Tuesday, February 23, 2010


"Early to Bed, and early to rise
makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." (Benjamin Franklin)

"Live on a penny, and rule over much,
it takes but wisdom and a homemaker's touch."  (Me)

I asked old Ben if he'd like to join me in writing to you about how you can live victoriously on just a little. Well, I guess he was so excited that he was speechless, so I took that as a "yes", and included a quote from him, above.

First, there are some concepts that you have to learn to love.  A good place to start is by opening your eyes to the truth about what things are necessary, what things are important, what things hold true value.  And,
right here is a good place to start...

Now that we have laid the foundation, let us begin to build, a little at a time, a good, and sufficient life. More than that, an abundant life. A life lived in such a way that you can put your head down on the pillow at night and sleep like a baby. Where the only debt you owe is the debt of love, which the bible instructs us to keep on paying to God and others as long as we live. Which by the way is a debt that will make you rich, indeed.

If I were just starting out as part of a young couple, or if I were to find myself as a single mother who needed to get by on very little, I would sit down and do some thinking over a big cup of tea made from a generic, store brand tea bag. And I would look at a few facts. The facts are, I would surmise, that we need a safe place to stay, wholesome food, and decent clothes for our backs.


I would first ask family members if we could stay with them and contribute to the work and financial needs of their household.  If that was not an option, I would rent a room in somebody's house.  Yes, I would. It would cost a fraction of what a regular apartment would cost, and I would do some research and find the best neighborhood I could find for the money that I had.  When I say the "best neighborhood", my priorities would be safety, a decent school if I had children, and accessibility to stores and amenities - places I could walk to. Now in some places that might only cost me $200 a month, and in some it might cost me $600, and if the Lord willed, it might cost me nothing but what I could offer them as help around the house.

The thought of starting off married life or single parenthood like this seems really repugnant to many folks, I'd imagine.  How you can you be happy in just one room with a only a few possessions. But people, in my opinion, really overestimate the happiness that owning lots of stuff can bring. Whatever you own will take up space and add more responsibility to your life. It has to be guarded, cleaned, maintained and fretted over. And sometimes needs to be insured. Which costs money.

Procuring the necessary space in which to keep one's unnecessary stuff also costs time, money, guarding and fretting over.  Look, everybody needs a certain amount of space and stuff, but after a certain point the returns begin to diminish, the stuff turns to suffocating clutter, the space is difficult (physically and financially) to maintain, and we become slaves to this stuff, and its low-life kinsman, Debt.  This is how stuff and debt come to own you.  How wonderful for us if we assess the situation before we and our stuff are unceremoniously tossed out onto the sidewalk by a sheriff with an eviction notice.  But you know, if this happens, you might as well look at it as a grand release of responsibility and a chance to have a picnic in the park on a Saturday, instead of doing all that mowing, washing, and waxing.  On Sunday afternoon, you can sit and read a library book and take a nap after church instead vacuuming 10 rooms and milling through stores in search of more stuff to pack your house with.

Now if you can afford more than one room, wonderful! But whatever you do, you should be looking for ways to maximize ways in which to live a good life, WITHIN YOUR MEANS.  Living within one's means is such an old-fashioned concept, and the way, no doubt, your ancestors kept things going along until it was time for the world to receive you onto its stage. It requires some hindsight, in the form of learning skills and systems that have worked in the past,

and foresight, in terms of planning for possibilities and eventualities.



Living within one's means in terms of shelter, means that you can live in your place AND still provide for the other necessities of life on a reasonable level.  About 40 years ago and before, banks used to figure that your mortgage/taxes/house insurance should not exceed 25% of your pay. So, if you make $3000 a month, your shelter should not cost you more than $750 a month. This would ensure that you could make your mortgage payment and still live a decent life and not be house-poor. To put it in archaic, ancient terms: you could afford
to live there. Now, we all know that the cost of housing went totally crazy once bankers stopped demanding that people be able to afford their payments, resulting in astronomical prices for houses. Ye olde housing bubble. Which is deflating, it seems to me, but not bursting. Yet.

So now there is a lot of suffering going on in America, because people are losing their homes, cars, and other possessions left and right. But really, isn't a lot of the suffering mental anguish, based on losing Stuff? And hurt pride because we have to go about our lives in reduced circumstances. But not abject poverty. How poor is poor? Is it not being able to afford a big-screen TV? Is it having to live in a smaller house, or rent  instead of owning? Is it eating macaroni and cheese at home instead of ordering out for pizza? God forbid, but we might not be able to afford that most basic of human rights, a cell phone.

I am not saying that people are not suffering, but could some of this suffering be alleviated by looking at things differently?

I have found a lot of joy in looking at an economic downturn as an adventure.  (Yes, I know I am missing a few horses off my merry-go-round, but) I find it kind of fun to figure out ways to turn my problems into projects. There was a time in my life when we were awash in money, and I actually found it kind of dissatisfying to instantly attain what I wanted, with no effort, or no figuring out how to get the best deal on it. Well, God in His wisdom soon took that burden from me!

My burden now is point to a few ways that will encourage you in your quest to live a happy, "needs-met", and moreover, abundant life if you keep your priorities in order. These are: God, others, making the most of the free things in life (see video, above), and gratitude for all. Another tip: if one is good, you may not need 10.

Then ask for wisdom and a sense of adventure in how to build upon these great foundations.

More to come on this large subject, including wonderfully low cost and easy ways to maintain your home, and an introduction to that vast and awesome part of life - food!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let's just climb down there and sit on the big rock while we let our feet dangle into the refreshing cold water.....

We won't talk, we'll just sit and listen to the sound of the silver black brook all around us, feel the gentle breeze against our faces, and thank the green, shading canopy of leaves above us.

While we are here, we won't have to worry about learning new software or the paying of bills. Down here there is only the business of bees and birdsong,  and a thousand wondering eyes, hidden from our view.

Here I would like to tarry, if only for an hour.  Turn off the pavement and away from the paperwork - and all the props I must carry onto the stage.

For the show of love, that must go on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent Begins

And we begin again to make the first feeble step away from ourselves and towards God.

Off the grey, cold coast of Ireland lies a rock called Skellig Michael, where brave monks retreated in order to preserve the Holy Scriptures. Some consider that these monks, who risked everything to preserve the bible from destruction by Viking marauders, are the saviors of Western Christianity. On a clear day the rock is visible from the shore, but on this day, we had to take that truth by faith and not by sight. 

There are now in the world, outward signs of the seriousness of our inward condition.  For a few decades we were left to our illusions but now, mercifully, we are having our eyes opened.  Systems, the status quo, and our own personal security seem to be failing.  The bible says that the things that are unseen are actually more real than the things that are seen. We see, in the tangible world, merely a reflection of the fragility of our own souls, and begin to get the slightest sense that we cannot take anything for granted here in this life and in what awaits us afterward.  May we look down at our feet this Lent, and see the cracks and fissures forming on the wide road upon which we have been carelessly traveling.

Lent is for grown-ups. Time to look with unveiled eyes at the suffering of Our Lord for our sake, the condition of our souls, and at the suffering of creation itself.  We can start today to come away from our pleasures and routines, and tarry awhile with the Lord each day. When we "give something up for Lent" we deny ourselves in order to unite our tiny bit of suffering to that of His.

We can take more time each day to pray and to meditate on the life of Jesus, and ask for a place of solitude within our hearts where we may meet with Him and hear what He has to say to us.  He is always faithful to give us glimpses and inspirations of what His will is for us and how we can cooperate with Heaven to do the works He has given us to do.

And there certainly is a lot we can do, as Christ's body on earth. There is so much wrong out there, a lot of things that need improving, and a lot we can do to help other people. Almsgiving, the other aspect of Lent, allows us to share what we have been given with others who are in need. Our money, our precious time, even the use of our minds in the pursuit of developing new ways to solve old problems, are all things that we should give freely during this season of penitence.

We do not do any of these things for a reward, but for the love of Christ, and in solidarity with His suffering, and in pursuit of a closer walk with Him. Generous as He is, however, He insists on rewarding us with joy, strength and all good things when we in our frailty attempt to live out the Gospel life. That is just the way He is, you know; He is always picking up the tab, and buying the next round.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. No greater love is there than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend. We love Him, because He first loved us..........

For God so loved the world, that He gave up His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believeth in Him, should have everlasting life.

May we all make a good and fruitful Lent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010



My 18 year old son has mononucleosis and possibly strep throat.  His glands are very swollen, as is his painful, raw throat. I can't tell you how much I take my family getting sick as a personal affront to my ministry as a home guardian. So the other day I went into full battle mode, grocery shopping for the freshest, health-giving food, rushing around the house, cleaning, sanitizing, making chicken soup, fruit smoothies and a ton of other things, going to the doctors, the pharmacy, and trying to wait on Grandpa and make sure my young working adults had their sustenance, too.

Last night one of them stayed out till almost 3 a.m., which had me pacing the floors. At 6 a.m. my "patient" awakened me because of sharp, hard pain in his chest. We ended up calling the rescue squad, waiting in the little front parlor for them, so as not to disturb the rest of the house.

After a two-hour stint in the emergency room, he is home and resting.  Thank the Lord that the problem most likely is that he has patches of infection going down his throat into his esophagus, and that he was somewhat dehydrated.

And thank the Lord that I am able to come home and rest today, the Lord's Day, and take the entire day to restore my frayed nerves and tired body.  Now that I know Michael is OK, at least for awhile, I decided to just forget everything else, for once, and be my own Valentine, so to speak.  Dear husband got a card and some top shelf jelly beans, and he is good to go.  Right now, everyone is either working, sleeping, or at church, and I plan to soon be at the church of sweet repose, located just inside my eyelids.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone

and a blessed Sunday to all, as well.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Buy this print at Allposters.com


"There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." - Jane Austen

This winter's unusually cold and snowy weather is not over, it appears. Virginia and points north are in for another burst and broadside of wind, snow and a wintry mix.  I realize how genuinely blessed I am that, at least for now, I do not have to go out to work, scraping ice off windshields in my heels and pantyhose.

The poor, lovely, cardinal, our state bird, must bear the chill awhile longer, with only his feathers, his mate, and their little nest to defend against the ice and cold. I really marvel at how this little, winter rose, and all the birds survive out there through the winter.

But I, at night, can curl up amidst the thick, flannel sheets and feather pillows and listen, safe and warm, to the wind rattle the siding of the house and the icy rain pound against the windowpanes.  

Windy Nights

by Robert Louis Stevenson
Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenver the trees are crying aloud
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again

How absolutely blessed and rich we are, if we have a warm, dry home in which to dwell. How much more blessed, indeed, if we are hidden in Christ, in whom we live, and move and have our being.

" He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

scripture Pictures, Images and Photos

Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and
buckler. "
 from Psalm 91:1-4 

Monday, February 08, 2010


My husband's cousin, a good friend of mine, became a realtor in the last couple of years. At one point, we were considering a move back to our home area, and she was showing me a couple of houses. The one I liked best was owned by an Italian-American, Catholic couple in their early nineties.  That they were Italian was obvious, to me, because of the decorating scheme, the lace curtains and plastic table cover, the propriety of the kitchen, the double wall ovens, the family portrait of them from 45 years ago, and as cousin pointed out, the "Catholic pictures" all over the house.

Now this cousin happens to have been brought up Catholic but joined a Protestant church in her early 20's. As such, she is a wonderful example of charitable Christian virtue, but does not feel the Catholic church is quite a valid branch of Christianity.  We have discussions about this from time to time, as you might imagine.

So when she made the comment about the "Catholic pictures", which portrayed, along with Jesus, the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and a host of other saints, I stopped to reflect on the idea that one used to be able to tell immediately if they had entered a Catholic home, by what was on the walls. 

The biggest giveaway would undoubtedly be a crucifix hanging somewhere.  Then, you might see a statue of the BVM, or even Saint Anthony. Or holy cards stuck onto dresser mirrors. Maybe even a small holy water font hanging in a bedroom.  In the neighborhood where I grew up, many people even had small shrines set up in the yard for Mary, surrounded by flowers and pretty stones.

Though this is still most often the case in the homes of elderly Catholic folks, it probably does not figure prominently in the homes of most Catholics today. Except in mine. And I'm flirting heavily with "elderly" now anyways, but most baby boomers would probably not have this kind of thing, either.

Pictured above is a painting of the Holy Family, which hangs in our foyer.  Notice the palms stuck up on top of it, from last year's Palm Sunday mass. The rest of the house contains a couple of crucifixes, and the aforementioned statuary, holy cards, and even the little font. 

In the back yard, my husband has built a fountain, and next to it, is Saint Anthony.  Come to think of it, a lot of non-Catholics do allow Saint Francis into their back yards, he being a nature lover and all, and so he has become a cross-over yard decoration, much as someone like Faith Hill or Shania Twain have successfully made the crossover from country music to pop.

I guess it might seem kind of corny to have these things up, even to fellow Catholics. And maybe even offensive to others. I don't know, but I do know I find it comforting and inspiring to have these holy reminders around me. And I guess I am not ashamed to self-identify. Most importantly, though, is I feel that people who live in a home are influenced by what surrounds them in that home. And I pray that what surrounds my family and visitors would comfort, influence, remind and inspire them. 

So, welcome to my home and may the love, peace and joy which the Holy Family enjoyed dwell in each home and heart today.

Friday, February 05, 2010

SILENCE IS A GIFT                                                                                  

I had almost forgotten this. Much as I had tried to maintain an atmosphere of peace and quiet around me, I had failed, and some time ago, imperceptibly, accepted the din and confusion of the world in which I live, and had even become used to it. 

I live with six other people, five television sets, three computers, surround sound stereo, and various other "music"-emitting speakers. Very often there are extra people in the house.  Outside, Navy jets routinely roar overhead and helicopters circle around looking for goodness knows what. A block away, across the field, 50,000 cars pass by on a daily basis.

But worse than all that, I had lost that interior silence, the one in which the soul is still and open to hearing from God. Long ago, I must have given in to allowing my thoughts to whirl around inside me, to allow fear and folly to run amok inside my head. For days on end I might find myself without a plan, merely racing from one duty to another, talking, shouting, complaining, and in a word, reacting  to everything and everyone.

The externals cannot affect a soul whose eyes are fixed on God. Brother Lawrence, an obscure little brother who served in a French monastery long ago, was assigned to perpetual kitchen duty. But among the clatter and confusion of a busy kitchen, his spirit communed with God, and the simple man whom his superiors thought to be not much good for anything but scullery work, wrote about his life with Christ, which has now become one of the great spiritual classics, Practicing the Presence of God. You can read about him here:

Last weekend, when we got an actual snowstorm (rare, for my area), the outside world became unusually quiet; nothing was flying overhead and almost no cars were on the road. Two of our visiting relatives had left the day before, and two of the young people were out of town. The others slept in, and lo and behold, it was so still in here that I could actually listen to my own thoughts. And I felt uneasy! I suspect this is why the vast majority of people today keep the noise pumped up. It can be scary to be confronted with oneself, to have to tune into what is really going on inside of our minds and hearts. I actually felt kind of depressed.

And I think that just being allowed to experience that feeling of the empty nest made me sad and lonely. I was really surprised at those feelings, which hit me like a strong gust of wind in the face. So, immediately, I began to thank God that I do have a busy life, with loved ones all around me. And I realize how grateful I should be, that I have strength and health to do the work I have been given to do.

Beyond that, I believe that the Lord was speaking to me about the need to remain filled with the Holy Spirit, with Whom which there is always fellowship and never a need to feel lonely, whatever the circumstances may be. So that the issue becomes one of maintaining that interior silence, in which one receives all kinds of gifts and graces. Being filled with these, we begin to truly perceive what is going on around us, and we gain wisdom and insight.  Instead of just reacting to what someone says, one whose interior life is quiet and well-ordered will understand the meaning behind the words, and be able to really respond to the speaker.

In short, I believe silence, both external and internal, makes us sane and centered. It takes us out of the driver seat. When we are silent, we can hear again. When we are silent, we stop competing; we refrain from shooting off that caustic, snappy comeback. We stop feeling the need to defend ourselves. We give the benefit of the doubt. We do not have to prove our points or ourselves. We trust God and His holy angels to intervene on our behalf and learn that blessed grace of acceptance.

"Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew [their] strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment." Isaiah 41:1

"But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Habbakkuk 20:20

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Did you know that nuclear disarmament begins at home? It does, because home is the place where we often give in to feelings of resentment, bitterness, ingratitude and dissatisfaction. Then the self-pity and blaming of others sets in, and the first thing you know, you are ready to nuke someone.

Well, take a tip from me. Nuking your house will also leave you incinerated, allegorically speaking, of course.

What I mean is that when we are critical, negative, "hurt", or resentful, it really takes a lot out of us, drying up our spirits, and making us actually quite unattractive. Quite simply, we become odious, and during these long, often homebound winter days, that is particularly bad.

The bible, in Proverbs 30, says that one of the three things that disquiet the earth, and one of the four things  which the earth cannot bear is "an odious woman when she is married". I looked up the definition of the word "odious" and it means:

"Arousing or meriting strong dislike, aversion, or intense displeasure". Also, "Arousing or deserving hatred or repugnance". Whoa, don't ya just love how the King James Version refuses to worry about hurting anyone's feelings? So non-pc.

But I think we all know what an odious woman looks like, and by the way, it has nothing to do with her physical appearance, per se, but what that inner person generates to the outside world. A woman may be fat as a sow, a stooping hunchback, old, or even unkempt, but when her spirit radiates joy, generosity, cheerfulness and goodwill, she is treasured and beautiful, and in a word, attractive. People are attracted to her and desire her company because of the Christ-like goodness she emanates. Anyone who has ever thought, or said, "What does he see in her?" knows exactly what I mean.

But woe to a woman when she makes herself odious by a peevish, uncharitable attitude. First Corinthians 13 says that love "thinketh no evil", and the NIV version of that verse interprets that to mean that love "keeps no record of wrongs".
Oh, how we often keep a record of wrongs, neatly filed into organized folders, according to time and date, pristinely maintained in that filthy file cabinet in our heads. This is an odious practice which breeds "uglification", against which make-up, expensive night creams and even plastic surgery are no remedy.

It is also self-defeating because we will surely get it right back in our faces, just as surely as Walmart puts out Valentines Day cards on the day after Christmas.
Not that we aren't "justified" at times to be angry and resentful. Well, sort of justified. For instance, (and here is where I typed out my particular situation, which I deleted because my words were so ungodly, but boy, it felt good, but wicked, to write it!), when God asks a person to take on more responsibilities, it sometimes makes that person feel kind of witchy, and the other word that rhymes with witchy. And that engenders some really negative feedback, both from family members and one's own conscience.

So the path to peace, in the home and in one's heart, is simply to walk that narrow path that our Lord set out for us, and which He himself trod, that we might follow Him more closely. To judge not, lest we be judged, to be thankful for our many blessings, and to love and serve others as if we were doing this for the Lord, Himself, because in the final analysis, we are really doing just that. "Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers, you do unto Me".

Time to wrap up this post and head to the kitchen for beauty school.