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.


A Glorious Shot in the Arm

What a weekend.

I just was privileged to experience the annual Glory Conference, a gathering of college students and young adults here in Nashville, TN to study and celebrate the good, the true, and the beautiful.

I blogged about it briefly here, and you can find a link to my talk there, too.

Some sights of the weekend:


The calm before my talk.
It was the perfect location for a conference about beauty — a restored historical building and a beautiful 19th century church

IMG_8218 yay for new friends!


A super-duper evangelization rosary walk after lunchBrother John led a “super-duper evangelization rosary walk” after lunch on Saturday.
He said it was the second annual one, which made us laugh — I love how little traditions start like that.

IMG_8245A great thing about the conference was the room the schedule allowed for friendship and fraternity.   My friend Mike and I got breakfast Sunday morning and were able to catch up and talk about life.

Chris Cole teaching us origami.  Or parabolas.  Or something.  He had us in stitches during his whole talk.  Another great thing about the conference– the variety of the talks and personalities.



At the end of the closing Mass today (all the liturgies were simply breath-taking… another high point of the conference), we took Jesus into the streets of Germantown in a Eucharistic Procession.  See those manly men carrying the canopy?  Yet another beautiful thing about the conference — the masculine witness.  Most of the conference was executed by guys, and I think it was apparent in beautiful ways.


The first of the triple Benedictions during the procession. The people in the neighborhood weren’t quite sure what was happening…. a hundred smiling young adults walking behind priest and sisters, singing and praying?  What?

I’m hooked.  When’s the next conference?  I’m ready for all those kids to come back to Nashville!



here’s to the fun stuff

When it comes to personal blogs, it seems that there are two types of blog posts.

A) The ones when people’s lives look incredible

B) The ones when you feel sorry for them.

Example A:  The SAHM posts a recipe for the incredible dinner she made last night that just happened to be gluten-free, nut-free, and organic, alongside pictures of her adorable children wearing clothes she made by hand while homeschooling them, with a Downton Abbey reference thrown in and a final picture of the flowers her gorgeous husband bought her “just because.”

Example B: The SAHM writes about the fact that she hasn’t slept in five weeks and has gained eight pounds just by looking at a Snickers bar and has to take a break from this blog post because her youngest child just pooped on the floor and where did Johnny go? but hopes to finish the eightieth load of laundry before lunch because she knows the child she just finished potty-training will probably wet the bed during her nap and why is the fire alarm going off? but maybe tomorrow she will get to take a shower if …

As a single gal, I fully recognize that I too can write either of those posts.  I can either tell you about my fun social life or I can bemoan my singleness, the state of the world today, or the various chores, errands, and to-do list tasks that haven’t gotten finished because I work all day and come home to other things that need priority- and therefore am probably just eating cheese for dinner because that’s what in my refrigerator.

Let’s go with the first, shall we?

The Derby party that almost wasn’t

The Saturday of the Derby, I went to a lovely baby shower for my friend Lori and then headed back to town for the first Musician’s Corner of the summer.  Musicians’ Corner is a fun free concert series in the shadow of the Parthenon.  A group of us met up there in the afternoon and enjoyed the beautiful (very warm) spring day.  It was a really fun, low-key afternoon with people coming and going, eating at food trucks, sweating, and listening to good music.   Holly Williams was one of the artists — she turned my head when she announced, “My granddaddy wrote this song…” and then launched into a Hank Williams song.  One of my friends wryly commented, “I think she’s going to make it in the business.”


Jars of Clay

We were planning on heading back to my friend Manda’s house to watch the Derby — we had the makings for mint juleps, Kentucky browns, and two Derby pies waiting for us. The last band to play was Jars of Clay, and we were enjoying their concert and I was losing track of time when I saw Manda packing up at the corner of my eye.  I glanced at my watch.  5:20.  Holy cow, we were going to miss the Derby.

We went into action, throwing all our stuff into bags and scattering our different ways towards our cars.  My friend Matt called back, “Do you need anything!?” as he headed to his car.  “Ice!” Manda called back, and we ran for mine.

I laughed the whole way to her house.  We were throwing a Derby party and we were going to miss the Derby.  Who does that!?

We ran into her house, I turned on the TV, we all put our hats on, KY Browns went into the oven, Matt arrived with the ice, and the Derby began.  A few people did end up missing it, but they arrived in time for mint juleps, so it was all okay.


We just threw this together.


Birds and Brandy

That next Monday, Manda and I headed south of Nashville to hit up Hobby Lobby for our Steeplechase crafting.  She needed a ribbon for her big hat and I needed some props to build my fascinator.

I love Hobby Lobby.  It’s a good thing there isn’t one near my house.


I was persuaded not to get this for my head.  Maybe next year.
(I hope you all are thinking what I’m thinking right now)

After shopping, we treated ourselves to a fantastic dinner at Gray’s on Main, the former-pharmacy turned brandy bar in downtown Franklin.  Their menu is delightfully southern, while their cocktail menu honors the drink culture of the late 19th century, when the building was constructed.


fried green tomatoes with roasted creamy corn and goat cheese,
fried pimento cheese with moonshine pepper jelly, shrimp and grits on collards, and bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction

The cocktail menu features brandy, the drink of the late 19th century, and so we let our waiter choose the drink he thought we would like.  After hearing what we usually drank, he advised us to try the White Mule, a play on the Moscow Mule. I loved it.  I would drive to Franklin for it.  It featured Delord Blanche Armagnac, a cognac that is sold nowhere else in the United States.  Looks like I am going to have to drive to Franklin for it.


complete with a copper mug.


It’s all in the family

I hope I don’t sound like an alcoholic, but one of the other highlights of last week was a random Thursday afternoon bourbon tasting at one of the wine stores near my house. My friend Liza had seen on Twitter that Belle Meade Bourbon was doing a free tasting and featuring mint juleps. I convinced Manda to meet me there.  We were going to pick up some things for Steeplechase, taste the Belle Meade Bourbon, and go on our merry way.  I didn’t expect that the person giving the tastes would actually be one of the owners of the distillery, nor did I expect his story to be so fascinating.  You can read more here, but basically two brothers discovered that their great-great-great grandfather had owned one of the three most notable distilleries in Tennessee (the other two being George Dickel and Jack Daniels, and he was far out-selling Jack Daniels).  The distillery closed during Prohibition and had become family lore. The brothers decided to reopen the distillery a few years ago, a hundred years after it had closed.

I loved hearing his story and was fascinated by the history and the details of distilling.  Kind of a random Thursday afternoon, but I’ll take it.



Am I in Italy?

My friend Mario turned the big 3-0 on Friday, so we all went out to DeSano’s, a local pizza place, to celebrate.  Father had told me that it was the closest I would come to Italian pizza, but I’m a bit of a snob and a skeptic, so I had to taste it to believe it.


It was pretty darn delicious.  The atmosphere was amazing — big communal tables, lots of noise and laughter, and a full view of the pizza-making process, complete with dough-tossing and audience participation.  Father announced that it was Catholic, and it was true.

Mario even got to catch some dough… while wearing a birthday cake hat made of balloons.  (the perks of having a balloon artist as a friend.)IMG_0013


The Social Event of the Spring

Last but certainly not least… the social event of the spring… Steeplechase.  You can read all about the event in last year’s post, when I became enamored with how easy, fun, and classy the event was – for only $15.  Of course, you also have to factor in the expense of your picnic and your fascinator.  But who needs to buy a $80 fascinator from Macy’s when you can make your own!?

My friend Megan got a series of awesome texts like this a few nights before….


but with her help and Manda’s shopping guidance, I managed to pull of a fascinator that didn’t not cost $80, did not feature a bird, and still made a statement.

The finished product:


It even held up in the wind.  Well, most of it.  I had a bit of a casualty with the big feather in the back, but that just means it’ll be easier to change up and update for next year’s race!

Oh, Steeplechase, how I love you.  I love your bow ties and your seersucker and your picnics and your horses.  I love the thrill of the race and the laziness of the afternoon.

The rain even held off, which seems to be a theme when it comes to the second Saturday in May.


I have the most beautiful friends.


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.


Bacon and Bourbon

When did eating become a hobby?  Not just something you do for fun with family and friends, but an art to be honed?  It seems everyone has a chance to pretend to be a foodie these days.

Tonight my awesome friend Loretta invited me to a bacon and bourbon festival (do you remember all the love this blog has given Lori?  This is her mom, and since Lori has left us and gone and gotten married, Loretta and I console ourselves with things like this).  Our friend Mary Agnes had managed to get tickets (they’re pretty limited, so it sells out every time) but something came up and she needed to get rid of them.

It was at the Loveless Barn, a venue just behind the famous Loveless Cafe.  I’ve wanted to check out the venue for awhile, just in case I needed to plan a wedding or some fantastic party, so I eagerly accepted Loretta’s invitation (once her husband decided he couldn’t go… Thanks, Geoff!).  The promise of bacon and bourbon didn’t hurt, either.

We received a little card when we got there that had 8 spots to be marked off for our bourbon samples.  Throughout the barn and an adjoining tent, there were about six different distilleries offering a variety of samples.  Scattered in between the distilleries were booths from 15 to 20 local restaurants, all offering dishes that involved bacon.

I won’t even try to describe everything we ate.  We ate a lot.  From bacon wrapped shrimp to sausage stuffed figs with smoked pancetta to bacon burger bites to bacon tacos to turkey wrapped in bacon… it was all there.  There were some lighter things, like plantain soup with bacon bits, and then there were things like maple glazed donuts with bacon.  No joke.

From the Donut Den:

IMG_6992You see the eclairs over on the far side?  Yeah, those are strips of bacon on top of those babies.

Would you like a closer look?  Of course you would.

IMG_6996I went for the chocolate and bacon doughnut myself.


My other favorite dishes included:

-some cheesy jalapeño popper wrapped in bacon from The Row – I don’t exactly know what it was, but I’m pretty sure I made happy noises while I ate it.

-a little bite of sweet potato with a marshmallow on top and a crispy piece of bacon.  It was such a neat texture combination and a nice mix of sweet and salty.

-A mini whoopee pie with maple cream, bacon, and pecans.  Pictured below with a bacon banh mi sandwich (I think… everything is running together…)

IMG_6998-Bourbon-bacon chocolate mousse with bourbon-infused whipped cream, a bourbon caramel drizzle and candied bacon from {Pub}licity.  I only remember all of that because I took a picture of the sign so I wouldn’t forget.  A lot of the dishes were that complex and awesome.  This one was mighty tasty.

IMG_7014-Maple Bacon Milkshakes.  No joke.  Deeeelicious.

IMG_7028There were also plenty of savory dishes, but my favorites were definitely the desserts.

And then there was, of course, the bourbon.  My dad will be sad to hear there was no Pappy Van Winkle, although the bourbons were almost all from Buffalo Trace.  I’m no bourbon connoisseur, but my least favorite was Blanton’s Single Barrel, and my favorites were Col. Taylor and Weller.  And of course the Bourbon Cream.  Because I am, after all, a dessert person at heart.

Another fantastic eating and drinking experience.  Much thanks to Loretta and Mary Agnes for making it possible.


The Art of Waiting

Tonight is our monthly Theology on Tap gathering.  I’m in charge of getting the speakers, so I suppose it looks like a cop-out tonight when the speaker is me.

To my defense, people have asked me in the past if I would speak sometime, but it always seemed a little strange for me to speak when I’m supposed to be hosting it.  What am I going do tonight — introduce myself?  I guess so.

But the reason I’m speaking is not because I was too lazy to get a speaker – it’s because the topic I wanted addressed is something that’s been on my heart a lot lately, and when I thought about who I might ask to speak about it, I decided I should just do it.  It would give me a chance to think about it more, and it would ensure what I wanted said would be said!

The topic is the Art of Waiting, a phrase stolen from this book of talks by Mother Mary Francis.

When I told people the name of the talk, people would often ask me, “Waiting?  For what?”  That itself was fruit for meditation.  Aren’t we all waiting for something?  Most of my audience tonight is in the in between stage of their life — many of them have graduated from college or are in graduate school and are discerning their next step.  They may have jobs but are not in serious relationships, or they may be in serious relationships but unsure of marriage.  So we can find ourselves in this period of waiting … waiting for the next step, for the next thing, for what comes next.

But even those not in this in between stage are still waiting for something.  We spend our whole lives waiting.  We wait to get married and then we wait for children and then we wait for those children to leave us alone and give us some peace and quiet.  We say we’ll be happy when we’re married, then we say we’ll be happy when we have kids.  We say we’ll be happy when we discern our vocation, and then we say we’ll be happy when we make final vows.

If we aren’t happy waiting… we ain’t going to be happy.  Because ultimately, the only time in our life we won’t be waiting for something is after we die and go to Heaven.  Then we’ll be perfectly happy.

So really, we’re all waiting to die.  But no one really thinks about that.

Tonight’s talk is gong to tackle a few things:

-The two extremes of waiting: 1) those who never wait [Christmas without Advent, instant gratification] and 2) those who always wait [people who are afraid to take the next step, who’d rather perpetually discern rather than take a leap of faith]

-What we do while we wait

-The remedy Jesus Christ gives us while we wait – also known as the “pledge of future glory” …

So if you’re in the area, come by Corner Pub tonight, buy me a beer, and hear it for yourself.  If you’re not in the area, well, invite me to speak to your Theology on Tap group sometime … because I know there are lots of Catholic young adults out there in the same predicament.

In the meantime, I have Mumford and Sons on repeat.  Which song?  Oh, you know.

The Music of Friends

Sunday evening my friend Maria and I attended one of the neatest gatherings in Nashville.  It was my second year to attend, her third, and I hope we can continue to make it an annual event for us.

Chamber Music Underground is presented by the Eastwood Ensemble, a group of musicians from East Nashville – many of whom are in the Nashville Symphony.  As you might be able to tell from the name, it’s an event that spreads mostly word of mouth (no advertisements were done in print form), and it features chamber music in its native habitat: the parlor of someone’s home.

Chamber music is composed for a small group of instruments, to be played in a chamber.  But how often do we get to enjoy it that way?  Usually we hear it in a large concert hall, on a large stage.  Instruments are far away, and there’s a wall of sorts between performer and listener.

Not in Chamber Music Underground.

On Sunday night, thirty or so of us gathered in a beautiful home in East Nashville.  Perched on chairs in the front parlor, we were an eager audience for the Eastwood Ensemble as they played for us, revealing in the pieces a depth of beauty found only in such an intimate setting.


We began with my favorite– the cello.  Xiao-Fan Zhang, a cellist in the Nashville Symphony, played a beautiful pastoral piece from a Chinese composer (I wish I could remember the name of the piece or the composer), a piece by Liszt, and finished with one by Mendelssohn.  I love the cello, and being that close to it is so much better than hearing it in a concert hall.  You could feel it.  If I try to say more, I’ll just sound dumb.  It was incredible.

Then the violinist and bassoonist joined him, and we were treated to a beautiful piece featuring the bassoon.  How often are you that close to a bassoon? Probably never.  (It reminded me of Peter and the Wolf.  Not the piece itself, just hearing the bassoon.)


I hope I don’t go to jail for this, but I did record a snippet… I titled it “bassoon trio,” but it wasn’t a trio of bassoons, just a trio that featured the bassoon.

Then we heard from the two clarinetists of the group (one of whom, Tia,  founded the Eastwood Ensemble), then a few pieces on violin & piano, then finished up the evening with the bass clarinet and a fun Schumann piece that took me back to my days playing the piano.

After the concert, everyone mills around, drinks wine, eats food, and talks.  My friend Jenny has provided her candy and granola bars every year, which is how we heard about this fancy secret event in the first place.  Her little hazelnut chocolate balls are pure bliss, and I may have eaten four of them tonight while typing this blog post.  May.

While small talk terrifies me, it is really nice to be able to talk to the musicians afterwards.  Xiao-Fan remembered us from the year before and came over to talk to us.  When I told him the cello was my favorite, he told us about a neat event the Nashville Symphony does that also includes wine and talking with the musicians.  So if we hit that up, I’ll make sure to blog about that, too.

I intended to blog about this event last year … so here are some shots from a year ago:

IMG_2391 IMG_2419

Wikipedia says that chamber music has been described as “the music of friends,” because of its intimate nature.  If that’s the case, Chamber Music Underground is doing something right in Music City.