Thursday, March 31, 2011

First signs of Spring

The air is a little clearer, and some of the birds have returned from their southern journeys, taking a chance that the snow has finally left for the season and inhabiting the several dozen birdhouses on our property.

The sun is shining brightly into the windows, and my scattered thoughts turned to cleaning and sprucing up the house for the warm months to follow. So, I turned off the heat, cracked a few windows and began dusting, cleaning fan blades, washing floors, and cleaning carpets.

As a tiny splurge, I went shopping to replace a few throw rugs and get a bright spring-like welcome mat for the front porch. After vacuuming the porch and laying down the mat, I returned indoors to finish some laundry and write a story to meet my editor's deadline.

Just after filing the story, Argyle, my Bishon Frise whimpered to go outside. I attached his leash, stepped out the front door and squish--my foot hit something that did not feel like a welcome at all. Looking down, my sneakers were blood splattered and upon investigation, I realized that our adopted feral cat left me a gift and initiated the welcome mat at the same time.  Proud as could be, she waited for praise while watching me pick up the bloodied, dismembered chipmunk and toss it into the bushes.

I've been told that this is a compliment and if so, we have been complimented numerous times by our serial killer cat. I should have known to look before I stepped, for oftentimes, I will open the door to a fresh heart, slithery entrails, mutilated mouse or a beheaded bird.

Perhaps, dear little kitty--you could not compliment us so often?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday night Date night

Oh yeah--after being sick for a couple of weeks with this cold and flu, I am finally well enough to go on an actual date night with my husband. Woohoo--heading to a movie like real people do-just me, Blaise, my box of Kleenex and a yummy bag of cough drops.

A box of tissues, you say? How romantic, but alas, the box has been my constant companion for a while, in fact, the dog now gets second billing and has to sit near my feet in the recliner.  I think he has become a bit jealous of my 'new best friend' because it was shredded into a million pieces when I got back from the doctor yesterday. It was one of those "I'll fix you" maneuvers--and who said dogs don't hold a grudge?

Again I call out to you Cesar Milan--I think dogs really do have feelings! I mean, just look at this face!

So, hopefully I will not have a headache or dripping sinuses tomorrow and can actually get back to my first business--writing. I need to crack my own whip before I am put at the bottom of the freelance list.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It’s all in their heads

scholasticchallenge2St. Matthew, Oak Creek, students Jacob Schroeder,left to right, Evan Siira, Thomas Dolan and Francis Margraff high-five one another as they travel on the road to success, winning the Red Division of the annual Scholastic Challenge held at St. John Nepomuk Parish, Racine, in which winning teams took home a trophy, ribbons, medals and scholarships. This is the 23rd year for the competition which draws middle school students from Racine, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Kenosha and Milwaukee. (Catholic Herald photo by John E. Kimpel)  RACINE — They’re sagacious, sharp-witted and now, ecstatic: Catholic middle school students from St. Matthew, Oak Creek and St. Edward, Racine won the annual Scholastic Challenge, edging teams from 12 area Catholic schools. Winning team members take home a trophy, ribbons, medals and scholarships to St. Catherine High School in Racine or St. Joseph Academy in Kenosha.

The challenge is a local opportunity for students wanting to participate in a battle of the minds, but unable to fly to southern California to participate in a taping of “Jeopardy!”

Culminating its 23rd year, the 72 middle school students met six evenings in February at St. John Nepomuk’s Macek Hall to test what they have learned throughout the years.

Organized by Paul Steimle, the academic competition pits two teams of five or six students against one another to see who can answer the most questions correctly.

Each player is equipped with a buzzer in a lockout system, much like “Jeopardy!” Whoever buzzes in first gets to answer the question; each student is allowed five seconds to begin his or her answer. Music is piped in the background while teams discuss answers, but unlike the Hollywood version, this competition uses a variety of music.

“We play a different song each night,” laughed Steimle. “With 36 matches going, no one wants to hear the “Jeopardy!” music that many times, so I rotate the music so it doesn’t get boring.”

Questions cover math, science, spelling, social studies, general knowledge, religion, visual, language, literature, dates and amendments.

“I have a database of about 20,000 questions to run this event and this past year added about 800 questions to the database,” said Steimle, St. John Nepomuk parishioner and We Energies internal auditor. “But out of all the categories, the religion category is most difficult to come up with questions. Some of the topics are too advanced, so I subscribe to some publications and find trivia books on religion to come up with age-appropriate questions for the students.”

In its heyday, students from 21 Catholic schools from Racine, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Oak Creek, Sturtevant, Caledonia, South Milwaukee, Kansasville and Burlington participated in one of three divisions based on school size and past participation.

“We have had so many schools close that now we are down to 12 participating in two divisions. The schools are from Racine, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Kenosha and Milwaukee,” explained Steimle, “We have four students playing at a time in each match, and no more than two of those students can be eighth graders in order to make it fair to all teams.”

As a Scholastic Challenge team advisor for the past 15 years, John Keane, eighth grade teacher at St. Matthew School, Oak Creek, is pleased that students can be recognized for their academic prowess.
2011 Scholastic
Challenge winners

Red Division
St. Matthew, Oak Creek

Amanda Lee
Francis Margraff
Jacob Scroeder
Evan Siira
Emma Sims
Thomas Dolan

Black Division
St. Edward Racine

Megan Kuroski
Luke Olley
Mathew Wending
Chris Foder
Jacob Miller
Jim Pettinger

“Too often it is the ‘jocks’ who are honored for their skills in volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc., and it’s great to see these young people challenged by questions covering a wide range of subjects,” he said. “At St. Matthew, the middle school teachers get together and invite the students to be part of the team. It is considered a great honor. I have seen students gain in confidence because of their participation.”

While teachers are not allowed to prepare students in any way for the challenge, Keane has watched with pride as he witnessed students giving up recess time to quiz each other on a variety of topics.

“Our parents are also very proud of their children’s participation,” he said. “In fact, it seems that sometimes the parents seem to be more excited than the students. I believe that this is a great program and I am proud to take our team every year, win or lose. It’s a great experience for the students.”

As parents of an eighth grade student in Keane’s class, Michael and Nancy Schroeder appreciate the forum that allows their children to challenge themselves and their classmates academically beyond the classroom setting.

“It is one of the only middle school events that I am aware of which creates a team atmosphere in an academic competition, as opposed to spelling and geography bees that are individual competitions,” said Nancy. “The students are encouraged to listen, support, speak up, and rely on their team members to answer difficult questions and problems.”

Additionally, the Schroeders said that bringing the excitement of a team event into the academic arena is motivation to go beyond their everyday work to study and learn.

“Without this avenue to learn things that they think might be asked, they may have passed by these areas in their middle school careers,” said Nancy.

Stacy Sims, mother of seventh grader, Emma, agreed.

“I was impressed by the dedication of the students on our team who gave up their free time at school to study. I was impressed with the pride that the participants took in their academic knowledge when at this stage in their lives it’s not always seen as cool,” she explained. “I was impressed with the wide range of knowledge and good sportsmanship displayed by all of the participating teams. To me, the Scholastic Challenge symbolized the reason we send our children to a Catholic school – to give them a solid academic foundation that emphasizes Christian values.”

The parish and school support make all the planning worth it for Steimle, who generally spends approximately 200 hours organizing and promoting the Scholastic Challenge. His wife Pat, a dental hygienist at the Racine Dental Group, helps run the event.

“I think it is a great way to give students recognition for their academic accomplishments and to promote Catholic education in the community,” he said. “It is a lot of work, but I see the students and hear so many comments from others who are watching and that is satisfaction enough. We have a great team of 72 volunteers to make this happen and we are looking forward to our 25th anniversary.”

With three of her four children competing in the Scholastic Challenge, Susan Margraff is grateful to Steimle for keeping the challenge going, especially since St. John Nepomuk School is no longer open.

“This amazing competition challenges young people to do their best,” she said. “It started with our daughter Cecilia, who is a senior at St. Thomas More, (when) she competed and was even part of a championship team. One time we were fortunate enough to have two of our children compete at the same time,” she said, expressing her thanks to the parish, Steimle and the team coaches.

As principal of St. Matthew, Julianna Barber is proud of her winning team and its coach.

“I also want to thank St. John Nepomuk Parish for sponsoring this contest. When the Racine Catholic schools began to merge, the Scholastic Challenge could have fallen by the wayside,” she said. “But the members of St. John Nepomuk sought to keep this worthy competition alive. In an age where athletic competitions receive so much attention, it is inspiring to see teams of students so excited to be competing academically.”

Parish Mission

We had the incredible opportunity to attend our annual parish mission last night. It was held by Fr. Conrad Kratz OPram, from Green Bay, WI. The mission centered around the joy of living a spiritual life, the keys to true happiness and the ability to forgive others and release the pain held deep within our souls.

I think the part that held the most impact for me, was when he described St. Thomas and his anger and hurt following the Crucifixion of Jesus. When I often heard of Thomas being a 'doubting Thomas' I automatically assumed he was simply jealous for not being present when Jesus appeared to the Apostles, but that wasn't the case. He was genuinely hurt and angry because he was supposed to follow Jesus as he evangelized the world, and when he was crucified his whole world was shattered.

But when Jesus did appear to Thomas, he invited him to place his hands into His wounds, thereby taking all his hurt, his pain, his disappointment and broken heart into Christ's wounds and he was healed. His pain was taken away. His faith restored. His broken heart made whole again.

Like with Thomas, we are invited to do the same. To cry out to God and place our pain, our broken hearts into Christ wounds and allowing the blood of the cross to heal us and make us whole.

The Sacrament of Confession helps us in verbalizing our pain, our suffering, our faults and sinful behavior and places them into Jesus' wounds and the foot of the cross to become healed again.

God understands our pain because He felt pain too--when the curtain was torn in two after His only Son gave up His life-it was God's heart being broken. He can take all of our anger, sadness and brokenness because He understands.

My question to myself: if the Sacrament of Confession is so readily available to me. If God makes present his Healing touch, his wounds for me to place my frailties, then why don't I celebrate this Sacrament more often? My goal for this new season of the Church is to grow in that Sacrament.

Thanks be to God for your marvelous priests.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Twice is nice

I can't think of anything that is more gratifying to a parent than to see your children become parents. Seeing them raise their babies, love them, care for them, and put them first is such a gift.

Recently, we had a wonderful visit with two of our granddaughters, and it was as if heaven descended upon our living room.Curiously, I studied them, looked for the intangible-God's tapestry, weaving wisps of generations passed into beautiful new creatures.

And there it was-Grandma's smile, great-grandpa's eyes, Dad's demeanor, Mom's toes, my chubby legs, and the rounded cheeks of my boys. The legacy continues and is passed to the next generation and like our Lord said in the beginning, it is Very Good.

One is blonde, one is brunette--both are adorable angels-Annia and Alexa. We love you so much

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy Feast of St. Joseph

Annual St Joseph Table at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is celebrated in a variety of ways all over the world. The most well-known tradition is the St. Joseph Table or St. Joseph Altar, which began in Sicily.

Trailing St. Patrick's Day comes the traditional feast day of St. Joseph. In America we do little or nothing to honor the foster father of Jesus, but in Italy and especially in Sicily this is one of the great holidays. St. Joseph has been chosen the patron and protector of the family; and our families certainly need all the support available in this crazy world.

 In Sicily, the citizens love St. Joseph Day. The wealthy prepare a great buffet dinner. There are traditional dishes served, all of them meatless. And who are the guests? Who are the lucky ones to enjoy all this food? They are the ones whom St. Joseph would invite: the poor, the unfortunate, the homeless, and anyone wanted a place to eat, visit and feel welcomed.

Sometimes, as with our parish,  the celebration is a cooperative village effort. In Sicily, the mayor and his staff set up the buffet tables in the open public square opposite the cathedral. Wealthy families contribute the food. Everyone is welcome to share in the feast which rich and poor receive the blessing of St. Joseph and his blessed food.

In Sicily, the dinner begins with a play in which the "Holy Family" take the leading roles.

In our parish we have not yet managed such a big celebration in honor of St. Joseph, but it is indeed a community event, with contributions from the parish, local restaurants, grocery stores and other shopkeepers.

We served over 300 last night--everyone left with a smile on their face and full bellies.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lorica of Saint Patrick


I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)