Blessed.

I’m humbled and honored to be part of two great conferences this summer.  Honestly, I don’t deserve to be on the same website as these people.

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In May I’ll be speaking here in Nashville at the Glory Conference.  My name follows “Mike Aquilina,” which I definitely don’t deserve.  Is there a nicer, classier, humbler guy than Mike Aquilina?  It’s an honor to be at Glory with him.  Yours truly will be speaking about Pope Benedict and Beauty in the New Evangelization.

 

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In July, I’m joining the dream team.  Not just Mike, but Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, Brant Pitre, Curtis Mitch, Jeff Cavins, Michael Barber, Matt Leonard… and more.  I know, right?  I nearly hyperventilated when I saw my picture was even close to these guys.  I.am.not.worthy.  I’m going to be working with the St. Paul Center again (so excited) and teaching in the Journey Through Scripture Presenter Training Track.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to make it on the website, and I’m still picking myself off the floor over it. I’m not presenting, but I’m doing what I love most- teaching.  And again, it’s just an honor to have my picture under the same URL as these guys.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.

 

 

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A good day.

I’m sure everyone is tired of listening to me talk about my days, my eating habits, my randomness.  Although I suppose if you were really tired of it, you would have abandoned this blog by now.

All I really wanted to come here to say is that I had a good day.  Not only did I accomplish a handful of things that really needed accomplishing (laundry; cleaning; the old seasonal-clothes-switch; running to Goodwill, the bank, the postoffice…) but I celebrated my accomplishments (and the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation) with my friend Manda at Happy Hour.

IMG_7544Where I had oysters for the first time!  yay!  We went to The Southern, which besides having a really awesome brunch also happens to be an oyster bar. We were just there to sit at the bar and have a nice conversation over a nice cocktail.  But then Manda was eyeing the oyster menu, and they were shucking them right in front of us… so then one of the nice guys shucking them asked us if we wanted oysters, and Manda was on the fence, and I admitted I had never had an oyster.

“You’ve never had an oyster?” he asked incredulously.  I admitted that they scared me.

He shook his head, told me there was nothing to be afraid of, and promised he would coach me through it.

So on the house, he gave me my first oyster.  Prepped it for me. Coached me through it.

And it was wonderful.

It wasn’t something I would probably crave, like I do a good steak.  But it was so fresh, so tender, so… real.  So when Manda suggested we split a half dozen, I was game.

It was as if we were experiencing food the way we were supposed to experience it.  It weirded me out at first, knowing I was eating something that wasn’t that far from life.  I like my meat cooked and my food to look differently than when it did when it was living.  But yet there was something about being closer to the food, being closer to the way God created it.

They were cold oysters, and my new friend told me I was worried about them being slimy or chewy because I was thinking of warm water oysters.  These were really tender and not nearly as slimy as I thought they would be.

Manda and I had a fantastic conversation, and I left on a high.  Friendship, fantastic service (which we are beginning to value even more than the food and drink itself, but The Southern delivered on both), a highly productive day, and a solemnity tomorrow. What more could this girl ask for?

 

mail time!

I don’t check my mail every day.  I’m generally walking into my condo building with my hands full, and the thought of walking down the hallway to the mailroom and trying to balance everything while opening my mailbox, only to be rewarded with surveys from the Republican National Committee, is enough to make me head straight for the elevator.

Today I ran downstairs to meet my friend Liza, who was dropping sugar off for me (because she’s awesome like that), and I swung by the mailroom on my way back upstairs.  I wasn’t too surprised to see it full, since I had been out of town and hadn’t checked it in five or six days.  I sorted through the catalogs, the surveys from the Republican National Committee, charities asking for money, and then … I saw it.  Lying innocently at the bottom of the mailbox.  An envelope with the return address Jenny Uebbing.

Yes, that Jenny Uebbing.  You may know her from this magical moment a year ago, or from her awesome work with Heroic News, or perhaps from her writing found in various places like Catholic Exchange, 0r from her upcoming appearance at the Edel Gathering, or maybe even from her husband.

But I can say I knew her when – before Edel, before Catholic Exchange, before Rome, before she was even Uebbing.  (In fact, when I first typed this, I typed her maiden name, and it stayed like that for awhile before I realized what I had done.)  I knew her back in the day, when I was a bookkeeper and she was an office assistant at this little place called the St. Paul Center for this guy named Scott Hahn.  (Jenny, I promise that link is as far as I’ll go.  Although I have some pretty sweet pictures from Halloween circa 2007.)

I digress.  I saw the envelope in my mailbox, and I knew exactly what it was.  It took all my willpower not rip it open right then. Why had I not checked my mail earlier?  This was waiting for me – for how long?

But I had waited over a year, and I could wait a few more minutes.  In my apartment, I threw my mail on my kitchen table and ripped open the envelope.  And there he was.

I had almost completely forgotten about him.  Jenny certainly had plenty of other things to worry about — a pregnancy, two little boys, a transatlantic move, childbirth, a newborn… I’m not sure this would have ever gotten to the top of my to-do list. If it would have survived the move.

But that’s the kind of friend Jenny is… she comes through for a friend when it counts.

Hello, Padre Georg!

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Let the spectacle astound you

IMG_7327Back in January, on an unusually spring-like Monday night, a group of us went to Happy Hour at Melting Pot, the upscale fondue restaurant that has a moderately-priced happy hour special.  Afterwards a few of us decided to enjoy the mild weather and play “tourist,” which basically entailed walking around lower Broadway, people-watching and window-shopping.  We popped into a hippie store and was surprised to find a wall of masks:

IMG_6838After having fun trying them on, we all fell in love and decided we needed them.  But since it seemed a little crazy to buy masks for no reason, we began planning a masquerade- an epic Carnivale party that required either dressing up, masks, or both.

The idea grew from there.  I really wanted to distance it from the “mardi gras” that everyone assumes is the only way to celebrate the eve of Lent.  Rather than green, gold, and purple and king cake, I wanted the party to be more Venetian, as the masks deserved. (Like this scene in Rome from Count of Monte Cristo, without the kidnapping.)

Manda and Andrea offered their place for the party, and we convinced our friend Sarah, who lives on the other side of their duplex, to join in the hostessing and open her house too.  The week of the party was spent shopping and planning, and then we threw a mini party for ourselves the night before to decorate.  When I saw tulle at Michael’s, the Christendom-class-president in me was dreaming big (and the girls were willing to trust me, for some reason).  Why not put up a fake ceiling?

Friday night the magic happened:

IMG_7279Okay, not a fake ceiling. But still fun.

IMG_7286Little touches made the room beautiful

IMG_7271Refreshment for the decorating party.  We bought two growlers for the party, so we had to sample one with our pizza the night before, right?

 Most of the decorating was finished late Friday night, so Saturday night was just a matter of putting the finishing touches and getting ourselves decorated! : )  Luminaries connected the two apartments so that the party would flow naturally from one place to another. (That was Manda’s idea, and it was the perfect touch.  It also encouraged people to come in the front doors, since people are used to using the back doors at their house.)

IMG_7326The weather was perfect — in the low 60s– so the party naturally spilled out onto the porches and the front lawn.

Someone had the idea to do a signature cocktail – I don’t remember whom.  A bartender we talked to recommended sangria, but we wanted to do something a little more special.  We thought about a champagne punch, but wasn’t sure the best way to execute it.  I talked to the “mixologist” at my neighborhood wine store, and he recommended champagne with a dash of elderflower liqueur mixed with grapefruit juice.

IMG_7270is it a bad sign when they throw in a free carrying case?

IMG_7317We needed a name for the cocktail, and “golden,” kept coming up in our descriptions of the night, so the first thing that popped in my head was “sogni d’oro,” which literally means “golden sleep,” but is the way Italians say “sweet dreams.”  It sounded elevated and beautiful- so our cocktail had a name, even if it didn’t make much sense.

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We were ready for our Masquerade!

I was pleasantly surprised how many people actually wore masks.  Everyone was either dressed up or in a mask – or both.  Of the 30-40 people that came, I’d say 90% were masked — and most everyone kept their mask on all night!  I couldn’t wear my glasses and my mask, but it wasn’t too big of a deal.  I sat on the front porch most of the night and let everyone come to me. : )

Andrea had the neat idea to stage a “photo booth” for people to take pictures.  She originally wanted a big gold frame, but we didn’t have time to run to Goodwill, nor did we have enough money for a real one, so one was created out of cardboard. She ended up hanging it from the ceiling, and even though this picture looks pretty hilarious, and it was definitely the hit of the party.

IMG_7365The five hostesses

All in all — a success!

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Faces! Drink it in, drink it up
Till you’ve drowned
In the light
In the sound
But who can name the face?

A year of joy!

Picture1(Shamelessly stealing pictures from my sister.)

I commented to Jill on her blog that part of me can’t believe he’s already a year old… but the other part of me can’t remember what life was like without him!  She beautifully responded: “Empty.”

It’s so true… What a hole our lives would all have if this boy hadn’t been given to us by God.

I was talking to someone over the weekend who only knows John Paul through my request for prayers and a few pictures.  We are on a committee together and see each other twice a year – last year our committee met shortly before his birth, so I had told his story and requested prayers.  At this meeting she approached me and shared that John Paul had changed the way she viewed Down Syndrome children and other babies with disabilities.  She immediately had my full attention, since she is clearly someone who is 100% prolife, and I was curious to see what she was going to say.  She explained that until “meeting” John Paul, she had always seen unborn babies with birth defects, Down’s, etc, as needing us.  We need to give them a chance, we need to support them, we need to give them life.

She now realizes that it’s actually a matter of us needing them.

Thanks, John Paul.  And happy birthday.

 

Pancake Day!

There are certainly a lot of names for today.  Growing up we always called it “Fat Tuesday.”  Now I pretty much always hear it called “Mardi Gras,” probably because I’m a little closer to New Orleans and Mobile.  When we threw our party last weekend I tried to push the Venetian Carnivale theme, although most people admitted when they heard the word they thought of animals and rides.  I suppose that’s the importance of pronouncing it like an Italian and emphasizing the “E” at the end.  Carne-vale

In 2008, Lent was much earlier and my friends and I were already overseas preparing for our semester abroad in Rome.  My friend Alice was from Brentwood (England, not Tennessee) and invited us to begin our overseas adventure by first coming to stay with her family in England.  So before heading to Rome we explored England for ten days.

A few months before, when we were discussing details and dates, Alice realized we were going to be in England for the start of Lent.

“You’ll be at my house for PANCAKE DAY!”

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Pancake Day in England, circa 2008

None of us had ever heard of such a holiday, but it turns out it’s the English version of Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Carnivale.   Need to use up your fat and dairy and eggs before fasting for 40 days?  Time to make pancakes!

Every spring I go through a mixture of emotions associated with reminiscing my springs overseas.  Lenten weekdays remind me of early morning Station Church Masses, feast days remind me of Roman liturgies, and even the smell of car exhaust and cigarettes mixed with spring air brings me right back to my memories of Rome.

So these days bring back memories of England, when we ate pancakes for breakfast and then headed north to the town of Walsingham, one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of medieval Christendom.  After stopping in Cambridge –

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we arrived in Walsingham in time to have a pint at the local pub to finish our celebrations before Lent.

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photo courtesy of Katy Thomas

I was already in love with Walsingham, and I hadn’t even seen it in the light yet.  We settled in a big house right on High Street, and when I woke up in the adorable little British town, I began contemplating moving there for good.

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“The Shields,” our house for the first three days of Lent

On Ash Wednesday, we woke up before dawn so that we could make our pilgrimage – not walking from London to Walsingham, but at least walking from our home in Walsingham out to the Slipper Chapel, the Catholic shrine at Walsingham.  The medieval shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham went underground.  (Henry VIII visited the shrine as a pilgrim when he was still Fidei defensor… then destroyed it in 1538.)   In the 1890s, the Slipper Chapel was purchased and restored by Catholics.  It had been the last wayside chapel of the pilgrimage route – the place you’d remove your shoes before continuing your walk to the shrine.

(In the 1920s and 1930s, an Anglican shrine was constructed in town on the site of the original shrine.  So we visited that shrine in the afternoon, but in the morning we made a little pilgrimage out of town to the Catholic church.)

IMG_5115The pilgrimage – just in the opposite direction as the medieval pilgrim…

IMG_8049The Slipper Chapel

We went to morning Mass in the modern church next to the Slipper Chapel, built to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims that come to Walsingham.  Then we each began our Lent with prayer time in the Slipper Chapel and a quiet walk back to Walsingham.

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IMG_5120Definitely an Ash Wednesday like none other.  We spent the next few days driving down to Norwich and up to the English seaside, but Walsingham was our home base and I had fallen in love.  We walked every morning to the little Roman Catholic parish in town, where the daily Mass crowd quickly adopted us.  We walked every day to get our groceries from the little farm shop in town, where the other shoppers quickly recognized us and adopted us too.

I’m not sure why we ever left.

When I get in these reminiscing moods, I can get sad, remembering friends I haven’t seen in a long time and longing to return to those times and adventures.  But God didn’t bless me with these amazing experiences just so that I can think back to them and be sad, dwelling on the past.  He gave me friends and adventures to shape my life for the future – so that the gifts and lessons of the past shape who I am in the present and prepare me for the future.

The graces of Walsingham, the friendships of that spring semester, the lessons learned overseas were not given only for my enjoyment in 2008 but to form me for the years to come…. if only I respond to the grace.