Friday, August 31, 2007

Recipe- Shoo Fly Pie

My trip to Amish country made me curious to try "Shoo Fly Pie." My only exposure to this curious classic pie has come form the song lyrics of Ella Fitzgerald. It's a favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch as was served all over Archbold. Unfortunately, Miss Newborn never let me make it to dessert without needing to be walked, so I'll have to create it myself over the weekend. Here's a recipe I culled from the internet and lyrics to the song that keeps going around in my head.

Recipe Shoo Fly Pie

Mix for crumbs: (reserving ½ cup for topping)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon solid shortening
1 cup flour

1 cup molasses (good and thick)
¾ cup boiling water
1 egg beaten
1 Teaspoon baking soda

Combine soda with boiling water, then add egg and syrup. Add crumb mixture (this will be lumpy). Pour into unbaked pie crust and cover with reserved crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes (until firm). When cut into, the bottom may be "wet." This is okay, and is called a "wet bottom shoo fly pie."

Song Lyrics from Ella Fitzgerald

If you wanna do right by your appetite,
If you're fussy about your food,
Take a choo-choo today, head New England way,
And we'll put you in the happiest mood. with:

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy."
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff.

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan dowdy makes the sun come out
When Heavens are cloudy,
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!

Mama! When you bake,
Mama! I don't want cake;
Mama! For my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin' Sh,

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up,
Your tummy say "Howdy,"
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!

The MovieGoer-- Spartacus

Spartacus was one of those movies I compared to eating fresh spinach- good for you, but not enjoyable. So it languished on the bottom of my Netflix pile. It took me not getting the punchline of the Diet Pepsi commercial to convince me that it was finally time to see this movie classic.

What was I waiting for? Amazing acting, sensitive plot, historical accuracy. Who knew that we could so closely relate to the times in pagan Rome?

Spartacus is an elegant study on the meaning of human freedom. There were scenes that could be directly linked to John Paul II ideas. There is one speech, where our former pope basically quotes "Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want. It is the ability to live out our life in an authentic relationship with God."

Spartacus is a slave who is originally trained as a gladiator. To encourage his training, he's given a slave woman as a reward. At first, Spartacus spies the pretty lead with lust. Then he is horrified to see that his owners have drilled a hole in the roof of his cell, and wish to watch him "mate" as a sort of early form of pornography. Spartacus then grabs the bars on the window and howls "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL." To this the girl softly replies, "I'm not an animal either." Then an ashamed Spartacus hands the girl her clothes back, clothing her nakedness. She's removed from his cell. However, the conditions have changed so that an actual relationship based on mutual love can now begin between them.

I thought this scene so perfectly illustrated the complex teachings of "Theology of the Body." Men can look at women with lust, and denigrate sex into an animalistic mating. Or, a man can treat a woman with modesty, as an being with equal dignity to himself. That is the only way for true love to develop when a woman is a person and not a thing.

In the movie, freedom is defined as respect for others, including women, children and the elderly. Freedom is work with dignity, the ability to do humble tasks such as spinning and hunting, for a noble task- to free all slaves in Rome. Freedom is also the ability to raise a family.

Freedom is not, the ability to have your own "unique" set of goals, your ability to return evil for evil (such as when the former slaves wish their former masters to fight in gladiator like duels), or tolerance for alternative opinions when they condone acts of injustice. Freedom involves self-sacrifice and is the necessary ingredient for living a life of truth.

I love finding hidden spiritual gems like this movie, because while the director may not have been Catholic, his faithfulness to "truth" makes his art the perfect Catholic catechism.

On the Book Shelf- Buchi Emecheta

"The Joys of Motherhood" is hideously misnamed since the entire plot explores how motherhood has become devalued in Nigeria by the changes under colonial rule. The main character ends up dying alone in a ditch "without any child to hold her hand, or any friend to talk to," despite being the dedicated mother of nine children. Not exactly an uplifting read today, especially in a house full of tiny allergy suffers.

Still there was a humorous passage which I wanted to share. Nnu Ego, the protagonist has just become pregnant with her second child and realizes that she can't continue her market trading days to buy this baby an expensive naming day ceremony such as she had for her first child.

"She had reminded herself of the old saying that money and children don't go together: if you spent all your time making money and getting rich, the gods wouldn't give you any children; if you wanted children, you had to forget money, and be content to be poor. She did not remember how this saying had originated among her people, perhaps it was because a nursing mother in Ibuza could not go to the market to sell for long, before she had to rush home to feed her baby. And of course babies were always ill, which meant that the mother would lose many market days. Nnu Ego realized that part of the pride of motherhood was to look a little unfashionable and be able to draw with joy: "I can't afford another outfit, because I am nursing him, so you see I can't go anywhere to sell anything."

One usually received the answer, "Never mind, he will grow soon and clothe you and farm for you, so that your old age will be sweet." pg.80

Exploring the virtues of poverty, content with unfashionable old clothes, and persevering through current hardships with the promise of a sweet old age filled with family, who knew my life could so closely resemble that of a mother in 1930s Nigeria?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Future Depends On Love

Isn't that a lovely concept? This was the title of Fr. Benedict Groeschel's recent lectures in D.C. Unfortunately, I missed both last week. My confessor, didn't, however and recommended that I pick up his recent book "the virtuous life." (Yes, this is one of the main treats of going to confession at the National Basilica, you get to leave with a reading list)

I left the lecture poster hanging on my fridge (the one with the missing door handle because my 2 year old son thought that it would make a great light saber). Seeing the title makes me take stock, and frequently change my attitude when responding to my four year olds' never ending snack requests -- which usually seem to come as soon as the baby starts to nurse.

On the I-Pod: Cowboy Junkies

Currently playing on the i-pod, or as Hannah likes to say our "e-pod" is the song from my first dance with my husband at our wedding over six years ago. I post the lyrics with a special blessing to my friend, Jessica S., who caught my bridal bouquet and now has been married all of two weeks. Jess, here's hoping that you will soon know all about the simple joy of morning cups of coffee with a man who now wears your ring.

Cowboy Junkies Anniversary Song lyrics

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
as that of the rain-soaked purple
of the white birch in spring?

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
than on a warm fall night
under a Mackerel sky,
the smell of grapes on the wind?

Well I have known all these things
and the joys that they can bring
And I'll share them all for a cup of coffee
and to wear your ring.

Have you ever had the pleasure of watching
a quiet winter's snow slowly gathering
like simple moments adding up?
Have you ever satisfied a gut feeling
to follow a dry dirt road that's beckoning you
to the heart of a shimmering summer's day?

Well I have known all these things
and the joys that they can bring
And I'll share them all for a cup of coffee
and to wear your ring.

And I don't know how I survived those days
before I held your hand
Well I never thought that I would be the one
to admit that the moon and the sun
shine so much more brighter when
seen through two pairs of eyes than
when seen through just one.

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
as a face in a crowd of people
that lights up just for you?

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
as when you wake
by the side of that boy or girl
who has pledged their love to you?

Well I have known all these things
and the joys that they can bring
And now every morning there's a cup of coffee
and I wear your ring.

The Importance of Motherhood

To get to my aunt's funeral, I spent an inspiring weekend in Amish country. My whole family has been Mennonite (a form of the Amish religion) for 350 years, and has
lived in the same Mennonite farming town since 1840. My great-grandfather was the 11th of 12 children. The direct offspring of Peter now number over 120. My grandfather, who moved to Columbus & became Methodist, still had four kids himself.

This region was such a relaxing one to visit with three kids under the age of 5. When we sat down to eat dinner at church, perfect strangers came up to cut my
2 year old's chicken and stroll with the baby so that my husband could eat. There was pro-life stories sold at the truck stops and healthy organic food everywhere. Kids five and under ate for free most places. The waitress at the local diner not only told me that our baby was cute, but also shared that she had seven kids herself. Each of my elderly aunts and cousins came up to compliment me on my family.

The only sad fact is that out of 20 + grandkids, only four of us have children at all. I'm the only one who has more than two kids. There's the whole rich history of being pro-kid in my family, but our wider culture has even effected the kids of the Amish. My closest cousin even told me that after two kids, she was so finished that she had her tubes tied. I could only sputter out that I had the opposite reaction remembering feeling so heartsick that a doctor cautioned me to stop after three c-sections.

These experiences reminded me that despite the hardships, so evident after traveling for 10 hours with little ones, that the job of motherhood is important and revolutionary in today's culture.

On the Book Shelf- James Agee

"A Death in the Family" is so good, I can't figure out where author Agee was hiding all of these years. This novel has to be the best account anyone can write about the painfulness of a "mixed" marriage. In the novel, the father dies in an 1915 auto accident. The wife is Catholic & her loving husband isn't baptized. The shock of the six year old son about the sudden loss of his father just on the day that he is eager to show off his "big boy" baseball cap is heartbreaking. The last scene where the six year old struggles to understand his maternal uncle's anger about the priest's refusal to recite the full burial service for the unbaptized father is a call to arms.

Here's the part I especially loved about mixed marriage:

"That a thing which meant so much to her, so much more, all the time should be a thing that they could not share, or could not be open about.. She felt sure that he [her husband] felt none of Andrew's anger and contempt, and none of her father's irony, but it was very clear by his special quietness, when instances of it came up, that he was very far away from it and from her, that he did not like it. He kept his distance, that was it. His distance, and some kind of dignity, which she respected in him, much as it hurt her, by this silence and withdrawal. And it would widen, oh, inevitably, because quiet and gentle as she would certainly try to be about it, they were going to be brought up as she knew she must bring them up, as Christian, Catholic children. And this was bound to come into the home, quite as much as in church. It was bound in some ways, unless he changed; it was bound in some important ways, try as hard and be as good about it as she was sure they both would, to set his children apart form him, to set his own wife apart from him. And not by any action or wish of his, but by her own deliberate will. Lord God, she prayed, in anguish. Am I wrong? Show me if I am wrong, I beseech Thee. Show me what I am to do?

But God showed her only what she knew already; that come what might she must, as a Christian woman, as a Catholic, bring up her children thoroughly and devoutly in the Faith, and that it was also her task, more than her husband's, that the family remain one, that the gulf be closed." pg 51-52.

I don't think I've ever heard as clearly, the painful division that religious faith can cause in families. It reminds me of the verse where Jesus says "I come not to bring peace, but to put father against son." I feel this so much as the only Catholic within my Protestant extended family. It's so bad that I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet for my aunt in an abandoned room in the funeral parlor, afraid someone would be offended by my rosary beads. Yet, rereading this passage makes me so grateful that I did convert to my husband's Roman Catholic religion. I can't imagine trying to raise children with being on the same page as my husband. Praying the rosary with him at night, going to confession at the same time, being open to life --these are all the tangible acts which make it possible for me to believe that our marriage will last our whole lives.

In Memory Of Aunt Evelyn

It's been a quiet two weeks, with much reflection on my part, after the death of my 90 year old Aunt Evelyn. She had the death that we can all dream of: a huge 90th birthday party in June, she passed her yearly physical with flying colors in July, and then on an ordinary Sunday in August, a peaceful death. That Sunday morning, she drove herself to church, came home, told her sister that she felt tired and wanted to take a quick nap before their standing Sunday lunch date, then she quietly died in her sleep. St. Joseph should be thanked.

Her passing has left such a void. Aunt Evelyn was the last of the great spiritual women in my life who formed such a protective circle around me. Within the past five years, I've lost two grandmothers and three close great-aunts. Those of us in the John Paul II generation, lose so much when the elder generation die. Because our own parents are not firmly rooted in the faith, we get moved up too soon. There's no one above us anymore whose explicit job it is to "pray for the family." No more birthday cards with bible verses scratched below the signature. No more example of un-Peter like embarrassment about publicly state the faith.

"She passed the torch" and I'm trying to figure out how to pray better and more consistently in order to fill some huge empty shoes.

My aunt was a Mennonite, the simple Protestant anti-baptist faith similar to the Amish. I discovered that our Mennonite heritage goes back 350 years to Basel, Switzerland. (Which means that St. Francis de Sales was trying to reconvert my relatives.) Aunt Evelyn's father, Peter, was the 11th of 12 children. She was saved by Jesus at age 11, made it her mission to share the faith. She taught school for 37 years. She never married. Instead, she lived with her sister who was a single mother in the 1940s before the term even existed.

Here are some things I learned about her at her funeral. When asked what she missed most about being young, she thought for a moment and replied "Jumping." She loved to cruise in her 1995 car and put 15,000 miles per year on it without ever driving more than a 20 mile radius of Archbold, Ohio. 15,000 miles counted all of her visits to friends in nursing homes, trips to eat lunch with her sister, and visits to family members. On the day of her death, she took notes on her church bulletin. She wrote down phrases like "trust", "share the faith more." It caught me in the throat that she died before she could implement her ideas. Yet, now its my goal to be a note-taking Christian at age 90.

To get to her funeral, I had to drive 10 hours with a 4 year old, 2 year old, and nursing 10 week old. Everyone thought I was nuts. Here's why I felt so strongly about going to her funeral.

When my son, Francisco, died last year, I sent Aunt Evelyn a copy of his funeral program. She not only sent me a sympathy card, she sent copies of my letter to all the female cousins show who were meeting up with me for a family wedding. She mentioned her sorrow to me in person, as did most of my cousins. These were the only acknowledgements that I ever received about my miscarriage from my extended family.

Even more incredible, the day I was conversing with my aunt during the family wedding reception, my husband and I had just realized that baby Maria was on her way. We felt a lot of nervous emotions. Knowing that my aunt and cousins cared about us and were actively praying for us, helped us get through that fearful time.

My last letter to Aunt Evelyn was a sincere regret that I couldn't attend her 90th birthday party on the back of Maria's birth announcement. She sent Maria a congratulations card along with family photos. She had bought a birthday present for Maria, which she was going to mail me on a Monday. She died the day before she was planning on sending it. The oldest family member caring for the youngest family member- such a sweet moment in time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The MovieGoer- Walking With Dinosaurs

If you've got a dinosaur lover in your family, add "Walking With Dinosaurs" to your Netflick's queue. This incredible TV series from the BBC equally entertains kids & adults. Kenneth Branaugh's narration & computer animation recreate the wonder of the Mutual of Omaha productions that we all remember from our childhood. Rent it today and add the word "Postosuchus" to your toddlers vocabulary.

For more dino fun, and so you look oh so knowledgeable at your next visit to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, check out the series website to get the proper spelling and pronouncation of all your new favorite dinos. (This is how I keep up with my 2 year old son. My two years of high school Latin, unfortunately, did not include nearly enough dinosaur names.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

For Lissa Wiley!

Jon & I trade off watching the kids when we visit all the fun museums in our fair city. When it was my turn to hang out in "The Building Zone", Jon told me I found an interesting book that you should read. It turned out to be "Sod Houses on The Great Plains" by Glen Pounds.

Everyone remembers Laura Ingells' dugout home in Plum Creek. Who knew how amazing these humble dirt homes really were? The indigenous building material was cheap and readily available on the treeless plains. The two feet thick sod walls saved the settlers from being "burned out" during the huge grass fires that were common on the prairie. Housekeeping in a sod home was a bit of a challenge. Ma Ingells had contend with puddles on the floor from a soaked roof every time the rain lasted over an hour and snakes "occassionally" fell through the ceiling while chasing the many field mice which inhabited the roof.

My favorite quote however related to the appeared of a well, loved sod house.

"It was possible to judge how long a sod house had stood from the height of grass and sunflowers growing on the dirt roof. The older the house was, the more it came to look like some kind of unusual florist's shop."

Something to think about the next time I pick up sunflowers at Safeway.

The MovieGoer-- The Last Kiss

While I won't really recommend watching Zach Braff in the "The Last Kiss," which was falsely touted as a romantic comedy, especially if as a Catholic you already know that co-habitation is a BAD IDEA. As displaced Madisonians,however, we did enjoy a rare cinimatic peak at our fair city. "There's the Capital Building, there's Bascom Hill, there's our beloved Terrace on Lake Mendota!

It also lead to this priceless exchange.

Zach Braff,a best-man, newly informed father-to-be who is also unmarried: "Weddings always depress me. I now know that there's going to be no more surprises in my life."

My beloved husband of six years, holding newborn baby number four:"No more surprises after marriage? What is he talking about?"

Me:"No honey, not surprises like new discoveries, kids, and moving across five states in four years. He means no surprises as in not kissing another girl"

Husband:"Hmpf! Kissing the same girl is what makes the rest of this crazy life possible!"

Well said, my love, well said.

From the Ashes of Disaster

I've infected my family with a passion for musical theater. At only eight months old, Alex came to watch his mother solo as a gossipy Pick-A-Little Lady in the "Music Man". Hannah knows all the lines in "Meet Me in St. Louis." Yet nothing has quite impacted our family as the beloved "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

During our harrowing ten week stretch of unemployment in 2005, we played this musical nearly every day. Jon and I gave up our apartment and moved in with our in-laws (along with kids ages 3 & 1 and our dog) during a desperate search for work in NYC after our beloved advertising business finally bit the dust. My father-in-law, a stately retired New York State Trooper, never saw anything so goofy as his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren dancing around with hats and canes to "the Old Bamboo" in his living room. Still, somehow a rousing chorus of "From the Ashes of Disaster Comes the Roses of Success" always made me sleep better at night.

Song Lyrics from "The Roses of Success" in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you'll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Oh yes!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!

(By January 2006, Jon had a new job in Washington D.C. and our finances are finally recovering in 2007. My perfectionism and embarrassment of failure, of course, still remain. I'm sure the Good Lord will send me a few more testing times to rid me of such pesky shortcomings. At least next time I'll already have my these song handy!)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Stroller for Three, also known as our "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

Dick Van Dyke's original invention only seats one more!


I’m currently reading a mammoth book on the civil war. Today we pull up in front of the National Building Museum. What should I spy-- but a mammoth 150 foot fresco of the union army complete with artillery, gun boats and the walking wounded limping behind on their crutches. Turns out that the bright red brick building was built in 1888 to house the Civil War Pension office. Inside is an open courtyard the size of two football fields and fascinating exhibits on the history of architecture in Washington D.C.

Also tres chic for the under six crowd. The National Building Museum’s ‘Building Zone’ is an indoor play area we nicknamed “boy heaven.” Legos the size of your foot, toy dump trucks, and a book nook filled with such exciting tales as “building a sod home on the prairie.” A must repeat visit, especially for families with young kids and design history junkie parents.

Ave Maria

I came face to face with an original program from Marian Anderson's famous 1939 Easter Sunday Concert performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In the days of segregation, this concert marked a historic moment in the civil rights movement. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt organized this event in protest after the Daughter's of the American Revolution refused to rent Constitutional Hall to Anderson if her audience included members of the African-American community. In the end, over 75,000 people attended the Easter Concert and millions more tuned in on that new invention, the radio.

Anderson sang six songs with one intermission. Her accompanist was Kosti Vehanen.


“O Mio Fernando”

“Ave Maria”

"Gospel Train"

"Trampin’ "

" My Soul is Anchored in the Lord.”

The choice of "Ave Maria" surprised me. I'm so glad Our Lady was honored on this historic occasion. Schubert's arrangement of this famous prayer is one of my favorite classical pieces of all time. Someday, I'm going to get my voice in shape enough to do the song justice. In the meantime, I love to play his arrangement on my clarinet.

Here is a link to Ms. Anderson's divine rendition of 'Ave Maria' courtesy of PBS. Conductor Toscanini once described the quality of Ms. Anderson's three octave counter-alto range as "a voice one is privileged to hear only once in a hundred years.” Listening to her song, I realized that the famous conductor was not over-selling his point!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beth Orton - Shopping Trolley

Jon current Friday Night Routine includes watching crazy foreign videos on local D.C. channel MPZ while dancing with Maria. (I'm usually fast asleep at 9 PM after a hectic week of holding down the fort with three little ones.) In the morning he shares his new finds with me. This video is his and Maria's new favorite. She loves all the stop-action automation. I love the lyrics.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Made From Scratch - Kid's Fisherman Knit Sweater

My grandmother taught me how to knit as a remedy for itchy hands during her Tv movie nights. I never advanced beyond the basic "knit two, purl two" pattern for winter scarfs until finding this sweater pattern for my kids. I taught myself how to do a basic cable knit by reading instructions on the internet. It is super easy and extremely rewarding. I've made this sweater for girls and boys in all kinds of colors. The sweater looks great for church and is also sturdy enough, (and easily washed) for rough outside play.

Models: The unhappy Alex (age 2) and always sunny Hannah (age 4) were also "made from scratch"

Sweater Pattern Link:,frameless.htm

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the Bookshelf: Shelby Foote

The beloved commentator on Ken Burn's PBS saga "The Civil War" and Walker Percy's best friend, Shelby Foote, is also an amazing writer. I'm reading his 3,000 + page "Civil War: A Narrative." I've never been one for war history, but this is an inside look at all of the bizarre personalities of generals and fighting men who made up the armies of both sides.

The thing that strikes me most, is how flawed and human each of the mythic men are from that era. Stonewall Jackson hides out with all of his men, cross and tired, during the entire week of the Seven Day battle to save Richmond. General Lee has these brilliant battle plans which require such complicated maneuvers by a green army that things get inevitably muddled by mud, by lost generals, by tired soldiers who want to stop and read the letters in the tents of Union soldiers to "discover what Northern girls are like" rather than press on to victory as in the battle of Shiloh. (That's something that I could identify with-stopping to read a stranger's mail while artillery shells burst around me!)

The most surprising thing was how many, many people hated Lincoln. Not just in the South, but almost all of the North was united by thinking that he was a bumbling idiot who was not directing the course of the war successfully. Unionists called him "a baboon", "a gaunt hick" and worse names. I'm a history major, but this fact continues to be surprising to me. I mean, this is LINCOLN. One of the best presidents of all times, so wise, so beloved at his passing. Yet contemporaries had such mean, mean things to say about him during the time at the helm of state.

Somehow learning that people took cheap potshots at President Lincoln makes me feel better. During the midst of battle the way is rarely clear and definitely not popular. One of the flaws in my personality is that I always want to be "liked". Disapproval makes me sick to my stomach. Learning more about Lincoln has inspired me to put on a thicker shell-- to look at how things will turn out in the end rather than focus on "the current unpleasantness" which was a timely euphemism for the Civil War.

PS- For a quicker Shelby read, pick up "Shiloh" --A fictional look at the civil war battle from multiple perspectives.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Artful Purpose

"Every piece of art, be it religious or secular, be it a painting, a sculpture, a poem or any form of handicraft made by loving skill is a sign and a symbol of the inscrutable secrete of human existence, of man's origin and destiny, of the meaning of his life and work." -Pope John Paul II

Today we revisited the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center which is a hidden gem next to the National Basilica. There was something for everyone. Hannah had fun coloring in the Gallery of Imagination and playing the "ring the bell game." Lex donned on the habit of St. Francis and built blocks in the Children's Space. Jon explored the intersection of science and theology in the Gallery of Wonder. I traced the history of Baptism from the 1st century to modern times. A feel great family day!

Friday, August 10, 2007


Being a convert is an odd thing. On the one hand, it's frustrating innocence -when is that Holy Day of Obligation in August again? Then again, the ability to start your faith anew as an adult is an incredible blessing.

One of the things I'm so proud of as a family, is that we buried our son, Francisco, in a full Catholic mass on July 19, 2006 even though he had only lived for 12 weeks and 6 days in my womb before he died. Burying my son was one of those things, I just had to do as a mother. I had one son who was eighteen months old at the time and I couldn't imagine treating his younger brother any differently at death.

I've got a shaky smile on my face in this picture while my hand is on his tiny coffin (only five inches long) because I was finally successful in my quest. It wasn't easy to let my doctors allow me to have a natural miscarriage, and to get his little body across state lines and into a cemetery without a death certificate. Because Francisco was so little, his body was medically termed "medical waste" and not a still birth. We had no legal right to recover his body for burial, but thankfully, no laws prohibiting his burial either.

For an entire week I fought red tape to have a Catholic funeral and burial for my son. First the doctors demanded a D & C. Then I couldn't be assured of getting his body back from the pathology lab. Then the doctor refused to sign a death certificate, so the funeral director couldn't transport him across state lines. On and on and on. I had read somewhere that a body should be present for a funeral mass "if at all possible." People kept telling me that it didn't matter if we had a service without my son's body. But Francisco hadn't died at sea. His body wasn't lost in the rubble of 9/11. He was simply such a little guy that American law didn't recognize his remains as human. But we did as his family. And my newly adopted church --also respected him as an equal soul.

So out of shear determination I planned a Funeral Mass. I picked out the readings with my priest. I hired the cantor and organist. I sang "All Through the Night" to my son. His father read a favorite Spanish poem. The priest's homily talk about Francisco's equality before God. The young deacon looked carefully at the funeral handout which featured pictures of our happy conception party for Francisco that April. His brother and sister blew bubbles at the grave site and left plastic bath toys at his grave.

It all helped, and then none of it helped. I still hurt. I still couldn't get out of bed for two weeks because my first thought every morning was "I'm not pregnant anymore." I would watch Hannah and Lex race around the sofa and think "there was supposed to be another little boy joining this game."

My family loved me, but they didn't get it. It was just a miscarriage. Why are you taking it this far? My Dad didn't come to the funeral because he didn't think that it was going to be a big deal.

Yet my church family got it. I was a mother with one soul already in heaven. Francisco's little body mattered, and so it was gently laid in a grave. His funeral honored a great spirit, not a tiny or unformed one. One of my thoughts during the Mass was "he's got a big boy funeral at last."

Because he was a real boy to me, having a funeral Mass helped me mark his place. It made my grief more tangible and more intense. At the same time, wrapping myself in the mystery of faith gave me the courage to become pregnant again with another child.

One of the things that the Catholic religion does, is help you focus on the right questions. After Francisco died, my first sad thought was "can I have another child?" It seemed so painful to lose another, that I thought "NO WAY." Then then I remembered that as a Catholic, contraception was out- so even on NFP, we were probably looking at having at least one more in the decade or more left of my fertility. So then the question became "when can I be open to having another child?" At first I thought, "ten years." Then "well, maybe three." "Okay, maybe one year." And the surprising answer for both me and my husband "right now!"

Maria Lois Elizabeth was born on the feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2007. She is a fruit of my faith journey. A blessing to me and the world.

Let's Hear It For The Girls

Big Sister Hannah, age 4
holding little sister Maria, age 1 day


Here are the men in my life. Father and son, what a perfect combination.

Fish lips

My sister's fish, Scarlet, the sassy beta, is currently living on top of my refrigerator while she conducts research for her Master's Thesis in West Africa. Aunt Emily is a beloved figure in these parts for having the same name as a girl engine on the Thomas The Train series (Lex), for buying high heeled boots of which Mother does not approve (Hannah), and for doing things like needing emergency fish sitters because animals can not travel to Africa (Lex and Hannah). The fish is so interesting that it has to live on top of the highest surface in my kitchen or it would be drowned by inquiring toddler fingers. So now, every time I open the freezer to get ice-cream, the fish starts rapidly attacking the glass going "Feed Me! Feed Me!" And of course, since I'm currently on no sleep because my newborn has the stomach the size of a shrunken hazelnut- I'm not always sure when the fish has last received her tasty treats. Which makes me wonder, better to overfeed or underfeed?

Powerful Art

Quote from my best friend about her recent trip to Italy: "When we went to Hawaii we saw the best that Nature could create. Standing in the midst of St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, we saw the best that man could create."

On the Book Shelf-Ford Maddox Ford

During my JYA (Junior-Year-Abroad)-- which because I fell fantastically in love with courses in my American Studies Major and proved hopeless at learning languages, really became my "semester abroad" in London--I had a wonderful Modern British Literature Professor named Max Something-or-Other. Max was so shy that he kept backing into the chalk board during lectures and ended up with chalk dust smears on his leather elbow patches. Max was a expert at Ford Maddox Ford- so I naturally shared the same high opinion of the author without having read a single novel.

Last month I found "the Parade's End" in a used bookstore during my frantic dash to buy more brain food books. Good literature is my antidote to the brain melt of breastfeeding sessions.
During that awkward newbie stage, I bribe myself with good books. For Hannah, I read the 800 page history of Henry the VIII's wives in one week and then got hooked on studying the history of the reformation. Alexander got his nickname "Alexei" because he kicked at a specific place during my husband's narration of "the History of the Russian Tsars." Now with Maria, obsessing about reading "the art of the novel." Mostly English writers, some French thrown in for variety. So I was happy to pick up Ford Maddox Ford, thinking there is nothing like finding a new author to add to my mental bookshelf.

UGH! The first scene opens with such promise. A freshly varnished railway car with those fussy straps the British are so fond of having. Two friends on an adventure together. Then, yuck, pages and pages of pointless railing against Roman Catholics (the main character's wife is an adulterous Catholic) -which I'd stomach since it is such a favorite tangent for Anglicans -but then the rest of the novel became obsessed with unhappy upper-class marriages and glorified affairs with Roman Catholic women. Such talent wasted on such a stupid plot!

I so dislike it when artists glorify affairs as a source of "true love" a la The English Patient. It is impossible for an affair to blossom into true love- the kind that lasts, the kind that forgives you for all your shortcomings and simultaneously challenges you to do better. That type of love takes grace and only comes from a marriage- not cohabitation, not sneaking around when you're married to someone else. So all of this "she really was the love of my life, even though I never made an honest women of her" strikes me as false. Ford Maddox Ford had great writing talent but used on such shoddy subject matter.

Surprisingly, "the Painted Veil" by Somerset Maugham and the Woody Allen's movie "Husband's and Wives" also had affairs as subject matters, but struck me as so much more "true." Here the affairs weren't perfect nor were the original marriages. But the affair part ends up striking the protagonists as a poor way out, beneath their inherent dignity as humans.

I worried that becoming a serious Catholic would mean that there would be certain books and subject matter forever "banned" from my reading list. I'm pleased to realize that my faith hasn't limited my tastes. Instead, it has given me another criteria by which to judge fiction: how much do they reflect the truth. Woody Allen's films are really funny. While I'm not signing him up to be a babysitter to my girls, his films strike me as "true." There's an honesty and tenderness about their lack of understanding about what makes up a successful marriage. That's why I can watch his films and come away thinking "wow, we live in a cynical age so it's really important that I get this marriage thing right." Not a take-away message I got from Ford Maddox Ford. Instead, it was "when can I put this book down because it's fake sentiments are really driving me crazy."

Space of One's Own

A newborn has invaded my life! Though desperately wanted, especially after the death of her brother during my last pregnancy, the actual fact that Baby Maria now shares my bed, my breast, and most of my closet space, has left me feeling mentally squished. I need a space online to claim the calm that used to come from coffee breaks with my husband, Jon.

The last time we did the newborn thing, we were joined at the hip. Finding out that we were expecting a son when our first born daughter turned 18 months, we did what all sane Catholic converts do. We immediately quit our respectable jobs (me-public interest attorney, him- college art professor), cashed in the retirement savings and moved to Madison, Wisconsin to start up our own, unproven home advertising business.

Because what baby doesn't inspire "movement" in a parents life? Seriously. Our babies just happened to inspire a lot of moves. The oldest is now 4, the middle 2 1/2 and the youngest is 8 weeks old. Each kid born in a different state. But more than mere geography, the kids have moved the outline of our mental philosophy.

When we met in the dawn of 2000, Jon and I, were grad students filled with the typical college ideals. Pro-choice. Believers that religious tolerance demanded religious plurality. Hip. Edgy. Feminist. Jon wore bike cleats to our first date. He refused to eat meat, hiked in winter, and carried urban survival gear. I was a graduate of Smith College, an ardent feminist and career girl who was finishing law school on her way to help the poor of Appalachia.

Then we got married, a real sacramental marriage that blurred our separate selfs and lifted us upward. Now we are on a different edge. Roman Catholic. Pro-lifers. A stay-at-home mom and a sole bread-winning dad. Parents of four kids in four years. Renters of a two-bedroom apartment in an expensive city and drivers of a single car. A married couple in a sea of co-habitating friends.

Our journey of faith has carried us far. This blog will serve as notes from the road as we figure out how to put the theory into practice as we each go about our daily work.