Thursday, December 31, 2015

The year ends/the year begins

The highlight of 2015 for me had to be seeing Pope Francis in Washington, D.C. during his first trip to America.

I was fortunate to be able to worship with my cousin Carrie, friend Kim and about 25,000 fellow Catholics — not counting clergy, seminarians and religious — at the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra, the first Catholic saint to be canonized in the U.S., celebrated by the Holy Father during the first stop on his U.S. visit.

The word "catholic" means universal, and nothing demonstrated that more than this Mass: We were part of a crowd of young and old, pilgrims of all races and from all over the country. The Mass was in Spanish, with portions also in English, Korean, Tagalog, Italian, American Sign Language and Chochenyo, the language of the Native American Ohlone people.

Carrie and I waiting for the canonization Mass to being on Sept. 23, 2015

I was also on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the Holy Father’s address to the joint session of Congress the next day — it’s the first time that’s happened too — watching the speech on large screens, along with a crowd of thousands, then cheering the pope and receiving his blessing when he came out afterward to greet us. People chanted for "Papa Francisco" and "Viva El Papa!" on the Capitol lawn. Some had traveled all the way from California and Hawaii to be in D.C. while Pope Francis was there.

It wasn’t only Catholics who were excited. While walking from Carrie’s apartment on Capitol Hill to meet her near the White House — she’d been able to get a ticket to the ceremony held for Pope Francis in the White House Rose Garden, and we were joining up to Metro to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Mass — I found myself walking a portion of the way with a stranger, a woman named Kathy, after she’d asked me for directions (I actually knew where she needed to go, too!) and we struck up a conversation. While she wasn’t Catholic, and didn’t have tickets to events during his visit to the nation’s capital, Kathy said she really admired Pope Francis, and wanted to take pictures (she even took a selfie of us together in front of the Canadian embassy before we parted ways) of the crowds, just to say she was there.

I totally get that. Going into the trip, I hadn’t been sure we’d be able to attend any of the papal visit events, and I was going to be completely happy just being in D.C. and seeing friends and family while the pope was in town. But everything had worked out — not only the stunningly cheap, nonstop flight to D.C. from Fort Myers and a place to stay with Carrie — but also the generous gift of tickets to the canonization Mass, given to Kim courtesy of Father Carter Griffin, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Washington; and the lawn tickets for the Congressional address.

In the week-long trip, Pope Francis’ visit made for two back-to-back, prayer-filled, marathon days, requiring predawn wakeup calls, lots of standing, lots of waiting, and for security checks provided by TSA — ergo, lots of patience! — but they were so amazingly worth it. To be present for such faith-filled, historic, joyful events was an extraordinary gift and a grace.

My youngest brother, Ethan, proposed to his girlfriend Nesa right before Thanksgiving. I'm not surprised, honestly, that Ethan is the first of the three of us to become engaged. He's always been more of a dater than Daniel or I. He's really happy, and smiles around her (at least in the pictures I've seen of the two of them together) the way he typically only smiles with family: goofily, and without self-consciousness. I haven't met Nesa yet (she was supposed to come to Florida for Christmas, but couldn't get off of work), although she seems really nice via our Facebook messenger chats and the Skype session she had with us as we opened presents on Christmas. They haven't set a date yet, but it seems my wish childhood for a sister will finally come true. :)

One ridiculous thing his engagement did bring to mind had to do with a certain family recipe. As I helped mom prepare our family turkey stuffing over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found myself thinking about how Ethan doesn't really like it, and Daniel, who has celiac, can't eat it at all. My Aunt Marilyn makes it too dry, and my Uncle Joe's wife, my Aunt Jean, makes it too crunchy...leaving my mom and I as the only ones who make it the correct way. Silly girl thoughts regarding the fact that I'll need to marry someone and have kids in order to pass the recipe on and, ergo, make sure it doesn't vanish in its true form, were quickly quashed.

Speaking of Ethan, I had one of his dogs for the first five months of the year while he was away on various military trainings. I have to say that, living alone, it was nice to come home to Cassie's wagging tail at the end of the workday, despite the tumbleweeds of Husky fur that abounded in my house as a result. I am putting serious thought into adopting a (short-haired!) dog in 2016.

I read 57 books in 2015 (unless I manage to finish my current read before the clock strikes 12). The most recent I finished was Dante's "Inferno," which took me longer to complete than I thought it would (due to work and life, etc...), but was well worth it. I found myself pulling out my copy of the Catechism and looking things up as I read. I hadn't read "The Inferno" since high school, or, more precisely, I thought I'd read it all in high school. However, as I made my way through the book, I discovered I didn't remember a lot of the journey Dante takes through Hell. I think "The Inferno," then, might well be the only case of assigned school reading I never completed! I've really enjoyed Anthony Esolen's translation, and because of some of the appendices, have now managed to read more of St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" than ever before. On to Purgatory, next!

Several coworkers and I (Team Mighty Pickles - so named for a play one coworker's brother once starred in) began going to a weekly trivia night at our local Irish pub this summer. It's nice to finally get a chance to use some of the random knowledge floating around in my brain!

I am praying for so many as 2015 comes to a close, and for will continue to ask God that 2016 to be filled with blessings for all those on my intentions list.

As for myself, I'm not making a slew of resolutions, but do have some goals:

I applied for a number of jobs this year, trying to escape the newspaper, but nothing bore fruit. Plans call for perseverance in 2016. I have been here too long and have little to show for it.

That leads me to one of my few real resolutions in the New Year: while still working toward something better, I also want to make gratitude and peace a focus. I can sometimes fixate on what I don't have, or what I want or think I need, without realizing how blessed I am in so many ways.

Another goal for 2016 includes cooking more. I love to cook but so rarely cook fun recipes just for myself, choosing instead to go for something semi-homemade at best. I'm going to make an effort to try at least two new recipes per month in the New Year.

I have been pretty bad about writing in 2015, as evinced particularly by the low number of blog posts. I haven't journaled much, either. I intend to remedy that in the New Year. This includes letter writing. I owe a nun friend a letter in the worst way, along with several other friends who have sent cards to which I need to respond.

I'm hoping to travel some in 2016, too. Right now the only trip that is looking really likely is one to Southern California in late May, when my brother Daniel will graduate with his master's degree in cinematography from Chapman University in Orange, California, just outside of L.A. I'm very much looking forward to celebrating his accomplishment!

The last of my 2016 goals is to get rid of some of the things I've accumulated, especially when it comes to clothes. I have a lot that I don't wear, or am holding on to for when I drop a size again. Some is worth keeping, but I know there is a lot I can part with. I'm even going to go through and get rid of some books, too, I think, especially those that have been in my TBR pile for ages and I've never touched, or others I don't foresee myself ever re-reading.

Happy and Blessed New Year!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

People, Look East

Now that we're in Advent, we're moving swiftly toward Christmas, which is my favorite liturgical season (sorry Easter, although I love you, too). And on Sunday, at my Mom's parish in Lakeland, the choir sang the wonderful Advent hymn, "People, Look East." The song has been running through my head off and on (along with Dean Martin's "Volare") ever since.

As much as I'm fond of "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel, "People, Look East" is just such a joyful song about preparing and making ready to celebrate Jesus -- the guest, the rose, the bird, the star -- even and despite the fact that sometimes in the struggles of life it can feel like "earth is bare" "wings are frozen" and "night is dim." 

I could only find one version that wasn't dirge speed. They don't sing all five verses here, but it's still just beautiful:

The Lord is coming!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

"We are wound with mercy round and round as if with air..."

Sometimes the beauty of language just halts me flat -- causing eyes and brain and heart to pause at a turn of phrase, a paragraph or, in this instance, practically the entire poem -- and veritably begs that whatever it is be read aloud, even if only to the empty room.
And as it's the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary...

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe, Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that's fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.
I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air
: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.

Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Monday, September 07, 2015


A friend posted the above to my Facebook page several days ago, and -- while it is a bit of an exaggeration -- I had to laugh at how accurate it is. I almost always pack more books than necessary whenever I travel, inevitably overestimating how much reading time I will have and (apparently) forgetting that when I go somewhere I will be doing other things besides sticking my nose into books. For my recent week at the beach, I packed four and read one, for instance.

In fact, I usually start a trip book pile before I even begin the packing of clothes. I found myself doing just that today, building a stack for my six-day D.C. trip, which is still 12 days out. Thanks to a crazy-cheap flight, I'm heading up to visit my cousin Carrie, friend Kim and others and, hopefully see Pope Francis during his visit -- tickets are required for the Mass where he will canonize Bl. Junipero Serra, and two of the three Kim, Carrie and I need have been acquired. I'm not sure what will transpire if we can't get a third, but I'm sending up all sorts of prayers that we do; tickets aren't needed for when the Holy Father is scheduled to appear after he speaks to Congress. But even if we only manage the latter, how amazing would that be?! I'm beyond excited to possibly see (and potentially receive a blessing from) another pope, not to mention catch up with family and friends.  

Anyway, I'm currently reading two books, one a thriller/art heist mystery and the other on praying with the saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, so I'm not sure what exactly inspired me to begin book planning (especially when I haven't even thought about pre-trip laundry), although part of me thinks that we'll have to arrive early to places where the Pope will be, so I might as well have some reading material with me just in case, right?

I have a rather diverse group of potentials going so far: science fiction ("The Martian"); a bibliophile's humorous recollections of working in the rare-book trade ("Tolkien's Gown," which was among the books I bought in Scotland); St. JPII's "Love and Responsibility" that I've wanted to read for a while now; a reprint of an 1897 history of Catholic nuns who worked as battlefield nurses during the Civil War; and a book of natural history essays that I picked up at a local library book sale for next to nothing.

Of course, I could decide to read one or more of these before I leave. Or I could decide to bring Dante with me, once Amazon delivers "The Divine Comedy" (I haven't read the whole thing, just the Inferno back in high school, and for the last several weeks have had a yen to read it in its entirety) to my doorstep.

I tend to buy books on vacation, too, whether or not I run out of the reading material I bring with me. Last summer when mom and I went to Scotland, we visited so many used bookstores (which I should write about at some point, shouldn't I, seeing as how it's been more than a year now?), we found such amazing and fun books that, between the two of us, we had to buy extra luggage to bring the books back. There's apparently quite a nice used bookstore not terribly far from my cousin's place on the Hill in D.C., too... :)

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Beach break

I recently returned from a too-short but much needed week at the beach. I had, not intentionally, waited until the end of August to use the first few days of my 18 days worth of vacation time, and I never should have held out so long. It actually took me two of those five days to really relax.

But once I did, I began to feel so much more peaceful than when I arrived at the small pale blue cottage one street off the beach. There is just something about being by the water that is rejuvenating. Regardless of what I really look like while I'm there: salt-sticky, sweaty and covered in sand with crazy wind-blown hair, hardly the most glamorous woman on the beach whether I've shaved my legs that morning or not, I still always feel more beautiful when I'm by the sea. Stronger, too, from all the walking, the sand rising up beneath the high insteps of my feet.

My mom and I rose before the sun and watched the beach brighten or, conversely, darken at the end of the day. One morning, we even were able to catch some volunteers excavate a sea turtle nest (they count both the hatched and unhatched eggs and rescue any living hatchlings that haven't managed to dig their way out of the nest). Another evening, we watched a storm role in, and I even managed to catch a photo of distant lightning striking.

See it? Waaay far out there to the left of center? Nevertheless, I am inordinately proud of my first lighting capture.

The multi-faceted beauty of God's creation was all around.

We shelled on the beach early and late, collecting cockles, augers, scallops, pens, Florida fighting conchs, turkey wings, whelks, calico clams, sharks teeth and so much more (I found four cents -- mom found a dime -- along with a nearly foot-long bird's skull bleached by the sun), all of which appealed to the teenage me who (briefly) wanted to be an oceanographer.  Although I found some truly pristine shells, what fascinated me most this time were the worn ones, or those that had holes bored in them by other creatures, perhaps barnacle-clad or spiral shells halved somehow so the typically secret inner whorls were visible

I kept finding live things, too: purple-green sand dollars; more occupied conch shells than I could count; a gray, geometric-patterned fancy brittle starfish; and even a live scallop about as big around as a silver dollar, one side covered in barnacles, which opened slightly in my hand, just before I tossed it (as I did all the live things) back into the sea.

We barely turned on the TV, only a few times to check the weather and then one night when we watched "Casablanca" and "Gaslight" while cooking spaghetti. I re-read "Sense and Sensibility," the daily Mass readings and prayed morning and evening prayer.

I did manage some writing, although not that which I'd originally intended. Instead of the two fictional themes I was hoping to expand on, I found myself reflecting on shells, both literal and then figurative ones, on forgiveness and beauty and brokenness and strength. And I finally at least started a letter to a friend who is a nun (which I still need to finish and mail soon).

Part of every day but one was spent on the sand, alternately walking the shore and cooling off in the waves. Like a kid, I stayed in until I was pruned -- fingers and toes and hands just completely wrinkled. Floating in the bathtub-tepid Gulf, the only sounds in my ears my own breath, gentle waves rocking me and the occasional mechanic hum of a boat or jet ski farther out to sea, was blissful. If I believed in signs of the Zodiac I could say it's my Piscean nature coming out, but more likely it's all the vitamin D I soaked up (this is the first decent tan I've had in a decade. No, really, I actually look like I live in Florida for the first time since 2005, when my cousin Matt and his wife were married in Hawaii 10 years and, for them, four kids ago).

Verre eglomise of the Annunciation
The one day it rained pretty much all day, we went to the Ringling Museum, checking out both the circus museum -- I loved circuses as a kid, too, and the combination of that with some displays including, posters, costume sketches and the models used in the great train wreck from 1952's "The Greatest Show on Earth" ticked both my classic movie and circus boxes -- and the more classical works, including some really inspiring religious pieces, many of which were totally new to me.

I am so grateful for the time away. I need to do it more often, or at least earlier in the year! Also, to  head over to the beach for an afternoon on a random weekend, if only to keep up my tan. ;)

When can I go back?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Staycation all I ever wanted

Five days stand between me and a week at the beach, and I can't wait. The last time I went to the beach was for about two hours on a cloudy March day. March 2014, that is.

I grew up less than an hour from Disney, and many people, when then learn that, typically say, "Oh, you must have gone all the time!" Nope. It's the same with the beach. Every now and again, I'll pack up stuff and go by myself for an afternoon but, despite the fact that being by the sea is just good for the soul, I don't often go until I have someone to go with me.

Cue my mom. Earlier this summer, she spent a week with my brother Daniel just outside L.A. and then another week with my brother Ethan in Oklahoma City. Then she surprised me by saying since she'd spent time with them, she figured it was only fair she spend time with me, too (even though I live less than two hours away). So she's rented a cute cottage on Manasota Key, which has some of my favorite beaches in the area. It's the beach I'd take her and dad to when they'd come down to visit, and mom often mentioned wanting to rent some place and spend time, just like she did every other summer growing up, when my grandparents took her and my late Uncle John to alternately either the beach or the mountains. But it never happened, until now.

Needless to say, I am so excited for this little stay(ish)cation. Even though it's so close to my own place, I won't have to think about work for five days. I can wake up watch the sunrise and take a morning swim, say morning prayer on the beach and maybe catch some dolphins swimming by. I hope to read, and write (there are two story ideas fermenting that I've jotted down some notes for and want to explore further) and color (yes, I have a coloring book of Impressionist paintings. Don't mock. It's relaxing.). Mom and I will undoubtedly play some Scrabble, and spend part of at least one day at The Ringling

I'm just hoping Hurricane Danny doesn't interfere.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some thoughts on "Watchman"

Well this has certainly been languishing, hasn't it?

Anyhow, I've just finished Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman," and felt the need to write some things down.

First, I have to confess that this book had my Alabama roots showing: I read the whole thing (including some parts aloud to myself) -- without even a glimmer of conscious thought, really -- in what my Granny B liked to call a "refined Southern lady" accent, where, as she once told me, "You pronounce the H in every word whether there is an H in that word or not." And every bit of Atticus' dialog was, naturally, in the voice of Gregory Peck. :)

First of all, the fact this book even exists is wonderful. Despite the various hints at nefarious lawyers and whatnot involved in its discovery, simply being able to read another Harper Lee novel was a joy, the chance to revisit a loved, familiar place, but at the same time, glimpse it in a different way.

And that's where a lot of people seemed to have problems. Even before the book came out a week ago today, there were all sorts of reactionary blog posts about a chapter released in advance. I didn't read the chapter then, because I didn't think it was fair to read the chapter out of context. But other people don't share my patience, apparently, and quickly were up in arms about how it made Atticus Finch sound like the most bigoted of racists, and how dare he be that way? I didn't read the blog posts either (because spoilers, sweetie), especially the one titled, "This is not the Atticus Finch I named my son for." Honestly, if you think a different side of a fictional character is somehow going to change your son, you're nuts. Also, you named your son Atticus, so I'm not sure I can take you seriously. You might as well name your child Demosthenes or Polycarp if you wanted something ridiculously original (sorry St. Polycarp).

But I was not offended by Atticus. Yes, he is different, yes, the sad realities of racism in the Jim Crow South rear their ugly heads, but some of his attitudes (which pale in comparison to that of several other characters) are actually imagined as worse than they are by Scout. Ultimately, the fact that I'm not overly bothered by it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that Mockingbird, while a book I very much enjoy, isn't and never has been my Favorite. Book Of. All. Time. as it is for some, who have put a person they apparently forgot was fictional up on a pedestal. No doubt there will be a number of scholarly dissertations contrasting "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Go Set a Watchman," and picking the latter apart.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the book overall. It's a rare thing to be able to see characters we think we know at a time 20-plus years on. They have changed, certainly, but so has the world. The Jean Louis we see here seems, at least to me, to be a natural progression  and completely the product of the prickly tomboy Scout. I found myself at some points wondering how much of Nell Harper Lee was in her and, in a way, too, comparing how the reactions and responses of the now grown Jean Louise reflect the sad and offended nature of many of the people who have been so riled and even betrayed by how her father is different than their expectations...but I also wonder whether, like Scout, who grows in understanding as the novel progresses, other readers will be able to see beyond their own knee-jerk reactions?

The one thing that really did bother me was Jem's fate, which was more surprising than anything else. The flashbacks to the children's childhoods were fantastic, though, as were the additional history of the Finch family. I loved the character of Uncle Jack and his penchant for Victorian literature, and Aunt Alexandra with her tendency to speak emphatically in All Capital Letters. The scenes from the Coffee Zandra throws are brilliant, and I have decided that from now on, whenever I have to fill out a form that asks my marital status, I will instead of "Single," record myself as a "Perennial Hopeful." ;)