Sunday, August 10, 2014

One year later

Not too long ago, I was cleaning out my voice mail and, as I went through them (there were something like 21 just hanging out; clearly the chore needed doing), I found messages from my Mom and both of my brothers, but not one from my Dad. At first, it made me a little sad that his voice wasn't there. But then I got to thinking (and laughing), Dad wasn't a big leaver of voice mails. He'd call (this happened typically after he was retired and had a question about something -- usually computer related -- in the middle of a workday), and not leave a message. Then, two minutes later, he'd call again. Sometimes, he'd even call a third time, say 10 or 12 minutes after that. I can't tell you how many times I told him, exasperated, "Dad, just leave me a message the first time. I'm not ignoring you, there's a reason I'm not answering the phone." He'd say ok, but then of course do it again, although after the third (or, miraculously! sometimes after the second) then would leave a message. It was usually very short and along the lines of, "Hey, Anne, it's Dad. Can you call me?" Hence, why I probably didn't save any of them.

Somehow, today marks a year since he died. It doesn't seem that long ago, truly.

Ironically (fortuitously?), a year ago this morning -- but several hours before his death -- Mom and I had visited the funeral home to make arrangements while my Uncle Joe sat at the hospital with Dad. We also had an appointment at the church later in the afternoon to discuss the funeral mass, at that point not knowing when it would be.

Leaving the funeral home (my brothers were at the house), Mom returned to the hospital, Joe went and got lunch and I went to my friend Michele's to pick up a food basket. She'd baked all sorts of things and put them into a care package with fruit and snacks we could grab on our way out the door to the hospital, since we didn't know how long Dad had. I was sitting at her kitchen table when mom called me just after noon to tell me he was gone, sooner than anyone expected. Despite the suddenness, Mom said she was ok to go ahead and keep the church appointment. After I hung up, Michele held on to me as I cried, then, being a practical Louisiana native, poured me a fortifying shot of tequila, the only liquor she had in the house at the time. She then (also practically) made me a turkey sandwich so I wouldn't be driving with only liquor in my belly. I'm pretty sure I was a bit stunned, because it wasn't until I was in the car, driving to the church, that I remembered to pray for Dad's soul.

Anyway, in picking out readings and music (which went smoothly), there was one song I wanted in particular, "The King of Love My Shepherd Is." The priest and deacon didn't know the tune, so I pulled out a hymnal and sang the first verse. My Uncle, who had joined us (Daniel was manning the fort at home and Ethan, who had actually been on the way to the hospital when Mom called him with the news, stayed with Dad's body until the funeral home came to collect it. It was a three-hour wait, and I have always been grateful he kept that vigil), suggested I sing it at the funeral. Reticent to do it alone (although I love to sing and have sung with choirs, I'm fairly self-conscious about singing by myself. I don't think I'd sung a solo in church since high school), I persuaded Joe to sing it with me for the presentation of the gifts.

I'm so picky about liturgical music, and a lot of people tend to play the cadence far too slowly. I suppose they're being reverent, but it's a Celtic tune and should be somewhat lively, to my mind, especially as the funeral mass is one of resurrection, and I didn't want it to be dirge-like. Fortunately, Bill, the retired music minister who played at the funeral mass (and who traditionally played everything super slowly), played it perfectly, without my even having to ask. This man, too, gets it just right:

 A couple of weeks ago, the date of Dad's death had actually slipped my mind. I was driving home from work and trying to remember, and it took driving past my doctor's office to jog my memory, "My doctor's appointment was the 5th, and then he died five days later." I wasn't sure if it was incredibly lame that I couldn't remember, or a (sort of) good and healthy thing, in that I wasn't completely fixated on it.

There are days when things he would like surround me, days when I can hear his voice, so clearly in my head, reacting to some sort of news item. There are days when I mourn with tears, and then there are days when I barely think of him at all, so caught up am I in work and preoccupied with my own thoughts.

But part of that last, too, is my confidence in the Father. Though we none of us can really know the fate of those who have passed, I know as surely as I type this that Dad is with God, and there is no need for worry, only continued prayer. As I pray for him, I hope he prays for me.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Daring to dare

It seems I have yet to find a way to balance journaling and blogging, because it seems while I'm perfectly capable of doing one (to the detriment of the other), I can't manage both. I blame my pesky job. ;)

I did spend the majority of last Wednesday writing, though, and I have six and a half pages of fiction to show for it. I was off work that day, having worked the previous Monday in the absence of two coworkers, and it was rainy, windy and a bit grim all day: absolutely perfect writing weather. I'm not saying it's particularly brilliant prose, but it's more creative writing than I've done in a while, and I am not dissatisfied with it. In fact, I felt ridiculously proud of myself afterwards. I often feel like my creativity has atrophied, and the fact that it hasn’t gone completely gave me a sense of victory (and, after a lazy reading day yesterday involving nothing beyond that and mass, today between laundry and yard work managed some more. I've even written out a timeline, which is something I NEVER do).

I have a motivating factor now, you see and, as a procrastinator by nature, deadlines are helpful. :)

Early last week, my mom called me up. She subscribes to the Florida Humanities Council magazine and noticed an ad for the Eckerd College writers' conference, which will be held in for a week, mid-January, in St. Pete. She thought maybe I'd be interested, and gave me the URL.

I went to the website and checked it out. As I was reading over the FAQs page, I felt my heart beat a little faster, and not just because of the (quite expensive) associated cost, or the fact that applicants have to submit a 25-page draft of an unpublished manuscript - fiction or non, and applicants can submit both - for review before they're accepted. It dawned on me that I was not only nervous about the prospect, but downright terrified of even trying.

Do you know what my very next thought was?

I have to at least apply.

I came across a Maya Angelou quote recently where she said, "I believe the most important single thing beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare." While I think there are, in fact, some things more important (faith, hope and love come to mind), I agree about the daring. I haven't dared much in too long.

I have become stagnant, complacently. Yes, I've said it before. Yes, I write here, but I am completely aware of the limited number of readers who visit it. And, too, I write every day for work, but the majority of the stories I write are completely lacking in challenge and require little to no creativity. But I think, too, about my dad, who always talked about writing novels, who dabbled in poetry, who came up with sometimes brilliant plots but never did anything about them, and I know he regretted it. I'm not trying to be vainglorious when I say I know I have talent. I don't want to waste this God-given gift, to lament efforts unmade, to leave the field, as it were, unchallenged. And while there is another writers' conference being held closer, and sooner, for cheaper, I don't have enough vacation time to go this year and still have time for the holidays.

So, last Wednesday, I pulled out a quasi-comedic mystery story I'd started in 2010, added a bit to in 2012 but hadn't touched since then. I thought I'd had about 10 or 11 pages, but there were nearly 19! The story still stands up, too, in terms of not being dated at all. So now that I'm very close to the 25-page requirement (not that I'm going to stop at 25...or not edit it), I'm also contemplating writing something in the non-fiction category as well. There are several incidents of family history I've wanted to write about for a while now, and I think this might be the place to start with at least one of them.

Or maybe that's too ambitious and over-reaching. :)

And yes, there will be a Scotland post forthcoming...

Friday, June 20, 2014

A brief note on writing and photos

I wrote 70-plus pages in a journal during the two weeks Mom and I were in Scotland (despite our breakneck pace through the country and essentially staying at a different B&B every night), and nary a word (minus stories FOR work, naturally) since I've been back in the office.

But I think I've come up with the solution to how I can generally get more (creative) writing done: I just need to find someone who will support me while I write... ;)

And I have so much to write about from the trip. Hopefully I will get to some of it this weekend. Inevitably, I think of observations I still need to write down about Scotland while I'm either driving or in the shower, so more will be done eventually.

Oh, and the photos! There are more than 5,000 (though, to be fair, since I've started sorting through them, some are blurry, at weird exploratory angles or a second -- or third -- version of the same shot, or things I took that I knew likely wouldn't turn out, and then didn't), and people are already clamoring to see them on Facebook.

I will not be posting all of them. I'm not that obnoxious. :)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Leaving, on a jet plane...

And that's just one side...

Departure day, T-minus 5 hours and 10-odd minutes, give or take. The reality that Mom and I are leaving for Scotland today, despite the silent witness of the packed suitcase and carry-on backpack sitting at the foot of the bed, it still doesn't seem quite real just yet. I'm about to head off on a trip that will check off one of my childhood (or teenage, to be more precise) dreams off my bucket list (>>> Not it. My bucket list has far fewer crossed off items!) just hasn't sunk in...but since we leave for the airport in about two and a half hours, it probably will shortly. :)

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."

Everything is done, both at work and on my personal to-do list. >> Ok, not exactly everything. I didn't get around to vacuuming my house, but I think it will survive until I return.

I have quite probably over packed (even after subtracting two pairs of jeans, an extra pair of PJ pants, a third pair of shoes and several pairs of socks from my suitcase last night).

I'm taking three books (five if you're counting the guidebooks), instead of my previously decided on two, mostly because my old paperback copy of "Persuasion" weighs next to nothing, and because I haven't read it in a while (the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds movie version is a fairly loyal adaptation and generally satisfies my craving for the story). My other books are "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis, which I've wanted to read for a while, and the collected Lord Peter Wimsey short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers (who I only recently learned was friends with C.S. Lewis and also wrote on some Christian themes when she wasn't writing mysteries. I'm looking forward to investigating that more at some point). I've very much enjoyed the Wimsey novels (including the witty byplay between him and scrappy Harriet Vane; their characters eventually marry), and I figured short stories would be easy to digest, so to speak, while on the move.

I'm also taking a laptop, as some of our B&Bs offer free Wi-Fi, although I'm not planning on hitting email and Facebook too often (just often enough to appease and reassure people (*cough*BestFriend*cough* that I'm still alive. She texted me this morning "Omg, what am I going to do without being able to call you for two weeks???!!!!!!!") that we're still truckin.'). I'm going to try and do some writing while we're there, and will be christening a new journal for the occasion.

It's looking a little cloudy out now, so I'm hoping the early evening storms that have been rolling in lately won't delay our take off at all, since we do have a layover in New Jersey before crossing the Atlantic. It's also the celebration of the Feast of the Ascension today, which seems like a nice day to take off into the sky.

(insert rim shot here).

Ok, yes, that was ridiculous, but I most certainly prayed for safe travels at Mass this morning.

Mom is super-excited, too. She keeps saying things like "pinch me, and "I can't believe we did all of it (the planning) ourselves." I hope everything goes according to plan, or at least that nothing gang agley, as Robert Burns would say. We're really doing this!

Renewed... and a reading recommendation

It had been far, far (vastly!) too long since I was last on a retreat, and so last (Memorial Day) weekend's Florida State University Catholic Student Union alumni reunion retreat (the group holds them every two years), held in Orlando, was so needed. I feel centered and so spiritually refreshed (or, as my friend Marie said, "It's like spiritual Draino."). I was so blessed to have this community when I was in college, this group of people who prayed for and guided me, who do so still.

Mass daily with plenty of adoration and praise and worship time, talks and fellowship with nearly 200 other CSU alums and multiple children (It was an amazing witness to life. One of the hotel employees asked one of us if the group was at the hotel for a baby convention) who attended from all over the country was priceless.

Having just been on the retreat, I found a neat connection in the book I'm almost finished reading. It's called "These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body," by Emily Stimpson. I read her other book, "The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide for the Single Years," when it came out two years ago and really enjoyed both it and her smart, relatable writing style, so when I found this one, it seemed like a no-brainer for several reasons. First, I still can't seem to manage to get beyond the first 125-odd pages in ToB and, secondly, Stimpson's book takes Saint JPII's work and (while not neglecting the sexual aspect) filters it toward practical, everyday behaviors to show how our manners and how we treat others, our work and how we do it and how we eat and dress also reflect the theology of the body: the body's ability to communicate who we are and who God made us to be.

Anyway, at the end of Chapter 3, which addresses ToB and work, Stimpson tacks on an addendum called "The digitalization of leisure," which talks about how the way we relax has changed. "A century ago," Stimpson writes,

"a good day of rest for the average American would have involved a long walk, a fine dinner, some neighborly conversation, and perhaps ... some music on the piano or fiddle. There might have been dancing. Or storytelling. Or perhaps and outing to a museum or play. ... and enjoyed in the company of others."

She goes on to say that today the opposite is often true. That we come home from our jobs and spend time watching screens, and our leisure time has become more passive than active and often spent along. I'm guilty of it, certainly, of dropping on the couch to watch a movie after work instead of challenging myself to be more creative or tackle postponed projects.

Not that she says all this technology is bad. Far from it:

"... although those technologies can lead us to encounters with the true, the good, and the beautiful, they are, by their nature, mediated encounters, not embodied encounters, with sonatas, paintings and evening chats ... Our greatest experiences of joy are never mediated. They're always experienced from the body. ... Media technology is at its best when it facilitates rather than replaces embodied experiences of truth, beauty and goodness, and when it helps us become creators rather than consumers during our leisure hours. ... Media technology can never give us the same kind of joy that comes from being on the mountaintop or hearing our favorite band live. It can't forge the bonds of love and friendship forged over a good meal and equally good wine. It can't mediate the glory and love and presence of God to us that being with someone or at some place in our bodies can."

This lengthy end note on the book's chapter struck me because I'd just spent a weekend rekindling some old friendships usually maintained online, but also because I'm about to embark on vacation with my mom to Scotland. It's a place I've wanted to visit for so long, have read so much about. You can look at all sorts of pictures of a place in books and online, but I'm beyond excited to have the opportunity to really experience it, as Stimpson say, in an "embodied encounter" shared with my mom. Like the movie "Up," "Adventure is out there!"

As for Stimpson's book, it's only 160-odd pages and a quick read packed with goodness, and I encourage you to read it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"The Poet," By T.A. Daly

The Poet
T.A. Daly

The truest poet is not one
Whose golden fancies fuse and run
To moulded phrases, crusted o'er
With flashing gems of metaphor;
Whose art, responsive to his will,
Makes voluble the thoughts that fill
The cultured windings of his brain,
Yet takes no soundings of the pain,
The joy, the yearnings of the heart
Untrammeled by the bonds of art,
O! poet truer far than he
Is such a one as you may be,
When in the quiet night you keep
Mute vigil on the marge of sleep.

If then, with beating heart, you mark
God's nearer presence in the dark,
And musing on the wondrous ways 
of Him who numbers all your days, 
Pay tribute to Him with your tears
For joys, for sorrows, hopes and fears
Which he has blessed and given to you,
You are the poet, great and true.
For there are songs within the heart
Whose perfect melody no art
Can teach the tongue of man to phrase.
These are the songs His poets raise,
When in the night they keep
Mute vigil on the marge of sleep.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Vacation: two weeks and counting

I only have today off for my "weekend" since I subbed out working Monday in exchange for having next Saturday off for the CSU reunion retreat, and I have to tackle both laundry (this means the laundromat: such a time suck) and yard work to get done before church later.

My grand vision of coming home from work last night and sorting laundry so I could leap from bed today and be the first one through the laundromat door? Yeah, that didn't happen. Naturally, I'm sitting on my couch, enjoying a (unusual for me) second cup of coffee reading and writing this instead. A procrastinator to the core, that's me!

Of course, the day's still young.

In addition to next weekend being booked with the retreat (which I'm very much looking forward to, by the way), these next two weeks are so packed with work assignments (my desk calender at the office is a sea of blue ink) and projects to tackle that if I wasn't going on vacation immediately after them, I'd be tempted to run away anyhow. That said:

Two. Weeks. Until. Scotland.

Two. Weeks.


It still doesn't seem quite real to me yet, possibly because there is so much I have to do in between times. But I have made a bit of progress with my to-do list: seven of the 19 items have been crossed off. And I've started tossing clothes in the direction of my suitcase (fortunately there's not much call for long-sleeved shirts in Florida at the moment) so, I'll have less to search for and can, at some point next week, start culling the herd. While it could be tricky, I'm determined to pack as light as a woman going overseas for two weeks can without living from a backpack, so I decided to take the small suitcase, rather than the behemoth I could probably pack myself into: for one, we're going to be on the move quite a bit and I don't want to have to haul the thing up flights of stairs at B&Bs, not to mention the big one would likely take up the entire back seat of our rental car (which is supposed to be a Vauxhall Astra, which looks (online) small but sorta snazzy. I do like saying Vauxhall. I am such a complete dork...).

I've also dug out of my change jar the £11.75 leftover from the unforeseen layover of 2009, when an Italian baggage handler's strike caused us to miss our UK connection from Rome back to the States. Though belied by the stamp in my passport that says I have actually been to England, 24 hours spent largely in a hotel, on the tube and in Heathrow Terminal 5 does not a visit make. I suppose I could have traded it in for dollars long since, but I knew I'd have the opportunity to use it eventually. :)

I only have a hundred pages to go in Sir Walter Scott's "Rob Roy," (I felt compelled to reread one of his books before heading over there) so will finish that before it's time to leave. I've been very much enjoying looking up many of the archaic words in it, and I'm not sure how I managed to read it as a teenager without having access to the (shorter, two-volume) OED. I have to say, too, that the Internet has failed me on several counts when I've tried Googling the odd word instead of immediately hitting the dictionary.

Speaking of books, that's one thing I need to add to my to-do list: determining the reading material I'll take with me. As a general rule, I have a tendency to over-estimate the amount of books I'll need on trips (and generally just end up hauling them around without cracking the majority), so will limit myself to no more than two: one fiction, one spiritual reading. The problem is, which two? I should definitely begin that process so I can start eliminating! Many would say this problem could be solved by some sort of e-reader but A) I can't afford one and B) even if I could (and call me a Luddite if you want) I prefer actual books, thank you very much. You can't scrawl margin notes on a Kindle.

And as an amusing conclusion, this past week Historic Scotland's Facebook page offered a "Who In Scottish History Are You?" quiz, which I took just for fun. Apparently (according to the no-doubt-completely-accurate quiz), I am St. Margaret. I was quite pleased with that result, actually, since I've always liked her story (and I didn't think I was much like Flora McDonald or Mary Queen of Scots, two of the other female results possible). I'm looking forward to visiting both her chapel (built by one of her sons, King David I, it's the oldest building in Edinburgh) and saying a prayer at her grave site (at Dunfermline Abbey).

Now, on to the chores...

Monday, May 12, 2014

We're all called to motherhood

One thing I love about Ann Voskamp's writing on her blog, "A Holy Experience," is her honesty.

I try to be honest when I write, but don't always say everything I want to, mostly because, well, this isn't my journal, not everything should be on the Internet, and I want to hold onto that little bit of myself, that yen to preserve myself from judgment.

But Voskamp doesn't pull punches. In a pre-Mother's Day post last week, she wrote about how no woman is the perfect mom, because that woman, the "Hallmark mother," does not exist.

"If we’re honest and what else is there really — there were burnt dinners and yelling mornings.
And neck strained words over lost shoes and scattered Legos and unfinished homework and there were crumpled tears behind bathroom doors.
Not to mention the frozen pizzas and no clean underwear and the wild words no one would want the cameras rolling for.
And the realization — that a mother’s labor and delivery never ends and you never stop having to remember to breathe."

She has six kids, so she knows of what she speaks. A couple of sentences down, she writes about womanhood, regardless of motherhood. These sentences struck me as both an acknowledgment and, in a small way, a benediction:

"The deal is — Motherhood isn’t sainthood and we’re all a bunch of sinners here and don’t let anyone tell you any different — pushing something out of your womb doesn’t make you a better woman.
Real Womanhood isn’t a function of becoming a great mother, but of being loved by your Great Father. Someone write that on a card with a bouquet of flowers. We all need that."


I know women who have six beautiful children, have struggled with infertility, experienced (sometimes multiple) miscarriages, but regardless, we are all called to be mothers, whether it's as aunts, sisters, friends, godmothers, or adoptive mothers, and to nurture those we love.

I'm not a mother, and while I want to be, I sometimes toy unpleasantly with the idea that maybe I should give that particular dream up because, even if I'm blessed with a husband, will I even be able to have children? I don't know. And I do terribly with not knowing (and with being patient, and being wrong. Hi, I'm human. *Waves to the group*).

Women joke about biological clocks ticking, but the idea I may not ever be a mother is, without being able to explain exactly how, a physical ache (yes, I would adopt, but not without a husband. Children need fathers). And I have a (stupid) tendency to discount being a spiritual mother, thinking of it as somehow less, forgetting that, "motherhood is a hallowed space because children aren’t commonplace, that anyone who fosters dreams and labor prayers is a mother..."

I have five godchildren, some I see frequently, others less often. They all have moms (and dads) who care for their daily needs, but they are in my heart, in my prayers. Small as my occasional cards and gifts may be in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't make my love, or its impact, less. I need to remember that. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

"Oh, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?"

I'm generally an up-beat, positive person overall, but, like most people, I definitely have my moments of angst, and that whiny quote from Romeo tends to pop into my head often when I'm feeling frustrated about life, along with Juliet's reply, "What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?" Their balcony exchange is all about romantic declarations and frustrated passion, but could easily (at least to my odd-ball brain that makes these weird, out-of-context connections: I was thinking about links between the "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" trilogies last night) be inserted into any conversation I have with God about why my life doesn't seem to be moving like I want it to. Only in those dialogs, I'm woe-is-me Romeo, and God is Juliet, basically telling me to be patient.

Oh, my brain! :)

Anyway, the other morning, while getting ready for work, I was talking on the phone to my best friend, Sarah, who was herself in the middle of her hour-long morning commute to the Georgia college where she's a science professor. We do this now -- have morning conversations -- because things are often too busy for her after work between the kid's soccer practice and dinner prep, my work schedule is sometimes unpredictable even in the evenings, or she, not one to stay up late like night-owl me, often falls into bed before 10, her energy sapped by both her daily responsibilities and the human she is currently growing.

In large part, our conversation centered around the fact that she and her husband had just found out their third child, due in September, is the hoped-for girl (yay!) and possible name choices for said daughter. Their sons, 5 and 3 (the youngest one of my godsons) were also excited about the prospect of a sister. But I was also having a whiny morning and needed to vent.

At 36, I'm at an advanced age (I write ironically) which used to connote mid-life but doesn't necessarily anymore. I was thinking about all the things I'm "supposed to" have accomplished by now: fabulous job, wonderful house, a passport filled with stamps, an amazingly romantic husband, kids, etc... and I am nowhere near that point in life. I have been able to do some traveling, largely through the beneficence of others (the whole trip to Scotland next month? Mom's paying for it, a gift I can never repay. The airfare alone is more than I make in a month), yet on my own I can't even afford the cost of a hotel for a weekend getaway, and sometimes (stupidly) I feel ashamed by that, that despite all my time spent working, it still yields so little, and that I am somehow less because of it. Then, I feel guilty because, in comparison to so many others, I AM well off. I have a job, no debt (a gift in its own right!), own my own car and a roof over my head. But, like so many, I live paycheck-to-paycheck, and I wish I knew when things would stop being a struggle. Job applications I send out, hoping for something new, something that pays better, yield nary a whisper in reply.

Like Romeo, I'm selfish and get so caught up in wanting, wanting, wanting.

So, back to the phone conversation the other morning: Sarah's driving, I'm trying and failing to pick out a shirt that suits my mood for the day, and she says, "I just want to be settled. Shouldn't that have happened by now?"

It's a feeling I am so familiar with. And, just like that, the bubble of my own selfishness popped.

One of the many, many things I love about my friend is that by trusting me with her own trials, she reminds me, even after you unlock certain life levels -- marriage, children, career -- there will always be worries and things will still continue, in a way, to be unsatisfactory. She's attained all those things, and loves her life and family, but still stresses about choosing the right school for her boys, the need for finding a mini-van they can afford before the new baby comes, having enough space in their current house and whether they should stay where they are or move and, if so, when? She questions how she'll juggle teaching with three children.

As I heard myself reply "It's life. I don't know that we'll ever be 'settled,'" I thought, almost simultaneously, "Do you hear the words coming out of your own mouth, woman?!" And, thankfully brought out of myself, I laughed.

There is a whole other life waiting for us, one that is not here, and that is what we yearn for -- for God. The sometimes (who am I kidding? the ALWAYS) hard part is to not be caught up in the wanting of things, the near-constant worrying this life -- the push to achieve, to win, for Manifest Destiny -- inspires. We live in the world, but can't let its worries and wants consume us. My Dad, though he fought it, tended to be caught up in the negatives so often, it practically became his default setting, and I don't want  --  and cannot allow -- that for myself. As St. John Vianney said "You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God."

Lord, help me live in the world, but belong wholly to you!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A cautionary note

I'm female, so over-analyzing things is in my nature.

Worse still, my B.A. is in Creative Writing, so I essentially have a degree in exceptionally in-depth analyzation. ;)

Ergo, this reminder from C.S. Lewis is an important one to remember as a general rule of thumb:

"‘Reading between the lines’ is inevitable, but we must practice it with great caution, or we may find mares’ nests."

Truth, C.S., truth. :)

Friday, May 02, 2014

First ever 7QT: Car talk, fiesta & favorite foods, Twitter and good red lipstick.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about your awesomeness, saints working through Youtube, and me buying you a banana suit

I've wanted to take part in Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 Quick Takes link-up for a while now (and have no discernible reason for why I haven't up to this point), so here goes.

#1: I talk to other drivers when I'm alone in the car. Now, I know I'm not the only one who does this, but somewhere in the not too distant past (I can't recall when), I started using pet names for them. To wit, I'll be alone in my car and say to the driver of car in front of me: "Ok, honey/sweetie/darlin,' the light's green" when they need to move off the dime.

Ummm, wow, that sounds even more ridiculous when I write it, but I think I tend to lose my patience less when I'm calling the driver of the car in front of me "dear" while encouraging them to at least use their turn signal before cutting me off, rather than cursing at them instead.

#2: We had a Mexican fiesta potluck for lunch today in the newsroom. Not everyone was going to be in on Cinco de Mayo, so we filled up today on chicken and beef tacos with all the fixin's. I'm not sure what it's like in other newsrooms, but none of us will ever starve so long as we work here.

In honor of the celebration, and to look a smidge more flamenco-esque/Hispanic (which I'm not, but people sometimes think I am), I pinned a couple of fake flowers in my hair, wore a peasanty looking shirt with a bright yellow sweater and glammed it up with bold red lipstick (not evident in the photo, as it had worn off from taco eating), the latter of which I don't do very often. A bit cheesy, yes, but it's Friday, and sometimes a girl just has to do something fun and different, even if only for herself. :)

#3: Do you know how hard it is to find a really good bright red lipstick? So many are too orange, whereas I need one with more blue in it because of my olive skin tone. The one I have is great, just the right shade, with the smallest hint of sparkle to it (Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Berry Allure frost). But it's old, as in the-smell-has-changed-and-I-know-I-should-probably-toss-it(there are rules about these things)-but-they-don't-make-the-color-anymore-and-I-love-it old. I did say I don't wear it very often.Whenever I do, though, it makes me think of 40's-era, old Hollywood glamour.

#4: If I were to have some sort of retro makeover and could pick the time period (yes, I think about these things), late 1930's or wartime Hollywood is the look I'd want. The clothes were so classy and feminine, and I'm fairly certain I could rock those war-era Victory Rolls.

#5: I love fresh tomatoes, and sometimes just eat them plain. In fact, after I had both a chicken and beef soft taco at lunch, I grabbed a bowl and just filled it with chopped tomatoes and a little bit of guacamole and went to town.

#6: Speaking of things I like, I am currently out of milk. This is a sad state of affairs, as I use it in tea, coffee, hot cereal, cold cereal, hot chocolate, chocolate milk... Seriously, I'm like a teenage boy when it comes to drinking milk (this, by the way, is the only way in which I resemble a teenage boy). I buy a gallon and bring it home and by the end of the day or the next morning, half the gallon will be missing. And I'm the only one in the house. At least I'll probably never suffer from osteoporosis.

#7: I followed G.K. Chesterton on Twitter this morning so I could get the hook-up on some awesome, faithful/witty quotes. Shortly thereafter, I received a "Matched contacts suggestion" on my phone for good old G.K., like now that he knows how to get ahold of me, he's gonna call. That would be pretty awesome, come to think of it, if not just the least bit miraculous. ;)

As for Twitter, I go through stages with it. I will post a flurry of tweets one day, and then there will be a trickle more over the next couple of days, then I tend to forget about Twitter entirely, sometimes for months at a time. I feel like I should be better about it, but also at the same time like I don't need more distractions or another social media site to maintain. Some people seem to be on there constantly, and I just can't.

Head over to Conversion Diary for more quick takes!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A gallimaufry

This past weekend, I bought a new lawn mower. I'd tried to keep my lawn maintained with an old-school reel mower (which also kept me from having to buy gas), but with more weeds than grass in large portions of my yard, it wasn't cutting it (a sad, sad pun. My apologies). I've mentioned before that I started mowing my parents' quarter-acre when I was 12, so I'm no stranger to gas-powered push mowers and how they operate, but this was the first time I'd put one together out of the box. I didn't have any real problems with the assembly, although another hand would have been helpful (note to self: buy a vice grip), and ratchet sets are a lifesaver. When I finished I posted a pic of the completed machine on Facebook, proud of my handiwork, then went about my mowing. While it wasn't an arduous process, I have to say it's incredibly satisfying to put something together and then have it work properly.

The next day, one of my coworkers, who'd seen the photo online, asked me how mowing went. After I told him the mower made short shrift of my lawn,  he said he was impressed with my handiness at putting the mower together and that I was "the total package" because he didn't know many people, male or female, who'd done so. I thanked him and kind of laughed, but it got me wondering: while I'm not on the receiving end of those sorts of compliments often, this isn't the first time an older, married man has said something like this me. Why is it that they are the only ones who seem to think so? Or is it because they don't have a vested interest, so aren't intimidated by expressing the idea? I'm not agonizing over this by any means, just pondering it.

Song, sung, blue
"Ode to Joy" is a beautiful song. It was the closing hymn at mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, and, for the first time, it almost made me cry, but not because of it's beauty. Even as the first strains reverberated through the church, I could feel my face start to crumple and tears start to well. I thought to myself as I tried to fight it off, "hold on, you don't want to be the weird woman crying during a hymn of triumph," but the choir only sang the first two verses so I was able to pull it together -- I might have been in trouble if we'd sung all four.

Dad's marker when first installed.
It was my dad's favorite hymn, you see, and while not tone deaf, he couldn't sing if his life depended on it. But this he always sang loudly, with feeling, and Sunday was actually the first time I'd heard it since he passed. Back in August, when making funeral arrangements, we even used the (slightly paraphrased) last line on his grave marker, my mom and I coming up with it at practically the same time, though at opposite ends of the house. If that wasn't meant to be, I'm not sure what is.

Social graces and dance skills
I didn't watch "Big Bang Theory" from the beginning of its run and don't always catch it regularly on Thursdays, so I enjoy watching reruns when I find them. Earlier this month I finally caught the episode that showed how the elevator in the guys' building ceased to function. Not three days later, I was covering a school board meeting. After proceedings concluded, one of the members joked with me about BBT, because the elevator in the board's administrative office building was out of service, complete with caution tape. It was a funny coincidence.

Then last night I saw the episode that included this clip (Blogger won't let me embed it for some reason. Grr), which gave me a pretty good laugh, considering I took six years of Cotillion (Unlike Sheldon, I enjoyed it, can still waltz and set a formal dining table with ease. My brothers, who didn't last nearly as long, would probably agree with him, though). At least it's good to know, should the situation ever arise, that I'd fit in in 18th century Vienna. :)

This is going to be an exceptionally busy month for me.

Work wise, it's filled with end-of-the-school-year events, so there will be lots to cover in terms of awards ceremonies and graduations. I also have to put together practically all of my grad tab, a 32-page special section I compile for the high school's graduating class filled with photos, articles and all the senior portraits, which is then inserted into the paper the week following the ceremony. I'm starting early since I'll actually be leaving the country before the pub(lication) date, so I want to have as much complete and leave as little to others as I possibly can.

Mother's Day is the 11th. Mom (in addition to giving me life) is taking me to Scotland, so at the very least I need to get her a card. ;)

Labor Day weekend, I'm off to Orlando for the biannual Florida State University Catholic Student Union Reunion Retreat (yes, it's a mouthful!). The last one I was able to make was in 2008, so I'm really looking forward to this one. Not only will it be an opportunity to see some friends I normally don't see (keeping up with them via Facebook, while nice, isn't ideal), but also some of the Brotherhood of Hope, who were (and are still) CSU's campus ministers. It's also been far too long since I went on retreat in general.

That same weekend also sees Mom's birthday and a celebration for my twin goddaughters, who are turning 5 and having a Star Wars-themed birthday party (at their request. I'm so proud of the little geeks!) to mark the occasion. So, presents must be bought.

Plus, there's trip prep. Tomorrow marks the one-month countdown to Scotland, and I've already got a fairly sizable list of things I need to do or remember in preparation. Things on it so far include "buy another SD card," "investigate a better travel backpack," "inform bank I'll be overseas," "find a lector sub for June 15th mass" and (the so-completely-obvious-it-shouldn't-need-to-be-listed-but-I-did-it-anyway) "don't forget my passport."

I keep my passport in my scarf drawer. Don't ask me why. And yes, I have an entire (smallish) drawer worth of scarves. I do realize I live in Florida, thanks. I never said I made sense. ;)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Set your old heart free...

At mass yesterday, the pastor at my church, Fr. John, started off his homily by telling us about the part he played in an eighth-grade love triangle. Girl A, he said, was enamored of him and, while he was friendly with her, he wasn't interested, instead casting his eye toward Girl B.

Apparently Girl A thought all her future happiness (like you do at that age. Oh, the drama!) was encompassed in the now-married-to-the-Church Fr. John, and wrote him many love letters in which she called him the handsomest, most intelligent boy she knew (which Fr. John joked at least proved she had good taste).

He went on to say that he tried to ignore it for a while (which didn't help), and did his best to make sure Girl B knew where his affections were placed. Then one day things came to a head. He told Girl A, in no uncertain terms, that he didn't like her in that way.

"I was quite cruel about it," he said, adding Girl A subsequently wrote him many poison pen letters and tried to spread rumors to his detriment as a way to get back at him for rejecting her. Decades later, he said "I still feel a little bit guilty about how I handled it."

"We've all been rejected," he continued. "But that doesn't mean we should build walls around our hearts, because we lose out on love and friendship." Those walls keep us safe, but don't let anyone else in, either.

And for the rest of his homily, while I was listening, this song was also running through my head:

The homily struck a chord with me for another reason, too. There's a saying girls and women are often told in Catholic and Christian circles, that we should "guard our hearts." While I certainly want to give my heart to a man who is worthy of it, I sometimes wonder if I've been too diligent in that regard in the past. Not that I'm encouraging abject recklessness, but I've never once, for example, told a man I was interested in him -- well, I shouldn't say never, because I have, but not until ages after the fact and I was long over him, ergo, safe from heartbreak, and the point completely moot -- and occasionally give a thought to what, if anything, would have been different had I done more than moon from afar.

Perhaps nothing, but I write this to illustrate the care I've taken to keep my heart from being ill-used. I recognize that particular wall especially, the yearning for self-preservation, and know it's something I need to work on. I have never been brave enough to hold my heart in my hands and give it to a man. Not romantically, at least, though I've wanted to. Or, if I've been considering it, sometimes circumstance and timing (and God, wiser that I am) takes a turn and the opportunity is lost...which are stories for another day. :)

But we give our hearts to family and friends as well, and they, too, can have the power to hold or scorn us. Family especially, as the ones closest to us, knows all the right ways to hurt us, all the buttons to push. It's not always consciously done, but that doesn't necessarily change the sting. Friends, too, can sometimes betray us in ways both large and small.

And that's where forgiveness comes in.

At the close of his homily, Fr. John went on to say that Jesus, too, is holding His heart in His hands, offering to entrust us with it to do what we may. He knows that there will be times when we will reject it, stomp on it, grind it into dust at our feet, and yet He holds it toward us still. That, Fr. John explained, is Jesus' Divine Mercy -- which we celebrated yesterday -- forgiving us all we've done and all we've yet to do, even though He knows we might not be worthy of that trust, hoping just the same that we will give our heart in return.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Books to reread

I have this running list in my head of books I'd like to reread and figured it was about time I set the list down somewhere before it becomes too bulky.

In the last couple of years, I've reread several books that I wanted to experience as an adult, namely "War and Peace," "Our Mutual Friend," "The Screwtape Letters" and "Brideshead Revisited." But there are others I haven't gotten around to yet. Most are books I read as a teenager, and the impetus to reread is essentially me wondering if I'll feel the same way about them now (and hoping to undoubtedly catch more nuance) than when I read them initially. Some I just want to see if I still dislike as strongly.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams
I practically never say I hate a book. I've disliked many, but this book is one I truly despised after forcing myself to finish reading it (and it wasn't often I balked at any kind of assigned reading) in either seventh or eighth grade. Vicious, war-like bunny rabbits tearing each other to bits? Really? I've gotten into debates with friends who adore this book, which mystifies me, as I recall nothing adorable about it (we watched the animated film in class after reading the book, and that, too, turned me off). This is definitely one I want to read again just to see if my attitude toward it remains the same. By the same token, I should probably also tackle "Animal Farm" again as well, as I was not a fan.

The six Anne of Green Gables books, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Yes, there are actually six of them, with the trio beyond the original three novels (Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island), continuing Anne's story as a wife and mother. There are also two additional books (which I haven't read), sometimes counted, that tell the story of one of Anne's daughters.
Anyway, I haven't read them since I was a girl, and have always been fond of them. Yes, the heroine is an imaginative girl with whom I share a name (and the correct spelling with the E on the end), but they're also just fun and well-written. At the time, I (of course) developed a crush on the fictional Gilbert Blythe, although I don't know many girls who read these books who didn't on some level (though I was probably one of the only 12-year-olds you'd have found in 1990 who thought Gilbert was a cool name. I still do, come to think of it. Given the opportunity, I'd totally name a son Gilbert. You know, unless my married last name ends up being something like Gilbertson. But I digress...).

Both Aldous Huxley's Brave New World & 1984, by George Orwell
I has also been quite a while since I read either of these dystopian novels, although I recall liking both of them. And watching "Man of Steel" last night, the Genesis chamber on Krypton reminded me in a way of the factory-like hatchery where babies gestate in "Brave New World." The fact that that particular image from the book has stayed with me this long, almost 20 years later, is striking, perhaps because the concept was so shocking to me initially. And unlike "Animal Farm," "1984" didn't leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth upon first reading, so, you see, I don't abjectly dislike Orwell.

Something by Sir Walter Scott
One of these, perhaps?
While we're in Scotland in June, Mom and I plan to visit Sir Walter Scott's home, Abbotsford, near Melrose (fun fact: there's a Catholic chapel attached to the house. Scott's granddaughter and her husband were both converts, and the grandson-in-law was also friends with the now-Blessed John Henry Newman. Some of Newman's possessions are on display in the chapel), and the Scott monument in Edinburgh. It only seems fitting that I reread (or if I don't get to it beforehand, take one with me. Or would that be too cliche?) at least one of his Scottish novels. 

There are other books, I know, that aren't immediately coming to mind. Not that I don't have plenty else to read in my to-be-read-piles. And, lest people think all I read are classics, I'm actually at the end of a reread of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, in anticipation of book 8 coming out June 10. I might have to buy it while I'm in Scotland, although they're generally tome-like novels, and it would probably add weight to my suitcase on the way home.

Monday, April 21, 2014

We are an Easter people

I hope you had a wonderful Easter Sunday with friends and family! As my mother was out of state visiting one of my brothers, I spent Easter with friends and my twin goddaughters. It was a great long weekend. My goddaughters, Paige and Claire, are a month shy of 5, and when they learned that I'd given up cheese for Lent they insisted (apparently they asked their mother, in the blunt way kids have, "Momma, is she crazy?) I have several kinds of cheese -- cheddar, Gouda and Havarti -- in my Easter basket.

There were also several fun-sized Kit-Kats and four(!) Cadbury Cream Eggs in there, so between chocolate and cheese, the Easter basket portion of my holiday was darn near perfect. :)

Anyway this afternoon, we went to the store and wandered down the Easter aisle looking for bargains (my friend Michele sells Mary Kay and was looking to re-purpose some pastel things for various events and classes she teaches). Already, it was stripped practically bare, and almost every other aisle end cap was filled with Mother's Day cards, gifts and decorations.

Mother's Day is, of course, wonderful, and it's no secret that stores always jump the gun when it comes to marketing holidays and other events throughout the year. For pretty much everyone, Easter is over.

But not for us. Blessed (soon to be Saint!) John Paul II said "We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” And as the priest who said the Mass I attended yesterday morning (the first time in about five or six years I haven't been to an Easter vigil) reminded the congregation, for us, Easter is 50 days long. When you think about it, why wouldn't we have a length of days dedicated to celebrating the Risen Christ? For what He did for us, it seems the least we could do is live our lives as a joyful reflection of the Resurrection.

Resurrexit Sicut Dixit (He has risen as he said)!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

I'm glad I'm the one assigned to shoot photos of the Living Stations of the Cross, put on by the youth group at the parish near my office every Good Friday. Barring taking the day off work, I wouldn't be able to go, otherwise.

The Twelfth Station of Living Stations of the Cross, put on by youth at San Pedro Catholic Church, North Port, 4/18/14

Monday, April 14, 2014

Maybe I should have been a travel agent...

Mom: "This is really tiring!"

Me: "This is why people pay travel agents."

For much of the last two days, my mom and I have been in deep trip-planning mode. Mom being a dedicated -- and incredibly detailed -- list maker, became slave to her notepad and the guidebooks. I, being the more Internet-savvy, dusted off my pounds-to-dollars conversion knowledge and have basically made TripAdvisor bow to my will.

I have emailed so many Scottish B&Bs today that I'm automatically writing the date the U.K. way -- day/month/year -- rather than the American way, and spelling enquiry with an E, rather than an I. I don't think I've ever had so many tabs (between 35 and 45 at least) open on my computer at once. Truthfully, how we'd have managed without benefit of Googlemaps to tell us precise driving distances between say, Stirling and Oban, or the exact CalMac (Caledonian MacBrayne) ferry schedules from places like Lochaline to Fishnish or Mallaig to Armadale, I shudder to think.

Not normally of a draconian bent, my mom became fanatical about writing down every address/phone number/website related to anywhere we're going or staying, and is keeping us to a brooks-no-lollygagging timetable.

I thought we should budget time for a little bit of lollygagging, but was overruled. I did, after all, say  I wanted to see as much of the country as possible. Be careful what you wish for, eh? :)

Still, we've accomplished a lot: our itinerary is complete, we've secured accommodations for more than half of all our destinations (and the others have at least been sent enquiry -- see? -- emails) and have, very importantly, determined where we'll attend Mass the two Sundays we're in country.

Unfortunately, some sites aren't keen on processing purchases using overseas credit cards (Seriously, whatever happened to the slogan "Visa: it's everywhere you want to be"?), so a bit of international calling might need to be undertaken, should a few of the emails for help not pan out.

And while there have been a few moments of missed communication and late night-I'm-tired-and-I-already-read-that-B&B-description moments of fussiness, we've also cracked each other up with our no-doubt wretched pronunciation attempts of names like A'Chomraich or Ach Aluinn, which would no doubt make many Scots cringe, and somehow managed to fit in practically everything that was on both of our wish lists...even if it will be quite the flying fortnight.

Mater Dolorosa

There was a song occasionally sung at Christmas in my parish when I was growing up that always annoyed me, partially because it didn't seem a joyful enough reflection of the glories of the season, but also because of the person who usually sang it.

"Mary, did you know?" was usually performed by a cantor whom my brothers and I dubbed "The Great Tenor "(even though he isn't a tenor at all), largely because of the grandiose, stentorian manner in which he presented the song -- emphasizing and drawing out the word "know" at every opportunity so it came out, deeply, as "Mary, did you knooooooooooow that you baby boy," etc... It was just overdone to me.

So what does a Christmas song have to do with Holy Week? Well, as much as my impressions of the song were colored by my childhood (and the sarcastic whispers my brothers and I would exchange: "Well, of course she knew!"), without Christmas there would be no Easter, and the lyrics of the song themselves are a foreshadowing to Jesus' earthly ministry and His ultimate sacrifice of the Cross:

"Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will make a blind man see?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the mute will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am."

By the manner of His conception alone, yes, of course she knew. But in the way that things imagined are always utterly different when ultimately seen or experienced in real life, how could she? Despite however much she pondered things in her heart, how could Our Lady possibly have envisioned the tortuous, bloody reality of her son -- the boy she saw playing, growing, working, preaching -- executed so cruelly? Was there any foretaste that her acceptance, her fiat at the Annunciation, the trusting in the will of God whatever may come, would lead to the Crucifixion? 

Perhaps, and perhaps not. But she said yes, anyway.

Mater Dolorosa
By John Fitzpatrick, O.M.I.

She stands, within the shadow, at the foot
Of the high tree she planted: thirty-three
Full years have sped, and such has grown to be
The stem that burgeoned forth from Jesse's root.
Spring swiftly passed and panted in pursuit
The eager summer; now she stands to see 
The only fruit-time of her only tree:
And all the world is waiting for the Fruit.

Now is faith's sad fruition: this one hour
Of gathered expectation wears the crown
Of the long years with which the years were rife:
As in her lap -- a sudden autumn shower --
The earthquake with his trembling hand shakes
The red, ripe Fruitage of the Tree of Life.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Great Scot!

I had an entirely different beginning for this post, until I realized how often I start stories with "When I was 12 or 13..." I suppose they were my formative reading years, when I developed a taste for certain literature and specific historical interests, but that's not what (at least all of) this post is about.

This summer, I am going to Scotland -- Scotland -- for two weeks in June, and -- as it's been at or near the top of my travel bucket list for a very long time -- I am nigh unto giddy about it.

Wyeth's Wallace, the blondie.
You see, when I was around 12 or 13 -- sorry, I can't help it, really -- a trip to our local bookstore (pre-Amazon, pre-Barnes & Noble/Books-A-Million, natch) yielded a book called "The Scottish Chiefs," by Jane Porter. Most of the yearning for said book was based on the fact it was a reprint of a 1921 edition, and had truly gorgeous, technicolor illustrations painted by N.C. Wyeth (who also provided illustrations for other adventure classics such as "Robin Hood" and "Treasure Island"). Written in 1809, it's a fairly romanticized version of the William Wallace story (so, yeah, I knew all about Braveheart before Mel Gibson made the movie), although he's still brutally executed at the end. Wyeth made Wallace blond for some reason and, at the time, I was disappointed when Gibson's Wallace didn't have the same golden locks.

Highland calf, or Ewok?
But if you can fall in love with a place without ever having visited, then I fell in love with Scotland. Several of my next purchases/birthday/Christmas gifts included histories of the country, or photo books of castles and lochs. I marveled over the sparse beauty and gushed in an exceptionally teenagerish way over the Highland cattle (I called them "fluffy cows," an exceptionally twee appellation my mom still uses because, naturally, it stuck) and ruined, picturesque castles. But it was my reading habits that saw the most impact.

The just stunning title page.
"The Scottish Chiefs" made me curious to know more of the country's past. Although I'd already been introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen, "Chiefs" led me to the tragic history of Mary, Queen of Scots, which in turn led me to Elizabeth I, her father, Henry VIII and his wives ("divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived"), the two princes in the Tower and all the rest of English history (which, in turn, had me reading French and Spanish history as time went on, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns). So, in way, Scotland is to blame for me becoming an Anglophile. Not that I'd every say that to a Scot. ;)

You'd think the interest would pass, but it never really did. My junior year of high school, an extra
Cute, no?
credit chemistry project involved using a pattern to create a stuffed mole, since moles are a unit of measure in chemistry (don't ask me what they measure. I struggled through the class and my memories of anything learned therein are shady at best). Most of the girls in class took it fairly seriously (my friend Sabrina, obsessed with the "X-Files," made a matched set named (what else?) Mole-der and Scully), while I recall many of my male classmates were busily stitching moles made from notebook and newspaper the morning they were due. Mine? He wears the pleated kilt and plaid sash I sewed for him. I named him Duncan McMole, and while he normally sits on one of my bookshelves, I'm half tempted to take him to Scotland with me.

Anyway, after my dad passed away, my mom talked about wanting to take a trip. Dad wasn't big on traveling, preferring rather to stay in one place -- the result of being a Navy brat as a kid who moved constantly. His attitude, favoring armchair travel, almost inevitably gave all three of his children a bent toward wanderlust. My mom, curious by nature, has always wanted to go exploring, too, but for the last 30-plus years, was busy raising children and working before officially retiring from teaching in October. The last time she was out of the country was a summer in Guatemala with the Red Cross in 1972, and she didn't even know where her long-expired passport had gone.

Talking about it one day, I asked her if she'd given any thought to where she'd like to go. My mom was a Spanish teacher, so I assumed she'd chose Spain, or a South American country, Belize, perhaps, or Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. But no, she wanted to go to Scotland, at least in part because one of her grandmothers was Scottish. And when she asked if I would go with her, well, I almost laughed, as the question was so ridiculously moot.

So we're going. After taking in the Dunedin Highland Games this past weekend (mom wanted "a taste of Scotland" before the actual trip), airline tickets were purchased. The plan, not entirely formalized, will see us making a circuit of sorts. Edinburgh (the castle, naturally, Holyrood and Arthur's Seat, which I fully intend to hike up) and Glasgow certainly, Stirling, the Isle of Skye, and Iona, where St. Columba brought Christianity to Scotland. We've also pondered several stops at locations with either excellent (Inverness) or multiple (Wigtown) used bookstores, which is really no way to plan a trip, but very much us. A ride on the Jacobite steam train (aka the Hogwarts Express) from Fort William is also practically definite.

Planning tools
The final itinerary should come together hopefully this coming weekend, but we've had plenty of fun pouring over guidebooks and websites making lists, which so far include at least one of the abbeys (Melrose, where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried, perhaps?) ruined in the "rough wooing." Loch Ness? It rates at least a drive by to see Urquhart Castle. A handful of museums are on the list, too along with a whiskey distillery tour. I will try haggis at least once (because you do), and I fully intend to master driving on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road (and will be somewhat disappointed if, at some juncture, we're not stuck in the car somewhere, surrounded by a flock of sheep). Mom jokes that perhaps I'll meet a handsome Catholic Scotsman. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one, but certainly wouldn't complain. :)

We will surely run out of time before we run out of things to see, and I'm looking forward to traveling with my Mom. It's the only trip I have planned this year, but I can tell you right now I likely won't want to come home. The fact that Scottish summers are typically 30-odd degrees (if not more) cooler than Florida summers is reason enough to want to stay, lol.

As for Mom, well, I wasn't completely wrong about where she wanted to travel. She's already booked an educational trip to Portugal and Spain in October, and is busy researching one of her pet interests, Spanish ship building during the age of sail. :)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Devil's in the details

Oh, was I ever distracted at mass today.

I'm up at my mom's until tomorrow (we've had two days of festivals -- the Dunedin Highland Games on Saturday, Sun'n'Fun airshow today -- both awesome, but I'm beat!), so we went to her parish, the one I grew up attending.

It's different now, of course. Priests have come and gone, the congregation ebbs and swells, they've hung what are essentially Jumbotrons from the ceiling on either side of the altar (ugh, don't even get me started on those)...

Anyway, I was trying, I really was. Today's Gospel about the raising of Lazarus is rich with meaning. The visiting priest (who's giving a parish mission there this week) gave a great homily, too. But so many things were getting under my skin and oh, was I ever judging: the choir used too slow of a tempo for the opening hymn; the cantor's voice was nasally; the second lector over enunciated too much (yes, certain woulds should be accentuated, but come on, lady, you're not doing theater, here); the deacon's many stumbles during the Gospel reading showed he hadn't practiced at all; the guy in the pew in front of me was fidgeting so much that he was jouncing his wife/girlfriend who was sitting next to him; and why on earth does Fr. Charles have a soul patch?

That last question will likely remain unsolved, but you get the idea. 

It wasn't until the Liturgy of the Eucharist that I really managed to focus. Part of it was that I realized what was going on: something was deviling me ("The Screwtape Letters" actually came to mind), and all those niggling things, so petty and completely ridiculous once I stopped to think about them (especially so when you list them together), started to fade.

The Consecration is also my favorite part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus is the most important person in the room, more important that anything I'm distracted by, or anyone. Every mass is a much-needed reminder of that fact, that He should be the focus regardless of whether I'm in mass or not.

Besides, the parishioners helping at mass are just trying to give their best to God, and I certainly can't say I've never stumbled over a reading when lectoring, or missed hitting a key or two on the rare occasions I've cantored. Ultimately, it's not my home parish anymore, and hasn't been for a while, so what I think hardly matters. What does, though, is that since Fr. Charles was assigned there last year, families who left have started coming back. Mass was packed this morning, and that is worth noting. 

I'm still not a fan of the Jumbotrons, though. What was wrong with missalettes? I'm just sayin'... :)

Friday, April 04, 2014

What dreams may come

Any of my friends can tell you that I have some pretty crazy dreams. They are often exceptionally detailed, rarely mundane (with the exception of one I had a few months ago where I was washing dishes) and I typically remember much of them.

For example, I recall with clarity a recurring dream I had as a child -- starting when I was about 5 up until I was 10 or so -- of suddenly being chased by a landslide while standing in the middle of an empty field. Another dream, in high school, involved international espionage and a limo chase ( I was driving) across the roofs of a European city. In another, also from when I was in high school, I was held captive by a rather romantically (ahem) inclined vampire (like pretty much everyone else in the early-to-mid-90s, I read "Interview with a Vampire" and several other Anne Rice novels, although I wouldn't touch them now) in a castle that subsequently flooded, allowing for my escape. In the dream I remember part of the outfit I was wearing was a black-and-white striped shirt, although I don't recall whether the shirt had significance.

Often, there's enough of a dream I can catch when I wake up that I'm able to write it down, just to remember or for future reference (i.e. future fictional plot points). Some are more nebulous, vanishing as I fumble toward wakefulness. Many are quite involved. Recently, I had a dream about a family vacation to France, where I was getting annoyed at other tourists for getting in the way of photographs I was trying to shoot. It was the first time since my dad died last August that he showed up one of my dreams. He -- looking completely healthy -- and my Uncle Joe got into a lawyerly/older brother vs. younger brother debate about where to go for dinner. So typical, lol. The dream didn't make me sad, but was comforting, ultimately.

How do I remember so much of what I dream about? I honestly have no idea. I used to think it might be hereditary, since my mom is the same way (Like me, she writes them down. And she'll call me up, even now, to just tell me about an interesting dream she had). My dad, who said he almost never remembered what he dreamed, used to wonder at us in the mornings sometimes as we'd talk about things we'd dreamt the night before.

Sometimes, it's easy to discern where portions of a dream come from: something that happened to me during the day, or a show I watched on TV, will have an influence. Friends, family, guys I've had crushes on and the occasional celebrity show up, as do people from high school, or even elementary school, who I haven't seen in decades.

People always assume I've eaten something strange, but I honestly don't think food eaten the night before has anything to do with it. I've had pretty nutty dreams after eating perfectly normal dishes (read: foods I've eaten for years) as well as after eating something more rich.

Apparently, pregnant women have very vivid dreams, but there's no chance of that. You know, unless there's a virgin birth in the offing God has neglected to tell me about...

But, oddly enough, I've dreamed twice this week that I was pregnant. In the first, I was large with child, which I believe was a boy, and in the dream I was craving a large, juicy hamburger, although I couldn't have told you who the father was supposed to be. Then last night, I dreamed I was at a doctor's office. I took one pregnancy test and it came back negative. But a few hours later (still at the doctor's office), I took another one, watching as the doctor poured something into a beaker and the color indicator on the outside of the beaker changed, showing a positive result, and the doctor gave me her congratulations. Again, no idea who the prospective daddy was, although I wasn't upset in either dream to find myself in the family way.

I know other (non-pregnant) women who've had pregnancy dreams, so it's not all that strange. And I've had pregnancy dreams before, although they were both years ago (in one I was pregnant with twins) and years apart, so two in one week is admittedly odd.

Every so often, I'll Google something I dreamed about, but oftentimes the interpretations of dreams that result from the search are either conflicting, new-agey or both. Many in the Bible have God speak to them through dreams (St. Joseph, for one, and the Wise Men), but I'm fairly certain the pregnancy dreams -- or the majority of those I have, for that matter -- aren't any sort of Heavenly prompting.

Recently, there has been research that posits those who have vivid dreams show higher amounts of brain activity, or are lighter sleepers. I don't know that I'm a light sleeper, and I've never had my level of brain activity measured, so I honestly can't say. I just think it's one of those things that make me who I am, but I admit it's sometimes fun to guess about. :)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Content in the wilderness

So we've made it through four weeks of Lent. How are you doing?

Have you slipped on a Friday and eaten meat? I totally did that just this last Friday (although it wasn't actual meat; I'd forgotten egg-drop soup uses chicken broth. I was halfway through the bowl before I remembered). Are you just absolutely yearning for what you've given up, (you can have it on Sundays, remember. I have had little bits of cheese) or are you at the point where you no longer crave what you've offered as your sacrifice this year?

More importantly, though, have you made a real journey of the soul?

I have this sense that's hard to put into words, but in a way, this Lenten season is changing me more than others in the past have done. And it's not the giving up cheese that's had anything to do with it. I renewed my Marian consecration, the completion of which, this second time around, just gave me this amazing sense of peace. As I went through the 33-day preparation for the consecration (which started before Lent began), I was asking for the grace to let go of things, people, I've held on to, or if God's will for them to be in my life. I don't know that I've let them go entirely, but I certainly am more open to God's will being done with less clingy about these things my mind wants to grasp.

I know that probably makes little sense to you.

But I've also, as Lent has progressed, tried to give myself more silent time just talking to God. When 2014 began, I adopted St. Alphonsus Liguori as my patron for the year, and I've been reading some of his writings. Last week, I read this:

"Finally, if you wish to please the loving Heart of your God, try for as long a space of time as you can to converse with Him, with the greatest possible confidence; He will not fail to answer you and even to speak with you Himself. Not that He will make audible sounds strike your ears, but He will answer in words that you will clearly understand in your heart, insofar as you leave conversation with creatures and try to speak with your God -- you alone with him alone: 'I will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart (Hosea 2:14).'"

That last verse from Hosea stopped me when I read it. There is a reason why I am where I am now -- where we all are. And I know I forget, sometimes, even when I am silent, to talk to God. I can become so caught up in my own stresses and grievances, in my daydreams or thoughts of the past, or even fill the silence with other distractions -- reading, although I love it and it is a good thing of itself -- to really listen, or to ask for God's help and to rest in His grace. Things my not be as I'd wish them to be, but I am trying to be more content in the wilderness.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fictional fervor

So it's a rainy, grey day here in Florida, and I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking tea, and ostensibly writing a school board budget story. All my calls have been made, and I am picking at it in a desultory fashion, but my head (heart? both?) isn't in it.

Maybe it's just me (or is this a trait many writers -- or we of the overactive imagination -- posses?), but I can see one characteristic of a person, just one, and suddenly there is a character in my head. It doesn't happen all the time, but it did today.

Earlier this week, in editing a columnist's copy, there was a name that struck me as just completely fictional (although this man had lived, and was later killed in WWII). I immediately knew who the made up person was: he was Southern and possibly of French extraction, cultured, living in the early teens or 20s. Names do that to me, too, and I'm forever scrawling down interesting ones to be used for characters later (although I rarely do; finding the scraps of paper with random names on them, sometimes years later, can be amusing...or frustrating, in the "why-didn't-I-do-something-with-that?" vein).

So today, when a new coworker walked down the hall, his manner of walking -- in a loping, somewhat stoop-shouldered gait -- suddenly fit with this person in my head. I was halfway into scrawling a full-blown character study on the closest reporter's notebook -- two and a half pages filled, before I'd even realized it -- how he walked, what he wore (light colored suits, even in winter), the color of his eyes (green); there he was, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

I used to have these sorts of creative writing spurts far more often than I do now, so I feel little guilt for taking the time (besides, my boss has always said she doesn't care if we go to the movies in the middle of the day, provided we turn our copy in on time. And no, she's not kidding). Now I should make sure to do something with it, unlike times before.

And finish the school board story...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent and mortality

Blessed first week of Lent!

At Mass yesterday, Father said something in his homily I didn't quite expect. He said, "Lent is a time to think about your own mortality."

I'm not trying to be all morbid on a Monday morning (because Monday's are hard enough!). You also might be thinking, "Well, yeah, of course Lent is a time to think about that. Don't we start off with 'You are dust and to dust you shall return' on Ash Wednesday?"

And we do. But after Father said it, I realized I don't spent much time in Lent reflecting on the end of my days on this earth. To start off with, I think about what I'm giving up (this year, it's cheese). Then there's the remembering not to eat meat on Fridays, of course. Mostly, though, I just go about my day as usual, perhaps with a few extra prayers thrown in. I'm certainly not thinking about death. I have my usual preoccupations with work, daydreams, and errands I need to run.

I don't think Father meant that we're to think about it constantly, though. No one really likes to think about death. We all have things we want to accomplish in life, and the idea that we might not reach certain milestones is frustrating. Death is also a separation from those we love, and as anyone who has lost someone knows, that can be very painful, even if we have faith in the Lord. But for Christians, death is also a journey TO someone we love, to Christ and his love, and that is the reason we should have no fear.

We'll hear it later in Lent during this reading from 1 Corinthians 15: 55-57. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

One day, our life on earth will be through. But we will go to a new life in Heaven, eternal life, won for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Lent is part of that journey, about preparing our hearts for both the Resurrection at Easter, and for the day we will meet God face to face. 

You might be wondering about my Lenten sacrifice. Why cheese? I hadn't given up a food in a while, and I both love and eat lots of cheese. Although at first I was contemplating doing way too much: going to daily Mass, upping my at-the-moment negligible gym attendance to every day (ha!), giving up buying books, adding more spiritual reading to what I'm already doing, donating extra money to charities.

But we're not supposed to go overboard. Our sacrifice, while supposed to be something we will miss, is also meant to be manageable. And while not eating cheese for 40 days may seem silly, it's making me think consciously about what I'm eating -- something I haven't been too good about lately. Much of my snacking involves cheese, and I use cheese in recipes and on sandwiches without thinking. On Fridays, when we abstain from meat, I'm even more conscious of it now, since I can't just make macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich. I came thisclose to eating baked ziti at a baby shower on Saturday, the heaping spoon of cheesy pasta poised over my plate, before I remembered...

As for those other things I mentioned first off, I am trying to do some of them. It's ok to change your Lenten sacrifice if what you decided initially isn't working. And don't beat yourself up if you slip. We're human.

Also, if you're looking to add something to your Lenten journey in the short term, today begins the Novena to St. Joseph. You can join it here: