyable. The government endorsed it. Corporate interests churned out the propaganda and suppressed reports that something might be amiss.

But the case against oral contraceptives is growing quickly. In my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum I take a look at the latest study that links hormonal contraceptives and breast cancer. This is a large, well designed study and its results need to be widely disseminated. Women have a right to know that the little pill they take every morning may be doubling or even tripling their risk for the more aggressive pre-menopausal form of breast cancer. I found it interesting that the pill that was most dangerous was the triphasic pill that tries to mimic the natural rhythm of estrogen and progesterone of a woman's reproductive cycle. Man cannot replicate what God has created so perfectly.

So why isn't every major news outlet and every women's magazine highlighting these risks? Why does the lead author of this study hesitate to claim that her study is sound enough to support clinical recommendations? I think it is because the corporate interests like Planned Parenthood and the pharmaceutical industry as well as radical feminists have declared that anyone who disparages contraception is waging a war on women. They are perpetuating the myth that only women who render themselves sterile can be truly successful.

Please head over to the Truth & Charity Forum and read the facts. Then spread the word. The real war on women is being waged by those who because they are more interested in their financial interests and their ideology, seek to keep women ignorant of the risks posed by contraceptives.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

End of an Era

Today marks the last day I will be the mother of a teenager. My youngest turns twenty tomorrow. My oldest turned 13 in 1999 so I have been doing this teenage thing for a while. I don't have any great words of wisdom or profound reflections. I survived and my kids survived the teenage years so it is very doable.

Looking back, I guess our teenage years were relatively tame. We didn't have a lot of drama. I don't remember a lot of sulking or pouting. There was never any arguments about going to Mass. I didn't even have any issues with what they wore. Time spent on the computer and video games probably created the most tension but it wasn't that significant. I do remember a lot of praying, at least on my part. You think you are going to get more sleep once your babies get older. But then they get a social life and then they learn to drive. I cannot count the number of candles I lit and the Hail Mary's I said for their safety and for them to use good judgment.

My kids and I learned that friends matter and when the Air Force moves you around a lot your best friends may be your family. Also, surrounding yourself with friends who strive for what is good makes resisting temptation much easier.

A decade ago I was in the middle of at least three and often four soccer games every weekend. In addition there were Scout activities, music lessons, Church youth group events and school. I relished that time. I looked forward and thought how empty my life would feel without the hustle and bustle.

Well I am there now. My adult children still play soccer but do not expect to see Mom on the sidelines. And you know what? There is no emptiness at all. Instead, I look at them all grown up and feel overwhelmed by love and gratitude. And just because they are out of the nest doesn't mean I stop being their Mom. The praying never stops. I still light candles and offer Hail Mary's.

So here's to the end of an era. By the grace of God and with the support of a little wine, a lot of coffee, and an immeasurable amount of prayer, we made it.



Friday, August 01, 2014

St. Alphonsus and the virtue of diligence



Today is the Memorial Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorist Order of priests and brothers. St. Alphonsus was a prodigy who could master almost any subject placed before him. By the age of sixteen he was a lawyer. However, after ten years without losing a case he made a mistake and lost a significant legal dispute. He had an epiphany and realized that the accolades of men were meaningless compared to the Glory of God. He left the practice of law to become a priest. He was a prolific writer and was eventually declared a doctor of the Church.

Of course, many virtues can be attributed to this brilliant saint. However, the one that struck me today was diligence. St. Alphonsus Liguori could not stand the thought of a moment being wasted. Every free moment was put to good use praying, writing, reading, or teaching. I think I need a picture of St. Alphonsus to place near my computer as a reminder to think before I plug in. Am I being productive or am I just whiling away the minutes and hours on the mental chewing gum of the internet? Are my words adding to the Glory of God or are they just noise added to the cultural din?

St. Alphonsus Liguori is the patron of confessors, moral theologians, and lay apostolates. I think I might also invoke his intercession when I sit down to the computer that my time will be used productively and my work will serve God's will.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Catching up

I am still here. We have been doing far more traveling this summer than usual. In what seemed like a blink of an eye after we returned from Italy we were back on a plane flying to Alaska to visit our kids and grandkids. I have been writing but the words just haven't shown up here so I thought I would provide a few links to catch you up on my recent thoughts.

The Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision caused a stir so I have a couple of pieces over at the Truth & Charity Forum:

Abortion and advocates including the Guttmacher Institute went nuts after the decision so I thought I should offer A Reasoned Response to Guttmacher Hysteria.

While the decision is certainly something to applaud, it is not the end of the fight. This was One Victory, but Many Battles Remain.

As an HLI fellow, I still pen a monthly column for Zenit.org.

My July column looked at the scourge of human trafficking as a pro-life issue. We need to heed the call of Pope Francis and do what we can to combat this assault on human dignity.

Religious persecution is rearing its ugly head all over the world, especially for Christians in the Middle East and Africa. In addition to condemning this, we need to recognize that the same thought process that motivates Boko Haram motivates anyone who claims to be able to place a value judgment on the life of another and support abortion and euthanasia. They are all assaults on the sanctity of human life.

I also have a new writing gig over at Catholic Stand. What I love about this site is the diversity of the voices who are all faithful to the Magisterium. There is also a respectful tone to the writing that doesn't include the sniping and snark that seems to be infiltrating much of the Catholic blogosphere. So far I have contributed two articles:

It is important to remember that Jesus called us to make disciples and not to win debates so we must always strive to make our words charitable and persuasive instead of divisive. It is not about winning for "our side" but uniting all in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

My second article expanded on some thoughts I had originally published here at Kitchen Table Chats. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from Sam-I-Am when we seek to evangelize.

I have some writing deadlines looming and classes will begin in just a few short weeks, so I am not sure how soon I will get back to the blog. I really have a lot to say but I have to live life and not just blog about it. Until then, I hope you enjoy these articles!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What exactly is a wedding

I am not a regular reader of advice columnist Carolyn Hax but when the column ends up on the same page as the daily crossword puzzle I often give it a quick scan. Today's column deals with a bride and groom's decision to make their wedding a no-kids affair. They included this stipulation on their save-the-date announcements and are already getting feedback that this restriction will keep some of their friends from attending. Carolyn Hax states that the friends are out of line.

I am not sure if I would say the friends are out of line. The bride and groom have their priorities and the friends have theirs. This is the big day for the bride and groom and they have decided it is very important that their wedding be an elegant adult affair with no distractions from crying babies or fidgety children. However, they are inviting guests, not commanding guests to attend. If the invitees prefer not to attend if their children are not welcome then that is their prerogative as well. No harm, no foul on either party.

The more stipulations you put on wedding attendance, then the more people will opt not to attend. A destination wedding may be a dream come true for the bride and groom, but they have to accept that there will be some people for whom the trip is a deal breaker. Maybe it is too expensive or too time consuming. Or maybe the thought of packing and traveling to a beach destination is just too overwhelming for some invitees to even entertain. The same applies to the required dress. If you make your wedding a black-tie event, some people will opt out. That does not mean you should necessarily not have a destination wedding, a no-kids wedding, or a black-tie wedding. It just means that you need to understand that the more requirements you place on your guests, the more guests will opt out of attending. So what is more important to you: the picture perfect day of your dreams or sharing the day with as many family and friends as possible.

I am guessing that the friends who are staying home instead of attending this bride and groom's wedding think of a wedding as a celebration of the beginning of a new married life. The important thing is to share in the joy and the unscripted antics of children are part of the moment. That does not mean a mother with a screaming baby should sit in the church as her child howls and drowns out the exchange of vows, but it also doesn't mean that any sight or sound from children is detrimental to the wedding.

I am not criticizing the bride and groom who choose to have a no-kids wedding. I am just saying that by placing this stipulation on guests, they are sending the message that guests are only welcome if they positively contribute to the ambience of the wedding. If someone perceives that their presence is merely part of the staging of the ultimate Kodak moment they may very well say, "Why bother?"




Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lessons from Italy

I just returned from a seventeen day tour of Italy. There really are not enough superlatives to adequately describe our trip. It was a tour sponsored by the Smithsonian so we had the benefits of both a tour director and a tour study leader.  All of the logistics were expertly handled and we were well prepared to appreciate the sites we visited. I will try to get a few pictures up in the next few days.

I can honestly say that I grew spiritually, philosophically, and intellectually on this trip. Returning to the routines of everyday life, I see them through a little bit different lens. I could easily wax ad infinitum on our trip and this may be only the first of several posts on lessons learned, but there are definitely some impressions I can immediately share. Some are admittedly trivial, while others offer a bit more cerebral heft.

First of all, there is absolutely no reason for any American fast food chain to have a presence in Italy. Every time I walked into a little trattoria or osteria I was greeted with delightful food made with fresh ingredients and served quickly.

Italians know how to make coffee. I never had a bad cup of coffee. I also never drank coffee out of a paper cup. If you are going to drink coffee it should be out of a ceramic/china cup. I made a resolution for drinking coffee now that I am home. My first cup of coffee every day will be taken seated and out of a china cup. No more gulping that first morning java from a to-go cup in the car.

America is not the center of the universe. A great deal of history occurred before our great nation was in its infancy. We would do well to remember that. The Roman empire was once though to be invincible. Yet it is now gone. There is no guarantee that America will always be a world leader.

The beauty of sculpture by Bernini or Michelangelo can move me to tears. Artwork from centuries ago is still relevant for today. It does make me wonder if there is any art being created today that will stand the test of time as well as the Italian classics. Is anyone going to care about today's contemporary art in 500 years?

Human nature is the same over the millennia. Pride, greed, lust, among other sins challenge the culture. Short term gains may result from vice but true flourishing requires virtue.

Italy was truly a paradise for me. Good food, good wine, good coffee, beauty and Catholicism surrounded me for seventeen glorious days. I am forever changed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Unbreak my heart

Singer Toni Braxton wrestles with the guilt of abortion in her new memoir, Unbreak My Heart. I discuss this in my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum. Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Playing trains and making memories



My grandbabies are at the other end of the continent since my son is now stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. While nothing can replace being able to give them a big hug, technology has made it possible to stay connected. We usually use the FaceTime app on our desktop computer since that gives a big image of the children. However, quite by happenstance I learned mobility is also a good asset when speaking to a three-year-old.

Once I answered the FaceTime call on my cell phone. My granddaughter, who is 3 1/2 years old asked me if we had any toys. Well, as a matter of fact we do! Cell phone in hand, I trooped down to the basement and started pulling out the Rubbermaid totes filled with wooden blocks, Duplo, and most importantly, trains! Over the course of four children we amassed a large tote filled with all sorts of curved, straight, inclined, and forked wooden train track pieces. It was compatible with the Brio sets, but was made by an American company, T.C. Timber. We also have a smaller tote filled with various trains, bridges, stations, and other special accessories. Some of the trains are from the Thomas the Tank Engine series.

My granddaughter and I then spent at least 30 minutes inventorying my trains. She also has some Thomas the Tank engine wooden trains so she carefully compared what I had to what she had. We went over the names of all of our engines. I am amazed at how much I remember about Thomas the Tank Engine after all these years. The next time we spoke, she wanted to play trains again. So it was back to the basement to build a little train set and glide Thomas and his friends over the hills and through the tunnels. We have done this a couple more times.

She is now at the age that this could be a lasting memory. Whether or not she holds on to these train sessions forever, I know they will always be cherished memories for me! Which made me start thinking about family memories. When I think about my own childhood as well as the years when my own children were younger, I realized that some of the most precious and vivid memories were spontaneous, unplanned events. Even when we took big family vacations like a three-week camping trip up and down the East Coast, the most poignant memories are not awe-inspiring monuments and tourist attractions. Instead, they are the funny, tender, or exciting family interactions that could have taken place in our own back yard just as easily.

Back in the day when we put film in our cameras, Kodak had an ad campaign that spoke of "Kodak moments". Over the years I have learned that we can't really stage those "Kodak moments" and some of life's most significant moments cannot be captured through the lens of a camera. Sometimes, in fact many times, we need to forget about the messy hair, the cluttered countertops, the dusty tables, and the piles of laundry. We need to just be present to each other , listen to each other, and embrace the moment, even when the moment is not going to win any photography awards. The lovely scrapbooks we make are certainly treasures, but there is a lot of life that doesn't show up on those pages. Sometimes, the desire to chronicle life and preserve memories gets in the way of actually living life and making memories
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