Monday, November 24, 2014

Eulogy for my brother Scott

I was asked to post the eulogy I wrote for my brother, Scott, who passed away on November 16, 2014. I thank everyone for your kind words, love, prayers and support during this especially difficult time!

Scott, you are loved.


When you're a kid growing up, you see your siblings in a very different light then you do as an adult.  The annoying little brother gradually turns into a friend and confidant. You think that there is time to foster that friendship and strengthen that bond - to say things you never really said before - to do things together you may not have done before.  But sometimes, things don't happen the way you had planned... and time runs out.

Scott never had it easy.  When my sister Kristy was born we all went to the hospital to see her and hold her - take pictures together.  Scott was born blue - rushed from our mother's room and taken to Children's Hospital.  At the age of three he was diagnosed with a form of eye cancer and had to lose his left eye.   All this suffering in only three years of life.

Despite his hardships, Scott plowed forward in life at full speed - leaving the rest of us dizzy in his wake.  He was quite often a handful... needing all the resources my parent's could muster and even calling the grandparents in as backup when needed.  If  Mom kept a tally as to how many times one of us got into trouble, yea... Scott would have won... Though the rest of us did pretty well in our own rights too.

I have to say though, that as I reflected on Scott's life to write this eulogy, it was not the whirl wind of a kid he was but that man he became that keeps coming to mind.  The man who never considered himself as particularly smart, yet designed and built from scratch a home for a pet rabbit that had more thought put into its design than most human homes - and was probably far better constructed.  His capacity to love and his willingness to give 110% to anyone who needed him far surpassed his grades on any standardized test or exam.  Loving with his whole heart came naturally to Scott.
As he helped me to move into my apartment - just the two of us - carrying furniture and boxes up three flights of stairs he never seemed to grow tired and never complained.  I'd catch my breath and ask if he could help me take some piece of furniture upstairs -  he'd smirk and tell me he'd already brought it up while I was chugging my third bottle of water.  He was always the first to volunteer for the hard tasks and would never think of accepting anything in the form of payment. "It's for family" is all he would say.

Scott wanted so much to be a Dad and have a family -- and if you ever wonder what kind of father he would have been, just ask Collin or Brittney.  I don't know whose faces lit up more when they came to visit at my parent's house - the kid's or Scott's.  Like my Dad, he had a natural love for children and had no problem taking them in his arms - going outside to play - or just vegging out with a game console.  Though he was in their lives for a relatively short time, I have no doubt they will always remember with great excitement their Uncle Scott.

I will never know the heart ache Scott felt Sunday morning.  I will never know the struggle that he kept hidden behind that charming smile.  But I pray that now, as he rests in the healing embrace of Our Lord,  that he will finally see himself for the truly remarkable person that he was.  I firmly believe with my whole heart that someday - when God calls my name - that Scott will be there learning on the gates to Heaven - and with a hug and a simple: "Hey Mike", I will know that I am home. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Does anyone still wear a hat?"

"I'll drink to that!"

A friend of mine came over recently and commented on the hats I have hanging in the hallway.  "How many hats do have??" --- the only truthful answer to that question is: never enough.

Hats /fedoras - more specifically "pork pies" (both diamond and traditional - brim always snapped up) are my addiction.  Carrie Bradshaw had shoes... I have hats.

My Grandpa Lavey passed away when I was in third grade, and I have few memories of him.  What I do remember clearly were the times he would come to my house for some family event and I would meet him at the top of the stairs to take his hat and put it in the bedroom with the coats.  Grandpa always wore a hat - at least in the cooler months.  He either wore a tweed flat cap or a tweed trilby (fedora-ish) that were so popular among older men in the 1980s.

Grandpa's hats were so unique to me in a world of cheap baseball hats. This was the 80s after all.. think trucker hats with mesh backs and advertisements on the front -- Grandpa's hats were classy.  For some reason I remember can clearly remember examining his hats with the satin lining and thinking this was just too cool!  A young fogey was born!

When Grandpa died, my Grandmother gave his clothes to anyone in the family who could get use out of them.  My Grandfather had a small hat size compared to most men - but his caps just happened to fit eight year old me.. who probably had a big head compared to most kids.  I was given one of the tweed flat caps he always wore.  I was thrilled.

Not being a sports fan (at all!), it never felt right wearing baseball caps.  There was a year in college where I bought every color ball cap with my University's logo on it that I could find.. but it never felt right.  I didn't want to wear a hat so closely associated with something I personally didn't relate to (baseball) - nor did I want to be a walking advertisement for something.. even if it was my school.  I ended up giving all my caps to my father who to this day tells people that he helped give me an education and all he got was a hat with the university's logo on it!  :)

In the early 2000s I was shopping with a friend at a local flea market and came across a stand that sold clothing.  The stand offered a small selection of cheap wool felt fedoras in only one style - but multiple colors and sizes.  It was a religious awakening!  I had always so closely identified with the 1940s and 50s and here was THE symbol (to me) of men of that era.  I wore the hat home.

Initially I only wore the hat to Church when I was dressed in a shirt and tie - but as I learned more about hats (the different crown styles - materials - brim widths - etc) and expanded my collection, I decided to just make them part of my every day attire.  Once I got passed the awkward "everyone is starring at me..." phase - the hat simply became a part of me and my personality -and now people identify me with the hats I wear: "I saw this guy in a fedora today and I thought of you!"

I think a lot of people have safety blankets - a ring, a watch, shoes, hats, purses - whatever it is - that either consciously or subconsciously have become a part of their persona -- becomes their symbol and their own little shield against whatever bogeyman might be out there in life.  Perhaps those same items act more as an empowering attribute that just makes them feel damn good about themselves when they put it on.  I haven't gone out of the house without a hat on literally in years --- and if I do leave the house without a hat, the breeze on my bald head makes me stop -- "wait... something feels different... MY HAT!  Dammit!!" -- and then I have to rush up three flights of stairs to get one.

The irony of my obsession?  I don't think I look particularly GOOD in hats.... and I've tried many shapes and styles before settling on my signature stingy brimmed pork pies (with the occasional c-crown thrown in for good measure).   I adore vintage fashion, but being a larger guy, can't always pull off a modern-meets vintage look without looking like a train wreck (if I can find vintage pieces in my size at all) - and if I dress ALL retro I end up looking like Oliver Hardy (Google him).  But the fedora is something I can wear with anything from jeans and t-shirt to a suit and tie - a nod to the past that holds up well in the present.  There are very few times I pass a mirror (I am not one to linger in front of them for long...) and think "damn I look good" -- but every now and then if the perspective is just right and the hat is tilted just so - I smile and head out to face the world with a little more spring in my step.

Oh the odd conversations that have happened - the man who starting talking to me (rather excitedly!) at a red light because his 5 year old nephew wears hats just like mine - random compliments from people on the street or in the grocery stores which catch me completely off guard (though the compliment is indeed appreciated!) - the sales lady who wanted to know where I got my hat because she thinks they're sexy and wants her boyfriend to get one - the random stories strangers start telling about people in their lives who also wear fedoras - people asking me if I'm a fan of AMC's Breaking Bad (damn you, Walter White!) or those who inevitably ask if I like jazz (I do not like jazz).   I'll even smile at the regulars at the bar whose names I have managed to commit to memory, but who find "Michael" too difficult to remember and refer to me simply as: "the hat guy".

Beyond the warm fuzzy feeling I get from wearing them and the conversations they have started (both fun and awkward) - they taught me a valuable lesson about personality, personal style and individuality: if you love something, forget about what other people may or may not think about you - DO IT - BE IT - OWN IT and --- ok, I have to say it... WORK IT! :-P  With the right level of confidence, you can pull off almost anything.

*tips hat*

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Number, please.

For years I haven't had cable tv... and honestly I was quite happy without it.  Gradually over time however, Time Warner kept increasing my Internet bill well above the $44 a month I started out with.  When I called to complain about the almost $20/month increase, I was told the best thing they could do was give me a bundle which included basic cable, Internet and digital home phone for basically the same cost as what I was paying for Internet only.  I reluctantly agreed.

I'm not impressed with having cable back.  There are only a handful of shows I watch -- and even those can be found online if you know where to look.  Every time I turn on the tv I find myself watching old re-runs of shows I've seen 1,000 times --- which are also available online.  Not impressed.

The home phone was something I was excited about.  I HATE talking on cell phones.  Even routing them through traditional corded phones doesn't help with the initial connection quality of the cell phone which sometimes can be an annoyance.  So now the "home phone" has become my default telephone system when I'm at home... saving the cell (and my battery life) for texting and use when I am out and about.

For the first time in years, I now had a new telephone number.  My cell number hasn't changed in a decade and it is one of the few numbers I still have committed to memory.  But as I would tell people my primary number had changed, I found myself struggling to remember the new set of 7 digits.  The solution?  I gave my phone number an exchange name.

In the first half of the 20th century, telephone numbers had words and letters in front of them known as exchange names.  The names/exchanges served a few purposes.  Back then, operators either manually connected the call (before dial service) or helped in looking up numbers and connecting long distance calls.  The exchange acted like a mini area code -- all the phones in a certain area would be part of that exchange...making the operators job easier for connecting your call.  The words also made it easier for people to REMEMBER the phone number (does anyone even commit phone numbers to memory anymore?) since words tend to be easier to remember than a long chain of random numbers.

Exchange numbers were made famous in popular songs and movies of this time.  Glenn Miller's PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was a hit song using the telephone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel.  The movie BUtterfield 8  starring Elizabeth Taylor is also a telephone number exchange.  The PE in PEnnsylvania corresponds to 73 on your dial.  BU in BUtterfield would be 28.  If you were calling the Pennsylvania hotel, you'd dial 736-5000.  But PEnnsylvania 6-5000 (or PE6-5000) is an easier way to remember the number...and lends itself nicely to a song.  :)

With the introduction of area codes and direct dialing, exchange names faded into the past... dropping names and numbers and using only their numerical counter parts.  There is a scene in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family where Edith Bunker has to make an emergency call to the doctor in the middle of the night.  She begins to dial and says (I forget the exact number she uses) "PL 4.....oh wait!  They're using numbers now!"  She grabs for her phone book, looks up the number and begins to dial again saying, "754....." before coming to the realization that, "It's the same thing!"  Oh Edith.. how I loved you.

Sadly my new number which begins with 260 doesn't lend itself to many great exchange names.  I ruled out any word starting with BO because I don't need people thinking of body odor when they called.  I thought about ANgelus 0  since I have a great love for Latin (and it is the name of a Catholic prayer) -- but the "s" sound in Angelus and the "z" sound of zero gave me an instant lisp when reciting the number.  I settled on "COmmodore 0".  The fictional exchange name did indeed make the number far easier to remember.

Being the vintage geek that I am, when recording my answering machine message (I wasn't paying $3.40 a month for Time Warner digital voicemail), I simply recorded, "You have reached COmmodore 0-1234 (obviously that's not the real number), please leave a message."  I figured anyone who knows me well and heard the message would laugh it off... and anyone I don't know will get confused (such as the telemarketers who began calling me the day after I got the number activated).

When I came home from Church this morning, the machine (for the first time) was blinking that I had a message.  Curious as to who called me so early, I pressed play.  Sure enough it was a telemarketer -- I could hear the call center chatter in the background.  Before the caller hung up, I could hear him say excitedly, "Oh wow!  He uses an exchange name!!" before the call disconnected.  Yes sir I do...but I'm still not answering your survey or buying your products.  :)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And one for Mahler! -- I mean... Elaine!!

There are certain gay genes I just did not get.  I don't have a compulsive desire to live at the gym and as a result do not have abs of steel.  I may have abs of at least copper, but if I do, they are buried under a protective layer of fat for safe keeping.  I also do not follow theater or musicals - for the most part...though I have been known to burst out into song at work - much to the dismay of my co-workers.

I was however devastated to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, Elaine Stritch, who took her final bow on July 17, 2014.  Though I had never seen her live on stage and knew very little of the actual theatrical performances for which she is best known, I got to know her through television and Internet. I developed an immense love and admiration for this woman's bold personality and contagious laughter.

The only stage performance of hers that I can say I have seen in its entirety was her one woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty which comprised of her telling (and singing) her life story.  I saw it some time around 2003 when it aired on HBO.  I was channel surfing and came upon this program of a woman on stage wearing little more than an over-sized men's button down shirt and black tights.  Within five minutes of listening to the monologue about theater life in the 1940s and 50s, I was hooked.  This woman sure knew how to tell a story!

 Miss Stritch would make appearances in movies and television shows and I'd roar with laughter at her amazing comedic timing and unsurpassable  whit.  I actually tried to get into the series "30 Rock" in which she had a recurring role as Alec Baldwin's mother, Colleen.  After a few episodes I stopped watching and instead watched the "best of Colleen" clips on YouTube.  Hell, I was only watching it for Stritch, so I might as well focus on the clips she was in.  Look them up sometime.  They are hysterical!  As for the rest of the show?  I was less than impressed.

To me, Elaine Stritch represented a link to the era I have loved so much all my life.  The classic age of Hollywood and Broadway - most notably the 1940s and 1950s.  To see Elaine walking down the streets of New York (which I sadly had only done through clips and documentaries) was to see style personified.  Her billowing fur coats, her classic oversize glasses and modest, yet fashionable hats.  "Does anyone, still wear a hat?".  She was the complete opposite of the stained tshirt and pants down around your ass ensables and treated everyday as a chance to look and BE your absolute best.

The loss of Miss. Stritch was yet another reminder of the loss of that amazing generation and many of the values, styles and attitudes of their era.  Thankfully there will always be young fogies like myself to keep some of those trends alive, but there is no substitute for the original.... and Elaine Stritch was as original as they come.  Her determination, straight shooter, take no bull shit approach to life -- all while laughing -- stays at the back the mind. Once in a while I like to draw some strength from Elaine Stritch, whose persona has joined the many personalities that make up the chorus of voices in my head.  I think we all need a little Stritch to keep it real and keep ourselves (and those around us!) on our toes.

Through watching Elaine Stritch at Liberty on television and later online, I came to learn of the character for which she is perhaps best known: Joanne from Stephen Sondheim's musical comedy: Company.  Her signature song Ladies Who Lunch remains on my Iphone play list -- and my friend Bryan and I will randomly reference the lyrics to this classic in our many online chat sessions and text messages.  Our phrase of approval?  "I'LL DRINK TO THAT!"

As the entertainment world mourns the loss of this amazing talent, I must thank her for the lessons she taught her audiences --- not just through the characters she portrayed on stage and screen, but through the intimacies of her life which she shared in a very open way in numerous interviews and documentaries.  From discussing candidly her own fears and hangups -- how she constantly had to work to overcome them -- to her life long struggle with alcoholism (though she admits she had a great deal of fun thanks to the booze!), to boldly sharing her feelings on aging and diabetes.  She let the world know that everyone - no matter who they are or what they do -- has to deal with fear.  You just have to move on.  "As my husband used to say, everyone has a sack of rocks to carry."

So here's to the Ladies who Lunch -- and to Elaine Stritch!  Everybody rise!!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Perfectly - Percolated - Pot - of Coffee

Some people are hardcore coffee drinkers.  It's as if their mothers had fed them coffee in their baby bottles instead of formula.  For me, although I loved the smell that wafted from my Dad's coffee can of Folgers, I could never get into drinking the famous morning elixir.... until I had to. 

I have always been a tea enthusiast.  Whether it be the frigid nights of January or the hottest evening of August, I will brew a pot (yes a POT) of tea after dinner.  For the mornings however, tea just wasn't cutting it.  Tea does not seem to give me that caffeine high that coffee produces - and despite being delicious, I needed something with a little more "octane" for my wake up time of 5:30am.  I decided it was time to MAKE myself become a coffee drinker. 

Then the question arose of how to make my coffee -- and what kind of coffee to use.  For those that know me or follow my blog, I am not a fan of modern technology.  Oh yes, I am addicted to my iphone and would be lost without my laptop and Netflix, but I prefer a time when things were done more by hand and weren't as disposable as they are now (my Iphone 5 is less than a year old and I am already seriously thinking of replacing it because I constantly have issues with it -- while my 70 year old rotary phones work as well as the day they were made).  Also being limited on counter space in my small apartment, I did not want a bulky auto-drip machine taking up valuable space.. and the ever popular Keurig machine is just way to Star Trek-like for my home which is perpetually stuck in 1947. 

The solution?  A percolator of course!! 

I had never personally seen a coffee percolator in use.  Growing up in the 80s, Mr. Coffee machines were the norm.  Through my love of old movies I was well aware of this former coffee making king which was dethroned in the 1970s thanks to the plastic auto-drip coffee revolution.   But what kind should I get?  Electric?  Stovetop?  Aluminum? Stainless steel? Glass?  How do I use one?  

I'd seen old commercials that would talk about a housewife's ability to make good coffee... but never quite understood this commentary, jokes about the wife's brewing abilities.  After all, the machine makes the coffee -- if you don't like the taste, just switch brands... why blame the wife?  It wasn't until I started using a stovetop percolator  that I realized it was very possible to make an awful pot of coffee - usually by over brewing it.

As I mentioned earlier I am not a coffee enthusiast, but have really come to look forward to my morning pot of miracle juice... that helps to keep me from killing my co-workers when I stumble into my office early in the morning.  There's something about the routine... the ritual of actually MAKING my morning coffee that I really love --- Turning the burner on -- measuring out the water for the pot - counting the table spoons of coarse (NOT fine!) ground coffee and waiting for that moment when the water starts to percolate in the glass knob... then watching the water getting darker as the coffee gets stronger.  It's like magic!!!

It surprised me how defensive and snobbish hard core coffee drinkers get about different coffee making methods. No matter what the topic is, if you are passionate about something, I guess  you're going to be very defensive of your ideas... Politics, Religion, Coffee.  It makes no difference.  When I was first learning to make coffee on the stove, I Googled "using a stovetop percolator" and found all sorts of snarky responses such as: There's no such thing as GOOD percolated coffee... and Step one, throw out the percolator.  Step two, but a Keurig.  Being a fan of all things vintage and retro - I plugged along with trial and error -- watching all sorts of youtube videos and learning all I could about the percolator.

Now I have become a wiz at making coffee in my stovetop percolator.  I feel just like Edith Bunker or Jessica Fletcher!!   After trying out many models and styles, I have settled on a neat vintage Farberware stainless steel model pictured here. It's from the 1950s and looks so cool.  I feel like a little kid as I wait for that moment the water starts to bubble and splash and love to hear the sound of it merrily perking away.  Yes, a percolator can make a very bitter cup of coffee... but if you know what you are doing, you'll have perfection in a cup!!

For all percolators, use COARSE ground coffee -- the pre-ground coffee in most stores is fine grind made for autodrop machines - which pass the water through the grounds once.  If you use this in a percolator - which passes water through the grounds multiple times - you'll end up with battery acid as it will extract WAY too much out of the beans.  You can buy whole bean coffee and either grind it at home or in the grocery store.

Keep the pot over high heat until the perking action starts -- once the water starts bubbling steadily, REDUCE the heat to low/simmer.... it won't take much to keep the perking action going.  If you have the heat turned up too high you will burn the coffee (which is where the poor housewife of yesteryear would get the blame).  Let it perk gently for 6-8 minutes on low heat until the desired strength is achieved (you can see the coffee getting darker through the glass knob on top of the pot to help determine its strength).  I personally don't like my coffee super strong, so six minutes is great for my taste -- but if you like high octane coffee.. let it brew longer.  After the coffee is done, I use a teapot warmer - a cast iron trivet with a tealight candle underneath - to keep the coffee pot warm while not on the stove. 

When done correctly, percolated coffee is delicious!!!  When making percolated coffee the right way, you'll get a smooth/rich cup of java.

For Christmas my siblings and I pitched in to buy my Dad yet another fancy Keurig coffee maker since his previous model died after two years of use.  My simple stainless steel Farberware stovetop percolator is still making amazing coffee after 60+ years... and barring me denting it or breaking the handle (which is entirely possible because I'm a klutz), it should be making many many more pots of wonderful coffee for years to come!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Through the eyes of children...

Yesterday I had my small family over to my apartment to celebrate Mother's Day.  I say small family, but when I try to cram everyone into my apartment it feels like hosting a football team.  I'm not sure how we all managed to fit into my dining room, but we did ---- only once you sat down, you had to stay there! 

My niece (2) and my nephew (5) were also there.  As my friends and family would tell you, I'm not exactly paternal.  My apartment isn't what you'd call kid friendly and I must admit... neither am I.  When God was giving out that nurturing gene that gives one the urge to get on the floor and play with kids and speak fluently in gibberish, I was too busy waiting in line for my "cranky old man" gene.   I put on my bravest front and pretended that I wasn't having mini strokes every time the kids picked up something that was sitting on a shelf or table.

My niece and nephew really are good kids - and my OCD aside, the night went very well.  My apartment has an interesting feature that everyone else but me finds fascinating.  It has a "turret room" off the living room.  It's called that because this part of the house is shaped like the turret of a castle.  Due to it's small space, angled ceilings and lack of heat in the winter... it's just used as storage for all my many boxes of... stuff.  To me it's just an attic space -- but for others it seems to be an area of intrigue.  In fact, when someone comes to my house for the first time I will politely ask my mother before they come to not include the turret room on the tour.  After all.. who shows off their messy attic when they have company over?  I slaved for hours to dust and polish the rest of the place... so don't look behind the little door off the living room to see where the real mess is hidden, please.

On the few occasions my nephew has come over I normally don't allow him into that room -- for two reasons:  1.  It's a mess in there.  2. Children break stuff (so the little voice in the back of my mind tells me).  Finally though, I relented and let Collin and Brittany go into the mysterious turret.

Collin behaved himself and left my piles of junk alone... but the kid was in amazement.  You could see and hear his imagination going at full speed.  My mother turned to me and said, "this is something he will remember for the rest of his life.".  I don't know that it will stay in his memory the rest of his life since my apartment isn't a regular part in his routine, but it got me thinking of when I was a kid and would explore the world... at least the world as I knew it... on my own.

Usually this exploration occurred at my Grandma's house.  There were two great "worlds" to explore there:  Uncle Vinny's room and the crawl space.  Like a child entering Narnia, the crawl space was a magical world hidden in the back corner of the basement...dark...and full of treasures.  Treasures left over from the "old house" (the house they had lived in a few years before I was born).  Treasures from the 50s and 60s that I am convinced helped to spark my love of anything relating to the first half of the 20th century.
Because I can remember my own explorations as a kid, I think I am all the wiser about.. and more leery of little kids.  I know your plots kids because I used to be you!  My older brother and I would constantly explore my Uncle's room -- the electric guitar tucked away under his bed, the treasure chest (yes - he literally had one!) on the night stand by his bed -- and the record albums of bands I had never heard of before (after all, he didn't have the Sesame Street Gang's Biggest Hits album...sadly). 

In my defence though, I was always very cautious when "exploring" Grandma's house.  Yes, I went into boxes I shouldn't have -- closets that were off limits (there's a joke there somewhere), but I was always very careful to preserve with the utmost care the objects I was - discovering.  For me it was like being Indiana Jones in some far off temple finding priceless artifacts of some other world. They were to be treated with care and respect.  Like Indian Jones however... there was always that element of danger lurking behind every corner... mostly Grandma who would firmly remind us when we'd present her with what we had found that: "you didn't find it, I PUT IT THERE."

Today my Uncle Vinny (whose room we routinely explored) turns 50.  Yesterday I became acutely aware that a new generation was beginning to explore the world as they knew it and using their imaginations to conjure exciting and fantastic adventures where we adults see only boxes and clutter.  Though I will still hold my breath the next time the kids come to visit -- praying that my own treasures survive their excursions as I'm sure my Uncle and Grandma did for us - I marvel at their imaginations and curiosity and remember back to a time when even a trip down to Grandma's basement could become the adventure of a lifetime!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pre-Lenten Season

As a Catholic, I have always found Lent to be an extraordinary time of the year for me spiritually.  It is a time of self reflection, prayer and sacrifice in preparation for the time when we remember the ultimate sacrifice Christ made of himself on the cross as well as his Resurrection - which is the highest feast day on our calendar.  Even the seasons in which Lent and Easter occur seem to echo the meaning of these observances -- going through the final days of the  darkness and death of winter (Lent) while looking forward to the light and new birth of spring (Easter).

For "Traditional" Catholics like me (those of us who observe the customs and forms of worship prior to the changes made in the 1960s following Vatican II), Lent begins a bit more gradually than it does in the current Liturgical books -- still beginning officially on Ash Wednesday, but with a time of introduction known as the Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.

These Sundays loosely translated refer to 70, 60 and 50 days before Easter -- Lent being the 40 days of official penance and fasting in preparation for Easter.  Obviously they are not exact number of days, but the idea is that this season is so important that we enter into it gradually to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead which officially commences on Ash Wednesday.

 I always found the names of these Sundays to be just plain cool -- terminology in the older Rite always sounds so much more profound. I do admit however, that my immature American mentality does at times giggle at hearing the term Sexagesima -- and don't pretend you didn't too upon reading it.  It's ok -- as staunchly traditional as I am when it comes to the Liturgy, I think God has a sense of humor too and giggles occasionally Himself.

In the 1970s when a small group of Church officials decided to "modernize" things (that usually never ends up being a really good thing...) they wanted to stream line everything -- make it "simpler" and easier to understand.  This approach in and of itself confuses me -- we live in an age of smart phones and Google where any question can be answered by simply typing it into your phone.  This would be THE TIME then to dig deeper into such subjects, not keep them at a bare-minimum level of presentation or understanding.

This "simplification" also applied to other major feasts where the preparation and conclusion of these feasts were either scaled back or eliminated. -- Octaves after holidays are hardly heard of anyway -- meaning celebrating the feast for 8 days after the actual day -- giving people a time to reflect and enjoy the feast day.  Americans are awesome at practicing "simplifications" like this --- as noted by Christmas tress out to the curb on December 26th.

It saddens me that there is still a movement in the Church to simplify, simplify, simplify in an effort to make the faith more comprehensible to people.  I believe it has had the opposite effect -- we've watered things down so much that they no longer seem important at all.   Lent for example seems to mean little more to main stream Catholics than wearing ashes on your forehead to work/school on Ash Wednesday, enjoying fish fries on Fridays and maybe giving up something during Lent that you really didn't like anyway - and not understanding why you're giving up anything to begin with.

Personally, I think the Church would be far more effective if it simplified it's social teachings and went back more to the fullness of its spirituality.  Welcoming more diversity of peoples and better understanding their circumstances while worshiping in the amazing and inspiring living traditions of our ancestors passed down through the ages --- rather than white washing everything yet sticking to hard line social teachings that never seem to get updated or simplified.

*gets off soapbox*

By the way -- this Sunday is Sexagesima Sunday.  *giggles*

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lack of communication....

     Not having cable in a few years, I watch a lot of shows online.  I love it - with the right programs like Netflix, you can watch what you want when you want.  Recently I set up an HBOgo account and have been re-watching the series, Sex in the City.
     I wasn't a fan of the show when it started but the first guy I dated really got me hooked on it.  One of the few good things to come from that relationship.  Curling up on the sofa with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha has been like getting in touch with some old friends.
     Actually, it's the friendship between these women that I find fascinating.  They live their own lives yet are so interconnected with one another.  As many friends as we can say we have on Facebook, how many of us actually have friendships like these women?
     Each television series is a glimpse into the time period in which they were created.  Sex in the City isn't really that old of a show, yet so much has changed.  The most striking thing I notice when I watch this show is how much the girls talk to each other on the phone.  Think about it... how often do you really have a long conversation on the phone anymore?  Probably not often... or at least not as often as you did a decade ago.
     My friend Katie and I were just discussing this in the break room the other day.  We all know someone who is the exception -- that person who is ALWAYS talking on their cell, usually in public where we don't want to hear their conversation. For most of us though, we don't gab on the phone anymore -- it's all texting.   I find it much easier to send a simple text message and get a reply than picking up the phone and engaging someone in conversation.  Though I admit this about myself, I must also admit that it is... well... wrong.
     Texting certainly has its advantages but it has also weakened our own communication skills (not to mention devolving our spelling and use of the English language).  People don't know how to TALK to one another or even hold a conversation.  People are so used to texting back and forth ALL DAY with what might amount to a few paragraphs of text - but put them on the phone and the conversation comes to a screeching halt within two minutes.  What intimidates us about a telephone call?
     Despite my love of classic rotary phones (which I am proud to boast that despite being technology impaired, I can use land-line free on a daily basis via my cell phone - thanks to a miraculous bluetooth router), I rarely actually use the phones.  I think I dust them more than I actually talk with them.  Except for calls to and from my Mom, my phone rarely rings.  To be honest, I'd love to have friends who aren't just close like Carrie and the girls when hanging out at a restaurant or enjoying drinks, but who gab on the phone from time to time... just to check in... sharing the laughs and the warmth of a human voice across the miles.  
     Don't you miss that too?  
     Still, as much as I lament chatting on the phone... if it were to ring right now, the first thing that would pop into my head would be - "why the hell are they calling me?".   -- I'll have to work on that and maybe "reach out and touch someone" more often.