An Advent Challenge

I’m here to tell you what I’ve learned about Advent and challenge you.

First, two stories:

1) I recently found a spiritual director in the great (cold) state of North Dakota.  He gave me homework after our meeting.  He said we’re reverting to kindergarten.  I was ordered, by my spiritual director, to take a nap everyday.*  Also, I have to set aside times for meals and actually sit still during those times.

2) Last year when I was home during Christmas break**I remember being so bored.  I asked my mom, “I’m bored, what can I do?  Do you have any projects for me?  Can we go somewhere?  Can I cook supper?  Can I bake something?  I want to do a craft…do we have any crafts?”  (Oh, by the way, I really did throw that all out there in probably one breath and under 5 seconds.)  Anyway, I remember her saying, “Just watch TV.  If you can’t just sit there and relax for a few minutes you have a problem.”  I thought, “You should be happy I get bored watching TV, doesn’t that make you happy? I thought parents don’t want their kids to watch TV?”

Why did I tell you these stories?  Because I’m slothful.  Now, you may think that sloth is laziness.  And I did too.  But, here’s the thing…  My spiritual director told me what sloth was.  Yes, it can be laziness.  But you can be slothful and super busy (trust me, I do everyday!).  How?  Well, let’s say you have set aside a half hour on Tuesday at 3:30pm to balance your checkbook.  At 3:30 you sit down to do just that.  You get distracted.  You think before I can balance my checkbook I should really look at my credit card balance and pay that.  After you pay the credit card balance you check your rewards–maybe you have enough to redeem them and get something cool.  Then, you realize something else that’s pretty important and you should probably do before you get to your checkbook–the checkbook can wait; this can’t.  Next thing you know, it’s midnight or 1am and you have. not. stopped. working.  But, here’s the kicker, did you balance your checkbook?  No, of course not.  There were so many other important things to do.

So, sloth can be not doing what you’re supposed to be doing at the current moment.  Hence, I’m supposed to stop and eat instead of quick eat while I’m prepping Bible study and doing at least 100 other things.  I’m supposed to nap too.  I’m supposed to just stop doing things and be.  I love administrative tasks.  I (seriously) think that sitting down at night and scheduling out while I’ll be doing the next day is totally fun!  I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve sat down and done just that.  I can, however, count the number of times I’ve actually followed what I’ve scheduled out.  My four-month-old niece can also count the latter because, though she can’t count, the total is zero.  Seriously, I’ve scheduled out my days so many times and not followed it, ever.

Why, Jane are you boring me with your struggles with sloth when I thought this post was about Advent?

I’ll tell you why, curious (and perhaps, judgmental) reader.  It’s because, no matter how noble my intentions, I’ve stopped many times on December 23rd on my way home for Christmas to “quick buy Christmas presents.”  (Sorry family, it turns out I frequently get your presents last-minute…)  Anyway, I would buy them on my way home from Madison and have to spend part of Christmas Eve wrapping my presents.  That’s valuable time I could be spending with my nieces and nephew (oh, and sisters, bros-in-law and parents, of course!).  It’s also stressful.  Annoying…

Buying my Christmas presents last-minute also makes my focus of Advent off-base.  My Advent is spent postponing Christmas shopping because I have other things I just have to do first.  Things that I’ve decided are way more important and not as urgent as Christmas shopping.  So, suddenly, it’s December 23rd and I have finally. got. to. do. that. Christmas. shopping.  

The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday or Joy Sunday.  That means you light the pink candle and the priest can wear pink vestments.  I love pink.  This should be one of my favorite Sundays of the year.  But, is it?  No.  Instead of being filled with joy and anticipation of Christ’s coming to earth, I’m filled with stress.  The pink candle means only two more weeks until Christmas.  Oh, crap.  I haven’t bought any presents yet!

A couple weeks ago we hosted a Spiritual Impact Bootcamp through FOCUS.  Two missionaries (and FOCUS’s chaplain) came up from Colorado to lead the retreat.  One of them was talking about how her day off after she got back to CO would be spend doing her Christmas shopping.  I thought she was STRAIGHT CRAY (a.k.a. really crazy).  It was November 11th and she was going to get her Christmas shopping done.

Well, I dropped them off at the airport at about 4 o’clock on Monday after the retreat and…wait for it…I went Christmas shopping.  She inspired me.  She was talking about how she felt the Lord calling her to take Advent slowly and not get caught in the typical hustle and bustle of the coming of Christmas.  For some reason (thanks Holy Spirit), I turned my car right out of the airport toward Target instead of left toward campus.  Next thing I know, I was heading home with most of my Christmas presents acquired.

I shook my head in disbelief.  Now, I can celebrate Advent!  What the heck?  I’m so excited!  I plan on having these presents wrapped, making my final purchases and taking all the gifts home with me when I go back to Wisco for Thanksgiving next week.

Not only does that mean I can enjoy Advent and prayerfully await the coming of Jesus.  It also means that, when I arrive in Wisconsin before Christmas, I can spend time with my family.  I can watch sweet niece Thérèse do things like talk about her “big blueberry eyes” and turn the fridge setting to “off” so all the food gets spoiled.  I can play trucks with Joseph and change baby Zelie’s diapers***.  I can help my mom cook whatever crazy thing we decide to have for Christmas this year–pizza? German food? Only appetizers?  I can take my time getting pretty to meet Jesus at Christmas Eve Mass instead of quickly throwing on my dress because I just finished wrapping my presents.

So, My Advent challenge:  Schedule a time to buy Christmas presents.  Don’t be slothful.  Schedule that time and stick to it.  Try and get them done before Advent starts (Sunday, December 1st).  If you’re a fellow mish or a student, get them all wrapped before you trek home for Christmas break.  And, most of all, celebrate Advent.  Jesus is coming to earth as a poor, helpless, infant in order for you to HAVE ABUNDANT, ETERNAL LIFE!  Celebrate.  Pray.  Be eager for His arrival.

At the Thirst Conference I bought a book to help me prepare for Christmas.  I (obviously) haven’t read it yet because Advent hasn’t started yet and I bought it a month ago.  But, I’ve read other things by Dr. Sri and can highly recommend them, so I’m sure this won’t disappoint.  But, if you’re interested, order yourself a copy of The Advent of Christ by Edward Sri and celebrate Advent with me.  It has daily reflections to lead your through Advent.  (Also, available for the Kindle!)

(P.S. Here’s a pic of the book:)


Isn’t it a pretty book?


Just remember, Advent is about the coming of baby Jesus in a manger.  It’s the coming of our Salvation.  It’s not a countdown to when you need to have your Christmas presents bought!

Will you join me in the great Advent Challenge?!


*You may think this sounds awesome.  So did I.  Until the day after spiritual direction.  I got ready to take a nap, set an alarm, and laid down.  5 minutes later, I couldn’t sleep and wanted to get up and just get stuff done.  Well, I couldn’t.  I had to just sit there and wait, and wait, and wait until “nap time” was over.  I now know how 5-year-olds feel when they just don’t want to nap and you make them!

**Being an Intern at St. Paul’s at UW-Madison was the best job because I got all of winter break off with the students (and, obviously, for many other reasons)… Win!

***Yeah, right.  I’m not changing her diapers.  That’s Emma, my lil’ sis’s job.


What Happens When Girls Buy Lots of Treats…Alone

One time a friend asked my sister if “weird things always have happened to Jane.”  Well, friend, they have.  I’m always in weird situations.  I think it’s because I don’t have an awkward radar.  I so very rarely realize that I should feel awkward that I end up in the most awkward situations.  It’s almost unexplainable…But, I’ll try and explain tonight’s weird situation via a script.

Imagine this…

The Scene:
Grocery Store: “Sunmart” (affectionately known as Ghetto-mart or Don’t-get-shot-mart).
For the first time, ever, there are no lines in either of the open checkout lanes.  You pick one lane at random.

The Props:
Zebra Cakes, Nutty Bars, Swiss Cake Rolls, three containers of off-brand laughing cow cheese

The characters:
Jane (that’s me)
Bob (that’s the Sunmart employee working the cash register in the next lane over.  No patrons near him)
Julie (that’s my cashier)

(Names of cashiers have been changed to protect their identity…and because I didn’t catch their names…)

Act I, Scene I

Jane: (not spoken, just thinking) Wow, I can’t believe there’s no line here.  Perfect timing.  Did I swipe my card yet?  I have to go to the Newman Center and print those sheets off before book study.  What else do I have to do? …

Bob: What’s wrong?

Jane: (not spoken, just thinking) Who is he talking to?  There’s no one around him?!

Bob: Ask her what’s wrong…

Julie and Jane: (move heads stage right and looks strangely at Bob…looks at him as though he may be insane…)

Bob: (Makes eye contact with Jane) What’s wrong?

Jane:  Ah, nothing?  (Thinks:  Does he think I’m crying or something?  Do I look like I’ve been crying?  I haven’t been crying, have I?  No, this has been a good day…I even got to nap.  That’s nothing to cry about.)

Bob: Oh, okay.  It’s just usually when girls buy all that stuff there’s something wrong.

Jane: hahahaha….yeah, Bob, I just have a Bible study tonight.

Bob: Oh, that’s a great alternative to there being something wrong!

Julie: (Finishes the transaction while remaining bewildered.)

Jane: (With a slight Sarcastic tone–not normal to her at all…)  Yeah, or I just broke up with my boyfriend and had the worst day ever…haha…just kidding.  I definitely have Bible study. (Exits Sunmart/stage through the nearest door to get away from Crazy Bob.)

Act I, Scene II

Jane: (Returns to car, giggling the whole way.  Determined to blog about it when she returns home before the book study.)

Here’s a picture of the purchase:

bible study

I decided to start buying bigger quantities of non-perishables for Book/Bible studies. That way it doesn’t matter if 5 people or 20 come. I’ll have snacks and have leftovers for next week! Maybe I’ll stop doing that to avoid awkward situations!

The Perfect Sunday Night

sunday night

Pie makin’, Scripture readin’, beer drinkin’

Yeah, it was the perfect Sunday night tonight.  It was filled with pie making for TJ’s* birthday tomorrow.  (The. Kid. Is. Obsessed. With. Pie.)  Tonight was so great, in fact, that tomorrow would be the perfect day for the first snowfall.  It just feels like the-night-before-the-first-snowfall.  It’s that kind of night.

I’ll break it down:

Pie makin’

I already told you.  TJ loves pie.  Enough said?  Well, here’s a close up of the pie…


You’ve got Kathy’s Kranberry Pie (Okay, I made the name up.  It’s my mom’s recipe for the best cranberry pie, ever.) on the left with the lattice top.**  I’ve always wanted to make a pie with the lattice top (because I thought it would be totally fun to do and it makes the pie look extra cute)…but I was always a little intimated.  It turns out it was easy and just as fun as I’ve always imagined.

In the back you have the empty shell of the yet-to-be-made banana cream pie.  Nobody likes soggy, brown bananas.  So, the pie will be filled in the morning.  This pie goes out to you, Libby, lover of the BCP.

On the right you’ll see the strawberry-ruhbarb pie.  Making this pie brings the count of my official pies-besides-banana-cream-pie-and-cranberry-pie that I’ve made to 2.  I made this same strawberry-ruhbarb pie for our first team dinner of the year to celebrate Bryan’s birthday.  (I honestly don’t know who likes pie more, Bryan or TJ.  They request it all the time.  Especially for their birthdays.  But I’m all like, “WHAT? THE? HECK? You guys are totally missing out on the melt-in-your-mouth goodness that is the world’s best food: buttercream frosting (in pink, of course).”  I decided to get creative with the leftover pie crust from the lattice-topped pie and add those cute little pieces of crust to the outside of this pie.

Scripture Readin’

FOCUS has a 2-year reading plan for all missionaries.  It includes reading much of the Bible.  While I’m probably far ahead of schedule for the other books, I’ve hardly started the Scripture reading plan.  So, there’s no time like the present.  I’m trying really hard to devote 30 minutes a day to reading the Bible.  It’s been hard to make time to do it, but I’m really glad when I get to do it!  I’ve found the best time to do it is in the morning before our holy hour with a piping hot cup of the nectar of the gods (which is, of course, coffee).

Beer Drinkin’

I don’t know if you’ve ever had Spotted Cow.  But it’s seriously the best beer ever.  It’s from New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin and is only sold in Wisconsin.  Without talking about it Kelsey and I each brought a case of it to Fargo when we came in August.  Sadly, our supply is running out.  But, we’re pretty excited that Thanksgiving is coming up so we can go home and re-stock!

That Night Before the First Snowfall

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that tomorrow would be the perfect day for the first snowfall.  Do you ever get that feeling that it should just snow right now?  I do.  And I have that feeling right now.  I would so so so love to wake up to a winter wonderland tomorrow morning.  Though the weatherman might not agree with me, I’m still hoping.  Enjoy the forecast for Fargo tomorrow:

Don't miss the part that says, "0% chance of precipitation"...

Don’t miss the part that says, “chance of precipitation: 0%”…

*TJ is one of my FOCUS teammates here at NDSU!

**In case you care, Wisconsin produces enough cranberries annually for every man, woman and child in the world to get 26 cranberries/year.  I selfishly put far more than my yearly allowance of the tart red berries in this pie.  Also, if you’re thinking, “Cranberry pie sounds like the worst pie ever…”  Don’t hate it until you try it.  We make it every year for Thanksgiving along with a banana cream pie.  Up until last year, I always opted for the BCP.  But, last year my world was forever changed for the better with that first bite of sweet-red-sugary-deliciousness.  If you want to try it, let me know, I’ll make you a cranberry pie! 🙂

“Go to Fargo,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said.

As many of you know, I fundraise my entire salary.  What does that mean?  It means that I spent the majority of my summer in Wisconsin fundraising, full-time.  I set up appointments with family and friends.  I gave a talk after the Masses at my home parish.  I made friends with the people next to me at baseball games.

I told everyone (and anyone) about my mission with FOCUS.  I also, of course, told everyone about my placement.  I told them that I didn’t have a say in choosing where I went; it was up to the Holy Spirit (and the Regional Directors) to assign me to one of FOCUS’s 83 campuses.  The regional directors said, “Go to Fargo.”  “It will be fun,” they said.  They. Were. Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love what I do.  I love the students here.  I love the mission of FOCUS.

I guess I should back up to this summer…

While I was meeting with my potential mission partners at least half of them laughed at me.  No, they didn’t laugh when I told them about the mission of FOCUS.  No, they didn’t laugh when I asked them to join my mission by becoming a monthly supporter.  They laughed when I told them I was going to Fargo.  They said, “Wow. DO YOU KNOW HOW COLD IT IS THERE?!”  They laughed when I said, “Oh, I know it’s cold.  But, I love winter.  It’ll be fun!”  Then they told me how they heard there were not any trees in all of Fargo.  Then, they laughed again.

Did it hurt when they laughed at me?  No, not even a little.  I figured no one ever actually visits Fargo.  So, I assumed any professional Fargo-knowledge they had was acquired by watching the movie Fargo–which, by the way, I’ve still not seen.

When I arrived in Fargo in August everyone asked, “You ready for winter!?”  My philosophy used to be this:  I’m from Wisconsin.  There’s cold.  Then there’s colder.  It’s not like either of those are very comfortable.

Then, this past weekend rolled around and my Fargo-Philospohy changed.  The tree thing that my mission partners told me–totally true.  (Well, okay, there are some trees…)  But, there’s kind of no forests.  There’s no hills.  There’s really not much besides wide open prairie (think Oregon trail, but with electricity and legit doctors to heal the dysentery and snake bites).

What does all of this have to do with your philosphy about the cold, Jane?  Well, I bet all you Wisconsin natives take for granted the lovely bluffs of Western Wisconsin and the forests that are everywhere.  I bet you never realized how much they stop that biting wind from making you want to cry.  Chicago thinks they’re the Windy City.  Well, North Dakota is the Windy State.  It’s. Stinkin’. Windy.  Like blow-the-hat-off-your-head-on-a-regular-basis-windy.

So, the wind has picked up the last two weeks.  Just in time for the temperature to pick down–err, get colder.  I threw my philosophy out the window when I saw this yesterday:


And, it’s not 12 degrees as in a Wisconsin-12 degrees.  It’s 12 degrees as in you’  It’s 12 degrees as in wow-it’s-a-pleasant-temperature-for-January-12-degrees.  It is not–and I meant NOT–an acceptable temperature for November 11.  Not even a little.  Not even at all.

A couple weeks ago my mom said she heard again how cold it gets in Fargo.  She asked if I need a better winter coat.  I told her my philosophy and said it would be fine.  Now I’m here, mom, to tell you that we’re going coat shopping at Thanksgiving–if I can make it until then without turning into a popsicle.

“Go to Fargo,” they said.  “It will be fun,” they said.  My new philosophy in life is this: Life is all about what they don’t tell you.  Like how they failed to tell me that Fargo is the 4th coldest city in the U.S.A.

So, there are two takeaways from this post:
1)  Pay attention to what they don’t tell you and you won’t be caught by surprise.
2) In Dante’s Inferno he talks about how hell is frozen and immoveable.  Contrary to the belief of every literary           scholar (ever), he wasn’t actually talking about hell, he was talking about North Dakota.

DISCLAIMER: This post presupposes that it gets much, much, much colder in North Dakota than it is right now.  I’m  not whining or claiming I can’t handle it.*  If that were the case, I know I wouldn’t survive winter.  This post is simply observations made based on the late-fall weather in Fargo.  Also, I’m bitter that it’s snowing and warmer everywhere east of here (i.e. Minnesota and Wisconsin).  I mean, come on, the cold is so much more bearable when there’s that pretty white stuff on the ground.  No dice with the snow here…yet.

TO MY FRIENDS IN THE SOUTH…(i.e. Claire in New Orleans): You might be sad you can’t experience fall like you do in Wisconsin.  But, fall isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when the only time you hear the leaves crunching underfoot is when you’re running from your not-yet-warmed-up car to the house before you blow away or when you have a pumpkin spice latte because your hands are so numb you need to thaw them out.  So, I’m with you on the lack of “good” fall weather!

*The posts where I whine and complain about how I can’t handle the weather will certainly come in due time.  Probably January-Februrary, or March…heck maybe even April from what I hear!

A Friday in Fargo

Here’s an update from last Friday:

So, Kelsey went to Wisconsin.  Bryan went to Nebraska.  TJ went to Minnesota.  I stayed in Fargo.

Friday was November 1st which, in the Catholic world, means All Saints’ Day.  It’s a day to–you’ll never guess–celebrate all saints!  And, in the Newman Center world, it means dressing up like a Saint and going to a party.  I totally failed on snapping pictures of the party.  I only got one:

St. Anastasia in the green scarf, St. Thérèse in the habit (?), St. Benedict in the robe, St. Stephen in the flannel

St. Anastasia in the green scarf, St. Thérèse in the habit (?), St. Benedict in the robe, St. Stephen in the flannel, and you can catch the arm of St. Waldo in the red-and-white-striped shirt.

If you’re wondering who I dressed up as, it was St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  She was last year on October 21 so this was her first “official” All Saints’ Day Party!  (The costume was inspired by my brainstorming session with a student, Erin, who mentioned I could rock Kateri because of my long brown hair.  And, I did.  I rocked those braids.)

Here's a pic from the web of St. Kateri!  Totally forgot to take a pic of me dressed like her!

Here’s a pic from the web of St. Kateri! Totally forgot to take a pic of me dressed like her!

Anyway, the party was a blast.  Complete with Saint introductions, Saint bingo, and all the free Panera you could ask for!  Yum.

After the party I went to Erin and Jenny’s apartment.  We hung out for a bit before heading to the 40 Days for Life* at midnight.  When I was in Madison I remember trying to get people to go to the 40 Days for Life was sometimes like trying to pull teeth.  No one seemed committed and excited to go.  Well, it seems different here.  Two students signed up for the hour of prayer vigil…and 12 of us went!  The two who signed up just started asking others if they wanted to join them.  Everyone seemed excited to give up some sleep (or whatever else they would be doing) to pray for an end to abortion.  It was cool.  Here’s a pic:

40 days

I thought, as a special treat, I’d leave you with this last picture:

The HoDo in October.

The HoDo in October.

Wait, hold the phone, Jane.  Don’t leave us with that picture and not explain it!  That, my friends is the Hotel Donaldson, covered in bras.  It’s what they do every year in October.  It’s for breast cancer awareness.  Feel free to ask me my thoughts on that.  But, in the words of Kelsey, “Thanks HoDo, before you did that I didn’t know breast cancer was a thing.”

*40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life campaign with a vision to access God’s power through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil to end abortion.  The mission of the campaign is to bring together the body of Christ in a spirit of unity during a focused 40 day campaign of prayer, fasting, and peaceful activism, with the purpose of repentance, to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, thus bringing an end to abortion.

Perfecting the Art of Pumpkin Carving

So, last Thursday was Halloween.

Did you remember about it?  I almost didn’t.  On Wednesday night I thought, “Woah, tomorrow’s Halloween, totally forgot until now.”  That’s how affected I am by that holiday.  Totally unaffected.  

But boy was I excited for the day after Halloween.  No, I don’t have a particular affinity for November.  Yeah, it’s All Saints Day (post about that coming soon) but that wasn’t why I was excited.  Now, you may not be able to relate to my excitement…but, I know there is at least one person out there who can.  Her name is Emma.  She’s my little sister, she’s 14 (I mean 21, but numbers aren’t important).  She and I both know about the feast-after-the-feast.  It’s the discounted candy at every store.  For some unknown reason, all the stores need to make room for Christmas candy IMMEDIATELY following October 31st.  So, that means cheap candy.  I went to Target.  They didn’t have much but I did acquire some “Ground Goblin” (which was really just green apple chewy, sour, candy) that we served at our Tuesday night book study this week.*

Totally random tangent aside, I carved a pumpkin on Halloween.  Every Thursday after 9pm Mass the Newman Center hosts an event.  Last weeks was pumpkin carving, apple cider drinking, and pumpkin seed eating.  To be honest, I went for the apple cider.  It might be my favorite drink.**  I saw all the pumpkins and thought, “I’ll leave those for the students to decorate…”  Then, I saw the templates.  There was a cat one.  I thought, “What the heck.  I’ll carve a pumpkin.”

Here’s the final product:

Mine's the kitten in the middle between the VW Bus and the cat on the moon.

Mine’s the kitten in the middle between the VW Bus and the cat on the moon.

I seriously don’t think I’ve carved a pumpkin in over a decade.  The last time I remember doing it was when Libby’s friend Michelle was over.  Dad went out to get pumpkins the morning of Halloween.  They only had one big one left.  So, Emma carved a giant pumpkin and the rest of us carved the mini ones (as in like 2-inch-tall pumpkins).  I think I was probably 15, or younger…

There was a ton of stuff I couldn’t remember how to do.  I had to keep asking Andrew if my pumpkin was clean enough on the inside and if I could start carving it.  He kept saying “No. Keep going.”  It was messy and slimy.  (But, kind of fun!)

I didn’t eat any pumpkin seeds.  Yuck.  (Though I recently read they’re really healthy for you.  So eat up!)

The kittens.  That's Mary and Jaden with they kitten-on-the-moon.

The kittens. That’s Mary and Jaden with they kitten-on-the-moon. (Interesting fact: Mary was the only one that chose to partake of and enjoy the ground goblin at book study on Tuesday.)

*This post was originally supposed to just be about pumpkin carving (hence the title).  But, for some reason I thought I’d let you all know about my love of half-priced candy.  And, because you’re all wondering.  February 15th is the best time to go half-priced-candy shopping.  Why?  Because everything is pink.

**My favorite coffee shop in Fargo is Baab’s.  It’s downtown.  I recently discovered the “Caramel Apple Cider.”  They are geniuses.  They took apple cider and added caramel (pronounced: car-mel).  It is delicious.  I’ve had it twice.  I’ve burnt my tongue on it twice due to my lack-of-patience.