I expect to be somewhere else in a few weeks,but for now it’s great to be in the Twin Cities, which even HuffPost recognizes as amazing.

And look how these Cronin boys love the leaves —

New Job, New Culture, New World!

I’m not a stranger to roads  less travelled,  but I’ve recently entered a place that’s forcing me to chart new territory.  Last   week, I began teaching (observing, really — I won’t teach for a couple weeks)  in a place where I’m a minority, a place where the vocabulary, and the etiquette — even the position of chairs in a room —  are all intensely new.

VLR sign

Vision Loss Resources, Lyndale Ave, Mpls,  is full of chances to see things differently. Yesterday, I  accompanied an Orientation & Mobility  i.e. white cane,  Instructor, as she worked with a client.  She  used words  like “shorelining,” and “feeling for the bubbles [underfoot]”.


Heading to and from Target, we crossed streets,  went up and down escalators, and rode both bus and  light rail.

Clients at VLR start with the Braille alphabet and punctuation, then move to the next level, where they learn to read whole words. Our client yesterday doesn’t yet know enough Braille to read this directional sign. Instead, he  listened for the oncoming train, and once he realized others were  on the platform, asked them if this were the Midtown train.

LtRail Sign


feet & cane

The instructor  and I sat 10 rows back, so that, as she explained, “People will assume he’s alone.” The he is middle-aged man, blind from birth, who has been so dependent, for so many years, that he’ll probably never live outside a group home. Yet, from what I can tell, nobody  at VLR —  from the CEO to the newest  client — ever says never

My colleagues, who all seem to know I am sighted,  treat me, nevertheless,  with respect: I do  not have a guide dog, and I can see  paperclips and jump drives; at the computer,  I have to use a mouse, rather than directional arrows or JAWS to locate desktop files and open folders. Yet, they don’t  hold this against me. In fact, they are, fortunately for me,  Bodisattva-like, in their compassion.

As  the newest Newbie,  I probably notice things that others take for granted.Today, as I walked through the lobby,  I saw this poster for a Great Books Discussion Group. For a split second, I was bemused by the hand, until  I remembered I wasn’t at TGHS.  

poster Grt Books

REALLY, I’m trying to  learn to do familiar things in unfamiliar ways , e.g.”Please don’t worry about saying, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ or ‘Did you see the latest piece about Syria?’ We all say it all the time.” or “You know that joke about how to make Helen Keller cry (Rearrange the furniture!)? Well, here, it’s for real, so push  your chair back in its place when you leave the classroom.”

Long story short: I hope my colleagues have as much empathy for ME as they do for our incredible clients. So far, so good.

[Today is just like] January in India

Despite a  forecast dangerous for State Fair goers,  it had been a fruitful morning for me, personally   – air conditioned Mass, then a promising meeting on St Cecilia’s Domestic Violence work  with the pastor, as well as  with one of my all-time  personal heroes,  Mary Louise Klas.

Once home and  planted safely  in front of my a.c., I did a broad-stroke outline of  this year’s Escape-Winter-Ice Travel Plan,  then began the memoir thrust upon me earlier in the day by Judge Klas.  My weekly ESL work  is allowing  me just the narrowest glimpse into Somali (Muslim) women’s lives, and yet  the experience has sparked my interest. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say the experience has also raised questions [aka flags],  as I watch the   women in this 23-floor high rise, so I am fascinated by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s INFIDEL.

Reading for a sweltering day

Reading for a sweltering day

Spice Grinder for Garam Masala

Spice Grinder for Garam Masala

IN OTHER NEWS:I have started cooking Indian this summer: coriander, cumin, cardamon… 

My first batch of Garam Masala, that defining pleasure of many Indian dishes, was…well… Mary Briel,  you will remember how I had  you  taste that finely-ground brown mixture   I’d  brought back from Chennai? Remember how we decided I’d mixed up the plastic bags, and you’d just tasted Ananda Ashram DIRT,  instead of  Spencer Plaza GARAM MASALA?

Yes. Well, let me say this: my first batch of GM tasted just like India…the dirt of India.  “…you will want to  play with the flavors,” said the lovely Sri Lankan who sold me the spices and the grinder online, then called several times to check on my progress.  (I was being overzealous with the nutmeg; the GM is improving).


Ths afternoon, as we edged into the upper nineties in St Paul, I did what the women who cook at the ashram do: made a spicy chicken dish.

Indian GM ChickenThe picture won’t make you envy me, but it really is quite perfect, especially with a little of this…

IMG_4826                              (and I see it’s only 84F in Chennai today!)

In NYC with M.I.B.II

Mary Irene is much of what drew me to New York this time, and she is perfect, just perfect.

Mary Irene  is most of the reason I came to New York.

Saturday, overcast and blustery, Mary, Leilani, and I went looking for a little dessert.

At Columbus Circle, I encountered an old Siena friend:


I’m staying in the downstairs apartment, where I count a half-dozen bookshelves, overflowing. Looking over my laptop for something to read, I can of course write the only thing that comes to mind,i.e. that It’s [mostly] Greek to me.
photo-2Byz bks2




This last photo is a sort of Homage to The Briel Kids, for all those times they’ve watched – will continue to watch – Macaulay Caulkin get Lost in NYC:

Days 3-4-5

The Trappists of Gethsemani are in choir seven (7) times a day.
Retreatants – there were about 30 of us this week – just join in, mumbling, as the monks chant.

All these decades later, Thomas Merton’s description in Seven Storey Mountain
still resonates:
“I was amazed at the way these monks who were evidently just plain…Americans from the factories and colleges and farms and high-schools of the various states, were nevertheless absorbed and transformed in the liturgy. The thing that was most impressive was their absolute simplicity. They were concerned with one thing only: doing the things they had to do, singing what they had to sing, bowing and kneeling and so on when it was prescribed, and doing it as well as they could, without fuss or flourish or display.”

Speaking Thomas Merton, once I found the right cemetery, this was my third try, his grave was hard to miss:

Summing IT UP:
I’m going to revert to Merton again, partly because the experience of this week is so fresh, but mainly because he does it a bit (!) better than I ever could.
After his first visit to Gethsemani, he wrote:
“The logic of the Cistercian life is, then, the complete opposite to the logic of the world, in which men put themselves forward, so that the most excellent is the one who stands out, the one who is eminent above the rest, who attracts attention….the monk in hiding himself from the world becomes not less himself, not less of a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself: for his personality and individuality are perfected in their true order, the spiritual, interior order.”
Back in New York after that visit to Gethsemani, Merton was struck by the busy-ness of a place he thought he knew :
“And how strange it was to see people walking around as if they had something important to do, running after busses, reading the newspapers, lighting cigarettes…”

Louisville with a Twist

Father Louis (Thomas Merton)at his typewriter.

When I return to Louisville this week, it will be to stay at Merton’s Abbey of Gethsemani.


3:15 am Vigils
5:45 am Lauds
6:15 am Eucharist
7:30 am Terce
12:15 pm Sext
2:15 pm None
5:30 pm Vespers
7:00 pm Rosary
7:30 pm Compline


(Lauds, probably, but don’t look for me too often at Vigils)