Inspire.

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I’m looking for a new title for this monthly series. They will continue to include quotations, photos/art, and reflections. Let me know any of your title ideas in the comments. I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

A few quotations that struck me for the new year (in no particular order):

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Douglas Adams

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.

Ranier Maria Rilke

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.

Melody Beattie

You are your choices.

Seneca

Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.

Alan Cohen

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.

Mary Pickford

Every moment is a fresh beginning.

TS Eliot

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.

Meister Eckhart


Intentions 2023

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This post was a lot to write. And rewrite. I hope you will be able to draw out something for yourselves as I call myself out and set my intentions for the next few weeks. If you are inclined to add anything or offer any suggestions, please do so in the comments. they would be most welcome.

I offered a preview last week of goals, resolutions, whatever they’re to be called this year. That can be found here if you need a reminder of my first thoughts. At the end of that post, I said that I was going to take a break, read a chapter, play a game, and get dinner ready. I did almost none of those things. I’m sure we had dinner, but I can’t think of what it was. Even Saturday night’s dinner was in flux since no one took out the meat from the freezer despite multiple requests. Last night also. (Note that these requests were not always towards others in the house; I told myself to take them out and then forgot to, so it was a multi-person failure.) Pasta until the meat defrosts, I guess.

It’s probably not a bad thing that our (my) new year is off to a less than stellar start since the years that I’m all gung-ho and organized for will often fizzle out by February.

I plan to use my Instagram more, and that was one thing I did do last week: a post on intentions there. You can view it and click to visit there from my sidebar on the left. I will share the picture below since I’m going to try and use it as a guide for my intention setting.

Intentions. (c)2023

The words I used were:

  • Focus
  • Change
  • Intentionality
  • Faith
  • Gratitude
  • Opportunity
  • Kindness
  • Accept
  • Surrender
  • Reflect
  • Begin

Each one has a different thought process behind it, some from years past, others from spiritual direction, some that simply always come up again and again (like focus and intentionality). I may add some as the weeks go by and I settle into my new year.

None of these words are easy to implement in my day-to-day life. I plan to keep a small copy of the list, perhaps with the picture and reflect on it through January, as a mantra, a guide, an accountability checklist. By accountability, I simply mean is this something that I keep in my head. Is it something that I’m aware that I’m doing or am I ignoring it because it’s hard? It’s not a grading system – no A’s or B’s, no failing or unsatisfactory. Am I doing (it, whatever it is) with intentionality or am I sleep-walking through another day?

One thing that I can take a bow on is the following: About a year or two ago, I made the decision that I did not need the last word in online discussions. I also did not need to engage with everyone there. I will still call out lies and misinformation, but at some point, it’s time to walk away. Before I made this decision, I was anxiety-riddled constantly, needing to convince people of the truth, of the facts. This decision needs to be recommitted to every day. I need to know when to walk away, when to push. I’ve been proud of myself, and while this isn’t a new year focus it is something that continues to be encouraged. Every day is a new day.

I will still speak out.

In between birthday fun for my daughter, trying out new Christmas gifts, and just relaxing with the family, I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday watching the vote for Speaker of the House. I have never seen such a shitshow on the floor of Congress, and it was a despicable showing on the second anniversary of January 6th. Two Republicans nearly came to blows, and one had to be dragged away. I was proud of my party; of their commitment to the people, to the advancement of new leadership without in-fighting and acrimony. Over the weekend, I posted part of the speech given by Minority Leader, NY Representative Hakeem Jeffries, where he took us to church so to speak. It was exhilarating, it was motivating, it was inspirational. I look forward to the day when he is Speaker. The Republicans can say they’re behavior was a lesson in democracy, but in reality, it was a lesson in dysfunction and chaos.

As I told my class last semester, everything is political. Everything. From the water that flows through our pipes to the roads we drive on, from the schools to the garbage pick-ups. We all need to be involved, every year, every election, every race. I guess that’s one of my goals. Civics 101.

Apart from politics, I need to see what priorities I need to keep and pull to the forefront. I’ve come up with three in particular, although there is always room for more. They are:

Therapy.

Writing.

Faith.

I need it all, and I need to learn how to blend them, how to connect them, how to live them, and how to balance them. I should add that word to the photo and list above: balance.

It’s all a balancing act. I’m a mom. I was a teacher. I can multi-task. I can also drop all the spinning plates. It happens. I need to accept that and move on – No. Not on; forward.

As I look at each of those words on the list and the three main places I want to focus on, how do I make it happen? How do I use all the tools available to me without constantly running around in circles, thinking I’m succeeding, but really only standing in the same place?

The first thing I’m going to do is to put a note on my calendar, about a week after Ash Wednesday. Lent is a good time for reevaluation, and I can see how and if I’ve moved forward between now and then.

I’m also going to list one specific, tangible goal here related to the three subjects of therapy (which includes talk, writing, art, etc.), writing, and faith. As I’ve said, and as I believe, they are all interconnected in my life. I rely on my faith in my writing, I write about my faith, talking through things (even if only with myself) – it’s all related and yet still separate enterprises that need their own nurturing and development.

The words sound easy, but we all know that it is also hard. Hard to change, hard to grow, hard to become something different, hard to change. With the internet and social media, we can all be so self-aware and easy to be swayed towards something, even simple, non-hazardous things: a glass or water or Diet Coke?

I know that I’m more outgoing in certain ways since becoming a regular online. I wonder how I managed without the online community that sustains me as much as my family does. I speak my mind more, sometimes to my detriment. I say yes more without saying no first. I realized that I protect myself by declining, and then “changing my mind.” It lets me have the time to think, but I’m getting more comfortable with saying yes (and no when appropriate).

How do I set goals and keep myself on a trajectory of moving forward?

NaNoWriMo really motivated me to write every day, and while I haven’t been writing every day, I have been writing a lot more. I don’t mind the writing without the external validation despite really loving (and needing) the validation. Writing a book won’t work that way, however. I can’t publish every little piece online, can I?

Where do I go from here?

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Inspire. December.

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For nothing will be impossible with G-d

Luke 1:37

It’s been a rough one, and so it’s been a little rough getting to the inspiration portion of our post, but we will get there. I have been enjoying the little things of Advent: the readings, the faith enrichment I’ve been attending, the multicultural program on holiday lights, a workshop on the Redemption of Scrooge which links into our own priorities for this holiday season.

I’m also seeing how close G-d is to the surface of my life. In recent years, I have truly felt His presence, but the number of actions that had to take place recently really shouted out loud that G-d is everywhere. I believe that, and have always believed that in my heart, but to see it in tangible action can be overwhelming and the gratitude for that is at play and it sings out and amazes me.

Despite only recently finding Jesus Christ, I’ve always been a religious person in my own way, teaching my family our traditions, lighting candles at Chanukah, eating matzoh at Passover, fasting at Yom Kippur, but in finding Jesus, I have also found other ways to see G-d’s presence that I wasn’t always fully aware of.

Some back-story. On the home page is a personal update that included my falling down the stairs. I have been healing, slowly but surely, and I haven’t been able to drive. I’ve only just started driving locally. My husband has been alternating between vehicles depending on which car has more gas, where it’s going, or just arbitrarily choosing which car to take. He picked up my daughter and her friend from work the week of Thanksgiving, and was waiting in traffic, completely stopped with his turn signal on, when a pickup truck slammed into the back of the car. At the last minute, the pickup driver realized he was too close and moved to the right, trying to avoid us, but hit our car on the rear right side rather than dead on in the middle of the trunk. I think this caused more damage than it would have the other way.

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Because of the holiday it took nearly a full week to get an estimate and find out that the insurance company would not repair it but deem it a total loss.

The idea that a car that we used multiple times daily, trying to teach two kids to drive, and get us from here to there in a town with limited public transportation isn’t worth the cost to fix it is something I will never understand. I do understand the cost-benefit analysis that goes into the decisions, but for us that car was worth much more than its monetary value and I don’t mean sentimentality, but necessity.

We were reasonably upset.

As it was before the accident, my husband was driving me (and everyone else in the household) everywhere; some days he was driving from one place to the next, never leaving the car until we were all home for dinner.

For one of the faith enrichment evenings, I got a ride from some friends of mine. (This is where G-d comes in). Afterwards, we were going back to their car when another mutual friend walked with them and was talking to them, asking if they knew anyone who was looking to buy a car – she was selling her father’s car. I immediately asked how much she was selling it for.

One week and a day later, we had a new (to us) car. We’re waiting for the insurance money to pay her for it.

Had my husband driven me, I would not have known about the car.

Had another friend driven me (as was the plan), I would not have known about the car.

Had the woman been parked in a different area of the parking lot, I would not have known about the car.

For me to be in the back seat of my friends’ car when this woman told them about her father’s car, and them just hearing about our car accident (and that we only found out that day it would be totaled) was nothing short of a miracle.

It was G-d’s hand in everything, and sometimes we stay aware of His influence just enough to recognize it and jump on it, and of course, when something like this happens, proclaim it.

Have a blessed finish to your Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Advent: First Sunday

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The theme and, I suppose the objective also, of Advent is waiting in joyful hope. This is often the titles of books marketed to Catholics for their Advent reading. And that is really what it is. Becoming Catholic taught me that the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day, and the season of Advent is a special time in its own right. Last year, I was given a set of four candles for my Advent wreath and this year I have coupled those candles with my daily reflection book, my daily readings, and beginning on Tuesday, the Novena of the Immaculate Conception. However, this Advent, while I am in joyful hope and I am waiting for the birth of Christ, I am also struggling with parts of my faith and parts of my life.

I’ve spent this entire month writing for Nanowrimo, just stream of consciousing my way through my book about my travels to Wales, and I’ve made great progress. I am very pleased. I have almost reached the 50,000 word goal and I anticipate that I will complete it before the 30th.

Nanowrimo Kick-Off at the Library.
(c)2022

My personal update on the Home page explained my accident, and I believe I am in the must get worse before it gets better stage of recovery. My ankle is much better, and I am driving a little, but not far, staying in our small town when I am able. My husband has been doing everything. While I can cook, I can’t do any lifting and standing for a long period of time is difficult. Thanksgiving actually was the least stressful I have ever had. I gave a lot of directions and stirred one dish and added marshmallows to another on my own, but I had to rely on everyone else to do the heavy lifting. There were hardly any of the usual arguments, we put the turkey in the oven around 10:30am, and then everyone was free until about 4:30 when the sides would need to be prepared. I couldn’t believe how well it went.

I was even able to go to church for Thanksgiving mass. I wasn’t sure how it would go; it’s been just over a year since we lost our priest, and while our new priest is a joy, I do not like change. I wondered if we’d keep the traditions that we’ve had, that I’ve gotten used to over the last few years, and I was happy to see that most traditions held.

Our church gives all the parishioners a loaf of bread and a short prayer for our Thanksgiving table. It is one of the things I love about our church – those seemingly little things that are so personal.

Right before Thanksgiving, my husband was driving my daughter home from work when they were rear-ended. Hard. No one was hurt, PBTG, but because of the holiday we won’t know about the car until tomorrow or Tuesday. It needed to be towed from the accident. This is a struggle, and a sadness, and it is hard to get past the awfulness of possibly losing the car, something that was so important to our family. Of course, we are so relieved and grateful that no one was hurt, and it was only materials that may be lost.

Last weekend, I returned from my annual retreat. The theme was Change. And I have gone through so many changes, and many more continue to happen, whether I like it or not. I had to laugh when I found out the theme. I discovered it soon after my first reconciliation with our new priest, and after giving him the litany of things that are bothering me, and frustrating me, he commented, “Boy, you’re going through a lot of changes.” Yes. Yes, I am! In addition to the new priest, my therapist is retiring (soon!) among other things.

And I shouldn’t forget the good changes. I taught for the first time in a long time. This was for adults and it was a writing class. Next semester, I’m teaching two, so that is both exciting and terrifying. This one went well (I think), and I hope the next ones go as well and better (crosses fingers). As with all teachers, I spent more than I made, but such is the life of the classroom. I’ll hope to downsize my affinity (obsession) with handouts and maybe lower my overhead.

I’m hoping that with this Advent, I can slow down. I can focus. I can focus on my faith, and also on how I’m approaching the things in my life. It is a good time to reevaluate and reassess and wonder about the changes that will inevitably be coming, whether I like it or not.

Through it all, I’m trying to keep my perspective and my faith. This is the first day of the Advent journey which will ultimately end with the Birth of Christ. But of course, that is only the beginning, isn’t it?

Some photos that I wanted to share: The first two are works-in-progress sketches on I did on my retreat from things that I saw around me in the dining and the conference rooms. The third photo is the statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward outside the library where the Nanowrimo Kick-Off was held on November 1st. I was also there when they dedicated the statue. I love history.

Statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward.
(c)2022

One Year

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(c)2022

I read this quote attributed to St. Jerome awhile ago, and since my priest was also a Jerome, I recognized him in this quote. Do your best. Be your best. I always wanted to do my best for Father Jerry; not to impress him or for accolades but because he made you want to be a better person. There is no perfection , but I am definitely a better person because of my friendship and faith journey with Father Jerry.

Last week was the first anniversary of his unexpected death. So many who were close to him are still mourning; I miss him every day. That’s not to say our new pastor isn’t wonderful and special in his own ways, but I’ve said many times in the past year, and I’ll continue to say it, but I would not be here today if not for Father Jerry. He guided me, not only through my faith, but also showing me a different focus, a different way of being, a gentler, more compassionate, more giving way of being.

He was a gentle soul, gently guiding you, not always where you wanted to be, not even where he wanted you to be, but to where you needed to be.

He accepted my silly questions and loved my family even though they didn’t come to church. The last time I saw him he had just celebrated mass and was rushing from one thing to the next – the busyness was written on his face, and still he took time for me, he sat me in the sacristy and heard my confession. I didn’t want to leave on vacation without reconciliation.

His memorial garden is complete and it was blessed and dedicated on his anniversary. It was moving and the day was beautiful. The design of the garden is extraordinary in my opinion. It was put in an area where Mary was already standing. I often sit by Mary’s statue and pray and look to her for guidance, so the space is a familiar one. The garden designer laid out five separate gardens so that when you walk it, beginning at Mary and following the stepping stones you can pray the rosary; one decade in each garden space.

Father Jerry had a secret garden in the back of the rectory. A place where he could sit with his dog, Grace, and spend time with the Master Gardener. He shared it with us during the pandemic through videos and a newspaper story. I think the idea of a memorial garden was a natural one, and a way to share his secret garden more permanently with those of us who loved him, and miss him, as well as those who will come later to worship at our parish.

Earlier in the week, I had seen the new sign, and then I sat in my car for a bit, reading through a paper on moving forward in grief. As I was reading, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a shadow moving just in and out of my peripheral vision around my car, but every time I looked directly at where I thought I saw the figure, there was no one there. This went on for a few minutes, until I finally just rolled my eyes, and thought, Father Jerry?

It was gone after that moment.

The Garden of Grace.
(c)2022

World Photography Day

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I have always loved taking photos. It took me quite some time to switch from film to digital, and more recently have I forgone using an actual camera for my cell phone. As the online world is more interactive and visual I try to take photos to accompany my writings. I think it adds to the layers of my writing life as well as much of my spiritual life. In looking for photos to include on this day, I did some googling and research into photography. Living in New York, I’m partial to Kodak and the Eastman-Kodak company, not to mention their connection to Paul McCartney and his family.

In reading up on National Photography Day from the National Day website, I was reminded of a postcard that I carried with me for the longest time. It is one of the few pieces of artwork that I recognize immediately and draws me into the black and white mysteries of the art world as well as a bygone past and of course the romanticism of Paris.

The Kiss by Robert Doisneau

Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, photographed by Robert Doisneau. Fair Use. (c)2022

There is so much going on that it inspired me throughout high school and college in creating characters, writing their stories, and including myself in the background of the photo, perhaps in the lobby of the Hotel de Ville.

A picture is worth a thousand words as the saying goes, and in many cases more than a thousand words in descriptions, feelings, dreams, and spirit. Although not all of them need a caption; the picture is often enough. Here are a few of my own:

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Bad Poetry Day

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I don’t know who decides these things, but today is bad poetry day. I am not a great poet, but sometimes I try. Below the cut is some artwork with a haiku that I did for last year’s GISH. Tokitae is a whale at the Miami Aquarium who was taken from her pod decades ago. She still sings and recognizes the songs of her pod. I believe she has since been returned to her natural habitat.

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Be Well – Word Art

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Today is my priest’s first birthday anniversary after his recent death in the fall. This combination of phrases is something he always signed at the end of his weekly parish bulletin letter. I have been wanting to do an art piece related to it for awhile. This simple one came to me as I was thinking about my friend and praying for his intercession. He is still dearly missed.

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My Patron, St. Elen

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Today is the feast day of my personal saint, the one I chose for my confirmation, St. Elen of Caernarfon. She and her homeland has touched me in many ways, and I was privileged a few years ago to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in the small town of Dolwyddelan in North Wales. She is the patron of traveling and travelers and ironically, when I visited the town of Dolwyddelan and the Castle there, I was walking distance (even for me) from my future saint’s holy well. There are so many connections that I shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

St. Elen’s Well. Dolwyddelan. (c)2022
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Inspire. May.

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I know we’re a little late with our inspiration, but May has been both inspiriing and challenging. When I decided to share my inspiration received from St. Hildegard of Bingen, I needed some quotes. Then I went to a workshop about her. Then I thought I’d add a picture, and here we are.

Friday Food will continue to be delayed but I expect it to be published within the next seven days, despite the end of May creeping upon us.

“To sense each creature singing the hymn of existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.”

Pope Francis, Laudato Si

“Humanity: take a good look at yourself. Inside, you have heaven and earth and all of creation. You are a world. Everything is hidden within.”

St. Hildegard of Bingen

Last week I had the privilege of attending the first of three explorations of Catholic mystics, Hildegard of Bingen; the other two are St. Catherine D’Ricci and St. Julian of Norwich. I have long been intrigued by St. Hildegard, both because of her strong personality at a time when that was frowned upon in women as well as her body of work in a plethora of fields.

“We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.”

St. Hildegard

Her words from the 16th century are equally true today for us as they were then; perhaps moreso. Her words of advice remain a strong reminder that we remain brave and strong, and in control.

“Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.”

St. Hildegard
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