April 21, 2017

Not Heroic; Just A Parent

My son has special needs.  In particular, he has Trisomy 21 and Autism.  So, it's obvious to everyone around that he has special needs.  He's a great kid and we like him - even though many things are more difficult with him along, which he almost always is.  This is not one of those blog posts where I'll tell you how hard my life is or what you should never say to parents who have a child with special needs.  In fact, I can't think of a single occasion when people have been anything but nice to us when they see us struggle.  People are just so darn nice!

Maybe too nice, but I'm not going to complain about that!  I'm somewhat ambivalent when people - friends or strangers - make comments.  I know their aim is to encourage us.  And I let them.  Sometimes they treat him like any other kid, sometimes they appreciate the extra stuff that his issues present in our lives.  Either way, I do appreciate it.  I am aware that my responses are often as unsure as their comments sometimes are.  I like when someone recognizes that it can be challenging - and yet, I also like when they see him as just another kid.  He's both, after all.

But, in their kindness, it is not unusual for someone to turn to us and say, "You are heroic."  Now, that's where I have to draw the line!!  I'm tempted to believe that unwarranted compliment - but the truth is, I'm just being a parent.  Even if there are parents who, out of selfishness - or more likely fear, ignorance and bad advice - would reject their child because of extra needs, most parents who discover their child has a condition that needs extra care just step into the role naturally.

When your kid has a stomach bug, you take care of him or her.  And except for occasionally posting it on Facebook for the co-commiseration of your friends, you don't expect a medal for doing it.  It's part of the job.  Well, the same goes for my kid who has an extra set of needs.  He's my son and I love him.  I do what any parent would do.  And we all need continual encouragement while in the trenches of raising children.

He's not the only kid I've seen who requires extra work.  Some children who don't have his built-in set of difficulties provide their parents a run for their money.  Take two-year-olds for example!  Some kids are naturally more rambunctious.  Certain temperaments make some children more unpleasant to be around.  Some are simply, well, brats.  And we expect parents to step up to the plate and deal with what they have helped create.

Special needs of the kind my son deals with are becoming more and more common, but people who act the way he does are still (thank God) unusual.  And, that's why people comment at all.  We do have circumstances in our life that make things more difficult in a way that most of us would not choose.  And, because it's unusual, it can be hard for some to see that we're just parents dealing with and loving our son.  Just like they do and would.  I am aware that when someone says, "I don't know how you do it" they also mean, "I'm glad I don't have to do that."  Part of me wants to respond, "I wish I didn't either!" and part of me wants to point out that they would do it too, if one of their children needed extra care.

So, the next time you're tempted to say something encouraging to a parent with a challenging kid, go ahead! If it's me, I'll eat it up!  It may lead to lots of internal conversation and objections on my part - maybe even a blog post - but I appreciate it.  I appreciate knowing that I'm surrounded by kind and accepting people who may not know exactly the "right" thing to say.  There isn't really a right thing anyway.

Thank you for your words and prayers to help parents just doing our job feel like super-heroes.

April 18, 2017

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For . . . Jesus

Remember those bright summer days when you were a kid and the familiar jingle of music blasting through the neighborhood caught your attention?  You’d drop everything, ask your mom for money and start running or biking toward the source of the sound.  "The ice cream truck!  The ice cream truck!"  Icy cold refreshment was around the corner – literally!  

Well, when I was thinking how hard it can be for some of us to get to church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, I thought wouldn't it be great if we could have a Blessed Sacrament truck that drove around neighborhoods, bringing Jesus to the Faithful?  When hearing strains of “Oh Sacrament Most Holy” and “Tantum Ergo” or maybe church bells, all the Catholics would run out and wave down the driver!  Moms with a half dozen little children in tow, older folks with walkers, busy business folks working at home could quench their spiritual thirst.  In some neighborhoods, the loud-speaker might blast "Gather Us In" and "One Bread, One Body," but the results would be the same.  

I can think of nothing better for one's spiritual growth than time spent in quiet prayer, especially in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.  And yet, piling little people into the car between meal times, nap schedules, household duties, and homeschooling, keeping them seated in the Adoration chapel without disturbing the regular adorers and being able to quiet one's mind enough to actually pray, is difficult to schedule in on a periodic, let alone regular, basis!  But the difficulty in achieving it does not diminish the desire to do it.  

Truly, this could work!  I have heard of a mobile confessional in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana.  In this Our Sunday Visitor article, Fr. Michael Champagne, the man behind the mobile confessional, is quoted saying, "During the Year of Mercy we want to bring the sacrament to areas where people otherwise might not be able to get to confession."  A mobile Adoration chapel would do the same!  If it were equipped with a priest as the driver, it could provide both!  It could travel to certain areas on a schedule that would allow people to have a regular adoration time, as well as stop to admit spur-of-the-moment adorers.  A small bus or large capacity van could easily be transformed with a tabernacle in the rear and seats turned around to face it.

Driving through towns and neighborhoods would not only bring the Blessed Sacrament to those who find it hard to get out, but the presence of Our Eucharistic Lord in some places, for possibly the first time ever, would certainly have unanticipated beneficial effects on those areas.  

I’m hoping this idea will take hold with someone “out there” who could make it a reality.  It may never happen in my neck of the woods, but there is surely some priest or bishop somewhere whose people need this idea.  It is my prayer that someone reading this might be inspired to offer the donation of a vehicle.  Maybe a religious community dedicated to missionary work or devotion to the Eucharist just might have what it takes to make this a reality!  If you think it’s an idea whose time has come, pass it along and say a prayer!

Who knows, we might soon be running out our doors at the jangle of Ave, Verum Corpus to spend a few minutes in the company of Emmanuel – God with us.

April 12, 2017

Wow Your Guests With A Paschal Butter Lamb - and Other Tips For An Easy Easter Celebration

When Easter rolls around, there's a lot to celebrate.  It's the biggest liturgical celebration of the year!  It is good news, indeed, that Christ became incarnate to make satisfaction for the curse of death brought on by man's sin and to restore us to true Life in God.  And, let's face it, after six weeks of some level of fasting and abstaining from the more celebratory aspects of life, we're ready for a feast.

I like to entertain to an extent.  What I don't like is for it to be hard.  No one will ever compare me to Martha Stewart - but many remember fun times at my home.  I have gleaned few tips over the years for enhancing the Paschal celebration with as little effort as possible.

In grad school, people thought of my house as a place of celebrations and concluded that I am a great hostess.  The fact is, I inherited a great house and great housemates when I moved in.  The house lent itself to parties because of it's size, layout, and history.  I had a responsibility to carry on the tradition.  All I had to do was invite the great people in and, voila!  Instant celebration!

Now that I have a family, I simply transferred the technique and picked up useful tactics along the way that spoke to me.  They mostly spoke to me about making it easy.  And that's what I'd like to share with you just in time to enhance your Easter feast with fun and as little effort as you can get away with.  Because, let's face it, if the life of the party (i.e. you) is exhausted from spending the day cooking and cleaning up, it will be less festive for everyone!

It therefor makes sense that the first step is to ensure there will be people you enjoy around you.  If your family is fun and like each other, then you needn't look any farther.  If this can't be counted on, better invite people.  Even the addition of one person will boost the atmosphere of festivity.

The next tip is to choose a cold menu.  Whether you attend the hours-long Easter Vigil Mass, a Sunrise Service or go to your normal Mass in the morning, you'll sleep in, go back to bed or return hungry respectively.  No one wants to have to cook or wait for the party to begin while strains of "He is Risen indeed!" still echo in your heads.  Think picnic foods!

We like to get a ham - spiral sliced makes it even easier!  Make salads ahead: egg salad, chicken salad, jello salad, whatever.  Olives and pickles offer picnic flair.  Have nice bread and special condiments of all sorts.  If you're inviting people, ask them to bring their favorite picnic dish.  Easter just shouts for cold dishes.  It's Spring!

Little details will transform your meal from a regular repast to a festive feast!  Make a butter lamb.  It's super easy.  You get a lamb-shaped chocolate mold, shove some softened butter in and refrigerate.  You could probably find a clay or wood mold at a swanky store for a fortune, but just get one of these cheap, plastic molds at Amazon (just put in "chocolate lamb mold")!  This little guy will steal the show.  You might need to supply extra butter on the table because no one will want to dig into the Paschal Lamb, but assure them that if they eat his flesh, not only will they have his life in them, but he will not be diminished - because you can pop him back into the mold with more butter and he will be made new again!

Roll out the traditions!  Feast days are a time for tradition.  Do you do Easter baskets?  We sort of do, but simpler.  We do a family basket.  This is where all the chocolate will be found.  Also religious items like holy cards.  Easter is not a time when my children expect gifts, so I have kept this aspect small.  In fact, the Easter basket is largely a centerpiece and repository for chocolate.

An Easter basket at our house.

Color eggs, of course!  What's more festive than colored eggs for easter?!  I have seen totorials on-line for decorating eggs using salt, shaving cream, and silk.  You could learn the traditional Ukranian method of Pysanka - those intricatly painted eggs.  But, that wouldn't be easy.  Beautiful, but definitely not easy.  Besides, you can buy lovely wodden painted eggs and bring them out again year after year!  Color your eggs however you like - who am I to tell you what to do??  We use a few simple natural food dyes to make red and gold eggs.  Red (yellow onion skins), for Christ's blood, as I remember from Easter in Greece when I was a child.  That's the only color they have!  Gold (turmeric), for the liturgical color for the day.  That and my daughter asked if we could please do another color.  Last year we added blue becaused we got a chicken that laid light blue eggs and all I had to do is boil them!!!!  That sure made it easy!

Step up the festivity with fun.  Have an Easter Egg hunt!  I have seen all kinds and different families have their own traditions.  If you avoided egg hunts because it seems like too much work, just do a simple one!  Hide the eggs in one or two rooms in your house.  After the first hunt, the kids will probably take turns hiding them again and again for each other.  That takes care of them for a while!

Your egg hunt needn't be this big!

Have you ever heard of confetti eggs?  I remember these little treasures from when I lived in Greece.  They are emptied, colored eggs the purpose of which is to whack on someone's head letting fly a shower of confetti!  And I found them at the local Wallgreens!  They are labeled in Spanish as cascarones.
You can make your own if you like that sort of thing.  Make a hole in the end of the egg and empty the contents into a bowl (use for baking, or scrambing!).  Rinse and dry the eggs.  Dye them however you like and dry them again.  Fill with confetti and glue a square of tissue paper over the open end.  Ta da!  Or, you could just order some at an exorbitant price from Amazon, using my affiliate link here.

I have heard of people filling them with bird seed and doing them outdoors.  Well, I have no problem with breaking them indoors.  Sure there's confetti all over the floor - so what?  It's not like it's glitter.  It sweeps or vacuums up easily and I kind of like the festive look of confetti on the floor.  It reminds me for weeks that while Lent lasted forty days, Easter lasts for fifty!  Take that, Death!

One area I might put a little more effort into is dessert.  Since I'm not knocking myself out over every detail, I have the time energy to make a special dessert.  I love dessert.  And, after weeks without, I look forward to several varieties of deliciusness on our table!  It needn't be complicated, though.  It's okay to buy something from a bakery.  One of my favorite Easter guests does not consider it a feast if ice cream is not involved.  What could be easier than ice cream?  She will be invited again and again!  Oh, sure, you could make your own ice cream, but then you wouldn't have time to make this beauty!  It's all about priorities.

Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Flourless Cake from Cakelets and Doilies

I hope your celebration of the risen Christ brings life and joy to everyone in your home, however much or little effort you put into the details.  One last tip to add ease to the feast: prepare enough to last at least a few days into the Easter octave so you can take a few days off cooking!  Have a happy Easter!  Christ is indeed risen!