I invite you to sign The Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration

Theodore's Memorial Video

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Memories of St. Sylvester's Feast Day

In Switzerland, St. Sylvester's Feast Day was known as Sylvestertag.  One can read about the life of Pope St. Sylvester in other  places; here I shall relate the how the Swiss observed the celebration of Sylvestertag.  In particular, I shall relate how my brothers and I celebrated it while we were living in Switzerland 'way back in 1972.  At that time, we were living in a small village called Dürnten, located in the Canton of Zürich.  Cantons are sort of like states in the U.S., only that Switzerland is closer to the size of some of our states.....

I did find a reference which almost matched what we did.  One thing which I can't reconcile is that I thought that we celebrated Sylvestertag before Christmas rather than after.  Either way, it was quite an interesting activity for an eight year old boy:

Since Silvester Abend, or “Sylvester’s Eve,” is also New Year’s Eve, many Germans and Austrians hold late-night parties. In Germany these festive gatherings may include drinking, eating, dancing, singing, and fortune-telling.

 The only thing I don't recall seeing was fortune-telling.  This party started out in the wee hours of the morning, and ended up at the village school.  We attended the local public school, but there were no problems with having a 'Christian' celebration on the premises.  Read on:

In at least one Swiss town—Urnäsch in Appenzell Canton—bands of 'mummers' known as “Silvesterclausen” still parade through the streets in costumes, bells, and headdresses on December 31, as well as on St. Sylvester’s Day Old Style, which falls on January 13. They visit homes, yodel three times, and are rewarded with wine by the occupants.

That's what I recall, with some modifications.  I remember getting up in the early hours of the morning, maybe around 2 a.m., and joining up with my classmates as we went through the village making noise.  We did more than yodel; people were banging on drums and using cowbells to wake up the occupants of the village.  When I say cowbells I am referring to the huge Swiss cowbells, rather than the puny cowbell used in the infamous 'more cowbell' skit.  Here is a selection of Swiss cowbells; we were using the larger ones:

Another difference is the whole issue of wine.  Most of the children already had wine to drink as they made their way toward the school; most of them were also smoking.  This was the most bizarre part of the festivities, even if all my classmates were two years older than me.  Our parents forbade us to smoke or drink while we were out that morning.  They wanted us to try smoking and drinking alcohol under controlled conditions where they could be present.  More on that later.

Even better than wine were the little treats and cakes which we got from the homes.  I don't recall what they looked like, but this is the best image I could find when I googled images of Sylvestertag.  It looks like a half-eaten donut:

Around daybreak, we arrived at the school, where my classmates performed skits and played music for our entertainment.  It is the only time that I really enjoyed accordion music.

Several days later, at home, our parents let us try smoking cigarettes.  They gave us four boys a pack of cigarettes and let us try them.  I didn't like it, probably because I was inhaling.  Ever since then, I have had an aversion to smoking.  I have only smoked a few cigars since then; the most memorable one was a Cuban cigar which I tried while on temporary duty in El Salvador back in 1998.

Then a few days after trying smoking, our parents allowed us to try drinking alcohol.  Vermouth.  We diluted it with ginger ale, or some kind of lemon-lime soda, but I still recall it as being nasty.  

Sylvestertag was one of many adventures we had while living in Switzerland.  While it was one of the more bizarre things we saw while living there, it still was great to see how other cultures live and celebrate.

Me, Francis, Fr. Denis, and Matthew.  Patrick was to arrive five years after this picture was taken.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass Abrogated

(Zeeeeenit)  In a move that surprises no one, the United States Conference of Clandestine Catholic Bishops (USCCCB) has determined that since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, members of the Catholic Church do not have to attend Mass on that day.

For the past several years, the USCCCB has abrogated, or eliminated, the obligation to attend Mass on Holy Days when that Holy Day falls on either a Saturday or a Monday.  In the case of the Feast of the Ascension, or Ascension Thursday, observance of that Holy Day has been moved to the following Sunday in most diocese in the United States.  Some say that the elimination of the obligation to attend Mass on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday is just the next logical step for American Catholics.

Our source for this story, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that this would open up the opportunities for Catholics everywhere to enjoy the day more, without having to get dressed up and leave all the presents behind for a while.

"Christmas is a busy day," our source said, "and there are a lot of things to do that day, like opening presents, watching football games, and going to movies which open on Christmas Day.  Think of the kitchen fires which could be avoided by keeping the whole family home while Christmas dinner is cooking.

"We at the USCCCB are making this decision for the good of the Church; I mean, heaven forbid you should have to go to Church more than once a week!"

We are trying to verify this story.  Due to the immediate ramifications of this pronouncement, we decided to go ahead and publish it beforehand without verification.  The only source we have discovered which refers to this issue is at this website.

The Holy Days of Obligation as observed in the United States are:

For those of you who have read this far, of course this just a joke.  There is no USCCCB as far as I know, and yes, you do have to go to Mass this Sunday.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cattle Fever Hits the Homestead

Last weekend we were invaded by eight Angus cattle from the neighboring piece of property.  They came over the fence sometime during the night, and so we all woke up to a small herd of cows on the back six acres.  We were all excited; since the cows weren't bothering anyone, and they were confined to the back property, I did not do anything about them.

Here is a picture of the cows when we first noticed them:

I zoomed in on the cows with my iPhone.  Just like a box camera, the sky is whited out and the cows show up as little black silhouettes.  The grass looks brown from here, but as you will see later, the grass truly was greener on our side of the fence.

They roamed all over the back property; at times we could barely see them as they disappeared into the tall grass along the eastern fence line.  That is where there are a lot of bushes and trees which provided shade for the herd which occupied our land before we bought it.

In the afternoon, I started to think that these poor little cows were wandering around with no water to drink.  I called the neighbor and told him that his cows were visiting.  While I had him on the phone, I asked him a lot of questions about raising the cattle.  I was already beginning to imagine my own little herd on my back property....... 

He came over a few minutes after we got off the phone and led them back onto his property.  At first he whistled to them, and they all ran to where he was.  He tried to lead them, but our children kept on moving about, which seemed to confuse them and make them stop.  Our neighbor then got a feed bag (maybe Purina Cow Chow?) which really got the interest of the cows again.  They responded quickly to the sound of the bag being shaken.

I ordered my children to stop moving around, and the cows left without incident.  Well, actually one of my children was heartbroken when he saw them leave:

Sure enough, the cows returned after a brief time.  They really were interested in the fresh green grass on our land, and this time they had just pushed over another part of the fence.  Our neighbor told me that we needed to put a string of barbed wire along the top of the fence line so that they would feel that when they started to push over the fence.

I walked along the property line, inspecting the barbed wire and the T-posts.  I noticed right away that the majority of the posts were loose, and when I wiggled them it sounded as if they were sloshing around in mud.  I surmised that the summer's drought had made the clay-filled soil pull away from the posts, and that the recent rain had softened up whatever was hold the posts in position.  The cows took advantage of this, pushing over the fence without bending the posts.  Unfortunately, the fence was not low enough to allow them to return to their land.

Another interesting thing about this incident was that, true to the herd instinct, once one cow went over the fence, they all followed.

Here the cows strike the usual pose of a cow.  They always look as if they were caught off guard, and to me they always look as if they were a bit embarrassed, with almost a 'sheepish' look on their faces.

These cows ate grass, made fairly good sized cuts into the topsoil, and left some fertilizer in lieu of compensation for our troubles.

Our neighbor plans on breeding the cows.  His little herd consisted of two bulls, five heifers, and one little steer.  I told him I would love to help deliver any calves; it has been more than 20 years since I delivered a baby...........

Here is the video of the children and I moving among the cows.  They were very well behaved, probably because the bulls weren't trying to pursue the heifers, and there were no calves around needing to be protected.  I shall have to warn the children about how things may change shortly.

Back to the video:

Bernard has no fear.  Scary.

I left the cows alone that night. The next day, Sunday, after morning Mass, I went out and led them back to our neighbor's land. It really got me excited about getting some cattle of our own. But first, I would have to reinforce my fence and set up a watering system for them.

All of this after I set up the chicken coop and range.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Try Indian Food

I have wanted to take Carolyn out to an Indian restaurant for a while.  I have only been once before, but I found the food to be excellent.

It was while I was visiting my brother the Priest at his parish in Alexandria, Virginia.  Nathaniel, my then-16 year old son was on this trip with me, and for dinner we joined my brother and some of his brother priests at The Bombay Curry Company.  We told the waiter that we had never eaten Indian food before, and so the good folks there picked the menu for us that night.

The food was great, the company was excellent; it made a lasting impression on Nathaniel and me.  The food was spectacular, and we discovered something called Na'an bread, which is like a thick tortilla shell for all the people reading this back home in northern Mexico.  Each entree was delicious, and we used the generous supply of Na'an bread to clean our plates.

In addition to the food, we had the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of good priests who spent the time talking of theology, the challenges of running a parish, and basically the nuts and bolts of being a Catholic priest.  It was neat to hear priests 'talking shop' as they related some of the mundane tasks which they have to conduct while still being an alter christus for their parishioners.

So, almost two years after that trip, I finally decided that if I could not get to an Indian restaurant, I would at least try to bring the food home for all of my family to try.  I went to the best place I could think of in order to purchase the most authentic Indian cuisine we could make at home.  I went to Target. 

That is not pronounced, Tar-get, as in 'road tar' and 'get out of my way.'  No, the 'g' is softer, sounding more like the 'j' in the word 'Jaguar' as in 'I'll take the silver Jaguar for my birthday, love.'

Say it with me: Tar-jay.

So there, nestled in with the Mexican foods section were some boxes of containing a side dish, a sauce, some basmati rice, and chutney. 

Tikka Masala: "a creamy tomato sauce, basmati rice with spiced potato curry and mango chutney:" 

Red Garlic Curry: "tomato-garlic curry sauce, basmati rice, with tender green lentil stew and mango chutney."  The lentils were really tender; whenever I make lentils, they are either still hard or have turned to mush.

Vindaloo: "spicy onion-ginger curry sauce, basmati rice with spicy potato, peas saute and - you guessed it - mango chutney:"

I knew that some of the children would not try much of this foreign food, so I made the food up with some chicken to go along as the main dish.  I made the rice which came in the boxes, adding a little butter and some Chicken/tomato bullion for flavoring.  Genevieve, my oldest daughter at home, cooked the chicken.  She put curry powder on some of it, and I put a sweet pepper glaze on the rest of it. 

To cover our gastronomical backs even more, we purchased some Na'an bread from that other source of Indian food in our neighborhood - Costco.  One of my sons saw it in the store last week, and so we checked to make sure they still had it.  Thankfully they still had enough for our family. It appeared as if we would have enough food to satisfy my little army, and let them try something new and different.

After looking over the directions, and finding there were no ugly surprises (such as, "soak beans in goat milk for 24 hours before cooking"), I noticed that most of the sauces, curries, and side dishes needed only a little time in the microwave to prepare them.  So while the chicken cooked and the water and rice started to heat up, I poured each part of the meal into a separate bowl and covered them with saran wrap. 

Sauces were in green bowls, and side dishes were in blue bowls.  The diet Coke was mine and I don't know why the apple sauce insisted on getting into the picture.  The Na'an bread is in the background, waiting to hop into the oven for a little warming up.

I used both microwave ovens to heat the bowls up really quickly, and then had it all set on the sideboard.  Here, Nathaniel makes a plate.  He approved of the meal.

Even Bernard liked it, even though my iPhone camera did not focus on him for some reason.

As I expected, there were some children who did not like it.  Some children preferred one dish over another, while a few like Nathaniel and I like everything.  The good thing is that they all tried a little bit, and they all got enough chicken and rice to leave the table satisfied.

Of course, everyone loved the Na'an bread.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reasons to NOT Homeschool

Here is a link to an article which asked children what they thought about being homeschooled.

Yes, it's dated a bit.  But it is still worth reading.  Some of the more choice comments included such gems as:

"In my opinion, i would never turn to home schooling. When you are home schooled, you automaticly loose the whole social experience of school. In the real world you need to be social. Otherwise you’re going to get know where. I understand that the learning education might be to an advantage while homeschooling because its all one on one and you are the only student reciveing all the help you need whenever you need it. I would never home school my child because I would be holding them back from friends and the social life they will need in the feature. I would never even consider home schooling. "

"I would never want to be home schooled because you are not able to socalize with your friends at school. If you dont meet or talk to anyone, people might start to make fun of you because you have no friends that hang out with you. You might be smarter if you are home schooled but you still will not know how to make good friends if you get accepted into a college where you are met with other kids. If your are home schooled and you go to college you will fell as if the class is going too slow or if you know something before other kids then you will be frusterated that you are learning the same thing and nothing new. Overall I think that home schooling is not something that you should consider because you are not social with other kids, and later on in college you will not learn as much as you should be learning."

Ah, yes.  The social life.  A social life where every other confounded word is just another confounded word which can be confoundedly used as either a confounded adverb or a confounded adjective depending on what kind of confounded thing you are trying to say.  No confounded thanks, I say.

  Granted, home schooling is not for everyone, but ultimately the parents are responsible for assuring that their children are educated in the Faith as well as the basics of Readin' Writin' and 'Rithmetic.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A New Blog

I made a blog just to compile my book reviews.  I shall populate it with my book reviews over time.  I shall also keep posting book reviews here.

Why the redundancy?  Just because I can, I guess.

Have a blessed Advent.

Oh yes.  Here is the blog name and a link:

Praise Of This Book

The title is from The Path to Rome, by Hillaire Belloc.  He titled the forward 'Praise of this Book,' and started it out with this greeting:

"To every honest reader that may purchase, hire, or receive this book, and to the reviewers also (to whom it is of triple profit), greeting--and whatever else can be had for nothing."

I hope you like it.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review: Sensitive Sam

Sensitive Sam

Marla Roth-Fisch

Future Horizons, Inc.

Sensitive Sam is a cute little book about a little boy with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Every page consists of a quatrain describing events in the life of a child who is having trouble dealing with things which don't bother most people.  Mrs. Roth-Fisch completes the book with her excellent illustrations of Sam as he deals with dressing, eating, and going to school.  Sam begins working with an occupational therapist, and with some changes in his routine at home and school, he is soon learning to grow and learn in school.

This book is excellent on several levels.  First, it could help the child with SPD see that others have the same challenges, and that they can be overcome.  Second, this book could help explain to other children in Sam's family - or class - what SPD is, and how they could help their sibling or friend.  This book will help all children understand that SPD should not be frightening, and that it is treatable with a bit of work, and a lot of love.

This book reminded me of some of the issues we had with Theodore, such as his preference for only wearing short pants.  This was not a big problem when we lived in San Antonio, and while he was young, but after moving up to the Dallas/Fort Worth area it took a while to get him accustomed to wearing long pants.  He also had a lot of food preferences; vegetables were a challenge for him, and he ate ketchup with just about everything.  Just like Sam, Theodore managed with a lot of patience and love - especially from Carolyn.

The end of the book has a glossary and a list of websites for those interested in reading more about Sensory Processing Disorder.  I recommend this book without reservation for those families with a child with SPD, and also for grade schools.

Stephen M. Donahue
December 9, 2011

Politically Charged Time-Out

An old Air Force friend sent me this a while ago.  I just read it, and thought you might like it.  It is called 'Ode to the Welfare State,' and it is best read by clicking on the picture to embiggen it:

Sigh.  Things haven't changed that much.....

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Coffee Update

Tully's Coffee Decaffeinated House Blend Extra Bold was excellent.  I did have some problems where the coffee would clog up the process and then flow out from the whole brewer, but Keurig sent me some new coffee shots and the problem resolved.

On Friday, I had to drive somewhere post-call, so I made a cup of coffee in one of our cardboard 'to go' cups.  I specifically bought those cups - going against my Completely Green Policy - because all our travel mugs leak coffee like an overloaded diaper.  So I was extremely disappointed when the lid worked its way off and dumped coffee all down the front of me. 

Fortunately, there was a nearby discount department store near our first errand, so I went in and bought a new shirt - along with a tie, handkerchief, and cuff links.  I switched shirts and a bathroom, rinsed out the stain in the dirty shirt, and was a new man when I picked up Carolyn a bit later.

Anyways, I shall add Tully's to the list of Keurig coffee cups I would buy again.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

St. Nicholas Day Party

We went to the St. Nicholas Feast Day Party at Mater Dei Catholic Church in Irving today.

We put together some food and some ornaments that the children made, and got a table to sell our wares.  At first, business was slow.  I thought it was because of the economy, and people were inclined to watch their money a bit closer.  I also thought they may have been worried about the local version of 'Occupy Wall Street' might drop in to protest the corporate greed of the family-based Catholic entrepreneur.  All I need is to have 'Occupy Mater Dei' show up and insist that we distribute the goodies we made for free to all the people who can't find a job.

Thankfully that did not happen, and after a while we started selling.  I think people took a look at everything before deciding on purchases.  We had a near monopoly on food, so things went well.  For a time, the homemade 'sleighs' were literally FLYING off the table.

Here Zelie takes a break in the action to wolf down a sandwich before the next onslaught of consumers:

We sold candied pecans - not our own pecans, sadly - and brownies, cookies, banana bread, and blueberry muffins.  We sold two types of Christmas ornaments: some were plastic ones where you bake them in the oven to fill the colors of the ornaments.  The others were made with barbed wire from our property, shaped like Texas, and then backed with felt pieces that resembled the Texas flag.  Here is an example:

But the biggest sellers were our sleighs, made with small candy canes, KitKat candy bars, and either a little box of Nerds or Junior Mints.  With little bit of ribbon and tape, we made them into the shape of a sled, or sleigh:

The kids covered the Nerds or Junior Mints with aluminum foil.  As I said, these treats literally flew off the table.

There were craft projects for the children to do, and a little train which rode around in the parking lot.  The rain put a damper on the outside activities right around the time that the inside show started.  Here Bernard, held by his Godfather Nathaniel, watches a puppet show featuring large mice and a nun that sings.  He was fascinated by it.

The final part of the show was when St. Nicholas showed up.  Here he is, exhorting the children to be good:

Here are three of the children ZelieLouisa, Maximilian, and Marcellinus watching St. Nicholas, looking a bit bored.
I missed them greeting St. Nicholas, so I had them come back up for a picture.  This was really inconvenient for Max, so this is as close to a smile as I could get.
The man who portrayed St. Nicholas, the German dancers, the puppeteers, all made it a wonderful day for the children.  Well done!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Seventeen Years Gone

I wrote about this subject before.

Seventeen years ago, three of my colleagues and friends died in a helicopter crash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were the crew of an air ambulance, a helicopter, which was headed out to pick up a critically ill patient.

This was the moonlighting job I had while I was in residency and fellowship.  Most of our transports were for cardiac patients, folks who had recently suffered a heart attack and were being moved to a hospital where there was a cardiac catheterization lab, or failing that, a cardiac surgeon.  This was pretty routine for us.  The rest of the transports were 'out in the field,' and could be anything: motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, whatever.  These were far more exciting, because you never knew what was waiting for you when you hopped out of the helicopter while the blades were still spinning above your head and you tried to anticipate what you would find when you did reach the patient.  I like to think of those transports as if I were reaching into a box of Cracker Jack: sometimes I got the cheap stickers, but every now and then I would pull out something really exciting.

I was scheduled to fly the day after the helicopter crashed, so I thank God I was spared, allowed to go on caring for my wife and children and my patients.

I recall the local newspaper published a picture of one of the dead being lifted out of the aircraft in a body bag.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Here is the kind of helicopter I used to fly in. This is one outfitted for flight in Switzerland:

Months after the accident, while working a shift at this moonlighting job, I came across a passage in Wind, Sand and Stars, a book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  It was about the loss of one of Saint-Exupery's friends, a colleague and a fellow pilot.  He writes:

Bit by bit, nevertheless, it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us.  And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter.  For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion.  Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak. 

So life goes on.  For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin.  One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.

There is more to what he says, but I invite you to read it yourself.  Upon re-reading this passage tonight, it appears that human relations were the most important thing for Saint-Exupery.  I would have to disagree; I would put our relationship with God to be far more important.  If one loves God, then it makes it easier to love one another.  If we are alone in this world and yet have the love of God, then we find that we need nothing more.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was not perfect, but I always remember in his book The Little Prince how he would test every friend with a picture he drew when he was a child.  He used it to see who his true friends were by how they would respond to the picture.  In the same way, our son Theodore was sort of a litmus test for determining who was a true friend.  Like Saint-Exupery, we are deprived of Theodore's company and shade in our garden.

 Please, in your mercy, remember to pray today for the repose of the souls of Richard Elliott, Janice Nowacki-Tobin, and Terry Racicot.

Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls, and all the souls of the Faithful Departed, rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

Rather than rewriting this, I just copied it from previous years.  I am not sure why I included book reviews along with this prayer last year, though.

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

(It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew (30th November) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book review: Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith
Robert Barron


This review will satisfy my part of the agreement.

In his book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, Fr. Robert Barron relates how Thomas Merton - before his conversion - responded when he discovered that the book he just bought had the words Imprimatur and Imprimi potest printed in the frontispiece.  Briefly, these words indicate that the work had been examined by the Catholic Church and had received approval for publication by it.  Only a Catholic book would have such a thing in it; in this case, the book was The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by Etienne Gilson.

He was tempted to throw the book out the window.

It appears that Thomas Merton and I have more than just our Faith in common; we also appreciate the significance of words like Imprimatur, or Imprimi potest at the start of a book.  Therefore I was rather disappointed when I noticed that Fr. Barron’s book didn’t contain either one, or any other kind of approval from the Church other than the glowing reviews on the back of the dust jacket.  Strike One against the book.  This means that there may be some things in the book which may not pass the orthodoxy test, so I proceeded with caution as I read through the book.

I also am suspicious of writers who do not include their credentials prominently, especially if they are writing in their area of expertise.  It shows a lack of professionalism, or perhaps they don’t want to be seen as having some authority on the subject.  I can think of one reason a writer may want to do this, and it has to do with the audience they are writing to.  Still, I don’t like it.  I let my patients know I am a doctor when I am caring for them; likewise, a priest should not hide his profession while working to bring souls to Christ.  Strike Two against the book.

It wasn’t long before something jumped out of the book that seemed a bit unorthodox.  In his discussion of the Beatitudes, Fr. Barron quotes the Gospel of Matthew:

"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God" (Mt 5:8)

Amen.  And then Fr. Barron explained this passage with this sentence:

"This means that you will be happy if there is no ambiguity in your heart (the deepest center of the self) about what is most important."

This was truly a ‘What The Heck?’ moment for me when I read this sentence.  There was no mention of the concept of purity, chastity, or having a soul free of sin.  Instead, the words of Christ are interpreted to mean that being true to one’s goals or desires - whatever they may be - is what is most important.  At least Fr. Barron had the intellectual honesty to avoid using the word ‘happy,’ or seeing God in his description; he must have known at the time that he was writing off the map.  Just to make sure that I was not current with any new interpretation of the Scriptures, I ran this passage of the book by a couple of priests I know, and they both separately expressed surprise and horror about such a misrepresentation. 

At this point I had to stop reading the book and try to figure out what Fr. Barron’s purpose was in writing this book.  I continued reading, and started noticing that a sizeable number of authors quoted by Fr. Barron were not Catholic.  Granted, he did quote Catholics throughout the book, but it seemed as if the number of Protestants cited  was a bit excessive for a book on the Catholic Church.  At this point I started to wonder if the audience for this book was not for Catholics; in other words, that this book was really intended to be part of the ‘New Evangelization’ George Weigel mentioned on the back of my book’s dust cover.  Perhaps this is so, but it is disappointing that it contains erroneous teachings of the Church like the example mentioned above. 

There were some good parts of this book.  Fr. Barron writes very well about the saints.  His short biographies on St. Katharine Drexel and St. Edith Stein were inspiring, as was her description of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  For me, this one brought back memories of how I had met Mother Teresa twenty-five years ago in Washington, DC.  In addition, the book is full of pictures of religious artwork which are related to the subject matter.  Catholic art is the best kind in the world, and Fr. Barron truly showcases this aspect of our Faith. 

But then he had to spoil it all by writing about Thomas Merton.  I know a little bit about Thomas Merton; my first letter to the editor of a major newspaper was about him.  I spent some time looking up more information online, and I even downloaded a lecture by Alice von Hildebrand called ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merton.’ In that speech, she related how he did not follow the Benedictine Rule, how he essentially left the Trappist monastery, and how he died alone, far from the benefits of the Last Rites, after giving a speech which equated Communism with the Monastic way of life.  After listening to von Hildebrand’s lecture, and reading other information about him, I would say that Fr. Barron picked a poor example for prayer and the contemplative life when he selected Thomas Merton.

In general, this book had a few good parts; namely, the lives of the saints and the pictures included in the text.  Fr. Barron is a good story teller, and he writes well enough to touch even the heart of this skeptical reader.  But these good aspects do not outweigh the fact that he probably could not get approval from the Diocesan Censor or the Bishop after writing such poor theology as the example mentioned above.  Perhaps this book is really just intended to attract our Separated Brethren back to the Church.  It is unfortunate that such a writer could not make this book as theologically sound as it is attractive.

Postscript:  Here is a brief summary for the Latin terms I mentioned above.  The link explains these terms in greater detail: 

Religious Superior's stamp:    IMPRIMI POTEST    "it can be printed"

Censor's stamp:                       NIHIL OBSTAT    "nothing stands in the way"

Bishop's stamp:                       IMPRIMATUR    "let it be printed"

from here:  http://www.fisheaters.com/imprimatur.html

25 Years Ago This Month......

I met Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Washington, DC. I asked to pray for me since I had just been accepted to medical school.

Her sisters in Dallas are still praying for me.

Blessed Teresa, pray for us!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: A Love That Multiplies, by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

A Love That Multiplies

By Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar announced last week that they are expecting their 20th child, so it seems like a good time to review their most recent book, A Love That Multiplies. In addition, Carolyn asked me to read it because she thought there were some things in it which we could find helpful in raising our medium-size family with only 12 children. No family is perfect, especially one with children at every level of development, so it is good to look around to see what other large families are doing to raise excellent children. The Duggars have a lot of good advice to give.

This book is written in the first person, and is evenly divided between Jim Bob and Michelle. Occasionally the other spouse will interject some comment, adding to the subject. The book indicates whenever the speaker changes by putting Jim Bob or Michelle's name in parentheses at the start of their part. Throughout the book, recipes from the Duggar household are featured along the margin. While I thought they were out of place in some of the more serious parts of the book, they did help to lighten up the material in the main part of the book.

One observation I have about the recipes is that the Duggar family must not have a problem with sodium or high blood pressure.

The book is divided into four main parts; each of these parts consist of several chapters. The first part describes many of the challenges surrounding the premature birth of their youngest daughter, Josie. The second part deals with sharing their faith with others - only in part through the show on The Learning Channel. They describe other ways that they evangelize; it was great to hear that they would not do the TV show unless their faith were included in it. The third section discusses the way that they are raising their children, and the last part deals with relationships, including a advice on courtship, managing teenagers, and purity.

Concerns about the Book:

Before discussing some of the salient points I took away from the book, I have to make some comments about this book which should be kept in mind. First, the Duggars have done rather well in their real estate business, with rental properties which provide income with variable effort on their part. Additionally, the TLC show pays them for each show. Both of these facts make it possible for Jim Bob to be around his family a lot more than most working fathers can be. This does not excuse other men from being involved in their children's lives, it just means that most fathers have to be sure to carve out whatever time they can to be there for their sons and daughters.

Another related item is that the Duggars go on more field trips and outings than any family I know. I suspect this is also related to the format of the TLC show. Certainly no one wants to watch a show featuring the Duggar children doing laundry, matching socks, and scrubbing the floors. In addition, any facility or project which hosts the Duggar family is getting a lot of free publicity, so they probably give a discount to the family. Frequent outings are wonderful, but not very practical for most other families.

One last concern I had with the book is that it appears that the Duggars did take their dedication to ministry a bit too far after the birth of Josie. While Josie was in the NICU, the Duggars moved temporarily to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to be together. They still had to manage their house and business in their home town, and they had some commitments to appear publicly as well. In addition, Michelle's father fell and broke his hip around that time, and Michelle was torn between being with her father and staying with her premature baby. When her father died, she was alone with Josie in Little Rock, while Jim Bob and the rest of the family were on a trip combining business and pleasure. At the point that Michelle gave birth to Josie, I think the family would have been better off to drop some of their commitments rather than be going in several directions while the youngest Duggar was in the NICU. This is just my opinion, but I think that marriage and family supersede all outside commitments; my place is with my wife first, and family second.

Things I liked about the Book:

There were many good points which were brought up in this book. One of the areas which struck me personally were the sections on anger management. Both Jim Bob and Michelle pointed out that a harsh, angry voice will only push children away from their parents. They described anger as forming a wall between parent and child. Some of their recommendations were for parents to practice voice control, and to be held accountable (to someone) when one loses his temper. None of this was new to me, but it always helps to have a good lesson reinforced from time to time.

Michelle Duggar wrote about relationships, reminding me of something I have yet to learn after more than 22 years of marriage. She described a familiar scenario, where she has had a stressful day full of challenges. At the end of the day, when her husband would come home, she would relate the troubles of the day to him. Here is where Jim Bob (and I) make the mistake: instead of listening and then consoling, reassuring, and encouraging our wives, we proceed to outline a solution for all the problems we just heard. This is the last thing a woman wants to hear. She already knows what the solution is, and doesn't need us to figure that out. What she needs is our support and encouragement. I still have trouble doing this, probably because the male brain is wired differently from the female brain; we see so many things in terms of what has to be done, while women are also concerned about the emotional aspect of things.

The Duggars have excellent advice on dating versus courtship, and the reason to save oneself - even kisses - until marriage. Their example of the bicycle intended for a birthday present which is used and abused by someone else beforehand is excellent, as is their practical, health-related argument for chastity. This chapter includes a great checklist of what a woman should - and should not - want in a future spouse. A lot of the things on the list apply to young men as well as women. The book ends with a list of references for further reading.

Other than the few objections mentioned above, I found this book to be an excellent and refreshing source of encouragement and inspiration for parents of a large family. I would recommend it to families of any size. The Duggars promote being open to life, allowing God to determine the size of your family - something I like to call Supernatural Family Planning - and in this book they have given excellent advice on how to raise up the children who have been given to you by Him.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Today is a good day to publish a brief review of Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers.

I thought I would just mention a few things about the book that struck me when I read it.  For a more thorough review, look somewhere else.

First of all, the title comes from Shakespeare's play Henry V, and I shall include the words and a stirring video of the lines from the 1989 movie of the same name.

Second, I read this book to make sure that the language and events were not inappropriate for one of my sons who wished to read it.  With the exception of a section where the author discusses the vulgar language of the troops, there is very little that it offensive in this book.

Third, I was struck while reading this how these young men who did such gallant deeds in the 1940's are now the old men we see in hospitals, nursing homes, and on the city streets.  It is sobering to think of their courage, the blessing of surviving the war, and yet the fact that death comes for them (and us all) eventually.  As a friend of mine who practices geriatrics at the local Veteran's Administration hospital put it, "the World War II vets are dropping like flies."  The main subject of the book, Major Dick Winters, died in January of this year.

Fourth, I finally realized a good reason for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  In the book, Ambrose mentions how the airborne troops were a select group of soldiers, and that they were a cut above the regular Army inductee.  As such, they were far more professional, driven, and competent, and made for a better unit when in combat.  The alternative was to be stuck with all the soldiers who were not necessarily going to be there to fight well in battle.

Fifth, the Airborne troops were used for jumping ahead, or rather, behind enemy lines, and so they would not stay on the ground and follow the conflict as it progressed on land.  In the case of the 101st Airborne, they were relieved after D-Day, sent back to England to re-group and get replacements, and then sent back to battle later.  In the case of the 101st, several times they were training for a drop, but then the ground troops advanced past their target before they could join them.

Last and most surprising, was the revelation that the Americans felt that they had the most in common with the Germans.  It made me wonder what would have happened if this fact were known before we got into the war.  Perhaps it is a moot point, since the Japanese attacked us first, followed by the rest of the Axis countries declaring war on us; at that time, public sentiment probably did not care who had attacked us as long as someone paid for it.

I recommend this book without reservation.  I know that there is some controversy surrounding the works of Stephen E. Ambrose, but this book still is a good read.

Now, a brief look at Henry V, and the St. Crispin's Day Speech which inspired the name of this book.  Henry V made this speech to his men before the battle at Agincourt:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
Here is Kenneth Branagh as Henry V, giving his rendition of it from the 1989 movie:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guess Who is Expecting!

No.  It is not us.  We are still praying for more. 

No, it's the Duggar Family who are expecting their 20th child!  We rejoice with them and pray for a safe pregnancy and safe delivery for Michelle Duggar and her baby.

Now, in honor of this wonderful announcement, I wish to present a pilot of a little TV show I would like to call, Twelve Kids and Praying - For More.

It is modeled roughly on the Duggar's show on The Learning Channel.

Announcer:  "This week, on Twelve Kids and Praying:"

Child's voice: "Daddy can't find the new Toll Tag for the new car, and he's really mad!"

Carolyn, wife of Steve-Man and mother of many:  "Steve-Man had recently bought a new car, and he had ordered a toll tag so we could drive the car on the North Texas Tollway without having to pay with coins.  We are always teaching our children to be good stewards of Creation, and using a toll tag instead of coins is one way we improve the world we live in."
Steve-Man, husband of Carolyn: "I left the toll tag and paperwork on my desk, and I noticed it was gone.  The first toll tag is free, but a replacement tag costs a lot of money, so I really wanted it back.  I recruited all the D- children to scour the house, looking for the missing toll tag."

Interviewer, off-screen, talking to two of the D- children:  "Were you worried when your father said he could not find the toll tag?"

J'Marc (10 years old): "Um, no.  He lost the toll tag?  When?"

J'Max (8 years old): "It didn't bother me a bit."

Steve-Man:  "I found the toll tag on the kitchen floor, but I noticed that the sticker was bent.  I was wondering if the tag would still work."

Carolyn:  "Steve-Man wondered if the toll tag would work, since it seemed as if it had a bend through the chip in the middle of the sticker.  He found it on the floor of our kitchen which has two ovens, two dishwashers, and several refrigerators."

Shift to the outside, where Steve-Man and all the children are surrounding the new car.  Steve-Man sits in the front seat, reading the directions on how to place the toll tag.

Carolyn:  "Steve-Man is the most patient person I have ever met.  He never loses his temper while he is onscreen.  Now he has the challenge of putting the tag on the correct part of the windshield."

Steve-Man:  "I was glad the instructions came in Spanish as well as English, so the children and I could practice a little bit of Spanish while I put the toll tag onto the windshield.  I think we should try it out on the tollway to make sure it will work."

Carolyn:  "Once again, Steve-Man came up with a way to make a good experience out of a crisis.  After finding the toll tag on the kitchen floor, and seeing that it might have been bent out of shape, Steve-Man decided that the only way to know that the toll tag would work was to take the whole family on a short trip and try it out."

Steve-Man:  "I thought it would be best to take the car, and all the children, and try it out on the tollway.  While we were in North Dallas, I thought we could all go out to III Forks Restaurant.  There the chef will teach us how to grill steaks on an open grill."

D- Children:  "Yayyyyyyy!"

Announcer:  "Next week, the D- family will turn the compost heap in the back yard!  Guess what treasure they find beneath tons of dirt and mud!  Stay tuned!"

And there you have it.  Seriously, we are very happy for the blessings given to the Duggar family, and we pray for them - and their conversion to the One True Faith.

Veteran's Day, 2011

It has been eleven years since I separated from the Air Force, and 24 years since I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  The years have erased a lot of the feelings which I had while on active duty, especially the chafing awareness that I had given up my freedom while serving our country.  Instead, most of the thoughts I have now are how blessed I was to serve in the military.

Here below is a picture from the Summer of 1988, when I got to take an 'incentive flight' in a jet trainer.  More on incentive flights in a moment.  Looking at this picture brings all the memories of that day back to me.  I was scared, especially after being 'briefed' on how to operate the parachute strapped to my back if it did not automatically deploy.  We also were shown how to use the heavy knife to break through the canopy in the event that became necessary.  Then there is that little thing called acraphobia which I have.   I went anyway, and had a wonderful time actually controlling this airplane under the watchful eye of a flying instructor's instructor.

On the flight out of San Antonio, I wished I still had that parachute.

Incentive flights were intended to attract physicians into Aerospace Medicine, which is a lot of primary care medicine combined with occupational medicine.  The flying sounded like fun, and I was really excited to go on this little jaunt above San Antonio, but I couldn't get enthusiastic about doing family practice.  My thoughts turned out to be fairly accurate, as I found out years later how Flight Surgeons would qualify for their flight pay if they were stationed at one of the bases in San Antonio: they would spend their required flying hours in the passenger seats of a C-5 as their pilots practiced a maneuver called a 'touch and go.'  For those of you who don't know, touch and go is where the pilot comes in for a landing, briefly allowing the wheels to 'touch' the runway before roaring back into the air.  That doesn't sound toooo bad, until you realize that the passenger seats in the C-5 are located behind the cockpit - on the top level, above the cargo bay - and they don't usually have all the creature comforts of commercial airliners.  No air conditioned vent blowing on you from above, and no windows.  Oh, and one more thing: usually the seats are all positioned so the passengers all face backward.  So just imagine how comfortable it must be, flying in the low altitude hot air above San Antonio, while facing backwards in sweltering heat and lots of turbulence.

That is why this aircraft was smiling when I took its picture - also in 1988:

I took this picture while standing on the roof of a car we rented from a place in San Antonio called Chuck's Rent-A-Clunker.  I was trying to eliminate all the barbed wire from the photograph.

I was in the Air Force for 13 years: nine years in the Inactive Reserves and four years active duty.  I spent two weeks in El Salvador, anesthetizing children and adults for eye surgery as part of a humanitarian mission.  I was never issued a weapon, although I had to qualify with a 9mm pistol as part of my training for mobilization.  During my last year on active duty, I could not be farther than 50 miles from the base in the event I was deployed at a moment's notice.

A week after I separated from the Air Force, I had a medal delivered to my home.  It was a commemoration for my service to our country.  It got me thinking at the time, that all I ever did was wake up every day and go to work, caring for active duty personnel, retirees, dependents - especially the children - and any trauma victim who landed in our emergency room.  For that, just doing my job, I got a medal.

For some veterans, just doing their job meant a lot more than selecting what uniform to wear today and then battling the early morning traffic to get to the base.  For most, just doing their job meant putting their lives on the line for the good of all of us back home.

Please pray for those who never came back, or for those who came back scarred, damaged, forgotten.  I have heard their cries in military and veteran's hospitals.

Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls, and all the souls of the Faithful Departed, rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #4

Shortly after midnight we heard coyotes howling and yipping on the back part of our property.  It sounded as if they were just outside the reach of the lights on the back of house, but sounds travel rather far around here.  They were making enough noise that I was tempted to go out and fire an air rifle in their general direction, but they stopped before I could get up and grab one.  I did wonder how the cattle on the lot next to us were handling it....

This was a quiet day, with classical music played for part of the day.  None of the children ate one another, so I would chalk this up as a good day.  Not a smoke plume in sight.

I spent a good part of the day dealing with family finances and drinking coffee.

I got one of them new-fangled Keurig coffee makers a few years back.  The first time I saw one - either 2000 or 2001 - I fell in love with it.  It was in the doctor's lounge of one of the hospitals in San Antonio which I rarely visited.  I had a case in the late afternoon, and showed up early for a change.  After changing into scrubs, I wandered into the lounge.  Dessicated remains of a hot lunch sat in pans over still-burning sterno cans, and all I could find which looked palatable were some graham crackers and peanut butter samples located in a drawer marked 'Silverware.'

The counter next to the refrigerator was filled with the strangest machine I had ever seen.  It was a Keurig coffee machine, one of the commercial ones which was connected to a water line.  It came with a diagram of instructions and a whole bunch of little cups filled with pre-measured coffee grounds.  By pulling a lever on the top, one could drop in one of these cups, close it, hit the 'Start' button, and watch a hot stream of coffee pour onto the counter almost immediately.  I quickly found a cup and caught about half of the coffee and then cleaned up the mess I had made.

It was a really good cup of coffee.  I was amazed at the variety of coffee types and flavors which were available.  I also liked that I could make one cup of coffee at a time, since I was the only coffee drinker at that time.  More than anything, I liked how putting the little coffee cup into the brewer was kind of like loading a shotgun.  Someone who designed this had to have known how this would appeal to the gun nut inside of every male of the species.

Unfortunately, it was a few years before I bought one of these for home.  I used it every day, and one day the control panel on it starting displaying the word 'Descale.'  I got online and proceeded to de-scale it, using a lot of white vinegar.  The smell was not too pleasant.  After running a lot of water through it, I started using it again.  Within a day it started to act up, and once again I was commanded to 'Descale.'  I complied with the order, but the problem persisted.  It started taking a lot longer than a minute to make a cup of coffee.

I called the service line at Keurig, and the folks there recommended I try some other things to verify that there wasn't some other obstruction in the brewer.  After exhausting all their recommendations, they stated that I could receive a replacement brewer.  Wow.  Just like that, they sent me a replacement.  You can see the old and the new one below; the new one is on the right.

I did have to return one part of the old one to show that I was not just cheating them out of a new coffee maker.
My children were surprised that the company would just send out a new machine.  I explained to them that the money is not made in the machine but rather in the disposable parts which you have to purchase to use the machine.  Just like in a lot of medical supplies, like an intravenous pump, one has to keep going back to the manufacturer to buy the tubing and other gizmos which only fit on that pump.  Those little coffee thingies are just like the intravenous tubing.  I pointed out that while the coffee maker costs about $100, I probably spend two or three times that much per year on the little coffee cups.  The Keurig company could easily give out an occasional machine just to strengthen customer loyalty.

Of course, I did not start this blog entry to discuss coyotes, music, or economics.  Instead I needed a convenient place to record they type of coffee I ordered, and to record my impression of them so I could get the same type when I order more.

Right now I am drinking Vermont Country Blend Decaf, by Green Mountain Coffee.  It is good, not bitter, and can be drunk anytime with or without food.

Next up will be:

Tully's Decaf House Blend
Caribou Decaf Natural Blend
Timothy's Decaf Columbian
Green Mountain Decaf Breakfast Blend

Yes, all decaf.  No more caffeine in my coffee, unless I want to see my heart explode.  I used to be like this character, but not any more:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Classical Week: Day #3

All Smoke and No Music

Happy feast of St. Francis of Assisi!

When last we spoke, Waxahachie was burning.  We spent the day driving from one place to another, completing various tasks and appointments scheduled for today.  There was no classical music listened to during the day in the car; nor did the children at home listen to classical music.

We had a doctor's visit in Fort Worth in the morning, followed by a visit to the Apple Store in Dallas to figure out why one of the computers keeps signing out of whatever program the children are using.  In the midst of work, the computer will suddenly tell them that the program 'had to end without warning.'

We are getting well known at the Apple Store; you know you have made it when the concierge at the door greets you by name......

During and after our time in the land of Apple, some of us ate Mexican food at a local Chuy's.  All of the Apple employees were agitated in anticipation of the unveiling of the iPhone 4S, but I was out of there with a working computer within 30 minutes.

I spent the time it took to fix the computer building a car on the internet.

We went by a religious bookstore in Dallas to get some gifts for certain children who will be confirmed on Thursday.  While I was there, I bought a copy of the video Of Gods and Men; I reviewed it here on the blog.

As per our routine, we spent too much money.

Next, we revisited the business where we saw the fire up close.  The fire was still smoldering; even worse, it smelled as if it were July 5th in these parts, with the smell of incinerated fireworks permeating the atmosphere.  Thankfully, the odor did not overcome the 'new car smell' that we were also experiencing.

Here is a shot from the same lot where we took pictures.  The Environmental Protection Agency said everything was safe, but with the present administration in charge, why would one trust anything said by a federal agency?
It reminds me of two of the worse things one can hear:
One, "I am from the U.S. Government."
Two, "I am here to help you."

Run if you hear either of them.

I have taken quite a number of interesting pictures with my trusty iPhone.  Around here, the weather has been particularly harsh on trees.  If it is not the ice storms bringing them down, it is heavy winds or tornadoes.  Take a look at the trunk on this tree:

I have seen some other fires as well, especially with the high temperatures and drought we had this summer.  Here is a fire somewhere south of Fort Worth:

Here is another one, up in Grand Prairie:

All these fires around us - there was one bad one a few miles from our house - got me to thinking about how I would evacuate the family in the event of a grass fire.  I recall reading about the Mann Gulch Fire up in Montana, and how a fire can spread so quickly when wind and other factors come into play.

Sobering thoughts.  I'd rather think of music, but I shall provide a few more pictures for your consideration:

 I believe 'Tweeting' is where one sends status updates to people so they can 'follow' what one is doing.  I don't do Twitter because I am just not that interesting, nor inclined to tell everything I am doing all day long.

I took this picture at a hospital.  It makes one think that one should saunter down the stairs and out the exit rather than bolting down the stairs and sprinting for the way out.

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

I am An Amateur Catholic Blogger!

Amateur Catholic B-Team Member