Friday, December 7, 2012

Not Strictly Spiritual has moved!

Just a reminder: If you are using Networked Blogs to read Not Strictly Spiritual, or have the site bookmarked at this address, you are not getting my current blog posts. I am now at a new location.

Please go to

Thank you! I hope to see you there.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Come with me if you want to live

Not Strictly Spiritual has moved from this address to a spiffy new location at Please click HERE to go to the new site, and bookmark it once you get there. Thanks!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Just breathe: good advice, great song

Things are kind of reaching a fever pitch in my life right now, and sometimes I can't even be sure I'm breathing. I feel like I'm in a constant state of breath-holding near panic. So when I got in the car this morning and this song was on the radio, I took its message to heart. Just breathe.

The fact that this particular version is from Austin City Limits makes it that much sweeter since I was lucky enough to sit in that studio audience for various great artists during the years I lived in Texas. (Not for Pearl Jam, but for other favorites -- Lucinda Williams being at the top of the list.)

So listen. And just breathe.

Foodie Friday: Kale, it's what's for dinner -- and breakfast

Kale, kale, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Kale is one of my favorite dark leafy greens, and, surprisingly enough, it's also a favorite among my kids. So it's a winner all around. I will throw kale into just about anything. And to prove I'm not kidding, how about this breakfast smoothie recipe:

1 cup almond milk
1 banana
1 tablespoon of almond butter
1 big handful of raw kale

Pure green deliciousness. I'm not kidding. If you can get past the electric green color, you will be pleasantly surprised. I also put kale in green juice, but that's a whole other blog post.

Mainly I put kale with pasta in order to get my kids to eat it. I have created a seemingly endless array of crazy kale and pasta combinations. It started with beans and greens, but we have expanded to oh so many different combinations, one better than the next.

So...Beans and greens. So easy. So delicious. So healthy.

Beans and Greens
Like my Stone Soup recipe, this one changes every time I make it, depending on what I have in the pantry and fridge. Here's one version:

1 big batch of kale, rinsed, tough stems removed, cut into wide ribbons
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
A handful of sundried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water to reconstitute and then sliced
(If I don't have sundried tomatoes, I'll just use a can of diced tomatoes. Another easy and delicious option. In fact, my kids prefer canned or fresh tomatoes to sundried.)
Baby bella mushroom, sliced
Six cloves of garlic, thinnly sliced
A splash of white wine
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound pasta, something short and chunky -- ditalini, farfalle, shells, even rigatoni
Parmesan cheese (for the table)

Put a pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, prep the rest of your ingredients. When water comes to a boil, salt it and toss in kale to blanch quickly. Just a minute or so. Then drain and set aside. (Keep the water so you can boil the pasta in the same water/pot.)

In a large frying pan, add a swirl of olive oil and heat the garlic slices.
Add mushrooms and sundried tomatoes and saute for a bit over medium heat.
Don't allow garlic to brown.
(Around now you should be putting the pasta into the already boiling, kale-scented pasta water.)

Add the beans to the frying pan and saute a minute or so more.
Throw in a splash of wine (if you like) or a splash of veggie or chicken broth.
When the pasta is close to done, add the kale to the saute pan.
Season with salt and pepper.
If it seems dry, take a little pasta water and add it to the saute pan.

Drain the pasta when it's al dente and add it to the saute pan, if it's big enough.
Otherwise, dump all of it into the serving bowl.
Serve with grated parmesan cheese on the side.

Add a nice salad and some crusty bread and you have an awesome dinner. (And at our house, the meat eaters had a link of chicken-pesto sausage on the side. Olivia and I had a tofu sausage, but it really didn't need it.) You could also skip the pasta and make this as a side dish.

Most recently, however, I made a kale recipe that was declared the all time favorite version by the children. This one included butternut squash. Here are the basics:

Kale with Squash
Cube butternut squash, toss with olive oil, roast for about 20 minutes in 425 degree oven.
Blanch washed, trimmed kale in pasta water for about three minutes.  Meanwhile, saute some diced onions in EVOO. Strain out kale and add to saute pan. Cook pasta. When everything is done, toss squash with kale mixture and serve on top of pasta. Feel free to add some toasted walnuts or pine nuts and grated cheese when it reaches the table. Yum.

Still have more kale to use. How about this?

Kale Chips
Preheat over to 250 degrees.
Wash kale leaves, remove center stems, dry thoroughly.
Toss with a little olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt.
Place on a cookie sheet and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until crispy.

So there you have it: Kale, the wonder veggie. Do you have any favorite kale recipes?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The perfect soundtrack for Advent

This is just beautiful -- not only for the music but for the glimpse of these holy women and their prayerful way of life. If you want to purchase the CD, which I plan to do right now, go HERE.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big changes are a'brewin' here at NSS

Not Strictly Spiritual is on the verge of a re-launch. Over the past month or so I've been redesigning my site at an undisclosed location in an effort to merge my website and my blog into one super cool megaplex of Maryness. We're almost there. My plan is to unveil in time for Advent, so expect new things this weekend.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, if you have this site bookmarked under the old address (which means it has the word "blogspot" in the url), you will not be redirected to my updated site, and you will just keep coming back to the last post on this site, sort of like Groundhog's Day in the Catholic blog world. So, please, please, PLEASE be sure you bookmark this site at its most recent address:

Also, Networked Blogs is getting the heave-ho. Too many issues, mainly that people can't comment if they enter through Networked Blogs (and I've heard from quite a few of you). So please, please, PLEASE bookmark NSS instead so you don't miss a single minute of the excitement you usually find here. (Yes, I'm being facetious.)

I'm especially excited for you to see my new NSS logo, which I think captures the feel of my blog in an elegant and simple way. I have been blessed with talented friends who have been willing to help make all of this happen. I'll tell you more about them at the launch.

So stay tuned. I know you're at the edge of your seat. Now you have something to look forward to this weekend. (See facetious comment above.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

N.Y. Times plays politics with Dorothy Day

Icon hanging over my office computer
I was happy to see a front page New Times story on Dorothy Day this morning when I came down for coffee. Of course, I began reading with trepidation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Didn't take long. By the first line of the second paragraph, I was annoyed by the lack of understanding of all things Catholic.

"But Day has found a seemingly unlikely champion in New York's conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who has breathed new life into an effort to declare the Brooklyn native a saint." 

"Unlikely champion?" Really? Dorothy Day lived what our Church teaches, and although Cardinal Dolan may make headlines for his statements on abortion and contraception and other "conservative" issues, he also preaches on the rest of Catholic teaching, which isn't flashy enough to make the front page -- things like poverty and immigration and war, things that Dorothy Day made the center of her life's work.

I find it funny that the Times, with all its great authority, still doesn't understand some of the most basic things about Catholicism and about the people we call saints. My goodness, they don't come more radical than Francis of Assisi and look how popular and beloved his is. He stripped himself naked in the middle of town when he renounced his family's fortune. He was, like Day, radical about poverty and yet firmly entrenched in Catholic teaching and faith. Let's face it: All saints are radical. You don't get to be a saint by being lukewarm about anything.

Then we get a little deeper into the story where the Times talks about Day's canonization "even though, as some bishops noted, she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party." Yeah, okay, please see above paragraph. Of course she can be a saint even though she had an abortion. We are a faith of forgiveness. St. Augustine, anyone? That's what makes her story so powerful. Conversion to Christ transformed her life.  (P.S. When I was young I once went to a Cesar Chavez boycott-grapes rally in Austin sponsored by the Communist Party, so if I'm up for sainthood at any point, please be aware of this skeleton in my closet.)

Here's a fun sentence from the New York Times story:

"Cardinal Dolan is often depicted as one of the most visible symbols of the rightward shift of America's Catholic bishops."

Depicted by whom? The Times, I guess. If they think Cardinal Dolan is a symbol of the "rightward shift," clearly they need to meet some other American bishops. Give me a call; I have a list of names.

Finally, if you make it to the jump of the story, there's what may be my favorite part, where the Times says that promoting Day's sainthood "is politically useful" for Cardinal Dolan. Sigh. Cardinal Dolan is the third Archbishop of New York to promote Day's cause for canonization. Cardinal John O'Connor and Cardinal Edward Egan also promoted Day's cause. Three very different men in three very different times. Sometimes a cause is just a cause.

Here's a snippet of what Cardinal Egan said back in 2005:

...the parish priest who had encouraged me to enter the seminary gave me a copy of "The Long Loneliness" and told me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I do not recall exactly what I told him, but I know what was in my head: "This is a saint if ever there was one."

Here's what Cardinal O'Connor told the New York Times in 1997:

The Cardinal first raised the idea of sainthood for Dorothy Day a decade ago, but at the time he went only so far as to ask for comment from parishioners and others. In his homily yesterday, the Cardinal said he had received many letters as the centennial of Miss Day's birth drew near, one from a supporter who called her ''the Mother Teresa of Mott Street.''

''And the more reading I've done, the more saintly a woman she seems to me,'' the Cardinal said.

So Cardinal O'Connor -- who was also "depicted" as a conservative -- began the first steps toward Day's canonization 25 years ago, during very different political times. So much for that argument.

Regardless of whether you agree with the push for Day's sainthood -- and there are many among her followers who are uncomfortable with the idea -- these basic misunderstandings on the part of the Times about simple Catholic thought and teaching take what should be a story of faith and Gospel teaching and turn it into politics and calculation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Win Lisa Hendey's book in time for Advent

Every year when Advent rolls around, we set our Advent wreath at the center of the kitchen table, and before dinner each night, we pray. But I have to admit that more often than not we resort to our traditional grace before meals or an Our Father or some other old standard because we didn't have time to pull something more appropriate together (not that the Our Father could ever be inappropriate).

This year Lisa Hendey does the heavy lifting for us. Everything we need to make our nightly wreath ritual meaningful is right there in her lovely new book, "O Radiant Dawn," from Ave Maria Press. For each day of Advent, you'll get a short Scripture reading, reflection questions, a special suggestion for those with younger children, and a closing prayer. And if you go to Lisa's blog right now, you can enter a contest to win a free copy just in time for the start of Advent this weekend.

Click HERE to go to Lisa's blog, "A Good Measure," over at Patheos. While you're there you might want to stick around and read some of her other great blog posts.

Cyber Monday goodies with a spiritual bent


If you're anything like me, right about now you're probably making a list and checking it twice and realizing you have way too many Christmas gifts to buy. Some of this has to do with very hard-to-buy-for loved ones. (You know who you are.) But more of it has to do with the fact that I hate shopping malls, hate shopping in general, to be honest. If I could get everything at our local bookstore, and, believe me, I've tried, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it would look a little odd if I gave every person a book or stuffed animal.

So...We need to get creative, right? Well, the good news is that I've got some alternative gift ideas that will not require you to leave home. In fact, you don't have to leave the chair you're in right now. How's that for easy? And the gifts are better than anything you'll find at some lame-o super store.

I have to start with Monks' Bread made by the Trappists at the Abbey of the Genesee in western New York. When I went on retreat there last year, I loaded up my car with two dozen loaves of pure deliciousness -- everything from traditional white bread (see photo above) to sunflower with rolled oats to maple cinnamon, which makes the best dang French toast ever. There a few other varieties as well, each one better than the next.

For the coffee lover, head over to Mystic Monk Coffee. As you NSS regulars know, this is a favorite of mine. They have sampler sets and value packs, mugs, and sweatshirts. And there's a blend for every coffee lover on your list -- from the "light-bodied" Breakfast Blend for the coffee wimps, er, I mean, light-weights, um, never mind, to the Midnight Vigils Blend. If it can keep the Carmelite Monks of northern Wyoming awake for prayers in the middle of the night, it should keep you awake for the drive to work.

Of course, the Trappist monks don't just make bread. You can go for the Trappist cheese (made by the monks of Gethsemani) or Trappist preserves (made by the monks at Spencer) or for any number of Trappist food items (like fudge) dipped and soaked and rolled in bourbon.

Close to my neck of the woods geographically but ever so slightly over the border theologically are the Orthodox Nuns of New Skete, who make kickin' cheesecake in oh so many flavors -- amaretto, chocolate, chocolate amaretto. You get the idea.

If you'd like something other than food, try the soaps and lotions made by the contemplative Dominican Nuns of Summit, N.J. They also sell Dominican books and medals, if you are so inclined.

If you're looking for something religious but you're not quite sure what, head to Monastery Greetings, where you'll find everything from the coffee and preserves mentioned above to prayer shawls, wind chimes, books, cds, incense and lots more.

Now, I've given you quite a few creative gift ideas, but equally important is to tell you what you should NOT buy: "Nativity Rubber Duckies." I'm not kidding. They actually make such a thing. Here's a photo, in case you don't believe me.

Why? Why, I ask you, would anyone need or want rubber duckies dressed as the Holy Family and assorted shepherds and magi? It's beyond bizarre. Almost as strange as the Maximilian Kolbe doll for children. Some things just shouldn't be toys. Enough said.

And this leads me to my next suggestion. Perhaps, if for any reason we feel compelled to buy something like a Nativity rubber duckies, we have simply purchased far too much. Perhaps we should reconsider Christmas and what our giving is all about. One organization, Redefine Christmas, is promoting that idea full force at its web site, which you can visit by clicking HERE. Redefine Christmas is all about giving gifts of charity. Maybe the person who already has everything doesn't need another sweater or tie. Maybe he'd get more satisfaction out of knowing that his gift helped someone who doesn't have enough money to buy food or who can't afford to give their children books. Check it out, and if you don't like any of their ideas, pick your favorite charity and strike out on your own.

Christmas shopping shouldn't be about checking off names on a list in record time. It should be about finding the perfect gift for someone special. And if you can do it without fighting someone for a parking space, even better.

But in the end, it's not about the gifts; it's about the Gift.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

You had me at 'Nativity play set'

The begging has begun. PLLEEAASSEEEE...Can't we play Christmas Elf...get out the decorations? And my answer to every question is a frustrating (for the kids), "Not yet." I don't care if Thanksgiving is over; Advent isn't quite here yet. That means no decking the halls until Dec. 2, or, if we go to vigil Mass on Saturday evening, Dec. 1. And even then, I'm talking only about the Advent wreath and the Advent calendar. The tree and other assorted angels and Santas and snowmen won't show up until we're well into December.

This morning, however, Chiara came into the kitchen and began begging for the Playmobil Nativity set. After a few minutes of trying to convince me that she knew exactly where we would find it in the Christmas boxes because it was clearly in view through the plastic bin (and yet so far out of reach for a tiny 7-year-old), I caved. How can I argue with a kid who wants to play with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the assorted angels, kings, and barnyard animals tucked away in the collapsing blue cardboard box with them, remnants of Noah's early years.

And so I gave one tiny little inch, but I figure it's all in good time. After all, it's the Feast of Christ the King. What better way to celebrate than with childlike enthusiasm?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

So much local shopping to love. No mall required.

So it's Small Business Saturday, but even if it were just any other Saturday, there are so many small businesses here in New York's Capital Region (where I am based) to keep you from ever needing to darken the doorstep of the dreaded mall. Or Walmart.

I know, sometimes you just can't get something anywhere else, but most days you can. I usually make it my mission to get through the Christmas season without ever going to the mall. I challenge you to do the same. If it's too late and you've already stood on line for 12 hours to get a half-price electric toothbrush, pick yourself up and start over.

Or, better yet, drive down to Bethlehem for a little local shopping that's sure to leave with you armfuls of unique gifts you know won't be duplicated by anyone else in your family. (And if you can't get to Bethlehem, a lot of these folks have Etsy shops, so check the links below.)

Every Saturday through Dec. 22 at the Delmar Farmers Market, you can find a collection of organic, homemade, and homegrown foods (think artisan cheeses, beautiful fresh Brussels sprouts, winter squash, and more), stunning dried flower arrangements (also homegrown and made without dyes), handmade jewelry, hand-dipped candles, delicious-smelling soaps, pottery, mosaics, collages, and so much more. Just head to the Bethlehem Central Middle School on Kenwood Avenue between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Drive around toward the back left side of the school, and enter over there.

Here are a few things I picked up last weekend at the Delmar Farmers Market:

Peyster Street Designs jewelry by Ricky Talmage. Actually, these earrings were purchased previously from Ricky. Last week I bought a stunning necklace with a polished blue gem, a freshwater pearl, and a compass charm. But, alas, my son gave it to his girlfriend before I could take a photo. Lucky girl. Go to Ricky's booth at the Farmer's Market, or visit her Etsy shop HERE. Her designs as so beautiful you'll find it hard to choose just one, and you're likely to end up keeping what you buy instead of giving it away (which is what happened with those earrings below.)

These soaps from Tandj Soaps by Theresa Novish smell so good it's going to be hard to part with them. Well, the Nag Champa soap in front is mine, which came free when I bought the others and the cedar soap dish. All sorts of awesome smells -- from Christmas scents (peppermint, cinnamon, etc.) to standards (lavender, lemon, oatmeal) to interesting (Chinese dragon blood, clary sage, rain). I was thinking of making a spiritual soap mix for myself with nag champa, frankincense and myrrh, and minimalist. Theresa has an Etsy shop HERE, but she also has a brick-and-mortar store in Troy at 271 River Street.

I don't have a link or even a name for the dried flowers below, but if you go to the Farmer's Market, they'll be right next to the entrance. Such beautiful arrangements and wreaths and big, lovely bunches of eucalyptus. Breathe deep.

The collage cards below are going to end up framed in my house somewhere. Or at least some of them will land on the walls. One in particular is meant for a friend. You can find lots of handmade note cards, plus prints and more over at Nicolette Callaway's table. If you want to see more of her work, which features lots of animals and colors and some cool hidden designs here and there, visit her Etsy shop HERE.

After you hit the Farmer's Market, head over to the Delmar Reformed Church for the Fair Trade Bazaar and then go down the street to I Love Books, Perfect Blend, and around the corner to Peaceful Inspirations. I've posted about some of my favorite items from those places in a post over HERE. I'll be back early next week with my favorite online Christmas shopping haunts. Happy shopping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Remembering the 'oldest altar boy'

The beautiful post below by Elizabeth Scalia reminded me so much of my grandfather, who was known in our family and around our home parish church as "the oldest altar boy." Every day without fail throughout his retirement and until he was too ill to leave home, he opened the church in the morning, locked it at night, served at each of the three daily Masses, and then sat before the tabernacle in prayer.

He was my confirmation sponsor, chosen by me because no one in my family was so profoundly devoted to God and to the Catholic faith. He oozed faith out of his pores. When my mother died and the rest of us were losing faith, he never wavered. He stood looking down at his dying daughter, sad but unshaken, assuring us that God did answer our prayers, just not the way we would have chosen. Always a tough sell, but especially so on the deathbed of a mother still in her prime.

When I see him in my mind's eye, he is doing what he loved most, kneeling in church -- the church where his own father helped build the stone wall, the church where his children and grandchildren were baptized, the church where he returned home to God. Today that church has a mosaic hanging above the tabernacle in honor of my grandfather and grandmother, a convert with a powerful faith all her own. It's a beautiful image of two peacocks, a Christian symbol of immortality and resurrection, and a concrete reminder to me of what my grandfather valued above all else -- the Eucharist.

So on this day before Thanksgiving, I want to thank Elizabeth for her post and for reminding me of my grandfather, whose faith was such an important part of my own formation as a Catholic.

Here then is "The Mass of Very Old Men" by Elizabeth Scalia:

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 6:25 AM: In the palest light, I follow footprints left in the season’s first frost, just a few minutes behind the regulars. The church’s glaring overhead lights are softened by the flame-glow of a few dozen candles—real wax, seven-day candles that burn a constant supplication—and by the shimmer of one gloriously large and eye-catching Icon of the Crucifixion scene. I wait to stand my candle as a slope-shouldered older man first places his own and then remains a few moments in wonder before all that beauty. He bows low; his eyes close and his hands press together in prayer, but imperfectly so. Form follows function, and these hands, roughly callused, with knuckles gnarled by age and decades of hard work, reveal the laborer who grounds the esthete.

6:36 AM: To the right of the altar, on a worn kneeler, another gray-haired man. He too has lit a candle—electric, this time—before an image of Saint Joseph, patron of husbands and fathers and workers; of immigrants and the whole church and a happy death. There is suppleness to the arc of the man’s body that suggests both comfortable familiarity and ardent longing. He cannot know that in this mid-twentieth century, minimalist building, he is the closest thing to a gothic arch thrusting heavenward, or that his unconscious affect works to similar effect, on some.
Continue reading HERE.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cardinal Dolan agrees with me: No 'Black Thursday'

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a beautifully written column in today's N.Y. Post, addressed the new "Black Thursday" phenomenon that is upon us. As I said in my post on this topic earlier today, it's anything but a good sign, this urge to break from our Thanksgiving family traditions in favor of consumerism. 

Here's what Cardinal Dolan said about it:

Experts in behavioral sciences and sociology seem to share my apprehension. These scholars write that personal contact — verbal, face-to-face quality conversation and healthy leisure where we simply “spend time” as family or friends — is going the way of the rotary telephone. Now we prefer to text, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter — with a personal phone call or letter even becoming quaint, and quality time in each other’s company rare.

And now the days that a classic, civil culture sets aside for such lofty projects as visiting, conversing or sharing a meal together — such as the weekly Sabbath and holidays such as Thanksgiving — are in jeopardy.

The stores, we hear, will open on Thanksgiving. Isn’t that a sign of progress and liberation? Sorry, but no — it’s a sign of a further descent into a highly privatized, impersonal, keep-people-at-a-distance culture, one that values having stuff and doing things over just being with people whom we love, cherish and appreciate.

Take the time to read Cardinal Dolan's entire op/ed piece, by clicking HERE.

Missed my take on this topic? Click HERE for that.

Black Thursday? Stop. Don't do it. I beg you.

Chiara came home from school yesterday and announced: "I'm going to the mall on Black Friday." Before I could even get past my stunned silence to choke out a response,  Olivia said, with some sadness, I must admit (because there's nothing she loves more than shopping): "We don't even go to the mall on regular days, why would we go on Black Friday?"

Precisely. I am anti-mall on any day. I just don't enjoy it. When I make a trip to the mall, I'm like a Navy Seal, going after my target and high-tailing it out of there as quickly as possible. Window shopping has never been my thing. But the thought of Black Friday at the mall sends shivers up my spine. The parking. The pushing. The same old stuff repackaged and repriced and shoved down our throats by desperate retailers. Ugh.

Then this week came the news that Black Friday wasn't enough; some of us apparently need Black Thursday. What gift could possibly be so important, so necessary that it would lure you away from your Thanksgiving festivities -- and all that delicious stuffing -- so you can stand on line for one more must-have whatever? I'm sorry but this sort of thing makes me beyond depressed. I hate to sound like an old person, but our world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket -- or an oversized reusable green shopping bag.

Please don't go shopping on Thanksgiving. I beg you. Please stay home with your family, and, if by some chance you don't have a family and are going to be spending the holiday alone, come over here. Seriously. We'll save you from shopping-at-all-costs. I cannot stand the thought of one NSS reader standing in line at Best Buy on Thanksgiving.

You have enough. You are enough. Nothing they're selling is worth your soul.

Maybe that's too dramatic. Maybe picking up a really cheap blouse isn't going to cost you your soul. Then again, maybe it will cost you a tiny little sliver of it. And what about all those people who have to go to work or lose their jobs so the rest of us can fill our closets with more stuff? Think about them.

Don't do it. Put on "It's a Wonderful Life" after dinner, gather the people you love around you, and just  be thankful for what's in your life right now. And I'll try to do the same, even if the house isn't as perfect as I'd like it to be for all our guests, even if the mashed potatoes are done way before the turkey is sliced, even if my youngest child thinks Black Friday is a holiday worth celebrating. It's a wonderful life, no further accessories required.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving with 'The Egg Lady'

With Thanksgiving right around the  corner, I got to thinking back to the first Thanksgiving Dennis and I  spent as a married couple. We had moved to Austin just a few months  before and decided to give thanks in a different way that year. So  today, I am rerunning a favorite Life Lines  column in honor of the holiday and in recognition of all those folks  who will not sit down to a feast of food on Thursday. Here it is:

In  the past, whenever the dolls and Legos would overflow our kids’ toy  bins, we’d give things away to charity. We figured it was a good way to  do something nice, clean our closets, and teach our kids the importance  of giving to others all at the same time.

Ever since Noah turned  2, he knew that many of his toys would eventually go to “the poor.” We  never really put a face on “the poor,” but whenever a toy was  conspicuous by its absence, Noah would ask if they had it.

We  thought we were teaching him a valuable lesson in Christian charity.  Then one night he took the globe off the coffee table, spun it around  and randomly put his finger on Egypt. “Is this where the poor live?” he  asked.

I tried to imagine what was going through his head. I had  visions of hungry children on the other side of the world opening boxes  filled with Teletubbies and beeping plastic steering wheels.

And  so began our quest to teach our kids just how many people are desperately poor, not just on the other side of the globe, but on the other side of town. We tried to find ways to drive the point home: a  brown bag full of cans from our pantry at Thanksgiving, a gift for the  Giving Tree at Christmas, an Easter basket for a needy child. They were  all lovely sentiments – and important in their own ways -- but hardly  enough to convey what the Gospel challenges us to do.

The first  Thanksgiving after Dennis and I were married we volunteered to serve  breakfast to hungry men and women who didn’t have plans for a  home-cooked meal, or a home for that matter. A woman who ran the  Catholic Worker House was happy for the extra hands and told us to be at  the day labor corner at 7:30 a.m. to hand out hard-boiled eggs, tortillas and hot coffee.

The woman was known around town as  “The Egg Lady” because she was out there with her eggs not just on  Thanksgiving but every day. She drove homeless people to AA meetings,  let them shower at her house, gave them clothes and offered them  prayers. She reached out a hand where many would recoil in fear. She  told us how one man she’d been helping stole her car. She said it  without a hint of anger, without an ounce of regret. Then she boiled  more eggs and went back out to the streets.

Now that is a lesson  in Christian charity. Talk about living the Gospel. It’s not nearly as neat and easy as throwing some canned corn in a paper bag. In fact it’s the kind of charity that I find downright scary. But it’s exactly the  kind of charity we need to embrace if we’re going to teach our kids about compassion and our duty to make sure people have eggs and coffee  and a generous serving of dignity and respect.

Maybe this year  we’ll hold onto the extra Elmos and try a different approach – like  talking about the fact that there are poor people right here, that  they’re just like us except they don’t have a way to pay for food or  doctor visits or heat during the winter. Bags of food and boxes of toys  are a good start, but they won’t end poverty. We end poverty, and not  just with a checkbook but with a change of heart. Maybe that’s a na├»ve  idea, but people like The Egg Lady put it to the test every day.

Unfortunately  there are plenty of opportunities to test our mettle. Spin the globe.  Put your finger down. Anywhere. That’s where the poor live.

Originally published in Catholic New York, November 2001. If you would like to learn more about the real "Egg Lady," click HERE.