Thursday, December 2, 2010

First Snowfall!

For some reason, the first snowfall of the winter has always been a source of excitement for me.  Even my current, I-don't-like-talking-about-my-feelings, I-gag-when-I-hear-sappy-stuff me couldn't help feeling a surge of childish glee when I looked out my window and saw that it was snowing!!  Yes, although I've been going through a bit of an identity crisis lately, there are a few things that have stuck with me through it all:

1.  I love Him.  Especially in the Eucharist.  Continuing along this vein may lead to extremely sappy material, so I will now move on. ;)

2.  I am so frickin excited for Christmas!  I haven't felt this kind of anticipation for years.  It's not as simple as looking forward to the time off of school or the presents.  It's more an intense enjoyment of the very Christmasy things that I have the great pleasure of experiencing at this time every year.  Listening to Christmas carols, seeing lights and decor everywhere, making and eating Christmas cookies, being with my whole family all at once... all of it is such a delight...

3.  I love music and being a music major more than ever!  I feel that some wonderful and beautiful mystery is being revealed to me day by day as I struggle through my classes and homework.  So worth the time and effort, unlike other attempted branches of study...

So, imagine my excitement about tonight being the first of Heinz Chapel Choir's Christmas concerts!  Combining my two favorite things, Christmas and music... it looks to be a wonderful start to the holiday season. :D

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bathroom = Cruel Trap

The doorknob in our downstairs bathroom is broken, and as such, when I went to the bathroom this afternoon, I got trapped in it. This was particularly unfortunate because I was just making a quick stop home to grab my music and some food before heading to an audition at 5.  I think it was the moment when my toilet-lid-battering-ram escape tactic failed that I knew I would probably not make it to the audition.  At that point I had tried using tweezers as a wrench to turn the remaining stub of a doorknob, unscrewing the plate from the doorknob using the tweezers as a screwdriver, and I may or may not have tried to burn a hole in the door using the candle on the toilet, matches, and some rolled-up toilet paper.  Of course, I had the wastebasket full of water close by to extinguish the flames once I got out.  I shouldn't have bothered; the door didn't light.  Finally I gave up and just curled up for a nap on some rolled up towels like a little dog until my housemate got home and let me out.  I was in there for about two hours.  I had left my phone in the dining room.  I didn't think I would need it.

I find this scenario to be especially hilarious because, as some of you know, I also got trapped in a room during my trip to Africa this past summer.  I was sick and the rest of the group went to Mass, locking me up inside of our room without realizing that I couldn't unlock it from the inside.  The nausea passed after about 30 minutes, but I was stuck in there for about three hours.  Except I managed to escape from that one after much lock-picking with a bobby pin, checking the windows for ways out, and pacing around the room.  I finally realized that if I undid the bolts securing the second door to the door frame, I could swing the double doors open.  So I did, much to the surprise of an unsuspecting village woman getting water from a nearby rain well.  The language barrier made explaining difficult, so I only pantomimed a bit before high-tailing it to the latrines.

Now this whole situation is making me a bit nervous, because since this has happened twice I feel that it's bound to happen a third time.  You know, the rule of threes and all.  So... I will be keeping my cell phone with me at all times from now on.  Even in the bathroom.  Especially in the bathroom.

Oh, and I did miss the audition.  By the time I got out it was almost 5:30.  I sent the casting director an email saying that I was so sorry, but "something unexpected and unavoidable came up and I didn't have my phone with me."  Well, it's the truth.  There's no need to share with the world that I locked myself in a bathroom.  Oh wait.  I just did.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Africa: I Miss It

"When I think of home, I think of a place where there's love overflowing.
I wish I was home, I wish I was back there with the things I've been knowing..."

I've said it before and I'll say it again; Africa feels like home to me.  I miss it so SO much; it is killing me that I am not there right now.  If someone offered me a one-way ticket to Ghana today, I would take it.
I have been home for about two and a half months now.  That must be how long it takes for me to register homesickness, cuz I'm really feelin' it now.

Here is what I miss most:
- the simple, unshakable faith of the people there
- the smiles
- the children (oh, my heart!!!)
- the drums and the dancing
- my mission team

Here is what I still don't miss:
- rice and red sauce
- latrines
- exhaust fumes

What I wouldn't give for the chance to go back to Dafor and visit the little school they have there, to hear the kids yell "Sistah Jen!" as they pull on my arms and clothes.  How I would love to hoist a headpan of cement onto my headcloth and work to finish that church!  What a joy it would be to to hear another of Fada's homilies, so penetrating and life-giving because of their deep simplicity!  How I miss those old ladies who tried to teach us Ewe and laughed at us every morning after Mass, those Mamas who were quite obviously the backbones of the village community, and those workmen who spoke to us in squeaky voices.  Hahaha and the finger snapping handshakes... I miss those.

I must go back to Africa.  I don't know when or how, but I must.  I have already been away from home for too long.

Recent Adventures

In the past few days I've had some little adventures which I would like to share.

On Thursday, I was working in the costume shop, which is in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning.  Not the nice ground floor that most people think is the basement, with the coffee shop and the computer labs, but the real basement, where there are no windows or doors to the outside except the loading dock.  The costume shop, as I have mentioned before, is in the very center of this floor.  Just some background info.
Anyway, I was working in the shop when I noticed a rather large cockroach on its back a few feet away from me.  It was struggling to right itself unsuccessfully, its flailing legs grabbing nothing but air and dust bunnies.  The rest of the shop was busy with a fitting, so I said nothing.  I figured it couldn't go anywhere while it was stuck on its back like that, anyway.
Later in the day, I noticed a stink bug crawling on my boss's notebook.  She had said that there were a lot of these little brown bugs on the stuff she had bought at a thrift store just this morning, so I wasn't surprised to see it but I thought I should at least let her know, since the fitting was now over.  She freaked out a little bit, decreed that it needed to be killed, and went to get the bug spray.  Since she couldn't find the spray and she didn't want the stink bug to get away, she grabbed what appeared to be the next  best thing: tacky spray, a kind of spray glue in an aerosol can.  She went to town on that little bug, spraying it from all angles with this sticky spray.  While she was at it, I thought I'd inform her of the cockroach that was still on its back under a clothing rack.  She freaked out a little more and then sprayed it, too.  Sometime during the spraying, it managed to flip over, but it couldn't exactly move, because it was now glued to the floor.  Actually, both bugs were now glued to place where she sprayed them, and neither was dead.  I guess tacky spray isn't toxic after all.
We were now faced with the dilemma of finishing the job in the least messy way possible.  My boss got rid of the stinkbug by throwing away the page of her notebook it was glued to, and a fellow workstudy and I were left to dispose of the cockroach.  Ah, how to proceed?
After considering several methods (and poking the cockroach with a piece of paper for a while), here is what we did:
a) He folded up a paper towel, laid it on top of the glued-down cockroach, and stepped on it repeatedly.   It crunched.
b) He lifted the paper towel, much to everyone's disgust.
c) He wiped away what wasn't stuck to the floor with another paper towel.
d) I doused the stuck-to-the-floor remains with adhesive remover.
e) We waited one minute.
f) He wiped up what he could with more paper towels.
g) I doused it again.  (There were still antennae and legs stuck to the floor.)
h) We waited another minute.
i) He wiped up the remainder of that poor unfortunate cockroach.  What a way to go.
This sequence, of course, does not include the abundance of screaming and general causing-of-a-scene that went on in addition to these steps.  What did you expect?  We're all theatre people.

Blues Dancing
Later that night, I went to CMU's Chicken Swing, which as I have mentioned in the past is an excellent way to get my dancing fix, especially because by Thursday night, I need to dance.  We learned blues dancing, which is kind of a looser form of tango with a bit of swing mixed in.  Maybe.  I don't really know the proper definition or the roots of the dance, but I know that it's pretty darn fun.  No, "fun" isn't really the right word for it, because it's not as fast-paced and exhilarating as some other forms of dance.  It seems like it would be good for late at night, when you're getting a little tired but want to keep dancing.
Here are the things I really like about blues dancing:
- It's pretty simple to learn.  There's no basic step, really, just the pulse of the music and keeping with that.  And keeping with your lead, obviously, if you're a follow.
- The follow has a bit more freedom in this dance.  In most partner dances, it's completely about listening to the lead and following what he wants you to do, but in this there is a bit more leeway.  Of course, you maintain a connection and stay with him in general, but if you want to get the hips going or stylize a little bit, it's all fair game.
- The hold is so close!  I prefer this; I think it's easier to maintain the connection and to feel the lead.  Nope, I have no qualms about getting very close to a perfect stranger.  Is that weird?  Well either way, I very much enjoyed getting close to my dance partners last night.

     I know that I should take vitamins.  I learned that while I was in Africa.  But even here in the States, where my diet consists of much more than rice and red sauce, I really should be supplementing it in some way.  But I hate those huge pills... so I usually don't.  Thus, gummy vitamins.  I decided that that was the solution to this dilemma.  But I haven't done anything about it yet.  I decided this about 3 months ago...
     So, last night I returned from dancing, and my housemate had been shopping.  And she bought... drum roll please...  DISNEY PRINCESSES GUMMY VITAMINS!!!!!!!!  I am so happy about this.  One of my career goals is to be a Disney Princess, so I think it's a good idea to take princess vitamins.  You know.  ;)

     On Friday a friend of mine and I went to a house in the neighborhood around Mercy Hospital to look at some 2-month-old pit bull puppies.  I was answering an ad in the Pitt News, so I had no idea who these people were or where their house was.  Everyone I told about this said it sounded sketch, but I was determined.  I called my wonderful daddy and told him the exact address where we'd be and that I would call him when we were done.  
     Everything turned out fine, of course.  The breeders were really nice people who answered all my silly questions about their puppies and their other pets and training and on and on.  And the puppies were absolutely adorable.  I got right on the floor and played with them for most of our visit, so by the time we left my hands and arms looked like I had been mauled by a very small tiger.  Totally worth it.

     Friday morning, I ran into a friend of mine on my way to my 11am class, and as usual, I smiled at her.  But this time, it was real.  I've gotten pretty good at faking it, and lately I've had plenty of opportunities to do so.  I don't think I've genuinely smiled, as an expression of joy that I felt in my heart, for almost a month. But I am smiling for real again.  I'm glad.  I was getting so tired of pretending to be happy.

New Phone
     Good ol' Dad renewed our contract with Sprint, so I got a sweet awesome Samsung Seek absolutely free!!!  I was hesitant to graduate to a qwerty keyboard and touchscreen after two years with my standard flip phone, but I am adjusting very quickly and I like it a whole lot. It has a blue ribbon of color running around the outside, and the inside when you slide it open is also blue.  I like to think that Mary has her mantle wrapped around my little phone.  Maybe that's silly.  I don't care. :)

There are more, but those are the best ones.  More to come, perhaps.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


That girl...
with lots of eyeliner
in the sexy heels
with the tears in her eyes...
that isn't me.

When did I stop smiling?  When did I stop caring?  When did these walls go up?
Maybe I could name a specific date and time...
but maybe it's also been a process...
a process that now needs to come undone.

But do I want to undo it?

Oh, God, listen to me. I am so angsty.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I know I haven't posted in a long time.  It's actually because I haven't had anything positive to say.  My life has been... difficult lately, and a lot of mornings it's all I can do to pull myself out of bed to face another day.  I wish I could go into details and pour my heart out to you, readers, but it would just be so inappropriate.  Just please, keep me in your prayers.
Here are some things that are keeping me going:
- my family.  They are the best.  Really.  I don't know what I would do without them.  My mom and older sisters have been calling me with great frequency just to ask how I'm doing.  I have two wonderful brothers who are just amazing young men.  And that little sister of mine. She's such a sass, and I taught her everything she knows.  And she's getting so grown up and so beautiful!  But most especially, I am grateful for the gift of my father right now.  What a good man he is.  He has been so faithful to our family, so loving, so hardworking, so generous.  And when a girl's heart is lying in pieces around her, sometimes a hug from her daddy is just the thing to make it a little better...
- my faith.  Ya, it had to be said.  God and I are... maybe not as tight as we used to be.  But we still talk.  Honestly, it's Mamma Mary who's pulling me through this time.  And I know that she's very close to her Son/Husband/Father.  It's great how God is all three to her, isn't it?  So as long as I stay wrapped in her mantle... I think I'll be ok.
- music.  Yes, this also makes me cry a lot.  But more often it brings a sweet release of all the tensions and stresses of my life.  My favorite is to go into St. Paul's when no one else is there and just revel in the sound of my voice reverberating through the glorious space above my head.  It's like... releasing pieces of my soul.  My favorite right now is Bach's Ave Maria in the key of G major.  (I know that because after I finished singing I whipped out my tuning fork, which I always have with me now, and found what key I was in just by listening to A 440 and doing the math.  Hells yes, I am a music major now!!!  Also I just found out that that's the key it was originally published in.  It's a sign.) Today when I was singing there two people walked in and knelt down to pray in the middle of a song.  I wasn't sure what to do so... I finished the song.  Then I left feeling kind of embarrassed.  Usually I only let God hear me when I'm singing like that.
- my bird.  Sure, she bites me when I try to touch her, but every morning, she sings along to my alarm clock, and sometimes it's quite nice to wake up to birdsong.
- dancing!  I went to Chicken Swing at CMU last Thursday night and did some lindy hoppin'.  It was so lovely to forget about everything for a few hours and just dance.  I am also a regular attendee of the Panther Tango Club, which I love.  I think tango is my favorite kind of dance.  It's so passionate and tender.  Also the endorphines from these two excursions kept me in an "up" mood for several days.  The only drug I can afford...

Now I'd like to talk a little bit about school.  I have apparently stopped caring about it.  I haven't done homework in over a week.  Except for a little composition project.  Hells yes.  I am a music major now. ;) Anywho, this lack of caring about classes is especially unfortunate because my good side pleaded with my professors on Friday for extensions on all the papers and homeworks I haven't turned in, while the bad me doesn't give a damn and is blogging right now instead of working on her long-overdue homework.  And I'm honestly feeling pretty sleepy (not from wine this time) so I think I'm going to go to bed and try to wake up early to finish it.  If I care tomorrow.  Which is a tossup at this point.
Ooo it's thundering.  How wonderful.  I do love a good storm.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sleepless Saga

So, last night I don't think I slept at all.  This was not a free choice; I was so tired when I got home at 8:30 last night that I was in bed by 9, thinking that if I went to bed early, I could wake up early and do my homework then.  But it was not to be.  I slept for maybe an hour before I awoke, uncomfortably hot and sweating.  My room used to be an attic, so the temperatures up here can get a little extreme.  I tossed and turned for a while, trying to fall back asleep in spite of the heat, but eventually I gave in and got up to throw open my windows the rest of the way.  This turned out to be a mistake, because apparently the 3-step trek across the room told my body that it was time to be awake, and try as I might, I could not convince it that it was, in fact, bedtime and that I was tired.  By now it was 11:30.
So, I got up and turned on a small light so that I could at least entertain myself with some books.  I read the last hundred pages or so of The Golden Compass, which was very interesting, but I still was not even remotely tired.  I thought, "Maybe I can get my homework done now, since I obviously won't be sleeping anytime soon."  I turned on my computer, etc., only to find that our internet had timed out.  I would have to reset the router, which is in my housemate's room, and I really did not want to creep in there while she was sleeping. Instead, I went downstairs, pulled out some ice cream, made some tea, and read the next hundred or so pages from How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk.  (very informative, by the way.  I highly recommend.)  All this reading, eating, and tea-making took me right up to about 5am, at which point I headed back upstairs with a mug of tea to sit in my windowsill with my feet on the roof, my special spot where I sometimes watch the sunset.  Whilst staring up at the moon and the one bright star I could see through the light pollution of our neighborhood, I found myself actually feeling a chill from the night air breezing around our roof, and that chill made me a little bit sleepy, in addition to the delicious tea I was sipping (about my 4th mug that night).  So, around 6am I finally found my way back to my little bed and succeeded, at last, at falling asleep.
My alarm went off at 7.  "Hell no," I thought, and turned it off.  Then I rolled over and went back to sleep until 10:30, thus making it impossible for me to go to my 10am or 11am classes or do any of my homework.  I did get up and get ready to catch the 12:34 bus into Oakland for my 1pm class, but I just missed it and so did not get into Oakland until the next bus arrived there at 1:30 or so.  My 2pm class didn't meet today because we had keyboard audits!  Fun fun.  I think I aced mine.  The rest of the day went normally: holy hour, confession, Mass, grocery shopping, dinner.  I haven't felt the effects of my sleeplessness at all.
It is now getting quite late, especially considering I have to be up and out by 7:45 tomorrow morning, but I still am not tired.  It is too damn hot in this house.  And I need to finish doing my laundry so I actually have clean clothes to wear to choir camp.  Che palle.  That is a vulgar way of saying "What a drag" in Italian.  Maybe I can sleep in the car tomorrow on the way there.  Or maybe it will be so cold at camp that I will actually be able to sleep there... What a delight that would be...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Lists

Here's what I hate:
- when there are smudge marks on the windows of public transportation vehicles from the person/people before you resting their greasy head/s on the window.
- when the teacher leaves bits of chalk marking/dry erase marker while erasing the board.
- when a book I really like gets wet and its pages dry crinkled, never to be the same again.
- when I walk away from a conversation and realize that I talked about myself the entire time.
- head colds

Here's what I love:
- the Eucharist
- singing, especially really high notes
- dancing!
- the circle of fifths
- Africa, especially beautiful, wonderful Ghana

Here is what I secretly hate (but not so secret anymore)
- listening for too long
- green peppers
- answering the phone
- when people are judgmental in either direction
- being expected to socialize/mingle with a large group of people

Here is what I secretly love (but again, not so secret anymore):
- surprising people, especially by saying/doing ridiculous/unexpected things
- lacy underthings
- giving myself pep talks in the morning as I get ready
- twilight (don't judge!  They were highly entertaining.)
- watching exorbitant amounts of online tv

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fine Eyes

Today, after Tango Club, I found myself with two hours to kill before a little choir rehearsal at 9.  I decided to head to one of the numerous cafes on Craig Street to get some food and work on some homework, and I ended up in Camilles, as usual it seems.  The Indian guy working there recognized me from the other day, when I stopped in to buy some exorbitantly expensive orange juice ($4 a cup???? ay).  Once again, he complimented me on my "beautiful eyes," only this time he went on to say that in the three months he's worked there, I'm the only one he's complimented in this way.  We made small talk while he got my food; he asked me about weekend plans, where I was living this year, etc.  Then he asked me if I liked cookies, and when I said yes, he pulled two from the bakery case, "One for each of your eyes."  I was absolutely flabbergasted...  I mean, I've been complimented before, but this was unheard of.  I got free stuff because I have pretty eyes!  I'm not quite sure what to make of this... but I already ate one of the cookies.  White chocolate and macadamia nut.  Mmmm.  That one was for my left eye, I think. ;)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Chapter

I know the name of this post is super cheesy, but I couldn't think of anything else to call this collection of musings about my current state.  I've just moved into my new house, for good this time, and connected to the internet successfully, and I feel quite contemplative.
I woke up this morning really missing Africa.  The goodbye is just feeling so real today.  I am quick to adapt but slow to truly change.  This was apparent in the way I quickly embraced African culture and lifestyle, but right at the end of the month I began to struggle because I needed to adjust on a deeper level to be comfortable again.  So it is now; I was quick to adapt to my previous lifestyle once back in the States, but it's taken a little longer for the change to really sink in.  It's really starting to hit me that I am probably not going back to Ghana for a really long time.  And I miss it.  I miss it so friggin much.
I am so super glad to be living in this house, though.  My loan was finally dispersed today, so I can pay my rent.  Phew!  My boxes are still piled up in the closet and in the living room, but I don't care.  I know that eventually my organizational self will create some kind of order to it all.  And I feel that I have time to do that for once.  For some reason, all my other moves felt rushed... which doesn't make any sense because I definitely had time after both of them to make sure things got to their places.  Maybe because I moved my furniture in last week and I just have to put stuff in/on it now.  Either way.  I feel good about this.
And while we're on the subject of things I feel good about, allow me to say that I am pee-in-my-pants excited to start classes!  I'm going to be a music major!  Me!  Who saw that coming??  Oh, I'm so happy.  I've never been this excited for school to start in my whole life, I think.  I'm going to like what I'm studying.  Absolutely unheard of!  Oh God, I cannot think of it too much, or I'll never get to sleep.  I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve.  And my presents?  Music!  Choir rehearsals!  Voice lessons!  Oh, it is too much to bear!  To much goodness and happiness!  Thank God for that, or I would be booking my depressed little self a flight back to Africa by now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Africa: My Return

Well, I've been back at home for a little over a week now.  I've been trying to think of something meaningful to say about returning to the US of A, but nothing has come to mind.  I loved my time in Ghana and I'm sure it's changed me in many ways.  I just haven't seen the effects of those changes yet.
Here are the things that I miss the most about Ghana:
- the drums and the dancing at Mass
- the good hearts of the people of Dafor
- Fada's homilies
- the music playing almost constantly
- the children flocking around
- the beauty of the landscape
- the animals, esp. the cute baby ones
- carrying stuff on my head
- the outdoor showers
- the foam mattresses
- not being self-conscious about the way I look (or smell hahaha)
- laughing through meals with the mission team
- the mission team in general

And now, before I get too depressed about being back in the States, here are a few things that I really missed about this place:
- my makeup, clothes, and shoes, esp. the heels
- the food, esp. the variety and quantity of food
- my family, talking to my sisters about everything
- singing as much as I want to
- personal independence in general
- air conditioning
- good hospitals

I hope I get to go back.  I don't know when or how, but I know that I want to go back.  Ghana felt like home to me, and I don't think I'll ever be perfectly happy in the US or Ghana ever again, now that pieces of my heart are in both places.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Africa: Preach the Gospel Always...

This morning I said goodbye to the village that has been my home for the past two weeks.  Mass was a glorious affair, with drumming and singing and dancing, even though it's obviously not a Sunday.  I will never get over how beautiful He is in the Eucharist in the humble setting of the chapel there in Dafor.  His glory shines all the brighter, His generosity and goodness all the more apparent for the crude surroundings He humbles Himself to visit.  After Mass, Father gave a beautiful talk about the gratitude of the village and the impact our presence had made on them, and I cried.  The women presented us with beads as going away presents, and I cried more.  The children gathered around for a picture, and... I absolutely sobbed.
Father told us that one day, as he was driving, it occurred to him that there are twelve of us, just as there are twelve apostles.  He said that we were just like them, spreading the Gospel to the people of Dafor, yes, occasionally with our words, but more often with our actions. 
Not everyone in Dafor is Catholic, or even Christian.  Many of the men who worked alongside us on the church floor were not.  Our presence there was particularly baffling to them.  We have everything they want; why would we give it all up and actually pay to come work for free in their tiny little village?  How could we toil away at work to which we clearly were unaccustomed, day after day, always with smiles on our faces?  Why would we willingly submit ourselves to manual labor, stirring cement with shovels and carrying sand in pans on our heads?  The answer to these questions could be seen in the schedule we kept throughout our time in the village.  Our lives revolved around prayer: daily Mass, daily Eucharistic Adoration, and praise and worship on some evenings.  Our hunger for the Eucharist and the strength that it gave us to carry on served as a living example for all, a witness to His power and His love. 
Yet how much more exemplary was the generosity and the spirituality of the villagers!  They gave up so much for us to make us feel welcome.  One of the village elders gave up his home so the men would have a place to sleep.  Various parishioners were always bringing us bananas, pineapple, coconuts, or ground nuts (peanuts), and stopping by to greet us during meals and breaks.  When several of us were sick, their concern was apparent at every meeting.  The neighbors around the women's house constantly folded our laundry while we were gone for the day or filled up our water barrels.  Our cook made two meals a day (breakfast was simple most days) for all twelve of us every day, and before we met the Bishop of the Ho Diocese, she made dresses for all seven of us girls in a mere 24 hours!  Then, when the one girl had malaria, she stayed by her side for all five days of her hospital visit, buying food and cooking, leaving her 3-year-old daughter in her mother's care.  And the entire time, she wore a beautiful smile.  There are countless stories of these wonderful men and women giving of themselves completely.  If only I could learn to imitate their generous spirit! 
So perhaps we didn't get the chance to evangelize with words as some of us would have liked.  Perhaps our contribution to the church structure was meager.  Regardless of any disappointments or troubles we may have met along the way, both we and the villagers have benefited greatly from our time with them.
And God, I'm going to miss those kids.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Africa: I Am Still Alive

We have just about reached the halfway point of our adventure here in Ghana.  We're leaving Dafor on Wednesday the 28th, after which we'll be back in Accra with real beds and showers and more frequent access to the internet.  We'll be working the the kids in the slums around the convent of the Missionaries of Charity for a few days and hopefully spending some time with the orphans and AIDS patients that they care for as well.
I had intended to write a longer post than this, but my hour in this internet cafe has slipped away so quickly!  I can only say that I am quite well, though not everyone in our little group can say the same.  One of the girls went to the hospital with malaria yesterday, and there are two other people significantly under the weather.  Everything is ok now, but we are reaching a point when everyone is tired from working so hard every day.  We're not used to having to drink so much during the day, because we don't realize how much we're sweating until we feel the symptoms of dehydration.  Please don't worry; we are all ok, and those who need it have been resting.  We're drinking more and eating lots of bananas and eggs to keep our energy up.  We will all probably be much improved once we reach Accra, where our work is no longer manual labor, there is very low risk of malaria, the food is more substantial, and the accomidations much more comfortable. 
The church is looking good; we finally started laying concrete the other day, so the loads we've been toting are much heavier and the men are completely worn out from mixing cement with shovels.  We probably won't finish the floor, but the foundation we have laid is strong and ready for the next mission trip next summer.  So far we have had to:
- dig trenches for the sleeper walls
- tote sand from various places about the village for concrete
- mix concrete
- fill said trenches with concrete
- make bricks
- lay bricks in trenches
- tote dirt
- fill the spaces created by sleeper walls with dirt
- tote water
- throw water on dirt
- tamp down dirt to make level surface
- mix concrete
- pour concrete onto dirt
And we are doing all this by hand.  It is really insane.  And it looks like we barely did anything. 
Ok, one minute left.  ciao ciao!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Africa: A Day in the Life

We have been in the little village of Dafor for about a week now, and our days have fallen into a rhythm of sorts.
5:40am - wake up (the sun and the villagers have already been up for a while by this time)
6:30am - Mass (if Father is in the village)
7:30am - breakfast of bread, ground nut paste (peanut butter), strawberry jam, honey, and tea
8:30am - holy hour, sometimes with the Eucharist exposed, sometimes without
9:30am - work on the church
12:30pm - lunch
2:00pm - various afternoon activities.  could include more work, meeting to discuss the book we're reading together, laundry, naps, etc.
4:00pm - bucket showers: the best part of the day (except Mass, of course)
6:30pm - dinner (it gets dark around this time here)
7:30pm - praise and worship on tuesday, thursday, and saturday
9:30pm - bedtime

All of these times are approximate, because here there is a glorious thing called "Africa time," in which 8 o clock means "anytime in the 8 o clock hour."  Also, people are late for everything and nobody cares.  As long as you're there within the hour, it's ok.  I've stopped looking at watches or clocks because everything is so fluid.  The bell for Mass in the center of the square by the well rings twice for Mass.  The first bell means "Father is here; there will be Mass."  The second means "Mass is starting; you are late."  I think that just about says it all.
My love for this place grows exponentially with each day.  I don't even want to think about leaving.  The people here are so friendly and joyful, and the children are so precious.  They pronounce my name somewhere between "Gin" and "Jen" in their adorable Ewe accents (the language here is Ewe, pronounced EH-weh).  Most of them can't speak a word of English, but smiles are pretty universal, and they certainly know how to do that.  Also they waggle their eyebrows at us to say hello and repeat anything we say in English.  My heart absolutely melts for them. 
Well, there is much more I could say, but the connection in this internet cafe is horrendously slow, and my hour is almost up, so I must cut my ramblings short.  Hope all is well in the States!  I may be coming back to this cafe next week, so stay tuned.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Africa: Day Two

I am at the internet cafe again, but today the computer is running very slowly and the internet connection is poor, so I am struggling to check my email and write this and wait for things to load etc. all in the brief 30-minute time frame I have here.
This morning we explored the marketplace of Accra, which was quite a colorful, noisy, and fragrant experience.  Some of the fragrances were good, others were... not so good.  I would post pictures, but I don't think there's a spot on this computer to plug in an SD card. 
Oh yes, I haven't told you: the leader of our group is letting me borrow his camera for the next month, since he has a video camera that also takes pictures.  Very, very generous of him.  So I popped my SD card in it last night and will take all my pictures home with me no problem.  Praise God.
Anyway, about the market.  We basically just walked through (with a guide, of course).  There was loud, upbeat music playing around every corner; it was all I could do to keep from dancing through the streets! 
Here are the rules of the road in Accra, as far as I can tell:
1. Don't hit anything.
2. The bigger your vehicle, the more right of way you have. 
3. Stay to the right as much as possible. (This is negotiable.)
That's pretty much it.  So as pedestrians, we have no rights to the road.  And there are no sidewalks. 
We passed through the Catholic school here, and it was as though we were in a parade!  All the little kids ran to the windows and waved, smiling, until we waved back.  They made quite a ruckus.  I think their teachers must have hated us for the disruptions we caused in their classrooms.  And the kids LOVE cameras.  As soon as they see one, they run over to pose and push each other to get right to the front of the picture.  Some of the younger ones have never seen white skin before, and they are absolutely captivated by us.  It is really darling.
This afternoon we had the famous Ghanian dish fufu for lunch with a spicy chicken soup.  No one hated it or got sick, so I think we're going to survive the next month.  I personally found it quite good and very filling, which is a good quality for food to have where we're going.
Tomorrow morning we leave for the village on Lake Volta, so you probably won't hear from me again until I get back to Accra.  And I have one minute left, so I really must be going.
Pray for me! :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Africa: First Impressions

Hello from Ghana!!
I am pleased to announce that we made it here with no trouble; no one lost their baggage or got sick or got stopped at customs.  I am surprised how much I love it here already.  I can't really explain to you what happened in my heart when I stepped out of the airplane, but I feel like I am home.  Praise God; He knew all along how well and how quickly I would find a place here, even when I had my doubts during preparation.
Things of Note:
- Although the weather is not much hotter now than the weather in Pittsburgh, there is no air conditioning.  So I'm just getting used to being a little sweaty.  No biggie.  Everyone kind of is.
- The showers in the guesthouse are cool.  Surprising at first, but quite refreshing once I got used to it.
- When I got out of the shower and put on clean clothes, they felt like they had just been fluffed in the dryer. 
- I have not slept more than 5 or 6 hours in the past 48 hours, and all in little 1- and 2-hour pieces.  The night before we left I could not sleep for nerves and excitement, and trying to sleep in the plane was like living purgatory on Earth.  Very uncomfortable.  The plane ride was a little over 10 hours long, and I only got up once.  But I watched 2 1/2 movies.  Yay for individual seat back televisions.
- When I got off the plane I pulled out my camera to take pictures of the airport.  (I know, very touristy haha)  My lens was jammed.  I just paid $115 to repair the lens.  So now I have no camera.  I am not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand, I would like to have some pictures, but on the other hand I hate taking them.  So.  I just keep saying "Jesus, I trust in You" over and over.  And I may be looking for a cheap camera here in Accra.
- My first Ghanian meal was breakfast: 2 slices of white bread, each about 3/4 inches thick, toasted and cut diagonally, with butter, marmalade, and hot tea.  That's all.

I will not pretend that I am not tempted to feel anxious about many things, especially after waking up disoriented from a nap this afternoon.  But any fears I may have are calmed by the thought of going to Mass tonight after dinner.  How I love the Eucharist!  And He is the same everywhere.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy List

Lately, I've been noticing that a lot of things are making me smile and even laugh as I prepare to leave for Ghana.  Here are a few:

- the Eucharist - I mean, seriously, what would a happy list be without the source of our happiness??
- the smell of tanning oil - mmmm, summer... and... banana popsicles?*
- trying on leather jackets in the store while my little sister reminds me again that I don't own a motorcycle
- the way my hair looks when it curls just right, like it did today  (sigh, why am i soooo vaaaain...)
- headbands with flowers on them (i just bought a bunch! :D)
- getting packages in the mail (even if it's just boring stuff for Africa, like hand sanitizer)
- teaching my little sister how to walk in heels**
- dancing along to the radio while I pack
- hanging out in my bikini after sunbathing
- the pink lace that I use as a bookmark for my copy of "The Imitation of Christ"
- gold toenail polish
- getting to know St. Therese as I read Story of a Soul***
- looking up the weather forecast for Ghana, clicking on "10 day" and realizing that I'm going to be there during some of that weather!!! gah, it's so crazy.  I can't even think about it or I might explode.

And now, since a few of these have touched on topics I've been meaning to write about for some time now, I will elaborate in these blogs within a blog:

* Adventures in Tanning
I have never laid in the sun for the sole purpose of getting tan before.  It always just happened after a day at the pool or a week of camping or whatever.  So when I started, I had a bit of a time figuring out what to do.  I've been meaning to chronicle them here so that those of you who have never tanned but thought about it could learn from my mistakes and those of you who are experienced tanners could laugh at me.
The first day, I went outside and tried to lay on my back for half an hour without moving.  I never realized what a fidgety person I am until I attempted this stunt.  I barely made it through the half hour without jumping up and running around.  Then I had to lay on my stomach for half an hour.  Torture.  And on top of that, I set up my towel right next to a giant ant hill, which explains the numerous ants crawling on me while I lay there.  I'm not really creeped out by bugs, but it was super annoying.  I said a rosary and a chaplet of Divine Mercy and offered everything up for the mission.
The next day, I managed to get my little sister to lay out with me (in a different spot) so I wouldn't get so incredibly bored.  But it was still hot and uncomfortable.  We didn't make it the whole hour.  And I didn't look tan at all, because I only had lain out around 3pm and 4pm to avoid the hottest part of the day, which I had always been taught to do to avoid sunburn.
On Sunday, though, I went out at 1pm.  It was so incredibly hot, I was watching the sweat bead up on my arms and roll off.  By then, though, I had figured out that it was better to do 3 10-minute sessions on each side so as to avoid the torture of laying still for so long.  So in between the first four and last two sessions of the hour, I ran inside to get a popsicle.  Oh man, frozen juice has never tasted so good.  And I got super tan.  Yaay!
Since then, I've used the 6 10- minute session format almost every day, and my tan is deepening nicely.  I have even grown to enjoy my time sunbathing, and I've been able to relax enough to doze sleepily in the sun.  The weather has been so nice and breezy the past few days, too. And I've said a lot of rosaries.  When I'm done with my hour for the day, I step inside and lay on the couch to watch TV for a little while in my bikini, enjoying the way my skin feels all warm from the sun and smells so delicious from the tanning oil.  Sigh. This may be a new summer tradition for me.  Maybe.

** 5 Golden Rules for Walking in Heels
1. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet as much as possible.  Putting weight on the heel causes wobbling, slipping, and heal breakage.
2. Pick your feet up to at least ankle height during your stride.  This will help you avoid what I like to call "heel farts," when your heel scrapes loudly and embarrassingly against the surface on which you are walking, a dead giveaway that you are dragging your feet.
3. Walk as though you are walking a parking lot line, one foot in front of the other.  There's no need to cross over dramatically, but keeping your footsteps close to lined up will give your hips a lovely, natural swing as you walk.
4.  Confidence!  Keep your chin and eyes up, shoulders slightly back and lengthen your neck.  Imagine stretching the muscles under your ears that connect your head to your shoulders.  And smile a bit, like you know a secret.  Here's the secret:  you are amazing!! Look at you in those heels! ;D
5.  Use all your muscles, especially your abs, glutes, and calves to steady yourself.

Oh, and here's a bonus tip:  keep your walk heel-toe, heel-toe or else you're stride will show that you're inexperienced in heels.  But remember rule #1.  The "heel" of heel-toe should be the briefest touch until your toe comes firmly down to push off again.
If you are walking in heels for the first time (like my sister was) it's probably best to start with wedges and work your way to a smaller and higher heel.  But as I also told her, if you practice walking around on your tiptoes, those muscles that you need for walking in heels will strengthen and you'll be ready for anything!

***  My Confirmation Saint
I've always had a special connection to St. Therese, since I was a very little girl.  I just always knew that she'd be my confirmation saint.  It really was as though she chose me rather than the other way around.  When I was little, I loved her child-like faith and the novena asking her for roses.  That tangible sign from heaven was so encouraging for me when I was young, and still is.  Back then I used to say that novena all the time for every little thing.
As I grew up, though, I fell away from her, especially as I grew in my faith and discovered other amazing saints.  Whenever I would tell people that she was my confirmation saint, they would always ask if I'd read The Story of a Soul, but of course I hadn't because I had written it off as too dense for me.
In Peoria in the spring of '09, I had a long talk with one of the nuns, during which she exclaimed, "It is so easy to tell that St. Therese is your confirmation saint; everything you are saying sounds just like her!"  And then she asked if I had read Story of a Soul, which I still hadn't, but now I was legitimately curious about it.
It wasn't until the spring of this year, when I was in Peoria again for spring break that I bought the book for myself.  We were visiting the museum of Bishop Fulton Sheen (who is a native of Peoria; who knew?) and I was wandering through the gift shop when the glossy little book caught my eye.  I don't know why I hesitated before I bought it, but eventually I did.
I started reading it when I got home, and was immediately struck by how similar St. Therese and I are!  Her stories of her childhood in the beginning of the book were just so inexplicably familiar, and I identified with her so deeply.  I took a break from the book for a few weeks during finals etc., but I picked it up again fairly recently and was again surprised by how alike we are.  We could be sisters, really!  I don't mean to elevate myself by identifying with such a great saint; I just mean that her way of thinking and mine are very similar, that her natural reactions to things are often the same as mine, though in her great holiness she usually overcomes these.  I understand her perfectly, and I love her so dearly, more than I ever have.  How blessed I am to have such a wonderful person chose me as her little sister of sorts!
I think it no coincidence that I have rediscovered her during preparations for my trip to Africa; she is the patron saint of missionaries!  Although she never left the Carmel, she spiritually adopted many missionaries and dreamed of being able to spread our Lord's love to people the world over.  So, St. Therese, pray for me and my fellow missionaries!  I am starting to get majorly freaked out about this whole thing.

Ok, that is all.  This post makes me seem really worldly, materialistic, and vain...  I guess I am.  :p  Maybe my trip to Ghana will cure me of those unfortunate personality traits.  Part of me hopes so and part of me... just really likes pretty things!! If I ever met myself, I don't know if I would like me very much.  I might hate me.  I might be seriously concerned for my soul.  Or I might get along with myself very well, because we were delighted by all the same things. hahaha

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Africa Update

This morning I took the last dose of my oral typhoid vaccine.  Now I never have to wear that annoying orange reminder bracelet again!  Yaaay!  Also I went back to Passport Health to get my second round of rabies vaccine and made an appointment at the Chicago Passport Health for the third round.  So that's all set, I guess.
I did a whole bunch of shopping online and finally ordered everything I need, I think.  Now all I have to do is wait for the packages to trickle in.  I needed surprisingly a lot of stuff, from 50spf sunscreen and 30% deet bugspray to unscented laundry detergent and a money belt with lots in between.  Hand sanitizer, a wash that makes your clothes spf 30, extra tank tops to wear under my fancy button-down shirts from L.L. Bean.  These shirts, in the tropicwear line, are really fantastic.  They are spf 50, moisture-wicking, and light as can be.  And they have vents in the back so you are covered but your back is open to the air under some mesh.  Delightful.  I'm so excited for them to come in the mail.  The pants I ordered from, of all places, Victoria's Secret came yesterday.  They were the only place that had slim-fit khakis, which I need because they are lighter than jeans and can be tucked into work boots without looking ridiculous.  Is it ridiculous that I care about how I'll look there?  I generally always care about how I look.  Even when I'm building a church in a tiny village in Ghana.  Anyway, the pants fit like they were made for me, which is quite a relief, because I bought them sight-unseen off of the website (VS doesn't sell normal clothes in their stores, only online and via catalogue, in case you were wondering hahaha) and Lord knows it is hard enough to find pants that fit properly, let alone skinny jeans that fit properly.  I also bought a pair of lovely poplin shorts that also fit quite well and are incredibly comfortable and lightweight.  So so far I am pleased with my purchases.
Once all of my packages arrive, I'll need to pre-treat all my clothes with the spf 30 wash and the permethrin spray.  Did I tell you this already?  I can never remember who I told what and where I wrote what down.  Oh well.
I am also planning on having an old broken camera repaired for the trip (hopefully it'll be cheap) and I need to have all the pictures on my SD card cleared onto a CD so I have as much room as possible for Africa pictures!!  I'm not a big picture-taker, so I probably would be alright even if I didn't clear the card, but you never know.  I may suddenly blossom into some fiendish photographer who cannot stop snapping shots.  Say that ten times fast...
My mother has been suggesting that I lay out in the sun a bit before leaving to establish a base tan.  Ghana is actually on the equator, so the sun will be pretty fierce.  And I am pasty white...  Still I was surprised to hear my mother suggest such a thing.  It is very unlike her.  So next week will probably find me in a little two-piece on a towel in my backyard with a bottle of spf 8 tanning oil (my brother's???). Fun fun!  I've never lain out before for the sole purpose of getting tan.  I'm not quite sure how to go about it.  15 minutes on each side?  30 minutes?  More?  How often to apply the oil?  Good grief.  I'll have to go to or something.  This really is ridiculous.
As are my dreams lately... I keep dreaming very paperwork-y dreams.  Like, I have to go to an office and fill stuff out, or go to a school for orientation, or other nonsense like that.  It's really quite boring and a little stressful.  I generally prefer my dreams to be more pleasant.  But I'm afraid that they do reflect what's been going on in my life lately; I have so many hoops to jump through before my preparation for what has come to be known simply as "Africa" are complete.
Ok, this post turned into a ramble a little bit, but that's alright.  It has allowed you a little peek into my life as I prepare for what is certain to be a life-changing experience.  And after all, what are blogs for but to allow us places to ramble with the hopes that someone else will read and enjoy?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Yep, I made this pie.  Looks tasty, eh?  
Especially next to our trusty old Betty Crocker Cookbook...

Yesterday, I made my dad's favorite pie (rhubarb) so we could have it for Fathers Day.  While baking, I stumbled across a most excellently funny paragraph: the introduction to the pie chapter in our Betty Crocker cookbook, copyright 1969.  I couldn't keep this excellence to myself, so here it is:

What's the American man's favorite dessert?  Most people would agree - it's pie.  And heading the list is apple pie.  Followed closely by cherry pie and peach pie and lemon meringue and a lot of others.  If you care about pleasing a man - bake a pie.  But make sure it's a perfect pie.  How?  Simple.  Spend a little time with this chapter; pick up our sure-fire tips for flaky pastry.  Then try one of our recipes - family-tested and guaranteed to satisfy.  What more could you ask of a dessert?

Oh man, I laughed so hard when I read this.  And I laughed again while I was typing it out.  What say you, men?  Is it true?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vaccines and Other Meds

Yesterday was my appointment with Passport Health to be educated about and vaccinated for the various diseases I could contract while in Ghana.  It was actually the second time I had scheduled the appointment, because the first time I couldn't find the office to save my life and finally called them about 45 minutes past my appointment time to give up and reschedule.
This time I found the office just fine (I went to the Monroeville office instead of the Carnegie one, even though it's about twice as far), but I was still late because of rush hour traffic.  Sitting in traffic in a minivan with the sun beating through the open windows without air conditioning or wind = not fun.  They were super nice about it at the office, though, and the nurse made sure to go over everything very completely with me and make sure I had everything I needed, even though she stayed way past 5pm to do so.  May God bless her!
There are no fewer (and probably even a few more) than 17 serious illnesses I am at risk for in Ghana, only 7 of which I am now vaccinated against.  There just aren't vaccines for a bunch of them, and the rest are usually not fatal, I guess.  And anyway the vaccines/meds for typhoid and malaria don't even guarantee immunity.  Although my regular vaccination schedule had me covered for the more common diseases like meningitis and hepatitis B, I still chose to get the shots for hepatitis A, pneumococcal polysaccharide, polio, rabies, yellow fever (this one is required to enter the country), and typhoid fever.  This last one is an oral vaccine, meaning that they gave me a little box with four pills in it.  And it is live.  I'm actually introducing a weakened strain of typhoid fever into my body.  I took one this morning and will need to take one Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday morning, too, before I'm done.  But that still leaves 5 shots at one time...
I guess I wasn't thinking that this would be a big deal when I made the appointment.  I get 3 allergy shots every other week, I thought.  I'm used to being pricked.  But as she began to wipe down my left arm with alcohol, I truly wanted nothing more than for someone to be there to hold my hand.  So I began to pray.  I said Hail Marys through all 5 shots, two in the top of the left arm, one in the back of the left arm, and two at the top of the right arm.  I'm not gonna lie, it was kind of intense.  It was just so much at once, and the needles were bigger than allergy shots, and there was more liquid in the syringes, liquid that had now been unnaturally forced into my arm muscles.  The nurse tried to distract me with small talk, but I must have looked slightly shell-shocked when she was all done, because she gave me a slightly concerned look and asked if I was ok.  I took a deep breath and smiled and said yes, I was fine.  I was.  The truth is that I did feel the presence of my Blessed Mother very strongly throughout the little ordeal. I'm so glad she was there with me; I don't know how I would have handled it without her.  And I offered everything for the mission.  And I got three cool Snoopy bandaids. :)
Most of the vaccines carry with them the slight possibility that I could get sick, or at least experience a low-grade fever, some stomach aches, or nausea.  I've never had a reaction to a vaccination in my life, but to be perfectly honest, I am feeling a little under the weather right now.  I'm just really tired and I feel a little achy and my arms really are killing me.  It's not just the sites of the shots that hurt; my muscles are sore all up and down my arms, especially the left one.  I've been keeping my fluids up, and luckily I'm not working today, so I should be alright.   I am blogging and watching TV on my laptop and shopping for lightweight pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect against mosquito bites.  Nothing too strenuous haha.
Speaking of mosquitoes, I will also be on anti-malarial meds for the duration of my trip.  One pill a day and increased sun sensitivity, so I will need to wash all of my clothes with Sun Guard and buy a big hat.  And most of the diseases there are spread through insect bites, so I'm supposed to wear long sleeved shirts with the cuffs buttoned closed and long pants tucked into my shoes to prevent bugs from reaching my skin. Cute.  Apparently just wearing long pants isn't enough protection and bugs will fly up my pant legs if they're not secured by a band or tucked in.  I have to treat all of my clothes with a very strong insect repellent before I leave and will probably treat my sleeping area with it, too, once I arrive.
I felt hugely relieved on my drive home, even though there's so much left to do now.  My mom told me when I got home that this was the part of this trip that she was the most worried about; the vaccines.  I told her that I'm so glad she waited until after I got the shots to voice her concerns; I don't know if I would have had the courage to go through with it otherwise!  She assured me that of course she would never do that to me, that it was just her protective motherly instinct, and that if I was called to the mission, I just had to take those things as they came.  God bless my mother!!!
This is all so crazy and so real that it's finally coming clear to me that this is really happening.  I am going to a hugely underprivileged area to work and live with the people there, to experience their poverty and try to do a little something about it.  And yet I know that, in their simplicity, they are far richer spiritually that I have ever been, that I am the one who will truly gain by engaging with them.
Plus, now I'm INVINCIBLE!!!   Hahahaha bring it on, Africa!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More Proof

I've been flipping through old journals as I am wont to do sometimes, and I've found some interesting entries, some truly embarrassing ones, and some that make me feel so much better about myself.
There is one entry from the summer of '07, between my junior and senior years in high school, when I was worrying about college and what to do with my life.  I made two lists on opposing pages that read something like this:

What I'm Supposed to Do
- clean my room
- get really good grades
- apply to college
- clean the sink dishes and the house
- laundry
- get a job and keep it
- get my drivers license

What I Want to Do
- play the piano
- be in shows
- spend time with my friends
- sing
- write often and well
- sleep
- dream and ponder
- read
- fall in love

I absolutely laughed out loud when I stumbled across this gem, for several reasons.  I guess first and foremost is that even back then, deep down, I knew what I really wanted.  Also, I realized that not much has changed; hahaha I still want the same things!  Except falling in love. I stick my tongue out at love.  :p  But I've also realized that it's possible to want those things and have them and still be successful!  Praise God.
There's another entry, also from that summer, that gave me such hope.  I was trying to brainstorm for my college application essays, and I was jotting down notes under the heading, "What do I want the admissions people to know about me?" One sentence in particular stuck out to me there:  "If I am passionate about something, there is no stopping me," I wrote. Here's hoping I was right!!!  I know that I seriously can't wait for school to start again so I can start studying music!!! Gah, it's just so exciting!! :D  I should probably make myself a poster with that sentence on it for encouragement.
Speaking of encouragement, there's another phrase that I've been meaning to post somewhere in my living area/bedroom/office, something my mom told me once.  She was driving me back from the trolley station, one of many such little trips during the course of my year as a commuter, and I was telling her about school and a test I had done well on or something.  She was very pleased at my progress, of course, and I will never forget what she said next: "I'm tellin' you, Jane; you could set the world on fire."  ... I seriously can't even think of words to explain how much this means to me, so I'm just gonna leave it at that.
And now, to close, I thought I would share a few choice tidbits from various journal entries in celebration of my re-reading.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 7, 2006
I really really really want to draw on myself right now, so I'm writing on paper instead to counter the urge.

March 28, 2007
Tonight was opening night of the show Thoroughly Modern Millie at BPHS.  In some ways I feel like this is the first night of the rest of my life, but a new journal always makes me feel like that.

Monday, August 20, 2007
24 hours ago I was going batty in the car and now I'm the world's most befuddled Bethette.  All day I have had the feeling that I'm having a very strange dream where I'm a Bethette, not a piccolo player.  But it's real.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
It's around 3pm here in China, and 3am back in Bethel Park.  All I want to do right now is sleep.
I've been on a plane since 10am Bethel time, and we just boarded our second plane from Hong Kong to Beijing.  My butt hurts and my knees are sore.
Also I'm starving!  If I'm going to be awake at 3am, the least these people can do is feed me.
Hahaha I am so cranky!  This will change soon, I hope, as our trip becomes more about sightseeing and singing and less about traveling for hours and jet lag.

Monday, June 1, 2009
Today is an ass-wipe of a day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009
I just got back from choir camp and I'm waiting in the quad for Dad to pick me up. ...  I am so cold.  Really.  I think my toes are going to turn black and fall off.  And here comes Dad.  Sorry.  Too late.  I am already toe-less...

Friday, January 1, 2010
Alright, it's only been a few hours since I wrote the last entry, but I couldn't wait to write the new date.  It always gives me such hope for some reason.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Lord, I know that I do not need to see further than one step in front of me to keep going.  But what is that step?

And with that, I'm signing off.  Good night, folks!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New Name, New Address

Hello readers.  In case you haven't noticed (or are reading this on Facebook), I have changed the name of my blog.  It shall henceforth be known as "Songbirds and Silhouettes" and can be found at  
Now, you may be understandably curious about what prompted this change.  So I will tell you.
Earlier today, I was shopping on for a book I need to buy for my trip to Ghana.  All of us in the group will be reading Set All Afire: A Novel About St. Francis Xavier together since he is the patron saint of something that pertains to our trip.  Missionaries, probably.  "St. Francis Xavier is noteworthy for his missionary work, both as organizer and as pioneer. He is said to have converted more people than anyone else has done since Saint Paul."  Ah, thank you Wikepedia.  Anywho.  So I was buying this book and I was intrigued by the little "payphrase" bar on the side since I always see it when I check out but never click on it.  So today I did click on it.  I got a very informative little popup window explaining how the whole thing works and how to set one up etc. and I thought, hey, why not.  It would be nice to speed up the checkout process a little more.  So I followed the link and scrolled through the suggestions listed when I noticed that one of them included the word "songbird."  
And now, some background.
I have always, but especially in recent years, considered myself to be God's little songbird.  Here are a few reasons why:
~  There is that beautiful scripture verse about the Lord taking care of the birds and the flowers, so we should not be anxious... wait, I'll find it... "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?"  ~ Matthew 6:25-26  Sigh.  How lovely.  I remember this verse often when I get worried about where my life is going or how I will possibly have enough money to do this or that.  So far He has really provided for me!!  Just like a little bird. :)
~  Do you remember that scene in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet wishes that Romeo was a little bird tied to a string on her finger?  It's part of the balcony scene:
'Tis almost morning.  I would have thee gone --
And yet no farther than a wanton's bird,
That lets it hope a little from his hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silk thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
I would I were thy bird.
Sweet, so would I.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
What a delicious tidbit of literature.   Now, this scene, although laced through with dark foreshadowing, in some ways represents the relationship I wish to have with God.  I so dearly wish that I could be a little bird perched on His hand or His shoulder, or snuggled into His palm without a care in the world.  How I wish that I could delight Him just by being the cheeky little creature He created me to be.  And Juliet's description of herself as "loving-jealous" seems to me to explain perfectly the way God feels about each of us.  He doesn't want to share our attentions with anything or anyone!  He always wants to be first in our hearts, as well He should.
~  I love singing more than almost anything else, and I've always known that my voice was created to give glory to God.  I have one particularly beautiful memory concerning this knowledge that brings me such joy upon recollection.  I was walking to a Heinz Chapel Choir concert, I think the spring one.  It was quite damp that day, as we had just come through one of spring's many showers. The trees on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning, bare branches darkened by the rain, spread themselves in intricate patterns across the pale grey twilight.   I was bustling my way toward Heinz Chapel, thinking of all the things I had left to do that day besides sing in a concert.  I must have breathed a prayer of anxiety, as I often do when I get overwhelmed, for just at that moment, as I was walking under those trees, a large flock of birds swooped down to land on the branches above my path and started singing, I mean really singing.  It was gorgeous.  I think I actually stopped walking to turn my head up toward the songbirds in awe.  A smile broke out across my face as I listened, because I could hear the message being sent loud and clear.  "Go and sing for me, my little songbird, for it gives me such joy and such glory.  I will take care of the rest; do not let your heart be troubled."  I knew that the moment, the song, was a gift from Him, because in my heart I felt His peace nestling.  Needless to say, I continued on to the concert with spirits greatly lifted.  
~  When I was a senior in high school, I played the part of Chavala in Fiddler on the Roof, and her nickname is "Little Bird."  I danced a beautiful ballet (which I choreographed, by the way) behind the scrim as Tevye sang a song about how sweet and adorable I am, after which I ran crying around the passarelle begging for his acceptance in the extremely dramatic "Tradition: Reprise."  It was an excellent moment.  
~  I've always had birds as pets.  Our family dog died when I was pretty young (I wanna say around 4 years old?) and my mom refused to get another dog (or a cat) because she and several others in my family are actually very allergic to them.  So, after that I had a caterpillar (Mr. Caterpillar - I know, SO original) and a hamster (Kiki - my favorite character on "The Puzzle Place haha) before my little brother decided he wanted a bird.  We named the little blue fluffball Smokey after our favorite mountains, and after a while my brother got tired of taking care of it, so I adopted it. After he died, there was Beauty and then Tobey.  When Tobey died I gave up on birdkeeping, but after a traumatic incident at my sister's house (her dog ate one of her birds), she sent the remaining budgie home to live with me.  This was Jack.  Now we know he's actually a girl, so it's Jacqueline.  And of course, my favorite pet EVER was Elliot, the darling little spot of sunshine who died in a ceiling fan accident.  She was seriously such a good bird.  Sigh.  And she loved to sing.  I guess from having birds around for so much of my life, I've just grown to love them.  I love the graceful way they circle in flight, the way they preen and ruffle their feathers, the silly way they cock their heads as if they're listening to you suspiciously.  And I love the way they sing and chirp and whistle.  They make such beautiful music without ever taking a lesson or studying for a minute.  (soooo jealous hahaha)  Although some species of birds (like the Russian Canary) do learn their song from older canaries singing around them.  I've done a considerable amount of research in books and on the internet about birds, their history, and their care.  It's just always interested me.
So, bringing us back to the original point of this story... 
As you have probably surmised, seeing "songbird" in the payphrase suggestions got my imagination going in so many ways.  The phrase "Songbirds and Silhouettes" popped into my head as though someone had dropped it there.  I typed it into the little box, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved it.  I said it out loud a couple of times, enjoying the way it rolled off the tongue.  (Did you know that "s" and "l" are my favorite consonants?  Well they are.  Especially together.)  I could not waste such a glorious word concoction on something so mundane as a payphrase!!  I immediately thought of my blog.  I named it "Thoughts Along the Way" because I couldn't think of anything better at the time of its creation.  I had always intended to give it a better, more suited-to-me name eventually, but I hadn't been able to think of anything.  And now this!  I had already changed my background to the silhouetted birds flying about several months ago, so it matched perfectly.  It reflects a major part of my life and adds its own little twist.  
Silhouettes?  What do those have to do with me?  Well... I've thought of a few things...
~  The mental image I have of that glorious memory on the way to the HCC concert is the silhouette of birds on branches, black against the pale grey sky, crisp and beautiful.
~  I did an entire ballet number in silhouette as Chavala, my shadowed figure dancing across a white backdrop lit by deep pink lights.
~  Silhouette could also refer to the shape of a body or an article of clothing.  This is slightly fitting since I work in a costume shop at present and do have quite a love for beautiful and well-made clothing.  
~  Anyone who's ever taken Theater Arts II at Bethel Park High School knows how awesomely fun shadow scenes are.  Completely done in silhouette.  
~  A silhouette can be deceiving... Things are not always as they appear, and there is a certain air of mystery about silhouettes.
~  Back in Victorian times, in addition to collecting each others' hair and weaving it into wreaths and such, ladies would made silhouettes of each other and perhaps of young men they were interested in remembering.  No photographs, you know.  So for me, the word "silhouette" conjures up images of those lovely, classy times when there could never be too much lace or dainty finger cakes.  Charming!
Before I switched over the name officially, I Googled the phrase to make sure it wasn't the name of an album or a song or something that I was just remembering from somewhere else.  The only thing that came up was a flyer for a concert/fashion show in North Carolina.  So it seems I've come up with something fairly original, after all.
Also, doesn't exist anymore.  So if you go to that site it'll say "not found" or whatever.  Just so you know.  Sorry about any confusion or annoyance this may cause you.
Ok, guys thanks for reading!  I look forward to this new chapter of blogging.  A good name just makes everything seem right, doesn't it?  I think Anne of Green Gables would agree.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Feasts of the Two Hearts

A year ago at this time, I was in Miami with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, struggling to stay awake during a 12-hour vigil in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today is His feast day, you know, and tomorrow is Hers. I can't believe it's only been a year, and yet what a year it has been!!
Back then, I was a naive little girl who thought she had all the answers and was seriously considering a religious vocation. Now, I'm a somewhat jaded little girl who realizes that she has no answers and is trying desperately hard not to be in love. Perhaps I am a little wiser, but only because I can acknowledge how foolish I really am.
Back then, I had just decided to move home for my sophomore year because I couldn't afford to live in the dorms anymore. We thought it would be good "formation" for me to continue living with my family, to live for others and not think only of myself. I thought I would grow so deeply in virtue. Maybe I have. I can't tell. All I know is that there were far too many instances of sheer bitchiness on my part for me to feel really good about how this year went. Anyway, now I am planning to move into a beauteous "citadel," complete with maidens and bay window overlooking the street below and garden in the backyard. Sigh. I can't wait.
Back then, I was incredibly anxious about my vocation. I wanted to know which path my life would take. The dilemma consumed my prayer life and many of my thoughts. Now, I seriously don't care which way the road turns. Both vocations are gorgeously beautiful and seeped in graces, so I'm good either way. Plus, here's another little secret: I don't want to get married anytime soon, to God or any mere mortal man. This was a startling revelation to me; I always thought I'd be a young bride growing up. But really, either vocation would get in the way of my plans for stardom. Plus, the idea of a commitment of that magnitude makes me sick. Maybe someday I'll desire those things, but for now I'll just throw myself into my career. It shouldn't be too hard for me considering that I love it so so much. Yay for pink roses and focusing on the present!! :D
Sorry the tone of this post is a little bit depressy and a lot cynical. I have such disdain for my younger self. I hate how ignorant she is. I'm going to hate my current self in a few years. That's just always how it's been with me. I look back at my younger self and crinkle my nose in disgust. But I have great sympathy for her. It's like, "You are so stupid, you poor, poor dear." I just want to go back and say, "Look, you ninny. Everything's going to be ok. So stop embarrassing me and get over yourself." What gets me through is knowing that the current version of myself is the best version yet. And it's only getting better from here. I hope.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fundraising Fiasco

I've been meaning to write a chronicle of my crazy fundraising efforts this past weekend, but I've been so busy with my nannying job and my new workout regime (woot woot!) that all I've really wanted to do this week is sleep.  But now it's Friday night, I've had a whole day to do nothing, and it's thunderstorming, so I'm in a great writing mood.  Ergo, what follows is an account of the weekend of May 22/23, the fateful weekend that blessed me with over $3800.  Read on... if you dare...

Saturday, May 22, 2010
I sleep in this morning, because I have already gotten into such a horrible late-to-bed-late-to-rise sleep schedule, plus I was out late on a babysitting job last night.  I spend a few hours in the afternoon watching online TV at (love this site!  where has it been all my life?)  Then I get right down to business baking cookies.  What is a fundraiser without cookies, after all?  I make a double recipe of chocolate chip cookie dough, the equivalent of 10 dozen cookies.  The oven is heated to 375 degrees, making the already-warm summer air almost unbearable.  The cookie dough seems too thin, but it's the Nestle Toll House original recipe, so I decide to trust the cookbook.  Poor choice. The cookies spread out several inches on the pan and stick horribly.  Yea, the recipe also said to use an ungreased cookie sheet.  Grr.  And did I mention that these little suckers burn if they are in the oven an instant too long?  Well, they do.  And every sheet seems to take a different amount of time.  This all results in me having to watch the cookies in the oven like a hawk tracking its prey, pull them out in the knick of time, put the next sheet in, and then carefully scrape the cooked cookies off the sheet without breaking them.  (Eventually I did start greasing the sheets, but at first I was worried that oil on the sheet would encourage more spreading, so I preferred to just be careful when transferring the cookies from sheet to cooling rack.)
On top of this rather unfortunate cookie situation, I am scheduled to cantor the 5pm Mass.  I think it's going to be a pretty straightforward Mass, but my mom keeps yelling from the couch in the living room that I need to look at the music.  I take a brief break from cookie-ing to review the psalm.  It's fairly easy.  I get back into the kitchen.  Mom's not satisfied, so she starts looking over the music herself.
"There's a new hymn in here," she calls from the piano.
"What??"  And then she starts playing it on the piano while I continue to pull almost-burned-yet-not-quite-done cookies out of the oven.  At this point I am so hot and frustrated with the cookies, the music and the fact that I haven't even started writing my parish talk that I feel more annoyed than anything else, but I bite my tongue.  It is really very sweet of her to help me learn the music in a way that doesn't require me to leave the kitchen.

I finally give up on making all the cookies about 2/3 of the way through the dough.  I need to get ready so I can get to the church around 4, in time to set up and make it to rehearsal at 4:30.  I pull the final tray of cookies out of the oven and run up to my room to get ready.

I am hopping out of the car outside the breezeway of the church, appropriately clad in a cute but classy outfit with a huge tray of cookies and a basket for donations in hand and a bag with my baby laptop in it slung over my shoulder.  Upon entering the breezeway, I see that there is another group setting up shop; a family from Bethlehem (the city of our Savior's birth, not Bethlehem, PA haha) is selling hand-carved olive-wood statues, crosses, etc. Their shop takes up three folding tables, but I don't see a place for me.  I leave the basket and my tray of cookies on a coffee table across the breezeway from them and trip-trap over to the pastor's office in my little white heels with the bows on the toes.  He informs me that whatever tables and chairs are out there are all that's available for the weekend and wishes me luck finding a place to set up.  I thank him for giving me the opportunity to do this this weekend and head back to the breezeway, wondering how I'm going to set up.  Eventually I decide to just leave the cookies and basket on the coffee table, because there's a nice leather couch behind it and a couple of chairs that makes for a comfortable little sitting area close to the doors of the church.   Perfect.

The Rooney Room, where the choir usually rehearses before Mass, is full of science project boards from the Carnegie Science competitions, so I meet the organist outside in the church to run over the music for the Mass.  We review the new hymn and the verses to the psalm once each, but for some reason he trusts me to know the rest and hurries off to make copies of a special Pentecost song that has to be in the pews since we don't use songsheets anymore.  I therefore am left with my nerves and the music which I have barely looked at all day.  After a quick stop in the tabernacle chapel to beg for the graces I need to make it through the evening, I sit myself down at the piano to further review the music.  Once I have gotten to the point where I can sing through all the pieces without any help from the piano to find the right pitches, I sit down in the front row of the choir section to write my appeal speech.  I know what I want to say, so it's just a matter of writing down the key points I want to make.
Surprisingly, all this bustle still doesn't take more than 20 minutes, so I'm still sitting there with my nerves and copies of music lying open around me, waiting to get the signal from the priest to start the Mass.  More prayers for strength and courage.  More harried reviewing of music.  Dear God, will Mass never begin?!!

I finally see the wave from the back of the church and step up to the microphone.
"Good Evening.  Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost.  All music for today's Mass can be found in the Gather hymnal..."  As usual, as soon as I begin my nerves settle down and my faith in myself is restored.  I can do this.  The opening hymn goes beautifully and I even make it through the Gloria with no mistakes.  Praise God; last time I lead the Gloria I completely butchered it, or at least made up large sections of melody.
I don't hear a single word of the first reading; I am reviewing the psalm in my head over and over... When the reading is over and the music begins, I walk up to the ambo, pausing to bow before stepping up on the altar.  I shouldn't have worried.  The verses are a simple chant and it's easy to hear my notes in the chords of the organ.  I step down extremely relieved.  I know it may seem like a hassle, but I absolutely love singing the word of God to the people in the pews.  How beautiful words become when they are set to music!  It only brings out the beauty of the scripture that much more.  And people enjoy my singing; I can see in on their faces as I finish.  Truly, some of the most satisfying moments of my still-young musical career have occurred while singing a psalm in a way that touches the hearts of my listeners.  I pray for that grace before every performance, that my voice may in some way touch the hearts of those who hear me and bring them closer to Him.
But I digress. The rest of Mass went swimmingly, and I nailed that new hymn like I've been singing it my whole life.  After communion, I step up to the ambo once more after Father's brief introduction.  My family is in the pews this evening, and I can see them smiling at me, even though I know that my mom is a touch embarrassed that her daughter is getting up in front of everyone to beg for money.  But she is smiling at me nonetheless.  So I take a deep breath. And I deliver the following speech:
"Hi everyone!  As Father said, my name is Jane Henkels, and I promise not to take up more than a few minutes of your time.  I've been a parishioner here since I was about two years old.  I graduated from St. Thomas More grade school in 2004.  I started singing at Masses when I was about 5 years old, and I sang my first psalm from this ambo when I was in second grade. [Here my dad actually laughs out loud, and if you know my dad, you know that it was indeed loud.  His laugh prompts a slight ripple of laughter from those around him, and I continue, encouraged.]  But that's not why I'm here right now; I'm here to tell you about a pretty amazing opportunity I've been given for this summer.  I was chosen from a fairly large pool of applicants across the country to accompany a group of students and missionaries on FOCUS's, that is, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, first ever mission trip to Ghana in West Africa.  For two weeks, we'll be staying in a tiny village 3 hours outside of the capital city.  The people there have been celebrating Mass in nothing more than a hut, and they don't have a parish priest, so they are only able to receive the Eucharist once a month.  We are so blessed to be able to receive Him every week or every day if we want, but these people are not so blessed.  So for those two weeks we'll be building a church for them and helping out with catechesis.  Then we'll return to the capital, Accra, to work with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's order, in the slums of the city and in their AIDS ward.
So... I'm pretty excited about this, obviously, but the cost of the trip is $3500, and I certainly don't have the means to come up with this money on my own.  All of us going on the trip have been asking our families and friends for support, so I thought I would ask you, my parish family, to help me out.  So, I'll be in the breezeway after Mass, and I brought cookies [turn up the charm, insert persuasive smile here and yes, they laughed] and it would mean so much to me if you would stop by.  Thanks so much for your time!"
I step down from the altar to thunderous applause, which I really am not expecting.  Why would anyone clap after you ask them for money?  But it feels quite good, to have the support of my parish like that, and I walk over to the breezeway with a huge smile on my face as my mom takes over the leading of the closing hymn.
The response of my fellow parishioners is overwhelming; scads of people come over after the final blessing to talk to me, to donate, to buy cookies, to warn me about malaria, to tell me about their family members or friends who have traveled to Africa, to ask me questions about the trip.  I play the video for the trip on my laptop for everyone to see, and people are very interested, especially the children.  One woman makes sure to come over to the table, press a St. Jeanne Jugan medal into my palm and encourage me to carry it with me during the trip.  I love things like that.  It makes me feel so connected to the Body of Christ.
After everyone had gone home, I stuff my winnings into a manila envelope and head home to count it all. The total is $843.50.  Wow.  At this rate I'll have enough money for sure.  But I don't want to get my hopes up.
By this time I am really pretty tired from the excitement of the evening, but no rest for the wicked, I guess, because I have to bake more cookies!  I sold the whole tray after the 5pm Mass and still have part of my last batch of cookie dough left to bake.  I know that I need enough cookies for at least 3 more Masses and that I had sold 2/3 of 10 dozen cookies tonight.  So it seems I have no choice but to make another double batch of chocolate chip cookies.  I follow the same recipe, but this time I add 3 cups of flour, I lightly grease the cookie sheets, and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.  The cookies come out looking like something from a dream.  They're perfect.  Now only 9 dozen more to go...

Sunday, May 23, 2010
I finally sink into bed, exhausted.  I will never bake another cookie again as long as I live.

My alarm goes off.  Gotta get up for the 8am Mass...

I get out of bed.  That snooze button...

I leave for Mass.  I get there just as the homily is beginning.  Perfect.  I stow my huge box of cookies under the coffee table and set up the tray and the basket for collections as per yesterday and I have time to slip into the bathroom and do my makeup before giving my talk.  Actually I have more than enough time; I am done in time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, so I sneak out into the church behind the choir section and enjoy the Consecration from a hidden spot off to the side near the tabernacle chapel, but I don't receive Communion since I didn't even make an effort to be on time to Mass.  Plus, I'll be going to all the Masses today.  There's no need to rush things.
The talk goes well, but no laughter; the crowd is much quieter, which I suppose is understandable since it's kind of early in the morning.  Their support is unquestionable, though, as I raise another $810.  And they don't eat very many cookies, also probably because it's early in the morning, so I am hopeful about my supply making it through to the 11:30 Mass.

I settle into the pew for the 9:30 Mass.  This one I am attending from start to finish, so I take some time to quiet my heart, etc, and prepare myself to receive my Maker.  He is so good to us.  I don't even know what to say about His generosity.
The talk goes well again.  I'm beginning to sound more polished now that I've given the speech for the third time.  There is no audible audience response until their applause (again!), but they are smiling.  And that makes me very happy.  I stay for the final blessing to seal in all those good graces I received in the Eucharist, even though I know I'll probably miss a couple of people leaving because of it.  This crowd eats a lot of cookies, almost two trays full, and I raise $723.20.
I had planned on grabbing something to eat before the 11:30 Mass, but I run into an old friend of mine and we get to talking, and I am of the opinion that fellowship is more valuable than food, so I let our conversation go on for a while.  It is so good to talk to her; we haven't seen each other in so long!  We are both going to the 11:30 Mass, so we head into the church together and she wishes me luck.

Another Mass, another talk.  The crowd is a bit more lively, and as I step down from the altar to walk to the breezeway, I hear a cheer from the direction of my friend's family; she (or one of her sisters) is showing her support!  How lovely. :)
Again, people are super supportive, giving $706.  I do run out of cookies, as I had feared, but there are only a few people who don't get cookies that want them, so it's not too bad.  It seems that more people are interested in giving as much as they can than those who are just interested in buying cookies.  Indeed, I averaged about $14 a cookie by the end of the weekend.

I return home, truly exhausted now.  But I know that if I fall asleep I'll be groggy for the 5pm Mass this evening.  Besides, I have more cookies to bake since I ran out at the 11:30.  I don't have the strength to make another batch from scratch after last night, and anyway we're out of chocolate chips by now.  So I pull a Funfetti cake mix from the pantry and make sugar cookies from the mix.  While they're cooling I count up my money from the first three Masses of the day, and I am extremely encouraged to find that I only need to raise about $400 more to reach $3500 which, judging from the other Masses, should be extremely doable.  I am too tired to get really excited about this, plus there are cookies to be iced now.  Over the course of these two days I baked somewhere around 24 dozen - 288 - cookies.  Yes.  I vow I will never bake again.  (A vow I ended up breaking this past Friday, when I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for the 8th grade graduation.  And I liked it.  Baking and I just needed to take a little break, that's all.)

I leave for the 5pm Mass.  Since I've already been twice today there's no need for me to be on time.  I touch up my makeup in the bathroom during Mass and chat with the mother of the family from Bethlehem, who have also been at all the Masses selling their wares.  She and I both admit that we're doing very well, though she thinks we would have done better if we hadn't been there at the same time.  I didn't say so, but I disagree.  I think it's cool that we're both there at the same time.  I think we bring each other business, that people who stopped in to see the olive-wood carvings maybe dropped by to buy a couple of cookies and that people who came to donate to me maybe sauntered over to her table.  It's like a little fair, especially with all the science boards in the Rooney Room.  Our parish is just teeming with life and love.  It's fantastic, really.
My final talk of the weekend goes off without a hitch (and the more-awake 5pm crowd laughs at my persuasive cookie-making line - success!), but I am definitely breathing a sigh of relief as I walk down the altar steps for the last time.  This whole ordeal has been more exhausting that I anticipated.

I finally head home to count everything up.  All told, I raised $3865.  This is plenty for the trip and probably for my airfare as well.  I am hugely relieved; just this past Wednesday I had been on the phone with the director of the summer missions discussing how seriously behind I was in my fundraising.  I got off the phone that afternoon thinking that, if things didn't go well this weekend, I would have to pull out of the trip.  I prayed a long long litany to pretty much every saint I could think of, begging God to help me if it was His will that I go.  Well, let me tell ya: if I had any doubt in my mind that He wanted me to go to Ghana before this weekend, it has certainly been erased.  I skip outside where my mom is planting geraniums and tell her the good news.  She is absolutely floored, and just as relieved as I am (probably more so, actually).  We praise God together a little bit before I got inside to sleep!!  I am seriously so tired by this point that I think I'm going to fall asleep standing up.  It is so much easier for me to sleep now; cliche as it sounds, it is as though a huge weight has been lifted from my heart.

Monday, May 24, 2010
I recount all the money.  When I'm done, there is a huge stack of cash sorted according to denomination and all facing the same way about as high as 5 or 6 inches.  I feel like a drug dealer walking around with all that cash.  Since my bank is in Harrisburg, my parents have to deposit the money in their bank account and write me a check.  There's some reason that I'm with PSECU despite the distance, but I can't remember what it is...
I mail $2100 and all my paperwork for the trip to the Summer Missions Office; after this I only have another $600 due, which I obviously have now.  I send an email to the leader of the missions and of my mission in particular telling them that it's all in the mail and that they'll have it by Wednesday.  Phew!
The rest of the $3800 after the $2700 due to FOCUS will go towards the following:
- paying for my airfare to and from Chicago, where the flights to Ghana depart/arrive and where we'll be having a small retreat before and after to avoid culture shock both ways.
- paying for my appointment with Passport Health, my immunizations, and the malaria and anti-diarrheal medications I'll have to take while I'm there, all of which are surprisingly expensive, possibly around $1000 total.  (interesting side note: the malaria meds may cause hallucinations.  hahaha that should be fun when we're all taking them...)
- paying for the cost of materials for the church we're building
- donations to the Missionaries of Charity

And still the donations keep trickling in.  I've received a couple of checks in the mail from the Facebook page I set up and from appeal letters I sent out.  This weekend when I went to Mass a couple of people who had missed me last weekend handed me checks and cash.  One woman left a card with money in it in the will call box in the parish office.  Overall, the support has been quite overwhelming.  I still have to write thank you notes to my donors and deposit the envelope stuffed with checks made out to me.

While you're reading, I want to send a big THANK YOU out to everyone who has donated money or remembered me in prayer or even just told me that you believed in me and my mission or showed interest.  It means so much to me to have so many people holding me in their hearts as I prepare to go where He is sending me.  I promise you will all be in my prayers, especially in the next couple of months.

I leave July 5th!!!  Ghana, here I come!!! :D