Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That song may be referring to Christmastime, but for some of the Church faithful, that sentiment describes Lent.

 

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I actually look forward to Lent each year. The competitive side of me relishes a challenge, and, every year I challenge myself to either give something up for Lent or add something meaningful to my life during Lent.

 

One of the things that I committed to do during Lent a couple years ago, I’m still doing. I chose to attend Mass two days a week and started going to Mass on Wednesday mornings. I’ve grown to enjoy the smaller, more intimate Mass, where you know most of the people in church. Receiving the body and blood of Christ one extra time each week has been such a blessing, it’s kind of a spiritual booster shot half way through the week.

 

It would be hard to quit going to that Mass since I am now the lector on Wednesday mornings, I take up the gifts, and I’m the back-up rosary leader when the ladies who normally lead it aren’t able to do so. People are depending on me to be there.

 

As someone trying to be the best version of herself, Lent is the ideal time to commit to doing things that will make me a better person. Most years I try to give something up in the food area, such as sugar, desserts, snacking, etc. Then, I also try to find something pro-active to do that will make the season more meaningful for me.

 

Recently, I was introduced to the concept of fasting, from a spiritual perspective, which is something that Jesus spoke of in the Gospels.

 

Mark 9:25-29 And when Jesus saw the multitude running together, he threatened the unclean spirit, saying to him: Deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee, go out of him; and enter not any more into him. And crying out, and greatly tearing him, he went out of him, and he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead. But Jesus taking him by the hand, lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples secretly asked him: Why could not we cast him out? And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

 

(Note: for some reason that majority of Bible editions have omitted the word fasting from that text. It’s not easy to find the original passage.)

 

For the past year, I’ve been dabbling with fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, but hadn’t fully committed to it. Fasting can mean different things to different people, everything from only consuming water, or only bread and water, or just one large meal on a fast day. This year, for Lent, my husband and I chose to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by consuming only fresh fruits and vegetables on those days.

 

Seeing that I’m not much of a fruit person and probably don’t eat as many vegetables as I should on a daily basis, this will be a decent challenge for me. Generally, during Lent, I’m pretty faithful sticking to my commitments. That extra guilt factor keeps me on track!

 

This year, I’m also committing to doing a couple extra things to boost my faith and spiritual life. I will pray the rosary every day (for a particular special intention) and do one random act of kindness every day (thanks to my friend Marge Steinhage Fenelon, award-winning author of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena and Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace for the suggestion).

 

Day One, Ash Wednesday: so far so good. Keep me in your prayers that I can follow through with these commitments for the next six-and-a-half weeks! You’ll be in my prayers as well!

 

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Welcome Home!

“Welcome home.” That seems like an odd greeting to hear in Ireland for someone who has lived her entire life in the United States, but that appears to be the sentiment amongst the Irish who consider their beautiful country to be home for anyone with Irish ancestry.

 

You wouldn’t have to dig too deep to find my Irish roots. My grandfather, John Purcell, was born outside Kilkenny City in Ireland in 1904. Sometime after WWI he immigrated to the United States, married a woman with Irish ancestry, and together they lived in the Bronx with their three sons before his untimely death from heart issues at the age of 39.

 

My husband and I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend two weeks in Ireland this summer. The first five full days were spent sightseeing off the beaten path with our amazing tour guides — my Uncle Frank and his wife Ellen. Frank is my godfather, and to be honest, until last fall, we really didn’t know each other much at all since we’ve never lived in the same state (or country, for that matter, as he has lived all over the world with his family). In October of 2017, John and I visited them at their home in Texas. We had the chance to spend hours together and realized we had much more in common than we could have imagined. Out of that visit came the invitation to come see Frank and Ellen at their summer home in Castlegregory, nested upon a hill overlooking the western coast of Ireland.

 

When we found great airfares to Ireland for this summer, we took advantage of that and booked our trip. On July 9, we flew from Chicago to London (FYI, 45 minutes is not a long enough layover to make a connecting international flight, which involves going through customs again, without sprinting through Heathrow Airport like crazy people), and from there to Shannon, Ireland.

 

We took a bus from the airport to Tralee, from where we were Ubered back to the house by my Uncle Frank. Their house has the look of an oversized quaint English cottage and the views from the front overlooking fields of sheep and cows grazing and the shore of the Atlantic Ocean were nothing short of spectacular. We watched the sun set every night, at nearly 11:00, and the sight never grew old.

 

Every day was an adventure when we were on the West Coast. The first full day at my uncle’s house, July 11, John and I enjoyed a walk along the beach, we got to eat fresh fish delivered to the door by the fish man, and took a tour of the surrounding area in my uncle’s SUV on crazy, winding roads that aren’t much bigger than one lane, have no shoulders and speed limits way too high (80 to 100 kph, roughly 50-62 mph). We found a lovely (the most popular word in Ireland) Marian grotto, we picked up a hitchhiker from France who was working on a farm in Ireland for the summer, we went to a couple of lakes tucked away in the mountains, and we finished the day solving the problems of the world over a couple pints for the guys and a delicious coconut liquor/coconut milk concoction for the ladies.

 

The next day we were treated to a tour of the Dingle Peninsula and got to see all sorts of villages and shops that aren’t included in the commercial bus tours. We even got to see where parts of the newest Star Wars movie were filmed, the location for the filming of Ryan’s Daughter, the house that the late Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries lived in, The South Pole Inn, and got to share a drink in a snug (private booth, back in the day reserved for women pub patrons) at The Colony Pub. We ended the night at Tomisin’s — the Cheers of Castlegregory, cheeky barmaids included.

 

That Friday we gave my Uncle Frank a day off of SUV tour driving and went on a bus trip to see the Ring of Kerry. The entire course was beautiful but our favorite spots were probably Ladies’ View in Killarney (the name stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit to Ireland) and a waterfall tucked along a hiking trail. Luckily, the water was flowing because, at that time, Ireland was in the ninth week of a drought, which was unfortunate for the farmers, but a blessing for us as we had fantastic weather the whole time we were in the country. Every day felt like a beautiful September day, which was even better because back home they were experiencing a heat wave.

 

On Saturday, July 14, John and I went to the beach to watch the Brandon Bay 10K/Half Marathon. When we found out they took last-minute sign ups, we gave them what Euro we had in our pockets, got shirts, an ended up racing. It’s Ireland’s only all beach 10K/Half Marathon. Assuming these divisions are legitimate…  John and I each took first place in our respective divisions (Wisconsin M, 55-59, and Wisconsin F, 55-59). We ended the day sore, tired and hungry but ready for a night out. After going to Mass (30 minutes in and out, these Irish priests don’t fool around) we had a wonderful meal at Tomisin’s cooked by the proprietor, who is a native of China. Chinese food at an Irish pub — it doesn’t get much more unique than that!

 

On Sunday, John and I made our farewells to my aunt and uncle and took a bus to Dublin. The city reminded us so much of London and Paris — it is a melting pot of people from all over the world. We stayed at a Travelodge (sparse but comfortable) that adjoined an Aldi grocery store. The prices for fresh food, bakery and European chocolate were unbelievably low. We stopped there about once a day. Our hotel was walking distance to Mother Reilly’s Bar & Restaurant, where we were able to eat and, later in the week, enjoy genuine Irish folk music up close and personal.

 

The next day we bought a two-day pass for a hop-on, hop-off bus so we could get the lay of the land and then go back to see all the spots that caught our eye. Some of the highlights were the Irish Whiskey Museum, Temple Bar, River Liffey, Phoenix Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (where we attended the evening prayer service), and St. Patrick’s Park.

 

Tuesday our stops included St. Stephen’s Green (where we enjoyed amazing, oversized donuts which were available on most every corner in the city), Trinity College, Guinness Storehouse (the tour includes a free pint), Kilmainham Gaol (which was featuring an exhibit on the life of Nelson Mandela who would have turned 100 in July), and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

 

We took another bus tour via Paddywagon Tours on Wednesday for a day trip to Northern Ireland. We traversed the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge (piece of cake after our rope bridge experience in Mexico last year), we had an excellent traditional lunch of Irish Stew and Brown Bread, we walked on the tree-lined drive from the Game of Thrones set, and we got to experience one of the wonders of the world — Giant’s Causeway, which is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption per Wikipedia. That was worth the trip alone! With the sunny, dry weather we were able to go to the edge of the columns that overlooked the ocean. The trip ended with an hour or so in Belfast. It’s an interesting city but I didn’t feel comfortable there considering the animosity that still brews between the Irish and the Northern Irish. Back in Dublin we did more walking (put in about 9 miles on foot per day) and had a great dinner at the Hairy Lemon.

 

On Thursday we started the day with Mass at Mary Immaculate – Refuge of Sinners, which was a few blocks from our hotel (17-minute Mass start to finish, definitely a record in my books). Lots more exploring of Dublin on foot but the highlight that day was seeing the religious art from the 1200s to the 1800s at the National Gallery of Ireland, in particular a Caravaggio (who is known for his depictions of the Blessed Mother) painting which was on loan to the museum. They had food tents set up in a park that day that included fare from around the world. We ended the night seeing the original Riverdance musical. The dancing, music and singing was unbelievable! It’s a production we’ll always remember.

 

Friday, July 20, saw us on a train to Kilkenny City, the city in which my grandfather was raised. It is such a charming place — it was well worth the trip to get there. Our first stop was the Smithwick’s Tour, which was fun and yes, ended with another round of pints. Afterwards, my cousin Walter picked us up to take us to the farm where our grandfather was born and raised in an area called Windgap. While there I got to meet his parents — my dad’s first cousin Kieran Purcell, who was a national champion hurler back in the day and now raises and trains champion race horses, and his wife JoJo. From there we went to the cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried and met the parish priest. Next to the church was an Old League House, which once served as a home for poor tenant farmers whose land had been confiscated during British occupation of Ireland, St. Kieran’s College, where my grandfather attended high school, Sweeney Todd Barbers, and Matt the Miller pub where we saw the band Wildfire perform one of the best early Beatles sets we’ve ever seen live.

 

The next morning we toured Kilkenny Castle which is a well-preserved castle that depicts life in medieval times. After that we were on a bus to Cork. On the way there we passed through Waterford which is famous for its crystal. In Cork we had the best food of our trip at Coqbull (Avocado BLT Rotisserie Chicken Salad — that chicken was amazing) and The Corn Store where I got the Rosemary & Honey Crème Brulee with Ginger Shortbread (Crème Brulee is a must for me when we travel abroad) and the Peanut Butter Cheesecake with Banana Fritters & Vanilla Ice Cream that John swears is the best dessert (next to my mom’s homemade strawberry rhubarb pie) he’s ever eaten in his life. The night ended with a bang as we were able to secure last-minute tickets to see The Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House. They did an awesome job — it was fun hearing their “American” accents.

 

July 22, John got to celebrate his birthday on a bus to Shannon. There’s not much more in that city than the airport, but we did find a nice walking trail around a lake. We were there less than 24 hours as the next day, which happened to be my birthday, we had a plane to catch back to the U.S. The cool thing was, because of the time zone changes as we flew, I got to celebrate my birthday for 30 hours instead of the typical 24, so that made my day extra special!

 

Those two weeks in Ireland were something John and I will always treasure. The Irish people, particularly on the West Coast, were some of the friendliest and most welcoming folks we’ve ever met. The historic sites were spectacular and the views of the ocean were breathtaking. Like Dorothy Gale says, “There’s no place like home.”

Paradise Found

If you have to take a business trip during the dreariest part of early spring, Hawaii is just about the best place on the planet to do that.

 

John and I flew to Oahu April 12 to attend events surrounding the premiere of the movie The Islands, which I co-wrote. This was our first trip to Hawaii and we instantly fell in love with this beautiful state and the beautiful people who live there.

 

We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel which was a five-minute walk from the beach. The hotel has seen better days but with its location a bit off of the main drag, it was really relaxing. We were able to sleep at night with the patio door open (no screens) to catch the ocean breeze. For some reason, there seems to be very few bugs on the island. We had the sweetest older Filipino cleaning lady who brightened our day every time we saw her. (Traveling tip: If you give a tip to your housekeeper at the beginning of your stay, rather than the end, they will be your BFF the entire time you’re staying at their property!)

 

Our first evening in Hawaii we were treated to an awesome dinner at Orchids at Halekulani, courtesy of Tim Chey, the director of The Islands. About a dozen people connected with the film were there and we enjoyed outstanding food and a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Escaping the cold Wisconsin weather (and a record-setting blizzard that struck while we were gone), we made a point to walk to the beach every day. After our beach walk Friday we took The Waikiki Trolley Pink Line over to Ala Moana, the largest open air shopping center in the world. We enjoyed window shopping and a lunch there at a Japanese restaurant and we topped off our visit with a tasty bubble tea.

 

That evening we were invited to a cast party for The Islands in Aiea. We met so many wonderful people who were either actors or extras in the film, a part of the crew, or on the production team. Being in the mountain area, we got to witness a torrential downpour which caused some mudslides. We waited out the storm to head back to Waikiki but did experience delays on the trip back as the roads were being cleared from debris.

 

Saturday morning we were treated to a home-cooked breakfast by our friends Cynthia Briganti and her partner Dr. Dale. Cynthia is the top of the top in Enagic Corporation (the company we are distributors for, check out KangenWisconsin.com), so it was quite an honor for them to host us at their hotel. John and I spent the day after that exploring Waikiki Beach on foot. Waikiki is a bustling city with countless places to shop and eat. It’s probably the cleanest city I can remember visiting and it felt very safe to walk around. People refer to it as Las Vegas on an island — the fun keeps going until about 4:00 every morning.

 

That evening was the premiere of The Islands. It was a thrill to walk the red carpet, have our picture taken in front of The Islands banner, and be presented with gorgeous leis. We got to experience this beautiful film with about 1,000 other people. The movie got tremendous feedback from the audience. The Islands is the story of a real life Wonder Woman, Chiefess Kapi’olani, who reigned in Hawaii in the 1800s and performed a legendary act of bravery that ushered in religious freedom to her kingdom. The movie opens nationwide on November 9, 2018. Go see it!

 

Sunday started out for us with 7:00 a.m. Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Honolulu. Then we got to spend a memorable day with Cynthia and Dale exploring Oahu by car. We drove to the North Shore and had numerous stops on the way there and back including Waimea Falls, Old Sugar Mill Waialua Coffee, Valley of the Temples, a hole-in-the-wall open air diner that had delicious pesto Eggs Benedict (best ever!), and a roadside market where we got to enjoy fresh coconut juice served in the shell, homemade banana bread, and fresh fruit native to the island. We finished the afternoon at Max’s Restaurant in Honolulu where we enjoyed a taste of the Philippines, including crispy pata (crispy pork hock), fried rice, pork sinigana soup, and a yummy dessert called halo-halo.

 

Monday morning Cynthia and Dale put their culinary skills to work again on the leftovers and made us another filling breakfast. Afterwards we went with them to the Honolulu Enagic office where they did a presentation on Kangen Water and team building. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters. Cynthia lives her life by the ACTS prayer (adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication) and is one of the most successful, motivated and dynamic people we’ve ever met. To top it off she is a servant leader, generous, and genuine. It was truly a pleasure to spend as much time with her and Dr. Dale as we did.

 

We spent the rest of Monday walking around the beach area and indulged in a manicure and pedicure (for me), a couple’s massage and some excellent gelato at Café Glace. Tuesday and Wednesday we toured Honolulu and spent time absorbing as much of Hawaii and its culture that we could. The highlight was visiting Pearl Harbor. What a moving and memorable site. It made us so grateful for the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedom and lifestyle that we live today.

 

No trip to Hawaii would be complete without a luau. They are somewhat commercial but we enjoyed our trip to Paradise Cove. We were greeted with shell necklaces and Mai Tais, enjoyed a hula show before dinner, played some traditional Hawaiian games, watched some demonstrations, had a feast fit for a chief or chiefess, and ended the night with the main hula performance including male and female hula dancers performing dances from various islands, plus a fire dance. I even got to try my hula skills on stage (no video available).

 

Our last night in Waikiki we made the trek to Leonard’s Bakery for malasada — Portuguese donuts, otherwise known as Hawaii’s favorite fried treat. It was totally worth the walk. Other memorable food places on the island were Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, GOOFY Café & Dine (where I got to experience my first ahi tuna poke bowl), and Eggs ‘n Things, where we actually ate twice (the guava and coconut syrups were the perfect topping for waffles and pancakes). We had Dole Whip at the Galleria which was so light and refreshing. I should also mention the Honolulu Cookie Company where we stopped for samples on almost a daily basis before finally buying a box of cookies to take home.

 

One last farewell from Waikiki Beach was a beautiful round of fireworks Wednesday night. I don’t know how they knew I was such a big fan, but thank you! We had prime seating on the balcony of our hotel!

 

Our trip to Hawaii was something we’ll never forget! Even the flights were bearable with all the great movies we finally had time to watch… The Darkest Hour, Casablanca, Wonder, 27 Dresses, The Disaster Artist, and Breathe. The weather in Hawaii is perfect (70-80 degrees every day), I loved all the open air shops and restaurants (with no freezing air conditioning), we got to hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow by IZ Kamakawiw’ole multiple times, I got to ditch my cool-weather wear for sundresses and sandals, we got to see countless tourist families from Japan, China and Australia with their adorable children, had the chance to do earthing by walking barefoot most anywhere and anytime we wanted, we were greeted with the shaka (hang loose) sign more times than we could count, saw the most brilliant rainbows ever, got to experience liquid sunshine several times every day, and most importantly felt welcomed by the friendly and laid back Hawaiian natives.

 

We came home to Wisconsin to see our yard covered in two feet of snow. My day was brightened by the 100 copies of my newest novel, A Life Such as Heaven Intended, which arrived while we were gone.

 

As a gift to our friends and family at home we brought back sunshine and warm temperatures and have been enjoying them ever since. It’s finally spring!

 

We had always heard of the wonders of Hawaii but now that John and I have experienced it for ourselves, we appreciate Hawaii so much more. Aloha Hawaii and mahalo for making us feel so welcome. We look forward to visiting you again!

A Miracle in My Life

Miracles are all around us if we are open to seeing them. Here’s something that happened in my life this past May.

Two years ago when Lent was approaching, I wanted to do something that required more effort on my part than just giving something up. So I decided to go to Mass one extra day per week. I chose to go on Wednesday mornings at 8:00 at our parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Mass is sparsely attended, at most maybe 20 people or so attend, and I noticed I was usually one of the youngest in the crowd.

After Mass is over each week, a handful of people stay and gather near each other to pray the rosary together. Three different older ladies are the leaders and if the primary leader isn’t available the next lady takes over and if she’s not there then the third in line takes charge.

Once Easter arrived in 2014, I continued to attend the weekly Mass. It felt comfortable, I was starting to get to know the other regulars, and it was a great way to disengage from my busy life and reconnect with my faith in a quiet atmosphere in the middle of the week. Since that time I was asked to be the lector (I read the first reading and the responsorial psalm) on Wednesdays, so now I have more of a commitment to be there as well.

This past spring we got the joyous news that both our daughter and our daughter-in-law were expecting and their babies were due two-and-a-half weeks apart, November 27 and December 15, respectively. My husband and I couldn’t have been any happier but we definitely had concerns because of some previous pregnancy issues.

One Wednesday last May, I was sitting in the pew behind the woman who was second in line to do the rosary, a lovely woman who was born in Europe and has a wonderful accent. Her part, as the leader, was to start the prayers represented by each bead in the rosary and we would join in. For the Hail Mary prayer, she would begin with, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and then the rest of us would join in, “Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

For some reason our leader that day was turned sideways in her seat and directly facing the statue of the Blessed Mother that is on the far right wall of the church. All the other ladies were following suit and I did as well so I was looking right at that statue as we prayed the rosary. Part way through one of the decades, as I was  following along, when we got to the part in the prayer, “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” I thought of my daughter and daughter-in-law and our prayers for them.

At that very moment, Mary looked right at me and she said, “Everything will turn out fine.”

I was stunned. I stopped reciting the prayer and looked at the other four or five ladies to see what their reaction was. I clearly heard the Blessed Mother speak out loud yet none of the other women seemed to have heard it. I was shaking and could hardly believe what I had witnessed yet I was overjoyed and felt this sense of peace come over me.

After the rosary was done, I went over to the statue and looked at is closer and once again it seemed inanimate. I lit a candle and thought about all the issues in our lives that we had been praying for and asked Mary for her intercession on our behalf, that she would offer prayers up for us to her son, Jesus. I took one last look at her as I left church that day and thanked her for praying for us.

Ever since that time when concerns come up in my life and our family’s life, I repeat the words that the Blessed Mother said to me in church that day, “Everything will turn out fine.” Having that constant reminder and reassurance has been such a calming factor in my life.

So, any time a worry comes to mind, I repeat what has now become my mantra, “Everything will turn out fine.” And, truthfully, it has. Life has been a series of beautiful experiences since then. I’ve grown more devoted to the Blessed Mother as I look to her as my role model in how I interact with my family and friends, how I run my living water mission, and how I live my life day in and day out.

Our beautiful granddaughter Katherine and handsome grandson Declan arrived safe and sound on Dec. 1 and Dec. 4! Our blessings are overflowing!

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