Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Technology = Empty Pockets


We had a small crisis in our house recently. My 14 year old son's iPod Touch had an, ahem....unfortunate encounter with our washing machine. It was both our faults - his for leaving his iPod on the floor under a pile of dirty laundry, and mine for just grabbing said laundry, and throwing it in the washer without duly checking it first. Oh yeah, the earbuds were washed too, but they came out just fine, of course.

So after letting it sit in a bag of rice for a week, then sending it in to Rapid Repair for an evaluation, we discovered it was just as expensive to buy a new one. Luckily for my son, Apple just came out with a discounted 3rd generation Touch with twice as much memory in the new one, for about the same price. Lucky him. It was an expensive mistake. At least I'm only paying for half.

Now, lest you think we are extravagant parents who just hand our kid a $300 music player, we're not. We are what we call "Po." This is said in a slight southern accident. In our house, "Po" is different than "Poor." "Poor" is definitely a different thing and is a serious thing...a terrible thing. "Po" is what might be called "cash flow deficient." We never seem to have enough cash flow. We won't starve, and we still have DSL and Satellite TV, though it is pretty much our only entertainment. We don't buy local channels, movie channels or anything extra. I do think DVR would be cool, but I suck it up. We also won't be going out to dinner anytime soon, visiting relatives out of town, or going to Disney World. Our extra income goes to tuition.


So my son's iPod Touch would be considered an extravagance. However, he seems to be the only one with cash flow. A year and a half ago, he acquired enough money from Christmas and his birthday to afford a 3rd generation iPod Nano. Since it was his money, we let him buy it, and he took good care of it. Then, as is the way with electronics, he wasn't truly happy with it. His heart's desire was the Touch. So, when Christmas rolled around he raked in bucks from generous relatives, added his savings, and bought a 1st generation Touch that was on an incredible sale. As a bonus, I inherited the Nano, since some of our money was his birthday gift.

If you spoke to him, he would be the first one to tell you he is electronically deprived. Yes, we do have 3 computers (soon to be 4) but they were ones his dad built from parts, or we got used, or refurbished. But we have no video game player. I have always said no to PlayStations, etc. because he spends enough time on the computer. Also, since we have only one TV, and that is by design, it would tie up the TV for the rest of the family. He should be playing outside or reading a book, instead.

I have to be honest though, I am rethinking the no video game player (shhh, don't tell anybody,) because the effect is that he just always wants to be at someone else's house, playing heaven only knows what. No one wants to come here because there are no video games to play. If they come, they bring their own. It was a big deal when he got a GameBoy and later a DS, both of which he paid for. What does my husband think about all this? He agreed, but does not feel strongly either way.

A phone was also a big bone of contention until this fall. Number one son complained several times in middle school that everyone in his class had a phone, and he was right. But as I told him, you will never be in a place where there won't be a supervising adult who, I'm sure, will have a phone. I felt they can get into trouble with all the texting and, of course, it costs money. But now that he will be in high school he needs one.

So, as he graduated from 8th grade his present was a phone. The phone he wanted however, was not the $10, or free, cheap phone....NOOO he had to have a new model, more expensive than ours, which are smartphones. I told him to wait during the summer, and that he would have to pay half of it. It turned out that waiting was a very good lesson. The $250 (with contract) phone was on sale for $10 the week before school started! It still costs a lot every month for the service, of course.

Lest, you think "Aha! they have smartphones - certainly not frugal." Well... first we have no data plan for it. We have smartphones for our business, so we can sync calendar and contacts to Outlook on the computer. But we don't need, or have, a data plan for our phones. We have the cheapest family plan there is. iPhones would be great but you MUST have a data plan - well, it is unChristian, but I have a certain hand gesture for that. The phone I have does have Wi-Fi which is cool, but I would have to go to the county library or Starbucks to use it.



So we have a love/hate relationship with technology at our house because there are so many cool things to do, but not enough money to do them. Such as fix the radio in my car. My 15 year old Honda needs a new radio, but the money would be better spent elsewhere. So I have at times resorted to using a small AM radio, shaped like a baseball cap, that you can hang around your neck, to hear the traffic report. If you keep the brim of the "cap" facing East you won't lose the station! Hey, what do you want for free. Such technology! And don't ask my husband about the radio in his car. I mean don't ask him.

One good thing about this technology though is my rich son passing on his Nano, because I have discovered podcasts. For awhile the attraction with the Nano was playing solitaire, but now that I have racked up over $25,000 in the game and I have worn out the center button (and my thumbs,) I have moved onto podcasts again, which I tried at first but was too busy mentally to enjoy.

I got used to the silence in the car, and do use that time for prayer or thinking... but now, assuming the earbuds don't continue to fall out, I can enjoy listening to lots of really cool things that I plan on discussing with you in the future. And if you have any brilliant ideas on how to make this cool technology cheap, I would love to know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Time to Laugh

OK, so you are depressed about the economy, the UN, the world going to hell in a handbasket, and you need a good laugh. Here you go.

First, here is a great practical joke. I'm glad it is not me, but it is amusing. Funny Protest Prank.

Next, I have never seen a cat do this. It is courtesy of the lovely Fr. Z, One Goofy Cat.

Finally, It is not a video but a hilarious piece from Conversion Diary. Warning...it is naughty, which is why it is funny. The comments are enough to send you over the edge.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beauty In Our Midst


Ugliness bombards us from every direction, and sometimes we need to stop and look at the true beauty that exists around us - especially the beauty God provides us. Catholicism is steeped in beauty because beauty uplifts us, enlightens us and transforms our spirit. The beauty God surrounds us with is limitless, and I thought it would be great to share with you a couple of things I have found recently that have brought beauty into my life.

The first is National Geographic photography. Occasionally, I like to change our computer desktop picture and this is a great resource for beautiful photography. Last month, I used a photo of Mount Etna in Italy erupting at night. Yesterday, I changed it to an aerial view of Fiji and on our second computer I put up a beautiful view of a canyon in Arizona. There are so many beautiful pictures I could not describe them all to you. Go there and download them. They add new ones constantly.


This is very easy. Go to National Geographic online and click on "Photography." Choose the "Wallpaper" tab and look at the different galleries of photos. Once you have chosen a photo, look at the bottom of the picture on the left and click on the "wallpaper" icon then choose the size you would like to download. Once the picture is open then "right-click" your mouse and choose "Set as Desktop Background" and you are done.


The second resource is the Earth Channel and is only available to you if you subscribe to DISH Network. DISH Network added a camera to its EchoStar 11 Satellite that was launched in 2008. Six years in the planning, it is the first camera on a commercial satellite and has a constant view of North and South America that does not change since the satellite stays in geo-synchronous orbit 22,300 miles above Earth. The Earth Channel is on channel 212. You can read more about it at Space Daily.

This continuous view of the Earth with light background music, is lovely and you might be able to see Venus occasionally as well as some unidentified flying objects. I'm looking forward to seeing weather patterns change and also the lights at night.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Starting A Catholic Book Club


Well, I have been wanting to write about Catholic Book Clubs for DAYS, but we have been in DSL distress for over a week now. So, please forgive me for not posting. For the past couple of months we have had occasional Internet disruptions. Usually they have not lasted long. Last week, we started having longer breaks in service and had two different days when we pretty much did not have any service. We have called our DSL provider and they have been as helpful as they can be, but sometimes you just have to work from one diagnostic procedure to another until you figure out what is wrong. They have been here four times and so far, so good...for now. So let me pick up a post I was working on last week but was so rudely interrupted...

I have several good Catholic friends that I haven't seen in awhile, and I was thinking one night about what I could do to get us together. Another bible study? Or perhaps a party? Neither really got me that excited. I wanted something where we had fun but it did not involve a lot of work, especially on my part. It would be nice to have husbands too since we never get together as couples... Nights or weekends might be better since I have several friends that work during the day. I wanted it to be more of a social event, but I'm not much of a party giver. Too much stress. And I wanted to do whatever it was on an ongoing basis.

Then it hit me. A Catholic book club. It is a great excuse to read and expose others to great Catholic books. The real reason however, was to have fun, to catch up with my friends... to socialize. We could perhaps meet new friends, too. I had an email together in a few minutes and a lot of people really liked the idea. All this came to mind as I was reading a recent post by Jennifer at Conversion Diary. She is planning on a mini Book Club with her readers and I realized that I wanted to share with you this whole idea of the Catholic Book Club.

So, what did I do to organize it? Well, I've learned from organizing bible studies that you need to invite lots of people in order to get a few. That is just the way it is. Especially, if people are scattered over wide distances. For us that means maybe 1/2 hour driving time. You also have to expect that the people who join will not always come. People will be out of town, get sick, have other commitments come up, etc. Years ago, I was always disappointed because a few people could not make it. I would try to change the date, but that would inconvenience other people. Once I finally faced reality that not everyone will come every time I was able to make a plan and have fun.

I decided to make the meetings on Friday nights, the second Friday of the month. Friday night seemed good since there is no school or church the next morning. Many people are really involved with their families on Saturday and so daytime would be out, and in the evenings people are recovering from their day at the beach or whatever. I thought the second Friday of the month would be good since holidays or school startings don't seem to be then, etc.

We vote on which books to use. At first, I compiled a list of good Catholic books and asked people to vote by email. Now that we are meeting, I propose books to the people attending the meeting, and we choose a book then and there for the next month. Here are the books that we have chosen to discuss so far.

A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot

I'm Not Being Fed: Discovering the Food That Satisfies the Soul by Jeff Cavins

Search and Rescue: How to Bring Your Family and Friends Into, or Back Into, the Catholic Church by Patrick Madrid

Because we started during the Summer many were out of town or unavailable. Some people could not get babysitters. The babysitter point is important. For years we have had women's bible studies or other studies, and always children are welcome. But since this is once a month, and more of a social event, the adults want to socialize without the children. Nursing babies are always an exception, of course.

We have the meetings in people's homes and once we had a really small group and decided to have it at Starbucks. So far, since we are getting started, and had one meeting specifically discussing a book for women, we have not had husbands yet. I'm hoping we do that in the future.

Refreshments are fairly simple. When we had the book club at my house, I had cheese and crackers, wine, some fruit and cookies. We start about 7pm so everyone has had dinner and is not too hungry. Perhaps a dessert bar next time? We'll see. I stuck my kids in the family room with a movie and computer games and they were great. Of course, they are 14 and 6, so that was not any problem. There are advantages to not having toddlers!

We do not have a specific format for discussion. Many of us usually make notes or outline in the book parts that specifically helped us or that we liked. So we start off with catching up with each other, open the wine, have some food and eventually we get to the book. If someone has not finished the book, we don't mind at all. In fact, I always remind them that if they haven't read the book come anyway. This is supposed to be fun, there will be no test at the end.



How do I choose the books to pick from? Well, I try to get several books that have topics that I think people will learn from, but are not too deep. Something they can finish in the month time period. I also look for popular books that I think people would like to read. No politics, period. I only choose from good Catholic publishers. I don't want any books that will steer people wrong in their faith. So no dissenting authors. I also don't want devotional books on the list. Those are better read slowly and prayerfully over a long period of time. Here are some of the books that I'm thinking of adding to the list for people to choose from:

7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn

The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina

The Fathers of the Church, Expanded Edition by Mike Aquilina

Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life by Bishop Charles Chaput

Catholics and the New Age: How Good People Are Being Drawn into Jungian Psychology, the Enneagram, and the Age of Aquarius by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza

I'm pleased the way things have worked out so far, though we have had to postpone a couple of meetings. You do need to remind people throughout the month to get the book early to have time to read it. And remind them of the date several times so they can get their schedules together. I'm always surprised that people say..."Oh, I thought it was next Friday!" or whatever.

So far it is a positive experience for all of us and I'm hoping it will continue in the future for quite a while. I'm interested to know if you have any experience with Catholic book clubs, or book clubs in general. Do you have any tips?

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11/01 - Condolences & Prayers


Today, I send my condolences to those who lost loved ones and friends in this tragedy, to those who suffered unimaginable pain and those still suffering. My heart is with you. I thank those who gave their lives for others. And I pray to the Blessed Mother to give us peace in the world. I ask her for the conversion of hearts and souls so that the Earth can be blessed with a peace that can only come from Above.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food! - One Of The Best Ways to Live Catholic

Well, yes I am alive. Thanks for asking. I haven't posted for at least a couple of weeks and the guilt follows me. My kids started school a few weeks ago and it has been a real adjustment for me this year. I have a freshman in Catholic high school and another in elementary school. Mornings are now much more stressful. Our wonderful high school is at least 20 minutes away and we need to leave at 7am in order to beat traffic and have me back home in time to get the little one ready. I'm having trouble getting a carpool together to help, but our routine is down now. I'm in the car during the day almost 2-3 hours though, and it really cuts into my available time during the day. My husband helps when he can, but all bets are off if I get some freelance work. I'm trying to figure out when my prayer and meditation time will fit. I've come to the conclusion I just have to get up at 5:30am to pray because I just can't seem to get it in once I get home from driving around.

One of the things I have been doing in my off time is cooking. I love to cook and I consider food to be a blessing from God for sure. There is no way you can talk about living Catholic without discussing food. As long as we are not talking about gluttony (which I'm sure is a topic for another day,) enjoying food and wine is part of the celebration of the life the Lord has given us. He has blessed us with so many, many wonderful foods there is no way He would not want us to enjoy them. He did give us taste buds after all.

Now, so many times the discussion of food on Catholic websites always leads to some sort of bean soup for Lent. Not here. While many of my recipes are meatless, it is not on purpose. They just happen to be. I love meat and figure that we were designed to eat both plants and meat. Look at our teeth. We were given teeth for both grinding (molars) and ripping (canines) and I definitely use both.



This week I made a recipe my mother received from a friend years ago, and while only my husband and I will eat it because it has zucchini, I do make it occasionally, serving pasta with sauce on the side for those who are vegetable averse. I have updated it a little to make it more healthy. It is good as a main dish or a side.

Zucchini Bread
3 Cups Zucchini with skin, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 onion chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan, romano or cheddar cheese (I use parmesan)
4 eggs beaten (I use Egg Beaters)
1 cup Bisquick (I use the Bisquick Heart Smart kind - white box)
1/2 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt (I omit it)

Slice zucchini very thin (I have a very cheap little mandolin but a food processor is good too). Chop onion and garlic. Mix remaining ingredients together, add onion, garlic and zucchini. Pour into greased 9 x 9 square pan and cook 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees until golden brown.

I does not come out like bread, but like a casserole. The original recipe called for it to be cooked in a loaf pan, but I find it cooks better in a square pan. I have been also taking this to ladies breakfast or brunch meetings, like bible studies, etc. and it is very popular. Enjoy.