Any Day of the Week

As a child, Holy Week was steeped in family tradition and lots of celebration. I loved Palm Sunday because I love the word “Hosanna.” It’s just a really good word…and you get to say or sing it a lot on Palm Sunday. Sometime during the week we’d dye more eggs than we could possibly eat.  As I reached middle school, we began observing Passover Seders with friends in remembrance of the Last Supper.  On Good Friday, we’d avoid meat and Grandma would make us all watch “Jesus of Nazareth” – the interminably long mini-series with a blue-eyed, never blinking, emaciated Jesus.

Easter. Was. The. Best. I had a fun dress to wear, the worship songs at church were peppy, I ate chocolate for breakfast, and I usually got to wear a delicate orchid corsage on my wrist. Easter afternoons were spent at the park with family, eating burgers and playing ball.

I always had a concept of the spiritual gravity of Holy Week and Easter, but it took on new meaning in college. I spent Palm Sunday 2005 in a tiny basement church in the projects of New Orleans. There were no palm fronds, no hosanna’s, and very few dresses. What I found were earnest believers who treated every Sunday as special and holy. I sat through the 3-hour service with a wiggly, young girl on my lap. She was covered in baby powder, wearing clothes that were a few sizes too small…and barefoot. If you’d seen the ground she traversed between her home and the church you’d be mortified at her lack of shoes. She loved me instantly, without hesitation or trepidation. She didn’t care who I was or where I’d come from…she just decided I was the right person to keep her company during the service.

I spent Easter Sunday of that same year in a large, formal church in Texas. The hats and dresses were on full display. The fragrance of lilies filled the air. We sang “Up From the Grave He Arose” at least three full times. It was a joyous celebration, but my heart and mind were back in New Orleans. In the midst of another rousing Easter hymn, it finally sunk in: The little girl in New Orleans was a walking example of Christ’s love – the way she embraced me and had no regard for the circumstances surrounding her. It might seem like an obvious thing, but in that moment it finally transferred from my head to my heart.

I think our lives cycle through the Easter progression on a regular basis. I’m in a Saturday period of my life right now. I’ve endured the darkness and pain of Friday, and now I’m in the silent waiting. I eagerly await the arrival of Sunday…but I know there is much to learn in the patience and uncertainty of Saturday. It would be easy to look at someone’s circumstances and guess what “day” they’re in, but that’s not the full story. The little girl in New Orleans based on her circumstances appeared to be in the midst of Friday…but her behavior? It indicated Sunday all the way.

Whatever “day” you’re in, take solace in the fact that it’s not the end and you’re not alone. I believe Christ holds us through our Fridays and Saturdays because He’s already made it to Sunday and knows what joy it brings.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter, friends.

A Book Lover’s Paradise

Last weekend I found the equivalent of buried treasure for a bibliophile like myself. I read an article about The Book Thing in Baltimore, but I was sure there had to be a catch. A used bookstore where every book is free? My mother was also intrigued, so we made the one hour trek to the city on Saturday.

Believe the hype. And bring lots of bags or boxes.

The backside of The Book Thing

The Book Thing is tucked away on a tiny street. When we arrived at 11am, the place was bustling with people combing over bookshelves. Most of them had boxes or bags to hold their finds, and a few had wheeled carts. Everything is categorized (the rooms are color-coded to help your search), but they’re not in order within their category…so finding a specific book might be a challenge.

Within five minutes of entering the building, I knew this would be a multiple-trip destination. I couldn’t even begin to plumb the depths of their offerings in a single morning. When it comes to books, I enjoy combing the shelves and letting titles or covers “jump out” at me. Even though the place was crowded, most everyone seemed to have the same mindset. No one rushed me during my perusing.

I spent two hours at The Book Thing, and I left with 24 books. I found some great fiction selections as well as a National Geographic from the month and year of my birth. I also picked up some travel books. They may be outdated but they’re a good starting point for my research. The volunteers (who were constantly restocking the shelves) were extremely helpful and gave us pointers on where to look for certain books. Once you’re ready to leave, there’s a sign-out sheet to let the staff know how many books you took home.

Our bags o’ books

If you’re anywhere within a reasonable drive of Baltimore and you love books, I highly recommend The Book Thing. It was a great experience!

 

The Third February 27th

It’s become a tradition to write a letter to my Grandma every year on her birthday. This also serves as the third installment in my February series about significant people.

I think of you often. Mostly the good times (though we had our share of tough ones, too). I hear your exuberant voice every time I play a game of Yahtzee, and I smell your awful perfume when I bump into that one lady at work. In those moments, I always notice a glimmer of sadness followed by a snicker of joy. Rather than consider those instances a reinforcement of my grief, I choose to accept them as reminders of your continued presence in my heart and life.

When I think of all that is going on in the world right now, I find myself mourning the absence of our inevitable discussions. I know we would have common ground on many things and passionately disagree on a few. There would be tears, loud voices, hugs, and laughter. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good, heated debate with someone where it’s safe to say anything because you’re confident that it won’t change the relationship between the two of you. I know this void will take the longest to fill because of the depth of trust it takes to cultivate such a relationship. It feels like a piece of me lies dormant since I lost you as a mental sparring partner.

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately because I don’t know what I want to do with the next phase of my life. I know what I want to accomplish…I just don’t know how I’m going to get there. In a perfect world, I’d go to your house to sort out my mind. We’d watch Singin’ in the Rain for the bazillionth time and talk about how much we want to dance like Gene Kelly. Or we’d strut around the living room while Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs played through the speakers. We’d be silly and free and light-hearted…and sometime in the midst of all that joy, the voice in my heart would give me answers to the dilemma in my mind.

You never gave me the answers I needed…you created the space for me to find them. I want to create that space for others who need the freedom to let go for a while. Maybe in that process I’ll find some answers of my own.

My days aren’t always rosy, but I’ve had some pretty great adventures this year. You’d be proud. One of these years, my letter will say I finally made our trip to Italy.

Until next year: Sunshine loves you infinity plus seventy-one.

Of Bingo and Boldness

Here is installment 2 of my February series:

 

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” That line from Shakespeare always makes me think of Dorothy. She stood 4 feet 10 inches tall in her prime. She shrunk a bit with age, but she claimed her full height all her life. Her personality could rival those of men twice her size.

Dorothy was a nurse in the World War 2 era, worked hard, loved her parents, and was devout in her faith. She spitefully told the story of how she was born left-handed, but the nuns in her Catholic school tied her arm behind her back until she learned to use her right hand. As a senior citizen, Dorothy would joke around with her priests, but give nuns the side-eye…probably a little grudge held from those early years.

She wasn’t afraid of hard choices. In the prime of her life, she took in children and raised them as her own. One of her good friends had a rocky marriage and Dorothy agreed to give some of the kids a place to stay for as long as needed. At least one of the children stayed for the long haul…my grandmother. Dorothy loved her as her own child, and became a “grandmother” and “great-grandmother” over the subsequent decades. I never knew my grandmother (she died young), but I knew Dorothy.

Oh, Dorothy was a force. She had zero tolerance for crap. She spoke her mind freely. Most of the priests in the archdiocese knew of her…and grew to love her. Inside that tough old bird exterior was a heart of gold. She had a soft spot for the rambunctious and rebellious kids, whether in church or within our own family.

My favorite thing to do with her was bingo. If she didn’t have a ride from a friend, we’d take the public bus to the parish or the Knights of Columbus. I learned all about the ritual of bingo. People are serious about their cards, the set-up of their lucky troll dolls, and the quality of the snacks for sale. I preferred the Knights of Columbus because they sold pizza and the sodas came out of the tap. She rarely won money, but the social aspect of the game was a big part of her life.

When I spent time with her, we didn’t do a lot of “kid” stuff. She lived her life and I tagged along. I got to observe her independence, tenacity, and unconditional love. She stayed in touch with in-laws, exes, and step-relatives long after other parts of the family cut them off.  No one dared give her a hard time about it because they knew they’d get a tongue-lashing or one of her infamous stares.

Dorothy lived on her own until the day she left this earth. She never had a spouse and she once jokingly referred to her hope chest as the pit of despair. I’m sure she had lonely moments, but she never regretted her life. She built a family and a rich legacy of love. She didn’t have much money, but Dorothy volunteered and served throughout her life. She taught me not to waste a minute because there’s always someone who could use some help.

When I decided to throw myself a 30th birthday party, I remembered the twinkle in her eye when she was up to something. That night I gave a tribute to my grandmother who’d passed the previous year, but there was a also a subtle tribute to Dorothy. The event took place in that old Knights of Columbus hall where she taught me all about bingo. I had a soda from the tap just for her.

It’s Time to Rock the Bald!

The St. Baldrick’s foundation has been near and dear to my heart for over a decade. They raise money for childhood cancer research mostly through head-shaving events. When people ask what I like about myself, my hair is one of my go-to answers. It’s thick and garners lots of compliments. It’s a piece of my identity.  I’ve offered to shave my head in solidarity with loved ones battling cancer, but they never took me up on it.

In 2011 I decided to raise money for St. Baldrick’s and shave my head. As I sat in the salon chair (with a bunch of people watching) I had a momentary panic. Then I remembered how many people lose their hair due to illness or chemo…and they have no say in the matter. It was an emotional and empowering experience.

This year, I’m going to shave my head again. I’ve increased my fundraising goal because the money for research is what it’s all about! I’m so happy to say that my friend Sonja is going to join me on this adventure! She is one of the sweetest, most caring people I know. This is her first head shave, and I’m excited to follow her experience. Maybe she’ll write a guest blog post about it!

So, will you help us raise money for childhood cancer research? We have separate pages for fundraising (and I’ll link them below), but we’re going to shave our heads together. We’re still setting up a location, but we have a date! Saturday July 7, 2018.

Help us fund the research needed to put an end to childhood cancers.

Click here for my page.

Click here for Sonja’s page.

Joy and Jazz

During this month of love, I thought I’d profile a few people who matter quite a bit to me. They’ve all passed away, but they helped shape the person behind The Fantastic Introvert. It might help you understand why this site covers such a variety of topics. On this site you’re likely to see a product review followed by a deeply personal story…because that’s the kind of person I am.

Without further ado, here is installment #1:

I enjoy finding adventures and memories in unexpected places with people who matter to me. I attribute some of that joy to my experiences with a man I called Fahfie. In technical terms, he was my stepfather’s stepfather…but he was so much more to me.

He taught me to find the joys in life. I have many memories with him, but my favorite took place when I was approximately eight years old. We hopped into the car with a picnic basket and set off for a large bookstore. The two of us wandered through the stacks until we found a bit of a clearing where a trio of jazz musicians were preparing to play. As they performed, Fahfie would quietly point out different techniques or musical elements that he enjoyed. I was a kid raised on classic rock, country, and pop…so jazz was a completely new world for me. It was a world I was ready to explore.

Eventually, it was time to eat the picnic that rested in the basket. You’d think we would eat in the coffee shop of the store or in the car, but Fahfie wouldn’t entertain those options. He stepped away and spoke to the store manager. Next thing I knew the two of us were following the manager to the back of the store into the area reserved for employees. The manager led us out back to the loading dock and promptly left. Fahfie set up the picnic with great fanfare on the dock. We ate with our legs swinging off the edge of the dock and you’d have thought we were in the grandest place in the world.

I had several opportunities to put on fancy dresses to attend the symphony and shows with Fahfie, and while they were amazing experiences, I’ll always have a fondness for that first concert among the books. It’s not just because that was my first exposure to jazz (though I’m sure that’s why I chose the clarinet when I joined the elementary band). See, Fahfie ate in fancy restaurants with important people…but on that day I was the important person and he didn’t want to be anywhere other than on that loading dock. His attention was focused on that moment, not on other things or other people. It was also incredibly fun to “break the rules” and eat in an unconventional space.

Fahfie believed I had things to contribute to this world when I was young and he made sure I knew it. He introduced me to fine food, art, and music because it was never too early to learn. He challenged me to grow, but he also showed me how to pause and enjoy the present. He took time to enjoy a meal with people and to laugh. Life must be a balance.

All of the ways he invested in my life not only contributed to my knowledge…they reinforced the belief that I mattered. The knowledge was great, but the confidence that came from feeling significant is what I needed most.

I carry those lessons with me to this day. I give my best when I’m at work, but when I’m spending time with people I strive to give them my undivided attention. I also remember that I have to take time to enjoy the good parts of life. Sometimes when I’m stressed, I’ll grab some nice chocolate and play some jazz to remind myself how to smile.

The next time you’re with people who are important to you, put the phone away. Spend some undivided time. You might discover something!

What I’m Eating Wednesdays! pt. 1

There’s no guarantee this will be a weekly installment, but on the weeks I decide to share what I’m eating…I’ll share it on Wednesdays. 🙂

As many of you know, I tend to cook three meals over the weekend and eat them throughout the next week. I don’t mind eating the same three meals every day for a week, and it beats having to cook every night when I get home. This works for me because I’m cooking for one person. If you have a family or don’t like leftovers you might want to try another method.

I also try to follow a mostly paleo style of eating. I’m not perfect about it, but when I cook I do my best. This month for me is all about using what I have on hand with minimal trips to the store. Most of us have stuff in the freezer that can turn into some decent meals.

For Christmas my Aunt gave me several pounds of ground pork and several pounds of uncured bacon, so you’ll see that theme throughout my meals.

So here’s what I’m eating this week:

Breakfast: I tried to make this recipe for pumpkin pancakes from paleo grubs. I didn’t follow the ratios properly (tried to double the batch without adding more egg) so I ended up with more of a pumpkin mush. It’s still tasty and in the mornings after I heat it up I add a bit of maple syrup just like I’d do with pancakes. I also cooked up a pound of bacon, so every morning I have a piece or two.

Lunch: I’ve had a massive bag of broccoli in my freezer for months. It’s been hard to use because it all froze into one large lump. This weekend I threw it into a pot on medium heat and let it all thaw. Then I added vegetable stock, shallots (they were sitting on my counter), garlic, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. I let it boil for a few minutes. Then I added a few tablespoons of coconut milk and ran it all through the blender. It’s a pretty delicious “cream” of broccoli soup. I will say that it’s not very filling, so make sure you have something else as part of your meal. (I snack on nuts and dried fruit throughout the day).

Dinner: This is one of my favorite meals to cook because it’s so easy! For the last few months I’ve tried to keep a batch of Nom Nom Paleo’s all-purpose stir-fry sauce in the fridge at all times. It is delicious and works wonders. She has a pot sticker stir-fry on her site that I love. This is loosely based on that recipe, but it’s simpler. I browned a pound of ground pork with a bit of salt and pepper. Then I added two bags of shredded cabbage and carrots (I usually grab the cole slaw blend in the produce section, but use whatever works for you). Then I poured in about a half cup of the stir-fry sauce. I let it all cook together until the cabbage was soft. It’s delicious, reheats well, and can be thrown on top of rice, potatoes, or a whole host of other things if you eat them. Tip: I always double the amount of cabbage or vegetables listed in a recipe because it makes the meals go further and it’s healthy.

What I bought at the store to make this week of meals: a can of pumpkin, two bags of shredded cabbage blend, a can of coconut milk. I wish every week was this light on the grocery bills!

What are you eating?

My Reading List for 2018

One of my favorite things about the new year is starting a fresh list for tracking the books I read. Yes, every year I keep a list of the books I read and the movies I see in theaters. In the past I’ve completed reading “challenges” with varying levels of success. I’ve always enjoyed the experience because the challenges encouraged me to read books that are different from my usual genres or subjects.

This year, I compiled my preliminary list based off my conversations and experiences in 2017.  I call the list preliminary because I always end up reading books throughout the year that aren’t on my initial list. I’ll explain my reasoning behind the book choices after the list. So, here we go:

Fiction
– A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
– The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
– Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
– Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
– The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Non-Fiction
– Braving The Wilderness by Brené Brown
– Work Rules by Lazlo Bock
– Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

My fiction choices are all re-reads for me. I knew I wanted to re-read A Wrinkle In Time before the movie premiere. Then, last year with the Harry Potter anniversary dates that trended on social media and the fact that I watched the movies for the first time, I decided it was time to re-visit Hogwarts. Once I saw a theme of re-reading emerging, I decided to add other childhood favorites to the mix. Charlotte’s Web and Jacob Have I Loved are two of my all-time favorite books…my original copies are well-worn. On my 21st birthday, my mother gifted me an annotated copy of Charlotte’s Web, which is the version I’ll read this year. It’s also been quite awhile since I’ve visited Narnia, so those books are on the list as well.

For non-fiction, I took a practical approach. I pre-ordered Braving The Wilderness, and I didn’t get around to reading it in 2017, so it was #1 on my list. I purchased the other two books after hearing their authors speak at the Global Leadership Summit, and I want to read them before inevitably purchasing new books at the 2018 Summit.

What are you reading this year? Do you make a list or do you just pick books as you go?

My Planner Set-up for 2018

Another year, another opportunity to plan! I’m a more effective person when I’m organized and keeping track of the things going on in my life. I’ve tried to use electronic calendars, but if I write something down on paper I’m more likely to remember it.

This year I’m using a Hobonichi Techo Cousin planner. Hobonichi planners have a reputation for amazing paper, and so far I’m loving it! The pages are very smooth.

I made a little video to show you the inside of the planner and explain a bit of how I’m going to use it.

What are you using for a calendar or planner this year?

Clinging to Christmas Eve

Do you ever find the Christmas season to be bittersweet?

To anyone who asks, I say that I love Christmas. I truly enjoy the season, but it doesn’t mean that things are always rosy.

As a child, Christmas was a magical time: full of candlelight, decorated trees, lots of family, and the celebration of Christ’s birth. Christmas Eve and Christmas day were filled with everyone and everything I loved. Even if the year wasn’t great for us, those two days felt right.

My childhood church didn’t have a Christmas Eve service, so we’d often find a midnight mass at a local Catholic church. I have fond memories of dozing in the pews snuggled in my dress-coat as we listened to the Hallelujah Chorus.

As I’ve aged, the struggles of life have etched lines that are impossible to ignore even in the happiest of seasons. Christmas has new meaning for me as an adult. I find myself in the quiet moments of Christmastime reflecting on our need for solace in hard times. “The hopes and fears of all the years” don’t disappear simply because it’s the season to deck the halls. The times of celebration are still full of wonder, but I also feel an ache for something more…something sustainable when the fanfare subsides.

The church I joined as an adult observes Advent. The focus on preparation and anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s birth is something I crave as I see the hurt in our world. The culmination of Advent is the Christmas Eve service, and in the final minutes of that service we sing Silent Night by candlelight. As the light is passed candle-by-candle, I feel closest to God. We are not alone.

Throughout the year when life is hard and dreary, I cling to the experience of Christmas Eve—the memory of individual lights joining together to illuminate the sanctuary. We don’t change the world alone; we do it together.

Shauna Niequist said, “Christmas is about sacred light cutting through the darkness—not about pretending the darkness isn’t there.”

So let’s cling to the light…and remind others of it’s warmth when life feels cold and dark.