WEDDING: Robert and Margaret

We were very lucky to have two of Robert’s dear friends from Michigan come to our wedding and share their amazing artistry with us as our photographers. Little leaves me speechless, but Kendra’s photos do. Enjoy.

Kendra Stanley-Mills Photography

Boston, Massachusetts

The few days leading up to Robert and Margaret’s wedding was unseasonably cold but on April 11th, the sun came out and the blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. Even though Margaret still draped the shawl crocheted by her grandmother around her shoulders to ward off the goosebumps, the sun was a welcomed guest.  If the pleasant weather wasn’t enough, the music during their wedding was epic. It filled the transepts of St. Ignatius with such beauty that I honestly found myself distracted (in a good way.)

As always, I’m moved by the sentimentality in each individual wedding. I loved that Robert wore his father’s ring, that Margaret’s Aunt Mary did her hair and that she wore a bracelet belonging to her mother. The pretzels that were given as favors were made by Margaret’s mother and her friends.

Margaret posted on Facebook a few days after the wedding saying that friends were…

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Creating a life

It took me seven years to finish my second masters degree, in theology. I was working full time and already had a credential (a masters in music), so there wasn’t much of a hurry.

masters regaliaI found that most of the people in my classes fit into one of two camps. One was young, not long out of college, eager to learn more in order to enter the working world. The other was “I worked as a corporate banker for 20 years and I just wasn’t fulfilled.”

Every time I heard that last trope I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking “What did you expect?” (although one time I said “I’ve got enough fulfillment for both of us…but can I borrow twenty bucks?”)

So there I was in the middle of these two groups, aware of the sacrifices that come with following your bliss, but also very aware of the rewards.

There’s a comic making the rounds that illustrates the words of Bill Watterson, about creating a life that “reflects your values and satisfies your soul”.


I wake up every morning excited to face the day, because I have had success in creating such a life. I’m not destitute (and I never was, and that’s why I had the privilege of constructing such a life), but I look at people who take vacations and have multiple homes and who don’t have to walk through the kitchen in their apartment to go to the bathroom, and I realize that those might be out of my reach, forever. It’s hard not to want what the world wants me to want.

But I’m happy, and proud of my life filled with music and God words and people. I have to remind myself it’s worth the sacrifice. The benefits far outweigh the promises of a big house or a yearly tropical vacation. May God guard me against covetousness and allow me to maintain the blessing of such a life.

Are you fulfilled by the life you (and your world) have created? What’s still standing in your way? 

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The secret lives of farmsharer-ers

Despite last year’s CSA anxiety, I ordered up another share in Enterprise Farm and have been inundated with local, seasonal vegetables this farm.  (This means that I have share in the farm, and once a week they send me a box of produce once a week). In a moment of what may be misguided ambition, I’m also subscribed for a winter share this year, which means my newfound veggie-using tricks will be made useful until Memorial Day.

When you have a farmshare:

  • You rush home after work to spend an hour in the kitchen washing greens, sorting potatoes, and making soup. Soup becomes a theme in your life.
  • hashbrownsYou sneak tomatillos into hashbrowns, swiss chard into guacamole, cabbage into smoothies, and turnips into pumpkin soup.
  • You immediately move 3/4 of the bunch of parsley into the “frozen veggie scraps bag”.
  • You have a frozen veggie scraps bag. Perhaps your boyfriend threatens never to come over again because he thinks the bag is gross.
  • You make your own vegetable stock. Bonus: this warms up the apartment without having to turn on the heat.
  • You wonder if it was wise to have invested in a dozen mason jars, and immediately realize it wasn’t enough.
  • Similarly, you realize your investment in a salad spinner was very, very wise.
  • You beg people to take your bok choy, because you can’t figure out how to prepare it after multiple tries and in your head you call it “mock choy” because it mocks you.
  • You wonder if giving people soup for Christmas is tacky.
  • You really wish you hadn’t grown your own kale this summer, because now you have twice as much.

kale….or maybe that’s just me.

Favorite seasonal vegetable recipes? Anybody want any soup?

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Life lessons from improv

It’s hard enough to be funny, never mind being funny quickly.

My costume is pretty close to my wardrobe (with shoulder pads thrown in).

My costume is pretty close to my wardrobe (with shoulder pads thrown in).

The show that is wrapping up this weekend involves some improv in the first act, an exercise which I can safely say I was never asked to do back when I was only doing opera and not musical theater.

For those of you not familiar with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, it involves audience volunteers. Each time a volunteer takes a turn, my character, the host, offers a fact about them as color commentary.

I have a few stock jokes (involving things like Alphabits, Alphabet soup, etc) but I try to base most of them on the person who volunteered – something about their appearance or a fun fact they wrote on their volunteer form. I have about 5 minutes backstage to come up with a few, and then have to invent the rest on the fly during the first act.

Not surprisingly, a few of the things I have said have completely fallen flat. Either the joke goes on too long, my delivery isn’t quite right, or it is just a lame idea. Still, every time my co-host calls someone up, I have to say something.

That’s where the lesson is for me. I just have to try. Sometimes I embarrass myself, and sometimes I have the audience rolling in the aisles. But I just keep trying.

For a long time I was so scared to fail in front of anyone. I still am shamefaced if I make a mistake publicly, and for all my talk of self-acceptance and not caring what people think, I cling tightly to the image of someone who doesn’t make mistakes.

Each time I try out a joke that doesn’t work, I’m getting closer to hitting the mark. Each time the audience groans at a silly pun, I’m getting feedback that helps me figure out how to amuse them the next time. Each mistake brings me a tiny bit closer to getting it right.

So I take a deep breath and tell myself it’s OK to try. It’s OK to fail. It’s OK to learn. 

In what ways are you learning to be OK with your mistakes?

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Why even sin can be a cause for hope

My father is not an effusive man.

Once a year at the holidays he compliments my singing at mass, and quips that his kind words are my Christmas present. I’ve noticed that his main way of complimenting me is to demand I do something of which he thinks I am capable. The list of things he wants to see in his lifetime is ever growing, and he seemed aware of this the other day after a show he saw me in.

“Make a record,” he told me, using the colloquialism he was most used to in order to indicate that I should record an album. He thought for a second, and added the other big projects he is often urging: “…and write a book. And get a Ph.D.”

I am not made anxious by these demands. If at Thanksgiving he tsk-tsks me for not having written a book proposal or a doctoral application, he won’t be angry or disappointed. His words will remind me of how he sees me – as capable, eager and talented.


If the theology I have studied and now teach has anything to it, I am made in the image and likeness of God. So are you. God sees us this way: burnished, hopeful, perfected, alive.

When we sin we fall short of that divine reflection. And that matters because we are made to be so glorious.

If we weren’t in the image of love, it wouldn’t matter if we hurt other people, it would be expected. If we weren’t made to be abundant, it wouldn’t matter if we were stingy. If we weren’t made to share our gifts, it wouldn’t matter if we squandered them.

FireWhen I damage relationship – and I do – it is first cause for grief, for penance, for reconciliation. But undergirding it all is hope, because I have my eyes on what God has planned for me and all of us: love, perfection, goodness and peace.

Posted in faith, family, grace | 11 Comments

Seven of my favorite saints

Happy Solemnity of All Saints! In honor of the day, I offer you seven of my most dear saints.

— 1 —


I hope it’s not bad luck to begin this post with a saint who probably didn’t exist.

I took this saint’s name as my confirmation name, partly to honor a grandmother and great-grandmother, partly because I liked the meaning: daughter of the light.

The details of her life come only from a 19th-century vision, though Philomena herself lived at the tail end of the 3rd.  The kinds of people who care about how many angels fit on the head of a pin might be the ones who parse archaeological evidence, historical record and miraculous intercession to determine historical veracity, but that’s not necessarily my concern in this case.

Perhaps my devotion is not so much to Philomena as a historical entity, but to the many daughters of light who have lit the way before us. She shows me that devotion to saints can have a surplus of meaning, and that there is often a difference between fact and truth.

— 2 —

Thomas the Apostle

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by CaravaggioAnother saint made dear to me first through family name is Thomas. That the name is borne by my brother (who was named after our grandfather) led me to pay closer attention when “Doubting Thomas” came up every year on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Less often mentioned is his announcement in John chapter 11, when he urges disciples to follow Jesus back to Judea saying “Let us also go to die with him.”

I find Thomas to be more an example of devotion than of doubt. When the disciples tell him who they have seen his response is more “don’t you dare mess around with me” than evidence of lack of faith. The last words we hear from him are those of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

— 3 —

Philip Neri

He put a chicken on his head to encourage people to lighten up a bit about their faith. How can you not like that?

A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.

— 4 —


Strong of faith and of will, strong in friendship and leadership – Clare offers a lot to emulate. My mother claims she might have named me Chiara if she knew it was Italian for Clare. I have visited her shrine a few times, always with the intentions of my mother in mind.

I hope that in my imperfect way I can model her gratitude for the gift of existence.

E tu signore, sii benedetto perchè me hai creato….And you, Lord, blessed be for you have created me.

St Clare

St Clare

— 5 —


Something about Augustine really appeals to me, though I imagine we might not have gotten along if we’d known each other. He’s strong-willed, opinionated, over-educated and a little smug about it…come to think of it, that sounds like me. It would be no wonder if we irked each other.

His introspection and commitment to holiness are what attract me. His spiritual writing is stunning and his conversion gives hope to anyone striving for goodness.

— 6 —

Catherine of Siena

I liked Catherine of Siena even before I visited Siena and saw her head and pinky on display at San Domenico (when students are grossed out by that my only explanation is “It’s very European.”)

I don’t plan to emulate her extreme ascetic practices any time soon, I admire how she chose her own path – eschewing both marriage and cloistered life – and got in the Pope’s face about moving the papacy back to Rome from Avignon.

— 7 —


Hildegard von BingenWhen people want to complain about the Church being sexist they say things like “poor girls like Hildegard were shipped off to the convent when they were little!” and I often respond “poor girls like Hildegard didn’t die in childbirth at 17 having their fifth child and instead wrote books and music!”

She might take issue with either party invoking her in that particular argument (and as an aside, neither quip tells the whole story of medieval subjugation of women, in or out of the Church). Yet I have a hard time imagining a life as fruitful as hers outside of the paradoxical freedom she found in cloistered life.

Hildegard was a prolific author and composer. She described human spirituality and female sexuality, she ran a convent and was a sought-after advisor.

(Incidentally, the first time my sweetheart saw me sing was a week after we met on the train, when I sang a performance of Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum at a university near him. Even though I told him it might be the weirdest thing he ever experienced, he took a chance on it anyway, and was rewarded with blueberry pie at the afterparty).

You’ll notice I limited my reflection to those named Saints by the Catholic Church. I have many other spiritual heroes not listed in the canon of Saints: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Thea Bowman, and John XXIII to name a few.

More importantly, I have my personal saints: the family who loved me into who I am today, the friends who lift me up even when I resist their care, the communities of faith and fellowship who inspire and teach me. I leave you with a few of them:

Who are your saints?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Posted in faith, family, friends, People, pictures, saints | 6 Comments

What I read: October 2013

Shame on me for not reading enough this month. I’ll say that from the outset.  But perhaps I can be excused because I spent most of the month reading (and memorizing!) this:

…because the production I am in of Spelling Bee goes up November 1.

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

I heard this author, Josh Hanagarne, on my favorite radio show over the summer. He has a powerful story: moderate-to-severe Tourette’s, raised a Mormon but no longer practicing, involved in competetive weightlifting and passionate about working as a librarian. The problem with this book was that he covered all of those angles in one memoir, which resulted in it being all over the map.
Despite this criticism, I enjoyed reading the book. His conversational, casual style borders on the immediately-irrelevant, but made for a quick, engaged read.
(Here is where I admit that I actually read this in September and forgot to include it last month.)

Tina Fey is marvelous and I squeal inside every time someone points out our similarities.
Like the previous book, Fey’s memoir often indulges in pop culture references that make me wonder “will anyone understand this book 10 years from now?” But it also is laugh-out-loud funny and manifests the warmth and affection that Fey feels toward people in her life.
In addition to our obvious similarities (dark hair, glasses, wry humor) there were a few others that I found in this book that shocks me. For instance, she compares her lack of attraction to pets to the experience of people on the autism spectrum: you know everyone else is feeling something, but you don’t feel it and you are made to feel as if you should. I have often made that same comparison (though I never said it out loud because I didn’t want to seem as if I was trivializing the autism spectrum, which perhaps I still am by offering this example. Sorry.)

I’m still working my way through Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt. I promise I’ll have that and more to report back on next month.

What did you read in October?

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases made through these links send some change back into my piggy bank.
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When it’s dangerous to listen

I try to be generous. I try to side with the powerless. I try not to clutch the things I possess. I try to possess few things.

But I have a car, and an apartment (though I want a condo), and a soda maker, and even though I go to City Hospital out of solidarity I have the option of going to a fancier hospital if I want to.

I worry about money sometimes, which is normal. I feel like I don’t have enough, and there’s no way of knowing because enough is a meaningless word. Enough for what?

When the readings tell me, as they did this past Sunday, that God hears the poor and is close the brokenhearted, that the wrong kind of self-satisfaction is displeasing to God, I worry.

Most of our Scripture was written from a position of powerlessness, by an impoverished, oppressed people. They also happened to by God’s chosen people. When I sang “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” this weekend I almost wept for shame in front of everyone.

I have been agonizing over how to scrape together enough money to buy one of the overpriced condos in my neighborhood. I have focused a lot of my energy on feeling aggrieved because I can’t afford what I want and feeling panicked that my ample income won’t support even more comfort. I do not want to give up what I have. Realistically, I won’t.

The Pharisee and the Publican1Neither, though, do I want to to feel any better about my affluence. I can’t practice discipleship only when it leads to glory – then I’m as bad as the Pharisee. The glory comes on the other side of the cross, the other side of powerlessness. When I choose to sidestep powerlessness I should be honest with myself that I am making that choice.

There is no expectation of resolution. I don’t want to find the right exegete who will tell me “what Jesus actually meant was…” and thereby exonerate me from my affluence. Even when I was shaken at mass, wondering if my position of power distanced me from God, but doubting I could ever relinquish that power, I felt better for having acknowledged the question. I felt better for having sat in the tension.

I felt better because I know that listening is dangerous, that often times God’s voice through Scripture and prayer will make me feel uncomfortable. The Good News often “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” If these questions make me uneasy, it is a sign I’m asking the right ones.

What messages from God make you uneasy?

Posted in lectionary, Scripture | 4 Comments

What doesn’t kill you…

Unidentified orange red treeSometimes, what doesn’t kill you just makes you really, really tired.

I had a tough September. I was feeling more Crohn’s symptoms than I had in a while.

On Labor Day I was invited to a party, but was fatigued and in terrible pain. Since I didn’t want to miss my friends I drove 25 minutes north of the city, sat on the floor and caught up with a few people, skipped the hors d’oeuvres, and got back in the car after about a half an hour. I was glad I’d done it, but I was ready to go home.

I spent the rest of the day on the couch.

The pain and exhaustion were never going to kill me. Can I say instead they made me stronger? I’m not sure. They made me rest.

There are convoluted ways to turn that into the definition of strength. For someone like me, whose drive to accomplishment often crosses the line into compulsion, perhaps the challenge of resting is in fact strength. Perhaps.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that I do not need it to be true. We are called to more than strength.

There are times when strength is called for, and I am proud to say that I am strong at those moments. But when my weakness is revealed it does not diminish my personhood.

I am loved, and it is that love which defines my existence. My strength does not earn the caring gaze of God, and my weakness will not shame me into hiding from that gaze.

What is your take on these unavoidable moments of weakness?

Posted in faith, friends, Health | 8 Comments

Seven Quick Links after a busy week

This post was originally going to be “7 things we should have shut down instead of the government”, but all I could come up with was Hooters.

— 1 —

I love a good pen. These are what I’m writing with these days, in all their fabulous colors.

— 2 —

Why am I so busy right now that I only have time to post about pens, you ask? Because I am in rehearsals for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which runs outside Boston the first two weekends of November.

— 3 —

In my spare moments I’ve been reading Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle R. Cupp. Disclaimer: I’m only 15 pages into it. That gives you an idea of how many spare moments I’ve had lately. I’ll be sure to post a more thorough review at the end of the month, when I usually write about what I’ve read. Hopefully at that point I will have made it a little farther past the table of contents.

— 4 —

I have already started getting offers for Christmas caroling gigs, and I’ve got my Holiday Pops schedule set. Tickets are on sale for the Pops!

— 5 —

The Red Sox are in the playoffs (for now). A few nights ago there was a 3:00 pm game which was great. I made it to the end! Lately it’s 8:00 pm starts, and I just can’t last that long.

— 6 —

At the end of my half-marathon last weekend (on which I had a PR!) I stopped at the bubbler, slurped some water, rinsed my face and used some tissue to wipe my face and then to blow my nose. Once I got to the end of the chute I went off in search of a trash can. When I got to one a woman was standing there and reached out to take my rubbish.

“Uh, it’s used tissues. You don’t want to touch that.”
“Oh, OK!” she perkily replied. She gestured to one of three barrels and told me “You can compost those tissues!”

This exchange was brought to you by the greenest race in the world! One of my favorite things about that race is that it is environmentally friendly: Local foods, reusable bags, composting assistants. Read more about their Greening here.

— 7 —

Over the summer, while away from Boston, I became hooked on Celestial Tea Antioxidant Max Green Tea – Blackberry Pomegranate. I’ve been having a hard time finding it in stores near my apartment. I haven’t yet resorted to buying tea on the internet, but I might have to.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And be sure to share with me your favorite pens, teas, books, teams, concerts, or whatever else you have going on!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases made through these links send some change back into my piggy bank.
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