Busted Halo
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December 18th, 2013

As a singer, I realize the natural bias that comes with the following statements:

Music is the universal language crossing all lines of ethnicity, economic background and experience.
Music communicates beyond the words sung or the notes played and can evoke moving emotions of the human spirit.

That being said, I find Christmas carols and songs to be a genre of music that inspires a joy and happiness that really sneaks up on you. Christmas music starts playing like clockwork in my parents’ home. The day after Thanksgiving, before we put up the Christmas tree and set up the decorations outside, we turn to our favorite Christmas songs to get us into the spirit. The Christmas season is one full of preparation, excitement…

December 18th, 2013

“We might as well be moving to Russia!” I wailed at my mother as I threw my Han Solo action figure into the packing box with the rest of my toys. The reality was we were moving from the North Side of Chicago to the South Side, but to a 7-year-old whose entire existence had been made up of a few city blocks, there was nothing more terrifying than leaving the comforting northern den of my beloved Cubs, for the thorny lair of the hated White Sox.
My mother had just remarried after my father’s death the year before. Added on to the indignity of leaving the only neighborhood I had ever known — where all my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents resided as well — was the fact that I would be changing…

December 16th, 2013

As children, my little sister and I took pleasure in watching seasonal movies in anticipation of Christmas. Among our favorites was a stop-motion animation feature based on “The Little Drummer Boy.” I have fond memories of watching Kara imitate the cartoon boy in the film, playing “pa rum pa pum pum” on her own little plastic drum. As children, I saw things so simply — a little boy played the drums for baby Jesus! As an adult, I see profound meanings in the lyrics. So, allow me to be an adult for the moment while I analyze the heck out of this song.
“Come they told me…”
In the song, the birth of a new King brings a quiet curiosity to Bethlehem. At the time of Jesus’…

December 11th, 2013
Holidays with family can be stressful — Here's how to survive

The holidays are fast approaching; don’t wait until it’s too late. No, I’m not talking about shopping. I’m talking about dealing with family and friends (especially family) during what has often been dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year.”
How will you know it’s too late? You’ll know it’s too late when you’re beaned in the middle of the forehead by a brown-and-serve biscuit while guzzling down your third glass of Merlot during Christmas dinner. Believe me, I’ve been there.
The holidays change a lot when you become an adult. Gone are the days of childhood, when Christmas’ sole worth was based entirely on what was under the tree:…

December 10th, 2013

“Good things come to those who wait,” is a consistent piece of advice given to those who suffer from extreme impatience. That is why I have heard it repeatedly these past 20 years. As a child, Christmas was one of those unique events that came regardless of whether I waited or not. For that reason, I never let Christmas come to me. Instead, I pursued Christmas with an unbridled haste. I began listening to Christmas music November 1; I had a Christmas wish list prepared at least three months in advance with all proper citations and references; and all pre-snow angel bodybuilding began long before the first snowfall. I chased Christmas as if, at any second, it might disappear. Of course it never did. But that…

December 4th, 2013
Rising above the immediacy of today's technological world during Advent

I finally got an iPhone. I often wait much longer than the average person to do things the average person is doing, like reading or seeing any of the Harry Potter series (and yes, my social life suffers after multiple HP references and the confusion that follows). I don’t know why I do it. Stubborn? Suspicious? Lazy? Perhaps a little of all three.
But my brother, the IT administrator in the family, made a commendable effort to convince me to get an iPhone, so I finally gave in. And of course, I love it. So much for being different.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a café with my friend and telling him that I distracted myself before falling asleep the previous night with thinking about how I might build an igloo if I was ever…

November 29th, 2013

It’s almost here — Black Friday. The big shopping day that follows the big eating and giving thanks day (although those lines are blurred more each year). There is something admirable about avoiding the frenzy altogether, but let’s be realistic. If you are going to venture out on Friday to start, continue, or finish your Christmas shopping, how do you avoid losing yourself in the consumer-driven, line-cutting, short-tempered mayhem? Here’s a guide for making it through the mall with your spirit intact:
Be grateful. Say thank you, out loud and with gusto, to anyone who holds open a door, moves aside in the aisle, or lets you pass them for a parking space. Remember, Thanksgiving — a day meant to…

November 27th, 2013
How can we celebrate the season we’re in -- and avoid the rush to Christmas?

It finally happened to me. This year, for the first time ever — and hopefully the last — I was ready for Christmas before it was even Halloween. Now it could have been that I started in on Halloween a little earlier than usual (I was lucky enough to get to Six Flags Fright Fest the weekend that it kicked off back in September) or it could have been the weather (it was starting to get a bit chilly already toward the end of October), but as likely as both of those possibilities may seem, I think the true culprit here is good ol’ marketing. At the end of September, Christmas lights, decorations, and all sorts of other holiday wares have crowded the shelves, urging us to skip over the fall altogether and jump straight…

November 25th, 2013

There is really only one way to make stuffing. I don’t know the recipe. I know there’s a lot of sage in it, and definitely no sausage, and certainly no fruit or nuts. It is the definitive stuffing, because it is my mother’s recipe for stuffing, and I have eaten it every Thanksgiving of my life. So there.
I won’t be able to eat the Thanksgiving stuffing par excellence this year; I’ll have to settle for another, inferior stuffing. It might not have sage in it and, heaven forbid, might actually have sausage or fruit or nuts in it. Also, I won’t be playing bingo after dinner this year, or Scattergories or Balderdash, the way my family does. I thought everyone’s family played games after Thanksgiving dinner?…

November 22nd, 2013

In light of Thanksgiving, I’m sure we’ve all learned numerous ways to be thankful, especially in this season that outwardly reminds us to be. As in, “Just in case you forgot to express gratitude the rest of the year, here’s a seasonal reminder to say, ‘Thank you!’”
In a lot of ways, we shy away from our natural desire to show our gratitude. Sure, it’s great to be thankful in our own minds, but have we forgotten how to reach out, say it aloud, or write a thank you card?
Yes, prayerful thanksgiving is important. But it’s not the only way to show our thanks. Gratitude isn’t private; it’s lived out loud.
Think of it this way: Gratefulness is one of the ways we express love. It can go under the “love”…

November 20th, 2013

I freaking love Thanksgiving. I love that the holiday invites reflectiveness and gratitude as well as merriment. I love the relative absence of soul-sucking commercialism (oh Christmas, where art thou?). I love being together with friends and family. And, yes, I love the food. I really frigging love the food.
You might think that as a pescetarian I’d feel alienated from a holiday alternately known as Turkey Day. Nothing could be further from the truth. All an herbivore needs to do to have a cozy and delicious Thanksgiving is follow two simple rules.
#1 Come out of the vegetarian closet.… Possibly someone has invited you to Thanksgiving dinner at his house, and possibly that person doesn’t know you’re a vegetarian.

November 18th, 2013
Lessons learned from 12 years of keeping a gratitude journal

I distinctly remember the day I sat in my junior English class after returning from Christmas break. My teacher asked us what our New Year’s resolutions were for the year. To be honest, I can’t remember mine, but I remember a classmate’s: starting a gratitude journal. That sounded like a good idea to me, too.
Today, it’s been nearly 12 years since I made the commitment to keep a gratitude journal.
Over the years, what started as practicing gratitude slowly evolved into living a lifestyle of gratitude, two slightly different things. Think of it this way: When you announce to your officemates that you’re going to start running, you make a decision to run each day for so many miles (let’s face it, some days…

November 14th, 2013

I’m going to go out on a ledge here and just say this: Kanye West isn’t all that bad. He’s been getting a lot of press lately surrounding his “Yeezus” tour, particularly for bringing “Jesus” on stage at the kickoff concert of the tour for his grand finale. The act was bold, certainly, and may have offended some who viewed the appearance only on its surface, but a second look reveals that Kanye may have actually had a point. In a recent interview with San Francisco’s Wild 94.9′s the JV Show, West explained his intentions in making a heavenly encounter part of his show, saying he wanted to point out that, “you can have a relationship with Jesus. That you can talk to Jesus.” West also…

October 30th, 2013

Supernatural thrillers often kick off the terror with a temptation. For Reagan in The Exorcist, it’s the Ouija board. A haunted doll intrigues two freaked out roommates in The Conjuring. Some friends in Evil Dead find a spell book in the basement and unwisely read from it aloud. The tempting item is always something that should just be left alone, but never is. Where’s the story if people have sense enough to steer clear of trouble? Years ago, I made mistakes much like those by the movie characters and ended up opening the door to real evil. I’m sharing my story to help you (or someone you know) avoid turning your life into a Halloween nightmare like I did!
Here’s a quick spiritual snapshot…

October 29th, 2013

Have you ever watched a soccer match and thought? “What art this is.” Or seen the fresh cut lawns of Wimbledon and remarked, “What a beautiful place for sport.” Or after running a few miles on the treadmill commented, “What a gift from God that was.” What might it look like to approach sport with such gratitude, appreciation, and awe?
As the World Series nears its end, bringing another baseball season to a close, there is time for reflection and thoughtfulness. With this season’s end came the close of a storied career; veteran New York Yankee and future Hall of Fame pitcher, Mariano Rivera retired after 19 seasons. He may be leaving even a bigger void than many think. Rivera approached his sport with…

October 28th, 2013

“Everybody out!” the firefighter shouted as he banged on our doors. It was the evening of October 29, 2012, and Superstorm Sandy had arrived in New York City. My packing time cut short, I threw on my slicker, grabbed my bag, and headed downstairs. A crane on the site of a new skyscraper up the block had snapped and was left dangling 70 stories in the air. One by one, the buildings on our street had been evacuated, and now it was our turn. I mentally ran through the list of what had made it into my bag — a pair of pajamas, flashlight, laptop, camera, cell phone, wallet, teddy bear, book, three bottles of water, and a box of graham crackers. I kicked myself for some of the things I’d failed to pack, but…

October 16th, 2013
Encountering the faith and art of Fr. Bill McNichols

“I believe that everyone has a landscape in his or her soul that corresponds to an actual landscape on this earth. In other words, the place one feels most at home. I found it in New Mexico…” — Father Bill McNichols
John Muir said, “We are now in the mountains and they are in us.” Though he was referring to the Sierras, Muir’s realization hit home for me in Taos, New Mexico, as a writer-in-residence at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. I remember Super Bowl Sunday 2012 not for the Giants beating the Patriots, but because it was that day I drove with my dog through the desert, from California to New Mexico, grateful to be given three months to write at the fellowship, unaware…

September 27th, 2013

When we first met Walter White back in 2008 — and if you’re not already familiar with the AMC drama Breaking Bad, which commenced its final half-season August 11, consider this your official SPOILER ALERT… — he was a just-turned-50 high school chemistry teacher recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Wanting to provide for his pregnant wife and disabled son, Walt (Bryan Cranston) turned his scientific training to the production of the best, purest crystal meth on the drug market.
That’s a cute, quirky premise, one that sounds like a setup for a crime comedy in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, Pulp Fiction or Weeds. True, Breaking Bad has its darkly comic moments, and, true, Walter does start out as sympathetic

September 24th, 2013
How a view from above helps me look within

I sit on the balcony with my sandals off, the chill of a beer bottle cooling my hand. A slight breeze ripples the hemline of my skirt and I settle into the creaking plastic chair beneath me. I’m not at the beach, a hotel, or a cutesy B&B overlooking a hillside somewhere. I’m on my friend Karen’s balcony, which we’ve nicknamed “the veranda” to sound more aristocratic than we actually are, exactly 12 blocks from my apartment in New York City.
I’ve found myself here quite frequently. Before landing my current job, I was in a pretty dark place. I had been without consistent work for a few months, struggling with the unpredictable nature of my field (television), feeling the pressures of dwindling funds,…

September 18th, 2013

This has been a big week for video game fans. Crowds flocked to retailers Monday night, eagerly awaiting the midnight launch of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest in Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series. The game, which cost a record-breaking $265 million to develop, has already more than made up its budget in pre-order sales alone. But while for some the promise of this new game has been like the thrilling countdown as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, for me it feels more like a time bomb waiting to burst. That’s because, as a video game junkie myself, I dread the storm that is inevitably coming in the wake of GTA V — the onslaught of the question, “Do violent video games inspire real-life violence?”…
Before

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