Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

Oh dear.  I resolved to two posts a week this year, and the preceding week was, in a word, harrowing.  Does a Sunday Snippets count?  It will have to.  Though my only OTHER post this week does not overtly consider doctrine or scripture the question of the extent of Love Thy Neighbor (or at least, love thy neighbor's dog) is woven throughout, so I submit it and ask your gentle accomodation.

Thank you to RAnn, our faithful host, and God bless us all this coming week!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kibbles and Nips.

In the crush of political upheaval throughout the world there are many questions that remain to be answered: will Egypt develop a true democracy? Will Libya succeed in overthrowing their repressive regime? Will the royal family of Bahrain acquiesce to the throngs? Will the interests of the US be affected negatively? How will this affect the supply and cost of crude oil?

While I dare not endeavor to diminish the import of these questions or those like them, in the Marciniak household the burning question of the week was far greater and immediate:

How many Marciniaks does it take to walk a dog?

Allow a few moments that I might recount the harrowing tale.

Our dear neighbors two doors down are both teachers; she a talented and lovely music instructor, he a dedicated and steadfast instructor of troubled youth. As it was "winter break" the two were home twiddling their educated thumbs pondering, "what to do…what to do…", when the thought for a two day jaunt to a local indoor water park struck them both as a fine idea (indoor water parks are all the rage up here in the tundra). They packed their children and clothing (separately, of course) in the car and prepared to motor the short distance. There was one final bit of business: arrange care for the dog.

Mr. and Mrs. Teacher and their lovely girls are beloved by the Marciniaks. Mrs. Teacher is an upbeat, friendly sort and has become a favorite. Mr. Teacher is a man of great generosity; he has cleared my driveway of snow with his high-powered Toro machine several times for payment far less than deserved (occasional fresh bagels on a Sunday morning). We felt more than obliged to accept care for their little fluffy dog, "Sparkles". Indeed.

Instructions were simple enough: take the dog out of its crate and walk it outside. Feed it. Let it play for a short time each day. Piece of cake.

NOT.

The first evening: Jacob, honorable son number two, volunteered to be the first victim of fluffy little Sparkle's wrath. He left at 8pm that evening, promising a quick return. Within ten minutes the phone rang, "Send someone to help". The dog is about 8 inches tall and weighs approximately 10 pounds when wet, yet Jacob was vanquished and needed reinforcements. John Paul joined him. Less than fifteen minutes later the phone rang again. Send more help. Tyler and Elizabeth immediately suited up and joined the battle. Nearly four hundred pounds of third-generation hearty Polish stock was now amassed against a ten pound lint ball.

It was no contest.

It was my turn to enlist. I entered the home and found a standoff: the dog, after biting each of my soldiers several times, had managed to escape and was holed up under Mr. and Mrs. Teacher's bed, an enormous affair with massive head and foot boards, and my eldest was trying to coax Sparkles out with a broom. "Give me that", I exclaimed, and vowed to show them "how to handle a dog". I swept the broom in the general direction of the dog, who growled menacingly, with no effect; little did I know that the small dear had already relieved himself of processed kibbles and my broom was doing nothing but spreading the extract on the hardwood floors like peanut butter on toast. Within moments the only capable soldier arrived: Mrs. Marciniak. She did what never occurred to the rest of us: moved the bed and chased the dog back to its cage. We shuffled out feeling a bit sheepish while she cleaned the kibble extract assiduously.

Final analysis of day one: Six Marciniaks: Zero. Sparkles: One.

Day two was similar, with some subtle nuances. Each who approached the cage was nipped; they tried in vain to attach the leash but the lint ball would have nothing of it. Finally, Tyler, resourceful and intelligent (as of late) honorable son number one, discovered a puzzling truth: Sparkles would not nip at feet. Thus began a slow and purposeful ruse: he calmed the dog by petting it through the cage with his sock-covered foot for about fifteen minutes…and when Sparkles was lulled to inattention he changed up and used his hand…no nips. For another fifteen minutes he sat quietly, and when the dog was truly oblivious he quietly snapped on the leash. Success!

Tyler, never one to display patience, rose above himself and saved us all from further defeat and humiliation. He allowed the dog to play, leave extract in appropriate places, and suffered nary a nip.

In the final analysis, there were two casualties: The broom (there was no possible way to clean it) and a pair of NY Mets slippers owned by Mr. Teacher that were the recipient of a canine colon cleansing. Both were left outside against the house as a testimony of the harrowing battle, a sign-post, if you will, as if to say, "Lest We Forget…"

Mr. and Mrs. Teacher have returned, the neighborhood has returned to normal, and the dust has settled. As time passes we will remind one another perennially as we gaze on our two demure and submissive cats to never, never, NEVER underestimate the power of a ten pound lint ball. And if any of them ask for a dog they will be grounded indefinitely.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

A week of weather contrasts:  56 degrees and rain Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 20 degrees and heavy snow today...just when my statuary in the garden thought they might lose their frozen blankets.  This week I mused on my reaction to a debate, with a backdrop of personal suffering.  My Seven Quick Takes included a request for a good Lenten devotional, and I am still open to suggestion! 

God bless the carnies, and God bless our hostess, RAnn.  Have a blessed week!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seven Quick Takes...February 18th, 2011


I purchased the audio recording of Thomas à Kempis’s “Imitation of Christ” and have been falling asleep to it daily…I am holding some credence to the whole idea of playing classical music to a baby in utero and hoping that likewise there is some benefit to sleeping with the words of that classic tome ringing in my subconscious. I have read the book more than once and find great instruction in it, and thought the audio recording would be a nice way to still partake of its wisdom while resting my weary eyes…little did I know the narrator’s voice would lull me to slumber each and every time.


Pray for me to the Lord our God: my wife is leaving for retreat at the Abbey of the Genesee today, not to return ‘til Sunday morning. She has endeavored to wash every bit of clothing we own to make sure no one goes sockless, and has stocked the fridge well. Despite all that the male members of the family will most likely wear the same clothes throughout, and pizza will be a staple, quite surely. I’ll make sure I light some Glade candles come Sunday…

My eldest son has struggled for years at school. His grades have ranged from atrocious to catastrophic. His primary learning disability is medically termed, “Valde Quod Possideo Socors” (Great and Abiding Sloth). Nonetheless, there has been a miraculous transformation…call it maturity, call it ambition, call it abduction by aliens, call it what you will – he has suddenly turned a corner and is amassing A’s and B’s with abandon. I am loath to think that it is fleeting…but I will withhold judgment. In the meantime, I am the guy dancing the “Electric Slide” sans music.

The flu season has struck the ED like a goose on Fabio’s snout, and waiting rooms across the fruited plain are full of men, women and children hacking and sneezing. Luckily, it is fairly mild…at least from our point of view. The victim may feel otherwise. My yearly advice: wash your hands, drink lots of fluid, and avoid kissing anyone covered in mucus. Granted, the whole mucus thing is fairly universal and timeless. Just say no.



One of the best songs I have heard in a while is a little jazz piece by Emilie Claire Barlow entitled, "Haven't We Met" from her CD by the same name. This little French-Canadian has really captured the essence of the Great American Song Book…and added her name to a pantheon of great female "crooners": Billie, Ella, Nancy, Sarah, Rosemary, and so many others. Check her stuff out - and encourage her to venture south of the US/Canadian border as soon as possible!



I am unprepared for Lent and looking for suggestions. I would love a daily devotional of some kind; any ideas?  Something with some writings of saints, perhaps, or daily scriptural references and reflections...if you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.

We've got a new boss in Sabreland: Terry Pegula was approved by the NHL's Board of Governors as the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres. The long-time season ticket holder has pledged the following: "We're going to win the Stanley Cup. Then we'll win it again." In this city of second place, we are getting excited again…the annual Sabres Parties in the Plaza before games have been targeted by many for a name change: LalaPegula. Hopefully this won't follow a typical pattern here in the City of Good Neighbors: Celebrate first, cry later. Go Sabres.


Thanks to Conversion Diary for Hosting!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm just a big dummy.

Yesterday I attended a debate; the topic concerned the possibility of limiting the availability of liver transplants to known alcoholics. The debate centered on a perceived injustice -- that those who were simply victims of circumstance should be given preference over those whose behaviors precipitated disease. Arguments were lively, as you might have guessed, both pro and con. Data was most supportive of no restrictions when long-term viability of the transplant was assessed; alcoholics fared as well as and often even better than the overall transplant sample. Nonetheless, anecdotal testimony of those who died while waiting for transplants created an atmosphere in which data sometimes took a back seat to emotions.

One young female member of the debate panel spoke with particular conviction and acrimony in support of denying liver transplants to alcoholics. She cited the editorial comments of a physician and others in which poor choices and behaviors justified denial of suitability for transplant. She had no hard data, but her certainty of position was compelling, even if morally reprehensible.

A classmate of mine leaned over and whispered, "She obviously doesn’t know anyone suffering alcoholism." How could she? She looked like a child, no more than nineteen. Of course, I have no idea how old she is, or if anyone in her life has been touched by alcoholism…but I considered that her convictions revealed a certain immaturity.

I remember a time when I knew everything…

When I was a younger man I was, quite frankly, brilliant. I had in my possession the means to live a model life: my children would be perfect, my career would be one stellar success after another, my relationship with my spouse would mimic the holiness of Francis and Claire, and my faith was a rock of certainty and strength. As I cast a critical eye at my elders I could easily point out the errors that led to their present suffering and difficulties… the health decisions that precipitated obesity, hypertension, cancers and heart ailments; the laxity in their parenting skills that opened the door to alcoholism, drugs, pregnancy and conflict; the self-centered behaviors that bred marital strife and divorce; the lack of perseverance and faith that left room for despair and godless behaviors.

I held a quiet complacency that my life would be so very different, so much better, devoid of the suffering around me.

Sigh.

I have discovered that no one, not even the smartest man in the world, can avoid suffering. It is here, omnipresent, indifferent to intelligence, sincerity or faithfulness. Now the focus changes; I no longer hope to avoid suffering. I now must learn to use it to grow in grace. My character is defined by my response. Easily said; tough in application.  I write this in a moment of test and ask your prayers.
Do not reprove me in your anger, LORD, nor punish me in your wrath.
Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are trembling.

In utter terror is my soul-- and you, LORD, how long...?

Turn, LORD, save my life; in your mercy rescue me.
For who among the dead remembers you? Who praises you in Sheol?
I am wearied with sighing; all night long tears drench my bed; my couch is soaked with weeping.
My eyes are dimmed with sorrow, worn out because of all my foes.

Away from me, all who do evil! The LORD has heard my weeping.
The LORD has heard my prayer; the LORD takes up my plea.
My foes will be terrified and disgraced; all will fall back in sudden shame.
Psalm 6

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Suffering in Silence

A slight moderation of temperature (thirty instead of ten degrees) allowed opportunity to survey the ranch and gauge the effect of winter's grasp. I am not a fan of winter, let me be clear; you will not find me schussing with the Schussmeisters down the ski hills of Western New York, nor skating with the die-hards in Fountain Plaza downtown.  I would much rather spend a Saturday evening sipping a bit of Scotch before a roaring fire while reading a good book...or a blog or two.

Nonetheless, the religious statuary scattered across the vast acreage comprising Marciniak Estates do not share the warmth of hearth and home...they silently suffer the winter months as sentinels of strength and witnesses to perseverence.  Join me in a pictorial essay illustrating their endurance.


St. Francis of Assisi
Patron of my shade garden
St. Francis is up to his mid-section...and in his misery
looks strangely like Jack Klugman.  Not sure who the sculpter was, but
I've always imagined Francis to look a bit happier. 


The Blessed Mother
Our Lady of the Back Yard
This statue came in donation to the Mission and found a
home in the flowers along the garage...she arrived sans hands,
but doesn't seem to mind. 


The Sacred Heart of Jesus
To whom our family is consecrated...
Dressing in layers helps.


The Blessed Mother
Our Lady of the Front Garden
I feel compelled to dig her out.
From a different perspective:


The cold grip of winter has enveloped us in a blanket of white...and no more evident than among our garden statuary.  They suffer, but in silence.  And I am quite certain they would frown on any mention of a groundhog.




Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

The snow continues to fly here in Buffalo, and I am dreaming of sunny gardens and walks in the evening...but until that time comes I'll continue to shovel the infernal flakes.  Between storms, homework, the job, breathing and other such drivel I managed to post a personal theory on the health of children.  Additionally, I indulged in a bit of personal horn-tooting in a post linking to a story about my family and I.

A blessed St. Valentine's day to all, most especially our lovely hostess.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Your Nose is Running. Don't Freak Out.

It sounds like a TB ward around here.

The inevitable march of viral marauders has begun in earnest here at the Marciniak home. Jacob was the first victim, a hacking mess of mucus destined to infect us all despite repeated commands to cover his sputum-laced respiratory explosions and wash his contaminated mitts. We lulled ourselves into a sense of false security, thinking the fifteen year-old would comply, we would be spared…to no avail.

The next victim sealed our doom: the five year-old. There is no force on this planet that can hold back the mucus of a five year-old. Steel-plated tissues laced with anti-bacterial sprinklers are useless. Triple-paned glass enclosures will not halt the advance. It was at this point this medical professional lost all hope.

This morning the seven year-old is hacking like an emphysematic cigar smoker in a Swinomish Smoke House.

Despite the dramatic explanation of the latest affliction on Sterling Avenue, this is not a frequent occurrence in the Marciniak household; there is an occasional cough here and there, a sniffle, perhaps a bit of stomach rumbling (most likely from something Frito-Lay made rather than a passing virus, in my opinion). For the most part we are a healthy bunch, and not necessarily because we wash our hands meticulously and spray Lysol liberally, because we don't do either with any success or regularity. The children spend a fair amount of time outside doing what kids do, primarily playing in dirt and/or snow, seasonally. They are exposed to viruses and bacteria at every turn. And yet, despite all that, illness is an infrequent guest.

There are colleagues and friends, on the other hand, who seem to lament sick children on a regular basis…colds, diarrhea, coughs, fevers, infections and vomiting. I am amazed at the frequency of ER visits among other parents and their broods at our local children's hospital. For me, if your limb is not bent in an ungodly position and you are able to breath, nod and wave, you're good. I have nursing colleagues who visit the ER with healthy kids on nearly a monthly basis. Why? Am I simply blessed? Is there something I am doing differently? After some thought, I believe there is.

That "something"? Nothing. Let me explain.

Modern parents are terrified of germs and illness. Every cleaning solution, hand and body soap and household spray is antibacterial. Schools wipe down desks, post hand-sanitizing dispensers every three feet, and mop with germicidal solutions. Every illness, cough and sniffle is treated with varying regimens of antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines. Children are kept indoors year-round, and heaven forbid they get into dirt. The gathering of friends from house to house, on baseball fields and parks, in sand boxes, on mounds of dirt, in frog ponds and streams are, sadly, a thing of the past among so many. We have limited the exposure to pathogens so effectively that we have, in my opinion, completely exposed our children by stifling their immune system. And worse yet, we are creating super-bugs.

The immune system works primarily by creating antibodies against invaders AFTER exposure to them. If we are never exposed, this important function of protection never occurs. Conversely, when we bombard every cough, sneeze and sniffle with antibiotics, we encourage our little microbes to develop mutations resistant to pharmaceutical intervention. In essence, we treat ourselves out of treatment.

In ER's, clinics and medical offices all over the nation children are presenting with illnesses previously rare and unseen. Multiple lesions and boils of the skin, pertussis, pneumonia, allergies and asthma, cellulitis; all these and more, even with the proliferation of antibiotics and antibacterial products, are skyrocketing in frequency.

My advice is simple. Let kids be kids. Let them get dirty playing Barbie's and Hot Wheels in the garden soil. Let them play football in the mud at the field down the street. Let them hang with friends and run in the sun. Let them explore the world one rock, one frog, one worm, one playground at a time. In each and every one of these encounters they're exposed to pathogens in small, mostly benign ways -- giving their bodies time to build up a card catalog of antibodies. Let their bodies do what God intended when he designed them. It has worked for multiple millennia.

Here on Sterling we'll suffer through this latest round of coughs and sniffles, and we'll have a new set of antibodies to protect us when we're through. God willing, nary an ER visit will occur, and the doctor's phone will not ring from a call here. The snow is still flying, and I'll wager a few of the healthy ones will be playing hockey in the driveway later this afternoon. Through it all, I praise the God who made us with the words of Psalm 139:

O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.


Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too.
If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light" --
Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.


You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fathers For Good

Here's a link to Fathers For Good, a wonderful resource for dads; check out the heading, "Newsworthy Dads"...you might know that guy.  Thanks to Brian Caufield and the staff for making a silk purse out of this old sow's ear.  The black scrubs are definitely slimming. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

The new semester has started in earnest, and the time I have devoted to the blog suffered this week...even bringing to naught my resolution for two posts a week; oh bother.

Nonetheless, I did squeak out a post musing my inevitable march to the finish line...a bit morbid, I suppose, but you know the whole death and taxes thing. 

I have a little time before the game today to spend reading the posts of my fellow carnies and look forward to the prospect.  God bless the hostess, RAnn, and GO PACKERS!

Zumba?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
2 Timothy 4:1-8
I have been thinking of my death.

No, I have no immediate plans, and hope to delay the inevitable for at least a bit more, but the idea of it looms larger with each passing year. With that comes some understandable "rearranging"…well, understandable to me, I suppose; but not nearly enough.

The world has advice for those aging: lose weight, change the diet, increase activity, color the grays, moisturize the wrinkles, and for heaven's sake, get into a Zumba class. If a part fails you, replace it with titanium, and for the love of Pete, take your pills. In the same breath we are reminded to plan our funerals lest our loved ones be burdened with the task of interning us six feet under. We are encouraged to make all the arrangements, and for all practical purposes, stand next to the hole for the final years so when we do keel over we fall right in. Perhaps we should change the Corporal Works of Mercy by removing "bury the dead" and adding "bury yourself so the living don't have to be bothered".

Enough cynicism. Sorry.

As I consider 2nd Timothy Chapter 4 I am convinced that many among us are gripped with insatiable curiosity, even among the faithful. The occult, the continued splintering of Protestantism into "The Church of What's Happenin' Now", itinerant preachers and self-help gurus with the latest answers, and seemingly intelligent people waiting for the "Mother Ship" --all these and more go without saying. But what of those among the Catholic faithful who claim to have new revelation, new words delivered directly from Christ, or the Blessed Mother, or the saints? What of images in tree bark and on grilled cheese sandwiches? What of those who predict "World Domination" and micro-chip injections and World Bank conspiracies? Many assertions and fascinations among the faithful are better suited to the cover of the National Enquirer rather than among believers.  We have grown fat on the curiosities of the world. 

St. Paul tells Timothy (and us), in the face of such inconsistencies, "be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry." He did not speak thus as an observer but an active participant in the struggle to remain faithful and to fulfill his ministry. He was well aware that his time was short, and spoke of the race he had run with a nostalgic flair, comparing it to a race with a finish line in view. My meditation this morning is on his certainty, his absolute trust in the promise of Christ. He anticipated the "crown of righteousness" with conviction. Despite all the silliness of the world, the lack of consistency in belief among the faithful, the twisting of his own teaching and that of Jesus, he was firm in his belief that he had done what he could and his reward awaited him.

Many years ago in my twenties I attended a retreat in which I was considerably younger that most attendees. The focus, as the retreat developed, was primarily on the changes in the faith lives of those aging and getting closer to completing the race. At the time, I felt the entire event was a bit tiresome. After all, I was young -- I had my whole life ahead of me! I recall the elderly priest saying, "I am at a point when I am asking what to do in my faith life when all the things I hung my hat on no longer fill me with contentment and peace." I felt sorry for the old fellow, and for the men listening who slowly nodded in agreement. Yet even now I consider the words he spoke: "As I near the finish line I still can't see it clearly, and it worries me." Indeed.

He was a good and faithful priest. He served well and discharged his duties with vigor. He loved the Church and gave his life to building the Body of Christ; yet on that retreat he revealed his weakness: trust…or lack thereof.

I find myself in a similar position as I grow in age and wisdom (well, definitely the former; the latter is arguable) before man and God. I want desperately to share the trust in Christ's promise so certain in the heart and mind of St. Paul. I want so desperately to run a good race, be self-possessed, put up with hardship, perform the work of an evangelist and fulfill my ministry (apostolate, more appropriately in my case); but in the words of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof", "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan"…just to get a glimpse, ever so brief, of the finish line?

I suppose so. Otherwise what is the value of trust?

St. Paul, pray for me. Intercede that grace may lead me to trust, to faithfulness and conviction that the promise you have seen come to fruition may fill my heart with longing for the crown of righteousness. I, too, have grown fat on the enticements and temptations of the world and long for a simple faith.  St. Paul, pray that I run a good race, despite my weakness. 

Weakness indeed…maybe Zumba's not such a bad idea.