Monday, July 25, 2016

"A Smijj of Strife" is now available!!!

I know I haven't posted on this blog in something like six weeks. And some of that is due just to life in general, but quite a lot of it has been due to my fiction writing habit. Up to now, no matter how many books I wrote in a year, I was not getting that many ready for publication; I only had three books for sale by the end of last year. As of this writing, I have five, and two more books are "in the pipeline" so to speak. I will definitely have six published books by the end of this year, and if the good Lord is willing I may even have seven. I need to give a shout-out to my wonderful volunteer members of my Advance Reader Team; without their unfailing help in proofreading I'd be way behind my goals right now. They are terrific, and I am blessed to have them in my life.

Today I'm happy to tell you that book five in the Tales of Telmaja series, A Smijj of Strife, is now available for sale. For those of you who don't already know this, I have created an Amazon Author page, and that's the quickest and easiest way to purchase any (or all) of my books:

Erin Manning's Amazon Author Page

For those of you who would like a quick link to the specific version of A Smijj of Strife you've been waiting to buy, they are below:

Purchase a print copy of A Smijj of Strife here.

Purchase a Kindle copy of A Smijj of Strife here.

Do you have children or grandchildren ages 8 and up who like to read adventure stories set in imaginative worlds? Do you occasionally cringe at the crude or obscene language, toilet humor, or inappropriate sexual content found in YA or even some intermediate children's fiction books? Do you dislike books that pander to young readers, books that insult their intelligence and talk down to them, books that gloss over moral questions, or books that make adult characters (especially parents) seem stupid or bumbling all the time? Do you want your children or grandchildren to enjoy exciting adventure books that do not contain any sex scenes or swear words but that are still fun, engaging, and not at all preachy?

If you've answered "yes" to any of those questions, then my books may be a good fit for your family. I would be very grateful if you would consider buying and reading them. If your child or grandchild has a Kindle reader or can use a Kindle app on a phone or computer, the Kindle copies of my books are an excellent value at $2.99 each.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I do plan to resume regular blogging here at And Sometimes Tea in the near future (there's plenty to talk about, isn't there?), but I appreciate your patience with my fiction writing, and the occasional posts about it, as well.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A few million stars, revisited

I pride myself on being the kind of person who doesn't get too sentimental about things. But I have to admit that I got a little teary-eyed just now.

You see, I was reading an old blog post of mine, and I got to a part of it that made me tear up a bit.

The post was about homeschooling, and the last paragraph of it is as follows:
Because a few million stars from now, I'll be watching some poised and eager young women take their first steps out into the world, as they discover their vocations and find God's will for their lives. And in their faces I'll see the frowning concentration of the first-graders who struggled to make a letter "B" that wasn't too "bendy;" I'll recognize the focus and direction of the girls who were determined to understand long division; I'll see the joyful spirits of the young ladies who acted out the lessons on proper introduction from the grammar books; I'll see the thoughtful introspection of the daughters who read, a chapter at a time, the story of their salvation from the religion texts. And I'll see other things, too, things I can't even imagine yet (algebra, anyone?), things that will give my girls a chance to grow in grace and wisdom toward the lives to which God will call them.
And I teared up just a bit (not too much! I'm still a redhead!) because those few million stars slipped past almost too fast for me to notice.

Which is a fancy way of saying that my youngest girl, "Hatchick" on this blog, has now joined her sisters as a homeschool high school graduate.

And I am now a retired homeschooling mom.

It was almost sixteen years ago when I started teaching our oldest (we started kindergarten early, and given her determination and drive which are still huge features of her personality it was definitely a good thing), and I am finding it a little hard to believe that we are actually finished. It really is bittersweet, because I'm so proud of all our girls and eager for Hatchick to follow her sisters into this great adventure called "college" and also a little curious and excited about what I'm going to do with myself come fall (though you know writing will be a huge part of my daily life)-yet, at the same time, there's a wistfulness that comes over me when I remember our adventures in education together and realize that life is going to be different now. Of course, one of the first things you learn as a homeschooling mom is that life isn't what you think it will be anyway; maybe there are homeschooling families whose uniformed children gather happily around the kitchen table at six a.m. and begin making up mnemonic devices to help them remember the names of all the counties in the United States while flawlessly filling in college-level math workbooks and cracking jokes in this year's foreign language (Gaelic) that are only funny if you remember the atomic mass of every element in the periodic table, but I have yet to meet that family. 

I have met (both in real life and online) actual homeschooling families who have all sorts of amazing skills and talented children, but the real-world picture often includes those afternoon temper bursts that send the least-favorite textbook flying across the living room floor (and it's bad enough when it's the child doing the throwing...I'm kidding! Really!), not to mention some very real academic struggles that are--guess what?--just like the academic struggles children might have in different school environments. If there's a difference (and I believe there is), it is that Mom can easily look for a different grammar book or math book, or seek help or tutoring online or in real life, or do whatever it takes to make sure that the child in question gets to an appropriate level of understanding in the subject in question. I think most of the really dedicated school teachers out there would like to be able to do the same for the children in their charge, but one of the sad ironies of our age is that we create educational slogans like "No child left behind!" but then impose realities on teachers that force them to decide between leaving a child or two behind, or slowing down the whole class to the point that the ubiquitous and looming standardized test may reveal that slow pace to angry administrators. My sympathy for classroom teachers has grown over the years, and I think the next catchy educational slogan ought to be "No teacher left behind." (Okay, there's the one about no male body parts in girls' locker rooms, too, but that's a topic for another day.)

The truth is that this business of teaching and raising children isn't easy. No matter how you go about it there will be triumphs and setbacks, joys and sorrows, because we are fallen human beings temporarily occupying the vale of tears. But for me, homeschooling has really been not just joyful, but a privilege. It was a privilege for me to stay at home with my daughters and be their first teacher through the early years, and having taught them how to walk and how to talk and how to use the bathroom and how to eat with utensils and how to be nice and take turns and share and so on, it just seemed natural to keep going and teach them how to make letters and numbers and then how to combine those letters and numbers in new and fascinating ways to unlock the mysteries of the universe--or, at least, those mysteries that come up in the first eighteen years of life. Natural; but still a privilege and a gift, to get to know these three amazing young women and to be so proud of them and so delighted in their company on a daily basis.

The great thing about being a retired homeschooling mom is that it's only the homeschooling part that comes to an end. The "mom" part is a life-long joy, and I'm ready to be here for all of my daughters as they head out into the vast world. They all want to find out God's will for them and to live whatever life He calls them to live, and it's an honor for me to be present as they begin these new journeys just as it has been an honor to be both mother and teacher to them all these years.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Honoring mothers

Over at a blog I'm not going to link to today, a blogger whose name I'd rather leave out of the discussion (but who is personally a mother) has decided to take aim at Mother's Day.

Specifically, she has decided that parish celebrations of Mother's Day pretty much need to go away. If priests want, they can sort of mumble a vague prayer for "all women regardless of their state in life" which she has written for the good Fathers to use.

The reason? Mother's Day is hurtful. Some women really want to be mothers but can't be, because they never married or are infertile. Some women have lost children. And some women have bad relationships with their own mothers, so all this over-the-top celebration (which usually involves a prayer out of the Book of Blessings and, perhaps, a carnation and prayer card for the moms present at Mass) is just excruciatingly painful for the women who didn't receive from God the blessing of motherhood.

Now, the reason I'm leaving the blogger's name and site out of this is that I'm not trying to hold one person up as a target. I respect that this is this person's sincere opinion.

But I also reserve the right to say that this is wrong.

Some priests choose not to acknowledge any non-religious holidays, events, or occasions before, during, or after Mass on Sundays, and this is their prerogative. They can skip mentioning Mother's Day even in a single line during this Sunday's homily; they can avoid letting the prayer intentions include even a whisper of the mention of mothers, and they can skip the blessing--and, if this is their invariable practice for Father's Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, World Marriage Day, Scout Sunday, Catholic Schools Week/Religious Teachers' or Catechists Sunday, and so on, then I have no problem with that. It is perfectly proper for priests to choose to exclude everything but the actual liturgical day, should they so choose.

However, if priests choose to acknowledge these sorts of occasions, then there has to be balance. Using the prayer from the Book of Blessings for mothers, which is here, seems to me to be just fine, and the prayer for fathers on Father's Day is appropriate too.

What is not appropriate is to decide that mothers, and mothers alone, can't be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated, praised or encouraged without inflicting such emotional damage and harm on women who are not mothers that it's better to scrap the whole thing--or, at least, to create a vague prayer honoring all women that doesn't ever mention the vocation of motherhood.

We don't treat fathers that way. We don't pretend that honoring fathers on Father's Day hurts men who can't or don't have children so deeply that it's better to create a prayer that honors all men, regardless of their state in life, and leaves it at that. We don't seem to think we have to apologize for honoring fathers and the gift and cross of fatherhood, do we?

So why do we have to apologize for honoring mothers? Why do we have to act as though women, and women alone, can't handle the idea that not all of us are given the same gifts and crosses? Why, when it comes right down to it, do we focus on how hurtful it is to women who aren't mothers to celebrate the ones who are, as if motherhood is only gift and never cross--when, like all vocations, it is always both?

When I've written about Mother's Day before on this blog there are invariably women who say that nobody celebrates them at all. Their husbands pull the old, "You're not my mother, and besides it's a greeting card holiday," in order to do nothing; their children are too young or too indifferent to recognize their mother's gifts and sacrifices; these women may celebrate other mothers, including their own, but are left alone themselves. If it wasn't for that little prayer card or blessing or carnation at Mass, they would get no recognition at all on Mother's Day, and it seems to me to be a form of churlishness to insist that in order not to hurt the unmarried or the infertile we should take even this much away from the forgotten mothers.

I think that we women are stronger and better than this. I think that we can agree that motherhood is, indeed, both a great blessing and, at times, especially in our age, a significant cross. I think we can pray at Mass for the mothers and grandmothers and godmothers, and give them tokens of our love and appreciation as a parish community, without having to become all stifled or apologetic about it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The rise of the New Catholic Pharisees

First, some good news: I did manage to finish the entire manuscript of the second book in the Adventures of Ordinary Sam series (which, right now, looks as though it will be a trilogy, but one never knows).

I love writing fiction, but I also sort of miss blogging. So I want to make an attempt to get back to it.

Fortunately, the Catholic Blogosphere is always full of reasons for me to want to blog. The latest thing I've been noticing is a phenomenon I can only call the rise of the New Catholic Pharisees.

The New Catholic Pharisees, like the Pharisees of old, are Catholics who want to place burdens upon their fellow believers--burdens that the Church herself does not place.  And the New Catholic Pharisees come in all sorts--this isn't a "liberal Catholic" problem or an "orthodox Catholic" problem--it's just a Catholic problem.

Take, for instance, the growing push in some quarters to insist that it is pretty much immoral for a Catholic to own firearms. Now, I think all reasonable people could agree that it's not exactly moral for a Catholic to stockpile illegally-purchased assault weapons while publishing anti-government manifestos and listening out the window for the sound of helicopters; it is also not exactly sane. But once you admit that the Church has never, in fact, forbidden Catholics to own various types of personal-use weapons provided they comply with local laws, secure those weapons properly to make sure children or other unauthorized users can't get at them, and carry the proper permits, you pretty much can't turn around and accuse Catholics who do own personal firearms of colluding in mass murder, or anything of the sort. The people who would give a sort of grudging permission for a Catholic who lives out in the country to own a shotgun or rifle in order to protect his livestock from coyotes but bristle in anger at the idea that a Catholic who lives in a dodgy apartment in a bad part of the city might want a pistol to protect herself from violent intruders need to consider whether they're placing a heavier burden on their fellow Catholics than the Church does.

Or consider the rumblings--as yet subdued--about whether a Catholic's duty regarding civic participation means that a Catholic absolutely must vote for one or the other of the major political parties' candidates running for the presidency. The Church doesn't say this. The Church doesn't generally want people to become totally apathetic about the political process (outside of certain times and places in which participation was a sham meant to prop up dictators and fool outside observers, and tempting though it may be to say we are there it isn't true yet), but she does not demand that her American children must vote for a person with either an "R" or a "D" next to that person's name. Insisting that she does teach that is, again, to place a burden on the faithful which the Church herself doesn't place.

Just today I found another example. Sam Guzman at The Catholic Gentleman wrote a lovely post (no, really, I'm serious) about the way NFP has benefitted him in his marriage. But sure enough, a New Catholic Pharisee turned up in the comment box below the post to write the following:
I don’t consider it (Note: NFP) moral. I have given it a good deal of thought, I’ve read the documents, I’ve asked others, I’ve even jumped headlong into arguments to try to “test” the point but up to this point I (genuinely) haven’t been able to think of, nor been given some reason or even happened upon one that can solidly defend it’s morality. Right now I am absolutely certain that the method of “partial abstinence during cycles” is morally wrong. I’m not one to be contrary for the sake of it, if I would be given some information or taught some distinction that I’m missing up to now I would admit I got it wrong and change my mind, that’s not an issue at all. Until that happens though, I’m at liberty to say it is wrong.
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman: in spite of Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II and Church tradition stretching back into the mists of history regarding the moral liceity of married couples abstaining from marital relations during the fertile period for a just reason, a random Internet combox New Catholic Pharisee has decided that NFP isn't moral. Further comments from this person indicate that he seems to agree with the opinion that if a really serious, life-threatening reason exists to avoid pregnancy the couple must abstain completely until the woman reaches menopause. I was tempted to jump into the conversation and ask whether in that case the woman wouldn't still have a duty to risk death in childbirth so that her husband wouldn't fall into serious sexual sin, since grave sin is worse than death, but the better angels restrained me from such obvious baiting.

I find it interesting that there are, apparently, New Catholic Pharisees in every Catholic population. You will see them at E.F. Masses and O.F. Masses; they make an appearance on the left, right, and middle side of every debate. The temptation to place burdens upon our fellow men that are heavier than anything that God, through His Church, ever places upon them is, I fear, a universal one.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A very brief post on the ongoing transgender bathroom debate

This week, a major retailer bravely faced the applause of the elite for declaring that any person is free to use any bathroom or changing area he or she feels like using while in that retailer's stores.

These "transgender bathroom policies," so they tell us, are all about diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. They are also about opening up private spaces, especially private spaces used by women, to full access by any man who chooses to enter those spaces for any reason whatsoever.

As many as one in six women will be the victim of a significant sex crime, including rape, in her lifetime. Men who prey on vulnerable women are probably thrilled that it's now seen as impolite—or even illegal—to challenge them when they follow women or girls into a women's bathroom, locker room, or changing area. This will give them greater access to victims, without helping people who really identify as transgender much at all. 

Should fifty percent of the US population be put at constant risk so that a fraction of a percent (transgenders reportedly number about 0.2% of the population) can have their feelings validated? This isn't a diversity issue; it's a safety issue, and it's disappointing that in all the self-congratulatory posing of the elite there is no acknowledgement of that reality at all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Zen of living in harmony with the stuff you already own...

On Facebook the other day, I went into a mini-rant about those clickbait articles you see about how to fix all the storage problems in your house, get organized, and feel the waves of energy that come with decluttering. After pointing out that those articles expect you to have all sorts of things you don't have--not little, unimportant things like time and money, but big things like empty closets and spare bookshelves, spaces under nonexistent (in our house, anyway) staircases, empty wine crates, really tall ceilings (in order to hang all those DIY hooks, shelves, and physical dimension alteration devices), a collection of power tools that would make Bob Vila jealous, and a degree in structural engineering (well, maybe some of my readers have that last, but I certainly don't), I tossed off a suggestion: maybe somebody should write a series of articles along the lines of, "The Zen of living in harmony with the crap you already own and can't get rid of because you can't afford to replace it and you're sort of still using it on a daily basis, with bonus lessons on how not to swear when you trip over stuff."

Somebody suggested I do it. Since I'm very open to writing suggestions, and since I have been struggling to blog mainly because I can't think of ways to comment on the Big Important Issues of the Day that will be a) helpful, b) charitable, and c) devoid of substantial cursing, I thought it might be fun.

This, then, is the first of these posts.

Take a look, dear reader, at the main living areas of your house. Do you have more than four or five such areas, including the kitchen, and not including the space near the front door that you try to pretend is an actual room instead of part of a hallway? Are all of them spotlessly clean, beautifully decorated, harmoniously arranged, well-organized, with just a hint of vanilla spice and pixie dust in the atmosphere? Congratulations! This post is not for you.

If you have fewer than five living areas (we have three, here at the Manning house, including the kitchen), if you can't pretend your front entryway is a separate room even if you squint and try really, really hard to see it that way, if the living areas are what might be charitably described as "clean-ish," if the decoration style is best described as, "Well, bless your heart," if the furniture is arranged according to the ancient principle of "You can't take a step without falling," if "well-organized" means "I stuffed everything into that desk with the lid that closes, sort of, on a good day," and if the atmosphere of the home reminds visitors more of Vincent Price than Martha Stewart, then keep reading.

I'm not going to tell you how to fix any of it--not today, anyway. Truth is, I don't know. I tend to fluctuate between .pdf files of fiction writing and a different kind of PDF, one that stands for "Periodic Decluttering Frenzies." These PDFs are well-intentioned efforts to remove clutter by cleaning out closets and drawers, donating old books and media, and then, in theory, moving on to things like the kitchen cabinets and the garage and so on. I usually get through the clothing clean-out and my husband does the books and media thing, and then life starts happening (often before we've really finished), and the kitchen and garage get put off until next time. If there ever is one.

No, I'm not going to pretend to tell you how to organize your life (especially if it involves somehow finding vintage tin tubs that you can turn into storage ottomans, or similar nonsense). But I will tell you that it is possible to take a deep breath, look around at the place where you live, and come to terms with the stuff in it.

Let's say that it's possible to give one's housekeeping efforts a score or grade (it isn't, really, but for the sake of argument, let's pretend). Now, let's say that a score of 100 points is awarded to those houses in magazines that nobody ever lives in and that have no experience whatsoever of dust, let alone of toy clutter or baby spit-up or teenage baking efforts or any of those other joys of living.

"Well," you may be thinking to yourself, "if those houses get 100 points, then my score has to be in the fifties somewhere, if I'm lucky." But wait--it's more complicated than that.

Start with zero points. Now, give yourself five points for each person (including yourself) who lives in the home, if you are the person who is mainly in charge of cleaning and organizing things. Yes, often this will be mom, but there are some stay-at-home dads out there who have taken on these tasks and we don't want to leave them out. If you don't think you should give yourself five points for each person, ask yourself this question: do you pick up at least one item each day that each person has left out, dropped in a hamper, failed to put in the dishwasher, etc.? I'm probably being conservative with the "five point per person" rule.

Next, give yourself an additional five points for each child between the ages of three and ten. For babies younger than three, you get an extra ten points per child, with a bonus of ten more points if you have more than one child under age three right now. If you have had a baby in the past six months you get twenty-five additional points automatically.

Now, this one might be controversial, but here it is: if you are homeschooling, give yourself an additional five points per homeschooled child. Why? Because if you are homeschooling, then your children are home with you all day (unless you are all out together). This means that you can't clean while they are sitting in brightly-lit classrooms creating messes for other people to clean up; they are sitting at your kitchen table (or their desks, etc.) and the science projects and finger-painting are happening right there. It is significantly harder to clean around people than to clean when the people are gone, which is why corporations have whole cleaning crews that come in after hours, with maybe a handful of custodial workers to keep the bathrooms from becoming unfit for human use during the workday.

If you have any sort of issues that make cleaning difficult (physical handicaps, mental heath matters, chronic health conditions, etc.) add between ten and twenty points depending on how serious the impediment is.

Add on five more points for each daily task you usually complete (dinner? bath times for youngest children? lunches for working people or school kids? laundry? and so on).

Now, add up your score.

I bet it's higher than you thought it would be. I bet some of you have more than 100 points.

Look at your living areas again. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the baby's board book section of the bookshelf is starting to look like some cardboard-eating zombies have gotten to it? Is it really worth lamenting over your inability to replace the kitchen floor again this year, even though the old vinyl flooring has some pretty deep grooves in it? Is it a problem that your refrigerator is cleverly hidden under mounds of printed recipes and children's artwork? Does your house actually look like a public health menace, or does it just look like people actually live in it--people, moreover, who are really dear to you and who matter more than a thousand Pinterest ideas and a million decluttering techniques?

Someday, when your children are grown up, your house will probably be the spotless and organized oasis of your dreams. But it will also be really quiet--at least, until the grandkids come over. Until then, unless you could be featured on an episode of "Hoarders," chances are that things really aren't as bad as you fear they are, and it will all get sorted out in the wash (so long as somebody puts those baskets of unfolded laundry away one of these days).

Of course, you may be tempted to jump on the "minimalism" bandwagon despite these positive thoughts...but that's a post for next time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A brief note

I do hope to resume some more regular--if sporadic--blogging soon.

But at the present time I am editing three different manuscripts with a view to self-publishing them; I am writing a new book during April's Camp NaNoWriMo; and I am approaching the finish line with our youngest daughter, who is about to graduate from homeschooling and go on to college (which means a lot of paperwork for both of us).

Your patience, as always, is treasured.