Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In between

This is an odd week. It's in between two huge holidays--holidays that are both civic and religious. So, in that "odd" vein I offer you some trivia and yet not too exciting information...but somewhat interesting, too---in its own way!

For those who live in two calendars: Gregorian and liturgical, the week is full of Christian feasts. In just one week we hear about the martyrs: Stephen, Thomas Becket and the Holy Innocents; a pope, Sylvester; an apostle, John and a transferred feast that usually pops up on the Sunday after Christmas but was pushed this year to a Friday: Feast of the Holy Family.

Then along comes New Years Day which seems to have a couple dozen names, depending on your choice of emphasis. For example: The Circumcision of Jesus (for oldies but goodies), Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and also the World Day of Peace, to name three. And also, (I did warn you that this might not be exciting but interesting), the birthday of J.D. Salinger, American author, and the death anniversary of Mario Cuomo, governor of New York.

So, here we are, all working less than five days this week, yeh, and getting in some quick visits home or mornings sleeping in, time to read those put-aside novels or use gift certificates for a lunch out or the chance to see a movie. BTW, if you loved or even just liked, the Harry Potter books/movies you'd probably enjoy the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowlings, herself. Very Potter-ish, imaginative, creative and fun.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas scenes

On our community website you'll find a number of excellent entries on our Christmas events and celebrations. As a supplement to them I'm adding these four "scenes" that I came upon over the weekend which contributed to my own Christmas joy and gratitude. And then, add in the excellent homily given by our Christmas celebrant who spoke on this being "the feast of vulnerability" (as he contrasted the standard cultural meaning of the word vs. the vulnerability of Jesus and his life and message) and it made for a very special holiday.

"Our" herd of deer are coming quite close to the monastery these days. In fact, this trio  was very near as I  caught them right outside the north-east door.

The Winter King Hawthorn in the backyard is wild with berries right now. Hopefully the birds find them edible!

The Advent wreath turns into a Christmas centerpiece for the next three weeks.

Our handbell choir played this weekend and will be playing for New Year's and Epiphany, too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas comes closer

Day 6 of the O Antiphons: O God of All the Earth

PEACE to all who pass by on East Lake Road

The cardinals in the woods all summer come to the feeders in winter.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Relief from the holiday mayhem!

Whether this time of year has a spiritual, commercial or recreational base for you, one thing we can all probably agree on is that the days are full. Very full. It seems that they catch us up as in river rapids and we just get swept away from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next. Very little down time and even less time to just breathe.

So as a small break from all that I'm sharing part of a fun and funny website that was sent to me recently. Its name is: 25 Jokes and Puns No Grammar Nerd Can Resist. I've picked my five favorite, but if you want to read them all, just click on the link and enjoy this "little break" from the craziness of the season. I think you'll laugh right out loud.

Number 5: The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

Number 4: Knock knock. Who's there? To. To who? No, to whom.

Number 3: What do you say when you're comforting a grammar Nazi? There, their, they're...

Number 2: Spellcheck has become my worse enema.

Number 1: My life is a constant battle between wanting to correct grammar and wanting to have friends.

Advent banners in one of the chapel niches.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Korea, Mexico, the world

Eight years ago we welcomed a Benedictine sister from South Korea who would spend a year with us, primarily to improve her English--and as a sideline, to experience monastic life in another culture/country. As part of her "Erie experience" a group of us decided one snowy weekend that we'd gather up some sleds and saucers and take her down to Glinodo for a sledding adventure. Now, not one of us was under 50 so I jokingly (yet half seriously) asked if I should call Emergi-care right away so they'd be there with their ambulance when the first one of us sprained something either on the way down or on the way back up the hill---or---should I wait to call them when it actually happened. Not IF, but WHEN.

Ha ha ha, we all laughed.

Here's a picture of the sledding gang, before the downhill experience, which, much to all our surprise we survived with nary one sprained ankle, a single bruise or the promised call to Fairfield for a winter rescue.

Flash forward to this week--same place, same time, different country represented. Our yearlong (and delightful) resident from always sunny Mexico is talked into a rite of passage--building a snowman following our first snowstorm of the season. The culprit was another yearlong resident, not from Mexico or Korea, but from one of the snow capitals of the USA: Minnesota, for goodness sakes.

Here they are before and after. Great, great fun was had by all--especially the onlookers and snowman admirers from inside the community room!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Snowstorm #1

Oh, my, did the lake effect snow, that started somewhere in northern Canada a week ago, quickly make its way down and across the great lakes--and after socking the places in the snow belts of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, "pow"--we got hit last Thursday as it sailed across Lake Erie and Lake Ontario burying the cities and towns in its wake! Jessica, our year-long visitor from Mexico, was entranced and it was beautiful--but it kept coming and coming.

The one thing all snow lovers, or even those who are just amazed at the phenomenon, all know is that the "official" snow is measured at one certain place in a region: for us it's the Erie Airport, which is located 13 miles west of us. In our geographic location every little suburb, village, town and borough has its own unofficial snow measurer. Conclusion: When answering the question, How much snow fell this weekend? the answer has to be: Anywhere from 3" to 18", depending on where you live in the metropolitan area!

As a Harborcreek resident I would answer the question this way, I'd guess about 8-10". I'd say this because we had to clean 5-6" off of the cars a couple of times! I'm sure one of our neighbors has a set up in the backyard with a flat plain surface and a yardstick. I'll have to find out who it is.

The Troupe Rd. entrance after the 3-day storm.

The water fountain in the library courtyard, a natural measuring stick.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Living in two worlds

Here's how it goes. This year Advent started just three days after Thanksgiving and 10 days after the radio stations had started playing Christmas music. Black Friday sales continued throughout that whole weekend, as did Cyber-Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday....

I've made it very clear that I love Advent and so does every other sister I know. But it causes us to live in two worlds--simultaneously. Whenever we walk in chapel, we enter the world of Advent: quiet, peaceful, waiting, preparing. And then we come out of there into the American consumer's high point of the entire year, it's a Hallmark and frenetic whirlwind!

We try, we really do, but we love Christmas, too. So, waiting until the "official" deck the halls (and decorate every place else) date of December 21 is just too hard. Advent managed to maintain its prominence last week, but this week (Advent week #2 aka 16 days until Christmas) Christmas has started to creep and seep and ooze its way in--ever so slowly but steadily!

I took a walk around the Mount, with my camera in hand last night and this is what I found: Creeping, everywhere.

An everyday plain night light has been replaced!

A small white angel has landed.

What is this? No Advent wreath!

We haven't had snow yet, how can we have a snowman!

Just because it's holy doesn't hide the Christmas message!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Wind chimes

When we renovated our chapel 10 years ago, we replaced a large gallery that was at the east end of it and completely spanned the width. We also removed a kind of open-air stairway that was one way to access the gallery right from the chapel floor. With the removal of the stairway it opened up the entrance space and also allowed the east wall (of stained-glass windows) to be pushed back about 15 feet to form the back wall of a new small, enclosed, private prayer/devotional space fashioned there.

As for the gallery, a smaller version of one was designed off to the side and accessible only from the second floor. It was meant primarily for any sister who wanted to be present for a chapel event, yet couldn't be in the main chapel area downstairs. It isn't used very much these days, probably because we also installed a video system that broadcasts chapel events on channel 72 of our televisions.

But lately there's been a very nice addition to the chapel entrance way and it's hanging from said gallery: a large set of wind chimes. I've always loved the sound of wind chimes and have two sets in my office now. One is solar powered instead of activated by the wind. Here are a couple views of our new one. Look up next time you're with us and take a look. How do they sound, you ask? Low in pitch and very mellow, but very beautiful.

From the gallery.

From the chapel below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A morning with Mary

A couple weeks ago I spent a Saturday morning at a writing workshop of sorts, which used as its core the poems of Mary Oliver. Yes, it was wonderful. It made me realize however, that it has been way too long since I've shared one of her poems here. So here's one to start a new beginning of sharing the works of this very special writer. It also happens to be the one I read when we were asked to bring one of our favorites to the workshop.


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Four full weeks

This week is somewhat unique in the pre-Christmas time called Advent. Because Christmas itself falls on a Sunday, Advent is a full four weeks long, 28 days. For those like ourselves who follow the Church year every day, it is a very welcome phenomenon from a prayer perspective. Why? Because we get to sing these wonderful Advent songs and listen to the poetic scripture coming-of-the-Messiah passages more than usual.

Case in point, one of today's readings was from Isaiah 2, a passage which speaks of everlasting peace with poetic beauty: "...For from Zion there will go forth instruction...They shall beat their swords in plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation will not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." Our presider noted this when he said, "Of all the things we could read about in the scriptures on the first day of the liturgical year the choice is peacemaking."

Here's this year's Advent wreath: four white candles set in new candle holders made by Sister Audrey in her woodworking shop. Setting them in the Pyrex stands, on mirrors, makes quite the special effect. See the reflections? And this was on a cloudy day. Can't wait to see what happens when the sun shines in those windows and travels over to the mirrors.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Year is 1947

and like most Catholic dioceses in the US, I suppose, the Erie diocese gave out an annual recognition to "The Catholic Family of the Year." That year the award was given to the Albert Lorei family of St.Boniface Parish. The family worked a farm in the rural community of Hammett, just south of the city of Erie and even today this small community maintains its rural heritage.

Their second son would be ordained to the priesthood within weeks of the family recognition; two of the oldest daughters were already in religious communities: one a Sister of St. Joseph and one a Benedictine. The parents were active in their parish and sent all 12 of their children to the parish school and local Catholic high schools. All of that contributed to their nomination as family of the year.

I never met any Loreis until I was a teacher. I taught a number of the girls in the next generation, both of this family and of cousins, but they continued to be a longtime backbone of the Catholic Church in Erie, not just the three in religion, but as active and committed lay men and women in the parishes.

This week they, and our community, lost an original member of this 1947 family, Sister Bernadette (see full obit here). About 1/2 of the original dozen are gone now, the other 1/2 no doubt carrying on a life of good works, as they all seem to have done for decades.

We still have a few sisters from families of 10, 12 or even 14 children, but they are getting fewer and belong to an age that is pre-1960s. Having come from a family with just three, the very idea of such size is amazing to me. However, their stories and family lore are fascinating--as is the expansion of the original siblings into dozens and dozens of nephews, nieces and grands. I'm sure the Loreis will grace us with many of their memories next week as we celebrate Sister Bernadette's life.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Goodbye autumn and thanks

This season's autumn is gone and it left via a classic "in between" weekend: record high Friday of 75 degrees and the first measurable snow Sunday (2" at the airport--although it varied from a trace to 9", well south in Erie county)!

Four of our sisters are very happy right now because all four of them guessed November 20 as the first day of snow! Congratulations Sisters Laura, Karen, Marcia and Valerie. You'll split the $5.00 gift certificate equally. Have fun at K-Mart. (Ha, ha just'll each get your own!)

And finally, since I started putting out suet bars in the little "suet house" the birds, particularly the ones that spend most of their summer in the woods, have started to appear. I think this little fellow (or gal) is a downy or hairy woodpecker--not sure which, but it sure is fun to watch them.

A final salute to autumn: this near perfect golden tree was still hanging on before the wind and snow arrived.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cactus, cacti

This is the week---the one week in the year when all of my cactus plants bloom at once! So I drag them out of their "home" on the library east window sills and place them on the display counter between the community room and dining room so that they can absorb all the oohs and aahs of the sisters and guests.

This yellow one is special because I started it with a single leaf from Sr. Benedict Grotzinger's plant--the first yellow cactus I had ever seen. Soon after that her's died but this offspring lives on and is just beautiful.

I can't remember where I got this white cactus but it's probably my favorite because it is such a pure and sparkling white. Just lovely.

There are four all total now, yellow, white, salmon and pink. They will all bloom again this winter and a couple may even have a third blooming period, but these are the only days they'll all be flowering at the same time. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Some thoughts following the last week.

First, here is a very fine graphic that is making the rounds of the web. I call it _____ophobia because you could put any word you want in the blank. A friend who is a counselor tells me that this is basic strategy to counter bullying in schools. Here you'll see it as it pertains to adults, more specifically anyone who is "not like me." So sad, so very sad. But, there is always hope and here's a piece of it.Click here.

And in the everyday, we took a walk down to the lake and found a number of fishermen and women taking advantage of the good weather. We asked these fellows if we could take their picture with their impressed catch! "Of course," they said, and as we talked, guess what? Only one seemed to be what we'd call all-American, the other two spoke fine but with accents. Alleluia!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Autumn work

The east side and back of the Mount have a half dozen beautiful, large comfy benches scattered along the sidewalk. They were part of a remembrance project a few years ago to add these very nice features to our grounds, in memory of loved ones.  Although they are brought in for the winter months, the 6-7 months outdoors do take their toll, but a miracle has arrived.  The benches, two tables and the two glider swings that hang from the arbor near the library are all being washed thoroughly and finished anew with Teak Wood stain through the talents of one of our sisters. 

Here's the table that is in the center of the large gazebo. Retreatants and visitors alike enjoy their time there. The project is being done in the receiving room, a garage-like entrance on the ground level which offers plenty of fresh air when the door is opened.


and After.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Voting in the USA

We've taken a page out of Norman Rockwell's America every year when it comes to our local polling place: an all-American fire hall--The Fairfield Hose Co, an all-volunteer group of men and women who service a large swath of lake shore properties here in northern Harborcreek Township. Here is what it looked like at 7:15 am eight years ago, when we stopped to vote on our way to work--a line that extend well into the parking lot, maybe 50-60 ahead of us when we arrived! This year I expect as much, if not more.

The Norman Rockwell part of the scene is connected in part to the bake sale by the Fairfield Auxiliary that is set up right inside the doorway and tempts you with delicious smells and displays of cookies, brownies and more, as you move up one place at a time, past the baked goods tables.

Another Rockwell piece might be the fact that the people seem to know many of the "locals" by sight. They particularly greet us with "Good Morning, Sister," and then attempt to remember our family name before we tell them. I'd guess that about 40-45, of the 65 that live at the monastery, travel to Fairfield to vote. Another dozen probably vote by absentee ballot and some are past voting ability. I, myself,even recognize the voting workers! The same men and women have been there volunteering for years, too.

November 2008

One of the many issues (in a campaign that seemed more about personalities than policy) was the Supreme Court and the nominees for its judges. On our What Sisters/Oblates Read page of our community website, we have two reviews of the book Sisters In Law, a great read about the first two female judges, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I think after reading both reviews you'll rush to your local library or and get a copy. Our reviewers both give it two thumbs up!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What makes me howl with laughter

Two things I ran across this week that not only made me smile and laugh all over the place when I first saw them, but have continued, just on memory, to make me laugh and smile about them ever since. That's enough to encourage me want to share them with you. Here they are:

First: check out the website: On August 18, 1920 women in the United States were given the right to vote. This week thousands of women born before that date are proudly casting their ballots for the candidate they hope will become our first woman president! Here are their photos and a little blurb about each one. Should I enter our pre-1920 woman to the list?!?!

Second, as you may know from previous entries here and on our community website, we have a member of the BWSC, Benedictine Women's Service Corps, living and working with us this year. The other two members for the 2016-2017 class are at a monastery in Bristow, VA (about 30 miles west of DC). All of them blog monthly on the St. Benedict's Monastery (Minnesota) site. This week I read an entry from Mo (one of the Bristow volunteers) and here is the part that sent by into gales of delight: "Every Sunday night after supper, I play Rummy with Sister Mary Ellen, Sister Henry Marie and Bethany. I always end up losing, but it feels good to be in the midst of great company! Although I enjoy the company of the sisters, I feel myself turning into a middle-aged woman. Never in a million years would I think that I would find solace in knitting and watching “Jeopardy!” And never in a million years did I think that I would get excited about buying yarn."

I must try to adopt some 20-something interests/conversation topics so that our Erin doesn't "age" before her time!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wild and wonderful week(end)

We tried a new restaurant this week--at least it was new to us: The Cork, in North East. It is in a building that was formerly a bank and it has retained some of the ambiance of that business. Very clever and very delicious food, too.

Our Sunday paper ran a whole full color page of autumn colorful scenes from around Erie County. They were nice, but none were better than our own backyard. Even this photo doesn't do its beauty justice!

We had two visitors from Chicago this weekend and that's all our Indians fans needed to make some rousing World Series watching! Great fun, especially on our community room's large screen TV.

More of our wonderful, wild weekend adventures can be found on our community website, here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A few of my favorite things

Do you have favorite seasonal things in the natural world? Things you only see only once a year, because they only exist at a specific moment in time? Maybe that is one of the graces of living in a 4-seasons climate! I have many favorite (seasonal) things and I find myself actually starting to look for them 2-3 weeks before their expected appearance.

Here's one of my favorite autumn things...a little Charlie Brown tree in the middle of our west lawn. I can't even tell you that I even notice it much any other time, as it is nestled among a very large willow and numerous evergreens and larger maples. But for the couple weeks when it is all orange-red, it has my attention every day.

Another example? Sure. I was talking to one of our year-long visitors this year, when we were eating outside on the back porch (in October, imagine!). We were talking about winter and I was telling her about the marvelous drifts that accumulate on our large back patio and stairs when the conditions of wind and snow are just right. I'll be watching out for it---but not soon, please.

PS. Thirty-five sisters entered our annual First Day of Snow Contest...the guesses ranged from October 21 to January 3. We're all rooting for January 3!

Monday, October 24, 2016


These days are bringing three great opportunities for discussions that are thought-provoking to say the least. The first one was last Saturday when we traveled to our public television and radio station, WQLN, to be part of the live audience for a webinar sponsored by our Monasteries of the Heart ministry. The topic was Women and Moral Leadership with the presentation by our Sister Joan. You can get a DVD or see it online by contacting them.

Monday night we have one of our Enrichment Series talks with Fr. Jim Piszker who is speaking on Catholic Social Justice. He is one of our best Sunday homilists and this presentation is bound to be good, too. It's at 7:00 pm, if you're in the area.

Finally, Wednesday, Benedictines for Peace (BFP) is organizing a Holy Hour of Prayer at 7:00 pm Wednesday to pray for our upcoming national elections and for leaders who value the common good and will promote justice, mercy and peace among all peoples throughout our country.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Inside and outside

I'd been waiting for months, even a couple years for this to happen. This week it finally did.

Here's the back story. In the mornings I "bird sit" a small caique parrot. We get along very well, practicing English every now and then, taking a sink bath once a week and going for "walks" up and down the hall when I need a stand up break from computer sitting. At one end of our hall there is a window that opens onto an old fashioned wrought iron four-story fire escape! Right out of West Side Story or apartment complexes in New York City! We are at the top of said ladder and therefore there is a little landing right outside the window. Lady, the parrot, loves to sit on the windowsill, up against the screen and chirp, talk and whistle to the outside. I always wished that some wild birds would hear her and for some bird reason, come and chirp back.

And, that's exactly what happened Monday. A flock of 5-6 little brown sparrows or finches came calling and "looked inside" at the much larger parrot looking out at them. By the time I got my camera only two were left, but here they are---birds of a feather, I guess you could say, probably somewhat bewildered at each other's presence!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bountiful harvests

It seems that thanks to a sunny and warm summer, with just enough rain but not too much, the fields and vineyards that surround the city of Erie and its suburbs have had a flourishing season.

Grapes, potatoes, fruit trees, corn, squash, etc. have all done well. For the last 2-3 weeks we have been the recipient of boxes and boxes of locally grown apples, either donated or purchased by our kitchen manager---maybe a combination of both. Anyway, the boxes have been huge and as one would expect, there are always a few too soft ones or bruised ones to put out for the sisters, our guests, employees---whoever is sharing meals with us that day. So, another sister and I have been collecting those dozen or so imperfect ones each week and laying them along the eastern tree line as a pre-winter treat for our deer herd.

She has told me that she has seen deer coming and going regularly, but I haven't caught them at it yet...until last evening, about 6:30 pm, dusk.

Two of them wandered over from the apple-bar, up very close to the house, and I did catch this one before they spied me and ran into one of their hidey-holes! Such fun to see them a little closer than usual!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Back door

In our chapel there is a somewhat hidden door. If you visit and regularly sit on the right/north side you'd never see it. Even if you sit on the left/south, you might miss it. It's behind the main chapel area, back by one of the storage areas. But every day when I go out our side door I see it from the outside and I often see flowers that are either on their way into the chapel or coming out of the chapel, promised to one of our gardeners.

This week, as is fitting in October, I spied these two very full mums, sitting at the end of the row of now-trimmed back baby pink rose bushes. I think they may be on their way into chapel for this Sunday.

Erie, or more correctly North East, PA, 10 miles east of the city, is famous for Paschke's Mum Farm which produced a seasonal windfall each autumn with its acres and acres of mums, cider and everything else that celebrated October, Halloween and all things fall. Sad to report that Paschke's just announced its closing as the founding couple has retired. Here's a photo of a portion of the acreage they planted. A gorgeous sight at its peak each year.

Paschke's Mum Farm in North East, PA with Lake Erie seen in the background.