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.