My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dancing With Mr. Darcy

What a great movie!
Last night, my husband, our 16-year-old daughter and I drove in freezing rain for an hour, past suburban tract homes, through acres of prairie and forest, to a Regency Ball

Think Jane Austin, and Pride and Prejudice: high-waisted muslin gowns, and scarlet, military frock coats.

Our menu reflected Regency tastes: roast beef with horseradish sauce, "Duchess" stuffed potatoes, apple-cranberry compote, brussels sprouts with cabbage and bacon, ginger and short bread cookies.

A couple sang "Scarlborough Faire," and pieces from the "Beggars Opera." We English line danced, all ages mingling, bowing, twirling, clasping hands.

The Regency Era  is addictive.  I've heard of people watching the Pride and Prejudice movie multiple times consecutively. I've read the book and watched the movie three times, since discovering the Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen version. Friends we met at the "ball" named their dog Mr. Darcy after Jane Austin's melancholic hero. I've had women laughingly tell me, "I belong in that era." My daughter and many of her friends have read and reread Jane Austin's book.

Lining up for a "set" of English country dance
Of course, we're also talking the era of the Napoleanic wars. Upper and lower classes were sharply divided. But the renaissance in music and the fine arts among the upper classes of that time provides an irresistible backdrop for a more romantic and gracious look at life. 

We need plenty of "grace" in all forms in our modern world. When I registered my daughter for a couple classes at the local high school, the counselor told me incoming freshmen were shocked at their first school dance, to see students "bumping and grinding."

"You're talking pelvis to pelvis? Not all students dance that way," I protested.

Boys with Regency attitude
Her response? "By sophomore year everybody's doing it."

Thank God for the Regency Ball! I saw no girls "balling" their eyes out in the bathroom. No one being edged out if they cared to join in. My daughter and her friends happily joined hands and got into the act. My husband and I were newly-released from our sick beds and had as much energy as over boiled noodles. But we still hit the dance floor, moving along with at least 100 other people through complicated figures of English Dance.

Then I sat out and just watched. Long, happy lines of dancers laughing at their missteps, skipping, circling, smiling at strangers.

No "bump and grind." 

"Honor your partner," the caller reminded us, at the end of each set. 

"Honor your partner."

Dancing with grace

Click here to learn more about the Regency Ball:

Photos (except movie cover) by Marianna Bartholomew

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Epic of Gilgamesh Day

"Beloved friend, swift stallion, wild deer, 
leopard ranging in the wilderness... together we crossed the mountains..."
— From the Epic of Gilgamesh, oldest written Sumerian language narrative (Trans. Mitchell, 2004)
"Hey bf, wat's up? I m 2 bsy 2 c u 2nite. Text me latr, Dude!"
-- 21st Century text, made possible by the age of unparalleled technological advances!
Maybe we should institute an "Epic of Gilgamesh Day," where we all speak poetically to one another... More about the Epic of Gilgamesh

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thanks, "Mission America"

I was Managing Editor of EXTENSION Magazine until my first child was born and I began freelancing. Overall, I have written about America's Catholic home missions for 20-some years.

The memories form such a rich jumble! It was funny to be met at a Tennessee airport by one missionary in overalls who joked that I was just "half-growed." (I'm only 5'0" tall and was just 22 or 23 at at time.) Despite the hillbilly greeting, he was actually an eloquent pastor, who happened to be digging holes for his little church's landscaping that day.

I remember:
*  The little 90-something man who two-stepped with me in that Cajun dance hall and the missionary priest who regaled visitors with Cajun love songs
*  Homemade peach pie served by a little elderly lady in a tiny Appalachian trailer
* The teen with a disability strapped into a chair on her Kentucky porch because her family couldn't afford a wheelchair
* Straw-haired little Native American kids suffering from malnutrition on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota (the lack of proper vitamins bleached their hair)...and the sharp, single-minded college-bound teen girl from the same reservation
My daughter sketched out my ideas for mission cartoons about five years ago when she was 11-years-old. My kids liked to hear stories from "Mission America."

* The young miner in that Kentucky church, who was covered in coal dust stains no shower would wash away
* The feisty nun on a remote Arizona Indian Reservation who grabbed my hand during a powerful prayer meeting  
* The mountain musicians who, after a long day's work, took time to strum dulcimers and guitars, and pluck fiddles for me, the city girl
* One suburban mother who drove miles with her teen son to volunteer at a homeless shelter in a Massachusetts mill town. She helped a man emerging from a hermit existence in the woods cut his filthy garments off his body, so he could clean up and get a fresh change of clothes. After a few experiences like that, she downsized her desire to buy a fancy, new refrigerator.
* The young priest from the Deep South who cried describing to me how a priest friend had been murdered the next town over.
Another aspect of mission life my daughter helped me capture.
*  The newly-ordained priest who pulled aside his curtains every night so he could see his little church from bed. He told me he "waved to Jesus in the tabernacle" before going to sleep.

For 100-some years, Catholic Extension Society has raised funds so isolated American Catholics could afford to build churches, give stipends to religious priests, sisters and lay workers, and do vital outreach to the poor. No matter who leads Extension, and what impact that person has on this historic mission society, the fact remains. Those of us in more populated areas must not forget "Mission America."

Our outreach might be as simple as stopping off at some remote mission while on vacation...and introducing ourselves. After discovering one Deep South church's needs for children's books, my children and I picked up that special cause for years, bundling up a little care package and shipping it off annually. One such contact and discovering a particular church's need can go a long way in helping isolated faithful feel loved and uplifted.

Thank you and God bless you, people of Mission America, for how you have impacted my life and faith through the years. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus?

Thanks to my friend, Nanette, who shared with me this link that she found on Raymond Arroyo's blog!
If kids judge a web page describing tree octopi as being "highly reliable," than I guess they really will believe anything they read on the internet! See the article and the bogus web page on the Life's Little Mysteries link below:

Life's Little Mysteries

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where prairie meets city

It's more than a place, it's a state of mind.

On the outskirts of Chicago, I grew up next to a rambling, blocks-long patch of native prairie. Pheasants, chipmunks, songbirds skirted through waist-high grasses and wildflowers. I dug holes, peeled dry stalks to chew "Indian gum," and followed trails through the grasses. Perhaps these were ancient pathways trodden by Native Americans.

I remember the sky. Vast, unhindered by buildings, offering spectacular starry vistas.

Parallel to my prairie-girl existence, ran Highway 294. About 50 feet in front of my doorstep, pulsed this major artery into Chicago. If we stood in our front yard, we could wave to passersby shooting by at 60 miles per hour. Hands fluttered to us out car windows. Truck drivers yanked on their rigs' throaty horns.

On 47th Street Bridge over 294, on a clear day, we could see Chicago's skyline, mysterious and beckoning. Both my parents hailed from the Windy City, so I grew up also rambling through this steel wilderness.

Prairie versus city. One day might bring simple, carefree hours shoveling subterranean warrens to hide in during thunderstorms, a raincoat stretched tarp-like overhead. The next, I might spend exciting, crowd-elbowing hours in the shadow of "Sears Tower" or on the "Magnificent Mile."

Two vastly different locales, symbolizing to me, the best of a simpler era and the opportunity of the bustling 21st Century.
We would be foolish to forget the wisdom found rambling solo through an open landscape -- disconnected from cell phones! Also foolish, would be denying ourselves the opportunities found in our modern, connected lifestyles.

I carry the prairie within me to this day, as I seek to keep a sense of self and balance within our ever-changing techno-happy culture.

Stepping into bloggy waters

At a recent writer's workshop, Charlene Ann Baumbich (author of 15 books, poetry, and magazine and newspaper articles), presented on "Writing Funny." After she got us all laughing urging us to bring humor into our writing, Charlene challenged us to boldly go public via web pages, blogs, and tweets.

"Writers are often introverts by nature," I pointed out. "How do we transition into a more public life?"

Her reaction? "Get over yourself!" 

Charlene also asked the crowd of about 100 writers, "What is your platform?"

I've pondered that for three weeks. Could my platform be "forgiveness?" Or, "living contemplatively in the modern world?" Then, I remembered. I've often thought I would love this epithet on my tombstone: "She lived joy!" (Not that I currently epitomize joyful living, but wouldn't it be great to someday earn such an epithet?)

Instead of choosing one "platform," I'll focus on three:
1) Forgiveness, because we all have so much to forgive
2) Contemplation, because our world is too noisy for sane living
3) Joy, because we were created for this!

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life," reads Luke 21:34. Allowing mundanities of life to drain our joy is listed in the same breath as "carousing and drunkenness."

Yet, how can we live joyfully, when we're bone dry, when our days are cycling us through early morning awakenings and league-long lists of duties?

If we were true "phenomonologists" in the philosophical sense, we would see each moment as pregnant with meaning. We would reflect on our existence and find deep joy in each activity.

I'm not there, yet. But years ago, on the inside cover of my Bible, I wrote these words from the Book of Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Savior, He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in His love, He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals."

Whether it's in forgiving my enemies, contemplating the deeper meanings in life, or simply choosing to live each moment joyfully, I would love to make God sing...