Cluster of wheat image Grapes and vines image Cluster of wheat image
April 21st, 2009


Usually when someone sits down at my computer they complain that the mouse is on the left side and that doesn’t work for them. Since I’ve been right-handed from Day One, what’s the scoop? The answer is simple: I’ve changed a habit. About ten years ago when the right side of my neck was annoying me, I thought maybe it was the result of too much right-handed computer use and I tried switching to the left. By now, left-handed clicking has become second-nature. The neck is still annoying but I learned something about habits. Even old dogs can change them.

Later, when troubled by a left hip problem, I thought perhaps it was because I always cross my left leg over my right. So, I switched.   Now I’m comfortable with my legs crossed either way. The hip problem did disappear and I’ve become fascinated by habits.

When I got my Jeep I had a whole batch of old habits that needed to change and I wondered if I was up to it.   Now, three months later, I have a whole batch of new Jeep habits (the old ones still lurk a little but are on their way out). The habit I’ve had to work hardest on was clicking my seat belt in place. On my old Olds it was easy. I could do it without looking. The Jeep was obstinate. It refused to cooperate and I would have to turn and look in order to click. Somehow, it has finally happened – it will usually click into place without my looking. I do not understand what I am doing different. My hands seem to have learned what my brain couldn’t. I am pleased but puzzled.

Habits can be useful – or not. I had never really studied them before. I have developed the habit of taking my morning medication right after I make my bed. It works for me. I squat when picking something up from the floor instead of bending over. I figure it is good for my quads.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and do my parenting over again. I would pay more attention to what my kids are learning from me. I read about a woman who suffered with a husband who always left doors and drawers open. When she finally visited his family, she understood. That was what was done in their home! I notice with pleasure that when grandson Jaime visits, he always takes his glass or plate and leaves it in the kitchen sink. Chalk one up for his mother, Mary!

Habits can work for us or against us. An ingrained undesirable habit can be very difficult to replace but it is worth the effort. I’m a firm believer in (a) the power of practice and (b) the power of prayer. “All things are possible with God.”

Lately I’ve taken to genuflecting in church on my left knee. Why? Because I can. Because for 85 years I’ve done it the other way.  I don’t want to grow up lopsided.


Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. — Proverbs 22:6

March 25th, 2009


Student chess achievers to Obama: ‘Your move’

Students at a Virginia “private” high school have challenged President Obama and White House staff to play chess with them, in a bid to win funding for their continuing education. Teacher Lisa Suhay says chess has transformed 40 underachieving students at Ryan Academy High School (a small private school that is “little more than four walls” and catering for blue-collar families) “from victims into victors — at no cost to the taxpayer or school.”

Her students solicited free chess sets and learning materials from the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and other sources. Hip-Hop Chess — which stresses unity, life strategy, and non-violence in the classroom — is also used successfully by John J O’Connell High School in San Francisco. Ms Suhay , who earns $16,000 a year before tax teaching five subjects at Ryan, writes: “Every one of my students learned to play chess this year. What’s more, they all began to think more clearly and often, and think before they acted. Achievers blossomed and borderline drop-outs are now making the honor roll and are seriously thinking about college and jobs that do not involve fries or result in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons.”

Now, because of the ailing economy, many students face expulsion for not being able to pay their tuition. Others have been accepted to college but have failed to find funding.

“But, thanks to chess, these children have become critical thinkers. Determined, they held a mini ‘war room’ discussion. They decided that their best strategy to get out of this corner, and help others do the same, was to promote awareness, raise money, and to ‘go for the king’.” Hence, the White House challenge. “Last week Rahm Emanuel received a long cardboard tube packed with their essays, letters of request, and one precious possession: a scholastic tournament set with ‘Mr. Prez’ scrawled in Sharpie marker on the underside of a king.”

If it comes off, money raised for the benefit games will go to a new fund for chess scholars — who qualify by winning in an HHCF-sponsored tournament at either school. Ms Suhay sees this daring bid as giving the new White House administration “the opportunity to help create change without an act of Congress”. ~ Yahoo/Christian Science Monitor, Mar 20

December 27th, 2008


My daughter Mary gave me a plaque on Christmas Eve – it looks like the words are engraved on marble.  As I started to write this I thought that it was probably mass-produced in China in a huge plastic molding machine, but when I turned it over it actually says: “PLQ: Light A Candle White Marble.”  So maybe it is marble–there is quite a heft to it.  But it also says “designed in Atlanta made in China.”  Do those Chinese  somehow cut rectangles of marble and somehow engrave them individually?  En masse?  It is a cause for wonder.

Anyhow, it is a very nice plaque and already one of my favorite things.  It reads: It Is Better To Light A Candle Than Curse The Darkness.  When I opened the package and first read the words Mary said, “Remember the curtains?”

“Curtains?”  “What Curtains?”  “Remember what curtains?”  I see no connection between the plaque and  curtains.  Apparently at sometime in the long forgotten past we had white curtains which, according to Mary, had words at the bottom reading “It is better to light a candle” on one side and “Than to curse the darkness” on the other side.  I have no recollection of any such thing.  We had so little money that if we had any curtains in the house at all they were unlikely to have  been purchased at a store other than the Salvation Army Thrift Store.  They must have been kitchen curtains.  Conceivably they were made out of old sheets and I wrote those words there myself.   Who knows?  That sounds like me back then.

The next day I asked son Johnny about the curtains.  He remembers them, too.  They were kitchen curtains, he thinks I made them myself, and he recalls tomatoes on the window sill. Those curtains could have been forty years ago!    When you’re raising seven kids some things get lost in the shuffle but you’d think I would remember something I was so involved in.

The point is:   Mary remembered.   Johnny remembered.  The words registered.  They found them meaningful.  You can never tell when you’re raising a kid what is going to hit home and linger on.

Way back when I was in eighth grade we used to say the Twenty-Third Psalm every morning at school.  That  was permissible in public schools in those days.    I doubt that it was mandated as we learned nothing else religious in the other grades.  Maybe I had a Christian teacher who was allowed to do her thing.  As children, we never questioned. I learned the psalm as almost meaningless rote words.  To this day I can almost say the whole psalm from memory.   As an adult I find it beautiful – and comforting.

The moral is:    Keep filling those kids with good things. They come as empty vessels, blank slates.   Be careful about what goes into those vessels.  Think about what is being written on those slates.  Something is bound to stick and it might as well be something that will serve them well when it surfaces in the future and grabs hold.

This brings to mind the Jesuit maxim, sometimes attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola:  Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man.

It’s better to light just one little candle
Than to stumble in the dark
Better far that you light just one little candle
All you need’s a tiny spark

If we’d all say a prayer that the world would be free
The wonderful dawn on the new day we’ll see
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be.
—Perry Como, 1952


  Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  Luke 2:19