Monday, December 31, 2012

61 books (in 2012) and counting

So as I sit here in my pjs on the couch, watching Goonies (The Avengers is next!) with a chilled glass of Moscato and a vanilla rum cupcake (baked by my roomie. Thanks Pam!) on the coffee table(will that count as mixing my liquors?), I have no problem with the fact that I'm spending New Year's Eve alone (with the exception of my roommate's dog, Trustee, who is totally panicked and hyperventilating because of the fireworks neighbors are shooting off). In fact, going out was the last thing I wanted to do tonight. My one (admittedly lame) goal for the night, aside from relaxing, was to waterproof a pair of boots. Mission accomplished! LOL

Anyhoo, one of the only resolutions I made this year and kept completely with was to record all the books I read in 2012. Inspired by a friend's blog at the end of 2011, I realized that I had no idea how many books I'd read that year, so in order to know for sure how many I read in 2012, I grabbed one of my many empty journals and started a list. I had no particular goal for the number of books I wanted to read, but there were several I had received for Christmas that I wanted to tackle ("Death Comes to Pemberly," "The History of the World in 100 Objects," "Hedy's Folly) and did, as well as a a few I wanted to reread ("The Screwtape Letters" and "War & Peace," specifically).

All told, I read and completed 61 books in 2012. There are two I started and haven't yet finished: "Crossing the Borders of Time" (a true story about the daughter of a Holocaust survivor trying to search out what happened to her mother's first love after the two were separated by war) which I started only on Saturday night; the second is St. Augustine's "Confessions" which I'm taking slowly on purpose. St. Augustine isn't a Doctor of the Church for nothing. There's a lot of depth there. :)

Overall, the list just makes it onto the fourteenth page of the journal. Some of the entries include commentaries on the books (an Agatha Christie novel I'd never read, "Destination Unknown" which I noted it seemed "very cinematic," was fabulous, as was "Les Miserables," which I hadn't read before, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and "The Guernsey Literary Guild and Potato Peel Pie Society."). Others notated I would immediately be relegating them to the donation bag.

Don't worry, I wont be naming them all. :) But the list represents fiction and non-fiction (mostly history), spiritual reading ( two by Fulton Sheen in addition to C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine), comic biography ("Confessions of a Prairie Bitch" by Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie on "Little House on the Prairie"), a poetry anthology, one children's book, science ("The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"), some chick-lit, a true crime novel and a couple of thrillers passed along to me by my dad.

In addition to rereading "War and Peace" (which took me nearly two months) I also reread "The Hobbit," the Hunger Games trilogy (in advance of the movie) and "Pride and Prejudice," which I've read once a year since I was 12.

As for 2013, I will keep on with St. Augustine. I also want to read Thomas Merton's "Seeds of Contemplation" and a history of St. Peter's Basilica that I picked up at a used bookstore while on vacation in North Carolina in October. I'd like to reread "Brideshead Revisited" (the last time I read that one was in high school somewhere around sophomore year, inspired by the fact that Bravo was showing reruns of the 1981 miniseries staring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews which I would come home and watch after school) as well as "Persuasion." It's actually my second favorite of Austen's novels and I haven't read it in quite a while.

There are a more than a few books I haven't bought/checked out/borrowed yet, namely the newest novels by Charles Finch and Kate Morton. There are somewhere between five and 10 books I've snapped pictures of on my cell so I can remember them for later, including one called "Shakespeare's Tremors and Orwell's Cough," a book written by a doctor about the various maladies suffered by famous authors, and "The Lawgiver" a semi-comic novel written mostly in epistolary form by Herman Wouk, author of "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." My boss also just loaned me "Gone Girl," which I've been meaning to read, both because the premise intrigues me and also because my best friend listened to the audio book on her morning and afternoon commutes and wants someone to discuss it with. I also want to read "Call the Midwife," which I recently picked up at Target. I've seen the first set of the BBC miniseries based off of it and it completely sucked me in.

Actually, there is a third book I haven't finished and I now realize I failed to record as part of the aforementioned list. In October, I started reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church as part of the Year of Faith, via emails sent out daily to a listserve who signed up to read it. I've actually fallen behind with that (the unread emails that are sent out every day, dividing it into manageable chunks, stare at me whenever I check my email) and it's my goal to catch up.

Then there's the bin of unread books waiting patiently for me under my bed... But for now, it's time for wine and a cupcake. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Joy and mourning

A lot of people in the world of Catholic blogging have been writing about the horrible tragedy last week in Newtown, Connecticut, along with the irony of it being followed two days later by Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent meant for joy.

Possibly because of the Connecticut shooting, I couldn't help but notice all the little children sitting in the pews around me during morning mass. Some of them got a bit cranky, or talked a little too loudly, but I didn't mind. What bothered me more, though, was the retirees who kept gaping, turning their heads left and right every time a child made so much as a peep. Exiting church at the end of mass, one older woman, who looked to be at least 75, even patted a 4-year old boy who had been sitting down the pew from me on the head and said "You make too much noise."

Curbing my desire to tell her to mind her own business (I was raised to respect elders, for one, and secondly, I'd just received Jesus in the Eucharist so thought it best not to be snarky), I also wanted to ask if she'd been listening to Father, or if she'd even seen the news, or tell her that she perhaps might be grateful for the little children in our midst (and that their parents bring them to church). The little boy wasn't that loud. He was being 4, and his mother dealt with him appropriately.

Ultimately, I don't think I can come up with anything better than what has already been written and said by a number of others. But I ache for those families of the children, teachers and administrators. Everyone, whether directly or indirectly, has been impacted by tragedies. I don't know why He allows bad things to happen. Sitting in mass Sunday morning, Father talked about evil in the world, and how, despite our best efforts to keep it at bay, sometimes evil happens. But we can't live our lives in fear. And I think, although it's hard to wrap our minds around sometimes, that's why we are asked to still be joyful. Jesus' birth is right around the corner. All we can do is lean on God in our sorrow and pray for everyone involved, and, despite the evil in the world, know the Lord will never abandon us.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Some things that make me happy

Recently my friend David, who blogs over at, posted about things that make him happy, writing "What are the things which make you really, truly happy? Where are the places you can always find joy?" He then proceeded to list his top 10.

And it got me thinking -- in this time of the year when we're stressing to find just the perfect gift for everyone on our list, and people are asking us what we want for Christmas -- what does make me happy? It seemed like a good exercise for Advent.

So, inspired by David's blog post, I, too, sat down and made a list. The first seven (and I didn't actually stop at 10, but went to 14) or so came to me quite easily, but I did have to put some thought into it. In no particular order (although I have numbered them in the order I came up with them), here is my list. Some are very silly, some are serious. And I found most of them have nothing to do with material things.

1: Reading a really good book and being in bookstores, especially of the used/secondhand variety (they just smell divine!).

2: Time spent in a cool, quiet chapel, for prayer and meditation, just me and Jesus in the tabernacle or monstrance.

3: Gift wrapping. I really love to wrap presents. I find it soothing, but I also love taking the time to wrap a gift beautifully to make a gift really special. I joke with my roommate, who is very into crafting, that gift wrapping is my way of being crafty.

4: Classic movie marathons and/or seeing classic films on the big screen.

5: The prospect of and packing for a trip, especially to someplace I've never been before, or to visit people I haven't seen in awhile.

6: These three songs. They will always turn my mood if I'm feeling like a sad sack: This one I danced around in my living room to as a little girl: ; these next two remind me of high school: ; and this one of college:

7: Having a child, usually one of my godchildren, cuddle into my lap.

8: Dancing, although I don't do much of it these days.

9: Looking through old family pictures and letters/learning family stories and history.

10: Sitting in a darkened room, taking in the delicious evergreen-tree smell and just watching Christmas lights blink on and off. There's just something mesmerizing about it (this could lead people to think I'm easily distracted by shiny things...which I suppose that is sometimes the case) that appeals to my sense of wonder.

11: Changing into comfy clothes at the end of the work day.

12: Time spent with good friends.

13: Snuggling down into clean sheets.

14: Cool, fall, scarf-wearing weather.

So, what are some of the things that make you happy?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Faith, hope and Advent

We're lucky, as Catholics, to have two New Year's celebrations -- January first, like everyone else -- and our liturgical new year, which started yesterday with the first Sunday in Advent. So, Happy New Year!

Advent is my favorite part of the Church calendar. Yes, I love Lent, too, and need it every time it rolls around, but there's just something about Advent. As a child, the countdown of lighting the candles each week helped me mark how long it would be until Santa came, until I could stand in wonder before the sparkling tree on Christmas morning and gaze at the presents beneath.

Of course, now that I'm a grown up (well, more or less. Half the time I still feel about 12), I know that the birth of Christ is the real gift, that it was Mary's Fiat which began this journey to the coming birth of our Savior, and although His death and resurrection truly saved us, without His birth there would have been no sacrifice on the Cross.

But I still have that sense of wonder, that sense of hopeful expectation that Advent is all about. Only, instead of 'will I get that Cabbage Patch doll and the bike I asked for?' it is a renewal of God's care for me, a renewal that my faith will not be in vain. It's about waiting, patiently (or sometimes not so patiently) for what we want -- the desires of our heart -- and for God's will (which placed those desires there) to be made manifest.

One of my (many) favorite verses in the Bible is Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." We live, we pray, because we have hope and the faith to believe our hope will be realized. A few verses before that, though, St. Paul leads up to it with Hebrews 10: 35-37, 39: "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. 'For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay.' ... We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life."

It is yet another reminder that our faith, our "confidence," in the Lord will not be in vain, even if that "brief moment" might seem a bit longer to us. And while we might not get that doll, or bike, or whatever else it is we want, Advent and the coming joys of Christmas remind us that God will never let us down, that our faith in Him will result in our eternal life, which is the best possible gift.

Or, to quote Pope Benedict XVI, who says it so much better (and more succinctly!):

"Faith is not merely a personal reaching out toward things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for... Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a 'not yet.'"

Sunday, November 04, 2012

My nerdy self ponders some historical what-if's

When I graduated from college, I earned a degree in English/Creative Writing and minors in business and Spanish. But if I had college to do all over again, I would probably major in history... or maybe both history and English, because I'm just that much of a nerd.

No, really, I am. I read a lot of history for fun. Sure, there are novels and poetry, short stories and spiritual reading (I'm in the midst of St. Augustine's "Confessions" right now), but there is a heavy lean toward history on my bookshelves. I think it stems largely from my parents. Although my dad is a retired attorney, his bachelor's degree is in history, and he has always been especially fascinated by the Civil War and WWII. As a result, I could name more WWII-era planes as a teenager than most, if not almost all, of my high school friends. And my mom's master's is in Latin American studies. I can still recall the sixth grade field trip that had something to do with anthropology where one of the guides asked if anyone knew the three major ancient tribes from Central and South America. I was the only one out of 30-odd students who could name the Maya, the Inca and the Aztec. The knowledge won me an arrowhead, which I still have somewhere.

The summer I was 13, I spent several weeks with my grandmother in Alabama. Bored out of my mind after about a week, and tired of fighting her for the TV remote, I decided to start writing a novel (see, nerdy!). Now, this wasn't a fictionalized account about the teenage angst of being stuck in Mobile with an elderly relative. Oh, no. I decided to write a novel set in Elizabethan England about a young woman who becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth the I and all the drama, intrigue and romance that implies. Seriously, who does that? This girl. I even researched the era, diving into my grandmother's copy of  "The Riverside Shakespeare," which had a section on history and fashions of the time, complete with pictures. And I persuaded her to take me to the library, where I had her check out for me (a bit incredulously, I might add, since I remember her asking me repeatedly if I was sure I didn't want any of the books from the teen section) "The Kings and Queens of England and Scotland." I proceeded to read it cover to cover.

That longer-than-planned intro leads me to the (other) book I'm currently reading, "Sister Queens," about the lives of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, and her sister Juana, Queen of Castile, also commonly referred to as Juana the Mad because she allegedly carted her dead husband's coffined body around with her wherever she went (the author of the book contests that madness bit). Last night, about halfway through the book, I came to the point where Katherine and Henry had a son. One of her many pregnancies (there were six, and only one would result in a child who lived to adulthood, Mary), the boy was born healthy and baptized Henry, but sadly only lived 52 days.

Stick with me, I do have a point...

Since I ponder these random things, it got me thinking about what would have happened had the boy lived. Henry VIII, who was a devout Catholic, might never have abandoned his faith and divorced Katherine in his quest for a wife to give him a male heir, and therefore might never have separated England from the Church in his quest to marry Anne Boleyn (or married his four subsequent other wives, for that matter). How history would have been altered! England might have remained a Catholic country, and the Tudor dynasty might have continued on for generations. Monasteries and convents might not have been looted or destroyed, and, as there wouldn't have been an Elizabeth I, there wouldn't have been an Elizabethan period for me to research at 13. And of course it would have affected the world as a whole. Would America have been settled as quickly had there been fewer people seeking a new life and religious freedom on her shores, for example?

St. Thomas More
But then, too, we might have been denied so many of our saints. I know there are probably a number who are now saints or blesseds because they refused to apostatize (renounce their loyalty to the Church) and therefore lost their lives (I tried to figure out how many by Googling -- still nerdy over here) as the result of Henry VIII's actions, but the most famous, and the only one who immediately comes to mind, is St. Thomas More, a lawyer, writer (he authored "Utopia") and good friend of Henry who, despite that friendship and his otherwise complete loyalty to his sovereign, refused to sanction Henry's divorce out of greater love for the Church and was beheaded -- martyred -- as a result. He was canonized in 1935 and is the patron, among many things, of the Diocese of both Arlington and Pensacola-Tallahassee, adopted children, large families, lawyers and, appropriately considering that Tuesday is Election Day, of politicians and statesmen. His feast day is June 22.

So, while I can't even begin to grasp at God's ways (as they're not ours), I know without doubt that He had his reasons for that small baby dying in 1511, probably not the least of all being that we might not have St. Thomas More to intercede for us now, especially in regard to the presidential election. St. Thomas More, pray for us!

Dear Scholar and Martyr, it was not the King of England but you who were the true Defender of the Faith. Like Christ unjustly condemned, neither promises nor threats could make you accept a civil ruler as head of the Christian Church. Perfect in your honesty and love of truth, grant that lawyers and judges (and politicians!) may imitate you and achieve true justice for all people. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Wedding File

My roommate and I have gotten into the habit of sticking invitations we receive on our refrigerator and then taking them down as the events occur. Between the two of us, at one point earlier this year, we had four save-the-date cards, several bridal showers, I think six wedding invitations, a birthday party invite and at least one baby shower. A few of them are still there. Our fridge (and I'm not talking just the front, but parts of each side, as well) was, and is, crowded.

Once the events are over with, though, we have different ways of handling these little bits of formality. My roommate tends to throw the invitations away. But I don't do least not with the wedding invitations. This may sound completely ridiculous to you, but I put mine in what I've come to call The Wedding File.

I've had it for years now, stretching back to college. It's a blue accordion folder and it's filled (although not completely), with invitations I've received to the weddings of friends and family members over the years, along with some of the wedding programs. If I think a bridal shower invite is particularly neat, I might save it, too. A few good friend's baby announcements have also found a home there.

For example, my friend Marie sent out a pre-wedding events invitation for out-of-town guests that included a bowling night, and the invitation itself is a round bowling ball card. Liz's wedding program, in addition to listing members of the wedding party and the Mass parts, includes quotes about marriage and love from such disparate sources as Dr. Seuss and Pope John Paul II. Joe and Mary had a fall wedding, and their invitation is covered in bronze-colored leaves. The border on Amy's invitation are graceful raised calla lilies, the same flowers she carried as her bouquet. Some are very formal, printed on heavy cream-colored card stock. One or two, printed on home printers, reflect brides and grooms on a budget. Others are riots of colorful creativity. My friend Sabrina even printed her own postcard wedding invitations on the letterpress she stores in her garage.

I've saved them because, one day, if it's God's will, I might need to refer to them for ideas to help me put my own wedding invitation together. In fact, several friends have borrowed the file for reference purposes while planning their own weddings (in fact, after loaning The Wedding File to my best friend while she was planning her nuptials several years ago, I got it back with some extras: she'd inserted several invitations to weddings she'd been to).

A few days ago, though, after calling in my regrets to a bridal shower I can't attend (ironically, because it's the same day as a wedding I've already committed to) and almost immediately after mentally reminding myself to put the invitation into the file, I found myself thinking "You know, maybe I should just throw all those invitations out. I haven't needed them yet. Maybe I never will."

Later that night in talking to a friend (herself finalizing plans for her own wedding in the new year), I told her about my random thought. And she quickly said, "Oh, no, keep it! It will come in so handy." She went on to say she wished she'd had something like it. "Although, you know, if you do toss it, you might find you need it not too long afterwards." Laughing, I joked that I should put it in the garbage immediately, and maybe I'd meet someone sooner.

After a little bit of thought, though, I decided to keep it. Yes, I'm a bit of a pack rat (I'll admit, it runs in my family), and some people would probably tease me if they found out I had such a thing. And yes, at some point, possibly during a move, I will get rid of the file and it's contents. But in the mean time, the file is also a time capsule; a reminder of good times and friendships, some of very long standing. There's a little bit of regret, mixed in, for some of the friendships that have faded, but overall, the file is a representation of so much love. Keeping it appeals to my romantic, hopeful nature, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"What are you, then, my God?"

I've just started reading St. Augustine's Confessions, and although I'm not very far into it (four pages. I did say not very :) ), I am finding myself amazed, most particularly at this point by the following utterly contradictory yet beautiful description of God: 

"What are you, then, my God? What are you, I ask, but the Lord God? For who else is lord except the Lord, or who is god if not our God? You are most high, excellent, most powerful, omnipotent, supremely merciful and supremely just, most hidden yet intimately present, infinitely beautiful and infinitely strong, steadfast yet elusive, unchanging yourself though you control the change in all things, never new, never old, renewing all things yet wearing down the proud though they know it not; ever active, ever at rest, gathering while knowing no need, supporting and filling and guarding, creating and nurturing and perfecting, seeking although you lack nothing. You love without frenzy, you are jealous yet secure, you regret without sadness, you grow angry yet remain tranquil, you alter your works but never your plan; you take back what you find although you never lost it; you are never in need yet you rejoice in your gains, never avaricious yet you demand profits. You allow us to pay you more than you demand, and so you become our debtor, yet which of us possesses anything that does not already belong to you? You owe us nothing, yet you pay your debts; you write off our debts to you, yet lose nothing thereby."
                                                         - St. Augustine, Confessions, Book One 4,4.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On vanity and love

Two things God has been trying to work on in me recently are vanity and love of self. I know that sounds a bit conflicting, but bear with me.

Recently, while on vacation, I went to an event for some friends. While I was in town, I let them copy the event photos from my camera's memory card so they would have them, fully intending to post them to my own Facebook page soon.

But since I was on vacation, my Internet availability was spotty for a while. Before I knew it, one of my friends, in excitement, posted all of my photos to her page and tagged me in them before I could get to it. And I'm ashamed to say I threw a little tantrum about it. I knew as I was venting to my best friend how stupid and petty I sounded, but control had been wrested from me. There were photos of myself that I wouldn't have posted at all, much less tagged, because I felt I looked fat in them. Or others that had too much light exposure, so I would have tried to work them somehow, or cropped, before posting.

"What if some hot guy sees them and thinks I'm ugly?" I wailed to my best friend. "And I can't post them now because they'll be duplicated and people will think I'm stupid for posting photos that are already up," I added, pouting.

My very sensible best friend proceeded to talk me off the proverbial ledge.

"What hot guy are you thinking of?"

"I don't know. But there might be one."

"Ok, let's say there is a hot guy. Do you think his, or anyone's, first thought when looking at these pictures will be to immediately think 'Who's that fat girl'?"


"Of course not! And who looks through all of someone else's photos anyway? There will be plenty of people who haven't seen them. Just post them again."

"Ok, I guess."

Ultimately I realized how juvenile I was about it -- so vain to think that what I post is so interesting to every single one of the people who are my Facebook friends -- and let the issue go entirely. But as my vacation continued, I found myself asking the friend I was traveling with to -- here and there -- retake certain snapshots because I didn't like the original picture and thought wouldn't look good online. And that stopped me short. But Facebook wasn't ultimately the culprit. Sure, social media can feed the fire, but it was really the devil, whispering in my ear that I'm not good enough, that society is right and that only the thin are beautiful.

Generally pretty athletic all my life, I have struggled with my weight for years, most recently because of a hormone imbalance that makes it really hard for me to keep weight off. I can do it, and have done, working my way several years ago to losing 67 pounds. But it plagues me that, after succeeding so well, I managed to backslide and regain 30 of them. Work was stressful, I was (and still am) there a lot, my gym changed classes and some instructors left. Then there were months I didn't get to the gym at all, and my smaller clothes are now in Rubbermaid bins under my bed. Some days it feels like defeat, but at the same time I'm determined not to let it become one. It will be a challenge to regain that ground, but I know I can do it again.

The Lord knows our weaknesses. I sometimes forget to offer them to Him, to ask for His help, thinking I can do it all on my own. And that's the point where I usually trip up. For you it might not be weight. You might think you're too tall, or too short, or you hate your ears/nose/thighs/feet...insert any feature. It is so hard for us as women to love ourselves for who we are, or to think that anyone else, any man even, could possibly find us lovable and attractive, too.

And yet God created us in His image. It is something I, sadly, have a tendency to forget. I am His child, as are you. His love is always with me. God reminds me, with His grace, that I am so much more than a number on a scale. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, and godmother, someone who's ability to love and comfort and laugh and sing and listen and advise and do my job well has absolutely nothing to do with that number. Should I try to be healthy? Of course. But should I let what size jeans I'm wearing determine my worth? Never. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rejoicing with friends

I don't know if you remember, but several months ago I mentioned a friend of mine and his wife who were fostering a little boy. They had struggled with fertility, as my friend's wife was born with Turner's Syndrome and couldn't have children.

One previous foster situation, with two little girls, didn't work out. But when a little boy with strawberry blond hair was placed with them, Joe and Mary immediately fell in love. The boy's birth mother was addicted to drugs, and his biological father was in jail. He was just shy of a year old, and despite their trying to discourage it (because they didn't know how long they would have him), he took to calling them mommy and daddy.

Both attorneys, they knew the system, but that didn't stop them from being frustrated at delays and the repeated rescheduling of hearings. When the boy's birth mom left the state in June (something tantamount to abandonment), they knew they were close. Still, they had the termination of parental rights hearing to get through, and then an appeal period of nearly a month to endure. With only a week left until the appeal period was over, they found out the boy's biological father was out of jail on parole. Would he try and contest their petition to adopt? For days they lived a knife's point, praying. Messages were sent asking for more prayers, and saints were invoked.

Well last week, their dream of becoming parents finally came true, as they officially (legally, at least, as they'd been a family in their hearts for well over a year) adopted their son, Elijah. The minute they could finally do so, they flooded Facebook with pictures of Elijah they'd been hoarding for just such an occasion. The very first photo Joe posted, in fact, came with the caption "Behold my SON, with whom I am well pleased."

Immediately, there was an outpouring of congratulations. Although we didn't live it first-hand, so many of us as friends prayed with them and for them, talked them through daily struggles, and encouraged them that this day would come. I cried several times for the sheer joy of it, rejoicing that their patience had been rewarded. I wasn't the only one, with even other men admitting to wiping away tears in their offices, posting the most heartfelt messages of thanksgiving.

I have been reading, and just finished, the Venerable Fulton Sheen's book "Way of Contentment," and toward the end of the book, came across this quote:

"Every man rejoices when he has a partner in his joy.
He who shares tears with us wipes them away.
He divides them in two, and he who laughs with us makes the joy double.
Two torches do not divide, but increase the flame.
Tears are more quickly dried up when they run on a friend's cheek in furrows of compassion."

It made me think of the hundreds of their friends and family members who had shared in this family's happiness. Their love and joy was multiplied a hundred, even a thousand fold. There are no two parents more deserving of this blessing.

Joe has told me he's still a little bit in shock. There are so many things they can do now: take a family vacation without having to file and carry paperwork giving them permission to cross state lines; have a date night where they can leave Elijah with a trusted friend, not someone who's undergone a rigid background check; discipline him (within reason), whereas before they couldn't, as he wasn't theirs; have to have a Children's Services worker come inspect their home.

And now this little boy is part of my life forever, too. On Saturday, I had the honor of becoming his godmother. He is my fifth godchild, my second godson. Elijah is 2 and all boy. He loves fire trucks and dogs, cartoons, drums and books. He has made complete the family of my friend and his wife.

I have been around for so many of my friend's pregnancies, and they are all special, all gifts from above. Somehow, though, this particular child seems more so because, the funny thing is, even though he's adopted, Elijah seems to look like both his parents. He makes the same goofy faces as Joe, and has a similarly shaped face to Mary. He really was meant to be theirs.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Never doubt God's sense of humor

Have you ever met a man you swore up and down was God's plan for you?

When I was a junior in college, I developed a hard and fast crush on this guy I will call Diego. He was the brother of a friend of mine and had come up for the weekend from one of the other state colleges to attend the Catholic campus ministry group's spring retreat. He was just beautiful: tall with dark, longish hair, brown eyes, glasses, great smile, with a little bit of a Hispanic accent (his family was from Miami), funny, smart (he was working on his computer engineering degree), athletic (he played soccer) and a Godly man to boot (he was helping run his campus' Catholic student organization). We hit it off pretty quickly after being introduced, getting into a conversation in the church parking lot about shared musical preferences while eating a pizza dinner before piling into cars for the trip to the retreat center.

Since I was on the retreat team, helping run a small group and involved in several skits, it was a busy weekend for me. But I we managed to hang out a little bit over the course of those few days. On Sunday, with the retreat at an end, we exchanged email addresses and took a photo together, his arm around my shoulders (oh, how giddy I was about that! Plus, this was 1999, ladies, so I had finish off that roll of film and send it away to be developed. Oh, the anticipation waiting for it to come back--would it be blurry? would my eyes be closed? -- was hard!).

Back from that weekend, I waited a few days to send him an email, just a "hey, it was great to meet you on the retreat! Hope you're having a blessed week" sort of thing. I'm sure I squealed when I saw his name pop into my inbox a day or so later.We began email back and forth -- at least once a week, but sometimes more -- discussing various classes, our family backgrounds and having spiritual conversations. Goofy girl that I was, I printed out all his emails (they are probably languishing in a box of old college papers somewhere...unless I tossed them. I actually can't remember!). I was completely enamored with him, teasing him about something silly he'd done and then told me about. We prayed for each others intentions. 

Then, his emails became slightly more infrequent. I figured he was busy studying. When they stopped altogether, I was stumped. Had I said something? Done something? I poured over every detail of conversations I could remember, filled journal pages with speculations and discussed it ad nauseam with several girlfriends, parsing every word of his emails to see if there was some sort of hidden meaning.

That summer, I lived in community with six other women. Over the course of the summer, I came to find out, through one of them who was dating a roommate of Diego's brother, that Diego had decided he was called to the priesthood. Well no wonder I hadn't heard from him! I spent much time wondering why he hadn't at least told me himself.

The summer passed, and it was fall semester of my senior year. I still thought about Diego a lot. It was hard not to, with his brother in my same circle of friends, and they strongly resembled each other. One day, a friend called me and said "Hey, your man is back in town." "Who?" "Diego." "He's not my man," I protested, but inwardly I was suddenly high as a kite. He was at our spirit night that Wednesday and he gave me this huge hug, in fact he practically lifted me off the ground. He seemed nervous around me, though, and when I asked a friend why, she said maybe he didn't trust himself with me. It was a thought I'd never had before, that I was somehow that enticing to a man. I remember writing in my journal how even though I knew he would make a good husband and father, I suppose I couldn't win if he was following God's calling.

Still, in my heart, I didn't think he would become a priest. I clung to a courtship story told by an older (who at the time where, gasp! in their 30s!) married couple with several children who spoke to our student group on vocations night: they had been friends for years, she was in love with him, but he was in seminary and she didn't give anything away because she didn't want to be known as a VC: a "vocation crisis" (as such women were quasi-jokingly called in our circle by the monsignor in charge of diocesan vocations). Finally, he was thisclose to making his priestly vows when he realized he was called to marriage with her. I even (embarrassingly. I cringe even now to think about how idiotic I was to do this) wrote an essay for my article and essay class that semester called "On Reading a Romance" about interpreting literature (I made a number of Jane Austen references) and also about how I was convinced that despite his current longing for God, Diego was really called to be my husband.

To shorten what has become an already overly long story, time passed. I graduated from college and moved onto grad school. Then one day, out of the blue, I got an instant message from Diego. The sight of his name on my screen could still give me flutters, even though time had gone by. Those flutters only increased when I asked him about his priestly studies and he told me he was no longer in seminary! Could it be? Was he finally going to tell me he couldn't stop thinking about me?!

Wow, I must have thought a lot of myself. But God put me in my place pretty quickly. Sure, he was out of seminary, but after exchanging a few other pleasantries and discussing mutual friends, he asked me for some advice. See, there was this girl he wanted to ask out and... I just burst out laughing. I remember looking heavenward and saying out loud, "Ok, Lord, I get it."

We kept in touch for a bit longer, as friends. Last I heard, he was happily married. I am still single, and that's ok. At one point, I found those emails he'd written me, and when I counted, there were only 24 of them! I'd had an extended crush (and we're talking something like two years, here) on a man who I'd seen in person only twice and who had sent me exactly 24 emails. Looking back on it now, it almost seems idolatry, the amount of attention I gave this man, the daydreaming I did and time I spent imagining conversations we'd was mostly a fiction, when it comes down to it. My, the flying leaps a woman's heart and head can make!

I still, because I'm a girl and this is how our minds work, occasionally find myself drifting down those imaginary primrose paths sometimes when I have a crush, but I try and keep this situation with Diego in the back of my mind when I find my brain jumping too far ahead. It reminds me that God's will is not anything like mine (Hallelujah for that!), and that the Lord has an exceptional sense of humor. I was right, after all. Diego didn't become a priest and is now a husband. He just wasn't mean to be mine. :-)

Sometimes I feel like I fail my faith by failing to defend it's tenets.

Recently in my office, one of my coworkers comments on political ad on the TV in the newsroom, an anti-Mitt Romney commercial with women talking about his anti-abortion plans. The conversation between several of my fellow workers turned to Roe v. Wade and how it would be ridiculous in this day and age to even try to reverse it. The coworker who was the primary conversationalist said "It's about control." In the past, she has spoken with fervor in favor of Planned Parenthood and their services and how much good they do by providing gynecological care for those who otherwise couldn't afford it; never mind the lives they've taken through abortion.

She's also Catholic, and will be the first to claim it when a question about Catholic practices comes up in the office. Although she now covers city government, she started her journalism career as a sports writer (not so common in the 70s) and is an ardent feminist. She always has to have the last word.

I never argue with her, even though I feel like I should because, when it comes to Church teachings, she's wrong. Almost the time, she's wrong, and she's giving other coworkers false information and a bad example of how faithful Catholics live. Still, I don't feel like I'd be able to win an argument effectively, so I say nothing. I know what I believe, and am passionate about living it, but despite my father being a retired attorney and a champion at persuasive arguments, it is not a skill I inherited. I'm not a debater. Plus I have to work with this woman every day.

Then yesterday, I came across a quote on one of the blogs I read. Over at The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia posted a quote from Carryl Houslander (I've seen some of Houslander's reflections in Magnificat, and keep thinking I need to read more of her writings, and this quote further convinced me of that fact). It spoke to me on several levels. First, I'm coming up next week on 7 years with my company, and I wonder what purpose I serve there, still plodding away when I yearn for something more. But secondly, it made me think that maybe even my (probably too) silent presence does some good:

“Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile.”
— Caryll Houselander, Reed of God, Page 60

I'd never thought of it that way before. It made me think that one thing I can do, any one of us can always do, especially when feeling inadequate, is to pray.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gall and wormwood

Bitter tears of frustration and angry thoughts about things that are totally within my control but I am too weak to change come from nowhere.

Yet I am so damn tired of pretending that I'm strong and independent -- such a lie -- I am anything but.

As I drive prayers are raised for strength against indulging in the rancor that wants to find it's voice, and I am scrawling thoughts on the back of a grocery list at stoplights -- my half-hour commute divided by words -- just so I can get them out of my head.

Biting my lip and clutching at Mary hanging around my neck -- like the life raft she is -- in an effort to not give into the ire that floods me -- against Satan who tells me lies -- that I would only spew to the four walls, berating the cycle of hormones that have sent me into this emotional tottering (those chemicals we women aren't supposed to talk about, or blame, because we are all supposed to be feminists and beyond those things. Screw feminism. I am PMSing and I will blame the hormones; it is the third day in a row I haven't been able to get to the gym like I wanted).

Dissatisfaction (not just from missing the gym)

I can't possibly be the only one who sometimes wants to just scream and curse and throw things.

("Everybody's got a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine?")

But I am too nice, and won't do those things. I am stuck, and I am not brave enough to change or vocalize.

I am plagued by self-doubt and fail continually to take action to be just a little bit selfish, if only to better myself.

Oh God, come to my assistance! Oh Lord, make haste to help me!

This, too, shall pass, He says to me, my jewel, be not afraid! Lean on me and I will be your strength.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"...invaded by external agitation."

Everyone has at least one, I think. You know, that one person in your office, or even a roommate or family member who can just push your buttons, simply by being who they are? Maybe they breathe funny, or have a nasal voice, clomp around when they walk or just do things differently than you would. Whatever it is, it irks you. You find yourself rolling your eyes when they aren't looking, or mumbling under your breath or even complaining about them to others when they're not around.

I've got one, too. She's a nice woman, my coworker, but has one of those Jersey accents that just makes my skin crawl. She loves to talk...some days I can physically feel myself tensing the longer she anyone, not just me. She also tends to needlessly explain and note things. For example, if I'm in the break room eating lunch, and she walks in to refill her water glass, she will often look at me (sitting there, food in front of me and eating away) and ask "Lunch time?" Yes, seriously (once, I replied "Nope, breakfast," and she just shook her head at me). Sometimes she will walk into the office after being gone for a meeting and tell everyone -- and since we don't have cubicles, she's clearly visible -- "I'm back." She's 6 feet tall. It's not like we can't see her.

My roommate, who is a good friend, also drives me a bit nuts with how she's organized the kitchen. She was in the house first, and I'm mostly accustomed to how she's arranged things. Key word mostly. Be honest: do you know anyone who puts cup measures inside a lidded salad spinner behind a two-foot tall stack of Tupperware in the back of a bottom cabinet? All I'm saying is, they're not exactly handy.

I am so far from perfect, though, so I know I shouldn't be casting stones. I'm pretty sure, for example, the fact that I'm not as much of a cleaning nut as my roommate -- and therefore the continuously cluttered nature of my bedroom -- bugs her (me being the Oscar to her Felix, organization-wise).

So lately, especially at work, I've been trying to ignore these petty annoyances or, at the very least, offer them up, praying when I find myself growing annoyed and asking the Lord for help to ignore whatever proverbial fly is buzzing around my head. And I've noticed that they're rolling off my back a little more easily than they used to.

Some days it's still a struggle. The little things tend, as we say sometimes here in the South, to stick in my craw more easily than larger issues. I even feel, in a way, that I shouldn't be venting about them here. St. Paul challenges us in Philippians 2:14 that we should "Do everything without grumbling or questioning," and again in 1 Corinthians 10:10 "do not grumble." And in 1 Peter 4:9, we are told to "be hospitable without complaining." May God give me the grace to do so! These petty annoyances are small crosses. I have to remind myself that dying to these will only help me grow closer to the Lord.

Elizabeth Leseur, a Frenchwoman who's cause for canonization is underway (if you haven't read her journals or any of her writings, I cannot recommend them highly enough) touches on this among the many things she hoped to work on spiritually: "Many things to reform: pride, the tendency to procrastinate getting to work (I admit I'm guilty of this a lot, too), to let days slip away; (and) allowing myself to be invaded by external agitation."

Amen to that.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hollywood or bust

"Well, things went wrong... If you just get the technical end straightened out..."

So says Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden at just about the hour mark in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain" as she's trying to comfort Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood character about the impending failure of his latest film.

It was also somewhat prophetic Thursday night in terms of a 60th anniversary, one-night-only showing of the film. About three minutes after that line, and just before the exuberant "Good Morning" number with Gene, Debbie and Donald O'Connor, there was a blip in the film and it jumped about 17 minutes ahead, landing in the "Broadway Melody" segment right before Gene has his first dance with Cyd Charisse, skipping both "Good Morning" and, more importantly, the titular number itself, "Singin' in the Rain", in their entirety.

Oh, the irony.

But let me backtrack a little and explain. Loving classic films as I do, I'm (surprise, surprise) on Turner Classic Movie's email list. Periodically, they partner with another company to bring classic films to the big screen again, usually for one night (in March "Casablanca" got a similar treatment, for example, and later this year, "The Birds" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" are planned), but none were ever in my area. Still, when I first got the email telling me "Singin' in the Rain" was going to be in theaters on July 12th, I immediately went to the event website to check for the nearest location. Alas, the closest venue was in Tampa, making it impossible to for me to see it unless I took time off work to drive up there.

But the reminder emails kept coming. On Tuesday morning, I got another one and, just for giggles, decided to check for the closest theater. Lo and behold, they'd added several, including the one right here in Port Charlotte. Laughing gleefully to myself, I immediately went to Fandango and bought a ticket for Thursday's showing. I don't even think it was 8 a.m. yet.

Yes, I was excited. You might think it's silly to get worked up over a movie that's 60 years old, even if it is considered by many to be the best musical film ever made, a movie I'd watched more times than I could count (in fact, I'd caught it on TV no more than two weeks previously) and which I also own.

See, thanks to my kindergarten music teacher, Mrs. Spots (who, back in 1983, loved wearing scarves knotted jauntily at the neck and still wore her hair in a pouffy beehive), "Singin' in the Rain" is the first song I remember knowing by heart (songs by Whitney Houston and Phil Collins/Genesis would soon follow, but I digress), along with the "Glory Be" and guardian angel prayers. I even remember being a little girl in bed, allowed to stay up and read for a while before lights out, and lying on my stomach with a book and my dolly Kimberly next to me singing the song to myself. At the time, I didn't know it came from a movie (and in fact is even older than that, having been written in 1929), but when I discovered that later, the film became a favorite.

So as today wore on, I prayed I wouldn't get stuck too late at the office, and I'd brought jeans to change into before I left. I made it to the theater with plenty of time to spare, allowing me to buy the "small" soda for $4 before making my way to a seat. For a while, I was the youngest person in the theater, until several people in their 20s, some young college students I recognized as recent graduates and drama club members from one of the local high schools and one or two families with younger kids made their way in.

It was a happy bunch. Retirees near me joked about whether or not there would be a newsreel or cartoons before the feature. One woman, there with several friends, told them she'd never actually seen the film. Trivia questions about the movie ("What was used to make the rain more visible while Gene Kelly sang and danced his way around in it?" The correct answer is milk, oddly enough) played on the screen while we waited. Then came an introduction including a mix of interviews with some of the cast members, most of whom, aside from Debbie Reynolds and Rita Moreno (who had a small role as a character actress named Zelda) are now deceased. A woman next to me, a smart-alecky lady in her early 70s, grumbled about when the actual movie would start: "Don't they know us old folks have a curfew and need to be home by 9?" she joked. The theater was practically full before the lights went out.

When movie started, everyone laughed and sang along and clapped at the end of certain dance numbers. I could hear people around me occasionally and in low voices recite the dialog along with the actors on screen. I did the same, bopping along to the "Moses Supposes" number. I couldn't stop smiling.

And then, the film jumped. People immediately started grumbling. Several went to tell management about the problem and, within minutes, a theater employee came in and said they were going to restart the movie from just before the problem area. The crowd murmured their relief, happy they would still be able to see the best part of the movie. When the screen went black, several used the short pause for a bathroom break. The sarcastic woman to my right checked the time on her phone and said laughingly to her friends "Yep, we definitely won't be home by 9 now."

The theater erupted in applause when the film resumed. But we were only to have our hopes dashed when the same thing happened yet again, at the very same spot. This time, while several people again got up to complain, most everyone kept their seats, watching what remained of the movie and still breaking into applause at "The End."

As the lights rose, a manager came in and addressed the crowd, apologizing profusely for the problem. He'd tried to fix it, he said, but there wasn't any way to correct what seemed to be a bad download/transfer, and he couldn't reschedule since it was a one-time only event. But he did give everyone a free movie pass and was applauded himself for the gesture. What else could he do, really? As we lined up to collect our vouchers, some audience members began singing the title song. Others chatted to each other that they were headed home to pop in their DVD copy and watch the minutes that we missed (yep, I did it, too). Snarky woman to my right said it wouldn't be the same, since she'd come to see it on the big screen. "I saw it 60 years ago, but I'm certainly not going to wait another 60 years to see it on the big screen again," she said.

Still, even with the technical difficulties, it was beyond neat to see a film I've only watched on the small screen become larger than life. I learned that Gene Kelly, who co-directed the film with Stanley Donan, took 40 takes of the "Good Morning" number, starting in the a.m. and not finishing until it was dark and Debbie Reynold's shoes were "filled with blood," she said in an interview (though I've heard the same thing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers), then proceeded to use the very first take in the finished film. The colors seemed brighter, and I noticed a few background details I hadn't seen before. Although I found myself thinking it would have been nice to have a friend along, there's just something about watching a film in the theater and the camaraderie of the crowd that makes it so different from seeing it on TV.

The only thing I'm left wondering now is if I can use my free movie voucher for the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" next Thursday night. My initial hunch is probably not. :)
Regal spells theater the European way.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A bookish post

In early January, inspired by the blog of a friend, I wrote about some of the books I wanted to read in 2012, and the fact I wanted to keep track of what I read as the year progresses. And since the year is (gulp) already more than half over, I figured I'd check in. :)

 I've been very good at tracking my reading. So far this year, I've completed 37 books so far, so roughly six a month. There are two I started and haven't yet finished (one from way back in April), but there's something about writing down my start and ending date for each book I read that somehow makes me loath to not finish one. 

Two of those I've completed reading were among six books I knew in advance that wanted to read this year ("Hedy's Folly" and a rereading of "The Screwtape Letters"), and I've started rereading "War and Peace."

It's actually been 21 years since I read it the first time. Yeah, I was 13. I'd been introduced to Jane Austen at 12 and had just finished reading most of the Dickens canon (thanks, Lakeland Public Library!) so was when I read it. I was one of those kids who liked to challenge myself with books (I read "Gone With the Wind" in seventh grade), and the thicker the tome, the better. Also, I was headed to my Granny B's house for an extended visit that summer (summer, for some reason, just seems like the time to tackle huge books to me...not that there's a bad time of year for it, really) and wanted something hefty to take with me. That summer, while I was in Mobile, I also read the history of the Kings & Queens of Great Britain and started writing a novel set in Elizabethan England. Nah, I wasn't nerdy at all. :)
Anyway, I'm 210 pages in right now (out of 1,455) and I'm enjoying being back in Russia of the early 1800s immensely. Some of the plot points and characters I remember easily. Right now, I'm on the road with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, making his way through Austria and back to his regiment, which is in the process of fleeing Napoleon's French forces. :) I'm using the same copy (somewhat worse for wear after 21 years. The spine is cracked, for example), and when I opened it up last week, there was the signature of my 13-year-old self, complete with flourish underneath, on the frontispiece next to the a sketch of Tolstoy's head and right above a brief biography. Inside was also the bookmark I'd apparently used back in 1992: a cassette tape label, which isn't something you see too much of these days.
The usage illustration, complete with directional arrow and both English and Korean(?) instructions, is the best part.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A confession confession

This afternoon I walked out of confession.

No, not out of the confessional itself. I was only in line. But I still feel guilty having left.

It's only the second time I've done such a thing. The first time was in 2005. April 2, to be exact. The reason I remember it so clearly is because I was freelancing for the Florida Catholic at the time, and with (now Blessed) John Paul II struggling to hold on to life, we were all on death watch. We'd even been given assignments about which church to go to should he pass and, as I waited for my turn to confess, I felt the phone in my bag start to vibrate and I knew it was time to go.

Today was different, though. I haven't been to confession in about two months (I like to go every month, generally) and, while I hadn't killed anyone, I needed to go. Since I work on Saturdays, I've taken to going to confession at the church near my office during a break in my afternoon. The pastor there is typically very quick and always gives the same penance every time ("Say five 'Our Fathers for any guilt that you might feel'"). He also gives the same penance to everyone... I know this because there are two doors into the confessional, neither very thick, with space beneath the bottom of both doors so sound carries across the tiled floors in the chapel. Typically it isn't an issue, thought, because Father only raises his voice when he's giving penance and absolution. If he offers counsel, he modulates his voice accordingly.

Today, there was a visiting priest, however. There were a good eight or nine people in front of me, and as the priest began to hear the first penitant, it became clear that every word he was speaking in response to the woman confessing could be heard. I thought "Maybe she's hard of hearing. She is somewhat elderly, so perhaps she asked him to speak louder." I felt for sure the priest would use a lower tone with some of the others in front of me.

Only he didn't. A few more people went in and came out in turn. The visiting priest was equally loud. I felt sure someone would say something; ask him to speak more softly, maybe. He was also rather long-winded. I don't mind that, generally, but when you're trying to tone out counsel someone else is receiving in response to sins confessed, it's very frustrating. None of us were trying to over hear. One man cleared his throat frequently. I tried focusing on prayer and reading the Sunday Mass readings, but couldn't concentrate. Another man, two people ahead of me in line, was even pressing his fingers into his ears to avoid hearing details of others' confessions.

As I sat there waiting, debating what I should do, I realized how uncomfortable I was. Part of it was trying to avoid overhearing. But part was also worry that others -- several people having come in behind me, by this point -- would hear what he would say to me once it was my turn. In truth (and, weakly perhaps), I was more worried about that. So I left. I can hear you saying right now, 'Why couldn't you have said something to the priest when you got into the confessional if he hadn't started using a lower tone by that time?' Sure, I could have. I'm sure if I'd gone ahead, my confession would still be valid, and I'm sure people wouldn't have listened to the priest's response to my confession on purpose.

But I didn't go. And now I feel a bit cowardly, like perhaps Satan got the better of me. I know confession is uncomfortable even in the best of circumstances. No one likes admitting they've failed. It's probably people's least-favorite sacrament...until it's over, that is. Everyone hates having to go but loves having gone. That's certainly the case for me. Part of the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though, is the seal of confession. No matter what you've done, how bad you think you are -- and this takes me back to college, when (I think it was) Brother Jude used to say "I'm the worst sinner I know" -- confessed sins are only between you and the Lord. The priest is the intermediary, the conduit to Christ. No one no can be told what you've said, and only a priest can hear what you confess.

Unless the priest is loud. At any rate, next Saturday, I will try again.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Some days, I yearn for poetry.

For, as Garrison Keillor puts it, "to be interrupted mid-stampede by a beautiful thing is a blessing indeed."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's cookin'?

One of my New Year's resolutions was to do more cooking in 2012, and so far, I think I'm off to a good start.

The first Friday of Lent, I made shrimp alfredo. It had been years since I'd made a good alfredo sauce from scratch, but man that was good. Creamy, cheesy and extra garlicky, just like I like it. Oh, and completely healthy, of course. The salad I had with it totally evened things out, calorie-wise. ;-) I also made a great pasta salad the other week with cheese tortellini, spinach and tomatoes that made a great addition to several lunches.

Inspired by a recent issue of "Cooking Light, " I've also made several homemade pizzas. The first was a chicken barbecue pizza that turned out spectacularly, easily beating out the California Pizza Kitchen version that I enjoy. And just the other night, sans recipe, I made another chicken pizza (I do plan on branching out from chicken... one recipe in the Cooking Light that I want to try calls for smoked salmon) with spinach, Parmesan and a good garlic marinara sauce. It's pretty basic, but completely satisfying, this homemade pizza making (although not totally from scratch, as I'm not making the crusts myself...but who has time for that?), and likely healthier than the greasy American ordered variety, which Italy pretty much spoiled for me.
One thing that definitely has me upping my cooking game is Big Breakfast Wednesdays. They're a tradition my housemate Pam and her former roommate Jen started when Jen moved in, and we've continued it since I've taken up residence. It's a simple premise: we take turns making a larger, more elaborate-than-cereal-or-toast breakfast each Wednesday. This has actually been a little bit of a challenge for me. Growing up, when we made breakfast on the weekends, it was scrambled eggs, oatmeal or, most often, pancakes. The only problem with making pancakes for Big Breakfast Wednesday is that Pam, for health reasons, can't have anything too sweet first thing in the morning (I did make pancakes for Fat Tuesday dinner, though, which was awesome). As a result, I've made fried eggs and scrambled eggs with cheese and hashbrowns, but those don't seem quite big enough. So for last week's turn, I went trolling on the Internet, looking for a savory muffin recipe. A lot of them were quite complex, and called for ingredients I would have to buy in larger amounts and then likely never use again. But then I stumbled on one that offered a variety of filling options. And they turned out marvelously. The recipe made 16, so both Pam and I took some to our various offices, where they got rave reviews from coworkers (in my office, Elaine said they tasted like something you'd get at Panera, which was incredibly flattering). It will definitely be added to my breakfast repertoire.
Of course, there are still nights where I come home and just do something simple with a chicken breast or tilapia fillet, nuke a TV dinner or, like tonight, make a meal out of sweet potato fries dipped in apple butter. But I'm thoroughly enjoying getting back into cooking on a more regular basis, and I hope to continue this good start. There are so many more recipes I want to try and lots of 2012 left.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My brain on shuffle/Utter randomness

I remember watching reruns of The Monkees as a kid, and just loved the show. They also had a guest spot on an episode of Scooby Doo, which, in my book, was pretty much the coolest thing ever back then. Davy Jones was my favorite Monkee, though, because he was the cutest (I had a crush on him as a kid, I'll admit it), had that exotic English accent, could sing and, really, when it comes down to it, the man could play the tambourine with flair, so I was sad to hear he passed away today. And while I really do love most of the Monkees songs, I think this is one of my favorites. Maybe because Neil Diamond wrote it. Or maybe because it IS the song used in that Scooby Doo episode. But it's just good:
On a completely unrelated note, I wrote a poem today. My boss, Lorraine, has been out sick, and in an email to Elaine, one of my coworkers, she joked that she knew we were lazing around, dancing, singing and eating office (i.e. shared/community) chocolate instead of putting out a paper, and that she knew all this because there are cameras hidden in the multiple giraffe figures (she collects them) on her desk. I'm not entirely sure what prompted it, but Elaine said, "We should write her a poem." So I did...and then I posted it to her Facebook wall:
An Ode to an Editor out sick"

"We the eaters of office chocolate
Dancing in front of the giraffe cam to block it.
Work!? What is that? Our boss is away!
And when that happens reporters will play:

Ed writes B.P.s on county financing
So exciting he comes in prancing;
Elaine sings songs into her phones
To answer those calls she needs clones;
Carol dreams of going antiquing while
She's doing story critiquing;
And Anne's piece on a school event
Is better when read with a foreign accent.

When Lorraine comes in tomorrow
The newsroom will be full of sorrow.
For it's back to the status quo
And all our fun we must forgo." 
My boss is actually awesome, so the sorrow will not be real when she comes into the office on Thursday, and we do have lots of fun when she's there. Also, B.P.s are big picture stories, so called because they paint a big picture (duh) of an issue. And yes, I frequently speak in foreign accents (English, Ukrainian, occasionally French) at work. I'm a nut. But I also think I'm a pretty good mimic, and unless my coworkers are lying to me...wait, maybe they actually are. :)
My roommate and I have discovered an incredible time-waster of a "reality" show on Animal Planet: "Finding Bigfoot." A team of four (one of them answers to the nickname Bobo, which in Spanish means stupid. He also has a preference for trucker hats) goes to different parts of North America (which, as one of the team members was compelled to explain tonight, includes "the U.S. and Canada," in case you didn't know) to study evidence (grainy videos and the like) and talk to people who have supposedly seen a sasquatch. Only the team members have shortened sasquatch to "squatch" and have subsequently turned it into an adjective ("This area is squatchy."), a verb ("Now this is squatchin!'") and a noun ("Other squatchers say..."). There are also select phrases they repeat often, such as "Hear that? That's a squatch!" Also, sasquatch apparently love a myriad of disparate things: cows, power lines, fireworks, cemeteries, ducks, deer, bacon (although come on, who doesn't?), donuts and the sound of crying babies, among other things. Pam and I can hardly keep from laughing the whole way through an episode, mostly because these people take themselves so seriously.
And finally, thrift stores are just fun. There's a new, huge Goodwill opening up near my office, and they had a soft opening tonight. After we filed everything for the Thursday paper, Elaine, Carol and I went exploring, finding all sorts of silly things to try on (Shoes! Hats! Lampshades as hats!). Naturally, since we document even the most mundane things ad nauseum, Elaine took many photos...some of which just began appearing on Facebook (and some of which were incredibly unflattering and I just as quickly removed them from my timeline). Others are fun. One is me holding an Oliver Hardy mug. I joked that since Stan Laurel was missing, I'd be the Laurel in the picture (since it's my first name... Yes, I do realize I'm incredibly nerdy/corny. I did know a girl growing up in Lakeland who's parents named her Laurel Ann Hardy. Sad. And funny. But I digress...). I think once Lent is over it will make an appearance as my new profile photo. It'll be interesting to see how many pick up in it.
Right. I should go to bed. I meant to a good hour and a half ago, but time has run away with me. This is the result. Perhaps I should put a moratorium on late-night blogging in the future. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


"You're so grounded and sure in the faith, sometimes I just need to talk to you and get your perspective."

I actually started laughing when a friend of mine surprised me by telling me this during a phone conversation Saturday. It was a beautiful and unexpected compliment, all the more so because I rarely feel like I have it all together faith-wise. More often than not, I feel like I'm just keeping my head above water, fumbling about and praying as I go. I told my friend that so often, I wished I knew the answers or understood what God wants me to do and when, but just keep plugging along.

Especially lately. Although I've been in my new place for three weeks now, I still don't feel settled just yet. There are still plenty of things to sort through and find a place for. I've been so busy. And I've barely found time for prayer, which, I have no doubt, has surely contributed to the somewhat scattered feeling I've been experiencing of late.

That's why I'm so looking forward to Lent starting Wednesday. I need and am longing for that focus (that grounding, if you will) Lent brings; So many people see Lent as a time of denial, and it is. Of course it is, and for good purpose. But it is also a time of joy and time for us to learn and grow more towards God. And here, in the waning hours of my 33rd year, I know there's still more growing for me to accomplish. I don't think, and I hope, that growth will never end. I have several books picked out for Lenten reading (one, a book by Fulton Sheen -- "Way to Inner Peace" -- that I found at a used bookstore for a quarter a while ago but only turned up again when packing to move) and have decided to pray a Rosary daily -- one of my New Year's resolutions was to pray it more frequently, and as I haven't quite followed through with that one, making it a Lenten sacrifice seems like a good plan.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The great book count of 2012

So, while I was packing to move, a number of people asked me how many books I owned. I had no idea, as I'd never counted before. A few friends wondered if I had 1,000. A girl I work with has 2,400-plus. I knew I wasn't to that level, but I figured a few hundred wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility.

Now, when I moved into my old apartment six-odd years ago, I came in with 14 boxes of books. And over those six years, I accumulated more. Some of them I knew I'd be able to part with: books I read but couldn't recall what they were about when I picked them up, several books I found I actually owned a duplicate of (somehow I'd managed to acquire two copies of Alison Weir's "The Life of Elizabeth I") or random thrillers my dad had passed along to me that really aren't my speed. Ultimately, I donated 165 of them.

Some of the first things I packed were books: they're easy to toss into a box and you don't have to worry about adding any kind of packing materials to make sure nothing is damaged. In the week before I moved all the big stuff, I brought several car loads over to my new place and stowed them in the garage. My roommate, Pam, kept asking how many more there were, although, a reader herself, she was excited to have some more reading options at her disposal. Ultimately, the majority of boxes I picked up at local liquor stores wound up filled with books. In fact, by the time I was done, I had 26 boxes of books that came with me to my new place.

I make no secret of the fact that I daydream/long for a home with built-in bookshelves, or an entire room turned into a library, preferably. I do have one smaller book case next to my desk, but it's only three-shelved and two feet wide. There's a legal sized bookcase in the living room and that small plastic bin filled with to-be-reads currently lounging under my bed. But I needed a place to store lots, so last weekend, with the help of several (awesome) friends, six pine shelves were installed on one of my bedroom walls. This weekend, I stained them a lovely darker color. Today, I filled them. And they are things of beauty. I just keep looking over at them and grinning like a Cheshire cat, hoping, too, that gravity and the weight of my books won't somehow send them crashing down. They are truly loaded with books, 467 all told (counting those on a "shelf" I created on the floor beneath the shelf lowest to the ground).

Anyway, since all my books are now shelved. I counted everything. Grand total: 758, including cookbooks and my school yearbooks. If I hadn't parted with those 165, I'd have had 923, so still under 1K, but it's a completely respectable number, I think. And that doesn't mean that I won't eventually acquire more. There is still a little bit of space on the top shelf for additions. :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Movin' on...over

So when I wrote my New Year's Eve post, I closed it with the line that I hoped "For 2012 to be a year of new beginnings and of joy, with opportunities that surprise even myself."

Well, color me surprised. I hardly imagined that within the month I'd be preparing to pack up my apartment. Now, I'm not moving to a new city or for a new job -- despite the fact that for years I said I wouldn't move unless I had a new job or new city to go to -- but into a new place about five minutes away from my current apartment, where I've lived for the past six years. And I only just got around to hanging that long-framed art on the wall two months ago. Go figure.

Anyway, my friend Pam told me her current housemate was moving out this month, and she asked me if I'd be interested in moving in. It took me several days to think about it and make a decision. See, I can talk a good game about being spontaneous, but I'm really a prototypical eldest child, with the need to be responsible and a propensity to over-think things. I have a serious lack of daring, generally, and like many (and not just eldest children, I imagine), both a desire for, and a fear of, change.

But at the same time, I realized that I've grown too comfortable. While the thought of packing and culling these next couple of weeks is more than just a little daunting, it needs to be done. I'm looking forward to being free of some of my stuff. Plus, I have this strange notion that if I don't make this smaller change now, I might be unwilling to make any sort of larger move in the future (worst cast scenario: 12 years from now, I'm still living in this apartment, crammed with even more stuff, and sharing the space with multiple cats...ok, maybe not the cats, but you get the idea).

Plus, moving will enable me to save significantly every month and, almost more importantly, I will never have to truck my dirty laundry to the laundromat (thereby avoiding being hit on by creepy men old enough to be my father) ever, ever again. It's the little things, really. 

Like any transition, there will be some things to get used to (it has, after all, been a good nine years since I've shared living space with anyone besides an immediate family member), but Pam and I get along really well, and I already have a key to the place (from occasionally dog-sitting her pooch, Trustee), so I can gradually take boxes over as I pack them, saving the big items for last (this is the plan, at any rate). I'm sure there will be some adjustments, but I've been saying for a while that I need to be organized and more neat as a general rule, which Pam most certainly is, so hopefully a little of that will rub off. She is also fully prepared for (and excited about) the onslaught of books I'll be bringing with me.

And it looks like, if nothing else, I'll be able to put a check mark next to my New Year's Resolution to "clean out my refrigerator" sooner rather than later. :-)
I'm going to be needing more of these!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Books for 2012

On New Year's Eve Day, a high school friend of mine (Kristen lives out in L.A., writes TV show reviews for an entertainment website and is working on a romance novel) wrote a blog post about books she'd read in 2011 and others she hopes to read this year.

I thought it was a fun idea. Well, the later portion, at any rate. With as fast as I read, I honestly can't remember how many books I read in 2011. But that contributed to this post, too, and I thought perhaps I should keep track in 2012. I'm not going to blog about all of them (that would be silly), but there are occasional books that I find myself wanting to write a term paper (for lack of a better, um, term) on and may deserve note. But I think I will use one of the many journals I've received as a gift to record them...that way at the end of 2012, I will know what and how many books I read this year. It should be interesting to look back on.

I received several books for Christmas, along with a Barnes & Noble gift card that enabled me to buy a few more. :) Plus, there's that giant bin underneath my bed, a few stacks scattered around the house and several books I'd like to reread.

Anyway, five days in, I've read one and started another. The one I've completed, "The House of Silk," which I finished yesterday, is one of the books I got for Christmas. It's a Sherlock Holmes novel, but the first one that was actually authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. I'm always up for a good mystery novel, and this one was entertaining.

I started the second book, Bill Bryson's "At Home," (which I also got for Christmas) last night before bed. The problem (if you can call it that) with Bryson is that A) he's an incredibly witty writer and B) there's so much fascinating information in this book (all kinds of crazy facts about the Crystal Palace, for instance), so I spent a fair amount of time laughing and really didn't want to put it down and go to sleep last night (or this afternoon while reading during lunch). I've found several topics/ facts that I want to know more about (Skara Brae in Scotland, for example. I'd never heard of the archaeological site. Reading about it also almost immediately triggered a time-travel novel idea, but that's another story). And I've only just made it into chapter 2.

But I digress. In addition to finishing "At Home," there are a few other books that I know I want to read this year. They include, in no particular order: "The History of the World in 100 Objects," written by the director of the British Museum; P.D. James' "Death Comes to Pemberley," a mystery that takes place about six years after the events described in "Pride and Prejudice;" then there's "Hedy's Folly: the life and breakthrough inventions of Hedy Lamarr," (no, that's not Hedley) which should be fascinating, since she was an incredibly beautiful and talented actress in old Hollywood, but she also was remarkably intelligent and helped create technology that aided the war effort in WWII and now makes our cell phones possible. Then there's "A Canticle for Leibowitz," by Walter M. Miller Jr. My friend Rebecca sent me a review of it written by Peter Kreeft in Dappled Things several months ago (sadly, I can't track it down now, even with Googling--whatever happened to things staying on the Internet forever?) which fascinated me, and so I ordered it off Amazon. It arrived just after Christmas.

Plus, I also want to reread "The Screwtape Letters." I haven't read it since I was in seventh or eighth grade, when I was required to read it in Theology class. I'm sure I will see parts of it differently, now that I'm an adult. For the same reason, I also want to reread "War and Peace."

Time to go read!