Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent & Wassail

Advent began with children today. Fr. Jerry invited all the children up to the steps of the sacristy to help him explain Advent to the grownups. He compared Advent to a four week game of Hide-and-Seek. Father prompted the kids to explain the game of Hide-and-Seek: there is a counter and hiders, you have to wait really quiet, you have to watch out for the counter, the counter has to say "ready or not here I come". It was so cute to watch the kiddos shoot their hands in the air to get to answer the next question or explain their idea. All in All, I think it was a good way of looking at Advent.
Casa Ruah is hosting a Wassail party this afternoon. The party features several little tasty treats and cider spiced with oranges spiked with cloves, cinnimon, and a secret spice of Sr. Linda's. The sisters invited many of the neighbors and several aquaintences. I had invited a few classmates, but they lived too far from our side of town or had family events with the Thanksgiving weekend. I have been trying to offer my willing services in preparing for the party; however, I have been banished to the office to keep reading. So, I shall...but I wanted to share the day with you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving (careful...I wax eloquent)


I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a day filled with family, friends, and fun. Wherever you are, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers today. Thanksgiving has always been about the celebration of hearth and home for me. It is a time to get together with Community whether it be Sisters or Family and share life together.

I will be joining the sisters in a trip to Sr. Marica's family gathering for dinner. It is very kind of them to invite me along to the family celebration, but I'll admit my heart is with you. I am taking time today to remember some of my favorite things about thanksgiving...
  • Mom cooks the dressing with the turkey and there is this wonderful dark crunchy bit around the edges of the pan. We all vie for it at home.
  • The Thanksgiving meal at the Monastery is served family style and we seem so much more aware of each other and willing to jump up to refill platters and cups. Time seems to slow down a bit over the meal as well, no one is in a hurry for a change.
  • The VanDenHemels sit back and relax after the dishes are done. We tell tall tales about family stories while 'picking the bird' for turkey soup that night. Well, all but Dad, who is 'watching' either a western or a football game with his eyes closed.
  • Prayer at the Monastery Chapel...I love the way our chant sounds in the open space of our upper chapel. There is a beauty in the simplicity of our space and sound together.
  • Either Wednesday or Thursday night often becomes a 'game night' for the 'young' sisters. I love playing Scattagories, Taboo, and Cranium with the patio crowd while we laugh at each other's stories.

To counteract this bout of wishfulness, I've been remembering what I have to be thankful for no matter how far I am from Home and Hearth.

  • There is a great deal of beauty in the snow on the trees by the lake.
  • A beautiful new niece: Hope Jean.
  • Franciscan support in my learning endeavors here at the house.
  • "Life is Good."
  • A Community of prayerful support to welcome me home at Christmas break.
  • A Family of loving care to welocme me home at Christmas break.
  • The gift of a warm meal and bed with a shelter over my head.
  • The realization that there is a wisdom that comes with age
    (compared to the 'young' college folk).
  • A comfort in the prayer and pattern of our life together.
  • A joy in the notes, letters, and packages from home.

Now, I must return to Larabee, Anyon, and Kliebard as I tear apart my former curriculum in light of the damage social mobility has done to the democratic ideal of equal access to education. Yes, I'll have some fun today as well, but I started the day with Ora at Mass and now I need to complete a bit of Labora before the fun begins.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A New Niece!

Welcome to Hope Jean!
Hope was born on evening of Wednesday, November 26th to Lisa Ann and Michael W. The fluffy little snowflake is 8 pounds, 6 ounces, and 20 inches long!
I cannot wait to visit the newest niece over Christmas break! She had given Lisa Ann and Michael quite a bit of trouble with bed rest and trips to Sioux Falls. So, it sounds like she might be taking after her aunties already. In the end, she was able to arrive in their hometown in Nebraska and all is well!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Gratitude" Gathering at St. Eugene's


St. Eugene's parish held a family formation gathering last night and all were invited to join. So I went, I thought this would be another good way to get to know folk and prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. There was a wonderful cross section of the parish present to celebrate "Gratitude". The youth group served chili and hotdogs and families brought desserts, the energy (noise) around the room was a welcome change from the quiet of my office and the library where I do all my reading. After supper, the kiddos and teens joined different classes to learn about gratitude and the adults heard a speaker from the diocese.

Jennifer Christ talked about cultivating a spirit of gratitude in our lives. I thought I would share the ideas I liked best from the presentation. Mind you, these are my 'translations' of her ideas.

  • "Thankyou" is the recognition of the exchange of life and love we share with another.
  • Gratitude is an orientation toward life, we need to actively cultivate gratitude.
  • Disappointments are tied to our own expectations.
  • Gratitude rejoices in the mystery of the gifts that have been given to you by God.
  • If we are aware of God's constant gift to us, pain and suffering can lead to a deeper joy and gratitude.
  • Do not deny suffering, but place it in light of the blessings that balance it.
  • Our attitude is a light that will reveal that which we choose to see. Do you see with the light of gratitude?

It was good to visit with new folk and meet more people of the parish. The table I joined had a good sense of humor and told some wonderful stories about being grateful in their lives. When Mrs. Christ had us close with prayer, the good humor was especially helpful. She tried to lead a whole church basement of kids, parents, and grandparents in Tai-Chi movement as 8 o'clock at night. I'll give her this, she was persistant! The 'quiet' of the movement was punctuated with the dashing about of kiddos, laughter from various tables (mine too, but I didn't start it!), and instructions as she tried to explain all the moves and what they were called. Really, I think the laughter was a wonderful closing, but not quite what she intended.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Ben's Been Misquoted!


I was reading an article by a fellow for my Theories of Learning class, all very quite hum drum. The author was explaining the different backgrounds of the constructivist pedagogy and the pitfalls that surround this new approach to the reform of education. One of the concerns he has is the mixing of the objective (traditional) pedagogy and the reforming style. He summed up the objective style with a quote from "the Benedictine monastic rule: "It belongeth to the master to speak and to teach; it becometh the disciple to be silent and to listen" (Winschitl).

Totally taken out of the context of chapter six's reasoning for silence and restraint of speech! Eik! I won't bring it up in class unless directly asked (they might know which kind of nun I am), but it bothers me that someone would use the Rule with one random quote to explain the 'evils' of a whole style of teaching.

I just had to share my irritation with the misuse of Ben's ideas in the Rule with someone who would understand.

The Feast of our Founding

Happy Feast Day!

Yesterday, I celebrated Gertrude and today the anniversary of our founding. The sisters have encouraged me to remember our celebrations back home. They asked alot of questions about Gertrude yesterday, so I'm preparing for more today!
When I was living in Sioux Falls, I sometimes forgot these celebrations and feasts in the business of everyday teaching and running about. Now that I'm living without other Benedictines from home, I am much more aware of the events at the Monastery. There are so many 'little' celebrations that make up our feasts...I just never realized it until now. Hmmm, could this be a part of stability. Carrying home in the heart no matter where you go?
I do have a technical question about the celebration of our founding. Is this feast celebrating our arrival and founding in Amercian (Missouri) or our grounding in South Dakota? I know our 'homebase' moved around those first few years, so I'm unsure what sense of 'founding' we are celebrating. I know I learned this in the Novitiate (don't tell Sr. Pierre) but simply can't remember!
Blessings & Celebrations!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008



I wonder if God knows that it is easier to stay inside and study when it is gray, rainy, and cold outside? The last few days have been dreary and wet here in Milwaukee; yet, the rain hasn't frozen since we are close to the lake. The sisters say it does take longer for the ice and snow to get started where we are, but I'm suspcious.

So, I've stayed indoors curled up with "Un-Standarizing Curriculum", "Rethinking Our Schools", and a whole raft of studies and articles centering around African American English in the English classroom. Some of the material has been interesting. The AAE articles are for my literature review and presentation in the theories of learning class. I'll be proposing that a fictional school adopt a culturally relavent approach to essay writing. This would encourage the student body to use AAE in the discussion, prewriting, outlining...all the prepratory work for the essay. The studies have shown that this removes the barrier of constant inner translation that may slow or hinder the process of writing for AA students. The translation of the students spoken and cultural language into Standard American English (or Edited American English) would be done as the last revision and editing for the final copy of the essay. Interesting no?

The cold and damp has also crept into the Joan of Arc Chapel at school. It is the chapel where Joan received her call to arms...long story short, a rather rich family donated it to the university. I like the quiet and simple space inside the chapel. Even thought it is in the midst of campus, the interior is subdued and reflective like a little oasis. It has been a nice place for noon Mass on the days I have evening class, but now it is getting chilly. The building wasn't renovated for heat when it was moved on campus and the little space heaters aren't keeping up with the cool enough for me. Ah well, all the more time to spend in the library.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Sunday Full of Music

Today the Franciscan Motherhouse hosted a "concert" of music by Saint Hildegard! The hour long program was called "Music of Heaven." The vocalist was a soprano by the name of Susan Platt. She is part of the area opera music scene in Milwaukee, and she was wonderful.
She sang a mix of music from Hildegard and other Gregorian and Ambrosian chants. All of the music was performed acapella, she used a pitch pipe and a moment of silence between chants to change key, but there was no other assistance. The sister's chapel had wonderful accoustics for the program as well. Her voice fairly foated throughout the chapel, especially during Hildegard's long lines of variation on one note.
It was wonderful just to relax in one of the padded pews and listen to her voice. The sisters did provide a program which included the latin text of the hymns and antiphons as well as the English translations of the latin. But I didn't read all of the text...listening was enough. I couldn't help but think how lovely her voice would sound in our Bishop Marty Chapel. Patty Ann and Madonna would be proud to know I even recognized a few of the Gregorian chant patterns that we use in some of our own music. My favorite of the antiphon pieces from Hidlegard was "O Virtus Sapientiae."
O strength of Wisdom,
who, circling, circled,
enclosing all
in one lifegiving path,
three wings you have:
one soars to the heights,
one distills its essence upon the earth,
and the thrid is everywhere.
Praise to you, as is fitting,
O Wisdom.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sister Who?


Today I started tutoring at Dominican. I volunteered to assist in the resource room on Friday mornings. They have a very clear process that qualifies students that are assigned to the resource room. It becomes a studyhall with structure and assistance available. The teacher introduced me to each class period and explained (sort of) who I was and why I wanted to be available to assist them.

The teacher encouraged me to float through the room and ask a few questions about what students were working on or why they had decided to work on that subject. They were an interesting bunch, a few of whom were on the B and even A honor roll with the study skills Claudia pushes. I ended up working with one young lady that was trying to type an essay for "Of Mice and Men" before English class in two periods. When I recommended she take the typing off bold since the teacher would notice she was doing it simply to eat up space. She stopped typing, turned in her chair, looked me in the eye, and bold as brass asked, "And you exactly are Sister Who?" (as only a sophomore could). Ahhh...the locations may change and surroundings can differ, but children of God remain the same.

I can't wait for next Friday.