Wednesday, January 28, 2015

are cute puppies & kittens Satan's minions?

Wait, what? "Did you really say that cute puppies and kittens are workers of Satan, Lucifer, God's archenemy? Okay- priest's wife: you have proven yourself to be a hypocrite. Not only do you have a pet cat named Lucky who is pampered with soft food once a week:
You, priest's wife, also have a standard poodle named Duke that either travels with you (sometimes cuddling on daughter #1's lap in the van, naturally) or is put up in a $50 a day kennel (The Happy Dog Inn) when needed. 
Yes, dear readers, and we also have fish- a beta and two goldfish with Lord of the Rings-themed names that I cannot recall at the moment.
And I enjoy our pets. We take care of them as best as we can, remembering that they are animals without souls. They get doctor visits and food and exercise and a hug now and then. But they are not our babies. 
So, why would I wonder if dogs and cats were 'Satan's minions?'
I came across this 'news' item today: 'GoDaddy pulls Superbowl Ad after PETA complaints about Puppy Mill Humor." Here is the advertisement in question:
While I am very much against puppy mills (Duke was a rescue from a family farms with just too many poodles and Lucky was given to us from a family friend), this backlash against a silly ad and the passion for puppies over humans makes me believe that we are turning a corner in human history. For many people, human babies are disgusting, bothersome, inconvenient creatures, but one can call their puppy or kitten their 'baby.' PETA does not believe that it is strange that their formal policy on human abortion is explained away thus: "And just as the pro-life movement has no official position on animal rights, neither does the animal rights movement have an official position on abortion." 
No, we just want to know if human life can be valued over animal life. When puppies and kittens are valued over human life, they are 'satan's minions,' distracting us from the eternal. 
In 2014, people in the US spent $350 million on Halloween costumes for their pets. There was a 6.5% rise on 'pet services' like grooming from 2012 and 2013 for spending in this category at 4.4 billion. This is when the overall US economy had a 'real growth rate' of 1.8%. And at least 1,000,000 human babies are aborted every single year.
Our priorities are changingAt a work-related dinner party recently, pet cat and dog videos were shared and cooed over among the diners. But it was clear that my children's exploits were not a welcome part of this adult conversation. But then, my baby girl is five years old, not as sweet-looking as a new baby puppy:
Our pets, however beloved and cared for, are not eternal. We should put most of our effort into the eternal: our soul and the care of the human people that God has entrusted us: our friends and family. C. S. Lewis wrote: 

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Let us focus on the eternal.

cobblers' wives: icon corners & home blessings in the priest's family house

January is almost finished! In the Byzantine Catholic tradition, homes get blessed every year after Theophany (the Baptism of the Lord- celebrated January 6th on the Eastern calendar). Our home (actually a new rental, so it really needs to be blessed!) has not been blessed yet. My husband wanted to wait for a fellow Byzantine Catholic priest to do it. One colleague is an hour away; another is two hours away. Plans went sideways, and neither can come this season. It looks like papa will have to bless his own house. Lent is practically here!
And the photo above...this will be the beginning of our icon corner. We moved after Thanksgiving and then Christmas happened. So, the poor icon corner has been neglected. Baby steps....we are working on our 'little oratory.'

Monday, January 26, 2015

a new kitchen & an easy chicken soup for a multitasking mama

We moved into a rental house, The Prancing Pony, after Thanksgiving. The house is almost three times the size of the townhouse we own, and the widowed landlady left it fully furnished. We are blessed. Now, I am praying for  some sisters or a retired priest to come live in the guest room downstairs.
She left the decorative rooster; we have named him Chanticleer (I am very excited about the solid surfacing counter tops- they are so easy to clean!)
There is even room for a paper towel dispenser (yes- the kitchen in the townhouse we actually own is very very small). If you squint, you can see my prayer-rope bracelet on the dispenser. It lives there while I do dishes. I get excited over tiny things. 
Easy & Healthy-ish Chicken Soup
for those days when you- a stay-at-home mama- are rushing off to teach a  college class in the evening
--- Cover 4 to 6 dark meat chicken pieces (on the bone) with water in a medium pot.
--- Add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water and simmer.
--- In an extra-large pot, cook a large diced onion and minced celery (to your taste) in a tablespoon of grapeseed oil until translucent.
--- Add one head of chopped cabbage. 
--- Cover cabbage and onions with water and let come to a boil.
--- While the cabbage mixture is coming to a boil, peel 6-8 carrots.
--- Cut carrots and 6 red unpeeled potatoes into bite-sized pieces, add to cabbage mixture.
--- Turn down cabbage and potato so pot is simmering instead of at a rolling boil.
--- Leave the medium pot with the chicken and the large pot with the vegetables to simmer while you prepare breakfast, throw a load of clothes in the laundry, feed the pets, answer work emails, and teach the children their ABCs.
--- Let the pot of chicken cool down. Pour the chicken broth into the vegetable pot, using a strainer to ensure no yucky bits get into soup pot. 
--- Debone the chicken pieces, chop the meat & add it to the vegetable pot. 
--- Add salt and garlic (powder or chopped fresh) to taste. I will probably sprinkle an 'herbes de Provence' mixture in my portion. 
--- Add fresh chopped parsley and any herbs that your family enjoy.  
--- If you are Romanian, you will need a bit of sour cream. 

This is inexpensive and fairly quick to make. It isn't gourmet, but it is nice to eat soup when there is a chill in the air! I also try to focus on the soup pot, crock pot or a casserole when I am teaching in the evenings. The food can wait while dad comes home and plays a game of Nerf guns before dinner. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

an inspiring contemporary Christian song for Catholics: Abandon's It Was Love

Was Jesus human or divine when He was on the cross? This song explores that and comes to conclusion that "it was love" that held Him to the cross. He felt pain because He was fully human, and He made the choice to stay on the cross of our salvation because he is God. 
lyrics to It was Love
The angel stood in awe
At the sight they saw
The night You were betrayed
You could have saved yourself
But you held back the heavens
And let them carry You away

You laid Your kingdom down, they handed you a crown of thorns- You were torn, but cried let Your will be done

It wasn't nails that held You to the cross It was love, it was love, it was Your love- You took our place, carried our guilt and shame All for us, all for us, all for us It wasn't nails that held You, it was love

To think You chose this cup knowing all that was to come
Oh the grace that poured from You
Before Your final breath through Your tears You said
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
You looked up to the sky-- Let out a final cry
It is done! Hope has won! Lord, let Your kingdom come!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

an inspiring contemporary Christian song for Catholics: For King&Country's Proof of Your Love

Yes, dear reader, I have to stifle a cringe when the song leader wants us to turn to page 123 and sing Gather Us In or Lord of the Dance at Mass. Why are we stuck in 1982? Church started years before that- none of the older music is worthwhile to remember? 
In the church, awaiting the holy sacrifice, we should be reverent, solemn.If we truly believe what the priest is going to do, there is not a place for 1982-style strange theology. But there is a place for praise. 
The Byzantine style is traditional, and we frown on innovation because innovation sometimes can lead to theological missteps like Gather Us In. We will sing the old songs over and over. Anything new is probably really an old song that the cantor recently discovered while attending a service in the old country. I prefer it this way within the church, but we might be making a mistake in that we are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
In a Byzantine service, we would never sing the song above, but we can learn from their fervor and the beautiful theology in the words. Listening to songs like these- and also more traditional audio like listening to the rosary or chant- help me get through another long drive in traffic. This song could be a great way to inspire a prayer time. We traditional, liturgical types can sometimes forget that there really is a place for a more charismatic communication with God even if we are not be this way during a religious service in church. 
This song convicts me. Like we say before we receive the Eucharist at the Divine Liturgy- in my life, I am the "greatest sinner"- let my life not be a scandal and a stumbling block to those who are searching for God in His Church.

Proof of Your Love lyrics   

If I sing but don't have love, I waste my breath with every song
I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise
If I speak with the silver tongue and convince a crowd but don't have love
I leave a bitter taste with every word I say

So let my life be the proof of Your love
So let my love look like You and what Your made of
How You lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof, The proof of Your love

If I give to a needy soul but don't have love then who is poor?
It seems all the poverty is found in me

When it's all said and done-- When we sing our final song
Only love remains-- Only love remains

If I can speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy
But don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rust gate
If I speak God’s word with power, revealing all of His mysteries
And making everything as plain as day
And if I have faith to say to a mountain jump and it jumps
But I don’t love, I’m nothing
If I give all I earn to the poor or even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr
But I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere
So, no matter what I say, no matter what I believe, no matter what I do
I’m bankrupt without love--- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Monday, January 19, 2015

an inspiring contemporary Christian song for Catholics: Lauren Daigle's 'How Can It Be'

We listen to only Christian pop music and classical in the car. Some Christians turn up their noses at CCM, thinking that music can, and should, be Christian- beautiful and truthful- without being so, well, obvious about it. These are the same type of people that believes that LOTR and The Hobbit are too sentimental.
I disagree. While there is plenty of room for art to be non-obvious in its Christianity and pursuit of beauty and truth without actually being theologically crystal clear (Madeleine L'engle's books, Mumford & Sons' songs, Tony Pro's portraits), there is even more space for art and media to shout from the roof-tops- Jesus Christ is Lord!
This song is a favorite. For a Catholic, it could be sung after the beautiful sacrament of confession. Jesus told His apostles that they had the power to bind and loose of earth and that it would remain bound and loosed in heaven. Grace and mercy are waiting in the sacrament of confession/reconciliation
Isn't it wonderful that our informed conscience can inspire us to make things right with God?I cannot understand it when the Church is made fun of- 'Catholic guilt.' Maybe my convert-ness is showing, but shouldn't we feel bad if we do something we know is wrong? If I sin, I am glad I feel guilt! If I didn't feel shame, I am either ignorant, proud to sin being very far from God or, at worst, a sociopath! The sacrament of confession is a wonderful tool for Catholics to get closer to God and .
lyrics to 'How Can It Be'
I am guilty
Ashamed of what I've done, what I've become
These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy one

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be

I've been hiding
Afraid I've let you down, inside I doubt
That You still love me
But in Your eyes there's only grace now

Though I fall, You can make me new
From this death I will rise with You
Oh the grace reaching out for me
How can it be
How can it be

Thursday, January 15, 2015

books he got for Christmas- 7 quick takes

It has been slow going this January...I had such plans to blog more frequently! Ah, me- those who fail to plan, plan to fail....In any case, this is my first 'quick takes' that is hosted by 'This ain't the Lyceum,' and I still have Christmas on the mind. Here's what priest-husband is reading: (affiliate links)

1. A Christian Ending by Mark & Elizabeth Barna- a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition also answering the question- How should Christian people prepare for death, their own and that of loved ones? No question can be more important than this, since death is the final reality of our earthly life. This should be useful and educational for his ministry.

2. Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life- we might have to fight over who reads this first. hmm...fighting over a religious book doesn't seem very holy, does it? I love books like this- it seems like it will be an Eastern take on day to day holiness much like St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life.
3. In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G K Chesterton. It can be hard to commit to a long, serious theological and philosophical work, knowing there really isn't time in the day. Essays and short stories (Thurber and Bradbury being favorites of mine, even if they aren't always theological...) are where we are. Click over and just read the table of contents. Chesterton is a master.
4. When the Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers by Marcellino d'Ambrosio- Here is another great book that father is already using as a part of his ministry. It is extra special because D'Ambrosio was a professor of his during his Master's program. Although it is a historical and theological work, I believe this book will be accessible to any reader who is open to learning more about the early Church.
5. Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St Thomas Aquinas edited and with commentary by Peter Kreeft will be used daily in this house! When father was going through seminary, he was prepared to be a parish priest in Romania with tasks to perform as well in his bishop's office because of his knowledge of French and English. Times have changed! Not only is he working in hospital ministry daily, he works with police as well. Spiritual direction and counseling is becoming more and more a part of his ministry.I think this book will be helpful.
6. and if you were concerned that we are getting too solemn...he enjoyed Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. First, he had to steal it back from the 15-year old.
7. and some music...Music from The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic. I haven't mentioned it on this blog, but we moved locally between Thanksgiving and Christmas (yes...crazy, busy times!). We are renting a larger house and renting out our townhouse. And we named the rental house The Prancing Pony. We don't expect any nazguls, but we want it to be a place of hospitality, cheer and good food for everyone else- hobbits, elves and dwarves.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

breaking the rule of never blogging about blogging- when is 'authenticity' wrong?

I want 2015 to be my year of blogging joyfully. I want to bring more light to the world, especially in my little niche of being Byzantine Catholic, other-schooling, trying to be a better wife & mother, working on being healthier and simpler. 

I didn't want to start out the year with a response to a mega-blogger's latest post. Some readers might remember the last time I did that- with Fr Barron's blog Word on Fire

Skimming the blog enjoying the small things, I was disappointed to read this response of the mommy & special needs blogger Kelle Hampton when her husband called her "middle-aged" after she celebrated her 36th birthday-

“You know,” I told him, “just so you know, I’m fine with the term 'middle age'. Everyone knows the middle’s where it’s at. The cream in Oreo cookies, the meat in a burger, and—oh hey, look! I found another great middle for you.” I raised my right hand and pulled the four outer fingers down so the middle one had the stage for its sun salutation. " (Kelle Hampton- enjoying the small things- Dec 31, 2014)
So this wife and mother of three- a blogger whose focus is on 'enjoying the small things'- (her children who have the starring role in stories and photos on the blog and Instagram) is loud and proud about giving her husband the middle finger when he says something she does not like.  She does not seem embarrassed or sorry for treating the father of her three children this way. I believe she would say that she is being authentic. The rest of the post is a reflection on writing our stories- whether tragic or quotidian. 

Must we revel in our marital squabbles in order to be authentic? Do we need to expose our children to strangers knowing every 'small thing' about them and daily photo sessions, smiles coerced with blowing air in their faces and tickles?

I think the question of balancing authenticity and privacy will be the next thing we bloggers need to face. It is much like the exercises on Facebook and Twitter that teachers use- showing their young students how far and fast a photo or tweet can go. If privacy and dignity on-line are important for middle-schoolers, isn't it also vital for our marriages and minor children that we protect them from strangers knowing all the 'small things'- good and bad?

So, this blog will have to remain 'unauthentic.' I share a bit, but not a lot. I don't remember ever posting an argument. We have our struggles, but we also have a private life. Photos of the children are pretty rare here. If you met us in real life, we would have new things to share because you would not know all the small things every day. I am authentic in that I don't lie, but sometimes I have to change details to 'protect the innocent.' But usually I don't post it. As Anne of Green Gables protested- "if you only knew how many things I want to say and don't." Perhaps that quotation from Anne should be everyone's inspiration for 2015. Let's spread light when we can.

another favorite post from 2014- Romanian summer

This summer, we traveled to Europe after four years away. Here is a favorite from our time there...

Click here to see some of our Romanian adventure- there are a few posts earlier and later that cover Austria & Germany as well.

a favorite post from 2014

Here is a favorite post of mine from is about 'offering up' our suffering- and do Byzantines do that?