If you speak a dead language or dropped everything yesterday at approximately 3:30 EST to watch a live feed from the Vatican, you know that habemus papam means “Ladies and gentlemen, we haaaaave a pope.” (I added the ladies and gentlemen part.) We don’t have just any old pope, we have our first Jesuit pope, and our first pope from a continent other than Europe since the Middle Ages. I like firsts. It means we’re making progress. Usually.
As I watched Pope Francis I make his way onto the balcony, overlooking tremendous crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Square, I couldn’t help but feel great hope for our Church.
Gasson Hall at Boston College, snapped mid-way through my last 20 miler before the 2011 ING NYC Marathon. Took a little break to pray. And take photos. And swear. And consider taking the T back to Southie.
When I was a nerdy exchange student in high school, I had the incredible fortune of attending an audience with Pope John Paul II. I was sixteen, and no taller than I am now (I suppose that goes without saying?), and could barely see over the heads of those in front of me. We waited for the pope to emerge, and many around us chanted “Viva il Papa.” When he spoke his first words to the room, I burst into tears. I don’t really know why, other than I just knew this was an important moment. There was a Swiss guard at the end of our row of seats who must have witnessed my, um… moment, if you will. He kindly rushed over and encouraged me to stand on my chair, so that I could see better.
Having grown up Catholic, I’ve had a number of defining moments when it comes to my faith (bear with me, and I promise I am not trying to covert nor terrify anyone). That was certainly one of them. Most have been much less glamorous or dramatic. Some have been more challenging than uplifting. There have been times when I’ve worried that my convictions, which seem so opposite to the Church’s teachings, make me less Catholic. Or that things are too broken. I’ve seen suffering that has broken my heart. But I have also witnessed the good, the grace, the humility and the community that are the real foundations of our faith.
When I was a freshperson at Fordham (before transferring to BC… I took a sort of a mini tour of the Jesuit universities of the Northeast), one of my professors made us write AMDG (short hand for ad majorem Dei gloriam,the Jesuit motto which means “for the greater glory of God”), next to our names, on all of our assignments. At first I thought it was just a formality, but I soon realized it was a sort of accountability practice (and possibly the sneakiest guilt trip ever). Was I really going to offer up some piece of crap paper for the greater glory of God? Nope. Well, not in good conscience at least.
I worked harder in that class than I had before. Those four letters, and the message behind them, have had application well beyond my class assignments. They’ve informed my real life work, my relationships, my interactions with strangers, my political and social beliefs, and so on. Samesies (sorry, had to bring it down a notch) for other tenets of Ignatian spirituality (St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit order) – including the Daily Examen, vocational discernment, and a commitment to social justice. Oh, and the Jesuits don’t take life too seriously. (Click here for proof.) That helps.
People are not perfect, and so our leadership will never be perfect. But if we focus on the basics (the good, the grace, the humility and the community that I mentioned before), and share responsibility in caring for one another, I think we’ll be moving in the right direction.
Needless to say, I am feeling hopeful. (I wanted to write popeful so badly, but I am attempting to practice restraint. It is Lent, after all.)
I think I have had a life-crush on Martha Stewart ever since I knew she existed. Truly. I don’t really even mind the insider trading thing, because well… I love a comeback. Do I think it’s unseemly to know right from wrong, and still do wrong? Absolutely. But who can deny the majesty of this “simple” wreath chandelier? Or the perfect presentation of desserts set out for expected carolers?
Not me. While I would love to entertain for a living, I sort of need to make a living in order to entertain. I don’t have a team of stylists. I do have a dog that likes to decorate the condo with various half-chewed stuffed animals when we have company, but no… no team of stylists. I can’t pay chefs to cook lavish meals for in-home dinner parties, and the closest I’ve come to having someone food shop for me is Peapod (a veritable life-saver when there’s a blizzard pending and you’re nearly out of TP). I have never successfully sewn a pair of boiled wool slippers for my every member of my family, though I did successfully print Martha’s handy templates. That has to count for something.
While it’s unlikely I will ever become Martha Stewart, Jr. (I’ve heard the name change process is a real bore, plus I rather like the new last name that’s waiting for me in November 2012), and it’s equally unlikely that I will have her resources at my disposal, a girl can dream… And then wake up, use what resources and creativity and flair she does have, and throw a damn good party. Or decorate a damn lovely condo. Or bake a damn tasty cake.
I don’t know why I just said damn three times. Probably for emphasis. Did it work? Entertaining is not just for the Marthas of the world. It’s also for mortals like you and me. Want to know how I trick people into thinking I have my act together? Too bad. I’m going to tell you anyway.
Set the stage
Every Wednesday this Advent, I’ve hosted faith sharing for fellow Jesuit grads. If that sounds interesting to you, I’d be happy to elaborate. If you now think I am a crazy Christian, I’m happy to affirm your thoughts. ‘Tis the season for giving, after all! Back to Wednesdays. Our group arrives at my condo just before 7. I rarely get out of work before 6. My commute is usually painless, but every once in a while, the person ahead of me forgets how to drive. I try not to give people the aggressive horn toot on my way to pray, but um… sometimes it just happens. I’m often left with all of 20 minutes to make sure our condo is guest-ready, set out food and drinks, find matches (I can’t talk about God without candles. Just kidding. Kind of.), put my face back on, and turn my work-brain off. The key here is planning ahead. And having a fiance who can field my panicked “I am stuck in a meeting and I forgot to vacuum” phone calls.
It’s no secret that I am list obsessed. When it comes to entertaining, I have this one memorized and use it for brunches, neighborhood Cinco de Mayo parties, and Yankee swaps with my best pals.
They’ll be here any minute andthis place looks, um… lived in!
Empty the trash barrels
Wipe down the counters and sinks
Light candles and safely dispose of the matches
Turn on the electric fireplace
Herd Clark’s rogue toys
Set out plates, glasses and napkins
Fluff the cushions on the sofa, and bust out the Scotch fur fighter
Dust and vacuum, if necessary and time allows
This whole process rarely takes more than 10 minutes (when we live in a sprawling mansion, I anticipate it may take longer), and keeps me just busy enough to gain some mental distance between my work day and what lies ahead. Survey your home and prioritize before you turn into a cleaning machine. Think about the places people actually notice. Just last week, someone commented on how clean our bathroom was. If that person had stepped foot in my shower, or poked their head under my sink, I imagine they may have felt differently. People will likely not open your dryer, or duck into your closet, so rather than fold your laundry and organize your shoe rack, spend those minutes tidying your living room.
I would be a hot mess if I didn’t have a timeline in mind. If I have more than 20 minutes, that timeline almost always includes 19 minutes for freaking out when I burn something in the oven. I make sure that if I need to get dressed or changed, this is not the last thing I do. Inevitably people show up early, and no one wants to be greeted by my 11 year old Boston College tee shirt with the gaping hole in the armpit. Once I am feeling presentable, I might pour myself a beverage, or dance around a bit to my favorite jam of the moment. A relaxed hostess makes for comfortable guests. A drunk hostess likely has the opposite effect, but that’s a different post for a different day.
Decor need not be a chore. A vase or two of simply arranged flowers goes a long way. Three of my current favorites: a bouquet of kale, a tall vase of white tulips, or a few branches of holly.
Keep food simple, but special
When it comes to food, I’ve mastered a few dishes that take minimal effort, but are just special enough to impress and can be presented in a fun way. Appetizers and desserts are key here. I love hosting casual gatherings where you don’t necessarily sit down for a “real” meal. Mostly because the last time we did that, I undercooked the chicken breast (what’s a vegetarian to do?) and nearly killed Nick, my brother, and my sister-in-law. Still sorry about that.
Many of these snacks can be made the night before, or are easily prepped. I like to keep our kitchen stocked with many of the necessary ingredients on hand, just in case the Pope or my sister drops by. Pre-baked phyllo shells were a genius invention. Same goes for those little loaves of bread. It may be because I am a shorty, but I always gravitate towards miniatures.
Fresh vegetables are an easy fix, especially when coupled with a Greek yogurt dip containing every single spice in our cabinet, and every herb in our refrigerator. That keeps people guessing. Oh, and cheese. Who doesn’t love an artfully arranged plate of cheeses? Someone I don’t want to know, that’s who (I make exceptions for people who are vegan or lactose intolerant, obvi.).
Pop that Crystal. Or the $9.99 Prosecco.
When it comes to beverages, I have one word for you: bubbles. Bubbles make everything more festive. Nothing says, “Oh maaaaaaan, am I having a good time!” quite like a glass of Prosecco, or perhaps some sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice. As a regular on the designated driver circuit, I always appreciate when tap water is not the only alcohol alternative.
Speaking of designated driving, if you’d like an early Christmas gift, remind me to tell you about the time I was the DD at Nick’s fraternity formal. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll nominate me for sainthood.
Keep a stash. Of cute paper goods.
I tend to keep the presentation clean and simple, using a big ol’ white platter and matching plates. We have a little stash of fun napkins and paper plates and the like tucked away in one cabinet. Homegoods is a goldmine when it comes to cute, inexpensive cocktail napkins (imagine the things I would know if my brain weren’t full of thoughts like that one?). In a perfect world, I would use recyclable cloth napkins and strictly bamboo plates. But, um… this isn’t a perfect world. Sorry, Al Gore.
We keep platters, bowls, a cheese board, extra vases and other items we use almost exclusively for entertaining in that same cabinet. It’s like one stop shopping. Except that it’s free, and the inventory never changes.
Play it cool.
The bottom line is this: I’m not Martha. I’m Elizabeth. My friends come over to hang out with me, not a lifestyle mogul (likely because she won’t return their calls either). Entertaining, decorating, cooking, baking, playlist making, and mood setting are things I love to do. If you’re having fun, you’re likely doing a good job, right? Just be cool. And in the words of my kindergarten teacher, be yourself. Nobody likes an imposter… even one that can turn a wreath into a chandelier. For the record: I haven’t tried. Yet.
The first and last time I was in Philadelphia was 1999. My parents and I drove down for my college interviews at St. Joseph’s and Villanova. During the same trip, we hit up Fairfield, Fordham and Loyola Maryland. What can I say? We love the Jesuits. Anyway, we stayed in Center City and got up close and personal with the Liberty Bell. Being one of four children, I thought it was kind of cool to have my parents all to myself. I was shy and nervous and weird on those campus tours, but my mom and dad stuck by my side. Even though they probably wanted to ditch me in the cafeteria and go cut loose with the other normals.
So here I am, twelve years later, still shy and nervous and weird (but with a college degree), heading back to the City of Brotherly Love. I am so looking forward to attending the Healthy Living Summit, getting in a run or two, climbing the “Rocky steps” (leaving my boxing gloves at home, sadly), and spending time with friends old and new. I’m so excited I could crack a historically significant artifact.
But I won’t. Unless those chia cocktails get to me. In which case, all bets are off.
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]After a semi-soul searching run on Saturday morning, I dug through my drawers for my crappiest outfit. I showered, threw on a hoodie and hit the Mass Pike. Somewhere around Framingham, I hit the most wild thunderstorms I’ve seen in a while. I drove 20 miles an hour, with white knuckles, unsure of what would happen when I got to where I was going.
After two u-turns and a few accidental drive-bys, I arrived at my destination: an unfinished house in one of Worcester’s toughest neighborhoods. After a quick lesson on “cutting in,” I dragged a ladder to a corner of the dining room, and got to work. From my perch atop the ladder, next to a big window overlooking the porch, I witnessed a game of neighborhood tag, scooter races, and an especially aggressive round of cops and “bad guys.”
I'm the non-boy.
After I finished one section of the dining room, I’d climb down, drag my ladder over a few feet and get back to work. Everything that had been stressing me out earlier in the day, and in the preceding week, seemed to melt away in that small bucket of beige, eggshell paint. As I dug into the crevices of the textured wall, the site manager Chris’ words echoed in my mind.
“No place is too small, too dark, too dirty. No place is unworthy of your attention. This is where a child will live.”
As we finished up and I headed for my car, the sun came out. There’s no place like home.
4/20 seems to have something to do with weed. I don’t have much to add on the subject, but the Arabic word for grass is hasheesh, and our entire class of college juniors and seniors giggled our way through that chapter (which was about neighborhoods, and likely written for second graders). Incidentally, one of the few expressions I remember (and can write) is small house. Oh, and small pencil. I think I can still write the alphabet. I should double check.
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false] Anyway, I’ve got nothing interesting to say about pot, but I do have a story to share from this past weekend about pots. In case you were one of the two people (my mom being the first) who noticed I posted nary a sentence this weekend, I was leading a weekend retreat on the Cape for fellow graduates of Jesuit universities (and other people who love St. Ignatius). Yes, I know. Sound the nerd alert. On Saturday night, one of my co-leaders read a story about a cracked pot. The story reminds us that what we perceive to be a flaw, may actually be a gift.
Breaking pots is fun.
The parable goes like this:
A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.
“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path and this cheered it some. But at the end of tile trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.
For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
Nice, right? I’m not sure who to credit, but this story is allegedly a Chinese parable.. so, um, thank you, People’s Republic of China.
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false] Sometime around 3 or 4 o’clock on Sundays, the dread creeps in. I love what I do in the Real World, but I almost always wish I could extend the weekend. By a weekend or two. This evening, however, I feel primed and ready to take on a new week, the first full one of the year. Why? Welp, our condo is spotless after Nick and I rolled up our proverbial sleeves and did some serious cleaning, took two trips to the storage unit, and packed up three full bags of clothes and shoes to donate.
With nary a dust bunny in sight, I was able to totally relax. Dude. Some of my favorite relaxation rituals are (nearly) free, take but as little or as much time as I’d like, and can be done almost anywhere. I find completing one or two of these rituals puts me in a (slightly) less harried state as the weekend winds down.
In some particular order, I’m sure, my relaxation rituals:
1. Light a candle. Preferably one that smells so good you forget your name. And whenever possible, place that candle next to a vase of simply arranged pink and purple roses.
Tina hosted a bloggers’ Secret Santa, and I was lucky enough to receive this Tahitian vanilla candle (along with some fabulous other goodies) from Jennifer at a Knack for Nutrition. The scent is perfect for warming up a snowy day in Boston. Thanks, Jennifer and Tina!
2. Go for a walk. Or a run. Or a Sunday drive.
Move slowly. Notice the beauty around you (and yes, that is an exposed nipple… and no, that’s not really what I was referring to…). This practice often reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for, not the least of which is living in this incredible city and having a place within its bounds to call home.
During our long training runs each weekend, I’ve seen– like, really noticed– more than I have in years of living in and around Boston. I’ve spent a lot of time on the roads alone (there really isn’t anyone running at my pace, that is to say, there are no snails or tortoises on our team), but I have come to value and enjoy that solitude. Walking, running or strolling with friends (or furballs) is good, too, though.
3. Speaking of furballs, playing with my dog always takes my blood pressure down a notch on a Sunday evening.
It’s a fact: Pets help reduce stress. Plus, they give you a valid excuse to lurk at the dog park, make excessive purchases from the Martha Stewart Pets line at Pet Smart, and walk around with an extra roll of poop bags in your purse. If you don’t have a furry friend of your own, I am renting out Clark by the half hour. Price: 1 bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Or, you could always volunteer at a local shelter. I’ve heard doing good deeds also helps you relax. Plus, you get to brag about being a humanitarian.
4. Plan ahead.
This year (all two days of it, so far), I am making a concerted effort to cut back on running around like a coo-coo clock each morning, looking for my keys, my sports bra, the lunch I never actually made, six Diet Cokes, and my lip gloss. Packing my bag(s) the night before might be old school (specifically, middle school), but it works.
If you’re worried you might forget your bright red squid thing, heck! Leave that by the door, too.
For me, planning ahead also means creating lists so long I make Tolstoy look like a man of few words. Writing out tomorrow’s To Do list the night before helps me to get focused as soon as I get to my desk in the morning, and ensures that I forgot about only 60% of what I intended to accomplish. My life is a very precise operation.
Another planning obsession? My FitBook. That little wonder helps me plan out both workouts and meals, and is a great tool for tracking goals and establishing incentives. I am hoping to get better at planning meals, and the wipe-off planner Jennifer sent will surely help with that. Do you think she read my mind?
5. And that brings us to my next, and possibly most sacred Sunday night ritual: Reading.
And I don’t mean reading celebrity gossip, or my own blog (though I do totally do that… and laugh both at and with myself. True Life: I am a complete loser). Sometimes I’ll pick up whichever of the six novels I am currently reading, but nearly every evening I thumb through the books and cards above.
Sacred Space is sort of like a daily devotional written by the Irish Jesuits (the only person better than a Jesuit is an Irish Jesuit, I’m pretty sure). Each books includes weekly intentions– something to think and pray about, the daily Gospel, and reflection questions. It’s totally my jam.
Keel’s Simple Diary is great for keeping a daily journal, when you don’t have the time or brain power, let alone actual life excitement, to sit down and bang out a full “Dear Diary” entry. Each page offers a few simple questions– some totally bizarre, some not– and the opportunity to record the high and low points of your day.
Louise Hay’s Power Thought Cards first struck me as touchy feeley mumbo jumbo, and they sort of are, and that’s pretty much totally okay. Because I think that’s how they were intended to be. Each of the 64 cards offers a thought, mantra or meditation. More often than not, the card I draw leaves me feeling uplifted and empowered. And then I have dreams about Harry Potter’s owl delivering mail to one of the trippy, quirky painted figures on the cards. Maybe I should start reading these in the morning instead. Just a thought.
Macrina Wiederkehr’s Seven Sacred Pauses draws on the Benedictine tradition of honoring “the hours.” This little book features prayers from people of all faiths, to be considered at seven different points during the day: the night watch, the awakening hour, the blessing hour, the hour of illumination, the wisdom hour, the twilight hour, and the great silence. So far, I’ve only barely mastered the twilight hour. And it has nothing to do with vampire novels, by the way. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
A soul flare is what happens when someone shines [his or her] light no matter what it is. In a song, a smile, or a well-made soup; they send out a flare of light that inspires others to shine their own. Soul flares make this world better. –Annie O’Shaughnessy
Most of my soul flares end up as burnt out Christmas bulbs. You know, the ones that ruin the whole tree? Welp, better to keep trying than give up, I suppose.
6. And last, but certainly not least, to relax on a Sunday evening, I pour myself a cup of tea.
From my new turquoise tea kettle to this ol’ tea cup I found on Etsy, few things can top this quiet moment. Sometimes even a cup of hot water does it, like when I am feeling especially lazy minimalistic. It’s all about the ritual, dudes and dudettes.