Thursday, July 31, 2014

Still Alice- A Poignant Look at Alzheimer's Disease

Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
New York: Pocket Books, 2009

Still Alice, a New York Times bestseller by Lisa Genova, Ph.D., is an example of fiction at its finest – a riveting work that educates, creates empathy, and causes one to think deeply. Alice Rowland is on the cusp of her fiftieth birthday, a psychology professor at Harvard and mom of three grown children, when she starts to forget things. She attributes it to impending menopause, but when she can’t remember how to get home from Harvard Square she begins to panic. Her doctor puts her through all sorts of tests and that is when the nightmare truly begins – a diagnosis of Early Alzheimer’s disease. 

“She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.”

Still Alice is told from Alice’s perspective, as she begins to lose her faculties, and most painfully, is aware of the transition, of the letting go. This makes the story all the more powerful. It explores the changes in relationships with her husband, her children, and her colleagues at work. 

There are some troubling moral issues in this work. Alice creates a list on her Blackberry of five basic questions that she is supposed to answer every day. If the day comes that she cannot answer them, her plan is to take an overdose of sleeping pills. Her oldest daughter Anna is having difficulty conceiving. After her mother’s diagnosis, she has genetic testing and discovers that she, too, will most likely develop early Alzheimer’s. She makes the decision to have embryo’s tested for the gene before IVF implantation in order to guarantee that her children will not carry the gene. 

Overall, however, this is actually a profoundly pro-life book celebrating the value of a life even when the mind is in decline. Still Alice, endorsed by the National Alzheimer’s Association, invites you into the mind of someone suffering from this dreaded disease. Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, brings a unique perspective and expertise to this subject. After reading this book, you will never look at someone with Alzheimer’s in the same way again. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: 90 Minutes in Heaven

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life

by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey
Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2007

On January 18, 1989, Don Piper was involved in a horrific car accident. At age thirty-eight, he was dead for ninety minutes, during which time he experienced the beauty of heaven. He describes it as “the greatest family reunion of all” and that he “felt loved – more loved than ever before in my life.” He describes his senses being heightened and that the music of heaven is “the most beautiful and pleasant sound . . . a song that goes on forever.”  Yet, as quickly as he arrived at heaven’s gates, he was pulled back to earth. 

Dick Onerecker, a Baptist minister, was passing by the scene of the accident and felt God tell him to pray for the dead man, even though praying for the dead is not part of the Baptist faith. He obeyed God’s command and the first thing Don remembers is waking up hearing Dick singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Dick ran to the EMTs and fought with them to come back and care for the “dead” man. 

I enjoy reading life after death stories – I enjoy the glimpse of heaven that they provide, the evidence that there is indeed life after this one. Yet, 90 Minutes in Heaven is powerful not only because of the description of heaven, but also because of Piper’s long recovery back to some semblance of “normal” and his struggle to understand why God had him return to earth at all, when all he wanted was to be back home in the heaven he had experienced. It is well-worth reading. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Library Quilt

This was my latest quilt project, finished yesterday. It was a pretty simple quilt, focused more on the print in the book fabric than anything else, so it took me less time (about 6 months) than my quilting projects usually do. I had bought this fabric almost two years ago, and finally figured out what to do with it.

My local library does raffles to raise money. I'm hoping that they will accept this quilt for one of them.

Now I need to come up with my next project!

This was the plan when I started.

The finished quilt 

Close-up view 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: Strong Mothers, Strong Sons

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men

by Meg Meeker, M.D.
New York: Ballantine Books, 2014

It seems to be an unwritten rule in parenting that as soon as you get used to whatever life stage your children are at, they move into another one. My sons are currently thirteen and eleven which means that they are beginning that difficult transition from boys to men. We are clearly in uncharted territory here. Luckily for me, Dr. Meg Meeker, respected pediatrician and author, has written a new book all about parenting these men-in-training (and keeping one’s sanity in the process!)

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men acknowledges that raising sons presents a challenge that raising daughters does not. After all, we women can remember being girls and young women; we can never fully understand what it is like to be male. We still have a very important role to play in our son’s development, however. We “lay the foundation for how he will relate to women for the rest of his life.” 

Meeker also emphasizes that no matter how much we might want to also fill the “father” role in his life, we can’t do that. Boys need to have a significant relationship with their father or another male role model if his father isn’t available. What we need to be is the best mother we can be. “This book is about helping every mother understand and accept who she is and who she isn’t . . . to accept that we are good enough, just the way we are, for our sons.”

Meeker shares the importance of spending time with our sons and telling them that we love them, even when they are in the midst of rejecting us in their quest to be independent. “Every boy reaches a time when he needs to make an emotional break from his mother.” Sometimes we simply need to be patient and available, even if it takes months for them to share something with us. “It’s a few words of encouragement during the day, exercising patience with him when he really needs it, or giving him a smile of affirmation when he feels like a failure that can change how he feels about himself and his life.”

While the chapter on talking with your son about sex is probably the most difficult to read and put into practice, although obviously extremely important, the chapter on wisdom and responsibility is the one with the eternal ramifications. We need to teach our sons that they need to be willing to ask God for help. We need to pray with and for them. As mothers, we also need to acknowledge that “we don’t own our sons.” They ultimately belong to God. Ultimately, we need to let go and fully put him in God’s hands because our little boys grow into men who no longer need us. 

That doesn’t mean that they won’t choose to have a relationship with us.  “It really is in the letting go of our sons that we get them back. They return to us as men who are free from our needs and confident in themselves. . .  Now it is time for them to be men who want, who among other things, to enjoy the company of their dear mother.” 

Meeker shares the beautiful story of Fr. John Riccardo. He said “that it was at the moment that his mother gave him to God that he felt something deep and wonderful change in their relationship. He said that from that point forward, they enjoyed a new closeness that they had never experienced before. It was a closeness he knew they would never have had if his mother had not said goodbye to him.”

Not all of us will have the honor of raising a priest, but at some point, we all need to say goodbye to the parenting stage of raising our sons and move into an adult relationship with them. Strong Mothers, Strong Sons is a great guide to navigating the turbulent teen years and coming out on the other side with a quality relationship with our sons. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Praying for Vocations

The following was written by Fr. Gary Dailey, the Director of Vocations in the Springfield (MA) Diocese and is an excerpt from the July/ August 2014 edition of the Catholic Mirror. To visit the Springfield Diocese's vocation page, please visit

Is there a vocation crisis in the Catholic Church? 

Having a vocation crisis would imply that God is not calling men to the priesthood or women to the consecrated life as he did in the past. That is just not the case.

The problem exists not in God but in us. We are not listening. Our phone is constantly busy or even off the hook. Many are not attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls out, "Come, follow me."

We, in fact, have a "listening" crisis and a "commitment crisis." Silencing our lives to hear the call of the Shepherd is very difficult for many in our society. Many refuse to enter into holy silence because of the fear of discovering something that might not be in their life plans or something that would require a radical change or conversion. . . . 

If one does "hear" the call, then oftentimes the "commitment" becomes the challenge. . . .We need to trust that God has our back and if he calls us to serve in his name, then we have nothing to fear; he will provide all that we need to fulfill our mission.

Vocations are everyone's business. As a church, we need to pray fervently for vocations. Jesus said in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 9:37: "The harvest is good, but laborers are scarce, beg the harvest master to send laborers to gather his harvest." The operative word is "beg." It is not a suggestion, but a command to "beg" or pray for vocations.

If you are wondering why there are not enough priests to serve in your parish or in the diocese, then you must answer the question, "Do you pray regularly for vocations?" What are you doing as a Catholic to promote priestly and women religious vocations? . . . 

Catholics everywhere need to be ambassadors of Christ, leading our youth to him, inviting the to recognize a possible call to serve as priests and vowed religious sisters and brothers.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Four Weddings and a Kiss

Four Weddings and a Kiss: A Western Bride Collection

by Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014

Summer is a time to indulge in some light reading, and for me, that often comes in the form of a Christian romance. Four Weddings and a Kiss is a compilation of four novellas taking place in the post-Civil War West that fit the bill perfectly. The novellas are bookended by a prologue and epilogue regarding Reverend Gregory Miller. He is taking part in a weeklong revival meeting, working in conjunction with several other ministers. Reverend Miller recently broke up with Elizabeth, a young woman he loves but who he can’t imagine as the wife of a minister. She’s somewhat less than conservative and, despite his deep feelings, he feels that the marriage would be doomed from the start.

The other ministers are quick to offer their own take on the situation and are eager to share their own stories of couples who seemed doomed to fail, but never-the-less created a happy union. Their four stories are told as the four novellas.

The first tells of Maizy MacGregor and Rylan Carstens. Maizy has been raised by her father and has been doing the work of a man on their ranch since she was a child. Unfortunately, she has a tendency of wandering onto Rylan’s land. He warns her to stay off, but she doesn’t listen and comes face to face with a mean grizzly bear. Rylan saves her but breaks his leg in the process. When her father makes her care for Rylan in his infirmity, they both get more than they bargained for. 

Molly Everton and Jack Ludgrove are the central characters in the second story. Molly, a college graduate, works for her father’s newspaper. When he decides to appoint the next editor and turns the reins over to Jack instead of Molly, she is deeply wounded and determined to make the new editor’s life miserable. Meanwhile, Jack is being hit on by every eligible lady in the area, but he only has eyes for one.
Katie Pearl survived a tornado that killed her father, but suffers from what today would probably be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The whole town thinks she’s crazy, but she is determined to rebuild her life and that begins with rebuilding her house. Treb Rayburn’s horse dropped dead in the middle of nowhere (a.k.a. Katie’s town) and needs to make some money in order to buy a new one. Katie hires him to fix her place. In doing so, he will fix much more, but not without great cost. 

The last tells of a black widow, Grace Davenport. She’s a young woman who has had three husbands die under suspicious circumstances. She’s currently in jail, accused of murdering the last one. Her twelve year old son takes all the money he has, fifty-six cents, and sets out to hire the one good lawyer in town, Brock Daniels, to defend her. Brock has no intention of taking the case, or the boy’s money, but he agrees to meet with Grace. After doing so, and seeing the way she is being treated by both her own “lawyer” and the prosecution, he decides to defend her to the best of his ability. 

This is a great, relaxing read, and I love that there are four stories in one book. It’s a wonderful indulgence on a lazy summer afternoon. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Baptism Day - a.ka. "Princess" Day

Yesterday was Amy's Baptism Day! I tried to impress upon my two older children as we were doing all the prep work this week for the party that took part after the big event that this day was even more important than her adoption day. After all, her adoption day only made her legally ours; her baptism day means that she has been claimed, in a special way, by God, and given the graces she needs to be a good Christian.

I've always been in the baptize children as soon as humanly possible camp. Both my boys were baptized within six weeks of birth. So, one of the hardest things about being Amy's foster parents for so long was that we could not have her baptized (except in case of an emergency, which thankfully, didn't happen). Not only was it illegal, but also we couldn't stand in Church and honestly promise to raise her in the faith if we didn't know whether we would get to raise her at all. And so we waited and trusted that God would honor her baptism of desire - that He knew we wanted to have her baptized. She's been in Church every Sunday since we've had her and been prayed with every day. Still, having her baptized was a big deal.

Yet, there is a compelling reason beyond the spiritual for baptizing children when you can hold them in your arms and they can't talk - you don't have to worry about how they are going to behave! Sure - they might fuss and cry, but they aren't going to start screaming "No - I Don't Want To!" at the top of their voice.

We did try to get her excited about being baptized - a concept that is difficult for a three-year-old to grasp. My very generous neighbors bought her a beautiful dress to wear for her special day. They told her it would be her "Princess" day. At first, I cringed a bit, but then I thought about it more. Several books my Bible Study group have read have talked about how we are "daughters of the King" - therefore we are princesses. This was the day she would become an official "daughter of the King" - it was, in fact, her princess day. And so we went with that as the theme. She loves princesses and always tells us she is one. Also, Friday, as I made cakes for her party, she asked, "Is it my birthday?" I told her, "Yes, it is your birthday in the Church." Sometimes, you go with whatever works.

She's a high-spirited strong-willed young lady and I had no idea how she would behave. Thankfully, the Monsignor who baptized her has a good sense of humor and took it all in stride. Truly, she could have been much worse, although it did take four of us to hold her over the baptismal font because she did not want anything to do with that. After, she told us in no uncertain terms, "I did NOT like having water poured over my face!"

Amy and Monsignor David Joyce

But, thankfully, she is now baptized, indelibly marked by God. I was hoping there would be some sort of miracle and that her attitude would now be less. That does not seem to have been the case, as today her attitude was even larger than usual (no doubt due to the overstimulation of yesterday).  So, our adventure continues, but now I know that she has God's grace in her in a special way. It can only help!

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