Monday, April 26, 2010

Four quick links

This is a video of a smart German shepherd leading an Alaskan state trooper to his family's house when they needed help. (Got it from Hithah's blog.)

This makes me glad I'll probably never be the subject of an interview-- click on Tips, then on Fifty-Three Ways to Improve Your Reporting.

This makes me very grateful to whoever programmed it. Midi files of Durufle's Requiem-- they've been indispensable in learning my part.

This list of Iceland jokes will not be quite as funny if the volcano messes up any of my travel plans. :)

Bonus video proves heels are pretty high (or else she's weak from dieting? Poor girl.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

World's lamest sports fan, right here!

I've been very lucky as a sports fan, actually. The L.A. Dodgers won it all in 1988 when I was ten years old, and their MVP was the pitcher Orel Hershiser, who set a record for shutout innings that year and happened to go to my church. :) The Dodgers also starred in John R. Tunis' classic sports novels for kids, so I enjoyed that in junior high, although I didn't know why they were the "Brooklyn Dodgers". Ancient history. I read Walter Farley books too (the Black Stallion and all his friends) and he would mention racing in the famous Santa Anita Derby which is run every year at the racetrack just a few miles from my home. In high school I lost interest in sports until the 1996 Olympics when the American women won team gold in gymnastics and I got into gymnastics in a big way. That fall I went to Caltech for my freshman year and became a member of Lloyd House, and it turned out that one of my fellow Lloydies was Tessa Miller, the sister of Shannon Miller who was caption of that team, and Tessa had a few extra tickets to a gymnastics exhibition, so I got to sit in the third row and see the U.S. women perform live, fresh from their gold medal win. Then again I fell away from sports, except for a diverting stint on the Caltech foil and épée teams during which I lettered in fencing just for showing up. Then a few years after college I flipped on the TV and there were the Lakers playing the Spurs in the 2002 playoffs, trying to win their third championship in a row. So my dad and I rooted for them and they got their threepeat. But I hadn't forgotten those Spurs... I liked them, especially David Robinson. They were like-able. I decided to root for them from then on. And whaddya know-- they took revenge the very next year, beat the Lakers and won the championship in 2003. And again in 2005. And again in 2007, although I was on a conversion high then and barely noticed. The sports hiatus continued long enough for me to miss the Spurs' extremely disappointing first-round exit last season. Then this year I started watching them again.

All right, that explains why I'm the world's luckiest sports fan, but I was going to tell you why I'm the lamest. It's because I don't enjoy watching sports. At least, not when I'm rooting for someone. It just isn't fun for me; I'm so nervous and if my team loses I feel so bad, and even if my team wins I feel kinda sorry for the gallant losers, and if it's something like ice skating or gymnastics, well, good night-- I'm petrified any time they're about to leap or spin or jump or flip, lest they fall. I guess there are those who thrive on the competition, who really enjoy the fact that it's all on the line and the beloved team might win and cover itself in glory, or lose and go home in disgrace. But I can't bear it. Regular season games, maybe, but playoffs? It's too much. Why am I even a sports fan? It's because I read touchy-feely articles about the players and then I care about them and want to see them win.

So this is what I do: I set the DVR. I wait till I'm sure the game must be over. I jump on the internet and check the score. If the Spurs have lost, I quietly delete the game from the DVR and never speak of it again. If they've won, I crow around the house and enjoy the victory at my leisure. I accept the joy of being a sports fan, but not the suffering. Fans of certain teams will find their rewards in Heaven, but as for me, I tell you the truth, I have already received my reward in full.

Oh, the Spurs were seventh-seeded in the West this year-- a few more losses and they could even have missed the playoffs-- but they're up 2-1 now against the second-seed Mavericks in Round One of the playoffs. This post was inspired by the game they won tonight. I put off checking the score because I was afraid the Mavs would take it and I wanted to live with the uncertainty and the possibility of a win for just a little longer. I haven't much hope the Spurs will win it all this year; they have the same three stars that they had for their last three championships, and well, basketball players have to get old sometime. But there's always hope, and so I set my DVR. :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope five years ago today

Around the blogosphere Catholics are recalling how they heard the news, so I'll get in on the act. Back then I knew almost nothing about the Catholic Church, nor any names in the hierarchy except that of John Paul II who'd just died. But as I read snippets of editorials about this new pope, I saw that the New York Times et al. were doing a poor job of concealing their intense dislike. Reaching for something incriminating, they published profiles of Joseph Ratzinger emphasizing as much as possible his former membership in the Hitler Youth. Remember that? They'd work it into their lead paragraphs, even. It sure sounded bad the way they wrote it up, till you found out that he was all of fourteen years old at the time, and membership was mandatory for all German 14-year-olds, and he ditched the meetings anyway. I figured if the media were making themselves look like journalistic hacks just to make him look bad, he must be doing something right. (And boy, some things haven't changed.) So I liked Ratzinger from the get-go, but at the time I didn't give it a lot of thought. Now, of course, I love him. It makes me happy to remember who our Pope is. :)

Fr. Z has video of the announcement.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dust mites

(This post is a bit icky.)

A friend of one of my co-workers saw some dust on a light switch one day. Then he noticed that the dust seemed to be moving. He wondered if it might actually be a bug, too small to see, because he'd been noticing bite marks showing up on his two young children.

Being resourceful, he captured some of the "dust" by sealing it in scotch tape, and brought it to his friend in our lab. She doesn't use the microscopes, so she asked me to help out. I stuck the tape under one of the scopes and saw this:


You don't yet understand the full horror. There was an air pocket surrounding the bug, and it was still alive and moving.

Note that its legs and internal organs are in different positions now. (The reddish blotches are internal organs; this bug is transparent.)

Let's have an underside view of the disgusting legs, shall we?

I dunno, maybe I'll delete this post later. :P

Here's another specimen the man captured:

Ugh! Ew! Gross!

And I know I'm a biologist, but I never claimed to be an entomologist!

The unfortunate man whose house contains these bugs will use the pictures we took to identify the species and help the professionals recommend steps to take to KILL ALL THE NASTY BUGS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

I was glad afterward to have had a chance to help. It's most satisfying when you can do someone a favor that would be very difficult for him but happens to be easy for you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nearly 900 pages of short essays by C.S. Lewis!

I'm glad I got my copy several years ago because it now seems to be out of print. Anyway, here's a sentence or two:

Without going as far as Freud we may yet well admit that every man has an old grudge against his father and his first teacher. The process of being brought up, however well it is done, cannot fail to offend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Norbertine nuns in Tehachapi, CA

Last month I spent a weekend in Tehachapi visiting this order of nuns, and I thought I'd post a few pictures of it.

So this was the view from my window in the guesthouse when I arrived on Friday. Not too shabby. You can see a nun on the road. They own the hill in the background.

The room was simple, as they always are. There were two other girls visiting that weekend too, all of us thinking of becoming nuns (though with varying levels of certainty). Both of the other girls were from St. Stephen's in Sacramento, the church my friends and I keep making road trips to visit! (I saw both of the girls just a few weeks after this visit when I was at St. Stephen's for the Triduum.)

So the huge news of the weekend was that it SNOWED, a phenomenon I had never before witnessed. This is the same view from my window on Saturday.

It was such a trip to see my car slowly disappearing under the snow. I fretted at first-- could it handle the cold?-- before it occurred to me that cars are in fact built to withstand worse than 70-degree California weather. Oh, that's the chapel you see behind my car. The buildings are sort of temporary... it's a very new order and they're hoping to build a bigger, more permanent monastery later. For now they're sleeping two to a room, which is certainly sub-optimal; it would be better for each sister to be able to retreat to solitude in her own cell.

The chief work of the Norbertine nuns is prayer (eight hours a day), and particularly the Liturgy of the Hours; in fact that task is sort of officially delegated to them by the Church, which is why they're also called canonesses. But they also have a farm with cows and goats and such, and so the fridge in the guest house offered this tantalizing prospect. Five kinds of homemade cheese (I liked the brick cheese and goat cheese best), fresh goat's milk, and yogurt made from goat's milk. It was all reeeeally good. The nuns are vegetarian (or was that just for Lent?) and I never missed the meat because I was too busy pouring another glass of goat's milk and spreading chèvre on toast. They have lots of people wanting to buy the cheese-- even restaurants are interested-- but for that they need to comply with expensive regulations by building a bigger facility, something they hope to do once they get the money.

Back to the snow. Here's another picture of my sweet little car, all white.

Snow, snow, snow! By the way, I already posted a picture of me in the snow here.

I realize this is old news to most everybody, but look at how snow coats each little branch and every single leaf!

Aaaaaand.... ICICLES! Icicles on my car!

The next day much of the snow was already gone.

But the icicles remained; what fun!

I would have broken one off to suck on, but... well...

And look, by the time I was about ready to leave on Sunday, you'd never have known it had been cold. Everything melted so quickly. Tehachapi is several hours away from the Los Angeles area and at a much higher elevation (about 5000 feet, I think), so it's another world.

The nuns are pretty strictly cloistered, but we joined them in praying all the Hours in their chapel. One whole wall of the chapel is windows looking out at the white landscape. The nuns all have choir mantles that are essentially thick white blankets (good thing too, because the chapel wasn't kept very warm), and they looked like cozy snowbirds against the snow backdrop.

If you read the article I linked above, you know that they rise in the middle of the night to pray Matins at its proper hour, midnight. Now, I always thought that would be a pretty cool thing to do... praising God even in the middle of the night... so you'd never be away from Him for longer than four hours of sleep... but I'll tell you, when my alarm went off at 11:40 pm on Friday night, I wasn't as enthusiastic as I had been. The other two girls and I had been told our attendance was completely voluntary, but we wanted the experience, so we dressed in many layers and made the cold (but thankfully short) walk between our guest house and the chapel, and prayed Matins with the nuns. They did three sets of Psalms and chanted slowly. It took an hour!

The next night... I won't lie... we all elected to get our beauty sleep.

I had a good talk with the mother superior, who told me (among many other things) that they accustom new members very slowly to praying Matins every night. Postulants don't have to go at all, and neither do novices until the day of their first vows nears. Then they start going once a week... then twice a week... and so on, working their way up to seven days a week. All the nuns get a full night's sleep, just not all in one session. I'm sure one gets used to it to some extent. But given that my least favorite moment of the day is getting out of bed in the morning, it would indeed be a sacrifice to have that moment twice a day...

The land was pretty, and the nuns own hundreds of acres, enough to cushion them from neighbors and give them lots of room to walk. They never leave the enclosure unless they have to for jury duty or something. Their brother Norbertines, the priests from St. Michael's Abbey, make the 3.5 hour drive up to say Mass for them. (The way they work it is to stay for three or four days at a time, which makes the drive more worth it.) The priests say a lovely ad orientem Mass and people from the town drive up on weekdays to join in on the non-cloister side.

There's a picture of the nuns in their fuzzy choir mantles here. The best part of the weekend was when Mother gathered most of them together and had them tell us three girls their vocation stories. I wish I remembered the stories better. One of the nuns joined when she was eighteen. She'd wanted to join at fifteen, but the nuns made her wait.

Another one of the nuns was a young Catholic woman getting into liberation theology, reading books on the topic that her priest was giving her, and forming critical opinions of the current pope (John Paul II). She went to a youth meeting where the speaker, another priest, praised the pope and his relationship with the Catholic youth, and that frustrated her. After the talk people were going forward to receive a blessing or something, so she went forward "just to give that priest a piece of my mind!" She let him have it, and he turned red in the face and funneled her off to an Alhambra Carmelite sister who happened to be in line behind her. The sister's full habit freaked her out; she escaped her and ended up talking with some Mexican members of Regnum Christi. They didn't speak enough English for her to realize that they were a kind of consecrated religious too, and by the time she figured that out she was hooked. She started to get involved with their movement, went to one of their retreats, and had a huge experience of certainty that she was called to be a member of Regnum Christi too.  Then she starting hanging out at St. Joseph Radio (they have some sort of youth group) and the folks there encouraged her to look around at the different orders, and she found the Norbertines. She's now a nun much like the one that freaked her out that first fateful night. :) I wish you could have heard her tell the story.

And there was another nun who had a wrenching breakup with her perfect boyfriend as she was moving into religious life. It seems that a lot of nuns find their vocations when they get engaged (or nearly) and then find that that doesn't satisfy them, or realize that they never consulted God about their life's plans.

One of the nuns also talked with the three of us alone and gave us such a clear, cogent, concise and satisfying explanation of religious life that it really needs to be recorded and disseminated all over the internet.

We said farewell to the nuns on Sunday, and they gave us parting gifts-- some more homemade cheese! I was quite happy about that.

Oh, if you ever get up to Tehachapi, I can recommend the banana preserves and kiwi preserves, both available in their gift shop (with about ten other flavors). Also, their guest house is available for private retreats, so if you want to go where there will be all sorts of delicious milk products available in the fridge, I highly recommend it. :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A lizard and boss cake

Today I was sitting at the kitchen table with the bright sun streaming through the glass patio door. Our cat, Gimlet, was frolicking outside, and suddenly she began to stare intently at a spot where the patio door meets the ground. She was pawing as if trying to catch something. I figured she had cornered an insect and I tried to catch a glimpse of her prey.

Then I saw something else move in the corner of my eye and glanced to my right. There was a lizard under the kitchen counter! Pretty big one too; maybe ten inches long (mostly tail). I lost composure for a moment, then opened the patio door in the hope that Gimlet would take care of it. She faithfully came inside and batted the lizard toward the door, and when she paused I took up a magazine and nudged him the rest of the way out. Then I closed the door and inspected it carefully. It turns out that even when the door's closed, there's a gap between it and the rails it rests on, big enough for a lizard to squeeze through if a cat terrifies him enough to make him attempt it. Comforting thought.

In other news we had a party for the boss today, and one of my artistic co-workers rendered his likeness in chocolate quite successfully. It wasn't as freaky as last year's cake. (I'll post the chocolate portrait later if I can get a picture of it.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Done with taxes!

I was going to use H&R Block to file online, but they wanted to charge me because I'd sold stock in 2009. Whatever-- I went to TurboTax, which was easier and friendlier and free for federal tax. For state taxes I used the California tax website, also free. I continue to think it's a form of oppression that Americans are required to complete a task that is honestly too complicated for some to do... but mainly I've just been oppressing myself by not getting it done sooner. It only took about two hours once I buckled down.

Last night as it rained outside...

...the cat curled up right next to me on the bed and purred so loudly I felt my ribcage vibrating. Such a sweet little kitty.

Then at 3 AM she decided she wished to leave the room and woke me with her insistent scratching on the door. That was less endearing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

10 Interesting Things about me. (Look, it's my blog-- what do you expect?)

The other Rachel just tagged me to post ten interesting things about myself-- thanks, dear!

Let's see...

1) I really dislike melted cheese. I realize this is a defect, but pizza commercials with all their cheesy cheesiness don't work on me.

2) Mix milk with root beer or coke. It's a good drink and makes about as much sense as a root beer float (which is also a good drink).

3) When I was eight years old I helped to vandalize a school. We broke into lockers, destroyed the contents, spray-painted on the ground, set fire to a trash can-- the works. Not long after, McGruff the Crime Dog visited our elementary school and sang a song entitled "Don't Vandalize!" Boy, did I feel guilty. We got caught later on.

4) I know three ways to make a sea urchin spawn.

5) I have an unusually large area of heterochromatin on my chromosome 7, which means... nothing. Here's a picture of my chromosomes after GTG banding. If you're counting them and think I'm one short, don't worry-- there are two chromosomes overlapping a bit that look like just one. I really do have 46.

6) For most of my twenties I wanted to get married and have six kids. They were going to be smart and perfectly raised. Now I figure I'll just try to do whatever God wants of me, because life is short and eternity is long.

7) I've lived in the Los Angeles area all my life. I'd never seen falling snow until last month in Tehachapi, CA. Here I am, all excited about being snowed on!

8) I have emails in my inbox from two years ago that I still intend to answer.

9) When I was eleven my mom sent me to swim team practices for exercise. The other kids were all older than me, but I was big for my age. I developed a crush on a fifteen-year-old from the high school who called me Smiley because I couldn't help smiling when I looked at him. He used to whack me with a kickboard when we passed each other in the swim lanes. It was exciting. He was so cute. I'm almost certain he didn't know I was in elementary school because when he saw me at a band review at the end of that year, wearing my elementary school uniform, he got such an indescribable look on his face-- shock, horror, nausea... That was just about the best romantic relationship I ever had. :)

10) Most days, my alarm is set to 4:30 AM. Bedtimes vary widely.

If you like this meme, I hereby nominate you to take part!

Pray for Brother Jerry

Oh man. Ya'll may recall I posted last Tuesday about Br. Jerry, one of Oblates of the Virgin Mary who's been stationed at my parish for a while, and how plans were finally in the works to ordain him a priest next year.... well, the email chain just informed me that he had another serious heart problem yesterday that resulted in a twelve-hour surgery to replace his aorta, and it will be a long, slow recovery (assuming, I guess, that he does recover!) If you could take a moment to pray for him that would be great.

Sistine Chapel, anyone?

Takes a while to load. Use a scroll wheel to zoom in and out, click and drag to rotate. Incidentally, the choir singing in the background reminds me of the one that sings at St. Therese in Alhambra at the TLM every Sunday at 1 pm. :) They do that kind of lovely music.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


The Anchoress has a blog over on First Things, and a while ago she posted on the practice of wearing a veil in church, asking her readers what they do and why. She got a lot of comments (101 at last count). I started writing one of my own, but lo, it was too long for a combox-- and then it occurred to me that I have my own blog anyway for just this sort of thing. So here's my story of how I learned to stop worrying and love the veil.

At the end of 2006 I was becoming Catholic and looking around for a good parish. I found St. Peter Chanel (SPC) and loved it so much I started going to Mass every day. A few of the women there always covered their heads in church, sometimes with hats but usually with lace veils like in this picture. I liked it. It made the church look churchier, like something special was happening (and at Mass, it is!) But I never considered taking up the practice myself; I didn't feel I had a good excuse to do so.

Then in September 2007 the restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass were lifted and SPC started having one every Sunday. Most women cover their heads at TLMs, so there was my excuse. I jumped on eBay and bought the most inconspicuous veil I could find-- a brown one, close to my own hair color. On the appointed day I pinned it on and went to Mass, and from then on I always wore one at the TLMs and liked it very much.

By now I knew more about the practice of covering one's head in church-- that it was a long-standing Christian tradition and that the 1917 Code of Canon Law had explicitly required it:

Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.

My Protestant mom remembers owning a mantilla in the 1960's specifically for her summer trips to Europe, since they were required for tourists wanting to enter the magnificent old Catholic churches. But customs changed, and when the 1983 canon law came out it didn't mention veiling at all. So of course I knew that there was no longer any requirement for a woman to cover her head in church, but the fact that it had been the practice for nearly 2000 years got me thinking about why, about what the purpose and benefits of such a custom might be.

There are lots of viewpoints on this from women who wear veils-- try a blog search if you want to be inundated with posts on the topic. I read that a veil is about humility, or about modesty, a sign of a woman's submission or a sign of her elevation, a mark of something sacred or of something specially consecrated (what else is veiled at Mass? The Tabernacle and the chalice.) I read arguments that veiling is actually still required by 1 Corinthians 11, by immemorial custom, or by the abrogated 1917 Code. I saw a post from a man saying he wished men had a counterpart to the veil, something to wear at Mass like a banner to display allegiance to traditional Catholicism as opposed to modern cafeteria Catholicism. I saw a post from a woman with a bum knee, saying that she can't genuflect or kneel for the Consecration, but the veil gives her a way to pay visible homage to God. I read that wearing a veil improves prayer, concentration, bad hair days, the attitude of the wearer, and the attitude of everyone else in church.

Some of those reasons seemed good to me and some of them didn't, but none of them were quite powerful enough to make me to do something as foreign and intimidating as veiling. What did motivate me was this short line in the old canon law:

Women shall have a covered head... especially when they approach the table of the Lord.

Why especially then? It's the moment in Mass when everyone walks down to the front of the church to receive Holy Communion. This, in Catholic teaching, is not just bread and wine symbolizing Christ's death, but is actually Christ Himself, presented again to God as a sacrifice for our sins, and given to us as the food of eternal life. Jesus Christ, who as God is present everywhere, is present in a special way, physically, as the consecrated Host. Knowing who He is, knowing the amazing fact that He is there, made me want to do more to show reverence in the presence of the King of Kings. And one way Catholic women through the centuries have shown their adoration is by covering their heads.

So I was happy when the TLM gave me a chance to start doing that. It was partly because of the veils that I loved the TLM more than the regular Mass. My distracted mind is incapable of the kind of worship I'd like to render, but every little bit helps.

However, now my behavior was inconsistent. Our Lord is just as present and just as worthy of adoration at a Novus Ordo Mass (although the NO Mass does not demonstrate this fact nearly as well), but I was veiling only on Sundays and not for the other six Masses of the week.

Of course this was because there weren't very many women wearing veils at the NO Masses, and I was worrying: What will people think? My great fear was that folks would see me walk in with a veil and think that I was making some grand STATEMENT, something like "Tradition rules and you're all Novus Ordo heretics!" or, "I wear a mantilla and I am holier than thou," or else, "The Bible says to cover your head, sinner!" or even just "Pay attention to me!" I wasn't an older woman who could claim to be nostalgic for the customs of my youth, nor was I from Korea or the Philippines or some place where veils are more common. I was young and a recent convert from a casual jeans-wearing Evangelical denomination; everyone would know I was self-consciously and deliberately adopting a tradition that had never been mine before. I was afraid people would snort, "What does she think she's doing?"

Of course I wasn't trying to make any of those statements. I don't think every woman needs to cover her head in church, and I'm certain there are many women at my parish who don't wear veils and are much holier than I. But those statements are out there, and there are also people on the other side (readily found on the Internet) who seem to get irritated at the mere thought of a veil and aren't slow to impute bad motives to those who wear them. Fear of being unfairly judged prevented me from trying it for a long time. But in the end I tried to set the shy feelings aside and remind myself:

3) Most likely, nobody cares whether I veil or not.

2) Really, they're never looking at you or thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.

1) If I want to do this to show reverence for God, fear of others' opinions shouldn't stop me. Which is more important?

So I started wearing a veil at the daily Masses too. I felt really awkward and self-conscious about it at first, and had to keep reminding myself, "I do it because I'm in God's presence; now stop worrying about what other people think!" After a week or so I relaxed. No one made any negative comments. A few people complimented me, and most had no reaction at all. It was perfectly anti-climactic. Now it's been more than two years, and these days it would be weird if I didn't wear a veil.

That's how it started. And though I do it to try to show reverence for God, I've found numerous other benefits to wearing a veil. Let us list them:

1. Slowing down to put on a veil on before walking into church reminds me: I am entering the presence of God.

2. There's zero temptation to wear anything grungy, sleeveless, or low cut-- it'd look weird with a veil.

3. I saw this TV show once where a character killed himself, and the moment his suicide was discovered, a blue filter went over the camera. For the rest of the episode, as the other characters worked through their denial and grief, the blue cast to the picture helped the viewer feel the unreality and shock that the characters were experiencing. Similarly, when I wear a veil it's always in my peripheral vision and it gives a certain cast to the world. It frames everything I see at Mass, but instead of a blue "tragedy" filter, it's a lace "you're in church" filter that helps me stay recollected.

4. It's true: no bad hair days. I just stuff my hair into a clip and I'm good to go. Who's going to see it?

5. I used to fidget with my hair in church, too, always worried about how it was looking from behind or whether it was smooth on top. Now I can sit still.

5. Privacy. This is so nice: if I bow my head the veil falls forward and blocks the view of my face from the sides. I can pray or sleep meditate deeply with my eyes closed, and no one sees. Not that anyone's looking anyway, but this way I feel that they're not looking-- the rest of the world is shut out and I can focus on God.

6. No peripheral vision = fewer distractions.

7. Cold morning and I forgot my scarf? I wrap the ends of the veil around my neck. Better than nothing.

8. If there's incense at the Mass the veil catches the scent, and for the next few days it seems like the incense is still there.

9. It renders me unrecognizable from behind to people who are supposed to meet me in church and go looking for my red hair. That's happened twice now-- oh wait, that's not really a benefit.

10. Okay, how about this: if an assassin ever comes looking for me at church, he'll scan the backs of heads, conclude I'm not there, and give up!

11. Other fabulous benefits to be added to this list as they occur to me.

Now to increase the gravity of my post, here's the Shrine on Technically Permissible but Inappropriate Substitutes for the Mantilla.

The veil seems to be catching on, at least among my friends. There were five of us who'd often get together after evening Mass to read encyclicals and such. At first only one of our group had a veil. Now four of us wear a veil to Mass, and the fifth wears a veil all day as a Dominican nun.

I read most of the comments at the Anchoress' post (the first one I linked to above; here it is again), and a lot of them are from women who like the idea of a veil and would sort of like to wear one but are inhibited by what others would think, exactly as I was. It's interesting that what women do or don't wear depends more their desire to conform than on inherent preference. I guess that's obvious; we wouldn't have identifiable fashion trends otherwise. But it just goes to show: the fact that the vast majority of women do not wear veils doesn't mean that the vast majority are opposed to it.

Okay, there was another reason I hesitated to wear a veil, and it's a reason I've never seen mentioned anywhere else: I was worried about the guys. Back then I was hoping to run into some great Catholic man who'd say "Oh my goodness, I'm glad you converted!" I wondered, would a veil seem so weird and embarrassingly backward to potential suitors that they'd be scared off? In the end I decided not to let even that stop me. After all, I figured, an ideal man would like it. This optimistic thought has since been borne out by experience. I've been approached by men at church who seemed to want to know me better, and that never happened before I wore a veil, not once in all my years of going to Protestant and then Catholic churches. Of course, by the time it did happen I'd decided to be a nun. But you ladies who are considering marriage and would like a man who's proud to be Catholic, don't worry that a veil will drive him off; it might be the opposite. I'm just sayin'.

Let the Lent continue!

I've found in this Easter week that I sort of miss the focused discipline of Lent... well, okay, I wasn't focused or disciplined, but I did make some resolutions to live life more wisely and not squander time, and though I didn't keep them very well it was a heck of a lot better than nothing. So I started to pray about perhaps continuing with the resolutions, making them permanent. The next few days were such a wasted mess that I figured God was answering my prayer with a resounding "YES". So I'll try to keep on doing the stuff I did during Lent. Less time on the Internet is one. :)

It's sort of like dieting versus making real lifestyle changes. I was overweight most of my life, and the way I lost weight and kept it off was to radically re-define what I considered to be a normal amount of food to eat. If I had told myself, "I'm only going to eat less until I lose the weight," well, that wouldn't have worked long-term.

By the way, Jen thinks the same thing. I know, I'm a Jen sycophant, but seriously, her blog's so good!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Coconut smoothie

There are lots of videos on YouTube on how to open a young Thai coconut. Here's one:

They all lie. I needed a screwdriver and a hammer and lots of messy work to open the coconut that a friend gave me. But having finally opened it, I poured the juice into a blender, scraped out the meat and added it to the juice, then added vanilla ice cream and some crushed ice and blended it all. It was a very nice coconut smoothie that'll never be worth the effort again. :) I'm glad I did it once; next time I'll just buy a can of coconut milk for 99 cents.

I'm totally slapping the "Catholic desserts" label on this post because at the end of that video the guy explains how coconuts prove the existence of God. :)

Abstract color-spattered habit

Kinda cool. :) It's from a photo essay someone did here.

Also: "Two by two, hands of blue..."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

I've written so many posts today-- why stop? I've finished Lost in the Cosmos and really liked it. It wasn't quite like anything I've read before and if I tried to describe it it'd take too long, so I'll just say that Walker Percy made me think in ways I hadn't thought before, and thinking in those ways actually helped me understand some of my own feelings (and possibly others' feelings) better than I had before.

I read it because I heard a talk by Peter Kreeft in which he said that Lost in the Cosmos tackles the same crisis that was addressed by Lewis' Abolition of Man-- but Lewis was writing mainly for a Christian audience and Percy writes for secular modern audience. He takes a much different angle and operates by asking questions rather than giving answers. Normally I'd be suspicious of that-- a guy who asks questions without answering them might be lazy, or muddle-headed, or he might not really believe in truth, or he might not want to know the truth-- but Percy's not like that; his questions are smart and really made me think. He's also very funny, especially in the Last Donahue Show scene.

"The Pope's revenge on Hollywood"

Here's a story about how Prince William might be engaged to Kate Middleton soon. If you read carefully you'll see it's based entirely on the fact that June 3 and 4 have been “mysteriously blocked out on the palace diaries". That's it. That's all the actual evidence the story presents. Perhaps you're thinking, "I don't understand-- what does that have to do with an engagement announcement?" It's not you, dear reader; it's the Telegraph. Oh, and at the end of the story even that flimsy premise is called into question: "A source said suggestions Buckingham Palace had cleared its diary were 'wide of the mark'."

I noticed that story because I was looking at this one about Archbishop Gomez being appointed the new coadjutor of L.A. That story says, "The appointment was described as the Pope's revenge on Hollywood for filming The Da Vinci Code." It goes on to assert, "The appointment will give Opus Dei enormous influence in the American Church and Vatican." The second statement sounds almost as silly as the first (more's the pity). It's pretty obvious the writer knows very little about his subject. If that's true of the stories on the Catholicism it's likely true of other stories as well; I just don't notice it because on most subjects I share the reporter's ignorance.

Let us end this post with my favorite picture of the Pope from his days as the German Cardinal Ratzinger. :)

Someone's got to arrest Deepak Chopra!

For causing the Baja quake.

He's a fraud, of course, but wouldn't it be funny to see his reaction if the police pretended to take him seriously? :)

The new Archbishop of Los Angeles

Let's have this at the L.A. Cathedral! (I'm hoping the adverse interaction of a traditional liturgy with the cathedral itself might create a spontaneous combustion that'd burn the building down.)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I need to read Pascal's Pensées

Here's I quote from it I just saw:
"All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgment, unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate end."

My day so far

11:30 PM
That's when I got to bed last night. Just before retiring I sent off an email to the superior of a convent in Europe, asking if I can come visit for a week.

3:00 AM
My alarm went off. Minutes later Mom was knocking softly on my door. "Rachel, it's three o'clock." Mom and Dad are headed back East today to visit relatives, and as the resident child I promised to drive them to the airport. We planned to leave at the ridiculous hour of 3:30 AM, to give them plenty of time to catch their 6 AM flight. I argued with Mom about the departure time, but she was adamant that we needed to leave that early-- in fact, 3:30 was a compromise. She'd wanted to go at 3:15.

3:05 AM
I shuffled over to my laptop and checked email. My attention was immediately arrested by a reply from the order in Europe. The mother superior says yes, I can visit! She gave me possible dates-- I could go as early as May.

I don't suppose it comes as news to readers of this blog, but I think I'm going to be a nun and I'm trying to find out where. I guess I won't say too much about the whole decision-making process, since it seems better not to chat about it on the web while everything's still in flux. But at any rate, I've been interested in this particular order for a long time and I'm really glad that it looks like I can go, even though the cheapest ticket on Orbitz is going to be about $1300. (!)

So, that news woke me up.

3:30 AM (or so)
I headed out with my parents, fumbling to lock the front door behind me in complete darkness. The drive to the LAX airport was very fast-- I've never seen the 605 freeway so empty!

On the way I cheerfully announced to the parental units: "I have bad news! I'm going to be visiting two more convents." I told them that one is in the middle of nowhere in the Great Plains (I'm planning to go the first weekend in June), and the other's in Europe. My parents are not exactly fans of the whole nun thing, but Mom was excited to hear that one of the places is in Europe, right in an area she's been wanting to visit. She immediately wanted to go with me until I explained that it's a week in a convent, not a sight-seeing tour. At least she's looking on the bright side.

4:15 AM
Arrival at LAX. Quite a few others were already at the terminals. My parents and I hugged goodbye. Dad: "Don't join any convents while we're gone!"

4:45 AM
I arrived at St. Peter Chanel and was by no means the first one there. People come at all hours of the night; the church is locked but all the parishioners know the combination. We used to have 24-7 adoration with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, but for that you have to make sure someone will always be there, and it got difficult to find enough men willing to make the commitment for the night hours. (Our pastor doesn't want to have women coming alone in the middle of the night, since it's not a safe neighborhood.) Maybe we'll restart the adoration eventually; in the meantime people are still free to come and pray before the tabernacle whenever they like. Have I ever mentioned that I love my church? Because I do. :)

I tried to calm myself down for a holy hour, still hyped up with the knowledge that I'll be visiting these two monasteries I'm interested in. And just yesterday I was feeling so pessimistic about it all, too. Oh me of little faith.

(One day I'll learn the precise difference between a "convent" and a "monastery". I used to think convents were for nuns and monasteries for monks, but that was before I saw an episode of House that featured a bunch of nuns who live in a monastery.)

I read the breviary for a while and that got me settled in and praying. We're in the Octave of Easter and it was good to have all the Psalms and readings and antiphons celebrating it. I had an awesome Easter Triduum but it went by too fast. So, as Fr. Z writes about octaves, "Octave refers to a period of eight days following a feast day, including the feast itself. Since the implementation of the so-called Novus Ordo, we now have only two: Christmas and Easter. In a sense, time is suspended during an octave. God created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested. The eighth day, a day beyond the cycle of seven, is a glimpse of the eternal state, the perfect sabbath of heaven. Also, since the Church is the greatest expert on humanity that there has ever been, the Church is wise to give us octaves. From the point of view of human psychology, we cannot possibly cope with the impact of the all the different angles and dimensions of the mysteries of these great feasts... A lifetime is insufficient, and eternity will not suffice to contemplate the mystery, but at least we have eight days and not merely one to focus our minds and hearts upon it."

Also, right after Easter the first reading in the Office of Readings is taken from 1st and 2nd Peter, and I love his letters. Since I've been Catholic they speak to me more than any other part of the Bible, I think. He was hardcore.

6:00 AM
Fr. Sean celebrated Mass. He was ordained in January 2009; I blogged the ordination here and his first Mass here. This morning was his last Mass at St. Peter Chanel. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary are transferring him to the Boston area where he'll mostly be doing spiritual direction. We're seriously going to miss him!

(Incidentally, do you know where Boston got its name? It's named for a city in England, the hometown of some of the prominent Puritan founders of the new Boston. The city in England was named for St. Botolph, an English abbot who died around A.D. 680.)

6:40 AM
A crowd of early morning diehards gathered outside the church to say farewell to Fr. Sean and Brother Jerry, also an Oblate who's being transferred. They're both great; I'm glad for the few times I got to hang with them before they left. I learned to my delight that Br. Jerry is to be ordained a deacon later this year, and a priest probably sometime next year. Hooray! I had thought he was going to be a permanent brother because of his heart problems or something-- which shows how much I know. We think he'll be a great priest and we're already praying that the ordination will be back at SPC.

But I know Fr. Sean better because he's been my spiritual director since late last year. I'd been looking for someone to direct me for a long time, but I didn't think of him at first because he was a new priest barely older than me, and he looked so nice that I figured he wouldn't be tough enough. I had an idea that I needed a crotchety yet extremely wise old guy to direct me. Someone like Gandalf. Then I went to confession to Fr. Sean and he grounded me from the Internet, which rather altered my view of him. It turns out that the nicest priests can also be the toughest; they look at you with that kindly smile at the very moment that they're saying something that's really hard to hear. And what Fr. Sean said to me when he became my director was: "You've been wasting time. You can treat vocation discernment like a hobby, and just do a bit of research here and there, but if you do that you'll be forty years old before you get anywhere. You need to start calling places and visiting them!"

Hence in the last few months I've visited two orders and made plans to visit two more. Having a spiritual director makes a huge difference; I highly recommend it to all who are thinking of religious life, and especially to those who think they're smart enough to do without a director. Not that I know anything about that.

6:50 AM
The sun was over the housetops and beaming a beautiful golden light on Diep, Adonela, and me as we followed Brother Jerry to the rectory to chat a bit more. Fr. Sean came by. "You look like Jesus and the three Marys!" said he. We immediately filed the comment away to be taken out and savored later on, then said our goodbyes to the two departing Oblates.

7:00 AM
The three of us headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant and ordered champurrado and carne asada tacos for breakfast. It was good to sit and chat and debrief each other on various events.

8:00 AM
I arrived at another church nearby to follow a lead on a possible spiritual director, now that I need a new one. I parked and started rooting around in my purse when there came a knock at my car window. It was a police officer. "Are you here for the funeral, Ma'am?" Looking up I saw a hearse, a crowd of people in black, and tons of flowers; evidently the regular 8:30 AM Mass had turned into a funeral Mass for a day. I didn't want to crash somebody's funeral (done enough of that for one lifetime), nor did I want to waltz in among the mourners in my casual clothes, so I decided to postpone the search for this priest I want to see.

8:50 AM
Back home. I took a leisurely walk down our long driveway, which is bursting with life and color thanks to all the gardening my retired parents do. I'll have to drag hoses around for hours to keep all this stuff watered and alive until they return. Gotta keep the cat fed too, but there's no danger of forgetting that chore-- she'll remind me.

9:00 AM
Checked email. Ohmygoodness ohmygoodness-- the new coadjutor bishop of Los Angeles has been appointed! For those who don't know what I'm talking about, he's a guy who's going to work with Cardinal Roger Mahony for a year, and then replace him as head of the Archdiocese of L.A. when Cdl. Mahony retires. The bishop of a diocese has a big influence on all the parishes therein, so we Catholics have been on tenterhooks about who the heir apparent will be.

And the answer is... it's Archbishop Gomez from San Antonio. I had no clue who the man was; the news story Adonela emailed made a big deal of the fact that he's Hispanic, but that means nothing to me one way or the other. Is he a good bishop? By that I mean: does he have a spine? Does he teach the Faith even when he's vilified for it? Does he act like a shepherd of souls rather than a politician?

There was one place where I knew I could find out fast. I headed over to Fr. Z's blog, and all the radtrad Catholics there were celebrating the news. That was good enough for me-- I started celebrating too, and as I read more on the web about him I got happier and happier. He was one of the first bishops to speak out against the abysmal decision of the president of Notre Dame... you all know that kerfuffle; I needn't go into it here. He's welcoming of the traditional Latin Mass, which is a big plus with me. And there's also this: "the 850,000-member San Antonio church's current contingent of 28 seminarians is double what Gomez found on his 2005 arrival." That's waaaaay more seminarians than we have for the number of Catholics here in L.A.; for years now very few men have been inspired to become priests in this archdiocese. Maybe the Pope was thinking of that when he made the appointment. And Abp. Gomez is from San Antonio, so maybe he's even a Spurs fan! :)

(The Spurs have looked pretty old and injured this year; it's been hard to take. They barely qualified for the playoffs which will begin soon. But just in the last few weeks they've been playing really well! Probably just reeling me back in, the better to crush my hopes once more...)

Here's a bunch of stuff on Archbishop Gomez for those who want to know.

9:10 AM
Blogging break with a cup of tea and lots of Easter candy Mom foolishly left behind. She called from Dallas to inform me that she and Dad made it through the LAX security line in record time. "All the stores were closed and we had nothing to do. Dad had two whole hours to sit and complain!" I told her it was magnanimous of her to admit this to me after I'd done so much complaining myself about the early start. One of my mom's great features is that she's not egotistical. Though she may forget this incident by the time she's ready to book her next flight; she's genuinely fond of those early starts. Crazy woman.

Mom still wants to head to the glamorous European destination with me, and tour around with Dad while I hang with the nuns. I'd be happy not to have to navigate in a foreign airport by myself, but we'll see.

Well, the day is still young! I guess I'll go to work.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Short story for TLM fans

Hi folks! I'm back from a great weekend in Sactown, and as usual I don't have time to post all I would like.

For those of ya'll who know my former roommate Mery, she's going to become a novice this month at Corpus Christi Monastery! Pray for her.

Here's a random story I heard this weekend. We were visiting St. Stephen the First Martyr, an FSSP church in Sacramento where they always have the traditional Latin Mass. One of the parishioners there has a uncle who stopped going to Mass around 1959 and was away from the Church for decades. Finally, several years ago, he decided to return and asked his nephew, the most pious member of the family, to take him to Mass. So his nephew naturally took him to his own parish, St. Stephen's. Afterward the uncle remarked, "You know, all this time I've been hearing about how the Mass has changed so much, but I really didn't notice any difference!"

His nephew could only reply, "If you were going to be away for forty years, you picked a good forty years to miss."