Monday, December 30, 2013

Snow Angel

Here we are again beginning to celebrate the Christmas season as the radio stations stop playing Christmas songs just as we start to sing them---and the retail stores are unpacking their Valentine stuff, sure to make their appearance next week! Well, it's a short "season" with a longer than usual Ordinary Time to follow before a late Lent and Easter. 2014 seems to be setting up as an unusual (liturgical) year.

Over the past 5 days we have had three liturgies: Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and this Sunday. At all three we had a very good homily and in all three the celebrant (diocesan priests) referenced Pope Francis strongly. After the second time I thought to myself, "These guys have bought into the message that this Pope is espousing." I also had a chance to read TIME magazine's Man of the Year article on him. Very fine. He certainly is winning people over--not on doctrine necessarily, but on his views on how we are to go through life. I believe the article quoted an 88% "approval rating" among U.S. Catholics. WOW!

Here's a recent New Yorker magazine cover:

Lately around the Mount I seem to be hanging out doorways trying to get winter photos. Our best photographer gave me some tips on how to photograph outdoor lights as I wanted to share our lit up magnolia bush and bell with you. Here they are:

This one is, obviously, in the dark.

The lights came on before dark so you can still see the surroundings here. Recognize it?

The third shot is another attempt to capture the beauty of the colors that often appear in the western sky at sunset. Just gorgeous some days.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas meditation

This is taken from Mary Oliver's latest book Dog Songs. Some may even think she's writing about dogs.


In the old days dogs in our town roamed freely. But the old ways changed.

One morning a puppy arrived in our yard with a length of rope hanging from his collar. He played with our dogs; eventually he vanished. But the next morning he showed up again, with a different rope attached. This happened for a number of days---he appeared, he was playful and friendly, and always accompanied by a chewed-through rope.

Just at that time we were moving to another house, which we finished doing all in one evening. A day or so later, on a hunch, I drove back to the old house and found him lying in the grass by our door. I put him in the car and showed him where our new house was. "Do your best," I said.

He stayed around for a while, then was gone. But there he was the next morning at the new house. Rope dangling. Later that day his owner appeared---with his papers from the Bidawee home, and a leash. "His name is Sammy," she said. "And he's yours."

As Sammy grew older he began to roam around the town and, as a result, began to be caught by the dog officer. Eventually, of course, we were summoned to court, which, we learned quickly, was not a place in which to argue. We were told to build a fence. Which we did.

But it turned out that Sammy could not only chew through ropes, he could also climb fences. So his roaming continued.

But except for the dog officer, Sammy never got into trouble; he made friends. He wouldn't fight with other dogs, he just seemed to stay awhile in someone's yard and, if possible, to say hello to the owners. People began to call us to come and get him before the dog officer saw him. Some took him into their houses to hide him from the law. Once a woman on the other end of town called; when I got there she said, "Can you wait just a few minutes? I'm making him some scrambled eggs."

I could tell many more stories about Sammy, they're endless. But I'll just tell you the unexpected, joyful conclusion. The dog officer resigned! And the next officer was a different sort; he too remembered and missed the old days. So when he found Sammy he would simply call him into his truck and drive him home. In this way, he lived a long and happy life, with many friends.

This is Sammy's story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it's what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.

Or maybe it's about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.

One of our many nativity sets.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Vacation time

I'm presuming many of you have some vacation time this next week. If so, here are a couple links you may find as enjoyable as I did. The first is from Delta Airlines, which flies one of its small jets between Erie and Detroit. Many of us take it as a starting off point to larger airports. Enjoy their holiday greeting here.

And on the Google Doodles page here the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle is commemorated on December 21 with a crossword as part of the doodle. Fun. A more web-type game was on November 23 celebrating the movie classic Dr. Who. In this you must move one of the "guys" along paths and then back to entering the famous Dr. Who phone booth--all the time avoiding running into the robot. Again, fun, in a kind of an old Pac-Man manner.

If you have a favorite game you play online, I'd enjoy knowing. Mine are Poppit on the pogo website and Civiballs which is perfect for my old physics teaching. You try to make the green balls roll or fall into the green urn and red balls roll, fall or catapult into the red urn. Extremely clever set ups of ramps, levers and even floating hot air balloons.

Our house was decorated to the hilt this weekend:

That's our novice, Pat, on the ladder!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

We're Number 1

Mary--encased in our weekend snowfall

Our newspaper, the Erie Times News, which I normally like very much, has begun to run this little weather feature that some sun bunny, who probably lives in Florida or Arizona, must have dreamed up: The Snow Bowl. It's a weekly listing of the top ten cities in the U.S. that have had the most snow so far this winter.

It was shocking enough last year to see us ahead of places like Juneau, Alaska but this week we reached #1---already. Here's the list as of Sunday, December 15.

Snowiest spots in the U.S., through Sunday:
1. Erie: 41.9 ".
2. Rochester: 28.3 "
3. Buffalo: 26.6 "
4. Syracuse: 26.3 "
5. Anchorage: 25.1 "
6. Billings: 23.6 "
7. Binghamton: 21.8 "
8. Grand Rapids: 21.3 "
9. Akron/Canton: 18.5 "
10. Pittsburgh: 17.4 "

It's turned into something akin to a sporting event and I'll bet in our bars and restaurants the locals are actually "bragging" that we've already made it to the top! We've become the Alabama or Florida State of snowfall---geeesh!

We have had 30" in December---most of it last weekend. Luckily schools were closed (and called off Monday, too) and businesses were closed--except for retailers who surely took a terrible hit (except for their online orders).

It came down and down and down. No matter how much you shoveled or cleared off your car, 12 hours later it was all there again.

Now, less you think I don't like it, I really don't mind it too much, only the driving is tough. All by itself, on trees, grass, bushes and ski slopes it is truly beautiful, just beautiful. And kids have a wonderful time on the hills at Frontier Park and behind Wilson School. I just don't want to rank #1.

A red-tailed hawk on our 4th floor fire escape.
Correctly identified by my friend, Sr. Mary Audubon.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A foot or more

The Winter Wood Arrives

I think
I could have
built a house
to live in

with the single cord--
half seasoned, half not--
trucked into the
driveway and

tumbled down. But, instead,
friends came
and together we stacked it
for the long, cold days

that are--
maybe the only sure thing in the world--
coming soon.
How to keep warm

is always a problem,
isn't it?
Of course, there's love.
And there's prayer.

I don't belittle them,
and they have warmed me,
but differently,
from the heart outwards.

Imagine what swirls of frost will cling
to the windows, what white lawns
I will look out on

as I rise from morning prayers,
as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
as I go out into the yard
and bring the wood in

with struggling steps,
with struggling thoughts,
bundle by bundle,
to be burned.

Mary Oliver

Our memory garden--St. Scholastica and the gazebo

The little umbrella-like tree under the bell tower

Beautiful all year round.

How much snow have we had since Friday here in Harborcreek, PA right along the Lake Erie shore? My guess would be 12-15".

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #12

Just a slit, a slit in the wood of our sideboards gives a hint that there may be something else there--in that thin little cranny. They "appear" to have long, deep drawers--and indeed they do. But they also have a hidden compartment, hard to see--cleverly covered by garland flourishes.

Another one of those great hiding places for special things. In this case, scissors, masking tape, signs and booklets that you'd want easy access to in a family room! Check the crannies--they are probably there.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Week 2, Hunger Games 2

Sunday began the second week of Advent and again we were treated with a great reflection at the homily of Sunday's liturgy. As if on cue, our cacti are blooming all over the house again; here are two samples from the many along the eastern window ledge in our library---and my fullest African violet, too.

Sunday afternoon was "free" so we took in the second movie from the three Hunger Games books. If you like fantasy literature these are great, both the books and the movies. Number three will probably be out at this time next year. Good always triumphs over horrendous evil, the heroes grow through suffering, sacrifice and trials and the audience gets treated to something more inspiring than many usually trivial Hollywood comedies or macho adventure films.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #11

Where does St. Nicholas hide the gifts that will go outside every sister's door tonight? Ha ha, in a little area in the basement in the back of a room that few often frequent....but I found it! (In reality I asked someone "who knows these things" and was told where it was!) Nonetheless, no one will find them and the surprise is still on---sort of.

This year our annual calendar is included with a cute little Santa on top--filled with surprises.

Just announced: Good Reads best books of 2013 here.

And, if you haven't read anything on Pope Francis' new encyclical, at least try this --- from NCR's John Allen. If you want more, NCR has loads.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekend shorts

Thanksgiving, snow, Advent, snow and snow

We had a very nice crowd for Thanksgiving dinner, about 80 I'd say. The dinner was delicious: salad and rolls, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce and pumpkin, apple crumb or mince meat pie. Yummy!

We had snow and snow and more snow: according to our newspaper 12 inches in these last days of November which brought the month's total to 15". Of course not having school helped, but not many flights from Erie were delayed and the shopper's were not at all deterred for the weekend!

My shopping so far has been online, with free shipping. For the last 4-5 years I've helped with the huge Children's Christmas Gift project of Emmaus Ministries. This year I have 100 children. Each child gets one gift, as designated by their parent. Most asked for jeans or sneakers, but the little 3T and 4T outfits are my favorite, though the glow in the dark and multi-colored sneakers are great fun to pick out, too. After I ordered all the clothes I had money left over for a "family" gift. The families with older children got a game (Yahtzee, Uno, Count Four). The ones with younger kids got these: children-sized throws with a stuffed animal--just darling. I wish I could have bought 50.

And as happens most Thanksgiving weekends, Advent began, too. See our community site for some special Advent pieces. The first Saturday night vigil and first Sunday liturgy were just great. Everyone's favorite liturgical season--Advent.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #10 and Mary

Even though it's Thanksgiving you readers are so wild about Nooks and Crannies that I went ahead and found one for today. But I'm also including a reflection from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver.

I went down to our ground floor where we keep personal supplies to pick up something like Kleenex and in the process thought I'd keep my eye out for nooks and crannies--a basement would seem to be full of them. Here is the entrance into the hall that keeps supplies--in those cabinets on the right.

I was just looking around a little and this is what I found--in three little plastic cups, balanced on some extra shelving for the cabinets--someone's private "stash" of wine bottle corks from some of our celebrations!

Now, if you know anything about group living you know that everyone, just everyone, has to find places for their private treasures. It just isn't safe to save something and keep it where there would be public access! No, not thievery, just "borrowing" and forgetting to return. So, it is very true that we all have places in which we stow away special things that we don't want to lose.

This is all preface to the huge grin and laugh that came over me when I saw the corks! Who in the world put these here? Do they remember? And do they still want them? Should I ask around? Should I bring them out and just see if they'll be "picked up"? So many decisions in the course of a day.

On another note, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May you have as many things to be thankkful for as I do!

"Three Things to Remember"
Mary Oliver

As long as you're dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Our First

November 11th brought the first inch: wet and quick-melting.

November 23rd brought the first winter wonderland. Ta-da:

P.S. I think you'll enjoy this link a lot. Meet Stanley Roseman and his work with monastics.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #8 and #9

There is a room in each of the four corners of our chapel. The smallest holds the equipment for our audio system. Across from it is one that's just a little larger--within it you'd find an assortment of small percussion instruments, lots of music binders and cupboards that store all the numbers and letters for the two hymnal boards.

The two largest hold many diverse things. The lesser known one has four or five stacks of extra chairs that we use whenever the congregation is over 200. It also has a 4-drawer file of hymn copies and accompaniments. Some material for our handbells is in there, as are more musical instruments and a floor-to-ceiling metal shelving unit on which are boxes of prayer folders for all the special feast days in the liturgical year.

The most used of the four rooms is the main sacristy. Here is the view as you open the door. There are vestments for the priest, cupboards of liturgical gowns, candles, incense, a sink and drawers and drawers of things needed for "church work" as it was commonly called.

Invisible from the door and from many other parts of the room are two nooks. One is just a little indentation in the room and the other is simply the space between two huge cupboard units. Both are well used, however, as all little spaces often are. (Can you see the little mouse trap?!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Salt Time

Look what I saw when I was going out the side door this week....Yikes! salt for icy sidewalks and a snow shovel. There was also a sign on the bulletin board asking us to check our cars for scrapers and snow brushes. Winter is upon us.

Well, we did have our first snow a week ago, but the weather is back to its November ups and day in the 60s the next two in the 40s.

My friend, Dianne, heard the owl in our east woods again this week, darn, I haven't heard it yet, though I'm catching sight of deer with dark, dark coats all over our grounds.

Check out our community website for new stories on daily "news." Nooks and Crannies #8 coming Thursday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #7

So many sisters have suggested this nook and cranny that I had to put it in, by popular demand.

Here's what I can piece together: in the 1980s a large number of young women entered the community--none right out of high school. I surmise that it was a bit of a rockin' place then, so in time they "discovered" a hidden area where they could go to "escape." Some admit to smoking occasionally (they were to quit in order to enter the community); Others tell of playing cards and still others talk about having "parties." I suspect the parties were mostly eating events with "forbidden" foods like pizza and McDonald's fries brought in. Anyway, this hiding place is a true nook and here it is today (the area under the chapel!).

Now, in an effort toward full disclosure I want you to know that a 60-year-old while exploring says, "What if the door closes and locks behind me? What if the ceiling starts to fall down right now? What if I trip and sprain my ankle, who will find me?" So sad; where are those carefree times of the 30-year-old, when we entered shouting, "Give me a light, will you? Who brought the pizza and beer? Anyone want to play rummy?"

Our first snow of the season--November 11, 2013.

PS. Since many of you readers may not be 30 I'm happy to appease your worrying and let you know that the door did not lock, the ceiling did not come down and I did not trip, fall and sprain an ankle getting these photos---so there!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Unusual Weekend

Yes, this weekend had three unusual things about it, one small and the other two rather large. The small one is that we hosted yet another faith group, but they are not your standard brand Christians, though they are Christian. They are from all over the country, about 20 or so of them, and they are the Community of Light and Love or something close to that. Very nice people and happy to be in our facilities for their gathering. This type of hospitality, to various faith groups, is one of the greatest "gifts" that we can offer, I believe.

The two larger oddities, well not really oddities just not your run-of-the-mill weekly events, are these:

1) Courtesy of one of the oblates, we received Flowers of Maui for our chapel environment. Now there can't be any more dissimilar places at this time of year than the Great Lakes plains and Maui, Hawaii. But, here they are in our chapel looking very out of place, yet very beautiful.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

The accompanying brochure tells us that they are:
The duster-looking long red ones are a type of ginger;
The orange horizontal spikes are Birds of Paradise;
The large leaf-like ones are Anthurium;
The wispy round ones are Pincushion;
and the long yellow spikes are another type of ginger.

2) We have three lovely women visiting us these days. One is looking into our Benedicta Riepp one-year program and the other two into our community as postulants. They are all here for a 4-5 day visit and their times overlapped over the weekend. This group does not include another gal who was here two weeks ago for her second or third visit and is considering entering also. What is going on here? What are they seeing, wondering, praying about, considering? Truly I love it here, for sure, but it's always still a bit amazing to me when women are drawn here and come, see and consider "turning their life upside down" toward what they are seeking. I say this because I don't think that in another time 18-year-olds felt that their life was turned inside-out when they entered the community right after high school. But, if you're 40 or 50--my goodness--that is quite a different decision. Either way, it's very, very nice to have visitors such as these gals among us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #6

We had a sister of happy memory who was a true character--capital C. One of her more interesting habits was to seclude herself in our "phone booth." Yes, we had phones in our rooms at that time, but she had this need to get herself into the little phone booth nook and talk away for hours.

We use to wonder if maybe she thought it was private and couldn't be heard from the hall outside but, since its doors are louvered, sound escapes easily, as did her entire conversation!

Anyway, she is now in her heavenly home but the phone booth is still standing, albeit with a rather old fashioned portable phone now instead of the original wall hook up.

The booth is still available---if you can find it. It's in plain sight, yet quite hidden---and therefore well qualifies as nook and cranny #6.

PS. We really miss this sister--a unique character for sure; we don't have anyone that's in her league. I don't think it's something you can "learn," you just are one--it's a gift!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Art of Looking

I'm reading a chapter in a book about seeing, "The Art of Looking." In that vein I offer some things I saw differently over the last few days.

On a ride around our peninsula we spotted this duck blind set almost in the bay at the end of a rarely traveled road.

This pond was so still I thought the reflection would be almost perfect and I think it is.

One day the morning sky was so eerie that it looked like our city was surrounded by mountains. This shot was taken from our fourth floor windows in town. In reality the clouds were almost totally black.

Here is everyone's favorite tree, which I now know is a larch. Wispy, lovely and the last to lose its fern-like leaves each year. Just beautiful and right outside our dining room windows for all to see.

This is my best "new sighting." As I passed this weather-worn birdhouse at our side door,  I thought I saw some etching or carving on it and sure enough, when I got closer, there was a little bird and some flowers. What I didn't expect was the engraved metal piece right underneath. It says, "In loving memory of Sr. Mary Helen Maher." Sister Mary Helen died about 17 years ago in a car crash, along with her mother, sister and brother-in-law. 

If you missed the video of the little boy and Pope Francis that went viral on the internet last week you can see it here on YouTube. It's delightful!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nooks and Crannies #5

Facing the Mount from East Lake Road it's easy to miss a small entrance at the far east end that leads to a recessed "nook." The only people who ever use it are the sisters who live at that end of the north hall and some employees who work at that end on the second floor.

Right inside there is a little foyer with these relics from our St. Benedict Academy--both the original building on East 9th Street and the newer one (1954) on East 10th. When additions were added to the east end of both wings of the Mount in the late 80s these pieces of SBA history were built right in. Very nice memories, though only a few lucky ones see it regularly.

The original "signage" from 1870.

Print of St. Benedict's Convent and St. Mary's Church

Symbols from six disciplines, still visible at the front entrance of SBEC.