30 January 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

It's Saturday again! I brought back some characters from a previous exercise for this one.

Her face was growing blurry. "Come find me when you wake up." She smiled. That's the last thing I remember until I opened my eyes and saw the street forty feet below my body, which was suspended over it by a rope. 
"Well, this is great, just great," I muttered to myself. "So much for going to find her...whoever she is. Why did she even say that?" I shifted positions in the rope, which made it swing back and forth. I swallowed. Of all the bad luck, to be swinging in the air and prone to severe motion sickness...!
"Steph! Is that you?" The shrill, bossy voice rang in my ears and I recognized my half-sister greeting me incredulously. I glanced down to see her on the street, shading her eyes and squinting up at me.
"Uh, yeah, it's me," I said. "Got any Advil? My head hurts."
"You're dangling from a rope over Chicago." she groaned. "What about 'secret agent' don't you understand?" My peripheral vision caught her ominous hands-on-the-hip gesture. 
"Look, Claire," I began, feeling the need to defend myself, "I don't know how I got here. Some girl knocked me out--"
"You mean that blonde chick who tried to follow us?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. Anyway, next thing I knew I was here."
Claire clapped a hand to her forehead and groaned again. "I don't know why they even hired you. I'm the one who does all the work."
"Hey, I'm a good pickpocket! Remember the president?" 

25 January 2016

March for Life photos

From my phone:

Getting on the bus
Our bus was brand new

The chicken-pox river at Sioux City
Sunset of the first day
First glimpse of D.C.!
Heading to the March
March for Life!


Sunny Sunday

From Nicole's phone (taken during our walk before the March):

Stolen from Facebook:

The bishop's blessing before setting out

Leading the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

The Sisters of Life at the rally

Our group photo at the March

March for Life 2016: The Saga

I am finally home. I got home at 7:30 this morning, went to bed at 9, and woke up at 2:30 this afternoon.
You've probably heard all about our adventures on the news, but I'll start at the beginning.
Traveling to D.C.
The trip there was uneventful. It was long, but we expected that. We left the Cathedral around 1:30 on Wednesday and arrived at our hotel in Washington, D.C. around 4pm on Thursday. So far so good. We went to the Life is Very Good youth rally in Virginia and returned to the hotel to sleep in much-appreciated beds. At Mass that evening, our leaders told us of their decision to leave D.C. right after the March in an attempt to escape the storm. We were a little bummed but still excited for the March.
The March
We had Mass in the hotel on Friday morning, went out to breakfast, took an impromptu walk to see some monuments, and then loaded the buses. We were one of the first groups to arrive at the Washington Monument for the opening of the March for Life. It was cold at the time but hadn't started snowing yet. The speakers were great and I was amazed at the number of people there, despite the many groups which had cancelled due to the oncoming weather. It started snowing around noon and continued all through the March. It was a wonderful experience to be standing up for our beliefs among so many other people who shared them. It gave us a certain connection to everyone there. Two people from Fox News stopped and interviewed two of my friends. It was cool that they covered the March, even if they talked mainly about the weather. We walked on, singing, cheering, and holding our signs so they blocked the snow from our faces. Smiles everywhere. We were all soaked when we loaded the buses and started back toward South Dakota.
And then came the part of our trip that made national--nay, international--news. We were driving along the Pennsylvania turnpike around 9pm that night when suddenly our bus rolled to a stop. Our leaders told us there was an accident about 10 miles ahead so traffic was slow, but we should be out soon.
That "soon" turned into 1-3 hours.
And 1-3 hours turned into 8.
The next morning we woke up and still had not moved. It was still snowing, and there was a lot of accumulation. The bus next to us had a good 6 inches of fresh snow on its roof. The leaders told us the National Guard had been called in, and it couldn't be long now.
We were still in the same place at noon, when we heard some of the other groups were getting together and having Mass. I remember that just before this, I had commented on how badly the day was going. I thought, "Seriously, they're going to have Mass in the snow?" But I went anyway and I'm so glad I did. It was one of the best Masses I've ever been to. The snow was coming down on us in large, wet flakes and we stood and shivered. The priests only had about 20 hosts so very few people were able to receive the Eucharist. (There were about 300 people at the Mass.) But we prayed and sang together like we had been stranded for no other reason. The entire Mass I was in awe...who gets the experience of going to Mass on the side of the road, standing in over a foot of snow, while more snow is being dumped on them by the minute? And yet there was so much joy. When Mass ended we all had light hearts and returned to our buses with renewed optimism.

Food was becoming scarce. We still had plenty of snacks, but everyone was longing for an actual meal. Some of our group walked to the Department of Transportation and eventually came back with pizza for us. It was cold and we had to share our pieces, but it tasted so good at the time!
Another few hours went by. It was dark out now. The leaders told us that it wouldn't be long now, there was only about half a mile of vehicles still to be unstuck. They told us that a Catholic church in Bedford, PA, St. Thomas the Apostle, was offering us dinner and lodging for the night. I have never been so happy at the thought of sleeping on a concrete floor. Finally we got unstuck--we clapped and cheered as the bus started moving. We headed back east to Bedford, where they gave us a delicious meal of pasta and fruit, we had Saturday anticipatory Mass, and got ready for bed. Another bus of UNL students arrived as we were going to bed.
The Road Home
The next morning we woke, packed up, and started on our way. The turnpike was still closed, so we took a longer route home. We were so happy to be moving, seeing blue sky, and heading home. We gave a huge thank you to our bus driver, Craig, who stuck it out with us for 22 hours. That day went by fast. We had a time of sharing our experiences with the rest of the group, we said the Chaplet and the Rosary.
We finally pulled into the Cathedral parking lot at almost 6am this morning. The news reporters had cameras set up and we got off the bus singing Holy God We Praise Thy Name. As we stepped out, the bishop gave each of us a hug and said "Welcome home."
One of our leaders had taken and posted a video of our roadside Mass. All throughout the rest of the trip he was updating us on the number of hits it had. The last I heard was 1.8 million. We had Skype interviews with several news agencies, and even BBC news asked him if they could use his video. Our story is all over the internet. If you google search "Pennsylvania turnpike Mass," you'll see what I mean.
We are convinced God planned it that way. The media never covers the March for Life, but with this story, the pro-life movement reached people it never would have. We have so many things to be thankful for. Our bishop called us martyrs, which means witnesses. Our priest compared our story to the Passion of Christ and the Bible story of Gideon. God has something amazing planned. We will bring an end to abortion once and for all.
(And here, if you want a 12-minute long documentary of our trip.)

23 January 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

     Blaise stumbled over the wet leaves. He couldn't see a thing. He tripped and nearly fell over something. The something moaned. He paused, turned on his heel, and knelt down. "Charlotte?" he whispered.
     Another moan.
     He put his hands in front of him and felt around. A hand grabbed his wrist and thrust something into his palm. It was a candle stub. How did she...? It didn't matter. He lit the candle with a match from his pocket.
     Now there was a small circle of light and he could see her pale face. Her dress was ragged and she was lying on the wet leaves, looking dazed. He followed her eyes down to her open hand, on on which lay a key that glinted in the light.
     "I got it," said her weak voice, and a ghostly smile parted her lips.

[This one is actually from a Skype meeting a while ago. I didn't have time to do freewriting this week because of the trip.]

17 January 2016

Weekly Prompt Writing

I thought of an interesting project. Lately I've been doing freewriting from prompts to relieve the monotony of editing a novel. On the weeks that I don't attend our writer's group's Skype meeting (in which we write from prompts), I do some by myself. I had the idea to post one of these freewriting ventures each week. I think it would help me learn to quickly polish up a bit of writing. Don't worry, there's always short.
So, here's the one for this week. I wrote it at our meeting on Friday night.

     Claire blinked. "What do you mean 'you accidentally pick pocketed the president of the United States?'" Sighing, she took off her cat-eye sunglasses and rubbed her temples. 
     Stephan scratched the back of his neck. "It's easier than you'd think. I'm a pretty good pickpocket, you know—"
     "Yes, I know. You say that at least once a day."
     "And once you get going, it's hard to stop. So you find yourself in the presence of the president, and self-control flies out the window. I mean, look at the size of this wallet!" He whipped a bulging leather wallet out of his trench-coat pocket, opened it, and began flipping through the bills with relish.
     Claire folded her arms. "Really? Here? Let's at least go to a secure place." She grabbed his wrist and dragged him into the nearest family bathroom. "Alright, let's inspect the spoils." 
     Stephan dumped the contents of the wallet on the baby changing table and they pawed through it. Claire read each piece of paper, mumbling, until she made a noise of triumph. "This is it, Stephan.       We've got it. The president had it. Wow, if you hadn't—"
     "If I hadn't pickpocketed him with my immense skills..."
     "Then we would still be looking for it!"

16 January 2016

Two Analogies

For some reason this past week I've been thinking up analogies.

The first one:
You know when your glasses have a smudge on them, so you take them off to clean them, and realize they were actually super dirty but you couldn't tell because the dirt was so close to your face? And then once you take them off and hold them to the light you are amazed you could even see through them. Think about that in relation to life. We live our own life, and sometimes we are so immersed in the day-to-day that we forget to step back and look at the big picture. And sometimes when we do look at the big picture, the result is not flattering. Our problems are so close to us, we don't recognize them as problems. We need to remember to 'take our glasses off' once in a while, and reevaluate.
The second one:
God gives us our vocation because He knows the best way for us to get to Heaven. It's like He is inviting us over, and sends us a set of directions. If we ignore the directions, we still have a chance of getting there. It just might take longer. And sometimes, if we take a detour, we can get lost. But if we just use the directions He gives us, everything works out much better, with less stress and more joy. So with our vocation. It's not that this is the only way to get to Heaven, it's that it's the way best suited to us, as individual souls. God knows exactly where we are and sends us each a unique set of directions.

15 January 2016

T-minus 5 days!

I don't recall whether I've mentioned this here, but I have the amazing privilege of going on pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. this year. I'm super excited and I think it will be a fruitful trip. As an added bonus, D.C. is supposed to be having 40-degree weather while we're there, which is a welcome change from the high of -5° we have here on Sunday.
And we leave five days from now! It's a sold 24-hour bus ride from Sioux Falls to our nation's capital, but I have lots of experience sleeping in cars so I'm not too worried. Plus I won't have homework to worry about since it will be exam week.
Send in intentions and I'll be happy to pray for them while on pilgrimage!

13 January 2016

Quiz Bowl Win Number Five

3rd Place at Brandon Valley. Our final score was 105. 
It was (finally) my turn to take home the trophy.

08 January 2016

Les Misèrables

I just finished reading Les Misèrables by Victor Hugo, and I loved it. (If you're thinking, but the musical was so boring and plot-less, that's because the musical has like 11.2% of the plot in it.)
There's a lot I could say about this book...first of all, that it is not for the faint of heart. This was 1200 pages jam-packed with compelling plot and character development, generous amounts of philosophizing and going off on tangents (what is it with Hugo and the Battle of Waterloo??), fascinating descriptions, and understated eloquence. You name a subject, Hugo probably mentions it in Les Misèrables. This is a book of epic proportions, especially theme-wise. He covered everything from street slang in Paris to the history of the sewer system, from life in a convent to the romanticism of poor law students. All within the frame of a thrilling plot about love, death, vengeance, justice, and redemption.

Some interesting points about Les Misèrables:
It's long. I know I already said this, but it merits saying more than once. It took me months to read, and not because I lacked interest. Surprisingly, though, it's not lengthy because it was serialized, like many books were.
It was written over a space of about twenty years. Victor Hugo finished the first draft in 1848, then didn't touch it for twelve years. It was finally completed in 1862. Within the novel you can see how the passage of time served to let the author's ideas mature and his writing develop into a uniquely concise and keen eloquence.
It's sprinkled with scores of perfect quotes. One peculiarity of Hugo's writing style is that sometimes (actually rather often) he ends a paragraph with a brief but incisive statement, thus leaving the present topic. It makes for numerous little gems and a lot of food for thought. Often I read one of these, put the book down, and pondered on just that one sentence for a while. I tried to find an example, but it's hard to wade through that much writing.
It has an overarching theme of hope, which Victor Hugo expertly lets bleed through every incident in the novel. It is called Les Misèrables, but it does not by any means give an impression of despair. Quite the contrary. Hugo was a master at theme.
It is incredibly detailed. As stated above. Have you ever wanted to know the life story of the bishop who has about three minutes of screen time in the movie? Did you ever wish you had a 50-page report on the Battle of Waterloo, emphasizing the role of the weather in the outcome of that battle? Or wondered about the Argot slang of Paris's criminals? Or wanted to know the history of Paris's sewer system, plus be treated to the author's opinion on said sewer system? And let's not even mention the smaller deviations. In fact, these feats of un-plot-related treatise earned themselves a T-shirt.
The chapter names are priceless. Some of my personal favorites:
     Excess of zeal on the part of Gavroche
     What to do in a bottomless pit except talk? 
     Questions that may be contained in a revelation
     An aspirant centenarian
     The goblin appears to Marius
     The hatching of crimes in the incubator of prison
     A group which nearly became historic
Just a sampling.
The plot is dramatic. For those of you who have seen the movie, you may be of the opinion that the drama was supplied entirely by the music and the cinematography. And you'd be right...about the movie. But the book is a different story. (See what I did there?) I especially remember one episode which I thought would make a great movie on its own. But the writers of the musical seemed to think it unnecessary.
It's worth the commitment to read. If you're going to read Les Misèrables, please don't flake out and skip all the random stuff. (See above.) It may not technically add to the plot, but it's fabulous writing nevertheless, plus it gives a great picture of 19th-century France and Victor Hugo's opinions on, well, everything. You won't regret slogging through that 50-page account of Waterloo when you get to the end. One of the things I like about the fact that it's such a commitment to read, is that it gives you a sense of going through it all with the characters. The plot spans decades, and reading all 1200 pages ensures you don't miss a minute of those decades. Plus, why not read more great writing? More room means more worldbuilding, character development, and plot twists.
You should read it. You may not have known this when you started reading this blog post, but it's true. I don't know why teachers don't make their students read Les Misèrables in literature class. It's certainly got enough substance. In addition to being entertaining, didactic, thought-provoking, and cathartic.