Tuesday, September 30, 2008

St. Brigid's Church is Saved

A few weeks past, hubby & I were channel surfing one evening and landed on a PBS show about St. Brigid’s Church in NY, New York.  Naturally, this story captured my attention.   We only caught the last 15 minutes, but it seemed a notable account worth investigating, as this is an historic church in NY due its role during the Great Famine in Ireland.  

Constructed by Irish immigrants during the 1840’s, St. Brigid’s Church became a haven for the burgeoning Irish citizenry, not only for receiving the sacraments, but to restore a sense of community and “home” for these new immigrants.  Apparently, over the past century, as the Irish population declined, revenue fell and, in recent years, the parish was slated for closure and demolition.  A few remained true to their home church and fought the closure.  

Miraculously, in May of this year, an anonymous donor came forward with $20 million to save St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church.

I’m glad I caught the story;  as much to see the joy in the parishioner’s faces, as to know that a beautiful church, a holy place with rich history is saved from destruction.   And, it’s no small thing to know of someone out there who seeks to give generously to those in need, while shunning recognition and gratitude of any sort.

Read the New York Times article.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Garden Notes

A peek around my back yard would tell you two things:

One, the weeds are mounting a vicious attack and two,  I garden anyway. One of these days I’ll have more than enough time to tend the flowers properly and pull every last weed up by the root, but until then, I’ll enjoy my kids and my business and smile at the healthy plants that don’t mind a bit of competition.

Although a few flowers have become a staple in our yard for the past 7 years, such as impatiens, hostas and geraniums, I was pleasantly surprised to discover new herbs for our expanding container garden.   A visit to my friend’s new garden center yielded 4 new delightful herbs for us to enjoy: Lemon Balm, Italian Parsley, Eucalyptus and Rue.  The Rue (pictured above) is the most unique due to its strong aroma and woody stem.  I’ve found reading about Rue comical as it is almost always described as having a disagreeable odor, yet I think it’s wonderful!  The smell is powerful and earthy, yet pungent, reminding me of evergreens at Christmastime; a stimulating aroma.  The leaves are delicate looking, but when I clipped a few stems for drying, I found this little herb has another pleasing quality.  The leaves curl inward and the stem is strong making it a great accessory for dried flower arrangements.   In addition, the aroma clings to it even when dried, unlike the Kentucky Spearmint and Lemon Balm that I’ve attempted  to air dry.

The Kentucky Spearmint is not doing so well.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve watered and snipped the large shoots, aerated the soil and it’s just barely hanging on.  I hope to figure it out because it’s quite nice to steep the leaves in a cup of tea.

I bought the Italian Parsley (pictured below) because I delighted in the fresh, uplifting aroma found in the leaves.  My husband thinks it would be nice to try a little in the spaghetti sauce, but I’d like to figure out a way to use the wonderfully crisp citrus scent with lemon balm to make a nice lotion. 

The Eucalyptus air dries very well, although the leaves must be crushed to enjoy the familiar clean and medicinal aroma.  It seems to be a slow grower, or maybe I need to investigate and improve the soil/sunshine it’s in.

The sage came back well this summer and seems to enjoy partial sun better than the full sun I set it in for the first part of the growing season.  It also likes to stay well watered...

I wrote about the lavender earlier and am still enjoying the flowers.  This is probably my favorite plant to air dry because it retains the lovely purple color, the stems are stong, the pleasant aroma lingers and the flowers hold together for ages.  Lavender “wands” are a popular item in    

garden/spa type boutiques and I’ve had fun this summer making my own and placing them in various arrangements about the house.  With luck, this large plant will make it through another mild WV winter.

After using marigolds for years with only moderate success, I’ve finally found a winning combination for the shallow flower box on the patio.  “Luscious Grape” Lantana (pictured right) planted with various colors of Verbena created just the look I wanted - kind of wild and unruly, but bursting with color =-)  These hardy plants just ask for full sun and water now and then...thankfully, they seem to be quite drought tolerant.

My daughter & I planted “Blue Moon” in the fairy garden and we’ve learned that it fares better in pots rather than the ground.  It likes shade with some evening sunshine.     The kids each have a little plot of earth to call their own and hone their green thumb.  This year our daughter was particularly fond of the Lamb’s Ear that has grown in abundance in her shade garden with very moist soil.  I’ve enjoyed watching her pluck the long velvety leaves to make a ‘bed’ for the turtles that frequently visit.

Another type of Lantana, pictured left, (although I don’t remember the specific name) I experimented with this summer did very well in the ground, but not so well in the containers.  The bright yellow flowers have been blooming since May and I’m hopeful that this one will come back next year.  I’ve been disappointed in the Coreopsis we planted out front.  One of the two plants appeared to die early on, but is now making a comeback and the other is still hanging on, but looks nearly defeated.  The first one is coming back in a big container with lots of good soil and full sun, the other is in the ground, also with full sun.  Even though these are native to WV, I haven’t figured out their secret yet...

The “Cup Flower” came back again, much to the grower’s surprise.  When I bought this little flower, I understood it to be an annual, but this is the second summer it has returned and draped it’s small purple flowers over our fish pond.

The False Heather is becoming a staple around here too...it does so well in containers and looks the same from the time I bring it home in early May until a heavy frost, usually in November.  Along with the impatiens, it’s our longest blooming flower.

Last but not least, I want to remember to plant more “Fan Flowers”, (pictured below) or Scaevola Aemula (I think) in several containers; the purple burst of flowers is gorgeous!  And, once I realized that this flower needed more shade from midday sun, it has prospered and not stopped blooming.  It must be hardy though, because even after leaving it out in the sun without water for several days, it perked up overnight with shade and lots of water.

I’m thankful for the joy these little plants bring...especially walking outside and  plucking a few herbs to smell; it’s very therapeutic on a gloomy day!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrating a Renaissance Man

On Saturday, September 6th, my family went to the funeral of a family friend, Dr. Lyle Blackwell (1932~2008).  It was a sad occassion, yet the joyful reunion of many people we hadn’t seen in years, warmed our hearts.   In particular, when we first spotted Mary, Lyle’s wife, she had tears in her eyes at seeing us.... “Oh...you are so beautiful to my eyes..” she said.    It seems the seasons in life serve to mature us spiritually, just as fine wine ages.  It only takes a moment such as this to remind me of how precious we are to God     ....seeing a window of heaven in someone’s face leaves me at a loss for words.    It was so good to hug Mary and hold her hand.

Dr. Blackwell was an extremely intelligent and accomplished human being.  I’m sure I could scarcely touch the surface of his many talents in this short entry.  Even so, to share with those who never had the privilege of knowing him, he was a graduate of WVU, Chrysler Institute of Engineering and Ohio State University, receiving his Ph. D degree in 1966.   He made his way to West Virginia Tech when a teaching job was offered to him and remained for 30 years.   He left as Dean of Engineering and proud of the fact that during his tenure he had seen every engineering program accredited and recognized nationally as an engineering school of excellence.

He had so many interests outside of work that I am still learning about them.  He was truly a Renaissance Man, with a love for travel and seeing the world, he sketched in pen and ink and painted in watercolors; he authored several books and wrote “bad poetry” he claims.  He loved to be outdoors and enjoyed hunting, fishing and spending time at his camp with family and friends.  Dr. Blackwell was also an accomplished musician, composing, arranging and conducting instrumental and vocal music.  I believe he could play nearly any instrument by ear, but he was particularly fond of his piano jazz ensembles and played with many different groups over the years.  Lyle is the only person I’ve ever met who seemed to be gifted with full right and left brain capabilities.

I came to know Lyle sometime in the late 80’s through my boyfriend - now husband- and his family.  Since the families were close, I met the Blackwells through social gatherings such as family Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties.  I can still remember my impression upon meeting Lyle for the first time: He loved life! He was so full of energy and passion for countless things...artifacts, museums, music, philosophy, history, chemistry, engineering, theology....the list goes on.  He always had a story or a curious piece of trivia to share.

For all of his talents and passions though, one of the most remarkable qualities to me was his genuine interest in others.  He wanted to know all about you,... your hobbies and areas of study, your beliefs and convictions and why you felt that way.  He would ask many questions; in answering, it was as if you were supplying him with another thread to be woven into his great life tapestry.  

Lyle was a beautiful human being and I am blessed to have crossed paths with him and his family.

The funeral was remarkable in that so many framed photographs adorned the tables and guests were invited to speak at the service which brought moments of quiet reflection as well as a few hearty laughs when friends shared humorous anecdotes.  The church, Gauley Bridge Baptist, was very generous by inviting not only the family, but everyone present, to dine together after the interment.  Lyle had been a member of this church for over 65 years.

We stayed for hours that day visiting with old friends and looking at Lyle’s photo albums which were arrayed on a table in the dining hall.  As I flipped through the pages of his voluminous album from his ’96 safari to Kenya, I was impressed by his journaling beside the photos on each page.  I could gain  a sense of being on safari with him, but even more,  I gained a sense of his witty humor and his love for his family;  this was a trip he had initiated for his four sons.

Something else grabbed my attention too.  Turning page after page of beautiful photos and reading those entries reminded me of my own neglect in this area.  I have hundreds of photographs on my computer of family events dating back several years that need to be placed in an album for many to enjoy.  What greater gift to leave your family members with than your writing and photos, your stories?

A Blackwell family member told me that when Lyle died, he was at home with family working on a photo album.  He wanted to make sure his kids and grandchildren would have them.  His spirit departed to heaven even as he was creating a gift for those he loved...

I am thankful for his life and the inspiration Dr. Lyle Blackwell has given to me.

May his memory be eternal.

*Photo is of the program created by Amber Blackwell; pen and ink sketch was made by an anonymous student from WV Tech

Monday, September 8, 2008

Conceived In Rape

To Christians and others who value life, abortion is always in the midst of conversation during the campaign season.  I think it’s a fair statement that most Christians are against abortion although there may be a wide gulf with regard to the allowances given to pursue one.

Personally I have never been pro-abortion (I refuse to use the politically correct, “pro-choice”, as it has been purposefully employed to anesthetize the full implication) although I have wavered at times over the reasons why a woman might be granted an abortion.  Typically I would say, “An abortion should never be allowed except in the case where the mother’s life is in jeopardy or in the case of rape or incest.”  But lately I’ve been rethinking the latter; my thoughts have been on St. Mungo.

Some years ago I read Nigel Tranter’s Druid Sacrifice , a historically based work of fiction about the life of St. Mungo, also affectionately known as Kentigern which means “chief lord or prince”.    Tranter’s novel was based on documents recording the life of this saint from the 12th century.  It was a gripping tale and shed light on  druid practices, family structures of the 6th century, and God’s amazing grace in this dark period of history.

Mungo’s mother, Thanea (or Thenaw) was the daughter of King Loth (or Leudon) and  objected to his druidical practices, also refusing to marry the man selected for her.  In Tranter’s tale, Thanea is raped at the hands of one she knows from the inner court.  In other biographical accounts, the term “rape” is not employed but the encounter is always portrayed as illicit.

Humiliated at her obstinacy  and now pregnant state, King Loth decides to execute his daughter by casting her from Traprain Law.  When she miraculously survives, she is then sent forth in a coracle to perish on the River Forth.   Divine intervention carries Thanea and her unborn child to safety and the care of the monks of St. Serf.  God's grace is bestowed on this young mother who later delivers and delights in her precious son.

The life of Kentigern is a beautiful tale of how goodness and mercy may be born of violence and evil, of wildflowers growing in the rockiest of places.  As I was reading more on St. Mungo, I happened upon a site by Rebecca Kiessling that stirred my convictions. 

She is a woman who was conceived in rape and now speaks to others regarding pro-life and what that little phrase implies when we say “...except in cases of rape...”.    She boldly proclaims, “Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice”, or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”

In no way do I wish to judge or diminish the pain and horror some women have known at the hands of violence. It is all the more that I stand in wonder of those women who have overcome darkness to rejoice in the babies that resulted from rape.  May God continue to bless them and enable them to tell their stories far and wide.

*Photograph is from the Church of St. Mungo website; he is the patron saint of Glasgow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bravo Barracuda!

Well, even though I've just posted tonight, I've also just seen Sarah Palin's speech.  WOW, I've been waiting to witness a dynamo conservative lady like Sarah for a long time.  Kudos to you, Governor Palin.

Patricius: Beacon for Christ

“I am Patrick - a sinner - the most unsophisticated and unworthy among all the faithful of God.  Indeed, to many I am the most despised.”   

These are the words of St. Patrick from the beginning of his Confession, written nearly sixteen centuries ago in defense of his mission in Ireland.  Often obscured by legends, the man born Patricius in 4th century Roman Britian, has a story worth knowing; a quality of humility worth emulating.

I’ve recently finished Philip Freeman’s biography, St. Patrick of Irelend, and although I would’ve enjoyed references to support his claims, I thought it was a very thorough look at the medieval world in which Patrick lived.  I didn’t realize the corroborative evidence bearing witness to Patrick’s life was so limited.  In my mind, St. Patrick is the one who drove snakes from Ireland, used the shamrock to teach his converts about the Holy Trinity and displayed fierce courage in the face of powerful druids. 

What I gained through this book and also an article by Mary Cagney in Christian History magazine is that much can be discerned about Patrick’s life through the writings he has left us.  Not only do we have his lengthy Confession  but we also have a letter addressed to the "Soldiers of Coroticus"  which provides a window into Patrick's passion for the sanctity of life and his fury at those who slaughtered new Christian converts.  He boldly condemns their murderous slave campaign calling them, “citizens of Hell!” 

What is remarkable to this 21st century gal is that Patrick’s letters survived the Dark Ages and were preserved for over 1500 years, inspiring followers of Christ for generation upon generation.  Patrick survived a horrifying experience as a young man when he was taken captive by Irish raiders gathering slaves.  He was not yet 16 years old when his privileged life of nobility was transformed into a bleak existence in a distant and savage land.   Not only did Patrick survive the years of slavery, but this period proved to be fertile ground for his spiritual awakening.  His weak bonds with God became stronger through trials. 

I frequently need to be reminded to rejoice for my trials because, honestly, I like comfort rather than distress, excess rather than dearth.  It is from St. Patrick that I can draw inspiration to take the high road, to crave spiritual growth above complacency.  For one day I hope to say that someone else knew God because of the fruit He produced in me.   

Patrick wrote at the end of his Confession: “My final prayer is that all of you who believe in God and respect him- whoever you may be who read this letter that Patrick the unlearned sinner wrote from Ireland - that none of you will ever say that I in my ignorance did anything for God.  You must understand - because it is the truth - that it was all the gift of God.” 

A gift of God that continues to reach christians everywhere.
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