Monday, September 01, 2014

Why Moments of Beauty Matter

I was reading the July-August issue of Home Education Magazine and came across an article by Erin Labelle, The Heart Follows the Eyes. In it she writes:

My husband and I are photojournalists. We have chosen to celebrate what is good and hopeful through our work because we feel it inspires and encourages.

If you see love, you want to be loved. A bit like the Law of Attraction folks, we have found that focusing on people who have overcome, people who help others, nature, loving relationships, gratitude, altruism and just plain old goodness we have been able to encourage others to do the same. I have learned that wherever I point my camera, my mind is sure to follow. "The heart follows the eyes," my husband says, a bit more poetically to his students. . . Photography can be a form of meditation that fills the heart with gratitude.

Back in 2008, I did a blog for a year focusing on Moments of Beauty (after that year, I transferred ownership of it) and periodically on this blog, I try to feature one I've come across. But with social media and the proliferation of smart phones, it is so easy now to find and share moments of beauty. I searched on twitter for the hashtag #momentofbeauty and found that there are a few people who use it. It would be wonderful if there were more, but even if the hashtag isn't used, it's so important to take the time in our day to notice those small things that we might otherwise pass by like a bird or a flower or a work of art or architectural element or any one of the multitude of beautiful moments in our world. Yes, there is a great deal of pain in this world, but there is also an abundance of goodness and beauty. I invite you to take the time to notice and share them.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures in Homeschooling - The First Week

Thank you to any of you who might have offered a prayer for the success of our homeschooling year. Our first week went relatively well. One of the advantages of having been at this so long is that the kids know the routine. Each day I put a list on our kitchen island of what they need to do for the day. Monday, the boys got up and grudgingly got to work.

I had Monday be an "easy" day focusing on Math, English, Writing, and Reading to get back into the swing of things. Tuesday started the full load. I already scrapped one of the curriculum items I had purchased - not that the book was bad - it just didn't suit us and I knew it was going to cause nothing but aggravation. I already put it up for sale on eBay - someone can benefit from it. One of the beauties of homeschooling it being able to make those type of adjustments. We are still covering the subject, but will be using books from the library.

One of the funniest moments of the week came on Wednesday when David suddenly realized he was an 8th grader. I mean, I think he was aware of the fact before that, but all of a sudden it hit him - that he was in 8th grade, a big kid by any definition, high school right around the corner. I really didn't know what to say. I'm sure the shock of the realization that he is in high school will be even greater next year! 

But for right now, 7th and 8th grade is where we are at. Hopefully the year will go well. One day at a time, we'll get through it! Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Redeeming Administration

With summer vacations winding down and the world getting back to the business of school and work, it is the perfect time to read Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders. Author Ann Garrido serves as a program director at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Lewis. Having been in an administrative role for many years, she brings a unique and much-needed perspective to the topic of Catholic leadership. 

At first glance, it would seem that this book would have a very limited audience, but that is not the case. Even those of us whose administrative domain consists of only one’s family can gain much from reading these pages. In addition to improving our own outlook and spiritual lives, we can also gain a greater appreciation for and understanding of those who work in administrative capacities. As Garrido readily admits, “administrative tasks are often considered odious” and for those not in administration, those in that role are often viewed with suspicion. It’s tough to be the ones who have to make the hard, sometimes unpopular, decisions!

Garrido has provided one habit for each month for administrators to focus on. These include: breadth of vision, generativity, trust, agape, integrity, humility, courage, reflection, humor, forgiveness, embrace death, hope, and a bonus topic of learning to make peace with time. For each of these chapters, she also provides a holy administrator as an example of this habit in practice. Saints such as Angela Merici, Gregory the Great, Martha, Ambrose, Thomas More, and Rose Philippine Duchesne are featured. It was also wonderful to learn about the lives of some lesser-known saints such as Bruno, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, and Mary MacKillop. Each of these holy role models has something to teach us about leadership and spirituality. Each chapter also includes questions for reflection and prayer. 

Garrido says that being an administrator is a job full of interruptions and that she needed to find meaning in her work or she needed to quit. This book developed from her reflections. The word administer actually comes from Latin and means “to minister”, so Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders is for anyone who leads as a means of serving others. Pick up a copy for your favorite bishop, pastor, and principal, and while you are at it, you might want to pick up a copy for yourself. There is much wisdom and practical advice within its pages.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adventures in Homeschooling: On the Last Day of a Golden Summer . . .

On the Last Day of a Golden Summer . . . For whatever reason, that line from Pooh's Grand Adventure - The Search for Christopher Robin always comes to me the day before school is about to begin. While some homeschoolers hit the books throughout the summer, we've always taken a long break - almost a full three months. We all need the rest and relaxation that summer brings. Yet, lots of learning goes on even in that down time. I like to say that we are unschoolers in the summer.

Just for fun this year, I thought I'd keep track of the various things summer brought, educationally speaking.

Field Trips: We didn't take any vacations this summer, but we did hit a few relatively local attractions such as the Springfield Armory, the Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival, Forest Park Zoo, the CT Science Center, the Springfield Museums, and Ocean Beach.

Camps: David went to a one-week video game design camp and Isaac went to drama camp.

Summer Reading Program: They both volunteered two hours a week at our local library to help with the summer reading program as well as each read 100 hours for the summer reading program (a goal that they set for themselves - the program ended at the beginning of August; they've read much more.). David also went to a photography workshop that was being held at the library where they used long-exposure photography to photograph glow sticks. Both boys went to a robotics demonstration put on by WPI. And, we got to see some awesome shows put on by Tanglewood Marionettes where we also learned about puppetry.

Physical Fitness:  We spent a lot of time outside this summer. The weather has been wonderful and we were able to take advantage of almost every day swimming and/or playing at the park. The boys even got to try kayaking at a friend's cabin!

Reading this, it seems like we must have been busy all the time, but that really wasn't the case. The boys had friends over often, we got together with our homeschool group, Amy and I played outside quite a bit in the yard. It really was a relaxing, golden summer.

I'm dreading the start of "school" tomorrow, even while being thankful that I don't have to get everyone up and out of the house tomorrow to get to a physical school. I don't know what this year will bring. David suggested we could just skip school for this year, but while I might be willing to take an full unschool approach if they ever felt compelled to do any math or writing in their free time, that isn't the case. They need the structure, even while I respect the fact that they do the bulk of their learning outside the classroom. And so, the curriculum is bought and I have a general idea of where I would like the year to take us, and like or not, our new adventure begins tomorrow morning.

If you have the chance, please say a "Hail Mary" for us to have a good year - productive and full of positive learning experiences.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

by Emma Rowley
HarperCollins Publishers, 2013

I know I'm not the only person eagerly awaiting the next season of Downton Abbey. While Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey was written to usher in Season 4, it is every bit as relevant gearing up for Season 5. This book is a delight for any Downton fan, offering a look at all that goes into bringing this program to life.

It discusses what goes into writing the scripts, the beauty of Highclere Castle (where some of the footage is shot), the other sets and locations, the hair and makeup, the clothing design, the work that goes into choosing and creating the props (including the food!), and what life is like for the actors and actresses when they are working on the show.

I learned so much reading this book. I had never even thought about many of these details that have to happen for the show to be as beautiful and historically realistic as it is. For example, when a letter is opened, someone has actually written several copies of the same letter so that it can be opened again and again for each take! The work that goes into the costumes and hair is truly amazing. So many people work incredibly hard to make Downton come to life. This book is interesting from a historical, an artistic, and a cinematic perspective. If you are a Downton fan, you will definitely want to read this book.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Welcoming People Into the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has been very adamant about maintaining that the Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all sinners in need of God's mercy. We are all in need of repentance. We all have room for improvement.

All too often the Catholic Church has been seen as unwelcoming, and so those in need of spiritual nourishment seek it elsewhere. We need to change that impression. The Catholic Church is for everyone. No, you might not be able to receive Communion without some additional education/sacraments and/or life changes, but you are always welcome to come sit in the pews and to participate in the liturgy. You are welcome to come and pray and bring your needs to God. You are welcome to speak with a priest or pastoral minister and receive some spiritual guidance and support. We in the Church are a family and all are welcome.

My parish published this in the bulletin this week. It is a message I wish more Catholic Churches (and  Catholics) would take to heart:

No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church,
No matter what your current family or marital situation,
No matter what your current personal history, age, background, or race,
No matter what your own self-image,
You are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved and respected here at Holy Name Parish.
We are here to welcome and serve you.
Together we are called to conversion in Christ.