Monthly Archives: July, 2015

Booking Through Thursday: Storage


How do you store your books? On bookcases? In piles? In piles on bookcases? Are they sorted? Do you know where everything is? What’s the most creative storage you’ve seen or used for your books?

We had a similar question fairly recently, although that was about how you would keep your books if you could have them any way you wanted. I suppose this is more about real life.

When I moved to Austin, I put together a simple sorting system. I bought the wide version of my beloved Billy bookcase from IKEA, annoyed my downstairs neighbor by hammering it together, and set up some basic categorization.

Then I got more books (mostly review copies, so they were free). To date, I have the same categories, but I’ve reached the overflow point that’s left me with a couple of piles. I hate piles!

Here’s my current organization:

  • Shelf 1 (top): Catholic and Christian books only; nothing secular
  • Shelf 2: Harry Potter books (up to and including The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the unauthorized Sorcerer’s Companion), The Hunger Games trilogy, overflow Catholic and Christian books, and a couple of non-religious novels by religious writers
  • Shelf 3: photo/scrapbook albums, diplomas in slipcases, my main reference books (English dictionaries and Spanish grammar), and some decorations
  • Shelf 4: fiction and secular nonfiction
  • Shelf 5: books I used in college and grad school
  • Shelf 6: games, playing cards, and a few reference binders from my old job

I should probably move things around to get my religious books all in a row and eliminate those pesky piles. I do like having Harry Potter at eye-level and my religious books right above them, though. Those are the most important to me, so I look at them more often. It wouldn’t make sense to keep them any lower because I hate squatting or bending unnecessarily.

Within shelves, they are sorted roughly by width. That’s “how wide is the cover” width, which makes them stick out more towards me when they’re on the shelf, not “how thick is the spine” width. I don’t like having narrower books tucked between wider ones because they’re harder to see that way (and the shelves are harder to dust that way). These are all of my physical books, so I don’t have to look far when I know what category I’m looking for.

Despite my lifelong love of books, I’ve never had a system like this before. The change has been as comforting (if not as frequently used) as when I first organized my closet. I love it!

For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Eight: Families and Faith


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

I’ve almost made it! I started this series in September and by golly, I’m going to finish it before the next synod starts in November. Ideally, I would have finished a series on the preparation for the next synod by the time it starts, but I will take the victories I can achieve.

It is unlikely that Pope Francis will ever actually read my thoughts (although, considering his actions, you never know), but it has been extremely fruitful for me to work through them. When people complain that the Church is too hierarchical, too top-down, or not applicable to adult singles, I’m going to point them this way. I encourage you to think about your own responses to these questions and what you can do to enrich the Church in terms of marriage, family, and evangelization.

On to the final section of questions!

The Relationship Between the Family and the Person

a.k.a. How Families Lead Us Toward or Away from Christ

Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

We Christians are all trying to be like Jesus. He was community in and of himself (as one person of the Holy Trinity), and he formed a community of apostles and disciples to create the Church. Family is a tiny version of the Church—or, at least, it’s supposed to be. As I heard a priest put it at a house blessing recently, the father is the family’s pastor, and the mother is the director of religious education. Their primary goal should be to get each other and all their children to heaven.

I’m not sure how often that is a real goal, though. I’ve never been a parent or even a spouse, and I’m the only religious person in my family (besides maybe my grandmother), so the only ones helping me specifically to get to heaven are my guardian angel, the holy souls I have helped free from purgatory, and me. It might always be that way.

I have goals for my quasi-family and future family, though, God willing. I pray for my godsons, my sister (I was her Confirmation sponsor), and my family all the time. I don’t change who I am to suit who they might want me to be, so they’re stuck with their Jesus-freak godmother/sister/daughter/granddaughter/cousin whether they like it or not. I hope my example will help bring them to Jesus, too.

What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

In Part Six, I wrote about the struggles of teaching children about the Faith when they don’t have any good examples of how to live as a person of faith. That’s the biggest obstacle. When the only adults you know don’t go to church, then going to church doesn’t seem all that important or necessary. When other families talk about being “done” with having children, then being open to life sounds like outdated, wishful thinking. When every other family at church rushes past yours, talking loudly, while you try to kneel for an after-Mass Hail Mary, putting in the effort seems like an exercise in futility.

The most critical situation obstructing a person’s encounter with Christ in family life is a family (or other families) that don’t live as though they have encountered Christ.

To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?

I’d imagine this is a big problem in families that have faith life connected strongly to family life. When one family member decides not to go to church, that makes church seem less important to everyone else. This is especially important when the father is not involved in the family’s religious life: if dad doesn’t go to church, why should the kids have to go?

On a larger scale, this is true for special occasions: weddings and funerals. Any number of people could tell you a sob story about being mistreated (or just feeling mistreated) at a Catholic wedding or funeral. Those fall on both sides of the aisle, so to speak: from people wondering why they can’t receive Communion and demands for special music/readings/eulogies that are incompatible with the liturgy to priests refusing to give Communion on the tongue and homiletic insistences that the deceased is definitely in heaven. Special occasions bring out deeply-held beliefs that people cite as their make-or-break moment of faith.

Gay family members can also be an occasion for a crisis of faith. The nuances of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality can seem too burdensome, bigoted, “homophobic,” or just “not nice” when the love of a family member gets involved. It’s much easier to say that you just won’t be a Catholic anymore if your sister or brother can’t have a same-sex wedding recognized by the Church.

What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

In the preparatory document, this was actually Question 9 all by itself. What I’ve broken up into several questions per post for this series were composed as multi-part questions. Thus, the prompt says “the above questions,” meaning “all the questions.” I think I’ve spoken my piece already, though, so I’ll end here.

To conclude, I have some thoughts about the final document issued by the synod. It’s called the relatio synodi. You might remember the media debacle that ensued when the rough draft of that document (the interim relatio) was released to the media. I’m not going to open that can of worms again. What’s done is done. The important thing now is to look forward to the World Meeting of Families in Philadephia, Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. during that meeting, and the upcoming extraordinary synod that will continue the work and discussions from last fall.

I think Pope Francis said in best in asking for prayers, not gossip, concerning the upcoming synod. Let’s join him:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
The splendor of true love.
We turn to you with confidence.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
Make our families, also,
Places of communion and cenacles of prayer,
Authentic schools of the Gospel,
And little domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth
May our families never more experience
Violence, isolation, and division:
May anyone who was wounded or scandalized
Rapidly experience consolation and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
May the upcoming Synod of Bishops
Reawaken in all an awareness
Of the sacred character and inviolability of the family,
Its beauty in the project of God.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Hear and answer our prayer. Amen.

How has your family life influenced your faith, for better or for worse? What plans do you have for your current and future family’s faith life? What are your hopes, expectations, and worries about this fall’s events? Share your thoughts in the comments!

What I Wore Sunday: Gladiator Sandals for the King of Kings


This makes two weeks in a row of lectoring and being on time for Mass! That’s a new record. And I even remembered to paint my toenails. It was the best day.

What I Wore Sunday, July 26

Tank top and undershirt: Target
Skirt: Old Navy
Sandals: Mossimo for Target
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban
Necklace: holy medals

I have fully embraced summer, so it was time to bring out my favorite long white skirt before it’s out of season again. I love layering this tank top with an undershirt because it maximizes the color combo and makes it modest enough for church and work. And I love black and white.

The shoes are brand new. My dear friend Sabrina pointed out ages ago (maybe a couple of years ago!) that grown-ups wear more real shoes than flip-flops. I finally took her advice and decided to upgrade from my $5 Old Navy flip-flops. I never wore those to Mass, but I still needed more reliable footwear. I was also wary of jumping straight to wedge sandals since I almost always wear flats to Mass and I had to lector. It definitely destroys the prayerful atmosphere when the lector faceplants on her way up to the ambo. I have never owned gladiator sandals before, but I like the way these fit on my feet, and I love the color and whimsical shape.

I had the second reading this week. It was all one sentence; did you notice? Semicolons for the win! Despite the semicolons, it is one of the easier proclamations from St. Paul I’ve done. Fr. Associate Pastor’s homily steered clear of the “miracle of sharing” angle on the feeding of the five thousand. What stuck out for me what his explanation of the ending of the passage. Jesus went away by himself because he sensed that the people wanted to make him their king. Why? Because they were hungry. He had provided them more food than they could eat. In ancient times, a king was more than just a political defender; he was responsible for supporting the people. The king would make sure no one starved. They were going to enthrone him to have access to bodily food, but he knew they needed spiritual food, so he left them. They weren’t ready yet for the miracle to come: the Eucharist.

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

7 Quick Takes with Business Baby, Beats Per Minute, and Being Next to the Lake


— 1 —

This week, I did a happy dance because I have my computer backed up 100% for the first time in ages. (99.9% is just not good enough!)

Crashplan at 100%

If you’re not using CrashPlan or something similar to back up your files offsite, regularly, and preferably automatically, you should be. Think of it as computer insurance. You have insurance for your car being stolen, your house burning down, and your leg getting broken. Offsite backup is insurance for your computer dying (or also being stolen): you hate having to pay for it when you don’t need it, but you are so grateful when you need it.

— 2 —

Somehow this got over 50,000 retweets + favorites, but I missed it until Audrey Assad retweeted it this week. I almost stopped following her (her tweets got too political for me). This has convinced me that not unfollowing was a fantastic decision.

— 3 —

Business Baby calls in Bob the Builder.

I saw a few Business Baby memes recently. A coworker led me to this one. It’s particularly hilarious because I am in construction, and I work with a guy named Bob. Coincidentally, we are a highly qualified general contractor, and we can build for Business Baby or for you. #truestory #noreally #thisismyjob

— 4 —

Dance is still going well. I usually practice to music when I’m spinning around in my kitchen, which means I play YouTube videos from my phone. Until recently, I stuck to suggestions I found online and songs I’ve heard in class, but that got repetitive, and some of them were really fast.

I eventually stumbled across two tools that have expanded my song lists considerably. Using this handy little BPM web app, you can tap out the beat of any song you hear and get calculation of beats per minute. It even works on smartphones!

The goldmine was the search function at BPM Database. I started with the slow end of West Coast Swing music (80–90 bpm) and went through the list song by song at 80, 81, and 82 bpm. It was a beautiful, nostalgic journey, and now I can practice to “Fly Away,” “Umbrella,” and even “Sabotage.” Much more fun. I know the songs, so I’m not distracted guessing where breaks and bridges will be, and the beat is slow enough that I don’t get tired just from the pace.

I made a private YouTube playlist to keep track of my songs. I set it to shuffle, find the beat, and happily dance away.

— 5 —

Even though I have lived in Austin for almost five years, I have never been on the lake. I’m from the East Coast, so we are generally beach people more than lake people. Personally, I am pool kind of girl. Feeling all that nature under my toes is disconcerting. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been in a lake, but I’ve been next to one.

Last weekend, a friend of mine invited me out to Lake Travis. We’re still in a drought, but this summer’s crazy rain has filled up our lakes a little bit. Her mom was in town from Louisiana and had rented a beautiful condo near the lake. The view was incredible. I didn’t have much time to spare (Saturday is chore day), so I couldn’t join them on their pontoon boat trip. We went to the pool instead.

Sunrise on the pier in Belize.

This is not Lake Travis. This is Belize. Just to clarify.

I can swim, but I haven’t been since our mission trip to Belize. It was a little strange to be next to the lake instead of on it (or in it, I guess). Having the opportunity to talk to my friend, smartphone free and uninterrupted, was worth the weirdness. We had the whole pool to ourselves. The lake view was even beautiful from my vantage point in the pool! Good times.

— 6 —

I got a nonspecific shout-out at Mass last Sunday. It was a surprising reminder that people sometimes actually listen when I’m talking. Fr. Associate Pastor took my comment about waxing and waning Mass attendance to heart, and I’m interested to see if other people agree. Read my full reflection at the end of this week’s What I Wore Sunday post.

— 7 —

My phone freaked out last week and briefly seemed to have deleted all my text messages. First, I panicked. Then, I thought about embracing my loss in a spirit of detachment from the world. Then I restarted my phone, and they all came back. I’m secretly glad that I didn’t have to actually do that detachment I was thinking about. Also, this phone is much lower quality than my previous one (I had an iPhone 4 for three years, then I got the 5c). Maybe that’s why it was cheaper. Lesson learned.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Booking Through Thursday: Harper Lee


Will you be reading Go Set a Watchman? Why? Why not? What do you think of this whole deal? Harper Lee, after all, is famous for insisting she wouldn’t publish another book, and now this, and the controversy about Atticus, invites discussion.

Oh, man. I would set down the original seven Harry Potter books, A Million Little Pieces, and Go Set a Watchman as the biggest literary moments of my time. Note that those last two are also disasters.

Until recently, I always gave Harper Lee as an example of how to be a literary legend: come out of nowhere, write one incredible book that enters the educational canon and everyone loves, become a recluse, and never write another book. You will always be known for that one masterpiece. Your place in history is set. #micdrop

Well, that’s over. I was astonished that Lee would allow Go Set a Watchman to be published. The story about how it was “found” is dubious enough. If I were in her shoes, I would have said, “Thank you for finding my lost manuscript! Add it to my estate,” and gone back to living my reclusive, elderly life. Publishing another book is entirely out of character for the woman we’ve known since To Kill a Mockingbird. She doesn’t even give interviews! I can only think that she is so old that she doesn’t quite realize what she’s done. Her lawyers, agent, and caretakers are responsible for not protecting her better. Can’t take it back now.

Ultimately, I don’t know if I’ll read it. I’m not excited about it. I don’t want to ruin TKAM for myself. My feelings about the Fantastic Beasts movies and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the stage play, are similar. I had my incredible moment with Harry Potter. It’s over, and it’s bittersweet, but I’ve moved on. I would be perfectly content to never get new Potterverse stories ever again. I am also content to let TKAM Atticus Finch be my only Atticus Finch and Scout forever remain a little girl confronting the ugliness of the human heart at a tender age. I don’t need any more.

For more short queries about books and the reading life, visit Booking Through Thursday.

What I Wore Sunday: I Needed Comfy Clothes


I meant to do my toenails this weekend so I could (a) go swimming without looking like a schlub, and (b) wear open-toed shoes to church. That did not happen. At least there was no one at the pool except the friend I went with to see my sad bare toes, and I have my beloved lace flats for church.

What I Wore Sunday, July 19

Dress: Target
Shoes: Famous Footwear
Necklace: old, old gift
Belt: Target

I love this dress. I usually look terrible in coral because it’s orange-toned and I look terrible in orange. This is a more pink-based coral, so it matches my skin tone much better than other corals. I’ve worn it solo and with a brown skinny belt before, but I think this is the first time I went for the white belt. The shoes really help pull the colors together since they are a solid white versus the sandals I initially planned to wear. Summer rushed in suddenly a few weeks ago, so I was woefully unprepared for toenail polish season. I’ll get to it before Halloween.

I was a substitute lector this week; I’m scheduled next week. I intentionally got to church earlier than usual in an attempt to avoid confusion or rushing, but we wound up with some anyway. Our new-ish pastor got all the altar servers proper vestments and schedules five or six per Mass, up from the previous three or four. Thus, when one or two don’t show up, we don’t always have the right combination to fill all the roles. All those little kids rushing around created a small frenzy in the sacristy.

Right before Mass started, the other lector claimed she was scheduled for the second reading, so I was supposed to do the pre-Mass introduction. She was able to switch to the first reading, though, which is good because I practiced that second reading really hard. I think it ought to have included the couple of verses before that section to identify the “both” that St. Paul references repeatedly. If you don’t know he means “both Gentiles and Jews,” the rest of the reading has far less impact. #pericopeproblems

(The technical term for a reading from the Bible is “pericope”, pronounced purr-IH-koh-pay. Same rhythm as “catastrophe,” and also Greek.)

Deacon R gave the homily and focused on the disciples’ well-earned rest versus the needs of the people. He summarized the Gospel for kind of a long time, actually. I noticed that about halfway through. He eventually made the point that, although the disciples deserved to rest, they also needed to help the people. If we take too much time for rest, we’ll get lazy. If we don’t take any, we won’t be able to serve when we’re needed. We have to strike a balance.

Before Mass, in the sacristy, the other lector commented on how empty the church was. I hate it when people say that. I worked in a parish for years, and I go to one every week. You cannot assess how many people are coming to Mass by looking at the church ten minutes before Mass starts. The best time to take an attendance count (or make a critical announcement, unfortunately) is after the homily or during the offertory. At that point, even the extreme latecomers have arrived, and the early-exiters haven’t left yet. After Communion, all bets are off, sadly. You can tell the ebb and flow by the volume of the Lord’s Prayer. Everyone is now/still there, and everyone knows that part says it extra loudly.

Imagine my shock when, having finished the post-Communion announcements, Fr. Associate Pastor remarked on the shifting attendance during Mass and the volume of the Lord’s Prayer! I hadn’t realized he was taking that to heart. Unfortunately, the early-exiters had already left, so they didn’t know they were being admonished. The extreme latecomers probably heard it, though. They can show up early for movies, but not for Mass? Not good. The only thing I would have added is that (a) the choir comes to Mass extra early because that is their only practice time, and (b) it is very easy to get out of the parking lot about 3 minutes after the recessional hymn ends. I know, because that’s when I leave every week. (I say a few prayers after Mass, during which the crush of people dissipates.)

Next Sunday, listen carefully to the volume of the Our Father versus everything else we say every week. Is it just me, or am I on to something there?

For more Mass fashion and commentary, visit Fine Linen and Purple.

The Hidden Sweetness of Marriage (Review: Humanum Series, Part Four)

“Marriage is hard.” I don’t quite know when it happened, but at some point, that became a movement. I’ve never been married, but from what I understand, it is, in fact, hard. The problem is that marriage is apparently so hard, and the “marriage is hard” movement so strong, that marriage now seems too hard. Tucked underneath the political frenzy over same-sex marriage is the reality that marriage itself isn’t as popular as it once was. I don’t need to list statistics to convince you of that.

I’ve written before about the Humanum Colloquium, held last fall in Rome. Humanum was a gathering of experts from a variety of world religions and Christian traditions, along with philosophy, to argue in favor of marriage between one man and one woman in a complementary, lifelong, life-giving union. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke about seven critical moments in the development of marriage and the family. His speech is riveting; I loved it, and I wrote a response over at Austin CNM. But it wasn’t until recent weeks that I watched the series of six short films produced by Humanum, and once again, I was blown away.

I recommend them all, but my favorite was Part 4, “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship.” Watch the video at the production company’s site, and read my extended commentary at Austin CNM.

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