Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Days

Merry Christmas! Are you still celebrating? We are!

We found these beautiful ice lantern projects at The Crafty Crow. They were listed for the winter solstice, but we got started too late to use them that night. No problem. We put them out on Christmas Eve, to celebrate the waning of darkness with the birth of the Savior.

 The kids made Christmas scenes with some foam stickers.

Waldorf they aren't, but I defy anyone looking at them to remain grinchy. 

Christmas cookies from this recipe, which I undoubtedly saw on Pinterest, but clipped to Evernote instead of pinning. 

We tried not to overstir the sprinkles, really we did, but they just would not mix in otherwise. So we ended up dyeing the dough pink with our red sugar sprinkles, which the author warned about. I think if the directions had said "knead gently" instead of "gently mix," it might have worked better. Or just reassured, something along the lines of, "Don't worry, the sprinkles don't need to be mixed evenly in—the baking will take care of it." Or maybe we should have just held some out to add on top right before baking. Also, 1 cup of sprinkles was a lot. I think we could easily cut a third to half of what was called for. 

We'll try it again. The kids really had fun, and they loved the cookies.

And we've got more fun plans. What are you doing to celebrate the Christmas season?

Friday, December 28, 2012

December Read Alouds

Ok, first, let me say that with all of the pre-Christmas book recommendations (I'm looking at you, Melissa Wiley) I kind of glutted on reading lists. It was true overload; I forgot most of the mental notes I made as I read, and thus will have to go back, and write them down next time. In the meantime, I'm going back to basics. The new year is coming; check back for a failsafe list of classics we're resolving to read/reread, aloud as a family.

As a sort of ongoing school project, the kids keep a "title collection." This is a suggestion from our advisor at St Thomas Aquinas Academy, where I've had at least some of the kids enrolled. To collect a title, we read a book together (the older ones can add books they've read on their own), make a photocopy of the cover, and sign and date the photocopy. Sometimes they'll color in a black and white copy. Sometimes they write or narrate something about the book on the back. I've toyed with the idea of letting them copy an illustration from the book, maybe instead of the cover photocopy. Some of them would jump all over that.

The advisor for our homeschool program recommends many awesome things to do in our homeschool. I attempt them all, but, well, it's me. I don't always follow through. This one, though, really tickles me. Admittedly, my implementation of it is inconsistent, but the kids like it and it gives me an idea of what may have slipped through the cracks for somebody. I lean pretty heavily on Elizabeth Foss's early booklists for picture books, and some others (see, I collect whole title lists!) and I have my own favorites in our collection. You want to make sure everybody hears the good ones—and there really are so many good ones. We don't add every title we read—the twaddle that worms its way into the house usually gets undocumented, for example, and sometimes we just forget—but sometimes one of the kids will be really gung-ho to add a book he just finished to his collection. It's fun to flip through to see how each child's collection grows.

Here's a partial list of what we read aloud this month (I usually forgot something when I updated my list every few days).  I'll try to add links later:

The Candymaker's Gift by David and Helen Haidle
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Woiciechowski
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
Richard Scarry's Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer
Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect  by Richard H. Schneider
Jacob's Gift by Max Lucado
The Christmas Wreath by James Hoffman
The Miracle of St Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
Good King Wenceslaus by John M. Neal and Tim Ladwig
The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Berger
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo LeSieg
The Napping House by Audrey Wood

Yes, they're almost all Christmas books. It's the non-Christmas ones, the ones I've read so many times I can't differentiate between a days-ago reading and all the other times before it, that I had a hard time recalling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Morning minutiae

Four-year-old Gabe has spent at least twenty minutes letting/watching a ladybug crawl all over his arms and back.

Toddler Cora just poured out half a bottle of Dasani for her and little sister Anwen's splashing amusement. "Anwen likes it," she beamed, perfectly accurately, as they both laughed and slipped and spread the mess. Then she said, "Mommy, what's wrong?"

Some of the middle kids are doing their handwriting but they keep getting distracted by mom watching Minor Revisions, so I guess I'd better wait until after the Angelus and finish it at lunch break.

Lunch break. Heh.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Quick Takes: Instagram, Twitter, Baby Names and More


All right, all you Instagram people. I've seen the photos. I get the appeal.

But it's owned by Facebook.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, influenced by privacy concerns, the commercialization of user data, and issues of content ownership. When I first considered Instagram, Facebook was what turned me off.

As it's grown, (read: as you people whom I read and who share your lives pictorially have increasingly kept it before me,) I did a little reading and am somewhat reassured. but I'd still like to hear from you. What are your experience and knowledge as Instagram users? Are you happy with the terms of use? And is it more than just another time eater—I mean, what are you getting from Instagram?


And you Twitter people following fifty or more: how do you do that? I can barely mark unread items in my Reader as "read" without feeling guilt or dread at what I'm missing. To miss hours of tweets by the people I follow gives me twitches. In real life, it is, heh, easy to understand that you can't catch every conversation in the building—to think otherwise would be insanity. Why can't social media be like that?


Expecting a baby gives me an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite interests: baby names! Not just baby names, really, just names in general. But unless I have a need for a name, I generally, for sanity's sake, I generally make myself stay away from the fascinating site called Nameberry.

Nameberry is the brainchild of the authors of some of my favorite baby name books, and was the inspiration for an article I wrote for Faith and Family Live last year. They just did a blog post about likely names for England's unborn baby royal. Oh, I love this stuff. I think a new Princess Charlotte, or Alice or Eleanor, or a Prince Arthur or Leopold would be fabulous. And of course this baby will have a string of monikers to marvel at. It will be interesting to see how many of the picks on this list will prove prescient. I have no doubt they'll have hit on at least one somewhere in there.


By the way, it's a bit early, especially for us, but...

I think we have a name!

One for a boy and one for a girl. Plenty of time to change our minds, but I'm pretty pleased right now.

No, I'm not telling.

I forget what 5 was for.


Melissa Wiley tweeted a cool article about storytelling and the brain, which reminded me of this Albert Einstein quote, If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales. I love reading out loud to my kids, but it's too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, get to the end of a day, and realize, sadly, that we didn't read anything except schoolwork. So I've been thinking about joining Sarah's Read Aloud Revival. She's been doing it for three months now; the next "meet" date is December 29. It looks like fun; if I manage to stay on task, I'll talk about a little activity our advisor recommended we do with the books we read.


Oh, and another Sarah is doing an Advent wreath link-up, so check it out. I love Advent wreaths, so this should be good. I'm off to check out her link-up from last year. All the pretty pictures!

Go see Jen for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Happy St. Nick's Day!

I almost forgot, but I can't let this day go by without giving a shout out to St. Nicholas—it's my unofficial name day! (I should probably just drop the "unofficial," too—I doubt it matters that St. Nicholas was not the direct inspiration for my name.)

Did you do anything for today? My kids left their shoes out last night (they put Jason's and mine out, too). Chocolate gold coins shouldn't be hard to find, but St. Nicholas' namesake helper had trouble finding them, so the kids all got chocolate Santas in their shoes. The baby girls each got their own "tiny, cute" Santa, but Cora ate hers and Anwen's too. There were enough tiny, cute ones for mom and dad to get one each, too.

And. I shouldn't laugh at this. But I do. Can't help it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Just a note to say...

... we are expecting our 10th baby! He or she will make a first appearance in the spring. One of the good things about the Catholic blogosphere is that you're sure to be able to find someone who is pregnant at the same time with you. (E.g., for a short time, my friend Krystin, even if nobody but I knew it. Here's her new baby, "Poppy," if you want to say congratulations.) And now we know that Princess Kate is expecting, God bless her—our baby will be born (probably) a month or two before the likely future king or queen of England, so, fun!

Every pregnancy has its challenges, and I anticipate that as a "(great) grand multigravida of advanced maternal age," I'll have my days. I'd welcome any prayers you throw my way. We can hardly wait to meet this little one!

Meet This Sister

I just found this via Facebook about an old friend today.
I was a romantic child and I still am! I still love fairy tales. As a teenager I would spend lots of time daydreaming about the prince that would sweep me off my feet; this future man that would complete me. Little did I know that He was already standing right there beside me. He had already pitched his tent on the surface of my heart waiting there until I invited him to pour Himself into me. I had no clue then that the strong masculine heart I longed to lean upon was Himself; His Sacred Heart burning ferociously with love for me.
Sr Therese Marie Iglesias and I both experienced the blessings of the then-nascent campus ministry of the Brotherhood of Hope at FSU. She went on to answer a call to religious life with the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother. Her story is beautiful! She also has given several talks; four, about intimacy in prayer for women, are available online, and you can bet I will be listening to them.

Monday, December 3, 2012

For your Monday...

Happy Advent! I'm glad this time is here—my favorite liturgical season.

We have our Advent wreath in commission, which is good for me—that extra week between Thanksgiving and Advent helped. We're still working on building our Advent chain. Simcha Fisher writes about Advent being a simple time. I think I needed that permission to be a little small and sparse.

Here are some other things that I've been pondering. They may or may not be apropos of Advent, but they are worthwhile food for thought.

I keep coming back to this piece by the Anchoress about the clarification afforded by the election:

Now, with this election over, and the writing on the wall, I believe it is time to divest myself of my too-enthralled-attention to politics, which just a glance at Drudge will tell you is all-illusions, and has been for a very long time. I’m done giving attention and credence to the princes of the air, and the daily theater. I’m setting my attention and my eyes where they must go to prepare for what is coming; what I am feeling called to at this point has nothing at all to do with politics and everything to do with helping to prepare and mature our spirits for what lies ahead.
People of faith, take a good hard look at the new landscape and do not be afraid; do NOT be afraid. 
Changes are going to come, and they’re going to come quickly, so now is the time to work on strengthening the atrophied muscles of our spiritual lives — to make them stronger and healthier through the exercises of prayer, fasting, lectio and service and by divesting ourselves of the world and all of its things, its glamor its empty promises.

And she's sticking to it:
This is bringing up some interesting conversation in my social media timelines, particularly among Christians who are wondering how a balance may be struck between the spiritual (which is reality) and the political (which is so much illusion) and what denotes the line between reasonable political engagement and political junkie-ism, which can be defined as an excess of reliance on (and belief in) political solutionism, and is very often half-rooted in idolatry. There is a challenge of balance, for people of faith: political engagement is a good and necessary thing, but too often our fervent engagement leads to excess, and then to defect as we lose perspective as to what is the reality of Christ versus the illusion of both political reach and the “saviors” who we invest with power, and then entrust to “bring things about.” Once that perspective is skewed, we are out of balance, and the best of our energies ends up being spent on the wrong thing. Misplaced. 
Somewhere between reasonable political engagement and the political junkie-ism that foments idols and false messiahs there is a balance; when we move away from it, we move, necessarily, away from where Christ tells us to be; we venture too near the secular-solution-seeking Judas.

On that note, Tony Rossi gives us a reminder to reject anxiety and keep your eyes on the sphere where God has put you.

Here's something that hits home, from about why kids don't stay Catholic.
My wife just read a book called Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. The premise is greatness doesn’t lie in natural talent or abilities. It’s the same message as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Greatness in some sport/job/skill, etc. is more about practice than natural ability. Gladwell says you need “10,000 hours” of practice to become an expert. The greats always practice more than anyone else. That’s what makes them great.
Parents, your kids won’t stay Catholic because you don’t encourage them to practice!
Let’s start thinking of religious formation as a critical life-skill. How do our kids get these skills? They must practice! They must put in their 10,000 hours! And, they must start young. 
Will they always like it? No! But they don’t always know what they need. They’ll want to skip religious education or youth group because they’re tired or because there friends aren’t there. They need to go!

It's so easy for me to think that, since I'm up to my elbows in the effects of living the faith—openness to life, homeschooling to preserve a Catholic worldview—we're sufficiently passing it on to our children. But I know it isn't automatic.

Here's an incredibly moving but frank piece by the inimitable Elizabeth Foss.  She reminds me that time is a resource, as much as any talent, that our master will call us to account for.
On the morning of Sarah's birthday this year, I found myself at Starbucks. The line was ridiculously long. As I stood in line, I noticed a baby in a carseat carrier on the floor by an overstuffed chair. She had a bottle propped in front of her. And she was wearing a pumpkin hat. Her mother sat in the chair, busily tapping away on her iPhone and when the baby fussed, she rocked her with her foot. I left the cafe crying.
I'm sure it was lack of sleep, emotion from the days before, and good old anniversary reaction, but that baby in the hat rocked me to my core.

There are lots of ways to be the mother with the iPhone. I don't need an infant to make that mistake. I can make it daily with even nearly-grown children. I tried to explain this whole train of thought to my husband. I bumbled along and then concluded with, "What if I only have another fiteen years with Sarah? I don't want to spend those years living inside a screen, distracted, disconnected, and offering her just a random push with my toes now and then."

And he said, "I doesn't matter if you have fifteen years or fifty years, if you don't offer her everything now, you won't have this chance again."

Read it all.

This really is a wonderful time. My daughter brought home a small Advent wreath of her own, complete with liturgical resolutions for each week. I have my Advent playlist ready. And if I can keep from being a humbug purist and spoiling the spirit of the good-willed but liturgically incorrect souls around me, I'll consider that a win!

My apologies to any Reader readers, to whom this post may have appeared in varying partial stages. It was a combination of time crunch, and trying to edit on multiple devices and with multiple children "helping"!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

So... what'd I miss?

No, actually, I've been around.

Kind of.

I didn't mean to take so along a break from blogging. What started out as a few days' wondering, hardly to be noticed, about the direction of this blog grew to a few weeks...and then mushroomed (courtesy of a hard drive crash) into a major retrenchment from the virtual world. It wasn't just blogging—I found myself putting aside almost all engagement online—e-mail, Facebook, Pinterest (some experimentation with Twitter was an exception, but even there I'm so reclusive that I'm not sure it would really qualify as engagement).

I wish I could say something definitive about my time off—I learned something about myself, or I directed my attention to some now-completed project in real life—some object lesson to draw from my absence. I'm afraid I don't have anything that neat and tidy. That's not to say it was not productive, or enlightening. The good, the bad, and the ugly were all there—this is life, after all; we've been busy, and we have some big things going on. (Who doesn't? I would love your prayers, and I would love to hear from you so I can pray for you personally, too.) And I've been learning about myself, even if I can't expound it into a moral of the story.

But I've missed blogging, or at least the idea of blogging; and I've frequently wondered if and how to get back into it. I decided on a much more casual tone. To study over everything is my default mode, but, given my lifestyle, that basically means that lots of things I want to share never see the cyberlight of day.

So I'll be blogging by the seat of my pants, so to speak, and I hope people find it to their liking. I also really would have liked to have a big new start with a redesign—something to justify the silence, if only in my own head—but there are a few things I want to post that just won't wait. Ah, well. Maybe later.

In the meantime, enjoy your holiday weekend. We get to have more than a week between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent this year, so I hope to weigh in between now and then. I hope to see you around!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Hobbit Second Breakfast

A particularly flourishing tip of the hat to Mark Shea for this one!

I poked around the site and found some neat little mind-mathoms, including a few recipes. I think we will be sticking with our own seed cake recipe, with which (ahem) Aidan won the Award of Excellence rosette at the fair last year.

Bilbo Baggins' Seed Cake Muffins 

1 stick margarine 
1 cup powdered sugar 
1 egg 
1 cup self-rising flour 
pinch of salt 
1 ½ Tbsp caraway seeds 
2 Tbsp milk 

Cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Beat in the egg. 
Sift in flour. 
Add salt and caraway seeds and stir. 
Add milk and stir. 
Grease six cups of muffin tray and fill two-thirds with batter.  
Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. 
Remove muffins from tray and cool on wire rack.

I have more ideas for your hobbit menu and celebration posted here.

And you might as well make plenty, because the day after the Hobbit Second Breakfast is Hobbit Day.

If you join in, I'd love to hear about your plans!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Aging Wood and Overanalysis

I love Pinterest. Who doesn't?

(Actually, I love/hate Pinterest. Who doesn't?)

I love the ideas for beautiful, handmade things that you can find on Pinterest, one subset of which is all of the things you can make from wood. Do you have some favorites? I've seen (and dreamed up) carved toys, kitchen spoons, nativity sets, wood-burned icons, home decor items, kids' handmade blocks... But it all starts with the wood. And the purist "handmade" you can get is the wood you find yourself.

 There's plenty of wood where I live. This is a pine tree cut down by the power company earlier this year. I wanted to stack the pieces somewhere and season the wood and maybe learn to carve some rough items with my kids. I would forget in the face of all this bounty how heavy wood is. And I didn't know where to put it. Everywhere I thought of had some problem: too near the house, too far away to make it happen, too much in the way of the rest of life. I couldn't do it yet. Not with so many little ones running around, and frankly, other priorities for my time. Maybe later.

So here it sits. Getting old and useless.

But it seems like such a waste.

This is symbolic of the way I often see my life. The parable of the talents makes me tremble. I have been given so much: do I truly come close to giving enough back? And this piece by Ann Voskamp hit home yesterday: How do you know how to best invest your life? The answer is so obvious to some; but I keep getting paralyzed by the question, and I constantly feel myself in grave danger. In the battle for my soul, one side wants me to take the impetus of that question and move me to actionto love —and the other side wants to keep freezing me up in my own fears and insecurities, while it all goes to rot.

Those who think this proves some point about the banality of devoting one's life to motherhood, or homeschooling, or the likethey miss my point. It is exactly in the blessings of my family life that I am overwhelmed by possibilities. How best do I teach my children? How do I form their character? What system of chores should I use? What do I make for their dinner? What should they do today to learn to feed the hungry, know their math facts, honor their father and mother, know, love and serve God?

There are so many excellent ways of doing each of these things. There are so many difficulties to contend with in doing them. It's easy to sit and just... ponder on them all.

Those who already understand that the family is their first sphere of influencecharity begins at homeface another danger, that of becoming so insular that they don't recognize when God may be calling them to give of themselves outside of it. In fact, I am afraid that the more the world devalues this particular lifestyle of staying at home with my kids, the more reactionary I may become at the idea that I need to do something beyond, until "my vocation" becomes a reflexive shutting out of any other idea.

There, that. You see the pattern, no? Back and forth, analyzing everything, engaging nothing.

I used Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint Name Generator at the beginning of this year to choose patron saints for our family. St John of God "picked" me, and I immediately knew why. He is an impulsive one, so impulsive that he sometimes got it wrong. But he was motivated by the love of God, and that love was so great, so impetuous and tenacious, that he was able to do great things because he made the start and kept on going.

I've already made a start on a great thing. This family is my life and my vocation. But sometimes I need a little impetuosity to shake off the plodding, overthinking questions that cause me to stagnate. So here is a question, a wide-open invitation to act that has the capacity to be thrilling.

What shall I do first today?

It's Thursday. Time for some {phfr}

Marc Barnes has said, a few times, something along the lines of "You can never have too much beauty." The second time I read that phrase, I realized that I must differ. I am wholeheartedly in agreement on the great goodness of beauty, how it can lead you to God, teach you about God--is, all on its own, a gift from God. But you can be overwhelmed by beauty, overwhelmed to tears, and say, "Enough!" Think about it--who can see the face of God and live? Just the beauty of my children can knock me off my feet. Even all of those gorgeous blog posts some people put together about life, with glowing pictures and lilting prose, make me turn my head away so that I can get on with my own life.  And of course it is because of our sinful nature. My heart is sometimes so pinched from my own shortcomings that I don't have enough room to let in all of the beauty that God pours out in front of me. And then I must consciously loosen those drawn heartstrings, or have some kind soul unlace them for me, unwrap the beauty and blessings of life so I can breathe it in more freely.

I need beauty. Today I need beauty. That's what {phfr} is all about. So I'm collecting my pictures and my thoughts to reflect the beauty of today, of the days that have brought me here.


That is, Beautiful

The Sacred Heart chapel at my church.


The kids went to a skating party recently. First time skating for most of them. It was as delightful as a vaudville act. I have more pictures, but they're even blurrier. 


My attempt to photograph a rainbow out my window while driving!

I pulled over and got a better one. Can you see it? 

If I had managed to get better pictures, this would have been my "pretty." One evening as I went out for my swim, I drove into and under this rainbow. And on the way home, there in the sky was the blue moon, rising. I wish I could show you just how beautiful it was that night. 


This is a tree cut down by the power company several months ago. I muse upon aging wood and overanalysis here.


And my pretty, happy loud girls keeping it real outside the church one Sunday during Mass.


Check out Like Mother, Like Daughter for more.

round button chicken

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Why I Will Never Despair"

I usually don't pay much attention to what's trending at Twitter, but today I thought it would be fun to jump on a bandwagon. The hashtag #Forward2012 featured a lot of political stuff (my guess is the Obama campaign, or something, is responsible for promoting it). I don't have much of a stomach for politics. My thoughts immediately turned to Psalm 146:3, which is (approximately) what I tweeted with the trending hashtag: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save."

Mark Shea alludes to this passage a lot when he talks politics and government. It's always a tonic to see those words when I'm at his blog. And if Elizabeth Scalia doesn't actually cite it, she frequently aligns with it in the tone of her posts. She consciously refuses to get bogged down by the political-cultural morass of an election year, entrusting with hope the process, and its results, to God.

Today, as the Anchoress shared a little witticism about last night's Democratic National Convention, she gives an example of this.
God’s ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts, and we do well to remember that, every day, in every situation. God’s view is the longview, which we are not privy to.
Which is precisely why I will never despair; even if it all “goes wrong” I will never entertain the notion that God’s hand has gone missing in anything, or that a greater purpose than we can imagine is behind so much that confounds us. And because I will not entertain that notion, I will never fall into the trap of thinking that our own efforts, alone, will be the ultimate solution to anything.
It is very easy for me to fall into that trap, or rather to the trap that because it depends on our efforts, all is doomed. Which is why I like to read Mark and Lizzie; they remind me to pray, which is probably the most necessary and effective thing I can do.

And then she gives us something to reflection on, concerning the tense issue of religious freedom in our country these days.  It may seem rather less than hopeful, although Christians know better if they come at it the right way: the 16 Martyrs of the Carmel of Compiegne during the French Revolution, executed for their fidelity to their vocations. 
The silence was broken only by the singing of the sisters as they chanted the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus." One by one, the sisters made their way to the guillotine, youngest to oldest, each sister pausing to kneel before the Prioress, asking "Permission to die Mother." To which the Mother Superior responded, "Go, my daughter." The state had ordered their deaths, but their final act of obedience was not to the state, but to their mother in religious life.

The Mother Superior was the last to be killed.

The revolutionary government of France fell ten days after the execution of the sisters.
Read it all.

Jesus said, "Do not resist an evil person," and he himself was the lamb led to slaughter, opening not his mouth against it. These sisters obeyed and imitated their savior, their eyes so fixed on God that they seemed to have hardly even a glance to spare at their own oppression. It is wondrous to me that in their surrender to evil, they were instrumental in bringing it down--just like Jesus. What a profound mystery the Cross is!

I wonder if any of the Carmelite martyrs trembled in their hearts at the sight of the guillotine. I do not imagine that every martyr-saint passed from this life to the next in total serenity. Surely many feared death--they just trusted God more. This is the witness we are called to be in this world, and the confidence God asks of us. Even if I am never called to a literal, bodily death, I can make myself a living sacrifice by being faithful to the Church, and to what she teaches, and eschewing fear and anxiety, even in the face of real threats.

St. Catherine of Siena said, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." These sisters inspire me to see that I can transform the world just by living out the life to which I am called, and trusting God's hand in everything.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Support a Catholic Speaker Month: Joseph Pearce

September is Support a Catholic Speaker Month! Brandon Vogt has put together a list of the top 100 Catholic speakers as voted on by his readers. The best part is that that this list will include links to each of these speakers, featured at various blogs. The list includes some really interesting names; I would be tempted to hold an event just so I could invite some of these people to speak at it. 

For this project, it was my pleasure and privilege to interview Joseph Pearce, author of several books any of which a Catholic bibliophile would eat up. He is also writer in residence and visiting fellow at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, editor of an international review of Catholic culture, the St. Austin Review, series editor of a series of the Ignatius Critical Editions, and executive director of Catholic Courses. He's been on EWTN to talk about Shakespeare and The Lord of the Rings (two of my literary favorites), and his books have been translated into at least seven different languages. You can read more about his work, and him, here

Joseph has generously shared his thoughts on a spattering of topics about his work, his faith, and the literary world. (Writers, check out his brief but beautiful prayer before beginning work.) I could have asked him a hundred more questions than I did. Maybe for some other project one day, he'll consent to another interview and I can share his answers with you. Or better yet, maybe you can have him at your conference, school, or parish, and you can hear him yourself.

I first came to know of your work in Tolkien: Man and Myth. Is Tolkien's Catholicism as evident in his book The Hobbit as it is in Lord of the Rings? Have you begun to see an uptick of interest in Tolkien (and his Catholicism) in anticipation of the first Hobbit movie? 
Tolkien referred to The Lord of the Rings as "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work". Over the years I have written a great deal exploring this Catholic dimension of Tolkien's masterpiece. Now, however, I have written a book on the Catholicism of The Hobbit, which will be published later this year as "Bilbo's Journey" by Saint Benedict Press.

Tolkien's deeply-held Catholicism permeates The Hobbit in many ways, most notably as a meditation on Christ's words in the Gospel that "where your treasure is there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). The Hobbit is also a reflection on the nature of man as "homo viator", whose ultimate purpose is to love and serve God on the journey through this life that we may be with Him forever in the next. It charts Bilbo's spiritual growth in terms of the mystical relationship between free will and Divine Providence.

Judging by the amount of interest in the upcoming movie version of The Hobbit I am hopeful that it will present Catholics with the opportunity to evangelize through the power of Tolkien. In the wake of the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings ten years ago, I gave many talks at Ivy League schools and state universities, as well as at Catholic and Protestant schools and parishes, unlocking the Catholicism of Tolkien's work. It would be wonderful if the movie version of The Hobbit were to present the same opportunities to evangelize.

You've written two books about Shakespeare's Catholicism. Is this idea gaining traction in the literary world?
There is a residual resistance to the growing evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism amongst secular academics, not because they have any convincing counter-evidence but because many academics have built their reputations upon misreadings of Shakespeare's work. Such secular reading of his work becomes untenable if the Bard can be shown to be a believing Catholic.

I have now written three books, not two, exploring the mountain of evidence for the Catholic Shakespeare, the third of which will be published by Ignatius Press next spring. In the first of my books, The Quest for Shakespeare, I assemble the biographical evidence, i.e. the evidence that emerges from the facts that we know about Shakespeare's life; in the second book, Through Shakespeare's Eyes, I explore the textual evidence for the Bard's Catholicism to be found in three of his plays (The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and King Lear); in the third book, Shakespeare On Love, I reveal the Catholic moral dynamic of Romeo and Juliet, a play which is almost invariably misread and misunderstood. I have also had the honour of editing the Ignatius Critical Editions of several Shakespeare plays, each of which includes excellent critical essays by contemporary academics offering tradition-oriented readings of the works. Apart from the four plays mentioned above, there are also Ignatius Critical Editions of Julius Caesar and Macbeth. (For more details, please see

Last year, I had the immense privilege of filming an eight-lecture series on Shakespeare's Catholicism for Catholic Courses ( In addition, I regularly speak on the topic at Catholic parishes and at Catholic schools. Thankfully I am joined in this crusade to make Shakespeare's Catholicism better known by an increasing number of scholars who are doing splendid work on the subject. The extent to which this scholarship is having an impact on the wider culture can be seen by the response of a nationally-known director of Shakespeare plays to a question put to him at a talk he gave in Washington DC. Asked for his views on Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, the director answered that many people believe that he was a Catholic. This well-known Shakespearean was not a Catholic himself but was acknowledging the growing weight of evidence for the Bard of Avon’s adherence to the Church of Rome. There’s a long way to go but this battle is being won!

You underwent a radical change in your belief system, going from a twice-convicted anti-Catholic racist to Catholic convert and defender. You credit G. K. Chesterton with much of the impetus for your conversion. What happened?
This is a long story but, to make the long story short, I was a leading member of a white supremacist organization called the National Front in my native England back in the 1970s and 1980s. I was sent to prison twice for “publishing material likely to cause racial hatred”. I was also very anti-Catholic and was involved with the Protestant terrorist organizations, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. I was also a member of the Orange Order, an anti-Catholic secret society, and was very anti-American, demonstrating outside US airbases in the UK and demanding that the “Yanks Go Home”!

By a miracle of grace I was introduced to the work of G.K. Chesterton, whose books I began to read avidly, even though I didn’t agree with his Catholicism or his anti-racism. So much that he wrote made sense and I loved his personality, his wit and his sense of humour. Through my love of Chesterton I came to read the books of Hilaire Belloc and, later still, the work of C. S. Lewis, John Henry Newman and, finally, St. Thomas Aquinas. Slowly but surely I was being drawn to the truth of the Faith. I was received into the Catholic Church on St. Joseph’s Day in 1989. My first book, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, was an act of thanksgiving. I was giving thanks to God for giving me Chesterton but also giving thanks to Chesterton for giving me God!
I note that you were always a writer, even before your conversion. Afterwards, how did you get your foot in the door of the Catholic publishing world?
Yes, I’ve always been a writer – for as long as I can remember. It’s in my blood, or my genes, or my soul, or wherever these things reside! I made the final of a national poetry competition in the UK when I was about nine-years-old and launched a magazine, of which I became editor, when I was only sixteen-years-old. It was for articles published in this magazine that I was sent to prison.

Following my conversion, my books were published by mainstream secular publishers in the UK (Harper Collins and Hodder & Stoughton) but the US editions were being published by Ignatius Press, the great Catholic publisher in San Francisco. My biography of Chesterton, and my book, Literary Converts, were very successful in the USA, launching my long-term relationship with the folks at Ignatius Press. Although I am still publishing with Ignatius, I am now being published by other good Catholic publishers in the USA, such as Saint Benedict Press and St. Augustine’s Press. My books have also been published in foreign language editions, including Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Korean and Mandarin.  

Your biographies have been mostly about Catholic English writers. Do you have a favorite?
This is always a difficult question. I love G.K. Chesterton, of course, and owe him a great deal as being the most important influence, under grace, on my conversion. I’m also a great admirer of Hilaire Belloc, who deserves to emerge from Chesterton’s shadow. I have always been in awe of Shakespeare’s inestimable and incomparable genius. He is the greatest writer who ever lived, with the possible exception of the great Dante. In the final analysis, however, I must admit that Tolkien is probably my favourite writer. The Lord of the Rings is simply too astonishing for words.

Perhaps I can illustrate my admiration for Tolkien by way of a short tangential digression …
Samuel Johnson famously said that the man who is tired of London is tired of life. As a Londoner, I am forced to disagree with the great Dr. Johnson. I am tired of London because London is tired of life. It has become the epicenter of the culture of death. I would like to replace Dr. Johnson’s epigram with an alternative of my own: The man who is tired of The Lord of the Rings is tired of life! Tolkien’s masterpiece has so much life in it, and is a symphony to the wonders of Life, that only a cynic can fail to be edified by its beauty and majesty.

What do you do as a writer in residence?
I am so blessed to be a writer in residence and Visiting Fellow at Thomas More College in New Hampshire ( because it allows me the time to write even though I have teaching responsibilities. The folks at TMC recognize my desire to write and the importance of my work as a writer and want to facilitate the writing of future books by showing great flexibility in the planning of my teaching schedule. I will be teaching at TMC intensively for four one-week periods each semester. Obviously such intensive teaching will require a great deal of preparation but I will still have time to write. This arrangement is heaven-sent! I hope to repay the faith that the people at TMC have placed in me by being a model member of the faculty and a tireless promoter of the great work that the college does in educating students in the tradition-oriented liberal arts.

You recently began teaching for Homeschool Connections, and you are executive director for Catholic Courses. What inspired these? How are they working out?
I began teaching for Homeschool Connections ( as part of my ongoing commitment to the Catholic homeschooling movement. I have spoken at homeschooling conferences throughout the USA for several years and met the Homeschool Connections people at these conferences. Teaching on-line, from the comfort and convenience of my home-office, enables me to engage in teaching homeschoolers in such a way that it minimizes disruption to my writing schedule. As with my position at Thomas More College, my relationship with Homeschool Connections is heaven-sent.

As for Catholic Courses, I was both flattered and honoured when Conor Gallagher, the executive producer of the series, asked me to become executive director. The series is very exciting. It’s meant to be a Catholic equivalent of the Teaching Company, offering courses on DVD, CD or in downloadable format in the areas of theology, philosophy, literature, history and the lives of the saints. We’ve managed to attract some of the finest Catholic lecturers to present the courses and I’ve had the pleasure of teaching four courses myself. The first two, filmed last year when the Catholic Courses were first launched, were on “Shakespeare’s Catholicism” and “The Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings”; the most recent two, which I filmed only a few weeks ago, are on The Hobbit and on “The Thought of G.K. Chesterton”.
You obviously have been influenced by your faith in the choices you have made in your career. How do you understand your aptitude for writing and teaching as a vocation in the service of God?

The Catholic Faith is at the summit and the centre of my life. It is my life’s very purpose. As such, I see my aptitude for writing as a gift from God which it is my duty to offer back to Him in service. The extent to which I see my role as a writer as a vocation is best summed up in the words of the prayer with which I begin the working day: “Lord, I pray that my labours today, by Thy grace, will bring my soul and the souls of others closer to Thee. In all that I do, Lord, may the desire to please you be paramount. Keep me free from worldly ambition and anxiety, and I ask only for material sustenance for myself and my dependents. Lord, may my words be your words.”

What are you currently working on?
I have been commissioned to write a full-length book on my conversion story, which I’ve tentatively titled “Race with the Devil: A Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love”. This will keep me busy until at least the end of the year. I am also engaged always with my responsibilities as co-editor of the St. Austin Review (, a journal of Catholic culture which is published six times per year. I have been co-editor of the St. Austin Review (or StAR) since it was launched back in 2001. It is an ongoing labour of love.

Do you speak primarily in academic settings? What does your speaking schedule look like?
I speak in all sorts of settings. Over the years, I have spoken at Catholic colleges, Protestant colleges, Ivy League schools, state universities, Catholic parishes, Protestant parishes, Catholic high schools, Protestant high schools, Diocesan conferences, Men’s conferences, homeschooling conferences, academic conferences, Chesterton conferences, C. S. Lewis conferences, et cetera. I’ve also given talks in disparate parts of the world including South America, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and England, as well as in many parts of the United States and Canada.

My speaking schedule is busy. I’m usually travelling several times a month, but I’m always happy to accept other engagements. Anyone wishing to obtain further details of my availability and the topics on which I speak regularly should contact me at the following address:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Novena for Marriage and Family

I love that, for the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pray More Novenas is leading a novena for marriage and family life. This is probably my most frequent prayer intention. The novena starts today, and I thought I'd share today's prayers with you. Sign up here.

Day 1 - Novena for Marriage and Family

Jesus, I trust in you. Please grant through your mother's intercession that I may always bring Your hope into my family.

Jesus, I trust in you. Please grant through your mother's intercession that I may always bring Your love into my family.

Jesus, I trust in you. Please grant through your mother's intercession that I may always bring Your mercy into my family.

Our Lady, on this feast of your birth, please pray for stronger and holier marriages.

Most lovable Mother Mary, our Father in Heaven created you with delight. You are His creature whom He made worthy to become the holy Mother His Son. You were born into a family of Saints. Pray for me today that my joy in your Son will increase and that my family may become more holy.

Dearest Mother, please pray for me and for these my intentions...
(State your intentions)

Hail Mary... Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What did you do this summer?

I did not mean to take a month-and-a-half summer break from blogging!


So much catching up to do. Aside from blog posts I have promised, hinted at, or just owe somebody somehow, I have a few projects to work on in real life. So I'm here today, but where I'll be tomorrow remains to be seen. Do let me know you've been by, and I'll try to check in again soon! (Hey! I take requests!)

We're almost ready for the new school year. This year I have five official students and two who are of kindergartenish age. I know we're a bit late compared to most schools and even lots of homeschoolers, but I've always started our year on September 1. I like it that way. I bought school supplies and packed them neatly into little bundles--Luke can't wait for his. He takes after his mother in this respect, bless him. I remember when one of the best parts of going back to school was that stack of neat, fresh notebooks, newly sharpened pencils, and brand new ball-point pens ready to glide over the page--blue Paper Mates® were the best. 

Anyway, I'm still putting lesson plans into concrete, week-by-week form. We frequently get lost in the syllabus, but I find that if I have a detailed plan of work for any given day then we all do better, even if we don't stick rigidly to it. Plus, Natalie and Aidan are both old enough to work independently for most of their subjects. Having this plan worked out ahead of time makes a real difference. But there's no question it's a lot of work on the front end. 

And it's a lot of reading this year. I thought about doing a back-to-school reading list on the blog, and it's certainly not too late for that. Maybe one for me and one (or several) for what the kids will be reading this year for school. With the proliferation of New Year reading lists and summer reading lists, I'm surprised I haven't seen any on other blogs yet. 


Then again, I haven't been frequenting the blogosphere like I used to. I have so much catching up to do, not just on my favorite blogs, but that would be enough to keep me occupied for a week if I didn't have any thing else to do (like pay bills or cook meals). I usually read (or at least pretend to read) enough posts in my reader to keep the unread items hovering 500 or 600. 

I once told someone that if I get more than a few days behind I have an urge to start writing apologetic notes to the blog authors. Weird, right? But she felt my pain. Anyway, if you see me here and have a blog yourself, (or if you read something you feel like passing along,) feel free to drop me a line and share a post or two.I've got plenty to read, but it's always more fun with a friend.


For example. 

(I'm just bookmarking here, you might say, to remind myself.) 

Melanie Bettinelli is blogging slowly (as in, just my pace) through The Waste Land by T. S. Elliot. Secret: I have always been intrigued beyond words by this poem, and by the Grail/Fisher King myth in general. I was so glad to see her sharing her thoughts this way, and I still feel way over my head. The index is here, because even at her once-a-month rate, I'm still only on the epigram and dedication. 

On the other hand, I am eagerly awaiting the next few installments of the Flannery O'Connor Reading Club, and hoping that all is well and Mr. Jonathan Rogers will soon be on schedule with the rest of the projected posts.  My favorite stories--"The Enduring Chill," "Revelation," and "Parker's Back"--are due up soon!

Some things we did this summer:

Birthday fun

Swim lessons

A trip to the beach

Playing in the rain

Not too wordy, I know. I'm blogging on borrowed time here. Back to work!

See more Quick Takes at Conversion Diary. What did you do this summer?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Today in my diocese... daughter Natalie got to see the ordination of our newest priest. And the priest who vested him is the former pastor of the parish where I grew up.

Praise God!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today's reading

The first reading for today, from 2 Kings 19,  shows how Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, threatens and taunts Hezekiah, the king of Judah, which was the only tribe left after God permitted the deportation of the Israelites after they had forgotten him and rejected his statutes.
'Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you
by saying that Jerusalem will not be handed over
to the king of Assyria.
You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done
to all other countries: they doomed them!
Will you, then, be saved?'
Hezekiah does not respond to this menace, not before he takes it to the Lord in prayer and supplication.
Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations
and their lands, and cast their gods into the fire;
they destroyed them because they were not gods,
but the work of human hands, wood and stone.
Therefore, O LORD, our God, save us from the power of this man,
that all the kingdoms of the earth may know
that you alone, O LORD, are God.
Then the Lord responds by basically saying, "I've got this under control. No worries."
Then Isaiah, son of Amoz, sent this message to Hezekiah:
"Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
in answer to your prayer for help against Sennacherib, king of Assyria:
I have listened!
This is the word the LORD has spoken concerning him:

"'She despises you, laughs you to scorn,
the virgin daughter Zion!
Behind you she wags her head,
daughter Jerusalem.

"'For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant,
and from Mount Zion, survivors.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.'

Today's gospel is worth checking out too.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Did you say "envy"?

As someone trying to be a writer (yeah, I know, "writers write." I'm a writer), let me just hint at how funny I find it to read an exchange like this:

And that was how I left it when I "liked" that last comment (see one of those two likes, that's me there). 

Seriously, do you see those names? 

So this is me, promoting Ms. McPortland's piece on envy, and taking mental notes (particularly that "ouch" moment toward the end). Being grateful (since that is the remedy for envy) to be able to read and commiserate with my fellow travelers.

"Freedom" link

Computer's a bit slow today, and so am I. Here's a link to an NPR story about the Fortnight for Freedom, with a hat tip to Frank Weathers.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launches what it's calling the "Fortnight for Freedom" on Thursday — two weeks of praying and fasting because the bishops believe the church's religious freedom is being threatened by the Obama administration's health care policies.

"This is the first time that I've felt personally attacked by my government," parishioner Kathleen Burke says after a service at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda, Md.
That's about how I feel.

O God, come to my assistance.


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