Seven Quick Takes on Being Sick, Long Drives, and Moving

I figured that, after dropping my little bombshell last week, I probably ought to take a moment to update you on the few little things that are going on in the Engelman family.  Sure, there’s a baby on the way.  What’s that in the midst of a new church, a new school, moving, starting a business, and (hopefully) getting your first book published?

— 1 —

So, first, let me focus on what’s most important… me. Just kidding. But this one is about me. And I’m probably going to whine. You see, through four children, I’ve proudly declared that my body seems to be made to carry children. Sure, I’d get a little tired during the first trimester, but I never felt sick, and didn’t experience the swelling, sleepness nights, or other discomforts that most women experience. It was one of the reasons why I felt I should have more children. If God made it so lovely for me to carry babies, surely He wants me to have more?

I guess God felt that it was high time I got a taste of what most women go through. No, I never actually had to hug the porcelain throne. But I did spend innumerable days feeling sick from ten a.m. until bedtime.

I’m not a person who gets sick often, and I learned something about myself. I’m terrible at being sick. I grouched at my kids, I complained to anyone who would listen, and I spent countless hours laying in bed bemoaning my fate. My family survived on take out food and frozen meals because I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking anything, and didn’t have the energy even if it didn’t make me want to vomit.

Then one day I ordered a Prenatal Pilates video on the Kindle and did the first few workouts. My energy level went up and the sickness decreased.  Maybe it was just a coincidence, but that was the best $10 I’ve spent in a while.

— 2 —

At the same time, we were trying to get the house ready to put on the market. Feeling sick does not go well with painting, mulch-spreading, and closet reorganizing. But I did it. The house isn’t officially “on the market,” since we’re too cheap to pay a realtor, but there’s a sign in the yard. A young man stopped by one night and asked Ray if we’d consider renting. And apparently we would. Papers aren’t signed yet, but it looks like it’s probably going to happen and we’ll be moving in the next thirty days. Which isn’t stressful at all.

— 3 —

IMG_7919.JPGThe kids have been at their new school for just over a week, and they are settling in beautifully. They don’t act anxious about going in the mornings, and they are happy when I pick them up each night. Super-social Bonita already has a play date scheduled. The boys might take a little longer, but the Dude already has his cousins there, and Bear – quite frankly – received very few invitations to play with any friends from kindergarten, anyways. (Which was odd because he is the sweetest kid on earth, and when we invited kids to our house to play, they jumped all over it. But that was one of those little idiosyncrasies of that community, it seems, and something that I pray will be different at the new school.)

— 4 —

The drive to school is long, but somehow it does seem to get shorter the more I do it. We try to leave 40 minutes before school starts. If we’re successful, the kids are there ten+ minutes early. If we leave seven minutes later, they may very well be late, and they’ve already had a tardy. If there’s ever an accident on the way, there’s just no hope.

— 5 —

The drive home from school is almost as bad, though free from the stress of having to arrive at a certain time. School’s out at 3:15 and we get home around 4.  Poor Dude has to turn around and leave for football at 5:30, which doesn’t provide a whole lot of downtime. He gets home around 8:30 and still has to eat dinner and shower. Burning the candle at both ends has already led to a sick day for him yesterday.

— 6 —

All of which has contributed to our willingness to take this guy’s offer to rent the house. I just want to get closer to the school, closer to this new community into which we need to integrate (though I’m sad to leave the “old” community!), and stop spending a fortune on gas.

— 7 —

Now I’ve gotten to number seven and haven’t even talked about my new business or the progress on the book! Well, the new business is a freelance writing service and already has a couple of clients. It’s keeping me busy. Ray developed a beautiful logo, which you can see here:  As you can see, we’ve done nothing more with the website, having been too busy with all the other craziness of life!

As for the book, there is a publisher who is “pursuing a formal acquisitions process,” which doesn’t mean that they’ll publish the book, but that they liked it and are going to do some investigation to determine whether they can actually make any money off of it. I remain cautiously optimistic!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!








An Honest Reaction to “Joyful” News

My hands shook and my knee jumped frantically of its own accord as I sat on my shiny throne.

God, please, no.  You can’t do this to me.

No, no, no.  That’s not what I’m supposed to say.

Not my will, but Thy will be done, Lord.

It can’t be true.  Please, don’t let it be true.

No, that’s not right, either.

I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.

And so the inner struggle began, in the early morning hours, as my husband slept just twenty feet away, blissfully unaware of the turmoil I was experiencing, which he would soon share.

And the thoughts came back again, of their own accord.

God, please, don’t let it be true.

But it was.  The little blue “plus” sign was clearly visible in the light from the single overhead fixture.

I was pregnant.

This would be number five.  When we got married, my husband and I had agreed that three was the perfect number.  But that was before…

Before I converted to Catholicism.

Before I became a different person.

Before I said, “I don’t always understand the Church’s teachings, but I was called into the Church, and I have to believe God wants me to follow all of the teachings.  I can’t just pick and choose.”

And, anyways, I get this one.  Every child is a gift.  How can I say, “Thanks God, for the four wonderful gifts you’ve given me, but I’ve got enough now.  I don’t want this gift you’d like to give me, so I’m going to prevent you from giving it.”?

And yet, here I was now, thinking, God, please, no.

Funny enough, I desperately wanted another child.  Only a few weeks before, I’d held a friend’s baby, lamenting the fact that my child-bearing days were over.

And how do I explain that – a Catholic, trying to follow Church teachings, wanting to accept another life from God, yet resigning myself to being “done”?

Well, that’s a long story, or at least one that I can’t tell and feel that I’ve done justice to all parties involved.  Essentially, there were many, many reasons why my husband had made it very clear that we needed to be DONE. Valid reasons.

I waited a day to tell my husband.  I took the test on our four-year-old’s birthday.  Unsure of how he would respond, I didn’t want to ruin her day.  So I waited.

He was shocked.  But I had underestimated him.  Ultimately, he came to me, gave me a hug, and said,

“We’re gonna have a baby.”

And so we are.

Thanks be to God.

God is the Potter

The following is a re-post of a reflection originally published on my “old” blog, Martha’s Heart, on July 29, 2010.  Jer 18:1-6 was today’s Mass reading, as it was on the day of this original post.  It reminds me that God is the potter, and I am the clay, on a day when I was already praying to do better than I did yesterday, when stress and frustration had my head spinning and my voice raised toward the children.

Once again, I find myself praying that God will mold me into a vessel that is pleasing to Him.


So often, I have moments in which I am clearly not the person God wants me to be.  This morning was a perfect example.  I was a grouch, largely because I used old coffee beans and my coffee tasted terrible.  Silly, yes, but true none-the-less.  It got my day off to a bad start and I was taking it out on my husband and kids.

It is moments like these that make Jer 18:1-6 so precious to me:

Whenever the object of clay which he was making
turned out badly in his hand,
he tried again,
making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased. (Jer 18:4)

God is the potter, and we are the clay.  He will not throw us away just because we are not the people He wants us to be.  Instead, he will try again, and again, and again.  The key is that we, the clay, must not harden ourselves against Him.  We must remain malleable, open to His word, His voice, His constant presence in our lives.

This morning, saying grace before breakfast reminded me that I could turn to God to help me improve my mood, so I asked Him to do just that.  As usual, prayer turned my day around.  It reminded me that I had to bend, rather than staying rigid.  It reminded me of my need for God’s grace and wisdom in my life.

Father, please help me to be the person you want me to be.  In moments when I begin to turn bad, please help me to remember that I must remain open to you, malleable in your all-capable hands.  Make me a vessel that is pleasing to you.

Potter's wheel

Potter’s Wheel, by Ravindra Prabhat, Image courtesy


Jeremiah’s Dirty Loincloth and Christian Obedience

In Jeremiah 13, God told the prophet Jeremiah to go and buy himself a linen loincloth, wear it, but don’t wash it.  So Jeremiah did.


Michelangelo’s Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel, image courtesy Web Gallery of Art,

Next, God told him to go to the Parath and bury the loincloth.  So Jeremiah did.

Finally, after some lengthy period of time, God told him to go retrieve the buried loincloth.  And so Jeremiah did.

Most of us would have responded to God’ first command with, “But, why?  Why do you want me to buy this loincloth?  Does it have to be linen?  I prefer silk.  And why can’t I wash it?  That’s gross.  How about if I wear it for a few days – I’ll even spring for three.  Then I’ll just put it in a bag, carefully sealed, so the stink doesn’t escape.”

To the second command, we might have responded, “The Parath is a long ways away.  I’ll go, but only if I have a horse and chariot to carry me there.  And food for the journey.  And a place to stay overnight, so I can be well rested.  As a matter of fact, isn’t it silly to go all that way, just to bury a piece of dirty cloth?  How about if I bury it in the desert, just outside the city, or – better yet – in my back yard?  Surely, that would work, Lord, right?  You don’t really want me to have to go all that way, I’m sure of it!”

And to the third, we’d likely have said, “Oh, come on!  Enough of this already!  I did what you wanted the first two times – or near enough.  Now you want me to go unearth the thing?  It’ll probably have bugs on it, it’ll be even dirtier than it was before, and I doubt I can even find it in the first place!  And if you want me to wear it afterward, you’d better believe I’m going to wash it first!”

God asks our obedience in all matters.  Obedience to God is never blind, but rather trusting, trusting that He will never lead us astray, but lead us to sanctification.  Even when we do not understand why we must do this thing or that thing, or not do this thing or that thing, we must trust that our obedience will never lead us away from God, but toward him.

In what matters do you find obedience difficult?  For many of us, it might be the Church’s teaching on contraception, marriage between a man and a woman, drunkenness, intimacy outside of marriage, divorce, or to attend Mass regularly and go to confession.

Or, perhaps, it’s obedience to that nudge of the Spirit to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, or to forgive willingly.

Obedience is never easy, nor is it meant to be.  It is through the trials of obedience that we draw closer to Christ, clinging to him as the Israelites failed to do in Jeremiah’s time, and as many (most?) of us fail to do in our time as well.

When Jeremiah unearthed the loincloth, he found that it had rotted.  The Lord spoke to him, saying, “So also I will allow the pride of Judah to rot… This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods… shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing.” (Jer. 13:9-10)

Does that sound to you like it could easily be an indictment of the people of our age?  In some matters, is it an indictment of you and of me?

The Lord also said to Jeremiah, “For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me… to be my people, my beauty.  But they did not listen.” (Jer. 13:11)

We were made to cling to God – to Christ.  We were made to be His people, His beauty.

May we listen.


This post was added to July’s Catholic Blogger Blitz.  For more great Catholic blogs, click the link below!

2014 Catholic Bloggers Link-Up Blitz




Something Other Than God – A Book Review

Thanks for stopping by to read my first ever book review!  I’m so excited to share my thoughts on this great book.  Enjoy the review… and grab a copy of the book for yourself when you’re done! :) The review does include affiliate links.  Thanks for your support!

You may be familiar with Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog, Conversion Diary.  I adore her self-deprecating sense of humor, and was thrilled when I was finally able to read her memoire, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It.

The book is the story of Jennifer’s Fulwiler’s journey toward Christ.  Having grown up with a strongly atheist dad and a mother who didn’t discuss religious beliefs, Jennifer followed in her father’s footsteps.  As a tender fifth grader, placed under duress by a rabidly Christian camp counselor, Jennifer assigned a label to herself: atheist.  For the next several years, she endured the pain of being ostracized from her Texas school’s social scene because she hadn’t been “saved” and “born again,” and wouldn’t participate in their Bible studies.

Jennifer learned from her father that “[b]elief in gods and angels and stuff like that is a comfort to some people,” but clearly not for her.  She ascribed to a scientific world view, devoid of any divine hand or direction. The first notch in the armor of this “logical” thinking appeared when Jennifer was only eleven years old, searching for fossils with her dad.  Upon finding an ammonite embedded within the rock wall, Jennifer was faced with the brevity of her human life and the fact that, according to her belief structure, her “fate was no different” than that of the ammonite.  In ten million years, she would not exist, not even in the fossilized form of the ancient mollusk she had found.

After this dose of “reality”, Jennifer was filled with a desolation which was only relieved by fleeting moments of happiness, and Jennifer spent the next decade desperately trying to capture those elusive moments of joy.  It was only after the birth of her first son left her in a deep depression, filled with the sure knowledge that her child’s fate was no different than her own – a finite life on earth, followed by an empty void of nothingness – that Jennifer began to question her views on divinity.  Surely atheism could not explain the love she felt for her husband and son.  “There was more to human life than the atoms that made up our bodies – I was sure of it.”

Initially filled with questions and doubts, Jennifer methodically sought out answers, and shares this process with her readers in this humorous and endearing memoire.  With her husband, Joe, Jennifer traced the roots of Christianity to find where Truth really lies, including an excellent exploration of her last hold-out on joining the Catholic Church, her battle to maintain her pro-choice views.

For those of you familiar with Scott Hahn, I have referred to Something Other Than God as “the new Rome Sweet Home, for “real” people.  While being extremely informative, the book is also entertaining, and a delightful read.  I would recommend this to any non-Christian seeking to understand Christianity, any Christian seeking to understand Catholicism, and any Catholic seeking to better understand their own faith.

The Big Move, Explained

Many people have asked what led to our decision to move to another parish and school, so I’m going to take a moment to try to sum it all up.  First, let me say that we have been very blessed to be a part of our previous school and church community and that it is comprised of an amazing group of people whom I will miss dearly, looking always forward to when I get to come for a visit. (Which will be often, I hope, since we’re only moving twenty minutes away!)

  1. First and foremost, both of my sisters – and their boys – are now going to the “new church and school.”  I love the idea of having all of us in one place.  Not to mention the fact that poor Dude was feeling extremely left out, since his cousins were sharing many things that he couldn’t be a part of.  I felt that, in fairness to him, we needed to at least consider this move. This alone would never have been enough to actually go forward with the change, but it was a vital consideration.
  2. You all know that I’ve been a “bit” involved in the anti-Common Core effort.  I toured the one classical Catholic school in our area last fall, and I fell in love.  Sadly, what would have been a fit for me and some of my children would not have been a fit for Ray and others of my children.  The Dude, in particular, would have been miserable. While our new school does not offer a classical education (and honestly some of its curriculum components are inferior to those we are leaving), its religion education is much more classical than our old school, and the attitude that the children are taught in Mass and in the classroom more closely mimics a classical environment.  And, while there seems to be absolutely no chance of transitioning to a more classical education at our old school, the possibility does appear to exist at the new school.  So, yes, a bit of this is being done on “a hope and a prayer.”
  3. The “attitude” that I mentioned above is a big part… reverence and respect are something that are difficult for a mom to teach without a community to back her up.  If the kids look around and see a bunch of people acting in one way, they wonder why they have to act in a different way.  At our old church, an awful lot of people leave Mass early, talk during communion, and dress like they’re going to a football game.  The children don’t do that during school Mass, of course, but I noticed when visiting the new church that the parishioners at Sunday Mass were dressed in their Sunday best, didn’t leave early, and respected the celebration.  Visiting the school, I saw this general respect and reverence evidenced in the classrooms and in the halls, and I liked that.
  4. I’ve always wanted to live in the area we’ll be moving to.  Shallow?  Maybe. 
    Houses in Woodruff Place (not the exact 'hood we're looking in, but close enough)

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  5. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that there were some errors being taught through the actions of a few, and I felt it best to remove my children from their influence.
  6. The old school doesn’t have any male teachers or administrators, and I’d like my boys to have the influence of great male teachers in their lives.  In addition, the priest at the new school is exceedingly involved in the school, and the kids adore him – an added bonus.
  7. Finally, the altar servers.  Oh! The altar servers!  I can’t describe it.  They’ve got 150 altar servers, and those boys show a reverence and respect (there are those words again!) for the Mass, the Word of God, and the Eucharist that I’ve rarely seen in young men.  They love to serve, and the priest reports that he frequentlyy has boys show up before Mass, unassigned, asking if they can serve.  Every Mass has ten or more servers!  There’s incense, bells, and the Gospel is escorted with candles.  It’s a breeding ground for vocations, I believe, and an environment I hope my sons will choose to participate in.  Whether they are called to the priesthood or not, developing such love for the Mass will serve all of those boys well.

Zdzisław Jasiński Palm Sunday 1891

“Palm Sunday mass” by Zdzisław Jsiński Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The above is an incomplete list and I must emphasize that I LOVE many, many things about our old parish, and am very sad to leave those things behind.  I have been incredibly blessed by our mom’s group, which must be among the most generous, loving, faith-filled group of women known to mankind.  I have also been blessed by the willingness of the priest and parish staff to do anything suggested which would build the faith life of the parish – so long as someone was willing to lead the effort – and there are many, many parishioners leading efforts to do many great things.  Lots of Bible studies, Mary’s Way dinners, retreats, etc.  It is a vibrant faith community.

Every family is different, and the reasons which make the new school and church a better fit for our family apply only to our family.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the presence at the new school of my sisters and my children’s cousins, plus my search for a less “Common Core Saturated” environment, we never would have even considered this move in the first place.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and I’ve spent enough time with my sisters to know that no school, and no church, is perfect.  Perhaps I’ll be disappointed, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt that this was the best decision for our family.  Fortunately, Ray agreed, for reasons of his own, some of which match mine, others which differ.  Regardless, the papers are signed, expectations are set, and we are moving forward with “The Big Move”!


Seven Quick Takes – Catching Up

After such a long hiatus from blogging, I thought I’d better use today’s quick takes for a quick catch up on the happenings in the Engelman family.

— 1 —

I am a terrible mother for not having written about this with huge fanfare, but on April 27th, Bonita received her First Communion.  What a joyful experience.  Bonita has always possessed a strong faith… or, at least, stronger than other children with whom I’m closely acquainted.  And so, this was a special day that she looked forward to with great anticipation.  Not because she got to get dressed up, be the center of attention, and receive lots of presents – though those things were also highly anticipated! – but because she finally got to partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord.  What a blessing to have played a role in that, to have been her catechist from the day she was born, and to look forward to watching her continue to grow in the faith in the years to come.

20140613-083436-30876425.jpg 20140613-083440-30880036.jpg

— 2 —

The date of Bonita’s First Communion was extremely significant.  It was also the day that Ray and I bought our first home, and, two years later, sold that home, while closing on the next home – in Colorado – that same day.  A year after that – to the day – we got married.  (Cart before horse? Who, me?  Remember, I have not always been a woman of faith!)  One year after that, I started my new job back in Indy.  Five years after that, Bear was baptized, along with my nephew and Godson, Joe.  Another four years and the same day would see my other nephew and Godson, John Paul, receive his First Communion.

Needless to say, the date of our wedding anniversary is one we will not forget.  Sadly, on the actual day, the celebration of said anniversary is generally… forgotten.

— 3 —

 Shortly after this time of celebration, the dog nearly died.  I mean, we’re talking his fur was soaked by my tears of farewell after I texted Ray to come home to help me take him to the vet for that final shot nearly died.  And then he rallied.  And then he took a turn for the worse and we were ready to call it again.  And then he rallied.  And then… well, you get the picture.

It all started when he ate something he shouldn’t have.  That messed his system all up, and he didn’t do what dogs need to “do” for several days.  Even when he did do the do, he still didn’t get better.  We took him to the vet, gave him massive amounts of laxative, which made him violently, horribly ill… (so bad I nearly sat vigil with him all night.  But then I came to my senses, went to bed, and he had to suffer alone.)  After nearly killing him in and of itself, the laxative finally worked, but then he didn’t eat for five days and could hardly be coaxed to walk 30 feet.  I kept him going with sugar water, and he lost an immense amount of weight.  Finally, I gave him an anti-inflammatory tincture, he started eating again, and within a couple of days was back to normal, although he’s still skin and bones, nearly a month later.


Keyser wanted to be outside while he was at his worst, and even spent many nights outside.

— 4 —

Once the dog came back to life, baseball season was in full swing.  The Dude has decided that it’s his favorite sport, which I find a great relief over his prior devotion to football.  His team this year is very good – for a nice change - and they’ve won most of their games.  He got to pitch one inning and did a great job once he’d warmed up.  Sadly, things have stagnated since then and he’s been stuck on second base or, worse, in the outfield.  His league here is extremely competitive, and numerous sources have led us to believe that an average player in his current league will be the star of his new league.  We’re rather looking forward to next year.

Zach pitching

Zach pitching

— 5 —

And then there was the end of the school year.  Why is it always so crazy?  I’m really not sure, but I can’t begin to say how thrilled I am by the prospect of not having to sort through any school papers for the next two months.

— 6 —

This was an emotional end to the school year, since we will be switching schools next year (and have already, technically, switched churches).  The Dude was fine, since his new school boasts his cousins, who also happen to be among his best friends.  Bear didn’t say much, but comments occasionally that he wants to stay at his old school.  Bonita refused to discuss the impending end to the school year, and hugged the toilet briefly on the morning of the last day, saying that she felt physically ill.  Poor thing. :(

— 7 —

With the impending change of schools comes a change of address as well.  First, though, we must get our house ready to sell.  We’ve lived here for nearly eleven years.  We painted most rooms shortly after we moved in, and haven’t touched it since.  The finger prints no longer wipe off, and many projectiles have dented the walls.  We’ve made good progress in the last few months- I’ve trimmed plants outside, painted the kids’ bathroom, touched up the living room, and am about five square feet from finishing the two story entry, upstairs hall, and loft (Hear me roar!).  Ray’s laid wood laminate floors, installed a new kitchen faucet, and pressure washed the deck.  My wonderful electrical engineer dad wrapped up some lose electrical ends from our basement construction.  Still, though, we have a long way to go!  I’m beating this horse as hard as I can, allowing the kids to watch more tv and play more video games than they should, trying to get this puppy on the market so we can enjoy the rest of our summer.  And so that I can write consistently again.  In the meantime, if you don’t hear from me, assume I’m working on the house.  Feel free to stop by and grab a paint brush!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!



Pray Against Harvard’s Satanic Black Mass

Have you heard about this?

(Photo courtesy of

I heard about it on Women of Grace last week, but caught the tail end of the story and didn’t know the details… namely that it is taking place at a major American University, tomorrow night at 8:30.

Apparently, the “Black Mass” takes the actual verbiage and rubrics of the Catholic Mass and makes a mockery of them, removing the names of God, Christ, and the saints, and replacing them with those of Satan and his demons.  They really love it when they have a consecrated Host to defile, though they’ve said that will not occur in this particular case.  They often use the body of a naked woman as the altar.

Every Christian – Catholic or not – should be deeply offended by this.  In fact, it’s not just Christians.  Can you imagine the outcry if a mockery of a Muslim prayer service were to be performed?  All those of faith should be horrified, and should voice their disgust!

Please take a moment to sign the petition against this abomination, here.  After you do that, you’ll see a phone number and email address for the President of Harvard.  Take a moment to give him a call and send him an email.  Call on Monday, though.  You can’t leave a message if you call today (Sunday). I tried.

Here are a few other ideas of things you might do in reparation and prayer that this farce will not take place:

  1. Fast tomorrow.  I mean a hard fast.  This is serious business.  A wise woman recently told me that her mom used to fast from hot showers and crossing her legs when she sat.  Add those in!
  2. Pray the St. Michael prayer every waking hour until you go to bed tomorrow night.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


3. Spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, adoring Our Lord.  In fact, I would love to flood the adoration chapels during this “Black Mass”, at 8:30pm EST tomorrow night.

4. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

5. Pray the Rosary.

6. Pray

7. Pray

8. Pray

9. Love

10. Love

11. Love

May God Have Mercy on Us and On the Whole World.

Please leave a comment with additional ideas for prayer and acts of reparation!

Witness to God’s Goodness

When we finally got a warm day in March, I decided it was high time to take the Christmas wreath off the back door. Much to my surprise, I discovered that a pair of birds had been industriously at work, and their new home was nestled in among the faux evergreen branches.  Though I knew it would make a mess, I didn’t have the heart to remove the home these birds had worked so hard on, and so I left the wreath – and nest – in place.

What followed was a huge treat for the whole family.  We watched, day by day, as eggs were added to the nest, ultimately totaling five.  We observed the birds coming and going, and, when their blue eggs surprised us - these definitely weren’t robins! -  we did research to determine that our birds were house finches.

The eggs, visible through the glass door

The eggs, visible through the glass door

I felt it was significant and special that the eggs hatched on Good Friday.  The children were even able to watch one of the baby birds emerge from her shell during our annual Good Friday tea with friends.  It was a reminder that, even on such a sad day, we had the celebration of Easter to look forward to.

Our tiny baby birds

Our tiny baby birds

Of course, the newly hatched eggs meant that I didn’t want people going in and out of that door to access the deck.  Climbing in and out of the window was a bit inconvenient, especially for all of us women, who were wearing skirts, and even more so for those women wearing skirts who were also pregnant, but… we made it work, nonetheless, and I daresay that none of my guests will ever forget that particular Good Friday Tea.

For over two weeks after that day, we had a treat waiting for us each morning, as we quietly peered through the glass door to see how the babies had changed.  The tiny birds started off as furry pink blobs, eyes closed and utterly unaware of the faces peering at them through the clear barrier.  After several days, their bodies became covered with tufts of hair, and after a week or so, they opened their eyes.  In two short weeks, their wings and feathers became visible and their awareness developed so that they would shrink down into the nest whenever we moved the curtain to take a peek.

On Monday afternoon, at two and a half weeks old, three birds had already left the nest,  and we were blessed to watch the final two muster up their courage and take flight.

I realized that we could learn a lot from these birds, and I’ll share that in a post on another day. For now, I thought I’d just share this little miracle of God’s creation, and His goodness in letting my little family be witness to it.

I’d love to hear how God has blessed you recently!  Please share your blessings in the comment section, below!

My “Point” About the New Indiana State Standards and Common Core

Yesterday, the AP picked up this story: Indiana Approves Common Core Replacement Standards, complete with this photo:

Common Core Indiana
It ran with this caption: “Stephanie Engelman makes a point as she and other community members speak to Board of Education members, who will be voting on controversial new academic standards that would replace Common Core in Indiana, Monday, April 28, 2014, Indianapolis. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)”

Hey, that’s me!

So, what’s the hubbub all about?  What point was I making, exactly?

Well, actually it wasn’t just me, but literally twenty to thirty concerned citizens who came down to the Indiana Government Center to express our views.

I was but one speaker yesterday, and so many of them were excellent,  making their points, backed by facts, figures, personal anecdotes and emotional pleas, that I feel humbled to have wound up as the “face” of us all in this AP article which is now gone global.

Sadly, our voices made little difference and the State of Indiana now boasts new educational standards which are being widely mocked as inferior, even to the Common Core from which we had worked so hard to disentangle ourselves.

The news outlets really did not present our side of the story well, even though they used sound bites from yours truly. :)  Here and here and here.  (Yes, I do look like I’m about to cry when talking to Derrick Thomas.  I wasn’t, really.  I guess I just look a little tragic when I’m nervous.)

So I’d like to attempt to succinctly share why so many of us would take time out of our lives to fight for this cause.  Not an easy task, and I’m sure I’ll leave much out.  (Hoosiers Against Common Core is an excellent resource on this topic.)

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin, but here goes.

First, let’s just get this out of the way:  The new Indiana State Standards contain 70% of the same content as the Common Core.  One can easily identify many standards that were literally cut and pasted from CC into the Indiana standards.  This is not “for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers” as Gov. Mike Pence is claiming.  (here’s a great article from Michelle Malkin).

These new Indiana standards are, indeed, a sloppy rewrite of Common Core, with a few things added in, but it didn’t come together to form a meaningful whole, and Dr. James Milgram, in an open letter to Hoosiers, has described them as “a dramatic example of what not to do.”

But what’s it matter?  After all, the standards are only a guideline of what needs to be taught, and it provides the floor, not the ceiling, right?

Sadly, that’s not true.  For one thing, the teachers want to teach what’s going to be on the standardized test, close to the time at which it’s going to be tested, so that the students will perform well, the school will receive good marks, and the teacher will keep her job.  This prevents teachers from reaching for the ceiling, as they fear the students will forget what’s on the floor… the floor being that which will be tested in the next few months.

In addition, the standards drive our curriculum.  That’s why nearly every school in the country has purchased new textbooks in the past few years.

(Do you hear that “CHA-CHING!” coming from Pearson, Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill? And people wonder what’s driving this!)

So what’s wrong with those text books?  Well, if you have elementary school kids in a mainstream school, you’ve seen the “fuzzy math” that they’re bringing home in their backpacks!  Math that’s filled with confusing story problems.  Math where they’re asked to explain their answers – a task that I would find difficult, and which is definitely developmentally inappropriate for elementary school children!

This is math where students learn three or four different methods to arrive at a solution, before finally learning the standard algorithm at the very end.  They then practice that algorithm nine times before moving on to the next topic.

What’s missing?  MASTERY.  They never MASTER their basic math facts, let alone that standard algorithm.  I’ve seen my own very bright son struggle with this very challenge.

Sadly, Stanford Math Professor, James Milgram, has evaluated the Common Core and maintains that, by the eighth grade, American students under Common Core will be two years behind their international counterparts.  (Here’s a good article.) In a world where our children compete with international students for college placement, this is especially concerning.

How about the English Language Arts standards?  Board of Ed member Andrea Neal addressed these beautifully yesterday, a bit of which was quoted here.  Another excellent critic is Dr. Terrence Moore, professor at Hillsdale College and author of The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core.  Moore refers to the “dumbing down” of our education, and reflects on the fact that the focus is taken off of true literature, and placed on informational texts and short stories, which do not contribute to a student’s understanding of “the human condition.” A great article can be found here.

I could go on and on, my friends, but the bottom line is this:  The Common Core standards will not drive our educational system to produce students who are brilliant thinkers.  Instead, it will lead to students who are automatons.  Students who might be ready to do a job, but will not be ready to use their God-given talents to create, develop, and innovate in order to make the world a better place.

And make no mistake.  Common Core is very much alive and well in the state of Indiana.

Many thanks to the leadership of Erin Tuttle and Heather Crossin here in our Hoosier state.  Without these two powerhouse women, our fight against Common Core never would have gotten off the ground. And thanks, also, to my sister, Suzanne, who brought this issue to my attention and finally convinced me to (begrudgingly) get involved.

I know that I’ve only begun to make the case here, and I’m sure there are many who agree and disagree with what I’ve said.  What would you add? Please tell us what you think!