Back to Notre Dame

I just got back from re-settling My Favorite Domer in his dorm at Notre Dame, and I’ve got to say — whew, what a harrowing trip!

Having not traveled over the Thanksgiving holidays for many moons, I’d forgotten how nightmarish traffic can be. It was literally bumper-to-bumper — cars, semis, big SUVs, big manly trucks, people dragging stuff, people moving stuff in U-Hauls, people with stuff stacked atop their vehicles — all flying down the interstates in an effort to get someplace.

Don’t they realize they’re jeopardizing not only other drivers but also themselves??

Topping it off, permacloud was back, this time with a driving rain. So let’s see — we’ve got slick roadways, early darkness, deer cautionary signs, people weaving in and out as they seek to find the “fast lane,” people jamming on brakes so they won’t go careening into the “slowpoke” in front of them, people hungry and tired and angry — gee, sounds like a recipe for disaster to me!

When we got to campus (which, by the way, seemed eerily quiet and vacant!), we noticed a huge evergreen completely covered with tiny white lights outside Hammes Bookstore. It was breath-taking! There’s another one covered with multi-colored lights over near the Basilica. And the individual dorms, not to be outdone, are putting up decorations as well, so it won’t be long before campus will be spectacular.

Rather than just drop MFD off and run, I decided to get a hotel room for the night. I’m glad I did.

It was so much easier traveling early on a Monday morning in clear conditions! And, it gave me another chance to spend some quality time with MFD.

You know, when your kids are little, you think the diapers and colic and nighttime feedings, etc. will never end. Then you blink your eyes, and your kid is off to college. I guess that’s why everybody always told me to enjoy every minute with my son.

I have, and I continue to do so!

Beating the Black Friday crowds

Show of hands now — how many braved the shoppers (and here, the frigid cold!) to hunt Black Friday bargains during the wee hours of the morning?

Because I stayed up late with My Favorite Domer watching Texas beat A&M on TV last night, I opted to sleep in a bit. Still, once I was up and had a decent breakfast, I hurried to the stores to see what I could find. I didn’t spend much, but I got a great deal on some fuzzy boots I’d been eyeing — best of all, they’re almost as comfy as my moccasins!

I couldn’t help recalling this time several years back, when MFD and I arose in the still-dark, dressed, and drove a half-hour away to a store we don’t have here because their flyer advertised HUGE SALES!

The main thing we were shopping for then was a DVD player, the portable kind, and he had to have one.

When we arrived, the parking lot was nearly full, and easily more than a hundred shoppers (bundled in coats and hats) were lined up in the parking lot, well away from the main doors.

No way were we going to do that!

We started sauntering toward the building — not an easy feat, since those other shoppers kept hollering bad things at us. Ignoring them, we continued and approached the doors, just as the employees were opening.

Of course, we scooted in practically first (those people were really mad by this time!). But hey, nobody said they had to line up in the brr-cold like idiots; there was no cordoning off tape, no signs, no tickets to take, and no security guards.

MFD was quite a bit shorter then, so he led the way, slipping in and out of the aisles like a real pro. The others, of course, had stopped to pick up shopping carts, slowing their progress way down. Inside of fifteen minutes, we’d picked up everything on our list and proceeded to check out.

What a rush! He still talks about it — me, I’m just glad we didn’t get shot. I’d almost rather pay a bit more and shop at my leisure, instead of tangling with uber-intent people over “stuff” neither of us truly needs!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I traveled to South Bend yesterday to pick My Favorite Domer up for the Thanksgiving holidays (First-Years at Notre Dame aren’t allowed to have cars, so he’s “grounded” unless/until I fetch him!)

I’ve already done three loads of laundry (did I really send him off to college with that much stuff?), and he’s been “chill-axing” with his favorite video games, texting friends (both near and far), and listening to music while playing on his laptop. Not much has changed, right?


I’d already mentally prepared myself for a “new” son this time around. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that I was a college freshman returning home for the big turkey-day feast — and oh, how I chafed that nobody recognized the “new, grownup me”!

So I steeled myself NOT to hover, NOT to ask nit-picky questions, NOT to demand he get a haircut (though he did, and on his own!), and NOT to expect him to keep my schedule.

Good thing, too.  Nothing worse than a “helicopter parent.”

It’s immensely gratifying to see how well he’s acclimated to ND. So many young people find themselves straddling both worlds, home and college, when they go away, and that’s tough — on them and on their parents. Many others are completely miserable with their choices and can’t transfer fast enough to a school that’s a better fit.

MFD announced that if he could move his family, video games, and “stuff” to South Bend, he’d probably never come back to the town he grew up in.


I suspect many of his new friends feel the same. Notre Dame is already “home” to them; they’re happy, and happiness is what we parents want for our kids.

It’s said that “familiarity breeds contempt.” If so, maybe these kids should swap hometowns for one visit. They would see different communities through new eyes and gain an appreciation for the fires of home.

In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the brief vacation he has — Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy anniversary!

I made it — yeah!!

When I started this blog Oct. 23, I challenged myself to publish one new post every day for a month. Since today’s Nov. 23, it’s been a month, and I’ve managed to rant or praise or instruct or yak about something every single day.

Not bad for somebody resistant to this social-networking thing!

Some of my posts have been short; others, not so short. Some, I still find interesting to read. But even the others are so much better than my preteen diaries that they were worthy of my time and effort!

After attending a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive in October, I decided to test the social media waters with blogging rather than begin with Facebook or Twitter. I might try those two one day, but certainly not now. You see, I’m already juggling a full schedule and don’t need anything else to distract me from my novel (and unfortunately, we writers are masters at procrastination!)

I soon found that blogging can be a two-sided sword. On the one hand, some posts came so easily that they served as “warmup writing,” making my novel writing clearer, tighter, and more readable. Other posts took so much out of me that I really didn’t have time for creative writing — at least, not as much time as I needed or wanted.

So I think it boils down to this — I’ll keep on blogging, just not every single day. That way, I’ll force myself to adhere to a schedule with my novel and I won’t waste time penning boring blogs.

Seems like a reasonable compromise to me.






Part of me really needs to rant about Notre Dame Football today.

They started out so good — walking onto the field arm-in-arm with Coach Charlie Weis and jumping out to a 14-0 early lead. You just couldn’t help thinking they meant business this time and were there to win, if not for Weis, then for the senior team members on Senior Day.

It wasn’t an easy game to watch. Some yo-yo decided to put the Ole Miss vs. LSU game on about the same time (different channels), so I found myself switching back and forth, trying to keep up with both of them. I probably could have recorded one for later, but you know that’s just not the same!

Anyway, what I saw of the Irish game saddens me. It breaks my heart to see this once-proud tradition brought to its knees. It breaks my heart that this group of fine senior players once again falls short of expectations, and a game that by all predictions should have been a victory ended up in a loss.

It breaks my heart that everybody is grumbling — students, alumni, fans, observers. It breaks my heart that a fine person like Coach Charlie Weis will probably have to take the fall. It breaks my heart that there’s still one more tough game on the horizon (Stanford, next Saturday), and bowl possibilities are looking dimmer — and certainly less illustrious.

Sports fans tend to be fanatics. They’re 100 percent behind their team when they’re winning, yet when they’re losing, they can’t distance themselves fast enough. Wonder why that is?

Sure, everybody likes a winner, but didn’t we all learn back in kindergarten that not everybody can be a winner? At least, that used to be the lesson taught. Unfortunately, now it seems that everybody gets a trophy, everybody gets recognized for something, nobody has to suffer “the agony of defeat.”

I read somewhere that one school is offering classes in How to Lose. Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea.

Charitable giving

At this “giving” time of the year, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about the amount of money donated to charities.

Whether it’s religious organizations, academic foundations, health-related (seems there’s an association for every disease known to mankind!), the environment, or a multitude of other causes and interests, statistics show 70 percent of Americans donate to charity in any one year, and the average amount contributed is 3 percent of their income (unless they’re totally out of a job). I didn’t make this up; it’s according to statistics.

In fact, nonprofits took in $1 trillion in revenue for 2006 alone.

That’s a LOT of money, folks!

Doesn’t it seem reasonable to wonder what happens to all that money? I think so.

Most solicitations I receive in the mail come with fine print on the back, indicating what portion of the monies collected goes for administrative expenses, marketing, staff salaries, etc. You ought to read that before you donate, especially if you’re concerned whether the people actually needing the money get the money. Most charities, I’m sure, try to be frugal with their resources, but at this time of year, one can’t be too careful in avoiding scams!

In addition to cash donations, of course, are contributions of goods, services, and time. Some families choose to work a soup kitchen during the holidays; others donate to Goodwill or Toys for Tots; still others send sons and daughters overseas as missionaries, or build homes with Habitat for Humanity, or work the red kettles of the Salvation Army. The options are practically endless.

Why do people donate? Obviously, some do it because of the tax write-off, but others give because they believe in the cause or organization, and it makes them feel good to contribute.

St. James wrote: ‘Faith without works is dead.’ It’s hard to be a person of faith without giving. We can’t out-give God, who gives so richly to us! Catholic tradition has always called for service to humankind; many other religions also encourage their members to donate time and talents for the good of others.

But since we’re giving so much, has it ever crossed your mind: how come there’s still poverty in our world??

A rare find

My writing buddy turned me on to this, and for that, I’ll be ever grateful.

How many writers have trouble coming up with just the right word when they’re writing? Most of us, I’ll bet.

For some, the easy thing is to right-click in Microsoft Word and browse through the suggested synonym list, then pick one. Others prefer a thesaurus, but sad to say, that sounds too much like a dinosaur for me to be comfortable with it! is one of my favorite “go-to” sites online; I can usually find the spelling, pronunciation, and definition of whatever I’m looking for there. But my all-time favorite resource is a huge crossword puzzle dictionary!

I’m one of those weird people who can spend lots of time browsing through this tome. You wouldn’t think a crossword puzzle dictionary would help you do anything but crosswords; you’d be wrong! This beast has more than 300,000 words, a veritable potpourri for writers and would-be writers!

Organized alphabetically, my crossword puzzle dictionary by Merriam-Webster contains no pronunciations or word origins; rather, it features gobs of synonyms — and yes, crossword puzzle clues. No problem with that — how many writers do you know who don’t love a good crossword puzzle??

Oh, and it even lists the Academy Award winners, various seaports, NFL teams, constellations, Nobel Prize winners, world cities, authors, and more. Sure, I could probably access all this online, but I find it reassuring to have a guidebook beside me when I write, a reference I can pick up, look through, and even smell.

There’s nothing like “old-book smell,” don’t you agree?

What happened to Thanksgiving?

Anybody notice how many stores are doing their Christmas push early this year?

It’s bad enough to walk in the malls and department stores and find them filled with glittery trees and Santas, but even the grocery stores are getting into the act — and you’d think they at least would be concentrating on sales for the Thanksgiving feast!

No, as soon as Halloween was over, everybody started gearing up for Christmas. Charitable organizations are flooding mailboxes with address labels, calendars, cards, whatever in hopes of a donation. Sales fliers that come with the daily newspaper offer specials on everything from coats and mittens to jewelry, bedding, and luggage. Hardware and do-it-yourself stores are touting Christmas lights and decorations. Toy stores are — well, you get the idea!

It won’t be long before retailers start pushing gift cards, targeted toward those who “have to give something but haven’t a clue,” and the various groups set up their tables to do gift-wrapping (for free or a donation).

People, doesn’t this seem a bit soon to anybody but me? I mean, when did Thanksgiving — being grateful for what we have, sharing with family and loved ones, giving to the needy — become the “forgotten” holiday? Shoot, some of us look forward to eating too much, watching hours of football and parades, and drifting off for a guilty-pleasure afternoon nap!

This isn’t to say I’m opposed to Christmas — far from it! I love Christmas (always have!), but really, do we need two full months to get ready for it? I don’t think so. Besides, all this scurrying around and marketing is getting in the way of what Christmas is about, namely, the birth of Jesus Christ.

I know stores are struggling to find a positive in this depressed economy. I understand most folks want/need to get the best “deal” they can with the amount of money they have to spend.

But come on! Twenty-four hour-a-day Christmas carols, screeching sales ads from the TV and radio, and a blitz of “buy now, stock limited” promotions are making my head spin!

Blooms in November?

My African violet has started to bloom again!

I’m told African violets (botanical name saintpaulias) lie dormant for 3 months and bloom for 9; that sounds about right, as after a long summer of producing nothing but leaves, suddenly, tiny white flowers are beginning to unfold and stretch toward the light.

My grandmother had lots of African violets. She filled her sunny back porch with them, placing some under fluorescent grow lights, some on shelving, some on the windowsills. They were a profusion of color — pinks, whites, blues, purples — and they provided an eye-popping greeting for any guest entering her house. In fact, she gave me my first violet and told me how to care for it!

That plant is long gone, but I’ve since replaced it with two others. Truth be told, one of the two is looking pretty shabby and probably isn’t long for this world. My white one, however, is going to be splendid and just in time to rival Christmas poinsettias!

African violets are easy to care for, as long as you remember:

  • Water from the bottom with tepid water, taking care not to get the leaves wet
  • Place in bright, filtered light or grow lights — inside, not out
  • Fertilize as needed
  • Pot them in African violet soil, not peat moss
  • Snip off the dead flowers to make way for new blooms
  • Keep your temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (if you’re comfortable, it will be, too!)

There you have it! You can find more in-depth discussions about African violets online or at your local library or bookstore. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at growing these lovely and rewarding plants!

The Return of “Perma-Cloud”


My Favorite Domer tells me the “Perma-Cloud” is back, and it looks like it’s settled in for the season.

Now I’m not sure whether “Perma-Cloud” is a proper meteorological term or not, but it sounds pretty descriptive to me — and after all, isn’t communication our real goal?

For the unenlightened, “Perma-Cloud” happens to be that permanent, persistent cloud cover that hangs over the University of Notre Dame and the entire South Bend area. Climate data indicates the period from mid-August through mid-May traditionally receives lower than U.S. averages when it comes to sunshine (in fact, only the months of June and July run over or equivalent to U.S. sunshine averages).

That tells me clouds — whether partly, mostly, or completely — are a permanent fixture over South Bend and ND (at least, for much of the academic year, and especially during November and December).

Cloudiness isn’t a problem for some people. Maybe they’re fair-skinned and balk at applying sunscreen every day; maybe their eyes are sensitive to lots of bright sunlight. But others of us would find that much cloud-cover depressing.

In fact, studies have shown people generally do feel better and are more optimistic on bright, sunny days than on dreary, cloudy ones. And the shortened daylight hours of late fall and winter, coupled with an unrelenting cloud cover, affect millions in this country. Sufferers from SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, undergo hours of bright light therapy every day, and most get good results.

One good thing about clouds is they keep daytime temps from climbing too high and nighttime temps from dropping too low, meaning there’s no great back-and-forth swing in temperatures. And photographers can get excellent results taking portraits or landscapes with the diffused lighting of a cloudy day.

Still, for my money, I’d prefer a bright, sunny day any day!