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Religious women - both Catholic and Orthodox, and yes, one Methodist minister - have been a tremendous influence in my life. Right now, American Catholic (mainly) Religious and (some) Nuns (NB: Nuns are cloistered and thus rarely found outside of monasteries; those women who taught you, etc. are Religious Sisters) are under threat from the Vatican. Following in the footsteps of Fr. James Martin, SJ, I'm going to tell you here a bit of what Sisters mean to me.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
I was born at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, California, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (and now closed). They oversaw the births of most of my aunts and uncles on my father's side, and that of my best friend. They also cared for my grandmother and my great-aunt and great-uncle during their final illnesses. The Sisters opened and are still deeply involved in the operation of the St. Joseph Center in Venice, where I grew up. There, they provide education to the poorest children, meals and shelter to the homeless, mental health services, and much more. When I was a child, their Listo! program provided jobs, money management skills, and family support to immigrants. Many of the Christians in Venice - Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopalian - employed workers through the center, including gardeners and housecleaners. Some of them worked at my parents' best friends' house. Others worked at ours.

Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
My father, aunts, and uncles went to Maria Regina, a school overseen by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (my grandparents are listed as "founding parishoners" on this page). My uncle is a Religion teacher for one of their schools; my aunt teaches eighth grade for them. When my youngest aunt was 13 years old (this gets confusing because my grandparents raised ten children), my grandmother suffered multiple brain aneurysms, and my grandparents sent her to a school run by these sisters in another state. She lived with them for four years, and when I went to her high school graduation, we stayed at their guest house.

Daughters of Charity
My great-great-grandmother died in childbirth when my Granny was only a year old. Not feeling up to raising three girls, my great-great-grandfather sent his daughters to live and be educated at the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum (now Maryvale), run by the Daughters of Charity. As children, my grandmother and my great-aunt have fond memories of visiting the Sisters and being thoroughly spoiled by them. They considered the Sisters their grandparents.

Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
My elementary school years were the last years that the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary taught at St. Mark. Until I was in fifth grade, Sr. Martha was the principal. She was strict but loving, a young woman of faith and integrity. She rode a Honda motorcycle, which made her cool to all the students. As a representative of Apple Computer, she brought computers to school years before any of the other area schools had them. She began a lunch exchange program to limit wasted food; you could trade food for anything another student gave up of similar nutritional value. The librarian was Sr. Katherine, who died when I was in the eighth grade. I never got books back to her on time. Nevertheless, I was a bit of a favorite with her because I was so passionate about books and reading. After her death, I inherited my last unreturned library book. I still have it. Years later, I was able to contribute to their retirement fund through a performance of Late Nite Catechism. (I also won a prize, because I knew that the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the conception of Jesus.)

Sisters of St. Louis
By far my favorite order are the Sisters of St. Louis. My mother and her siblings went to school to them - Louisville kindergarten, St. Mel School, and (for the girls) Louisville High School. I, too, attended Louisville, and I am proud of the education I got there. The SSLs promote compassion and justice. They also value critical thinking skills and spirited, informed opposition. They provided a caring environment to me when I was deeply troubled by the emotional abuse I had undergone. Louisville was a place of healing and love for me. Sr. Molua Conheady (may her memory be eternal) valued me in particular, despite (or perhaps because of?) my tendency to question everything she said in Religion class. I got the Religion One award at her behest. According to my former principal, Sr. Myra McPartland, Sr. Molua talked about me frequently until her death several years ago. Because of her, SSLs I never met think I'm an extraordinary person.

Mystery Sisters (Maryknolls? Daughters of Charity?)
When I was living in Djeol, Mauritania, I had very little access to Christian worship. I tried to fast. I went to Nouakchott for Christmas - there was a church (officially Catholic) there that was shared by all the Christians in the area. Easter, however, was a problem. I tried to fast. I had little truncated Presanctified services (mostly consisting of psalms) by candlelight before the icons in my little shelter. But I didn't have enough time off to find services - or so I thought. Then I heard a rumor of a little group of Sisters living and providing services to the tiny hamlet of Matam, Mauritania (just across the river from the rather larger city of Matam, Senegal). They had guest rooms. I made the journey by bush taxi on the eve of Western Easter and, despite their not knowing me from Adam and having no idea I was coming, I was welcomed with open arms and given a bed in a tiny but comfortable and clean room. Easter with the Sisters was peaceful and lovely, and I will always be grateful that they provided me with a home that year.

This is only a small sampling of what Sisters mean to me. Their voluntary service has put quality education and health care within financial reach of tens of thousands of Americans, among many other things. I am providing a link to a petition in support of American Catholic Religious women here. Please take the time to sign it. Many of our lives have been touched by the unselfish service of these women.


I am enjoying my "vacation." True, I worked three hours today and have one more hour to go. Still, I didn't have to wake up at any particular time. I did some laundry. I stayed in pyjamas until noon. I made two pysanky. It was fun.

Yesterday, I didn't have to work at all. Instead, we went to Baltimore. First we went to see a lawyer, which was really interesting. We learned all about making a will, power of attorney, and medical decision-making. The lawyer is working on our documents; it's lovely to know that we will soon have one more thing we don't need to worry about.

We took the opportunity to go to DiPasquale's and had fun browsing around and eating lunch (their bread is incredibly good). We also went to the Chicken Box Place Near T's (my sister-in-law's) House. I had a nap when we got home. Overall, it was a lovely day.


Thoughts on the Joys of Lent

Greetings, respected bloggers and all readers of my journal.

This is apparently the translation of the first line of Boris Gryzlov's first blog post. I thought it was kind of fabulous.

Lent has kicked off over here, with the elimination of Distractions from my diet. I'm limiting internet use. I no longer listen to podcasts at work, except those provided by Ancient Faith Radio, which are sometimes a bit hit or miss. Novels are out till Pascha. I love this time of year. Love it, love it, love it, love it.

A lot of non-Christians (or non-fasting Christians) think that Lent is about austerity, sadness, repentance in the sackcloth-and-ashes sense, and giving up. I really don't feel that way about it. I think it's about forming good spiritual habits, having a season of contemplation, pausing in daily life to reflect on the world and God and the things that we actually do and should do. It's the perfect way to welcome Spring (and we're having an early Spring here - magnolias and daffs are blooming already). Why? Because you just pay so much more attention when the other distractions are taken out of your way. Repentance yes, but repentance is positive! It's the housecleaning of the soul, and the more you do it, the nicer your internal environment becomes. If you're just concentrating on how awful you are and how awful everything is, what's the point? How self-defeating! I just cannot believe in a God who wants us to be miserable. Repentance - turning towards God - is simply reconnecting with our true natures, which can't help but make us happier in the long run.

Maybe I say all of this mostly because we throw an awfully good party at the end of all of this. But to be honest, we throw great parties throughout Lent, too. Presanctified Liturgy only ever happens during Lent, and it is one of the most beautiful services on Earth. Afterwards, there is food, which is much appreciated since no one has eaten since noon. That meal is the most powerful community-building opportunity of the whole year. The group is small, everyone is happy, lots of people are content because they confessed before the service, and there is a lot of talk of the most supportive kind.

Lent is very much a part of the rhythm of my life and of the year. I had a particularly fruitful Lent last year (something which can never really be predicted), which gave me the strength and wherewithal to cope with a spiritually and emotionally damaging year. This year, my fasting in terms of food is going to be incomplete simply by the nature of the year I'm having. We're going to California for what will probably be my grandfather's last birthday (he's in hospice care now). The Fam is mainly Catholic and will want to see me and celebrate me, as most of them haven't seen me for three years. My confessor has told me that I should try to keep the fast insofar as possible on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that shouldn't be too terribly difficult (my grandparents, at least, wouldn't dream of eating meat on a Lenten Wednesday or Friday). But fasting is more than a series of rules about what one does and does not eat. It's an internal state as well; the food rules are extremely, extremely helpful, but they are not in themselves fasting.

Fr. Alexei, my childhood priest, used to preach annually about the three pillars of the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time to remember that lacking heart for the hungry person you pass on the street, (whether or not you can help them) makes your heart smaller, harms them, and harms the world. Judging another person makes your heart smaller, harms the other person, and harms the world. I need reminders of this more than I like to think, because some nasty part of me loves to talk trash, loves to complain, loves to take jabs at anyone I feel has hurt or wronged me.

And I am not a great pray-er outside of church hours. I am far too lazy, really.

Andy Williams would probably disagree, but to me this is really the most wonderful time of the year. I hope all of you take a little time to enjoy the beauties of the season, spend a little more time with the people you love, and try to remember how lucky you are. Then, whether you are Christian or Pagan or atheist, you will understand just why I love this great season.

Beat Me to the Punch

This is the best story ever. Really.

I didn't bring enough lunch today. It was just plain poor planning on my part. I decided to go to a local restaurant for a bit of a snack.

After I got my food and sat down, I noticed a man outside the window asking for alms. I thought, "I should get him some chips or something when I finish here." I ate a bit more quickly as I watched one person pass him, then two. Next, a woman in full hijab walked by. She stopped and conversed with the man for a moment, noticed the restaurant, and brought him in. He got a meal out of it, and I got a nice display of human generosity and kindness. Yes, I was beat to the punch. But how lovely! It always gives me faith in humanity to see things like that.


I am glad you are all my friends.

And for today, that is all.

Short Account of Village Life

I was inspired to write this last night and wanted to share a bit. Think of it as a sort of travel guide:

This is a desert place. Once a year, after the rain, a sheer layer of grass covers some empty spaces. On the mesa there are a few thorny trees. By the river, there are rice fields. Herons hunt in the knee-deep water there. Otherwise, the land is dun-colored, broken by red rock formations and mesas, traditional round mud huts and more modern, rectangular cement buildings. The cement buildings are decorated with gingerbread work that crumbles quickly in the heat and wind. The mud huts are the same, year after year, repaired annually just before Tabaski.

It's too hot to sleep indoors. The 5 a.m. breeze is the sweetest moment of the day; one luxuriates in the possession of a sheet, and snuggles down to sleep comfortably for a few minutes before the men are called to morning prayer. There seems to be little reason to get up when school is out of session, but one gets up anyway. Early morning is the best time to get water for the day from the well. The sun has not yet grown hot, and the old men smile approvingly as they leave the mosque. Men pray; women carry water. That is what one does.

Village life is slow unless you cook or work in the clinic. The young girls and women who do the cooking have to get up early and work at their little wood-fired stoves all day long. They sweep the mats, clean the dishes, roll the couscous, and do the marketing. The best time to visit these women is late morning, when they are back from the market and making lunch. They appreciate having someone to talk to while they cook. Midwives treat malaria, deliver babies, give vaccinations, and circumcise young boys. There are lulls in this work, but they have to stay at the clinic through them, so friends visit them there. The rest of the village is taken up with smaller tasks. Tea-drinking is a major pastime. Important men drink their tea up at the City Hall, near the top of the hill. Women visit each other and drink tea served by the boys or men of the household.

During Ramadan, it's good to have a book. Most of the village dozes during the day. Women don't need to cook, and the marketing has been done the night before. If you can't sleep in the heat of the day, it's good to have something to do. Some people can chat endlessly with friends about nothing in particular and never get bored, but most Americans aren't too good at that. There are only so many letters one can write that say, essentially, “It's hot. It's dusty. I'm tired. Not much has happened this week.”

A spot of excitement can keep a person going for weeks. So long as no one is seriously hurt, a tumble into a well can keep one amused for a time. A wedding lasts three days; that's long enough to see everyone in their finest clothes and hear some good drumming from the women. They drum while they cook, using wooden spoons and plastic serving bowls. They dance for each other while they cook. Men never see this side of a wedding, though naturally they can hear it. It belongs to the women.

A few times a year, an airplane flies overhead. After a while, it's difficult not to think of airplanes as miraculous metal birds. It's impossible to refrain from staring at them. No one blames the children for running through the streets after an airplane, shouting “Abia! Abia! Abia!” They run as far as they can, just to keep the airplane in sight. They will talk about the airplane for days.

Travel is another way to amuse oneself, if one can afford it. Go down to the river bank, past the market. Before 7:00, it's usually easy to find an empty pickup truck, and the drivers are always willing to shuttle anyone who can pay. Later in the day, it might be necessary to drink tea with the gendarmes while waiting in their one-room shack for a merchant vehicle to come along. If lunchtime comes around and there are still no trucks, one of the market families will come to fetch the people who are waiting. A truck will eventually come. It may be necessary to sit on top of sacks of rice piled so high that one's feet just touch the top of the cab of the pickup, or with a truckload of goats, but that adds to the excitement of travel.

Breakfast and lunch are standardized meals. Everyone eats the same things. For breakfast, there is bread. If someone has recently visited the city and brought gifts, there is sometimes jam. There is Nescafe with powdered milk and a great deal of sugar. Be careful: it is not real coffee. At lunch, everyone eats rice and fish. Some families eat maafe - goat or mutton cooked in peanut butter and spices - with their rice on Fridays. Usually rice and fish is made with tomato paste, which makes the rice orange, though sometimes it will be white. In the cold season, there might also be cabbage and carrots. Sometimes there are little white sweet potatoes.

Rice is not eaten for dinner unless it is pulverized first. One generally eats couscous, made of either millet or rice flour. Sometimes meat or fish balls are served. Sometimes there is a pool of oil with onions in it to dip one's food into. Meals are served on a common plate and eaten with the right hand. Well-brought-up Pulaars will put the index finger of the left hand onto the bowl to secure it while they eat. Each person eats only the food directly in front of him or her.

After dinner, people tend to migrate to houses where someone has a car battery. These are used to power black-and-white television sets. Everyone watches the news, Goorgoorlu, and Latin American soap operas on Radio-Television Senegal, which has a remarkably strong signal extending well beyond the borders of Senegal. Once the shows are over, people disperse. The women find a place to sleep, and if they have foam mattresses, they put them down. Once in a while, someone will put up a mosquito net, though it is rarely secured well enough that mosquitos can't get in. Men and boys sleep in one part of the compound, women and girls in another. Mattresses are pushed flush with each other so that no one needs to be lonely while sleeping. Everyone goes to bed and dozes, waiting for the 5 a.m. breeze and the call to morning prayers.


Good Gnus!

Mr. Bad Cat has come home! Someone called last night saying that she has been seeing him every evening and only just saw the "lost cat" signs. She says he's been trying to get in to her ground floor apartment (we live on the ground floor) through the sliding glass door (how he got out) from the lawn (our apartment also faces a lawn - are you seeing some similarities here?). She lives in the condo complex across the street. It's a very straight and relatively short shot from here if you are a cat and walk over a fence and through woods easily.

Last night, we went over there and set a trap behind her bushes. Then we walked back, leaving one of my shoes in the trap and another on our patio. This morning at about 7, Miles showed up on our patio begging to get in. We suspect he followed our scents. He still had his collar on, though it was turned inside-out.

He has not left my side since he got home. He really, really wants to be next to me. I had been waking up and thinking I wasn't going to go to work due to a massive headache, exhaustion, and an inability to breathe. Once the cat returned, I decided that the tide was decisively in favor of staying home. I imagine he'd be whining endlessly if I stayed out all day. As it is, the other cats are here and happy, and so am I.

I am so grateful to all of you, my friends, for your caring and support during this very difficult week. I also have to express gratitude to the parishoners of St. Nicholas, many of whom prayed for us, and to (don't look at me like that, people, I'm totally serious) St. Seraphim of Sarov, whose intercession I asked for specially yesterday. We have tried very hard to keep our perspective and continue doing the things that we normally do to help each other and the world around us over the past week, but it was hard, and we couldn't have done it without all of you.

Giving In

Dear Miles,

I went to bed early last night because I had cried for so long over you and was exhausted. I woke up this morning feeling just as bad. Are you satisfied now? We know you are out there and safe, so please come home and stop torturing us. papertigers can't concentrate on school work. I keep forgetting to eat. Nikki and Sandy pace around the sliding-glass door all evening, half crazy from worry. Come home.



ETA: I just spent half an hour curled up in a dry bathtub staring at the sides. I even fell asleep for a bit. I feel dead inside.

The Saga Continues

Miles, though he has been seen, remains at large. Ten years ago I wouldn't have imagined that I could feel lonely in a house with a wife and two cats, but I am. I miss my boy.

Apparently, the Kennedy-Krieger Institute

Where is the Miles Davis Cat? Apparently, he is favoring the Kennedy-Krieger school next door to us for the moment. One of the maintenance staff there saw him yesterday evening, and tonight, we were within inches of catching him there. Unfortunately, the kind people who called us had a bouncy dog and not much notion that cats are considerably more skittish than dogs, and he ran away. But he's alive and able to run, so that's something. I am feeling much better now; mostly, I'm just annoyed with him at this point for not coming home. I miss him and I want my cat back now, please.