Sunday, December 9, 2012

Be Who You Are and Be That Well

Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy's motto, words burned into alumnae memories perhaps better than anything we learned in class, comes from a quote by St. Francis de Sales:
Be who you are and be that well that you may bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are.
For my senior Herndon Speech Contest, an annual event held in honor of Mount de Chantal graduate Judith Herndon, our motto was the theme. While unpacking boxes today, I found my speech. It begins with a monologue adapted from the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. (Incidentally, I later played Lucy Van Pelt in a Towngate Theatre production of that musical, but for this contest, I stuck with Sally Brown.)
The only thing wrong with my big brother, Charlie Brown, is his stupidity, his clumsiness, his inferiority, and his lack of confidence. But Lucy had the guts to tell him like it is. And he said, "I'm not very handsome or clever or lucid. I've always been stupid at spelling and numbers. Oh how could there possibly be one small person as thoroughly, totally, utterly blah as me." And then she told him that there was still reason for hope because he's no one else but the singular, remarkable, unique Charlie Brown. As Lucy put it, "For whatever it's worth, Charlie Brown, you're you." So I guess all those things that I said were wrong with him are really what makes him Charlie Brown.
Like the characters in Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown cartoon, we must discover who we are and then how to be who we are without fear of what everyone else might say. In the six years I've spent at the Mount, my class dynamic has changed as we've lost and gained students and as we, ourselves, have grown. Still, in each of us can be found a little bit (or a lot) of those comic characters.
Although we might deny it at times, we can all be bossy like Lucy or stubborn like Sally. As Schroeder loves his music, every one of us has our passions, and while we may not literally have a blanket to cling to like Linus, we probably depend on some person or object to bring us comfort. And at least in my class, our inner Snoopiness shows itself usually more than once a day--that joking way of being to make someone or everyone smile. Finally, we are all Charlie Brown. We're trying our best to form our personality while overcoming all of the faults we perceive in ourselves. Meanwhile, we must be careful not to criticize the personalities of others because they're only doing exactly what we are in the search for self.
So, even if someone might be a little more Lucyish than we would like and take charge when we might want authority, we must remember that we, too, have our moments of Lucyness. Or perhaps, a classmate's passion for whatever topic she chooses does not particularly interest us, or it bores us mad. Either way, maybe we should recall that not everyone shares our enjoyment of our chosen hobbies. Snoopy, for instance, wildly loves suppertime, an idea Charlie Brown simply cannot comprehend, but he tolerates his dog's unusual antics because Snoopy just would not be Snoopy if he didn't celebrate his meal so much.
We all might benefit from listening a little more to the words of these characters who have such a firm grasp on what it means to "Be who you are and be that well" because they have learned to find joy in appreciating and loving one another for who they are and what they will become. They know that being who you are isn't about what other people think of you. It's about what you think of yourself and making yourself happy. After all, "Happiness is anyone and anything at all that's loved by you." Including yourself.
Flawed though it may be, this speech reminds me of the importance of accepting people for who they are, no matter how different who they are is from who I am. It also takes me back to a place that held so many happy memories. It puts me right back on that Music Hall stage at Mount de Chantal before a room of my teachers and friends, sharing the podium with half a dozen of my peers and listening as they shared their thoughts on our motto. I remember those traditions that are ours, moments that we hold dear, treasures that cannot be taken even though our building no longer stands on that hill majestic.

I am grateful for six years of being told day in and day out to be who I am and be that well because now, eight years after leaving those hallowed halls, those words still echo in my mind. They are printed on my conscience, reminding me that who I am is valuable, worthwhile, significant. Those words will always be there because the faculty, staff, and sisters of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy refused to let me forget them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving: On Reflection

This year, for the first time in a while, I did not spend Thanksgiving with my family. At least two Thanksgivings during my college years were spent with the folks I fondly call my adoptive family: the Stovers of Florida. So it's probably been about six years or so since I last ate a Thanksgiving dinner with people I wouldn't necessarily call family. The Thanksgiving of my sophomore year of college eludes me. The timeline is elastic. Anyway, lots of meals were shared with family. This one, last week, was not.

A few weeks ago, I started a new job in a new town, and as many of you probably know, I don't have my driver's license. (Cue comments from the peanut gallery. Okay, now that that's out of the way . . .) Since I don't drive and I only had Thursday off from work, I couldn't go home for the holiday. (Note to self: 4.5 hours is not that far to drive. Next year, when you have your license, you will leave after work on Wednesday and go home for dinner with your family on Thursday.)

Fortunately, the lovely music director at my new church home was kind enough to invite me to spend Thanksgiving with her family: the Hicks from West Virginia. (No, seriously.) While the meal was delicious and the company more than enjoyable, it wasn't my family. My rowdy, loving family really knows how to have a holiday so there were more than a few things that I missed. However, with new friends come new memories and, on this occasion at least, much laughter.

So, here are some of the things I missed:

*My family, of course. We're close-knit and all up in each other's business. This year, nobody asked me  if I have a boyfriend yet. (Okay, maybe I didn't really miss that last part.)

*My mom's sweet potato casserole. Not the kind with marshmallows. This stuff is all brown sugar and butter and pecan topping, which is really the reason we all love it so much. (My Uncle Matt only eats the topping.)

*Exchanging names for Christmas gifts. Mom picked a name for me. (Shh! It's a secret! But with only five of us grown kids in the exchange, it won't take long for the secret to get out, I'm sure. Jena and Melanie are tops at guessing anyway.)

*Washing dishes with Janelle.

*Seeing how big Landyn and Nola are getting.

*Sitting around for hours after our two o'clock dinner and talking until it's time to eat again. Saying, "I guess we'd better be getting home" and then sitting around and talking for another hour. Or two.

And here's what made my non-family Thanksgiving memorably delightful:

*Not being alone on a holiday.

*Talking to my family while they passed the phone around in turn.

*Trying to teach Amelia to knit using two plastic spoons.
It's possible! (Not altogether advisable.)
*Meeting the extended Hicks family and feeling right at home, especially when, during the BINGO! game, Chris said something about the ball turner being broken: "Mine's broken. Mine is broken!" I replied, "Mine are broken!" and Chris and her sister Karen both caught my Pretty Woman reference. Or maybe I joined theirs. Well, we were all on the same page.

*Playing BINGO! with all of the kids.
Pinto beans make excellent BINGO! chips.

*The chaos associated with lots of little ones.

*Laughing heartily while spending time with sisters Jessica and Cassidy, their mom Chris and dad Jack, and a whole host of fond family, now called friends.

A holiday feels so much more festive with family, and even though they aren't my family, the Hicks from West Virginia sure made me feel like one of their own.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Career Girl

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
I've never really thought of myself as a career girl, but it seems I have become one. I always expected Prince Charming was waiting just round the corner, and one day, I'd come round that corner, we'd bump noses, and "TA-DA!" happily ever after. So far, that hasn't happened. (I haven't ruled it out.)

Anyway, these steps have not led where I thought they would. From proofreading to working with an orchestra to, now, working with a professional theatre (in a non-performance capacity), my professional life has taken me to unexpected places. Outside of work, too, some pretty incredible experiences have filled my days. This year has been especially notable. Wonderful though those adventures have been, I still find myself at time plagued by a thought that this is not what my life is supposed to look like.

That's crazy, right? I mean, if I were supposed to be doing something else or being somewhere else, I would be doing that or being there. Logically, that makes sense. So why do I wonder? Why do I feel incomplete because my life doesn't look like hers or hers or hers? Why do I even want my life to look like any one of theirs when my own is so incredibly blessed?

So I'm a career girl. For now. For now, my life consists more of organizing data in Excel spreadsheets and other databases than building a life with my husband and our family. My free time is spent dancing with friends or reading for fun or joining the choir at my new church because, for now, I have free time, and for that, I am grateful. I am a career girl, and that means I can learn to be a good steward of my resources now so that when I do have a husband and a herd of little ones, I will know how to be a good steward of our resources then. Or maybe I'll live a long life knowing how to manage my own business.

In any case, I'm a career girl now, and with that, I shall be content.

(Really, though, where's that corner?)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Chapter the Next

Two days ago, I moved to Lewisburg, WV, to start a new job with the Greenbrier Valley Theatre. Prior to this big move, life became pretty exciting:

At Oglebay Institute's Towngate Theatre, I was privileged to appear as "Curley's Wife" in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Directed by Tim Thompson and starring some of the most talented actors I've ever had the privilege to meet, this production marked my debut in grown-up theatre! Also, audience members have touted it as one of the best shows they've seen at Towngate. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to tackle this challenging role and to work with so many spectacular actors: Justin Swoyer, Mack Kale, John E. Reilly, Wayne McCourt, James Martin, Shawn Carder, Walt Warren, P.D. Gregg, Lewis Willming, and, of course, Daisy.

I went dancing in Gainesville for the first time in years and got to reunite with some pretty awesome friends and meet a bunch of new ones.

With Jenny, Craig & Weston at the Gainesville Lindy Exchange. October 2012.
While I was in Gainesville, I got to have a photo shoot with photographer friend Raul E. Fernandez S. He took a bunch of wonderful photos, and we had a grand time. Here are a couple of my favorites:

After going to Gainesville, I joined my parents and grandparents for a relaxing week at Myrtle Beach and our family return to Angelo's.

Upon returning to Wheeling, I started rehearsals for the Augusta Levy Learning Center's Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars, Season Two. My partner, Charlie Schlegel, owns and runs local restaurant Ye Olde Alpha. We had a lot of fun learning our short routine to Peggy Lee's recording of "Big Spender" from the musical Sweet Charity. Here's a short clip of our dance (Thanks to Tracey Marra for the video!):

Even though we didn't place, we were pleased as punch to be part of a fundraiser for such a worthy cause and grateful to meet so many other talented dancers and local celebrities. Plus, we did win best costumes! Thanks to Stages for their generosity in dressing me and for their inspiration and to Charlie for all of his hard work!

Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars 2012.

In addition to all of the activities, I also enjoyed sharing meals with friends and family. I miss you all and look forward to dining with you again in the future. :)

Now, I'm getting settled in Lewisburg and my temporary housing and looking forward to starting my new job tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who helped make this transition smooth and brought such great joy to my last couple of weeks in Wheeling!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LaKnitShack or Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

A couple of days ago, I opened my own shop! It's called La Knit Shack, which, in case you didn't already figure it out, is a play on my last name - Labishak. You can find it on at and on Facebook at

Back in middle school, when my brother and I spent our afternoons at our babysitter's house, we both learned to crochet. In college, I met other gals who liked yarncraft and rediscovered my own love of working with yarn. I even taught myself to knit. Since then, I've made gifts and dabbled in sales, but now, for the first time ever, I'm tossing my hat in the ring of business and making a go of it.

Today, I sold this beautiful baby blanket:

Right now, I'm working on another one in a multi-hued yarn, and available in the shop now are these lovely flowered earwarmers:

Check back for new inventory and follow LaKnitShack on Facebook and Etsy to keep up with what's new in the store!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Burn Books! (Or Vote to Save the Library)

Libraries nationwide continue to face tremendous budget cuts. In tough economic times, I suppose it's easier to slash a line item that seems superfluous than another that is agreed to be essential. I've always loved the library. It seems to me that a place that provides free access to information should be kept around so that even if people can't afford to buy the book or the newspaper or the magazine, they won't miss the opportunity to read it. Plus, libraries often lend movies, music, audiobooks, and language-learning resources; provide Internet access; and have resources to help with research beyond the Internet. Best of all, they do all of these things (and more) for free!

Supporters of the library in Troy, Michigan, took a unique approach to saving their library when the local branch of the TEA Party urged voters to deny a 0.7% tax increase that would support funding for the library. Check out this video that documents their guerilla efforts:

That's one way to save a library!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Happy: William Mauvais & Maeva Truntzer Showcase ILHC 2012

I've never been to the International Lindy Hop Championships, but this video makes me want to go. Also, I may have to name my future daughter Maeva for no other reason than it's a lovely name. (Do I need a reason other than that?)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Room: A Review

"Utterly gripping"



These are just a few of the words reviewers have used in describing Emma Donoghue's 2010 novel Room.

(Mild spoiler alert from here on out.)

Five-year-old Jack's and his Ma's lives are confined to the eleven-foot-square room where Jack was born. To protect him, Ma has raised Jack to believe that "Room" is all there is, that everything in the TV is pretend, that they are the whole world--except for Old Nick, who visits in the night. Narrating, Jack tells how they live, how they exercise, what they eat, what they read, how he learns. Ma has created as full a life as she can for him with what limited resources she has, but she is growing restless and desperate and knows that not even her creativity can survive the situation much longer, though her ingenuity, along with Jack's bravery, does save them from it. The second half of the novel, outside "Room," recounts Ma's adjustment to what life can now be--and what it must be as a result of what she has endured, Jack's first regular interaction with anyone but Ma and his experience of a wider world he has only just learned exists, and Ma's continued fierce protection of her son even as she struggles to reconcile the person she has become with the person she once was.


I stumbled upon Room in the bookstore and picked it up because of its simple but eye-catching cover:

Room sat on my bookshelf for months until this week when I picked it up and found I couldn't tear myself away, even during rehearsals for the play. (I sat backstage in the sawdust and hay from the set and read until my entrances.) [Note: The copy I have includes an intriguing interview with the author. If you read the book, definitely check out the interview as well.]

Donoghue's elegant, five-year-old prose captured my heart and broke it in one fell swoop: Jack has no idea that there is a world beyond "Room." His way of seeing his world heightens the contrast between the two halves of the book--the first half of confinement and the second half of freedom that seems, to Jack, incredibly suffocating.

The Ma that Jack portrays also has two strikingly different halves. In "Room," she must be all things to Jack. She is mother and teacher and protector. All mothers are these things (ideally, I suppose), but she has no one to help her, no "village," so to speak. She also has no one to be any of these things to her. Jack doesn't understand that Ma is a daughter, too. Jack doesn't even realize Ma has a name besides "Ma." Outside, as Ma tries to maintain her relationship with Jack while simultaneously re-learning how also to be everything else she once was, she shatters. Donoghue does not manipulate the character into a paragon of virtue, all things perfect, all things managed. Ma is real and flawed and, thus, all the more affecting.

Donoghue challenges the media's tendency to sensationalize stories like these. During an interview with Ma, a television host tries to idealize the experience into an exercise in simple living, assumes she understands what Ma must have thought on finding she was pregnant, directs Ma toward the narrative the show wants to tell rather than the truth. Ma won't play the game. She refuses to make herself the untainted heroine but neither will she let them make her into more of a victim.

Most of the sordid details of Ma's ordeal are lost on Jack and absent from the narrative, which might make this novel more accessible to the squeamish and the highly sensitive, but the story is far from simple and happy. It haunts the brain and sends the reader on a dark trip from one prison to a kind of other and finally, hopefully, to freedom.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ireland: At Last

In May of 2008, when I graduated from the University of Florida, my parents gave me a trip to Ireland to visit my friend Kaaren, who was (and is) working on a graduate degree in Irish Archaeology. Then, I started a job and couldn't go, and then I switched jobs and didn't have enough vacation time. Until this year! Finally, I jetted across the pond and, thankfully, Kaaren hadn't yet finished her program and was still there to show me around the beautiful green land of my ancestors. (No joke, I saw the castle built by the O'Donoghue clan from which my dear Grammy Beverly Donahue is descended!). So, three months after my trip, here is the tale of my two weeks of travels (with pictures!).

Many thanks to Kaaren for tolerating my indecision and just putting together a magnificent itinerary and for showing me so much beauty! (And, of course, big thanks to Mom and Dad for sending me on this adventure!)

On the morning of Sunday, May 13 (Mother's Day and my Uncle Matt's birthday), my parents and Gram drove me up to the Pittsburgh airport for my first solo international journey. After an overnight flight spent dozing in the window seat of the last row of the plane, I caught my first glimpse of Ireland:

While I promise not to run this post through with long, unnecessary descriptions of food (and pictures of said food), I must say from the outset that the food was delicious, especially the brown bread and butter. Kaaren and I decided that next time, I ought to put together a rating card with categories for texture, flavor, moistness, etc., so that I can objectively identify my favorite brown bread in Ireland. For the record, I think Chez Pierre, a tiny and charming French restaurant in Kilkenny, has my favorite brown bread and also a delicious vegetable tartine with goat cheese. Yum! Okay, onward!

First up, a trip to the Rock of Cashel and the purchase of my OPW (Office of Public Works) Card, which would afford me admission to most of the historical sites on our itinerary.
At just 21 euro, this card is worth it if you're visiting any number of historical sites.
It doesn't cover Blarney Castle, just FYI.
The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary is home to Cormac's Chapel and St. Patrick's Cross (and a replica of the cross), among other treasures. The wind makes a jacket absolutely necessary, especially if it's spitting rain.

Wide shot of the site, including the round tower. Renovations necessitate the presence of the scaffolding over Cormac's Chapel. Moisture has caused damage to the roof, which is being restored.

Hugging the replica of St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick's Cross
En route to our B&B--Abbey House--we stopped at Nicholas Mosse Pottery for lunch and a bit of shopping. I didn't buy anything there, but I enjoyed browsing. Later, I would not exercise such self control when in the presence of pottery. After dinner at the Marble Slab Bar and my first encounter with mushy peas, we returned to the B&B whereupon I collapsed in sleep.

Guard dog at Abbey House Bed & Breakfast
Day two brought a tour of Kilkenny Castle. No pictures are allowed inside, but here's a shot of the exterior:
Kilkenny Castle
The grounds looked to be an excellent picnicking spot and, according to Kaaren, a popular wedding photo location.

We toured St. Canice's Cathedral:

St. Canice's Cathedral
I climbed to the top of the tower at the right of that photograph above. It's over 100 feet tall, and there are eleven ladders to the top. My legs wobbled, but the climb was worth it for the view:

View from the top of the round tower at St. Canice's Cathedral
After that delicious lunch at Chez Pierre, we ventured to one of Kaaren's research sites to see my very first Ogham stone! Ogham is the oldest form of written Irish.

The marks that look like scratches on the right side of the stone are Ogham.
In the morning, we took a guided tour of Jerpoint Abbey:

Jerpoint Abbey
Since I can't begin to describe the intricate carvings in the cloister at the abbey, here are some pictures:

This is a pig, and I don't remember why.
It looks like it has a flower in its ear.
I took a boatload of pictures at Jerpoint Abbey and even had to change my camera batteries. There were so many enchanting architectural details and fascinating carvings. Since I can't resist sharing them, here are some more. These are carvings on tombs. Some of them are apostles, and others are saints, but I don't remember which:

This last carving depicts St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers:

St. Christopher is said to be carrying child Jesus across a river.
After lunch at the Blackberry Cafe in Thomastown, where we learned about the Bridge Pottery (whose work provides the dinnerware at the cafe), we ventured to Burnchurch to meet one of the artists . . . and to purchase some pottery. I resisted the inclination to purchase a pig (and would later have to resist this inclination again and again because pigs are very popular in pottery), but I did find a lovely utensil holder that now adorns my mother's kitchen counter.

Then, at last, we were on our way to Cork, where Kaaren lives and where we would spend the next week. After dinner at home, we drove to Douglas's South County Bar to see Torcan, a band, and to meet some of Kaaren's school friends. I had my first glass of Bulmer's cider. Yum!

We took a day to be lazy: shopping, trying on dresses at Debenham's, posting the first batch of cards, and ending the day with an episode of Castle. The next day brought a trip to Charlesfort (OPW site) and my first encounter with Kaaren's friend Liam, a cantankerous but charming musician. I enjoyed exploring the fort and reading the history (none of which I retained) and taking pictures of the harbor and the sea beyond:

Charlesfort, a military base.
A view from Charlesfort.
A view during our driving tour with Liam.
Lunch at Fishy Fishy Shop & Chippy with fresh-caught fried fish and yummy chips with vinegar and then back home to Cork.

We spent a whole day in Blarney, visiting the castle and grounds, seeing Blarney House (but not touring it), and wandering Blarney Woolen Mill for hours. First, the castle:

At the top of the castle, in line with the windows, there's a bit of light spilling through.
There you kiss the Blarney Stone by hanging backward over the opening.
It's safe, though: guarded by iron bars.
To get to the top, you climb a narrow spiral staircase where the ceiling is so low that sometimes I even had to duck a little. All the way up, there are handrails or rope as a safeguard against falling. The staircases are designed to trip up invaders so the steps are different heights. Plus, because the castle is a ruin and exposed in places to the elements and because so many thousands of people are traipsing up these stairs all the time, the steps are rather worn down and even a bit slippery. At various points, you can peek through arrow slits for spectacular views of the grounds:

A view from the spiral stairs on the way up to the top of Blarney Castle.
At the top, you can kiss the Blarney Stone, which I was ordered to do by my Gram. I did it. Here's the proof:

Then, there was shopping. Blarney Woolen Mill is a three-story shopping complex. Many gifts were purchased there, as were many postcards, but simply wandering around the shop was the best part.

In the morning, we drove to Ardmore and saw a round tower and the sea. We took a walk along the sea, staying clear of the sand and seaweed, and had lunch at White Horses.

The round tower at Ardmore with a glimpse of the sea.
The sea at Ardmore. 
I hope you'll indulge me a food picture because this little fruit appetizer from White Horses is too cute not to share:

The inside was filled with cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, grapes, etc.
The next day, we had a driving tour of Cork City, narrated by Liam. We saw Everyman Palace Theatre, St. Finbar's Cathedral, the madhouse, and the longest and shortest roads in Ireland (according to Liam), among other sights.
The old madhouse. Some of it has been renovated and made into apartments.
Few Irish will live there because of its sad history.
To conclude my week in Cork, we enjoyed a gig by Liam and Ger, collectively known as Trad Routes, at An Seanachai in Kinsale. Some of the lyrics are a little naughty but only for a moment.

Dave, the barman at An Seanachai, said I was the loveliest girl in all Ireland. I won the band's CD, and they let me have it even though they accused me of cheating. (Kaaren told me the answer to the question that won me the prize.) Liam treated me to a pint of Bulmer's cider, and I was highly entertaining to a group of American tourists who thought I was part of the gig.

The next day, we drove to Killarney and had a tour of the aforementioned Ross Castle of the O'Donoghue clan.

Ross Castle, built by the O'Donoghue clan!
We ate dinner at Kate Kearney's Cottage and enjoyed some accordion music and a bit of Irish dancing before calling it a day. In the morning, we toured Muckross House and gardens.

After Muckross House, we drove to the Dingle Peninsula, which is a gaeltacht, a community officially dedicated to preserving the Irish language, both written and spoken. We had dinner at Ashe's (twice!) in Dingle town. I saw beehive huts and the sea.

The sea from the Dingle peninsula
We visited the Blasket Islands museum, which depicts the many efforts made at documenting life and language on the islands. It's a fascinating history, and I'd highly recommend the museum.

Blasket Islands
Out on the peninsula, we stopped at Louis Mulcahy Pottery for lunch and to see his work. Beautiful pieces but way out of my price range.

The lawn at Louis Mulcahy Pottery
For our last hurrah, we drove to Shannon for the banquet at Bunratty Castle. En route, we stopped at Annascaul Pottery. The banquet provided a delightful conclusion to my Irish adventure, complete with a delicious meal and superb entertainment:

Bunratty Castle staff and performers

Along the way, there were other potteries and charming B&Bs: Coolavokig Pottery (which uses a wood-fired kiln and which also had cute little pigs), Penny's Pottery (where everything was pastel shades of blue and green), Holly Grove B&B (Killarney), and Cill Bhreac House (Dingle, County Kerry).

Early in the morning, I caught a flight home, toting a bag full of pottery and a brain full of memories. I look forward to returning to Ireland, next time with my mother and Gram. Until then, here's a sheep, representative of the fields full of them that run through my every thought of Ireland.