Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

...From Miss C, princess of 7th grade. More on our Halloween riotousness later, after i sift through my 100+ pictures.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This Should Not Have Surprised Me

It is an old and holy practice in the Catholic Church to call on the saints in Heaven for intercessory help. We utter the name of the saint and ask him or her to pray for us. The Salesians are under the special patronage of Mary, Help of Christians, so they end all their prayers with "Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us". We also call on Mary, along with John Bosco, when we pray with the kids.

I have gotten into a habit of calling on Mary Help of Christians (sometimes just called "Mary Help" by the sisters. I don't think I'm on close enough terms with her yet to give her a nick name) when I am frustrated, tired, or otherwise in need of help. At least a couple times a day I pause, take a breath, mutter, "Mary, Help of Christians..." under my breath, and go on.

This past week in one of my classes, I was all kinds of a mess trying to change gears from one grade to another. I stopped mid-step in front of the classroom and called on Mary, this time more audibly than I meant to. Initially I was a little embarrassed because kids are like wild animals -- they smell fear, and they capitalize on it. "Great," I thought, "now they know I'm not perfect. They will squash me."

Before I could finish the thought, though, all the kids who had overheard me stopped what they were doing and said, "Pray for us!".

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is theophany.

Well, my word...

This is my 101th post! Being an infinitesimal speck in the blogosphere, I get excited by these little milestones. So, in an exercise of pure self-adulation, here's a round up of some of my favorite posts from the last 100, over the last six months or so.

Being Old (on the occasion of my 22nd birthday)
My Reputation, Apparently (on my students, their perception of me, and their hilarity)
A Paradox (pre-graduation introspection and idealistic pondering)
Why I Love My Friend Erin (on embarrassing friends and strangers in New York)
Heartstrings, pt 1 (on the occasion of my departure from college life)
A View, or Why I Picked This Weird Blog Title (by way of explanation)
Fledgling, or Heartstrings pt 2 (on the occasion of my departure from home)
Into the Deep (on the occasion of taking this mission business seriously)
Mildly Inappropriate Convent Humor (because it still cracks me up)

Field Trip

The 7th and 8th grade went to Austin on a field trip this past Wednesday. The kiddos were, praise be to God, not only very well behaved, but also actually seemed interested in what was going on and the stuff we were seeing. I, being a big ol' nerd, was fascinated by just about everything.

Shockingly, I took about 200 pictures, which became about 120 after I weeded out the unfortunate mistakes. Here's a slide show of about 60 of them, witty caption commentary included. I can't figure how to change the rate the pictures change, so it flies by fast. You might do well to just pause it and click through manually.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

For Your Consideration

The cathedral in Savannah, Georgia.

(My picture)

The Church of Our Lady, right on Mary's Square, in Munich (thanks, dad!)

(Dad's picture)

The cathedral in Los Angeles.

Seriously. Be for real. Is there anyone out there who honestly thinks the L.A. cathedral looks nicer, or even as nice, as the cathedral in Savannah or this place in Germany? Does anyone think the L.A. cube looks nice at all? Seriously?

Why did we change from one mode of church building to the other, just aesthetically? Without even getting into the theological and liturgical issues, which are plentiful, why stop making beautiful things and start making... well, not as beautiful things?

Just a thought.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Texans are Weenies

...when it comes to "cold" weather. At least, my students are.

It was gray, rainy, and windy in San Antonio today. The high was in the fifties. All around, I will grant that it was rather brisk, but utterly nothing compared to January in the Rockies (or even the 32 degree they're forecasted to hit tonight).

My precious students, however, spent all day saying how cold it was. I heard "It's freeeeezing!" more times than I can count, along with far more squeals than were necessary when a gust of wind came through.

Seriously, Texas? These are the little weenie children you produce? This casts serious doubt on the future of our relationship. And I had been falling so hard...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beyond Happy

Stole this from Paul at Alive and Young, a blogger I actually know and have had long conversations with about Louisiana. Mama, you should read his blog, he's a Louisiana boy through and-through. Everyone else should read him because he's funny and just generally worth reading.

Anyway, this is kind of amazing and I wanted to share with my readers. It's just beautiful, and I find myself especially touched because living with the sisters is giving me a deeper sense of how awesome Mary is. It also serve to prove that A) Bobby is alive and well since the 80's, and B) what I assume is a more or less random sampling of folks can make beautiful music.

The Bright Side

I once read an entire book while trying to use this computer to do research for a paper. In the wait time between windows, programs, and websites, I read all of The House on Mango Street, which I grant is not a long work, but I still shouldn't have been able to read it while waiting on my computer.

The upside to having a bureaucraticly slow machine is that, while I was studying my GRE book, I uploaded a metric ton of pictures to my web albums for you to enjoy (and yes, a metric ton is slightly more than a not-metric ton).


Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Wrinkle in the Continuum

Alright, so my blog isn't the most timely one in the neighborhood. Seeing as neither is it the most widely read, I don't think that's a real issue. None the less, I'm proud to say that I have been required to "step in" for the first time in my comboxes. Now I've really hit the big time!

I've been here over two months now, and first quarter in coming to a spinning, skidding end. Frankly, I cannot believe this. It's incredible how fast the time is going. This happens sometimes, of course, but I don't know if it's happened to me on this grand a scale. Part of me expects to suddenly find out that I've been trapped in a hyper-speed side-road of the space-time continuum.

Anyway, I'd love to tell you about the accordion festival and my random Delaware visitor and my hilarious students, but I have work with a deadline on it. Blech.

Anyway, Dear Readers, now you know I'm alive.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Public Thanks, of Sorts

I could not let this day pass without some word on my patroness, Saint Teresa of Avila, whose feast day is today. I lack the gifts to tell you much about her, especially when such has been done, so I will stick to what I know of her in my personal experience.

In 2003, I was sticking my toes over the Church threshold. That June, I went to a youth conference that, quite simply changed my life. Having a conversion experience makes one prime for a whole lot of maturing, spiritually and intellectually, if you want the experience to ever be more than that, and all the more if you're young and addle-brained at the start. Such was the journey I was just beginning when I went to my grandparents house a few weeks after the Weekend That Changed Everything. If I recall my time line right, my grandparents had themselves recently entered the Roman Church and had a new collection of Catholic stuff in their house, including a coffee table book of saints located... well, on their coffee table.

Santa Teresa de Avila, 1827, Francois Gerard

This was the picture on the cover, and I remember vividly the feeling that crept into my eighteen-year-old, newly-rescued-from-contented-lukewarmness chest when I saw the expression in this woman's face. I was intimidated and drawn in at the same time. I saw a woman who was on her knees as a servant but who sat upright and looked you square in the face with a soul of great strength, and I flipped the book open to find out who this was, instantly fascinated.

Turns out she was Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun, a writer, and reformer of her order who lived in Spain before, during, and after the Reformation. She came from a rich family and joined the Carmelites, according to most accounts I've read, mostly because she didn't trust herself not to sin in the world. She seems, I like to think, like myself in some ways, strong willed, seemingly contradictory, sometimes stubborn, even where God was concerned, but devoutly and passionately in love.

She broke fasts when gifts of partridge were brought to the convent, and once told God, after the carriage she was ridding in dumped her out in the mud, "If this is how You treat your friends, it's no wonder You have so few". She also said, "The important thing is not to think much, but to love much", and "All things pass. God alone suffices." She suffered long periods of spiritual dryness and physical anguish, and then ecstasies and visions, and had her heart pierced by an arrow (depicted by Bernini in the splendid sculpture below). She was named the first woman Doctor of the Church for her writings. She is, in a a word, incredible.

When the time came for me to pick my patron saint for confirmation, I wavered only momentarily -- I considered the Archangel Michael, but decided that I am militant enough as it is. Teresa is more even-tempered. Hers is the only medal I've worn over the last three years, sharing a chain with the crucifix Becca, my godmother, gave me. And it turns out that when Saint John Bosco founded the Salesian sisters who run the school I'm living and working in, he gave them Saints Francis de Sales and Teresa of Avila as their special patrons. This fact thrilled me when I learned it two weeks after arriving because it was reassurance of what I already knew -- that this humble and strong servant of God has me firmly "by the shoulders", as Sr. Rosann put it. If she can impart to me a drop of her faithfulness and backbone, I cannot help but live every day a little more for Christ.

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1647-52, Bernini

Rush Post

Blogger evidently didn't feel the need to warn me my smoke signals to the outside world would be doused at 4 PM PDT. I'm glad I logged on now, rather than after I finished all the work I really ought to be doing right now.

Er... anyway...

Lots to update you on, Dear Readers (all six of you). The reader's digest version:

  • My grandfolks came all the way from Lake Charles to see me. They fed me and got me out of the convent for a while. Saturday was the first night in two months I slept somewhere other than my hospital bed in the old wing of the convent. It was awesome.
  • Speaking of, I've been here two months as of Friday. Frankly, I can't quite get my head around that yet. Maybe when I hit three months I'll have absorbed two months.
  • Sine, one of my great friends from college in Delaware who lives in Boston, was in town this weekend. Random? Quite, but these are my friends we're talking about.
  • Even thought I wouldn't be seeing him anyway, Dad being in Germany makes me miss him more. I don't like not being able to call and text him about every little thing that crosses my mind.
  • Mass at San Fernando Cathedral downtown. Beautiful. Splendid. Glorious. Best mass I've been to in a long, long, long time, in terms of respect for and quality of liturgy.
  • First quarter ends on Friday. This means A) I have a week to cram as many grades as possible into my books and a weekend to clean everything up so it kind of makes sense, and I will be pretty much swamped until then, and B) more importantly, I've been an actual, honest-to-God teacher for nine weeks. What?! Seriously?? No one has caught on to this farce yet?

More on everything... later. There's a five-inch stack of tests calling my name.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

And now for something else...

As has become a habit on my little bitty blog, I stole this from Mark Shea's uber blog.

Someone tell Melissa and Charlie I expect a performance of this when I come home in November.

This is pretty awesome, too.

Happy 1,000th Visitor, Theophany!

Have I tripped into this many people? Who are you?!

This apparently happened sometime yesterday. And actually, since I'd had the site for about a month before I added the SiteTracker stuff, the real 1,000th visitor probably came by a couple weeks ago.

Still, now I have proof that my mindless rambling have passed before the eyes of ten people at least 1,000 times. Woo!


Average Per Day9
Average Visit Length1:34
Last Hour0
This Week62

Is It April in Geneva?

Because the Nobel folks are sure trying to put one over on us.

Was there a very small pool of people doing peaceful things this year?

I confess to knowing almost nothing about the science behind global warming, and I haven't made a judgment as to whether I think it's "real" or not. Environmentalism is a good thing (within reason). We should take care of the planet, after all, God made us stewards of this planet, not it's locust overlords.

It's just... Al Gore made a movie and promoted it. That's what you do with your movies, you promote them so you can make money off them. Maybe I missed something, but none of that strikes me as being particularly noteworthy, or as having much to do with peace. Moreover, from what I understand, Gore sucks up significantly more energy than the average person. (All of Vatican City, meanwhile, is going carbon neutral. Because Catholics are that awesome.)

Oh well. Nothing to get our nickers in a twist about. The people out there who are doing actual peace-building work don't care if they get awards, God bless 'em. I'm casually familiar with Mercy Corps, and they do huge boat loads of actual work to promote social justice and sustainable use of the environment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Crack Me Up

Part of my job is teaching vocabulary. My high schoolers used exactly the same series of books, with twenty words per unit, and we tested once a week. I give my middle schoolers two weeks to learn the unit -- plenty of time. Being middle schoolers, however, they are not remotely inclined to put forth the effort. They would rather do ten words every week and forget them as soon as the test is over. Nay, say I, they can do better than that. As a result of my hard-line policies, there's a lot of, "Miiiiiiiiss, it's too haaaaaaaard", which I simultaneously find sad in their lack of confidence, and so whiny and obnoxious I could spork out either my ears or their voice boxes.

Anyway, I sent a letter home with them today. This is how it starts:
Esteemed Lexicon Initiates,

I’ve become cognizant of the trepidation manifold of you, my pupils, are grappling with apropos methods of augmenting your vocabulary. Despite your doubts about your abilities, I really believe you are all fully capable of learning a whole unit in two weeks. You need only think you can do it, put forth the effort, and apply some new strategies to your study of the words. You can totally handle this!

Sr Rosann has to approve all communications before they go home. She brought this back to my room laughing. "This is cute," she said. You're darn right it's cute, Sister. Like I'm new at this. Being cute, I mean.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Fight

At twenty-two, I still feel myself bombarded by voices telling me who and what I should be; how I ought to be, act and think if I want boys to like me, and what not to do if I want anyone to like me (liking God is usually at the top of that list). The sight of the average magazine cover, even as it stirs my ire, prompts the tiny voice in my head that I could be a little leaner. The whole time I was in college, I felt like a side-show attraction because I didn't drink myself to oblivion and make myself available to any dude that came along. My resolve and my principles are firmly grounded, mind you, and those little voices don't actually bother me much -- but they are there. Since high school, it's been a constant fight to keep believing the things I believe, to preserve them from the ever-present temptation to compromise, just once.

One of my seventh-graders got the talking-to of her life because she kissed a boy in the library. Innocent, you may think, and in another world it might have been, but there is a weed working its way through my students. That girl had no idea why what she did was not a good idea, even as her best friend was crying because she liked the boy, too. They don't understand why I won't let them refer to each other as "sexy", nor why they can't roll the waist bands of their skirts, making their thighs more visible so they don't look "nasty". At eleven and twelve, many of the boys and girls are already desperate for a girl/boy friend, already smearing each others names when they are envious.

Their teachers and the sisters are constantly trying to show these students real love, but so many of their families are falling apart, and they want something tangible now. They live hard lives and they are faced with a lot of choices I didn't even know existed when I was that age -- which wasn't long ago at all. It is a poverty deeper and more insidious in many ways than material poverty. It is, as Blessed Mother Teresa put it, the poverty of feeling unloved and unwanted. So far the damage is reparable, but if the trend continues that won't be true much longer. They are wonderful, beautiful, brilliant, good-hearted children, but every time they say or do something that hints at the demons hunting them, part of me starts to panic because I don't know what I can do to help them. It is, in the end, their fight.

I -- and you, Dear Readers -- can only keeping loving these children, pray, and pray, and pray for them, and for all children in all forms of poverty, and hope Jesus gets to them before everything else does.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

St Joesph: More than a Real-Estate Wizard

Southern Texas, as you may be aware, is a hot place. We're solidly into fall, but the high still hits an easy 90 every day. Towards the end of last week, the compressors for the air conditioner that cools the sisters' sleeping quarters, living room, chapel, and dining room, as well as the school cafeteria and pre-K rooms, went down. Being in actuality a large lizard in disguise, I wasn't bothered by the break down, but that's real easy for me to say because the air in my hall was fine. The sisters, however, were suffering, and the kids who ate and had class in that part of the building were melting. The entire school went into adaptation and shuffling mode for the week, trying to keep the little ones comfortable and the sisters from getting heat stroke, but what we really needed was to get the air fixed.

As you might imagine, the air conditioning system that cools a space three or four times bigger than the average house is not cheap. Costs for parts, labor, and the crane to bring in the three new compressors we ended up needing went into the tens of thousands of dollars. We are not the stereotypical rich private school whose parents can tap their friends on the shoulder for a chunk of cash, and this wouldn't even be easy for them to cover. As a small school lacking deep-pocketed patrons, this was frightening. Where do we get that kind of money in a really hot and humid pinch?

For sometime now, at least for a while before I got here, the sisters and the faculty have been saying the St Joseph prayer, asking him to intercede for us and for the families of the school. We ask for the resources needed for St. John Bosco School to provide a quality education and for the parents of our students to be able to keep sending their children here. Already, we were pretty convinced he's been helping us out, but this air compressor business cemented it, at least for me.

As soon as the compressors broke, Sr Roseann had them replaced because it was dangerous for the children and the sisters to be in that kind of heat. We had a thirty-day window to pay the gargantuan bill. At the same time, the people in the finance office started flinging grant applications left and right. Everyone was hopeful, of course, but the situation was still edgy. Meanwhile, you started hearing the St Joseph prayer muttered by the teachers up and down the halls.

Then yesterday, a mere three days after the compressors were replaced, we got word that our grant had been approved for above the amount we were asking. Sr. Roseann said, "St Joseph feast day is going to be a big deal here."

The Prayer of St. Joseph

O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power, I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers.
O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us.

This prayer was found in the fiftieth year of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1500's it was sent by the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle.

Whoever reads this prayer or hears it or carries it, will never die a sudden death, nor be drowned, nor will poison take effect on them. They will not fall into the hands of the enemy nor be burned in any fire, nor will they be defeated in battle.

Make this prayer known everywhere.

Most Rev. George W. Ahr
Bishop of Trenton

Friday, October 5, 2007

You Can Tell I've Been Blogging

Is anyone, anywhere, especially in Louisiana, Peru, or south Texas, even remotely surprised to learn this?
Scores of peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm what great philosophers always understood — life without steak, crab, butter, eggs, cheese, and heavy cream is not worth living. (Read the rest of the sharp little article.)
-Crosscut Seattle, via Remnants, via Mark Shea (sheesh...)

Meanwhile, I'm glad I have people like the think-tank on the View around to tell me the truth of my Church. I had no idea that bishops made statements regarding the salvation the souls of those charged to them for sheer publicity. 'Cause, you know, the church might just poof out of existence if we're out of the limelight for too long (our staying power, after all, is just as tenuous as that of Brittany Spears). This was a little gem I found towards the bottom of the transcript, so you Dear Readers needn't actually wade through the whole bog:
BEHAR: We were all raised Catholic here, so this is not some anti-Catholic rant that we're on. This is just factual information.
As we all know, being raised Catholic insulates you from the possibility of making slimy and grievously erroneous remarks about said Church. Worked for all those ex-Catholics.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mildly Inappropriate Convent Humor

A totally uninvented and unembellished conversation over dinner:

Unnamed Sister #1: Unnamed Sister #2 fell in the cafeteria today!
Unnamed Sister #2: It wasn't bad. I'm not hurt. Well, a little sore.
Unnamed Sister #3: How did you fall? Back, front?
Unnamed Sister #2: I don't remember, I was too busy trying to get back up. There were kids around.
Unnamed Sister #3: Did they see your interior life??

I died.

Holla!* (or, I swear I'm alive)

It's just that, you know, I'm a teacher. I have a job to do, and I occasionally like to sleep. Progress reports come out tomorrow, meaning the last few days have been chock full of actual teacher work. I got thought it all pretty quickly and efficiently, which is new for me.

In the last four days, I:

- Went to a movie with a friend from Dallas I met in New Orleans doing research with U of Delaware in January, whose brother lives in San Antonio. Seriously. I actually meet people this way.

- Went to lunch with the fantastic-in-every-aspect Debbie, or Auntie Dee-ber as I call her behind her back. A good part of the meal was spent convincing her that I am not presently romantically interested in anyone, nor is there anyone for me to be romantically interested in -- I live with nuns and work with 12 year-olds. You can sleep tonight, Daddy.

- Got my "Will teach for food" shirt in the mail! Thanks, Mama!

- Was told by my students I should be a sister for Halloween, "because you look like one". They failed to explain what that means. One of my 8th graders very seriously said I should do it because "That's what God most likely wants you to do with your life." Thank you for that insight into my vocation. My 5th grade girls, meanwhile, were all in favor of princess.

- Started my grad school application. (Gulp)

- Missed episode two of season four of House, the best show on TV, because I was being a responsible teacher. Cried a little about it. Sr. Roseann watched it and filled me in. We also talked about the reasons why House and Cuddy aren't together. I cited House's twisted and torn heart, to which she replied, "So sew it up and move on! Get over it! Get married!" This is one of the things I love about the sisters: their "Just suck it up, pansy" attitude (although they'd never put it that way... I do.)

That is, I think, about it. This coming week, I will:

- Write essays convincing the aforementioned grad program they want me. Really, you do. I can lift moderately heavy things!

- Meet with my students' parents about their grades. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, hold me up.

- Plan out our drama club stuff. No, I don't mean the stuff that goes down at the lunch table, I mean an actual, structured theater club. Maybe I can channel some of that crazy out of them.

- Miss everyone.

I'm wondering if there's anything you, my dear readers, want to see more of on this site. Nun stories? Kid stories? Reflections and insights on the nature of God? Comments on life, the universe, and everything? Kids in paper costumes? I'm here for you...

*My beloved NCSC folk: you're not imagining it. That title and the format of this post are totally for you. You're wonderful!