Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pen Envy

Today to celebrate my finishing of my graduate project (and with it, graduate school!) I bought myself some snazzy black pens. I love a good pen. When I was in college, if I was blue, I'd buy myself some chocolate and a nice black pen. Over the years I've had favorite pens that I used from start to finish- from brand-new to the last drop of ink. I am not a big fan of ball points with their blobs every couple of lines, and I prefer my pen not to be so inky that it leaks through the paper, but I love a good, dark, smooth line. I still have a few ball points that I bought when my college went out of business, with the name of the school screen-printed on them, and I treasure them.
When I was a kid, I asked for fountain pens on more than one birthday list, and got a few over the years. They weren't as exciting as I'd expected, because I found that you don't have to dip them in wells anymore, and they don't come with feathers. Still, it felt cool to own and write with them.
Every time I need to write something down, there's a conscious decision as to the right pen for the job, even if it's just writing a post-it-note. I loooooove a good pen.
Photo credit to another pen-obsessed blogger!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Silent Reading Time

I just came back from a silent, directed retreat! It was my first time. Outside of dinner on Friday night and two meetings with my director (who, have I mentioned, is an angel) I was silent and loved it. At first it was hard not to be friendly, but then it was so lovely to not have to think of small talk, or to be able to sit and stare out the window without anyone wanting to know what's wrong. SO lovely. I hung out in my room a lot, which no one said was un-sociable, because no one cared, and if they did, they couldn't say so. An introvert's dreeeeeam.
I read three books, which I could almost have imagined that the authors met across time and space to write for me, for this weekend. Here's what I read:

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, by Lauren Winner, of Girl Meets God (another great book). She talks about the middle time of faith, after the rosy glow of conversion wears off. She lost touch with God after a divorce and her mother's death, and while my crisis was of a different nature, I could relate to a lot of what she said. And, she writes like I write, or at least like I think, so she's fun and comforting to read. She's nerdy about faith in the same way I am. I really enjoyed it and did a lot of underlining.

The Personal Vocation: Transformation in Depth Through the Spiritual Exercises by Herbert Alphonso. I have never done the Spiritual Exercises, but heck, I might someday, and now I'm ahead of the game. He talks about defining God's revelation to you personally, and knowing your purpose through what you know about God. He's kind of folksy, but really got to the heart of what I was seeking this weekend.

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. My first Nouwen book. He wrote it specifically for someone, but it was so for me. He talks about reclaiming our role as the beloved that was ours even before we were born. He talks about being taken (chosen), blessed, broken, and given. Beautiful and moving. I found this one in the library at the retreat center, and considered stealing it. Instead I read it in one big gulp.

Before we even started I found this magazine in the library and read the article called "Feeling with God: Participation in Incarnation" by Allan Schnarr, Ph.D. and as boring as that sounds, it was life-changing. I want Allan Schnarr, Ph.D. to be my therapist. Wowsers.

If you ever get a chance to take a silent retreat, I recommend it. I'm feeling great peace and confidence that I was sorrily lacking before, and a renewed understanding of who I am to God, and what that means for my life. I don't know what will happen for you, but you'll never know until you try. I showed up there at 3:01, anxious to start, and today I wanted to run back to my life. I feel great and strong again. S'good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Only a Cat

When I opened my eyes this morning, I was already sad. I couldn't decide if I should stay in bed and delay the day's start, or just get it over with. I'd checked on Pip during the night, at about 3:30, and finding her the same as she'd been earlier I put a blanket over her and cried myself back to sleep.
She's not been herself only for about two weeks now- when we took her to the vet they said she had bad numbers which meant very little kidney function. We took her home with an IV bag and Scott heroically administered subcutaneous fluids every couple of days. Pip didn't like it but was a good and patient soldier. Today she was more draggy than usual- I found her in the corner of the dining room, silently hiding but not out of sight. At her worst, she hides in the very back corner, almost out of reach, but this morning she was where we could find her, and throughout the morning Scott and I took turns sitting with her and telling her we love her.

We made an appointment for 1:30, as we were due at a meeting at work at 11, but since we couldn't stop crying anyway we called out from work and made the appointment earlier. I read up on what happens when you put a cat to sleep, so I could feel more prepared, and after a lovey time together on the dining room floor, we put her in the carrier and took her to the vet.
Her mother, Zarley, is an odd duck- a little bit crazy and also in renal failure, but a little too "special" to feel the effects, I guess. Zarley isn't the empathic type, like Pip was. This morning I came around the corner just in time to see that Pip had gotten to her feet, walked over to where Zarley lay nearby, and put her head down near her. I snapped a fuzzy picture of their last moment together.

At the vet, we were those people you watch in the lobby, crying and clutching their carrier and trying to make reassuring sounds to their cat. The hospital staff knew we were coming, took us in sweetly and treated us with kindness and compassion. Pip went to sleep in my arms, a sweet honor she paid me, letting me hold her in her last moment. She had never liked to be held.
We agonized over what to do with her. We had options, but we chose to bring her home and bury her ourselves. The process was strangely comforting- I was afraid it would be so awful- but it felt honorable, and it feels better to have her near us in some way, rather than the alternative. We can see the spot where we buried her from our windows. Zarley seems a bit confused (but then, she always seems a little bit confused) and Scott and I have wandered around the house sniffling and crying and trying to distract ourselves.
This is St. Joseph's feast day- our own patron saint, who we have always asked to look after our little family. Our tradition is to go to Mass on St. Joe's day, but we missed it today, for the first time in our marriage. We visited a St. Joseph Parish nearby and prayed at the St. Joseph statue, where suddenly I was crying not just for Pip but for our little lost babies- none of whom we met or got to know like we had our Pipper. We cried for all the losses we have felt in our little family, and we prayed for St. Joseph to keep us in his prayerful care.
Now we're back home and trying to stop crying, reminding ourselves that she was only a cat, but holding each other close because sadness is sadness. And we are sad.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I have spent the last week cycling back and forth between these two songs on my iphone, I don't know what they have in common but I can't stop listening to them. Join me.
NOTE: weirdly, blogger cuts off the right side of the videos, so do go to Youtube to see them in their full awesomeness, mm?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

7 Quick Takes, Long and Random Edition.

What? So it's not Friday. Let's agree to overlook this detail.

1) So, I passed my defense and I'm officially done with grad school! As of graduation day, I'll have a Masters of Education in Religious Education with a Concentration in Total Community Catechesis. Or, an MEd in RE with TCC, for short. I'm pretty psyched to be done, and yes, proud that I did this. No one at my high school graduation would ever have imagined I'd end up with this many letters, including myself. I only went to college by the hair on my chinny chin chin. Still, I did a pretty decent job there and here I am today, all mastered up.
2) I'm in a dark night of the soul, and deep. I don't think the word "night" quite covers it, it's been a while and something I've suffered through in varying degrees at different times. At the end of this month I'm heading off on a silent retreat (directed, blessedly, by my own spiritual director, who is both a saint AND an angel) and I have to tell you, the impending silence is a little scary. I imagine I'll have to do a lot of listening for God's voice, and that'll be a change, considering my prayer life with God is more like this, with Dr. Evil as me, and Scott as God:

Still, I know it's time to face up to God and what the heck God wants for and of me. As nervous as I am about the retreat, I also feel like it's an island I'm swimming toward.
3) Meanwhile, our cats are dying. Our oldest, Zarley, is 18 and in renal failure but rebounding nicely, for some unknown reason- my best guess is that she is too... "special..." to die. Zarley's always had issues, but she's a love. Pip, who's 16 or 17 now, is sicker, more suddenly, with renal failure. We know we're in our last months with them, and it's so weirdly shocking to think of life without them. We've been together nearly half my life now, and they've seen me through a lifetime roller coaster of emotions. We want to be good to them and responsible, and we're hoping it'll be a peaceful process and that when the time comes, we'll know what to do. In the meantime, we have an IV bag hanging from the pot rack in our kitchen and a baggy full of needles so that Scott can heroically give Pip fluids subcutaneously every few days. He is my hero and a wonderful kitty-daddy. I know, I know.
4) And meanwhile, I've started training to be a Hospice vigil volunteer. We'll eventually be on call to sit with people in their last hours/minutes, if they don't have anyone to sit with them as they die, or to be there if the family can't be. I'm honored and intrigued to be part of this organization and process. The first week, we heard about the dying process and Hospice's philosophy and mission, and the second week, we heard from a nurse about infectious diseases we might catch. I learned that you should never put your pocketbook down on a soft surface in someone's home, and that you can catch Hepatitis from sushi. Still, I'd rather die from a sushi-related disease than go without it for the rest of my life.
5) In order to be a vigil volunteer, we first have to be direct care volunteers for six months, regularly visiting with people who have less than 6 months to live. Honestly this sounds much more foreboding than being with an actively dying person. How's that for introversion???
6) So now I am on the other side of the volunteering process, and I'm learning a lot about what it's like to be the one volunteering instead of the one looking for volunteers. I really feel called to this volunteer work, for whatever reason. At the first information meeting, they let us know we'd need 9 weeks of training, plus six months of volunteering, plus some more training, and TB testing, and would have to fill out an application and have an interview. There was a minute when I thought "bait and switch!!!" and there have been many minutes when I have thought "I'll see how tonight goes and then decide if I'll go on" but now there's this momentum that is part my wanting to serve, and part my wanting to finish where I started, and partly my wondering what God is calling me to through this.
7) Again, my Lent is a bit of a wash. I had given up rolling my eyes, and have found that as it turns out, I don't roll them all that much. So far, I've not stopped myself from doing it, but I am more aware. I had also given up Bejeweled Blitz, which I'm finding surprisingly hard, and had decided to start walking to daily Mass in the mornings, as I've done in Lents past. But Mass on that first Thursday was too hard for me spiritually, being all DNOTS-ing and all, and my schedule has been crazy. I think the other problem is I'm leading (and reading) a Gospel of Mark BS (that's Bible Study! Come on!) and Mark is all, "the sabbath is for humans, not the other way around" and love over law and all that. Mark always derails my Lents. In all seriousness, I'm doing some serious exploration of the idea of suffering, and what it's about, and that makes it tricky to volunteer for it.

See, now that I'm not in school anymore I can't write enough. Thanks for your patience and good wishes (on Facebook) and all that. And no, I'm pretty sure I won't be going for a PhD. Wouldn't that be a hoot though? Ha!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Famous Last Words (or, Plumb Unlucky)

Last weekend, I glibly wrote this for my column in our bulletin:
This weekend, as I was resting up and trying to shake off a new Spring cold, I heard Scott start to yell from the kitchen. He kept saying “OH NO!!! The ceiling!!! There’s a leak!!” I ran in to see that indeed, there was not just a leak – it was raining in our kitchen! Some work had been done in the upstairs bathroom that week, and that meant water that was supposed to be upstairs, ended up downstairs.
It was a complete mess. We grabbed every piece of Tupperware we have and placed them on the floor to catch the drips, and waited for the landlord to come. In preparation for the workers who will replace the ceiling this week, we moved everything out that we could, and covered the rest with plastic or sheets, in hopes to keep the dust from the construction controlled. But for me, the hardest
part of it all was that I had to take down the many pictures we have on our “wall of love.” The wall of love started with a few pictures, but each year it has grown to cover a whole wall in the corner of our kitchen. All the Christmas card photos of our friends end up on that wall, and I often stand there with a cup of coffee in my hand, looking at the faces of the people that I love and feeling thankful for their presence
on my wall and in my life. So I mourned a little, pulling down all those
pictures before the water could ruin them. I could put them back once everything is dry and fixed, but it'll never be the same.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of starting over. The wall is totally blank, just empty space, but I know that by the time Christmas cards start coming again, I’ll have plenty of loving faces to look at over my coffee.
I feel this way about Lent. I give up things that I love every year – not because I want to force myself to mourn, but because I know God will fill my empty places. Feeling the absence makes me appreciate the blessings that come to fill my blank slate. Stripping away some good things reminds me that so many others are without love, and I appreciate the love that I have in my life even more intensely. It’s good for me to return to baseline every year, and build up again from there. I grow deeper in trust from the loss, and deeper in gratitude for the luxury of having something so good to give up.
How’s your Lent going so far? What have you stripped away, so that God can fill in? Even if you still haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. This week, watch as God returns to you what you offer up to Him.

Well I did take all the pictures down, but I saved out four that I decided to keep up. The carpenters came during the week and rebuilt the ceiling, and we put everything back into place, and wouldn't you know it, the ceiling busted open again. I am, as I type, listening to a combination of dripping and plumbing work going on. Our whole house is disrupted, and my day is off to a dry (read: no shower, no toilet!) start. And those four pictures? They were just barely saved from this latest rainstorm.
And that reminded me of Lent too. It made me think that I choose my sacrifices pretty carefully; I'll give up this but I'm definitely keeping that. I don't feel called to give up on that this year. Haven't I sacrificed enough?
Now, I should say that while I get the idea of sacrifice (I really do, you don't have to comment and teach me) and I'm all for it, I also remember that Jesus said the Sabbath is made for us, not the other way around... I don't think sacrificing should be just for the sake of sacrificing. I don't think God rained... rain down upon my four treasured pictures just to prove an ascetic point to me.
It's just that it reminded me that I don't have all the answers, that I can't control my life experience nor my faith experience. And it reminded me that my faith and my beliefs will always be tested- so if I'm going to go off teaching about God through my experience, I'd better be prepared to re-write my lesson plans now and again.
I do have a propensity to try to see challenges as spiritual exercises (although not so much lately as my spiritual muscles have been pretty taxed) and this is no different. Today I'll have to wait to get to work to poop, and I'll hope my hair doesn't look to awful and that no one will be able to smell... ahem, tell, that I've not showered today. And when I feel uncomfortable, I'm going to try to remind myself about those people who haven't showered in a while, who don't know when or where they'll be able to poop next, people who are turned away because they smell... and I'll remind myself to be thankful for all I have.