Hospitality, holidays, and cookies….

I was talking with a family member and some friends recently and I realized that no matter how dysfunctional, crazy, or difficult our families are, they are family.  And sometimes there are those we share our lives with who have very dysfunctional families of their own, and perhaps no structure in their lives that resembles what we call “family.”  And there are those we have in our lives that are so close to us, we consider them our family, too.  And when we try to mix all of that at one gathering, well, it can be interesting.

“Remember that the Lord is in every Christian. When your neighbor comes to you, always have great respect for him, because the Lord is in him, and often expresses His will through him. ‘ It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). Therefore, do not grudge anything to your brother, but do unto him as unto the Lord; especially as you do not know in whom the Lord will come and visit you; be impartial to all, be kind to all, sincere and hospitable. Remember that sometimes God speaks even through unbelievers, or disposes their hearts towards us, as it happened in Egypt when the Lord gave Joseph favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. (Gen. 39:21).”

—St. John of Kronstadt

We had a chance to visit with a wide variety of people this past Thanksgiving (a post I shared previously) and I have realized what an eclectic group we had. There were Protestants, Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, straights and gays, married and single, conservative and liberal…pretty much ran the gamut from one extreme to the other.  And the conversation was lively and fun and inspiring.  I loved it.  Everyone treated everyone else with respect and genuine joy in their company.  Someone said, “Well people were on their best behavior; it wasn’t like it was just family.”  And it wasn’t; it was more of an elaborate dinner party.  Still, I loved it; it was symbolic of our first Thanksgiving!  The first Thanksgiving was a dinner party, too.  Very few were relatives and all were there for a sundry of reasons, most of which was religious freedom.  The Native peoples assisted the first Americans and they all came together to celebrate a successful harvest; native peoples and the first settlers in a new land, gathered around a table, giving thanks.

Christmas is coming and coming quickly.  This year, our older children and their families will not be with us and so my husband and I decided to invite extended family members and they have all joyously accepted our offer.  The people who are coming are all from my husband’s side of the family and I truly enjoy all of them.  The interesting part will be cooking for them, as two of them have taken lots of gourmet classes and I am a little intimidated. Deciding on turkey or ham or beef is the next decision to be made!  But the truly interesting thing will be accommodating all the different needs.  One glaring need to address will be 6 dogs at our little house! God will provide! Ha-Ha!

And as I approach this season, I am looking to the dinner we sit down to eat, to be sure.  But more importantly, the time we get to spend together.  None of us is getting any younger and these moments as family are fleeting at best.  And as St. John of Kronstadt said above, it is important to greet all who come to you with respect, because “the Lord is in him, and often expresses His will through him.” I am being given an opportunity to express hospitality and I have to remember to be less “Martha” and more “Mary” about the whole event.  My friend told me that this year she decided she would straighten her house before guests arrived, but not clean it.  “I am so over that.”  And we spoke to the fact that hospitality is about welcoming and providing and being present to others, not frantically cleaning every nook and cranny in your house.  Because if we become too “Martha” about the holidays, we get cranky, and honestly, too tired to enjoy our families and the time we do have with them.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

There is a whole discourse on being less Martha and more Mary in life.  Many Protestant groups have entire bible study programs on this very topic.  And I totally get the need for it, because we are driven to repeat childhood fantasies and re-enact memories of some perfect holiday experience we had when we were 8 years old.  The reality is that the holidays stress us out because we spend too much money, we take so much time away from “normal” life, and we build expectations up so high, there will bound to be failure and regret when January 6th…after Epiphany….comes around.  And each and every year I vow to keep the holidays simple and casual, and less stressful.  I was stressing out just thinking of serving 8 people for dinner, let alone having 6 dogs running around the house and it is a month away!  (Well, okay, 27 days, but who’s counting??).

For this holiday season, specifically Christmas and Epiphany, I am vowing to be welcoming and inviting, and if there are dust bunnies laying around, so be it.  There will be six dogs chasing them around anyway!  Bring on the eggnog, mince pie, and calories.  Bring on the Christmas cookie baking escapades! Bring on the tree and house decorating, light hanging, chaos. Bring on the endless Christmas movies and Christmas carols playing 24/7 (I am married to a hopelessly, wonderful, Christmas-lover, romantic man!!).  Because I am blessed to have family that wants to share this holiday with us, because I have a husband and son who will be with me, and because I have a home where I can invite people to come and rest and share the Christmas spirit with us. And I will greet each guest over this season, knowing that I am welcoming He who resides in them, “especially as you do not know in whom the Lord will come and visit you.”

I will worry about the fact that we are moving in 2 months, later.  Where is my Christmas cookie???

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Being Thankful and….Squirrel!!

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving.  I am blessed, and as a couple we are blessed, with being god parents – many times over.  And each of our godchildren is truly a blessing in our lives.  We are constantly in prayer for them and have spent many hours talking with them and praying for each of them over the years.  One of my god daughters flew up for 5 days with us, in a whirlwind visit that began on Monday and ended on Friday.  She is 26 and I was pleasantly surprised she would even think to spend her time with us, but she did and it was wonderful.  Her mom and I were college roommates and my god daughter and I have a unique relationship.  I mother her at times, but I am mostly a friend.  And it is a pleasure for me to have her in my life, as I have no daughter of my own.  We spent some time sight seeing (her first time in Seattle) and lots of time just talking – and yes, laughing! Squirrel!! Ha-Ha! She kept me smiling for 5 days!!

We were blessed to join some friends for Thanksgiving that we have known more than 30 years.  They were in our wedding and are the god parents to our oldest son; we are god parents to their youngest daughter.  (It was fun introducing our god daughters to each other!!) This has been an enduring friendship and one we treasure so much.  We were so happy they included my god daughter in their celebratory invitation.  Their 4 children all are within her age range, so we all expected it to be a success.  The food was amazing; the company even better.  There were people in attendance from all over the ethnic and social and religious gamut.  The conversation was stimulating and wild at times.  They have a wonderful tradition where whoever is in attendance signs the table cloth. It is neat to see each year how the signatures have grown.  The host made a comment that it’s almost time to get a new table cloth, as we are running out of signature space!  We had foods from all sorts of cultures, as well. I brought a Greek Salad and some apple and mince pie (Mince is a British tradition); others brought bread and wines, pies and side dishes.  One couple brought appetizers that were amazing; another family prepared Polish dishes for us all to try.  The host family included people in their invitation who had never experienced a Thanksgiving meal before.  It was awesome!

At the start of the meal, we stood in a very large circle (there were close to 30 people there) and passed a Blessing Cup around, each person giving thanks.  It ended with one of their guests, a Polish Priest, blessing the meal in Polish/Dominican style.  We then sat down for about 2 hours, having a lively discussion at two tables.  My god daughter joined right in and felt very comfortable.  It was a delightful evening and we are forever grateful to have shared it with so many amazing people.

Afterward, my god daughter made some amazing statements.  Among them were:

*This is the first time I have ever felt welcome by an entire family.  There are usually hold-outs, you know, those who feel forced to be there but are emotionally absent?  Not in this family. It was amazing.

*This is the kind of Thanksgiving I always wished I could have, and have never experienced before,  and this is the type of Thanksgiving I want when I have my own family.

*I am putting in my reservations for next year.  Only next year, I am arriving on Wednesday and staying much, much longer.

*I haven’t enjoyed such stimulating conversation in, well, in I can’t remember when.

*I could talk football and not feel weird about it. It was nice.

*This was the most amazing Thanksgiving I have ever had.

And I have to say, for all these things, I am truly grateful.  If we can touch one heart, just one heart, we can change the world.  I think that our friends showed all of us how opening up our homes and our families to a wide variety of people only enhances our experiences and only makes what we have that much more special.  I feel like this was an amazing experience, in that I was shown that feeling of belonging and thankfulness from a completely different perspective and it made me re-evaluate what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for enduring relationships – my husband, our incredible children, our amazing god children, and friendships that have lasted through decades of life’s experience.  We moved two states away from our comfort zone, two years ago.  This year, it felt like we were home….and we are so thankful for each moment of being here. God is good!!

As we move into Christmas, I am holding on to these most recent memories and the joy I witnessed in the eyes and face of my god daughter. I am so thankful for friends who impact us along life’s journey, and choose to share their lives with us.  I am prayerful my god daughter was able to witness some amazing people in action, to appreciate all the differences, and to hunger for more of the same.  And at Christmas, I pray we all don’t get distracted (Squirrel!) from what it is we are celebrating – be Thankful for the GIFT of LOVE this Christmas…the thankfulness that started last Thursday as we remembered our blessings and the most amazing Country we live in, and will continue through to Little Christmas, Epiphany, (January 5th) when the Wise Men bore their gifts to the Christ Child.

I am thankful…

Rain, traffic, smells, and symbols….

St. John Chrysostom, Doctor and Father of the Church

Sometimes we are urged to do things that we really don’t want to do, and then, once we have done them, are so very glad we did.  That happened to me last night. I was asked to attend a Chrismation at our Byzantine parish for an entire family venturing over, onto the Eastern side of Catholicism.  And I loved it.  The harassment of driving in the pouring rain and 5 o’clock traffic was not something I had been looking forward to. I was taking my son to his CAP meeting anyway, and was asked to come back into the City for the Chrismation and retrieve my son later in the evening.  First of all, I am not a night owl. Okay, yes, I am, in many ways. I love to stay up, reading, long into the night.  But I don’t like being out particularly late or driving at 11 o’clock at night, in the rain, finding my way to new places and back again!  But I sure had some giggles along the way.  I was able to hook my son up with a home school family that also participates in the CAP program, and also attends the same Byzantine parish, and who we have common friends with. He had such a great time at their house (they have 12 kids and he loves the chaos and busi-ness of large families) and he is hoping to forge some friendships there.  So, I dropped him off at CAP and then headed back into the City.  I stopped and got myself a “venti-decaf-breve-latte-with-one-Splenda” for the drive (my second favorite is 3 pumps Hazelnut and 1 pump chocolate, no sugar, no whip, venti) and was so glad I did.  I did not have use of the carpool lane and it was pitch-black by 5:00pm, so finding my way was interesting. I did not know, when we moved here, how hilly Seattle really is.  It is much like San Francisco, only more treacherous at times because it is so wet here.  I came to a stop light while sitting at a 45-degree angle (okay, it felt like I was strapped into the Space Shuttle, waiting take-off!!) and then I had to proceed at the green. Thankfully there was no one behind me or next to me, as I swiveled my way up that hill and turned left at the intersection! I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing until after I made the turn!  Ha-Ha!  I arrived at the parish a little before the Chrismation itself.  When I walked in, I was immediately overcome by the warmth and the smells of incense, and the prayerful tones being sung.  I almost wept with joy.  I stripped off my coat, wiped the steam from my glasses and quietly slipped into a pew.  I was back! It felt wonderful.  I am so glad I made the effort to attend.  I was able to reunite with some people I so enjoy.  It was delightful to sit and chat at the reception afterwards, too. I only wish I could have lingered.  I had to retrieve my son from these new friends he had made. Thanks be to God, my dear buddy offered to accompany me, because I never would have found it. It gave us a chance to gab and giggle…always a good thing.  I retrieved my son, dropped her back off at the reception, and headed off into the night. We got home a little after 11:00pm.  Late for me!!!

And I have been reflecting on some of the sights, sounds, and feelings the Divine Liturgy and Chrismation left with me. This morning, I caught the faint whiff of incense in my hair and it was wonderful.  Chrismation, in the Eastern tradition, is that time when you receive  the sacrament of Confirmation.  Normally, we baptize, confirm, and give First Holy Communion as infants.  This particular family were in various stages of sacramental readiness – a few received First Communion as well as Chrismation, but most of them received just the confirmation portion.  And I loved watching that and seeing their joyful faces; two parents and their six children.  It is a journey, to travel from West to East.  It assaults so much of what you think is the “norm” in life.  In my first eastern rite Divine Liturgy (otherwise known as Mass or Church services) when the Deacon intoned, “Sofia” (which means “wisdom”) in the Arabic-styled intonations of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, I was mentally and emotionally transported to the desert, to a tent, surrounded by worshipers.  I could feel the tradition of the Eastern church that has stood, untouched, for so many, many generations.  I felt like I belonged there.  The sights, smells, and movements during Divine Liturgy engage you on all levels – you do not witness a Divine Liturgy, you celebrate it and you fully participate in it.  (There is very little sitting and many eastern Churches don’t even have pews!)  And last night, among all the people there, and with all the tones and smells and movements of the Priest and the people, I felt I had come home.  What a great feeling.  In the spirit of St. Josaphat, east had met west, and all was well.  And this Chrismation occurred on the Feast of St. John Chrysostom, who gave us the Divine Liturgy we use.  He was an orator and “Doctor” of the Church and a gift from God to the Church worldwide.

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.”  Saint John Chrysostom (c.345 – 407)

I believe we are in the winter of tribulation – here and abroad.  We are being assaulted by sexual inappropriateness in our leadership; it is on all the TV’s and in the papers, online and on Facebook.  We are being assaulted by news of a fiscal cliff that is now morphing itself into a cultural cliff.  States are petitioning for secession.  People are not happy with the State of the Union.  Yesterday I was determined to string Autumn out as long as possible. I am still determined to enjoy the Fall.  But I am not an Ostrich, able to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world around me.  Rockets launched in the Middle East; assassinations carried out successfully by Israel; Spain, Italy, Greece holding Austerity Days and the governments clashing with their people – we are in days of tribulation, to be sure. St. John spoke to the fact that without this winter, this tribulation, we would have no rest and no summer.  And I believe it is true.

I have been reading the Hunger Games trilogy and just finished the second installment.  In this particular book, the author provides some pretty good twists for her main character, Katniss.  One of the interesting things is that Katniss has no idea how much her entire country looks to her as a symbol of unity and peace…she is also the symbol of the uprising.  Her symbol is a pin she wore to the first Hunger Games, the Mockingjay.  This is a made-up hybrid of a mocking bird and a jay.  The loud, mimicking voice of the mocking bird, combined with the annoying chirps of a jay bird.  She wears this symbol and does not even realize that each time someone sees it, or sees her, she is giving them courage.  I often wonder about symbols in our lives.  I wear a cross every day.  I have a crucifix and will wear it on occasion.  I have a Byzantine cross, that I love, but most people confuse what it is and ask me what Chinese character I am wearing.  My usual cross is one my husband presented me on a wedding anniversary one year and is made of small diamonds.  I wear it pretty much daily.  I wonder what people think when they see it.  What symbol does it represent for them? What symbols do we have to cling to, as the people in the Hunger Games cling to the image of the Mockingjay?

As I hassled the rain and the traffic last night, I would often clutch my cross. I know it is always there, and it keeps me grounded.  I was really clutching it last night as I made my way through these small communities on the hills of Seattle!!  What is the symbol that we provide to others around us? Do we impart something that they can keep, and cling to?  If I am the only Jesus someone ever sees, what symbol do I leave for them, with them, to encourage them in their daily tribulations?

The hassle last night was so worth the sense of peace, safety, and “community” that I felt upon entering the Church.  It was like I had my own mini-tribulatory winter last night, and when I walked in and that blast of warm, incense-laced air hit me, I was at rest and sort of in my “summer” (it was certainly a lot warmer inside the Church than it was outside in the rain!). And I think we are all in a winter of tribulation.  Our country is in a mess; our American culture is sinking fast; our Christian culture has been beaten and stung and we are all hurting.  But I also think that hunkering down and fighting our way through this winter and all these tribulations, we will enter into rest and a beautiful summer.  The trick is not to let ourselves be dragged down by all of it, all around us.  The trick is to cling to what is true and right and just.  God is King, no matter who is President.  We cling to our faith, we cling to our communities, and we help one another weather this winter.  If we can all do that, what a glorious summer we will all share.

I expressed to a fellow blogger (well, he is so much better at this than I am and is so witty and is one of my internet-rocks and one of those who keeps me sane, that I hesitate at the comparison) how sad I am at what is continuing to take place. I am sad for my grandchildren.  Will we leave them an America I would recognize?  Will we leave them better off than we are now?  Will we burden them with a continual winter and endless tribulations?  It is up to each of us to ensure that future generations are proud of the roots we have left them, and are strong enough to carry on in the American tradition our forefathers left for us. We need our symbols…the cross, the flag, the many images of our heroes, our soldiers, our history.  We need to cling to them and believe in what they symbolize, to get us through our winter and into that promised summer.

“What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.” – St. John Chrysostom

Happy Autumn, or is it Fall?? Whatever…you know…

Fall in the Pacific Northwest

This is fall, or autumn, in the Pacific Northwest, as is the photo along the top of the blog page itself.  I cannot fully grasp how gorgeous things are here.  As a young kid, around this time of year, our teachers would switch out all the construction paper to these fall tones.  I remember tracing my hand on brown paper and cutting out “feathers” in different colors, attaching them to my hand cut out and calling it a Turkey!  I think I may still have one in a box someplace!  Another thing was all the gourds in the stores. I only ever had acorn squash and pumpkin in my youth.  I remember my mom, cutting the acorn squash in half and allowing me to scoop the seeds, and then steaming the acorn squash with the middle sides down on a baking sheet with a little water on it, and then turning them over and filling them with butter and brown sugar until done cooking.  It is still one of my fond childhood aromas and my favorite way to eat acorn squash.  Up here, there are gourds and squashes I never knew existed.  And so many delightful recipes and ways to use them.  For the first time last year, we roasted the pumpkin seeds in melted butter and salt.  This year, we did two batches: one had the butter and salt, the other had butter, sugar, and cinnamon.  The men all loved the plain; I adored the cinnamon!  Most of our cut-out pumpkins are gone…they were first invaded by the state animal – the slug – and then they imploded! Ugh!  Quite ugly and messy.  Our grass is barely visible with a carpeting of red, yellow, and brown maple leaves all over it.  The changing leaves are gorgeous to look at, but such a mess to deal with.  Around some streets, people don’t bother cleaning them up until the last one falls from the tree.  In our library parking lot, the asphalt has this weird coating of crushed, fallen, leaves.  And the temperature has certainly dropped.  The heater has actually come on during the day!  The smells are changing and you can actually feel us all slipping into winter.  And it is a pretty wonderful experience!

I am feeling so cheated, though.  Already there are Christmas decorations and music all over the place, and even stores like WalMart are having “Black Friday” on Thursday – the evening of Thanksgiving!!!  For most retailers and restaurants, we skipped fall and went straight to winter.  Each season has its own feel to it and its own celebrations.  And we are denying ourselves the joys of autumn.  We are skimming in off Labor Day, barely noticing Veteran’s Day, and zooming right into Christmas.  And I am angry about it.  Why would kids bother to learn what Thanksgiving is, if there is no recognition of it anywhere?  Is this on purpose?

Well, I hunted for and could not locate, a chart I saw recently where it delineates the steps towards Communism. But in the 10 Planks of the Communist Manifesto, number 10 is “free public education for all children; combine education with industrial production.”  Now, I am not saying that WalMart having Black Friday on Thursday, or the fact that all the Shari’s restaurants have up their Christmas decor and are already taking their Christmas Dinner and pie orders (oh yeah, you can order a Thanksgiving one, but it is on a Christmas order form) does not mean I think we have fully adopted the Communist Manifesto.  I do, however, feel like we are shifting, as a culture, and it is starting to be noticeable.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is quoted as saying, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Why are our schools not teaching more of our own history? There are great lessons to be learned in our own recent past. In a previous blog where I shared about visiting the King Tut exhibit in Seattle, I made a side comment that Egypt is recalling all of its relics.  It has now come to light that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to smash the Sphinx and the Pyramids, and many of the statues because the Muslims consider them idolatry.  In America, we barely remember that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for the many blessings in our lives, yes, but it is also a time to be thankful for the sacrifices that brought settlers to these lands, so many years ago.  And why, exactly, did they come?  They were escaping religious persecution.  The type of persecution we see in Egypt today in Christian harassment and torture.  They now ask Christians to convert or leave the country and are considering Sharia law for the entire country.  I know that skipping paper turkey cut outs and pumpkin pie is nowhere near the equivalent of Sharia law and smashing pyramids, but it is definitely on the road to it. And I am worried for our Country’s future, and for my grandchildren.  Making turkey cut outs is fun, dressing up as Pilgrims is fun, reenacting the first Thanksgiving dinner is fun.

And then we have Christmas. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the Savior of the World.  Christ’s Mass.  It is not Santa or red and green lights on your house, your Aunt’s horrible fruitcake, or that dumb jar of pickled eggs being given back and forth each year (a personal reference to my brother and father on that one).  Christmas is not even when we should be exchanging gifts – it’s not our birthday and it’s not when Jesus received gifts; it is when he received life.  We tried many years ago to shift our celebration to the Epiphany, or “Little Christmas” because it seemed more appropriate. That is the day the Wise Men acknowledge Christ and brought him the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Santa could come on Christmas with a couple of items, but the fun stuff from Mom and Dad arrived on Epiphany.  (As a parent it is awesome because you can hit all the after-Christmas sales!)  But it was a rough transition for our kids because commercialism had sold them on December 25th and making them wait until January 5th was cruel! LOL!  Still, we try to acknowledge Little Christmas each year.  It wonderful to have the Christmas season go from Thanksgiving through New Year’s and the 5th of January.   But we do not need to skip Thanksgiving and go from Labor Day to Christmas, with a hiccup for Turkey in November.

This year is already making me mad with all the commercialism.  So I decided that I am going to drag out fall….my favorite season. I am going to bake some pumpkin breads and some pies, make some good, rib-sticking autumn meals, maybe even some squash recipes, and just enjoy the breather before Christmas gets here. I am going to be sure to be thankful for all that I have, and the fact that so many sacrificed so that I can have a Thanksgiving.  I am going to insist my children know why we celebrate Thanksgiving.  And I am not pulling out any other decor until after Thanksgiving.  It is an important part of our cultural heritage and as for me and my house, bring on the Turkey! I am going to slowly transition to Christmas and winter, after my tryptophan coma!  In the meantime, I broke out my long underwear and my sweaters.  Yay for fall!

Blogging so far….

I decided to keep a record of my blogs.  So, I thought, why not print them all out and stick them in a folder, to keep?  Man oh man, I did not realize how long and wordy these things are.  I need to apologize.  Perhaps these are not really blogs, but more like journals. No wonder hardly anyone seems interested.  So I need to change this up a little bit, and shorten the blogs up, a lot!  It is hard because I am alone so much of the time and have no one to bounce things off of, except my 13-year-old son…poor guy! LOL!  Today, he is off with a friend to a movie and dinner. I am excited for him – change of scenery and not so much Mom time!

I think I will just blog little snippets or thoughts.  I saw a neat recipe today on one of the morning shows…think I may try it. I like crock pot meals and soups.  Fall and winter are my favorite eating seasons, because we get to use more sauces or broths and the cooking is made to “warm the cockles of your heart.”  I’d rather have some good soup than almost anything. So maybe I will opine on recipes and holiday ideas. Hmmm……

Maybe, maybe not. The holidays are approaching and for us, that means the start of a heavy birthday season. It is hard having your children all born between October and December!  And we have a grandson’s birthday in January (and another grandbaby due all the way in May).  And I am sort of sad about the holidays.  My two older sons and their families will not be with us and it makes me melancholy.  Gotta keep an eye on that.  This year, when I yank all the decorations out, I am also going to pack things away for our move in March.  Why keep a lot of stuff out, just to have to pack it up again?  I usually pull things down and replace them with Christmas things; this time I am going to leave them packed away and just pack up Christmas when it is over.  We may have blank walls for a few months, but it makes sense in an efficiency sort of way.  I really hate moving. I do not mind unpacking and organizing – I actually love that part. I just hate packing and loading, and then unloading all our stuff off a truck. My back already hurts, thinking about it.  We have less, but there is still a lot.  And I want to be sure that this season, we remember our family members not with us, so I am going to try and be organized, starting with birthdays. I am already behind because I totally forgot my older son’s birthday, and instead remembered his son’s first Halloween.  Grandma took over! LOL!  I got him a gift, but it is sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be mailed. Gotta do that…

Maybe I will blog about favorite Christmas carols, movies, Christmas light shows, or things we do during the Holiday season.  Foods, sights, smells – all of it.  Hmmm….thinking, thinking.  I know it will progress as life moves on, but I do promise to be less wordy and more to the point, and not as preachy or as “teachy,” either!  Hang in there with me – blogging is all new territory. Ideas? Share them!! It’s a journey I hope we can share.

Reach out and touch somebody’s hand….

St. Josaphat

Today is the Feast Day of St. Josaphat, a unifier of the East and West within Catholicism.  He was a preacher, but most importantly, he was a pray-er.  We need more prayer warriors these days!  So, in the spirit of unifying prayer, “St. Josaphat, we ask you to pray for our Country and unify us in a common goal…to keep America a free, Christian, country. Please turn the hearts of our leaders to the just cause of unifying our country and bringing peace at home, and afar. Amen.”

Many of my friends and readers are fundamental Christians and the thought of asking a Saint to pray for them is absurd, and I respect that.  We Catholics believe that the Souls of those who have gone before us are still with us, in a very spiritual way.  We believe they are present with us, and are with Our Lord, in the Church Triumphant.  We ask their prayers, and add them to our own, in supplication to Our Lord.  It’s like how some people feel their departed family members are still watching over them?  Ever feel that way?  Well, we feel that way about all the Holy Souls who have gone before us and we ask them to pray for us, just like I am asking you to pray for our Country.  We believe they are in that spiritual plane with Our Lord (the Beatific Vision) and can hear our prayers, and will pray for us and with us, if we ask them.  Hey, I figure the more praying, the better -our country is in a mess!

My thoughts today are all over the map.  We spent the weekend chasing down “dress blues” for our son, who is involved with the Civil Air Patrol, or CAP.  We went to “Joint Base Lewis/McChord” and spent 2 hours all over the Army side, only to be told (after the second uniform shop) that the Air Force has their side and we had to drive about 5 miles back up north, to their gate and their uniform shop.  Hilarious!  So much for a “joint base” or a “unified” military base!! But we came out with the right clothing and he is over-the-moon about it! He loves wearing a “real” uniform and is so proud of being in CAP.  It is a wonderful organization, is open to both sexes, and runs from age 12 to age 20.  Great group; we are blessed.  And we experienced life on a military base again (our son was in the Army and my husband was Navy) at a time when our youngest son will remember it; and it just so happened it coincided with Veteran’s Day!

We have been dealing with a sort of weather-election-induced ennui settling over us and it is making my thoughts turn inward, while noticing the outward manifestations of a general “blah.”  My god daughter is flying up from CA for Thanksgiving and I really want her to experience a Northwest Thanksgiving! All the amazing colors, the falling leaves, the rain and snow!  I just have to get past the cold, dark days and mood that has settled over us, and appreciate the weather change for its own beauty and enjoyment! I love sweaters and fires in the fireplace, along with a nice cup of tea – and I love having all the fall colors and smells and tastes. I think it has become my favorite time of year! So I need to mentally pinch myself and get myself to action!

In preparation for Thanksgiving, as I look back over the past year, we have so much to be grateful for.  Our eldest son and his wife presented the world with their first child, a boy, in January.  What a blessing he is in our lives!  Our son found training and employment after 8 years of serving our Country in the military. Some days are rough and some are very, very awesome. It is a blessing he has a new career and joy in what he does.  And then in May, our middle son graduated from College.  We are so proud of his accomplishments.  In June, he was married and they are now expecting their first child in May.  (We are so thrilled! Being a grandparent is incredible)!  And, they are both employed, which is another blessing. In amongst all those blessings, we have lost some of the people we love, and we have some people we care deeply for, suffering greatly.  My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in just a few, short weeks, just before Easter.  The blessing is that he was able to meet his first great-grandchild before he passed away.  All of our children were able to spend some quality time with him, at his bedside, and were there when he actually passed away, surrounded by his family.  Our sons held up their dad, as he mourned the passing of his father.  It was a blessing to be together, as a family, during a very hard time.  God is good.

We have friends and family who are suffering, even now. A friend I wrote about in one of my first blogs was placed in the hospital today, for further observance and the hopes of finding some solutions for her many health problems.  I am praying for her constantly.  We have family members who are currently suffering, both in health and in finances.  Losses of jobs and incomes, both, have affected our family.  Health cares are a major concern and we have some rough times right around the proverbial corner.  We keep ourselves in constant prayer for those around us, who are suffering.

Each of the lives I have mentioned has been affected directly by the outcome of this election.  Some friends and family who have depended upon subsidies and monies from corporations, rather than just relying on Social Security, are now having to reconsider their retirement.  Some lost medical benefits and are struggling being accepted into state- and federally-sponsored programs.  Some are waiting for benefits that will now be re-evaluated in light of Obamacare.  And I fear for some of my older family members, that they may be denied the care they need.

St. Josephat reminds us that we need to “reach across the aisle” and become a Country unified in helping their neighbor.  I almost cry, just looking at photos from the East Coast, and have been brought to tears, hearing some of the stories coming out of the disastrous storm, Sandy. There are thousands still without the basic necessities of power, food, water, and shelter. There are sharks preying on the victims, promoting scams on them. (I just don’t know how those people sleep at night). There are people of great influence putting on coats, hats, and gloves and digging in themselves, helping to clean up neighborhoods.  The dead are still being uncovered.  And winter is almost upon us.  In addition to the fallout of Sandy, we have that “fiscal cliff” looming ever larger.  How can we allow the process of sequestration to even happen? How did it ever get this far?

According to Dr. Paul M. Johnson, sequestration is: Originally a legal term referring generally to the act of valuable property being taken into custody by an agent of the court and locked away for safekeeping, usually to prevent the property from being disposed of or abused before a dispute over its ownership can be resolved. But the term has been adapted by Congress in more recent years to describe a new fiscal policy procedure originally provided for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 — an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the Federal government’s budget deficit a matter of conscious choice rather than simply the arithmetical outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them. If the dozen or so appropriation bills passed separately by Congress provide for total government spending in excess of the limits Congress earlier laid down for itself in the annual Budget Resolution, and if Congress cannot agree on ways to cut back the total (or does not pass a new, higher Budget Resolution), then an “automatic” form of spending cutback takes place. This automatic spending cut is what is called “sequestration.”

And this is where partisanship has brought us.  Automatic forms of spending cutbacks.  And it cannot simply be stopped. To further quote Dr. Johnson, “Under sequestration, an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated is “sequestered” by the Treasury and not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally appropriated by Congress. In theory, every agency has the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in order to take back the excessive spending on an “across the board” basis. However, Congress has chosen to exempt certain very large programs from the sequestration process (for example, Social Security and certain parts of the Defense budget), and the number of exempted programs has tended to increase over time — which means that sequestration would have to take back gigantic shares of the budgets of the remaining programs in order to achieve the total cutbacks required, virtually crippling the activities of the un-exempted programs.

The prospect of sequestration has thus come to seem so catastrophic that Congress so far has been unwilling actually to let it happen. Instead, Congress has repeatedly chosen simply to raise the Budget Resolution spending caps upward toward the end of the legislative session in order to match the actual totals already appropriated, thus largely wiping out the incentives that the reformed budget procedures were expected to provide for Congress to get better control of the budget deficit.”

We need to stop digging in our heels and refusing to negotiate.  We need to give and take, as well as demand.  It is inappropriate for our elected officials to keep approving more spending (aka, “raising the cap”) when there is no more money to spend.  Printing more money because we run out is foolishness and folly. The system needs to be overhauled.  The looming crisis is affecting everything we do – food prices, housing costs, heating costs, clothing, schooling, medical care – everything.  The cost of the fallout from Sandy, in light of our fiscal cliff, is almost catastrophic; the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Our costs are so far beyond the money the government takes in, that adjusting is nonsensical.  Taxing the top tiers of income-earners is also folly.  Do you think they will keep being prosperous if they know their own income is going more and more to float the government’s fiscal irresponsibility?  What’s the incentive to be a success?  In addition to that, we have to personalize and place into perspective what is happening on Capitol Hill.  How many of us continue to spend without making an income?  If we head for a fiscal cliff in our personal lives and keep on spending, our credit is shot; we loose our homes – our creditors will not allow us to spend more than we take in; we become bankrupt, or collapse.  We need to realize that our government is in the same place.  They are about ready to collapse in a heap, after going off this “fiscal cliff” everyone keeps talking about.  How can you justify borrowing money from China, at a high rate of interest, in order to fund foreign countries? The interest alone on these loans is crippling our economy.  China, if it calls in all its loans, will soon own America.  We cannot continue down this path and still maintain our independent Republic.  Mr. Obama can salute all the flags he wants, wear his lapel pin, and put his hand over his heart (gee, wonder if staff told him to behave??) but he is not changing the basic ideals he stands for. He is a socialist parading as the leader of the “free world,” intent on destroying the America our Founding Fathers gave us.

It is time we reach across the aisle in our personal lives, as well as our political lives, and let others know we are reaching out.  We need to let our elected officials know we are not sheep, and we are paying attention!  We want to be a more unified Country while we can still recognize it!  And prayer can change anything and everything. In the spirit of the Veterans we remember today (our official public holiday) and in the spirit of the saint who shares this day as his feast day, St. Josaphat, let’s all unite in prayer and reach out to our friends, family, and political adversaries to keep America the Beautiful exactly that; beautifully free.

Pondering, mulling, musing….learning!!

I have been pondering, musing, mulling over the fallout from the election. And I wanted to share that I learned something yesterday; any day you can add to your knowledge is a good day, whether it is good information, or sobering information.  Yesterday was a sobering day.  But I also was happy, in an odd sort of way, to learn what I kind of already knew, but perhaps it was a feeling of being vindicated, or at least confirmed in my beliefs.  Let me explain:

In many circles and in many places in society, but most especially in circles of Catholic thought, there has been a movement described as “post modernism.”  Here is a complicated, but pretty accurate definition to mull over in your mind:

A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.  Postmodernism is “post” because it denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called “modern” mind.”

So basically, what it means is that there are prescribed sets of information we have, say, in science or literature, or religion, that have become part of our “treasury of knowledge” over the years. In post-modernistic thinking, that treasure is up for personal interpretation.  Which, if you look at it purely scientifically, is almost funny.  I mean, 2 + 2 = 4.  Period.  No interpretation there! But a post-modernist would argue that it could be 3.5 or even 4.5 and go on to explain why.  Some post-modernism has found its way into our collective thinking and is earmarked by those who can see it, by balancing those thoughts alongside traditional views and information.  For example, in postmodernism, it is perfectly okay for a practicing Catholic to choose to support abortion, because as interpreted by them, well, it’s like Mr. Biden said, “I personally believe it is wrong, but I would not impose my beliefs on others.”  To take it further, some pew-sitting-regular-Mass-attending Catholics think that the Church’s stance on birth control and abortion are “old fashioned” and believe it is okay to throw those thoughts out and still be a Catholic in good standing with the Church.  From a postmodernist’s perspective, they are correct.  From the 2,000 year, unchanging traditional teaching of the Church, they are incorrect.

There is something else which has been whispered about but not spoken of too often in the public arena, and that is the concept of “secular humanism.”   “The philosophy or life stance, secular humanism , embraces human reason, ethics, social justice and philosophical naturalism, whilst specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

It posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions. Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology—be it religious or political—must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Many Humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism or evolutionary ethics, and some advocate a science of morality.” [And don’t beat me up for it, but I copied that off Wikipedia!! I know it’s not the best source, but it was quick and easy and was pretty accurate!]

Secular humanism has crept into our entire culture.  It has invaded our school system to such an extent that the children indoctrinated into it have now reached voting age.  And the results of this indoctrination is our election on Tuesday of Mr. Obama to a second term.

I was reading this amazing blog last night and in it the author quoted all sorts of statistics and they are rambling about in my head, banging up against my skull and I have to spit them out or I will go nuts!  Did you know that 27% of all Evangelical Protestants voted for Obama? Again?  And that of all Catholics who voted, 50% of them voted for Obama? Again?  Both categories saw a marked decrease in voting…we had over a million fewer voters this election all across the demographics.  57% (I know it doesn’t add up, but it was the statistic I was given) of all Catholic voters chose Mr. Romney, while just under 24% of Evangelicals voted for him. [One of the issues Evangelicals were fighting against was their view that Mormonism is a cult and they did not accept him as a man of faith. More’s the pity for our Country!  While I am not Mormon myself, I have family members who are and if more people were as chaste, good, and uncorrupted, well, this Country would not have elected Mr. Obama, again.  Enough said.]

The blogger I was reading also noted that if Evangelicals, and Catholics, if all Christians, were truly evangelized on the statutes of family and marriage, the right to life, economic responsibility, and the duty to vote, our Country would have had a much different outcome on Wednesday morning.  Pastors are letting us all down by not sharing with their congregations the importance of Biblical principles.  And because they are not using their 1-hour a week with their parishioners, the secular humanism, post-modernism that has infiltrated our culture is winning. And the opposing viewpoint spends more than one hour a week doing so!

One of my friends posted on Facebook, “Carl Rove and Dick Morris, please retire.”  It made me giggle because those two had all of us believing we had a shot at this election. Carl Rove had Romney winning by a landslide.  And his explanation on Wednesday was very interesting.  In between wiping his chin from his meal of humble pie, he admitted that he was fooled.  He and most of the Republican party were fooled. They honestly thought that the win by Obama in 2008 was a fluke! Carl talked about “iPod listening, Mac using, college-aged idealogs voting for Obama, the rock star” and he did not realize that it was not momentary insanity brought on by some amazing campaigning by the Democratic strategists.  What he called “micro-targeting” of the electorate.  The electorate really, honestly, believe in what Obama and the Democratic platform stand for.  There is no longer a broad-based, dense base, of Reagan-Republicans that are going to come to the rescue at the polls.  The Democratic strategists went for the jugular in many ways.  So, do you vote for someone because Beyonce says they’re cool?  Well, I don’t, but those kids out there, raised in secular humanist tradition, they do.  Why?  Well, in our age of instant everything, no one takes the time to intelligently research their vote.  Did you sit down and read through your voter pamphlet? Did you do your own research on candidates and referendums on the ballot?  I did; and maybe you did because you are reading this blog and are like-minded, but most electorates did not.  They walked into that booth and thought something like, “Now who is this guy running for the Senate? Oh, yeah, I saw him on stage with Bruce Springsteen one time. Love that new album. Think I’ll vote for this guy, who was with Bruce; gotta be a cool dude.”  And as silly as that example is, it should chill you to the bone.  I heard a speaker (a young woman) being interviewed outside the DNC, say on TV, that seeing someone with a celebrity, well, “it’s not that important; except that the people watching that celebrity on some fund-raising concert stage, well, they read ‘People’ magazine for their information; they watch the ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ and they stood in line for two days for the new iPhone 5.  They don’t read the National Review.” And that is how the Democrats were able to “micro-target” their electorate.

The Republicans, in my view, presented a wonderful platform of being given an opportunity to work and to be stable, with an economy that favored the working class.  Fiscal responsibility.  That is a concept not breached in post modernism or in secular humanism.  In both of those philosophies, the government is there for you!  The government will do for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Keeping God out of the Democratic platform is a natural progression, when you look at their overall strategy.  They are further separating our principles of governing from our moral principles.

In my previous blogs, I was so focused on us all turning inward and examining how we treat our fellow man.  And, I still believe that is part of what is wrong with our Country.  But now that secular humanism was actually discussed on national TV as being an issue in the election, I think it is time we evangelize our neighbors and friends with some hard truths.  We cannot divorce ourselves from thousands of years of thoughts and traditions. It just does not work.  Look at Rome, for example.  Early Roman culture was simple. You were of the ruling class or you were not.  Period.  Very difficult to move from one to the other.  And the ruling class controlled everything.  (It is similar to the caste system in India).  Then along comes one of the ruling class and he is elevated to “Caesar.”  (Caesar translates as King in English, Kaiser in German, or Czar in Russian. Just a little factoid for you!! Treat me accordingly – just kidding!).  Once the autocrat took complete control of Rome and its culture, we had hedonism and homosexuality; we had Christians being murdered in the arena.  Nero burned Rome because he wanted to build a bigger castle and no one would finance it.  So he set Rome on fire, sat there fiddling, and blamed it on the upstart sect, the Christians.  There are so many parallels in our culture with the last years of Rome. A big one that glares out at me is our adulation of athletes as stars of culture.  Look at the arenas they “battle” in! Have you wondered why you are able to recognize them as “Coliseums”?  They look like the original Coliseum in Rome!  We now have athletes and actors telling us which cause to support and which candidate to vote for.  They are just people; and most are not as well informed about the ideas and people they pontificate about.  We would do well to ignore them all; certainly cut their disgusting salaries!   If you think that secular humanism or post modernism looked bad back in the height of the Roman debacle and ultimate crash, buckle up, because it is taking over America and Mr. Obama is leading the charge.

Mr. Obama is a socialist in so many ways. His financial ideology as well as his universal healthcare is just a part of it. He believes in abortion at any time during pregnancy and supports partial birth abortion, as well as being against the “Born Alive Infant Act” wherein he feels it is permissible to allow an infant who survives abortion to die, or to actively be killed (infanticide). To quote his testimony on abortion and his argument against the “Born Alive Infant Act: “that fetus, or child — however way you want to say or describe it” when, contrary to the wishes of the women involved and their abortionists, there was “movement or some indication that, in fact, they’re not just coming out limp and dead.” He voted three times to defeat the Born Alive Infant Act.”

Mr. Obama has been raised with a different mindset than many of us have. But his mindset is more common than most of us realized, before Wednesday morning.  And we have ourselves to blame. We have stood idly by and not done a thing about statutes that were put in place across a wide range of subjects – education, taxes, property rights, health care, immigration – the list goes on and on.  We don’t think we have the right to impose our beliefs on others and we also think “someone else will do it,” to the detriment of this Country.  Over half of eligible voters DID NOT VOTE.  They either don’t think their vote counts or matters, or they just don’t “deal with politics.”  Unfortunately, I was just like that in my early 20s.  I have learned, as I have aged, that my place in society is a privilege and part of that privilege has rights and duties attached to it.  It is my right to vote, but it is also my civic duty.  It is my right to be judged by a panel of my peers, but it is also my duty to serve on juries.  It is my voluntary right to serve my Country in the military, but it is also my duty to serve wherever I am asked to serve. There are so many instances where our rights are balanced by our duties.  But we have abrogated our duties in favor of laziness or convenience, to the detriment of our Country. And we are all participating in the socialization of America, whether we agree with what I am saying or not.  And I say this because the polls are showing us that we have not acted; we have abdicated our responsibility to our Country to less than half of the eligible voters.  We need everyone who is eligible, to be counted!

Post modernists believe that they can interpret things to fit themselves, regardless of how that fits with traditional viewpoints.  We see it in Catholicism in what we have lovingly termed, “Cafeterianism.”  Imagine being in a cafeteria line and being allowed to pick and choose what you want to believe in from the host of 2,000 years of traditions and teaching.  This is most apparent in those who believe in abortion and birth control, while still believing they are good Catholics, as I stated before (it’s the easiest example to use). The two are diametrically opposed to one another, but in a post modernist’s mind, it is perfectly acceptable.  Now if you add to the mix that these Catholics have also attended public schools where secular humanism is taught, you have a recipe for disaster.  The evidence of the disaster is in the fact that Catholics voted for Mr. Obama and felt it was perfectly okay to do so, alongside their Evangelical friends.

In regards to Evangelical Protestants, most have been taught, generally, that marriage is between a man and a woman and is a life-long commitment, that the traditional family is how we rear the next generation, that God and Country are important, and that our faith is what motivates us in our daily lives. Evangelicals also believe, and have been discipled to believe, that Godly principles as laid forth in Scripture, dominate all aspects of our lives; it should infiltrate everything we do and every bit of who we are. It is how we treat others, how we conduct ourselves in our businesses and professions, and in our dealings with others in all areas of our lives.  That is a common thread all Christians share.

The issue facing us as a culture is that our Judeo-Christian beliefs are under siege. They are under siege in the schools, in the media, and in the politics of our Country.  We will have no more success in putting forth strong leaders for our Country unless we undergo what many are calling the “Third Evangelization.” We need to teach Christians, once again and with increased fervor,  what being Christian is truly meant to be.  It means we need to teach our neighbors about Christian principles.  It means we need to teach our children what being a Christian truly means.  And with allowing our children to be indoctrinated in the public school system, we have to be doubly aware and doubly on guard! (Which is another reason to home school or use the charter system).  We are in for a very rough ride over the next four years, and beyond.  Mr. Obama and his administration are determined to change the very fabric of America.  When we take back the White House in 2016, it will take a huge battle to do it!  It is being said that we are facing an economic cliff.  The cliff we are facing is more than economic – it is moral and and it is religious, as well.  Our rights and freedoms are being eroded so clinically, we don’t even feel the cuts.  Did you know the UN is proposing gun control in America? Did you know that no foreign power has the right to dictate laws within America?  Is Mr. Obama looking at this possibility? Well, he said as much in one of his stump speeches.  The sad part is that he thinks it is perfectly acceptable for the UN to dictate that Americans can or cannot bear arms.  I posted on a friend’s Facebook Wall a response to that and it said simply, “Out of my cold, dead fingers.”  I know that is dramatic, but unless we all realize the dire position we are in as Americans, my grandchildren will never know the freedoms I have known.  They will never live in a truly free America. Their freedoms will be gone, and our generation did nothing to stop it.  Sometimes prayer is not enough. Righteous anger is justified – Christ overturned the money-changers’ tables in the Temple grounds.  He was mad!  But then, He instructed them, and that is where we now find ourselves.  We are licking our wounds, but it is time to move on to the instruction, evangelization phase.

Post modernism and secular humanism need to be shown for what they are – nonsense, to put it succintly.  And we need to get back to behaving as our Founding Fathers behaved, as good, God-fearing Christians, schooled in their faith and their Constitution, and being able to defend it. And we need to instruct our children, for the sake of our grandchildren.  And we need to reach out and evangelize every person we meet, in order to defeat, in 2016!!

I feel better now. See, learning is fun! Some days sobering, but still fun!