Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fast away the old year passes...

A mere seven hours remain of 2011, and it's natural to look back on the year that has gone (I gained a godson -- the newly crawling Charlie Rosario -- saw my brother Ethan deploy to the Middle East and come home safely, and I bought a car, an experience that was somewhat surreal and yet made me feel concretely an adult).

Like most people, I make resolutions for the one upon us. Although it's been true of past years, I want to write creatively more (which, in looking back, was really the only resolution I made last year. I kept it a little, but there's much room for improvement); to clean out my refrigerator (although more of a chore than a resolution) which so desperately needs it; to get back into the gym regularly because, even if I say so myself, I looked damn good for most of 2010. In 2011 I let it slide, and I want to get back into those clothes I only wore for a short period of time. I've also done a lamentable amount of cooking this year. So I resolve to cook at least one meal a week (and put all those back issues of Cooking Light to good use!) starting tomorrow with a crock-pot pork loin recipe I'm eager to try.

As for the writing, I was recently encouraged to continue by one of my fellow reporters at the paper. He's a veteran at the paper (he said his original plan when he started there was to stay three years. That was in 1990, which makes my two-year plan and six-year stay pale in comparison) who is also a poet, and was encouraged to hear I still write creatively, albeit not as frequently as I used to. But last night (well, about 1 a.m. this morning, to be honest), just before bed, I was thinking about how, to me, the New Year has always seemed slightly akin to Advent (although less liturgical, of course): a new season to be hopeful for coming joy. I was reflecting on hope, and I had this phrase trip through my brain, which I had to write down. It turned into something akin to a concrete poem:
Hope on a plate

There's a chance for me to take another international trip in 2012. I'm saving up for a ticket to further European adventures and the opportunity to knock out at least one of the places that's been on my to-visit bucket list (I started a bucket list post a few weeks back and haven't finished it) for a long time, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany (more on that later), among other sights.

Of course, I want to continue to deepen my prayer life, and to trust in God more fully. This never changes, nor will it, I pray. I hope to say the Rosary more frequently, and to keep trucking through the Theology of the Body. I pray for good things for all my family and friends, for their intentions, for peace and wisdom and grace. For 2012 to be a year of new beginnings and of joy, with opportunities that surprise even myself.

So too may charity unite
Us all in bonds of endless light,
And bringing household peace, o'ercome
Life's woes in ev'ry earthly home.
- Pope Leo XIII

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just for fun

I've found my wedding cake! You know, if I decide to have a Muppet-themed wedding when I get married...


I found this over at Cake Wrecks which, if you've never been there, is a source of nearly endless enjoyment (and sometimes horror, if you have any sort of grammar and spelling skills) at the expense of, well, lets just call them less-experienced cake decorators. On Sundays Jen, the creator, also posts fun and beautiful cakes baked and decorated by professionals. This cute monster creation falls under that category.

And yes, being a girl, I do think about wedding cakes occasionally, even though there is no wedding in the offing for me at the moment.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A hair-brained post

I've been thinking about a hair-themed post for several weeks now, ever since an older woman stopped to stare at me in the library not too long ago. I thought something was wrong at first. "Oh, my," she said, pausing on her walk to the checkout kiosk, "What glorious hair." For a retiree, she was pretty speedy, and I barely had time to smile, probably somewhat goofily, and say thank you before she'd taken off again. It was a completely unexpected compliment, especially since I don't know that I've ever thought about myself, or any part thereof, as particularly glorious.

But her words stuck with me, and for the rest of that afternoon, I found hair-related quotes  and incidents from literature popping into my head. First, the scene in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" where Jo reveals she's sold her "abundant" hair -- "her one beauty," as one of her sisters terms it -- to a wig maker to buy a train ticket for Marmee. Another Anne, Anne of Green Gables, bemoans her red mane and wishes she could have jet-black hair like her "bosom friend" Diana. She even goes so far as to try and dye it, resulting in her hair turning an unfortunate green hue. And St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, says "the long hair of a woman is her glory," but likewise admonishes those who go to prayer with their heads uncovered because it shows a lack of humility.

Well, women can certainly be picky --  and, yes, vain -- about their hair. We want what we don't have and lament what we do, yearning for curls if our hair is straight (and vice versa) or wishing it was a different color. We dye it, straighten it with flatirons, perm it and fill it with product to be more shiny, less frizzy or sometimes just to keep it in place. Most of us have had at least one hair style that we regret (bangs, for example. I tried them twice, and they were no better the second time around).



 When I was younger, somewhere around 6, I remember telling my mom that I wished I was a blond. Even at that age, somehow the "blondes have more fun" mantra had already worked it's way into my psyche. Or perhaps it was due to Barbie. I was incredibly excited when I received a Barbie doll that had even light brown hair and so looked slightly more like me. Funnily enough, I had honey blond hair when I was 2 and 3, but by the time I got to kindergarten, it was long gone. I would actually look terrible as a blond now, I think.

I've had my hair both long and short. For a long time, growing up, my mom cut it. There wasn't much to her cuts -- occasionally some layers, or the aforementioned bangs.

The first time I had my hair cut in a salon, I was 13, and I got one of those asymmetrical cuts that was popular in the early 90s. I don't know that I'd do that again, but it looked good at the time. By the time I went to college, it was the longest it's ever been, nearly to my elbow. A few months in, though, I chopped it almost all off, over a foot of it so it was less than chin-length. Sometimes, you just need a change. I know women who are incredibly intimidated by cutting their hair short. I've been to salons where, when I tell the stylist that I want it bobbed, they practically turn to stone and ask me, several times, if I'm sure. Once, there was even an older woman in the next chair over who said "You're very brave." Really? It's a haircut. I was hardly going into battle.

Right now, my hair is the longest it's been in several years. Though hardly Rapunzel-esque, it is practically to the middle of my back. Usually, when it gets to this point, I'm frustrated with it, especially if I try to blow-dry it -- I find myself looking like Gilda Radner playing Rosanne Rosannadanna on SNL, minus the bangs. But I have a really good stylist and a great cut. And I certainly appreciate the fact that it's pretty low-maintenance in the styling department.

Still, vanity has gotten the better of me, too, when it comes to my hair. Up until June of this year, I'd had what is typically referred to as virgin hair; never been dyed, never been permed. And I was proud of that. But thanks to genetics, my hair started to gray early (I found the first full-length one at 24), so over the summer I finally decided to dye it, just to cover up the gray. I was nervous that it would look strange, but practically no one noticed, which was my hope, since I didn't want the change to be drastic or obvious. One of these days, when I'm older, I'll let it go all nice and silver. I think having longer, silvery hair (why do almost all women cut their hair short into a helmet-like do when they reach a certain age?) will look quite striking. But not until I'm 50, let's say. :) Hopefully, it will still be glorious.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October's bright blue weather

O sun and skies and clouds of June
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather.
-Helen Hunt Jackson

The first breath of chill in the air awakens something. An energy that has lain dormant. More than spring, to me, fall conveys its own special brand of verve. Perhaps it's because spring here dives right into summer without pause and the heat is more oppressive than it is welcome, and that it just seems to take more effort to do things slowly.

But this crispness is enchanting, the door cracked to Thanksgiving and Christmas and a peek around the frame to at least a semblance of the season that is in full flush north of here. Even without the vibrant change of color, autumn is an opening of windows at night and an opportunity to (literally) let down my hair from the near-constant buns and ponytails of languid summer, a time for scarves and sweaters; despite the protests of "it's cold" from neighbors, I rarely find it such.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where I'm From

I stumbled upon this writing exercise while meandering about the internet today (and honestly can't remember how I wound up on the this page in the first place. It links to another, possibly the original template. That led me to this information) and I thought it would be fun. I like writing exercises (yes, I know that makes me strange. I'm ok with being strange) and have fond memories of several I did in various creative writing classes in college. But also, I'm in a non-writing phase at the moment. I tend to beat myself up about this sometimes, but I'm realizing more and more that, as with most things, there is an ebb and flow to that as well. I found myself filling in the blanks out of order as the answers came to me, but I don't think that mattered, ultimately.
 
Where I'm From

 
I am from hand-me-down furniture, from Playskool's "Record your world of sounds" tape recorder, horse models, fairy tales, a Fort Apache play set and the Berenstain Bears.

I am from avocado green appliances, Legos underfoot, the once-despised but now fondly-recalled scent of paper mill, shuttle launches, the combined smell of mothballs and morning coffee, daydreaming under the dining room table, balled up newspaper wars and waking on weekends to The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Bangles.

I am from my parent's lawn I started mowing at 12, the cherry laurel I'd climb to read "Romeo & Juliet," crepe myrtles, orange trees, gardenias, hydrangeas and pine needles.

I am from pigtails and honey blond hair darkening, Santa gifts left unwrapped on Christmas morning, Disney rides that no longer exist (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), mom's overflowing tea cabinet, long car trips and going gray early, from Bertolotti and Klockenkemper and Lynes and Wilson.

I am from lengthy reminiscences (which is hardly surprising) and stubbornness from all sides.

From "Annie get your gun," "Don't spin in the piano room chairs," "Pick up your feet" and "Don't say 'hey,' hay is for horses."

I am from cradle Catholics and converts, prayers at meals and bedtime, ("Angel of God, my guardian dear...)," from chastisement for pretending a piece of Trident was a consecrated Host (at 6?), the only girl with no veil at my First Communion, from a mental snapshot of how my mother's hand looked to me as a child while resting on the pew at Mass, my great-grandmother's sterling Rosary which I am never without and hopes for a future unwritten.

I’m from Fort Polk, Louisiana, Mobile, Alabama and rural Illinois, old Dutch New York, Italy, Prussia and Florida (including Key West, which I'll get to someday), from sofrito-based turkey dressing, spinach Lafayette and chocolate pancakes.

From Great Aunt Julia Collins convicted of a murder she didn't commit and sent to the Alabama Insane Hospital, staying even once she was discovered innocent; from my dad who, as a boy started a forest fire playing cowboys and Indians; from Grandpa dropping silken handkerchiefs from his plane to girlfriends he planned to take out that night and my great-great grandfather Obediah Lynes lying about his age and running off to to join the Confederacy.

From old movies and Saturday morning cartoons and late nights reading and college football.

I am from both overflowing boxes of sepia photos with once-heard names scrawled on the back and alphabetized albums arranged by year, from scrapbooks of clippings and attics full of the past, a family tree written on the back of a paper shopping bag, glass-fronted bookcases and Chrysler cars.

I am from these people and things and more than this short list can convey, from stories forgotten and some written down, a hodge-podge and melting pot that can neither be weighed nor found wanting.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembrance

September 11, 2001. I can't quite believe it's been 10 years. In a way, it seems like we've been living in a post-9/11 world for much longer than that.

While everyone experienced that day differently -- and I would never claim anything like those who experienced the events firsthand -- it was also the same: horror and grief and the knowledge that everything had changed. There are so many images from 9/11 ingrained on our collective memory: smoke, fire, tears and a tidal wave of ash, fluttering paper everywhere, remains of the towers stark against the sky. The planes careening into the buildings over and over and over again. Like my mother remembers exactly where she was when she heard JFK was assassinated, and how our grandparents knew what they were doing when they learned the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we will always remember where we were when the Twin Towers (and the planes flying into the Pentagon and the field in Shanksville, Pa. -- blow upon blow) were hit and, subsequently, fell to earth.

I wrote a short article recently on North Port's piece of one of the Twin Towers, eventually to become part of a permanent memorial there. I was almost hesitant about touching the I-beam:
"It’s a 500-pound, rusty chunk of metal with a strip of nuggety concrete still clinging to it. Protruding from one side, steel bolts at least an inch in diameter are bent like reeds in the wind.
But it wasn’t a gentle wind that caused these bolts to warp. It was pressure and heat and gravity, enough force to shear some of the bolts completely off at their base and fling others in directions opposite the bolts just next to them..." 

In 2001, I lived in Gainesville, where I was going to grad school at UF. I didn't have class on 9/11, but was headed to work in the undergrad telecommunication department, where I was an office assistant. I was in my car, driving to the commuter lot to catch the bus into the heart of campus when I heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the North Tower. Everyone thought it was a tragic accident, and no one was panicking because it was so early, not yet 9 a.m. I chatted with others on the bus about how terrible such an accident was.

It wasn't until I got off the bus and walked into Weimer Hall, the Journalism building, that I learned of the plane hitting the second tower. There was a wall of televisions just off the atrium next to the journalism library, and I joined the semi-circle of students standing or sitting on the brick floor in stunned silence. I was late for work -- not that anyone minded, ultimately -- but couldn't tear myself away from the screens. The whole day seemed to stop.

Eventually I did head up to my office on the second floor. I just remember flashes from the rest of my time at work. According to my journal, I spent a lot of time wandering down to the dean's office (where I recall the plants being incredibly green) and watching the TV there, waiting for confirmation that classes were cancelled for the day, as well as standing in the doorway of Dr. Debbie Treise's office (she had a TV, too) a few offices down from mine. It was there I watched one of the towers, possibly the second, fall, slack-jawed, hand over my mouth. It strikes me as silly now, but I apologized to her for just standing there. Waiting for the bus to head home later that day, one of the reporters for The Alligator, the college paper, asked me for my reaction. I remember all I could think to say was "It's just crazy." I couldn't come up with anything more than that.

I personally didn't know anyone who died or was injured. One of my classmates at the time, Gary Mattingly (a newscaster for one of the local TV stations) lost a cousin, a New York City firefighter. I had several college friends in D.C. at the time, and I was fortunately able to IM with both Marie (who worked two miles away) and Linda (who only lived a block and a half from the Pentagon) while still at work that day and make sure they were ok -- they were, but were scared. Linda's whole house shook, she said. My uncle Tim, retired Navy and a government contractor, worked in the Pentagon occasionally, but thankfully hadn't been there since the week before.

According to my journal, that night, in moments when I wasn't watching the news (although I probably just had it muted -- for days all my roommate and I could seem to do was watch the coverage, wiping away the tears and "waiting for another person to be pulled from the rubble." I remember the always nattily-dressed Peter Jennings reporting with tired eyes, in his shirt sleeves with thick 5 o'clock shadow, continuing to update people with the latest), I called home and all my close friends. I wrote that "It almost seemed necessary -- like an affirmation that some things were still the same."


Later daily Mass at 5:30 was packed that night. It was so nice to see the church full. All we felt we could do was pray, for those who had died, and in hope that some might be found alive.
Before going to bed, I wrote the day's events in my journal. At that point we had no idea how many had died -- some 50,000 worked in the towers. I remember sitting on the floor in front of my bedroom closet (not sure why exactly I was sitting just there) and wondering about whether we would soon see young men drafted and marching off to war. We still didn't know who was responsible. And we did go to war, but in a different way than we ever had before.

Soon after, radio stations started playing a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Secret Garden" that included sound bites of people reacting to the tragedy and remembering loved ones who had perished in the attacks. I always thought it was an interesting choice of song. Back in 1996, it was the theme song for my senior prom, although very few people had heard of it at the time. Only later that year did it became really popular once it was featured in "Jerry Maguire" ("Did you know the human head weighs eight pounds?" "Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello.") and clips from the movie were also added to the song.

Anyway, about a week later, I was heading home from a Catholic Young Adults meeting at my parish, Holy Faith. I don't remember anything about what we talked about that night, but as I was driving, I happened to glance up. I saw the lights of a plane in the air blinking against the night sky for the first time since the attacks. It seemed like I'd cried so much, but this, too, brought tears to my eyes, not of sadness, but as a small symbol of hope that things would, in a way, be ever-so-slightly more normal.

Afterwards, movies and TV shows airbrushed away previously filmed images of the WTC out of fear that people would be traumatized by seeing them still standing. One of those movies was "Serendipity" and, while I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, I thought taking the buildings out was silly. I remember sitting in the theater noting the absence of where the towers should have been. Shouldn't we remember them as they were?

I have newspapers from September 12 saved. Some of them show people in the Towers jumping out, choosing that instead of fire. There was a huge outcry when those were published, but they, too, show the horror of the day.

I read on one website last week that there was some backlash over all the coverage of the tenth anniversary, the argument being that the shows somehow trivialize the tragedies by turning them into entertainment. Seriously? None of the shows I have seen have been remotely pandering, instead honoring heroes and remembering those who were lost.

One such show was a special about three men, two who were New York Port Authority workers, who risked their lives to climb higher in the North Tower to help others get out. They made it to the 90th floor and rescued more than 70 people by opening jammed doors or guiding workers to safety through smoke and rubble. One of the three survived after helping someone with injuries down the stairs. The other two died, sacrificing themselves that others might live. It was a small story, one of thousands from that day and the days that followed, but one that shouldn't be forgotten. Those who had albeit brief interactions with these men credit them with their lives. Ten years on, still all I could do was cry. Watching one of the many videos of the planes smashing into the Towers, and then seeing them plummet to earth still comes close to stopping my heart. Images of people walking around the ash-covered war zone are still just as wrenching. I don't think that will ever change. Nor should it. I don't think there's enough we can do to remember -- not out of anger or a need for revenge, but out of honor and prayer. Not remembering would be the travesty.

But I think Peggy Noonan, in a piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal late last week, said it better than I could:

"They tell us to get over it, they say to move on, and they mean it well: We can't bring an air of tragedy into the future. But I will never get over it. To get over it is to get over the guy who stayed behind on a high floor with his friend who was in a wheelchair. To get over it is to get over the woman by herself with the sign in the darkness: "America You Are Not Alone." To get over it is to get over the guys who ran into the fire and not away from the fire.
You've got to be loyal to pain sometimes to be loyal to the glory that came out of it."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Used bookapalooza!

Anyone who knows me even slightly is aware that I have the tiniest smidgen of a book problem. An addiction really. They are my drug of choice. :) Anyway, when presented with a used book sale, well, that's even more fun than a store that sells new books, because you never know what will be in the piles. I also collect old books, and it's always fun to find inscriptions on the inside flyleaf or interesting bookplates affixed inside.

Today, I was charged with heading to the library to take a picture of the Friend's of the Library book sale. Once my job was done, I spent a few minutes perusing. And when you can buy a book for a $1, or eight books for $5, well, I was able to rack up those eight pretty quickly. The great thing was, I found one for each of my brothers and I found two for my mom as well (kids books were 50 cents apiece, so I picked up a few for my twin goddaughters, too).


But I found a few gems for myself, obviously. :) I'm a fan of old cookbooks -- the appeal is some amazing old-fashioned recipes (usually the desserts), along with some now-laughable ones that most modern cooks wouldn't want to make, let alone serve and eat (mostly those involving gelatin and things you should never encase in it), so coming across a 1938 copy of  Canadian cookbook called "A Guide to Good Cooking" compiled by the makers of Five Roses Flour was neat. It also includes completely fabulous illustrations like this:

Jellied chicken, anyone?

Another book I picked up is called "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall," subtitled "Invitation to Beauty," published in 1961. Written by a man named Gayelord Hauser, it is apparently a self-help guide-to-a-more-beautiful-you type of book, where he encourages women to attain their true beauty through healthy eating, caring for the skin, etc... It should be interesting to flip through, since some of the advice about food seems before it's time. I suppose I'm just going to have to read to find out about the "Scandinavian Complexion Secret" and whether I really can make my own cottage cheese. Unfortunately, I think it will always be a mystery to me why Gary and Ethel Patton decided to give this book as a gift to Don and Mary Black on July 26th, 1962:


But I was most excited about a two books, one published in the late 50s, the other in 1961, that look brand new. If they didn't have separate publication dates, I'd have sworn they were a set. One is "The Life of Christ" and the other is a book of Catholic prayers. 



Both are gorgeously illustrated. The Life of Christ has maps and an entire section devoted to Mary. The book of prayers includes prayers for every day, for each month, prayers dedicated to Our Lady and a number of saints and for the various sacraments, only for some reason, the sacraments of marriage and holy orders aren't included, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I flipped through the sacraments section twice (why are there 12 pages of pictures depicting last rites?) before looking to the table of contents to confirm their absence. 

No marriage or holy orders?

Sure enough, they're not there. Why would they have been left out? Could it possibly be a pre-Vatican II thing? It seems like a rather glaring omission. Hmm...must research.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Ground down by mediocrity"

So it had been probably more than a month since I went and looked at my Google Reader page, and today I found that there were hundreds of entries for the blogs I've subscribed to (note to self: must read them more frequently!).

But scrolling through some of them, I found exactly what I needed to hear today. I'd been struggling to put my feelings of inadequacy and frustration -- I'm not miserable but I'm hardly fulfilled after close to six years at my job with nothing to show for it aside from 36 extra cents per hour, single as I ever was and wishing for something more but not knowing what exactly that something more is --  into words (I even stooped to writing some mopey, very pathetic (and stupid) poetry this afternoon, from which you will be spared).

It makes me think of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" -- the bookish "princess" I've always identified with most -- and that scene in the field just before her family horse rushes up to her, sans her father:


"I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand to have someone understand, I want so much more than they've got planned..."

But Blessed JP II (probably at a WYD) did it for me. Elizabeth Scalia, over at The Anchoress, posted it 13 days ago:

“It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”


I do feel mediocre, like I am settling somehow for the compromise, or that, sinner that I am, this is all I deserve. There are so many things I hope for, or would love to do, but I feel so limited. By my location, and by being either over or under-qualified for jobs I might want. I don't want to have a defeatist attitude...it's too much like how my father tends to handle things...and yet I find myself falling into that pattern sometimes, ground down by the day-to-day.

Yet, I think God uses it, too, to help us turn and return again and again to him, toward hope and away from doubt. It is a reminder I will always need, and I am thankful for it. I may have limitations, but God can and will step in where I lack, making me stronger than I am alone, improving me, one little bit at a time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter from home

I wrote a letter to my youngest brother, Ethan, today. He's deployed in the Middle East currently, and is slated to come home in early November from a short (in military terms, at any rate) six-month tour.

As I sat there, I struggled to come up with topics to write about. I felt terrible. Shouldn't I be able to come up with something witty to entertain my brother? We chatted online only last week -- a far more rapid mode of communication than snail mail -- so anything I said then would be repetitious. I wanted to write a letter that he'd be interested in reading, but everything I wrote sounded dull; trifles of my life that wouldn't mean much to him. I even mentioned the weather, usually the last of all possible conversational resorts. I am clearly in need of a more exciting life.

But as I continued writing, it occurred to me that even the boring little things I have to say do mean something to him, stationed as he is on a base in the middle of a desert (and where, I'm sure, Florida's daily thunderstorms would be a freak of nature). When he's not on missions he doesn't do much aside from play video games, read and work out, which can get old pretty quickly when you have no other options.

It also made me think that I was doing something that people have done for hundreds of years: write to their loved away at war. And although I don't necessarily think of Ethan being at war, per se (he's not in a fox hole somewhere), he is away from everything. I found myself picturing old World War II movies, where all the guys gather round for mail call, thrilled with a letter or even a flattened, stale cake from home. I'm sure it's done a bit differently now (and food sent isn't usually stale, what with faster transport times), but I have no doubt the excitement of receiving something from home is the same.

A number of years ago I read a book called War Letters. It started as an idea a man named Andrew Carroll had to preserve history in the form of letters written by servicemen and women overseas or away at war. He received thousands, and had letters (and later emails as well) from every campaign beginning with the American Revolution through Desert Storm (the book was published in the early 2000s). He's since gone on to edit several more books of the same type, one devoted solely to letters of faith. They're beautiful, moving books. The letters published are sometimes funny, almost always moving and, occasionally, incredibly sad. But they are a testament to those who were and are willing to give up their time (and sometimes more) to serve their country and the families they leave behind at home.

Even sometimes those overseas wished they had more to say (or could say more than the censors would let them) in letters home -- I know Ethan sometimes struggles with something new to come up with during Skype sessions, too. What can be said that hasn't been said already? And in one of the missives reprinted in "War Letters," an Army sergeant on Bataan during WWII laments to his wife that he doesn't have anything spectacular to write home about, either:

"I could write a lot of nonsense and a lot of foolishness but I know you will read between the lines and see more in spirit than in what I write."

So in the next week or so, Ethan should get my letter, written on the last few remaining sheets from a box of blue stationary, along with a small package. Hopefully it will prove distracting for a little while, and that he finds something to laugh at in what I've written him about movies I've watched and cleaning I've done around the house. The ubiquitous they say God is in the small stuff (although He is, of course, in everything), so I suppose it's not so much the content of a letter as it is the time taken: the love and pride implied and prayers prayed...

                                                                        




Saturday, August 13, 2011

"A friend who gives candid advice"

A friend of mine passed through town last night (such a rarity -- someone I know actually coming to Port Charlotte! -- is a cause for celebration). It was great to catch up with her, a FOCUS campus minister who I hadn't seen in probably two years. During dinner we talked about her work and the fact she has now fully discerned her call to religious life (it's been a lengthy process, but I, completely aware of my own stubbornness, can only admire her patience and openness to God's plan and the sometimes meandering path He's led her on) and the journey she's taking to find the right order. As we sat talking over delicious Mexican food, I realized couldn't recall the last time I used the word "charism" in a conversation and not had someone look at me askance or had to explain what it meant. :)

Afterwards, we headed to Books-A-Million and wandered among the shelves, laughing over ridiculous discount CD sets (3 CDs worth of Irish accordion music, for only $4!) and hunted for small gifts for her oldest godson. As we made our way toward the small Catholic section, she asked me, "So, what are you reading these days?"

I knew, of course, that she wasn't referring to novels or fun books about history. She was asking about my current spiritual reading. And right now, that would be a whole lotta nothin.' I told her about how excited I had been, starting over with my reading of Theology of the Body during Lent, and the fact that I wanted to continue with it post-Easter. While I didn't automatically stop reading the moment Lent was over, I haven't continued with it as I hoped to do, either. So much for commitment. I also mentioned several books that I have and want to read ("No Man is an Island" and "The Discernment of Spirits," among them) and books I've started, like "A Shorter Summa," that I've now attempted twice (I keep getting stuck because, at least at this point, I find Peter Kreeft's introduction far more readable than Aquinas' style. Maybe I'm just not ready for it yet...or maybe I should soldier on through...).

I told my friend that it's not that I don't want to read spiritual works, I do, but that it feels like "things" keep getting in the way. And as I said it, I realized it sounded like an excuse. Yes, I'm busy, but I always seem to find time to waste on things like Facebook, for example. Even reviewing morning and evening prayer and daily mass readings in Magnificat, something I've done for years now, has fallen by the wayside of late. It's not that I've stopped praying, far from it. But perhaps it's my own laziness setting up roadblocks. What things could possibly be more important and worth spending time on than my spiritual growth?

Back at my house later that evening, my friend pointed out a website a mutual friend of ours, a seminarian, recently began blogging for. Along the right side of the main page was a short anecdote about St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who's feast it was yesterday:

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal was heading to the chapel one day to pray. Seeing a young novice in the hallway, she asked "Why don't you join me in the chapel for prayer?" The young nun answered "Sister, I really don't feel like praying right now." Jane responded with  "Sister, I haven't felt like praying in years! Now, let's go to the chapel and pray!"

The story made me laugh, but it also struck a chord. While God often speaks in a "still, small voice" to whisper in our ears, sometimes I think we need another, physically present voice to redirect us. My friend urged that, instead of beating myself up for not going through all the prayers of the day in Magnificat, I should ease back into it slowly, and also to not feel guilty about occasional spates of less-than-voracious spiritual reading, while at the same time, recommending several books she's found helpful. Her visit was so timely -- certainly not a coincidence, for God always sends what I need -- and a subtle, loving reminder to refocus myself on what's really important.

And although St. Pius X was addressing priests when he said the following back in 1908, he could just as easily be addressing me now:

"Everyone knows the great influence that is exerted by the voice of a friend who gives candid advice, assists by his counsel, corrects, encourages and leads one away from error. Blessed is the man who has found a true friend; he that has found him has found a treasure. We should, then, count pious books among our true friends. They solemnly remind us of our duties and of the prescriptions of legitimate discipline; they arouse the heavenly voices that were stifled in our souls; they rid our resolutions of listlessness; they disturb our deceitful complacency; they show the true nature of less worthy affections to which we have sought to close our eyes; they bring to light the many dangers which beset the path of the imprudent. They render all these services with such kindly discretion that they prove themselves to be not only our friends, but the very best of friends. They are always at hand, constantly beside us to assist us in the needs of our souls; their voice is never harsh, their advice is never self-seeking, their words are never timid or deceitful."

And who am I to argue with a saint? :)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Je parle un peu de français...but not much

As a kid I remember watching old reruns of the "Addam's Family" and laughing at how Gomez would become suddenly amorous when Morticia would drop a French turn of phrase, kissing his way up her arm after loudly (and obviously) declaring, "Tish -- that's French!"

Now, although it is one of the Romance Languages, I hardly think that being able to speak it would have men falling at my feet a la Gomez, but lately I have had the yen to learn more French. I'm not sure what use it would be to me (I barely use my Spanish these days, truth be told), aside from just the sheer desire to learn something new. And while France isn't at the top of my countries-to-visit list, it is there, and it would be nice to have un soupçon of knowledge.

The idea struck me again the other night when I picked up a mystery set in fin de siecle Paris. And it's not really a new thought, though, me wanting to learn French. For years I've been somewhat fascinated by the language. When I was younger, being of a nerdy, bookish persuasion (moi?) and reading a lot of classics from the Regency and Victorian periods of English literature, I was often stymied by phrases, sentences or sometimes whole paragraphs of French thrown into the text, and lamented the lack of foot or end notes to help me understand. It was only later that I realized there wasn't such a key because the books were likely written for members of the upper classes who probably flitted across the Channel to the Continent with regularity and could speak French just as well as their mother tongue. That, or I just needed better editions with a glossary included.

At any rate, when it came time to choose a language to study in high school, I did briefly ponder French (after a course in eighth grade where French, along with Spanish and Latin, were each taught for six weeks), but settling on Spanish was practically a fait accompli, for several practical reasons. A) I lived in Florida, and B) my mom is a Spanish teacher, so (although she wouldn't be my teacher) I wouldn't have to travel farther than my kitchen should help be required. :)

I did love the elegant way the French words sounded, though. Ever since that six-week course, I've (quite randomly) enjoyed saying the number 60: soixante. Such a softly sibilant, fancy word for a number. :) The rest of my rather limited French vocabulary, aside from some basic counting and knowledge of various French foods, consists of "je m'appelle Anne" and, thanks to Renaissance, my high school's major fundraiser (it had a different theme every year and saw the seniors, costumed, pair off to greet guests and walk around showing silent auction items) called "An Evening in Paris," learned "bienvenue a Paris" and a few other sundry words and phrases. Somewhere along the line, from a TV show, I think, I also picked up "mon petit chou," although I don't have much cause to use the (admittedly odd) term of endearment "my little cabbage" on anyone.


My last foray into learning something new (the piano) was short lived (although that was due to my piano teacher moving away, rather then me up and quitting...although I admittedly haven't sought another instructor), and, aside from taking a class, which I'm not sure I can fit into my work schedule, I'm pondering getting a book or two and trying to learn French my own. Yet I wonder if it will go the same way as my brief flirtation with embroidery (it's only been 10 years since I almost finished the first of that pair of pillowcases) or, even better (worse?), my hope to learn Gaelic when I was 12 or 13. Though I have to say, French is a somewhat more practical selection than Gaelic. 

At any rate, we shall see. For now I will wish you a bonne nuit.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Perspective

I try not to get too whiney, but I have those moments (far too frequently, if I'm honest with myself) where all I seem to do is splutter at God about why isn't my life this or that way or why can't such-and-such happen because I'm bored/tired/frustrated? And then the news of someone else's tragedy puts my own petty worries and complaints into perspective.

A friend of mine, who for several years was my one Catholic friend in the area, moved to Georgia a few months ago with her two children, just lept and took that chance that I can't seem to take. This afternoon, without provocation, she popped into my head, so I made my way over to her Facebook wall and asked how she was and how things were going in the Peach State. I come back from exercising a little while ago to find her reply: "I'm in Florida actually. My father passed away from a massive stroke this afternoon."

And like that, my wants are nothing...just so much blather compared to how much she must be hurting right now. My heart goes out to her, my funny, sarcastic, self-deprecating friend and piano teacher who, despite feeling down sometimes, always managed to wink and smile at whatever it was that was bothering her. All I can do is pray for her, her children, the rest of her family, and that her dad, Jon Kangas, rest in God's peace. Bless and give her peace, oh Lord. May this time of sorrow not diminish her joy.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Too much stuff

I have a confession to make.

I am a fourth generation pack rat. After my great-grandmother passed away in 2004 (at 109!), it was discovered that an upstairs room in her home (the rest of which, at least in my memory, was pretty spotlessly neat) was filled to the brim with old things, piles of clothes, old coffee tins (from the 20s and 30s) and who knows what else stuffed cheek-by-jowl into a tiny bedroom and its adjacent closet. Her eldest son, my grandfather, was also a saver, most likely as a result of the living through the Great Depression, holding on to things because they might, someday, have value or be of use to somebody. He was also a fixer, and, after he retired from the Navy, would often buy broken things (radios, drills, etc..) at the PX and fix them, then give them away. Most of the excess stuff was relegated to the attic or a large barn he built in their second back yard, but it was still there.

Naturally, my father inherited it from him. Because my grandparents died tragically, my dad tends to hold on to things that were theirs, regardless of the fact that certain items are beyond useless (a 1960s behemoth of an adding machine that must weigh at least 20 pounds, for example, and rightly belongs in a museum). My mother has to practically sneak bags of donations out of the house, because he'll go through them, saying "someone can use/wear this," despite the fact that no one has worn it in 10-odd years or it's been gathering dust. But he's getting better. Recently, we cleaned out a storage unit filled with things from my grandparent's house. Over half the contents were donated or thrown away. Progress.

While I'm far from being a hoarder, I also have the tendency to hold on to things, mostly because they have sentimental value. At the same time, I realize things are not people and that memories can serve. Looking for a certain notebook this morning with the eye to writing a completely different blog post, I realized I'd gone through several different drawers without being able to find it (I still don't know where it's wandered off to), and that most of the things in those drawers were completely useless (a reporter's notebook filled with meeting notes from 2005, old copies of Magnificat that are three years old, back issues of magazines that could easily be recycled, cassette tapes from the early 90s --"Rattle and Hum," anyone?) and need to be tossed or donated posthaste. I also have far more dishes and flatware than a single woman really requires.

And I'll admit I'm not the most organized of girls, but have I aspirations. :) I long for a clutter-free home, and make a concerted effort to donate items several times a year. A move would be the ideal way to cull junk I've accumulated over the nearly six years I've been in my apartment, but that doesn't seem in the cards right now. My brother, Daniel, who moved across country to Oregon about five years ago, took only several large suitcases with him when he left, and is scrupulous about keeping too many things out of his house that don't serve a purpose by being there. He's proof that the pack-rat gene can be conquered, and it gives me hope. :)

I read in a magazine not too long ago that a good exercise one family used when they realized they had too much stuff was to play a game they called "We're moving to Europe." The idea being, rather obviously, to imagine that you're making a transatlantic move and can only take so much with you, making getting rid of dead weight imperative. Perhaps it's something I should try.

Friday, July 29, 2011

So tonight I did a favor for my friend Pam, the editor of the Punta Gorda Herald. She's working on her next issue, focusing on the theme "Girl's Night Out." She's been talking to women about what they like to do and where they go when they get together. There aren't a lot of options around here, and she'd been to several places already. Tonight, she wanted to go take some pictures at Jack's -- a restaurant in downtown Punta Gorda that has a ladies' night later in the evening on Thursdays -- and since she didn't want to go alone, she asked me to go with her.

Now, I did a bit of clubbing in college. Nothing too crazy, but I certainly owned the de rigeur black clubbing pants and a couple of skirts that were, in hindsight, probably too short. I hit the Late Night Library ("tell your parents you're at the library!" was their tagline), a few times (where, one night, someone opened up an entire can of pepper spray, causing the place to be evacuated since no one could breath), and got grabbed by drunk guys at the country-western bar (the name escapes me, but for a while there I could line dance with the best of them). But the regular clubs that played nothing but music with a throbbing bass line were never really my thing. Before too long, the only clubs I went to were to some of the bars to hear local bands (6 Degrees!), to Floyd's for Old Wave Night (which a number of us from the Catholic Student Union used to hit after Mass and dinner Sunday nights for the 80s music) and, more often, either Gordo's or Atlantis for hours of salsa dancing.

So as Jack's morphed from people eating a late dinner into a club, complete with flashing lights and deep thrums of bass (no one was dancing to), I just felt out of place. Actually, I just felt old, despite the fact that I was certainly younger than some of the other people there. It all just felt very surface. Women gathered in clumps near the bar and men, beer in hand, stood in separate groups eying the women from across the room. It reminded us both a little of junior high, actually, only with alcohol. It was so loud, we could barely hear each other. Pam, who is six years younger than me, said she felt the same way. After she got the photos she needed, and we'd had a drink apiece, we both decided to leave. It had only been about an hour.

I can't imagine going to a club (or a club-like environment) with the intent of meeting someone. And while I like going to one of the local pubs for a pint or two, even when I was in college I didn't go out drinking just to drink. It never held any appeal. I suppose it's because I want something more than just the superficial.

Anyway, on Sunday afternoon, Pam, myself and a few other ladies are going to have our own girl's outing, something with a little less bass and no strobe lighting. We're going pottery painting. :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thoughts on being single

So I'm on day six of my 40-day writing commitment and I'm doing quite well. I've managed to write every day so far, even if only for a little while. Three cheers for dedication! Now if only I can get back into that exercise routine...

Fitness aside, I've spent a little time reviewing some things I've written in the past. One, a piece of fiction I started last year, I've decided to put more effort into and see if anything comes of it. I also found the below, some compiled reflections on faith and being single that, at the time, I titled Vignettes (probably because it doesn't have a solid conclusion).

I wrote them in March of 2008 (and very proud of my quote usage I was, too, although I was probably reading too much chick-lit at the time), and was clearly intending to do something with it, although I can't recall what. References I make to "not too long ago," are now three years in the past. It made me laugh, though, as I reread. I liked it when I wrote it and I still like it now. I probably didn't post it to this blog (which has been around quite a while now, even if I've only been more consistent posting to it recently) because I wasn't brave enough, and (gasp!) someone might actually read it. Maybe it's a symptom of being a few years older, but I care less about what people think, in terms of my writing, than I once did. I also received some positive reinforcement about it from a friend, who thought it was worthwhile to put out there as well.

And while I'm sure that, having had three additional years of single life go by, I could add to the piece, what is here still stands on its own, I think. So, barring a few tweaks and an update or two, here 'tis:


“Someone will come along someday. I hear Florida is a good place to find wealthy widowers … Of course, I hear they go pretty quickly. Both to marriage and death. Better hurry!”
From “What a Girl Wants” by Kristin Billerbeck

You know, if only the man I wanted was a wealthy, or even remotely well-off, widower, I would have my pick. The roads, stores, restaurants at 4 p.m. and indeed the very ground in Southwest Florida are thick with them. As my cousin Carrie once said to me jokingly, “If you wanted a sugar-daddy, you’d be all set.”
           
But I don’t want a wealthy widower. With all due respect to the retirees, I would prefer to date a man who’s closer to my age range than to my grandfather’s. The only problem is, there don’t seem to be any unmarried ones here.
           
Not too long ago, my friend Lance suggested I join a grandmother’s group at my parish.
           
“Maybe they’d have some grandsons your age,” he said before his wife Nicole slapped him playfully.
           
Well, even if I was that desperate about being single at 30, I couldn’t join a grandmother’s – or any other woman’s group – down here if I wanted to. They all meet during the day, sometime between 10 and 2, when I’m at work. So much for ministering to young adults, huh?
           
As far as single’s groups at area parishes go, there are a couple. But I don’t qualify for any of them, seeing as I’m under 45 and all.
           
And as for the potential grandsons, I very much doubt that any of them live here. They’re probably in Boston, New York, Chicago or Saskatchewan.
           
One of my college roommates, now a youth minister, used to go to a number of conferences. She would always come back and say something like, “I met this great guy. He’d be so perfect for you! Only he lives in Arizona.”
           
I’d scoff at her and say “Well, what good does that do me here?” I used to think that God would plunk a man into my lap wherever I was and that would be that. Nothing like that has happened yet.
           
But God certainly works in interesting ways. My friend Amanda joined one of the Catholic dating Web sites. She started sending messages back and forth with a man who lived in Massachusetts who volunteered with FOCUS ministries. Before they even met officially, they were dating. She said everything was so easy…but she still had doubt. “God is crazy…but in a good way,” she’d tell me. After five and a half months, tons of phone calls, Internet chatting sessions and flying back and forth to see each other (not to mention the fact that it turned out he’d known a friend of hers at Steubenville), he proposed. A little more than a year after she’d been mourning the loss of a relationship with a man she thought was the love of her life, Amanda found the true one (2011 update: they’re now expecting their second child).

I think sometimes that, for those of us who are still single, we lack the faith to believe that God will do amazing things like that for us, or that we are somehow less deserving of love like that that seems to just appear out of thin air. But that’s not the case at all. I have to remind myself that God is working in me and molding me for that other person, and vice versa. My best (now very happily married) friend and I used to think that love would just come. We both thought that we’d go to college, meet the man of our dreams, graduate, land a fabulous job and live happily every after. Looking back now, I know that didn’t happen because I wasn’t ready. I still don’t know if I am, but I do know I’m closer. My faith tells me so.
           
“(He) was the constant ray of hope in my life. The Omnipresent Potential. A reason to buy new clothes. It was the hope I was addicted to.”
 From “What a Girl Wants” by Kristin Billerbeck

Hope is a heady thing. And it doesn’t take much to feed it. An e-mail. A sentence. A word of greeting spoken in passing. I will readily admit to having spent countless hours overanalyzing nearly everything a crush has said to me. Sometimes, I brought a friend along with me in these trips to happily-ever-after land. In fact, it was better that way, because you had someone to gush to. And if she happened to have a crush of her own to analyze it was even better. It was like crack.
           
More often than not, my crushes didn’t live in the same city as I did. There was the brother of a friend I met on a retreat. A crush who finally asked me to dinner the night before he moved across the country for work but then maintained a nearly three-year correspondence with me. Another who was the classmate of a former roommate at a different university (you follow?). I lived for their e-mails, imagining they were the modern version of love letters. The distance made it even easier to imagine different meanings to the words they wrote to me.

Even Charles Dickens commented on this once. I came a cross a quote in "Nicholas Nickleby" that reminded me so much of this. For some reason, it surprised me to no end that Charles Dickens would know what I felt 150-odd years later.
"Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to thegrowth of love, but they are, very often, its powerful auxiliaries. 'Out of sight, out of mind,' is well enough as a proverb applicable to cases of friendship, though absence is not always necessary to hollowness of heart, even between friends, and truth and honesty, like precious stones, are perhaps most easily imitated at a distance, when the counterfeits often pass for real. Love, however, is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination, which has a long memory, and will thrive for a considerable time on very slight and sparing food. Thus it is, that it often attains its most luxuriant growth in separation and under circumstances of utmost difficulty."      

Dickens had a sense for human nature. And that doesn’t change much.
           
And it seems like most of these relationships that experienced “luxuriant growth” were the ones that didn’t have a concrete ending. There was still some kind of a connection, or no closure. For myself, and for some friends, those are those are ones you carry with you. The ones that make you think, “what if?” For far too long.
           
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first night of a two-night presentation by Christopher West (who I was able to meet with briefly—I had him sign a book for me). He spent that evening addressing the women in the audience. Being a reporter, I of course took copious notes, and I’m glad I did, since I’ve gone back to read them several times. One of the things he said that stuck with me (and there were many) was that when we as women look to men to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts, we commit idolatry. I’d never thought about it that way before, and thinking about all the time I spent worrying/wishing/wasting time thinking about and overanalyzing the relationships that almost were, well, that’s what I was doing. West said man can only be “a faint glimmer” of what Jesus can do for us. God will woo you if you let Him.

“The date was nothing like I expected it to be. Not that I knew what to expect. But I did have the odd imaginary scenario in my head, ranging from dreadful (he doesn’t turn up; it turns out he’s a Nazi) to fantastic (we end up … on a speedboat on the Thames and he asks me to marry him) …”
From “Can You Keep a Secret” by Sophie Kinsella

Not too long ago, I agreed to meet with a man I’d been exchanging e-mails with on a Catholic dating site. He was going to be visiting the area to meet with his spiritual director (so I figured he couldn’t be an ax-murderer, right?) and wanted to meet for coffee. After finding out his last name (so I’d know what name my friends should give the cops in case I turned up missing), and talking on the phone, I said agreed. It had been years since I’d had anything remotely resembling a date, but I offered it up to God and His will, figuring He’d cover me.

And in one way, it was a successful date. No, he didn’t sweep me off my feet and propose we jet to Scotland for a lavish wedding in a castle, and there wasn’t even a love connection, but I was confident and myself. In fact, I was so confident, I think I made this man nervous. He was having a hard time coming up with things to ask me about. And although the conversation was ok when it got going, there wasn’t a love connection. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

The imagination weaves other storylines, too. In lieu of an actual date, the mind creates idiotic scenarios that could rival some of the best of Hollywood’s “meet cute” plot lines. It’s usually completely unrealistic, ridiculously detailed and takes place in a locale that the other person would either a) never show up in, or b) a place you tend to frequent, making option A all the more likely. Something like this:

“‘I meant to call you,’ he would say, as I swooned glamorously over his arm, defying gravity in the best of all possible ways. ‘But I was [hit by a cab; gored by a wild bull; in hospital with cholera]. Come to dinner with me and I’ll make it up to you.’”
From “The Deception of the Emerald Ring” by Lauren Willig

Imagine if the brain power we women wasted coming up with these scenarios was used for good, or even constructive prayer time, rather than silliness? What couldn’t we do?

“Truthfully, this is the fabric of all my fantasies: love shown not by a kiss or a wild look or a careful hand but by a willingness for research. I don’t dream of someone who understands me immediately, who seems to have known me my whole life, who says I know, me too. I want someone keen to learn my own strange organization, amazed at what’s revealed; someone who asks, and then what, and then what?
From “The Giant’s House” by Elizabeth McCracken

I have a desire to be wooed. Most women do. I’ve tried pursuing before, which is what the world tells us we should do, but that didn’t work. It didn’t feel altogether natural, either. And sure, there’s a definite allure to the whole love at first sight thing. But being friends first takes time. It takes patience, which a lot of us pray for, but don’t have. We can’t wait on our own. We need God’s help.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The undiscovered country

I found myself in tears this morning, standing in front of the newsroom TV watching the shuttle Atlantis vault into the firmament. And judging by some friend's Facebook posts, I wasn't the only one. Growing up in Central Florida, the shuttle program was part of our lives.

I didn't actually grow up on the Space Coast itself (the whole geographical area taking it's name from NASA's presence), but for a while my family lived in Orlando, which is awfully close--close enough for the sonic booms announcing a shuttle's return to earth to really rattle windows. :) We took school field trips to the Cape, wondering at the size of the rockets on display, often standing in their shade against the Florida heat and savoring the strange texture of the dehydrated ice cream we bought in the gift shop.

I was 7 when the Challenger exploded, and I remember that day. We'd been listening to the launch countdown on a radio in the classroom at Good Shepherd and, when it got close, our teacher, Mrs. Carillo, ushered us out to the front parking lot with the rest of the school, where we gathered whenever a shuttle went up. It was chilly, but bright. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and we all watched as Challenger grew smaller, contrail spreading behind her. When the explosion happened and the solid rocket boosters kept climbing in divergent paths, we knew something had happened; I knew something was wrong. I was old enough to recognize, and I'd seen enough of them to know, that normal shuttle launches didn't look like that. Teachers quickly began herding us back into classrooms, and, once we were there, Mrs. Carillo quickly turned off the radio we'd left on and started us on some assignment. I'm sure we asked questions, and I'm equally sure she reassured us. But I remember her face. She was stunned.

Even after we moved from Orlando to Lakeland, about an hour further west, you could still see the shuttles go up if it was a clear day or night. I couldn't say how many times I'd run into my driveway and look east over the treeline just to see a shuttle fly, offering a prayer for their safe return.

In the wake of Challenger, President Reagan, addressing the nation said "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave." And maybe that's why I cry, even all these years later, especially seeing another shuttle (the last!) make it up safely. The fact that something so large and ungainly can rocket into the heavens, that men and women hazard their lives to ride it and orbit our planet is still a wonder, one I don't think will ever cease.

Jules Verne once asked, "What are the final frontiers in this quest for travel? Will humankind only be satisfied when journeys into space become readily available and affordable?” Star Trek, of course, answered that in it's opening monologue, declaring "Space: the final frontier..." (yes, I watched Star Trek). And good old Jules wasn't far from wrong, really, since there are already some who have taken flights into space simply for the pleasure of it. Of course, those people have the ridiculous amounts of money to pay their way. For the rest of us, recreational space travel is still cost-prohibitive. So I'm sure that's why there have been so many movies, books and TV shows about space exploration, why, despite the dangers and the losses, so many still effort. We dream of space, probably since so few of us have actually been there, and there are a myriad of mysteries it still holds. But perhaps one day...

In the mean time, may Atlantis and her crew come back to Earth safely.
 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The writer once I was

I used to write all the time. I have folders upon backpacks filled with scribblings. Poems, random musings, journals, fun quotes I found and saved in the hopes of topping chapters with one day, the unfinished Elizabethan love story (72 pages worth!) I started when I was 13. :) I wrote my first story when I was five, and as the years went on, I was almost ridiculously prolific. I was a sucker for lengthy, sometimes almost Dickensian descriptions, historical accuracy and multi-syllabic words. And letters, oh the letters I used to write to my cousins, the occasional overseas pen pal, my best friend from kindergarten (we wrote each other letters beginning in third grade and didn't talk on the phone until high school. We kept on writing in to college, and didn't see each other physically until I was in her wedding in 1999). I've kept most of the letters I've received, and wonder often about the fate of mine.

In the last several years I've started short stories (and actually finished a couple), two novels (one made it to 30-some odd pages, the other about 15...so far) and only a handful of letters (most, in fact, were only cards). Last year a good friend from high school and I decided we would write letters to each other (she now lives in Texas). We wrote each other exactly one letter a piece and then I, well, I kept meaning to write, and then months went by and I haven't written her a letter since.

And I was a dedicated, one might say obsessively Victorian-like journal keeper. They're all mismatched, my journals, some large, some small, one a book of bound graphing paper, filled to the margins. Some of my entries are about serious things like family events or school. Mostly they're silly musings about boys who I spent entirely too much time worrying about and obsessing over. In recent years, there have been more writings about faith and my walk with and toward God. But the last time I did any serious journaling was in Rome and immediately after I returned. A year and a half ago.

And of course the ironic thing is that I write every day. I'm lucky in that I make my living writing. It's what I got that creative writing degree to be able to do. But I feel like many of my stories for the paper are mundane and lacking in creativity, boxed in by inch counts, dumbed down and shortened for people who don't have long enough attention spans to read to the end.

Maybe that's my fault. But sometimes I wonder if my creativity has vanished or simply gone on an extended hiatus. I have ideas occasionally, but I'm lucky if I get beyond writing them down. They come at the most inopportune times, while I'm in the shower or getting ready to go somewhere. The majority of the time, the last thing I want to do when I get home from writing at work all day is sit and write some more. Writing used to be a joy for me, a necessary outlet almost as integral as breathing. Now, mostly, it feels like a chore. I at least tried to keep my hand in at one point. Three or four years ago I used to play a game with my editor: I would try and use big words in stories and see how many she'd let me keep, or how many actually made it into the paper the next day. Once I managed to squeeze in triumvirate, and was most proud of using prestidigitation several years ago. Now we have this new rule that no story can exceed 20 inches (roughly 500 words), and I wonder how much further we can be curbed and still be able to tell a decent story.

My editor now jokes with me occasionally that I'm really sitting at my desk writing my 15th novel (the number keeps growing) and that I'll complete it by lunchtime. If only. It was never my dream to write the Great American Novel, not really, but to have one well-written one that I'm proud of published? Now that I dream of.

And I know this post smacks somewhat of bitterness and regret, but I don't want that, ultimately. God gave me a gift in my writing ability, and I don't want to waste it. Sitting here typing, I realized I can do something about that. While I think Lent would be the ideal time to rededicate myself to writing creatively or introspectively every day, I need to get back in the habit, and I shouldn't have to wait until next spring. I should be able to discipline myself to do that, writing a little (not on the computer, but by hand), whether it's journaling or something creative, be it ever so meager an effort, for the next 40 days. I'll start today...well, as it's after 1 in the morning, later today, although this post should count, right?

I pray for the intercession of St. Francis de Sales and St. Maximillian Kolbe, patrons of writers and journalists, for their help in sticking to my resolution. Counting it out, 40 days from today is August 14th. I can do that.

I just realized August 14th is St. Maximillian Kolbe's feast day. I sit here amazed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Does not compute

About two years ago, I wrote an article for the paper about seniors taking computer classes. I attended several of these classes, one of which (I think it was the intermediate course) required those in it to be able to "use a mouse with confidence." I laughed about it a little, and then went to the class, where, despite the requirement, some were far from sure in their abilities.

Somewhere along the way, my parents have become those people. Ok, I exaggerate. But while my mom emails regularly and my dad knows how to google things, that's about it, really. 

And sometime within the past few years, I have become my parents' go-to person for solving computer problems (my brother Daniel would be a far more ideal consultant, but he lives in Oregon, and I'm only two hours away. That, and my dad and Daniel aren't speaking, but that's another (long) story...). Their problems are usually simple...to me: their router needs resetting or Skype has stopped working or mom needs to copy lesson-plan data from a jump drive onto the desktop. She will usually wait until evening to call with a problem, but my dad has taken to calling me in the middle of the workday when he needs assistance. As he relates his problem, he will describe every box and menu and option on the screen, most of which are entirely unrelated to the issue he's experiencing, unsure of what is relevant to the task at hand.

Earlier this week, he rang me up because he was trying to send an email with information my aunt had sent him, but didn't want to include her email address and contact information. Since my parents have used the same two passwords for years, I can easily log in to their email so I can point to exactly what he's looking at and he won't get completely lost. My coworkers giggled good-naturedly as I talked my dad -- he is the first one to admit he's a dinosaur when it comes to computers. He doesn't trust them, he says, and frequently longs for those halcyon days when typewriters were the height of technology -- through copying and deleting my aunt's email address, and then explained how to forward the email after he said he wanted to send it to two people at once. To simplify things, at one point, I said, "Here, dad, just tell me the addresses and, since I have your email open, I'll do it for you." My boss, from across the office, called out laughingly, "Stop being an enabler!" She had a point, though, and it gave me pause. I wasn't trying to be helpful, per se. What I was really trying to do was hurry the process up so I could get on with my day, rather than teach my dad the very simple steps for something that is second nature to most of us.

The problem, partially, is that I'm not there, and there is only so much that can be done over the phone. A few months ago, my mom was going through an online job application. She was beyond frustrated and feeling completely defeated by the computer. First off, she'd been using her Mac, but the fact she couldn't enable popups (required for some reason by the application) was stymieing her. So she switched to my dad's PC. Then she couldn't figure out how to transfer her resume from her Mac to the laptop. Since my parents didn't have a jump drive at the time, I told her to just email it to herself. Once that was done, I had help her find where she'd saved it on the laptop...no easy task when she's unfamiliar with where documents can be saved on the computer and wasn't sure where she'd saved her resume in the first place.

While I was walking her through this, I was putting away groceries. One of the shelves in my fridge door gave way, scattering bottles of condiments all over my kitchen floor. Thankfully nothing shattered, but I had to fix it. At that point, she was using the unfamiliar laptop, making frustrated noises and mumbling as she tried to navigate without the mouse.

"I hate this thing," she said of the touch pad. At one point, she paused to ask me, "have you eaten dinner?" I hadn't and said so. "Oh, well I can call you back and we can do this later."

"No, mom, I'm on the phone now, let's just do it now," I said, knowing the irritation I was feeling was seeping into my tone of voice.

My annoyance stemmed partially from how easy this is for me, and partially because it was interrupting my evening. And while I thought my directions were perfectly simple, they were beyond her -- and she is, as I've mentioned, by far the more computer savvy of my parents. As I sat there, walking her through this process (which she eventually conquered) and trying to eat my dinner, I was mentally reminding myself to be patient when 1 Corinthians 13:4 popped into my head. While it's typically read at weddings, love and kindness and honoring others aren't exclusive to a spousal relationship. It made me realize that at some point, I will be older, and there will be concepts or technology I don't understand or am slow to grasp, and that someone will, hopefully, walk me through them patiently and without anger.

It also got me thinking about role reversals. I'm teaching my first teachers. When did that switch happen?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mother's helper

I imagine for most people, spending a week's vacation in a house with a rambunctious nearly 3-year old and a two-month old baby wouldn't be at the top of their list. In fact, a number of people I know would likely run screaming in the opposite direction. But the largely low-key days spent in running errands, going to story time at the library or playing in parks in middle Georgia were perfect.

Sarah and I have been friends since college, and, for all intents and purposes, she is my sister. She has a PhD in microbiology and is hoping to start teaching in the fall. And although sometimes she wonders about the job she is doing as a parent, she's a fantastic mom. She and her husband, Michael, have two beautiful boys, the youngest of whom, Charlie, became my godson last week.

It's so strange how fascinating a 2-month old can be. And he's growing so fast. Even in the short week I was there, he started holding his head up more and smiling regularly in response to the smiles of those around him. Several mornings I simply found myself staring at him in wonder. Only about 10 pounds, it's amazing how quickly I'd have to switch arms when holding him (note to self: go back to the weights at the gym!). And being awakened by the crying baby in the early hours didn't even bother me.

Peter, his older brother, would cuddle into my lap -- sometimes transferring sticky remnants of his breakfast oatmeal from his pajamas to mine -- for a book, demanding I "read this!" Then, like as not, he'd throw the book at me a few minutes later. He kicked me in the face at one point as I was putting him into his car seat, but not out of any sort of malice. He's very much all boy and is completely acting his age: asserting his independence but looking for attention (At one point, on a playground, Sarah and I, at the exact same time, called out "No-no-no-no-no!") by running away in stores, fighting to not hold you hand in a parking lot, begging to watch more Wonder Pets or Sesame Street (several days after returning home, I still find myself humming or singing children's TV show theme songs), wriggling away when you attempt to come near him with shoes or clothes or a toothbrush and slowly coming to realize that this crying, pooping bundle of a little brother so recently thrust upon him isn't going anywhere.

I became handier at putting kids in and taking them out of car seats (even in the dark, without the benefit of a dome light). I can now open store doors and maneuver strollers through without a second thought. Taking an entire stroller, complete with its 22-month old passenger, into a bathroom stall, was a new experience. And speaking of that stroller, I finally managed to learn the trick to unfold it one-handed. I picked up some other tricks (the fine art of persuading, placating and distracting, for example) for future reference, too. :)

Wednesday morning, we went to Sarah's weekly mom's group meeting at Sacred Heart parish. Part social time, part Bible study, it allowed the moms time to chat, while their children were being taken care of by others. The group, composed of women with children of all ages, teens to newborns, were reading Kimberly Hahn's "Chosen and Cherished," which, among many things, talks about the sanctity of marriage. The group was on the last chapter, and the conversation meandered from marriage prep, how in-laws can help a married couple face challenges to the fear of losing one's identity in marriage and tackling discipline issues with misbehaving children. Despite some of the struggles they shared, listening to them (an occasionally chiming in), was both refreshing and reassuring.

The week before my vacation, I was on a phone interview with a woman I'd never met. As it was right before Mother's Day, I wished her a happy one. She asked if I was a mom, I assume because she wanted to know if she should wish me one back. I said no, but that I hoped to be one day. She said, quite emphatically, "Oh, you will."

That's not the first time something like that has happened to me. Random strangers telling me I'll make a good parent. My friend Jess said it could be the prompting of the Holy Spirit, sent to reassure me that the vocation I feel called to is really part of God's plan, and not something I've simply convinced myself of out of sheer cussedness.

At one point in the week, when I was trying to urge a fussy Peter to cooperate or maybe while juggling Charlie, Sarah asked me jokingly, "Convinced you not to want kids yet?" My answer was an honest no. She fusses that her house isn't neat enough, but I think that's a sign that she has more important things to worry about then, say, whether her ceiling fan blades are dusted regularly. And although she struggles to find time for herself amidst her job as a mom ("Be grateful," she said "for the single time you have now, because when you're a mom you find what extra time you do get to yourself is often spent catching up on chores.") she wouldn't trade this "adventure" -- her word, not mine -- for the wide world.

And while it was only a week, I thoroughly enjoyed being Sarah's helper. I look forward to the day when I'm blessed with children of my own, and have the opportunity to use some of the skills I had the chance to practice during my vacation.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A still, small voice

For Lent this year, I decided to do two things, both of which came to me at the spur of the moment mere days before Ash Wednesday. Looking back, I realize now they were thoughts that didn't come from me.

Commenting on my friend Kim's status that Monday about her proposed Lenten sacrifice, I was about to type that I'd be giving up buying books (something I've done for the past several years, because I'm an addict, really) but instead found my fingers tapping out that I'd be going to daily Mass. As I hit enter to post the comment, I realized how perfect that actually was. I tend to guard my mornings somewhat selfishly. I like to ease into my day; sleep as late as possible, check my mail/Facebook over my bowl of cereal, read a little, enjoy my tea or coffee, and not rush (although I usually end up rushing anyway, because really, I'm lollygagging). And I tend to go through phases with daily Mass, where I'll go for a while, and then stop. But whenever I start going regularly again, I wonder why on earth I quite.

The first few days of Lent were rough. As a reporter, I don't typically have to be in the office until 9:30, so generally sleep until 8:15 or so. But daily Mass started at 8:30, so I was getting up between 7 and 7:30... by which time most people are already up and at 'em and out the door. But as the 40 days went on, it definitely got easier. There were three days I missed Mass, twice because I turned off the alarm and overslept and once because of a work commitment. Those three days I just felt incomplete. Did I miss sleeping later? Of course--sleeping in until 10 this morning (after going to Easter vigil last night) felt positively decadent. But having the set time to pray quietly and receiving Jesus focused me for the day. Plus I got to office a little earlier, which, oddly enough, made the workdays seem to pass more quickly.

The second thing was what I decided to read. No doubt prompted by the Holy Spirit (since it wasn't even in the stack of books I'd been considering), I've been reading JPII's "Theology of the Body." Back in 2001, I'd borrowed it from a friend, but didn't get very far. I bought myself a copy in 2008, not long after hearing Christopher West speak in Naples, and that time managed to read about 100 pages, or the first section of part I, "The Original Unity of Man and Woman, a Catechesis on the book of Genesis."

So on Ash Wednesday, I started again from the beginning, a different color of ink joining my notes and underlinings from three years before. I'm nowhere near done, but I've made it past the first 100 pages.



The beauty of JPII is how much he can glean from just a few verses. Because the text is so dense, there were times I'd have to read a paragraph several times, or bop back and forth between pages (or sections) as connections were revealed. And since I'm one to read foot and end notes (which often revealed fun new words, like kardiognostes and sklerokardia), those often revealed even more of the onion-like layers of our faith. Or, as Blessed John Henry Newman said, "Every passage in the history of our Lord and Savior is of unfathomable depth, and affords inexhaustible matter of contemplation."  Unless, of course, the end notes were in a language I don't know. Notes in Spanish, and even Italian, I could work out, but occasionally there would be a note in, say, German, that was of no help to me. I found myself laughingly talking to the Venerable JPII, saying that while he spoke something like 12 languages, my skills didn't reach so far.
But as I continue to read, I'm learning a lot and finding in his words a comfort and a strength as I wait for "the accomplishment of (my) vocation."

So for the next 50 days of Easter celebration (and beyond), I'll keep reading. My alarm will remain set for 7:15. And I'll keep listening to that guiding voice, dropping suggestions in my ear to lead me closer along the path He wants me to follow. Because, in His infinite wisdom, He knows what I need more so than do I.