Friday, December 30, 2005

Because of Vatican II....Or Because of the Times

Elena at My Domestic Church said "In my life personally, I think the implementation of Vatican II, in the name of the elusive "spirit of Vatican II" robbed me of what it meant to truly be Catholic in how I lived my life, and learned my lessons, how I prayed, and how it was to actually LIVE A CATHOLIC LIFESTYLE. " I ask whether that happened because of Vatican II or just following it.

As a Church we do not exist outside the society in which we live--and challenging authority is what was happening in our society in the late 1960's and early 1970's. People were asking "why?" to many rules and schools were moving from rote memorization in many subjects to more of an inquiry-based approach (often to the detriment of the subject being taught, whether history, science or religion) The John Jay Report indicates that most of the priests involved in the scandals we are dealing with today were formed in pre-Vatican II seminaries--but most of the abuse was committed in the years closely following Vatican II--the years when "the establishment" was being challenged by young people on every front. I wonder if they were formed for an era that no longer existed and didn't have the background skills to deal with the era in which they lived, coupled with the temptations they faced.

It was also the time when many of our parents left the urban ethnic parishes in which they and their families grew up and moved to new suburban parishes which were hastily (and cheaply) constructed--parishes which never became the community centers those old city parishes did. Even in small towns, people moved further out of town or to new towns when the economies in the old towns faltered. I think that as social ties to the parish weakened, it was easier for those who did not want to attend mass to skip, since there was less (or even no) social pressure to go.

The great unknown is what our parishes and church would be like today if there had been no Vatican II. It is possible that we would still be attending Latin masses--but it is also possible that the vernacular could have been instituted without Vatican II--just as it is possible that what masses were said were said in Latin, but over the years fewer and fewer people chose to attend them. While it is possible that we would have rectories full of priests and convents full of sisters in every parish, it is also possible that the lower numbers of priests and religious have as much to do with increased opportunities for women, the decrease in stigma attached to living alone and increased resistance in society to commitment and responsibility. While it is possible that Catholics would shun birth control as a horrible sin, it is more likely that they would have done what they did--caved in to the economic pressure to have small families by using convenient methods (especially since the Vatican II document relating to family life doesn't endorse birth control). While it is possible that we would have learned religion from the Baltimore Catechism rather than those empty Sadlier books, memorization was "out" as an educational method at that time so its entirely possible that the BC would have been too--even without Vatican II.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

And then there is my daughter

My oldest daughter also needs a new school next year. I have several choices: the neighborhood middle school that her elementary feeds, our neighborhood middle school, a magnet middle school, or a Catholic school. Her first preference is the school her school feeds, but that just isn't practical as they do not offer afterschool care and since we are not in the district, she would have no way home. I haven't heard much good about our neighborhood middle school and she doesn't know any of the kids there, so that choice was never seriously considered. Right now my choice is our district's magnet middle school. I'm not sure how competitive that's going to be, or how she'll rank if it is very competitive (she had the best test scores in her grade last year, but they were not in the high 90th percentile). I like the idea of a school that will challenge her academically--something I'm not convinced most of the Catholic schools would do as they seem aimed at the child in the middle rather than the exceptionally bright ones or the ones with learning problems. I like the fact that she will be going to school with kids from different races and cultures. I like the tuition (or more precisely the lack thereof). I think being with high-achieving students will encourage her to excel. Hopefully she'll be admitted.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Picking Schools

One job I have next month is picking schools for my two older children. Each has to go to a new school next year, and picking that school is up to me (with some input from them). My thirteen year old is in eighth grade in a small Catholic school across town from where we live, but close to my office. He is bright, but mildly autistic with attention, fine motor and social issues. The school has been a gift of God for him, with good teachers who have given him the attention he needs, and kids who have been as nice to him as can be expected of kids that age. While my gut feeling is to look for a small school, the Catholic and public schools generally aren't. While we were in Atlanta after Katrina, he attended a public middle school that had about 200 kids in a grade, and he managed, so I'm not quite as hooked on a small school as I was before that. The easiest place to send him would be our local public high school, but it is one of the biggest in the area and the kids there seem kind of rough. From a convenience standpoint, two Catholic schools stand out. Rummel is the local boy's high school which is a few blocks away from my office. It has a good reputation academically but the worst teasing my son has ever endured happened at their camp--and the staff did little to stop it. Holy Rosary is a new school, started this year for kids with "learning differences". I'm concerned about academics there, since my son is on grade level, but I think socially it would be a good fit--if they would take him--the affiliated elementary wouldn't, and I know they have expelled at least one autistic boy. The tuition is about twice what other high schools charge--and for my son, I'm just not convinced it would be worth it. His elementary counselor called someone with the archdiocese who recommends Holy Rosary as a first choice, DeLaSalle as a second choice and Rummel third. DeLaSalle interests me, but it is a long way away. It is good to have choices, but hard to make good ones for a child who doesn't fit in any pre-cut package.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Katrina Pictures

I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Long Beach. My parents' house is three blocks from the beach. It was a nice day today and they no longer have National Guard troops blocking access to the area south of the tracks, so we ventured away from the homestead for the first time since the storm and took a look around. My parents' church, St. Thomas was still standing, sort of--the beams were there, and part of the roof, but not much else--but there were meeting chairs there, so I wonder if mass has been held there. The parish is temporarily based in the old skating rink in town. These are some pictures from my old neighborhood. Basically the first block from the beach suffered total devastation. The second block had houses off their foundations, walls crushed by water etc., but the houses were still recognizable. The houses on the third block got water in them.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Mardi Gras

One topic of discussion here in Post-Katrina New Orleans is Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, for the unknowing, is the culmination of Carnival season, which runs from Twelfth Night to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Many outsiders have this idea that Mardi Gras is a drunken semi-orgy where otherwise normal women expose themselves for cheap trinkets. That is the image promulgated on MTV, and when speaking of certain areas, particularly the French Quarter, it is accurate. However, Mardi Gras is also a giant family-oriented street party, where exposing yourself is no more acceptable than it is anywhere or anytime else. It is a home-grown party, a time when people from all walks of life celebrate that we live here, and not in Atlanta, Dallas, Jackson or Houston. It is a time to meet friends on the parade route, see your cousins on a float and go to parties at the homes of those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to live close to the parade routes. It is a time for fun and fellowship, but in a much more laid back low key way than during the "holiday" season.

The issue here right now is whether we should have Mardi Gras this year, given the state of the city. Is it right to spend all that money (personal money of riders, not taxpayer money by the way) to have parades when so many people have blue roofs, are living in FEMA trailers or are still far from home due to the storm? Should we be trying to attract tourists when our own people do not have housing? Should we have Mardi Gras this year? Emphatically, I say YES!!! I'm a lukewarm participant in Mardi Gras generally--I go to weekend parades when the weather is nice, and to parades on Mardi Gras day, if the weather is nice. However, I say bring on the parades, we need them. We need them because this is New Orleans, not Houston, Dallas or Atlanta. Mardi Gras is part of who we are as a people and if we let Katrina take that from us, then she won. We need to spend the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with our families and friends kicking up our heels and having fun. We've all had enough sorrow, loss, traffic jams, mold, insurance adjusters, contractors, stinking refrigerators and other hurricane aftermath. We have spent the last four months paying the price for living in New Orleans; now we want one of our rewards.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Dark Side of Christmas

Author and blogger Amy Welborn wrote a column for the National Review Online titled "The Dark Side of Christmas" which points out that the story of Christmas is not all love, peace and good cheer, but rather is a story of a woman who was pregnant when she shouldn't have been, who gave birth in a smelly stable far from home who then had to flee for fear that her son would be killed by a jealous king.

Many of us are stressed this time of year trying to produce a "perfect" Christmas for our families. It is comforting to me to remember that the first Christmas was far from perfect--and yet it was perfect. Christmas at our house this year will have some dark clouds--and yet some light. My mom has been ill for some time and there is a good chance this will be her last Christmas with us--and yet it looks like she will be with us, something I wasn't so sure was going to happen at Thanksgiving. We will celebrate at my parents' house, the house we lived in for my teen years and the only house some of my siblings remember. That house had two feet of water in it during Katrina but thanks to my brother's hard work, is now inhabitable. My baby brother and sister-in-law are expecting a baby in the spring, and hoping to be back in their house (which got four feet of water during Katrina) by then. As one life ends, another begins. When it is all said and done, I don't think anyone is going to remember what goodies were or were not served, how beautifully the gifts were wrapped or even what toys the kids got. Hopefully we'll look back on this Christmas as a time of joy and family togetherness. Yes, when we dig deeper, we'll remember the sad parts too, but if the idyllic manger scenes teach us anything, its that we can make good memories out of just about anything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Difference the Years Make

Tonite when we were saying prayers, my daughter prayed that the next few days would pass quickly. I was kind of praying the opposite. Of course, her main role is opening the gifts, whereas mine is providing them. I gave each of the big kids a spending limit and told them they should pick out gifts for their parents, sibs and grandparents. The spending limit basically meant that the gifts were trinkets but I thought it would be good for them to pick out things for others. I did tell Elizabeth that I thought her grandparents would enjoy a Powerpoint presentation about their favorite grandkids. Hopefully Powerpoint doesn't shut off before she finishes. I think we have until the end of the month on our free trial.

I'm just about finished with my shopping, which as I've said before is not easy to do this year due to long lines and shortened hours. I'm off Friday so that's when I'll tie up some loose ends.

Embarrassed by Good Fortune?

As I've mentioned before, we were lucky with Katrina, only minor damage to the house and our lifestyle is pretty much intact. I've read about people like me having "survivor's guilt" and I can see some of it. It's like we are members of the club who skipped hellnight but got our pins anyway. After the storm my firm set up offices in Baton Rouge. My boss spearheaded the effort to open a small office near our usual one. Because of that, I have been spared commuting to Baton Rouge to work. I go up there periodically to drop off or pick up things, and I always feel bad for the people who are making that drive daily--but I'm glad I'm not them.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Life after Katrina

As far as I can tell, only one person is reading this blog, and she said she'd like to hear more about life in New Orleans post-Katrina, so that is the topic of this post. For my family, things are so much the same--we weren't flooded and did not sustain major damage to our home, my husband and I are both working in the same jobs we had before we evacuated and my children are back in their schools--yet they are different too. We need some work done on our house, patio and fence, but can't find anyone to do the work anytime soon. Our house is fine, but trailers are popping up in many neighbor's yards, trailers with semi-permanent plumbing and electrical connections indicating they aren't going anywhere soon. My husband and I still have our jobs--but my husband, a salesman, is doing deliveries because they can't sell what they can't deliver, and they are short on delivery people. I have my job, but our office was badly damaged so we are working out of temporary quarters. I'm lucky in that my temporary quarters are across the street from my son's school, many in the firm are driving to Baton Rouge to work. My children are back in their schools, but my daughter's two best friends did not return, nor did her two favorite teachers. My son is in eighth grade and under normal circumstances we would have picked a high school by now; this year that is pushed off until January.

The main thing you hear so many people say in this part of town is that you can't quickly do anything. Traffic is miserable and businesses are only open limited hours, since they can't get employees. Because of the shortage of help, once you are in the store, you have to wait some more. I will say that with more places opening up, some of that is getting better, yet this used to be a 24 hour town. Having fast food places closing at 5 or 7 just isn't right. There is a Popeyes Fried Chicken near here and it causes traffic jams because the drive-thru line is so long. A McDonalds I pass in the morning blocks traffic on a major road, and it looks like you wait in line over ten minutes--for McDonald's breakfast????

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I'm an internet research junkie. Actually, I'm a research junkie, but since I live at home and not the library, the internet is how I feed my addiction. As addictions go, its not a bad one to have, as it is a salable skill. I've said before that if anyone in my office needed to know what the price of tea was in China yesterday, I'd have an email asking me to find it for them. Being good at research means that I have to be able to do more than type a couple of words in a search engine--I have to know how to find databases that are likely to have the information I need. I've developed a long list of favorite sources over the years and will be sharing some with you.

One I'd like to recommend if you are trying to learn how to do internet research is . This site has a chart comparing various search engines--and an interactive version of that chart that tells you which engine to use for the search you are contemplating. Another handy feature here is a bibliography composer--great for those school papers when your college style manual is at work and the kid's assignment sheet showing proper bibliography form was left at school.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Are They Really Safer?

As you'll note in my first post, I'm the mom of a 13 year old, a 9 year old and a now 19 month old. The age gap between my older kids and my baby has given me the opportunity to see how much "better" baby things are now than in the bad old days. First, let's talk about the car seats. I will admit I liked the carseat/carrier/stroller combo I got for the baby. Carseat/carriers were just coming out when I had my oldest, and I didn't get one. I did get one for my second child, and when I saw someone with a carseat/stroller combo, put it in my double stroller. The five-point seatbelt was a lot more of a pain than the belts on the old car seats. I wonder if the designers every tried to get a squirming kid into the car seats they designed?

The thing I love to hate is my high chair. The old one looked pretty peaked after six years or so of use (after they got big enough that they wanted to eat at the table, I'd take the tray off the high chair and push it up to the table) so I tossed it after my nine year old was done with it. I was given a "new" used one by a family member, and after using it for a short time, set out to replace it, only to find out that what I hated was now the standard design. My old high chair was not that different from the one my mother had when we were kids. It was a seat and a seat back, set up higher than an average chair, and it had a tray that hooked onto the arms of the chair. The way it was made, I could hold a baby in one hand, undo the tray with the other, pivot and place the baby in the chair and replace the tray--all without dropping the baby or any food on the tray. With today's "improved" model, if I try to remove the tray with one hand, that hand is at an angle such that I'm likely to spill the tray. The chair, rather than being open in the front, has a bar and leg holes--forget about trying to put a baby in there with one hand while holding a tray with the other--but be careful when you set that tray down, and where, because if you aren't it can easily land on the floor. Finally, now that my baby is a toddler, she wants to do things herself, including climbing into her high chair. If the try is off, she'll climb in. Wouldn't an open front be safer than climbing over that bucket deal?

I also have issues with my stroller. My old stroller had a cloth strip that went between the baby's legs. It was fastened to the front bar on top and to the seat on the bottom. Even if the baby's seatbelt was not fastened, it prevented him/her from sliding under the bar and out of the stroller. My new stroller has no such strip; rather, it has one of those lovely five point seatbelts that comes up between my daughter's legs and straps her securely in the stroller. However, this seatbelt pushes her back to the backrest of the stroller, rather than allowing her to be up where she can see stuff. Further, it is a pain to fasten and unfasten so that if I'm getting her in and out of the stroller, I don't like to fasten it. In short, I guess I'm a bad mother who cares more for my daughter's comfort and my convenience than about safety--but I sure wish I had one of those strips in the front of the stroller so she didn't slide out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Are Internet Catholics Normal?

I have been a practicing Catholic all my life. I have been involved in several different parishes since my teens. I am married to a Catholic, I have friends and co-workers who are Catholic and I send my son to a Catholic school. My city is culturally Catholic. In short, I have reason to think I have some idea of what Catholics believe and think.

About six years ago I first discovered the internet, and found that internet Catholics seem to bear little resemblance to those I knew in real life. Internet Catholic moms all stayed home, and many homeschooled. IRL, about half the moms I know returned to the work force when their maternity leave was over. All but one of the other half returned when their children started school. The only homeschooler I know IRL only did it for a short time, and I met her on the internet. On the internet, natural family planning is normal. IRL, of reasonably devout Catholics I know well enough to know something about their family planning practices, most have used artificial birth control. On the internet, women priests are an issue--some are very against them, others support those who got themselves "ordained" outside the authority of the Church. IRL, people I know mostly think the rule against women priests is a little old-fashioned, will probably change one day, but isn't anything to get all upset over--or disobey. On the internet, nobody seems to like the music played in the majority of churches--but if nobody likes it, why is it played?

Why do internet Catholics seem so different from IRL Catholics?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Girl Scout Juggling

I have led my daughter's Girl Scout troop for the last three years. We held our last pre-Katrina meeting (and our first meeting of this year) the day we evacuated. Of the six girls at that meeting, three aren't returning to this area. I couldn't see running a troop for only three girls and my daughter didn't want us to shut it down, so I went recruiting at school. My daughter is in fifth grade and is a Junior Girl Scout. I doubted I'd get many girls her age wanted to join, since many of them had been in the troop and dropped out over the years because of other activities, lack of interest or lack of ability to meet when convenient for me. I decided to recruit in all grades and put together a mixed troop, with the idea of training someone to succeed me as leader of the younger girls next year. I had one new girl sign up for Juniors, twelve for Brownies and four for Daisys.

We held our first meeting Saturday and I ended up with two new Juniors, five Brownies and one Daisy. I had planned to put moms to work and run different activities for each age group, but given the small crowd, I revised the plans, combined them and pretty much ran one group. I meet with the Juniors for thirty minutes before the younger girls get there, and have them helping with the younger girls so as to earn a leadership award. This week we all worked on learning about Girl Scouts; the Girl Scout Promise, Law, Motto, Slogan, Handshake etc. I had the Juniors teach the younger girls and they all seemed to enjoy it. I think my basic structure is going to be to meet with the Juniors for thirty minutes before the other girls come and then put them to work leading some activity for the younger girls. Then I may break them into separate groups, but I'm going to try to keep the activities similar.

If you are looking for a way to have fun with your daughter and to have a positive influence on her friends, I highly recommend being a Girl Scout leader. While many of us remember our GS leader as being a SAHM who met with us weekly after school, today's GS leader are a diverse lot and weekly after school meetings are probably the exception rather than the rule. My troop is going to meet once a month, and will have one other activity most months. I tried more last year and while the girls enjoyed it, I was burned out by year end by devoting so many of my Saturdays to GS when there were other things to do.

Where Have I Been?

Well, I'm many months after the last post? I really admire folks like Amy Welborn who can post not daily, but several times daily, and actually have something to say. I'm an old hand at AOL message boards, and easily play off of what other people say, but here I have a blank screen.

So where have I been? Well, I'm a resident of suburban New Orleans so I spent the month of September in Atlanta with my sister. We were lucky, our house is fine and my husband and I both came back to our jobs. Our kids' schools both opened shortly after we returned, and my sitter did too. In short, the main parts of our pre-Katrina lives are pretty much intact; something few families can say.

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