October 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
“I wish I could explain being here to you. These woods and the paths winding through them, the pond and the wetlands. It’s like- do you know what a gyroscope is?”
“I know it helps keep a plane upright!”
“I think we all have our own gyroscope places. Places in our lives that keep us balanced, bring us back to an upright and secure position. Our axis points true north here, holding us firmly as the world spins around us, reminding us of the steadying truth found in simple joys. Grace, peace, fellowship, rest. In the midst of our swiftly tilting days, these are our lodestones. They draw us back ever and again. Their beautiful gravity is not temporal; it is an inward reality, unchanging in the seasons and years that may pass between our visits. While our wandering lives dance like the moon across the sky, all changing shape and face, these polestar places never waver. When we do return for a visit, we are more ourselves here than anywhere else. We find a firm foundation beneath our feet. We can hear our hearts, each shushing beat. Reoriented with our guiding lines, we squint and smile in the fading light, and it does not hurt to say goodbye, goodbye and goodnight.”
October 8, 2015 § 2 Comments
Wild grapes are the best scent of fall. Pumpkin is fine, I like pumpkin very much, but nothing says fall to me like clambering through the woods and catching that elusive tang of wild grapes ripening somewhere nearby. The annual hayride at Zelinkas is coming up soon, so I’ll probably ride the wagon all the way into the woods and then jump out (setting a terrible example for the young children… “Kids, do NOT jump out of the moving hay wagon.”) and tramp around the forest looking for the grapes and all the other ephemeral childhood memories hidden within the Z’s woods. So many ghosts of my friends and myself, running through the trees, playing Manhunt and Soccer and Orphans, telling secrets in the rowboat on the pond, daring each other to eat a tiny bite of the horses’ molasses-sweetened grain.
Although autumn in Pennsylvania is pretty as a picture and twice as interesting- what with the constant fluctuation between delightfully blue sunny days and “let me snuggle under a blanket with a book” dreary gray rain- I have to keep my mind in summer mode for a little while longer. Costa Rica beckons, a mere month (and 6 days) away. Jess has been in NEPA from Costa Rica for the past week or so, and we’ve been talking about our plans for me and Channing’s visit, and how I’m going to build sand castles with little Alana and drink mango margaritas all day long. And do yoga overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Insta-worthy, indeed.
November is shaping up to be a wonderful month. My little niece Yeardley will be turning 1, and I’ll probably pop down to Erica & Bryan’s for her birthday party during the first week of the month. Channing and I leave for Costa Rica on the 14th for five days of sun, sand, and fedora. And by the time I get back, Thanksgiving will only be a week away. That means pies, cakes, and whatever slightly more technical desserts I decide to bake this year. Last year, I made every single dessert my family enjoyed on Thanksgiving, and I am rightly still proud of myself, especially for that chocolate torte. I also still have the burns to prove it. “Forever Scarred (From Caramel Sauce)” will now be the name of my autobiography. Sadly, the Michigan family probably won’t be making an appearance in PA for the holiday this year, because I don’t think Jul will be up for 18 hours in the car when she’s three weeks away from giving birth. She’s having a little boy in the beginning of December, and I’ve already told her she’s not allowed to name him James. (My favorite boy’s name… after Jamie Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, of course.) Cathy and I have been having virtual Taylor Swift jam sessions on Facebook. Mainly we just post lyrics on each other’s wall with a bunch of sobbing emojis. It’s not nearly as fun as real life. She needs to come back home. Who even likes Michigan, anyway? Dang it, Michigan!
If November looks to be fun, well, September and (so far) October definitely were. I started September off in the best possible way: by spending Labor Day weekend down at the beach in Longport. Gin & tonics, sunset bicycle rides, and lots of reading books on the beach. My aunt and uncle spoil me when I’m down there, and I love them for it. Later in the month I went to the Breaking Benjamin concert at Montage with Mike and some friends. Breaking Ben played a lot of their older songs, so we were all singing along at the top of our lungs. It was a great show, except for the $15 beers once you were inside. A few Sundays ago, (yoga) Erica and I went on a bike ride on the Back Mountain Trail. Or, to more accurately depict our day, I should say we: ate giant burritos at Chipotle, drove through Starbucks for sugary caffeinated beverages, and then decided it might be a nice thing to ride bikes for two hours. There is a method to our madness, but I am not quite sure what exactly it is.
On one of the more humid September days, Ron and I went to a swimming hole near Laflin. It was a pretty little spot, tucked into the woods after a fifteen minute drive down a rutted and winding dirt road. Luckily his Jeep is a beast. The hole is made by a creek that slides down some rocks into a large, almost perfectly circular pool, then spills over another bank of rocks at the end. When I sat on the rocks at the edge of the water and looked up, all I could see was a round little cup of blue sky, encircled by the tall green pines. It was deep too; neither Ron nor I could touch the bottom in the center. I asked him if he thought there’d be any water snakes, and he said, “No, of course not, the water’s too cold for them.” So we swam around for a while and got out when the sky started turning gray with coming rain. As we were standing on the rocks, discussing the odd conversational style of his ex-girlfriend, I noticed small ripples on the surface of the water. “Ron,” I said calmly, “what is that?” “Probably a…fish?” He peered at the water. And then we both saw it. A water snake, gliding sinuously through the pool, heading in our general direction. I shrieked like a steam engine (a girly move on my part…the snake was literally nowhere close to us) and ran up on top of a giant boulder where I could see it coming if it decided to eat me. Ron gave me eighteen heart attacks by going down to the water and saying he was going to try to pick it up. Apparently he has handled water snakes before. I told him I considered him a great friend, and I enjoyed his life advice and our long, rambling theological discussions, but if he came near me with that snake, I would murder him, and the 5th Commandment be darned.
He did not pick up the snake.
Near the end of September was the long awaited PAPAL VISIT. I went down on the bus with Kevin, Rich, Paul, Pete, my mother, and a few dozen other people from our church. We didn’t even make it through security. We got stuck in a huge line of people for three hours and then ended up watching the Mass on television at the Comcast building. But it was strangely moving, being in a completely secular place, surrounded by thousands of people who are all saying the same prayers, participating in the same Mass with you. We went out to the parkway to receive Communion. So I’ve received Communion that was consecrated by the Pope. How many people can say that? (Also I got interviewed for the Citizens Voice because of it, and now I’m a local celeb.)
To start October off right, Channing, Jess, Missy, and I had dinner at Thai Thai. The red curry was as delicious as ever. We’ve done brunch at River Grille a couple Sundays in a row as well. Sunday afternoon football on the television at the bars is always the best part of September. I don’t follow it as much as hockey, but every time it starts back up, I’m reminded of how much I really do enjoy it. Football around here is a BIG deal. And if I still feel a little stab of pain every time I hear someone mention Eli Manning and the Giants, well, that too shall pass. Fly, Eagles, fly. Another nice thing about September was spending more time with my older brother. Dan is recently single, and we’ve been hanging out a lot more than we used to when he was visiting Christina every other weekend. Although I miss her, I have to admit it’s been hilarious good times to go out again with Dan and see old friends, be goofy in the Babetski way, talk about life and love and being grown-ups in this wide, wide world.
I guess if there’s a point to this rambling post, it’s this: my family and friends are an incredible gift to me. I have felt such spiritual silence in the past few months, such a weight on my soul. I just keep going back to the basics of my life, saying to myself in the words of St. Pio: Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Use this time to stay close with your family, to build your friendships and shine your nerdy little light out into the world. I am happy here in Wilkes-Barre; I want to spread a little of that happiness and peace to the people I love. And if that sounds cheesy, well, I’ve always been a romantic at heart.
Here’s to fall in the Northeast. Let’s go run around in the woods and find some wild grapes.
October 29, 2014 § 2 Comments
The sky is gray and gloomy above Public Square today, but I am smiling. You know, the strangest thing about blogging is that I don’t do it every day. In fact, I haven’t been blogging much at all this past spring/summer/fall. So if you were to ignore the dates on my posts and just read them all in a bunch, it looks like I’ve been living a steady stream of heartbreak and sadness and nothing else.
I’m not, though. This autumn has been so good to me. The season itself has been especially beautiful here, I think. The usual fall rain has mostly held off- until today- and instead we’ve had endless days bright with amber sunshine and sere fields and vermilion trees. And me? I have been growing, letting go, learning how to hold on to what matters most. Oh, and I’ve been living. Brittany and I took more photos the other day. We went up to the top of the old factory building in Forty Fort, where Canteen and the apartments are now, and she shot me against the sky and the sunset with the mountains that I love at my back.
Brittany’s a pretty fantastic photographer, isn’t she? Visit her page: https://www.facebook.com/bootephoto.
There’s this new bar that opened up in Luzerne: Vaughn Street. We’ve been going there for seafood night on Thursdays, me and the girls from the Cafe. They have a shuffleboard table, which makes me think of being a teenager and playing shuffleboard in the garage at the Holy Family Center with the other community kids after Mass on Friday nights. Nostalgia at a bar is such an oddly contradictory feeling. You’ve got a drink, there’s music and chatter, you know you’re grown-up, but you’ve got these happy memories playing in your head- faintly bittersweet because you know they’re only memories now- and you feel like a kid at the same time.
I went on a great date the other night. The kind of date where you laugh and laugh and everything else is sort of a colorful blur spinning around you but you’ve got a sharp focus on what’s happening between you and him, and it’s light, it’s good and sweet. I kept thinking of that scene in Casablanca, where Rick is remembering his time in Paris with Ilsa, and he says, “Who are you really and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think?” Questions and answers and a current in the air. Tell me about you because I want to know. There’s a certain kind of joy, I think, that maybe doesn’t have a specific name, but it’s there when you meet someone who sees the world you see, who stops and looks at you, whether the meeting is friendly, romantic, or whatever else. Relationships, man. They make the world go round.
My friend Veronica came into town from Michigan the other weekend. She was asked to give the keynote speech at the nurses’ pin ceremony at Wilkes University, where she’s an alumnus. She asked me to help her write the speech, and being the hopeless nerd that I am, I thought it sounded like a blast. So we got together on Google Drive one day last week, despite still being in different states, and worked on the speech. I’ve never done that, been editing a document at the same exact time as another person, and it was really cool. I was trying to think of a better closing sentence for one of her paragraphs, and I was just typing as I thought, stuff like “The compassion and strength of nurses… no wait we used that… I believe that these virtues will help… help what… what am i trying to sayyyy” and Vee typed in the chat bar: “It’s so fascinating being able to actually watch your mind work.” SCIENCE FICTION BABY. (The best part of Veronica saying that was that she admitted I have a mind. I always grin gleefully when I can trick her into complimenting me.)
It’s the little parts, summed up into a whole. It’s life. One day at a time here. As the blog title says, I’m just trying to find the better part and hold on tight.
August 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
As a Pennsylvania girl, this is the worst time of year for my wallet. It’s a struggle; it’s a battle; it’s a war. The next few weeks will be filled with a hellish ordeal, wherein I practice heroic amounts of self-restraint and constantly ponder the villainy of filthy lucre. You see, my inbox is being bombarded with the new autumn clothing arrivals: soft sweaters and tunics and faded plaid and leggings and dark denim and printed scarves. Oh they’re all so pretty! It’s too soon for me to pull out my fall wardrobe, which means I can’t really remember what fall clothes I have, which means I want to buy everything I see. (Don’t worry, Dad, the operative phrase there is ‘want to’.) Seriously, I have never regretted anything more in my life than signing up to receive emails from the J. Crew Factory Store. (That’s a bold statement, because I don’t really believe the whole “live life without regrets” adage. I mean, how impossible is it to do that? It’s rather impossible, if it’s possible to have degrees of impossibility.) Whenever I get an email from the J. Crew Factory Store, it’s an automatic reminder for me to go to Confession, because I’m about to commit every kind of sin of greed and jealousy and lust that can be imagined over a merino pocket tunic in red currant. (I’m an XS and my birthday and Christmas are closer than you think.) After thinking about it for a lot longer than I should have, I’ve come to the conclusion that I love fall clothing the most because it’s the best of both worlds. The hint of chill in the air makes layering an art, not a desperate necessity. Your outerwear can still be an accessory, instead of a pitiful shield against frigid winds and biting snow. But at the same time, it’s not so hot and disgustingly humid outside that you literally cannot conceive of wearing anything more than a tank top and shorts. No jewelry, it sticks to your sweaty neck. Hair up because re: neck. Enter fall clothing and its blissful balanced lines. Thank you in advance, autumn, for being the rational wardrobe season that you are. Now let me spend money on you.
September 28, 2012 § 2 Comments
October is my favorite month. Although I know the picturesque attributes of fall have been described over and over again on countless blogs and statuses and instagram captions, let me plunge into it one more time, simply because it is so worth it.
October in Pennsylvania is a fine and fickle lady;
a graceful, ancient force of nature.
She slowly brings her leaves from green to parti-colored reds and golds
and softens her white-hot summer skies to a cool madonna blue.
Corn husks rattle as she strips them bare; cold earth crumbles between her fingers.
She settles gracefully down on the ground
and spreads her furrowed-field skirts around her,
feels the molding leaves enrich her with their death.
She savors the taste of a well-aged year: a tang
of wild grapes hangs sweet upon the air.
Through her hair the clean autumn breeze is blowing,
redolent with chimney smoke and gray rain coming,
and upon her bone-white back the sun is slowly sinking earlier each day.
October 23, 2011 § 2 Comments
The report was much louder than I’d anticipated, even with my earplugs secure. I watched a flame flash from the muzzle when the gun fired. Acrid smoke was already rolling through the air; I could taste it briefly on my tongue, a sharp, unfamiliar bite. Six rounds drilled into the small paper target and then Jason ejected the clip and turned to me. “You ready?”
Was I? I grinned. I was absolutely ready.
Barely past 10 AM on a chilly autumn Saturday and I was standing at the shooting range out by Ricketts Glen, taking a firm grip on a Colt 45 and raising it to eye level. I braced my feet and sighted the target. No turning back now. I flipped the safety, took a huge gulp of freezing October air, and fired a gun for the first time in my life. The recoil surprised me. This thing kicked! I supposed that, to normal people with muscle, it didn’t seem so bad. But I’m skinny, with no biceps to speak of. I looked back over my shoulder and flashed a grin at Kris and Jason. Then I turned back to the target and emptied the next five rounds. I think I hit it twice. It was harder than I thought. But the guys told me I was doing fine. I hoped I was. They’d taken me with them to the range out of the goodness of their hearts and probably no small desire to see how a 100-pounds-soaking-wet girl could fire a rifle. After all, I’m at the office in stilettos and a pencil skirt most days. But this was different. I tugged my puffy jacket on over my Penn State hoodie and tucked my hands into my pockets. It was cold out here in the wood.
A flock of geese honked far overhead as the guys set up their rifles. Jason had his AR 15 and Kris, an AK 47. The ammunition spilled onto the table, a gleaming pile of brass that briefly reminded me of a pirate’s treasure. I picked up one of the bullets and studied it. An intimidating treasure, for certain. I shuddered at the thought of that pointed nose arrowing its way into flesh. Jason picked up one of his clips and showed me how to load. His hands were quick and precise and I studied intently, trying to memorize everything. Kris stood a few feet away from us and brought the AK to his shoulder. He chambered the round and squeezed off three shots. The cases popped out and flew a few feet away. It startled me and I had to resist the urge to duck. “Yeah, those fly far,” Kris laughed at me and then took a step back as Jason lifted the AR 15. This rifle wasn’t quite as loud and I was almost hopping in my excitement to try it. I watched holes appear in the targets and wondered if I’d even be able to hold it steady.
When I got my turn, though, the solid weight of the AR 15 felt reassuring in my hands, round and hard. I sat down at the table, steadying my grip and flicking the button to chamber the round. I sighted, paused for a split second, and then smoothly pulled the trigger. The rifle boomed and I saw a puff of dirt rising behind the target. Too high. I tried to control my broad smile and sighted again, fired.
Over the next two hours, the feel of the clip rattling into place, the flick of the safety, the boom of the gun became the limits of my world. I loaded, fired three times, loaded again. My hands and feet were freezing but I didn’t want to stop. Every time I fired that rifle, I wanted to see marks on the paper. When I did, I was ecstatic. I liked the rifles more than the handguns. It was easier for me to shoot with the solid brace of the table under my elbow. I guess I should have thought about hitting the gym first. Kris showed me how to use the AK 47, notching the clip in just right, pulling the lever back to chamber the round. I liked the sounds. The wind went sighing in the pines around us, but it was a forgotten whisper compared to the rachet of the AK’s rounds, the clatter of the shells as they hit the gravel at our feet. Occasionally one of us would hit the top of the target stand and wood pieces would explode into the air. I preferred the AR 15, finding that it was a lot lighter than the other rifle.
We paused eventually and made our way through the muddy field to staple new paper targets over the bullet-riddled old ones. “You don’t have time to think about any of your troubles when you’ve got an AK in your hands,” Kris mused. I agreed. That was it, exactly. I liked this feeling, nothing but concentration and focus. Sight down the barrel, squeeze the trigger nice and smooth with the pad of my finger, feel the bounce-back off my shoulder. Hands and mind fully occupied in the simple task. Cold forest around me, white target the only thing in the world ahead of me. Earplugs muffled the sound of voices and guns. I began to crave a cup of coffee. And I had to pee but there was no way I was telling the guys that. They’d probably suggest the trees. I stood back to watch them shoot, bounced on my toes a little to keep warm. They didn’t need the table to balance. Swing the gun up to the shoulder, sight, and fire, all in one fluid motion that made me jealous. They hit the target more times than not, too. I wanted that. I laughed and told them they didn’t know what they’d gotten themselves into. Now I’d be bouncing around the office every day, clamoring to come back out to the range. I imagined shooting across a field of white snow, trying to sight through the sun glare and feeling the winter wind at my back. Then I wondered if you could even make it down to this backwoods range in the wintertime. Something told me the plows didn’t have this place high on their list of roads.
When I realized we’d been shooting for almost three hours, I couldn’t believe it. This was the most enjoyable Saturday morning I’d had in ages. Way better than sleeping in until noon and then cleaning the rat cage. The guys allowed me the honor of emptying the last few AR 15 clips into the targets. As we sauntered back down to the parking lot, carrying cases and pulling the buds out of our ears, I was grinning like a kid in the Wellsboro Penny Candy store. My fingers were icy stiff and I had tears in my eyes from the wind, but I didn’t want to leave. For a few hours, there’d been nothing but me, a target, and a gun. I liked that.
October 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
Free me, I said, for on these days it’s a crime to keep me earth-bound, to leave me behind.
Help me, I begged, hearing the sound of the push of my feet, hard on the ground.
Blow me along, I said to the wind in my hair, and I ran until my lungs burned like love and my face was chapped and clear.
Take me with you into this soft blue song. Magic me away into the sunshine horizon of God.
I spun and fell in the field and stared in the trees, an explosion, a riot, a paint-swept tempest of leaves.
Saturate me, I said to the clouds, and I lifted my hands just to pull them back down.
Change me, I cried, and wildly sought any way into a wind that can’t be caught.
Heat me, I said to the glow of the sun and felt the weight hit me and leave me undone.
My chest set on fire and full cramped with the cold, I ran until earth and gravity gave way their hold.