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Manic Monday: A pope, a robin’s nest and Pearl Jam

I thought today’s headline should appropriately reflect just how manic this Monday will be, or how manic this past week has been. A little a bit of everything — and then some. Which is exactly the point of Manic Monday. Lots going on lately, and this week will be no different. We wrapped up our week with a first-of-season visit to Jim’s Tastee Freez here in Delmar, which you can see the girls enjoying in that photo on the left. Here’s what the rest of our Manic Monday looks like: Read more

Manic Monday: Everybody under one roof

After eight crazy days, which included Dennis’ trip to Rome book-ended by out-of-town dance competitions for the girls, everyone landed back home late Sunday. Phew! How nice to gather the family around the dinner table and eat together and do nothing at all that night. Life is good at the Poust House. So, without further ado, here’s the Manic Monday recap.  Read more

Manic Monday: Here, there, and everywhere

Manic Monday has returned! It was always one of my favorite weekly posts back in the day, so I thought I’d resurrect it. At least for now. Here’s a little bit of everything, probably more than you need to know.

Viewfinder: So much to see this week, much of it not my own. My other half is visiting Rome for the first time, and so, of course, his photos have captured my heart. Here’s one, the view from his hotel window. Funny thing is, as soon as I saw this photo, I realized that the yellow building with the tan awning is the very same restaurant where I sought shelter from a ridiculous storm when I was in Rome almost five years ago. And now Dennis’ hotel window looks out on it. Kismet, even more than 20 years later. Read more

Manic Monday: Jumping one hurdle, ready for more

This has been a crazy busy week, but a good week. After months of preparation, weeks of handwringing and many sleepless nights of worry, Noah’s Eagle Scout project is complete. I have to send out a special thank you to all those people who gave their time, their talent, their treasure, and their used books — 1,006 of them, to be exact. We took a dreary room in a residence for children slipping through the foster care system and turned it into a beautiful refuge filled with books and comfort and calm and a quote to inspire. I hope they see it not only as a place to relax but as a reminder of their worthiness in this world. They should have a beautiful place to sit and read. Every child should have that.  Read more

Manic Monday: Here, there, and everywhere

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity, and there’s no end in sight. But it’s all good. Busy, but good busy. By next week at this time, we will have passed a giant hurdle: Noah’s Eagle Scout project, leaving him with one last requirement to complete before he can officially sit for his Board of Review and achieve the rank of Eagle. This has been a long time coming, so it’s pretty exciting. Here’s what else is happening on this Manic Monday… Read more

Manic Monday returns, along with ‘Muddy Jesus’

I’ve decided to bring back my Manic Monday post, if only to inspire myself to get back to regular blogging. In the past, this post has been a run down of books I’m reading, music I’m loving, recipes I’m trying, quotes that are inspiring me, and cool things that are going on in my life. So I hope you’ll find something of interest here. Read more

Manic Monday: Returning to ‘normal’ life

Our Christmas tree came down last night, along with the rest of the decorations. The magi hardly had time to settle down in front of the creche when I shipped them off to the basement. Such is the end of the season, at least around here. By this time of year, I’m ready to return to ordinary time and Ordinary Time.

So here’s what’s on tap on this Manic Monday…

The above YouTube clip is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Twinkle’ post. Someone captured the kids playing at Mary Jane’s funeral. (Thanks, Pam, for sending that to me.) When the clip is rolling, Olivia happens to be visible on and off over on the left in the cream-colored top.

Bookshelf: I’m reading about a dozen different books all at once as research for the two books I’m writing, but there’s one that stands out right now, a recommendation from a Facebook friend. It’s called Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire. Loving it so far. Here’s one piece that resonated with me because I have experienced it so powerfully myself:

“Over the years I had prepared meals in quiet rooms, in accidental silence, as I would later come to call it, but I was discovering that intentional silence brought a focus to everything. Ordinary acts — measuring oats and water, chopping walnuts, scooping out a handful of raisins, stirring oatmeal — were transformed into meditations simply by the attention stillness brought to the tasks. Later, scrubbing out the gummy saucepan, I found unexpected pleasure in this simple job. I was experiencing what Buddhists have always taught: Silence, along with the attention it fosters, is our anchor to the present, to the here and now.”

Perfect. Today when I make my silent oatmeal, as I do each weekday, I will do so with those words ringing (silently, of course) in my head, reminding me that this practice of still, slow eating truly does allow me to bring a depth and calmness to my day that is absent when I skip this favorite ritual. My meditative breakfast has become, without question, one of my best prayer moments of any day.

Soundtrack: Dreamland by Madeleine Peyroux, something Dennis discovered on The Coffee House on Sirius. A bunch of it’s in French. Very cool. Check it out.

Viewfinder: Below is a shot of my Christmas gifts, or most of them, collected on the dining room table. Makes you wonder if perhaps I’m planning to open a monastery or a retreat center. We’ve got prayer flags up front; the official Abbey Psalter from the Abbey of the Genesee; Yoga Prayer DVD by Father Thomas Ryan, CSP; Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in Your World and Your Life by Margaret Silf; a cross candle holder; a Himalayan singing bowl; incense, lots of it; a tea set with Zen tea. I did get some other goodies that had nothing to do with prayer or spirituality, like the Midnight in Paris DVD and a flameless candle, although that last one borders on spiritual, too, doesn’t it?

My Christmas bounty.
The lovely Abbey Psalter.
Visiting my grandmother, who turned 99 on New Year’s Day.
Birthday boy.

Manic Monday: Closing in on Christmas

We’re in the homestretch. My kids, especially my tween, are practically hyperventilating with excitement. Okay, not the teen. He’s keeping the excitement close to the vest. I’ve been too busy with work to even realize Christmas is so close, which could be bad news for those expecting presents.

That’s our Christmas tree, over there on the left. Fred the Cat is standing guard. I tried to remove him from the picture, but he jumped back in every time I got set up. So, clearly, he was meant to be in the shot. Oh, and that’s one of my Nativity sets — my main Nativity set — in the header at the top of the blog. I collect them. Nativity set, not blogs.

So, here’s our Manic Monday rundown for the week…

Bookshelf: I’m reading too many books to list here, most of them as research for the book I’m writing. What I’m reading for fun, inspiration, enjoyment when I have time is a magazine I discovered on the shelf at Sam’s Club: The Soul Body Connection, a special annual publication of the monthly Spirituality & Health. If you are into meditation, centering prayer, mindful eating, breathing exercises, prayer in general, check it out. It’s wall-to-wall articles, and what I really love is the fact that this Eastern-leaning publication includes lots of Christian information, including a Q&A with Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leader of the centering prayer/contemplative living movement.

Soundtrack: Christmas music, of course. Here’s one of my favorites, a rocking version of Angels We Have Heard on High by Relient K, a very cool band.

Viewfinder: While other people were out shopping this weekend, or baking Christmas cookies, I was with the nine girls in our Daisy troop, along with four other moms, for an OUTDOOR winter discovery day. Who thought that was a good idea in upstate New York in mid-December? Actually, it was a really fun day. And a warm-up for our January winter camping trip.

Here’s Chiara working on an animal track rubbing:

The whole gang:

Olivia decided she really wanted pomegranate seeds for lunch. So there I was, working the seeds out of the pomegranate below at 7 a.m. Whatever happened to PB&J?

Since I had about three million seeds after I finished, I decided to throw a few on top of my usual bowl of oatmeal (below). Added a nice crunch. Doesn’t it look lovely? Yes, that’s a candle beside my oatmeal. Truth be told, the absolute best prayer time I have every day is when I sit down to my silent, mindful breakfast and pray before I dig in. It’s become an almost-daily prayer practice for me, one I really miss when I can’t find the time, or the silence. Which is often in this house.

So, onward, as we celebrate the fourth week of Advent and pray the O Antiphons each evening as we light the candles on our wreath. Enjoy these last days before the feast. Shop, bake, party, but remember to breathe deep and find a few minutes each day to sit in silence and contemplate the reason for this season.

Mellow Monday: Reverberations from my weekend yoga prayer retreat

Technically it’s Manic Monday in these parts, but after a weekend yoga-prayer retreat at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Mass., I’m really quite mellow. Certainly not manic, despite the truly frightening number of deadlines mounting on the dry erase board in my office.

As was the case with my silent retreat in September, I’m not really ready to wax poetic about what happened at Kripalu so soon after. Too much to absorb, so many gifts, so much to process before I can put it in writing in this space. But I wanted to share some little snippets of my wonderful weekend, which centered on a workshop called “Pray All Ways,” offered by Paulist Father Tom Ryan, who is also a certified yoga instructor and whose sense of peace and prayerfulness is so palpable he practically glows or floats. You cannot help but sit in his presence and think, “I want that.” In the best Christian, yogic, loving, non-jealous way, of course.

The photo above is a view of Kripalu from the road below. The former Jesuit seminary sits on land that is just beautiful, even during this in-between time when trees are bare but the ground is not yet blanketed in white. Still breathtaking.

When I first arrived on Friday afternoon, I was in my more manic mode. I rushed inside, worried that my car might not be parked in the right place, nervous about how the weekend would unfold, sure that something would go wrong. (Glass half-empty person, remember.) So I got inside and was asked to fill out of a form with my license plate number, which is new and not committed to memory. Immediately I felt frustration — at not having thought of this need, at not knowing my number by heart, at needing the number at all. So back out to the parking lot I trudged with pen and paper.

And as I stepped outside, another retreatant was standing there staring, and she pointed me to the top of a tree. There, in what was a rather small tree comparatively, was an enormous hawk. I mean enormous. I’m including his photo below even though it’s a little blurry (I didn’t have my good camera with me) because I just needed to give you a glimpse. He sat there for the longest time, unfazed by the people coming and going with their roller-suitcases and cars and chatter. Here he is:

You’ll notice that branch is bending under his weight. He was just majestic. At another point during the weekend, the same hawk was flying overhead, his wingspan inspiring others to stare up at the sky in awe. I never would have known about this resident hawk (the greeter, as he was referred to by the smiling people at the front desk) if I hadn’t forgotten my license plate number. So there you go. I was rushed headlong into the fact that this weekend would be about awareness, about gratitude, about slowing down, about the practice of the presence of God.

The hawk wasn’t the only over-sized animal to cross my path. This giant rabbit, like something out of Alice in Wonderland, let me get within two feet of him to take a picture. On top of that he was surrounded by people enjoying the late autumn sunshine at picnic tables all around him. Even the animals are mellow here.

After a solid day of praying and sitting and absorbing so much wonderful food for thought (and wonderful food in general), my retreat partner, Michelle, and I decided to skip Yoga Dance, which was a little much even for this adventurous soul, and go for a little hike to the lake. So worth it.

First we stopped at the small labyrinth. The entrance is in the photo below. I will admit that perhaps this wasn’t the best labyrinth, as I got “lost,” which I didn’t think was supposed to be possible in this walking meditation. I’m guessing it’s much more effective when all the plants are high and in bloom and provide a clear marker of the path. It was still fun.

Here’s a photo of the lake and one of me with Michelle:

And finally, here’s the statue at the front entrance. Lots of Hindu and Buddhist statues here and there, as you would expect at a yoga center, but our weekend was so focused on Christian prayer and Jesus Christ that it was easy to forget at times that this is no longer a Catholic facility. As we prayed lectio divina, did the Examen, spent long periods on intercessory prayer, and even had Mass while sitting on the floor of the yoga studio Saturday night, I felt so grateful for the experience and so alive with prayerful possibility.

I will be back later this week with some further reflections. Till then, I’ll just share one pearl of wisdom that Father Tom shared with us: Contemplation isn’t always about retreating from the world in silence and solitude; it’s about “taking a long, loving look at the real.”

Look around you today. Right now. Look deeply into the eyes of the next person you meet. Listen attentively to the person on the phone or at the door or in the next office. Drink in the wonder of creation as you drive or walk or run to your next appointment. You just might be amazed to find God right under your nose. Namaste.