December 29, 2016

New Year's Resolutions That Might Work

I've never really gotten into the New Year's resolution thing.  It's kind of a recipe for disappointment, in my opinion.  On the night of the year people are most likely to drink champagne, they look over their predicted accomplishments of the closing year, realize they failed at the wildly unrealistic resolutions they made the year before (largely because they never really thought of them after January 4th), attempt to drown their self-loathing in more booze and then, in the enlightened state that ensues, make fresh, new unattainable resolutions!  Surely there is a better way to become the best person you can be.  One that actually has some chance of doing good?

I can think of a few methods to consider and am happy to impart my unfounded but hopeful wisdom upon your eager ears (i.e. eyes).

Be Specific.  Instead of stating your whole goal as your resolution, specify the task you will do that will lead you closer to the desired goal.  How silly is it to say I resolve to lose twenty-five pounds?  Who knows if you can or will?  Why not, instead, aim to adopt a few simple practices that will be beneficial even if you don't achieve the whole goal.  Think of a small, manageable and relatively painless way to begin toward your destination.  Can you switch from white sugar to a natural sweetener and less of it?  If you usually put two spoonfuls of sugar in your tea or coffee, try one and a half for a week.  See how that goes.  You can then decrease it by more the next week or month once that becomes natural.  Not only will it be easier, you have a better chance of succeeding and actually embracing changes that are incremental and gradual.

Set up a win-win scenario.  Make a commitment to an action that will be of benefit even if you fail.  If you want to quit smoking, while you're working on it, resolve to only buy your cigarettes from a small, locally owned shop.  That way, at least if you never attain a smoke-free status, your failure will be bring good to the small business!  Get creative so that even your failures will make you and the world better!

Think Smaller.  Instead of New Year's resolutions, set an earlier check point.  Begin the first day of  first week of the new month of the new year with a New Week's resolution.  Keep your demands and expectations of yourself to manageable increments.  You're small success in the first week will impel you to continue them in the next week and to eventually raise.  Set New Month's resolutions and New Week resolutions.  Each night, you can even set New Day's resolutions!

Make a Plan.  A plan of attack will help keep you from becoming discouraged.  A far away goal may lose its appeal.  A weekly goal can help you keep up your interest and effort.  Consider making a plan for each month to help you increase your momentum throughout the year.  For instance, you could break down your individual resolutions into stages throughout the year, or work on a different goal each month.  If your goal is to get your house organized next year, devote the first month to one room and the next to another and so on.

Reminders.  This is really simple.  When you get your new calendar for the year, write your resolutions (or the various stages you've identified) on each month.  Begin each new month with a reminder and encouragement to keep you going.

Strengthen Your Resolve With Prayer.  Remember to pray for the grace to accomplish those things that will help you become the person God made you to be.  When you write in your reminders of your steps and goals on your new calendar, schedule in a day each month to get to the Sacrament of Confession.  There is no better way to gain the help to overcome harmful habits than through this refreshing sacrament.

"Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.  Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1458)
 Entrust your resolutions to the Lord of time and happy New Year!

December 19, 2016

The Lazy Mom's Guide to Making Holiday Traditions

When I was a kid, I used to long for "traditions."  I vaguely defined that as long-standing meaningful and wonderful Christmas observances.  I would incessantly borrow library books about Christmas crafts (I never made) and look longingly through seasonal magazines.  I befuddled my mom by telling her I wanted to have traditions.  She had no idea what I meant.  Now that I'm grown up and have my own kids, I finally understand.

First of all, it turns out that we did have traditions.  It's just didn't recognize them as traditions because it just felt like regular stuff people do for Christmas.  I thought of traditions as great presentations that are made with pomp and circumstance and connected back through the history of Your People.

My family's traditions included things like going to midnight Mass after an unsuccessful nap attempt, eating all the same great foods we had for Thanksgiving because we all loved them so, our stockings and tree decorations from all the different places we lived.  I loved when my mother took out the three china choir children as a decoration.  Later it was a tradition for my brother's best friend next door to come over at the earliest opportunity to see what my brother got.

Now that I have a little family - and friends with families - I see how easily these traditions are made.  Anyone can have great family traditions.  Here are a few tips that will hopefully keep even low-energy moms afloat if you have a child who nags you for traditions like I did.  Fear not!  You can help create magical Christmas memories that will last a life time and traditions that will be passed down for generations.

Recognize your traditions!  Those normal things, like going to church, having a meal, decorating, already are among your traditions.  If you haven't called them that yet, start talking about them that way and they'll cherish these things with no extra effort on your part!  You don't need to plan, create, execute anything new.  If you usually begin to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, say that "It's Our Tradition to decorate on Thanksgiving weekend."  They will look forward to it and it will suddenly become even more wonderful.  If you typically have pancakes on Christmas morning, call them "The Christmas Pancakes" and voila!  Instant tradition.  Soon, you can institute that the child closest to thirteen years old always makes The Christmas Pancakes and, not only will you never have to cook breakfast on Christmas ever again, they'll look forward to the year it's their turn!

We get our tree on the later side - it's often on sale then, too!

Some of our traditions now include going to an early Mass on Christmas Eve (so we can get back in time to put the chickens away).  The first thing we do when we return home is to let a child open the first gift - a beautiful box containing the baby Jesus and an angel.  These are added to the nativity set and we sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.  Then we eat dinner (which I have cleverly made really simple and stress free for me).

It's super easy to keep traditions going.  Anything you do once for Christmas with small children will become a compulsory Christmas institution ever after.  That's all it takes!  They will remind you and you will be forever bound to this practice.  Watch a Christmas movie you love with your family.  Drink cocoa and eat pop-corn while you watch.  I guarantee, at least one kid will ask the following year, "When are we going to watch THE Christmas movie?" while another offers to make the pop-corn.  In fact, it happens so easily, you'll only have to be careful to not accidentally do something fun that you don't want to have to do every year!

The cookies are wrapped in foil on the right.
St. Nicholas was foolishly energetic the first year he filled shoes at our house.  He brought St. Hildegard's "Cookies That Bring Joy" (recipe below).  It is now a wonderful tradition, but, St. Hildegard has to find time to secretly make them - and when it that going to happen????  But somehow she always finds time.  I suppose that's why she's a saint.  St. Nicholas also decided to personalize those gold coins with adorable self portraits this year.  Lovely, but prudent?  I'm not sure.  If you want to make some like them, the Shower of Roses site will help you!

As your kids get older, you won't have to do as much.  My friend, Carol, assures me that the past couple of years she just brings out the boxes of stuff and sits back to watch her three kids run the Advent and Christmas show!  Her kids make it happen!  She doesn't have to do anything.  Obviously Carol is my inspiration!

So, if you work it right and use the proper marketing and sales techniques, you, too can create a collection of memorable family traditions that your whole family will look forward to and will eventually happen with very little effort on your part.  That will be handy as you become old and tired.

If you do happen to want more ideas for lovely things you can institute - at some effort to yourself, visit my friend Karen's blog at Catholic Home Front.

As promised, here is the recipe for St. Hildegard's "Cookies that Bring Joy."  St. Hildegard was a twelfth century Benedictine abbess and foodie.  You can learn more about her and get more of her recipes in the book, From Saint Hildegard's Kitchen: Foods of Health, Foods of Joy by Jang Fournier-Rosset.  (If you click through and buy from this link, I may eventually receive some small monetary benefit - so they say.  It hasn't happened yet.)  I was given the recipe by my friend, Maria, who is very holy and so, I'm sure she received it directly from St. Hildegard herself!

St. Hildegard's Cookies That Bring Joy

12 T + 1t Butter
3/4 C      Brown sugar (as unrefined as you can find, such as Sucanat)
1/3 C      Honey
4            Egg yolks
2 1/2 C   Spelt flour
1t           Sea salt
2T          Spices that bring joy (1T Nutmeg, 1T Cinnamon, 1t Cloves)

Melt butter on low heat.  Remove from heat and add sugar, honey and egg, beating lightly.  Add flour and salt; combine gently.  Refrigerate.  Roll out onto a floured surface, quite thin.  Cut into desired shapes.
Bake at 400° for 10 - 15 minutes, until golden brown.

(You could make substitutions to the recipe, I suppose, but then they won't be St. Hildegard's cookies and they might not bring you joy!)

December 12, 2016

Reclaiming Christmas Magic

Sometimes in secret moments I lament that Christmas has lost its magic.  When I was little – like most other kids I knew – Christmas and birthdays were high points of the year.  Christmas had the added delight of a whole season of preparation and societal festivities.  It seemed forever away and the anticipation was dizzying.  The feast day burst upon a family with lights, sweets, song and presents.

Fast forward to adulthood and some of that sparkle often becomes a bit lackluster.  Actually making the preparations, ticking off my mandatory gift list, dragging out boxes of decorations (and the thought of putting them away again) aren’t as fun as they were when my responsibilities ended with letting my parents know what I wanted for Christmas and letting sugar-plums dance through my head.  

It helps to have children in the house to recapture some of that magic.  It makes it more fun when we put on Christmas for them.  We decorate and revive the customs we grew up with, adding new ones, perhaps.  We teach them through our observances and celebrations what Christmas is.  Hopefully, they’ll be left with a more complete understanding of the great greatness that is the Incarnation of the eternal God; the Mystery of Christ.

I was talking about this with my friend, Laurie, recently.  She is the youngest of eight children in a family that stirs up thoughts of the Waltons TV show.  She described her family’s Christmas morning: a lavish cornucopia of giving!  Her family was not particularly affluent, materially anyway.  They were rich in children and love.

Her favorite part as a child was waking up and rushing down to see the Christmas tree deep in a sea of gifts.  With eight kids, each receiving a gift from and giving to parents and exchanging with each other, you might need a slide rule to figure the present count.  They went to morning Mass and ate a big breakfast before plunging into the gifts.  Laurie remembers that she would do her best to delay the opening as long as she could because she knew the magic lay in the anticipation, in the hope - the unopened gifts.  Once they were unwrapped, something was lost.  Once it began, the end was near.

This reminds me of Caryll Houselander’s meditation on Mary’s Advent, her expectation the Incarnation of the Word of God.

“Humanly speaking, the time of Advent must have been the happiest time in Our Lady’s life. . . .  But sometimes a pang of grief must have shot through her; for example when the young wheat grew and she saw it pierce the earth with little swords.  Perhaps the first sword to pierce her heart was a blade of green wheat.
          For was not her precious burden a grain of wheat sown in a field?
          Was He not bread?  The world’s bread that must be broken?”

When I focus only on the magic of Christmas – the gift giving, the decorations, the feasting - I might miss the mystery of Christmas.  The Mystery of Christ includes His life, death, resurrection and return.  To overcome death, He had to die.  It is what He was born for – on Christmas.
Caryll Houselander goes on:

“This is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God.
He was invulnerable; He asked her for a body to be wounded.
He was joy itself; He asked her to give Him tears.
He was God; He asked her to make Him man.
He asked for hands and feet to be nailed.
He asked for flesh to be scourged.
He asked for blood to be shed.
He asked for a heart to be broken.
The stable at Bethlehem was the first Calvary.
The wooden manger was the first Cross.
The swaddling bands were the first burial bands.
The Passion had begun.
Christ was man.”

True as this may be, it would be wrong to not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, even knowing it heralds His death.  Mary did.  The Angels did.  The kings of the world adored Him, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, contained in the tiny being lying in a manger.  They brought Him the best the world had to offer.  If I wish to be wise, I ought to do the same.

Let us bring Him our gold.  In a literal sense, I can give of my plenty to Him in the “distressing disguise of the poor.”  While I feast, I should help others to feast.  It is fitting that we all feast on Our Lord’s birthday.  I will give more generously.

Let us bring Him our frankincense.  Incense is offered to God.  I should look inside my heart to see if the God who created and redeemed me is the god I truly worship.  Or, do I adore His gifts?  Do I give Him my first and best?  I will examine my conscience, confess and amend my life.

Incense represents our prayers rising to God.  Are my prayers like a burning thurible, sending fragrant smoke billowing up to Him?  I will pray better.  I will seek to open my heart to His.

Let us bring Him our myrrh.  Myrrh means “bitter” and was used to prepare a body for death.  Do I offer my life to the One who died for me?  Am I willing to receive as a gift all the bitterness that comes so it may unite me to His redemptive work?  Am I willing to lay my life down – if not in bodily death, in the death of inconvenience – for those He loves?  I will need Your help, Lord, to pour out myself to the last drop as You did.

And so, as I make the preparations for Christmas this Advent, I will strive not so much to create magic, but to enter into the mystery of Christ.  I wish for Jesus to abide in my heart as Mary carried Him under her heart on the journey to Bethlehem.

With the gifts under the tree in the living room, let me place my whole self on the tree of the cross with Him.  I wish to give him my vulnerability, my joys and tears, my hands and feet, and my heart.  He will open my gift and transform it into a life more fully lived.

I suspect when I give myself as a gift to Our Lord, the results will be magical.

---   ---   ---
You can find this meditation in Caryll Houselander's book, Reed of God, available through my Amazon affiliate link (from which I might get a little remuneration if I'm lucky!).  Click here!

November 29, 2016

Our Storybook World

Who doesn't love a good story?  I know I do.  It's part of the human thing, I think.  People tell stories.  We tell legends to explain our world.  We tell long jokes to make us laugh.  We tell of heroic deeds for our inspiration.  Stories are all around us.  They tie us to the past, teach us lessons, warn us for the future, entertain us.  We just can't get enough!

Many people are even compelled to make up and write stories - as if there might be a shortage.  Long stories, short stories, scary stories, funny stories - libraries devote half their space to stories: fiction.  Part of the other half is devoted to stories of people who have really lived, too: biographies.

We seem to have a desire to know the lives of others, real and fictional.  Books are a marvelous place to discover them.  Movies and television draw us, too, for the same reason.  Really good stories keep us coming back again and again.  Everyone who has ever read a story to a four-year-old knows this all too well!

Perhaps this love of stories has grown from a seed planted by our Creator at the beginning of time.  Time (itself a created thing) is the page He prepared on which to compose the narrative of His love story with mankind - The Story.  This story plays out over the course of creation and is recapitulated in each era, each generation, each family and in the life of each individual.  He loves you.  He calls to you.  You respond.  The story is usually more complicated than that - and that's what makes the story of each individual fascinating.

It is not necessary to take a trip to the library or the book store to find epic stories.  The whole world is a library - a liverary!  Walk through a neighborhood and imagine each house a novel.  Characters have been developed by The Author over the course of the story, which spans generations.  The characters themselves drive their own tales to a large extent, too.  Some households may resemble Russian novels with such a multiplicity of characters (and endless pet names) that it's hard to keep track.  Another home might be a lonely, stark poem that would bring tears to your eyes - if you could read it.  Still others have all the joy and humor of a Shakespeare comedy.  Adventure stories abound!

Some of the stories we encounter seem compelling from the outset.  But, as it is said, we mustn't judge a book by its cover.  There are some very interesting stories are hidden behind unassuming covers.  A tattered, dusty, torn dust jacket may conceal a long hidden gem.  A boring looking anthology might hold some fantastic, little-known short stories.  Neither should we judge a person by his "cover."

I don't just mean we should see the value in those who are homeless or "undesirable" in the opinion of the "respectable" crowd.  Their stories clearly have interesting, though tragic, turns - that ought to touch our hearts.  Even the stories of the folks we encounter in our own mundane surroundings are carefully crafted, ongoing narratives of struggles, battles, losses and victories large and small.  None should be discounted.  Not the poor; not the rich.  Not the holy; not the sinner.  Not the conventional; not the weird.  Not the nice; not the annoying.

Every encounter we have (or choose not to have) with another person inserts us into their story - and them into ours.  How will that encounter affect the plots as they intersect?  Will the stories become entwined?  Will we remain a wash of descriptive scenery in the other's story?  In many cases is up to us - and it's not necessary that we move the plot along in every story we enter.  But it is good to know we are part of their story.

It is worth getting to know the stories of others - or to at least realize that each person has a story.  But it does not end there.  Unlike novels, the stories of others' lives are not there just for our entertainment and edification.  To see them in that way would be to use others.  People are to be loved, not used.  However interesting these life stories are, the goal is the same for all of our narratives: to enter in to the heavenly banquet at the end.  From above, from the Author's view, each story was begun in order to have a happy ending ultimately.

Our story does not end with our death, but with our final destination after death - an ending not seen by others.  God has given each of us, as the protagonist of our own story within the long saga of human history, the autonomy of free will to craft our own tale with each decision we make.  He works to keep His intended goal of eternal union with Him always accessible to us.  However far we stray we shall never find ourselves outside the possibility of The happy ending we were made for - if we but make the one choice that takes us there.

However vile and seemingly unlovable a person is, he or she is never beyond redemption.  And, however far down the path away from God they wander - or sprint - a plot twist is only one choice away.  And, though the story may feel like a tragedy to someone on the outside, the final choice in the last paragraph of the last page can turn the tale into a happy romance!

Shall we not approach every human person as an unread drama in which we can take part for good or ill?  The choice is mine to perceive another as the hero of their tale or a villain in mine.  By choosing hero, we enrich not only their, but our own stories.  And, it may help them - and us - to choose their happy ending when we see the Cinderella in the char woman, the swan in the ugly duckling, the princess in the prostitute and the generous, post-ghost Scrooge in the miser.

Our story-book world is a liverary of potential happy endings.

November 22, 2016

The Simplicity of Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday.  I only hesitate a little in saying that because it's a close race with the greatest of feasts in our Church calendar, Christmas and Easter.  But there are a few reasons I really love Thanksgiving.

While the Church year is filled to the brim with feasts, this one is a feast celebrated outside the Faith by all Americans.  The Church's feast are for everyone, but this day, is celebrated by everyone in our country, regardless of faith (or lack of faith).  Some times more than others, we need a unifying celebration.  No one feels strange about saying, "Have a happy Thanksgiving!"

It is not necessary to be a person of faith to celebrate it, yet Thanksgiving is about giving thanks.  It is implicit that we're giving thanks to God, and a great many people do so explicitly by going to Mass or a church service and by praying grace before their meal.  Others express their thanks by stating ceremonially what they're thankful for around the table.

All that is required to celebrate this delicious holiday is a meal.  Ideally, it will be shared with family or a collection of people you like.  The menu is traditional, with colloquial variations, with the focus on turkey, stuffing/dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, and something green.  Oh, yes, and pie!  It's almost illegal to not have pumpkin pie, but apple and pecan are also traditional.  The necessity of the meal is such that many people give generously to ensure that others in difficult financial times can partake of the bounty of the day.

Food, people and thanks - it's so simple!  There is no gift giving, no decorations are required and cards are not sent as a rule.  The meal can be served at a time of day preferred by the cook, either early or late.  Other traditions are particular to families or regions.  I recently learned that macaroni-and-cheese is a must in The South.  My aunt from Maryland always added oysters to the stuffing.  Families often have versions of dishes that it's just not Thanksgiving without.  When hosting others for the meal, I like to find out what these dishes are for them (and, perhaps invite them to bring them, so they won't be disappointed).  The simplicity is a huge selling point!

I do love observing the changing liturgical seasons, but I appreciate that Thanksgiving is just one day.  Since it was decreed that it will always be on a Thursday, it's one day for which we get a four day weekend!  It's comforting to think that, even if we should lose our religious freedom in this land - either through a terrible turn in the governing powers or the power of political correctness - it is unlikely that Thanksgiving will ever go away.  First, because it is not explicitly religious and, perhaps more importantly, because it would take an awful lot of power to rob Americans of our traditional four-day-weekend food holiday!

Tradition is another great aspect of Thanksgiving that adds to its appeal and unifying ability.  We all love tradition.  We love to be tied by tradition to our own past together with the people around us.  On that Thursday in November, we celebrate some of the better continuing aspects of our American character.

We look back to when some individuals set out to an unknown land to seek a fresh start.  They crashed into those already living here and those who didn't kill each other or die from the harsh conditions helped each other make it through the worst of it - and celebrated their new situation together by sharing a meal and getting along for a while.

This story is a recapitulation of all human interactions throughout time.  This is how cultures the world over have related.  This is how America still functions (people come, we duke it out, those who survive feel more bonded with each other).  Isn't that how marriage works, too?  So, if you gather around the table this Thanksgiving and fight over politics, religion and personal issues, no need to worry.  It's the story of America.  Offer them a piece of pumpkin pie and pray they'll eventually move past it.  Food is unifying.

I remember when the day after Thanksgiving was considered the first official day of Christmas shopping!  That's what I still call it - rebuffing the newer name.  It is the weekend on which is becomes fun to see Christmas decorations go up and hear Christmas carols playing in the stores (before then, they're really just shopping carols).  

I like the quirky regional Thanksgiving day traditions.  Some people play or watch football.  Some towns have parades.  I've heard of turkey shoots, 5K runs (one is called the "Gobble Wobble").  In Southern California, from whence I hail, there was the Twighlight Zone marathon on the local TV channel!  And, let's remember the always popular Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special.

There is so much to love about this wonderful holiday and so little not to.  The celebration can fit every circumstance and personality type.  I have learned that small and simple is best for our family.  Since extended family is so far away, we like to stay home and maybe host a couple we enjoy - if we can find anyone who wants to spend the day or meal with us!  I'm not great at managing a menagerie of guests because my own small family has its own quirks and needs.

I have a lifetime of Thanksgiving celebrations, large and small, near and far, tucked away in my heart and memory. I call these to mind each year at this time and offer my utmost gratitude to the God of Love who has made possible all these feasts with people I care for in this land that I call my home.

November 18, 2016

Home School Answers: How Much of That Learnin' Is Going to Last?

I am a big fan of home schooling.  It can be an overwhelming task to commit to doing, though.  I'm not going to try to convince you that you ought to home school your kids, but if you're thinking of doing so and are searching for encouragement or answers to the nay-sayers in your life, my perspective just may provide some answers to questions you face.

For some people, the decision to take a hands-on, primary role in our children's education was the easy part.  Answering the many objections of our well meaning parents and busy-bodies who find it a weird choice can be a bit more tricky.  It can also be fun, though.

One of the objections some parents hear is that they are not qualified to teach their children what must be taught to them.  Since a great many people who are taking the home school plunge are dealing with Kindergartners, it is quite easy to point out that this is not rocket science!  The content we need to teach is something we've had mastery of since we graduated from Kindergarten eons ago!

A similar argument can be made for all the grades, really.  If a 4th, 8th, 10th or 12th grader can be expected to pass this subject, then I, with my high school diploma, mature brain, access to the Internet and myriad curricula at my disposal, can impart this information to my ignorant charges with a minimum of preparation time.

Another thing I like to point out is how little of what we actually learn in the classroom continues to stick with us as we get older.  Learning to read (at whatever rate is best for each child) is imperative, but many of the other "subjects" we learn and then forget.  We don't worry about remembering it all throughout our lives - or we'd have to take cumulative exams regularly to ensure that we still remember the rules of grammar, the elements of the periodic table, who said what in that Shakespeare play we knew thoroughly in 11th grade.

When is the last time you fretted over forgetting some information you learned in fifth grade?  Even if you did, you can learn it now!  I had one of these moments myself, when I wondered why I didn't seem to know all the state capitals like many people seem to.  I had no recollection of learning them.  I deduced that I had not learned them because state capitals are taught to American students in fifth grade and I had spent fifth grade at the International School in Manila.  So, I got out an atlas (this was just before the Internet) and made myself some flashcards.  Within a week, I had them under my belt!

Clearly, it is of greater importance to instill a love of learning in children, and to introduce them to the tools for learning that they can employ throughout their lives, than that certain content is imparted to them at certain ages.  Whether you are choosing to educate your progeny at home or selecting a school for them to attend, attention to this fact will help ensure they become educated people and not merely schooled.

As an example of how little of what we are taught in our youth really sticks with us, I have composed for you a list of all the things I remember from my career as a student.  My unconventional and nomadic formal education was undertaken in a variety of venues, including public, private and catholic schools with a smattering of reluctant (on my mother's part) home schooling, for which she taught us by a correspondence course, while we were living in a very remote Greek village where only one person spoke English!.

What I Learned in School - That I Still Remember

Kindergarten (Public School in CA): When you blow through a straw into your milk carton, bubbles pour out the opening!  Dipping colored tissue paper into liquid corn starch to make pretty, "stained glass" mosaic flowers.  Playing house.  Building with large, wooden blocks.  A llama visited.

1st Grade (Catholic School for a few weeks in NY City):  Caterpillars climbing up the exterior wall of the several story-building and into the classroom window.  The aroma of the cafeteria.

1st. Grade ("home school" before home school was a thing - in rural Greece):  Learned so much outside of the classroom, but I don't recall anything that was part of the correspondence course my mother used.

2nd Grade (American Community School, Athens): The Greek word for sugar was similar to the name of the sweetest boy in the class: Zachary.  The song, Marching To Pretoria.  George Washington was the Father of our country.  Coloring turkeys and pilgrims.

3rd Grade (American Community School, Athens):  Multiplication tables (I liked the sixes).

4th Grade (Public Schools in CA and NC):North Carolina is the Tar Heel state.

5th Grade (International School, Manila): If your teacher has a Philippine accent, when giving a spelling test, he should not expect any of his students to know what word it is when he says "immediate."  We all wrote "a midget."  The Muhammed Ali/Joe Frazier fight ("I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.").  The whole school watched it in our classrooms - with great excitement!

6th Grade (International School, Manila):  Grease pencils are used for writing on graduated cylinders.

(Public School in CA): It's silly to ask children to write a play without teaching them how to do it.

7th Grade (Public School, CA): The British fought foolishly in the Revolutionary War.  They wore red and lined up to be picked off, replacing soldiers shot down in the front row, making it easier for the American Patriots to pick them off.  The basics of playing an instrument and reading music.  (This may be the most wonderful thing I have learned).  How to thread a sewing machine.  To count to five in French.  Several German words.

8th Grade (Same Public School, CA):  Paper burns at 451° F.  How to use a jigsaw.  Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

9th - 12th Grades (Catholic School, CA):  Some things about the Old and New Testaments.  Semper ubi sub ubi. Pangaea.  Metamorphic, Sedimentary and Igneous rock.  The numbers within the parentheses are multiplied before the numbers outside them.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".  Kings Play Checkers On Funny Green Squares.  Science fiction is way better than I ever expected.  Some Spanish.

So, you see, not much of the content that was presented in my classrooms has really stuck.  But that doesn't mean I didn't learn a great deal.  It is difficult for me to tease out what I learned because of formal teaching and what I learned from just being awake and alive.  I know that learning to read is a key that has opened worlds of information to me!  Living overseas has imbued my life with experiences and knowledge not available from books or classroom assignments.  Parents who took an interest in me and the world around us has taught me to be curious about and delight in God's amazing creation and the lessons to be found there.

Whatever form of schooling you choose for your child, be confident that much of the material presented to them will be forgotten, but if they discover the wonder of learning, their education will become a lifelong adventure!

November 14, 2016

We Shall Be Superb When We're Eighty!!

I think I have reached the age when I am firmly entrenched in Middle Age.  And from here, things look great!

I look back and see the stages of maturity I have experienced and witnessed others experience and I'm happy to be where I am.  What's more, I'm looking forward to what is to come!

Childhood will always remain the most special time, of course.  There will never be another time so fresh and new, so unconcerned about age and where we are in life.  The thought that we will one day be like the grown-ups (and that they were once-upon-a-time kids, like us) is not a concept we held with any sense of reality.  Some children might wish they were older so they could do things they can't do as children.  But this is more a desire for the privileges that autonomy promises.  "I wish I were big, so I could stay up all night."  "I wish I were old enough to drive, so I can go where I want whenever I want."  "I wish I were a grown up, so I could buy whatever I want."  Age seemed to be the magic key to power and freedom, but now we know that those freedoms come with great responsibilities and the best freedoms came with childhood.

That magic period gave way to adolescence, which had its own difficulties and was surrounded with a sense of loss for the end of the magic days of childhood and a foreboding that grown-up-hood really was a looming probability.  Or, at least adulthood.  We were never going to become grown-ups for sure!

Turning 20 began the phase of having made it!  There were college, perhaps, and jobs, bank accounts and living on one's own.  There were good friends and going out till all hours!  There was also energy, glossy hair, tight skin and a firm knowledge that we are what it's all about!  We're what everyone wants to be!  We're going to do things - and, in fact, already are doing things!

When thirty was on the horizon, it was the first realization I had that I can't stay here forever - in my roaring twenties.  I can't stop getting older.  When I imagined myself as a grown-up, it was always as vaguely in my twenties - you know, like all the people on TV.  I'm was about to turn thirty and be old!!  I was not married at this age and that panic began to kick in too.  It was all fun and games before - planning my future life and spouse and family, but now I was at serious risk of being left behind!  Surely, the fulfillment of my dreams was just around the corner!  Look at those younger people, in their twenties!  They were still young and having fun and going somewhere!  They were full of possibility and there I was getting old!

But, when thirty arrived, it came with a nice surprise.  It was better than the twenties!  Who knew?  I was a more settled person, whose brain had gelled a bit.  It was not only still fun, it was more fun to be in my thirties!  I was much better than I was in the previous decade - even though I was glancing more seriously at anti-wrinkle cream ads.  I went to grad school, where I hoped I would finally meet my future spouse.  I was not alone in becoming increasingly aware of the time to accomplish these great life plans ticking away.  My girlfriends and I, being in our thirties, calculated it out and knew (as my friend Carol put it) our "baby age."  That was the maximum number of babies we could have (not counting multiples) if we were to meet our future spouse right then.  We planned, of course, like all our other enthusiastically Catholic friends, to have as many children as God would send - which would, naturally, be at least five or six.  I eventually did get married and had a child.  Whew!

It was a time of striving for what I had always hoped my life would be, but still happily recognizing how much more complete a person I had become than I was in the previous decade.  The thirties brough a decade of sorrowful mysteries for me, too.  I had lost a child and fertility wasn't as abundant as I expected for someone so open to life.  And in the midst of my desperation, forty came near.  This signified to me the end of life as I knew it.  Once again.

Unstoppable, the forties arrived, however, with their own surprises.  Not only was I given the gift of another baby, but I discovered that I really liked who I was becoming so much more than ever before!  It was fun to look at "kids" in their twenties and think (and say, smugly), "Oh, they're so young and foolish."  This was accompanied by the consternation of realizing that, to them, I was an old person, who was expired because I lacked their freedom, their energy, their tight skin.  On the other hand, I discovered that they enjoyed me for what I had to offer them: the guidance of a little life experience, a different perspective, encouragement and good ideas.  Enter the discovery of my growing wisdom!

By the end of my forties, as I looked back over my life at the growth I could now clearly see.  I was pleased to be my age and the person I had become thus far.  While the acuity of my eyesight plummeted right on schedule, the appreciation of my own developing inner vision - wisdom - also grew.  It may be my declining energy that contributes to being less uptight, less concerned about what others think.  I care less about what they think about me as well as what they think at all!  Others may have their opinions - and they needn't coincide with mine.  For the first time, I saw the next decade approaching with a sense of adventure and welcome!  Bring on the fifties!!

I am still only a novice pentagenerian.  The benefits of interior growth still outstrip the exterior decline.  The consideration of whether or not to color my graying hair is now a matter of weighing which is less vain: to color it to look better or to show off the gray as a sign of my sagacity.  Fortunately, there are the temporary hair colors that avoid the commitment of either!

Now, I'm not saying I've become guru-like in my wisdom, but I have gained some depth in my thinking that was absent in former ages.  I see this and appreciate it in others, as well.  Older people are becoming a rich resource, to me!  One development in my perception is that I see the human person more clearly.  I see the individuality and persistence of each individual person as something more solid than I had in the past.  And it makes people more precious.  Babies have always been a delight.  In my younger days, they elicited an inevitable "Awwwww!" and a desire to hold them.  But, they were pretty much interchangeable.  They were all just A baby.  As I've aged, their personhood, unrepeatable uniqueness and personality are so much more readily apparent, even from birth! And, when I look at any individual of any age, it is easier to see the whole person including their younger self and who God made them to be.  And this goes a long way toward being able to love them.

I'm mainly writing all this as an encouragement for those who are not enthusiastic about aging, especially when another landmark birthday (30, 40, 50) is hovering like a storm cloud.  I hope you will come to look forward to the beauty of the rainbow and fresh air that will accompany it!  You may have to put on your new bifocals to read that AARP ad that came in the mail, or decide whether you want to accept the senior discount that the twenty-year-old just offered you or fess up that you're not yet quite eligible.  Just try to remember this: the way I see it from here is, if I keep improving at this rate, I shall be superb when I'm eighty!

November 9, 2016

A Guide for Reading Sigrid Undset

If you must read Sigrid Undset - and I recommend you do - you'd better be prepared.  Be prepared for an emotional ride.  Sigrid Undset is a woman, by the way, and a major Norwegian author of the early twentieth century.  A major author of everywhere, actually.  And she ought to be still.

You'll probably begin with Kristin Lavransdatter because everyone will make you feel like you ought to have read it already.  But let me warn you, you're going to wonder if it was really a good idea.  One friend who was nearing the end of the first volume (of three, written in 1920 - 1922), said that, though it was very good, it was so hard to endure all that the protagonist was putting her through that she wondered if she should continue with the next two.  My advice was that she must - even knowing that ten years hence she will probably pull it out of the chest she has locked it in just to throw it against the wall once more.

Sigrid Undset
There's very little you can do about this, but read it you must.  Not only because it is a very good book.  Not only because the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 largely for this work.  Not only because it will get deeply into you and you will never really get over it.  You must read it because, let's face it, it's one of those books, written by one of those authors that will make you look really smart when you throw their names around.

Because Sigrid Undset was Norwegian, you will be reading a translation (there are two: the "just-tell-me-the-story" version and the "I-want-to-feel-like-I'm-reading-a-real-medieval-saga" version).  Other people who share the goal of looking well-read will be using this author to try to impress you, so you'll be wise to read several of her works.  The good news is, if you've read Kristin Lavransdatter, the rest will be easy.  Well, they won't wreck you as much as this one will upon your first reading of it.  (I'm not sure anyone ever really does read it again, it being so traumatic).

Here are a few tips to help you survive.  The title is the name of the woman whose fictional life the story follows.  Her last name simply means Lawrence's daughter and it pronounced almost just like that, but with a "v".  There!  You'll sound smarter already when that comes tripping off your tongue in an attempt to impress your bookish friends.  (Think how smart I'll sound when "A Guide for Reading Sigrid Undset" is credited to my writing!!)

It is set in the fourteenth century, so you can look forward to learning a lot about the brief Catholic period in Norway and amazing details of life during that time.  Think of a world where, the colors of all the clothes came from nature and the plants from which they were derived only grew at certain times of the short growing season, so it was important to collect them when they appeared!  Also, babies were dressed in swaddling clothes - like Jesus, - diapers not having been invented yet.

When you recover from that book, I might suggest some of her other books.  I myself have not yet read all of her novels.  There's only so much time to read and then recover before reading again.

Although Undset has set several of her novels in medieval Norway, it is not the medieval period that she specializes in.  Many, including Images in a Mirror (1938) and Ida Elizabeth (1932) take place in the early twentieth century.  Her brilliance in the medieval period, however, is owed largely to the early influence of her adored father, who was a widely regarded archaeologist.  Before his early death when she was eleven, she had absorbed his interest in and love for Scandinavia's back story, which she continued to delve into herself.  This love for her country is woven through her works, but her focus is women.  Women and love - complicated, often immoral, love.  Undset plumbs the depths of the human person, allowing her reader to dip into the well of pain inherent in the challenges of romantic love, fidelity, responsibility, family and, ultimately, growth.  Her protagonists suffer into becoming more fully human.  And it is usually not a comfortable journey.

Sigrid Undset had a penetrating understanding of human nature.  She also surely drew from her own experiences of longing for love, finding it in a difficult and problematic marriage, an intense maternal devotion to her own children.  She set up her own family home with a deep sense of beauty and cultural tradition.  She was not merely a Norwegian citizen; Norway ran through her veins.  It runs likewise through her stories, which all take place in the various times throughout the landscape with which she was intimate.  If you are unfamiliar with this beautiful landscape, I urge you to stop now and do a quick Internet search of "Norway scenery images."  Breathtakingly beautiful, yes?  Sigrid Undset's novels reflect this landscape in their depth and height and passion.  And they will take your breath away!

Since I have no wish to leave you lying there with the wind knocked out of you, I will offer you a few suggestions for surviving this marvelous author's works.  Read about the author.  The first biography I found (The Art of Compassion by Yola Sigerson) was enlightening, but because it was written by a confirmed atheist who clearly disapproved of Undset's conversion to Catholicism, missed much of the depth of the author as she matured.  There are others, however, and I plan to read at least one other.  Do read at least a sketch of her life.  It clearly contributes to the brilliance of her fiction.  It will also give you time to recover from one novel before irreparably plunging yourself into another bout of growing pains.

Here's a tip I learned from the happy accident of my own experience.  While reading Ida Elizabeth, I happened to also be reading Death Comes For the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (which I must tell you about another time).  It is also an excellent book, but serene and peaceful.  It gave me a place to retreat to, to smooth out the anguish caused by Undset's book.  I may not have survived outside of this method.  Find a soothing book to read whilst reading one of her novels.  You could even choose her own biography of St. Catherine of Siena (1951)!

Another survival method I recommend is to read Undset's non-fiction between the novels.  There is much to choose from.  Because she was Norway's most famous author and was outspoken against Hitler, she was advised to escape her country in the earliest days of the Nazi occupation of Norway.  Before the war was ended, she wrote of this journey - through Russia by train, Japan to San Francisco by ship and finally on to New York, where her publishers, Alfred and Blanche Knopf, helped her to settle in and make her living speaking throughout the country.

She lived in the U.S. for five uncertain years, looking with hope to a time when Norway would be free and would rebuild from the ruin and devastation wrought by the German occupation.  She continued to denounce Nazism and urge the support of the allies by her host country.  Her account of this time is found in her book Return To the Future (1942).

During her exile, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt suggested to Sigrid Undset that she write of happier times in Norway to give hope to her countrymen and help them keep in their hearts the Norway they were seeing utterly destroyed.  The lovely little book that answered this request is called simply (and unsurprisingly), Happy Times in Norway (1942).  Undset also engaged in the debates of the day through essays, some of which are collected into books such as Men, Women and Places (1939).

The most rewarding tasks are usually difficult and require perseverance.  I promise your perseverance through the works of Sigrid Undset will be rewarded - first by impressing your well-read friends.  Next, and more importantly, by the enjoyment of reading a book you won't want to put down (or at the very least, you will pick up again every time you hurl it against the wall).  And finally, by imbibing her marvelous ability to vivify not only characters, but places.  Her novels manifest the terroir of Norway!

[Just so you know, my friend, Maureen, taught me how to become and Amazon affiliate and to put links to these books into my post, possibly resulting in me receiving a little love from Amazon in the form of, well, I'm not sure yet.  Maybe a gift certificate?  The government wants to be sure you are aware of this good turn you might do me if you click on one of these links and end up buying anything within an hour.  Because they care about you!]

November 1, 2016

In This Valley of Tears

"Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley of tears."

We live in a valley of tears.  But what a valley!!  It’s beautiful.  And yet, it still leaves us thinking there must be something more.

Tears are not only probable; they are guaranteed.  Most of us enter this world crying! Most leave someone weeping when they depart.  Death, in fact, is the cause of the bitterest tears.  Many more tears are the result of the original sin, which ushered in death, in the form of the many little deaths that come with its nefarious descendants, actual sins.

But the valley of tears is, nevertheless lovely!  It didn’t have to be.   It could have been a lot more teary than it is.  But, it is beautiful.  Love made it so.  The Love that makes all loves possible is the author of beauty.  He leaves traces of Himself throughout creation to embrace our every sense, that we might embrace Him in our enjoyment of them.  In this valley of tears, this beautiful valley, we find love.  Love given, love received, love longed for because we know we are made to love and be loved.
We find His embrace in myriad mundane gifts that didn’t need to be, but are.  The beauty of the earth - flowers!  They didn’t have to be so pretty to us to attract the pollinators.  He made them pleasing to us because He loves to delight us needlessly!  Majestic mountains, verdant meadows, the sea - fathomless like His mercy - deserts sunsets, autumn leaves, snowflakes!  Each specimen beautifully different – yet ethereal and provided in such lavish overabundance that only a tiny portion are ever appreciated individually.  The teeming variety of flora and fauna hidden on this globe, suspended in space!  Space!  It is an ever unwrapping gift.  The stars have always been visible and captivating to man, and as we build better and better devices to reach our vision out to the distance of neighboring galaxies and beyond, we discover gifts of beauty and wonder awaiting our gaze – unseen for millennia.  The Earth itself is a beautiful jewel in our solar system, not visible to us as such until we reached the moon.

Every field of study and expertise is a loving treasure, which lifetimes can be spent delving into, never exhausting the imprint of the Creator – in this valley of tears.  The variety of such fields is as limitless as our imagination: chemistry, geology, physics, biology, geometry, botany, entomology, lepidopterology, agriculture, horticulture, permaculture, music, visual arts, dramatic arts, culinary arts, ad infinitum.

Look at the lilies of the field, the birds of the air!  Look at the creatures throughout our valley of tears.  Surely all weren’t strictly necessary?  Many are useful to us, but others are enjoyable beyond purpose – the magnificent lion and horse, the fantastic seahorse and walking stick, the fabulous praying mantis and butterfly, the ridiculous giraffe and duck-billed platypus!

Food.  Food is a big one! Did nourishing and fueling our bodies need to be so delicious?  It inspires our creativity.  A pastry chef can spend her life exploring the craft of making only pastries – and not run out of ideas to thrill the world.  Coffee, chocolate, wine, bread, food of every variety and culture!  Meals shared inspire and give venue for conversation, friendships and romance.  Food makes feasts of events!  Even its absence is meaningful as a fast.  It was a meal at which Our Lord first came to us physically in the mystery of the Eucharist, the bread of Life. 

Our journey through the valley of tears might have been a solitary one.  But it isn’t.  Friendship makes our lives a joy.  Family not only transmits life throughout history in the valley of tears, it is our school of love.  It can also be the source of tears through its absence or loss.  Smiles. Music. Humor. Literature.  Achievements of every kind brighten our days and lighten the burden of the sorrow in that original sin and its resultant curse.  And its remedy is sweetness itself.  Felix culpa indeed!

That there is suffering is to be expected – it’s a valley of tears!  It is the consequence of sin.  It is why we’re here.  What more could God have placed into this fallen world to make for an enjoyable and comfortable journey through the valley of tears than He has? 

If this is our exile; our valley of tears, I’m more than anxious to arrive in our true homeland!

October 25, 2016

Catholic Prayer Hacks

I'm not what most people would call holy, but I do hope to become so.  I'll need a lot of grace and prayers for it to happen.  We're all essentially lazy.  Well, some of us are.  Okay, I am, at least.  I'm lazy.  And I know it.  So, I like to look for short cuts, easier ways.  I like to figure out how to get the most bang for my buck (spiritually speaking); to make the system to work for me!

The intercessory prayers of others is crucial in this endeavor.  Why would I place the job of sanctification on my own lousy shoulders?  Wouldn't that be the heresy of Jansenism?  So far, so good.  Got out of that one!  And, if I just pray a lot myself, well, that's like burying my small savings rather than putting it somewhere to gain interest, right?  I have it on good authority (Matt 25:14 - 30) that this would be foolish.  So, I aim to maximize the effectiveness of my prayers all I can.  I have wangled a few ways to do this and I'll share some of them with you in case you're as lazy as I am!

1.  Pray a Morning Offering.  First thing in the morning, or whenever you think of it, pray one of the many Morning Offering prayers (here's the one I happen to like).  You're basically offering all your prayers, works, joys and sufferings of that day for Our Lord's purposes, so everything you do or is done to you is a prayer!!!  That's like one of those matching gifts some companies make when you give a donation.  From the moment you pray this, it's double prayer points!!!

2.  Ask others to pray for your intentions.  You can ask as many people as you want!  You can ask friends, strangers, prayer groups, priests, a convent full of religious sisters!  Ask anyone you think might pray.  And with today's social media, this has never been easier!!  You can ask hundreds of people at once on Facebook!  If they are particularly sympathetic to your intentions, they may even ask hundreds of their Facebook Friends to pray for you!  Not only that - think of this: God loves to hear our prayers.  So, the more people you ask to pray for your intentions, the more people are praying.  Through one small prayer request, you could be responsible for getting hundreds of people saying prayers they otherwise wouldn't have said!  There's got to be a bonus in that, right?

3.  Ask for the intercession of that "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.  These would be those who are already sanctified - the Saints.  They are standing before the throne of God eternally loving Him and being loved, but, since they are technically outside of time, it's not going to inconvenience them any to put in a good word for you, too.  If you're someone who happens to  follow the traditions of one of the newer Christian sects (i.e. those that developed after 1517), please refer to this site to understand this constant practise of all Christians until recent times, as I'm in the line of entertainment, rather than apologetics.  Again, When you ask someone holy to pray for your intentions, you increase your prayer exponentially!

4.  Get to know your Guardian Angel.  In addition to all the saints in heaven and holy (and not so holy yet) people on earth, you really need to put your Guardian Angel to work.  Now, I don't mean you should live more dangerously.  I mean you need to know that you have an angel assigned just to you since the moment your existence began, who is there to help you get to heaven!  Obviously this angel is praying for you already.  Why not put it on the specific jobs you have in mind!  Send it on errands.  I ask mine to meet up with the angel of someone I'm trying to find in a large crowded place to help us find each other.  Are you about to have a confrontation with someone or need to negotiate a difficult situation?  Send your angel ahead to meet with that of the other person to smooth the way to a peaceful conversation and solution!  I have always heard when you fall asleep praying the Rosary, your angel will finish it for you!  (I find this comforting, but I hesitate to plan to do it that way and count it as actually praying the Rosary).  Ask your angel to pray for your needs while you're sleeping.  There's eight hours of prayer gained right there!

5.  Join other people's Novenas.  I used to be pretty good at praying novenas (nine days of prayer for an intention), but lately, I can't seem to remember beyond the first couple of days.  I love the novenas that lead up to a special saint's day.  The best thing about them in this era of social media is that friends post them on Facebook with an invitation to join in.  Knowing that my intention to join in usually lacks the perseverance necessary to make it to the end, I have found it helpful to safeguard my intentions by asking the friend who is obviously planning to pray the novena to also remember my intentions!  I still try to pray it, but this is a good back-up.

6.  Make your request stand out.  When applying for a job, it is suggested that you make your resume stand out among all the others.  When I come across a friend going off to Mass or to pray at the adoration chapel, I always ask them to pray for me.  I want to ensure that I'm not just lumped into that "and all the people who asked me to pray for them" group.  I suspect it's better when one is prayed for specifically.  So, I make my request specific in order for it to stand out.  Me: "Pray for me while you're there!"  Them: "Okay!"  Me: "By name!"

 7.  Remember the souls in Purgatory.  Don't just remember them; pray for them!  Did you know that they're counting on us to help complete their purgation?  We already pray for them at Mass.  Many pray for them at grace before meals.  And that's not all you can do!   Pray for departed loved ones whenever you think of them.  Pray for them when you pass a cemetery.  Since Protestants have rejected the ancient practise of praying for the dead, we may be the only ones praying for their deceased relatives!!  They are going to be really grateful to us when they are admitted through those pearly gates.  See how my frend, Carol, is utilizing this feature to become really popular in heaven!  And, did you know that they'll then be praying for us??  You see where I'm going with this by now.  So, the small investment we put into effective prayers for the people in purgatory yields an eternal cornucopia of saintly prayers!  That's what I call a good return on investment!  So here's my hack (remember, I'm pretty lazy).  I like to pray one Hail Mary for that soul that needs only one Hail Mary to be released from Purgatory.  That's what I call economy!  A more generous, but less immediately effective, trick is to pray for those people I would have hated if I had known them in life.  They were probably rather unlovable and not many people want to pray for them, so, they're going to love me!  And, since I never knew them, it's not even very hard to do!  Cha-ching!

8.  Bundle devotions.   Say you're going to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Did you notice that the last two mysteries (Jesus carries His cross and Jesus is crucified) are basically the Stations of the Cross?  Well, I did.  So, why not meditate on one station for each of the Hail Marys?  You'll need to add a few more meditations to make it work out.  You could throw in some of the Seven Last Words or any aspect that really helps your meditation.  Voila!  Two prayers in one!!  You can even go one step further.  Let's say you want to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Simply meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries - using the Stations of the Cross for the final two mysteries as above.  Triple Word Score!!  You win!

9. The piece de resistance of prayer hacks.  Pray for God's will.

Call it cheating - or call it efficiency.  I'm working to put my fault of laziness to work for the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant!  And I'm not going to do it alone!