Monday, September 29, 2008

Monday night meanderings

All is quiet on the home front, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to share some observations, thoughts, comments. Remember "Stream of Consciousness Tuesday"? Well, this is a little like that, just a few hours earlier.

We were away for the weekend again, this time as a family. We headed down to Manhattanville College for Dennis' younger sister's "family day" event. When we pulled into the parking lot, the attendant seemed shocked that Dennis didn't know which dorm his daughter lived in. Wake up call for Dennis. The same thing happened to his older sister, who's my age, when she arrived without the dorm info in hand. I guess we're all getting old -- and visibly so. Then again, I was out of college when my mom and dad were my age, so it's really not surprising that people would suspect that Dennis and I have a college-age child. As the oldest mom at preschool pick-up, I often wonder if people think I'm Chiara's grandma rather than her mom.

Speaking of age...I'd like to add a birthday postscript. During my recent blog entry on the joys of being 46, I didn't mention the darker side of 46, something that you may not understand unless you've lost a parent too young. For me, 46 is an important year. My mother died at 47, and so the last 20 years have been a race against her body clock. I am continually measuring my life against hers. As in, if I live as long as my mother, I have only XX years left. It's not a morbid thing, really. I think it's a natural thing, something I've heard other folks talk about when they've had a parent die at an unnaturally young age. So, 46 is a biggie. If I get through 46, it means I make it to the age my mother was when she died. The climax of this, of course, is 47 or almost 48, which means I have passed the cut off. Weird way of thinking, but that's the way it is. On the other, more positive hand, I sometimes look at my almost-96-year-old grandmother and realize that if I've inherited her genes, I may have 50 more years, at least. Pretty amazing. That's longer than I've been alive!

Back to this weekend...After family day at college, which made both Noah and Olivia giddy with excitement over the prospect of going to college one day (they still haven't grasped that they will be going to college up the street at SUNY thanks to insane college costs), we headed to Manhattan to stay with Dennis' mom and step-dad at their apartment, which is a real treat for all of us but especially the kids. We had dinner and hung out and planned for a Sunday in the city, despite predictions of rain. Noah had grand plans -- Museum of Natural History, Planetarium, Empire State Building. We opted for something without an admission charge but a big cost nonetheless -- the American Girl Store, the Nintendo World Headquarters and FAO Schwartz, with Mass at Holy Family Church near the United Nations and lunch in midtown.

During all this running around the streets of the city, we passed a couple of homeless people -- one, neatly dressed, holding a sign that said he was hungry and broke, the other, very sickly looking, no sign in hand but devastatingly sad. Olivia wanted to know what was wrong with the second person, so we talked about the fact that there are lots of people in the city with no money to afford a place to live or food to eat or doctors to take care of their illnesses, and we talked about how important it is to give to organizations that can help these people. It's hard for kids to grasp the concept that people could live on a street and no one would come looking for them -- no family, no parents, no children. I could see the sadness on Olivia's face. I could see her mind working as she tried to figure out how this could be. It is hard to fathom, and yet, with the economic situation looming in this country, things are bound to get worse, much worse.

And that's where Noah's head is at these days. Today, when I was explaining to Noah that the "bail out" failed in Congress, the kids started talking about whether we would have to take in boarders or begin selling eggs (as if we have chickens). This comes directly from the American Girl movie about Kit, the Depression Era girl. The movie was really good, giving kids and adults alike a basic understanding of what went on during the Depression. In fact, maybe it was too effective. I explained to the kids that, no, we would not be taking in boarders, but that things in this country might get very difficult. Noah worries about stuff like this. I'm sure he went to bed tonight thinking the sky is falling, and maybe it is and I'm just refusing to look up.

Finally, I just have to give a shout out to Holy Family Church on East 47th Street. I worked for Catholic New York, just 8 blocks away, for years -- as an intern, a reporter and managing editor -- and I never made my way down to this church. We opted for Holy Family this weekend when the kids were up at daybreak making too much noise to stay in a NYC apartment, and I'm so glad we did. I'm not usually a fan of modern churches, but this one does it right. The Stations of the Cross, the tabernacle, the art of the Flight to Egypt and the Angel Gabriel, the baptismal font, all of it was beyond beautiful. I could do without the gigantic Risen Jesus over the altar -- I'm partial to a basic Crucifix myself -- but I'm even willing to give them that because the rest of the place is so fabulous. If you are near the United Nations, pop in and make a visit. I wish I had thought to take out my camera after Mass, but you'll just have to trust me on this one.

OK, it's late. Chiara has surgery tomorrow morning for a benign cyst in her ear. If you're reading this before 9 a.m. -- or even after -- please say a prayer that all goes well. The surgery is "minor," but anything that involves general anesthesia and my baby is major to me.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm 46 and feeling fine

Happy Birthday to me. I turned 46 years old today. There's something monumental about crossing over to the 50 side of my 40s. More monumental than hitting 40, I think. That was sort of anti-climactic, if you ask me. However, since I turned 40, I've been biding my time, waiting for the moment when the wisdom of middle age would take hold and I would finally feel comfortable in my own skin, something that hasn't always come easy to me. Well, I'm here to tell you, the time has arrived! As I told Dennis the other day, I feel as though I have reached a crescendo in my life. In the immortal words of the Seinfeld episode on senior drivers, "I'm old, and I'm coming back." In other words, I'm doing what I want to do regardless of what everyone else thinks or wants.

I don't mean that in a selfish or mean sense. I mean that in a wise and softened sense. I mean that, finally, at the age of 46, I am letting go of some of the unnecessary stuff and worrying more about the important stuff -- like God and my family. Nothing drove this point home more than last weekend's camping trip at Auriesville. This would not have happened a few years ago, maybe not even one year ago. My fears of camping would have gotten the best of me and I would have missed out on the experience with Noah. Now I am embracing my inner camper, and I think that has to do with getting older. The thought of being outside in God's creation is starting to hold a lot more weight than the dread of having to use latrines or public restrooms and sleeping on the cold ground. Suddenly schlepping through the mountains or fields without a shower for two days, covered in grime, hair shoved into a baseball cap so as not to scare the wildlife, seems absolutely perfect.

I'm feeling this new laid back side of my mature self in my work as well. I can feel my writing shifting. I recently resigned from my position as Contributing Editor at Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. After 15 years with OSV, I told my editor that I no longer felt called to write about the business of the Church but rather about the truths of the faith. That's the best way I can describe it. Still, that was a leap of faith. I will need to find new kinds of writing to fill the void, but I know it will come. It always has -- every time I've stepped off the proverbial ledge and trusted that I wouldn't hit the ground.

This is where I am now, and I find that I'm very happy here. Back when I turned 30, when Dennis and I were just co-workers and friends at Catholic New York, I remember telling him that my 30s were going to be "my decade." And, in a sense, they were. I married Dennis, had two of my three children, moved to Texas, bought a house, wrote my first book, and built my fledgling free-lance business into something livable. Not a bad decade. I didn't think my 40s could top that. I thought it would be all down hill from there, but then along came Chiara and another book and more work and a beautiful region of the country to call home, and all the wonderful, crazy things that go along with being a wife and a parent.

Lately -- and, again, a lot of this may have to do with all my retreat time and with my renewed and deeper hunger for more of God in my life -- I realize that I should be enjoying my 40s, especially since I have been blessed with good health and a strong body and an even stronger will to do the things I set out to do. Life is good, as the popular T-shirts and coffee mugs say. And so it is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tiny dancer

Here is Chiara at her new "creative movement" class, which she just adores. This picture looks "artsy" to me. Taken through a glass window, I love how the light is shining through the opposite door as Chiara spins around in her hoop under the poster of the elegant ballerina. All in good time...

After today's class, Chiara was so exited to be leaping and jumping and dancing "like butterflies and fairies." She's demonstrating her moves across the family room for Olivia as I write this.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I'm ready for my next camp out

See that little yellow and blue tent above? That was my tent during the weekend Boy Scout encampment and retreat at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y., which is a beautiful and sacred place overlooking the Mohawk Valley. This is where Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, was born and where Jesuit missionaries St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil and lay missioner St. John Lalande were martyred. The entire place, which includes a beautiful 6,000-seat Coliseum church built in 1930, a small screened-in chapel in honor of Kateri, a ravine where you can read the story of Rene Goupil in Isaac Jogues' own words, and so many other paths that take you through the Stations of the Cross or to other shrines and statues, is just gorgeous, especially on a picture-perfect early fall weekend like we had. I cannot believe it took me eight years to get to this wonderful spot only 45 minutes from my house.

Here's the view from the Coliseum. (If you click on the photos, you should be able to enlarge them.) That's the Mohawk River in the distance. It's pretty easy to see why the Mohawk Indians settled here:

Here's Noah in the ravine, preparing to ascend what the boys affectionately referred to as the "hill of death." I took the long way back to camp via the ravine path:

Although the retreat itself was great, I really loved the camping aspect of this trip, even on Friday night when the temperatures dropped and I was wearing long underwear, a sweatsuit with an extra sweatshirt on top, a hat, a hood, gloves and socks inside my mummy bag in order to stay warm, which I did -- except for my face. Still, I think I've finally gotten over the horrible camping experiences I had as a Girl Scout. I am so ready to begin family camping, although I think we'll wait until late spring or summer when there is no danger of frost or worse.

The boys on the trip were great, too. They paid attention during the retreat talks, given by the very energetic and interesting Jesuit Father Rocco Danzi, and they tried to pull their weight at the camp site. Noah made scrambled eggs for breakfast and hamburgers for dinner on the propane stove, and he helped wash dishes and pots when he wasn't cooking. The boys even took care of this vegetarian mom, cooking my fake hot dogs in a separate pot so as not to contaminate them. I don't know if it was their special touch or the cold air, but they were the best vegetarian hot dogs I've ever had.

At night, the big sky was so filled with stars that you couldn't help but stand there looking up in awe. When everyone was tucked into their sleeping bags, I could hear the boys in the tent next to mine playing the ukulele, plucking out Stairway to Heaven. Talk about a song with staying power. In the mornings, everything was covered with dew and a heavy mist settled in the valley until the sun could burn it off. The only thing missing on this trip was a campfire, which was a big loss, but we'll make sure we have a fire pit next year. See, I'm already planning on going back next year.

Here are a couple more photos from our retreat. The crosses mark the entrance to the main grounds:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Boy Scout camp, here I come

Believe it or not, I am going away for the weekend AGAIN. Only this time I have a feeling it's going to be a lot different from what I experienced on my silent retreat. I am going with Noah to his Boy Scout Encampment/Retreat at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, NY. I will be sleeping in a tent for two nights. I haven't slept in a tent since I was Noah's age, and I'm certain there were good reasons for that. I have a feeling I may rediscover just what those reasons are when I'm freezing and wide awake at some point tonight. Still, I have to admit, there's a part of me that's kind of excited about this. I'm becoming a camper, of sorts, in my old age.

Anyway, I've been wanting to go the Shrine, which is only an hour's drive from our house, since we moved here almost eight years ago, so this is a great opportunity. The weekend will include a Mass with Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany on Saturday night as well as lots of retreat sessions for the boys. I'm hoping I get a chance to venture down into the Ravine and around the rest of the grounds.

You'll hear all about it next week. Have a good one.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My handy husband

Dennis, who often talks about how he wishes he was more handy with stuff around the house, managed to pull off an extraordinary home repair yesterday, so I just have to brag about it. Two weeks ago, when I was making a big batch of brown rice in my trusty rice cooker, which cooks rice perfectly every time, I neglected to turn the cooker so any steam coming out of the vent would blow over our sink and not under our nice, new maple cabinets. I ran downstairs to throw in a load of laundry, came back up and was answering the age old question -- "What's for dinner?" -- for the thousandth time, when I turned to see the steam coming out full blast and hitting the very edge of our cabinet. There, to my horror, was the veneer of our cabinet lifted up off the wood and warped. I literally sat down on the floor and cried. Our kitchen renovation 18 months ago was a huge and expensive undertaking, so to see a very visible cabinet warped and ruined left me beyond upset.

We talked to the cabinet company since it seems ridiculous that a normal household appliance could do this to a quality cabinet, or at least what we thought was a quality cabinet. We talked to Lowe's about how me might go about replacing the entire cabinet, which would have required not only a carpenter but an electrician since there are lights in and around the cabinet. We talked to friends and relatives who are good at this sort of thing. Finally, two nights ago, Dennis took an iron, some wax paper and cardboard, cabinet glue that he shot up under the veneer using an old nasal medicine dispenser, a block of wood, some borrowed clamps and a whole lot of chutzpah and went to work on the cabinet. Twenty-four hours later the cabinet is almost as good as new. The very slight deformation that remains was easily masked by brown furniture pencil. Unless you're looking for it, you would never know there was damage. As far as I'm concerned, that's handy enough for me. What a relief. Now if I can just stop twitching every time someone mentions the word "rice."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Repercussions and reflections

Before I get started on today's "official" post, let me first say how sorry I am that I disappeared for a few days. I have a huge work project that needs the bulk of my attention, and I had to give myself a few days of work time devoted to nothing but that. In fact, as soon as I'm done here, I'll be back at it, but I've decided to spend a few minutes with you while I wait for my tea water to reach a boil. How big of me. Anyway, on with the real post.

It has been about one and a half weeks since I returned from my silent retreat, and I wanted to share what I've been noticing in the wake of that experience. Obviously, a silent retreat is not "normal" in the sense that it's not supposed to be a lesson in how to live everyday life. I'm not a hermit or a monk, so my life is not silent. I would say it is the complete opposite of silent, especially based on this morning's chaotic scene before school. However, the silent retreat was meant to show me how important silence is, even if it's just a few minutes interspersed in an otherwise busy day. And from that perspective, the retreat was definitely a success. I am noticing in the most unexpected places a craving for silence and a willingness and ability to try to find even just a small piece of what I experienced on retreat as I go about my day.

I find that when I am eating, especially when I am eating lunch by myself or with Chiara and am prone to work on a crossword puzzle or read a newspaper at the same time, that I suddenly become aware of how mindlessly I'm eating my food. Chiara has even become a help by asking me to light the "prayer candle" when we eat lunch. The prayer candle is actually something called a "Peace Pot" that I bought when I was on retreat. My original plan was to have one meal a week where we light the candle and do a special prayer in addition to our nightly grace, but that hasn't happened so far. Still, the fact that Chiara -- who has an ulterior motive in that she likes to blow out the candle and "make a wish" -- has managed to help me keep a little piece of my prayerful silence is pretty impressive.

The silence shows up in other ways as well, like when I'm driving and would normally have the radio blasting. Now I find I drive in silence much of the time, sometimes just thinking and sometimes trying to make a God connection even as I drive. And, perhaps most noticeably, I find I am much more able to settle into the silence of yoga now that I have the experience of total retreat silence as a guide. When I go to my meditative yoga class at the YMCA, which is really very spiritual despite the fact that right outside the door is a room full of elliptical machines and weightlifters, I find the silence comes naturally. In fact, last night, as we prepared for a flow of yoga poses in honor of the Harvest Moon, which was magnificent as I drove home and it hovered behind some black rimmed clouds like something out of an El Greco painting, I felt almost as prayerful as I did on my retreat. As we finished our class with a relaxation pose and deep breathing, I was very conscious of the inhalations and exhalations, imagining that I was breathing in peace and compassion, love and understanding and breathing out anxiety and greed, jealousy and indifference. None of that would have happened, I don't think, without my silent retreat experience to fall back on.

And for those of you who are still hung up on the line where I mentioned that we did our yoga practice in honor of the Harvest Moon, thinking that perhaps that sounds too New Age-y, let me just remind you that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi who wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and so I will close with a reflection on the very beautiful words written by St. Francis, who was an environmentalist before that word was even invented:

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they whom death will find doing Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
-- St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where the girls are

We spent part of our morning down at the Soccerplex, which is soccer central for parents of school-aged children in our town at this time of year. The long convoy of minivans and SUVS of every color and size will snake along the back roads in the morning hours each Saturday from now until the end of October, when the early games are so cold that even the thought of getting hit with the ball stings. But today was a muggy and warm Indian Summer sort of day, when T-shirts and the traditional end-of-game ice pops seemed right in season. Ask me about the ice pop treats come late October and I'll be singing a different tune for sure.

Our family had been soccer-free for a couple of years, when neither Noah nor Olivia had any interest, but Olivia, who is pretty fierce on the field, decided to give the all-girls team a try this year. Actually, to be completely honest, she decided on soccer when dear old mom and dad gave her two choices: running club at school or town-sponsored soccer. She had to choose a physical activity of some sort, and I'm so glad she chose soccer because even when she was just 4 and 5 years old, she was a feisty little player who didn't let up. Seeing my strong girl out there on the field makes me proud.

Here she is (the one in lime green) on the move after the ball:

In this one she's in the center with the super cool black and silver shin guards:

And here is Chiara, standing on the sidelines. Rainboots are not the most effective soccer footware:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's all in how you look at things...

September is one of those crazy months for parents with multiple school-aged children. Between back-to-school nights and picnics and practices, the calendar is typically full to overflowing. That's pretty much how this week is for us. Last night Olivia had soccer practice, Chiara had her preschool family picnic, and Dennis had a school board meeting. Tonight is no better. Dennis has a doctor's appointment and a commitment to help with our school's new preschool bathroom, and Noah has a scout meeting that requires a parent in attendance because it will include details on two, count 'em, two, upcoming camping trips.

So...I will go to the scout meeting with the two girls in tow. Yesterday I told Olivia that she will need to play with "the baby" while I listen to the scout leader and jot down notes. Chiara overheard all this and chimed in, "I want to play with the baby." I looked at her and said, "You ARE the baby."

It's interesting to see how different the same life can look depending on where you're standing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Entering into the silence

As promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective), I want to take another day to talk about silence, which sounds contradictory, but, hey, that's me, contradictory. This past weekend I spent two days on a silent retreat. It was called "Merton in the Mountains" and relied on the writings of the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton, specifically as they relate to Franciscan spirituality, to lead us into silence and contemplation. I had been looking for an opportunity to try a silent retreat for almost a year. Something about silence has been calling to me, daring me to give it a try despite my trepidation.

After our initial introductory meal on Friday night, we entered the silence with Evening Prayer in the monastic tradition. We had a sacred space in our Adirondack lodge at Pyramid Life Center, with the Franciscan Cross of San Damiano, a photo of a statue of Mary from the Trappist Abbey at Gethsemane, Kentucky, a photo of Merton, an image of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, and, what I found especially meaningful, a figure of Jesus that had fallen off a crucifix given to our retreat director. The broken body of Jesus laying on the table was such a powerful symbol in that little prayer space.

Our days were punctuated by Morning and Evening Prayer, Vespers, and Lectio Divina, interspersed with "conferences" on topics related to our retreat -- contemplation, nature and creation, Francis of Assisi, and the interior life in general. And of course there were silent meals, which were part of our spiritual "practice." I think those were the most difficult moments of silence. To sit across the table from another person and not speak or make eye contact was so strange to me, and yet there was something very freeing about not having to make small talk, to just sit and eat my dinner, focusing on the food and the silence. When you eat in silence, you find that even sipping corn chowder can become a spiritual experience.

It just so happened that across the camp from us was another retreat group, the "Connecting to the Earth" retreat, which included a sweat lodge and Reiki and healing sticks and things of that sort. The first night, as I lay in bed in the glow of my battery-powered candle (one of the best non-essential items I decided to take along with me), I could hear not only the noises of the forest and the wind rustling the trees but the distant sound of drumbeats. I loved knowing that there was this other group of people out there in the dark, trying to find their own spiritual space in their own way. It was a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness even when our paths are completely different. In the mornings, not long after our own retreat director would ring the "bell of mindfulness" to wake us for Morning Prayer, I would hear the soft sound of flute music drifting through the trees from the Earth Connection's campsite. Sitting in an Adirondack chair, staring off at the clouds hanging just above the lake, listening to the somber notes of the flute off in the distance was like living in a dream. So peaceful, so spiritual, so filled with the majesty and wonder of God and all creation.

Between our scheduled events were long periods of silence, sometimes hours at a time, when we could do walking meditation or sit in the prayer space or take a boat out on the lake and meditate there. (Remember, no reading and writing allowed on this retreat either, which was like pulling a rug out from under me.) At one point, I took a long hike in the woods, and it seemed that every time I started to pick up speed and stop paying attention to what I was doing I would spot a little orange "eft" in my path. (An eft is a baby newt, and, no, I did not know this offhand. My son, Noah, told me that what I saw was an eft not a newt.) If I didn't want to crush the dozens of efts running back and forth over the damp ground, I had to walk gingerly, slowly, patiently. So I can thank the efts for making what would have been a straight power walk a spiritual power walk instead.

I guess I'm spending a lot of time talking about the particulars of my weekend not only to set the scene for you but because, to tell you the truth, it's easier to talk about the actual happenings than to talk about the things that happened in silence. They are still too hard to grasp. I am continuing to process what I experienced. It's hard to take the silence in all at once. I didn't have any "aha" moments this weekend, but I don't think I was supposed to. This wasn't about achieving anything. This was about, as our retreat director said, realizing that I am a human being not a human doing. In our busy, get-ahead world, it can be very difficult to separate ourselves from what we do, but that is what the silences calls us to realize. When we strip away the conversation and the nervous chatter, the comfortable surroundings of home and the emails and computers and cell phones, we uncover our true selves. We see, maybe for the first time, that we continue to exist -- maybe even finally exist in our fullness -- when we take away all our outer trappings.

I am determined to find a way to put some minimal amount of silence and contemplation into my "normal" life, although, given the fact that Chiara is standing on my chair as I write this, that seems a dim possibility right now. Still, I am at a point in my life where silence matters, or should matter. Not the silence of the mountains, although that was spectacular, but the silence of real life, the silent space we create within ourselves that remains centered and still and strong no matter who's standing on the back of our chairs and looking over our shoulders.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Silence is golden

I'm back from my retreat, and, yes, I kept the silence -- easily, I might add. In fact, I loved the silence, wanted more of the silence, hated to break the silence on Sunday morning. I found not talking to be a very easy thing to do. What I found much more difficult, verging on impossible, was not thinking, which is what I expected. I've done enough meditation and contemplation to know that "monkey mind," as the Buddhists call it, will not settle down just because we quiet our mouths and settle our bodies. The weekend was an amazing experience. To sit in silence for hours at a time was a wonder to me. I'm really still processing everything that happened because the experience was so unlike anything else I've ever done. As opposed to my last retreat, which was about building community and sharing and bonding with my fellow retreatants in the typical sense, this was about solitude, about being alone together, if that makes sense. Yes, there were 20 of us on the retreat, but our bonds were forged by our shared experience of solitude not by our pouring out of our innermost thoughts and feelings. I want to talk more about my retreat in a follow-up post because there is so much more to say about silence. But for now I'd like to share some photos of the amazing Pyramid Life Center, which is very rustic and incredibly beautiful. I could see Pyramid Lake from my bedroom in the lodge. In fact, at night I would lay down with my head at the foot of the bed so I could fall asleep with the night sky as the backdrop.
Here's the view from my room:

Here are just some general shots of the grounds, which include hundreds of acres with hiking trails, and a huge lake with a 16-acre island in the middle of it, which you are allowed to visit via canoe, kayak, or row boat:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Of school and silence and spontaneity

When the kids come bounding off the school bus in a hour or so, I will be packed and ready to head to the Adirondack Mountains for a silent weekend retreat. I've never done a silent retreat, and I have to admit that I am more than a little intimidated. No talking, no casual eye contact, no reading and no writing. They should have just said, "No breathing." But this is something I've been wanting to do for almost a year, a prayer challenge I feel I'm ready to take. This particular retreat combines so many of my favorite things: Thomas Merton, Franciscan spirituality, a gorgeous setting on a lake in upstate New York, and a chance to really, truly try my hand at serious contemplation. Dennis was the one who spotted the announcement in our parish bulletin and encouraged me to go, so I have him to thank for whatever is ahead.

Now, some of you out there who know me well and maybe even those who have met me only once, may already be taking wagers on whether I can be quiet for an entire weekend. I don't think it will be easy by any stretch, but I do think I can survive maybe even thrive in the silence. I'll be back with a post on Monday to tell you about it, unless I get voted off the mountain and end up back here tomorrow. Kidding. No way I'm letting that happen.

My blog will be quiet this weekend as well, so I thought this would be the perfect time to link you to my two most recent Life Lines columns posted on my website. For some talk of first days and fear, click HERE, and for my column on the importance of family click HERE. See, plenty to keep you busy while I'm away. Please send prayers and positive spiritual energy my way this weekend. Blessings!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

You find sexism in the strangest places

The day John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate, I made Noah and Olivia sit there with me and watch the announcement on CNN. That broadcast included the now-infamous moment where John Roberts of CNN questioned whether Palin should be considering a run for VP when she has a child with Down syndrome, who will require a lot of care, you know. There I was, surrounded by my three kids, yelling at the TV in the middle of a summer day, saying exactly what every other woman in America was probably saying at that moment: Would you ask that question if Palin were a man? And the answer, as we all know even if we all won't admit it, is absolutely not. Of course, that was just the first of many, many variations of that same sexist question.

Olivia, who really just wanted to play a video game or run outside and collect leaves and acorns, asked why she had to sit there and watch the announcement at all. I looked her and, with a definite tone of annoyance in my voice, told her that this woman on TV could possibly be the first female vice president of our country and that as a girl who will one day be a woman, this should matter to her, will matter to her, matters to her right now, in fact, even if she doesn't understand it yet. It wasn't until I watched the reaction to Palin's candidacy that I realized just how much it matters.

What has happened to Palin in the past few days is nothing short of mouth-dropping. The very same people who beat us over the head during the Democratic convention with promises of finally getting women equal pay for equal work are suddenly doubting that a woman with young children can do a tough job. The people who line their camp with NOW and NARAL supporters in an effort to convince us that because they are pro-abortion they are pro-women have suddenly gone all 1950s on us. The word "bimbo" has actually been bandied about, as has "Barbie" and "trophy" and a lot of unflattering and unprintable descriptions of the smart and savvy Sarah Palin. The worst part, I think, is that a lot of the nastiest attacks are coming from women, and that just stinks. Come on, if you're a woman, then you know how tough it is to be a woman in a man's world and you can probably imagine the kind of grit and fortitude it must take to get to the top of the Republican heap not only in Alaska but now on the national stage.

Sarah Palin has changed everything in this race for the White House. Regardless of what you think of her positions on policies, the mere presence of a woman on the Republican ticket has turned the world upside down. Who'd have thought a few weeks ago that we would see the old guard of the Republican party cheering a woman on for vice president while the Democrats tear her down, using her daughter's pregnancy to try to humiliate her and her family and even going so far as to report on her husband's traffic violations from years ago. Has anyone run a license check on the spouses of the other candidates?

Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but I won't. If you want to read a couple of good articles, go to Peggy Noonan's column from the Wall Street Journal by clicking HERE and go to National Review Online for Jim Geraghty's humorous take on the situation by clicking HERE. Here's one more from Andrea Peyser.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

End of summer, start of fall

I decided to do something special with the kids for the last official day of summer vacation, so we headed to Indian Ladder Farms for a little early-in-the-season apple picking. It was a gorgeous day for it -- warm, sunny, dry, bright blue skies. And when you hit the orchards this early in the picking season, you get McIntosh, my favorite of the apple crops. Although the apples are not quite as abundant or as big this year because of a cold snap in the spring and a hailstorm that damaged the fruit, we still had plenty to choose from as we made our way through rows of trees, filling our half-bushel bag until it burst. Seriously. Fortunately the handle broke when I got home, so only a few rolled out onto the garage floor.

Chiara loved her first real turn in the apple fields, chomping away on a juicy red Mac as she looked for fruit hanging within her reach. What a way to end the summer. We headed over to the main farm before leaving and took some time to feed the goats and donkey and chickens. Chiara thought the one rooster looked "like Little Bear's hen." She wouldn't get anywhere near close enough to the goats to feed them, although she did like the bid red tractor in the giant sandbox.

Now we've got a ton of crispy apples plus a bag of fresh cider donuts sitting on the counter just waiting for us to dig in. Fall has arrived, even if the calendar hasn't caught up yet. I love this time of year, and I love this part of the country. Just check out that view in the photo below. That's the Helderberg Escarpment in the distance. Just beautiful.