Monday, March 31, 2014

Silent Retreat

I've just returned from a beautiful retreat run by the Sisters of Life at their retreat house in Stamford, Connecticut.  Well, they hosted it...technically I guess it was run by Father Cleveland of the Oblates of Mary in Denver, Colorado.  

It was a silent retreat which meant that there was NO TALKING from Friday evening after dinner until brunch on Sunday afternoon.  Interspersed with talks on Ignatian prayer and meditation, we participated in Mass, stations, the rosary, adoration and confession.  

The chapel was, no joke, two doors down the hall from my private room where I slept.  Saturday night we had Eucharistic Adoration all night and I was assigned 12:30 to 1:30am.  I set my alarm for 12:25 and when it rang, padded my way to the chapel in my yoga pants and fleece to spend a sweet hour alone with Jesus.  

All in all, it was a beautiful period, a temporary interlude away from my crazy life...time just to sit and pray, rest, and soak up the peace.  I had notified family and friends that I would be unavailable even by there were no disruptions from email or texting during this time.  What a beautiful experience!  To be wholly focused on our Lord, even for such a short period of time!  Perfect for Lent, when we are all focusing on retiring from the world into the desert in preparation for our Lord's passion.

I won't go into any more detail, but suffice it to say I have been blessed!  :o)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Park City, Utah

The Canyons at Park City, Utah

Or what I learned about skiing.

Skiing is one of the most beautiful sports on earth. There is no substitute for gliding through a pinewood forest amidst snow covered mountains, the pure white and dark green contrasting with a brilliant blue sky.

My first morning at the Canyons I waddled down the hall from our suite in my borrowed ski suit and socks to the Ski Valet, picked up my rental equipment and headed out the double doors to our private lift.  Accompanied by three friends I took my completely inexperienced self to the top of the hill and then managed to ski myself into a pile less than 5 seconds later.  Apparently all I remembered from my youth was snowplowing and then falling when that didn't work. 

Thankfully I was still on the trail and not half way down the steep mountainside when I fell. After realizing I completely had no idea what I was doing, off came the skis and down the mountain I slipped and slithered until I reached the bottom where all my friends were waiting, worried.  

Not even embarrassed but with complete conviction I marched by, calling as I went, "Go ski! I'm finding a ski school!"  I guess my one skiing event 18 years ago and a minor trial a year ago following a friend on a small slope in Massachusetts hadn't prepared me for the majestic mountains of Utah. (Sidenote: Just looked out the window and realized we're flying over the grand canyon...yah I took that picture...isn't it cool?).

In my determination to find help, I marched up to the first school sign I saw to beg, errr, ask for help.  They redirected me to the adult school.  I ran over, dodged inside, and with sweat dripping down my face approached the poor girl at the counter.  "I can't ski!  I need help!" The woman laughed and said if I wanted to join, there was a class that was starting now.  Handing her my credit card, having no idea the cost, I said, "Sign me up!"  Convinced from my morning experience that I couldn't ski at all I signed up for the beginner class but when I met the instructor and he found I'd had one lesson, albeit 18 years ago, he moved me up a level.  I proceeded to explain why I shouldn't be moved up for the entire gondola ride.  The second instructor patiently smiled and listened to me, then had me ski down a bunny hill and told me I was fine for her class.  From that moment on, anything Leah said I could do, I did.  By the end of the day she had me (and the 2 other people in my class) going down blue trails with ease...and what a blessing! Because for the next two days I not only skied but I loved it! I learned so much about weight and balance, turning, parallel skiing, snow, ice and slush (umm, I mean mashed potatoes)... 

So much of skiing is mental! The fear from my first ski down the mountain almost ruined my trip.  I seriously thought as I stormed toward the school, "If they can't teach me, I'm going back to the hotel and spending the rest of the weekend in front of the fire."  Instead I spent it on the slopes with my friends.  Even when we took a wrong turn and had to ski down a sheet of ice, Leah's instructions held true and I got down without mishap! 

And that fire is so much enjoyable at the end of the day when you've exhausted yourself skiing.  So what I learned: Ski School is worth every penny and then some! 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ready to eat a cracker...

I returned Monday from Park City, Utah after a fantabulous ski trip (pics and story in next blog), worked two days and then woke up this morning at 2am sick as a dog.  I am certain that I know from whom I contracted this terrible virus.  It was a 19 year old girl who came in with 12 hours of vomiting, diarrhea and severe body aches and breathed in my face when I was examining her ears and throat.  

I consciously remember holding my breath when that happened, washing my hands, and hoping that would be enough to keep from contracting the dreaded plague...and now, two days later, I can totally see why she came to the emergency department!  

Usually I don't catch things from my patients and I NEVER go in as a patient, but I have to say I was tempted about eight hours in to this bug.  Since I had nothing in the house to hydrate with besides water, and that continuously returned itself, a friend down the road dropped by with gatorade, saltines, chicken broth, ginger ale and good wishes. Yes, he and his wife saved my life.  Well minor exaggeration, but it certainly felt like it when I could finally drink and keep down the gatorade!  This evening I took a quick shower and weighed myself: no lie, I had lost 5 pounds in just one day!  Now I am contemplating eating a cracker...maybe.

One of the things I love about my Catholic friends and family is how I had so many offers of help, concern, prayers and even specific requests for people that I could offer my sufferings for.  Where else in the world or what other religion would routinely think of that? "Oh, you have unavoidable suffering?  Can you offer it for so and so?"  

Having just returned from Salt Lake City where there is a high Mormon population, it makes the dissimilarities even more striking!  Our Lord asks us to die on the cross with him and then be raised with him.  In the Mormon religion it almost seems like everyone is out for themselves and that the end is to achieve for yourself is the primary focus of living.  And honestly, what a relief to know that we're not competing and that we're not saved by our actions alone.

At my recent mission Father Duc talked about the cross section of the cross of Christ.  He explained how the vertical beam is what is bridging us to the Father and the horizontal beam is what is bridging us to each other.  What holds these two pieces together?  Our Lord, Jesus Christ, of course, hanging in the center of the cross.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don't take Lent for granted...

An excerpt from With God in Russia by Father Ciszek:

     That Lent of 1958 was my busiest ministry as a priest and the Easter Liturgy was a glorious explosion of hundreds of voices that swept me up in a joy that I had never before experienced.  The crowd was so great and the chapel so full I could hardly lift my arms to raise the Host at the consecration.  That midnight liturgy only concluded at 3AM with all greeting each other with "Kristos voskes" (Indeed He is risen) over and over into the dawn.  I had been up for forty-eight hours straight with confessions and preparations for this liturgy but I was never so happy in all my life as a priest. "Kristos voskes" I was beginning to live my dream of serving his flock in Russia.  That was the dream begun when I first heard the call from Father General's letter back in my novitiate days at Wernersville, almost thirty years ago.
     Days later while at work in the laboratory I was summoned.  The KGB wants to see you now.  A handsome KGB officer informed me: "You are to leave Norilsk in ten days. Quit your job immediately.  You are to go to Krasnoyarsk."  There was no discussion.
     I said Mass every day until I left ten days later with a plane ticket courtesy of the KGB.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Unexpected graces

Wondering if this might be a nice theme for recurrent blogs?  Unexpected graces seem to come when I need them most and expect them least!

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a beautiful young woman named Clare.  I worked for years with her mother who lost her only son two years ago in a tragic car accident.  Last year her only daughter, then 28 years old, was diagnosed with cancer.  Scarcely one year later she died, leaving a young husband behind.  Its the age that many women are bringing life into the world...but all of her doctor and hospital visits were in an effort to prolong the inevitable: death. 

Of course I cried at the funeral.  She had a beautiful smile and was so cheerful and positive, even to the end.  Her friends often found her cheering them up about her diagnosis, not the other way around.  The priest gave a beautiful homily, talking about sunrises and we can look at a picture of one and confuse it with the other (sunset up above by the way, taken in Mykonos, Greece). We all saw this girl's death as a sunset...but for a Christian it is really a sunrise: we go forth to eternal life, rising with Christ.  Father also spoke of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, the beautiful young woman and recent patron of World Youth Day who died of bone cancer.  Both Chiara and Clare mean light.

* * * * * * *

Truck getting blown over on the Hansen Bridge near Twin Falls, Idaho. (video link)

My uncle, who is also my godfather, was caught by his guardian angels yesterday.  He was driving a tractor trailer over a bridge when it blew he didn't fly off the bridge is amazing...and the fact that someone caught it on tape is crazy.  Praying that this experience brings him back to Our Lord and his church.

* * * * * * *

I'm on a Catholic Lighthouse Media kick.  I've been listening to their CDs ever since I bought my new car (my old car had a broken radio/CD player for years) and they are amazing!  Something that really struck me today was hearing Matthew Leonard say over and over (it takes a few times to pound something in my head) "Prayer is a relationship."  

It's not a job, it's not a duty, it's not something we do in order to be rewarded.  It's a relationship with God...and as such: it's not easy, it's not fast, and it's not superficial.  Can it be joyful?  Yes.  Can it be painful?  Yes.  Can it increase our love and make us grow?  Yes.  What it can't be is relegated to a little tiny part of our life.  Either we are growing closer to God and deeper in prayer or we are walking away and with it goes our prayer life...and our support...and our ability to truly love.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Paradox

Such is the rule of our warfare.  We advance by yielding; we rise by falling; we conquer by suffering; we persuade by silence; we become rich by bountifulness; we inherit the earth by meekness; we gain comfort through mourning; we earn glory by penitence and prayer.  Heaven and earth shall sooner fall than this rule be reversed; it is the law of Christ’s kingdom, and nothing can reverse it but sin.  
                                                                ~John Henry Newman

Friday, March 14, 2014

7 Quick Takes about dog bones, snow, lent, skiing, airplanes and more...

    Healthy dog bones that take longer to chew may be healthier but they do not take longer to chew.  They do, however, cost more.

    Snow in March is wrong.  If you live in New England.  And you are tired of snow.  And you don't watch the weather channel so when you wake up the day after it is 55 degrees outside to a white world and 16 degrees you walk around like a zombie quoting Narnia, "Always winter, never Christmas." (Picture taken yesterday.)

    Lent is upon us.  I linked to Keep LOVE in Lent at Catholic Bloggers Network.  Check it out...lots of neat ideas and thoughts about lent!

    I am going skiing next weekend in Utah.  Forget what I said about snow being wrong in March.  Snow in New England in March is wrong.  Snow in Utah in March is perfect.  (Sorry, Utah.)

    Because I am going to Utah by plane, I am now up to date on every missing or crashed plane since 1937.  This is because of the law of I am going on a plane so I need to know how dangerous flying is in case it crashes because knowing about how dangerous it is will keep me from crashing.  Most of my friends and family abide by this law, hence why I know about all the crashed/missing planes.

    On a more helpful note I want to share two beautiful lenten daily meditations from Father Barron and the Divine Mercy Fathers in Stockbridge.  They come right to your inbox when you subscribe and take less than 2 minutes to read...but they provide you enough food to meditate all day.  Click above for links.

    And for number seven I will admit that this is my first 7 Quick Takes although I have been reading Jen's and looking at everyone else's for ages (way before I started a blog).  It was fun!  I think I will try it again...some day...

    And now...dum da da dum...Go see Jen!  (Cool!  I got to say that!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


So since my marathon in November I have been doing what I term "maintenance" running...only about three miles a day.  With the snow storms continuously piling more and more snow on the roads I did most of this on my treadmill (which I am VERY GRATEFUL to have but honestly...too much time on a treadmill drives me crazy!!) and was reaching a burnout point: running was becoming boring!

But yesterday I started again on the upslope.  I've committed to a 1/2 marathon in April and all of a sudden I WANT to push myself.  It's such a great discovery, this motivation, but what's more: it's a great feeling!  I feel so good at the end of an hour workout when just last week half an hour felt like the end of the world.

It reminds me to keep perspective in life.  Sometimes my prayer life isn't as strong as it should be...sometimes I'm grumpy, negative or just plain anti-social...sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees...but that's gonna pass.  Because every time I have been drawn into the valley, things change and an upslope eventually comes on the horizon.  God is good!

On another note, I went to visit my patient the other day....the one who was so sick the last time I wrote about work...and she was sitting up, talking and laughing with color in her face!  I was so happy.  The last memory I had of her face was as she lay in front of me on the stretcher, pale and not breathing.  Brought me such joy!  God is good!

And on another, totally different note I have been attending the Catholic Writers Conference Online.  No, I am not a writer (as you can probably tell by the quality of this blog!) but I felt strongly attracted to the idea after reading about the conference.  I am learning a lot about writing skills but what is more interesting to me is seeing real authors interact and talk about their trade.  It is striking how unique they are!  Each person is called to share their own story and figure out the best way to present it.  Some use acting skills, some journaling, and some use the writings of others to inspire the words they put to paper.

During one session Mark Shea talked about the difference between real writing and blogging.  The advice he gave really tied in to the responses I received recently:

"C.S. Lewis says 'write what interests you and nothing else.'  A blog is an expression of *your* personality, not of the guy next you.  So if you don't have improv skills, then the measured and careful essay is perfectly legit.  I do those too sometimes, when I have time."   Mark Shea

Do I think I will ever attempt to write something?  Who knows? God is good!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Baby boy!

My sister (after a difficult labor yesterday) successfully brought her eighth child into the world!!!  Except for a broken collar bone from malpresentation, both mommy and son are doing well.  Seeing them surrounded by 8 beautiful children under the age of 10 reminded me of this:

Colleen North: [Helen is about to have a baby] I know this is a terrible time to talk about it, but Larry says...
Frank Beardsley: I've got a message for Larry. You tell him this is what it's all about. This is the real happening. If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you.
Helen North: What are you two talking about?
Frank Beardsley: Take a good look at your mother.
Helen North: Not now!
Frank Beardsley: Yes, now.
[to Colleen]
Frank Beardsley: It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won't keep it turning. Life isn't a love in, it's the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and... ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to a bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.
[Leaving the house, they say good-bye to the little kids]
Frank Beardsley: I suppose having 19 kids is carrying it a bit too far, but if we had it to do over who would we skip... you?
Helen North: [getting into the car] Thank you, Frank. I never quite knew how to explain it to her.
Frank Beardsley: If we don't get you to the hospital fast, the rest of it's going to be explained right here!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Suffering and the Paschal Mystery...

"Although human misery is often reduced to cold statistics or media clips, suffering must never be depersonalized; it always has a human face."  - Father James Kroeger

I read a beautiful article today (you can access it here).  It is written by a missionary priest, Father James Kroeger, in the Philippines who writes about the suffering Yolanda brought before tying it into a beautiful reflection on the Paschal Mystery.  Please take a second to read it!

Also today I was discussing with a friend what we probably should have talked about, I don't know...a week ago?  About Lent (day after Ash Wednesday, good day for that!) and what we are giving up (oh, shucks...a day late) and WHY.

How when we were kids we would do the typical: no sweets, no TV, no movies or something similar.  Now, as we age, these go-to fasts are almost a cop-out...requiring no forethought and little more than a minuscule effort to implement them (not that avoiding sugar is easy!).  These are some ideas that came forward after a little hashing:

Offer something that will counter a sin or fault.  This is for those who are trying to overcome a venial sin or imperfection in their life (, everyone!) (oh, and lent is also a good time to give up all mortal sins...actually any time is a good time for that).  If you struggle with vanity, cover up your mirror or limit the amount of time you allow yourself to apply make-up and do your hair.  If you struggle with gluttony, offer up desserts or seconds.  If you struggle with immoderation in drink, give up alcohol.  If you succumb to gossip too easily, limit your time with those who are the easiest to gossip with or purposely say nice things about those you have previously gossiped about.  In other words, do something to counteract one of your greater faults.  And if you are wondering just what one may be: what do you find yourself confessing most often?  Pride?  Selfishness?  Anger?  Impatience?  

Offer something that will help you to detach:  Sometimes it is not a sin or fault that keeps us from growing closer to God.  Sometimes it is something that is good or indifferent but we find that we have an inordinate or even ordinary attachment to it.  This could be something like Facebook, watching TV, activities outside of the home, or coffee.  Limiting our time or completely removing ourselves for a short period of time from these things can help us to detach from earthly things and refocus our hearts and minds on heavenly ones.

Offer something that brings you closer in your relationship with God:  Sometimes in the offering up and detaching we forget the purpose of lent: to draw us closer to Our Lord as we prepare for His Paschal Mystery.  Increasing our prayer life, adding spiritual readings, going to confession, attending extra masses during the week and spending time before the Blessed Sacrament are all simple ways to draw near Him.  All you need to commit, really, is your time and attention.

Choosing what to offer up requires introspection and humility.  Giving something up for lent can be easy...but it can be difficult too.  

Tying this back to my post about the talents, what we put into lent is what we take out.  And the bottom line is that God has a great love for each one of us and wants us to be the best we can be.  He's giving us the grace to make these we can do it!

Join in on the 2nd Annual Keep Love in Lent Link-Up!
Add your inspiring LENT post at one of the following Catholic Blogs:

and discover NEW WAYS to Keep LOVE in LENT!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Three Quotes on Prayer

"You just gotta pray!" Father Larry Richards

"Prayer is an act of love.  Words are not needed." St Teresa de Avila

"He who prays most receives most." St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

Monday, March 3, 2014

Unwritten rules of blogging

So I am completely new to this blogging thing...I began because my friend at More Cilantro Please! linked me to her new blog and VOILA!   I wanted to write too.  I've been looking around at a lot of really wonderful, amazing blogs (mostly Catholic as this genre interests me) and wondering: are there any unwritten rules a newbie like me should know?

First off, I'd like to know about PRIVACY.  A lot of people seem to be perfectly comfortable posting pictures and details about themselves and their families that I really enjoy reading...however they are not details I would feel comfortable posting!  I don't know if it is the reticent New Englander in me but I do not want to be easily identified and definitely not findable.

Second, there must be a fine line between what you can and can't say about your friends' and family's business. There is their privacy to take into account.  Also at what point are you saying something that becomes gossip or tale-bearing?  At the same time there are funny, anecdotal stories to share...hmmm.

Third, is it better to have the comments bar open?  I almost don't want to know what people think...and yet that is a way for them to interact and keep returning: "what did someone think about my contribution?"

And fourth, do I need to personalize my blog template more?  Is it a major faux pax to just use the blogger pre-made one?  Because it looks so much better than anything I would try on my own...just saying.  And though personally I prefer the magazine layout, I'm technologically challenged to figure out how to make that the go-to screen...maybe I can put it my title: Adventures First, Explanations Take So Much Time (click on magazine for the cool layout).

Fifth, is it better to find a blog theme and just stick with it?  I seem to be all over the place here (running, cochlear implants, my hopes and dreams, learning a language, travel, work, family) I guess my theme is: my random life.  When I chose the name Adventures First, Explanations Take So Much Time it came from a quote by Lewis Carroll that sums up my attitude toward life: LIVE IT!

Sixth, is it better to write shorter blogs?  In bigger fonts?  Are they more readable?  And what about links and pictures: is less more?  Or more, more?  And are we allowed to write lol or make smilies?  Because ummm I use smilies...way too much...and commas...but not going to talk about grammar.  Using good grammar, I am sure, must be a written rule.

Seventh, is it imperative that my pictures match my blog topic?  Cause I just randomly like to take a photo from one of my albums and post it...mostly because I have lots of pictures and few things to say about them.  Are you even allowed to take pictures off the internet and post them?  I'm guessing probably...but I don't know.

And finally Eighth, I assume that consistency is key.  Just keep blogging on a regular basis...unless you run out of things to talk about.  Then I guess the unwritten rule is: don't run out of things to talk about!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Talents, more or less...

I was thinking about the parable of the talents today while I was hiking (no I wasn't hiking in Hawaii, these pics are from a past trip...which reminds me...I should blog about visiting Molokai and Kalaupapa someday soon) from Matthew 25:14-30.  It's the story of the man who upon going away for a long journey leaves three talents with one servant, two with another and one with the third.  Upon his return he finds the first two have taken his talents and multiplied them.  The third, out of fear or lack of self confidence, hides his talent in the ground and eventually looses even that one.

I was thinking what a grave responsibility this is for the christian (to whom much is given, much will be expected!) and how my attitude toward this responsibility has changed over the years.

When I first became a christian, at the age of 12, I underwent a conversion experience that left me loving God but to the point where I lived almost a hermit experience (within the context of family life!).  I tried to get rid of all my belongings, set up a rigid prayer and study schedule and eventually gave up something that had been pretty important to me: a coveted and hard-earned position on a competitive soccer team that traveled all over the southeast.

At the time I had a fear that because soccer was important to me and I gave so much time to it that I was making it my idol: that I was in danger of making it more important than God in my life.  Although I made this decision with love and a desire to sacrifice, I think in retrospect I was also making it with very little understanding of how God works in our lives.

One thing I have discovered after years of striving to do God's Will, through joys, sorrows and tragedy, is that He does not desire for all Christians to lock themselves in a cell, pray 12 hours on their knees, fast only on communion, and sleep on a board.  Yes, there are some people called to this: but when God gives us our talents it is because He wants us to go into the world and bring others to Him.

In working hard, being a team player, advocating modesty in dress, making sure I went to Mass on Sunday no matter where we were and not swearing I was doing more to witness for Christ and reach those around me than a hundred rosaries in a day would produce: if God was truly asking me to be that witness. (*Side note: I have never prayed 100 rosaries in a day...)

Sometimes I am tempted to feel that I am under committing to God...but then I look around and see how many talents He has given me that are doing good...and I sit back and say: No, this is God's Will.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Three million ideas...

...and no time to write!  Off to work in 20 minutes.  I just came from an "induction party" for my sister, hosted by the new baby's future Godparents. Can you celebrate yourself into labor?  I guess we just do things a little crazy here.

  Anyway, this was the nine year olds idea:

A few days ago she told me "I prayed for a whole hour for mommy to have the baby tonight" but no baby was forthcoming...I guess we are learning in miniature the power of prayer and the result of perseverance.

And the reason it is a vena and not a novena, as she explained to me, is because momma doesn't want to wait nine days for the baby to come so they don't want to start a nine day case God wanted them to finish their prayers before He sends the baby.

And we can't be too demanding: he has already answered our biggest prayer!