Why I Love the St. Rose Carnival

We moved to Newtown in 2001, after spending much time scoping out what we thought would be the perfect place to raise our family. Shortly after we moved in, we re-engaged with the Catholic Church (a long story for another day…) and since then, the St. Rose Carnival has been an annual tradition for our family.

St. Rose CarnivalI love the St. Rose Carnival because it’s big enough to have something for everyone: food, games, little-kid rides and big-kid rides. Yet small enough that my now teens can cruise with their friends and we don’t have to worry about their safety.

I love the St. Rose Carnival because almost every other person you see there is someone you know and there are lots of hugs and smiles and wishes for a happy summer.

I love that the St. Rose Carnival is the product of so many wonderfully dedicated staff and volunteers, that together we help make it all happen with our time, talent, donations, prayers and, of course, our raffle tickets!

And I love that even on a rainy evening, you’ll still find lots of people having fun.

St. Rose Carnival 2013

Honey Lane Rocks!

I love my neighborhood. I love my neighbors! We live in a secluded little part of Sandy Hook that was built in the 1960’s and 1970’s when a large parcel of beautiful woodsy property was subdivided into our wonderfully “old-fashioned” neighborhood. There are no giant-sized houses here, or even huge tracts of land, it’s mostly moderately-sized, yet very comfortable, houses and yards.

Honey Lane in SpringThis is a place where we have block parties, where neighbors bring meals when there’s been tragedy in a family, where you check on your neighbors after a storm to see if they need anything you have, where the “Last Day of School” party is an annual tradition that my children will always remember.

I feel so deeply grateful to be part of this neighborhood family. I also feel that there’s something here that all of us should pay attention too… even those without the blessings of a neighborhood like ours. It’s our connections that give our lives meaning. Our shared traditions and our loving kindness toward one another that make a community worth being a part of. I feel blessed to share in this community.

Thank you to all my wonderful neighbors!



Easy Scrapbook Journaling

I do hand journaling in my albums in addition to some “digital” journaling using my computer and everyday photo-paper. One of the troubles with digital journaling is the temptation to use non-archival paper. I’m always tempted to use index cards, but regular index cards are not photo-safe and acid-free. So, I recommend using something like HP’s everyday photo paper in the 4×6 size for printing your typed digital journaling.

The nice thing about printed journaling (aside from not having to worry about how neat your handwriting is) is that you can fit quite a lot of text in a small space.

Digital Journaling
Digital Journaling

I’ve created a template in MSWord that’s sized to 4×6 with landscape orientation. I then insert a text box to type my journaling. A text box allows you to get text closer to the edges of the page than normal margins would allow.

You can keep the border on the text box (and/or do fancy things with it with some of the settings in Word) or you can remove the border. To remove the border, look under the “Shape Outline” menu and choose no outline.

Text Box, No Outline

You can also do things like change the fill color of the text box, which can allow you to get white text on a colored background. This can be a fun look for journal boxes or page titles, of course you do need a color printer for this technique to work.

Colored Background Text Box

I’m also a big fan of the fun true-type fonts you can get online for free. Installing them on a PC is as easy as double-clicking the font file, once you’ve downloaded it. You will see a preview of the font and the option to install it.

Click Install to add this font to your MSWord Options

I’ve downloaded some great free fonts from the following sites:

By using a combination of hand journaling, handwritten or typed titles and typed digital journaling you can create pages that are simple, attractive and EASY to do.


Softwood Cuttings – Mock Orange Propagation

After some initial success at herbaceous propagation (rooting cuttings from herbs), I decided to give it a try on a Mock Orange Bush (Philadelphus coronarius) I got from my sister a few years ago. She has since moved and I thought it would be great to give her back a cutting from the bush she gave me.

Falscher Jasmin (Philadelphus coronarius)

I did a little reading about Mock Orange plants and found this tidbit:

Mock orange will root if softwood cuttings are taken at this time of year. The cuttings should be treated with a rooting powder or liquid and stuck in a sand/peat media. The cuttings should be in partial shade and kept moist.

read more: http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/shrub/mckornge.htm

I started on June 3rd, when the bush was flowering and had soft, green shoots with new leaves. I snipped a few of the shoots just above a leaf node, but made sure to include at least one other leaf node on the cutting. I dipped the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and popped it into a prepared hole in my organic potting mix.

I watered them well and left them. That first day, I didn’t even think of covering the cuttings with plastic to keep them moist and prevent them from dying from over-transpiration. By the end of the day they were totally flopsy and looked about ready to keel over. 🙂

So I did a little more reading and found:

A greenhouse is not necessary for successful propagation by stem cuttings; however, maintaining high humidity around the cutting is critical….. Maintain high humidity by covering the pot with a bottomless milk jug or by placing the pot into a clear plastic bag.

read more: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/hil-8702.html

So, I watered them some more, said a little prayer and covered them with some translucent grocery bags. I also moved them to the North side of the house so that they would be protected from the sun.

Softwood Cuttings with Grocery Bags

So, it’s now over 2 weeks later. I’m not sure how long they will take to root. I found some info online that said 2-3 weeks. But it didn’t specify if that was for herbaceous or softwood cuttings. My guess is that it will take at least 3 weeks or maybe more.

Softwood Cuttings
Mock Orange Cuttings after 2 weeks.

They’re not quite as perky as when I first took the cuttings, but they’re not dead yet! So, there’s hope. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.

Autism Spectrum Disorder – Incidence Rates

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the CDC reporting an increase in the incidence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The recent studies (from the CDC) focus on incidence rates from 2000 to the present. The Wikipedia article on Autism shows a chart with an almost linear growth shown from 1996 to 2007.

Autism Rates by Eubulides used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

However, based on data reported  by the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control, the reported incidence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder since the 1970′s look like this:

Autism Incidence Rate Chart

I didn’t include all years in this chart because the data-points are taken specifically from the CDC and NIH reports as well as a few other reports from years prior to 2000.

The big question is WHY? Broader definitions? Better diagnostic procedures? The scary part is that if you do the math, there has been an increase of 3900% in the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders from 1970 to 2013 from .5 per 1000 to 20 per 1000 in a 43 year period. Even if we say that definitions are broader and diagnosis is better, that’s still a horrifying increase in the incidence rates of this spectrum of disorders. I just saw that Time published a study on June 1, 2013 about genetic markers for Autism. More reading to do….

Why do you think Autism Spectrum Disorders have increased so dramatically in the last 50 years?


Parking Lot Road Rage

Maybe I’m overly sensitive. In fact, I am sure that there are many who would describe me that way… But when a driver flipped me the bird when I proceeded from a rather blind stop sign in the Stop & Shop parking lot, I was stunned. I felt as if I had been slapped in the face.

Stop and Shop

Yes, she had the “right of way.” No, I didn’t see her. Yes, I stopped in plenty of time and immediately made a very apologetic gesture.

It’s obvious I’m not a city driver, or I might be immune to things like angry attitudes and rude gestures. The AAA recommends “Be as polite on the road as you would be in any other social situation. You cannot control traffic, but you can control your responses to it.”

Can you imagine giving someone the finger if they bumped into you in the grocery store?

When I got home my dear husband reminded me that I don’t know what stresses that woman was under, what sort of things could be upsetting her, how a semi-close call in a parking lot could put her over the edge. That’s all true and makes a whole lot of sense.

Dear Stop & Shop parking lot Lady, I hope you’re having a better day.

Over the last few days, I have been a very solicitous driver; pausing to let people join traffic, making sure I am being as considerate as possible, and triple-checking each intersection before going ahead.

Maybe the lesson I need to learn is to be more kind, more considerate, more aware of the stresses that people are under, or maybe Sand Hill Plaza needs to trim the shrubbery away from the intersections. 😉



Oddities of Gardeners – Why I Love my Soil Knife

Have you ever had this happen… you’re out gardening and a weed catches your eye, you pull it. Then you see another and another. Somehow you end up about 15 feet away from your trowel (or clippers, or knife..) and you come upon a monster weed that requires digging up instead of pulling up. You’re so into the task of conquering this weed that getting up to walk the 15 feet to your trowel doesn’t even occur to you and instead you find yourself tugging, pulling, even digging at the weed with a nearby stick instead of stopping to get up and get the right tool?

Ok, so maybe I’m strange, but that has certainly happened to me… on more than one occasion.

Soil Knife

Enter the greatest gardening tool I have ever owned, my soil knife. This knife is a multi-function tool that, in my opinion, is all I need on a regular day in the garden. It has depth markings on the blade, a little notch in the side for cutting twine or string, a super strong blade and sturdy handle, and a serrated edge (which was perfect for the lettuce crew cut I did this morning). It even comes with a handy-dandy leather sheath that can hook onto your belt.

I use this knife to dig holes for transplants, to stir up the soil before broadcasting seeds, to cut twine, to tie up floppy plants and even to gouge out weeds and sweep them under the garden walkways to decompose.

Just this weekend I learned a new way of harvesting lettuce where my soil knife comes in very handy. Previously I had just harvested the outer leaves of lettuce to make my salad, but I read of another method in Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening. The author recommends giving your early lettuce a crew cut instead of cutting just a few leaves. He says pulling just a few leaves allows the lettuce to keep on with it’s original life-cycle toward bolting and flowering and that giving the lettuce a crew cut forces it to start again with tender new leaves in a few weeks time, thereby giving you an easy second harvest and possibly a third after that before the plants are done for the season.

Soil KnifeHe also recommends sowing seeds very thickly in a wide row instead of using the recommendations on the seed packets. The lettuce plants above were transplants fromShortt’s Organic Farm, but the picture below shows how I did sow some lettuce seed very thickly. They’re still too small to harvest, but will be ready soon.

Baby Lettuce

If you have gardening tips to share on how to make gardening easier or increase yields, I would love to hear from you.

Dynamic Catholic Book Program: Rediscover Catholicism

Rediscover CatholicismThis year, at St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, we participated in the Dynamic Catholic Book Program, distributing copies of Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly to all the people attending Ash Wednesday services and Easter Masses.

This post is just a quick recap of our experience from my viewpoint as coordinator of the program.

It first must be said that the Dynamic Catholic Institute team is friendly, helpful and responsive, which makes a program like this much easier to implement.

Because I was a bit intimidated by the process of distributing a couple thousand books, we decided to split the program into two (Ash Wednesday and Easter) instead of doing the whole distribution at one time (like at Christmas or Easter Masses).

We started by ordering 1000 books from Dynamic Catholic for Ash Wednesday. They were delivered a week ahead of time. We solicited volunteers by sending out emails to our parish ministries and our religious education family lists. We got a lot of volunteers, especially teens needing community service hours.

Book Program Insert

Before Ash Wednesday services we unpacked books and stacked as many as possible at the doors of the church. We also used the book distribution as a way to gather email addresses of parishioners (to save money on communications) and enclosed in each book a postcard that asked for name and email address to update our parish database.

During services on Ash Wednesday we distributed almost all of the 1000 books. According to Dynamic Catholic you should order books for 75% of your registered parishioners. We ordered slightly less than that in total. We repeated the process for Easter weekend and ordered 1500 books which were delivered the week before Easter.

Just a note for anyone considering coordinating a program like this… it’s a bit harder to get volunteers on Easter than it is for Ash Wednesday, so be prepared to pray and humbly beg for help. 🙂

Over Easter weekend, we distributed another 900 books. I think we would have distributed more, except that many parishioners have a copy of this book because they attended the Passion and Purpose Retreat with Matthew that we hosted in January 2011. We will use the extra books to give to families entering their children into our first grade religious education program, since many of them are Rediscovering Catholicism as they enroll their children into the First Holy Communion preparation program.

We also started a book study of Rediscover Catholicism as way to encourage people to read the book and have a forum to discuss it. Here is a link to the study guide in PDF format: http://askjo.co/rediscover-catholicism-sg This is a reformatted version of what’s available from Dynamic Catholic because I wanted it to be able to print in booklet format.

So, are you ready to become an evangelist in your parish and participate in the Dynamic Catholic Book Program? Or have you done so already and have advice to share? Please comment below.

Why I love Picasa

Picasa is a software tool for organizing and editing photos. I think it used to be an independent product, but by the time I heard about it, it was owned by Google. As with most things Google, it is a free download.

PicasaThey also talk about Picasa as a tagging and sharing program (via Google+). I’m not so much into the sharing part, but I do like tagging. The cool thing that you can do with tagging in photos is create what are called “people” albums. Once you have tagged a few photos of a specific person Picasa’s face recognition function can “recognize” that person and will keep a “People” album with “thumbnail” pictures of that person.

Since tomorrow is Father’s day, the following is a screen-shot from the People Album of my Dad, Felio Osto.


As you can see the photos are not in any chronological order, but they are all thumbnail portraits of my Dad taken from all the photos I have digitally stored.

A couple of years ago, I had the goal of scanning in all of our old photos (and negatives and slides) into a digital format, which took me over a year to complete, but I finally did it. Now all of our cameras are digital, so keeping them organized in Picasa is easy to do. The next step is to begin tagging and captioning all the photos, so that when I go to look for “that great picture on the dunes when were in Cape Cod” I can use the search function to find exactly the right photo.

In addition to my hunger for information of all kinds, I also love to be the “archivist” the keeper of the family stories and histories. I will be blogging more about that hobby on a new site I started this week, ScrapbookingMaven.com. Every time I register a new domain name I think of my daughter saying “How many websites does one girl need?” Well, daughter, I don’t know. I haven’t hit my limit yet! 🙂

Other things you can do with Picasa, besides organize your photos, are things like, adding text or borders, cropping, editing the lighting, retouching or adding a variety of really cool filters to “fancy-up” your pictures. I also learned today that in addition to the basic ability to add text to photos, there’s now a whole section called “Creative Kit” where you can add things like speech bubbles or silly things like mustaches or tiaras (I’ll probably play with that more later.)

Following are several articles on some of the other ways of using Picasa:

Do you use Picasa? What do you like best about it?

Creative Memories Going out of Business

I have been a fan of Creative Memories for many years, their scrapbooks are the Cadillac of Scrapbooks, super high quality. However, after a few years of shelling out over $26 for just the 12 x 12 cover-sets (pages are extra), I switched over to Colorbok brand albums, which are less expensive and widely available in stores and online.


I just got an email today from my Creative Memories consultant that all products will be available only “while supplies last”… so if you have some unfinished album projects, it’s time to buy what you need even if it’s going to take you a while to finish!

One of the things that I like about Creative Memories, besides that fact that their products are very high quality, is that their focus is always on preserving the memories and not how many embellishments you have on each page. They place a high value on Journaling (writing the stories of the photos) and on getting albums completed simply and easily…. which is definitely my philosophy as well.

I hope that CM can find a way to rise from the ashes of their financial difficulties, because their consultants and their products have always been an inspiration to me.