Friday, August 31, 2012

Movie Review-- Emilio Estevez's "The Way"

    It is a rare occurrence that my husband and I put our children to bed early and watch a movie together- just the two of us.  But, I had heard good things about Emilio Estevez's "The Way" which stars his father, Martin Sheen, as a lonely widower grieving the sudden unexpected death of his only child.  So as a special treat for ourselves, Tim and I ushered our children off to their respective rooms allowing them to read quietly to themselves while we popped the DVD in and settled on the couch for what we hoped would be an entertaining and inspiring Catholic movie like we had heard.

    As far as being an interesting story with believable and engaging characters, "The Way" did not disappoint.  Sheen, who portrayed Tom Avery, an American optometrist who embarks on an impromptu pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago traveling by foot through France and into Spain in honor of his recently deceased son, is a talented actor who did well in the role.  The movie follows him along the real way of Camino de Santiago as he meets new friends, scatters his son's ashes at places of special significance along the journey, and mourns his loss quietly all the while.  The fellow pilgrims he meets as he walks are varied and eccentric adding a little humor to an otherwise serious film.  Avery shares the experience of his pilgrimage with a fun-loving, outgoing, bear of a man from the Netherlands, a sarcastic, independent young woman from Canada, and a boisterous and somewhat arrogant writer from Ireland.  His new friends accept Avery despite his moodiness and emotional distance from them.

    Overall, "The Way" was a good movie, though not a great one.  It was entertaining and held our attention.  The scenery was beautiful, even breath-taking at times.  The message of living life to its fullest and learning to accept others where they are came through clearly.  However, though obviously main character Tom Avery was experiencing something meaningful and spiritual in his pilgrimage, the movie itself was not particularly spiritual in nature.  God was not a focus, nor was the depth, beauty, and tradition of Catholicism.  The teachings of the Church were not adhere to or even respected by the characters for the most part and the few moments of prayer and contemplation were somewhat glossed over.

    In short, I found "The Way" a film worth watching but I would not necessarily classify it as a Catholic film.  Instead, I would consider it a well done and thought-provoking mainstream movie with vaguely Christian themes and brief positive references to Catholicism.

You can purchase this book here.  I wrote this review for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
Tiber River
is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Leg warmers, silly bands, and....blogging?

            When I was a kid, I had some leg warmers.  They served no purpose other than looking cool.  I mean, really?  Do your calves ever get so cold that they need a little more coverage than the rest of your legs?  

A few summers ago, my children got into “silly bands”.  They were rubbery bracelets shaped like animals.  They looked a little “silly” to me all crooked and wavy on the kid’s arms.  But still my kids, like all the other kids in the country, thought they were the coolest things.  

Fads have such a way of sucking us in and then suddenly losing their appeal and just fading out.  

When my oldest child was just an infant, Creative Memories was all the rage.  They sold scrap-booking products and I decided with my new baby and a lot of unused creative energy, scrap-booking was the perfect thing for me.  I got very into it.  I have close to 20 (mostly) completed albums and a closet full of supplies and tools to show for my interest in scrap-booking.  After a few years of loving the hobby, I found myself losing interest though.  My kids were getting older, life was getting busier.  My albums got set aside for a time and I told myself I’d find time for them eventually…. But now, I figure my scrap-booking days are behind me, at least until the kids are grown.  

I guess scrap-booking was sort of a fad for me.  It was loads of fun while it lasted, but when I ran out of creative energy for it, I moved on to other things.

I’ve been thinking about fads- in fashion and even more so, in hobbies because a few of my favorite blogs have been relatively silent in recent days.  I guess mine has been a little neglected lately too….  

I fear my blogging friends, who I so enjoyed keeping up with through their sites, may have found the hobby of blogging to be not so much fun as it used to be.   I miss their steady posts and their wit and wisdom.  The internet is a little lonely without them but I sort of understand.  

I have been blogging for almost 4 years now.  At first I had LOTS to say, lots of ideas and opinions and stories to share.  But lately…. well, sometimes it seems all my stories have been told.  All my opinions have been voiced (well, not really, but I am learning that not ALL my opinions should be voiced!)  Blogging is a wonderful way to chronicle my family’s life and a wonderful way to make friends and share stories and ideas, but some days- I just don’t feel the old excitement about it anymore.

I wonder if maybe, at some point, I will realize blogging was a fad in my life-- fun while it lasted but not a long term addition to my life.  I am not quite ready to say that yet, though I do find myself posting less often than I used to, but I might at some point….   Someday, it might be time to move on to other new exciting hobbies (writing another novel sounds appealing).  If that is what has happened to my blogging friends of old, I wish them well in their new enterprises, and someday, I may just join them in signing off and pursuing more “real life” endeavors…..

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An amazing night- Turtle Walk part II

            It looked like a hurricane might be headed our way…. so what did we do?  We jumped in our car and headed right towards it, to my parent’s house on a little barrier island that is prone to flooding, vulnerable to high winds, and right in what looked like the path of the storm.    Normally, we are not so irresponsible or crazy but it had been about 55 days since our “turtle walk” back in June and “our” baby turtles were due to hatch!  

All day Friday, we had watched the storm’s progress.  We watched the projected track and we calculated our window of opportunity.  Then, we decided that as long as we could be back home by Sunday afternoon, it was safe enough to go see if we could witness the hatching of the turtle eggs we had so carefully helped mark and protect weeks ago.

My mom contacted her friends from the turtle watch patrol and they informed us that though hatchings were never guaranteed, they would be “evacuating a nest” Saturday evening and we were welcome to come along to watch the process.   I could not help but think the word “evacuate” was a little ironic considering the oncoming threat of “Isaac”.  “Evacuating” a turtle nest is not like evacuating the island for a hurricane though, thank goodness.  No long lines of traffic, no hurrying to get away from danger, no whipping winds or torrential rain squalls.  

Just some rubber gloves and a lot of digging.  

When sea turtle nests are newly discovered (from the tracks the mama turtles leave on the sand), in the beginning of nesting season, they are verified and then marked and dated.  That is what we witnessed back in June.  

Towards the end of the season, after the baby hatchlings have left the nest (which the turtle experts can tell from the tracks the babies leave on the sand) the sticks and caution tape are taken down and then the remains of the nest are examined and the leftover egg shells counted for official government record keeping. 

The nest to be evacuated did not turn out to be one of the nests we had helped mark but we were still excited to be part of the process, especially when we heard there was a chance that a left-behind hatchling or two might be found in the nest.   So Saturday evening, we watched with baited breath as a nest was dug up and little mounds of cracked, abandoned egg shells piled up.  In the end, there were a few un-hatched eggs and ninety hatched eggs but no baby turtles still lingering behind.

“There is a nest just a few blocks away that we think is due to hatch this evening,” the turtle walkers told us.  They then shared with us that they had turtle walking friends that once thought a hatching was eminent and ended up sitting by a nest for 6 evenings straight only to have it finally hatch the seventh night, after they had given up.  They told us they themselves had sat at nests for hours on end a few times- as late as 2 a.m. they said, to see the babies finally emerge and head to the sea.  ‘We can’t guarantee anything but it does look like this nest is ready,” they informed us.

We figured it was worth coming back after dark to see.  

At nine p.m. we approached the nest and found the turtle walkers there watching quietly as one tiny loggerhead baby stuck his head up through the sand.   “It may take a while, but when they are all ready the baby turtles will all come out together and head to the water.  Wait and see,” they told us.   We did not have to wait long.  Within minutes, a few more little heads wiggled free of the sand and then all of the sudden, just as they promised us, the nest started to shake and baby turtles climbed out, scrambling quite quickly towards the Gulf.  About 12 hatchlings emerged and we followed them, watching closely to make sure they arrived safely at their destination about 50 feet away.  

Then we returned to the nest to wait for more.  But the sand was quiet.  The turtle walkers told us there were always about 100 eggs per nest and they had never seen a hatching with so few babies.  So we waited, and waited, and waited.  

While we waited, we went for a little walk down the beach and saw another nest that had obviously just hatched and we viewed the hundreds of tiny turtle tracks in the sand.  “This was a normal hatching,” we were told.  “All the babies came at once and it looks like there were a lot of them.”  

The turtle walkers doubted we would see any more baby turtles but we headed back to the first nest just in case, as they speculated about what might have caused the low numbers.  Maybe there were fire ants in the nest that ate right through the eggs, they thought.  Maybe ghost crabs ate some of the eggs.

We walked slowly back to the still marked off nest and when we got there were thrilled to see a little movement in the sand.  Another little hatchling was trying to dig his way out.  So we sat in the sand to wait and see what might happen.  

It was a beautiful night, cool and breezy with the moon over head, its glow a little hazy from thin cloud cover.  A halo of light surrounded it in the sky and the water lapped gently at the shore.  There was no sign of a hurricane lurking out in the distance, no indication of the danger that lay beyond the horizon.  It was just us, a few other tourists, and the turtle walkers, to appreciate the quiet sound of the little waves and the cool gusts of soft wind that blew every few minutes on the beautiful beaches of Anna Maria Island. The turtle babies were in no hurry and we had all night to wait.

It was probably 40 minutes, maybe longer, when finally the hatchlings started to dig themselves out of a little hole in the sandy nest.  They call the hatching a “boil” because that is what it looks like the sand is doing, as dozens and dozens of tiny little turtles all squirm and wiggle and fight their way out of the nest to crawl towards their watery home.  This time, like they are supposed to, all the hatchlings decided to come out together and someone counted close to 70 babies.  

 Once again we followed carefully behind them straining our eyes in the dark to watch their perilous trek over seashells and seaweed to make it to the safety of the water.  Their little flippers moved quickly back and forth as they scurried to the Gulf.  Along the way, a few little hatchlings flipped and lay there helplessly waving their flippers in fear until a turtle walker saw them and flipped them back over helping them along.  In the end all the babies made it.  

It was such an indescribably amazing experience to be able to see their “birth” on the beach and their immediate independence, relying only on their innate instincts (and the kind turtle walking volunteers) to get themselves to safety.  

The brand new baby turtles were so, so cute and we wanted so much to photograph the event but were warned that any white light would disorient the hatchlings and put them in danger.  So we put our cameras away and just watched in wonder.  

When we left the beach at 11 p.m. to go back to my parent’s house for a shower and the comfortable beds in their guest room, we all sported huge satisfied smiles -- full of the memory of an awesome, awesome night.

This video is not ours and we did not see any hatchlings in daylight but it is an adorable video of a baby loggerhead on Anna Maria Island, from 2009.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A disappointing win

            I normally do not like the summer reading programs our local libraries have each year.  The idea of bribing kids to read by rewarding them with little plastic toys or pieces of easily breakable junk just bothers me.   You can read my whole summer reading program manifesto here.

This summer though, my children learned about a library not too far away that offered free books as the prize for their reading program.  Since the premise behind this was one I agree whole-heartedly with (that the true reward of reading is the joy of reading), I allowed my kids to sign up.   All summer we drove passed the closest library, just five minutes from our home, to go the one that gave away free books.  It was about 25 minutes away but, for my children, I was willing to make the trek each week.

My children have all always loved books.  This summer, I noticed that my middle daughter, at nine years old, really took off in her reading for the first time though.  She used to prefer to be read to, but this summer she discovered the enjoyment of reading to herself.   
 This summer, she seemed always to have a book along with her.  Every night when I tucked her in, I’d find her curled up in bed with her nose in a book.   She would announce every few days that she had finished another great story and was anxious for a new one.   It was really cool to see her take off with her reading skills and join her older siblings in their favorite pastime of reading.  

The library's reading program ended last week.  It was a successful summer from our point of view.  We have lots of new books on our book shelves (so many we cannot shelve them neatly anymore) and we have a brand new voracious reader on our hands.  That was enough for us.  We were all happy.

Then, last Friday afternoon the phone rang.  It seemed my middle daughter’s name had been chosen for an end-of-the-summer-reading-program prize from the library.  We went to the library curious as to what the prize would be.  

As it turned out, not only did my daughter win a prize, she won THE prize, the grand prize of all the summer readers.  Her award?  The entire collection of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  Eight brand new hard cover books full of disrespect, crude humor, and bathroom references.

I may be *a little* picky about summer reading programs but I am *really, really, really* picky about my children’s choice of books.  Call me a literature snob—but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not appropriate reading material for my children.  My daughter knew this and as we drove home with her new books stacked in a bag next to her, her little face showed nothing but disappointment.  

We have decided that this is not quite fair.   

No grand prize winner should be without a prize.   

No avid reader should be left with substandard stories.   

So Diary of A Wimpy Kid will be donated to someone who will appreciate their children reading anything.  And my little winner will be treated by Mommy and Daddy to a trip to Barnes and Noble for a few good books she can choose herself.... with final approval from the purchasers, of course.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Starting our year off right...

            I spent a lot of time in the spring of 2011 reading about un-schooling.  The whole idea of it fascinated me and I decided once summer came and I had more time to devote to reading and research that I would look into it more deeply.   

            So summer 2011 found me scouring the library bookshelves and vigorously searching the internet for anything and everything I could find on un-schooling, and primarily Catholic un-schooling.  The more I read about it, the more it made so much sense and yet ultimately, I decided it was not for us.  You can read more about my personal, internal un-schooling debate here and here.

            Summer 2012 proved to be a different kind of summer.  There was little time for reading and research as the children and I were busy, busy, busy with new and exciting projects.  And now, here we are at the end of our first week of school, after having jumped right in without much time for academic contemplation or intellectual preparation.  

            Now, in the midst of our initial studies of the new school year, I am once again looking at what works for us and what doesn’t.  This year, we have started school with a short first week and we decided to take it slow getting started.  I told the children not to worry about any workbooks or even textbooks or independent work this week.  We did all our activities together these first few days, concentrating on religion, art, and reading and we will ease into the more intense work of math, grammar, history, science etc….next week.  

Though, I still do not think I will ever take the plunge into a radical un-schooling approach, this week of more laid-back, hands-on, family-centered learning has been great!  

We have done art projects for the Feast of the Assumption and for the upcoming Sunday gospel on the Eucharist.  We have read aloud together quite a bit, finishing Andries (by Hilda van Stockum), the story we had been reading through the last few weeks of summer, checking out a few books on the city of St. Augustine, that we will be visiting in a few weeks, and learning about Eucharistic Miracles in fascinating “living books”.  We have written in our journals and drawn self-portraits, and decorated our notebooks for each subject.  In between the lessons I had planned, we have discussed hummingbirds and movie-making and the importance of family values.   

Altogether, it has been a wonderful start to our new school year….

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Feast of the Assumption

Happy Feast of the Assumption
and for us, happy first day of school!
Mother Mary, pray for us.

Monday, August 13, 2012


            What a weekend we had!  First, on Saturday morning my three middle children and I headed out to the local airfield where they were given the amazing privilege of a free flight in a little airplane complete with educational information and for my oldest son, a chance to try his hand at the controls.  This awesome morning of aviation and education came via the young eagles program, a program found all over America and worth checking into in your area.  

            But, as exciting as that was…Sunday was even better because Sunday was our youngest child’s third birthday.  Yes, our baby is now **officially** a big girl.  Being three is a pretty big deal.  How do you celebrate something so monumental?   

            Birthday parties are great and our children love them, but Tim and I sort of decided years ago, that parties to celebrate birthdays would be VERY few and far between in our family.  It is not that we have anything against parties, it is just that they tend to be a big production.  Between the expense, the planning, the clean-up (both before and after the party), and the chaos of over-excited, full-of-sugar, wound-up-from-party-fun children running everywhere- it feels as though we do not get a minute to really enjoy the celebration with our child or connect with them at all at their parties.  

So, instead, in our family, we prefer to celebrate birthdays with fun family activities that we can all enjoy.   In July, our oldest son turned eleven and we celebrated by renting canoes at a local park where we could row through the inter-coastal waterways of Tampa Bay.  We have gone camping for birthdays before or spent the day at the zoo or science museum… things like that.

Planning a family activity that would thrill a three year old and still be fun for the older children proved to be a little difficult though.  What is fun for a three year old tends to be not quite so exciting for an almost 14 year old.  So, in order to make the celebration as exciting as the milestone- we spent the big bucks and bought tickets for SeaWorld!  This is huge for our family.  We just don’t go to amusement parks because the expense of getting our family of seven into any of them is insane on our budget.  

However, as Florida residents we were able to get a special deal to pay just a smidge more and turn our 1 day passes into fun passes for the rest of the year.  We will go back in September and celebrate our oldest child’s 14 birthday there as well.  Then, just for fun we will go at least one more time, later in the fall, to make quite sure we get our money’s worth.

Since this first trip there was for the little one’s birthday, I explained to the older children we would only do things the little one could participate in.  They agreed and did not complain once, even as we started our day at the Elmo show.  The big fancy roller coasters were overhead all day, twisting and turning and snaking through the park right above us as went from show to show and rode all the “kiddie” rides in “Shamu’s Happy Harbor” but no one suggested ditching their little sister and riding them.  We walked through the "Wild Arctic" passing by the entrance to the "helicopter ride" that I know the older kids were anxious to check out, so we could still see the polar bears and beluga whales even though our youngest was too short for the ride's height requirement.
mesmerized by the Elmo show
Shamu amazed us all

A big girl, but still little compared to a polar bear!
exhausted by our long day of fun and excitement.
Instead we really did have our fun family day, centered completely around the birthday girl.  We all enjoyed watching her watch Elmo and friends sing and dance on stage before her very eyes.   We delighted in her joy at riding a fiberglass manatee on the Sea Carousel and seeing the animals jump and flip at the Dolphin and the Shamu shows.  We laughed at how cute she looked wearing her blinking dolphin necklace, the one souvenir we agreed to purchase.  It was a fabulous day for all and a true celebration of our youngest member.  The day turned out to be just exactly what a birthday should be-  a joy filled day of remembering and reveling in the blessing that our baby three-year-old is to us all.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Real life lessons from London 2012

            In my enjoyment of the Olympics this past week and a half, I have realized that the Games really give us an interesting view of humanity.  There are moments of human nature at its best, and moments of human nature at its worst.  In the competitive atmosphere of the Games, we are able to get a glimpse of so many different personalities and so many different reactions to both victory and defeat.  

My children and I have rallied behind certain athletes and shared their excitement and their joy, or their disappointment and their struggle, depending on the outcome of their particular competitions.  Other athletes we have found harder to support and cheer on.   We have not rooted against anyone but, there have definitely been some we were not exactly hoping would win.  

            Here are our examples of humanity at its best— those few champions who have immediately given credit and glory to God, praising Him in interviews or falling to their knees in prayer or looking to the heavens in thanksgiving.  We love to see the athletes who pray the Sign of the Cross before competing.  We have seen winners in moments of immense joy and gratitude for all they have been able to accomplish and experience.  My children and I find ourselves smiling especially at the silver and bronze medalists who are genuinely happy with their not-quite-first-place finishes and we find we are genuinely happy for them too.  We have heard stories of amazing people overcoming adversity and stories of athletes who just wouldn’t give up.  We have heard about the support and sacrifice of loving and dedicated parents, coaches, even whole countries.  We have seen displays of authentic respect for the “losing competitors” from the “winners” and authentic joy for the winners from those they have defeated.  All this is beautiful.  It fills our hearts with hope and gives us examples of goodness in the world.   

            Here are our examples of humanity at its worst- athletes who refuse to hug or acknowledge the support of coaches or fans after not performing well.  Over-the-top displays of celebration and arrogance upon winning, which implies a lack of respect for those who are suffering the pain of defeat.  Winning athletes who focus entirely on how happy they are in interviews, acting as though it is all about them and ignoring the credit due to others who have helped them get to where they are.  And our absolute least favorite- silver and bronze medalists who refuse to show any happiness but instead pout or scowl in utter disappointment.   (There is one other thing on our list of least favorites-- women’s beach volleyball, where the competitors jump around in the sand barely dressed, but that we REFUSE to watch at my house.)

            Not surprisingly, the competitors we have cheered on most enthusiastically have been those who show true humility in the midst of fierce competition.  The people who have worked hard but who acknowledge that they have not achieved their success alone, are the ones we find ourselves rooting on.  The athletes who, in the competition itself or in interviews or post-race celebrations,  behave in arrogant, self-serving ways just cannot seem to win our affections. 

            The 2012 Olympic Games have certainly given my children and me a lot to think and talk about.   We have been given lessons in the beauty and importance of humility and the ugliness of pride and ingratitude.  We originally tuned in just for the fun and excitement of the once-every-four-years-competitions.  The lessons in integrity we’ve received were quite unexpected but they have certainly been very valuable.  

Only a few days left of the games now…….no doubt these last few days will find my family glued to the T.V. for every exciting and educational moment.

Friday, August 3, 2012


            My children and I started attending Mass every First Friday at the start of our school year last August.  For nearly a year, we have been very good about getting ourselves up and ready and to the church every first Friday of the month, not missing even once.  We planned to keep up our devotion and continue attending every First Friday this year also…..

            Have I mentioned that this summer has been a little crazy?  Well, it is all my fault, but things have gotten even more disorganized and off kilter in our routine this past week.  You see, the children and I were greatly anticipating the Olympics.  During the last Olympics, we barely even noticed the Games were going on and certainly did not follow them very closely.  But this year, we looked forward to them for months.  We feel a sort of connection to them this year.  My parents have good friends from Great Britain whom we have come to know.  They have shared some of their English traditions and native foods with us.  We adore their accents and enjoy spending time with them.  Also, my son’s Boy Scout troop has a “brother troop” from England and every few years they take turns visiting each other.  This year it was my son’s troop’s turn to head across the ocean to jolly old England and the trip happened to be scheduled for this week!  So, though my son did not go along, quite a few of his friends are there in London right now!  We heard they even got tickets to an Olympic soccer game!  This, of course, makes the 2012 Games seem a little closer to home and a lot more exciting to us.   Couple all that with the fact that my middle daughter started taking gymnastics classes last Fall, and well… we knew we couldn’t miss a minute of the excitement.

            The older children and I have not missed a minute.  We have stayed up until midnight every night this week cheering on our American athletes and anxiously awaiting results of their competitions.  Last night, as my eyes were growing heavy in exhaustion, I said, “I don’t know if we’ll make it all the way to midnight again.”  But then we did.

            This morning, we were all moving a little slowly- the late nights of the past week are finally catching up with us.  I was sort of vaguely aware that it is Friday but did not realize it is First Friday until my son asked, at 10:43 if we would be attending Mass.  Mass starts at 11 (unless we are really on the ball and get up to go to the early Mass at 8 a.m.).  I looked around at my children- all dressed in t-shirts and shorts.  I looked at my own blue jeans and t-shirt.  I looked at the clock and calculated the time—could we all change our clothes, get our shoes on, get into the car and drive the 15 minutes to the only church with an 11 o’clock Mass in 17 minutes?  For a second I thought- we can do it, let’s hurry.  And then, I realized- we really couldn’t.   

            So, we missed it.  We missed First Friday Mass, for the first time in a year-- because of the Olympics and because I refuse to take my children into a church not dressed appropriately and mostly because I am so distracted and scatterbrained these days….

            I feel a little guilty but Tim reminded me recently that a wonderful holy priest once told him, God loves us just as much no matter what choices we make.  I am pretty sure that is true even when our choices are dictated by forgetfulness and distraction…


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