National Train Day


Yesterday was National Train Day. This was a holiday created by Amtrak in 2008. Held on the Saturday. nearest May 10th it was a way for Amtrak to show the benefits of railway travel. May 10th was chosen as it’s the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

Growing up in Queens and Long Island, we traveled by subway on school trips and the LIRR on visits to NYC, especially during the Christmas season. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s kind of an amazing time to be in NYC. Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Macy’s window displays; so much and so beautiful. It’s the perfect complement to the winter wonderland on a greeting card.

I’ve traveled by commuter rails on various vacations. We’ve stayed on the outskirts and taken public transit into the cities of Toronto, Boston, Washington, DC, and of course, NYC. Those trains are a great convenience, and a great value as well.

As a kid, my family took us to Strasburg, PA to ride the railroad through Amish country. When my kids were young, we took them there also. They loved the trains. I think all kids do. My kids, especially my two boys, were big on the Thomas trains. we had a pretty large set when they were younger.

A few years ago, I took my first long distance train trip from my home in upstate New York to Williamsburg, VA. it was a little nerve-wracking with the packing, the tickets, the layover in Penn Station and all that on top of my regular anxiety. I thought it would be the same as air travel, and I packed similarly with the clear plastic bags, one personal bag, small bottles of liquids, but it was actually very different.

The one thing I was told by the friend I was visiting was to only bring what you can carry yourself. If it’s too heavy or awkward to get in and out of the car at the train station, then it’s too heavy or awkward to bring with you. you have to be able to life your bag over your head and put it in the luggage rack. There was a lower section, but you had to be one of the first onboard to git your bag in there.

One of the most noticeable differences on the train was the bigger seat and huge (by comparison) amount of leg room. The bathrooms were also larger, and didn’t make me feel self-conscious about accidentally knocking the door open while I was using it.

The windows are large enough to see the scenery. My trip seemed to follow the coast line. There was a lot of water on the side until we got past Richmond, and then it filled in with trees and greenery. At one point, we paused in a town where I think we were blocking traffic. You could see the houses lining the street of this quaint, southern village.

From my seat, I could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.

It was so much less stressful than flying. It was almost like driving except I could sleep part of the way. It was quiet for the most part. Sometimes, you could eavesdrop on someone’s conversation and that was entertainment enough. There was working WiFi so I was pretty well set, not to mention my journal writing and note-taking for future trips as well as for travel posts. Like this one.

On a recent retreat that I put together for myself, I started my week at our local Amtrak station. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I had my messenger bag, my kindle, my Father James Martin Together on Retreat book, and my camera. It gave me the illusion of traveling without actually leaving town. It was symbolic for the start of my do-it-myself retreat. I think I will use that technique again this year when the time comes for me to look inward.

The trains give me that solitude without being alone; without the loneliness or aloneness. It’s the opportunity to be by yourself without being by yourself. It’s like a nightlight in a darkened room. It’s a candle in the night.

And with that last cliche, the last train has left the station. Tell me your train stories in the comments below.

Luke 5:1-11


This is the second prayer used by James Martin’s Together on Retreat. I read and meditated on this at the St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s National Shrine, a beautiful place to sit and pray and meditate, even in the rain. Maybe especially in the rain. 😉


Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Martin, James (2013-02-19). Together on Retreat (Enhanced Edition): Meeting Jesus in Prayer (Kindle Locations 644-650). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


Mark 1:16-20


This was the first prayer used by James Martin’s Together on Retreat. I read and meditated on this at the train station. Not quite the silent meditation that Father Martin might have hoped, but I’ve found the spiritual in the oddest of places. My reflections on his chosen prayers (and my own choices) won’t be posted yet. They have yet to be written.


As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Martin, James (2013-02-19). Together on Retreat (Enhanced Edition): Meeting Jesus in Prayer (Kindle Locations 459-463). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

October Recharge, 2014


When my writer’s conference up and left to parts unaffordable, I tried to set up my own writer’s retreats; a solid week to concentrate on me as the writer with minimal upheaval to my family and my pocketbook. I would be home in the morning to send the kids to school, and then after Mass, I’d spend the day out, writing, visiting places I didn’t typically get to visit, taking photographs and making plans.

And, of course, writing.

It was good for my depression, and good for my soul, and fortunately, it didn’t upset the household balance too much.

Oftentimes, it reminded me of my solo trip to Wales that was a godsend and a challenge and spiritual and so many other things that five years later, I still write about the wonder of it all; about the aloneness but the comfort in that aloneness; that sense I had of self, and the want to do it all again.

Yes, even the driving on the wrong side of the road, which is less a string of expletives and more a warm musing of my adventures.

The Spring Enrichment offered by our Diocese fed my soul in a similar way, although I’m not sure I would call that a retreat per se. Some parts of it were certainly that positive aloneness, time to meditate, but other portions were too exhilarating; too mind racing to be mistaken for a private retreat. It was less solitary, but it also led me out of my comfort zone in several other ways:  asking questions, introducing myself to speakers and strangers alike, getting involved in conversations, offering my opinions. I was comfortable enough to be me for a little while.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a spiritual retreat. I hadn’t ever gone on one before; everything there was new to me. This was a weekend of prayer and artistry, no artistic talent needed. A retreat director, artist Brother Mickey McGrath guided us through his five sessions giving our creativity an outlet through prayer and bringing us closer to G-d, whether or not we were drawing religious symbols or objects from nature, like flowers and leaves. Except for our private rooms, we shared classes, prayer and group meals.

For this retreat, I’d need drawing paper and colored pencils and as I mentioned I’d have my own room. It was very exciting, and it was a little intimidating, and very much out of my comfort zone, but for the most part, I was looking forward to it.

All of it.

The packing, the unpacking, the communal bathroom down the hall, meeting strangers, all here for our own reasons seeking our own spiritual fortunes; the quiet, the nature, the prayer, the wonder of something new and old at the same time, all taking place in G-d’s presence.

Typically, I’m not much for being alone, but this was different.  For starters, I loved my room. A bed, a chair, a desk. It sounds spartan, but it was homey. There was a ceiling fan and a big window next to the bed. I almost didn’t want to leave the room. The wifi didn’t reach the room and cell service was spotty, but that was a good thing. It gave me the quiet space to meditate, to think, to write.


It was two and a half days of good food, good company, and good meditating time. I was surprised by my drawings. I enjoyed doing the mandalas. I also think I did pretty well; my drawings came out better than I expected since I’m not much of an artist. I drew my favorite flower – the daffodil. I drew the triquetra that’s been so important to me lately.

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Once I got home, I started drawing small circular badges to use on my website. It made me feel like I’ve accomplished something artistically. I wasn’t overly critical of myself as I usually had a tendency to be.

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I prayed. We had prayer services every day, and Mass on Saturday night plus I sat in the courtyard with my journal and prayed the rosary. It was the first time I felt connected to the rosary in a meaningful way, and it started me praying with it a little more regularly once the retreat was over.

This is my introduction to this week’s retreat. I’m doing something a little bit unlike what I’ve done before on my other ‘retreats’.

I’ve done the writing retreat and now I’ve done the spiritual retreat. Last year, I was fortunate enough to travel to Williamsburg, a gift from my best friend, which was a kind of retreat in itself.

However, beginning tomorrow (maybe even parts of today), I’m doing both, maybe more. If I can plan it out and prepare my family, I should be able to recharge my batteries on so many levels before the holidays surprise us like they do every year.

For regular readers here, I have had the new weekly format in place for two weeks now, and it seems that people like it. I do. I’m very comfortable with it, and since my family is always taking my computer, I’ve even made sure that I can post the first couple of days each week from my Kindle, my very favorite piece of technology that I own.

This week it’s hard to say if my posts will be feast or famine.

I do have plans, reflections I want to write, places I want to pray, thoughts and scripture that I want to meditate on, continuing my creative recovery through The Artist’s Way book, ending next Saturday with a full day creative retreat at a nearby Dominican Retreat Center.

I’m also using Fr. James Martin’s book, Together on Retreat as the basis for the spiritual guide for me. Having just finished his recent book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, I love his tone, his style of writing and his insights which more often than not match my own. Where we diverge, he offers questions for my own meditations. I’m looking forward to sharing my week with you.

There are so many things flying around in my head that I’m hoping to and trying to set them up in their own homes, rooms if you will, and organize them into manageable chunks.

As anxious as I am for this weekend and succeeding at my retreat, I’m also very excited.

My primary theme is to center myself spiritually through prayer and writing. Writing is my lifeblood. It is the second point of my triquetra.

My secondary theme is taking care of myself.

Focusing on me, pulling my creativity along, seeking past my comfort zone, and finding me because I’m still lost, but also combining all the positives as coping and managing tools, mechanisms for living with my depression and anxiety and letting me be me, and then be able to introduce myself to the people around me.