Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Howell Round Up ~ My Tattoo, CF Meds, and Goats

CF has been pretty quiet lately.

Fairy hair
We have a good groove going with Addie's care. She doesn't mind breathing in her nebulized pulmozyme, probably because we put in DVDs (Her current favorite is the new live-action Cinderella and I already ordered her that dreamy blue ball gown for Christmas) and I often paint her nails. I clap her directly afterwards and she is then ready to eat, which she now does pretty well. Evening clapping usually puts her to sleep up on my big bed.

Now that the drug study is completed, Rees has commercial Orkambi covered for a few more months. We'll see how badly the state balks come January when they have to pay, as the Marketplace spit him out of the system due to his change from full time work to part time. He finally loves his college program and takes a mix of on-campus and online classes.

Did I put "tattoo" in the title? Oh, I did. This June was our 25th anniversary and we had an Anchorage getaway ~ four whole days in the city. We stayed at the handsome Hotel Captain Cook. We strolled the coastal trail each morning, window shopped, walked to fine restaurants, went swimming . . . and got inked. I cried. Not because it hurt (It didn't) but because Ken got one for me. Four years in the Navy; no tattoo. Four years in the Marine Corps; no tattoo. Two black belts; no tattoo. His wife begs Pleaseplease can we get our names on each other for this fantastic anniversary??? and he does it. I am so spoiled. Twenty-five more!

And our hobby farm is fine. Clare has named it Lucky Duck Farm, as a nod to a phrase I remember exclaiming in childhood and to the single duck lucky enough to escape a marauding owl that took his four siblings last year. She has also decided that only Nigerian Dwarf goats will do for us. They are more docile than Nubians and short enough not to be able to jump our fencing. The cute couple is a lady named Happy and a gentleman named Thor. We are expecting babies in February.

I remember having pen pals as a kid and writing to Ken when he was deployed (Two different time frames of course.), keeping a letter going for days, scribbling "OK, now it's after work..." or "Back from the store..." Well, I'm going to hit publish or I'll never get this up.

Happy Thanksgiving friends!
Love, Allison

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jane Eyre and Real Virtue

Ian looks like a mayor.
Addie wanted everything.
Clare and I just finished up another Valley Performing Arts play ~ Jane Eyre. We already miss the shows and the cast and crew. It truly is a community affair. One of the sweet parts of each VPA show is the themed, interactive lobby exhibit. Last year's Velveteen Rabbit had a Christmas tree with Santa giving away candy canes and posing for pictures. Jane Eyre's crew came up with a people-sized picture frame and black velvet background with a rack full of vintage clothing for patrons to don and snap photos in.

It was wonderful to read the book again after many years and I am so proud to contribute to putting the story on stage. My friend wrote a piece on Jane Eyre over the summer and I wrote for our Frontiersman last month. I've copied mine here in full, as clicking on the newspaper link results in annoying, required survey questions.

Jane Eyre and Real Virtue

"Reader, I married him."

One of the most famous lines in literature, this sentence begins the final chapter of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It is a story of a girl turned lady, a girl who learned through sadness and loss to better herself and to become a lady who held tightly to God's laws of charity and chastity, a girl whose life began unwanted and unloved and ended with knowing "what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth...supremely blest beyond what language can express because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine."

What is it about Jane? Why are we drawn to her story? Why are readers, so pleasantly addressed as such by Miss Bronte, gladdened to see her move from unforgiveness to forgiveness of her Aunt Reed; to see her stand up for Christian morality with her master; to see her call upon Providence in her deepest sorrow, to see happiness and contentment finally visit her, all the while retaining her vibrant personality and quick wit? Why does relationship with Jane change and soften Mr. Rochester until he did "begin to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker...to pray."?


It's not a word you hear much anymore. From the Latin word virtus, it means, "Habit superadded to a faculty of the soul, disposing it to elicit with readiness, acts conformable to our rational nature." Or, as Saint Augustine thankfully explained more succinctly, "Virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature."

The Church charts virtue into two groups: moral and theological. The moral virtues are prudence (reasoning to discern the good), justice (man regulating himself in relation to others), temperance (restraining concupiscence), and fortitude (moral strength to do what right reason requires). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about these, "The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love (#1804).

The theological virtues are infused; that is, gifts from God. They are faith (intellect perfected by Divine light), hope (confidence in Divine assistance to life everlasting), and charity (love of God and neighbor). According to our catechism, "The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They have the one and triune God for their origin, motive, and object (#1813).

Jane saw virtue in her Lowood School friend Helen Burns who, when questioned by Jane about vengeance, answered with, "I so sincerely forgive the first [criminal] while I abhor the last [crime]: with this creed [from the Creator] revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low; I live in calm, looking to the end. Why should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress when life is so soon over and death is so certain an entrance to happiness -- to glory? God is my father; God is my friend; I love him; I believe he loves me." Indeed, Helen's life was over too soon. Her gravestone was marked with her precious name and the word, Resurgam -- I shall rise again. Her influence lived on in Jane, though, and made the world a little better.

She also saw virtue in her teacher and friend Miss Temple, who, as well as teaching Jane the liberal
As Miss Temple and Diana Rivers.
arts of language, literature, French, drawing, and mathematics, took every opportunity to smile, to give, to embrace, to listen, and to show a tear. Jane said, "I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits: more harmonious thoughts. What seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind." Jane carried this virtue, both from God and practiced in life, with her to Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester.

Her virtue attracted Mr. Rochester: "The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me." He delighted in Jane's true, easy, and excellent conversation free of coquetry and shallowness. Their interactions leading to true love are delightful to read. And often funny.

"Tell me now, fairy as you are, can't you give me a charm or a philter or something of that sort to make me a handsome man?"
" 'It would be past the power of magic, Sir'; and in thought I added, 'a loving eye is all the charm needed; to such you are handsome enough; or rather, your sternness has a power beyond beauty'."

When the existence of a secret, lunatic wife was exposed and their wedding called off, a desperate Mr. Rochester begs Jane to move with him to France and live together, for no one would know or care. To which Jane replied, "I care! I will keep the laws given by God; sanctioned by man. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour, stringent are they, inviolate they shall be. They have a worth; there I plant my foot. I will not be yours." Her answer to her love's anguish was to "Do as I do; trust in God and yourself. Believe in heave. Hope to meet again there. I advise you to live sinless and to die tranquil."



Our cast. Our friends.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

I Lived

Several people have forwarded this video to me over the past few months but I never watched it, afraid of sadness or sappiness. But I'm working on an article for the Frontiersman about Respecting Life and thought there might be something I could use so I watched it.

It's perfect.

And it's true for everybody ~ "When the sun goes down through the joy and pain, until my moment comes I'll say, I lived."

Yes we will. Life is still good.
Love, Allison

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bears, Boys, and Fathers

Yesterday Ken shot a bear alongside our 8 year old son. Luke helped to field dress the thing; without, he reported gravely, throwing up or even feeling weird in his stomach. I did not think he was strong enough to partake in this formidable day, climbing up a mountain, trudging through tundra, scrambling over shale fields, and hiding from bears and wolves, only to turn around and return along the same path. But Ken thought he could do it, having just taken the boy on a three-day backcountry hike deep in Denali National Park. He does this every year around Labor Day, taking a different child each year. The kid is usually nine years old, but Luke won't be nine until November. To top off that error in judgment (according to the other children), he is very thin and doesn't like to eat much more than packaged breakfast food like pop tarts or frozen waffles. Almost every night, he opts to make his own PB&J rather than eat the real meal. But off they went. And home they came. With a butchered bear in the trunk. Ken was right.

Comfortably cuddled on the couch with me in the late afternoon, mug of hot chocolate in hand, he relayed all the day's adventures and I realized once again that this boy-child of mine is growing into a man. Aside from the obvious lessons on survival hiking, reading nature, animal tracking, bear behavior, and field dressing that Alaska is so generous to share, he learned deep in his knower that although it was very hard, he lived. He will stand a little taller, just like his brothers before him and within him is forged a stronger hinge between body and mind, welded by arduous, thrilling experiences and a strong, loving father who both prods and walks with his children. Luke will be fine.

The following pictures are from the Denali trip 2 weeks ago:

Checking in at the ranger station before heading out.

Somewhere in the tundra heading toward Cathedral Mountain.

Cool fossil by the Teklanika River.

After 3 days, he completed an activity book and received a Junior Ranger pin.

Here's to more adventures and meat. And more years of kids hunting so that I won't have to field dress anything for a long, long time!

Love, Allison

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Good Shelter Work

(This was printed by our Frontiersman yesterday. I'm particularly fond of this one.)

I acted the devil’s advocate. “So here we are, driving to the animal shelter to volunteer when people are hungry. Shouldn’t we be helping at the Food Bank?” I grinned so she knew I was playing a bit. She pursed her sassy, thirteen-year-old lips and dodged. “Well, you can go there with one of the boys (She has five brothers.); I want to walk the dogs and help people find their perfect pets.” Fair enough. We marched in and donned our aprons and name tags.

My daughter and I volunteered for the first time a few weeks ago at the Mat Su Animal Shelter. I am not allowed to call it the pound.  We exercised and goofed off with three dogs, tested to see if they knew any commands, cleaned up after them, wrote down our observations in the special notebook, and stacked some dishes. Then, joy of joys, we assisted a couple with the adoption of one of the dogs we’d taken out that very morning. My girl was able to explain just what she’d done, how the dog responded, and because she reads so much about dogs, to describe what she knew of the breeds that made up the adorable mutt. The world seemed a little sweeter on the drive home and our conversation was as cheerful as any I have ever known. I was sorry I had dragged my feet in scheduling time there. It was a good day.

And I am not a dog person. I deal with the three dogs we have at home because my husband and this daughter of ours love them. But I have learned to see the goodness that pets bring to lives; both in terms of practical responsibilities that parents relish in child raising, and in terms of existential connections that humans cherish in creation.  I cannot yell at our dogs because one of them gets nervous and tinkles on the floor. See? Good for home life, too. I was surprised at the peaceful delight in my soul after our hours there. I felt close to my daughter, my community, and my Lord. Of course, it helped that the the staff (and dogs!) were friendly and appreciative and that we were able to actually aid an adoption our first day. It affected me deeply.

Stimulated by our excellent conversation and experience at the shelter, I pored through our catechism for support and theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and ... to know what the Catholic Church believes” (from the introduction). I found several paragraphs to share with my daughter.

“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Man’s dominion over living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.
Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assissi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals (# 2415-16).”

(My daughter hustled off to look up Philip Neri, whom she had never heard of.)

“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another... Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him... (#2427).

My daughter’s work with these animals and the people who happily bring them home is good.  She is helping to raise the quality of life for her neighbors and respecting the integrity of creation by actively aiding these dogs kindly and gently and connecting people with prospective pets. She is using her gifts and talents in all her human dignity.  God is pleased with her work and I am honored to toil beside her in our town. It doesn’t have to be either/or; it can be both/and. We volunteer away some of our food and we volunteer away some of our time at the shelter. People are blessed. The world is a little better. God is glorified and creation is respected.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:36-40, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We do love God and His love moves us to action. By volunteering at the animal shelter, we are putting love of neighbor back into our community. I am actually looking forward to our next morning there.

Love, Allison

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lessons from the Mud Run

We did the ACMHS Mud Run a few weeks ago according to our new family status ~ without Rees and John (Still having a hard time with that.). Ken ran the kids' 2K with Ian, Luke, and Joseph, then the adult 5K with Clare.

I just walked around with Addie and plied her with hot dogs and water cups, which were probably for the runners but she's cute so the grilling guys gave her whatever she asked for.

I witnessed an incident that had a profound effect on me. I've written before that homeless people scare me: I'm wary of their looks, their smell, their stories, their choices, their mental health. I'm certain one will grab me or ask me for something or breathe on me. I avert my eyes and hope they will just get a job, take a shower, or buy an apple for goodness' sake. Well, I got Addie a drink, popped her up on some sort of cement table, and noticed two homeless men lounging at the other end with hot dogs. Indignation welled up. They are not part of this; they just drifted over because they smelled the grill. I busied myself getting out her enzymes when one of them spoke to me (Oh no). "Pretty soon, you won't be able to lift her so easily," he grinned, proudly exposing his blackened teeth. I tried very hard to focus on his eyes through the grime and didn't notice any leering creepiness, so I took a breath and answered, "Yeah, I hate to think of that." He bobbed his head and poked his friend in the arm while the two of them cackled cheerfully. I moved the two of us away, pretending that I wanted my own cup of water.

Then, one of ACMHS staff, a lady I recognized from the company picnic but couldn't remember her name, approached the men and I heard her say, "You guys enjoying the day? How're you doing? We're raising money for supplies for our community mental health." They chatted some more (which I couldn't completely hear because remember, I'd moved away) and she meandered off to mingle with others. She did not shoo the men away or confiscate their hot dogs. The exchange was pleasant. I sniffed.

Then of course it hit me that I was being a jerk. Again. There was no need for rudeness. Look what I have. Mercy. Kindness. Food. Drink. Family. Love. Humanity. They deserve it, too.

I wish I could have gone back and asked that man if he had children, if he was enjoying the nice weather and tasty lunch. I wish I was as cool and friendly as Ken's coworker. Next time.

Love, Allison

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Death Sentence

Along with I don't care if it's a boy or girl as long as it's healthy, I've come across another sentence that raises my eyebrows and deflates my heart. Here's how I discovered it.

There's a writer that I like. I mean, like so much that I look for her articles and gobbled up her memoir in a single weekend. I was stuck in a medical clinic waiting room a few weeks ago with a son who had a spider bite gone very wrong (He's fine now, after antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and anti-something I can't remember now.) and flipping through a ladies' magazine. My writer's name caught my eye and I was pleased to settle in with her article about the international adoption of one of her daughters.

About how she and her husband fell in love with the toddler's video: her sweet face, shy smile, little twirls, and halting English, "Will you be my parents?" About how the paperwork process moved quickly. About how her husband got Serious and said: She can't have any health problems. About how my writer scurried to the computer to fire off a breathless question to the orphanage. About how the answer of perfection brought on a sigh of happiness. They would rescue this darling because she  had no health problems.

My heart started to pound and I felt dizzy and clenched my teeth but I completed the article. What if the orphanage director had told them this beautiful child that they "loved" had cystic fibrosis? She'd still be there, of course. They wouldn't bring her home and give her enzymes or hook up her nebulizer with a Little Bear DVD. They wouldn't buy her potato chips and peanut butter cups to help her gain weight and laugh about how great it was to have such a good excuse for keeping chips and candy in the house. They wouldn't hang out with her in the hospital for IV times, doing puzzles, watching movies, or good-naturedly harrassing nurses. Do orphaned kids with CF in former Eastern Bloc nations even have pulmonary care?

I know, I know, if we could order a child up like a burger on a menu (or pick through embryos like picking through trail mix for the candy), we would choose perfection (Which is a joke; we are all perfect in some things and flawed somewhere else). But she actually wrote it down and had it printed with her own name: She can't have any health problems, and the unwritten but necessary conclusion: Or we'll leave her there and pick someone else even though we said we loved her.

I've been fussed at over the internet for being too cheerful about cystic fibrosis. And it's true. I want to combat this culture of perfect humanity or nothing at all. But yes of course it's hard. Yes of course I cry. Yes of course I don't want to consider the death of my children. But neither did my friend who lost her healthy son at 17 from a car accident. Neither did the mother of a healthy toddler who drowned down the road from me. Neither does any mother. It's not just CF, it's life, even when you adopt a healthy orphan. I hate to think of children with CF languishing in orphanages. I'm sick to think of babies killed in utero over those genes. It's like saying my kids aren't worth life and loving. I wish my writer had brought home whatever child reached out to them when they decided to adopt.

 I want to fire off a letter to "instruct the ignorant" writer but it won't do any good at this point; after all, the child is now a mother herself. I will teach my own children, though, and try my hardest to live at peace with all (Romans 12:18).

Clearly, I haven't yet formulated an excellent answer. I haven't yet made peace with my messy feelings. There is still an air of melancholy hanging over my head.

But (!), now I am heading outside to set up the sprinkler and a picnic in the sun to play with my kids (with and without CF). My adult son (who happens to have CF) will probably bring me my favorite Kickstart drink when he gets home from work because he's nice. They were not left in an orphanage. And the world is a better place.

I hope my writer can learn this someday.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Ken took Thursday, July 2nd off from work and we packed up the truck to head out to a favorite, secret place over Hatcher Pass to camp. It was my 46th birthday.

He made the tents from Tyvek, with hiking poles as the center. Great for backpacking. No floor makes it easier with dirty boots. And yes, the first day, the mist was that low. We basically camped in the clouds. But Friday morning dawned bright.

Ian and Luke, looking out over the trail.

Mama needed a rest.

 Clare found that cobalt glass bottle at the entrance of an abandoned mine shaft and carried it all the way. It's currently soaking in bleach water.

One of several mine shafts. Ian was angry that we wouldn't allow him to explore inside, even though he had a flashlight, good boots, and wasn't afraid.

We have snow at least 6 months out of the year and a perfect day of July sunshine, but when we discovered a snow field, they screamed, "SNOW!" . . .
. . . and played like penguins.

It was a marvelous trip and I wished we'd brought extra food to stay another night. Next time.

Love, Allison

P.S. ~ It seems that we've entered some family Twilight Zone, wherein, "the whole family is going" now means, "the whole family is going EXCEPT REES AND JOHN." I understand they're old and have jobs and friends but I missed them very much.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Laudato Si with My Children

(This was printed by our Frontiersman paper today also.) 

 I have read portions of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, mi Signore (Praise be to you, my Lord; known simply as Laudato Si) to the younger children and have sent the Vatican link to our older boys, telling them to read it themselves, both to learn and to be ready to converse about its contents. Encyclical, from the Greek word for circle, is a letter from the pope to be sent around to the bishops to encourage and educate the faithful. This day, anyone is able to access it immediately and send the links around without waiting for our bishops to translate and teach. I love that the web address includes the words, “Papa Francesco.” My Papa Francis.

Currently, we are halfway through. It begins.

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her...The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life...We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

This reminded the kids of the Noah story from their picture Bibles and the older Howells of the intense visual destruction of both earth and humanity from last year’s Noah movie as well. We wondered how the Creator could watch.

We continued.

“Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise... Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”

One of the children remarked, “Sounds just like Wall-E,” Pixar’s 2008 animated film where humans had completely lost touch with nature -- both their own human nature and anything green. I love that Pope Francis uses, “nature” (such an alive-sounding word) alongside, “environment” (a necessary scientific word).

And then a wincing grimace as I scrolled along.

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously...True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

May I live wisely, think deeply, and love generously. May I actively reach for real relationships and  challenges. May I use today’s media to share and communicate but never to shield myself from direct contact with others. May I teach this well to my children.

He sheds light on the reason for the destruction of our souls and our planet.

 “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast... It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

I reminded the kids of our final blessing after Mass, which is an encounter with Jesus. “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

The Catholic faith is a sacramental one; that is, God’s supernatural graces are given by natural materials. Just as Jesus used the stuff of the earth (oil, water, dirt, bread, wine) for miracles, so do our sacraments, says Papa Francis.

“The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.

It was a good reminder for all of us, that church is not simply where we go to sing songs and hear preaching.

He gives easy, practical advice.

“I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom [thanking God before and after meals]. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.”
“Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”

I can start this immediately. So can my children. So can anyone.

I’ve been in the mind of a theologian, a scientist, a pastor, an environmentalist, and a lover of Jesus and people. I can’t wait to learn and love more. Praise be to you, my Lord!

Love, Allison

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Mom's Hour

My routine has been the same for years: babies, toddlers, teenagers, homeschool, homemaking. Rinse and repeat. With seven children, there’s always someone, or several, in all those age brackets. Two kids have cystic fibrosis, so there are extra health chores daily and two-week hospitalizations occasionally that add to the mix. I have always been honored to be known as my husband’s wife and my children’s mother; it is not a loss of my identity but a flowering of it. So when feelings of discontent began whispering to me in my forty-fifth year, I was shaken and embarrassed. I wondered if I should get a job, complete a degree, or send the kids off to school. Am I boring? Am I useless? Am I fulfilled? I made a list of the pros and cons for each possibility and could not live with any of the cons. How to transform myself?

I spent a morning alone at a local cafe to relax and think, with an attractive, expensive cup of coffee and a delicious, tiny slice of biscotti. I decided to take baby
steps; or more accurately, one baby step: in the middle of the day, every single Howell at home was going to be silent for one hour. The small ones could rest and the older ones could read or draw. Separately was the key. I told them they were going to be alone with themselves. I promised myself not to clean or cook or help with lessons, but to simply be with me. I would use that hour to nap, read a book, learn to crochet, write a letter, or relearn how to play the piano -- something to stretch my mind and heart.

I'm pretty sure I see a positive boon for myself and our entire household order. It is both exciting and grounding. My next plan is to sign up for one college class online. We are getting used to Mom’s Hour and I am confident that some of those hours will be perfect for working through an anthropology or literature course.

I did not have to give up or reinvent what defines me --my home and family-- in order to fulfill something new welling up within me. A bit of balance is coming with one baby step, one hour, one day at a time. I look forward to my next year, one Mom’s Hour at a time.

Now to start filling out forms ...
Love, Allison


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review by Clare

(Copied and pasted from her blog by her pleased-as-punch mother!)

Book Review: ARAM
Cover for ARAM 2013This is a book review on ARAM, the first in the Deliverance trilogy.
This post is mainly what I thought of the book, not what it's about. If you want to know more on what it's about, Here is a good synopsis on the story.

ARAM was written by a Catholic, and has a Catholic writers' seal of approval or something like that inside the front cover, but I don't think it's exclusively Catholic so most Christians should also enjoy it. I also noticed some Pro-Life themes, which may or may not be considered a good thing for readers (it's considered awesome for us!). Age range is probably 10 and up, but parents should know what their kid is like. Ian (little brother) is eleven, but he is really sensitive and didn't like all the war, fighting, and scariness.
On the subject of that, the book can be violent. Bad guys are constantly attacking the good guys, and there's evil spirits and demons throughout (all seen in a bad light, though!). Many beloved characters die, often in horrible ways (Ian stopped reading after his favorite good guy was stabbed while asking
for peace).
But it's more than just killing and death. As I said before, it's written by a Catholic, so there's God, but thankfully it wasn't too preachy (I can't abide books like that). Here's an excerpt from the writer's website about ARAM:
Imagine hours of entertaining reading which helps you to experience life from a new
perspective, enhances your understanding of spiritual realities, and takes you
on an epic journey with characters who face terrifying fears, overcome
incredible temptations and are inspired to grow into better people delving into
life more profoundly.

One thing I would change with the series though, is a different editor, because there's some spelling and grammatical mistakes in it, but please don't let that deter you from reading it, because ARAM is awesome! Only . . . my favorite character turns into a nutcase by the end >:(
Ah, well.
I've already finished the second book (Ishtar's redemption: Trial by Fire), and am currently in the middle of the last book (Neb the Great: Shadows of the Past). I'll do some reviews on them next!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Better than Martha Stewart's

To my CF Mom friends,

I have managed to improve upon a Martha Stewart recipe for chocolate chip cookie bars. Here's the original recipe:

3 sticks butter
4 C  flour
2t  baking soda
3/4 t  salt
1C  white sugar
1 1/2 C  brown sugar
2  eggs
1T  vanilla
2 C  chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars; add eggs and vanilla; mix dry ingredients together and mix with wet stuff; mix in chips. Bake in buttered half sheet pan for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Here are my changes:

1.) For the creaming, I used 2 1/2 sticks of butter with 1/2 C peanut butter and 1/3 C (it didn't quite reach the top of the measuring cup because I ran out) of real maple syrup.

2.) I blended up oatmeal into flour and substituted 1C of regular flour for 1C of this oat flour.

3.) I only used 1 1/2 C of chocolate chips because we don't like the inside to be completely chocolate.

So good, you guys. They had something extra you couldn't quite put your finger on. I don't know if it was the PB, the syrup, the oat flour, or the combination but I'm not changing anything. I see no reason to put pans of chocolate chip cookies in and out of the oven. They have arrived.

Oats, flour, butter, eggs, sugar ~ add some milk for the kids and coffee for me and we've got breakfast!

Happy sunshine,

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother's Day

I wrote two Mother's Day articles this past week:

This one for Catholic Sistas is a story about my own mother.

And this one for our local Frontiersman is about Mary the mother of Christ. You may have to answer a silly survey question to open the page.

CF mothers are the best, though. Love to you all!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reading Glasses and Tears

This past weekend, Ken picked up some reading glasses and I cried. Not because he looked awful ~ quite the opposite! ~ but because it hit me harder than usual that we really are growing old together. I wondered if he would be sad or grumpy or have existential angst at the solid proof that his body is doing weird, old things, but he didn't seem to be anything other than thrilled that reading was much easier.

Now I believe him more when he tells me that he thinks my graying hair is pretty and that my laugh lines and concentrating wrinkles warm his heart. We're coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary full of happiness, glasses and gray notwithstanding! I still cry, but it's all right.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Give Drink to the Thirsty

Our Frontiersman newspaper printed this article of mine last Tuesday and I've been thinking about it for days. You see, I've never actually done what I've written that we could do (Give drink to the thirsty and give food to the hungry). I'm sort of afraid of homeless people asking for food, money, and jobs. I'm also sort of mad at them. I know that it doesn't matter, that mercy given is mercy given, period. So I've added "case of bottled water" and "huge box of granola bars" to my husband's weekly Sam's Club list. I'm going to try. 

“Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick or in prison and come to You? And the King will say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’.” (Matthew 25:3-40)
Although enlivened by God’s love, dignified by prayer, and sanctified by Jesus’ spiritual presence, these corporal works of mercy are raw, earthy and physical. Easing the bodily distress of another human being can be discomfiting, but we dare not shrink from solidarity with our sisters and brothers on the journey.
Jesus visited with mean, messy and mixed-up people. He dried tears, shared meals, addressed problems, and performed miracles.
He was grabbed, sat upon, leaned on and questioned. He gave and gave and gave. His love had active hands. We are to follow him, offering up our hands as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1) as we reach out to others with tangible mercy.
Human mercy is an expression of divine mercy and is demonstrated by compassion and patience. At every Mass we pray, “Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.” And we are to extend that mercy to others not as holier-than-thou, but as fellow receivers of mercy.
We’ve been discussing and memorizing the corporal works of mercy with our children, and all but one seem obvious: give drink to the thirsty. Why is this one separate from giving food to the hungry? Is it just poetry? Who needs water today? A brief peek at the UN's informational page can answer that with shocking clarity.
Give drink to the thirsty. How can we practice this? In our country, water is free and so accessible that we play in it, take it for granted, and sadly, even waste it.
It is pumped directly into our homes into two or more receptacles. There is neither a shortage of water nor of corporate competitors marketing different brands of water to us. We have sophisticated filtration systems and storage facilities and more bodies of water than we can count.
We do not have to repair and refit community wells; we do not have to erect dams and filtration systems for filthy rivers; we do not have to live with warring tribes that deny their enemies access to water. We do not have to send our women and children to fill buckets.
Recalling a poignant scene from Ben Hur, we will never have the opportunity to give drinks to political slaves being marched across the desert to the ocean where they will be chained to a ship’s galley. But, we can cheerfully give drinks to our children. We can generously invite people to our home to drink; even a tight budget can probably manage a friendly cup of tea.
We can keep a case of bottled water (and packaged snacks to feed the hungry) in our vehicles to pass out to the homeless or hard-up with a smile. If there’s more money, we can give more cases of bottled water to our local food banks. We can reach beyond our town and country and donate to international charities that focus on clean water, thus having a real hand in helping those community wells and filthy rivers.
We have our votes, as well. We can get informed about the state’s and country’s bills, charities and actions involving clean water and warring tribes. We can take a minute to type a few words of thanks and support for those charitable initiatives that make the world kinder and safer with a touch of Jesus’ loving hands.
The Scriptures are full of stories and sacraments involving water, from creation to Noah, from the Red Sea to the Jordan River, from Jesus’ thirst to our baptisms, and to heaven’s crystal-clear river. Our bodies are mostly water; we cannot live long without water. It is a simple, powerful gift and not one to be taken lightly.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’.” (Section 2444)
“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (Section 2446)
King David sang in Psalm 42:1-2; “As the deer pants for brooks of water, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
When we quench our spiritual thirst with the living God, we can then, in the words of the Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and “be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).”

That day is best wherein we give
A thought to others’ sorrows;
Forgetting self, we learn to live,
And blessings born of kindly deeds
Make golden our tomorrows.
(Sir Alfred Tennyson)

Yes, Lord, I will love and serve You. I will give a thought to others’ sorrows. I will give drink to the thirsty.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Was the Eucharist Ever a Little Snack?

A Facebook friend recently joked, "-slippery slope! The Eucharist started out as 'snack time' for the Catholics and look where that went!"

I'm not sure he knows how a slippery slope works.

The Eucharist is a Christian teaching that has remained constant for 2000 years. That is no slippery slope. The real slide is on the protestant side, slipping away from His Church (John 16:13; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 28:16-20) with thousands of competing denominations all claiming to be "Bible only." The Eucharist has been the pinnacle of our services since Acts; they are the ones who have slid into little snacks. I don't care if he doesn't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but I do care when Church teaching is misrepresented.

For the Eucharist has never been "snack time." About an hour of reading the first Christian writers (If one can stop after only an hour; we couldn't!), beginning with the Gospels and epistles, then onward 300 years until the New Testament was codified (and on and on ...) makes it crystal clear that these men believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine. And these were the same men who picked and prayed our New Testament into life.

The apostles were Jews. They knew about manna from heaven. They knew what the Passover was ~ the sacrifice of the innocent lamb whose blood saved them from death. They ate their lamb. They watched Jesus bless food, break it, and feed 5000. He told them to eat His flesh in John 6. When some left out of horror, Our Lord said again that they had to eat His flesh.  At the Last Supper, when He lifted up the Passover bread and wine and said, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," they were floored. They got it. After the resurrection, with some disciples in Emmaus, He was known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-32). Paul told the Corinthians that they would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord if they came unworthily (I Corinthians 11:27-29).

The Didache, a catechism written in the 90's (yes, the 90's!), directs Christians to confess their sins before partaking in the Eucharist so that the sacrifice would be pure. *Since the sacrifice of Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, what He did 2000 years ago is  just as effecacious now. He is our perfect sacrifice for sin!

Ignatious of Antioch, writing in the year AD 110, said that he desired the Eucharist, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Justin the Martyr, AD 100-165, wrote, "For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which, our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus."

And on and on they wrote of the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread and wine, long before the New Testament was even bound and called sacred by Church councils. Men like Irenaus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Clement, Augustine, and the council of Nicaea. The first Church council was in Jerusalem, BTW, and recorded in Acts 15, when the question of circumcision was hashed out by Church leaders, then explained to the people. *We believe what Jesus said to the Twelve in John 16, that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. He still does. And we still follow.

So I encourage my non-Catholic friends as they insult the Church, to at least make sure the facts are straight. When you falsely say that the Eucharist began as a little snack, your entire witticism falls apart. We joke our own Church very well anyway!

To know what the Catholic Church teaches, go to its catechism online or pick up a print copy. Parroting what protestants say Catholicism teaches is shoddy scholarship and those of us who love the Church will call it out. At least then your jokes will be better!


Saturday, April 4, 2015

This is the Night

We have five sons that play with plastic figures all the time and make boy noises when they play. You know what this is, right? Even when big teens play with little brothers, they, too, make boy noises. Recently, a smaller son had a situation in the wood pile involving army guys and dinosaurs. He was happily moving things around and knocking things down when an older brother popped in and scanned the room. He brightened up when he noticed the wood pile drama and slid into place. “What’s going on?” he asked

He needed that knowledge before participating.  He had to ask the one who'd invented the 
Whole Thing.  Once the story was told, he was good. He could jump in. He could play hard. He could, as Saint Paul said, fight the good fight and run the race to completion. Sometimes the bad guys were avoided; sometimes they were engaged. Sometimes the good guys messed up; sometimes they behaved perfectly. They made happy sounds and agonizing sounds. Just like real life. We need to know the story, too. Whom do we ask?  Who created the Whole Thing?

Saturday evening, we will hear at our church's Great Easter Vigil Mass, seven Scripture readings and seven sung psalms chronicling salvation history ~ God's plans for the game. It is the Story of stories and the Feast of feasts; it fills the liturgical year with brilliance. It is ours to celebrate after the preparatory wilderness of Lent and the sorrows of Good Friday and Sad Saturday (our family name). Some highlights:

It begins outside as we gather around a fire to pray and sing.

“Light of Christ; thanks be to God.”
“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

We light candles from the fire and move into the candle-lit church to proclaim,

“This is the night when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.

O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly blessed night when things of heaven are wed to those of earth and divine to human.”

We hear the creation story from Genesis 1, “God said it was good” and sing Psalm 104, “Bless the Lord O my soul.”

We hear of Abraham sacrificing Isaac from Genesis 22, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy” and sing Psalm 16, “My heart is glad and my soul rejoices.”

We hear of Moses and the Red Sea, “Stretch out your hand over the sea,” and sing the psalm of Miriam from Exodus 14-15, “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously.”

We hear Isaiah’s prophesy from chapter 54, “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,” and sing Psalm 30, “Oh Lord, be my helper.”

We hear God’s love for His people from Ezekiel 36, “I will give you a new heart,” and sing Psalm 51, “A clean heart create in me.”

At this point, the bells begin ringing, the lights come back on, and we sing the Gloria, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will. Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, You take away the sins of the world.” A usual part of the Mass, it is not sung during Lent. It has been missed and sung loudly now
Then we hear passages from the New Testament.

We hear that Jesus dies no more from Romans 6, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus and sing Psalm 118, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever.”

And finally, the point of the Whole Thing, we hear of our Lord’s resurrection from Mark 16, “He is not here!”

Our first priest, when we came into the Catholic Church, timed it so that it was midnight by this resurrection reading and actually Easter morning. We loved it.

Then the baptisms begin, for this is also the night that those who have been preparing to enter the Church receive their sacraments. The huge stone cistern in the sanctuary sees a steady stream of people immersed or sprinkled. When our family came in, the priest had our three children, aged two, six, and nine in the pool together. The oldest boys did fine, under the water three times for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But when my feisty girl came up the first time and caught her breath, she hollered, “Get me out of here!” Our solemn priest cracked a smile and waited for the chuckling congregation to quiet down. He continued, “And in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” by cupping his hands and pouring water on her head.

The Mass continues with Communion and Confirmations for the new Catholics and ends as usual with music and prayers. It is truly the most beautiful liturgy of the year, as it should be.

“Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in Your praise!”

Easter vigil, 2004, when the Howells became Catholic.

The happiest of Easter celebrations, friends!
Love, Allison

(Also printed by the Frontiersman.)