Category Archives: Holidays and other fun times

PAAS be with you

Ahhh, the memories ...

Ahhh, the memories …

I was at the grocery store the other night (people think I’m crazy to go at night, but trust me, it’s easier than taking two small boys who accidentally push the cart into large standing displays of merchandise) when I realized something.  I realized that there is a time to be born and a time to dye, and the time to dye is almost upon us.

I added a box of PAAS and a carton of eggs to my shopping cart.

The first time I dyed eggs as an adult, I was awash with memories.  My mom used to buy one of these kits every Easter, but I hadn’t seen one in twenty-plus years.  Then, all of a sudden, I was standing at the dining room table in my own house, doing a ritual that was exactly the same as it always was.  Every year, you did it exactly the same way.

First, you gathered the mugs from the back of the cupboard.  Then came the filling of the mugs with vinegar, and then the ceremonial dropping of the tablet into the mug, where it would fizz and spin like a thing possessed and the vinegar would turn a vivid brilliant color.

Then you’d take the mugs to the newspaper-lined table, and carefully drop a hardboiled egg into each one.  The PAAS kit came with an ineffectual little copper wire holder, meant to use to dunk the eggs, but it was always far easier to use a soupspoon.  You’d lean over the mugs, looking at the eggs, occasionally lifting them out to check their done-ness.  This was where patience paid off: if you were too quick to remove your egg, it was a disappointing pastel, but if you had the fortitude to leave it in the mug for a long time (and if you could fend off the sibling who really really wanted to use that color), you were rewarded with an egg of brilliant turquoise.   It was always worth it to wait.  (Good life lesson right there.)

The kits would come with a wax crayon, too, and sometimes you’d use it to write your name on the egg before dropping it in a mug.  You couldn’t see the name on the white egg; you just had to trust it was there, and sure enough, when you extracted the egg from the dye, there was your name (more or less) written on the side.

When I was a kid, the kit also had these little transfers you’d rub on the side of the egg — a bunny, a chick, a flower —  and then peel off, holding your breath, hoping the whole image would take.  It never really did, which should have been a lesson in the impossibility of applying a flat transfer to a convex surface.  (Now the kits have stickers, which are slightly less frustrating to work with.)

And at the end of the ritual came the grand finale: the discarding of the unused dye in the sink.   You’d dump each mug in turn, and the splash of color was so bright and pretty for a few split seconds before it gurgled away down the drain.  You’d turn on the water, and it was gone altogether.

But you were left with eggs: some dark, some light, some cracked, some whole, some personalized, some blank.  They’d sit in a bed of fake grass and you were never sure whether to eat them or not, but even if you never did, they looked so pretty and the making of them was so fun that they had more than fulfilled their purpose.

And now, as I gear up to share this ritual with my own boys again, I love that some things never change.   It’s a simple thing, dying eggs … but it’s the simple things that we remember.

 Do you have fond Easter egg memories, too?  What are other springtime traditions you love?

My exhausting, exhilarating weekend at L.A. Congress


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From Thursday to Saturday, I — along with approximately 40,000 other Catholics — was at the Anaheim Convention Center for L.A. Congress.  It was, to put it simply, a blast.

L.A. Congress (official name: Los Angeles Religious Education Congress) is a yearly conference that pulls together speakers on all kinds of topics of interest to Catholics.  Are you curious about social justice issues, education, religious music, multicultural ministry, or tips to deepen your prayer life? You’ll find all of it and more in palm-lined, sun-drenched Anaheim.

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If you want to get a feel for the crowds, check out this view of the convention center:

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In addition to over 300 workshops, L.A. Congress offers an exhibit hall selling everything from  books to T-shirts to rosaries to magazine subscriptions.  It also has  liturgies like you’ve never seen before.  Want to attend a Jazz Mass, a Mayan Mass, a Celtic Mass?   You can find them all under the roof of the Anaheim Convention Center.

Have I sold you?  I hope so.  If I haven’t, let me share a few more specifics about why this past weekend was, as a friend of mine would say, awesome with awesome sauce.

1.  The speakers.  That was only a cardboard cutout of the Pope, much to my seven-year-old’s disappointment.  But L.A. Congress routinely pulls together lots of terrific speakers.  James Martin was there  (if you’ve never read any of his bestselling books, you’ve probably seen him in his role as “Official Chaplain” of The Colbert Report.   Fr. Robert Barron, who did the gorgeous “Catholicism” series a few years ago, gave the Saturday keynote to a packed arena.

And I got to attend a workshop led by two of my favorite Catholic mom bloggers: Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, and Sarah Reinhard of SnoringScholar.com.

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I’ve gotten to know Lisa well over the years and she always inspires me with her generosity and vision.  She has two sons currently in college, which proves that one actually can raise two boys and keep one’s sanity intact (sometimes I wonder).  I got to know Sarah shortly after I started blogging in 2008, one of the very first bloggers I connected with online.  This was actually my very first time meeting her in person, which was super-fun because she is both super-energetic and hilarious.  Love those ladies!

2.  Re-connecting with the good folks of Loyola Press.   I met a bunch of them last year, and hanging out with them again was a highlight of the weekend.  It’s hard to imagine a more talented and just plain terrific  group of people.

And — this shows you how awesome Loyola is — they had  a photo booth. Take a photo and you get a free Pope Francis poster! (or “popester.”)   Here I am with Becca from marketing (with whom I’ve exchanged about a zillion emails) and Vinita Hampton Wright, who edited Random MOMents of Grace and who wrote the “Fall” section of Daily Inspirations for Women (along with lots of other terrific books that you really should check out sometime).

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Later that day, at dinner with Becca, Vinita, and the social media manager Rosemary, I laughed so hard I cried.  Twice. It was that kind of good time.

Oh, and it was a thrill to see my books in their display.  Sometimes I still have this “pinch me” feeling about the whole writing thing.  I guess this picture will help with that.  (Random MOMents is middle of the middle aisle, Daily Inspiration is far left of second-to-last aisle.  Shameless product plug!)

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3. Celebrating how global this Church really is.  ”Diversity” is the name of the game at L.A. Congress, and it’s beautiful. Every year, the different cultural and ethnic groups of the Archdiocese of L.A. do displays.  Here is the Vietnamese community’s table:

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And the table from the Lithuanian community:

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A few tables down, I was drawn to this beautiful statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

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I started talking to one of the two Native American women behind the table. She invited me to the Native American liturgy on Saturday night (we left Saturday afternoon, alas).   I was captivated by their gorgeous crucifix.

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I was taking a photo of it when the woman told me it was actually a first-class relic of Saint Kateri (there’s a tiny piece of her bone in the little square window you see at the bottom of the photo).  The relic tradition of Catholicism is something I’ve always found sort of odd and medieval, but standing face-to-face with it (or face-to-bone, I guess), I was suddenly extremely moved.  The woman’s obvious love for the saint touched me.

“I sort of want to touch it, but I shouldn’t,” I told her.  ”But then again, I guess that’s the whole point of a relic?”

“Go ahead!” she said.  ”Touch it.  Say a prayer.”

I did.  It was uncanny: me, this forty-one-year-old woman in a glass-paned convention center with a Smartphone in one hand, making a tangible connection to a Mohawk woman who lived in the seventeenth century.   It was meaningful in ways I didn’t expect.  I’m still processing it.

4.  The liturgies.  Scott and I attended the Urban Fusion Mass, which featured liturgical dancers in jeans and T-shirts (it totally worked) and a tinge of hip-hop in the music and a great homily.  It was in the arena, and there were probably about ten thousand people there.  The music was wildly different from what you usually hear on Sundays, and the whole experience was energizing and profoundly moving. This was the view from our perch:

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“I could so do this every week,” said Scott.

5.  Some alone time with my guy.  I say “alone time” with a certain irony, because we were with 40,000 of our closest Catholic friends.  But  it was great to know that all the fabulous things I was seeing, he was seeing too.

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6.  Lunch on Saturday.   Lunch on Friday was a hastily-grabbed bite among the hordes at the convention center café.  They actually ran out of clam chowder  (don’t they know their audience?).

But on Saturday, I got to meet up with my sister Amy, who lives not far from Anaheim.  We had a great time at P.F. Chang’s before catching the plane home.  My visits with her are simply never long enough.  (Why did we waste all that time arguing over the bathroom when we were teenagers?  I’d love to have that time back just to hang out.)

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7.  Getting inspired.  It’s exhausting, this weekend, because there are crowds everywhere and so much to do and see and hear and process.  But it’s exhilarating, too, because it’s a celebration of the thousand faces of Catholicism.  Everywhere you see people who are full of  joy, energy, a desire to learn more and share more.  And that’s what faith is really all about, when you get right down to it.

I think L.A. Congress is going to have to be a yearly thing for me.  It’s just too dang much fun not to do as often as I can.

 

Get your Joyce on: Three great (and short) Epiphany reads

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Okay, off the top of your head, name three Christmas stories.  Fairly easy, right?

Now name three stories about the Epiphany.

For most of us, that’s significantly harder.

The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) is when Christians commemorate the visit of the three wise men (or Magi) to the infant Jesus.   It’s a lovely event to celebrate, these three very learned men going all that way to bring gifts to a baby. If you’re like me, though, this day tends to get somewhat overlooked in the transition from Christmas/New Year’s  to Life As Usual.

But it’s worth reflecting a little on this day, because the day reminds us that after Christmas, life does not go on As Usual.  Any encounter with God changes us, right?   And that personal change, that shift into a new way of being in the world, is what the Epiphany is all about.

So here I offer three great Epiphany-themed works of literature.  The three pieces are all short (ish), and they’re all available online (click on the title of each one to find the online text).  Each one, in its own way, makes January 6 — the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas — more meaningful.

So brew a cup of tea or coffee, grab a few minutes to read, and let the Magi become more than just the three most exotic-looking guys in the manger scene.

1) The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke (1895)

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My aunt gave me a paperback of this book approximately twenty-five years ago, as part of a Christmas gift.  I’m not sure why, but it took me twenty-five years to read it.  (The fact that I kept this book all that time, moving it from one home to the next, shows that I knew I’d get to it eventually).    I just finished it the other day, and oh, what a beautiful story.

It’s about a fourth Wise Man, Artaban, who sets off to find the new King.  He plans to join the other three, but is waylaid on the route by encounters with people who need his help.   And I don’t want to be too spoiler-ish, but let’s just say the journey to the King takes  longer than he’d expected, and the slender little novella (you can read it in about an hour, easily) is a reminder that the interruptions that come in life do not have to be distractions on our path to find God.  Maybe, says this beautiful little story, those distractions are where we find God.  As a mom who frequently sees her efforts to pray interrupted by a small boy needing something, this is a message I need to learn and re-learn.

2) “The Dead” from Dubliners, by James Joyce (1914)

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Yes, let’s get past the title, which sounds like a real downer.  And let me acknowledge up-front that “The Dead”  is not, strictly, speaking, a story about the wise men.  It’s about a dinner party in snowy Dublin on what appears to be the Feast of the Epiphany, and it focuses on Gabriel Conroy, who is  attending with his wife Gretta.

Joyce himself used  the word “epiphany” to refer to moments of revelation, moments  when his characters have sudden, powerful awareness about life and themselves.  And when you get to the end of this story, you realize that Gabriel has discovered certain things  – including that his wife has had a tragedy in her past that he never knew about — and that he can’t go back to the way he was before.  It’s a subtle, powerful story.

“The Dead” also has what I think is the most beautifully-written ending of anything I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot).  Anytime I see snow fall, I find myself  thinking, “Snow was general all over Ireland.  It was falling on every part of the dark central plain …”   (There is also a very good 1987 movie adaptation by John Huston.  It’s a hard story to make a movie out of, but the film succeeds beautifully.)

3.  “Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot (1927)

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The Magi Journeying by James Tissot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet….

This one is a poem, and if you’ve never read it, take five minutes and check it out.  (Then take five more minutes and re-read it.  If you’re like me, it takes several readings before you feel you know a poem.)

I blogged about the poem a few years back, so I won’t repeat what I said then.  I will say that I love this poem because it acknowledges that birth and death are sometimes so closely linked that you can’t separate them.  One experience can hold both, at the same time.  Seriously, it’s a great poem.

Do you have other good Epiphany stories to share?  Do you recognize the day with any traditions or customs? 

Rites of fall

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Last Saturday, we had our first rain in I don’t know how long.  Though it did mess up our outdoors plans, I can’t say I was entirely sorry.  More than anything else, it reminded me that summer is over.

Just like that, it feels like fall around here.

Do I have  a favorite season?  Not really.   From my perspective, the charm of the seasons is that every time a new one rolls around, I’m ready for it. But I can’t deny that fall holds a great deal of delight for me.

Why, exactly?

*I love the changing leaves.   Granted, our NoCal foliage makes a pretty poor showing compared to the trees who live in colder climes, but we do still get yellow, red, orange, brown.  Some neighborhoods — especially those with a lot of liquid amber or Chinese pistache trees –are particularly pretty.

*Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancakes, which one cannot buy year-round.  They’re back, baby … and I’m celebrating.

*Halloween with my kids.  Honestly, I think Halloween has gotten way too commercial over the last several years, but the actual experience of squiring my kids around the neighborhood on Halloween eve is pretty magical.  You have to be very, very jaded not to catch their enthusiasm.  And it brings back memories of my own childhood Halloweens, giving me the comforting sense that some things in life really don’t change.

*Pumpkin seeds toasted in the oven.  Scott throws in some Worcestershire sauce, and oh, they are delish.  It’s worth the mess of eviscerating the pumpkin just to taste that salty brown crunch again.

*All Saints’ Day.  When I was a kid in Catholic school, ASD rocked because it meant we always had the day after Halloween as a school holiday.  Now, I love it because I love thinking of the saints.  They show us that there are a zillion different ways to live a life of purpose, and that holiness never looks exactly the same from one person to the next.

*Thanksgiving.  It’s an underrated holiday, and one that never seems to change much over the years.  My mom always makes the best rye-bread stuffing, she always serves mashed turnips (and I always take the tiniest possible taste for tradition’s sake), and there is always pumpkin pie and some sort of leaf-y centerpiece.  It’s the holiday that seems caught in a time warp somehow, and I am such a nostalgic creature that I really, really like that.

What about you?  What do you love about fall?

Eleven years ago today

That’s how long it has been since this very fabulous day, when this very fabulous guy and I tied the knot.

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As my friend Trish put it last weekend, affecting a British accent and pretending to smoke, “This one goes to eleven.”   And beyond.

People to pray for on Mother’s Day


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In the midst of all the flowers and cards and brunches, it can be easy to forget that Mother’s Day is a very hard day for many people.  So today, let’s pray in a special way for:

*Moms who have lost their children

*Children who have lost their moms

*Women who wanted to be mothers but could not

*Mothers of missing children

*Mothers whose children are estranged

May they find comfort and healing in the love and prayers of others.

Amen.

Loving St. Joseph

Here’s something I’ve realized: If you love Mary, you will eventually end up loving St. Joseph.

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If you love Mary’s compassion for those who are on the outs of society, you have to love Joseph, too.  After all, his behavior towards Mary herself shows that he was a man who knew how to forgive.  His betrothed is pregnant, and he knows it’s not HIS child; there’s pretty much only one conclusion you can reach, right?  And yet even though he must have been seriously disappointed and humiliated (talk about an ego blow for any guy!),  he was determined to spare her as much of the inevitable social and religious condemnation as he could.  In other words: Joseph was quite the guy.

If you love Mary’s courage and the way that she said “yes” to such a terrifyingly huge mission, then you have to love Joseph’s courage, too.  After all, he — much like Mary — surely had a vision of the way his future would unfold.  I don’t want to presume to know what Joseph hoped for, but I’m guessing it was something along the lines of the cozy family home and the white picket fence.  Odds are good it did not involve raising the Son of God and the Savior of the World. That’s why Joseph, like Mary, is a terrific model of letting go and rolling with it … and bidding our own plans goodbye when a larger purpose comes knocking.

And if you love Mary’s devotion to her son, you have to love Joseph’s, too.   He is a beautiful model for all dads, especially for men who raise children who are not biologically their own.  I think Joseph is proof that fatherhood is more than just contributing DNA — it’s about the hands-on, daily experience of nurturing a child.  It’s about modeling, through your dealings with those around you, what it means to be a person of integrity. It’s about showing that a true man doesn’t walk all over those who have less power; instead, he treats them with dignity and compassion.  It’s about being the person that others can count on to be there, always.  We see evidence of all of this in Joseph, and more.

No wonder we love him.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a re-run of a post from 2011. I thought of writing something new, but it still says exactly what I feel.    Painting by Raphael.

What a child’s valentines can teach us about love

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Last night, my kindergartener was working on his valentines.  With a pencil in hand and a class list on the table in front of him, he carefully penned each student’s name on a small Toy Story card.  I looked over at him from time to time, smiling inwardly at his absorption, at his focus, at the way that he (in the time-honored tradition of all kids) was sticking his tongue out slightly as he wrote.

Being the mom of a kindergartener takes me me back to my own childhood Valentine’s Days.  I remember elementary school, and the excitement of receiving a small white envelope from everyone in the class.  Inside would be a small cutout of a cartoon character, or a princess, or a whimsical animal, with my name and the giver’s name carefully printed on the reverse.  Sometimes the envelope bulged in one corner because a chalky pastel-colored heart candy had been tucked inside.  More than once, a classmate accidentally wrote my name on the Valentine that said “For You, Teacher” – an error which, given my current profession, was remarkably prescient.

There was something so sweet and pure about Valentine’s Day back then.  Alas,  it didn’t last.  By the time I got to college, Valentine’s Day – more often than not – was an unwelcome reminder of the fact that my romantic life was not progressing in the way that I thought it should.  It was a day to feel alternately depressed  about my own single state and envious of those women who got red roses or restaurant dinners from their boyfriends.   That stage is in the past now – ever since meeting Scott, V-Day has been redeemed  – but it’s hard to forget those years when February 14th was  more about wistfulness and cynicism than romantic love.

That’s why, as I watch my six-year-old write his classmates’ names, I’m recovering a sense of the sweetness of a child’s Valentine’s Day.   Once again, I’m seeing a day that is about inclusion rather than separation.  In  kindergarten, the cards are shared with everyone; no one is excluded.  That is a class rule, admittedly, but it’s an unnecessary one, because my son would do it anyway.  He isn’t complaining about having to address a card to everyone.  He isn’t saying that he doesn’t really like so-and-so.  He wants to give everyone a Valentine.  To him, it’s perfectly natural that the heart-trimmed images of Buzz Lightyear and Woody and Jessie will be shared freely with all.    I love that innocence and generosity.  It strikes me as pure agape, as love at its finest and most beautiful.

That’s why I’ve been thinking lately that if you want to understand the love that God has for humanity, maybe a diamond necklace or a big bouquet of roses is not the most helpful image.  Those are valentines intended for one person, and one person only.  Instead, I like to think of God’s love as a batch of small cards, perforated at the edges and addressed with care,  freely and unreservedly given  to every single kid in the class.

Heart image from Karen’s Whimsy.

Mary in Two Minutes

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

If you don’t know what that is, check out this brief video below, from BustedHalo.com.  It tells you all about Mary, in two minutes (more or less).  I helped work on the video, so it’s really fun to see the finished product.

Enjoy!

 

Advent in real life: A review of O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath

Every year, I always end up feeling like I haven’t done Advent right.  I know, there’s no one “right” way to do Advent; it’s not like loading batteries into a camera or cooking a soufflé.  But all the same, I always end up feeling like I could have done more to make it a prayerful, reflective time.  In the spirit of that, I’m always grateful for resources to help me.  This year a wonderful one fell right into my lap (or, to be more specific, my mailbox): a review copy of Lisa Hendey’s new booklet O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.

Let me say up-front that Lisa is no stranger to me.  I’ve had the fun of hanging out with her several times over the last few years (we’re California girls who only live a few hours’ drive apart from each other), and  I’m a huge fan of her recent book on the saints.  I love that she too is the mother of two boys, which means she is living proof that one can survive this experience while still maintaining  one’s sanity.    Lisa is warm and funny and humble and an all-around amazing woman, and so it’s a welcome treat to have her take on Advent in the form of this book.

O Radiant Dawn features a short reading and prayer for every day of Advent, along with reflection questions suitable for discussion with children (each day offers two reflection questions, one for older kids and one for younger kids, which is a great touch).  The questions include “Where in your life do you experience justice and peace?  How can you help others experience these same gifts from God?” and “What joys and gifts are you thanking God for this week?”    These discussion prompts could work beautifully for sharing around the Advent wreath; they could also be rich food  for a dinnertime conversation.  They are also great for a mom to ponder and pray over on her own, if your evenings (like mine) often include small children who are fried from the day and who melt down faster than the candles on the Advent wreath.

In fact, that’s what I appreciate about Lisa’s introduction to the book: she’s so up-front about there being No One Right Way to use the book, or to celebrate Advent, period.  On the very first page, she writes: “Put away unhelpful expectations of what you think Advent should be and allow this to be a time of simplicity, focus, and sacred longing.”

I loved that line so much that I read it about three times in a row, letting it sink in.  Simplicity, focus, and sacred longing: yes, that’s what it is really all about.  Thank you, Lisa, for the reminder – and for this wonderful gem of a little book to help.

O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa M. Hendey, published by Ave Maria Press.