Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Umm, About That Meal Planning Stuff ....

I don't seem to be doing such a great job of it this week. 


I'm doing better with the fun stuff. 
Ramona recently spotted owl-shaped baking pans at the store (I had totally passed them by, but she's not one to miss a tool that will make baking more fun.) So, we made pumpkin muffins. 

Tomorrow we're planning on some flower-shaped cookies in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux. 

But since pumpkin muffins and sugar cookies aren't exactly dinner, anyone have favorite, go-to, EASY autumn dinner ideas to share? 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Read-Aloud Update

Last night, we read chapters 23 ("Malfoy Manor") and 24 ("The Wandmaker")  to Ramona.

I say "we" because Betsy and I traded off the reading, due to the happenings at the end of 23, the opening of 24, and, you know, well, crying.

I won't say what happened, in case you haven't read it. But if you want to talk about it, the support group can meet in Comments.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Books We're Reading

Read alouds with Ramona:

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster has long been a favorite around here. This is Ramona's first time to fully get into it. We tried it a number of years ago, and she was too young to appreciate all the word play, but this time, we're constantly either chuckling quietly together or laughing out loud at the punny wit.

Also: Lloyd Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.

A different kind of road trip book and so far, a delightful one. Magical, funny, intriguing.


On her own, Ramona is reading:

Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George.  She liked Tuesdays at the Castle, so wanted to move on through the days of the week. I haven't read this series myself -- we picked it up for a library book club. 

And, in the last moments before she goes to sleep, she opts for something gentle and beloved, like Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys

My recent reading: 

I wanted to read these side by side for comparison's sake. I have read Father Elijah more times than I can count. I love this book. It's a deeply spiritual read for me, and it's also, as C.S. Lewis called such writing, a "rattlin' good story." I had never read Lord of the World before but I have a priest friend who thinks it is a superior apocalyptic story. I came away from my first read of Lord of the World and my reread of Father Elijah with mixed reactions. Lord of the World struck me as somewhat dated, but that's no surprise. It was written in the early 1900s, and predicted a particular kind of world that would come about less than 100 years later. Some of it is certainly prophetic, even if other parts feel forced. The depiction of the anti-Christ figure/politician often seemed unsubtle to me. But where Benson soars is in his spiritual reflections -- the protagonist/priest's reflections at times took my breath away, and the ending is astonishingly beautiful. 

Father Elijah can do the same thing for me -- so many dog-eared pages, and reflections that feel like prayer. As far as the plot, so much more is going on, and a number of the characters are so much more developed that I think of it, in some ways, as a better novel (a more rattlin' tale), if one is judging merely form. Still, they are both marvelous books, worth reading, reflecting on, and praying about. 


And now for something completely different. Based on recommendations from my friend Danae, and from Anne-with-an-e and Betsy, I'm reading The Martian, by Andy Weir. I love a good survival story. I'm only a few pages in, and I may skip over some of the engineer-y, overly technical stuff, but I can't wait to find out more about the potatoes. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poetry Friday: Arthur Sze's The Shapes of Leaves

This is a poignant poem, and the way it touches on grief touches me deeply this week on a dreary autumn day in Nebraska. 

We seem surrounded by grief and sadness lately -- miscarriages among friends, the death of an old friend (he was the best man at our wedding, a former professor of ours, an amazing human being), and other losses -- some peripheral, some not. I think grief leaves me grasping for control -- control over things I am not in control of. 

Arthur Sze does something stunning with this poem. He gives voice to autumn, autumn as I have always felt it, loved it. 

And in the end, there is an upsweep of hope, like spring, like faith, like the clean, sweet scent of the air after a rain. 

The Shapes of Leaves 
by Arthur Sze

Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

(Read the rest here, at


Photo courtesy of Free Images

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sarah Reinhard Has a New Book!

And it's lovely and helpful and it's about the Rosary! Well, not exactly about the Rosary ... it's a companion to the Rosary, full of reflections and meditations that can help you get the most out of this beloved prayer.

It's coming out in October, and I'm delighted to be a small part of Word by Word: Slowing Down With the Hail Mary. You can pre-order it now. Find out more from Sarah here, or from Ave Maria Press.

Friday, September 11, 2015

First Week of School

Photo thanks to FreeImages

Yes, we're back at it.

Many moons ago, we decided that the two non-negotiables of the first day of school were Mass and breakfast out. (To my daughters' chagrin, I've always added the somewhat negotiable, "And a little bit of math.")

It used to be so easy to schedule these things. The day after Labor Day = First Day of School. But schedules are more complicated these days. Anne and Betsy wanted to join us for our first day ritual, but their morning schedules made it trickier. Anyway, for a variety of reasons involving Mass schedules, college schedules, yada, yada, we went to Mass on Tuesday evening. Not perfect scheduling, because Anne couldn't join us, but on the plus side, the new priest at our parish made a point of stopping to ask what he can do to support the miscarriage ministry I help with, so that was lovely. On Wednesday morning, all four of us went out to breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, and loads of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, depending on which Edmisten you are.

On the way home, we cranked up the volume in the car and belted out "Let It Go." Then I had to let go of my college girls so they could go have their lives. Ramona and I dove into some math, read some books, and talked about plans and ideas for the school year.


In other news, I am on the final Harry Potter book with Ramona!

from Facebook:

Sept. 6th: The down side of being the youngest in this family/late to the Harry Potter party: Ramona didn't get the fun of midnight movies, book release parties, winning costume contests, and staying up till the wee hours to rip into the latest release. The upside? One book and movie after another. We finished Half-Blood Prince last night, watched the movie today, and then started reading Deathly Hallows. Anne, Betsy, and I are already talking about creating a final feast for Ramona that will include chocolate frogs, pumpkin pasties, chicken wings or legs (for Ron-style/two-fisted eating), butter beer, and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.

Sept. 7th: Reading HP & the Deathly Hallows to Ramona today ... my throat hurts from my Mad-Eye Moody voice.

And from Instagram ... Ramona made Luna Lovegood's Spectre Specs.

I will be extremely sad when we finish Deathly Hallows (and not just because of all the deaths I'm going to have to read about aloud...wish me luck.) It will be the end of an era at our house. However, the great relief for all of us will be no longer having to say, "Don't talk about that in front of Ramona! Spoilers!"* 

*Last night, Atticus took Ramona along with him when he had to help run a concession stand at his school. When he introduced her to the students they would be working with, he said, "This is my daughter. She's currently reading the last Harry Potter book, so if anyone talks about Harry Potter, NO SPOILERS."
I love that man. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Poetry Friday: Reading Late

This poem made me think of Atticus, and for that I love it dearly.

Reading Late
by Jesse Graves

We walked between the ponds at World’s Fair Park
the first night we knew something definite had hold of us,

conversations reaching not much beyond favorite bands,
least favorite jobs. We had not held hands.

Nothing existed of our daughter, not yet a nameless dream,

(It's short -- go read the rest here, at The Writer's Almanac.)


The round up is at TeacherDance.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

I'm Back!

Yes, I dropped off the face of the earth for a bit. I was in the final days before a manuscript deadline, so I was ignoring the outside world (although I did throw the occasional dinner at my family.) But now, the big work is done and when the time is right, I can't wait to tell you more about the upcoming book!


Besides finishing a book, I've been adjusting to the fact that Atticus returned to work on August 10th. Umm, excuse me, school system, but next time I'm writing a book do you think you could time the beginning of school to coincide with my deadline? Because losing my dinner chef three weeks before I turn in a book is not cool.

Now that I'm cooking (I use the term loosely) again, we are having lots of quinoa, black bean, and tomato salad.

My culinary point of view remains, as it has always been, "How to cook using the fewest possible pots, pans and utensils." Yes, it's true: if I had a show on Food Network, it would be called, "Lazy Food."


Sometime in the blur of late summer, I finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to Ramona and we are now 500+ pages into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I love these books. I love that we have been able to keep significant plot twists from Ramona. I love the way my college girls watch Ramona for her reaction when something big happens. I love everything about the way Harry has been part of our family, including the fact that Ramona was Dobby (for a book release party) long before (how many years ago was this??) she knew who Dobby was: 

(Next up: must dig up the best pictures of Anne-with-an-e as Professor Trelawney and Betsy as Luna Lovegood.) 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's Quiet Here ... Too Quiet

I'm in the last few days of finishing a book, due to my editor very soon.

That's why I've been so quiet. Nothing unsettling.

Just fingers to keyboard, red pen to paper.

So, in order to pretend I'm blogging, here's my latest, favorite quote about writing:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." 

                      ~~ Thomas Mann

Friday, August 14, 2015

Poetry Friday: On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

Every year in August, I'm struck by "the poetry of the earth." The cicadas are pleasantly deafening on an August night in Nebraska. Atticus mentioned last night that when he was a child, their song meant there was a month of summer left, but these days (oh, why must school start so early?) it means he's back to work.

For me, the cicada song also means, "Since Atticus is back to work, I've lost my chef and I have to start planning dinners again."

O, cicada!

O, late summer!

O, Atticus! We miss you. (And not just your cooking.)

On the Grasshopper and Cricket*
John Keats

The poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.


Heidi Mordhorst has the Poetry Friday round up.

*In the public domain.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

5 Things You Can Do to Model Joy and Optimism For Your Kids

It's an ugly world out there. I don't even have to sum up headlines for you -- you can just pick the one that depresses you the most and we'll go from there.

When all the news everywhere seems bad and the future seems precarious, what do we do? And what do we tell our children?

My instinct is to look for the good (which is kind of funny, since by nature I'm a melancholic INFJ, or, in Inside Out Speak, the character of Sadness.)

Things have always been dire. From the time Moses despaired over the ingratitude of the Israelites ("Please do me the favor of killing me at once!") to the first-pope-elect who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, to the Church Militant (which has regularly fallen down on fighting the good fight), to each of us sinners in our fallen state ... the history of humanity is the history of a mess.

But kids are basically optimistic by nature and they're always looking forward to the Next Great Thing, so I like to try to help mine find it. Hope, after all, is one of the theological virtues:

"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1818)

With that in mind, here are five steps on the road to Joy and Optimism, aka Hope:

1. Remind Yourself and Your Kids What True Joy Is 

And it's not the stuff of this earth -- it's not about jobs, cars, money, success. (There is joy to be found here on earth -- witness coffee and books -- but it's not the main event.)

There will always be pain, challenges, and difficulties in this earthly life. Despite the struggles, the constant disappointments, the inevitable suffering, there is the joy that is my faith. It's something bigger than and different from happiness. It's the firm belief and the reason-defying knowledge that there's something more out there -- that He is out there -- and that everything He allows for me is meant for my good.

He is here with me. There's nothing more joy-inspiring than that sure knowledge.

2. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Jesus Started the Church and the Holy Spirit Is Guiding It -- i.e., He's Got Things Covered

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. Matt. 16:18

Free will, by its nature, allows the existence of evil and evil choices. That has been true since Adam and Eve, and it will be true as long as time exists. There will be many crosses to bear in this life, but we can't lose sight of eternal life, our final, and ultimately our only, goal.

"Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit." (CCC 1817)

The gates of hell will not prevail.

What am I doing to help build up the Church, this incredible gift, that Christ gave me?

3. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Prayer is the Best Reminder 

"Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire." (CCC 1820)

When facing a trial, when listening to the news, when pondering evil, when healing from pain, when wondering what to do ... pray. Remind your kids to pray. Stop what you're doing and pray. Pray alone, pray with them. Remind them to pray for a strengthening of their own faith, for your family's faith and unity, for all sinners (including ourselves), for the church, for the pope, for the world.

Remind them that prayer drives away hate and strengthens love.

4. Remind Yourself and Your Kids To Be Grateful (Especially When Things Are Going Wrong.) 

It's so easy to complain, and so easy to let our kids see us do it. I fail at this a lot, but when I'm being mindful, I actively search for things to be grateful for. When life is chaotic and I'm exasperated, it's helpful to seek out one tiny part of the situation that I can count as something good (or at least as something that could have been worse.)

For every time I ask Jesus, "Why do You allow ....?" He replies, "This is why, and here's why you can thank Me in the moment."  Or, if He isn't making the "why" of it clear, I can still say "Thank you" anyway. He always has His reasons.

Say all of this stuff out loud to your kids.

5. Look to the Gospel 

The Good News is simply, as St. Augustine said, this:

"Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man!"

When we remember that earth-shattering and humbling fact, then we can stop wringing our hands  and just get to work. Do corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Love our families. Give to the poor. Learn and live our faith.

As Pope Francis said, “Everyone is invited to enter this door, to go through the door of faith, to enter into His life, and to allow Jesus into their lives, so that he may transform them, renew them, and give them full and lasting joy."


Recently, something was going wrong around here (I can't even remember what it was -- nothing horrible, but just something really frustrating) and Betsy said, "Well, there's a bright side! At least we can be grateful for--"

I cut her off and said, "Why are you so chipper about this? I'm so annoyed."

"Hey," she said, "You raised me. I get this from you."

Model and embrace the joy and hope and your kids -- I'm guessing from experience? -- will have no choice but to do the same.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Bits and Pieces of Our Days

Ramona spent last week doing a theater camp. The performance was Saturday morning, and Atticus brought her roses to celebrate:

The play was a fun version of The Pied Piper. The reviews of her portrayal of a corrupt senator are in, and we expect Broadway producers to start calling any day. (We may be biased.)


Yesterday, Betsy and Ramona broke out the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice. The following things may or may not have been posted on Facebook recently: 

Girls planning a Pride & Prejudice marathon: 
Girl 1:"We should get a bunch of snacks ready." 
Girl 2:"By snacks - you mean spoons & Nutella?"


When the girls started up the the 6-hr. Pride & Prejudice this morning, Atticus said, "The Lizzy-athon has begun!"

"No," I said, "it's the Colin-palooza."

I can report that there was indeed Nutella, and spoons were spotted. Also present were these indecently good Smitten Kitchen granola bars. I'm pretty sure popcorn was popped at some point, and when Atticus got home from errands, he threw some chocolate bars the girls' way.

We are enablers.


Speaking of Facebook, yesterday I said this:

I wish my life had a soundtrack. Then I'd know if I should be feeling anxious or triumphant.

Life would be so much easier, yes?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Poetry Friday: Leisure, by Amy Lowell

I am all about creating enough margin in our lives that we don't go crazy. I must admit, however, that this summer has felt a little crazy by our standards. The busy-ness has all been great stuff.  I don't begrudge any of us any of it but I am trying to make sure we still have time for the "goddess of a bygone age." 

Amy Lowell

Leisure, thou goddess of a bygone age,
When hours were long and days sufficed to hold
Wide-eyed delights and pleasures uncontrolled
By shortening moments, when no gaunt presage
Of undone duties, modern heritage,
Haunted our happy minds; must thou withhold
Thy presence from this over-busy world,
And bearing silence with thee disengage
Our twined fortunes? Deeps of unhewn woods
Alone can cherish thee, alone possess
Thy quiet, teeming vigor. This our crime:
Not to have worshipped, marred by alien moods
That sole condition of all loveliness,
The dreaming lapse of slow, unmeasured time.


The round up is at Reflections on the Teche.


"Leisure" is in the public domain. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Our Eyes Should Be Open"

I just haven't had time lately.

I'm not complaining. Life is good and busy, and the busy-ness is all of the good variety. I just feel as if I haven't had time lately to sit down with my friends (you!) and have a cup of coffee and chat about what's going on.

Late June and these first weeks of July simply flew. We got back from a trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas (visits to my side of the family) and soon after that came a speaking engagement at a homeschooling conference in Omaha, and no sooner had we returned home from that than our friends from Florida came to stay for a few days. And whenever I haven't been traveling or asking Atticus what he's cooking our guests for dinner, I've been working on a book that is due to the publisher very soon.

Today is Sunday, right? (I've lost track of days.) Sabbath rest, and we all need it. I'm sitting in my room (which doubles as my office on workdays, but today it's just a haven) with my laptop, and I can hear nothing from the living room. People are reading or napping or scrolling. I just now turned on the air conditioner, because it's been such a lovely day.

I keep meaning to write about the Filled With Joy conference in Omaha because it really was filled with joy, and it felt like such a privilege to be a part of it. We had two of our daughters with us (one of them was at a Steubenville conference), and Friday night was just fun family time and burgers and shakes for dinner. Something happened to all of us, though, on Friday night in the hotel room. We're a family prone to insomnia, but this was ridiculous. This was like some kind of Twilight Zone episode or a "Before" shot in a commercial for Excedrin PM. No one was dropping off, and by Saturday morning, I was running on an "I kinda dozed off a couple of times" level of sleep.

How am I going to get through this conference?

I was so cranky that I was growling at everything, including air, and everyone, including my beloved family. It didn't help that I had just spilled hot coffee on my pajamas and then almost washed my wedding ring down the bathroom sink. Atticus left the room to go jump on a treadmill (no surprise -- I would have run from me, too). I grabbed my iPod and opened my Breviary app.

It was the feast day of St. Benedict, and I read these words:

Second reading
From the Rule of Benedict, abbot
Put Christ before everything

My first talk of the day was to be about a homeschooling mom's prayer life. In that talk, I stress that the reason I do what I do -- everything I do -- is Christ.

Then I read:

Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection; 

Oh, this is getting even better, I thought. Maybe I should incorporate this quote into my talk ... maybe I need to share about the sleep deprivation ... about the way the Liturgy of the Hours always speaks to me ... especially when I desperately need it to.

A quiet voice (not a real voice -- I'd love to say that it was a real voice, or that God sounds like Alan Rickman or something, but that wasn't the case. It was just a feeling....) told me, No, you don't need to use that quote. Just hold on to it.

So I did. And I stowed away the idea that if it came up, if I felt truly compelled to share about the rotten night I'd had, I would. I would definitely talk about the way the prayers of the Breviary speak to me, would probably even mention that I had felt spoken to that morning, because I had gone on to read this:

So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep. Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, 

and this:

Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks [and wives and mothers, I thought] should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another.

and this:

Let them put Christ before all else;

I was ready. Another cup of coffee (unspilled this time), some breakfast. Grace was rescuing me. Conference time.

I was the first speaker, and delivered my prayer talk. I alluded to my more-than-satisfactory conversation with God that morning, but didn't give details. Afterward, during Q &A, a woman asked if I would share what specifically had touched me. I had to laugh, because here was the moment in which I felt compelled to share about the bad night, the insomnia, my crabbiness, and how the words of St. Benedict (minus any specific quotes) had soothed my spirit.

But, remember that St. Benedict quote that I considered adding to my talk? (Of course you do -- it was only a few paragraphs ago.) When Suzie Andres began her talk, immediately following mine, she opened with that same quotation, a quotation she had planned to use all along. (I guess there was a reason I was discouraged from stealing it from her.)

And the whole day went that way -- our talks wove in and out of each other, synchronizing so delightfully that if I hadn't known it, I would have thought we'd coordinated remarks.

Our eyes should be open to the God-given light. 

I loved this conference. Huge kudos and thanks to Regina, Kris, and Maureen, all of whom poured countless hours and endless sacrifices into making it run smoothly and beautifully.

And now, because it's Sunday, I think it's nap time.