Saturday, May 03, 2014

Seminarian Dance Duel

Entertainment from the Rector's Dinner at the North American College in Rome...

The Irish dancer is a friend of ours! :)

Thursday, May 01, 2014

What I've Been Reading...

I've been rather neglectful of Goodreads for awhile, so I thought I'd try to catch up a little here.

UPDATE: I keep remembering more books that I've read, so I've been adding to this list over the past few days.

Finished Books:

Deathbed Conversions by Karen Edmisten
Loved this - especially since I'm already a pretty big fan of the biography/memoir category.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This was just a lovely book in every way - interesting concepts, great characters, beautiful language, amazing perspective, etc. etc.. I bought a bunch of copies of this book (and Karen's book too!) to share with friends last Christmas.

We really enjoyed the movie as well. While movies typically fall short of the book (for pretty understandable reasons, though the liberties taken are at times egregious!), I particularly recommend this movie to those who enjoyed the book, because the quality of the unique characters shines through SO beautifully. Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush  are absolutely fabulous in their thoughtfully understated roles of Mama and Papa.

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel
I picked up this book a couple of years ago because I had a music teacher in high school (at Kolbe Academy) who was involved in discovering one of the huge Nazi art depository caves outside of Paris. It was more fascinating and engaging than I expected, and appropriate and of interest to the kiddos too. We all went and saw the movie as well, which was good, but not quite great. I'm also looking forward to reading the sequel, Saving Italy.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
I enjoyed this little book. I don't remember it as well as I'd like, except for the fact that I had wished that more of the book focused on the boy and his experiences than it did. I am hoping to see the movie too.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This was a re-read for me for a high school literature class that I help out with. I think is the fourth time I've read this book, and I love it more each time I read it. The way she loves her characters (of all sorts) shows through everywhere, and with wonderful humor in addition to it. We had a particularly interesting discussion about how this book had a big impact on the culture of the time and who exactly it was written for. We decided that it was aimed at people like the maiden aunt from Vermont that came to help her brother's family in New Orleans (can't think of ANY of the names at the moment), which is an interesting and surprising comment, in my opinion.

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
The book is very gripping, as well as an important first-hand account of slavery in the U.S. Solomon Northup was a free slave (born free), happily married with three children, when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. I have more mixed feelings about the movie because of an unnecessary and incongrous opening scene (of a sexual nature) that seems contradictory to the book. Other than that, the movie is really well-done, but extremely intense, which is understandable, given the nature of the material (and the reality of history!).

Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
This is a very engaging and thought-provoking story, in the same (or at least similar!) genre to the Hunger Games. While I didn't enjoy it as much as the Hunger Games (which I need to spend some time writing about sometime as it seems to come up in conversation frequently, and I liked it even more the second time around), there was really a lot to like, and some parts of the story really blew me away! (Recommending a maturity level here is tougher than with the Hunger Games because there's quite a bit more in the way of sensuality involved in the story line.) Terri and I also saw the movie.

Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Michael White
And in a totally different realm, I rather enjoyed this thought-provoking and somewhat audacious book about one priest and his pastoral associate's attempts to revamp a dying parish. I didn't necessarily agree with everything in the book (when do I ever?) but found it quite worthwhile and eye-opening on the whole. In particular, I appreciate the distinctions made about the attitudes we ought to have regarding our parishes and the church in general (such as trying to get away from a consumer mentality).

Books in Progress:

Momnipotent by Danielle Bean
Already blogged about this book here.

Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
I'm eating this one up, but had to slow down as I decided to start reading it aloud to the kiddos. It's turning out kind of funny, actually, because I was switching back and forth today between this book and Harry Potter.

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
I'm a fan. Really liked The Happiness Project too.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Family re-read-aloud in progress.

Abandonment to Divine Providence Jean-Pierre De Caussade
I've been working on this one for a long time, as I find the material so dense that I digest it best in small doses. I generally read a chapter (or section, or whatever) each week at adoration.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Slow, often-distracted read-through in progress, but I do love this book.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Danielle Bean's Momnipotent: An Incomplete and Slightly Quirky Review ;)

I have to admit something of my own struggles in order to properly introduce this book. I'm the type of person who struggles with anxiety and under-confidence on a continual basis...

A few months ago, I was vaguely aware that my online friend Danielle Bean had a new book being published about being a mom. Honestly, I didn't really click any of the links about it. One day, I got an e-mail from a local friend who had read a sample of Momnipotent online, and was amazed to discover (as was I!) that I was mentioned in this sample.

Naturally, I had to go find and read it for myself (click here to read the excerpt), and was delighted to discover that Danielle had taken a concept that I apparently helped introduce to the Catholic homeschool world, that of Age Quod Agis (which means "do what you are doing"), and run with it in a really beautiful and helpful way.

The really funny part for me is that reading that excerpt from her book was exactly what *I* needed to read at the time - both to be reminded of the concept of Age Quod Agis and the gist of what she was drawing out of it. The experience made me think that maybe sometimes God does put something out there with your name on it just so that *you* will pay attention. ;)

I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing soon. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Day of Four Popes

We're still riding the high of all the excitement of yesterday - Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and the Canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul the Great. Though I didn't get up at 3 in the morning to watch the canonization Mass (offered by two popes!), we did enjoy some programming on EWTN that included interviews that Raymond Arroyo did with Jon Voight and Cary Elwes about their roles in the Pope John Paul II movie. In the afternoon, we helped with the music for our parish's Divine Mercy Services and in the evening, we had some friends over to watch the above mentioned movie as a way of celebrating the canonization (I really had forgotten great the movie was - it's been a few years since I've seen it).

A few thoughts are swirling around in my head that I'd like to tack down here...

First, our pastor's reflection given during our Divine Mercy services was quite interesting. I knew that Saint John Paul II was heavily involved in promoting devotion to Divine Mercy, but I really had no sense of how far that went. Apparently St. Faustina's diary was kind of messy to begin with, because she did not have a high level of education, and the translation that was originally submitted to Rome had a lot of problems with it - so much so that the devotion was initially condemned. Saint John Paul II, apparently, had the diaries re-translated and re-submitted to Rome (I believe) even before he became pope. Would love to see an exposition of this whole story.

Regarding the canonizations that took place yesterday, I was fascinated/captivated by the fact John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized together. For me it held special value because, while I've long been an admirer of Pope John Paul II, I really don't know very much about Pope John XXIII. But, John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum (which you can find in the front of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) really rocked my world when I first read it. I had a strong sense of love and trust towards Pope John Paul II, but had a more vague and slightly wary sense of Vatican II, growing up. So you  can, perhaps imagine my surprise, when I read this in the above-mentioned document:

"Vatican II has always been, and especially during these years of my Pontificate, the constant reference point of my every pastoral action, in the conscious commitment to implement its directives concretely and faithfully at the level of each Church and the whole Church."
You can read the whole thing here: Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum

That was a bit of a game-changer for me!

I think the quote also highlights how silly such media quotes as this one really are:

"By canonising both John XXIII - the pope who set off the reform movement - and John Paul II - the pope who applied the brakes - Francis has skilfully deflected any possible criticism that he could be taking sides." 

(Source: BBC News |Vatican declares Popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

RIP Charlie

(originally posted on on 2/27/14)

My nephew Charlie passed away on February 11, 2014, after a brief illness, relating to a congenital heart defect. He will be greatly missed! (He is pictured above with his fiance, Monica, at their graduation from Christendom College last May.)

A friend of mine posted this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Valentine's Day. It seems uniquely appropriate to Charlie's story, as he lived with limited heart function for his whole life (and yet lived a very full and joyous life!):

“The human heart is not shaped like a valentine heart, perfect and regular in contour it is
slightly irregular in shape as if a small piece of it were missing out
of its side. The missing part may very well symbolize a piece that a
spear tore out of the universal heart of humanity on the Cross, but it
probably symbolizes something more. It may very well mean that when God
created each human heart, he kept a small sample of it in heaven, and sent the rest of it into the world, where it would each day learn the lesson that it could never be really
happy, that it could never be really wholly in love, that it could never
be really whole-hearted until it rested with the Risen Christ in an
eternal Easter.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (Manifestations of Christ)
We just celebrated Charlie's funeral and burial this past weekend. His funeral was concelebrated by eight priests and a bishop and attended by more than 700 family members and friends. It was unbelievably, even overwhelmingly,beautiful. We have felt so surrounded by the love and prayers of so many (not only those in attendance, but friends from as far away as Rome and Australia) that I've been telling people that we felt like the most loved family on the planet. It is in these signs and acts of love and the consolations of a life well lived that we can truly say, in spite of the heartbreak, that God is good.

Charlie's Obituary

Friday, April 25, 2014

List of Favorite Useful Stuff (That We Use Regularly)

I know this is a little excessively random, but I'll sort it out later. It's just nice to find a place to write down some of the things we've found so useful over the years (and often wished we had purchased the first time around instead of wasting time and money on less effective options).

Andis 30125 Wall Mounted Hang Up 1600 Watt Hair Dryer with Night Light

For too many years, I had my bathroom counter taken up with a big hairdryer (especially in the winter!) before I realized that someone probably made a hotel-style built-in hairdryer. I really like it and am planning on getting one for the kids' bathroom too.

Zyliss Jumbo Garlic Press with Cleaner

I'm really pretty impressed that we're only on our second garlic peeler for our whole married life (almost 22 years!), and we had to replace our first one only because we accidentally donated it to a guest house we were visiting at a monastery once upon a time. ;) Also, the press is weighted in such a way as to give maximum leverage with minimal effort.

Miele Vacuum Cleaner

This is a recent purchase, after a lot of fails and a lot of dust allergies to deal with. It's not cheap, but it's been amazing so far.

Behr Ultra Premium Satin Enamel Paint

We had so much bad luck with cheap paint, that we've learned to be more cautious. Though we've purchased some Sherwin Williams (which has really good sales a few times each year), I think our best experience (especially considering the cost difference) has been with this product from Home Depot. Great coverage and durability (and you can bring in color options from other brands for them to work out with this paint).

Southwest Airlines

We buy a lot of airplane tickets these days, mostly for the college kids. We've found Southwest to often be the best bargain - and often the direct flights are the best deal. Plus, you get two free check-in bags on each flight.

Kindle Keyboard

We love, love, love our Kindle Keyboards. No back-lighting means that it's easy on the eyes. It's easy to highlight passages and add notes to books. I LOVE being able to look up words in the dictionary so easily (I am otherwise too lazy). Books are inexpensive (and many, especially out-of-copyright, are free). I love being able to put my own documents, as well as purchased ebooks, onto the Kindle. I really appreciate how much easier it is for me to get through long books - partly because the Kindle is so light-weight and partly because I don't get distracted by how much of the book is left (it might sound silly, but it really is true for me). And finally, the text-to-speech option is fantastic. We set up a blind relative with a Kindle Keyboard and it has changed her life immensely. She can access all kinds of books and documents with ease and enjoys listening to the Liturgy of the Hours (via the Universalis App).

I should also mention that it's really nice, especially when a bunch of us are reading the same book for a literature discussion group, to buy one copy of a book, and end up with multiple copies for our various devices (though some books have a limit on how many devices they can be on at once - we've only hit this a few times, I think when we got past 5 devices or so).

Ooma Internet Telephone

Home telephone service for $5 a month. What's not to like?

Business Calendar App for Android (Appgenix Software)

I got a tablet (Samsung/Android) a little over a year ago, primarily in order to facilitate a portable calendar situation, without having to pay a monthly fee for a smart phone (I use an AT&T track phone which costs about $100 a year). While reading up on tablet options, I came across a very enthusiastic review of this app, and then happened to get it while it was free on Amazon. It's worked very well for us (it syncs with Google Calendar on our computer when I'm near wifi, so it's not live at all times, but it's good enough for my needs).

Fisher Paykel Washing Machine

Some friends turned us onto this little-known brand a few years ago. It was reasonably priced, energy-efficient, and seems to be holding up REALLY well.

Oxyclean Stain Remover

We started adding this to all of our laundry loads back when diaper messes left stains on all of the baby clothes. Even though our youngest is now ten, we still use it because it helps with stains and keeps the clothes smelling better and more sanitized (I think). You don't need to use much, so it lasts a long time. I also rub it in with some liquid laundry soap and let it soak on particularly bad stains.

Zojirushi Rice Cooker

This is a great (but fairly expensive) rice maker that cooks white or brown (basmati brown is our favorite) and keeps it fresh for about 36 hours. We make rice 3-4 times a week and find it handy for lunches during our homeschool day and such, so I feel that it's been a very good investment.


Though we used to shop at competitor, Sam's Club, we haven't looked back since Costco finally came to our area about 3 years ago. The company is great, the products are quality (the Kirkland store brand tends to be quite good), and there are lots of good options for gluten-free families like ours.  We regularly buy dairy, veggies, gluten-free bread (the Udi's loaf we buy is twice the size of the one in local grocery stores for only about 20% more cost), spices, oils (coconut, olive and avocado are our favorites), dried goods (like raisins, rice and gluten-free flour) and chips. We've also been very happy with their optical department and regularly purchase gas and tires from them.

Trader Joe's

I've been a big fan of Trader Joe's since my college days in Southern California. Again, it's a recent addition to our local repertoire, and a very welcome and helpful one. First of all Trader Joe's is a very gluten-free friendly store. You can request a list of gluten-free items to help you out. Some of the staples we buy from Trader Joe's are: tea, granola, chili,  beans, Emergen-C (better price than anything I've seen, though I haven't checked online yet), yogurt, kefir, peanut butter, jelly, maple syrup, marinara sauce, corn pasta (the trick is to rinse it in hot water after you cook it to get rid of the starchy after-taste), all kinds of soup, refried black beans and wine (yes, we like their "two-buck Chuck", even though it costs $3 here).

Amazon Subscribe-and-Save

This is a particularly good deal if you have at least five items in a given order (then you a discount of 15% rather than 5%). We like this for things like canned soups (some Progresso Soups are gluten-free and are really inexpensive this way), Basmati Brown Rice, gluten-free breakfast cereal, gluten-free snacks and granola bars and gluten-free baking mixes (like pizza crust and cornbread mix).

Toyota Corollas

Okay, so maybe I'm having a little too much fun with the random nature of this list, but it would be wrong for me not to mention our favorite workhouse of a car. We're on our fourth Toyota Corolla in 20+ years (plus a couple of vans on the side), most of which we've purchased with 100,000+ miles for a few thousand dollars. We've pretty much run each one into the ground. They get great gas mileage with relatively little repairs needed. I don't know how we would have managed without them.

Walgreens Store Brand

We use this brand a lot for health care and personal care items. A stranger in a line at Target introduced me to their store brand diapers many years ago. Since then, we've used many store brand items of all sorts, and like to keep an eye out for their great sales, when we do a big stock-up.

Dollar Tree

This is a brand new category for us, introduced to me by my parents recently. For starters, my dad (who's quite savvy in this sort of way) has found the Dollar Tree batteries and lightbulbs to be both extremely cost-effective and of excellent quality.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just Dabbling Again

(Originally published 2/27/14 on

I've really been aching to start writing again, especially over the past few months. The problem of course, is where to start. We've had a dramatic life event (more on that later) happen in our extended family this month and that's made me want to start writing even more. Facebook updates just don't cut it.

Reading (and even watching) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a piece of this puzzle, to want to write. Not only did I love the writing in The Book Thief, but it somehow made the idea of writing (more) more accessible; perhaps something about the quirky turns of phrases that were so clearly part of the author's "voice" made me feel like my own "voice" might be worth trying out again.

Here are a few quotes which are also making me think.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou

"I write to find out what I think."

Stephen King

Favorite Laugh-Out-Loud Funny Movies

(some may need some slight editing for the younger set)

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Return to Me
The Court Jester
You Can't Take it With You
The Gods Must be Crazy (especially the second one)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Monday, October 21, 2013

Remembering Dr. McArthur

When I was a freshman at Thomas Aquinas College, I had a very lowly work study job, or at least it felt like it. I came with pretty strong secretarial skills, so they put me in the "Development Office", which at that time (back when there was only one permanent building on campus) consisted of a small, four-room temporary building which housed the offices of the president and vice president of the college, and two work rooms, all in one row. There was one entrance, through one of the workrooms, and you had to walk through those rooms to get to the office on either end.

(Here is a picture of the TAC campus from up on the hill, with the same basic layout as when I arrived - labeled with the accrediting agency for some reason. It sure looks different today!)

The reason it felt so lowly was that, because of the cramped space, the student workers were only able to put in their work-study hours outside of business hours. So we did our work at night and on weekends, communicating with the office staff almost entirely through memos. And on top of those complications, as I was one of two primary student typists (the other, by the way, was Margot Davidson of Hillside Education) who couldn't work at the same time as each other, I often worked alone in the building.

So, anyway, I was rather surprised one cold evening, as I sat cross-legged on the workroom floor all by myself with an enormous pile of papers that I was alphabetizing on my lap, to have the school president, Dr. Ronald McArthur, walk in and greet me on his way to his office. It's hard to express how funny this encounter was - this immensely tall (I've heard he was six foot seven, and I believe it!) imposing, yet grandfatherly figure greeting this lowly office worker who was pretty much glued to the floor because of the pile of papers. We exchanged a friendly greeting and I casually mentioned that I thought we had had a little bit of snow in the air (very unusual at that elevation, though we sometimes had snow on the peaks of the mountains adjacent to the school, it may have happened only one other time in my four years at TAC). In his friendly, but gruff (and slightly distracted) manner, he said, "No, no, I don't think we had any snow here." (I can hear these words in his voice as I type this). He went into his office briefly and left. No big deal. I wasn't the least bothered by his skepticism. But about an hour later, he poked his head back in the office (and probably walked all the way up from the Hacienda to do so) - just to tell me that I was right about the snow! It's such a minor thing and a little story, but it touched me deeply and it's one of my clearest memories of him.

There are many other great (though fuzzier) memories of him. He used to give these little mini-speeches to the students on minor occasions or to address particular needs and they were wonderful. I think it was especially at formal dinners that he gave these talks. I'm not a strong auditory person by nature, so I don't generally enjoy listening to people talk, but these were marvelous; little expositions about education and the Faith that were beautiful, motivating, inspiring and to the point.
One of my favorites was after a little spat had erupted among some of the students because of a few students espousing some silly ideas about girls not belonging on campus, dances being merely mating rituals or whatever. I can't remember his exact words, but they were along the lines of the importance and beauty of friendship and intellectual engagement between the sexes and ended with a slam (or maybe slam-dunk!) that anyone who thought otherwise must think that the only point of interaction between men and women is sex. Wow.

Dr. McArthur was a great teacher and a great man. That didn't necessarily mean that I agreed with him on absolutely everything, but his convictions about the value of a classical great-books education (which included a deep faith, true humility and a broad mind) and how they played out in my educational experience at TAC have had a deep impact on my life, especially in how I choose to encounter others in my life on a day-to-day basis. I had him as a professor for Senior Theology and also joined an informal study group he put together to read Pope John Paul II's recently-published encyclical On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.

He had a wonderful sense of humor and I loved how he engaged the students in class. My favorite humorous jab that I remember from his class was, "Don't let any ideas disrupt the free flow of your conversation." ;)

Here's a nice piece I found on YouTube that might give you a sense of what I'm talking about (this video is from April 2012):

But there also were some fun points of commonality. Dr. McArthur also hailed from the Bay Area (his mother-in-law was actually from my hometown of Los Altos) and was a die-hard San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers fan. All the 49er fans on campus very much enjoyed the hospitality of Dr. and Mrs. McArthur at their lovely home on campus for back-to-back Superbowls in 1989 and 1990.

Dr. McArthur died last Thursday, October 17, 2013, at the age of 89. Rest in peace Dr. McArthur!

Here are some other tributes to Dr. McArthur:

Larger than Life by Tony M.
In Memoriam: Dr. Ronald P. McArthur (Thomas Aquinas College Website)
Thomas Aquinas College Founder Remembered for Humility (Catholic News Agency)

(will be adding to this piece)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sherlock Van Hecke

Our family has been on a Sherlock Holmes kick lately because of the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. They are terribly entertaining (and at times astonishingly faithful to the original stories), but with some definitely not family friendly scenes and/or episodes - so be sure to preview before sharing with your kids (especially episode 1 of season 2 ). The series has led a number of us to dive into the original stories - most of whom had never done so before.

I don't know if it's because of all this Sherlock or out of sheer desperation, but we managed to solve a very minor, but very frustrating mystery last night in such a surprising and classically deductive way, that I just had to write it down.

We've had a lovely summer with Ria home from college. Unfortunately, she managed to lose her cellphone almost immediately after she got home and we've been desperately looking for it ever since. I have offered rewards and we all did lots of cleaning and organizing, all the while wondering if it wasn't permanently lost somewhere away from home.

Last night Gus came up with the idea of looking her account up online, where he found a record of calls. It turns out that there was a flurry of calls on the last day it was used, just a few days after she got home from school, back in May. We realized that she had gone to her younger siblings' track meet that day, which involved multiple cars and people hopping around to different places. This caused the kids to do another, and even more thorough, search of both cars - to no avail.

Next, Ria was trying to figure out which tote bags or backpacks might have gone to the track meet that day. Gus came up with the idea of looking at pictures taken that day and spotted a familiar little red freebie backpack. Unfortunately we own four identical bags of this particular sort!

But they were happy to have a lead, and the scramble was on. After tracking down several cellphoneless bags , Ria finally spotted one hanging in the game closet of all places - and there it was - cellphone and all. :)