Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy anniversary to us!

Fourteen years ago today, Dennis and I were married at Our Lady of the Assumption in the Bronx. It was a day very much like today -- sunny, windy, a little chilly. Everything about our wedding day was perfect, from the carefully picked readings and songs at Mass to the Italian restaurant where we had a small reception. (OK, maybe everything was perfect except for the level of noise and fake smoke emanating from the DJ's set-up. Good old Frankie Finesse.)

This morning, as the kids were getting ready for school, Dennis was blasting "Difficult to Cure," Rainbow's version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, in honor of our special day. We walked out of the church to the more sedate version of "Ode to Joy" and into the reception to the pounding version of the same song. Dennis and I joked today that we were probably the only ones in the place who got the connection. Somehow that made it even more special, like an inside joke that only the two of us got at the time.

Tonight we are going to go to a little Indian restaurant in town, a reminder of our weekly outings to Panna in Greenwich Village during the early days of our courtship. We spent many evenings eating papadum, sharing a bottle of Concha y Toro that we had picked up on Astor Place, laughing over the fact that the waiter knew us so well he would make sure I always had a big fork at my place setting. Funny the things that used to bother me. Now I'd be happy to eat with a stick from the backyard just to have a quiet meal and conversation away from the kids for an hour.

So, on this anniversary day, I'd like to share this verse from our beautiful wedding song, "Emotionally Yours," by Bob Dylan. You can actually hear it by clicking HERE.
"Come baby, rock me, come baby, lock me into the shadows of your heart.
Come baby, teach me, come baby, reach me, let the music start.
I could be dreaming but I keep believing you're the one I'm livin' for.
And I will always be emotionally yours.

It's like my whole life never happened,
When I see you, it's as if I never had a thought.
I know this dream, it might be crazy,
But it's the only one I've got."

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Catholic communication breakdown

My OSV Daily Take post:

I was driving my 8-year-old daughter to soccer practice last night. (This is the same daughter I wrote about last week when my husband and I made the decision to move her from Catholic to public school next fall.) I find driving in the car with my children, especially when it's one-on-one, is a great time to learn things that are going on in their lives. Maybe it's the fact that they can talk from the back seat of the car with no one looking at them as they bring up the things that worry or confuse them. And that's exactly what happened last night.

Olivia told me that one of her friends, another child in her third-grade Catholic school class, whom we will call X, told her and some other children that X's family does not believe that Communion is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I could feel myself tensing up as I tried to respond in a charitable yet clear way. Then my daughter said that this isn't the first time her friend has tried to pound home this alternative view on Catholic teaching. I told Olivia that the next time this happens she needs to tell X that if you don't believe in the Eucharist, you aren't a Catholic. Harsh? Perhaps. True? Absolutely. I tried to explain to Olivia that people can disagree with the Church on some things, but that you cannot disagree with the Church on Eucharist and still call yourself a Catholic.

A new Pew Forum study on Religion & Public Life shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans who claim "no affiliation" with a church were raised Catholic or Protestant and have changed faiths twice. The study also found that Mass attendance was a "powerful predictor" of whether a child would remain Catholic as an adult. Among the lifelong Catholics surveyed, 69 percent of those who regularly attended Mass as a teen remained Catholic, while only 44 percent of those who are now "unaffiliated" attended Mass regularly.

The big news, however, is that Catholic education, which included not only Catholic school education but religious education and youth ministry programs, had a "negligible impact" on whether a Catholic child would remain Catholic as an adult. How could that be? Well, let's go back to my daughter's classmate, whose Catholic family thinks it's important enough to send their children to Catholic school but not important enough to understand or believe the teachings of the faith.

Our Catholic formation programs -- in schools and in parishes -- continue to be ineffective in producing knowledgeable Catholics who understand what it truly means to be a Catholic. And, if you don't know what it means to be a Catholic, you don't have any reason to be loyal to your faith or your Church. Our schools, our religious education programs, our pastors, our bishops must find a way to transmit the truth of our teachings in an unequivocal way.

If our Catholic schools are not clearly teaching the meaning of Eucharist, we have failed. If our teachers or parish leaders are telling Catholic children and adults that there is room to disagree on issues like abortion, we have failed. If our Catholic high schools do not ensure that children get to Sunday Mass when they are away on a school trip, we have failed. If our pastors do not speak clearly about our teachings from the pulpit on Sundays, we have failed. The reality is that many of the Catholics who leave the Church never really understood their beliefs in the first place. They don't even know what they are leaving behind because if they did, they would never leave.

My daughter told me that she explained to her friend that Communion is Jesus, not a symbol for Jesus. As I drove toward the soccer field, I told her how proud I was that she was willing to stand up for what she believes in even when it wasn't easy or popular. She didn't get that from a religion class, she got that from home and from Mass. If we want to keep Catholics Catholic for the long haul, we need to get families back into the pews and faith back into the home.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Noah plays Green Day

Here's Noah's performance of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" from today's piano recital. If you're my friend on Facebook, you may have seen it already, but I have to post it here too. Just doing the proud mom thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A personal look at the Catholic school crisis

My OSV Daily Take post today:

My husband and I recently had to make a very difficult decision with and for our 8-year-old daughter, who is finishing up third grade at our parish’s Catholic school. Due to a strange confluence of events, the number of girls in her class – already at an unhealthy low compared to the number of boys – was about to drop again, to only five girls in a class of 22 or so next fall.

Her two best friends are leaving, and while that isn’t reason alone to move her out of Catholic and into public school, it certainly set the wheels in motion for some serious discussion and reflection. We began weighing the benefits of her Catholic education against the negatives of being one of so few girls in a class.

The more we looked at it from every angle, the more we realized that, although Catholic schools are worth a sacrifice, there comes a time when the sacrifice may be too great. The unfortunate thing is that far too many families like ours, for one reason or another, are reaching the saturation point when it comes to the amount of sacrifice they can take on to give their children a Catholic education. You can see it in dropping enrollments, in closing schools, in the rise of charter schools, in the unwillingness and inability of even very active Catholic families to stretch beyond their financial means for a faith-based education option.

A few years ago, we made this decision in reverse. We pulled our older son out of the well-respected public school where he was very happy because we thought Catholic education made sense for our family. My husband and I both work for the Church. We are both active in our parish. Enrolling our children in Catholic school seemed like a natural extension of our faith life.

I envisioned all three of our children being in one school at the same time. I loved the close-knit school community where everyone knows everyone else. I took comfort in the fact that our children would learn about their faith in a holistic way, not just in religion class but interwoven with science and English and history and service projects.

Despite all the wonderful things that drew us to our Catholic school in the first place, however, I have to admit that there was a sense of relief when our daughter announced this week that she wants to give public school a try. Although my husband and I made sure that she did not have any sense of the financial impact one decision might have over another, we could not help but take into account the very real fact that a vote for public school would mean a significant drop in the monthly tuition bills that have had a stranglehold on our finances for several years now.

Already we have decided that our youngest, who has one more year of preschool, will not go to Catholic school because we simply cannot put ourselves through the financial and emotional uncertainty that has been part of our Catholic school experience to date. With tuition nearly doubling in just four years, we’ve been priced out of Catholic education. Unfortunately, that is the sad state of affairs for many Catholic families, families who serve on parish committees and run parish events and lector on Sundays but are effectively shut out of parish schools for purely financial reasons.

As we stand at the edge of this unexpected precipice, one where our three children will be in three different types of schools next year – Montessori, Catholic and public, I have to wonder how much longer other Catholic school families like ours can survive the tumult and tuition. If we don’t find a way to make our Catholic schools a more affordable option for average families – through government-sponsored vouchers or tax credits or through regionalization of some of our failing schools and certainly through any attempts possible to rein in rising tuition costs – our beloved Catholic schools could soon become nothing more than a footnote in Church history books. And that would be a sad day for Catholics everywhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spiritual thought for the day

This is the quote that came up today on the Word of God Everyday, which I receive by email each weekday. I thought it was worth sharing:

Everyone who breathes,
high and low, educated and ignorant,
young and old, man and woman, has a mission.
We are not sent into this world for nothing,
we are not born at random.
God sees every soul.
He deigns to need every one of us.

-- John Cardinal Newman, 19th century

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My big, fat Greek Easter

So our friends Abby and Jason invited us over to celebrate Orthodox Easter with their family and friends today. My first Greek Easter. When we arrived, the smell of roasting lamb and the sound of Greek music wafted toward us from the backyard. Stuffed grape leaves and spanikopita were passed around, wine was poured, Greek soup was served, and a whole lamb was turned and basted on a spit. Even Chiara tried her hand at basting with fresh oregano sprigs attached to the end of a wooden stick. (See photo above.)

At the dinner table, I received my first lesson in tsougrisma, a Greek egg game where one person takes a red-dyed Easter egg and clinks the end against the egg of the person next to him while saying, Christos Anesti! (Christ is Risen!). Then the person turns the egg over and using the other end taps back, saying, Aleithos Anesti! (Truly He is Risen!) Around and around it goes until one person is left with an uncracked egg, promising a year of good luck. I ended up being the lucky person tonight. Despite some pretty hard taps, my egg remained unscathed. (That's it in the photo below.)

I loved the ritual. The red color symbolizes the blood of Christ, the hard shell of the egg the sealed tomb, and the white egg inside the resurrection. I am told that if I keep my egg uncracked and save it, the inside will dry up and I will be left with the intact shell. I've already put it on my prayer shelf downstairs as a reminder of the beautiful Greek Easter tradition. Now we'll have to wait and see about that promise of good luck. I think I'm pretty lucky already, with or without the red egg.

The cowgirls return home from the ranch

We're back from the Ridin-Hy Ranch Resort on Lake Sherman in the Adirondacks. See those cowboy boots above. This is the first time that these authentic Texas-made boots that I bought in Austin back when I lived there for the first time in the late 1980s have actually looked like real cowboy boots -- all dusty and covered in who knows what. Our Brownie trip was a huge success. I don't know who had more fun the Brownies or the moms.

The family-owned ranch was just beautiful with sparkling clean log chalets and cabins, which were not at all like cabins (just the way I like it). The food was great -- and never-ending. The boat ride was windy but fun (that's a view of our camp above from the pontoon boat). The horseback trail rides (we did one each day) were tons of fun and such an adventure for our third-grade girls. And on Friday night, during the "dance" held in the main lodge, I got up with the country band that was playing and sang the Patsy Cline song "Walkin' After Midnight," something I haven't done in years. Boy, did that make me miss my days as a frontman for my old band, Jade.

All in all, a great weekend, helped along by the fact that the weather cooperated. Our giggly girls said it was the "best trip ever," which made those Girl Scout cookie sales, which helped make this outing possible, worth all the effort.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On the road with my Brownie cowgirls

I am heading out to a dude ranch with my Brownie troop and four other moms in an hour or so. Should be interesting -- and fun, I hope. Horseback riding, indoor swimming, hiking, shuffleboard, all on the shores of beautiful Lake George. And the weather today is absolutely perfect.

Of course, I'm not a complete optimist, so I'm also packing ear plugs, my iPod Nano and an eye mask. I'm not kidding. I've been camping with these girls before and I know their quirks -- the one who talks or cries all night, the one who never turns off the light, the one who has to go to the bathroom at 2 a.m. in the middle of the woods where the outhouses are out of order (don't even ask me how that's possible). So I am prepared, although this location should be like a luxury resort compared to our last outing.

Olivia is so excited for this mom-daughter weekend away. She's been looking forward to it since we first mentioned the possibility back in September. I'll let you now how it goes when we return late tomorrow.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An unexpected gift on a Thursday afternoon

My brother just sent me this YouTube link. Maybe you've already seen it or heard about it, but I had to share it. I just watched it twice, the first time in amazement, the second time with tears in my eyes because it made me sad to think of someone with such a powerful and amazing voice going unnoticed because she doesn't fit the world's version of superstar. When you see the reaction of the crowd before she begins to sing, that fact becomes all too clear.

Thanks, Fred, for sending this one to me. For some reason, embedding has been turned off on YouTube for this video, so you'll need to click HERE instead.

From my pew in St. Patrick's Cathedral

From my OSV Daily Take post:

What can I tell you about the installation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan that you haven't already heard? Well, I can tell you that sitting in St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday watching the event unfold and listening to the new archbishop speak to the standing-room-only crowd gave me renewed hope for the Church in New York and the Church in the United States. Archbishop Dolan's enthusiasm for his faith is surely infectious, but, more importantly, his ability to speak clearly on Church teaching while drawing in people from all camps seems to be just what the doctor ordered in these days of moral relativism and cloudy consciences.

The most moving moment of the entire two-and-half-hour installation came when, during his homily, the archbishop stressed the Church's position on the dignity of life. At the mention of "the tiny baby in the womb," the congregation erupted in applause that just went on and on, and, after a few minutes, rather than dying down, the applause became more deafening and the crowd got to its feet for a rousing standing ovation. As I stood there clapping, near tears at the sight of thousands of people spontaneously applauding the unborn, I wondered if all the politicians and secular media present were taking note. These weren't the on-again-off-again Catholics interviewed by pollsters. These were practicing, faithful Catholics, and their collective voice on the abortion issue was obvious and evident and clear yesterday afternoon.

One of my favorite lines of the homily came soon after when the new archbishop said that the Church is a loving mother who has a "zest for life and serves life everywhere," but she can also "become a protective mama bear when the lives of her innocent cubs are threatened." What a wonderful image, and what a gentle way of putting a teaching that many in our society find very hard to accept.

Of course, the new archbishop touched on many other topics, including the fact that he wants to help Catholics reclaim Sunday as their own and give the "family meal" of the Eucharist renewed prominence. He acknowledged that many Catholics are fatigued due to the problems of our day, and the "wounds" of the sexual abuse scandal, and by ridicule of the Church for its positions on things like the sanctity of life and sacredness of marriage (which was especially timely since, hours before taking his seat in the front row of St. Patrick's, Gov. David Paterson of New York had just announced his plan to introduce a gay marriage bill today).

Alluding to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus from the Gospel reading, Archbishop Dolan said that Catholics today cannot be downcast as those disciples were at first, failing to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside them -- and us.

"My new friends of this great archdiocese, would you consider joining your new pastor on an adventure in fidelity, as we turn the Staten Island Expressway, Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, the Major Deegan and the New York State Thruway into the Road to Emmaus?" he asked.

Those roads will eventually take the new archbishop to the corners of his archdiocese, which stretches from the urban neighborhoods of Manhattan and Staten Island and the Bronx, to the suburban centers in the counties just north of the city, to the rural farmland of the lower Hudson Valley. Having covered those areas for many years when I worked for Catholic New York and having sat in St. Patrick's Cathedral through many Church events over the past two decades, I can tell you that yesterday's Mass was a high point for this New Yorker and, I think, for many others who welcomed Archbishop Dolan. As my husband said, "My faith has been energized by what I saw and heard today." Amen to that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

May the force be with you

Noah asked me to put a photo of his creation up on the blog today. He spent the past two days putting together the Rogue Shadow -- all 482 pieces. He's in his Star Wars phase these days. Now, I could try to do some sort of spiritual Star Wars analogy thing here, but I think I'll just let you enjoy the photo and not worry about addressing the good vs. evil aspects of this epic.

I hope you're having a great Easter week. Dennis and I will be heading to NYC tomorrow for Archbishop Timothy Dolan's installation at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Should be interesting...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alleluia, He is Risen!

Happy Easter. I hope you and yours have a wonderful day. I just wanted to share the banner Olivia made for our living room in honor of Easter Sunday. Even her note to the Easter Bunny included a reminder that "the Lord has risen," lest the bunny forget what it's all about. Warms my heart.

I'm off to Easter Mass now with the family, followed by Easter dinner with yet more family. In between eating too many chocolate eggs and jelly beans and marshmallow peeps, I will try to remember what the first women to the tomb heard that first Easter morning:

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised." Luke 24: 5-6

Friday, April 10, 2009

Seven Last Words

Father forgive them, they know not what they do...

We see Jesus on the cross today and hear him forgiving his persecutors, forgiving us. It is a powerful scene, but it is more than just a scene out of our faith history. Jesus’ way is supposed to be our way. Forgive, forgive, forgive, even in the face of the most unreasonable suffering and injustice. Are we willing to forgive as Jesus did?

Today you will be with me in Paradise.

The “good thief” has always been a favorite of mine. Imagine in your last dying moment that you utter a few kind words and are assured by Jesus himself that you will be in heaven with him that day. It would be nice to assume that in that situation I would have taken the path of belief, like the good thief, but there is a much bigger part of me that probably would have been like the unrepentant thief, expecting mercy and miracles despite faithlessness.

Woman, behold your son...

At last a comfort in the midst of all this misery. God gives us a mother for all time. He reminds us that his mother is our mother, who, with a mother’s unconditional love, will open her arms to us when we are desperate, when we are hurting, when we are searching for peace and a way back to the Father.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Despair, despair. If Jesus can feel despair, what hope is there for me? Then again, Jesus’ moment of despair reminds me of his humanness and that gives me hope even in this dark moment. God became man, walked on earth, suffered torture and death beyond our comprehension. My God is fully human and fully divine. My God knows what it means to live this earthly life, and so my God knows my small sufferings and heartaches and will not turn His back on me.

I thirst.

The wretched physical anguish of the Crucifixion is coming to bear. It is almost too much for us to take. Jesus, water poured out for the world, thirsts. And yet in the midst of this suffering, we remember Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, the woman to whom he first revealed his identity: “...whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” (John 4:14)

It is finished.

Jesus has completed his mission of redemption. Darkness descends, the earth shakes, the temple curtain tears in two. We see Jesus’ anguish near its end. We should be reduced to trembling at the enormity of his suffering, his gift to us. Unlike his followers who were plunged into fear and despair at this moment, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know what is coming. We know that his Crucifixion was cause for our salvation. His death a victory. His earthly end our eternal beginning.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Jesus is going back to the Father, back to where he started before time began, but he will not leave us orphans. We patiently wait to celebrate his Resurrection, to rejoice in our unearned windfall. We wait, pray, watch, listen -- hopeful, trusting, faithful. We begin our vigil now, waiting for the darkness to turn to light.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Triduum begins...

Tonight we hear Jesus, after washing the feet of his disciples, say:
“I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you,
you should also do.” (John 13:15).
Do we follow the model? Do we even come close? I know I sure don't. Trying to imagine ourselves walking in Jesus' footsteps can be more than a little intimidating. Look at the great saints. The ones who did it best gave up everything -- EVERYTHING -- to do it right. What if we can't give up everything, at least not in a material sense? What if we have families to feed and children to clothe? Can we still follow the model Jesus gave us? Only if we are willing to give up a different kind of everything, the stuff of the ego that we cling to, the false self that we hide behind. We have to shed our masks and don humility if we want to follow the model, but that can be a very hard thing to do.

Here, in a favorite passage from James Martin's Becoming Who You Are, is as good a place as any to start:
"The beginning of sanctity is loving yourself as a creation of God. And that means all of yourself, even those parts that you wish weren't there, the parts that you wish God hadn't made, the parts that you lament. God loves us like a parent loves a child -- often more for the parts of the child that are weaker or where the child struggles or falters. More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A saint by any other name

Olivia needs to read a biography for a book report, so we headed off to the library in search of something inspiring. As we walked through the stacks, she grabbed a book on Annie Oakley and another on Sacajawea. I bent down and pulled out a book on Mother Teresa. Olivia looked at me and said, "Who is Mother Teresa?" I almost dropped our pile of books on the floor. How did I miss passing on that important fact? I have books about Mother Teresa in my living room and office. I have a miraculous medal touched by Mother Teresa. I met Mother Teresa, for goodness sake.

OK, I told Olivia, we're taking this one then. When we got home, she started flipping through the biography, subtitled "Protector of the Sick." Noah came in and asked what she was doing. That started up the Mother Teresa conversation again.

"Did you know Mommy met Mother Teresa?" Olivia inquired. Noah quickly responded that, yes, he did know, but tell us the story again. Well, it wasn't a private meeting or anything like that. I was covering a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral on the anniversary of Cardinal Terence Cooke's death, and there, in the sanctuary after Mass, as we were about to go down to the crypt, Mother Teresa stood beside me and put her hand on my arm. As simple as that, but I will never forget it.

The kids started getting very excited when they heard the story again, saying, "You met a saint." Don't worry, I corrected them and reminded them that she is Blessed as of now. But then I told them that I had met another saint in the making, Cardinal Cooke. When I was young, I performed a religious song I had written at a Mass in my parish. My pastor, a classmate of Cardinal Cooke, wanted to introduce me to him. Later on, of course, I would often find myself writing about Cardinal Cooke's canonization process as I worked as a reporter for Catholic New York newspaper.

But that is all beside the point of this post, really. As we talked about my brush with spiritual celebrity, I told the kids that, while it is exciting and inspiring to have met people who are on the official road to sainthood, we are all, in fact, called to be saints. They stared at me with a confused look on their faces. Once again, I had to flip back through my memory bank to try to figure out how that information had bypassed them. I guess on some level I assumed they knew that. But why would I assume such a thing? Maybe because when I was growing up, a priest who served weekends at our parish would mention that fact in every single homily he gave. It was constantly out there before us: You are called to be a saint.

The kids liked this idea. Olivia mentioned Adele, an amazing woman from our parish who died a couple of years ago. She had cerebral palsy and lived in a group home next to our church. Olivia's class would plant flowers at the home or visit the residents to make crafts. Adele was a fixture at our parish. She often parked her wheelchair with the "Got Jesus?" bumper stick on the back in front of the statue of Mary on the school grounds to sit and pray for hours. She was a true witness to all of us, but especially to our school children. Adele was as saintly as they come, and yet it took a school assignment to make me realize that I needed to connect the spiritual dots for my kids in order for them to see the real people in the stained glass versions of sainthood.

So what started out as a somewhat dreaded trip to the library turned into one of those teachable moments I always hear about. I reminded the kids that not everyone will be called to give up everything and serve the poor, as Mother Teresa did, but that everyone is called to walk the path to sainthood right there in the midst of everyday life, even when everyday life is about homework or cooking dinner. It's nice when the teachable moment reaches not only the kids but mom too.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eternal sunshine?

It has been a crazy few weeks here, which would explain why the blog posts have been lighter than usual. In addition to my usual writing work, I'm blogging in two places so things are getting a bit hairy. Sorry my little blog orphans. Here's a post that I think you'll like. It's my post from OSV Daily Take today:

An interesting story almost slipped under my radar today. It's about a new discovery that might one day allow scientists to erase painful memories from our brains so that we have no recollection of them. It's being hailed as a way to eventually help addicts overcome their bad habits or to ease the suffering of those who have experienced something so traumatic that they can't seem to escape the agony...continue reading.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Looking forward to Holy Week, back on Lent

From my post at OSV Daily Take:

It's hard to believe Lent is nearing an end. When we started this journey back in February, I felt like I had plenty of time to make some real spiritual progress. But here we are, just a couple of days away from Palm Sunday, and I have to admit that from where I'm standing things just didn't measure up to my Lenten expectations. Again.

Truth be told, I did just fine with the fasting portion of our program. Giving up sweets or between-meal snacking can be a sacrifice...continue reading.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mary and St. Francis return to the garden

You know spring is really here when St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Guadalupe take their rightful places in my flower beds. There may not be any flowers yet, but once the statues are out there standing watch over the delicate green buds pushing up through the still-cold earth, it means full-fledged spring is just around the corner. And that thought warms my heart, despite the gray skies and cooler-than-usual temps today. (St. Francis is in charge of my front perennial garden, while Our Lady takes charge of the appropriately named Mary Garden in the back. A small St. Francis shrine statue will soon go up where our dog, Greta, and cat, Hamlet, are buried in the backyard.)

I spent the morning -- when I should have been writing -- outside doing what we upstate New York gardeners need to do at this time of year: pulling tons of dead oak leaves out of the holly shrubs and rhodedendrons and hydrangeas. It's a pain-staking task that requires a lot of patience, something I don't usually have in abundance. But, for some reason, I have more patience with my plants than I do with, say, my kids. Bent over picking leaves out of prickly holly one at a time is clearly a more difficult task than plucking dirty socks out of Olivia's bedcovers and yet I don't find it nearly as annoying. For me, gardening -- even when it's more about cleaning than planting -- is meditative, restorative, prayerful. I love to rake and weed and generally putter around my yard, picking up sticks and looking for little plant treasures that I've never noticed before. (We have lots of endangered perennials around my house, so there's always something to discover out in the backyard. I'll post photos as things begin to bloom.)

As I raked and scooped and dug and carried, I soaked up the peace of being outside with no one else around, save for a brief encounter with a town worker who was apparently fixing the end of our front lawn where the snow plow left a scar. By the time I picked up Chiara two hours later, the yard showed a noticeable improvement as did my mood. I love this time of year when the garden is close to bare with little clumps of bright green here and there, showing the promise of what's to come. So fitting for this time in the spiritual season too. The barrenness soon to give way to the fullness of new life. Even now, as I look out the window, a calm sense of satisfaction and anticipation comes over me at the sight of those sparse, neat beds of almost nothing.