Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Father James Halligan

The funeral for Father James Halligan was held on Saturday at St. Raymond's.

I'd never been to St. Raymond's before. What a gorgeous church.

[I had, of course, been past the cemetery a thousand times. You know how if you take the Whitestone Bridge to the Bronx headed for the Hutchinson Parkway, and as soon as you get out of the toll booth you pass that huge white cross on your right? That's St. Raymond's cemetery.]

Like the wake, the funeral was packed. The Mass was concelebrated by maybe thirty priests. When it was over an honor guard of uniformed kids from the high school lined the steps of the church and the sidewalk as the coffin was taken out, and bagpipes played. (Fr. Halligan's family had a lot of cops.)

This was all for a man who. in the eyes of the world, had no success in life. None.

He had rheumatic fever as a child, and his heart was severely damaged. They almost didn't ordain him because of his health.

The year after his ordination he suffered congestive heart failure. He would be in and out of hospitals his whole life.

He really wanted to be an Army chapain. But that was impossible, because of his health.

He never had his own parish, was never a pastor. Because of his health.

He worked all his life for pastors who, though they valued him, must have sometimes considered him a liability, because of his health.

He knew all about the value of humility. He tried to teach me; I still have a lot to learn, obviously.

Father Halligan was a great man, a great priest; he was my saint.

Everyone should have a Father Halligan in his life. If you haven't found yours yet, go out and find him. Today.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Back To The Bronx

I had to fly back to NY this past weekend. Someone dear and wonderful died. So I had to go.

Friday night I drove from my sister's house on LI up to the Bronx for the wake. After getting ridiculously lost a couple of times- the Bronx was my dad's borough, not mine- I pulled up in front of the funeral home. I knew it was the right place when I say those nuns mounting the steps.

Funny things happen at wakes. No sooner had I set foot inside the funeral home than the Irish memory cells kicked in. "I've been here before. Now who was it we were burying that time? Ah yes, 'twas me dear auntie. Lovely girl she was. Dead, you know."

(Back, Donegal! Back, I say!)

(I know,I know. Fat chance.)

The wake was crowded. The man who died was a priest, a special friend of mine who was my spiritual director for years. From the looks of things he might have been the spiritual director of half of New York. There were nuns from four different orders, including the Missionaries of Charity- Mother Teresa's troops- and a slew of priests. They were just about the only ones wearing black. I guess funeral-related fashion has really changed.

I signed the guest book and took a seat at the back of the room.

The main difference I think, between me and most of the others present, was they had all known for months my friend was dying. With a handful of notable exceptions they were chatting and laughing in the quiet way one does at wakes, trading stories, remembering him. I realized later they were able to do this because they'd done a lot of mourning already, every time they thought he wouldn't make it through the night. So they were farther along the path than I was.

I had only received an email the day before, announcing his death and the funeral schedule. I was still in shock. Worse, I'd been out of touch with my friend for a good three years. So I felt like a fair-weather friend, as well.

I used to bake for my friend. He was a real chocoholic.

Maybe I'll make some brownies today.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hero Harry

So what did you think of that link yesterday? Huh? Huh?

My nephew Harry is helping me with the techie side of this blog. Everyone should have teenage nephews. They make things happen in life.

Today the link thing, tomorrow a blogroll!

No updates of the @#$ site meter.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Dark Side of the Belt?

To meet a woman who has evidently taken one too many shots to the head, go
  • here
  • Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    A Really Rough Guide

    Topics for a travel book about Italy- one that is actually useful:

    The Vespa: Curse or Menace?

    Climbing The Walls: Pedestrian Safety in Roma

    Three Strikes A Day

    A Bunch Of Kidders: Interpreting Italian Street Signs

    The Metric System: Clever Trick Or Desperate Measure?

    Valid For Baptism: The Beer-Lover's Guide To Italy

    Every Man a Nero: An Introduction to Italian Railway Employees

    The Gelato Diet

    First, Sign Your Will: Driving The Autostrada

    Monday, February 20, 2006


    I never got to the Patio Show. We decided to spend our Sunday in the emergency room instead.

    My daughter somehow managed to get herself pinned under a picnic table she flipped over- I didn't see it happened but I sure heard the bang. A badly bruised elbow was the ultimate diagnosis, which took about three and a half hours to get.

    This morning of course she's feeling fine and wants to go out to show off her sling. Fortunately it's already a balmy ten degrees out there, so she may get her wish.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006


    The big news is the temperature got above zero today. Of course the wind picked up too, so it felt a lot like yesterday. The whole long weekend is supposed to be like this.

    We have the thermostat turned up to the 70s but the house only gets to 63 or so. We have every space heater we own going. Even so we're all huddled around the fireplace like cavemen. Good thing we had it converted to gas, otherwise we'd all smell like pine ash by now.

    There is a "Home and Patio Expo" in St. Paul this weekend. I'm going to go, so I can pretend it's summertime.

    Escapism is underrated.

    Friday, February 17, 2006


    Eight below zero with the sun already up, and I don't even want to think about the wind chill (which makes it about minus 29).

    Another mind-boggling thing about Minnesotans: their idea of a nice short vacation is to go farther north.

    Farther. North.

    I guess it makes sense, in a way. I mean, you go south, you hit Iowa. Not a vacation paradise as far as I know. West, you get the Dakotas, east you get Wisconsin.

    That leaves North, I guess.

    My first winter here- last year- I went "up North" a few times. People kept telling me how pretty the lakes were.

    Now, I grew up on Long Island. We do the winter beach thing there, walking along the empty sands with the wind biting our faces, listening to the surf, daring each other to see how cold the waves are. It's a good thing to do sometimes, invigorating and calming at the same time. So I thought sure, I could go for some winter water.

    Lesson learned: what a difference a coast makes.

    You can't really stroll around most lakes in the winter. The snow is too deep, and when there's no snow there's ice and mush.

    But the really striking thing: winter lakes are dead silent.

    The silence of the waters freaked me out. What was the point of being there if you couldn't even hear waves? You 're not looking at a lake, you're looking at a vast, flat snowfield. And it's dead quiet. It's just not right, somehow.

    This is a good day to curl up with the laptop and write about Italy.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Latte Luck!

    I listen to a fair amount of evangelical Christian radio programming. A lot of it is pretty interesting, and obviously there's a fair amount of Scripture discussed, which I always find interesting.

    Of course I have a few questions for evangelical radio preachers too.

    For example, "How come you guys are all named Skip?"

    Or Chip, or something like that. Try saying this with a straight face: "Chip, Cardinal Spellman."

    Could you do it? Me neither.

    Another question: if you folks are bent on sending missionaries to Italy, how come you call that your "Eye-talian program?" Come on, don't tell me nobody's ever told you how to pronounce the word!

    One of the oddest sights I ever saw in my life was in JFK airport, in the lounge waiting for my flight to Rome. A group of young guys, maybe 20 years old, with short hair, neatly ironed clothes and neckties, giving each other stiff hugs. You know the form: no body contact, just arms on shoulders and hearty backslaps, reminds you of Heimie on "Get Smart."

    They were joined by a group of girls about the same age- long ponytails, full skirts, big smiles. The girls shook hands with the boys,and let me tell you they were taking no chances- there was a good three feet between every hand-shaking pair. They had to bend at the waist just to reach each other.

    I thought, No. It can't be.

    But I had to know. So I got closer and cruised past their nametags.

    Yup. I was right.

    Mormon missionaries.

    Bound for Rome.

    All I could think was, Well kids, you certainly have a tough job ahead of you. Forget theology- you're going to go ito Italy, of all places, and tell them they have to give up wine and espresso? "Good people don't do lattes!"

    To say nothing of the challenge of having multiple Italian wives.

    [Oh, and for anyone who might be wondering: I listen to a lot of "alternative" radio, too. Better music.]

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    You Want Dialogue? Lemme Show You Dialogue!


    The entry for Saturday, February 11.

    Go there to read the best thing anyone's written about "The Da Vinci Code" yet.

    And I'll be at the movies on May 19.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Bella. Sigh. Molto Bella.

    I can't remember the last time I cared about the Winter Olympics. The figure skating, OK- was it last time that that little girl from Long Island beat out all the favorites and took the gold? I liked her.

    And I certainly don't care if Katie Couric or some other network chick tries her luck at luge-ing.

    But I really wish I were in Italy right now.

    Partly because I could triple-check some things in my book (I double-checked last time).

    Partly because I'd have a good excuse: "I'm triple-checking things for my book!"

    But mostly-- mostly...

    Just to hear the language again. Just to hear people virtually singing all around me, and to understand a new why Itaian opera is what it is (and English opera is what it is).

    Just to see the casual corner shrines to Our Lady. "Madonna? Yeah, sure, we have her image everywhere- why, dont' you?"

    Partly just to see some beautiful things again, from God knows how many centuries back.

    To get off at a stop called "Coloseo" and what do you know, they really meant it!

    Just to re-learn that God did not invent coffee so we would run around, but so we would sit around. And talk. And enjoy each other.

    Our parish was offering a couple of pilgrimages this year. One to Italy, the other to the Holy Land.

    I talked my husband into signing up for the Holy Land tour. I've always wanted to see it, and we have a big anniversary coming up, so to celebrate we agreed to see Israel.

    Unfortunately the trip got cancelled. Not enough people signed up. I guess with the Palestinian elections and all maybe this could be a risky year to go.

    Now I wish we'd signed up for "Majestic Italy." Even if it did sound a little stodgy, at least we'd be going.

    Must get better at long-term planning.

    New Look

    I decided to try a new template.

    This is because the old one hates me, clearly.

    I like this one, I think. Easier on the eyes.

    You may have noticed my blogroll has disappeared, but I'll be setting up a new one this week.

    I wouldn't be having any of these setup problems if I were back on the East Coast. I have teenage nephews there, after all. Where are those guys when I need them?

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    My Template Hates Me.

    I've been messing around with my template for over an hour, trying to set this blog up so I can publish links. So far no success.

    I'd love to set this blog up properly- you know, a working site meter, links that actually work, all that cool stuff.

    But if I spend one more minute on the template today, "Breakfast With The Pope" will never get written.

    Anyone with techie advice- I'm all ears.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Take My Old Testament- Please!

    It's Wednesday night, and I'm supposed to be at Bible study.

    But I'm not.

    I signed up for a 14-week course on the Bible. It was just the sort of thing I wanted: The Bible by historical timeline, rather than by book. No ploughing through freakin' Deuteronomy just for the sake of it. Dates, empires, rulers, and battles. That's my OT.

    Okay, not really, but come on, it's a lot of fun that way.

    The course meet Wednesday nights over in St Paul. It's quite a well-known course. taught by a former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism. Obviously this put him out of work. So he became a professor of Bible studies.

    The trouble was the material.

    I just couldnt' take it any more. This guy told the worst jokes I've heard in years.

    "I stopped at a health food store and bought this Nutria bar, but it turned out to be for women! I was afraid to eat it- I thought I'd get all moody!"


    "Remember, by this time the Isrealites had been in Egypt a long time. They talked like Egyptians. They even [arm gestures] walked like Egyptians!"


    "Yes, the Israelites ate manna in the desert, and yes, they got bored with it. But they could always make manana bread!"

    Stop. Stop. You're killing me.

    No, REALLY. You're killing me.

    It's not that I can't take the occasional bad joke. But this was after 9pm, in the middle of the week, and I had a long drive home ahead of me... my resistance was just too low.

    I feel kind of bad about dropping out. I really want to learn more about Scripture, and I had my Bible all indexed with those cute little tags and everything. Maybe someday someone else will come along with a good course. And I'll be a better person and more patient and all that.

    Until then I'm enjoying my little index tags. Might even read more, too.


    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    I Guess "Amen" Is Out, Too

    I just got back from my "Body Pump" class at the Y. It's a good class, kind of basic weight training, and since everyone would see me if I tried to sneak out early I usually get a full workout. It's always packed.

    You know the kind of class: babes with biceps and strap-on microphones. "Okay, now squeeze those glutes!" and "Isolate that muscle, ooh, this feels goooood!" Loud music to help you along.

    They don't vary the music much. They've been playing the same tracks for the past six weeks. The first time I went we started with something called "Voodoo Child." Next came some techno-porn crap whose only virtue was clarity of enunciation: "Push me, hurt me, so I can get my satisfaction."

    Then the blonde at the front of the gym announced, "Okay everyone, we're going to do triceps now! Now this next track is just for fun, it's a fun song! Don't pay any attention to the lyrics, just try to catch the rhythm!"

    See if you can guess what the song was.

    Give up?

    It was "Spirit In The Sky."

    That was the song they didnt' want us to notice too much. Voodoo and sado-masochism were all right, but "Spirit In The Sky" was dangerous.

    After class I just had to ask. "Why didn't you want people to notice the words?"

    "Oh," the blonde lowered her voice, "we cant' have people listening to anything about Jesus."

    Very few things give me the urge to start a Baptist prayer meeting, but that one nearly did.

    I feel sorry for lefties sometimes. They must live in a very scary world.

    Monday, February 06, 2006


    OK, so it's Sela Ward, not Selena.
    Trust LAQ to notice that!

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    House Notes

    Everyone has his guilty pleasures, and "House" is one of mine.

    I suppose one would have to describe it as a "quirky" medical drama. Hugh Laurie as the Vicodin- addicted, brilliant and ornery Dr. Gregory House, cute young Australian guy as the cute young Australian doc, Selena Ward as House's married ex-girlfriend ( a lawyer, of course- all actresses Selena Ward's age seem to play lawyers), other actors I enjoy.

    I like it in spite of the silly graphics that supposedly show us what's going on inside a patient's body, but in fact just waste time and money.

    I like it in spite of the fact that the scripts have gone downhill lately.

    I like it in spite of the fact that when Laurie, a wonderful British actor whom I've admired for years, does an American accent he sounds like he's constantly choking back a sob.

    But the other night "House" even got on my nerves. An episode involving a sick nun and her companions from the monastery.

    Now we all know that when television writers write episodes involving nuns there are bound to be some howlers.

    Like the wide-eyed young nun staring at girls in bikinis on TV for presumably the first time. This is in spite of the fact that the nun is around 30 years old, could only have been a nun since 1995 and bikinis have been around for forty years. Even thongs have been around for thirty.

    Like Dr. House hanging out in the monastery kitchen having tea with the Mother Superior. It is possible, I guess, that as a physician he could have been admitted to the cloister. But since his patient was back at the hospital it was hard to see how canon law would justify that one.

    But what really got me was the tea set. Dr. Greg and the Big Momma were sipping tea out of cheerful yellow and white glazed earthenware with a cheerful pattern of cartoonish white sheep on a sunny yellow background.

    Ceramics that anyone who loves china could spot a mile away.

    Those dishes were Campagna, by Vietri. "Montone," if I'm not mistaken. Made in Italy, imported to the US, available online and in a few shops.

    And that teacup and saucer the doc was sipping from easily costs , what- 65 bucks?

    The dinner plates alone run $29.

    If that monastery is dining off $29 plates, remind me to cancel my donation this year.

    Hello, "House" staff, props department! Are you listening?


    All right, so television is written by kids in their 20s who are very talented but don't know very much about anything, especially about the Catholic Church.

    But you'd think they could at least get the props right.

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    It's February, And My Question Is...

    ... why do the media keep telling us about "African-American heroes" during "Black History Month"?

    Someone's asleep at the ol' language switch.

    All Alone?

    According to my new site meter, absolutely no one ever visits this site.

    According to my "profile view," quite a few people have.

    I don't get it.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Totally Nude! Live and Wriggling!

    In about half an hour I leave to pick up my daughter and her three closest buddies. Formerly known as "The Fearsome Foursome of Temple Israel Preschool," Sophia and her pals now attend three different schools, but they get together for things like swimming, skating and taekwondo lessons. And of course belting out the occasional chorus of "Hatikvah."

    Today is swimming lesson day.

    Two boys, two girls, ages five and six. One tiny "family" dressing room at the Y.

    Getting them into their suits is easy. They're all intent on getting into the pool, so they fget down to business pretty briskly. They stuff their backpacks into the locker, change and charge on out there.

    Afterwards is a different story. After a good workout in the pool and a nice five minutes in the hot tub, they're ready to slow down, take their time, and giggle at each other's bodies.

    The boys are much more protective of their modesty than the girls are and insist on being allowed to shower without female company. The girls could be restrained from peeking, but not from laughing.

    When everyone was finally dressed I tried to have a serious talk with them. How to put this? I wondered, before settling for "Guys, it's not good manners to laugh at someone when he's naked. So we don't do that, okay?"

    Exchanges of sly glances all around. "Oh, WE doooooo!!!"

    And uncontrollable merriment ensued, from all four bodily creatures.

    I supposed I should be wondering what those four get up to when I'm not around.

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    Decisions, Decisions

    Here's my dilemma:

    I have three writing projects going at once (and no agent or contract or anything, just me and my incredible literary drive). We'll call them A, B and C.

    For the past few weeks I've been working on C.

    Before that I was working on B.

    But it's becoming clear to me (I think) that the one I really need to finish first is A.

    Oh, what the heck: C is a screenplay, B is a book about martial arts, and A is a book called "Breakfast With The Pope," about the time my husband and I spent in Castelgandolfo when JP II was alive (basically that's what it's about, there's more obviously-- oh, there I go again).

    I'm starting to feel I should put all my energies into BWP.

    Plus keep this blog going.

    So that's what I'm wrestling with, people. All you writer types out there know exactly how it feels. Just thought I'd get some kvetching off my chest.