Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pretzels at bedtime

No, not those kinds of pretzels. Recently I started adding a very basic yoga series to my bedtime routine. Nothing dramatic or strenuous. Just something restful and stretchy. Back in the days, I used to be a regular when it came to yoga. In fact, when I lived in Austin the first time around I was part-time manager of the Austin Yoga Center and halfway through a training program to become a certified yoga instructor when I moved back to NY to become managing editor of Catholic New York. Anyhow, lately I've been feeling the tug of yoga again. I think it's because yoga is something that has always centered me and helped me pray, and I really want to make progress with my praying, which is incredibly lame at this point. The other night when I was finished doing some basic poses -- Downward Dog, Cat, Cobra, Tree and other stuff like that -- I sat in Half Lotus in quiet meditation for a few minutes and really felt a God connection, which is something I typically don't feel, believe it or not, when I try to pray in church or in my little prayer space at home or in bed before drifting off to sleep. It makes sense that I'd feel that connection at that moment since that's what yoga's all about, quieting your physical self so your spiritual self can go to new places. If you've never tried yoga, find a class. It is SO worth the time and effort.

On a related note, our family joined the YMCA a few days ago. A friend called and asked me to meet her at the "Hot Yoga" class that was being offered. I was more than a little leery. To me yoga -- usually Hatha or Kripalu -- has always been about calmness and a spiritually centered kind of strength, not about building muscle or getting fit (although that's a side benefit). I wasn't so sure I liked the idea of yoga as a workout in the typical sense. But I grabbed my mat and found an inconspicuous spot in the back corner since I knew I'd be behind the eight ball in this class. I not only survived, I did just about every pose (not always gracefully, but, hey, you can't have everything) and I loved it. I have never, even in the midst of yoga teacher training, done anything related to yoga that was this difficult and strenuous. Plus they turn up the heat. Hence, the "hot" classification. A few minutes into class I found myself smiling because I was just so happy to be there, although my legs were shaking and the sweat was dropping onto the mat below me. Talk about pretzels! At one point, when my right knee was up near my head and my right hand was near my outer foot, I looked at the other newcomer next to me and said, "Right foot green." It was a challenge, to say the least, but I would go back in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the teacher's schedule is changing, so I may have to give something else a whirl -- like "Zumba," which is some crazy sounding Latin dance exercise class that starts next week. I can't promise that that outing will be nearly as successful.

So this is our new thing, trying to get the most out of our Y membership, something we put off for years because of the cost but finally realized was just what our family needed. I actually swam laps yesterday. If you knew anything about my swimming ability, you would know this is an incredible feat. I swam the first four laps half expecting the lifeguard to jump in at any moment because surely I must have looked like I was in distress as I flailed along. The last four laps I did with a kickboard to give my upper body a rest. No wonder those Olympic swimmers have the bodies they do!

Noah, who glides through water effortlessly, swam six laps yesterday and 20 -- yes, TWENTY, 2-0 -- laps this morning, not all consecutively, but still, that's a ton of laps. Today I opted for some new machine I've never done before. Maybe it was an elliptical. The cardio guy had to show me how to get started, as I was going backwards when I first stepped on. Way to blend in with the regulars.

Unfortunately, you will probably have to put up with occasional Y updates as we try new things and make physical progress. I mean, if I'm going backwards on an elliptical machine just think what I'll do in Zumba or the spinning class. Stay tuned...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Where am I, you ask?

Sorry I've been away for most of the week. Every day I plan to sit down and post a thoughtful entry about this or that, but, quite frankly, this last week of summer is getting the better of me. The kids are racing to the finish, with bickering and whining and, to top it off, head colds all around. Let me just give you a brief snippet of how this week has been going:

Yesterday, at 7:30 a.m., I went to take laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer. When I opened the machine, there was so much wet tissue stuck to everything that I was tempted to call Sears and just tell them to haul the thing away and bring me a new one. It turned out that one of my children -- names are being withheld to protect the guilty -- left not one tissue but one PACK of tissues in a pants pocket. I have never seen so much shredded tissue in one place.

As I was cleaning up the tissue and muttering under my breath, I noticed that I had not shelved all the groceries that go in our basement "pantry." So I walked over to do that and noticed popcorn loose and spread all over the middle shelf. Hoping this was just some spontaneous popcorn explosion, I picked up the open package and looked around. Nope. Nothing spontaneous about this. Apparently in addition to Charlotte building a web out front, we've got (or had) Stuart Little feasting on food in our basement. Popcorn, pasta, stuffing, hot chocolate and coffee were all sampled and sprinkled about. He even tried to get through the seal on a glass jar of chunky peanut butter. Not a good morning. After removing everything from the pantry and setting a trap, we waited for the greedy little guy to return. He did, lured in by the sent of fresh peanut butter.

Anyway, today we are trying to get the rest of the back-to-school stuff squared away -- sneakers to buy, soccer shoes and shin guards to track down, pencils to sharpen, cheers of joy (from me) to rehearse. We are all very ready for school to start on Wednesday for the big kids and Thursday for Chiara.

So...That's where I've been. I hope to post something a little more meaningful later today, but you never know what might sidetrack me along the way.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We've got our very own Charlotte

This morning Noah noticed a spider busily spinning an orb web near the holly shrub between our front porch and our garage. Not the best location in terms of traffic, but we'll do our best to leave it undisturbed. I'm waiting to see if our little spider spins any messages for us. I'd like to think she'd come up with something on par with what Charlotte had to say about Wilbur -- "terrific," "radiant," "humble" -- but right now I'm afraid that "some pig" might be the only message that might suit us and not because we have a cute oinking farm animal out front. Our porch forms cobwebs at such an outrageous pace that we just can't keep up. We have two Adirondack chairs on our porch, and I dare you to sit in one. You'll either get tangled up in a web or overrun by spiders and other creepy crawlers. I'm convinced that our front porch has gotten so out of hand that the letter carrier will soon refuse to deliver our mail. Anyway, here's our own Charlotte at work this morning. I hope you can see at least some of the intricate details...

Friday, August 22, 2008

The two faces of Chiara

The other day Chiara was playing with an old cell phone, pretending to call a friend. I was at my desk and I heard her say, "Hi. So how was your day? Beautiful, fluffy and cute?" I smiled to myself over the little gem of a girl I have.

The next day, however, when Olivia did something to annoy her, Chiara yelled, "Whatever, major loser." So much for my little gem. I stopped both girls and asked where that kind of talk came from. Apparently from the Wonderful World of Disney. It seems that Chiara was paying very close attention when Olivia was watching "Camp Rock," the latest Disney made-for-TV movie that has resulted in a whole new line of clothing and lunch box paraphernalia.

What are the chances that this kid is not going to get thrown out of preschool in two weeks?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finding St. Francis in a parking lot

Now that my blog is here and my website is over there, I tend not to link to my Life Lines columns each month, which is just silly isn't it? I mean, a link is a link. So, please click HERE if you would like to read my column on the connection between St. Francis and my minivan. Intrigued? I hope so. The column has been getting some good feedback. In fact, it has led to an invitation to speak at Saratoga Central Catholic High School in the near future. An auditorium full of teen-agers -- how scary is that? I figure if I survived high school the first time around, I can make it through one more hour, right? RIGHT?!?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If you stayed up past the Olympics...

...and you live in upstate New York, you may have caught my sweetie on the news last night, talking about the drastic budget cuts that are expected in New York at the urging of Gov. David Paterson. Speaking on behalf of the New York State Catholic Conference and the state's bishops, Dennis was reminding everyone that the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor and vulnerable, those most likely to bear the brunt of cuts since they are usually voiceless in the legislature. The Church doesn't get a lot of headlines for this kind of talk, but it's a mainstay of our teaching. You can watch it here:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On my honor...

Well, Noah has been having a great time at Boy Scout camp this week. (That's him in his tent above.) This has been such a good experience for him -- hanging out with friends, working on merit badges, sitting around the camp fire, swimming in the lake, and generally challenging himself to do things he's never done before. I'm sure it wasn't easy for him to be away from home for a week. I know it wasn't easy for me to have him away from home for a week, especially when the phone rings and Noah is on the other end asking for advice on his pocket-knife injury. Fortunately, it was very minor. Still, the thought of my boy in the woods with a knife on his belt or at the archery range with an arrow in his hand is a bit frightening. After all, this is the boy who used to fall down spontaneously while just walking across the room.

We were at camp for Family Night on Wednesday, and it was such a treat to see Noah looking so confident and content. I was the only one in our family wearing old hiking boots that night, so Noah asked if he could lead me through the woods -- which is a mud pit after almost daily thunderstorms -- to his camp site. I walked behind him, looking at the mud splattered all over his legs and the look of determination spread across his face, and I was so proud. Although the prospect of Noah taking on some of the more difficult or dangerous aspects of scouting (white water rafting comes to mind) sometimes scares me, I have nothing but good things to say about the Boy Scouts. They are opening up a world for him that he would otherwise never see and I can only hope that he continues to Eagle Scout, which is his hope and plan as of now.

Here's the garter snake Noah found in the fire pit.

Here's the newt he found in the grass. (I thought these creatures had better camoflage.)
Here's Noah with a toad.
Here are Dennis and Noah at Camp Rotary. Dennis was a chaperone for three of the six nights and loved every minute of it. He said he misses the quiet of his tent and the big night sky full of stars, some of them shooting.
Meanwhile back at the ranch...I took the girls to Five Rivers Environmental Center, which is a wonderful nature center just a few miles from our house. As you can see, the perennial garden is in full bloom. There are hiking trails and streams and a lake. Plus, in the actual center you can watch a really cool one-winged owl munch on a mouse. We love this place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Life without the boys

It's been a very strange week for us here at the Poust house. For three days now it's been just me and the two girls. Noah has been at Boy Scout camp since Sunday afternoon, and Dennis has been serving as parent chaperone. Unfortunately, our all-girl extravaganza has been plagued by a virus that started with Olivia late last week and hit Chiara at the beginning of this week. Fever, sore throat, dizziness, and general misery. Lots of moaning and crying going on here -- and I'm not just talking about the girls.

So I have pretty much been a prisoner of the house since the weekend, save for 45 minutes at Mass on Sunday. We did venture out to the library and Farmer's Market late yesterday when Chiara seemed to be on the mend, but that was just a brief and somewhat stressful outing due to the almost constant threat of torrential rain and thunderstorms, something that has become a daily occurrence.

We have watched a lot of the Olympics, something I usually don't do, and we've played restaurant at night, eating by the glow of some pink and purple candle stubs left over from Advent. What I've noticed is that when the boys are away, we eat like a Third World nation. When I go away, Dennis usually takes it as an opportunity to go out and buy something he knows I won't eat -- like a big, fat steak. I, on the other hand, see these kinds of times as an opportunity to make the simplest meals I can muster -- pasta and peas, vegetarian refried bean quesadillas, brown rice with black beans. It becomes very clear that my vegetarianism isn't just something I choose to do; it's my default setting.

Dennis will return home this afternoon, but Noah will stay at camp until Saturday. Later tonight we'll all head to the camp site for Family Night. I can't wait to see Noah in all his Boy Scout glory. I've missed having him around, not just in a mom-missing-her-boy kind of way. I miss the boy who has become a real helper around the house. Noah went to camp last year, but this year is different. It makes me realize how much he's grown up in the past 12 months.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Can you hear me now?

When I heard the first reading at Mass today, I felt a small smile spread across my face. It was the reading where Elijah is hiding in a cave waiting for a word from the Lord. He expects to find him in the strong and crushing wind, in the earthquake that shakes the ground beneath his feet, in the fire that follows. This is God, after all. Surely He will show up in some magnificent and awesome way. And yet, where does Elijah eventually find God? In a "tiny whispering sound" that makes him hide his face. I love this image, I think because I can find myself in Elijah's story and because of the fact that the God of all creation is powerful enough to show up in a whisper. He needs no light show or thunder claps.

Clearly I'm not a prophet, so what makes me feel a kinship with Elijah? It's the fact that I, too, am expecting God to show up in my life in some over-the-top and obvious way. Send me a sign, I often challenge, when I am doubting or in need or in a dark spiritual place. But what sign am I expecting? An actual voice from the heavens? A vision? A flood of epic proportions? Rainbows arching over my house? I hate to say it, but, in a figurative sort of way, yes, that's exactly what I'm expecting. Come on, God, show me the money. Unlike Elijah, I do not know of any caves where I can hide, and I never seem to sit still or stay silent long enough to catch the "tiny whispering sound" that just might come rushing through my soul if it weren't so clogged up with anxiety and fear and disappointment and doubt. I'm guessing that the whisper in my life ends up ricocheting off all the other stressed-out vibes I've got going on. I'm constantly talking to God, or, more accurately, talking at God, but I rarely give Him a chance to get a whisper in edgewise.

So how do I -- or any of us for that matter -- make a space for the tiny whispering sound of God when our lives are so busy and so rushed and so filled with the noise of our culture and our world? My initial reaction is to say, Retreat! As in spiritual retreat, not the run away kind of retreat, although that might be another option. But if we can only make a quiet space for God when we are in the silence of a retreat house, what happens every other day of our lives when we're home or at work or in the grocery store, wondering what life is all about but unable to still our souls long enough to hear the answer above the din of the car radio or the telephone?

I struggle with this concept all the time, which you may have noticed if you read this blog with regularity. You can bet that every few weeks or so you will get a message from the angst-ridden side of Not Strictly Spiritual, the side that is constantly trying to find a spiritual place amid the busyness of the world. I tip my hat to those who manage to live in the world and still maintain that spiritual center that makes them radiate God's love to everyone around them. I'm not sure what I'm radiating, but I'm guessing it's less like joy and more like something they might dredge up from the nearby Hudson River.

I'm actually considering a brief silent retreat early next month, although it's very iffy at this point. I'm not sure if it's the right thing for me at this moment in my life. I think I'll sit back and wait for a sign. Let the thunder claps commence!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On a more serious note. Much more serious.

I looked down at the calendar just a few minutes ago and realized that today is Aug. 6. It was 10 years ago today that Dennis and I found out that the baby I was carrying died 11 weeks into my pregnancy. We went to the midwife for a regular check-up and she couldn't find the heartbeat. A follow-up ultrasound hours later showed a silent, still heart. I will never forget that day, or the next day, when they had to remove the remains of my baby. Anyone who has ever suffered a miscarriage will know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't forget the day it happened. I don't forget the due date. I don't forget the little person, whom I have always thought of as "Grace," who never made it into this world.

Mine was not a typical miscarriage. I had something called a "partial molar pregnancy," which required me to have weekly blood tests for a full year, in addition to occasional liver profiles and a lung X-ray for good measure. You see, if the doctors aren't careful when they're taking care of a molar pregnancy, they can miss some cells, and, for whatever strange reason, those cells can turn cancerous and move, in most cases, to the liver or lungs. It was quite a shock when my miscarriage came with a side order of "gynecological oncologist" in the event that my test numbers moved in the wrong direction. In the throes of grief over a baby lost, suddenly I was scared and confused by the prospect of getting cancer from a pregnancy.

Fortunately, I was blessed with an amazing midwife and an equally amazing doctor, who covered every base on this one. Still, it was a difficult year, one that made me question whether I would ever want to put myself through another pregnancy and the chance of another devastating loss. Fortunately, time and the support of family and friends led us to a place where not taking a risk was more painful than protecting ourselves from all the "what ifs," and so we carried on and thank God we did. I can't imagine my world without Olivia and Chiara.

Grace -- and no, I never knew for sure if the baby was a boy or a girl but I had a feeling -- may have had a very short little life, but she will never be forgotten. Although I never got to meet my baby, she still managed to change me and to shape our family, through her absence rather than her presence, which just goes to show that every single life -- even an 11-week-old life still in the womb -- has worth and value and a reason for being.

Because you asked...

Some of you have requested my pesto recipe, so I thought I would oblige during this season of abundant basil. This recipe originally came from my mother-in-law, Mary Ann, although I've changed it up enough to consider it mine. I will give you the main ingredients first and then tell you possible alternatives.

I have two pots of basil on my back deck. I buy starter plants around Memorial Day and by Labor Day or a little after, I typically have at least 15 batches of frozen pesto stored in my freezer to get us through the long winter months. (That's in additional to the weekly pesto pasta we eat all through the summer.) There is nothing like the taste of homemade pesto in the middle of an upstate New York winter. Grow some basil. Buy some basil. Savor the taste of summer any time of year.

1 cup of basil leaves, tightly packed
1/4 cup of fresh Italian parsley, stems removed
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (split in two 1/4 cup batches)
1/3 cup pine nuts (pignolis)
1 tsp. salt

Extra pine nuts for toasting/topping pasta (optional)

Put all of the "dry" ingredients -- EXCEPT THE CHEESE -- into a food processor. Turn the motor on and drizzle the olive oil in slowly until it's well blended. This is going to be enough pesto sauce for two pounds of pasta, so, unless you're having company (or have a really big appetite), you're going to want to freeze at least half of this.

NOW, if you are going to eat one batch right away, mix 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese in with it and you're good to go. Toss a pound of pasta into boiling salted water, take it off when it's al dente, mix it with the pesto sauce, and top it with some toasted pine nuts, if you're using them. (Be careful when toasting pine nuts, which you can do in a dry saute pan or in an oven on a cookie sheet. They can go from untoasted to blackened very quickly. I tend to burn at least one batch before I get it right. Every single time I do it. Drives Dennis crazy.)

IF you are going to freeze a batch, DO NOT mix the cheese into that batch. It doesn't taste as good when it defrosts if the cheese was frozen first. Instead, freeze the cheeseless sauce (I use the smallest of the Glad reusable containers for one batch); some people use ice cube trays so they can defrost in even smaller increments. Add the 1/4 cup of cheese later when you defrost it.

Alternatives: OK, I am not one to stick to a recipe, any recipe. In fact, I'm not happy unless I'm changing a recipe. My problem is that I usually can't remember what I did when I've done something especially good. But there are few options when making this pesto. Here they are...

Sometimes I add the fresh parsley, and sometimes, if I have lots of basil and zero parsley, I go with straight basil. I often use Romano instead of Parmesan cheese because that's what I usually have in my fridge. And sometimes -- and the purists out there might want to cover their ears for this -- I use walnuts or even sunflower seeds instead of the incredibly expensive pignolis. Now, I don't do that often and usually I label it so I know to serve it to my own clan and not company, but, really, you can't tell the difference. At least I can't.

Serve with additional grated cheese and a nice side salad. Mangia!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sundaes, Solzhenitsyn and summer afternoons

So I've decided that today is going to be Stream of Consciousness Tuesday. I'm just going to ramble aimlessly until I say everything I have to say. Feel free to do the same in the comments.

Last night, after Chiara and Olivia were already in their princess nightgowns, Noah mentioned that we have not yet been to Tastee Freez this summer, an oversight for which there is simply no excuse. Tastee Freez is our local soft-serve ice cream shop that heralds the arrival of spring each year when it opens March 21 or thereabouts. At first we said that it was too late to go out and get ice cream, but our hearts weren't in it. I think Dennis and I both knew that we should take them, although we tortured them a bit by saying that it was too bad the girls got into their pjs so early or we would have gone.

So we packed them into the van, princess nightgowns flapping in the breeze, and it immediately brought back memories of my own childhood. I can remember piling into the back of our red pinto with my brother and sister, all of us in our pajamas, to make the pilgrimage to the nearby Dairy Queen. We would lay down in the back of the Pinto (back before seat belts were required and before anyone realized that Pintos were rolling time bombs), and we would look up at the night sky, watching the stars. Back when I was a kid, there were no hot fudge sundaes on the menu -- at least not on my father's version of the menu. It was a cone, a small cone. I don't even remember if sprinkles were allowed. But we splurged last night and let Noah and Olivia get hot fudge sundaes, complete with cherries on top. Chiara, still content with the basics, settled on a mini cup of plain vanilla. Our lives are so busy and so harried that we really don't do the small but spontaneous things that make memories. I know that one day our kids will remember going to the Tastee Freez in their pajamas when they should have been in bed. It doesn't get any better than that.

What does any of this have to do with the recent death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian novelist who spent years in the Soviet gulag and then years in exile because he wrote about it? Absolutely nothing. It's just that Solzhenitsyn, surprisingly enough, also brings back lots of good memories for me, of the college variety. When I read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" for my Russian lit seminar at Pace University, it was the beginning of my love affair with Russian novelists. I still rank Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" as one of my all-time favorite novels, if not my most favorite, and I was quite the fan of Dostoyevsky after reading "Notes from Underground." Don't you wish you had the time to read that kind of stuff again? I couldn't even get through the New York Times obit on Solzhenitsyn no less the Gulag Archipelago. Here's a quote from the Times obit that will make you want to know more about Solzhenitsyn if you don't already know about him:

"At Ekibastuz, any writing would be seized as contraband. So he devised a method that enabled him to retain even long sections of prose. After seeing Lithuanian Catholic prisoners fashion rosaries out of beads made from chewed bread, he asked them to make a similar chain for him, but with more beads. In his hands, each bead came to represent a passage that he would repeat to himself until he could say it without hesitation. Only then would he move on to the next bead. He later wrote that by the end of his prison term, he had committed to memory 12,000 lines in this way."

And I can't even memorize my own recipe for pesto sauce! Clearly I've lost quite a bit of gray matter since those Russian lit days.

Talking about all this Russian stuff makes me think of propaganda, which leads us to our last topic of the day: the Disney film Wall-E, which was very cute in a carbon foot print sort of way. This was Chiara's very first movie in a theater. She was so adorable when she sat down in the aisle seat and asked if Wall-E would be coming past her chair. Clearly I should have explained the whole movie experience before we arrived at the theater.

I rarely go the movies, alone or with children, so this was a very big deal. It was actually part of a barter agreement. If Noah and Olivia could watch Chiara for me in the morning while I wrote a piece that is due this week, I would take them to the movies in the afternoon. After a bumpy start -- about five minutes into their assignment -- they managed to get on track and stay there. So we went over to the Spectrum, which is a small independent theater in Albany that I find much less intimidating than the super theaters at our local malls. Of course, I should have realized that if the Spectrum was playing a children's movie it had to include a certain type of message.

Now I don't want to hear from all the Wall-E fans (are there any Wall-E fans among the two of you who read this blog) about how I'm being unfair. Wall-E was cute. Eve was cute. But come on, it was a little much, don't you think, what with all the allusions to Wal-Mart and fat Americans and lame presidents. Talk about hitting us over the heads. Fortunately, when I asked the kids if they got the message of the film, Noah simply said, "Don't pollute." No harm done, I guess, although, as Dennis pointed out when I explained the premise of the film, I'm sure Disney can find a way to get around their newfound disdain for gross overconsumption if it's for, say, a lovable Wall-E doll or watch or lunch box. Somehow I have a feeling Disney owns quite a large chunk of America's landfills, if we want to start pointing green fingers.

Chiara did great for the first hour of the film, sitting there in her little booster seat that I brought along. There were only two other people in the theater (see why I love the Spectrum), so it was a very relaxing little experiment, which she passed with flying colors. By the last 30 minutes, she was on my lap and fading fast but that wasn't because she was being difficult. It was because she was overtired and because, quite frankly, I don't think she could take any more messages -- subliminal or overt -- about saving the earth. I could have sworn I heard her cursing Al Gore under her breath at one point.

So there you have it folks. Stream of Consciousness Tuesday. Any rambling thoughts you'd like to share? Fire away.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The right way to ask for something

Chiara has a new way of asking for things these days. When she comes into the kitchen, she'll say, "I want too much orange juice." If you ask her how much milk she wants, she says, "Too much." Imagine how useful this could be in our adult lives. It gives new meaning to the phrase, "Say when."

I find it really cool how Chiara is clearly progressing to a new level of development. She's starting to try out new language skills, new motor skills, new thinking skills. Just this weekend she started writing the letter "C for Chiara" and the number 1. She can also make an "O for Olivia." It's as if you can see the wheels spinning and the synapses firing in her little head. Truly amazing.

She is even growing by leaps and bounds on the bedtime prayer front. Now at night, instead of just running through our family blessing where we name all of our relatives and close friends, she wants "new prayers." So far we've experimented with the basics: Hail Mary, Our Father, Angel of God. The first time I said the Our Father with her, we finished up and she looked at me and said, quite seriously, "That's a good one." Now she asks for what she calls "the Jesus one," which is the Our Father. I find it really intriguing that she associates the Our Father with Jesus. How did that happen in her 3-year-old brain when I know I didn't make that connection for her. Very, very cool in a spooky sort of way.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Be careful what you wish for...

For months now I've been waiting with unbridled anticipation for the day when Catholic News Service (the wire service that feeds stories to every Catholic newspaper in the country) would run a review of my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism. Well, today was the day when it finally came across the wire, and, to be honest, all of my waiting and longing has turned into ranting and gnashing of teeth. The alleged "review" wasn't a review at all. It was a short but nasty diatribe by an Ivory Tower theologian who made clear his disdain for the Idiot's Guide genre and anyone who relies on such "simplistic" approaches to serious subjects.

It's funny (in a sad and ironic sort of way), but when I first asked CNS to review my book, I told Dennis that the only way I saw it backfiring was if they gave the book to someone who didn't like the Idiot's Guide approach. And wouldn't you know -- Bingo! -- my prediction came true.

Patrick Hayes, an assistant professor of theology at St. John's University, railed against the title, the series, the mere suggestion that perhaps rank-and-file Catholics don't find theological texts easy to read. It was a dismissive and mean-spirited little review and certainly not what I expected from Catholic News Service.

Nowhere did the review mention that my book has in imprimatur from the Bishop of Metuchen, or that I worked with a theological advisor from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, or that it was glowingly endorsed by the Archbishop of Denver, all things that seem rather pertinent to me and I'm sure to other Catholics who might be interested in the book.

Here's the review so you can read it for yourself. It was part of double review, but I'll spare you the monotony and just give you the part about my book. He doesn't get into full swing until the second paragraph:

"...One such offering is Mary DeTurris Poust's contribution to the "Idiot's Guide" series, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism." The guide offers an accurate, if simplistic, overview of the catechism. It contains a number of short synopses of topics such as the resurrection of the body, the benefits of baptism and the exercise of free will, among others -- all with user-friendly language. Coupled with these treatments are little boxed "teachable moments" or quick definitions under the heading "church speak" that explain the why and the what of the church's belief and practice.
"It is unfortunate the book is presented under such a deplorable title, as if people have to admit their ignorance to be guided to truths detailed in the catechism. In fact, I would say that all who search out those truths have brains that are fully switched on, even though they may not have facility in the technical points of doctrine.
"As a working theologian I am chagrined by the author's approach to the catechism, which deliberately avoids "that long-winded, lingo-laden academic writing that can make anyone's eyes glaze over." I daresay that some of that can actually be useful, as the pope himself demonstrates. Memo to the publishing world: Catholics aren't that callow. "

So what do you think of that? I've never considered myself a callow Catholic, but I do know that reading some parts of the full Catechism made my brain ache. Penguin/Alpha Books knew what they were doing when they specifically requested that a NON-theologian write the book on the Catechism, otherwise large portions would have been in Latin and Greek or its English equivalent and 1,000 pages long. Oh, wait, that's the real Catechism, which is why I wrote a simplified guide to it! No matter what Mr. Hayes thinks, many people like to read about religion -- or science, or finance, or nutrition -- in informative, entertaining and, above all, understandable prose, and the success of the Idiot's Guide series is proof of that.

I do take some small satisfaction in all of this knowing that, as a professor, Mr. Hayes will have to publish and publish some more. And, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around. I hope they give his next theological missive to a comic book author for review.