Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monfort Retreat

My daughter spent a week at the Monfort Retreat Center and returned home happy. Bit by bit we are hearing the things she learned. They spent a lot of time on Fatima, since 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. Unlike Mepkin, these sisters are thoroughly orthodox and do not hesitate to teach the difficult things. There are many hard teachings in the Bible regarding heaven and hell, Holy Eucharist, marriage, etc. and these are all contradictory to the culture at large. It's not easy being Catholic. We are meant to live in this world but not be worldly and that's hard. I highly recommend this retreat for Catholic girls who want to strengthen their faith. For a week, they retreat from the world, spend time in prayer, enjoy the beautiful outdoors, learn a new craft, and make friends with other like-minded girls. A funny story: Dagny met a couple of girls whose parents are even stricter than us, which made her happy to be our daughter :) Someday we hope to make a retreat there as well. 

The garden grew while she was gone and we are taking note of what's doing well and what's not. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are doing well. The melons and squash too, but I have a feeling the crabs are going to go after them. The leafy veggies like Swiss chard and beets are getting chomped on. I was able to harvest some but not much. We also have a very naughty squirrel or raccoon who keeps removing the plastic flowers of our hummingbird feeder and pretty much draining the whole thing every night. I bought another feeder with feeding holes and except for dumping out some of the sugar water, they've not been able to drink out of it. So fingers crossed they'll leave it alone for our pretty little hummers. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Agnus Dei

A few years ago we sang this Mass written for two voices in honor of St. John the Baptist by Rene Quignard for Laetare Sunday. There were no recordings at the time. But just on a lark I decided to see if I could listen to it and found: Agnus Dei. It is my favorite movement. St. John the Baptist reminds me every day to write true, no matter what the cost. Today we celebrate his birth!!!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Writing Retreat Gone Wrong

I was so excited about a writing retreat at Mepkin Abbey, which is only an hour away from our home. And it is truly a lovely retreat center. However, we had not received a detailed schedule (as I normally do when I register for a conference) but assumed that there will be lectures followed by quiet time to write. However, the retreat was designed with a lot of sharing, so there wasn't much time for writing if one also wanted to join the monks for the liturgy of the hours. One of the monks had addressed this, saying it's hard to do both retreat activities and LOH but I find it's good to spend extra time in prayer while on a retreat. My favorites are Vespers (evening) and Compline (night). I also had a horrible migraine the whole time and couldn't believe that it had lasted as long as it already had -- eight days total. So I was already at the end of my rope before I began the retreat. I wondered why God would make this retreat possible if it was going to be so terrible. What lessons did I need to learn?

I am still processing all of that. But three things are on the forefront. The value and need for silence, for orthodoxy, and for learning to suffer well. I always ask why God allows so much suffering and evil. One of the things I did after returning home was to spend some time with St. John Paul II's Salvifici Doloris. I think the problem of evil and suffering is the most difficult to reconcile with our understanding of an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God but JPII is an amazing writer who can clarify this. He writes, "every suffering is an experience of evil." This is so true. But it is our response that matters. We can either be in despair or join it to Christ's redeeming suffering, giving our own some meaning.  

That brings me to the lectures on storytelling, which were very good. The focus was on our personal narrative, how it fits with the larger one, in family, society, the world, and how it relates to the Greatest Story. In a nutshell, we listened to stories on hope, exile, repentance, and home. I couldn't help but think that even within the Church one can be exiled for preserving tradition. Other ideas were on gratitude, honoring our pain, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. It reminded me how important it is to share our personal stories, of how God has worked in our lives. I think I've done that in bits and pieces, but never in a cohesive, structured manner, and this is something I will do.

Here are some pictures from the abbey grounds, where I strolled and prayed the rosary, which is nothing more than pondering the greatest story with Mary.  



This was my room -- light and airy. And here I'd write late at night. But it was sooooo good to come home to my family. In just three days, a little cucumber was ready for picking. And the kitties missed me because they demanded to be petted. Best of all, it was soooo good to celebrate Corpus Christi and Father's Day at Stella Maris. Our priest tied the two celebrations with one word: Presence!    



Monday, June 5, 2017


What a pleasure to attend Commencement exercises at the Citadel for the Bishop England Class of 2017. It was the hundredth for BEHS!!! I am so proud of these young men and women, but before I go any further, I also want to express my sorrow for the parents whose children face difficulties and are not able to participate. I say to these parents, it's going to be alright. Time is the great equalizer. 

I never wanted to go to these kinds of ceremonies because they felt hollow. I only went to my own to honor my mother's wishes. College was a whole another thing and how I wished she'd been alive. I would've gone happily. And for my PhD, I wanted so very much to walk with my advisor but she was on a year-long sabbatical right after I defended my thesis. So beware of what you wish for. There is so much wisdom in the tradition to mark the end of a phase, the beginning of another. It's a time to reflect upon the blessings, and to receive blessings for the future. I'm so grateful my children have had a good experience and are eager to celebrate these milestones with a smile.

Alex Skattel delivered a very honest and inspiring commencement address. A BE graduate, only thirteen years ahead of this class, he connected well with the kids. He made three points on following your dreams peppered with personal anecdotes. 
1. Don't Panic. When he graduated from Clemson, the country was in the middle of a financial crisis. There were no jobs. He lived at home and although many people thought he was lazy and aimless, he was developing an app.
2. Own your Failures. We all make them. It isn't fatal. Apologize instead of making excuses. Be honest. For every success, he's experienced a dozen failures. But that's just the nature of trying to do something difficult. 
3. Find your unfair advantage. What do you love to do? What do your friends and family see in you? People who love you will criticize you, push you to do better. Lean in and listen to them. They will cheer you on and support you through your challenging times. Your best unfair advantage is right here--your family and friends. So true!

Bishop Guglielmone reminded us all at the end what's the most important thing: keep the Catholic faith. Let it be an anchor. Make a difference. Be an advocate for good.

We were all hungry after this so headed to Lewis Barbecue. This is probably the first time I've tasted brisket that rivals Michael's on the Big Green Egg. By the time I took a picture, kids had polished off most of the food. 


You've come a long way, Max! From an atheist kindergartner to a young man filled with the Holy Spirit! I can't wait to see what God has planned for you. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Our Garden Grows and Other Things Too

May has flown. It's been full of surprises, some good, some not, but nonetheless, with many blessings! 

Michael built us a garden space over Easter holidays and we've been planting a few things, seeing what comes up, what doesn't. Note, many of our old seeds did not germinate, also some of the newer seeds. But the ones from St. Clare had a very high germination rate. We've also moved our jasmine down and the breeze wafts the lovely scent as I hang out my clothes or write on the back porch.

Michael saw a couple of deer a week or so ago by our driveway early in the morning so made sure to get the rest of the fence up! The last thing we need is for them to think our garden is a feeding place ... and look Ma, at the perfect height too!


The cucumber plants are growing so quickly and I love the little feelers they send out. As soon as they touch another surface they begin bending and make a tendril that's really a spring. And now I might even have a clue as to how that might be regulated, thanks to my time at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Cologne, Germany.

Plants always surprise me at how quickly they go from seed to a fully grown plant, or from what might look like dead sticks to a lush tree in the space of a month! Just look at the amount of structure that has to be produced and it's all from sunshine, air, water, and minerals. It's truly miraculous. Like the newest baby in our family!!! That's my sister, my nephew, and his first baby!!! Such a sweetie!!!

We had a beautiful Baccalaureate Mass at Blessed Sacrament and I will not forget what Fr. Babick said: remember to lay down your lives for others every once in a while. Sacrifice. That's what love is all about. Max made his first full fast this Ash Wed. and then again on Good Friday and I am confident he will grow in making voluntary sacrifices for those he loves. I'm writing this a day after Memorial Day and I can't help but think of all the men who've given their lives so that we might be free. And freedom is really about being free to do the right thing, not just anything.

I wish Dagny could've come to this Mass but she was quite sick, with a case of the pox -- we thought chicken pox at first because the blisters on her hands reminded me of them -- but it turned out to be hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD). It's in a completely different family of viruses. She had a very severe case of it, especially on her hands. Poor girl. She'd had a mild fever so I kept her home from school but then she insisted upon going to give her presentation for her English class. And I am so glad I allowed it because the next day I took her to the Dr. and we didn't know what in the heck the little bumps on her hand were, some which were beginning to blister. We had to assume she was contagious until we knew otherwise. She was already exempting all her exams (it pays to have good grades!) so all she missed was a week of school and a couple of parties. There was hardly any new material being taught so the teachers waived the last quizzes. All she had to complete was her digital art design project. 

But then Max caught it. Thud! He's been pretty much done with school after taking his AP exams so it wasn't a big deal to stay home but he couldn't wait to get started at his second job at Dashi ...  Patience. It's a difficult thing to cultivate. We had a lovely time at home together. I was grateful for this because he's going to be busy juggling his two jobs for the rest of the summer.

I've gone on and on (and I didn't even talk about the cats!), but May's been a month of tremendous growth. God is so good to us. All the time. And we can't wait for June!!! I hope it's beautiful for you too.