Monday, August 29, 2011

Manic Monday: The calm after the storm

It's been quite the weekend. Not much was accomplished, other than staring at the swaying trees outside and praying they didn't land on our power lines. Oh, and The Weather Channel. Lots of wasted time spent listening to national and local people explain for the thousandth time that a flash flood means water moves in quickly. I've got a weather report hangover this morning, as I look at everything I didn't do while waiting for the power to go out and our basement to go under water. And none of it happened.

So here's what is going on this week...

Soundtrack: "Hey Jude" and "Sweet Child O'Mine," both of which Noah was playing for us on the piano last night. Nice.

Bookshelf: The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen. I haven't started this one yet, but it is ready and waiting for my own weekend retreat at The Abbey of the Genesee. I leave on Friday for three days of silence and prayer. Woo hoo!

I'm also finally finishing up the last few days of the 12-week program known as The Artist's Way. I've found it really helpful, creatively speaking. Morning Pages have become part of my daily routine, which is some sort of evidence of the strength of this book. I have a really hard time starting new morning routines.

I will maintain and then expand on the morning writing/creativity routine by jumping into a book I mentioned in this space weeks ago, The Artist's Rule, which looks at creativity from a monastic perspective. I plan to start that right around the time I head to Genesee, which seems like perfect timing since I'll be hanging out around monks. That's also a 12-week program. I'll let you know how it's working as I get into the heart of it.


This was our view at the start of the week,
sitting on the sands of Long Beach Island, N.J.

By Saturday morning, Our Lady of Guadalupe was stored in the shed, along with all of our other outside chairs and such. She may be the Mother of God, but she's not taking any chances in a hurricane.

We lucked out. No power outage. Just lots of small branches down. Here's the deck the morning after. The tarp? Well, believe it or not, our deck was painted one day before the hurricane and we were attempting to protect it from the very severe drip line that develops due to rain/snow/ice. Two things on our shopping list: a generator and gutters for the top roof line.

Appointment book: This will be a very busy week between work and kid stuff. I've got a bunch of jobs to finish before I head to my retreat and lots of back-to-school shopping that still needs to get done. On top of that, I'm checking day by day to see if I have to report for jury duty. Ugh. So far so good, but it's only Monday. Fingers crossed I don't get called in because that will just throw life into a total turmoil here.

Have a good one. Prayers for those who are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For moms everywhere, on the Feast of St. Monica

Just about one year ago, when I spent 11 days in Rome, I had the chance to visit the Church of St. Augustine (seen here) multiple times since it was just around the corner from Santa Croce University, where I was attending a seminar for journalists.

In this beautiful church, complete with an altar and angels by Bernini and paintings by Raphael and Caravaggio, is the tomb of St. Augustine's mother, Monica, whose feast we celebrate today.

I knelt before her tomb, so grateful just to be in Rome, and whispered prayers for all the moms who had asked me to remember their intentions while I was in the Eternal City. And I prayed for mothers everywhere, because no matter what our background, no matter how much we do, we often think its not enough, that we are not enough.

So today, as then, I am remembering all the moms I know and those I don't, praying we find the patience and strength we need to live out our vocations fully and joyfully and that we also have eyes to see not only where we think we fall short but where we are doing our best -- teaching our children, serving our families, trusting in God -- day after day, year after year.

I remembered all of you this morning as I said Morning Prayer, and I will remember you again in just a little while when I go to Mass. Please remember me in your prayers as well. And let us turn to St. Monica for comfort when we do come up against those hard times and wonder how we will get through. She was living proof that the power of persistent prayer can change lives -- our own and those of our children.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Riding the waves of prayer

When I'm sitting on the beach, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean, I can't help but hear prayers of praise echoing in my head along with the crashing waves. The power of the ocean is unsettling and comforting all at once, and for me there is something deeply spiritual about that.

The endless beauty, stretching out to the horizon line is a glimmer of eternity. The soft sand wiped clean of our footprints as the water rushes back to the sea is a reminder of just how fleeting life on this earth really is. The joy on my children's faces as they ride the waves or collect shells in a bucket or follow a seagull along the water's edge is like prayer in motion as I watch them revel in what God has made.

Go outside today, if you can, or look out your home or office window, wherever that may be, and find the joy and wonder that awaits you. And hear these words from the Book of Daniel:

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.

Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord.
You heavens, bless the Lord.
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord.

All you hosts of the Lord, bless the Lord.
Sun and moon, bless the Lord.
Stars of heaven, bless the Lord.
Shower and dew, bless the Lord.
All you winds, bless the Lord.

Fire and heat, bless the Lord.
Cold and chill, bless the Lord.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord.
Frost and chill, bless the Lord.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord.
Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord.
Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord.

Let the earth bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.

Mountains and hills, bless the Lord.
Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord.
You springs, bless the Lord.
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord.

You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord.
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord.
All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord.

You sons of men, bless the Lord...
praise and exalt him above all forever. Daniel 3:57-82

Monday, August 22, 2011

Manic Monday: A whole lot of nothing

I had hoped to make this a visual post, but, alas, I forgot my camera cord so there's no way to get the photos from there to here. Some other time.

In lieu of that, just a few notes...

Bookshelf: I'm still working my through -- more like savoring -- The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux. One gem after another here, especially for those who write and/or have a spiritual bent. Jackpot for me.

Weekly Wisdom:
"I thought about how most of us are asleep while waking, how we open and shut our mouths making conversation, but we are still asleep." -- The Journal Keeper

Soundtrack: Atlantic Ocean. Nothing like the sound of waves crashing on the shore again and again and again.

Viewfinder: Oh, if only you could see what I see. Sand and surf and seagulls and sailboats. Blue sky and water stretching on forever.

Appointment book: Nothing official. Unfortunately, there's too much work packed in with the sunscreen and beach hat. I'm going to try to keep that to a minimum.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Foodie Friday: A breakfast of biblical proportions

My breakfast this morning consisted of bread based on a Bible verse and preserves made by monks. Surely I'm going to have some sort of special day, right? At the very least, how about I don't gain a pound overnight, as seems to be the case in middle age?

So let me tell you about my Bible-based breakfast, which actually has nothing to do with spirituality and every thing to do with health and good taste.

First, the health. I originally heard of Ezekiel 4:9 bread, when I read "The Best Life Diet" by Bob Greene, food guru to Oprah Winfrey. Curious about the name, I searched it out and found it in the freezer section of the health food aisle of our local Hannaford's grocery store. Made by Food for Life, it is an organic sprouted whole grain bread based on an Old Testament Scripture verse:

"Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of it." Ezekiel 4:9

So there you have it. Those are the ingredients, with some additional stuff for variety. I'm partial to the sesame version, but you can also get regular whole grain, cinnamon raisin and more. It's quite tasty, especially when you top it with natural peanut butter or Trappist jam, which brings us to our next Foodie Friday point.

If you love Trappist jams (and who doesn't), get thee to The Christmas Tree Shop immediately. I'm normally not a fan of this store. In fact, whenever I go there, I usually leave muttering to myself and swearing I will never go back. But back I went, looking for something else, and lo and behold, there before me was the Trappist pot of gold. A pile, a boatload of Trappist jam in every flavor imaginable. At a very good price. I left with a dozen jars of jam and plan to go back. I got everything from the obvious -- blueberry, strawberry, seedless blackberry -- to the sublime -- Kadota fig and strawberry/rhubarb. Kadota fig? Who even knows what that is? But I bought it. Because how could I not. It's amazing. I had it just a little while ago on my Ezekiel 4:9 sesame bread. Yum.

Between early morning yoga, Morning Prayer, and my biblical breakfast, I'm feeling very holy this morning. What's on your menu -- food or otherwise -- today?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Manic Monday: Life in music, words and pictures

It's a lovely rainy and cool August day here in the northeast, the kind of day that makes you want to curl up with a good book while the drops pitter patter against the windows. If only. I'm in my basement office instead, far from the sound of rain. Where is your day going to take you? What's on tap for the week ahead? Here's where I've been and where I'm going...

Soundtrack: Wicked, in particular the song "Popular." It hasn't been my choice, although I certainly don't mind. The girls have been blasting Popular for days, and dancing around the basement as if they're on a Broadway stage. Olivia and I went to see Wicked on Broadway last month, courtesy of her Grandma Mary Ann and Aunt Alison. Obviously, it left a lasting impression. Actually, I used "For Good," from the Wicked soundtrack for a spiritual friendship retreat I gave back in May. Great music from a great show.

Bookshelf: The Journal Keeper: A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux. I just started this book, on the recommendation of a friend of a friend on Facebook. I borrowed it from our library, but I already know that I will buy this book because I'll need to go back and re-read it, or at least portions of it, now and then. I find myself re-reading even now, only 37 pages in. So much here to savor. It's a wonderful reminder that even the mundane moments of our lives can be magical. Theroux certainly makes them feel that way.

Blog Bits: Kathy Schiffer over at Seasons of Grace gives us some nice food for thought regarding yesterday's Gospel and Jesus' "mean streak." Why couldn't Jesus have been "friendlier, more loving, more Christ-like?" Kathy asks. Click HERE and find out the answer.

Weekly Wisdom: "Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most." -- Fydor Dostoyevski

Appointment book: Lots of chore-type stuff this week -- eye doctor, orthodontist, hair cuts, school shopping -- on top of the regular work. And yet I am managing to keep up with my daily Morning Pages (part of the 12-week journey of The Artist's Way) and Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Slowly but surely these things are becoming so engrained in my daily morning ritual that I would miss them too much to skip them. That's some kind of major breakthrough for me, even if it might seem minor in the grand scheme of things. Bit by bit, that's how we grow. Baby steps.

Middle child demonstrates her archery skills at the Heldeberg Workshops.

Fresh fruit from Our Family's Harvest of Stanton Farms. The muskmelon was out of this world. Then again, so was everything else.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a favorite resting place for our backyard squirrels.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Foodie Friday: Go visit these foodie blogs

Today I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite food-related blogs. Go visit these sites and try a recipe or two. You won't be disappointed:

Bleeding Espresso
-- Actually, you need to go to this site whether you cook or not. So much great stuff, not only about food but also about Italy, living simply, and much, much more. And the photos? Just breathtaking. So go. Now. It will be like taking a mini vacation in Calabria.

The Pioneer Woman -- Another great foodie blog that is about so much more than food. Sure you can get a recipe for spicy beans or red velvet cake (with photos to guide you through every step of the recipe), but you'll also find tips on home decorating, gardening, homeschooling, entertainment, and yet more beautiful photos. I'll give you a few minutes while you go there and come back here for the next suggestion.

Milkbreath & Margaritas -- Although this site looks like it's going through some revamping, check out the "Mouthwatering Monday" section for some great recipes. Bourbon chocolate mousse. Need I say more?

Global Vegan Kitchen
-- Pretty self-explanatory, no? I have Vegan Planet by Robin Roberston (Global Vegan is her site), and I just love it. If you're looking for a great vegan cookbook, get that one. And, if nothing else, whether you're vegan or not, make the sweet potato/black bean enchiladas. Heaven.

Mark Bittman
-- As I have mentioned in at least one previous post, Mark Bittman (aka The Minimalist) has become my food guru. Every recipe of his I've made has been perfection, from the risotto-stuffed Swiss chard to lentils with stuck pot rice. I don't just love his recipes and his minimalist style, I love his food philosophy. Join the cult.

That's it for today. I'll be back next Friday with a recipe or review. Ciao.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Manic Monday: I wish it were Sunday

Here we are at the start of another week. It's just another Manic Monday...

Soundtrack: Perfect for a Manic Monday, two songs on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum: Good Life by One Republic and Let the Waters Rise by Mikeschair. The latter is a Christian song that I first heard when my Cornerstone sister Lenore used it at our retreat. I just love it, and sometimes it's a perfect fit for my mood, my day, my journey. I've posted it on NSS before. If you'd like to listen, click HERE.

Bookshelf: Still working my way through The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I've got a couple of weeks to go. I'm hanging in there with my daily Morning Pages, and it's finally starting to become a habit. A good one.

But...I just got a copy of The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom and, after reading the introduction, I can't wait to start this one. I've decided to do it right, however. So I'm waiting until I finish the first 12-week book before I dig into the next 12-week book.

I can think of several NSS reader friends who might like this book, so if you're in the Delmar area and want to get a copy and join me on this journey starting in September, email me and we can get a group thing going. Wouldn't that be fun?

Blogworthy: Related to the Artist's Rule, check out author Christine Valter Paintner's blog and website, Abbey of the Arts, by clicking HERE.

Quotables: "What other people think of me is none of my business." - Dr. Wayne Dyer (Oh, to be able to believe and live that one.)

Appointment book: We've got quite the full slate this week with Noah away at Boy Scout camp, Olivia heading to archery camp, and Chiara taking a camp called Walking the Native American Path. Add in a visit from a friend, family night at Boy Scout camp and two birthday parties on top of everything else and you've got one busy summer week.

Viewfinder: Here are a few scenes from the past week...

Vicky, an unbelievably beautiful chestnut mare at Krumkill Stables where Olivia was attending horseback riding camp. There were lots of horses there, but I only had eyes for this one. She looked right through me, like she was peering into my soul.

Check out this wonder of nature. A family of dirt daubers has taken up residence next to our front door. They finished the fourth tube of the nest yesterday. It's so beautiful I don't have the heart to get rid of it.

Things that make you go hmmm...You probably can't read the sign unless you click on the photo to enlarge, but it says: "Construction vehicle. Do not follow." Not "do not follow within 50 feet" or "do not follow too closely," just "do not follow." Well, since it cut me off, I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to do. Turn around and go home? Turn right just for the heck of it.? Stop? So I did the next logical thing, I followed and took pictures.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Remembering the power of one small life

For the past few days I've been looking at the numbers on the calendar, growing more and more introspective as we inched closer to August 6. It was 13 years ago today that I learned that the baby I was carrying, my second baby, had died 11 weeks into my pregnancy.

With a mother's intuition, I had known something was wrong during that pregnancy from a couple of weeks before. The day Dennis and I -- with Noah in tow -- went to the midwife for my regular check up, I didn't even take the little tape recorder with me to capture the sound of baby's heartbeat, so convinced was I that I would hear only silence. I went back for the recorder only after Dennis insisted. But somehow I knew. Because when you are a mother sometimes you just know things about your children, even when there is no logical reason you should, even when they are still growing inside you.

When we went for the ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage, we saw the perfect form of our baby up on the screen. I remember Dennis looking so happy, thinking everything was OK after all, and me pointing out that the heart was still. No blinking blip. No more life.

With that same mother's intuition, no matter how busy or stressed I am, no matter how many other things I seem to forget as I drive my other three children to and fro, I never forget this anniversary. It is imprinted on my heart. As the date nears, I feel a stillness settling in, a quiet place amid the chaos reserved just for this baby, the one I never to got hold, the one I call Grace.

Three years ago, when I posted about this day, I talked about how Grace had shaped our family by her absence rather than her presence. I am very much aware of the fact that life would be very different had she lived. She managed to leave her mark on us, even without taking a breath. She lingers here, not only in my heart but around the edges of our lives -- especially the lives of our two girls who followed her. I know them because I did not know Grace. What a sorrowful and yet beautiful impact she had on us.

So thank you, baby, for all that you were and all that you have given us without ever setting foot on this earth. The power of one small life.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sundials and solstice disks at St. Peter's

When I went to Rome in September, my watch stopped working on my first day in the Eternal City. My initial reaction was to run out and, through pointing and gestures and lots of "grazies," try to buy a new one. Then I decided to take the Roman approach and not worry so much about time.

Turns out I never had to worry at all. St. Peter's Square is equipped with its own sundial, as well as markers to indicate the solstices and even the days when the sun enters various signs of the zodiac.

From a CNS story by Carol Glatz:

Hidden among the paving stones of St. Peter's Square there is a simple clock and calendar. All you need is a sunny day.

The 83-foot stone obelisk in the middle of the square acts as a sundial that can accurately indicate midday and the two solstices thanks to a granite meridian and marble markers embedded in the square.

Pope Benedict XVI proudly pointed out the hidden timepiece during an Angelus address he gave on the winter solstice a few years ago.

"The great obelisk casts its shadow in a line that runs along the paving stones toward the fountain beneath this window and in these days, the shadow is at its longest of the year," he told pilgrims from the window of his library.

In fact, at noon on Dec. 21, the obelisk's shadow falls on the marble disk furthest from the obelisk's base, while at noon on June 21 -- the summer solstice -- the tip of the shadow will fall just a few yards from the obelisk. In between are five other disks marking when the sun enters into which sign of the zodiac.

A long, thin granite strip running from the obelisk toward the pope's window and through one of the fountains acts as the meridian: a line that indicates when the sun has reached true or solar noon and is at its highest point in the sky.

The pope, in his solstice soliloquy, reminded people that the church has always been keenly interested in astronomy to help guide and establish fundamental liturgical days and the times of prayer such as the Angelus, which is recited in the morning, at noon and in the evening. While sunrise and sunset are easy to figure out, sundials could accurately tell midday, he said.

The CNS story also points out that at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, Pope Clement XI even had an astronomer build meridians to mark not only the noon hour but to "to make highly accurate celestial observations and solve complex astronomical problems."

More from the CNS story:
John Heilbron, emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, told Catholic News Service that St. Mary of the Angels "could do things you couldn't do with telescopes at the time" like find out precise information about the inclination of the Earth's axis.

Heilbron, who wrote "The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories," said the basilica's meridian was also used "to establish a very good value for the length of the year."

It's fascinating stuff. And the facts once again give lie to the argument that the Church is opposed to science. Read the full story HERE.

Foodie Friday: Adding zest to life, or at least to a really good salad

I was standing at the counter making a salad the other day when Chiara walked in and asked what I was doing.

"I'm zesting this lemon," I told her.

"What's zest?" she asked.

And so I explained how I was taking the very top layer of rind off the lemon without getting any of the bitter white pith underneath.

And then she asked the $64,000 question: "What if someone doesn't have a zester?"

I gasped. No one should be without a zester! How would I add lemon zest to the fabulous Mediterranean Orzo Salad I'm about to share with you, or the lime zest that gives such kick to my favorite quinoa salad? I don't want to think about it.

Your assignment this week is to go get a zester, if you don't already have one, and if you do, for goodness sake, go buy some lemons and get zesting!

Here's where I put my most recent zest:

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

16 ounces orzo or other small pasta
¼ cup olive oil
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups Kalamata olives, chopped
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 large red onion, finely chopped
½ cup lightly packed chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sea salt

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, and add salt and orzo. Stir and cook until al dente. Drain well in a mesh strainer, then pour hot orzo into the mixing bowl.

2.While the orzo cooks, stir together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the small bowl. Pour the mixture over the hot orzo and toss. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.

3.Add the olives, grape tomatoes, onion, and parsley, and stir well. Season with fresh ground pepper and a pinch of sea salt.

4. Just before serving, stir in feta cheese. Serve salad warm, cold, or at room temperature.

On my food radar this week:

I was scrolling around various blogs and following links from one to another and came across a blog called Not Without Salt and this picture of grilled brie topped with fresh figs and honey. Doesn't it look amazing?

I say that despite the fact that I have never in my life had a fresh fig. My Italian family always used to have figs at holiday meals, but I never tried them. And they weren't fresh. But this picture makes me want to run out and buy a fig tree. I do love brie, and love the idea of grilling it on my panini press even more. And I've got that new jar of Delmar honey just looking for a recipe and a big pot of thyme growing on my back deck. So, really, all I need are those figs.

I'm determined to give this one a try some time soon, although I do have this irrational (?) fear of the brie melting all over the panini press. I'll let you know what happens. If you want to beat me to it, go for it. Here's the recipe.

What's on your food radar this week?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The answer to one of life's greatest questions

When this little hen walked over to my car and stared up into my open driver's side window, I thought I was finally going to uncover one of the biggest secrets of all time: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Alas, this chicken wasn't talking. She clucked a little, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I will say this: Based on my observations of her slow and somewhat erratic movements, her goal was, in fact, simply to get to the other side.

Come with me if you want to pray

We're going on a field trip today. Over to Huffington Post, where you'll find me writing about prayer. Just call me HuffPoust. Why the foray so far afield? Well, HuffPo invited me to write about prayer in connection with my newest book, The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass. So today I'm covering "What's the Point of Prayer?" I'll start you off here and let you continue over there:

By Mary DeTurris Poust

Most of us, at one time or another, send up a prayer and hope against hope for the answer we want. And more often than not, we wait and wonder, as we continually check our spiritual inbox for some sort of sign, if perhaps our prayer fell on deaf ears, or on any ears at all. Hello? Is this thing on?

Unfortunately, prayer is not like a gumball machine. We don't put our prayers in and then wait with cupped hands for the correct response to come pouring out.

Prayer can be a tricky thing, even for those who do it religiously, so to speak. We can get the feeling we're not doing it right or that we have to be holier in order to pray. Not the case. Blessed Pope John Paul II once said: "How to pray? This is a simple matter. I would say: Pray any way you like so long as you pray."

So on that note, let's look at the five most common questions people ask me about prayer:

1. My life is already so jam-packed with responsibilities. How can I add daily prayer to the list?

Prayer is not meant to be a chore and certainly shouldn't become one more stress. Continue reading HERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When just beginning is enough

"The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner's humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step." -- Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

I've been working my way through The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Creativity, a book I first gave to my brother years and years ago, and then borrowed back, and then left on a shelf for about the last five years. It's a 12-week process of focusing on creativity and trying to unblock the stuff that's been pushed down over the years by the things we come to believe about ourselves.

I have to admit that many days, when I sat down to do my "Morning Pages," a daily writing requirement that's part of the book, I thought: "This is stupid. This is a waste of time. This won't get me anywhere." But since Cameron warns that it's likely you'll feel exactly that way as you begin this process, I stuck it out. Not always in a straight line from one day to the next, from one week to the next, but here I am in Week 8, which felt, at the outset, like a totally useless chapter for me. And then, lo and behold, as I sat down this morning, mumbling that the reading would be pointless, I came upon that quote at the top of this post: "The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist."

And I felt myself open a bit. And I continued reading, and with every line more and more this chapter seemed to be just what I needed to read. Funny how that works. So back to the quote and why it stopped me in my tracks.

I'm not good at being a beginner. I want to be an expert from Day One. No matter what I'm doing. Even when I'm doing something I've never done before. Not sure where that mentality comes from, but, boy, is it a stumbling block. To expect perfection in everything is a surefire path to "failure," or to not trying at all. Often times, when we expect -- demand -- perfection, we do nothing instead. Doing nothing rather than doing something less than perfect is really a very poor choice. But, sadly, it is a frequent choice for far too many of us.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I often will throw myself into the craziest things I have no business trying. (Of course, Cameron would say that thinking I have no business trying something new and unusual is exactly the kind of attitude that keeps us from being creative.) For example, last night was my third hip hop class, a ridiculous activity for a 48-year-old non-dancer who wants to be perfect at everything. So I guess somewhere under the facade is a willingness to be be un-perfect in order to try something new, to be a beginner. Maybe it's the fact that hip hop is such an outrageous choice for someone like me that it's obvious I have no chance to be perfect, so the pressure is off. Much easier, say, than something that might involve anything I actually have had lessons or classes or background in -- singing, guitar, fiction writing, praying.

The grace to be a beginner....What thing have you always wanted to do that might open you up to that kind of grace?

When I read that line this morning, even though it was related to "art," I immediately associated it with prayer. Because there, too, I need the willingness and the grace to be a beginner, not to expect too much too soon, to sit there and be open to whatever might unfold, to come back day after day even when it feels like I'm not progressing and just practice my "craft," the craft of praying.

This week has been a good week for me in that department. I'm closing in on almost a full week of praying Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is big for me. I usually get frustrated and give up for one reason or another. But this week, in the early morning hours before anyone else is awake, I work on my two MPs -- Morning Pages and Morning Prayer -- out on the deck or in the sun porch. And slowly, slowly I have found a rhythm there that feels right, one I hope I can keep up for good. And as soon as that thought enters my mind, I realize I'm heading right back to the quest for perfection instead of living in this moment, praying in this moment one day at a time. "Don't worry about tomorrow..." (Mt 6:34)

The grace to be a beginner...Find one thing today and simply begin. No long-range goal in mind, no image of perfection in your mind's eye. Just begin at the beginning and see what wonderful, unexpected places it takes you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Manic Monday: the first of many

As a complement to my new Foodie Friday weekly post, I've decided to add in Manic Monday, sort of like bookends for the weekend. What's Manic Monday? It's a bunch of quick blasts that will cover different topics, from music I'm listening to and books I'm reading to photos and interesting quotes. It's a blog buffet. All you can read.

Soundtrack...Adele, Adele and more Adele, courtesy of my two girls, who love, love, love this young and talented artist. Specifically they play and replay Rolling in the Deep, Rumor Has It, and Turning Tables. I've got cool kids.

Bookshelf...I just finished Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel by Simon Van Booy. I discovered this book by accident in a shop at the Orlando airport when our flight was delayed for hours and hours -- a reminder that having a book on a shelf where people can catch an interesting cover, feel the pages, read a few paragraphs is how you sell books. I never would have found this book just scrolling around Amazon. I loved it -- beautiful, poetic, thoughtful. Everything I want in a good novel.

Favorite line: "Loneliness is like being the only person left alive in the universe, except that everyone else is still here."

I'm also re-reading I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova. This is an amazing book about living life to the fullest and being true to yourself and the people you love. I couldn't pick a favorite line from this one because the whole dang thing is my favorite. If you could see it, you'd know by the ridiculous amount of underlining throughout.

Viewfinder...A scene from Chiara's sixth birthday party at Del Lanes. Thirteen kids, four lanes, three pizzas, one cake, lots of fun. This one captures all three of my kids in motion, and yet none of them are actually bowling:

Roll tape...This weekend I finally got around to watching Of Gods and Men, the true story of a group of Cistercian monks living in Algeria under the threat of death by Muslim extremists. I won't tell you much more about the plot because I don't want to post any spoilers. I will say this, as I said on Facebook this weekend: I wish everyone I know could see this film. It is an incredibly powerful film about courage, faith and love. If you've ever wanted to know what's the big deal about the Catholic faith, what that faith looks like at its very best, watch this movie. Even if you don't like movies with subtitles. It's a truly beautiful film. By the time I got to the scene near the end where they are listening to Swan Lake and taking a sip of wine, I was sobbing.

Mangia...Cross another item off our Beach Bucket List. We finally had homemade waffles and ice cream. Doesn't this look yummy?