18 December 2017

For Acculturated: What 'Persuasion' Can Teach Millennials...

I remember the first time I read Persuasion. I was a Junior in high school, home for two back-to-back snow days. I spent both days curled up in various cozy spots throughout the house, reading feverishly. I read it faster than any other Jane Austen novel, devouring its insights on heartache and longing and forgiveness. In the throes of the last few chapters, my AP Gov teacher called inquiring about an assignment, telling me I should be doing schoolwork even though there was no school. "But, I'm reading Persuasion!" I said. And she sighed, longingly sighed, and we shared a moment talking about the greatness of Jane Austen's final piece of fiction. She knew her homework had no chance, the only thing winning my attention and heart that snowy night was Frederick Wentworth himself. And he still has it. Happy 200th anniversary, Persuasion! Read my latest Acculturated article that celebrates it here.

17 December 2017

Learning to Be Merry about Mary

How many Marys under the age of fifty do you know? I'll wager, not many. For many of you, only one, and she is writing this post. Once the most popular girl name -- hello 1500-1960 -- Mary is now a blast from the past. Just recently I had someone say to me, "Mary is a great name. It's my grandmother's name." Yep, that's me - a remnant of your grandmother's era.

I have often wondered if my name suits me. Do I look like a Mary, talk like a Mary? If you saw me on the street, would Mary be the name you'd guess for me? I've never come up with a better option, never felt connected to another name. I never had the courage to request something else, like Anne Shirley requests Cordelia, or Christine McPherson requests Lady Bird (which if you have not seen, you absolutely need to). Yet, sometimes I resent my name and all the assumptions* and cultural baggage that come with it.

"Mary McGinley? You must be Irish, then." Or, "Mary McGinley. Let me guess - Catholic." Or, "Which song do you prefer?" Or, "Well aren't you contrary."

In my old age of twenty-five, I have learned to handle these interactions with relative grace, to not pull a Darcy but just accept my fate of having a name loaded with meaning. Yet, while I can laugh off the nursery rhymes, I cannot laugh off my namesake and the example she sets for me. Mary, Mother of God. How can anyone have such a name but her?

15 December 2017

For Acculturated: Can Santa Claus Survive...

This holiday season, I am working at Macy's Dickens Village in Philadelphia as a Santa Photographer. Visiting Santa was never part of my family's Christmas tradition, so I've been fascinated to see how many people of all ages come to see Santa as an annual event. The wish lists I've heard range from teddy bears to computers, but definitely are heavy on the technology end, which led me to wonder, where does Santa fit in our hi-tech society today? Read my latest for Acculturated.

06 December 2017

I'm Dreaming of an Untraditional Christmas

I am a keeper of tradition. Maybe it's because I'm Catholic - tradition is sort of our claim to fame; or maybe it's because of my family. My brother cried - cried - when my Dad changed his glasses frames. I am a creature of routine generally, but there is a special spark to tradition, to the notion of annual, shared routines that we anticipate all year long. There are food traditions: shrimp harpin for Christmas Eve; peaches and cream pie or coconut cake for my birthday; lamb stew for my grandmother's birthday. There are activity traditions: finding Easter baskets; opening presents youngest to oldest; dressing in costumes for 4th of July.  Oh, and my favorite tradition - fighting about what is tradition: do we eat turkey, ham, and/or beef on Christmas; what holiday deserves bing cherry salad; do we celebrate Wigilia or not?

Yet, despite my love of routine, tradition is starting to lose its luster for me. Perhaps it is because with siblings married and cousins moved away, tradition hasn't really been the same the last few years. Or perhaps the foodie in me is just sick and tired of having a menu with few surprises and high tension. Or perhaps the single woman in me is dreading the conversations about my love life (pssh, who am I kidding, I love those conversations.) Whatever the reason, I am thrilled to report this year I am breaking the mold and celebrating Christmas free from tradition! Or am I?

27 November 2017

Time to be a Sheep

Image result for separation of sheep and goatsIt's that time of year again; the time I get particularly reflective. Yep, the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of another. This past Sunday, Catholics celebrated the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe, sending out another Church year with resounding praise. Although many people stuck to their usual Thanksgiving weekend traditions, already decking their homes with Christmas trees and garland, we actually haven't even hit Advent yet. I wonder whether those poor trees will last through the *real* Christmas season, but more than that, I wonder if those people gave themselves the mental time and space to reflect on this past year and prepare for the oncoming one. Abiding by the flow of liturgical seasons can bear many fruits, if we give ourselves the time to pause and listen. For example, realizing I might be a goat and not a sheep on Judgment Day. 

13 November 2017

Reflections on the Road: Coal Towns

Image result for shamokin paI drove over 246 miles on Saturday to attend a funeral. I-76, I-476, I-78, Rt. 901, Rt. 61, Rt. 54., Rt. 487, back and forth, winding through mountains with just enough color on them to still be beautiful.  - - Well, mountains are always beautiful, but you know what I mean. - - I traveled to this destination often as a child, nauseated by the twisting elevation. I remember once pulling off into the Ace Hardware parking lot, just in time to vomit into an empty orange juice bottle in the car. Now, in the driver's seat, I managed to keep nausea at bay. Coming from Philadelphia, my journey up through Pennsylvania was entirely different than the one from my Maryland childhood, but the destination was still the same: my Dad's hometown.

03 November 2017

For Acculturated: Does Television Finally Understand Catholic Culture?

As I have grown older and wiser (?), I have realized not everyone who identifies as Catholic lives their life the same way I do. I confess that I struggle to understand how they can identify this way but not live by the rules the Church establishes, but the truth of the matter is, Catholicism is almost just as powerful a cultural force as a religious force, similar to Judaism. Heritage and tradition and expectation play an enormous part in people's lives, from big decisions like baptizing their children, to little things like saying the Hail Mary. Unexpectedly, television has lately given valuable insight into how a growing number of Catholics reconcile their faith and culture. Check out my latest article for Acculturated to think about this more.

30 October 2017

The Experiment Continues

I'm ready at last. I am ready to read Moby Dick. If you recall my article for Acculturated, I have put off approaching this tome since high school, after my teacher told me "don't read Moby Dick until you are ready to read Moby Dick." When a spot opened up in a reading group at The Rosenbach, I said yes. Yes, I am ready. Yes, this is the time. I will be reading the novel until February, meeting once a month to discuss its chapters. I am forty-four chapters deep, and I don't regret the sudden decision, the leap of investment. The open spot was just the push I needed to commit to Melville, and recommit to myself as a writer.

27 October 2017

For Acculturated: Advice from the Transcendentalists...

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of my favorite writers. I try to emulate him most when I write, though who knows if that at all comes across. Lately, I have heard many people say they never read him, nor learned about him in school, which shocked me. He was the absolute heart of American literature in my high school and college education! How could one discuss American authors and not touch on him? Sadly, people think they are far removed from the Transcendentalist philosophy that shaped the nation, but here's the thing - they are not. Especially in the autumn season, our love of nature and Transcendental roots come pouring out. Don't laugh at millennials for going to pumpkin patches; we all need to experience nature, as my latest article for Acculturated discusses. Embrace your nature yearnings, and nurture them often. Now go read some Emerson!

16 October 2017

Insights from Infestation

Home. Is where the heart is. Is where you lay your head. Is wherever I’m with you.

Home. Possibly the finest of four-letter words. It is both a physical place and an untouchable feeling; four walls but also four (more or less) people.

Home should be the place one goes to be comfortable, to be safe, but mine has not been that place lately. For the last three weeks, I have lugged around a trash bag with some clothes, a book bag with a computer and toiletries and Moby-Dick, and now a tote bag with some groceries, a vest, and sneakers. I have worn and washed and reworn and rewashed the same few outfits, which were not always appropriate for the strangely humid October weather.  I have gone from apartment to farm to house to apartment to farm again, blessed to have hospitable friends and family. I have dog sat and baby sat and bought baked goods to earn my keep, to show my thanks, to just have a bed in which to sleep. I am exhausted and just want to go home. But, haven’t I been there this whole time?

12 October 2017

For Acculturated: A Dystopian Movie with a Surprisingly Pro-Family Message

Friday nights are best spent watching movies with friends. Especially when the movie is worth writing about! I so enjoyed Netflix's new original dystopian movie What Happened to Monday. If you haven't seen it, you really should watch it, if only because then my latest article for Acculturated will make more sense. But mostly, because the acting is amazing! I hope you enjoy!

05 October 2017

For Acculturated: What Jane Austen Teaches Us about Texting

As many of my posts imply, I love Jane Austen and any excuse to write about her! Check out my latest article for Acculturated about how our twenty-first century writing culture is more akin to her nineteenth century culture than we might think.

27 September 2017

Christians, Check Your Patriotism

I am proud to be an American. My heart warms when I see flags flying, or hear our national anthem playing before a ball game, and especially at the Olympics. I tear up every time American Soldier comes on the radio, and I turn up the volume every time I hear Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.
 I do believe there is something special about America and Americans, about our history and about our future.

Yet despite my immense patriotism, I fully support the NFL protesters. As a Catholic, I must.

26 September 2017

For Acculturated: Why Lifetime's 'Bad Girls' are Bad for Women

One step forward, two steps back. Although Lifetime won my heart with Project Runway, their other programming still has very far to go in changing how the world views women. Check out my latest article for Acculturated here.

20 September 2017

Seventy times Seven

One of my fondest childhood memories is riding in my uncle's jeep with my cousins, singing the VeggieTales theme song at the top of our lungs. My family takes VeggieTales very seriously. I'm talking marathons, seriously. We own the first fourteen videos on VHS and numerous other newer releases on DVD. But those fourteen, I know them like the back of my hand. They made Bible lessons fun and exciting. Plus, Silly Songs with Larry taught me water buffaloes were a thing and that cucumbers don't need hairbrushes. Very valuable lessons. But, back to the Bible. From 'love your neighbor' to 'have a happy heart', VeggieTales was one of my first and most formative interactions with the Christian moral ethic. Its lessons, given in the guise of chatty vegetables, continue to inspire, challenge, and transform me, most lately with my understanding of forgiveness.

19 September 2017

For Acculturated: 'Project Runway' Goes Plus-Size

Throughout middle and high school, I was an avid Project Runway fan. Like, I even bought a shirt that said "I'm so LA" because Andre wore them on the show. That's how avid I'm talking. My Dad and I would stay up late one night a week to watch the show together, critiquing and admiring what the designer-contestants sent down the runway. I lost steam for the show sometime during college, when I was too busy (and too cool?) for reality TV. Yet, here I am, after a six year hiatus, addicted again, as if I never had a break. Why the sudden renewal of my viewership? Quite simple: models size two to twenty-two. Project Runway is taking the body positivity movement by storm this season, and I am so excited about it. Check out my latest article for Acculturated about why Project Runway's campaign is fresh, meaningful, and successful.

04 August 2017

History is Not Always History

I am a Storyteller for Historic Philadelphia, Inc. For the summer, this entails standing at a semi-circular bench and telling stories to young and old who come to the Independence Visitor Center. Before every story, I ring a bell and proclaim "free stories!" to attract any last minute listeners. At first, ringing this bell made me feel terribly uncomfortable. Many people walk by giggling, or looking awkwardly away as if the sound of my bell will compel them into some Ponzi scheme. Sometimes it's easy to get swept into the energy of those passersby, and think of my job as silly or superfluous or saccharine.

Today, however, my bell tolled a sobering reminder of how worthwhile my work is. A woman approached me, asking if I would tell a story to the group of refugees she had with her. "They might not understand much," she said, "but I think it would be nice." I, of course, obliged, and began telling the story of Ona Judge. I chose this story because I use exaggerated gestures and tones of voice that I thought might be amusing despite any language barrier. Yet, as I got deeper into the story, looking at their faces, I began to choke up. Unintentionally, I was telling them their own story.

25 July 2017

Become What You Receive

I just savored the last bite of a chocolate macadamia nut cookie from The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company at Reading Terminal Market here in Philadelphia. I'm on a mission to buy something from every single stand in Reading Terminal. At over 80 merchants, this is quite the challenge. So today, after buying bread and vegetables from my standard vendors, I settled on a cookie for my "something new". Thick, chewy, with the chocolate chips still gooey, it was a very satisfying choice.

What I eat is a significant part of how I experience the world. It seems I'm always making decisions about consumption: organic or conventional, price or quality, local or imported, dairy or meat. Sometimes I am very conscious about my purchasing choices regarding what's best for the world, or what I believe in when it comes to agriculture. But lately, I've mostly been making decisions based on the depth of my wallet, which is consistently slim. Yet, I try to justify my choices as having some benefit in line with my beliefs. "Oh, this isn't helping an organic farmer and therefore fighting subsidies one little step at a time, but at least it's buying local and supporting my neighborhood!" With consumer choices, sometimes grand ideals must be knocked down by the reality of economy.

19 May 2017

Seeking Pain and Finding Healing

Related imageWhy is pain so addictive? We live in fear of it, but simultaneously seek it out, dwell on it. We live in it, draw from it - heck, I'm drawing from it write now by writing this. Pain, particularly emotional pain, is a powerful thing.

05 May 2017

Rain Down on Me

Is there anything quite as magical as precipitation? Of course, it is not magical at all. It's very well explained in third grade science, most of which I don't remember at all. But atmosphere and pressure and moisture aside, is there anything that compares to feeling awe-struck, staring into the sky as it renders and releases itself?

05 April 2017

One Simple Vocation

Image result for who am i les mis
I've been thinking a great deal lately about what to be. A butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker. A religious sister, a wife, a mother. 

I've been thinking a great deal lately about what I am. A daughter, a sister, a friend. A young adult, a city dweller, a nature lover.

I've been thinking a great deal lately about how what I am and what to be should or do intersect. I have spent hours puzzling over which role I am more comfortable performing, over what my strongest gifts and talents are. I have second guessed half the "important" choices in my life, wondering if I have by some accident led myself down the wrong path. What if I am still headed down the wrong path?

29 March 2017

On Maximizing Time

(Not the river I was looking at)
I work 4 different jobs. Some days I go from one to the other, and have 2 hours in between to work on something for a third. Piecing together my time in the most effective way is a constant challenge and necessity. Those in between hours are often a site of dilemma. Do I go home? Do I find a coffee shop? In which neighborhood? Do I stay parked and walk to a café or drive to one? Do I pack lunch or buy lunch? Will there be Wi-Fi? What can I reasonably accomplish in two hours?

Today* I got in my car and just started moving. I didn’t feel like buying a coffee, so I drove past the coffee shop. I figured I’d just go home in that case. But then I turned down a bridge I’d never driven and ended up taking a new, scenic route. Soon, I found myself pulling over to simply park by the river. It’s 34 degrees today, so I’m not lunching al fresco, but even in my car, just looking at the river was the best lunch I’ve had in a long time.

22 January 2017

Inaugural Wisdom

One perk of partial employment was being home to watch the inauguration of now President Donald Trump. I sat attentively, one third cringing in anticipation of an assassination, one third cringing at the reality of that comb over being in charge, and one third appreciating the pomp and circumstance - and impressive show of clenching bipartisanship - on the capitol steps. I confess to talking out loud to the television throughout the various speeches, nodding in affirmation and snorting at the absurdities.

Imagine my surprise and delight when Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, was the first religious figure to take the microphone. After all, Trump is Presbyterian. It seemed odd that a figure of another sect of Christianity should be the very first to speak - not to mention one from a relatively divisive sect in contemporary circles. By the second line of Cardinal Dolan's recitation from the Book of Wisdom, I was grinning oh so very widely. He could not have picked better words to serve as a subtle critique, call to arms, and firm foundation for the years to come.

13 January 2017

Finding Joy

Getting stuck in the mire and muck of life is easy, and a weakness of mine lately. Times of difficulty often overshadow times of joy. Seeing a light at the end of the tunnel frequently evades me. I have been making a concerted effort to track the good things, to ensure I don't become some pessimistic, bitter cynic. Yet, these good things live beside not so good things. The difficulties and joys are entwined and intermingled so intensely, I can't just ignore the difficulties in favor of some blue-skied, grass-is-greener alternate reality.

Sometimes joy is pure positive emotion, an irresistible welling up of bliss that cannot help but overflow. But sometimes joy is not pure; it's mysterious; it's hidden and full of bafflement, confusion and surprise. Mysteries puzzle us and can only be resolved in time, with faith, trust, and sometimes a Sherlock Holmes level of intelligence. How can we understand and embrace that kind of joy?

05 January 2017

New Year, New/Same You

I want to be one of those people who always carries a notebook or sketchbook; who is always ready to absorb the world around me; who is engaging, thinking, and reflecting constantly. I want to be someone who is always prepared, but I hate carrying things, being weighed down by objects that could possibly be unnecessary, bothersome, or simply give me a neck ache from unequal weight distribution.

We are all full of these dichotomies within ourselves that we cannot seem to reconcile. We have fears we cannot seem to face, habits we cannot seem to change, goals we cannot seem to reach, no matter how much we want to. While this can frustrate both us (why can't I remember to take that journal with me!) and those around us (how can she call herself adventurous when she is afraid of heights?), it actually is a quality unique to the human condition that is rather beautiful.