Book Review – You Need a Budget

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham

Reviewed by Onie Woolahan.

Studies show that the vast majority of people in the Western world do not learn how to handle money when they are growing up. And if your experience was anything like mine, you did not learn about handling money in religious life (poverty, right?). Therefore, chances are high that when you returned to lay life, you were not any further along in learning how to manage money.

You Need A Budget is a great tool for anyone looking to get a better handle on finances. 

I’ve read things here and there about budgeting, finance and investing. Many of these books are similar and tell you to save your money, cut up your credit cards, have an emergency fund, etc. But this book is different and I really liked the perspective that the author brought to this topic. The main point he makes over and over again is that you know what’s important to you and therefore your priorities with money can only come from yourself. He encourages you to first think about what’s important in your life and use your money to do those things.

In areas of my life such as career and relationships, I’ve come to realize that I need to ponder my goals and strategize what I need to do to get there. But for some reason it had not occurred to me to think about my money in this way. It’s a great paradigm shift and I am excited to see what happens as I put these ideas into practice.

I really enjoyed this book and I think you will too. It’s easy to read, very positive and has information that can help people in various stages of life.

The Cloister of Illness

The Cloister of Illness

As I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible, my will submits with good grace, although nature seems greatly distressed, for God has not given me such strength as to bear, without repugnance, the constant struggle against illness while performing many different duties. May He, Who has helped me in other more difficult matters, aid me with His grace in this, for I trust in His mercy.

 – Saint Teresa of Avila, from the Preface to The Interior Castle.

 

A reflection by Penny.

If you type the words ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ into a stock images website, chances are it will bring up pictures that look like this:

 

 

 

 

 

When in fact, it looks more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

(note compression sleeves on my arms to help keep my blood circulating – reduces risk of fainting)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(light intolerance is one of the symptoms of CFS, so I spend most of my time in the dark)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(photo taken by my mother last month, after I lost 13 pounds in a week because I was too sick to feed myself and made an emergency trip home to stay with her.)

This is ‘moderate’ CFS – meaning that I’m still able, sometimes, to leave my bed for work, grocery shopping, or Mass. (Severe CFS involves paralysis, tube-feeding, and sometimes death. This is the disease still derisively labelled ‘yuppie flu’ by the media, and which many doctors, including two that I’ve encountered personally, diagnose as a form of hysteria solely because most sufferers are women. I could rant for days about sexism in medicine, but I’ll limit myself to one observation: in basically every case I’ve heard of, including my own, this condition starts with a viral infection that gets worse instead of better over time. It’s an illness. It exists.)

On good days I can get up and do a couple of things, provided I pace myself. Mostly, though, I’m in bed, listening to podcasts at minimum volume in the dark and occasionally trying to sit up for a few minutes at a time. If you’re wondering why the blog’s been low on activity this year, that’s why! Theresa has done yeoman’s work keeping our social media active and answering emails without the usual level of support from me, and I want to express my admiration for the extra effort that she’s been putting in to do so. If you’d like to submit content for the blog, PLEASE DO – we still need your generous contributions to keep the website interactive and would love to hear from you! Please just be aware that it may take me a while to respond, and that the delay doesn’t mean lack of appreciation!

So, why am I writing all of this?

At Easter this year, too unwell to go out to the Vigil, I stayed home and watched an old black-and-white film called The Miracle of Saint Thérèse. In one scene that particularly struck me, Thérèse is struggling to climb up a flight of stairs in her Carmel, gasping with the effort and pulling herself slowly hand-over-hand up the bannister. I felt that viscerally, because it’s exactly what I have to do when confronted with a staircase these days. (Before I got sick two years ago, by contrast, I was a martial arts student who did high-intensity training several times a week.)

It got me thinking again about illness, and its role in spiritual life. So many saints, especially women, became seriously ill in their teens or twenties and lived through years of disability and suffering: of those whose lives I’ve been listening to on audiobook recently, Saint Bernadette died at thirty-five, Saint Faustina at thirty-three, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity at twenty-six, and Saint Thérèse herself at twenty-four. Little Nellie of Holy God, to whose biography I’m currently listening, made it – spoiler alert! – to the grand old age of four.

I’m not a saint who can bear illness the way they could – if they’d had blogs in the nineteenth century, I can’t imagine Saint Thérèse getting on one to vent about sexist doctors, for example – but I can still take them as my examples and learn important lessons from the way they carried themselves in suffering.

1) Don’t assume you’re being punished by God. Same as when you have to leave religious life, or any other dream falls apart: it’s not a personal failure on your part, or a sign that He has rejected you. As a consequence of the Fall, we live in a world where we’re surrounded by viruses, toxins, dangerous people and animals, sheer drops and large, fast-moving objects, and eventually something’s going to smack into the just and the unjust alike. Illness is impersonal; don’t take it personally. As I know from experience, blaming yourself for drawing down God’s punishment by your actions is the very best way to learn to fear and resent Him. He’s with you while you’re struggling, helping you to live through it.

2) Don’t overthink things and start denying your own experience. I’m not really that sick – I don’t need to rest. (Yes, you probably do.) Maybe I’m subconsciously making myself sick because I’m afraid of life. (You’ve read too much pop psychology.) I need to restrict myself to healthy foods, and if I eat that slice of pizza I deserve to stay sick. I need to try all the medicines/supplements/treatment programs/etc I read about on the Internet, or I’m not really trying to get well again. Maybe I’m just milking my illness to get out of things. Maybe I’m being lazy. Maybe I’m just being dramatic about the effect this is having on me.

The saints didn’t do that. They were honest about the fact that they were suffering terribly – think of Saint Thérèse warning her sisters never to leave a full medicine bottle within the reach of someone in pain, or Saint Bernadette wondering aloud how she hadn’t died yet – and they did what they could each day. Some days Thérèse could write, and on those days, she wrote. Other days, she couldn’t, and she offered up to God the frustrations that came with that. Some days you’ll be able to do things. Other days, you won’t. That’s okay, and you’re okay.

3) DO figure out ways to make your life easier. My go-to meal is a double handful of mung beans and ripped-up bean shoots dumped straight from their containers into a bowl, with low-FODMAP chicken or beef stock in hot water poured over the top to make a healthy soup. Preparation time: about thirty seconds. If you have days where your arms aren’t strong enough to use a spoon, try pre-puréed fruits and soups in sachets; cut off the corners and suck them. Keep a bag of nuts beside your bed so that you have something to ease your hunger if you can’t get up. Cook lots of chopped potatoes and mincemeat on a good day, and store individual portions in the freezer to heat when you need them (they go well in the mung-bean soup to bulk it up).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) DO figure out how to adapt your prayer life to your energy level as well. If you say the Rosary, there are plenty of versions on YouTube that you can listen to and follow along with while you’re lying still in bed. This one’s my favourite: a basic, no-frills version without music (I love music, but now it often hurts my ears), and it doesn’t name the Mysteries so you can use the same recording every day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjDZeB7DfCo

If you pray the Office, you can download the Laudate app, open up whichever Hour you want to say, and have a screen-reader read it aloud while you listen. (I use the free @Voice Aloud Reader from Google Play, which has a bunch of different voices from which to choose. I like the sophisticated English lady. You can also adjust pitch and reading speed to suit your own preference.) Also, when you get tired of computer voices, there’s an app with a recording of Dominican friars singing Night Prayer in English for each night of the year: just type ‘Dominican Compline’ into Google Play and it will come up.

Basically any prayer you can think of, from the Holy Cloak Novena to Saint Joseph to the Divine Mercy Chaplet to the Golden Arrow Prayer, is available in spoken form on YouTube. Or, on a good day, you can record it yourself and then save it to play back in the future on not-so-good days. On days when the exhaustion and brain fog are so severe that you can’t even remember the words of the Hail Mary (trust me, I’ve been there), this is a gentle, no-pressure way to pray.

Audiobooks on YouTube are a great resource for filling the long, long hours alone in bed – my spiritual life has deepened immensely from the things I’ve learnt on days when I was too sick to read or watch a movie, and they’re basically now my primary way of staying close to God. Even if you’re not unwell but just want something to listen to on the commute to work, these are good resources. Here are some of my favourite channels:

The Priory Librarian: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxMQn7rjBwqRGkf2gV1jP5A

(A friar, almost certainly a Dominican based on the number of OP books in his library, who reads edifying books aloud in his soft, slightly gravelly voice. You’ve got books by Louis de Montfort, Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton, and some of the mediaeval mystics, among others.)

Sensus Fidelium: https://www.youtube.com/user/onearmsteve4192

(Orthodox Catholic talks on numerous topics, from lives of Saints to end-times prophecies and the state of the Church. You’re asked to say three Hail Marys for the priest who delivers each talk you listen to.)

Classic Catholic Audiobooks: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfXTzdNin8U8aEQVMIXiRog/videos

(From Julian of Norwich to Saint Francis de Sales, there are numerous books available, read aloud by volunteers from around the world. Some volunteers are much better readers than others, but it’s a great resource overall.)

Sacred Heart Publications: excellent Catholic talks on holiness, as well as audiobooks: https://www.youtube.com/user/MultiBurtons 

There are also lots of Catholic books on Google Play quite cheaply (I got a book by Saint Alphonsus Liguori for a couple of dollars) that you can then use the Google Books inbuilt screen-reader to read aloud for you. It’s more annoying than a human voice, but not impossibly so.

Finally, there are television Masses uploaded online every day (you can type ‘Catholic Mass today’ into YouTube if you’re too sick to go out to church), and also live-streamed Perpetual Adoration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4A6RIOwC2E

Basically, it can be done: there are numerous cheap or free resources out there to help your soul to grow in faith, hope and love in times of illness. I no longer feel as though I’m rotting away in the dark, because I know my heart is hearing and responding to God, and prayer connects me to the world outside my room. In effect, this solitude has become the cloister I once sought in the convent, and the stillness has become a source of contemplation. I would love to be well: to go back to work properly, to resume my studies, to get my brown belt in karate, and to carry on with the life I was living before my illness took all of that away. And yet, being torn out of my ordinary life and compelled to live with God in solitude has given me more graces than I could ever have imagined, and I can share the fruits of those graces with others by my prayers even if I don’t live among them much anymore.

It isn’t easy, but He is here. And for as long as He wills it, so am I.

Cotton Balls in the Fruit Bowl

(And other hints from convents, homes and work hovels.)

By Rosie Gertie. 

Do you need a sure-fire way to keep the fruit flies away? Are you having trouble getting rid of those persistent hiccups? Drats, you spilled raspberry juice on the front of your white blouse!

Thankfully, there are solutions to all of these! Two of them I learned in the convent. Cotton balls keep fruit flies away (if you don’t believe me, just try it, rather than politely though quizzically insist on removing them from my fruit bowl saying, “It looks like you accidentally dropped a few cotton balls.”)

Who hasn’t experienced hiccups that won’t stop hiccupping? Taking a tall glass of water, place a butter knife (sharp end down please) into the bottom of the glass, with the blunt end directed away from you. Then, position the blunt end in the middle of your forehead and slowly drink the water at the excellent angle the knife has produced for you. Voila! Hiccups gone!

As for that raspberry juice you spilled on your blouse…please don’t wash it in soap and cold water! You will set the stain. Instead, place the blouse, stained portion face up, at the bottom of a sink, then take freshly boiled (or just very hot tap) water and pour it from a height onto the stain. Watch it go away completely bit by bit…no soap, no scrubbing. That one I learned from a colleague ages ago.

Time and time again these neat tricks come in use not only for me, but for others, and almost every time I share these hints with someone, it is something they never knew! It gave me the idea to suggest a forum on Leonies Longing where we share fun tricks like that which you learned at home, at work, from friends or in the convent, that can save us from not only fruit flies, in-your-face berry stains, and interminable hiccups, but from whatever other household troubles, large or small, we may encounter that have fun, surprising and effective solutions.

Do you have some tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Rice


By Penny.

I’m about to head off on pilgrimage to England for a month (please pray for me!), so I’ve been trying to think of a quick and simple blog post I could write before I go. It struck me that we haven’t had a recipe post for ages – not since The Magic Fruit back in 2013, as far as I can tell – so I decided to share something that’s helped give me a bit of extra energy for this last month or so. If you’re like me, and find lack of energy a real problem, I hope this will help!

For many years, my favourite breakfast was muesli stirred through with Greek yoghurt. Alas, about six months ago I realised that the cultures in the yoghurt weren’t doing me any good, and soon after that I worked out that I was also having trouble digesting the muesli, hence a lot of the fatigue I was experiencing. This is the breakfast recipe I came up with instead, which makes a good substantial porridge.

You will need:

1 and a half cups of brown rice. (You could also use white rice, but the brown has more nutritional value.) I like to scatter in some white rice among the brown to add stickiness to the mixture.

1 medium-sized saucepan.

1 sachet of chai latte powder – the kind you pour into a mug of hot water and stir to make one serving. You could also use hot chocolate, mocha, or even coffee powder, according to your taste. These do contain gluten, but there will be less of it to digest than in a bowl of wheat-based cereal. (If you have a wheat allergy, of course, please use your own preferred flavourings instead of the sachet.)

Ginger and cinnamon/nutmeg to taste.

Sultanas or raisins and maple syrup/honey to serve. Airtight container to store.

 

 

Method:

Boil water on stove, and add the rice.

 

 

Add a couple of teaspoons’ worth of the chai latte powder, and stir.

(Sorry for the shaky photo!)

 

 

Allow to boil for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Gradually add more powder until you’ve used up about half the sachet. This will froth, but if you lay a wooden spoon over the top, it should keep the water from boiling over.

Top up the water when it gets low, and allow to boil until the rice softens.
Once rice is soft enough to eat and the water starts to get low again, turn it down to a simmer.
Add the rest of the sachet of powder plus the spices, and stir through. Once you have something that’s the consistency of thick porridge, take it off the heat. One and a half cups of brown rice = three to four servings.

Serve hot with sultanas and maple syrup/honey or brown sugar for sweetness. Extra can be stored in the fridge and eaten over several days. It’s gritty and unpleasant if you try to eat it cold, but warmed up, it’s a tasty, inexpensive and healthy breakfast!

I’ll be back at the end of September: I will try to check my emails while I’m away, but please be aware that if you write, it may be a while before you hear back from me! God bless!

Penny.

The Outside Matters


By Sackcloth Dreams.

Recently, I was part of a discussion about theology students wearing the roman collar. One side said that seminarians shouldn’t wear the collar because it confuses people and they think a guy is a priest when he is not. But the former seminarian at the table explained how wearing the collar helped him feel more committed in his studies and the path he had embarked upon. It was interesting to hear.

The fact is, our bodies and our clothes matter, whether we like it or not. The outside reflects the interior, but our interior can also be shaped by our exterior. When I feel yucky in the morning, my initial reaction is to put on something comfortable and well-worn. I don’t want to put forth the energy to look nice. I want easy. But yet, if I stop myself and make the effort to look nice on the outside, it makes a difference in my attitude. There have been many days where I felt down but my usual clothes were in the laundry. As a result, I had to “dress up” because that was all I had. And it made a difference.

The day I entered the convent and changed into my postulant outfit was intense and most of it is a blur. But I do remember wanting to stand up tall and have proper posture to almost show respect to my new life and community, represented by my clothes. This feeling continued during my time there. My attire almost commanded me to carry myself a certain way.

When I returned to lay life, clothes were hard to come by. I don’t have sisters and I didn’t have any friends of the
same size/body type. As a result, I was given some ill-fitting clothes by people in order to get through and I used them for a long time (too long). I hate shopping with a passion and I didn’t have the money to get a new wardrobe. But I also didn’t feel like making the effort because I thought I wasn’t worth it. This created a cycle which I am still battling.

In “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” Fr. Jacques Philippe demonstrates the importance of the body and our actions. He says, “I should begin to strive to this peace in the easier situations of everyday life… to avoid excessive hurry in my gestures and the way I climb the stairs! The soul is often reeducated by the body!” (pg 82).

Haven’t we all experienced this? Don’t you pray differently when you are kneeling as opposed to sitting or lying down, for example? We have many times throughout our day when we sit, stand, lean, lie down, etc. But in Western culture we very rarely kneel or prostrate ourselves. This makes these postures meaningful. In regards to my surroundings, when I am in a beautiful church it is much easier to raise my mind to God. Furthermore, when I used to work in the Capitol I was often tempted to genuflect in the legislative chambers because the architecture was beautiful!

I had noticed this when thinking of postures in prayer, the beauty of a church and other more obviously “spiritual 
matters” but I hadn’t ever thought about it in regards to my appearance. I am blessed to have a spiritual director who has been helping me grow and pray through my struggles with my exterior. He has constantly encouraged me to pray with these difficulties and be open and honest with the Lord. It is humbling to realize how much of our identity is wrapped up in our exterior. I tried to deny this reality for so long and now I am forced to surrender. It does matter.

So how about you? How did you feel about clothes? Was it hard to give up religious garb because it saved you from clothing decisions? Or did you immediately go to the trendiest store after returning and run up a big bill?

A Late Advent Reality Check: The one Hope that will NEVER be disappointed

By Lily.

Advent isn’t just a time of hope – it’s a reminder of in Whom to place that hope!

That seems pretty intuitive – almost “Captain Obvious,” really… but there’s a reason why we get an annual reminder of this!

If you work in any kind of commercial enterprise you’ve probably encountered the notion of “expectations management” before. Keep expectations reasonable (or lower) and exceed them. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver! The idea being that disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. If we extrapolate this, we come to the conclusion that if we hope too much then we’re sure to be disappointed.

Some of the things that can disappoint us at Christmas are:

  • the food you’ve painstakingly planned and prepared doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped it would
  • some members of the family didn’t manage to make it to (or prioritise) the family gathering
  • that the same two members of the family who are always at each others’ throats are at it again!
  • that you’re too tired to enjoy the day, much less the season
  • the music at the Christmas Mass is sub-par
  • the neighbour’s party is loud and there are excesses of drugs and alcohol and their behaviour on the other side of the back fence is disruptive and so NOT what you think Christmas should be…

and… and… and…

See what I did there? Where was Our Lord in any of that?

These things ARE irritating when they happen. But if we place ALL of our hope in Jesus and His coming, we should be able to be peaceful amidst the chaos of life in our fallen world.

Not in an avoidance sort of way, you understand.

I mean REAL peace, all the while acknowledging inconvenience or unpleasantness and experiencing how those things feel. Living life, but keeping things in perspective.

Yep – we live in a fallen world.
Yep – at least SOME of our best laid plans for our Christmas gatherings and celebrations will invariably go wrong.

But I reject the idea that hoping for too much is the source of disappointment. Rather – hoping for things in an inordinate way is the source of disappointment.

It’s great to have plans, and natural, human hopes for our upcoming festivities – but these should all be subordinate to the coming of Our Lord, and what that truly MEANS for each one of us. If we’ve spent any time in prayer or meditation at all this Advent, we’ve somehow been confronted with our profound NEED for Jesus. We KNOW we need to let Him into our daily lives more. Our hearts are crying out for Him from the depths of our fallenness! (Who knew the De Profundis was such an Adventish prayer?!?)

Expectations management may well be applied to client relationships in industry, but it does NOT belong in our faith life! We have an INFINITE God who has adopted us as His children! We have an INFINITE Saviour, Emmanuel, God among us!!

When He in whom we hope is infinite, and His love and desire to draw us to Himself is ALSO infinite, how could we ever be disappointed?

If the family is fighting, or someone just doesn’t show up – it’s hard, but it’s just an example of the fallen reality that Christ’s coming is intended to heal! When the fight breaks out, or you get word that someone isn’t coming… give it to Him. Really and truly make that act of your will – surrender it to Him and ask Him to help you be that person in the family to lift everyone else’s spirits!

If the turkey is a little too dry, or something burns, when you’re preparing the Christmas meal? I don’t believe even that tiny (in the scheme of things) annoyance is beneath the notice of the infinite King who became small, became an infant, for you. Look over at the little nativity scene that is set up in your home (or in your mind’s eye, if you don’t have one) and imagine the baby Jesus being such a cute and cuddly little bundle of baby that your heart just melts, and look, there, you’ve already found something more meaningful than whether or not the food is perfect.

Etc. etc. My point: invite Jesus into EVERY ASPECT OF THE DAY. Sometimes, ironically enough, it’s these little things that can help prompt us to remember Him, whose day it is. We might forget to even THINK of Him if everything went perfectly! See it for the invitation it is to include Our Lord in the feast of His own Nativity!

I truly hope you and your family have a very blessed and joyful Christmas! I hope you can find your peace in Him – the fulfillment of your hopes in Him! Be gentle and patient with yourself, be gentle and patient with others, drive safely if you’re travelling, and include Him in every aspect of the Christmas Season that your creativity allows!

Merry Christmas!