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?