Saturday, August 18, 2018

Only in America

A thunderstorm passes by late Friday afternoon. I am forced to pause my work because the storm is so close and violent that it kills the internet for ten minutes.

Time to eat my muffin.

On a tired rainy afternoon, there's nothing like a warm muffin with the chocolate chips melty on your fingers so that you have to lick them when you're done eating. My conversation with my mom floats back to me as the seconds count down on the microwave.

"I made chocolate chip zucchini muffins this weekend," I told her.

She chuckled. "Only in America do we turn leftover vegetables into baked goods..."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Field Notes vol. 5: Procrastination, IKEA, & New Sewing Project

Something Ironic: Procrastination Leads to...

Being in the right place at the right time? 

Last week, I put off two errands I needed to run, figuring that I could do them later. Then the errands both turned into an opportunity to do something helpful for a friend.  I was able to take a load of donations to Goodwill for some friends who were moving, along with my items, saving them a trip when they were crunched for time. And when I finally ventured to Walmart to buy paper towels and a few other cleaning supplies, I was also able to pick up a back brace for a friend whose back was hurting. So that was cool. God used my procrastination to benefit others. How ironic is that?

Something New: IKEA

A friend and I went into IKEA for the first time ever this Saturday, but since we were unfamiliar with the layout of the store, we ended up going around it backwards. 

If you aren't familiar with IKEA, everyone is supposed to enter through the same door and follow the arrows on the floor through the entire store, until you get to the checkout line. Well, we skipped the actual store and went to the "self-serve furniture" area first. That's the warehouse section where you pick up your box of self-assemble furniture after you've already seen it on display. Yep. 

Eventually, my friend and I found our way to the display area of the store, which we enjoyed, but we were the rebels going against the flow the whole time. No marketing traps for us!

The trip ended up being quite productive, since my friend has been planning to upgrade a few things in her living room for a little while. We found some awesome coordinating pillows, lamps, and a cube shelf within her budget!

My Next Sewing Project: Coral Linen Dress

Here's a sneak peek at my next sewing project, a coral dress that I've been thinking about making for at least a year and a half. Now I have the fabric, a medium weigh Irish linen. Next step, wash and pre-shrink the fabric!

My goal is to finish this project by mid-September so that I can wear it to a wedding. That might be a bit ambitious, depending on how picky I decide to get about fit. We'll see.

A Great Piece of Advice

"God's plan included you, so make sure your plan includes God." Words of wisdom from a friend's dad. Amen to that.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Field Notes Vol. 4: Realizations

Something I've Realized: I'm Too Polite

This past week I attended a young adult event in Pittsburgh. There were about 50-75 people there and, after a short talk, there was ample time to mingle, buy drinks and snacks, and hang out. Well, someone I already knew started talking to me and, instead of politely moving on when the conversation turned one-sided, I stood there and pretended to keep listening. I kept thinking I should walk away from that group, but I wasn't sure how to do that. I wasn't assertive enough to do that. 

So it was a good reminder that I need to work on my mingling skills, particularly the art of gracefully exiting a conversation I no longer want to be part of. Here's to being polite, but not too polite!

Something I'm Thinking About: Holiness Is Ordinary

Speaking of that young adult event, the talk was about Pope Francis' most recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, which I read a few months ago. The talk was a good refresher and gave me some food for thought this week, specifically this idea: that holiness is found in doing our ordinary tasks more perfectly.

It is hard sometimes to be attentive to the ordinary things, so this definitely presents a challenge. For example, I need to focus more on my real work instead of being distracted by checking email. I need to take the time to prepare a good meal for myself instead of rushing to do more activities. I need to be present to God during my prayer time instead of letting my thoughts chatter endlessly.

Yet, I also find a lot of hope in this idea. It means I am already on the right path. I don't have to grasp at something more or different. No, I simply have to do what I am already doing with God and for God. And that's great! I can do that.

Something I'm Trying NOT to Do: Cram Too Much In

Almost every second of every day, I am making a list. I have to-do lists, to-buy lists, to-plan lists, to-schedule lists, to-tell-people lists, parties-to-host lists, books-to-read lists, and the list goes on... 

Can anyone relate to this? Seriously, it feels like my mind is a never-ending whirlpool of things I need, should, could, want, dream, plan to do. Most of the time, I can effectively channel this energy, but every once in a while I try to cram too much in, to get too much done in one day, or to schedule too much in a single week. And that's not good, because then my calendar becomes my to-do list and it's harder to be present, because after this, I'm on to the next thing...

So I am trying to pace myself. Am I doing a good job at that? Well, I did decide today to procrastinate on taking the recycling out and dropping some donations at Goodwill. I guess that counts as pacing myself.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Field Notes Vol. 3: Ordinary Time

Something Old: Sunday Brunch

My favorite family tradition is having brunch together after Mass on Sunday. Although I wonder if I should even call it a tradition because it is so informal. We just come home from Mass, cook something yummy, and linger at the table after we're through, chatting and laughing.

Even as a single person, I maintain this tradition most weekends by either having brunch with friends or taking the time to cook a nice meal for myself. It is a good reminder to me that each Sunday is a little feast, a time to rejoice and celebrate the gifts Our God has blessed me with. 

How do you celebrate Sunday? 

Something New: My Porch Garden

After two summers of wanting to grow something, I finally created a mini garden on my back porch! It's pretty simple, because I didn't make a plan or build any planters or start seedlings. I just went to Lowe's, bought a few herbs, a flower, and a tomato plant on sale, and put everything in old pots I'd collected. A co-worker also gave me a few extra plants she didn't need for the landscaping at work; those went along nicely with the red dahlia I bought.

Most days, I eat breakfast and dinner on my porch. My new garden is a cheery addition to that space.

Something I Finished: Josephine Blouse

The blouse I posted about a few weeks ago is finished! Last weekend, I looked at the unfinished blouse laying on my sewing table and said to myself, "You're so close. Why don't you just finish it?" And then I did. It took me about an hour to attach the cuffs and redo the neckline finish that I was having trouble with.

It's hard to take a selfie in the mirror...

As the first sewing project I've done for myself in a long time, I'm happy with how it turned out. Plus, the pattern was simple and easy to follow. The pattern maker, Rae, includes super simple directions for different seam finishes, which I wasn't familiar with before this project. Seam finishes are so much easier than I thought!!! Sure, it adds a little extra time to the construction process to finish all the seams, but it is worth it because all of the raw edges are enclosed and then the garment looks professional inside and out.

I would definitely make the Josephine Blouse again, but I might try the next size up. I made the XS for this version and it is just a little snug under the arms. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that I'd like to try the S next time and see if the fit is better.

Something Worth It: Taking Communion to the Nursing Home

Once a month, I take Holy Communion to two nearby nursing homes. I have to get up early on Sunday to go to the 8:30 Mass, but it is so worth it! The thirty people I visit make me smile. Here are a few scenes from my visit last weekend.

If it's possible, I like to sit down next to the person I'm with while we pray the short prayers before Holy Communion. But sometimes, I have to squat next to their chair or bed instead. After Tillie received Holy Communion, I stood up again and this was her reaction: "Wow, you're tall! You should go to Pittsburgh and be a model!" 

At Ruth's room, I knocked on the open door before going in. "Who is knocking?" she said, a bit grumpy until I told her that I was there with Holy Communion. "Oh yes. Do I know you?" I remind her that I've been there before and tell her it is good to see her sitting in a wheelchair instead of in bed. 

And then there is Michael, a man of great prayer, who never forgets to tell me, "Thank you for bringing Jesus to me." 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Field Notes Vol. 2: Camping Trip, 5k Club, and More

Something Relaxing: Canoeing and Camping in the Boundary Waters

Last week, I went with some friends on a canoeing and camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The BWCA is a canoe-only wilderness area that borders Minnesota and Canada. This was my first backcountry camping trip and I really enjoyed it! 

Look! I caught a fish! 

Being on the water every day, fishing, taking naps in my hammock, hanging out by our campfire, and spending a whole week outside was refreshing for my soul. I feel more relaxed and focused than I have been in a while. Plus, being away from my regular activities for a while always gives me a better perspective. 

Something New: Steubenville 5K Club

This morning I was able to check out a new activity: Steubenville's 5K Club! I came across the Facebook group a month or two ago, but wasn't able to make it to any of the runs until this morning. The group runs twice a week: Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Each week the route changes to cover a new part of the city, which is a super fun way to explore! 

It was good to get out of the house and get a run in, since I haven't been running much in the last two weeks. Vacation threw me out of routine. I'm ready to get going again and meet some new people along the way.

Something I'm Reading: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Actually, I finished this book on Thursday evening, but here we go. Wise Blood is one of two novels by Flannery O'Connor. Because of her Gothic style and unattractive (but very human) characters, Flannery is an acquired taste. Many people don't like reading her stories. But I've always found them interesting, so I thought I'd give this novel a try.

In the foreword to the book, O'Connor describes it as a "comic novel." The word comic is deceptive; the book is not funny, but quite serious. It's a comedy in the sense that it has a happy ending, not a tragic one. By the end of the book, the main character seems to finally understand the impact of his sins and the need to do penance for them. 

Here's one passage I love that shows O'Connor's master craftsmanship and wry sense of humor. Watch for the punch line at the end. 

"The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying any attention to the sky." 

Something Precious: A Flower

As I was coming into the coffee shop to write this blog post, a little girl handed me a purple petunia. I'm pretty sure she picked it off of the potted plant on the sidewalk! But still, the unexpected gift brought me joy. It's the little things!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Field Notes Vol. 1: Half Marathon, Skirts for Lucy, and More

Something New: Freshly Painted Bedroom

Two weekends ago, I finally did a project that has been on my list for months: repainting the larger bedroom in my apartment. Now I'm (mostly) moved into that room and loving the new, bright space. I chose a light shade of purple called "Lavender Cloud." Some mornings, it does feel like I'm waking up in a shimmering cloud.

Something Old: My First Half Marathon (13.1 Miles)

At the beginning of this month, I did something that I never thought I would do when I began running five years ago. I ran a half marathon! 13.1 miles without stopping!! (If I was better with timely posts about significant events, I would have made time to write about this sooner...but oh well.)
My dad came down to support me and watch the race!

Wow, it was a crazy journey. I started training in mid-February, running on the treadmill while winter was fierce and toughing out longer runs in the chilly March wind, once the snow was melted. Going from running 1-2 miles two days a week to running 3-5 miles five days a week took some adjustments. When I started training, I didn't fully realize how much time it would actually take. Or how much more I needed to eat (yay, carbs!). Or that my knees and hips would hurt every time I walked up the stairs. But after I got used to the new schedule, adjusted my diet, and accepted the fact that I am a slow runner, training went more smoothly.

And the race itself? It was amazing. Perfect weather: 60s, cloudy, no rain. As we were starting out, the course went under an overpass and everyone cheered to make it echo. That was the moment I knew it was going to be a fun day.
I'm the blurry person in the middle, wearing the pink headband.

Just before the race, my spiritual director sent me an email of encouragement with Hebrews 12:1-2: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God." 

That verse was the perfect meditation for my run. I didn't listen to music, so my mind kept coming back to different parts of this verse, especially because I was offering my run for special intentions that family, friends, and coworkers had given me.
After the race, I was overwhelmed and happy to find friends waiting for me at the finish line! (T brought me flowers!)

My finish time was 2 hours, 45 minutes. Average pace per mile: 12 minutes, 30 seconds. I ran the whole time, no walking, which I wasn't sure I could do. But I put one foot in front of the other and kept going. Thanks be to God!

Something I'm Reading: The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing by Margot Livesey

In high school, I didn't like analyzing literature. I wanted to approach each story with no expectations and get lost in it. Also, because most of the story writing I had done up to that point was based on "inspiration," I didn't understand that writing is a highly intentional act.

Now that I've grown as a writer and make my own strategic choices, I realize how helpful analyzing other writing can be. It helps to see how a story or an argument is put together. What makes it convincing? What makes it exciting? How do you express and awaken emotions?

That's why I like this book. Margot Livesey is trying to peel back some of those layers to help you read more deeply. At the same time as she analyzes well-known literature, Livesey weaves in her own experience as a writer. It's lovely.

Something I'm Thinking About: Next Big Goal

What is my next big goal going to be? (Now that I'm finished training and running a half marathon.) Some ideas:

  • Develop my sewing hobby: plan projects to work on, learn more about garment fitting, get/make a dress form, go to a sewing workshop, set up a studio space
  • Plan and save for a pilgrimage
  • Make a reading plan/goals

Something I'm Making: Skirts for Lucy + Blouse for Me

I recently finished two skirts for one of my coworkers. She gave the fabric and patterns to me back in November, but I took on too many projects at once. So didn't get around to finishing them until this week. My favorite is the pink one!

I'm also working on a blouse for myself. It's very close to completion; I should set aside an evening to finish it up. But I hate cutting bias tape. And I have to do that in order to finish the neckline. Thankfully, it's not too much bias tape. The fabric is pretty, isn't it?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Leaky Faucet

There's a man I know who is like my leaky kitchen faucet. Sometimes, when least expected, he dribbles pure emotion, water falling into the half-full glass below. What to do with that? Know he cares and move on.