Today is Beautiful

The mother of one of my friends is on her deathbed.  Another one of my friends is in the hospital giving birth to her first daughter.  As I knelt at Mass this afternoon, I thought of the juxtaposition of the emotions present in that one same hour.  The sorrow and joy, the dread and excitement.  The pain, the unknown, the expectation, and the fear.  The resignation, the embrace, the beauty, and the love.

Birth and death. Perhaps they aren’t too dissimilar.

The moments of grace when the Lord is present, ready to comfort, to heal, to bless, to invite us into a deeper relationship with him — these moments are with us every day.  Every day people are born, and every day people die.

It’s ordinary time… that God touches with extraordinary grace.



Bourbon Retreat


It all started with five of us talking after our Derby party, sipping mint juleps and dreaming big.  Let’s go to Paris.  To Rome.

How about the Bourbon Trail?

The details came together easily, and before we knew it, we were headed up I-65 to Louisville, KY on a Friday morning, ready to make memories.

I won’t bore you with all the details, the inside jokes, the quotes and stories that only the five of us will ever think are funny.  I will tell you that it was one of the best (and most affordable) mini adventures I’ve ever had.

Our time in Louisville included wandering around Louisville Slugger Field even though it was closed and we weren’t supposed to be inside and our first distillery stop (the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience).


At the gift shop, the woman working saw that we were Catholic (my Miraculous Medal) and told us about the “prettiest church in Louisville,” which just happened to have perpetual adoration, confession for first Friday, and the full skeletons of two Roman martyrs.  Not bad for an unexpected side trip.  Did I mention her kids went to Christendom?  #smallCatholicworld


Bourbon and Jesus.  It was the theme of the weekend.

Yes, we were on a Bourbon Retreat.  Every day included bourbon, Jesus, and plenty of unexpected gifts.  He made it pretty clear from the very beginning that He had hilarious things in store for us:

IMG_8908We just needed to be open to the Spirit.  It was Pentecost weekend, after all.  So there was a lot of quoting Acts 2:15.


That night we stayed in a funny apartment (bed and breakfast… minus the breakfast) which was full of character but not so full of air-conditioning.

IMG_8435Aways a bad sign when your candles are melting without being lit.  Oh well… it gave us something to laugh about now.  “Remember when Mario slept on the kitchen floor in front of the window a/c unit?”

Saturday we got an early start, and after Mass (remember — Jesus and bourbon) we headed to Jim Beam.


Then Heaven Hill,

2014-06-07 13.58.06and Maker’s Mark.

IMG_8555We were quickly becoming experts on the distilling process, so we weren’t too keen on our Maker’s Mark tour guide, who treated us like frat boys.  But again, at least it gave us something to laugh about now.

After Maker’s, (where the lady who ran the “dip your own bottle in red wax” station redeemed the place for us by being awesome) we headed to Gethsemani for Evening Prayer and a holy hour.  Gethsemani is a Trappist Monastery, probably best known for being the home of Thomas Merton.  (remember, this ain’t no normal Bourbon Trail weekend.  This is a bourbon retreat.)


We headed to Bardstown to satisfy our very rumbly tummys, and ate at Talbott Tavern, which dates from the 1700s and has seen the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and Jesse James.  I embraced the Kentucky experience with burgoo and a hot brown, washing it down with an Old Fashioned.  It was there I began to worry about myself… after sipping the drink (and I’m usually a cocktail girl), I thought, “Why did they put all this stuff in my bourbon?”

There’s no going back now.  My palate has acquired a taste.

We headed to Frankfort, where we welcomed the air conditioned hotel with open arms.  The next morning, we went to Mass, had a holy hour (remember… bourbon retreat…) and then hit the road.  We had four more distilleries if we were going to complete our Bourbon Trail passports and get our free t-shirt. We had started the weekend with, “Well, if it happens, that’s nice…” but now it was no laughing matter.  We were going to do this.

Wild Turkey opened first, so they were our first stop.

Spirits for the Spirit!IMG_8542

Then it was off to Four Roses

2014-06-08 13.28.57

and Woodford Reserve.

IMG_8581Then we booked it to Lexington, where the last stop was Town Branch, a new distillery that also brews beer. We missed the beer part of the tour, but made it in time for the distillery part.  Oh, and the tasting.

2014-06-08 17.05.38Whew.  Two and a half days. Eight distilleries.

That’s a lot of bourbon.  Well, not really.  Not as much as what fills this:

IMG_9006We celebrated with dinner at The Village Idiot and congratulated ourselves on one heck of a weekend.

I’d highly recommend making the trip, even if you don’t do all eight on the “trail.”  In fact, I’d love to go back and hit some of the ones we skipped — Buffalo Trace and a few of the smaller distilleries.  There are so many, we had to draw the line somewhere — so we stuck to the ones in the passport.

I thought that eight would be a bit much — that the tours would be repetitive, that I would get bored, that I would want to stop after Saturday.  But each tour was unique and emphasized something different.  There were steps we didn’t see at every tour, there were elements to the process that were explained differently, and in the end, all eight complemented each other well.

Favorite tour: Heaven Hill

Most Disney-like tour: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Most surprising: Wild Turkey

Most beautiful grounds: Woodford Reserve

Best “branding” (for good or ill): Maker’s Mark

We learned how to smell with our mouths open, we now know the legal requirements for bourbon to be bourbon, and we’ve acquired a taste for the magic that happens when corn and sweet Kentucky water meet charred oak barrels in a hot Kentucky summer.

Good times.


(Thanks to Mario and Ian for several of these pictures!)







2 Conferences and a Home Visit

Every once and awhile over the past two months I would plan to blog.  Then I would stare at the computer screen and the date of the last post, glance at all the photos in iPhoto from the past two months, stare some more, then get completely overwhelmed and close WordPress.

Let’s just say this has been an incredible summer.  I think it’s the fastest summer to date – I can’t believe it’s already August – but it has also been one of the most fun summers to date.

Part of the reason the summer went so fast (besides my packed social calendar) is that I was out of town for large chunks of it.  I spent two wonderful weeks in theology-land, attending two conferences at Franciscan University, with a home visit sandwiched between the two.  Have I mentioned that I put 3,500 miles on my car this summer?  yeah.

The first conference was the Bosco Conference, a catechetical conference that is full of practical workshops, great people, and beautiful times for prayer.  I was able to stay with my dear friend Amy (so there was a lot of sleep lost over late-night conversations), catch up with a few friends from the catechetical world, drink in the wealth of knowledge that is Dr. Petroc Willey, and spend time with Sefanit (for those of you truly veteran blog-readers, you’ll recognize that name from Rome!).


The Portiuncula Chapel is my favorite place in Steubenville.  Okay, in all of Ohio.

This trip came at the perfect time — I needed the time to be with Jesus.  Attend a few talks, go to Mass, sit in the chapel, eat.  repeat.

I skipped a workshop one afternoon to head into Pittsburgh and meet up with my friend Mike Aquilina and his daughter Mary Agnes.  He gives a great tour of the saints of Pittsburgh.  St. John Neumann, Bl Francis Seelos, St. John Paul II, Bl Mother Frances Siedliska… it’s quite impressive.  Mike knows so much about the history of the Church in that area, I could have listened to him all day.


After the conference was over, I headed home — but met up with my sister and her family on their way through Ohio.  We had breakfast at Cracker Barrel, drove to visit my great aunt in Columbus, and then finished the trip to Indiana.  It was such a wonderful time home– the kids are all at really fun ages, and it was fun to have them all together.  It was a very quick trip home for me — just two days — but with my brother’s family down from Chicago, all of us were together except Sr. Mary Grace, and we managed a lot of fun in just two days.


(See her blog for plenty of great pictures.)

Then it was back to Franciscan for me, for the Applied Biblical Studies conference.  I was blessed to be able to teach with the St. Paul Center before the conference kicked off.  Two hundred people came for the Journey Through Scripture bible study, and I found myself teaching alongside incredible presenters like Michael Barber, Matt Leonard, and David Currie.  Oh, and this woman named Kimberly Hahn.

It was wonderful to be back with the St. Paul Center, to see their new offices, to hear about the new plans for the DVD series (you have to see this), and just talk with Scott and Kimberly and the gang.


The conference was incredible, as always.  More time with Jesus in the Portiuncula, more incredible and inspiring talks from the best biblical teachers in the country. But you know what was the best?  There I was, with Dr. Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Michael Barber, John Bergsma… and you know where I learned the most?

At the holy hour.  I was sitting behind the Hahns, next to Mike Aquilina and Matt Leonard and all the rest.  And we prayed together.  WE PRAYED TOGETHER.  As I knelt there, the lights dim and the gym floor hard, Father processed around with Jesus in the monstrance, I worshipped the Word of God with giants in the Church.  I was kneeling with these incredible scholars, these beautiful writers, these celebrities…and they were in love, in adoration, in worship.

These men learned a lot from books.  But they learned more on their knees.

And I wept with joy.