My Clearwater and Tampa, Florida trip.

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Sandbar at Anclote Key Preserve.

More than two months ago, my daughter and I spent 8 days in Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I never got around to writing about my trip, even though I kept promising to.  Well, I finally got around to it.  Better late than never, right?

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Horseshoe crabs — one of them crawled right over my feet!

I got to see my son while we were in Tampa, even though he had to work most of the 4 days were here, but we did all go out to dinner a couple of times, spent some time lounging at the hotel pool and hot tub.  On our last day together, we all went to ZooTampa.  It was a bit pricey, but worth it.   We got a late start, but still managed to see almost the entire zoo, except “Australia.”  The sections we saw were “Florida,” “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Primates.”   The zoo is very large so if you go, be prepared to spend lots of time walking!  Stay hydrated.   As we passed through the indoor reptile area (a welcomely cool respite from the heat), there were colorful decorations all over the ceiling that resembled deep sea creatures and looked as if they were made of glass — but they were actually sculptures made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic trash!

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We loved seeing all the different animals (there were even river otters — my favorite — in the “Florida” section).  My daughter seemed quite taken with the pink flamingos, who were very entertaining and funny.   There were so many of them!  We spent a long time just watching their antics.

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One of the days my son was working, my daughter and I decided to drive to Tarpon Springs, a small Greek fishing village which is known as the Sponge Capital of the US.  It was my third visit there.  It’s one of my favorite places in the Tampa Bay area. On a whim, we decided to take the Sponge-O-Rama cruise out into the Gulf.  It’s a two hour cruise and pretty cheap at only $20 per person.   We had to wait a while for the boat (a sort of ferry) to fill up, but when we took off, the water was pretty choppy from recent storms, and I had to hold on.  Drinks were served but it was hard to hold onto them without them splashing everywhere.  After we got out into the Gulf, the dark water from the marina and inlet suddenly turned bright aquamarine.   For a minute I thought someone had slipped some LSD into my beer!  But this is the actual color of the water.

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The boat’s captain, a youngish Greek man who had been raised in Tarpon Springs and worked with the boats all his life (his name was Atticus!) explained the reason why the color of the water changed so abruptly isn’t so much due to the depth, but because once you leave the river and enter the Gulf proper, the water changes from brackish (almost freshwater) to salt water.  The mangroves dotting the area suck up the nutrients from the water, making it clear.   He pointed out other things we were seeing along the way.

Finally, about three miles out into the Gulf, he pulled the boat over next to a large sandbar.   This was part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, a group of very small mangrove islands so remote there is no way to get there except by boat.  The sandbar is a semi-permanent fixture, with a few low growing plants and grasses and a lot of seaweed washed up on the sand.   The sand was absolutely blinding white, like snow, and surrounded on all sides by the clearest aquamarine water I’ve ever seen.  In the shallow areas the water was so crystal clear you could barely see it.  Our group (there were about 20 of us) spent about 30 minutes exploring, collecting shells, or swimming.  We were each given a plastic grocery bag to collect shells in.   I didn’t spend much time shelling.  After a few minutes, I ran out into the pristine warm salt water and just let it engulf me.   The whole experience was exhilarating, even though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time!

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The above photo is my absolute favorite.   The juxaposition of the white sands, aquamarine water and fluffy white clouds stirs my soul.  I have made this photo the background on my laptop!

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Our combined seashell booty.

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The marina at Tarpon Springs (notice how much darker the water here is)

We drove to Clearwater for the remaining 4 days.  The 10 mile drive over Tampa Bay into Clearwater is very pretty.   We stayed in a cute hotel right on the beach, but the weather during our stay could have been better.   We only had two days of good weather, but being right on the boardwalk, there was still more than enough to keep us busy.   Our first night, we ate at Clearwater’s most famous eatery, Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe.  The beach was wonderful, and not too crowded.  One day we decided to drive out to Treasure Island in St. Petersburg, even though it was raining.  Hey, why not?   It rained during the drive, and the entire time we were there, but the beach was still pleasant and the water warm.  We didn’t stay long, but it was nice having the beach almost completely to ourselves.

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Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.

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Treasure Island in the pouring rain.

The sunsets over the Gulf were incredible.    I just can’t get enough of Gulf sunsets, and here are the pictures proving that.

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Sunlight from sunset reflecting off the clouds to the east.

On our second day, we had beautiful weather (even though the morning forecast had predicted rain), so we decided to book the Pirate ship for its Champagne Cruise, which takes off in the late afternoon.  There are two champagne cruises; ours was the first.  The next one takes off at sunset.   I would have liked to go on that one too, but we’d already had way too much champagne.  Yes, I confess both my daughter and I overindulged (you pay your $40 for the cruise, and the drinks are unlimited), but we had so much fun, and the views from the ship were amazing (a few are pictured below). The pirate theme was fun, and the appropriately costumed staff were friendly.  The nice young man pictured below (I can’t remember his name) even hung out with us on the upper deck for a few minutes.

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Me with view of the beach in the background

One thing I noticed this time was how good I’m getting at finding my way around the Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater metro area.   It’s my third trip to this area, but this time I was finally getting comfortable just driving around and finding my way from one place to another.   I’m generally not good with directions and navigation, but  because everything’s pretty much laid out on a grid here, it’s a lot easier to get around the area than where I live, where there are mountains and no grid to speak of.

It seems so much longer than two months ago I was in Florida, but in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday.   To end this post, here’s a little video I made just after sunset of the patterns of the surf (it’s actually the first video I ever made from my phone).

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A fun day.

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Side view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin, Arden, NC.

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, but this year has gone by so fast (and because of the continued cold weather, I was having trouble believing spring had really arrived), so I almost forgot about her birthday. It just sort of snuck up on me.   So I realized yesterday I hadn’t made any plans or gotten her anything.

I stopped by a cupcake shop on the way home and got six different types of cupcakes, then had her pick her favorite one (red velvet cake).  Then I placed a candle on top of it and brought it out to her while we sang happy birthday (I did not get a picture of that but I should have — the cupcakes were adorable and so colorful).

Then I told her I wanted to go for a drive and wanted company.   What I had in mind was a 3 mile trip to some river cabins I’d always been curious to see.     She and her boyfriend joined me, thinking the trip would be boring, but it wasn’t at all!

There are seven adorable rental cabins tucked away in the woods by the river.   Six of them are new, and all perfectly charming (we could actually go inside two of them), but the one that fascinated me the most was the Hundred Year Old Cabin.   We didn’t get to see the inside of it, but it’s very photogenic, as you can see below.

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Back view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Front view of the Hundred Year Old Cabin

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Two photos of one of the newer river cabins.

We got to try out the hammock on one of the cabins closest to the river.   It was a beautiful day, and so relaxing just swinging in it and hearing all the nature sounds.  It was hard to believe I wasn’t on vacation and only a few miles from my home .

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We walked around the campgrounds for a while and took some pictures of the river, then we headed to Panera Bread for her birthday dinner.

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When people tell you to respect your family…

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I was an honorary furry for a few days last week.

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Me trying on one of my son’s fursuit heads during my August 2016 trip.

I completely forgot to mention this in my posts about my Florida trip.   I met a few of my son’s friends in the Tampa area furry community, and they are all awesome people — very chill, extremely friendly, and best of all, very supportive of each other.

I actually attended a furry party my son threw at his apartment.   I was an honorary furry for that night!   No, I did not wear a costume. In fact, no one did.  It was just good clean fun, nothing questionable or too weird going on.  We watched a furry dance competition on livestream on my son’s Mac, played Cards Against Humanity (it’s a hilarious game), and watched a couple of bad (non-furry) films.   (One of my son’s hobbies is throwing “bad movie” get-togethers for his friends — they watch these movies ironically and laugh at them — if you remember Mystery Science Theatre 3000, that’s the general idea here).  After all the silliness, we all headed down to the apartment complex’s pool and hot tub for an evening swim and relaxation.

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Two views of the bumper of the car that belongs to one of my son’s friends who was at the party.    She can’t get enough of ferrets and owns four of them.  It’s hard to see it here, but her car is a lovely frosted pink and is awesome.

Speaking of science, tomorrow is Earth Day, and I will be attending my second protest — a March for Science taking place here in my city.    I haven’t made a sign yet (and am not sure I’ll have the time), but I’ll be picking up a tee-shirt I paid for in advance (proceeds go to help the cause).    I’ll be wearing this tee-shirt along with the buttons I purchased at the last protest I attended about the ACA and healthcare.

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I’ll definitely post about my experience at the march tomorrow and will take pictures, as I did the last time.

The rest of the weekend I’ll probably be engaged in the tedious task of pulling posts from this blog I may want to use in my book.   That’s my intention anyway;  I can’t say I’ll actually commit to doing it.   Actual writing is so much more fun.

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Happy Earth Day 2017!

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Safe arrival.

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That’s my son at Hudson Park.   It was windy and rather chilly!

I’m just checking in to let everyone know I arrived in Florida safely.

The 12 hour long car trip was, well, a trip.    When I left my house at 4:30 AM the weather was horrible.  It was very cold and extremely windy, with a heavy, slushy rain that fortunately wasn’t icy enough to accumulate on the roads but left slushy patches on my windshield that the wipers could barely keep up with.

Driving down out of the mountains was kind of hellish, because I don’t see well driving in the dark to begin with , and it was made worse by the glare of the rain on the roads.    The roads weren’t icy, but were slick so I had to drive slowly.    The good thing about that was there was no one on the road at that hour.

When I entered South Carolina, the rain stopped, but it was still dark.  Early morning traffic was beginning to pick up,  and I stopped at a gas station in a tiny village called Joanna.   The sky was just beginning to lighten, which is pictured below, taken from the station’s parking lot.

 

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Bizarrely, the gas station specialized in selling New York City souvenirs — coffee mugs, T-shirts, plates, collectibles.    I asked the Indian owner (who was running the register) about that and he said it was because he was from New York City.   We wound up having a conversation about New York because I grew up and around that area too.  Silently I wondered why the heck he had moved to this unknown village in South Carolina that had nothing much going for it.

The sun rose just as I entered Columbia, just in time for early morning rush hour.   I stopped a few more times to stretch or use the restroom, but I didn’t have to stop long anywhere because I had brought snacks with me in the car to avoid time wasted eating or purchasing food. Besides, eating too much on a long drive makes me sleepy.   High energy snacks like granola bars, pre-wrapped slices of cheese, or cookies work best for me on a long drive.  They keep my energy up without making me groggy.

Still, the drive was exhausting.  By now the sky was bright blue and clear as a bell.  Despite the wind, it was hard to believe I’d left that morning in a slush storm.

By now, it had heated up, although it was still windy (and would remain so all the way down to where I was going). At the Georgia welcome center I stripped off my coat and hoodie, which I hadn’t been able to remove in the car, and changed from boots and socks into sandals.   Ah, much better.

By the time I arrived at the Florida welcome center (where they give you a free cup of orange or grapefruit juice), I felt like I’d run a marathon.    Why is it that sitting in a car all day is more exhausting than working out for hours?

As I entered Florida, my daughter texted me telling me they were leaving the house.   She and her friend planned to drive separately, although we were to all meet at the hotel.    Well, they didn’t leave my house until 12:30 — 8 hours after I did!     I continued on.   The drive into Florida is pretty much a straight shot — I-26, and then I-95.   But after Jacksonville it gets hairy, because there are so many road changes and they are easy to miss.     Thank goodness I had my GPS!   Even so, I missed one turn as I entered the county my son lives in and had to backtrack — in heavy rush hour traffic, which was more than a little scary.    I thought of my daughter and her friend and hoped they were safe.  I’d asked them to text me every so often to let me know where they were, and for the most part, they did.

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I arrived at the hotel and my son was already there waiting — in his new Chevy pickup!   Well, it’s not exactly new (it’s a 2006 model) but it looks and runs like new.    We went to Wawa (a convenience store chain) and ordered sandwiches.  Wawa sandwiches are awesome because you can special order ANYTHING on them via computer.  I had my tuna salad done like a Jersey Mike’s sandwich — with spinach, lettuce, oil and vinegar.    We got some donuts to take back with us.

He wanted to show me around so we drove a little bit.  We went to a park where he plays Pokemon Go!  (a game where you actually go outside to capture creatures on your phone) and walked around a bit.    A strong wind was blowing off the gulf, and it was COLD!  I could hardly believe this was Florida.   I was glad I’d decided to bring my hoodie.

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Look how strong the wind was blowing.   The buildings in the background, including the one with the thatched roof, is a bar/restaurant that plays its music LOUD!  I was jamming to it to stay warm.

It was too cold to swim, but when we got back to his apartment, we went in the hot tub and just relaxed and caught up on everything.    The hot tub worked wonders on my sore muscles from the long drive.    After I dried off, he drove me back to the hotel room where I unpacked and watched TV (not the news, for a change!)

I started to worry about the kids, because it was dark now and I hadn’t heard from them in awhile.  Being me, I had visions of them being in a terrible accident.

I called and talked to my daughter’s friend.  He said she’d fallen asleep and since he was driving he hadn’t been able to call for awhile.    They finally arrived right at midnight. We ate the donuts I’d brought back and went to bed.  They were as exhausted as I was!

The weather is supposed to warm up and today as I’m writing this I can already feel the change.    I’m not sure yet what we’ll be doing today, but whatever it is should be fun.   I’m still a bit sore from the long drive, though!

Back to the Gulf Coast!

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Sunset off Clearwater Beach.

In just a month (April 7th), I’ll be driving back to the Tampa Bay area again to visit my son. I’ll be there for 5 days, until the 12th.   This time, my daughter is coming along with me, since she hasn’t seen where he lives before.

When I went in August last year, it was the first time I’d ever been in Florida, and since my son was working most of the week I was there, I had time to spend alone exploring the area.  One of my favorite discoveries was the bath-warm waters of the Gulf near his home, with its ever-shifting tides that expose the silt-like sand at low tide.   There aren’t a lot of tourists there in August (too hot), so that trip actually turned out to  be not only a peaceful, but also a spiritual experience — not to mention that I got to see my son and spend time with him and do some fun things together.

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The tide going out at Rees Park.

For me, the worst part of any vacation is returning from one.    I remember how hard it was to re-adjust to my daily routine when I came home.  For a while, I wanted to move to Florida, but I have changed my mind about that for a few reasons, mostly because of global warming.  Central-west Florida may be submerged in the near future.   I also don’t think I’d care much for the weather, due to the near-constant threat of severe storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

This time, I won’t be returning home just as my SAD (seasonal affective disorder) sets in.  Spring is my best time of year, and my mood improves with the lengthening days, so I shouldn’t be blindsided by the double whammy of oncoming SAD and post-vacation blues at the same time.

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My son may have to work again for part of the time I’m there, but he thinks he can get off most of the days I’m there, so that means more time spent together.   Clearwater Beach is definitely on the agenda, and this time we are going to visit the famous aquarium there too.   We might even drive to Disney World, but  I’m not sure yet.   None of us have ever been there.   I might try my hand at fishing again.

Whatever we wind up doing, it’s going to be a lot of fun.  I’ve already booked the room (because there are two of us this time, we’re staying at a nearby motel). I’m   getting excited about our road trip!

I’ll be bringing my laptop along with me, just as I did in August, so I can still blog while I’m there.

All photos you see here were taken by me during my trip in August of last year.

Daughter’s weekend trip to Gatlinburg, TN (photo)

I died when I saw this photo they had taken today.

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Getting ready for my road trip next week!

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The Florida Gulf Coast before a storm (credit: my son)

I haven’t taken a long road trip since 2008! That’s WAYYYY too long. But after 8 long years, I’m getting ready for another one. Today I got my oil changed and my tires checked to make sure my car is road worthy for the 700 mile trip. I took Monday off so I’m going to Goodwill to look for an inexpensive travel bag. (I also have an emergency appointment with my therapist).

Next week, most likely next Sunday when the traffic on the highways is a little lighter, I’m driving to Port Richey, Florida, to visit my son for a whole week. I saw him in April when he came here to visit for a few days, but I’m dying to see his place (he lives in a nice apartment complex with a pool and a hot tub). I’ll be staying there to save money instead of staying in a hotel. He lives close to the beach, so we will also be hitting the beach a few times. He wasn’t able to get days off from work, but his hours are variable and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of time to spend together. He’s as excited as I am, and is planning to take me to a couple of his favorite eateries, of course the beach, and also fishing!

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The water looks like molten gold.

Hopefully the weather holds up. The Gulf Coast can be iffy this time of year since it’s the middle of hurricane season. I really need this trip, not only to see my son but also to get away and just relax near the ocean and see some new sights. The timing couldn’t be better, since I’ve been so triggered and upset lately. I think this trip is just what I need and will help me regroup and get my head and my emotions together.

I’m bringing my laptop with me because I will continue to blog while in Florida, and will post pictures every day of my adventures with my son. Gosh, I can’t wait!

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My son in Clearwater last year.

Gals’ night at home.

My daughter and I had a nice time girl-bonding tonight.   I’m not the type that gets into female bonding in general ( most of my platonic friends have always been male), but every once in a blue moon, I can get down with it.

So we shared a bottle of chardonnay and got just a little goofy.   She decided she wanted to give me a makeover and do my hair.    I rarely have my hair done professionally; usually I do it myself, which means either a blunt, easy cut (if I’m ambitious) or a ho-hum parted down the center boring 1970s look.

I did have my hair done by a real hairdresser back in March (you might remember that post), but it’s expensive, and my hair was getting boring and lifeless again (and worse, frizzes in the high humidity, so I told her to be my guest and have at it.

She used a color called Soft Black Violet in the deepest layer of hair(near the scalp) and and after letting that sit about 20 minutes (rather than 40 like the box said–I didn’t want it  BLACK because I remember about 20 years ago when I dyed my hair jet black and I looked exactly like Morticia from The Addams Family, with my pale, almost redhead type of skin crashing into the blue-black of my hair like a cargo of black and white linoleum floor tiles after a truck explosion.

I asked her how much gray hair she could see (I have no gray where I can see it in the mirror).  She told me just a little in the deep layer near my neckline in the back.

“That’s it?” I marveled.  One thing my family did right with me was give me good genes. I hate sounding narcissistic, but I always thought I looked pretty good.  Most other people did too.  Hardly anyone on either my mother’s or my father’s side looked anywhere near their real age (until age finally caught up with them, usually around 70 or 80).

“Yup,” my girl confirmed.   Then, “Mom, you’re done.  Wow, you look great!”

The result is a color a little deeper than strawberry blonde, but not really red either, sort of a dark mauve (the mauve must be from the “violet” in the haircolors’ name). My medium blonde hair on the top layer remained intact, and the effect makes my hair look thicker and with more 3-D depth.

The choice of color might seem a little eccentric for a woman my age, but I never pretended to be anything but a bit off the beaten path.  Besides, my daughter picked it for me.  It’s true,  I’m not much of a risk taker in much of anything, but when it comes to doing weird stuff to my hair, well…

“Bring it on!”

It will always grow out if you hate it.

Here are the final results, after the blow dry and the hair straightening my daughter did.   I think I just saved about $80.00.

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One last thing that made everything perfect.  Here’s the song we cranked up and sang at full volume so it reverberated against the white ceramic tiles that cover most of the bathroom walls.  It’s one of her favorite songs ever and it’s grown on me too.

In spite of our differences…

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My dad wasn’t perfect and I don’t idealize him or his memory.  Lord knows, he wasn’t a great father.  In fact, he could be a pretty lousy father and he even admitted it later on.  But I loved my dad.  Deeply.  He was my rock, even though he could erupt at any moment like a volcano.  And I still love him, no matter what kind of “baggage” we had together.

My dad wasn’t crazy about Catholics, even though he married a lapsed Catholic woman (my mother).  I was sent to a Catholic school starting in 5th grade, for two reasons–the first one being that the public schools in my area weren’t very good and I’d get a better education at a Catholic school (Catholic schools are notorious for providing an excellent education and they do value a well-rounded worldview).  The second reason was because I was being bullied in the local public school.

In my Catholic school, I found a refuge away from the dysfunction at home.  I loved my school, and I loved the Friday masses, even though I was not allowed to participate in Communion.  It sometimes felt like my real home.  The nuns there took me under their wing.  I thought they were angels and (except for one of two of them who could be mean) I was always in awe of their kindness and compassion.  I loved the quiet and peaceful way they moved.  I loved their softness. I loved the way they seemed not quite of this world. These were the qualities I was starving for, coming from a home full of anger, chaos and sharp edges.

Because of my positive introduction to Catholicism, I was always attracted to it, in spite of not agreeing with all of its doctrine.    The Church has changed a lot over the years, since Vatican II, and embraces science rather than denies it.  Science, too, is about the truth.  I feel that the Catholic church is the “thinking person’s Christianity.”  Of course, I know it’s not the only one.  I know denomination doesn’t matter; it’s a matter of personal preference.  I love the liturgy and the history and the mystery of Catholicism.   But that’s just me.

I do have issues with their stance on abortion, birth control, women in the priesthood, and homosexuality.   But these things don’t affect me directly.    I believe with all my heart that the Communion wafer is not just symbolic.  Every time I partake of the communion wafer, I feel filled with the Holy Spirit and know this is Jesus’ gift to his people.

In April of 2015, after nearly a year of preparatory classes (RCIA), I became a Catholic during the Easter vigil mass.   My father, in spite of his misgivings about the Catholic church, gave me this Benedictine Crucifix, which hangs in my room across from my bed, so Jesus is always the first thing I see when I wake up.

Thank you, God, for giving me my new faith, and please help strengthen me in that faith, especially now when I’m in so much turmoil. And thank you for my Dad, who although we had our issues, was able to put aside his prejudices and give me such a beautiful gift from the heart.