Sunday, December 31, 2017

So, what's new?!

For the third consecutive time, here's an update on our record snow "experience."

An area map in the Erie paper recently showed the snowfall in the city and in all the townships that surround it, over the record-setting 30 hours that have made us media stars or (in)famous stars for the 60" that was recorded at the airport. The map, however, showed that every few miles had its own total, and the airport's was far and away the most. i.e. we here in northwest Harborcreek, 13 miles east of the airport, had about 30-35" over the same time period.

Don't get me wrong, cleaning off 25 cars on three consecutive days with 12" of new snow each time is enough hard work. Especially with 15-20 degree temps. Our "team" of eight sisters worked in sync with one of our maintenance guys who was driving the truck and plowing. Personally I just kept thinking of it as exercise and help in working off those delicious Christmas cookies that are everywhere!

Things have settled a bit, but the cold temps are keeping the piles and piles of snow around. There are some great photos from our local Erie Times New here. Upper left: Sections and then Photos. Look for "snow"!!

Troupe Rd entrance

The Blessed Mother statue in the inner courtyard. If Sister Veronica was alive she would have covered it with a plastic bag to save it from losing its head!

Lots of our bushes/trees have these large snow blobs caught on their limbs.

The ever-evolving drinking fountain sculpture! See last week's entry--4 days ago!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Yes, it's true!

When you've been on national TV, including The Weather Channel...and received calls, texts, emails from family and friends asking if it's true, Are you all right? and How are you doing?...there's really only one thing to report on: Yes, our airport, the official weather station for the area, did record 60" of snow over December 25-26.

But, as you may know about lake effect snowstorms, the intensity and the amount of snow vary considerably throughout an affected, for example, here in northwestern Harborcreek, right along the lake shore, we received in the neighborhood of 12" each of the three days: Dec. 25-27...but 3-4 miles south of us there was probably a whole different experience, ditto for the City of Erie itself and all of the townships and boroughs surrounding it.

The highlight (or lowlight) of it for me was digging out, cleaning off and re-parking 25 of our cars yesterday. Quite a task as they each had about a foot of snow on them. THEN, doing it exactly the same, all over again today! I couldn't believe it! What a job....all I thought of was that it was exercise and was burning off some of those Christmas cookies that we have in abundance and that are delicious!

I also wished that my Dad had been here for this. He would have enjoyed it tremendously!

The courtyard's drinking fountain.

One day's shoveling outside the back door.

A little bush--totally buried!

Don't miss Sister Valerie's blog for more photos of our "unforgettable Christmas snow". (Sounds like something out of a Walton's episode!)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Report from the Great Lakes!

WOW! We are buried...beautiful, but buried.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

With gratitude to Robert Frost

Stopping on the road on a snowy evening.

I have tried before but never really been able to capture this--our Peace sign, that we display every Advent and Christmas season, right out front along East Lake Road. But luck was with me this week when I was coming home one night, with no snow or rain falling. I just pulled over, got out and tried a couple shots. This was the best.

"Let there be peace on earth."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snowy Advent days

At the beginning of this week we find ourselves living in two worlds: one is the beginning of the Third Week of Advent and the other is in a semi-avalanche of nearly 2 feet of snow that has fallen in the last 10 days or so.

So, as I walked down the hall from our chapel to our dining room--the closest thing we have to a cloister walk--I took a photo out every one of the five windows and caught both themes, in the inner courtyard and with the stained glass designs that hang on the windows there every Advent.

Both are, of course, quite beautiful, in their own way!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

With a nod to Rube Goldberg

How are you doing now that it's mid-December? Is it a bit frantic for you? Or are you just tired?! Too many events? Shopping weary? Baking and cooking and card sending overwhelming? Welcome hospitality with friends and family, but also a bit too much--already? Are those NFL end-of-the-regular-season games that don't even start until 8:20 pm taking a chunk out of your night's sleep? (Go Steelers!)

Well, do I have a clever, fun and welcome 5 minute relief for you--that will leave you smiling and thinking to yourself, "______ will just love this." (Fill in the blank and send it along).

Click here. (Hang in there for a short ad first)

PS. When I was growing up my Dad was the one who first introduced me to Rube Goldberg. He loved him. Kudos to you, Rube. See what you started!

PPS. A new book, Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day, by Jennifer George and illustrated by our Sister Placida's cousin Ed Steckley, has just been published!(There's no such thing as coincidence.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

If you're from Australia

and have never seen snow fall before...

A few years ago we had a sister visiting from Australia. She had seen snow on the ground before, but had never seen it actually falling. As luck would have it, she was here for one of our first snows and she stood in amazement in our dining room as a beautiful snowfall occurred. A few minutes into it she turned to those of us around her and said, "It's not making any noise. It's perfectly silent." We didn't quite understand at first, but she explained to us that she thought it would sound like rain: tapping and clicking on windows and the ground when it hit!

This weekend we had another "Aussie in the snow" experience! Our yearlong visitor, who is leaving in just a few weeks, experienced her first, live snowstorm (we had 5" in only a couple hours) and had us smiling and laughing as she related her first two experiences. The first one came when she was taking out the garbage to the dumpster (which is only 10 feet from the back door) for her dish team and just walked out in her sneakers. She was shocked when she returned and found her shoes and socks quite wet!

The second was later when she ventured out for a walk and learned the word "trudge," as she found herself trudging through the snow! She told us that when she took her first step she was surprised that her foot when way down and disappeared! Then the second step did, too. I think she thought you walk on top of it! 5-8" deep by then I'd guess! We all had a good laugh, but on one thing we readily agreed: the first snowfall, large, wet pretty flakes is just beautiful. The snow was piled on the limbs of every tree, as it was on every bush and railing, bench, window sill and anything else in its path---all around, everywhere you looked.

And so it begins!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Autumn--The End!

Well, this is it. After a long, warm and lovely autumn season--filled with golds and reds, browns and hundreds of different greens, the big "S" word is predicted for the weekend--even with the adjective "Lake effect." So we bid farewell and extend gratitude to our natural world for a beautiful fall this year. Halloween and Thanksgiving included--great time for friends and family to get together with zero interference from the weather--in fact, cooperation!  This photo shows the effects of a bright sunset last weekend on our east end trees--talk about golden!

When I was strolling around our gardens Sunday I had no anticipation of finding anything worth a photo, but I was wrong. These tassel-capped grasses are gorgeous--heavy and white and very thick. Beautiful, in that end of the season just before entering hibernation, way.

Guests haven't leveled off for the winter yet, we still have quite a number. Ditto for Sunday Mass--lots of people!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December---in like a lamb

Advent is here--short as it will be this year.
Here is our chapel Advent wreathe. The Pyrex stands are striking with the fresh greens in them, but the mirrors on the floor are the real eye-catchers--for the window reflections, of course!

As in all Decembers, Advent is the primary "celebration" but each week seems to hold additional commemorations. It always strikes me as odd that there are so many of these in a busy enough month already. Maybe some could transfer to August! We already had, on the 2nd, the 37th anniversary of the four North American women martyrs in El Salvador. They were only in their 30s, three religious and a lay volunteer. This week brings St. Nicholas and the Immaculate Conception, religiously, and Pearl Harbor for civic remembrances.

And, how could I forget? Our first lake effect snowstorm is predicted for Thursday. We get to "watch it" race across the West, Midwest, other Great Lakes, and then right onto us. Oh, joy!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Being blown away--twice

My friend who has a camera with a super-duper lens happened to look outside this week and saw our blue birds still flitting around their blue bird house and the nearby bushes, trees and benches--all empty and unused now--except for the birds, of course.

I saw them myself the next day..Pepsi blue is what I call their color. In the late afternoon sun they just glowed. We are blessed.

Photos by Jo Clarke

In the new book, Devotions, I've moved into the '70s now, and was blown away by this entry. I have been to Walden Pond, BTW, though it was a number of years ago. The "trick of living and finding it where you are," I'm still visiting.

Going to Walden

It isn't very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water.

Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!
Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.

Maybe. But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

Mary Oliver

Sunday, November 26, 2017

End of the year

Whenever I write about the "end of the church year" I always feel like the reader is reacting something like most of us do when we read about the coming of the latest Chinese New Year or the beginning of the next Jewish year--meaning that most Chinese, Jews and Christians aren't really fluent in the nuances of the changeover to their "new" year.

Regardless, we are indeed entering the last week of the Christian Church's year--liturgical year. Another, much more understandable way to say it might be this: Advent starts next Sunday. That might help--or not!

This has all been an introduction to these new photos:

Every (calendar) year at the end of November and early December, the sun in our part of the globe takes on a characteristic angle that mixes with the southern wall of our stained glass windows to produce reflections and refractions that appear only at this time.The two window photos in the right hand column were also taken in early December--in two different years.

What makes these two rather special to me are that 1) the sun was so bright that it made the colors inside the chapel as bright as I've ever seen them and 2) this is best I've seen the colors on the back of our wooden chairs--bright, bright. And beautiful. It is really tempting to want to do one of those National Geographic-type experiments where you could spend 4 hours just sitting in chapel, taking photos every 5 minutes or so, to catch the whole progression of this phenomenon and various iterations that would occur with such a vigil.

BTW, as a New Year's gift, I'd gladly send the original electronic copy of either of these photos to any of you who would like one. Just email me and tell me which one (or both) that you'd like, I'll attach them and off they'll go to you. Only ask that if you post them or share them you would credit the place Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, PA and me as the photographer.

Happy New Year!

PS. Joan's book, The Liturgical Year, is both a readable, educational and enjoyable look at the Christian "Church year"...available through amazon for less than $5.00

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Devotions is the title of a newly published book of Mary Oliver's poetry.

The book is large, 455 pages, and has poems chosen by the author, from 27 of her books beginning in 1963 up to and including Felicity in 2015.

Here's one of those 1960s poems, written before she was 30 years old, before she won the Pulitzer Prize, before she became "Mary Oliver"---undoubtedly the most popular and most quoted poet in the US today:

Morning in a New Day

In trees still dripping night, some nameless birds
woke, shook out their arrowy wings and sang,
slowly, like finches shifting through a dream.
The pink sun fell, like glass, into the fields.
Two chestnuts, and a dapple gray,
their shoulders wet with light, their dark hair streaming, climbed the hill. The last mist fell away.

And under the trees, beyond time's brittle drift
I stood like Adam in his lonely garden
on that first morning, shaken out of sleep,
rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves,
like tissue on some vast incredible gift.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thing 1,thing 2, thing 3

What's going on in our little part of the world this week? Not too much, gratefully. On the other hand lots of little interesting and important things! Here are three of them:

Thing 1: Another potential Benedicta Riepp seeker has come to see if she would like to live our life for a short period of time. The first month of residence is to answer that question--from both sides. And then the next 6-12 months is spent among us. She must be #18-19 that we've had since the first woman came in 1999. We are blessed.

Thing 2: Snow has finally come, albeit wet and short-lived. I was up by our interstate this weekend (about 4 miles south of the Mount) and it was really coming down. By the time we got home there wasn't any at all, but it's all around us. I lived with an earth science teacher once and she never ceased to share her delight in living in what she called a unique part of the planet with unique weather and unique land. She was, of course, referring to the huge body of water on our northern border and the lake effect snow and beautiful, moderate summers we have--that co-exist in the same place! Her primary lesson: if you live near a large "thing" on the earth (ocean, mountain, desert, canyons, rivers, plains, etc) everything that happens to you, in the earth science sense, is because of it.

Thing 3: We have just finished watching another season of one of those BBC mystery series we love. This one was "Endeavor" a prequel of the popular "Inspector Morse" series. The newer stories take place in the first years of Detective Endeavor Morse's work in the Oxford, England police force. The acting is superb and the stories are great, too. Our cozy, cold winter nights' entertainment is beginning.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Final look

I believe that this is the "final look" at our Seven-Mile Creek restoration project: the addition of trees and bushes.

I was standing in the grass, just before the big turn in the creek and took the first photo while pivoting to my right and then the second photo, pivoting left. The environmental engineers have made a very nice and quite wide patch of foliage right at the end of the drive into Glinodo, before you get to the cabins and lakefront.

I was told that these young trees and bushes come from the "tree nursery" that one of our sisters had a hand in procuring at one of our city housing developments a year or so ago. The idea, if I recall correctly, was to get young teens involved in the idea of planting such things around their homes and open areas.

We hope they survive the winter in their new "home" ground!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

In the news

This weekend we were certainly in the news. Here is the local announcement of our newest finally professed member. The actual photo on the page was this size, too!

And in the local newspaper as well as in the bi-weekly newspaper of the Catholic diocese, this "pictorial announcement" of our first centenarian was published (October 29 issue, page 2).

In the summer we feed the birds for our sake, in the winter for theirs. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

On the Road Again

I'm taking a last couple days of vacation by "hitting the road"and visiting a Benedictine monastery that I have never visited but have wanted to visit for a long time: Our Lady of Grace Monastery-- which is tucked in a residential neighborhood in a suburb of a very large city: Indianapolis, IN.

Although I had never been to this suburb, Beech Grove, I do remember with fondness this part of the country as I spent 3 summers here just south of Indianapolis in the college town of West Lafayette, home of Purdue University, getting my masters. So my fondness for Indiana is real.

True to their patron, the community has this lovely devotional alcove right outside their chapel.

Their chapel has been "right sized" from the original huge one to this more intimate setting for very nice prayer and liturgies.

I gasped right out loud when I saw this huge glass jar packed with pop can tabs! We save them at home, too, but our "piggy bank" is a 20 oz old peanut butter jar.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Japanese dwarf

This weekend was a little sparse around our place. It was the first "free" weekend in quite awhile and a number of sisters took the opportunity to visit, shop, go out to a movie or show--all things that have been on the proverbial back burner lately. Our four sisters in formation, one postulant and three first professed, traveled south to a retreat center about 1/2 way to Pittsburgh, for a gathering of 30+ men and women--all in formation--from the tri-state area. They reported that the presentations were excellent, in addition to giving them all a chance to hob-nob with others in a similar "seeking" mode. Along with the Benedictine T4 program (an online opportunity for chat and exchange among US Benedictine women in the same stages of formation) these inter-community programs are the way to go nowadays.

Back home we benefited from yet another fine reflection at liturgy Sunday. Among his reflections our presider referenced our dwarf Japanese maple that is in its autumn splendor right now. I'm ashamed to admit that I have passed right by it lately and not noticed. So, I ran right out (at a break in our all day rain) and caught this photo. He is right, it is beautiful now. I found this very impressive name online "Scarlet Princess Dwarf Japanese Maple." I'm not sure it really is one of these, but we can pretend.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Grand openings

The first of November brought the first holiday cactus in bloom. More honestly, it bloomed in relative "solitary confinement" in the library on the long east window shelves and I just came upon it on my weekly Monday afternoon watering task. It's one of the smaller ones, but very pretty with strongly pink tipped flowers. I'm sure the other ones aren't far behind. I am especially fond of the old ones...some have to be 20-25 years old....and, of course, the yellow one. Monday was the death anniversary of Sr. Benedict from whose cactus I got one leaf which turned into the full yellow cactus plant of today. "Watch this spot" for all their grand openings over the next few weeks! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

7:45 am- late autumn

I've taken this photo before, but it was a different year, a different day, and a different sky--but it was roughly the same time of year. The time of year when our sunrise comes around 7:30 am.

We saw this last Friday on the way in town. I was just hoping it would still be there, in some way, when I got to my ministry, which is four stories up--above the power lines and most rooftops--with a window that faces east, whose screen pushes down.

And there it was. The steeples are on St. Stan's church which is one block up and about 2 blocks over...east, of course.

May your mornings bring such beauty. It does stay with you all day!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...

will deter people who work for peace! (As well as postal carriers). And to that end 50-60 of us gathered at the site of an old city bridge, now a pedestrian and bike thoroughfare, for the third of our Silent Peace Walks. And it was raining and cold and windy but "Neither..." Actually it was quite interesting as the bridge is a land one, rising over multiple sets of railroad tracks and factories and other city transportation businesses. In fact, three long locomotive trains passed under us as we walked the 1/2 mile across the bridge and back again. Urban artists have covered the bridge's sides and flat surfaces with those famous balloon-like letters and some really quite artistic scenes. A few bicyclists passed us, as did a couple walkers who were not part of our long silent, single-file parade.

After dozens of cold, windy, snowy, bone-chilling TBTS prayer vigils throughout the years, this was mild! The fourth Silent Peace Walk will be held in mid-November at Erie High. See you there.

And for a visual follow up on the last post. Benedict's new afternoon friends.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Even though our recent temps are higher than average for mid-October, autumn is coming anyway! The trees are turning, albeit later than most years. The grapes have just been harvested and their smells still linger along Routes 5 and 20 for all the traffic going by. And, here's this summer's growth on one of my little evergreens, planted maybe 4 years ago now. Its growth is rather slow now but I know that it will go faster in years to come. Meanwhile it's pretty well protected by the larger trees nearby and, as you can see, the leaves and the ground coverage.

The fact that we are having a lot of (somewhat unwelcome) Canada geese who are spending their days grazing on our lawn, made me want to share Mary Oliver's lovely autumn-time poem, "Wild Geese."

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

They're everywhere

Visiting St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota is "a wonder around every corner," as it is the home of the late iconographer and artist Sister Mary Charles McGough (d.2007). The "wonder" is seeing her work everywhere--be it in chapel or in every hall--residence, dining hall or even the ground floor. And, to see the originals of the prints that we all have in our rooms and offices, that we use as cards and bookmarks. It is just wonderful. I find myself on the lookout wherever I go. Here is just a sampling:

THE most popular contemporary Benedict and Scholastica of the past few decades. This original is about 4-5 feet tall, on wood and in a specially lit alcove of their chapel.

The original of her the Holy Rule of Benedict of which we have a print copy in our gathering space. These pages are of special paper.

One of her etchings or metal works. I'm not sure which. It's just in an everyday hallway as so many of her works are here. 

Perhaps her second most popular icon. Again on a round piece of wood, maybe 2" deep and 3' in diameter, in the main corridor of the monastery.