Monday, February 24, 2014

Showing My Disney Side

I have LOTS to catch up on, but I'll start with the fun stuff first...

Yesterday, I hosted my Disney Side @ Home party. We had a blast.  I used the table coverings, mobiles,and balloons provided in the kit Disney sent to decorate.  And not having to worry about remembering plates, cups, and napkins was really a good thing.  (I usually forget at least one of those plus something else -- yesterday, it was just the ice that I forgot!)

Chickadee #1 had a great time helping me create scrolls which outlined our menu and our activities:

We had a great time using the cookie cutters in the party kit to make Jello Jigglers and gluten free chocolate chip cookie bars (thanks, Betty Crocker, for the mix).

My mom suggested that the perfect '70s party food was pigs in a blanket, so I made a heap of those, which were a big hit with the younger crowd.

Once everyone had arrived, we started right in on our activities.  While I'm not a huge fan of the more conventional, princess-colored side of Disney, I recognize that there is something that Disney does better than anyone else in the current entertainment culture:  understanding narrative and telling good stories.  Walt Disney really celebrated imagination and ingenuity as well, so those are the elements that I wanted to emphasize in my Disney Side party.

Disney Loves Good Stories:  
From the Hamlet-like elements in The Lion King to the magic of Peter Pan or the wonderful delicacy of Bambi, Disney recognizes what moves a story forward.  The rides at Walt Disney World are another great example of this.  When we went with the Chickadees a few years ago, #1 and I waited in line for a long time at Kali River Rapids. It was hard for a six year old to wait.  But the way the Imagineers had staged the waiting area made it fun. There so much to see and talk about, and as you walked along, you began to imagine ever more strongly that you were somewhere in the Himalayas, getting ready for an adventure.

In homage to this storytelling genius,  I decided to choose a really important, really good, and very visual story -- Dante Alighere's The Divine Comedy. My version for kids is here.

Afterwards, I unfurled a roll of paper that I'd marked into blocks and worked with the kids to figure out what happened in the story sequentially.  I labeled each block and then the kids started to draw the scene.  It was amazing how much detail even the little kids remembered.  And I got to indulge my literature loving self and make kids listen to a classic story, all at the same time.  A win-win situation.

Disney Builds Cool Stuff:

That soon descended into chaos, so we moved on to the next activity.  I'd had the chickadees separate into categories all our building toys -- Legos, Tinkertoys, and GoldieBlox components.  I explained to the kids what Disney Imagineers do and asked them to build a prototype ride that you might find at Walt Disney World.  Then I let them have at it -- some of the contraptions owed more to Rube Goldberg than Walt Disney, but the kids had a blast.

And then we ate creatively presented food*:

Finally, we repaired upstairs for some yummy refreshments.

I'd have to say that, hands down, the favorite item was made of Jello.

*This is supposed to be a fish with bubbles swimming through a bunch of coral.  Supposed to be.

All in all, it was a really fun and exciting day for everyone.  Thanks to Disney for providing such a great opportunity and all the great "party-in-a-box" items.  Everyone loved their prints and their photo cards, too, which I gave away as people were leaving.

This picture is too cute not to include.

But, for my family, perhaps the most loved part of a day filled with loved activities and friends came after everyone had left and we had cleaned up and had dinner.  One of my favorite things as a child was "The Wonderful World of Walt Disney," a Sunday fixture in our home.  I loved the way each program was introduced by Walt Disney himself, from his extremely 60s office.  I had rented from Amazon Prime The Best of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures with the idea that the crowd could watch part of it if things got boring.  Of course, we ran out of time, so our little family repaired downstairs and watched it.  The best part?  Chickadee #1 entranced, laughing at all the right parts, flinching when called for, completely engrossed.

And Chickadee #2, turning to us and saying, "Mommy and Daddy.  I LOVE our family.  This is what all decent families should do -- spend time together."

Joy, oh joy.

NOTE:  I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration.  Nevertheless, all the opinions expressed here are my own.

Divine Comedy for Kids

One of the first steps in making any movie is to create a storyboard.  Do you know what that is?  No?  It’s a way that Disney storytellers figure out how to tell their story.  It’s kind of like an outline made with pictures – a map of the story. 

So, in this activity, we are going to make a storyboard. The first step is to know the story you want to tell.  For Disney storytellers, they use a lot of different sources for their stories. For example, Mulan is based on a Chinese legend.  Cinderella is based on a story called Cendrillon. Pocohontas is loosely based on real people from history.

Do you want to know the story you guys are going to base your storyboard on? 

It’s a very famous story that was written as a poem.  It is called The Divine Comedy and it was written in the Middle Ages by a man named Dante Aligheri.

In the story, Dante tells about a dream he had about what happens after we die.  You guys all know that God wants us to be good so that we can be with him forever in heaven, right?  Well, Dante tells the story of what happens to people who are super bad on purpose, people who tried hard to be good but didn’t always succeed 100%, and people who were so good in this life that they went straight to heaven. 

It’s important to remember that this story is just made up – it talks about real places like heaven, hell, and purgatory, but no one really knows what those places are like.  So this is just story, not like a newspaper account.  

So, are you ready to hear?  As I’m telling you this story, I want to you use your imaginations to figure out what the different scenes might look like and try to remember what you imagine for later… Okay?

A long time ago, a man named Dante fell asleep and had a wonderful but mysterious dream.  Dante was very sad because he had been sent away from his home as a punishment for not supporting the king.  He was very lonely and poor and he missed his family.  He also really missed a girl that he used to love.  Her name was Beatrice and she had died at a young age.  Dante thought about her a lot and missed her very much. 

In his dream, Dante was walking in a dark and scary forest. There was no path for him to follow.  Finally, after struggling and pushing his way through thorns and tripping over roots and stones, Dante finally came to the edge of the forest. He was at the bottom of a high mountain and the sun was shining down.  He wanted to climb to the top very badly so he started to climb. 
But, uh oh, guess what?  He had not climbed very far when he saw a beautiful leopard.  No matter which way he turned, the leopard was there, preventing him from climbing up any higher.  Once again he tried.  This time, a scary lion was blocking his path and stopping him from going forward.  Next, he saw a thin grey mother wolf  right behind the lion. Together, the animals forced Dante back to the edge of the woods.  He was very sad.  he didn’t think he’d ever reach the sunlight.

All of a sudden, Dante saw a man walking toward him.  He said his name was Virgil, a famous poet from ancient Rome.  Dante was very happy because he had read and loved Virgil’s poetry so he was not afraid.  Virgil would be his guide out of the dark woods on a path that led through Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and finally to Paradiso (heaven).

Dante followed Virgil to a huge gate, the gate of hell.  It had words written at the top, “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.”  Dante was afraid and didn’t want to go through, but Virgil told him that, no matter what he saw, nothing there could hurt him and that he just had to trust in God  So, Dante had courage and followed Virgil.  He saw many sad things there, people who had done things which told God that they didn’t want to be with him – things like hurting other people or themselves, being greedy or violent, or being liars or traitors to their country.  The worst was at the very center of hell, which Dante described as being covered in ice. Here were the two most terrible traitors – Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and Lucifer, who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.  Dante saw that they were covered in ice because they were so far away from God’s love.  And boy, was he happy to get out of there!

Next, Virgil took Dante to the bottom of a very tall mountain.  The mountain spiraled up and up, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top.  Dante saw a large group of people walking around the mountain from one level to another.  The mountain was the mount of Purgatory, where the souls who had tried very hard in their lives to follow God’s laws and to love him, one another, and themselves were journeying closer and closer to God.  Remember that the gates of hell had the words “Abandon hope, all you who enter here”?  Well, in Purgatory, it was the exact opposite.  Purgatory was all about hope – because everyone was getting closer and closer to God.  As they moved through Purgatory, they would be cleansed of everything that was not good or beautiful, everything that was not like God.    

In all the spirits of people moving up the mountain, Dante recognized kings, noblemen, artists, and poor people. The thing they all had in common was that, as they made their way up the mountain, they were cleansed of all the sins like pride, or jealousy, or rage, or greed.  The two friends made their way up and up and up to the very top of Mount Purgatory.

Finally, they came to the very edge of Paradiso, or heaven.  Here, Dante met his beloved lady, Beatrice, and she was so beautiful and good that he cried with happiness.  But his tears soon changed because he remembered that, after she had died, he had not always been a good person.  As he remembered the bad things he had done, he was ashamed.  Beatrice told him to go and wash himself in the waters of the river Lethe.  He had already been cleansed of these bad things in Purgatory, the river would make him forget about his sins like God forgets ours when we repent.  Then he washed in the river Eunce and could only remember the good things he had done on earth.  Now Dante was ready to enter Paradiso.

Paradiso was really hard for Dante to describe – it was so beautiful and wonderful that human words are not really enough to talk about it.  But, the important thing to remember is that everything pointed toward God.  Everyone who was there was totally focused on God and his wonderful beauty and goodness.  That’s all they could think about, so that even when Dante was talking to them, they were kind of looking past him, looking towards God who is the center of everything.  Dante, with Beatrice leading him now, moved closer and closer to God, until finally he reached the very center of Paradiso. 

And here, it got really hard for Dante to describe what he saw because it was so wonderful.  So, he used a metaphor (or a comparison) to try to tell what he had seen.  He said that he saw three different colored circles deep in the center of a beautiful light.  Beams of different colored light shined out from them just like light shines through a prism.  And that light was God.  It was love, the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

The End.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Doldrums... Frustration... Sadness...

It's a quarter to one in the morning, and I would love to vomit.  THIS is what comes of my placing myself and my needs on the back burner this entire day.  Today was CRAZY!  The whole week has been very difficult for a number of reasons, but today was a bit wired.

I took the chickadees to school and came home to start working.  On the way into the house, I did my civic duty and reported a water main break on my street.  I worked for about an hour and a half, listening to a HUGE thunderstorm with freezing rain (weird), then my husband asked me to take him to the metro (he was going in late).  I dropped him off, then went to the bank to deposit some Girl Scout cookie money.  Then I realized that I would be late for lunch duty and fit a 20 minute drive into ten minutes.  I got through that, then met some friends from church for lunch.  Then I went home to figure out my kids' library fines and emailed the Maryland Department of Transportation on behalf of the civic association to try to figure out when work is going to start on a big road project adjacent to our neighborhood.  Then I had to do pick up.  Then I had to take the chickadees and one of their schoolmates whom I drive home three days a week with me as I went to my doctor's office to pick up an order for a mammogram which I had scheduled for tomorrow.  Then I struggled my way through a traffic jam in the heart of Wheaton, where three lanes became one due to more apartment house construction.  Then I dropped off the schoolmate.  Then we went to Target to pick up dish washing detergent and to return a defective light bulb.  Then we rushed home to make dinner.  I served the kids and ate a serving of broccoli and a turkey meatball and a tablespoon of gnocchi.  Then back into the office for 3.5 hours more of work.

I came up for air after midnight, emerging into a dark and cold house, only to find that no one had done anything to clean up after dinner.  Dinner dishes were still on the table, pots and pans still on the stove.  So then I cleaned the kitchen and dining room.

By this point, I was so hungry and tired that I was nauseated.  So, instead of drinking a glass of water and having a handful of nuts, I ate a cup and a half of cereal -- 480 calories of crap.  So now you know why I never lose any weight.  There are too many days like this.

And I still feel sick.  I'm going to bed.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Yesterday was the second anniversary of Susan Niebur's death.  In the morning, I checked Facebook and saw a link to a beautiful arrangement and performance of a hymn called "His Eye is On the Sparrow". Susan's best friend, a woman she spoke of to me often and lovingly, had done the arrangement and actually played and sang this at Susan's funeral.  I had never heard this popular hymn before the day of the funeral.  I was in absolute awe as the music rolled over me and stole into the shadowed crevices in my soul that felt abandoned and angry.  Along with so many people, I'd prayed so fervently for Susan's recovery, for one more day, one more month, one more year for her to be with her family.  I was devastated that God's answer to my prayers was not what I wanted and I was really having trouble reconnecting to the mercy and love that I knew he was offering.

And then, this absolute, incredible gift.  The sheer beauty of the song, its expectancy, floored me.  I'm no music critic -- I know very little about technical musical things (see, I don't even have the vocabulary to talk about it properly), but the music says to me, "something wonderful is on the way; no, it's already here."  It's like those old Disney time lapse movies of a flower opening, petal by petal, to glorious perfection.... and it's repeated again and again in the song. It was amazing, and beautiful, and such a balm for my troubled soul.

So, to be reminded of that yesterday morning was a gift all over again.

Of course, I thought of Susan throughout the day, but the day-to-day has a way of taking over -- I worked, I made dinner, I observed Chickadee #1 in her French class.  And then it was time for School of Community.

We are currently reading Don Luigi Guissani's At the Origin of the Christian Claim and the topic of the night's discussion was the section on Human Stature.

The whole point of this section is trying to understand the human in the light of the divine. What does it mean that Christ looks at us, that he sees us as we are?  One strain of Christianity would shrink from the gaze of the Divine and feel unworthy.  Guissani's concept, like that of Blessed John Paul II, is that human beings must become who they truly are -- they must step up to the plate and not accept a lesser good than the one for which they are made.

Even more radically, it seems to me, Guissani asserts,

This leads us to consider the value of the human person as something incommensurable, irreducible.  The problem of the world's existence is the happiness of each single person....So what is the foundation, then, for Jesus' impassioned and intransigent affirmation of the absolute value of the individual, if it did not exist before, if it surged up from the world like foam on the crest of a wave only to dissolve back into the world, if it is a phenomenon derived from the past, the effect of a previous biological input destined to be consumed?...Christ pinpoints a reality in man...which is a direct, exclusive relationship with God [and] love is also the adequate expression of this relationship.

This is a crazy claim -- the problem of the WORLD's existence is the individual happiness of people?  You can have a direct, exclusive relationship of intimate LOVE with God?  We aren't just matter, here one day, gone the next, stardust and memories?  This is shocking stuff, even to me, a committed, lifelong, believing Christian.

This passage, with its radical claim, of course had me thinking about Susan  -- whether she is merely something that surged up like foam on the crest of a wave, ephemeral, and, at the last, unimportant on a cosmic scale.

That was the direction in which my thoughts were tending, when WHAM!  Godsmack, again. Immediately following this passage is another:

this hymn (the Beatitudes) finds its confirmation and its enchanting application in that total abandonment to God which Jesus requires with incomparable tenderness and force in Matthew 6:25-34 when he sends his apostles on their mission:  

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows....

Sparrows again.  And, just now, writing this, I thought of something else, something confirmatory to my sense that God is telling me, "Don't be afraid.  My eye is on the sparrow.  My eye is on you.  My eye is on Susan, and her boys, and all those whom she loved and who loved her..."

In the last months of her illness, our book group read a novel which basically is a meditation on what you do when you are destroyed despite the love you have for God, despite your best attempts to do his will.  How do you live with that?  How do you reconcile the notion of a loving God with the hell that happens here on earth?   I gave it to Susan when she asked ... she was too ill to attend the meeting, but wanted to read the book.  Then I worried that it would be too difficult for her to read, because, really, she was living this situation I was reading about for entertainment, for enlightenment, for Aristotle's catharsis.  She was living it.

The book's name?

The Sparrow.

Thanks, Susan.  I get it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Progress Update

Last week was a roller-coaster for us here in the Z. household.  Hit by a monstrous stomach bug at the beginning of the week, entrenched in Catholic Schools Week hysteria for the rest of the week, worrying about a serious surgery for a beloved family member, and experiencing some other things that I don't care to describe (it's always the little things), we struggled to keep our heads above water.

So, at the end of the week, when I met with my nutritionist and TSFL health coach, I wasn't expecting great results.  I also knew that there would be some discussion of what I've been doing in terms of the 12 Week Health Transformation.  Much of this is "mind-work" and I'd been doing a lot of thinking.

I took a typical day and looked at what I'd done:

1. Meal Replacement
2.  Mini-bagel with butter
3.  Meal Replacement
4. Sandwich with ham and cheese and 1 serving of BBQ chips
5. Meal Replacement
6. Casserole made with rice and ground turkey.

As I said in our meeting, it dawned as I looked at this that I was only half following TSFL.  As a result, I was just swirling around and around and around in stasis.

So, I recommitted myself.  I worked hard this past week.  I thought about what I was doing and I was feeling good about my choices.

This despite the fact that, for some crazy reason, I did my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's on Sunday -- not normal for me.  My meal plan -- usually consisting of home-cooked meals from the Skinnytaste website these days -- contains the following:

Sunday:  Grandparents Day Casserole (from St. John the Evangelist cookbook -- bread, eggs, sausage, and cheese)
Monday:  Chicken Pot Pie Soup (from Skinnytaste and very good)
Tuesday:  Trader Joe's meal (frozen gnocchi and broccoli -- I didn't eat this.)
Wednesday:  Leftover barbecue from Skinnytaste
Thursday:  Trader Joe's meal (will be marinated chipotle chicken skewers and rice)
Friday:  mini pizzas for kids (from Trader Joe's).

So mostly it consists of leftovers or frozen meal starters from Trader Joe's.  I've avoided the awful things -- even the Grandparent's Day casserole had only 4 pieces of bread in the entire 9x13 pan and I am able to have eggs,so no problem.

The rest of the time, I've been very faithful to the 5&1 concept of TSFL.

Until today, when I adapted a cookie recipe and... ran with it.

Have you tried the Speculoos cookie butter from Trader Joe's?  It.Is.Yummy.  I made an impulse purchase on Sunday and have regretted it ever since.  I NEED TO GET RID OF THIS STUFF.  It is too tempting. So today, I took a standard Peanut Butter Cookie recipe and substitute Speculoos cookie butter for the peanut butter and added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter.

Oh my gosh.  Very, very good.  And I had about 2 or 3 of those lovely things, tasting them throughout the cookie baking life cycle:  Batter, fresh out of the oven, and after setting up.  Now they are in a glass cookie jar, where they will be sent out with the children to school.  I may even put them into snack bags and freeze them for lunches next week.  Thank God the recipe makes only 2 dozen.