Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My last day as a grant writer

Friday was my last day working at NFNF. It was bittersweet to be sure. The excitement of grad school in Delaware loomed ahead, but every time I turned around someone in the office was saying how much they would miss me. NFNF is like a big family, and they do send-offs very well. Like my first, my final day was full of love, food, and craziness - perfect.

Here's some of what happened:
  • Ate leftover fruit from the board meeting for breakfast
  • Received a gift certificate and "Thank You" balloon from the Nicest Boss in the World
  • Gave Nicest Boss in the World a mini statue of St. Louise de Marillac, Daughter of Charity and Patron of Social Workers. He loved it.
  • Was sent out to collect the office fish fry order from the VFW post across the street, where I was whistled at twice by WWII veterans
  • Returned to the office to find everyone in the office ready to serenade me with my goodbye song, to the tune of "Jingle Bells." Our CEO and a few others said such kind things that I will always appreciate.
  • Received a Visa gift card from the entire office. It will be much appreciated!
  • Ate the salad bar lunch our Party Planning Committee had prepared, plus GF chocolate cake made by one of the nurses.
  • Headed to the Healthy Start consortium meeting, where there were adorable kids and more food.
  • Learned about the Healthy Start client who performed an emergency delivery of her friend's 2lb premature baby. HS staff gave her a certificate, first aid kit, and official HS polo shirt. She was over the moon about all this recognition. "I'm tellin' you, I was scurred, but I just remembered the video Miss Gwen showed me. I was holdin' the baby in my hands and I just stared prayin.' I blew in her face and she started breathing!"
  • Packed up stuff from my desk, including Aloysuis the teddy bear, (William) Blake the tiger, and Judah the Lion.
  • Took pictures with everyone in the office; gave and received lots of hugs.
I'm going to miss this place.

Health care news from DC

Today I learned via Nurses for Newborns' Twitter feed that our founder, Sharon Rohrbach, was at the White House today for President Obama's press conference about non-profits and innovation. His speech could have desribed Sharon's work with NFNF:
I want to thank all of you here today for everything you're doing to find new solutions to some of our oldest, toughest problems. I know what you do is not easy. I know that for many of you, the hours are long, the pay could be better -- let's face it. But I also know the difference that each of you make. I know the lives that you change every single day. You teach us that there's no such thing as a lost cause if you're willing to be creative, and challenge the conventional wisdom, and take some risks.
In other health care news, 19 Pro-Life Congressional Democrats have told Nancy Pelosi they will not support a health care reform legislation that includes funding for abortion. Way to go!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heat Wave Road Warriors

First of all, it is ridiculously hot in the STL right now. The temperature has been hovering near 100 for a week. This morning when we left for work 80 degrees felt nice and cool.

Personally, I love summer and feel a sense of accomplishment facing down extreme heat. But for clients without air conditioning, this weather is downright dangerous. Premature babies or kids with sickle cell are especially threatened. So, I've been making a few emergency fund runs to Home Depot for window unit air conditioners.

I got to help deliver one of these, and was reminded all over again of how awesome our nurses are. They always apologize for their messy cars (like I care how many packs of diapers are lying around), and then blow you away with their tenacity. Already that morning my driver had almost needed to help deliver the baby of a client who did not realize she was in labor. Don't ask me how that is possible, but when she finally admitted she was feeling "weird" our nurse figured things out. When EMS arrived the woman was already at 9 1/2 centimeters!

After recovering from that escapade, the nurse drove me to a run-down North City townhouse where 8 kids and a few adults were languishing in the heat. We must have looked pretty funny dragging the 50 lb air conditioning unit up to the second story apartment. Luckily, the baby's father was home to help get it in the door, and had everything up and running by the time our visit was done.

Even in that crowded, dark, overheated, smelly apartment, you could see glimmers of hope. That's another thing that always amazes me when I visit our clients. The family situation was less than ideal, but at least there was a "baby daddy" to help around the house . At least his children knew who he was. At least the mom was interested in our services and not just looking for handouts. The children were the most uplifting part. A few stared shyly at us, but one toddler girl grinned, giggled, and lept in our laps for hugs. The oldest daughter cradled her baby brother, and the toddlers bent down to give him kisses. Even in the face of poverty, their innocent playfulness was inspiring.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Only connect" - EM Forster

It was a busy weekend. On Saturday, I got my fill of sun, sweat, and Ozarks roller coasters at Six Flags to celebrate Tennessee and Pittsburgh Volunteers' upcoming birthdays. Then I was up early the next day. to give mission appeal talks for the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service. At every Sunday Mass at College Church. Yes, I went to church three times yesterday.

CNVS is a membership organization of over 2oo different Catholic lay volunteer and missionary programs. If you or someone you know is interested in long-term service, definitely check out cnvs.org. Their extensive and easily searched directory is how many of us found VSC.

My mission on Sunday was to give a short spiel after Communion about CNVS, ask people to donate in the second collection, and then stay after Mass to hand out brochures and answer questions. It was actually pretty easy since CNVS had made all the arrangements with the parish, sent in the brochures, and given me a sample speech. The long day notwithstanding, it was interesting to see the different demographics of every Mass and hear three different homilies on the same readings. The Epistle mentioned a very Vincentian motto - "The love of Christ impels us."

I was also amazed at the unexpected connections I made with people, who was interested in what I had to say. For instance, I met the man who is starting a L'Arche home for the handicapped in St. Louis, and wants to get on the directory. My favorite connection was the soon-to-retire high school Spanish teacher who wants to work with immigrants for a year or two. She's also interested in getting her LPN license so she can do medical screening. Despite all these great ideas, she had no idea where to start. I hope my advice was helpful and that she really does achieve her plan.

It was random encounters such as these that inspired my own year of service. A priest on a retreat advised that I "go do something radical for God." A week later, I ran into a former dorm neighbor on my way to Mass. She told me all about her work with immigrants in New Mexico, and gave a lot of encouragement that a service year was indeed practical. I haven't had contact with those people since, but their affect on my life has been profound.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I hope all the Fathers out there - both priests and biological- have a wonderful day and know how much they are appreciated.

This is a relief sculpture in St. Francis Xavier College Church depicting St. Joseph, the patron of all fathers. It appears to be just before his death, as his foster son Jesus is pointing upward to Joseph's heavenly destiny.

I'm always touched by St. Joseph's selfless service - caring for Mary and Jesus and then humbly fading into obscurity. We don't even know the details of his death, just that he wasn't around for Jesus' public ministry.
My own Dad is another wonderful example of unselfish protection and caring. He works so hard for us, but doesn't complain or call attention to himself. After a year of working with at-risk families, and hearing so many stories of absent "baby-daddies", I am so grateful that I grew up with two parents who are married to each other and both care deeply for their children.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some Vincentian Shout-outs

A big Thank You to Cathy, the VSC secretary for her encouragement about my blogging. She's put links to Sojourn in St. Louis on both the VSC and Daughters of Charity websites. You can click to both those sites on the pictures to the right.

Cathy is not a Daughter, but she helps keep things running smoothly at their Provincial Office. Her biggest help to us VSCs is managing all the paperwork for Americorps, so we get money for student loans when we're done. It's all part of the red tape that comes with non-profit work.

"Let's get rich and buy our parents homes in the south of France" - Ingrid Michhaelson

I have become flat-out addicted to this song. Yesterday I listened to the last verse three times in a row.
It's just about the cutest thing ever, and reminds me of "If I Had a Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies. Both songs innocently long for wealth that will give security, and the simple things in life. Really, the singers just want to be philanthropists, giving other people houses, cars, monkeys, green dresses... All they want in return is to bask in the comfort of true love.

So give a listen, and see if it doesn't make you want to "give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sustainable Fashion

When I started my volunteer year, I knew that "living simply" on a limited budget would require a change in my shopping habits. A lot of the money I made at my college part-time job went toward clothing purchases, many of them not that useful. So, after using my graduation gifts to stock up on some business wear basics, I resolved not to buy retail for a while.
Luckily the California Volunteers are expert thrift store shoppers. Their creative outfits and adventurous spirits inspired me to overcome my fear of second-hand stores. Instead of dreading the ill-fitting castoffs of middle aged women, I have learned to hunt for unique, useful and interesting things. For a total of $20, I have acquired a blouse, cardigan, dress, tote bag, and skirt that are now favorites in my wardrobe.

Avoiding the clothing racks of malls and Target has been good for me. It's made me think about what I actually need and want. It has also increased my sense of personal style. Working with what I already own, I have become more confident about mixing and matching pieces or trying new color combinations. The lovely ladies of academichic and other blogs have provided great inspiration for this.

You could say that I have gotten in on the recent trend of "sustainable fashion." You could also say that NFNF is eco-friendly in the way we "recycle" hundreds of baby outfits and items every year. I don't really worry if my tshirts are organic cotton, but I like the idea of reusing what is already around.

Here's a stylish woman doing that with The Uniform Project. She's wearing 7 copies of the same dress for 365 days, to raise money and awareness for school kids in India. This isn't exactly poverty, since she's going to need an army of loaned accessories to make it all year. Still, I love the idea of the challenge and the resourcefulness it will require. It's also a great show of solidarity with As a fellow veteran of school uniforms, I agree that they are really an opportunity for self-expression.

Today I also learned that my alma mater will be offering a freshman seminar in "ethical fashion." In today's global economy, it is
"all the more necessary for design to be relevant to the communities it represents and serves. In short, sustainable communities produce sustainable clothes—and a community is sustained when its workers earn living wages."
I liked the story of a village in Brazil where women formed a seamstress cooperative, selling traditional fuxico rosettes made from scraps of fabric.
“In essence, the project has helped create the antithesis of the multinational sweatshop. Today, the cooperative works with other prominent designers and labels throughout the world and truly serves as a model for what can happen when you have a greater sense of interconnectedness.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

"To arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time." - TS Eliot, an STL native

Yesterday was our VSC Year-End Mass of Thanksgiving, a sort-of graduation from this year of service. Our names are now enrolled in the VSC alumni book, bringing us one step closer to leaving St. Louis. Former VSCs, site supervisors, and of course the Daughters of Charity were there. Nicest Boss in the World and even the NFNF CEO were there to cheer me on, so to speak. They almost did so audibly, but then decided it might be inappropriate for church. (See why my office is so much fun?)

These closing ceremonies took place in the same place as our opening Mass: the Daughters' Provincial House chapel. I love this little room in its classical simplicity. The skylight over the altar always reminds me of an impluvium in an ancient Roman atrium. Yesterday the sunlit room was full of pride, tears, and memories. Remember when we first came here? How excited and nervous we were? How we barely knew about each other? How much we had to learn about service? How long a whole year seemed?

And now, in the blink of an eye, it's almost over. We can't stay in VSC forever, and life keeps flowing on to the next stage. We only have to look to the wedding of a VSC the night before to see that Life goes on.
We also saw it in the Daughter who passed away in her sleep that same night. Sr. Mary Patrice "slipped away like she always does, like a cat," one Sister said. A petite former school principal, Patrice was an assistant and dear friend to the VSC director. It's a harsh blow to realize that we won't see her friendly face on our doorstep anymore. God willing, she's smiling up in heaven now instead, beginning her story of eternal life. Her death reminds us all of how short and precious our time on earth is.

Life goes on, and we're back where we started: the love of Jesus pressing us onward.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What they don't show you on the Cathedral tour

Video of Archbishop Carlson's installation is now online, and I found myself in it! The camera panned across the bell tables twice; near the end of the Gloria and during "Lift High the Cross" at the recessional. I also enjoyed actually seeing what was happening down below while we played our music. Carlson appeared to have tears in his eyes as the Papal bull was read; it was so touching to see how seriously he was undertaking his work here and how the other bishops supported him.

I also noticed that Carlson often mopped his brow with a handkerchief - I was feeling the same way! The choir balcony was a good 15 degrees warmer than below, and our long robes didn't help either. Overheating during mass: another example of the profound irony of liturgy and the Incarnation. Even during the most sublime, profound worship possible, frail human nature interrupts.

Being backstage at the Cathedral gives plenty of glances into ecclesiastical irony. The behind the scenes areas are very different from the glorious mosaics visitors always see. Here's the staircase choir members take to the balcony.

Inside a tower is the only place you'll see brick here.

Drab, cobweby archways contrast with the glittering domes beyond.

This wall is "all" I can see while playing bells. From the left we have:
The Vincentian panel, withBl. Frederic Ozanam and STL SVDP founder Brian Mullanphy.
St. Isaac Joques and Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, whose upstate NY shrine I have visited
A priest, a minister, and a rabbi representing the Vatican II declaration on religious freedom
Joseph Cardinal Ritter
Sisters and schoolchildren representing the 1947 St. Louis "Racial Justice Decree" and integrations of schools
Bl. Rose Phillipine Duschene, who educated and prayed in rural Missouri

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A joyous day for "Rome of the West"

What a day! I am exhausted and dehydrated and I think I pulled a muscle in my left forearm - but it was AMAZING to be part of Archbishop Carlson's installation ceremonies. Seeing and hearing the Church of St. Louis come together to celebrate was literally awesome. I got goosebumps hearing the Cathedral echo with congregation responses like "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God." Today was a celebration for Catholic America in general; many other bishops attended the installation. There were also Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta, Knights of Peter Claver, and a Russian Orthodox bishop.

My dear family was there in spirit, watching EWTN coverage for footage of my bell ringing. I was on TV twice! Sadly, the Archdiocese did not include images of us ringers in their installation photo gallery. Here are some other choir members, though. Just picture me in one of these robes.

I love this stunning shot of the altar during the entrance procession. (I also wish Theodora the camera was powerful enough to do this. I'll post my own shots of the Cathedral later.)

Here is our new shepherd! I met Archbishop Carlson at the reception after Solemn Vespers last night. He graciously stood for nearly two hours to greet everyone who wanted to meet him, and did the same thing again today.

Today's brief homily was well-said and inspiring. Unity and facing challenges were some of the main themes. Here are my favorite parts (emphasis mine.)

As the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us, we come to share ever more deeply in the life and mission of Christ — and His glory becomes our glory.
But the glory of Christ is the cross!

We will never compromise our commitment to life!

(Quoting Pope Benedict)" ...the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people's hearts."

I will never ordain a man a priest that I do not know.

May your prayerful support and my hope in Jesus Christ fill my heart with compassion, allowing me to draw near to all those who suffer and allow me to bind up the wounds of the poor and build bridges with the alienated as I serve Christ as His disciple and a friend to all.

Let us never forget that, "In the Church there is a diversity of ministries, but there is only one aim — the sanctification of all.” (Blessed Escriva)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Distractions of Modernity

John Quincy Adams is one of my favorite presidents. He doesn't deserve obscurity and being the runner-up Adams (although his dad is also a great American). Even though JQA's time in office wasn't astounding, he is certainly one of the most effective ex-Presidents. After leaving the White House, he served in Congress for 17 years and fought against slavery. Now there's a public servant.

The Anchoress at First Things has a great post about JQA today, musing on his intense expressions in portraits, his penchant for skinny-dipping in the Potomac (it's true), and his impatience with being under the Presidential microscope.
“I can scarcely conceive a more harassing, teasing, wearying condition of existence.” If the foibles and nattering ankle biters were that annoying 200 years ago, imagine him being president in the day of internets, blogs, “netroots”, “wingnuts” and 24-hour-always-hungry news networks.
Perhaps it is the technology of the age that has brought affability and a gift for hucksterism to the fore in politics, and rendered them supremely consequential. I wonder how the giants who formed our nation would fare, these days, hunkering down with Chris Matthews and Barbara Walters. Would Ben Franklin’s genius be undermined or enhanced by insta-media? Would John Adams be considered too crotchety, like Bob Dole? Would George Washington be considered too staid? Would Thomas Jefferson have to endure the wrath of Keith Olbermann for daring to play his violin while something was left unresolved in the nation? Would any of them get elected under the intense scrutiny of our age, wherein - as Don Surber notes here - so many are so easily scandalized?
Oh technology. So useful but so distracting. Last night when I got home the power was out on our block. For the first time, I noticed the moonlight and insect chirping that are usually drowned out by streetlights and air conditioners. Conversations by candlelight are more peaceful, too. Surrounded by the warm glow of all the random candles from the reflection room, I finished some VSC year-end paperwork and made notes on my handbell music. I couldn't help thinking that this was how Mozart, Beethoven, and even JQA did their work. Did they get more done without Facebook or 24 hour news?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Some parting words from Sr. Ros

St. Louis Catholic has posted a great "exit interview" with Sr. Rosalind Moss. It's full of her bubbly personality and deep faith. It also explains why she can wear a postulant habit and call herself "Sister" even though her order is not fully "open for business." (Basically, the Archdiocese said she could.) This wouldn't have been so confusing had Archbishop Burke not been transferred shortly before she was to take her vows. Seeing Sr. Ros's efforts to start an order has been a unique part of the religious life education I've been receiving this year. I like to joke that my nun acquaintance has increased 2000% since I moved to St. Louis. Link

Random grants of the day

Another interesting assortment of federal grants today. As always, what I think is weird reveals my liberal arts bias.
Innovative Food Defense programs funded by the FDA and Dept of Agriculture cracked me up - can't you just picture an army of vegetables with spears and shields?
How about abandoned mine bat inventories in Idaho? Sounds like a horror/adventure movie waiting to happen. "I wonder how many bats are down this abandoned mine shaftOHNOoooo.."

And yet, I think it's obvious to fund maintenance of Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site by The Society of the National Shrine of the Bill of Rights. Also, who wouldn't want a $60,000 post-grad historical editing fellowship? Normal people, that's who.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Farewell to bells, Hello to Archbishop Carlson

Here is the cathedra (bishop's seat) where Robert Carlson will sit as Archbishop of St. Louis for the first time on Wednesday. I can't wait!

I'll be at the Cathedral a lot in the next three days preparing for and performing in my last Mass with the handbell choir. I have never seen our usually cheerful director so excited and anxious. Thanks, Karen, for letting me play even though I was out of town for rehearsal last week. Installation means a lot to me.

Of course, Carlson's arrival will involve a flurry of media attention. We have been instructed to be on our best behavior since the video cameras for EWTN and the live feed will be directly across from the bells. I'll be on the right, ringing the heavy bass clef ones. Apparently AmericanPapist will be providing coverage too - I'll try to spot him.

Recent stories in the Post-Dispatch seem to confirm first impressions that Carlson is a personable, diplomatic man.

"One thing I know is that when you're coming into a community, the last thing you want to do is come in and pretend like you have all the answers," he said.
One source of his compassion and humility is his history of battling cancer and diabetes.

"I always say that God has really blessed me in weakness," Carlson said. "I've learned that I am who I am, that I do some things well, and I make mistakes in other areas."
Carlson said cancer changed his priorities. His career ambitions took a backseat, he said. Instead of spending so much time as an administrator, he wanted to be out in his diocese, among his flock. "Once you almost die, you try to live life as best you can — not because you're afraid of death, but because you got a second chance," Carlson said.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bizarre Item of the Day

I'm back in the Lou, just in time to leave town again for the final VSC Renewal Weekend retreat.

Thanks to Southwest layovers at Midway, I've also spent a good 4 hours in Chicago this week. Midways has a great selection of local food available, but I learned in August that no matter how deeply you love Chi-town, a fully loaded beef hot dog before takeoff is not a good idea.

I also love how Mayor Richard M Daley feels the need to personally welcome me to Chicago's airports. That man has a major ego problem, and it's become a running joke in my family. Here's his name on a trash can in the food court.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Woohoo high school!

Here's a glimpse of the parent paparazzi at my little sister's graduation. It's always good to revisit the tightly-knit community of my uber-Catholic/uber-ProLife high school. Every year since my own graduation is a little different and little more weird as I settle into adulthood. Sign that I am getting old: I was verklempt with pride during my sister's valedictorian speech. My mom and I tearfully clutched each other in our church pew. Another sign that high school is long gone? Some of my classmates had also returned - with their spouses and children.

This weekend was also my sister's dance school's annual recital. We saw performances by everyone from un-coordinated 5 year olds to champion teens. Here are some cool shots I got of the team heading to Nationals. Their solo dresses and wigs were out of control.

My little sister is now officially a high school graduate, after doing a great job on her valedictorian speech. Sign that I am getting old: my mom and I both got verklempt with pride during her address. We sat in the church pew tearfully clutching each other's arm.