Thursday, October 25, 2007

This is Too Touching

BELLA is coming tomorrow!

In January when my family attended the March for Life, we were privileged to experience a special preview of the movie Bella. It was everything a movie should be: clean, family-centered, and while the plot is dramatic and inspiring, there are also some funny moments. It's a heartwarming story about the sanctity of life, the gift of family, the power of relationships, ordinary people finding new hope...

And the neat part is: the story behind the movie is just as powerful as the story within it. And the best part is: it's being released tomorrow! This film is absolutely a must-see. If there was ever a time to go to the theater, this is it. Let's pray that this movie will "break the box office"! It's about time we took a stand for entertainment that lifts us up instead of dragging us down.

"The last film with Bella’s momentum was the Passion of the Christ."
–Steve McEveety, Executive Producer of Braveheart and a producer of The Passion

Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

For all the times you've been there for me... thank you

For all the times I've caused you grief... I'm sorry

For helping form me into whom I am today, and who I am becoming... thank you

And I hope I'm as youthful as you are when I'm your age! :)
Mom, I love you!

Funny, but True!

Men and women. Yes, our differences run deep (and thank the Lord!). There's a short but true and amusing point here:

Body language differs by gender. Men tend to stare as they listen and nod to signify they understand. Women may nod when they don't yet understand to encourage the speaker to keep talking.

And the above blog author's comment?

"Ahhh . . . so when she nods it means something different? This is useful."

Absolutely! :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Waking Rose

Have you ever experienced the spell, the wonderful spell of a book so completely realistic and yet perfect, that you are utterly yielded to its magic? As someone who fell head over heels in love with reading ever since I learned how at four, I've read countless "good" books, many "great" books, and a delightful few "magic" books. Books that challenge and sift and inspire and offer a picture of deeper reality that leaves you relishing in the abundance of life truly lived. Of sacrifice nobly given. Of love freely chosen.

When questioned who my favorite authors are, I always admit Gene Stratton Porter, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and of course, Regina Doman. From the day I read all of Shadow of the Bear on my 13th birthday, I was enraptured with her talent. Memorable characters, endearing personalities, heroic situations, human struggles, plenty of suspense... her books have it all. And though they're "modern day fairy tales", they're peppered with the spice of very real characters with genuine struggles, lifelike (though dramatic) situations, and plenty of their own humor. I love a book that can have me laughing, then crying, laughing again, shivering in a few places... and these stories definitely do that. You instantly feel like you've made friends, like you know these unforgettable people. And at the same time, you're wishing you could meet them in the flesh.

One of the things I think I love most in her books is how her own love and obviously extensive knowledge of poetry is woven into the stories. This, and the exciting twists and turns of each plot make for books that you can -- and want to -- pick up and read again and again, getting something more each time. The poignant spiritual themes, without seeming forced at all, are what really make these stories radiant, and what put them head and shoulders above almost any other teen fiction today. Whereas your average "teen novel" (especially any teen romance) is shallow, sensationalized, devoid of commitment and full of immorality, Regina's stories are filled with depth, reality, sacrifice, and truth. Waking Rose especially carries an ongoing theme of redemption and purification.

I also appreciate her insight into human struggle. Her heroes don't have picture-perfect, seamless lives, but experience temptations and weakness. Their heroism rises from their going through and resistance of this temptation; their surrendering and growth despite their human weakness. Bear and Fish, for example, come from a very broken family life and troubled childhood, and Regina doesn't gloss over those facts and then have them come riding through, princes in the sunset, as if that past never happened. Each of them must come to grips with their past, and both are in need of healing and forgiveness in order let go of their brokenness. Their intense struggles directly affect not only their spiritual growth, but their relationships as well. I find this a very authentic yet hope-filled portrayal of the place that plenty of young people are in today... for those who have also experienced family division or brokenness in their childhood, Bear and Fish are a vision of what they can become with the help of God. Fish's title of the "wounded soldier" is particularly fitting. And yet, he's a faithful soldier. That's what counts. As Mother Teresa so comfortingly reminded: "God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful".

The Fairy Tale Novels have become quite popular among homeschooled teen girls, and without wonder. I'm sure every one of us who've read them can identify in some way with either Blanche, Rose, or perhaps both at times. Blanche... intuitive, prudent, yet fearful and sometimes reluctant. Rose... vivacious, warm, headstrong, impulsive. Both facing the normal challenges, rises and falls of young womanhood, plus the growth and lessons of their own stories. Both learning to reach outside of themselves; though that means very different things for them sometimes.

Many of the books' sub-characters are fully as memorable as the main ones. Particularly in Waking Rose, Rose's best friend and college roommate, and the endearing group of gentlemanly and boyish, if somewhat eccentric "Cor guys" are unforgettable.

It was after reading Waking Rose that I really realized one of the big potentials of these books. Eric Ludy, husband of Leslie Ludy (author of Authentic Beauty), has some excellent "Lessons on Manhood" articles in her book. In one, he explains about a book that heavily impacted his life, and his understanding of masculinity and strength. It was The Scottish Chiefs, a novel based on the true story of Scottish war heroes William Wallace and Sir Robert the Bruce. He testifies that the book left him with a new and powerful vision of manhood. And it was a book written by a lady. Eric says, "It was a woman with a correct vision of manhood that lit the flame of willingness within my heart to become all the God desired for me to be." (Emphasis his)

I'm convinced that Regina's novels have the exact same potential. Her masculine characters are strong, gallant, chivalrous, and yet very real. I know many other girls would join me in confirming that they exemplify exactly the kind of strength and values we hope and pray for in a future husband. I hope many, many young women continue to read these stores and treasure the beauty of pure romance and modern-day femininity that they depict. And I hope many, many young men also pick them up and catch hold of a vision of authentic masculinity fashioned after the ultimate manhood of Jesus Christ.

A glimpse of genuine femininity. A vision of authentic masculinity. A glimpse of pure, innocent romance and sacrificial love. The power of a few determined to fight evil. These books have the power to offer my generation a real wake-up call. And I hope we hear it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Where I Was This Weekend

...Privileged to visit some dear friends and speak for some lovely events in Iowa.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Lord, Grant Me... the Courage to Change"

Many of us would recognize those words from the "Serenity Prayer". Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

How I love that word: serenity. defines it as "the state or quality of being serene, calm, or tranquil; sereneness".

Serenity. Tranquility. Peace. Even the very words seem to caress gently, to give an aura of what they imply. This morning, my confessor spoke to me at length about "finding peace". After some of what I've been through and struggled with the past few weeks, his direction in that healing Sacrament was so perfect this morning. (The Holy Spirit is a Master at that, you know? I can't tell you how many times the advice given me in Confession is exactly the balm, or challenge, or admonition I needed at that moment.)

My penance was to meditate on the words Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. And oh, what a mediation those can be.

Lord ...Master, Teacher, Redeemer
make me ...transform, cleanse, create, purify me to become
an instrument who gives forth beauty when placed in Your Hands
of Your peace offer Your greatest gifts to the world.

Father pointed out beautifully the somewhat painful change all around us this season: trees letting go of their vibrant leaves, in order to go through a season of cold and healing in preparation for new and more fruitful growth. Immediately a quote sprang into my mind -- one posted on the sign outside a church a few blocks from our house --

When you are reluctant to change, think of the beauty of Autumn.

The Lord has been doing some pruning on me lately; He's showing me that I need to let go of some of my leaves to allow for new growth later. I may be reluctant to let them go, vibrant as they are. But if I trust enough, Spring, with all its glorious freshness and the burst of new life, will come.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Post Script on Braiding

Veronica kindly reminded me of a few more braid photos worth sharing... I did this 7-strand french braid on Sarah on our recent trip Out West.

Instructions for multiple odd-strand braids can be found in detail here.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Church is ALIVE!

I was so blessed today to visit St. Jude Parish in New Lenox, IL, where they'd invited me to be Mother Teresa for a few of their their Saint-themed Faith Festivals. And I walked away totally awed by the life, the joy, and the servant-attitudes abounding there. It's a huge parish with over 4400 families, and wow! What a vibrant one!

These Faith Festivals -- occuring every-other month and blended with the parish's Religious Education Program as a "Generations of Faith" approach -- are being so well-received that each of the 4 sessions so far (there are eight total; only two of them were today) have been filled to capacity, with waiting lists of those beyond the 350 they can handle per session. It did my heart good to see so many families, so many youth, so many generous organizers and volunteer youth... it was evident that a lot of planning, preparation, prayer, and hard work went into the events,
but the results were incredible. I came home filled with hope on this Respect Life Sunday: the Church is indeed alive. We have only to look with eyes of hope to see evidence of the springtime of Faith, the new Pentecost as the Holy Spirit continues to pour forth on his people!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The long-ago promised post on...Hairbraiding

"And then she recalled Katy's voice saying: 'Braids round your head.'
'Of course', said Linda, 'that would be the thing to do...' "

- From "Her Father's Daughter" by Gene Stratton-Porter

When "a Sister in Christ" asked about hair braiding on my post of Fair Photos, I promised to write up my answer as another post "soon". :) Well, I didn't forget, but one long trip and several very busy weeks later, I'm taking the time to do it! But I'm taking the time to do it well. So, to the friend that asked, and anyone else who may have seen my promise and wondered what became of it... hope you find it to be worth the wait!

Mom's braid for her 25th Anniversary celebration this past weekend...and this photo was taken after it was in all day! (Not a bit of hairspray, either).

~ ~ ~

I think the art of hair braiding can be a very lovely exterior reflection of interior femininity. The "look-like-you-just-rolled-out-of-bed" look is rather too widespread if you ask me. And I think we see way too much of the same, cloned style of hair on young ladies my age... you know, the meticulously dyed and highlighted, specific-length, strategically (unstrategically?) chopped -- um, layered -- cut, the half-grown bangs in the eyes... This is not to say that I think all layered hairstyles unbecoming, just that too often, I see haircutting jobs that look rather like a 3-year-old got a hold of the scissors!

A braid done on myself
~ ~ ~

Anyway, my purpose here is not to rant about hair cutting, but to discourse a bit on one of the things I love to do: hair braiding. The two do fit together, of course -- since I'm a firm believer in one simple, preliminary rule for all hair care, styling, and braiding: natural is best. So the first step to modeling lovely "dos" is to keep the hair naturally healthy and beautiful, clean and fresh. Consider throwing out the cheap shampoos with "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate" as the first ingredient (that's right: go look!), and get an herbal or botanical shampoo and conditioner from the health food store! The extra dollars you may spend on it will be worth it!

French braids done on very fine hair

~ ~ ~

Okay, now that I'm done my little treatise on hair care -- who knows: perhaps another complete post will follow on that sometime? Especially if readers ask for it! :) -- let's proceed to the theme of this post.

For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed learning how to "do hair". My mom is a practical one, so she was always good about keeping our hair out of our eyes when my sisters and I were small. In other words, you didn't often see us with unbrushed, straggly locks needing to be pushed back from our faces. :) We have fun looking through old photos, because even though she's practical, Mom also enjoyed bedecking our simple ponytails or braids with cute, girly bows or barrettes. Getting a french braid done was a special treat when we were little -- Mom knew the concept, but on a special occasion when we might want to get one, she'd need to have us reach back and hold some of the pieces for her. She'd always laughingly argue that she "didn't have enough fingers". :) But as soon as we were past toddler stage, Mom wisely taught us how to care for our own hair: the daily ponytail, simple braid, or bangs clipped back became our own responsibility.

An "original creation" with french braid up the back
~ ~ ~

A "Camp" braid (done at Ave Cor Mariae)

Another "Camp" braid: The Crown

A style I invented for shorter but very thick hair

~ ~ ~

I used to watch, rather in awe, as aunties or friends would french braid. I remember peppering my Aunt Rita, who'd do our hair when she came to visit, with questions about "how you do it"! Every once in a while, I'd grab (victimize?) one of my sisters and make an attempt, but for a couple years -- I was probably around 7 or 8 at this point -- would just get frustrated with the results. I somewhat got the concept, but, well, applying it was a bit more difficult. Being perfectionistic and artistic, I of course envisioned exactly how I wanted my attempts to turn out, but for a little while they just weren't that way. I even remember writing about them in one of the required paragraphs in my English workbook, titling it "I can't french braid!" :)

A crown for Sarah on her last birthday

View II

View III

View IV (!)

The crown is very elegant...and oft requested!

~ ~ ~

The biggest mystery to me was how anyone could french braid their own hair. I used to never believe it when ladies would tell me that they not only could do their own, but found it easier than doing others' hair. I thought, Goodness, I'll never be able to do my own!

"Hugs and Kisses" (x & o) braid

Another view... this braid is done by dividing the hair into four sections, and then french braiding curved, then diagonally to make the "x"

Top view

~ ~ ~

Well, then one evening when I was about eight, while playing with my hair before bed, I suddenly ran to the mirror and realized I'd french braided it. And I suppose you could say the rest is history. :)

(About whether or not doing your own is actually easier... from a visual standpoint, of course doing someone else's is easier, but I've found that the angle is somewhat easier on oneself. So I'm concluding that's what those other ladies meant.)

"The Sarah" (two french braids going into one french braid)

~ ~ ~

I quickly found that doing hair appealed to both the artistic and girly sides of me. And, I've since found, it can actually be a work of mercy, and a beautiful way to bond with other girls (even ladies!) of all ages.

A crown done on shorter hair (just below shoulder-length!). There are two ways of doing the crown -- one works exceptionally well for shorter hair.

~ ~ ~

I've been asked probably hundreds of times how I learned to do hair, and usually I tell a mini-version of the story above, but really, the best advice I have to offer is 1. use your eyes and logic, 2. don't be afraid to make mistakes and take them out!, and 3. just start practicing!

One of my more complex "originals"

Can you find the "x" braid?

~ ~ ~

There are various "hair books" out there, I know, and I've seen some that are neat and informative. But nothing can substitute for experiencing the real thing. I've found that I can glean great ideas from photos and movies, or just from watching another braider. Have you ever tried reconstructing a hair-do from a movie? Try it!

Updo spiral of very long, thick hair

"The Sarah" on myself
~ ~ ~

Some basic tips:

- Ladies' hair of almost any length can be braided, as long as it reaches at least below the ears. I am often able to achieve very nice results even with the bangs of short hair that isn't long enough to all be put up.

Tiny 5-strand french braids going into a twisted updo, done to accompany the regency gown a friend was modeling in a fashion review! Can you tell I had fun on this one? :) (But when don't I?)

~ ~ ~

- Thickness and fineness of hair are two factors that always need to be taken into consideration. Thickness means how much hair is on the head. Fineness refers to the individual strands. Curly hair tends to be thicker, often coarser strands, and very straight hair is often fine (although it can be fine and thick).

A "braiding line" at ACM Camp this summer. :)

~ ~ ~

- It is helpful to have a spray bottle of clean water on hand for doing fine hair, since it has the tendency to "escape" or slip from the braid quicker; sometimes as you're doing it. I've both seen done and done very fine "unbraidable" hair into a nice, tight braid simply by wetting it down.

Not a braid, but a twisted updo for Miss H., for her Queen Esther role in the skits at camp!

Everyone agreed that she looked ready for a wedding. :)
~ ~ ~

- A good, sturdy brush and comb are indispensable. And a nice stash of bobby pins should always be kept on hand. :) I have found that the big, oversized bobby pins often sold as "roller pins" (although they look just like extra-large bobby pins) work fabulously for extra-long or thick hair.

A circle of dancing maidens at camp... notice all the braids! (The result of the daily braiding workshop I led: if I didn't do these, I probably was teaching someone who did them). :)

~ ~ ~

- Use no-metal hairties that match the color of your hair for the best results, especially if the braids are going to be put up. Or the little clear "braces" rubberbands can also work! (I can't tell you now many times a stash of these and a comb carried with me led to some lovely results). :)

Braids for the 8-9 year-old maidens at CCL 2006 when I helped in childcare...

~ ~ ~

Veronica's birthday hairdo a few years ago
~ ~ ~

- Start with a basic braid, and branch out from there. A good way to practice the standard french braid is to first gather the bangs back into a smooth barrette/clip, so they stay in place when you separate them into 3 sections. If you've ever braided just the upper half (or quarter) of someone's hair, this is the first basic step to the french braid. You divide the bangs into 3 sections, and cross the left over the middle, then the right over the middle (just one time each). Then you gather a small section of hair from the right side, and add it to the piece now on the right before crossing the now larger piece over the middle. Repeat the same process with the left section, cross to the middle, and so on. I would write more detailed instructions, but there are some places online that already have them (with pictures too -- how neat is that?), so I will just share some links at the end of this post!

Three sisters with matching braids and smiles!

~ ~ ~

Since no doubt there will be one or two that come back and ask about 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3, where the beauty of woman is described as "not coming from braided hair", I'll briefly share my thoughts on them. We've had discussions on this around the dinner table -- is hair braiding by nature going against the advice of St. Paul and St. Peter? I think not, and this is why: The good apostles are talking about a certain kind of womanhood in their counsels. They aren't just referring to the act of braiding hair, but the kind of excessive external adornment, painting, and ornamentation which in those days distinguished "ladies of the night", or women of sinful intent. In 1 Corinthians 11:14-16, Saint Paul counter-balances his advice by saying,

"Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?"

So in short, could braiding hair be sinful? Well, of course, if the motive is prideful or nurses vanity. And no, it's probably not a good idea to spend an hour a day doing hair (or any personal care for that matter). But some thoughtful attentiveness to harmonize our accessories and hairstyle with our feminine attire can add to the polished reflection of our inner femininity, and hopefully, a vivid picture of the Proverbs 31 woman who is "clothed in fine linen and purple" (verse 22).

I love that word, "harmonize". It should help us keep things in order -- the harmony can't take prescedance or overpower the melody because then, well, we'd have a rather unbalanced song. But if we work to send forth a pure, sweet melody, and then add the gentle depth of harmony, we've just enriched the whole piece.

My favorite braiding websites:

(Disclaimer: Not necessarily all insights presented, photos and/or advice given on these sites are 100% in line with my values, but they do provide many helpful tips, instructions, and examples! You will notice that some of the braid photos are rather extravagant -- probably more so than I'd ever do or want done on me -- but there are also many lovely photos. Enjoy!)