Wednesday, December 19, 2018

For Sister

She died on Gaudete Sunday. 

We had seen her walking, as we often do, on our way to Mass. She was going to set up for the kids for catechism class, and then sing in the choir afterwards as is her custom. A mere 12 hours later, she was gone. 

It was so sudden, and feels so hollow. 

I didn't know her well, but loved her nonetheless. I am having a hard time processing her death and feeling okay with it. I have spent a lot of time these past few days thinking about her, and wondering about death. 

Bury the dead. Pray for the dead. These are works of mercy, and oftentimes I think they are the most important ones. A naked person might eventually find clothes. A hungry person may stumble on a crust of bread. The ignorant might pick up a book of their own accord. 

But the dead cannot bury themselves, nor can they pray for themselves. Only we can do that for them.

The archbishop will bury her on Saturday, on the last day of the third week of Advent. One the last day of the week of joyful anticipation. 

May the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017


I haven't been writing. 

Well, that's not accurate, I have been writing. Just not on the blog. I've been busy writing on Facebook, and Internet forums, and writing a book of sorts about money management. That one started as a project for a family member to tell them everything I wish someone had told us 10 years ago, and it kinda morphed from there. I've been writing out assignments for my kids and copywork for them to copy. I've been filling out forms. I've been writing the stories my kids dictate to me, to capture their beautiful, vivid imaginations in this moment of time. I've been writing emails and lots and lots and lots of texts. 

At the end of the day, I've been writing a lot of nothing. Which in my mind, equates to not writing. 

Why is it important that I write? Besides the fact that I can rarely form a coherent sentence these days, there is something immensely satisfying about writing that I don't get from any other medium. Part of that, I suppose, is because I'm such a visual person; there's something about seeing the words on a page that I find gratifying. Something that is beyond even what I feel when I play a sonata well on the piano. 

It's important that I write because it captures my life. Moments are quickly forgotten, and having this blog has proven invaluable for me to reflect on our journey. Details about Abby's illness that I've forgotten 10 years on (even when, as they occur, you don't think you'll ever forget them). Episodes in my children's lives that fade from memory. Reflections of my state of mind and soul at any particular moment. 

In short, it's all about the journey. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I got to see Fred Penner a couple of weeks ago. 

photo credit: CBC

It was marvelous. Also, it turns out I wasn't crazy... a song I always sing to myself that I thought was actually me mixing up two different songs... turns out it's a Fred Penner song from my childhood. 

So thank-you, Mr. Penner, for reassuring me of my mental status. 

But seriously, it was lovely. We took 3/4 kids to the fair, where Fred Penner was doing a show. Abby had day camp that day. While we were sad that Abby missed it, she simply doesn't do well at the fair. Too many noises, too many people, too many weird smells. It's strictly an indoor-agricultural affair, so you can imagine that it can sometimes be... aromatic. 

Fred, he was in the amphitheatre, far away from the livestock. As we settled in, most adults had glowing screens in their hand. That was fine by me - I'm not a Luddite. I like technology. I happen to be the only person I know without a cell phone - smart or dumb - but I understand that they are handy little devices. I don't own one mostly for financial reasons instead of any ideological ones.

I was really surprised when no one put their smartphones away when he came out on stage. 

The woman next to me texted, tweeted, snapped photos and otherwise didn't disengage from her phone the entire show. C'mon! It was Fred-freaking-Penner! How can you not be totally engrossed? I mean, she was paying attention to the show - as far as I could tell without actually reading over her shoulder, all her "content" was related to the experience - but her phone was part of that engagement. 
photo credit: Kristen Nicole

I was amused. Silly woman, I thought to myself. I assumed she was surely an aberration.

Fast forward a to a few days later, and I find myself in another theatre. This time, we're at the local concert hall partaking in the latest Koba show to hit town. If you're unfamiliar with Koba shows, let me explain. You know all those characters that your preschoolers like to watch on TV? Yeah, grown men and women put on plushy costumes of those characters and dance around on stage belting out preschool-appropriate show tunes. 

My kids go gaga over it. They got tickets for Christmas from one of their uncles. I personally think it's a living hell, but the things I will do for my kids (but I digress...).

photo credit: Nelvana
So as I'm watching a 6-foot-tall Mike the Knight dance around on stage, I notice that the people in front of me have their smart phone held up, recording. 

The person beside them has one. 

And the next person. And the next. 

Looking around, I realize that nearly every adult in the concert hall was recording with, or engaged with, that little glowing screen. 

I was confused.  Or maybe I wasn't. 

With four kids, I spend a lot of time in doctor offices. I've also seen my own doctor a lot lately for some ongoing issues. One thing I've noticed is the way people simply can't put their phones down in places like waiting rooms. In a room full of people, the silence is deafening. I realize that we're not there to socialize or chat people up, but there's an oddity being in a room with 30 other people without the accompanying sounds of humanity.

Now, I'm not the first person to notice this - for years there's been things like little games or rules to keep people from picking up their phones during dinner. I do use social media, and I see picture of dinners and cats and all other sorts of personal flotsam that ultimately stems from the ubiquitousness of smartphones. But those two shows really revealed to me, apparently for the first time, just how much it has permeated every aspect of our existence. 

It wasn't until a week or so later that I realized just what it was that surprised me so much about. 

photo credit:

I've been very interested in Minimalism for awhile now. Mostly that's a matter of necessity, with the number of people in our house and a finite amount of space (as well as a finite budget). Part of this philosophy is the idea of giving your children experiences instead of things. This is a very "in" thing to do right now, even if you're not trying to embrace the whole Minimalist mindset. 

But it's so odd to me that we can't seem to experience something simply for the sake of the experience. We need to record it, tweet it, snapchat it, blog about it (ha ha ha...!), and otherwise capture the moment for posterity. We simply can't just be. in. the. moment. 

I often struggle with the role technology should play in our daily lives. There are times I do feel like a Luddite because there's so much we simply choose not to have, even though we do have lots of technology in our household. We have tablets and laptops. We watch Netflix and YouTube. Really, now that I think about, all we're missing are smartphones or any kind of "wearable" technology. Yet that somehow makes a huge difference. Maybe because it makes it easier to disengage when we chose to. Maybe because it forces us to simply savour a moment instead of creating an electronic trail of experiences. Maybe because it helps me feel more like a discrete person instead of another cog in the great Social Media Spectrum. 

Maybe I'll disengage now and go outside with the kids. It's promising to be beautiful out today. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Combine

It must have been back when we still had cable. 

How I had never seen it before  (and never read the original novel!) still eludes me, but a few years ago I was watching "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" for the first time. Like so many, I was riveted by it. I actually knew nothing about the storyline prior to seeing the movie, but after that I was fascinated by the metaphor of  "The Combine". 

It was serendipity, really, that made me watch that movie when I did. It was only a few days later than my Amazon book order arrived, which included the John Taylor Gatto book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.  In the forward of the book, written by David Albert, it makes reference to "The Combine" starting on page xv

In actuality, writes Albert, John Taylor Gatto wrote the Monarch Notes for the novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (Monarch Notes, from what I gather, are similar to what I knew as Coles Notes growing up), and it's "the only book of Gatto's likely read by students undergoing their slow death in what passes for 'educational institutions' these days". The notes, explains Albert, are a masterpiece in themselves. 

There is also an irony that Gatto's message to us after spending 25 years in the school system and winning "Teacher of the Year" not once, but twice, is essentially about the dangers of the The Combine that is the modern school system. 

Albert talks about how so much discussion about modern schools focuses on how schools are failing. I know that certainly is the case where I live, where we score in the bottom of the heap on standardized tests nationally. But, argues Albert, as we see from Gatto's work the system is in fact NOT failing us:
Central to this understanding is the fact that schools are not failing. On the contrary, they are spectacularly successful at doing precisely what they are intended to do, and what they have intended to do since their inception. The system [...] was explicitly set up to ensure a docile, malleable workforce to meet the growing, changing demands of corporate capitalism [...] The Combine ensures a workforce that will not rebel, that will be physically, intellectually, and emotionally dependent on corporate institutions for their incomes, self-esteem and stimulation, and that will learn to find social meaning in their lives solely in the production and consumption of material goods.
I found these statements, while radical and controversial, to be eye-opening. They rang true to me. We are a society of consumers, a reality that can noted by even the most casual observers of modern Western society, and no one is immune. We are socialized like that. 

From the United Church Archives
The more I dug into the history of compulsory education in Canada, where I live (surely we're different? I reasoned), the more it became clear to me that both Albert and Gatto had a point. The icing on the cake is when I read about Egerton Ryerson and his role is creating modern schooling in Canada based on the Prussian model, and the instrumental role he played in the development of Indian Residential Schools.

I knew I wanted different for my children. 

That was at the beginning of my homeschooling journey. I have tempered my views a bit over the years - take your tinfoil hat off, Carolyn! - but the fact remains that when people ask, "What about Socialization?", my answer is, "Excellent question!". What about socialization? Do you know what that means and the impact it's having on you, me and our children? 

People intuitively know the power of the conditioning and programming that occurs in school - it's the first thing the overwhelming majority question regarding NOT sending your children to school - yet it's not a conscious thought for most. It's therefore difficult to conceptualize "education" to be any other way, even when "education" in the sense we commonly use the word is a secondary consideration in the way the system is designed. I struggle with this conceptualization constantly. I am absolutely choosing a different socialization for my children. I do not wish for them to be eaten by The Combine. 

But it's not that simple, is it? I mean, The Combine is not just school. It's television, social media, even children's books. My experience has been that twaddle almost always has a not-so-subtle message that ties to that Combine socialization process. 

(I think that's a topic I will circle back to another day - I wrote the preceding paragraph without really thinking about it, which created an "ah ha!" moment. An idea that I've never had before, and something that merits discussion after I've had time to flesh it out better.)

Okay, back on track...

What brought all this talk of The Combine up anyway? Actually, it was a job interview. 

How much am I getting paid for this photo shoot anyway?
I recently applied for a temporary job with Statistics Canada. To be precise, I applied for a position doing the 2016 Census.  I passed the initial screening, I passed the written testing, and then was called for an interview for a supervisory position. 

Yay me! Not bad for a chick who hasn't had a paid gig in over eight years. 

But something funny happened in the job interview. As we're talking, and I'm finding out more about the job and the client groups and the processes, the more I realize I don't want anything to do with it. I mean, the job would be enormously difficult for me to do anyway with the sheer logistics of child care, office space and personal availability, but there was something deeper that was making a sense of panic rise up inside me at the thought of going back to doing that sort of work. 

I suddenly realized that I felt like I was trying to scramble back on board The Combine. 

That was such a disorientated feeling. I worked for the federal government from 1999 until 2006 when Abby was born, and went back to work briefly in 2007 before deciding to stay home full-time. I actually quite liked my job back then, even if there were aspects of it I strongly disliked or disagreed with. Discussing in the interview certain theoretical and actual scenarios, and linking those situations back to my previous job, I began to understand the role I played in the entire Combine structure. 

I can't talk too much about my old job, as I am perpetually bound by the terms of my employment to not reveal confidential information. But the kind of work I did - requiring people to fit in certain pigeonholes for the purposes of administering the Income Tax Act, and ensuring my fellow employees were following work instructions to administer the Act - has suddenly left me with an enduring sour taste in my mouth. 

A job with Census would mean much of the same. I would be required to compel people to fit in pigeonholes, under threat of prosecution if they don't. I understand, and agree with, the need for good Census data, or with the need for people to comply with the Income Tax Act to ensure fairness to all.  

Damn it, I agree with good laws and good governance. Why am I having such an issue with this? 

It was reflecting on that question that forced me to ask myself why I believed in good laws and good governance.  Certainly, I've been through The Combine and have been conditioned that we should obey the Government and all laws set out by them. That led me to the uncomfortable conclusion that I follow all laws set out by the government even when I vehemently disagree with some of them. Why did I do that? Why do I do that even when I acknowledge that some of these laws (or in the case of abortion, lack of laws) endangers others?

Well, there I had to stop thinking for a bit. It was disquieting to spend too much time meditating on that. 


Disquieting things, however, have a way of oozing back into your consciousness whether you want them to or not. 

I was, in the end, forced to ask myself if I was being hypocritical. I embrace Catholicism after all, and I choose to pass that belief system to my children. Some people argue, validly I might add, that religion is in itself a system of social control. 
Now, I say that this argument is valid, because from a historical perspective it is. Using Christian Europe as an example, for many generations the Church did provide a social control mechanism by sharing common beliefs, mores, attitudes, culture and laws. These things were done largely for the benefit of our salvation (although there certainly were horrendous exceptions) and the stability of society. The shared culture and beliefs within a society has historically created strong, cohesive groups, such as what existed in the Middle Ages. 

But move forward to the Reformation, and that cohesiveness starts to come unglued. Europe is no longer united under the banner of Catholicism, but starts to fragment. This paves the way for the Enlightenment, which begins the large-scale abandonment of belief in general. 

Or does it? 

The more I pondered this, the more I can't help think that because of the human need for belief and ethnocentricity is literally hardwired into us (see a summary of this experiment where it can actually be turned off by disrupting electrical activity in the brain), we simply replaced one system for another. As humanity has become increasingly mobile and groups mingle more and more, cohesiveness is further lost as thousands of groups interact, each with their own beliefs (or lack of belief), traditions, and customs. 

We no longer have Christianity as a control mechanism in our Western society, so we replaced it with The Combine. Except instead of a system that has our interests at heart (which, in theory, Catholicism does...), we have a system that has fundamentally capitalist interests as it's foundational premise. 

Now, I'm not saying immigrants are bad (they're not), or that everyone should be Catholic (okay, I do think that, but I know that's not realistic), or whatever other weird ideas you've gotten about me at this point (some of which may or may not be true, we'll sort that out later... ha ha ha!), but I'm proffering the above simply as an explanation. The Combine is something I routinely struggle with, as it seems obvious by this post. I have guilt oftentimes too because I do choose to send Abby to school, but precisely because of the social control mechanism it provides. 

So back to Gatto. In his essay/speech "The Psychopathic School", which he presented when he won New York City Teacher of the Year, he gives a description of the grind his students are subjected to in terms of influence from the two primary activities children do: go to school, and watch TV: 

Here is the calculus of time the children I teach must deal with: 
Out of 168 hours each week, my children sleep 56. That leaves them 112 hours a week out of which to fashion a self. 

According to recent reports (1990), children watch 55 hours of television a week. That leaves them 57 hours a week in which to grow up. 

My children attend school 30 hours a week, use about eight hours getting ready for and traveling to and from school, and spend an average of about seven hours a week on homework - a total of 45 hours. During that time they are under constant surveillance. They have no private time or private space and are disciplined if they try to assert individuality in the use of time or space. That leaves them 12 hours a week out of which to create a unique consciousness. Of course my kids eat too, and that takes some time - not much because we've lost the tradition of family dining - but if we allot three hours a week on evening meals we arrive at a net amount of private time of each child of nine hours per week. (Dumbing Us Down, pages 25-26)
That makes my heart ache. Our children have a scant nine hours a week alone with their thoughts. Of course, the above was written in 1990, before social media, smart phones, and the permeation of the Internet into our homes. The most recent statistics I could find stated that the average child spends 6.5 hours per day in front of screens.  Teenaged boys spend the most at eight hours a day, and many children will use multiple screens simultaneously. 

What does that mean?

Sometimes, I think it means we're doomed.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

These Last Days

Sorry I have been ignoring the blog as of late. My health hasn't been good lately, and I went to the doctor to see if he could tell me what was wrong with me. I thought my iron or something was too low, I was overwhelmingly tired all the time. One of the first questions he asked me was if I was depressed. 

No, I said vehemently. I have experienced clinical depression before, and this isn't it. He let the matter drop.

He did, however, plant the seed of doubt. Maybe I was, I thought. I now realize that it isn't my health per se that's failing me, but my mental health. Depression has a funny way to creeping up on you without you realizing it's even in the room. I don't think it's anything specific - just the daily grind wearing me down. Too many years of not enough sleep, too much chronic stress, and physical clutter that causes mental and spiritual clutter. 

So I've embarked on a "get healthy" plan. Getting to bed earlier. Switching up sleeping arrangements a bit to help Christina sleep better too... maybe even through the night! Applying for a temporary job with Census. Moving forward with "organize the closets" project and general ruthless decluttering. Starting taking some supplements that have helped in the past, including 5-HTP and B12. 

I don't want to go on antidepressants if I can help it. I've been down that road, and the side-effects were difficult. I will as a last resort, but only as a last resort. 

These last few days of 2015 I feel like I've accomplished a lot. More than I accomplished the few last months anyhow. I am finding the decluttering especially energizing, and it's keeping me motivated. It's unreal the amount of stuff I can just get rid of - stuff that hasn't seen the light of day in years sometimes - and often it's just outright garbage that I throw away. The kids complained initially, but I think they are starting to see the changes. There's more floor space. Things are put away. They can find what they're looking for. Mom is happier and more energetic. 

So here we are. My New Year's resolution? Not really a resolution, but a determination to continue on this new trajectory. A trajectory that doesn't result in my crashing into the Earth again.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thoughtful/Three Things

It's been a weird week. 

First Thing

We went to Winnipeg last weekend. I went to a Latin Mass. 

I never want to go back to an Ordinary Form Mass again. 

I made some notes about the experience that I want to share:
It was a Low Mass, which is what I expected. They had little missals to borrow, and it wasn't hard at all to follow as it had a clear explanation of what the priest was saying/doing even with little diagrams to make it easy to figure out where we were.

I can't believe the sense of peace I came away with.

The long stretches of contemplative silence while the priest faced the tabernacle, faced God(!) and did what he needed to do. Sometimes I followed the text of what the priest was saying (but I can't hear, it's not for my ears after all!), but sometimes I allowed myself to fall into prayer.

The way you need to pay close attention, as the priest will abruptly turn or speak or do something that requires a response that snaps you back to the moment.

The way we are all equals, there is no showman or readers or dancers or anything else. We all face God, even the priest. He is bridging the gap, not acting as the cork.

The way the Latin responses rolls off you tongue, it reminded me so much of speaking in tongues, me not understanding what is coming from my mouth but knowing God understands and that's what's important. It's not about me.

The cries of babies and little children, and no one seems to mind because they are part of the prayer, of the silence.

The knowing I was connected, for that brief moment, to the Church Triumphant in a way I never have been before. This was their Mass, of countless individuals before me stretching back across time.

So I've been worried all week about what will happen next Sunday when we go back to our regularly scheduled Ordinary Form Mass. Next Sunday is tomorrow. We'll see what happens, I'll keep you updated? 

Second Thing

Remembrance Day was November 11th. 

I felt it very deeply this year. Not many old-timers left. If my grandfathers were still alive, they would have been part of those "old-timers". One grandfather fueled planes for the Air Training Plan here in Canada. The other served overseas and came perilously close to losing his life. 

That leads me to... 

Third Thing


The terror attacks. 


Pope Francis calling this a piecemeal Third World War


A lot has happened this week. Considering how peaceful I felt at the beginning, I am disquieted now. 

Time for another rosary. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


1. an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite. 
2. observance of set forms in public worship.
3. any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.

It's become a weekend ritual of sorts. 

On Saturday, we buy both the Winnipeg Free Press and our local paper, without any hope of reading them that day. But on Sunday... ah, glorious Sunday!  

Once our Mass obligations are taken care of, the children have been fed, and everyone is more or less occupied doing what kids do on a lazy Sunday morning, that's when we pull them out. Armed with a cup of coffee, my husband and I spread out on the kitchen table for an hour or so catching up on the news.

The time is not uninterrupted. There are snotty noses to wipe, diapers that need changing (some more urgent than others), and boo-boos that need kissing during that hour. But in the hectic pace of a household with four busy children, those things are minor. 

We sit in a comfortable, companionable silence that can only be perfected in years of marriage, each engrossed in our respectful sections. My husband will scour the local paper, reading all the interesting tidbits in a small city where odds are you're going to know someone in the paper today (hopefully for good reasons). He also likes the opinion pieces, and has a few that he reads religiously. I tend to scan the obituaries, hoping there's no one I know in it. I realize that it might be somewhat macabre to be doing this, but it's been a habit of mine for as long as I can remember. Rachael will often come request the colour comic section, to which we will happily oblige. She will sometimes join us at the table, and other times she will spread out on the living room floor, reading Baby Blues to her brother.
We will, on occasion, break our silence by reading an interesting tidbit out loud for the other. I'll start in on the puzzles, only to end up ranting and needing my husband to talk me down from either scrunching up the entire page in frustration or purposely jabbing holes through the newsprint with my pencil and/or eraser. LONGFELLOW is my nemesis. And I apparently have a bit a temper when it comes to doing cryptoquotes and crosswords. 

It is the comfort of ritual. How it marks time, people, places, and presence. Rituals become a sort of placeholder in our busy while mundane lives. 

It was Father Patrick Peyton that said, "The family that prays together, stays together." We are terrible at this. By "we", I mean my household. I think it's symptomatic, in part, of my personal frustration at the Church. We did so for many, many years with the kids, especially in the evening. It was ingrained as part of the bedtime ritual. But we struggle with it now.  *I* struggle with it now. 

Why does my family's weekend ritual come so easily, yet our prayer-time ritual is so fraught with inner turmoil

Is it I don't believe? For awhile, I started to suspect that was it. But now I doubt that's it, because I recently took up praying a daily rosary. The veracity of my belief growing out of that simple devotion has increased in a very short time. If there was a glimmer of doubt, I think it has been effectively erased for the time being. 

Is it because I don't think I should transfer my beliefs onto my children, such is the popular notion these days that children should "decide for themselves" what they believe? I can say with certainty that it's not that. I firmly believe that as a parent, I have a duty to transfer my beliefs and values to my children. Indeed, the Church teaches that we are the first and primary teachers of our children

Is it because of my own inner turmoil about the state of the Church, her direction, and her current rituals?

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I think we're on to something. 

About a year ago, I procured the book "The Latin Mass Explained" by Msgr. George Moorman. The book was originally published in 1920 under the title, "The Mass: The Eucharistic Service of the Catholic Church". The blurb at the back of the book promises that 
this easy-to-read book reveals the What, Why and How of the Traditional Latin Mass [...] Many will understand for the very first time the awesome dignity of the Catholic religion and the rich spiritual significance of every element of the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar.
I personally feel this was a bit of an understatement. 

I managed to get to page 23, then I had to put it down. Why? Because I was angry. What he describes is not the same thing that I see every Sunday down at my local parish. 

We often hear, in Catholic circles, of the idea of "hermeneutic of continuity". What does that mean exactly? Well, I'm still sort of vague on that, but it's generally accepted as being the idea that the pre-Conciliar Church and the post-Conciliar Church just kinda... flows. That the Church was the same before Vatican II as it was afterwards, in a fundamental sense. The opposite of hermeneutic of continuity is the "hermeneutic of rupture". 

I'm not sure how anyone can know anything about the Old rite vs. the New rite and say the words "hermeneutic of continuity" with a straight face.  

or that?
Not only has the rituals of the Church changed in a fundamental way, but the meaning behind those rituals have been stripped out. In only 23 pages, it was very clear to me that the language, the actions, the postures, nearly everything about the New Mass either downplays or ignores what was central in the Old.  

So my inner conflict. I have no illusions that the Church was perfect prior to the change - it's not like we should go back to some 1950's time warp where everything was warm and rosy and fuzzy and good. But the discordance is staggering. 

What do I teach my children? Do I teach them the traditional faith, the faith that has sustained us for nearly 2000 years, with the traditional beliefs and practices, only to have them confused when we go to Church?  How do I navigate the difference in attitude and ritual? 

In the end, I don't have an answer, so I end up doing nothing. I shut down. I am doing my children a disservice, I know that, but I don't want them to experience the same gut-wretching conflict that I do. Or maybe they should. This is the reality of the faith. Is it any good to shelter them from it?

Post Script
This post has been difficult to write. Confronting my own doubts and questions and putting them out there has required a great deal of self-reflection. Why do I feel like this? Is this a heart issue or a head issue? Am I being too picky? Am I making things unnecessarily difficult? Or should I be a good Catholic and just carry on?

In the end, I have no answers. My only solution right now is to fumble through the best I can. 

Please pray for us.