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Manic Monday: Here, there, and everywhere

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity, and there’s no end in sight. But it’s all good. Busy, but good busy. By next week at this time, we will have passed a giant hurdle: Noah’s Eagle Scout project, leaving him with one last requirement to complete before he can officially sit for his Board of Review and achieve the rank of Eagle. This has been a long time coming, so it’s pretty exciting. Here’s what else is happening on this Manic Monday… Read more

Manic Monday returns, along with ‘Muddy Jesus’

I’ve decided to bring back my Manic Monday post, if only to inspire myself to get back to regular blogging. In the past, this post has been a run down of books I’m reading, music I’m loving, recipes I’m trying, quotes that are inspiring me, and cool things that are going on in my life. So I hope you’ll find something of interest here. Read more

Manic Monday: Returning to ‘normal’ life

Our Christmas tree came down last night, along with the rest of the decorations. The magi hardly had time to settle down in front of the creche when I shipped them off to the basement. Such is the end of the season, at least around here. By this time of year, I’m ready to return to ordinary time and Ordinary Time.

So here’s what’s on tap on this Manic Monday…

The above YouTube clip is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Twinkle’ post. Someone captured the kids playing at Mary Jane’s funeral. (Thanks, Pam, for sending that to me.) When the clip is rolling, Olivia happens to be visible on and off over on the left in the cream-colored top.

Bookshelf: I’m reading about a dozen different books all at once as research for the two books I’m writing, but there’s one that stands out right now, a recommendation from a Facebook friend. It’s called Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire. Loving it so far. Here’s one piece that resonated with me because I have experienced it so powerfully myself:

“Over the years I had prepared meals in quiet rooms, in accidental silence, as I would later come to call it, but I was discovering that intentional silence brought a focus to everything. Ordinary acts — measuring oats and water, chopping walnuts, scooping out a handful of raisins, stirring oatmeal — were transformed into meditations simply by the attention stillness brought to the tasks. Later, scrubbing out the gummy saucepan, I found unexpected pleasure in this simple job. I was experiencing what Buddhists have always taught: Silence, along with the attention it fosters, is our anchor to the present, to the here and now.”

Perfect. Today when I make my silent oatmeal, as I do each weekday, I will do so with those words ringing (silently, of course) in my head, reminding me that this practice of still, slow eating truly does allow me to bring a depth and calmness to my day that is absent when I skip this favorite ritual. My meditative breakfast has become, without question, one of my best prayer moments of any day.

Soundtrack: Dreamland by Madeleine Peyroux, something Dennis discovered on The Coffee House on Sirius. A bunch of it’s in French. Very cool. Check it out.

Viewfinder: Below is a shot of my Christmas gifts, or most of them, collected on the dining room table. Makes you wonder if perhaps I’m planning to open a monastery or a retreat center. We’ve got prayer flags up front; the official Abbey Psalter from the Abbey of the Genesee; Yoga Prayer DVD by Father Thomas Ryan, CSP; Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in Your World and Your Life by Margaret Silf; a cross candle holder; a Himalayan singing bowl; incense, lots of it; a tea set with Zen tea. I did get some other goodies that had nothing to do with prayer or spirituality, like the Midnight in Paris DVD and a flameless candle, although that last one borders on spiritual, too, doesn’t it?

My Christmas bounty.
The lovely Abbey Psalter.
Visiting my grandmother, who turned 99 on New Year’s Day.
Birthday boy.

Manic Monday: Closing in on Christmas

We’re in the homestretch. My kids, especially my tween, are practically hyperventilating with excitement. Okay, not the teen. He’s keeping the excitement close to the vest. I’ve been too busy with work to even realize Christmas is so close, which could be bad news for those expecting presents.

That’s our Christmas tree, over there on the left. Fred the Cat is standing guard. I tried to remove him from the picture, but he jumped back in every time I got set up. So, clearly, he was meant to be in the shot. Oh, and that’s one of my Nativity sets — my main Nativity set — in the header at the top of the blog. I collect them. Nativity set, not blogs.

So, here’s our Manic Monday rundown for the week…

Bookshelf: I’m reading too many books to list here, most of them as research for the book I’m writing. What I’m reading for fun, inspiration, enjoyment when I have time is a magazine I discovered on the shelf at Sam’s Club: The Soul Body Connection, a special annual publication of the monthly Spirituality & Health. If you are into meditation, centering prayer, mindful eating, breathing exercises, prayer in general, check it out. It’s wall-to-wall articles, and what I really love is the fact that this Eastern-leaning publication includes lots of Christian information, including a Q&A with Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leader of the centering prayer/contemplative living movement.

Soundtrack: Christmas music, of course. Here’s one of my favorites, a rocking version of Angels We Have Heard on High by Relient K, a very cool band.

Viewfinder: While other people were out shopping this weekend, or baking Christmas cookies, I was with the nine girls in our Daisy troop, along with four other moms, for an OUTDOOR winter discovery day. Who thought that was a good idea in upstate New York in mid-December? Actually, it was a really fun day. And a warm-up for our January winter camping trip.

Here’s Chiara working on an animal track rubbing:

The whole gang:

Olivia decided she really wanted pomegranate seeds for lunch. So there I was, working the seeds out of the pomegranate below at 7 a.m. Whatever happened to PB&J?

Since I had about three million seeds after I finished, I decided to throw a few on top of my usual bowl of oatmeal (below). Added a nice crunch. Doesn’t it look lovely? Yes, that’s a candle beside my oatmeal. Truth be told, the absolute best prayer time I have every day is when I sit down to my silent, mindful breakfast and pray before I dig in. It’s become an almost-daily prayer practice for me, one I really miss when I can’t find the time, or the silence. Which is often in this house.

So, onward, as we celebrate the fourth week of Advent and pray the O Antiphons each evening as we light the candles on our wreath. Enjoy these last days before the feast. Shop, bake, party, but remember to breathe deep and find a few minutes each day to sit in silence and contemplate the reason for this season.

Mellow Monday: Reverberations from my weekend yoga prayer retreat

Technically it’s Manic Monday in these parts, but after a weekend yoga-prayer retreat at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Mass., I’m really quite mellow. Certainly not manic, despite the truly frightening number of deadlines mounting on the dry erase board in my office.

As was the case with my silent retreat in September, I’m not really ready to wax poetic about what happened at Kripalu so soon after. Too much to absorb, so many gifts, so much to process before I can put it in writing in this space. But I wanted to share some little snippets of my wonderful weekend, which centered on a workshop called “Pray All Ways,” offered by Paulist Father Tom Ryan, who is also a certified yoga instructor and whose sense of peace and prayerfulness is so palpable he practically glows or floats. You cannot help but sit in his presence and think, “I want that.” In the best Christian, yogic, loving, non-jealous way, of course.

The photo above is a view of Kripalu from the road below. The former Jesuit seminary sits on land that is just beautiful, even during this in-between time when trees are bare but the ground is not yet blanketed in white. Still breathtaking.

When I first arrived on Friday afternoon, I was in my more manic mode. I rushed inside, worried that my car might not be parked in the right place, nervous about how the weekend would unfold, sure that something would go wrong. (Glass half-empty person, remember.) So I got inside and was asked to fill out of a form with my license plate number, which is new and not committed to memory. Immediately I felt frustration — at not having thought of this need, at not knowing my number by heart, at needing the number at all. So back out to the parking lot I trudged with pen and paper.

And as I stepped outside, another retreatant was standing there staring, and she pointed me to the top of a tree. There, in what was a rather small tree comparatively, was an enormous hawk. I mean enormous. I’m including his photo below even though it’s a little blurry (I didn’t have my good camera with me) because I just needed to give you a glimpse. He sat there for the longest time, unfazed by the people coming and going with their roller-suitcases and cars and chatter. Here he is:

You’ll notice that branch is bending under his weight. He was just majestic. At another point during the weekend, the same hawk was flying overhead, his wingspan inspiring others to stare up at the sky in awe. I never would have known about this resident hawk (the greeter, as he was referred to by the smiling people at the front desk) if I hadn’t forgotten my license plate number. So there you go. I was rushed headlong into the fact that this weekend would be about awareness, about gratitude, about slowing down, about the practice of the presence of God.

The hawk wasn’t the only over-sized animal to cross my path. This giant rabbit, like something out of Alice in Wonderland, let me get within two feet of him to take a picture. On top of that he was surrounded by people enjoying the late autumn sunshine at picnic tables all around him. Even the animals are mellow here.

After a solid day of praying and sitting and absorbing so much wonderful food for thought (and wonderful food in general), my retreat partner, Michelle, and I decided to skip Yoga Dance, which was a little much even for this adventurous soul, and go for a little hike to the lake. So worth it.

First we stopped at the small labyrinth. The entrance is in the photo below. I will admit that perhaps this wasn’t the best labyrinth, as I got “lost,” which I didn’t think was supposed to be possible in this walking meditation. I’m guessing it’s much more effective when all the plants are high and in bloom and provide a clear marker of the path. It was still fun.

Here’s a photo of the lake and one of me with Michelle:

And finally, here’s the statue at the front entrance. Lots of Hindu and Buddhist statues here and there, as you would expect at a yoga center, but our weekend was so focused on Christian prayer and Jesus Christ that it was easy to forget at times that this is no longer a Catholic facility. As we prayed lectio divina, did the Examen, spent long periods on intercessory prayer, and even had Mass while sitting on the floor of the yoga studio Saturday night, I felt so grateful for the experience and so alive with prayerful possibility.

I will be back later this week with some further reflections. Till then, I’ll just share one pearl of wisdom that Father Tom shared with us: Contemplation isn’t always about retreating from the world in silence and solitude; it’s about “taking a long, loving look at the real.”

Look around you today. Right now. Look deeply into the eyes of the next person you meet. Listen attentively to the person on the phone or at the door or in the next office. Drink in the wonder of creation as you drive or walk or run to your next appointment. You just might be amazed to find God right under your nose. Namaste.

Manic Monday: Halloween edition

It’s a Manic Halloween Monday. Boo! Guess I should go out and buy some candy, not that any trick-or-treaters ever ring our doorbell. Seriously. Not. One. Kid. Still, I feel woefully unprepared if I don’t have some real candy on hand — Kit Kats, Hershey bars. The real deal. Our former pastor gave us a bag of Tootsie Rolls and Dots, which would do in a pinch, but we all know that those can’t hold a candle to chocolate.

So, other than Halloween, here’s what’s going on…

Bookshelf: I just finished Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, What an awesome and inspiring book. I could not put it down. Well, I had to put it down, but I grabbed it every chance I got. If you have not read this book yet, go get it and start reading. Now. The power of the human spirit to survive in the face of the most unbelievable treatment and torture is beyond comprehension.

Soundtrack: We’ve been kind of busy, so it’s been kind of quiet. Olivia just got her new iPod Touch, so she’s been testing it out with her favorites. But every night, as I go to bed, I can hear Mozart softly playing on continuous loop from her bedroom. That’s been her routine for months, maybe a full year. I wonder if that’s contributing to those stellar grades she’s getting in every subject.


From a distance, our front porch looks lovely, with the cornstalk and hay bale decorations. Pumpkins and gourds and corn, oh my.

On closer inspection, we see the damage the squirrels have been doing to the pumpkins. So much for pie.

Then there’s the Indian corn, completely decimated by the chipmunks, who hang there in plain sight, nibbling to their hearts’ content. That last ear of corn is just about finished at this point.

Friday night was the Costume Ball for Olivia the Vampiress,
and Halloween Happenings for Rapunzel.

Look up. It’s fall.

Look down. It’s winter. Although we were spared the worst.

Odds and Ends: This will be the first year Noah doesn’t don a costume and go out on Halloween night. Makes me feel old. Although he did dress up as Maximilian Kolbe at our parish youth ministry’s All Saints party last night.

Tomorrow I get to participate in Parent Reader Theater in Chiara’s classroom. I’ll be reading Falling for Rapunzel, which not only ties in with Chiara’s Halloween theme but is also a really funny children’s book. A favorite of mine.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., I will be signing/selling all four of my books at the St. Thomas Craft Fair in St. Thomas School, Delmar. Look for me to the left of the entrance when you walk into the gymansium. Tell your friends. Walking Together, my book on spiritual friendship, makes a great Christmas gift. My Essential Guide to Prayer and the Mass is a great resource as we change over to the new translation of the Roman Missal. And then there’s my Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism, which walks you through the entire catechism in plain English, and Parenting a Grieving Child, which focuses on how to help children deal with death and loss. Look over on the left of this page for Amazon links for all of these books. Or contact me directly for signed copies.

Manic Monday: It may not be pretty, but it’s life

It really is a manic Monday, no way around it. It was a pretty manic Saturday and Sunday to be honest. Just one thing after another. So as I ponder my usual Manic Monday posting topics, I realize life has simply taken over everything else that I normally squeeze into a week.

As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And life is definitely happening these days.

Bookshelf: (See photo of my office below) As you can see in the very scary shot of my office, or half of my office, most of my bookshelf is on my floor. Not a whole lot of reading getting done here lately, at least not novel-type reading. Bits and pieces of all sorts of other stuff related to cooking, eating, praying, exercising, writing. Which is really not a bad combo now that I look at it. I guess I’m pretty lucky that even my work involves such fun topics. If you were to zoom in on some of those books on the floor, you’d find The Rule of St. Benedict, the Sivenanda Companion to Yoga, and the Artist’s Way, among other things.

Soundtrack: Hmmm…In the car, I’m tuned to K-LOVE, which is Christian music. At home, it’s mainly Gregorian Chant, with some occasional forays into jazz during the day. On the family soundtrack this weekend, we had Frank Sinatra, U2, and some selections from Guys & Dolls (for Olivia’s audition this week). Quite an eclectic mix, no?


Olivia takes to the ice at YMCA.

No fear.
Only Chiara’s second time on ice skates.


What greeted me when I went to the basement to do laundry this morning. Apparently this crew is headed to the airport for their flight to Paris. Barbie is living the good life.

And then there’s real life. My office, which does not usually look this bad. It’s a sign of things to come. Many, many months of intensity. I’ll fill you in as we go along. But, no matter how crazy it’s going to be, in the end it’s all good. Right? RIGHT!?!?!

Appointment Book: We break up the usual meetings, deadlines, and general insanity with a Daisy trip to Five Rivers this evening. In other words, a very specific type of insanity. Nine 6-year-olds on a nature trail near a big pond. No problem.

Manic Monday: Pumpkins and other fall fun

So I’ve been rather scarce around these parts lately. Sorry about that. Typically that means one of two things: Too much work or too much kid-related stuff. In recent days, the two have converged to make life totally crazy.

Between deadlines, soccer practice, soccer games, dance classes, meetings and fund-raisers for our big youth ministry trip to Indiana next month, plus the usual school events, it’s been more than hectic. And, truth be told, I’ve got two big projects in the offing. Shhhh….can’t say much about them now. But if both come through, the next year should be the craziest year ever for me in terms of work. I’ll keep you posted as that situation develops. Until then, please be patient with me and keep checking back here. I promise to show up as often as I can.

Without further ado, here’s this week’s Manic Monday…

Soundtrack: It’s been quieter than usual around here. The kids haven’t been blasting much music this week. I guess because we’re just not here enough to be singing and dancing. As for me, I’ve been keeping Pandora on my work computer tuned to my Gregorian chant channel. I needed music to soothe and inspire while not tempting me to sing along. So a little chant and a lot of incense have kept me in line while I write.

Bookshelf: Believe it or not, I am just finishing up Genesee Diary. I’ve been reading a little before bed each night. Usually I find some pearl of wisdom to contemplate as I drift off to sleep. I did dip my toes into Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, but I’m not sure I should undertake such a heavy book when I know I’ll have so little time for luxury reading in the weeks and months to come.

Viewfinder: Well, first of all, let’s talk viewfinder in general. I finally started shooting with my new Nikon 3100 SLR digital camera. Dennis and the kids gave it to me for my birthday last month — after years of listening to me whine about our point-and-shoot while constantly mentioning how much I wanted this particular camera. Then, once I got it, I said I was going to bring it back. I didn’t think I could justify the expense. I didn’t think I deserved the extravagance. I let it sit unopened next to the door in our family room for more than a week. Finally, tentatively, I opened the box and peered inside, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could find a way to keep that camera. And I did.

I took it out this weekend for some pumpkin picking shots and other random outdoor photos. Here are a few photos from the new camera. Still haven’t given the zoom lens much of a workout. Maybe you’ll see those next week. Click on any photo to see it enlarged.

A bumble bee taken with the macro setting.

Chiara in mid-jump thanks to the sport setting.

Olivia taken with the portrait setting.

Cross in the garden with toad lilies.

Chiara trying to catch a yellow butterfly.

Pumpkins galore, on landscape setting.

The great pumpkin?

Menu: The menu around here as been dullsville. Hence, no Foodie Friday posts lately. I’m joining Dennis for a bout of Weight Watchers. I didn’t officially join, but I’m tracking those stupid points and not very happy about it. Lots of fruits and veggies, which now cost no points, but not much else worth mentioning. Oatmeal and brown rice might as well be cheesecake on this new point system, which I hate. If I was going to write about food, I’d tell you about the hot cider donuts we bought at the farm yesterday. The kids said they were the best they’ve ever tasted. Not surprising since we got them within minutes of them coming out of the farmhouse kitchen. Two weeks in a row we’ve bought cider donuts and I’ve yet to have one. So if you’re out at a farm in the coming weeks, eat a cider donut for me, please.

Appointment book: Busy week ahead. Again. Faith formation, dance, ice skating, soccer, parent meeting for high school. Oh yeah, and I’m speaking at St. Thomas on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. I’ll be discussing spiritual friendship.

Manic Monday: Crunch time, and I’m not referring to apples or leaves

Well, I’ve reached that moment in September when I am officially overwhelmed by what I see on the calendar — a total absence of white space. Just one event after another, many of them simultaneous.

September is my favorite month, because of the weather, because of birthdays, because it feels like the start of a new year, but it’s quickly losing points for becoming one of the most-feared months in our family’s rotation. There’s no time to appreciate the beauty of September. Or to breathe.

That’s a good introduction for this week’s Manic Monday post because it will explain a lot, like the fact that there are no new photos to share (but some really nice old ones). Not that I haven’t seen plenty worth sharing this past week — soccer games, dance classes, and more. I just haven’t had time to snap photos of anything.

Soundtrack: Devil Went Down to Georgia. Yes, by the Charlie Daniels Band. Noah loves this song and was demonstrating for us how he knows all the words, well, with a substitution for the one bad word. You gotta admit, that’s some good fiddle playing there.

Bookshelf: I’m well into The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and I will say this: Lewis was a GENIUS, which I already knew from some of his other works but this book just floored me. Originally published in 1941, it could have been written yesterday. It’s that relevant to our times and our Church. Wow, what a powerful book. And a fast read. How had I not read this before now?

Viewfinder: Okay, this wasn’t in my viewfinder this week, but it was just about one year ago. And, oh, how I wish I was there right now. At least once a day, every single day, I wish I could be back in Rome. I left a little piece of my heart in St. Peter’s Square, I think.

One of my favorite spots: Ponte Sant’Angelo

I was so struck by the Coliseum’s presence right there
in front of me as I walked down the street.

Piazza Navona, which felt like home by the end of 11 days.
I walked it every day on my way to and from Santa Croce University.

The view of St. Peter’s from a bridge crossing the Tiber on the way to
Trastavere, my favorite neighborhood in Rome.

Thought for the week:

“You must never grow weary of doing what is right.” 2 Thessalonians 3:13