Tuesday, July 26, 2011


When I am not packing like a maniac (we are moving!), I have enjoyed finishing up James Martin's My Life with the Saints.  One of the most recent themes that has stayed on my mind is the idea of Ignatian indifference.  We aren't talking about being apathetic here, or lazy.  Instead, it is more a spirit of openness and trust, not being too attached to any one thing or option.  This practice of indifference sounds fluffy and floaty to me, and often far from reality.  That's because my intrinsic desire is to have control, and when I find something I want, I want it.  When I can't have whatever 'it' is, there is often a flurry of frustration, annoyance and and overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.  Sometimes I even think to myself (though I'd probably not say it to anyone for fear of sounding self-centered) that it just isn't 'fair'.  And I know, my dad told me life isn't always fair... but can't a girl dream?
I'd imagine those emotions and feelings are due to the fact that my motivations for wanting something are often rooted in my ego and self-centered desire...  As in, I am selfish and certainly not indifferent.  Ignatius of Loyola says in the principal and foundation of the spiritual exercises that indifference doesn't mean that we can't have preferences, but rather that we put those preferences and desires into God's hands.  Basically, we let go of control and develop the trust that we are being led where we are supposed to be led... even if that might mean it isn't where we'd necessarily choose to be.  I hope to continue to develop my spiritual indifference, as it can provide a lot more comfort and stability in a world that isn't really all that stable.
Over the last few weeks, Ryan and I decided we definitely wanted to move out of this old, drafty house in Manayunk and move to an area with more trees, parking, efficient heating and away from the city.  Traffic has become a menace, causing Ryan's commute home to be upwards of two hours on an average day (add that to the morning commute of at least an hour.... yikes).  Even the most zen person would be driven mad by this (I'd imagine) but somehow Ryan's held it together thus far.  But I don't want to play with fire, so I readily agreed to move a little further from my work to find a middle ground.  We identified the area we wanted to live, complete with a main street full of great restaurants and shops, an awesome farmer's market (at least 20 stands!!) that, coupled with our CSA, could be all the grocery shopping we need to do.  It's also along a part of the river with trails and water sports, and lots of other small-townie stuff.  We looked around at a bunch of houses and apartments and, let's just say, they left something to be desired.  The area has totally revitalized in the last 3-5 years, and as a result, the rents have gone up.  We were in a predicament, and forged ahead, figuring we could always just stay where we are at for now until something better came along (complete with the 3 hour total commute for Ryan).  Letting go of control and not freaking out were hard for me.  But, I did it.  I can honestly say there was not one night in the last month where I've had trouble sleeping (usually the first sign of my lack of indifference!)... and in the fourth quarter, we found an amazing condo that will be home by this weekend!  We saw it a week ago, signed the lease this weekend and have begun the process of moving that is all too familiar to us now.  It's within walking distance of the downtown area and the trails along the river, a few minutes from the highways, and has lots of modern conveniences we don't currently enjoy (central air, dishwasher, efficient heating, etc) as well as parking, a pool and lots and lots of trees and grass.  Though we don't have a yard for Annie, we do have a patio... and it's super dog-friendly so there is a dog run on the property and lots of poop bag dispensers (hooray) so it'll be a good fit I think!  Bubba will be sad to not have deep windowsills to lay in, but I imagine he'll love snuggling in the sun of the glass sliders...  Life is good.  It's amazing what happens when you just kind of let it happen.  It's also amazing how well-rested and centered I feel despite the total disarray of our house and life right now!  Speaking of, I should be packing right now.... after making some gazpacho with the rations from our CSA!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Don't just do something. Stand there!"

No, you didn't read the title wrong.  I read this quote, an old New Yorker's mantra, and thought about what it really meant.  It was written in a New York Times article that caught my eye about gardening in Philadelphia (for obvious reasons...) and describes a Mount Airy resident's philosophy on gardening, and life.  To let it grow, and be, challenging our cultural emphasis on 'doing' and being active.  The gardener's philosophy grew out of time she spent in India, where she was taught a different way to approach life.  As she points out, “How many times has somebody gotten married, and you just can’t go because of too much work or something?” she asked. “They don’t miss these things. The whole place stops. I feel like we just don’t stop enough.”
Practicing the art of stopping is difficult for us Americans to do.  I remember traveling to Italy as a college student (on one of the sweetest babysitting gigs of all times) and learning about their approach to work and life balance.  What is it about us Americans that we are so obsessed with doing, producing, earning, accumulating stuff?  Why can't we just stand here, just be present to the moments of our life, and maybe even watch the garden grow around us instead of dictating the exact shape of the garden, which species will be included, diligently watering and weeding as we go?  (this is reminding me I better go water my tomato and pepper plants in the midst of this heatwave... wait, just BE!)
All of this 'being' sounds great to me, but might not be the most practical at the moment.  Ryan and I are moving... again... in a week.  We just found out officially last night that we got this great condo in Phoenixville, PA.  It's a transplant of our current neighborhood in a little more suburban/green setting.  Meaning, we are still walking distance to a main street with shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a path along a canal for walking and running (hopefully the back will be up for that again soon).  But instead of being a city setting, there is actually parking (YAY) and lots of trees (breathe in the oxygen) and modern conveniences (central air, dishwasher, etc).  So, though I'd like to stand here, and not just do something...  I better get packing.  There is a house that needs some attention here.   

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Got Happiness?

In an interesting article on the pursuit of the warm and fuzzy feeling, the book the Happiness Project and the myriad of conversations that have ensued from this book have piqued my attention.  I haven't read the book, but have heard quite a bit of buzz about it.  In our economically stressed time, full of war and uncertainty, seeking long-lasting and authentic happiness has become a popular pursuit.  I think this a great thing, as it is challenges many of our cultural assumptions that money/possessions=happiness... When in fact, that happiness is often short-lived and difficult to maintain.  There is something about spirituality and faith that I think is intrinsically tied to this pursuit of happiness and fulfillment.  Without a sense of community and deeper purpose, I think we often feel fragmented and disconnected.  How do you find happiness?  That deep-seated sense of fulfillment that permeates your entire being? 
I think I might add this book to my reading list...  I need to figure out what all the buzz is about!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let's get down to business!

Well, despite the insane heat and humidity right now, I have an itch to do some baking.  In my non air conditioned kitchen.  We'll see how this goes!  We've received oodles of zucchini both from our farm share and Ryan's sister over the last two weeks.  I have a delightful-sounding recipe from Whole Foods that I am going to give a try today.  I thought I could hit up two of my goals in this one- to do some healthy baking and be more neighborly.  I am hoping to make a few loaves and then share them around the block.  We just had a new neighbor move in downstairs with her daughter, and it is time to reach out.  Here are some of the giant zucchinis and a monster tomato from the farm share.  I wish we could get this stuff year round!  Maybe next year I will get in to canning, too!
Although it doesn't officially qualify as 'water sports' (goal # 4), I did enjoy getting soaked by water guns at the Bastille Day celebration this weekend at Eastern State.  My sister in-law came down for the event, and we took in the Parisian culture, and hoped to catch a tastykake or two when Marie threw them from the walls of the Penitentiary.  In an ironic twist of events, Ryan ended up getting smashed in the face with a tastykake...  And it wasn't by me!
The whole thing inspired quite a revolutionary spirit in me.  It was a funny and satirical presentation (and we didn't actually end up seeing a beheading, but rather Marie's punishment was to be Arnold Schwarzenegger's housekeeper...) but the overall message focused on the French people's revolution and independence.  The relationship between any leadership and 'the people' has historically been a tenuous one, at best, in nearly every nation and institution.  Here in Philadelphia, we are facing a changing of the guard in the Church's leadership, as it was announced officially today (after some 'leaks' and insider information) that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver will take over as Justin Rigali retires as Archbishop of Philadelphia.  There has certainly been a bit of sounding off on all fronts as Philadelphia prepares to welcome a new shepherd...  It seems that everyone already has an opinion before the man has even moved into the city.  Perhaps there are reasons why people are so quick to judge, given past hurt and a sense of betrayal.  Father Chaput will enter a community that is writhing in pain, frustration and yet is also grounded in a vibrant faith and devotion to God that is the cornerstone of the Church here in Philadelphia.   I just pray for open hearts and minds, from all people (myself included) and not just from the leadership.  Although it is easy to look at a person's history and make assumptions about what they will do/won't do, we are called to welcome all people to the table and accept them as they are (despite their pasts, etc).  Our Church needs reconciliation and healing and dare I say, a revolutionary spirit!  NCR has a very thorough interview with Chaput that I'd suggest as a way to learn a bit about our new leader.  Looking forward to seeing what the future and God has in store for us!  The greatest challenge I have felt in this month of being more intentional is in being patient and listening, rather than making assumptions or coming to conclusions without giving things a chance to play out.  But perhaps just being conscious of that is a hopeful sign.  Right?!
I wonder if Chaput will have storm troopers as part of his entourage?!  

With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts. 
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, July 18, 2011

There was blood.

Well, I mustered up the courage and brought myself to the parish hall at Saint Katharine of Sienna in Wayne last week...  hydrated, motivated and ready to give blood.
 Although I was disappointed to not receive the 'Be nice to me, I gave blood' sticker, this would do.  It was definitely an interesting experience.  While I waited for my turn to be pricked, I struck up a conversation with the man seated next to me.  He is a regular donor, and does so because both of his parents have been quite ill through the years, and benefited from the blood of other donors.  His father had passed away just two weeks ago, and sought to give life in his honor.  I wish I could have this kind of attitude, to give back to others in response to my own losses.  I suppose I could have this perspective or approach to life if I was more mindful and less self-absorbed.  It definitely caused me pause.  
Fortunately my nurse was awesome, and kept me company throughout the entire process because they weren't too busy.  We had a moment of concern as my pulse was pretty low, but my bp was normal so it turns out I am not dead.  Phew.  The irony of this all is that on Sunday morning my phone rang, with the familiar 'unavailable' on the caller id.  I answered, assuming it must be the Red Cross thanking me for my blood.  No, they were asking to see if I would schedule an appointment to give.  When I explained I just had given a couple of days before, she realized there was a glitch on their system and she'd make sure they didn't call again.  We'll see, maybe I could stay a step ahead of them and just keep donating so they don't need to stalk me!  Wouldn't that be nice. :)  As an aside, they are in great need of type O blood, but will readily take any of your blood (I am B positive) so consider giving blood!
The patron saint of the Church where I donated is Katharine of Sienna.  I wasn't sure if this was the same Catherine of Sienna I am familiar with- it turns out there are various spellings but the same saint.  I appreciate her story as a lay woman because she never actually joined a religious order but lived a life committed to spirituality and the work of reconciliation within the Church.  She lived during the time of the great schism and worked to restore the papacy to Rome.  Catherine described an 'inner cell' in her mind, to which she turned to connect with God and seek refuge and strength.  What a beautiful and practical spiritual way.  A doctor in the church, Catherine embodies the spirit of unity that, as Christians, I think we are called to live in this world political, social, economic, religious and interior division.  What a beautiful model for us to emulate! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


On an average day, I receive a maximum of 5 calls (a minimum of 1) from 'unavailable' on my cell phone.  Unavailable is the American Red Cross, calling to ask me to donate blood again.  This has been ongoing for about six months now.  For awhile, I'd ignore the calls after pretending that Katie wasn't available when I answered (I didn't want to give blood).  Sorry, but I have a serious phobia of needles... the thought of it makes my stomach flip.  One time, I did even go so far as to make an appointment to give blood with the caller, but I just couldn't bring myself to go.  Of course, I was wracked with guilt the entire afternoon the day of the alleged blood-giving, but the guilt wasn't enough to get me to the blood drive.  I remember a teacher at my high school who literally had given galloons of blood, to the point that there is a plaque at our local hospital acknowledging his 'gift of life'.  Why aren't we all doing this??!  But anyway, back to my attempts to avoid (giving blood and) the persistent calls...  Finally one night a couple of months ago, Ryan intervened on my behalf.  He answered my cell phone and said that Katie didn't live here anymore.  So, for the last two months, I didn't have any unavailable calls.  Phew, I was in the clear!  I could forget all about those needles and blood bags, and go back to living in oblivion. 
Well, they've started in full force over the last two weeks... with a total of 4 yesterday.  Apparently someone didn't get the memo that I moved.  I answered on the fourth call last night, wondering if perhaps it wasn't the Red Cross and maybe it was Publisher's Clearing House announcing I'd won the millions.  It was the Red Cross.  I quickly told her that Katie wasn't available, but then the caller took a new approach: asking if I was a blood donor and would be interested in making an appointment to give.  I said I have donated in the past and then hastily said I wasn't interested and had to go.  I hung up, my heart racing, palms sweaty.... feeling guilty and anxious.  What is wrong with me?!?!  A couple of minutes with a needle jabbed in my arm to help save someone else who is in a dire situation?  Well, I've decided it's time to stop projecting my annoyance onto the Red Cross and realize I might be a little annoyed with myself... my laziness and fear.  There just so happens to be a blood drive today, right down the street from where I babysit in the afternoons.  I happened to have found my blood donor card in the recent clean out of my closets, so I will place it in my pocketbook and see what happens today :)  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New England Vacation

Although my vacation through the glorious regions of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine has come to an end, the many insights that came from the time away remain on the surface of my mind and heart.  It was a gift to have time, to appreciate the little things and really soak it all in. 
Just Beer's Summer Fest in Westport, MA
The trip started out a little rocky with a bit of a back injury to me, meaning I couldn't move much for a couple of days.  Fortunately Ryan took it in stride, drove us up to MA and took to hanging out at my parents house with ice packs instead of embarking on adventures to Martha's Vineyard or Newport.  I was able to get it together to head to the local brewery for their beer fest and concert (and some fresh seafood)... Which leads me to Lesson #1: Drink Locally
Annie supports local beer!
Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth, NH
Marshall Wharf in Belfast, ME
We stayed true to this throughout our trip, visiting Just Beer in Westport, MA, Red Hook in Portsmouth, NH, lots of local beers throughout Portland ME and finally Marshall Wharf in Belfast, ME. 

Lesson #2: Eat Locally
Picking up the steamers with Annie   

Throughout our trip, I was reading a great book by Barbara Kingsolver about a year during which her family made a commitment to buy all of their food locally and cultivate as much of their food themselves as possible.  It just so happened that the trip also included a vast array of locally cultivated foods to enjoy along the way.  Not only does the act of eating locally make you feel more connected to the community (and for me, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside) but the food tastes remarkably more delicious.  It also decreases the amount of waste and energy used in getting the food to your table.  This was fairly easy to do in Maine, where farmstands, co-ops and farmers' markets were aplenty.  Back in Philadelphia, this will prove a bit of a challenge but not one that can't be overcome by paying more attention to the schedule of the local farmers' markets.  We enjoyed a lot of delicious local seafood (lobsters delivered from a friend's lobster traps and steamers from the local fish shop on the dock) in addition to great farm-fresh cheeses, breads and an abundance of veggies from my cousin's gardens. 
Mark and Ryan prepare to massacre the lobstahs
Lesson #3: Never leave the campground without putting the rainfly on the tent, regardless of current and projected weather conditions
View of Casco Bay in the background!

We decided to leave it off (there wasn't a cloud in the sky and no storms were predicted) while heading out to dinner... and of course then the sky turned black and torrents of rain, coupled with lightening, helped us to learn this lesson.  We were able to get a few towels in order to dry up the puddles, and ended up just sleeping on the air mattress with whatever stuff we had in the car as pillows and coverage!  Oops, that will definitely not happen again.  But if that's the worst that happened on our camping adventure, I'll take it!
Just some of the carnage                     

Cleaning up and clearing out!
We laughed a lot and were grateful that this was the last night of camping... we left in the morning for Belfast, ME and our gorgeous accommodations at my cousin's house overlooking the bay.  It's a miracle we ever left their house.  Not just because of the house, but because Mark and Annie are some of the kindest, funniest people and most outstanding chefs I've ever met!  But Ryan honed some of his culinary skills while I honed my eating skills, and I think we'll do our best to bring these and our many other lessons back to Philadelphia with us!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Humility... and humiliation

I have been bragging to Ryan all week about how well I am keeping up with the 7 & 8 year old boys I started babysitting for this week.  Bike ride?  Sure!  Game of tag?  I am victorious!  Swings?  Basketball?  Swimming?  All of the above.  Home for a run?  Sure, why not?  I am invincible.  I mean really, I can keep pace with 7 & 8 year olds. 
Well, not exactly.  Back spasms and getting picked up by their mom in her minivan from the Y because I couldn't move (though thank GOD she is the sweetest physical therapist in the world!  Lifesaver...) knocked me down a few pegs.  Not sure how this adventure-filled vacation that awaits me will fare with my back issues (though thankfully I convinced my doctor to prescribe me a few muscle relaxers to at least make it through the weekend), but it did teach me a valuable lesson.  In both the humility and humiliation this experience has brought, I realize I can't do everything (and that's okay).  And sometimes what is most important is saying no, or taking a break for a bit to re-group (sometimes we need the break physically, but often we also need a break mentally).  Hopefully I learned my lesson!