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Blog 2/15/2013

Ash Wednesday, St. Valentine’s Day, and the aftermath of a  blizzard all rolled in one….
Today is St. Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday was yesterday, and all around New England we are still cleaning up from the Blizzard of 2013 or Snow Storm Nemo” as it got dubbed somewhere along the line.  More snow fell last night.  We were fortunate in that we lost power only a few times for short intervals; many of our neighbors were out of power for days.  We did loose phone and internet and TV, but it came with a quieter stillness and was in many ways a welcome respite.  Everything was blanketed in white.  I cancelled my classes on Friday, but not before I sent my students their extra weekend assignment: a favorite cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes.  The dialogue went something like this:
                                Calvin: Wow, it really snowed last night!  Isn’t it wonderful?
                                Hobbes: Everything familiar has disappeared!  The world looks brand new!
                                Calvin: A new year…a fresh clean start!
                                Hobbes: It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!
                                Calvin: A day full of possibilities!
                                Calvin: It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…
                                Calvin & Hobbes: …Let’s go exploring!
Calvin and Hobbes044
My students at first thought they were going to have extra work for the weekend, but when they read it,  they realized it was just permission to have fun with the fluffy white stuff, and like many 18-19-20 year olds, they did indeed have fun the next few days with making snowmen, having snow ball fights, building forts, going sledding,  etc.  On Saturday morning, the world did look magical with its blanket of white, but it was the calm after the storm.  We had had very high winds the night before, and everyone was surveying the damage that morning with all the trees and on what they may have fallen.  As I went to bed the night before, I heard this tremendous “crack!” right outside my window and jumped up.  Luckily, it was only a huge branch that broke off one of the trees.  Our bedroom is right beneath a substantial pine grove.  
snow fence
If any of those trees were to fall on our roof, we probably would never have known what hit us.  Much of the damage came overnight.  Saturday, it continued to snow until almost noon.  Last count, we were up to 18 inches, but one of my daughters, who lives farther west, chalked up 27.5 inches of the fluffy white stuff.  Many people lost power, and Sunday, there was no power in the church either, so Mass was a little like the ol’ days: no lights, no organ, seeing each other’s breath as we spoke and sang, etc.  It was still good as we offered praise and prayed for those less fortunate than we.  For some, trees crashed on rooftops and people were facing substantial damage; we later learned that fourteen people actually died from the storm, some from carbon monoxide.  May God welcome them to paradise and comfort their families and all who are in need of assistance even now, days later.  
In the midst of all this, Mardi Gras was getting underway and Lent was beginning to start.  Our parish had a mini-Mardi Gras, which is one of those silly holidays where everyone dresses up with beads and masks and feathers or purple, gold and green and listens to some good New Orleans jazz.  We had pastries and punch and I learned from some that on “Shrove Tuesday” in their families and culture, that day was not only for partying, but for getting ready for Lent.  The Portuguese, for instance, try to use up all their oil and eggs before Lent starts, so they often make malasadas (yummy large deep fried donuts) the day before Ash Wednesday.  
raised beds
A number of years ago, I spent Shrove Tuesday in Dachau, Germany, staying with some Carmelite sisters while doing some research.  It was right around the time of “Carnival,” which is their term for Shrove Tuesday.  Food was a little more festive, but it was also signaling a more serious season was fast approaching.   Lent is that wonderful opportunity to take stock of where we are with God.  There are all kinds of extra opportunities at church for six week courses, or retreat experiences, or Stations of the Cross, or even ecumenical Scripture study services with simple fare of soup and bread.  Guidelines from St. Therese of Lisieux (Catholic Update, February, 2013) suggest we reflect on God’s mercy as we begin Lent this year.  We have so much for which to be thankful.  
bench in snow
Today, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and this year, St. Valentine’s Day as well, St. Therese suggests we consider “love”.  Love attracts love, and Therese tells us she is able to love only because Jesus has first loved her.  Another one of those silly holidays, this one is when we remember those we love.  We send flowers and chocolates and cards to others and ask: “Will you be my Valentine?”  Husbands and wives exchange Valentine’s, but so do school children and casual friends.  It’s just a fun holiday to say: “I like you, you are my friend, I choose you to be my friend.”  It’s frivolous, but a good reminder that we are called to care for others, and share friendship and love.  Aristotle thinks friendship is one of the highest gifts we can bestow, especially if we choose friends who are also striving for the virtuous path.
The animals were a bit shell-shocked with all the snow.  The goats stayed indoors for three days before venturing out into the “white stuff,” but Sophie, our Great Pyrenees, was in heaven!  She rolled all over in the stuff!  The chickens were not sure what to make of it, but were glad they were in their winter coop and not fending for themselves.  We’re up to four eggs a day now, since the days are getting longer, too.  Our inside dogs are wimps in the snow, though Joey does like to romp around once he figures it out. 
So, this mid-February is getting off to a bumpy start…..and even after the pesky ol’ woodchuck did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring (I think he lied).  The snow storm is over, the roads are clear, though the snowbanks are still tremendous, most people now have their power back, Lent has started, and the day of hearts and flowers has arrived.  Spring can’t be far away…..

Blog 1/31/2013

January can be a hard month on seniors…..
January is notoriously a quiet, cold, gray month, sometimes with a few “white days” thrown in for good measure, and most of us, if we don’t have to, don’t go out as much as we might in the summer months.  Folks tend to “hunker down” and read a good book, or watch more TV, or start a new indoor project or hobby during January.  Bill has decided to take a few pottery lessons this January, to see if he likes it; it’s something he’s always wanted to try.  Funny thing, so did one of my colleagues at B.C.  They’re both making spoon rests!  Pottery making seems to be a good winter pastime.  
grey January
 There are those among us, however, that love the cold and every little snowflake and are out as much as possible with skis and sleds and snowshoes, but I think they/we are a minority.  It seems as though every year though, this winter month, right after the holidays, claims a few of our senior friends.  There is more pneumonia and flu and sickness that some of our older friends cannot shake off one more time.  And “oldness” is getting more and more relative, since Bill turned 70 this month.  Already, as this month draws to a close, we have heard of five people who have gone home to God.  Bill worked with a wonderful dentist, who practiced dentistry until just a couple years ago.  He decided at age 93, he ought to consider retirement.  Dr. John went home to God at age 95 this month.  He was the quintessential gentleman’s gentleman, and lived a very full life.  When I returned to school at B.C. this month, I learned that my officemate lost his mother-in-law this month and two other colleagues lost their mother.  And last week, our parish secretary succumbed to the ravages of chemo-therapy and also went home to God.  She was a giant among woman, even though her stature was probably less than five feet.  She was one of the kindest, most generous women I have ever met and knew exactly how to make people feel welcome.  She will be missed.  At each funeral, we seem to hear the comforting words of a loving God, ‘Welcome home, O good and faithful servant’.   
snowy goat shed
     Last month, I was putting together a booklet for Christmas Carols and included a brief history of each carol.  What struck me after a while was that each composer was a wonderful, faith-filled Christian man, many Christian ministers or priests, who were trying to articulate part of the mysteries of the Incarnation through music.  But what also struck me was each of them was dead.  I kept listing date of birth and date of death.  They were no longer with us.  They composed in the 17th century or the 15th century, or some even as far back as the Middle Ages, but they were all gone.  We were still singing “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger,” but their authors went home to God a long time ago.  Last year, two of my theologian friends also passed away and went home to God, with lifetimes of accrued knowledge with them, and I began to think about the finite character of our life here on earth.  
first snow.resized350
Bill and I are entering into our senior years, and we are beginning to see each day on earth as a blessing.  Each day is pure gift.  And many of our friends are paving the way for us to follow them to paradise.   Losing friends is also a powerful lesson on the communion of saints.  All the wonderful faith-filled people we have known and some we have only learned about through their writings or hymns are praising God each day in heaven.  It is a comfort when we sing each funeral: 
May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.
Whoever believes in me, even though that person die, shall live.
I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

Blog 1/13/2013

MV goes tropical? or the tropics come to MV???                    
     As we moved from Epiphany to Theophany, or the Baptism of Our Lord, the Christmas season was settling in.  (Theophany is another title given to the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, since the word “theophany” means an intense experience of the Holy One, and in the midst of Jesus’ baptism, the entire Trinity is present as Jesus begins his public life).  Often, during this week, we could reflect on the mysteries of the Incarnation and try to extend as best we could the beauty and wonder and peace and time with family that most folks associate with the Christmas season, even if stores were already putting out Valentine merchandise on December 26th.  Here, at MV, we would ordinarily start putting Christmas decorations away, taking the ornaments off the tree, and pulling  the tree outdoors and tie it to a fencepost with a few pine cones dipped in peanut butter and bird seeds for the birds to enjoy until spring.  Or, we could try pulling it into the goat yard to let the goats have a treat with its greenery in a world now bare of fresh grass.  
ocean view.resized
This year, though, we put off taking down the Christmas tree and decided before school picked up again, we would seek a little respite or refreshment of spirit and fly down to Jamaica for a week with friends to simply wiggle our toes in the sand, feel the warm ocean breezes, swim in a warm ocean and relax.  That may not sound like it goes with the lifestyle of organic gardening and farming, but if one thinks it through, it actually does.  Every week, God gives us the gift of Sabbath for rest and refreshment and “to find delight in the Lord” as Aquinas would say, and as far back as the ancient Israelites and Church Fathers, Jubilee years were put in place and observed.  Those years were meant to step back and assess where one was, to level the playing field a bit by paying back debts and helping the poor, and to let the fields lie fallow for a year.  You can talk with any farmer about the importance of rotating crops or the benefits of giving the fields a rest.  It allows them the time to restore their nutrients.
yellow spiked flowers.resized
 The world could use some time-off to regroup today.  So could we.  So, we stepped back from the daily routines of feeding and watering the goats, chickens and dogs (and enlisted friends and neighbors and dog kennels to take our place for a week) and may have done double-time before we left to arrange all that and get classes prepared for when we would return, to relax and to regroup and to let others pamper us.  We dug out our shorts and swimsuits, and traveled with good friends and while there, met some new friends from Winnipeg, Canada, from England and Ireland, and Germany, several from Wisconsin and a host of wonderful people from Jamaica.   We enjoyed good food and drink and dance and music.  We laughed more, especially at ourselves.  
Bill sandals.resized
(See what happens when one packs in a hurry and throws two right sandals in the bag; Bill started a new island trend!)  We went to bed later than usual and “slept in” if we felt like it in the morning.  One couple from Canada shared their experiences of growing a community garden on their church premises since they had the room on the property and there was a need.  Another Wisconsin farmer, shared the challenges of managing over 400 acres and growing three crops, and a gentlewoman farmer on the plane ride home shared her love of farming when she described growing “grasses” in South Carolina several months of the year (that later are bundled into hay for animals).  
In the hotel room, in a magazine describing Jamaica’s endeavors, I learned of the country’s new effort to grow organic produce and two different projects of co-op farming to assist the local people become more sustainable.  So many possibilities…..for networking…..
red flower.resized
     This morning, however, we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord, or the Theophany, and we are now back home.  The Christmas season has officially come to an end for one more year, and as our pastor said this morning we are now embarking on the ordinary time once again, when Jesus walked in solidarity with his people, when he allowed himself to be baptized when he had no sin, when he did everything human when he had no need, all for the love of us.  We are more rested and ready to return to the “fields of everyday life”.  What a wonderful way to begin a New Year!

Blog 12/31/2012

Today, Christ is born…..                                                         
Christmas has come!  Once again we have begun to celebrate the wonderful feast of the Incarnation.  I love the passage from Isaiah that has been set to music in Handel’s “Messiah”:
       For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
       Upon his shoulder dominion rests.
       They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
       Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
       His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.
                                                         Isaiah 9:5-6
It is such a blessing to meditate on each of these titles.  They give us little glimpses into the wonderful majesty of a God who loves us, who has come to save us from our sins and failings and short-comings.  
I say, we have begun to celebrate, since Christmas Eve is really the beginning of the Christmas season and those twelve days of Christmas actually extend to the traditional feast of the Epiphany, or January 6th.  The media of our country, unfortunately, would like us to think the Christmas season starts mid-October and is over as soon as Dec. 26th arrives.  It takes a concerted effort to really immerse oneself in the mysteries of the Incarnation when the stores are already putting up Valentine’s candy on December 26th.  Here, at MV, however, we are enjoying the blessings of family and friends.  Yesterday, we celebrated the beautiful feast of the Holy Family, and the Christmas season is so much about giving thanks and celebrating the gift of families for us.  One of our daughters, Erin, and her husband and two little boys, arrived on the 26th more or less through a snow storm.  They got as far as Waterbury, CT before they had to stop for a hotel since the snow was so blinding.  Since then, though, we have gotten to play with and delight in 2–year old Colin and 7 month old Trevor as well as our daughter and her husband.  Our children are all grown, so it requires some adjusting as far as holidays.  We used to do a huge Polish Christmas Eve dinner, followed by midnight Mass, followed by opening gifts in the morning with pastries and mimosas, followed by morning Mass for those who didn’t make Midnight’s and then Christmas dinner.  When one’s children marry, however, they bring a whole other family into the picture, who also wants them to spend Christmas with them.  So we share.  We still do the Christmas Eve dinner, only it seems to start a little earlier and folks are now bringing parts of the dinner, too.  The sign on the family room that used to say, “absolutely no opening gifts until 7 a.m.”(when Mom and Dad didn’t get to bed until 3 a.m. after wrapping that last gift or putting that last
Christmas gifts.resizedtoy together) is no longer there, and we wait until the Christmas day folks arrive for brunch before opening gifts.  After brunch, we head out to another daughter’s home to see what Santa has brought their five and eight year olds (as well as their Mom and Dad).  Two days after Christmas this year, we headed out to our son’s home to see what Santa had brought their family, and on New Year’s Day, we are scheduled to go to another daughter’s home for traditional French meat pies.   America is that great melting pot and our family is part of that pot.  My roots are from Ireland and Poland; Bill’s are from England and France and Canada; three of our children are full Koreans and one of our son-in-laws is Philippine.  And we all love to cook and eat and share terrific recipes!
Gift–giving at Christmas stems from the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child, so we all take the time to shop and/or make gifts for each other to tell each other how much we mean to one another.   I think the home-made ones are often the best.  The dogs and the goats get little extras here on Christmas morning as well.  The best gift this season is the gift of the Christ child from a loving God, a God brimming with passion, who loves his people so much he entrusts his only begotten Son to them.  One of my friends writes a poem each Christmas in his Christmas card and this year he wrote it from the perspective of the angels, calling it “An Angel’s Lament”.  The angels sounded somewhat jealous of us humans who have knees to bend, who can feel a child growing in one’s womb, who can feel surging joy in one’s heart, who can use lips to say “I love you” and ears to hear those words, who have bodies similar to that of the Christ child, a body that can really see, hear, feel and touch.   Sometimes we overlook what we already have.  We have been created in God’s image and likeness.  What a wonderful time to year to remember that!
As we approach a new year dawning, another friend shared a “youtube” link with us about letting go of the old year and preparing for the new:
          "The new year lies before you like a spotless track of snow.....
          Be careful how you tread on it, for every mark will show."
It is an awesome meditation!
From all of us at MV to all of you, we would like to wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Blog 12/20/2012

Christmas is drawing near….the “O” antiphons are here….
I know we are getting closer to Christmas when the liturgical Office of the day, particularly Vespers, begins to intone the “O” antiphons.  Starting on December 17th, the Office directs us to the many wonderful names of our Messiah, such as “O Wisdom,” “O Adonai (LORD),” “O Root of Jesse,” “O Key of David,” “O Dayspring,” “O King,” and “O Emmanuel”.  
Dec. 17: O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most high, and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.  Come, and teach us the way of prudence.
Each of the “O” antiphons contains one or more Hebrew Testament types or figures and each reference has a message for what was once called the “new dispensation of grace”.  Each is pointing to Jesus as Messiah in a particular way.  Wrapped around Mary’s Magnificant, each antiphon each evening signals us that the Christmas season will soon be upon us.  Last minute ornaments are going up on the Jesse Tree and Advent calendars are getting full.    We finally got our Christmas tree yesterday here at MV (I know, we are probably the last ones in town), but we always have put decorations up bit by bit, so that hopefully, most are up when Christmas arrives.  We have yet to decorate it, but I did get the window boxes finished today, and finally sent my grades in.   Baking and cleaning and wrapping gifts can now begin in earnest.  
Dec. 18: O Adonai (God of the Covenant), and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mt. Sinai, gave him your law: Come, and with an outstretched arm, redeem us!
Jesus is a continuation of the covenant, only now it is extended to all nations.  His Sermon on the Mount will later mirror Moses’ trip to Mt. Sinai and his giving us the Beatitudes will be his expansion of those ten commandments.   We had our own “burning bush” if you will in our parish this past week.  Many of us gathered for singing Christmas carols around a bonfire!  Hot chocolate and candy cane cookies as well as real candy canes were treats for all and we had a wonderful time learning about the history of some carols and exercising our voices.  The weather was perfect and all the stars seemed to be out.  It was a wonderful way to reflect on the coming season and many are already talking about doing it again next year.
Dec. 19: O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of mankind; before you kings shall keep silence, and to you all nations shall have recourse.  Come, save us and do not delay.
The Jesse Tree in our parish is almost complete as is the Jesse Calendar.  Each of those symbols also point the way of salvation history.  The “Giving Tree,” a custom in many parishes and now I see in town halls and other places as well, have all had their tags turned in for presents and all have been delivered to the agencies that will distribute them on Christmas morning.  Now it remains a decoration of the season of giving.
Jesse Tree Calendar resized350 
Dec. 20: O Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel: You open and no man closes; You close and no man opens.  Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Last minute gift buying for that extra guest that will be here Christmas Eve, or one more choir rehearsal to polish up those last tricky notes are the order of the day now.  The Christmas crèche is going up and we’re getting ready to celebrate families coming together, or in some cases, expanding.  Christmas wishes are coming in the mail every day now in the form of cards and pictures and we recently learned that one of our cousins, after several years of marriage, will be expecting their first baby next spring.  What a blessing! 
Dec. 21: O Dayspring, O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Furniture gets rearranged at Christmas time.  Just getting that tree in the house means juggling couches and chairs.  Sleep-over guests means getting bedding ready and making sure most of the towels are clean.  Our rooster is merrily cock-a-doodle-dooing each morning to let us know the sun is once more up, though the days are getting shorter now.  One of our outdoor lights is on a timer that goes on as dusk and stays on for six hours.  Today is raining and it is 8:30 in the morning, but that little tree on the north side of the house is all lit up.  Sometimes it is good to have more light.  It points us toward the One who lights up our lives. 
Dec. 22: O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, You are the cornerstone that binds two peoples into one: come, and save the poor man whom You fashioned out of clay.
Several Bible passages site the Messiah as cornerstone, Is. 28:16 for instance: “Behold, I will lay a stone at the foundation of Sion, a tested stone, a cornerstone precious and firmly set; if one believes, he will not be shaken.”  Here at MV, we have had a rainy fall and early winter.  A good section of the goat yard is all mud, so much so that when you open some of the gates you sink in the mud and there’s not much you can do about it.  The goats don’t seem to like it either.  We have a few logs in the yards that block Sophie from crawling under gates and they are helpful to stand on a bit, but it would be so great if there was a cornerstone, or several cornerstones upon which one could stand firm.  That’s what cornerstones do, I think.  They help us stand firm.  Messiah has come to help not only the chosen people, but now all nations, stand firm in our faith. 
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God!  
The poinsettias are coming out.  Last minute wrapping is beginning.  One more batch of Christmas cookies is being made, as is the stuffed cabbage for our traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, and that favorite Danish Christmas bread for Christmas breakfast.  Tablecloths and aprons are being ironed (sorry, I’m a bit old fashioned here) for all the festivities that will commence very soon.  Throughout all of Advent, we have sung, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” each week.   Now it is time to sing “Somebody Build a Manger” for the day is fast approaching!  Come, Lord Jesus!