Monday, November 28, 2011


On Monday, Matt (my boyfriend) stopped to see me on his drive back to Missouri to spend Thanksgiving with his family, and part of me definitely wanted to stow away in his car. But, even though I missed my family, Thanksgiving in Albuquerque was still great! 

Because of the holiday, there weren’t any catechism classes at San Jose last week, but on Wednesday we celebrated Padre Gabriel’s (San Jose Parish’s priest) birthday. It was a great feast and wonderful live music. I tried some new foods and definitely realized my tongue is not quite up to the hotness of New Mexican food, where red or green chiles are a way of life

Father Gabriel and the cake.

Live music around the fire. It was freezing!

To kick off Thanksgiving Day, I made the first batch of fudge for the holiday season in keeping with the Smith tradition. It was a huge hit with the sisters even though they were shocked by how much sugar it contains. In the morning, we went to Thanksgiving Mass, and then Sr. Angela and I joined the sisters in the other house for a delicious breakfast. After we ate, the sisters had a special commitment/welcoming prayer for me. I made a personal commitment prayer and they all said a prayer for me for my formation and mission journey. It definitely made me feel great and thankful to have them supporting me. After a few hour break filled with Spanish vocabulary, we all went to the Provincial house for Thanksgiving dinner. The meal was delicious, but I almost had a heart attack when I didn’t see any bread or rolls. I thought it was going to be my Thanksgiving nightmare come true! Thankfully after about five minutes they brought some out.

Breakfast with the sisters.
The Chapel decorations at Cristo Rey Spirituality Center.

On Friday, we went to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge since the sisters had the day off. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque, but well worth it. 

The Snow Geese.
Sr. Angela & me.Yes, I look like a giant compared to her.

On Saturday and Sunday, Matt stopped in Albuquerque again. After getting to watch me sing in Spanish at afternoon Mass at San Jose, I took him to Old Town Albuquerque and suckered us into an overpriced tour that we question the accuracy of. But, since the pictures turned out great, I’m writing it off as a success!
On our tour!
In Old Town Albuquerque. I think this used to be a brothel.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel in Old Town Albuquerque.
Inside the chapel.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindred Spirits

Last weekend was just what I needed. Mary, a past VOICA volunteer that served in Indonesia, came to visit me and packed my weekend with tips, new ideas, travel talk, reality checks and Albuquerque knowledge. And, I got to feel a little bit more my age when we went downtown to play pool and get a few drinks with her brother and his girlfriend who live in Albuquerque and who, like Mary and me, love to travel!

From the minute she walked through the door, Mary boosted my level of excitement by like a hundred. She told me stories about what her training was like in Rome, which was nice to hear since I’m here by myself and sometimes don’t have a clear idea of what I can be doing.  More importantly, she shared what it was like serving in Indonesia. She lived in a small village on the Indonesian part (west) of the Island of Timor teaching English to people of all ages and helping out in a health clinic for almost one year. Although a very different culture than Paraguay, it was great to learn about what she did, the challenges she faced and what it was like living in a hot, humid climate. Her stories about her mission are the best preparation I’ve received so far! Hearing about how she perfected taking showers down to only using two scoops of cold water and actually getting clean was just the reality check I needed. She told me about the wonderful friends she made, the beautiful things she saw, the inspiration and confusion she got from a different way of life, the things she witnessed and heard stories about that made her realize how much we take our freedoms, safety and health care for granted, the struggles she had with learning a new language and not being fluent when thrown into a world where English isn’t common, the foods she ate, how she dealt with missing friends and family back home, the things she wished she would have brought,  and that it’s OK to want to look somewhat presentable and not frumpy all the time.

In addition to sharing about her experience, Mary really took it upon herself to help me with my mission and will be back multiple times before I leave. She brought me a Spanish book and is giving me homework, helped me get books about South America and Paraguay and even helped me go through my clothes and downsize yet again.

The Bad News of Talking with Mary: I’m pretty sure I will get sick. Mary got Dengue Fever and the other volunteer living with her got malaria, and from what she told me about other VOICA volunteers, sickness and disease seem to be a common experience. Yikes! According to the CDC, malaria isn’t in the area of Paraguay I’m serving in, but none of the symptoms associated with any of the diseases volunteers have experienced sound good, so I’m definitely splurging on the best mosquito repellant I can get before leaving!

Some pictures from our weekend...

Disbursing of Thanksgiving meals at Annunciation Parish (the church we go to). The parish collected supplies and money for meals to feed 200 families and more than 1,000 mouths. 

One of the 3 U-Haul trucks filled with Thanksgiving dinner supplies. Most of the meals didn't even go to members of Annunciation parish. 

Pick up site for families from St. Vincent de Paul parish.
San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town Albuquerque.

San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town Albuquerque.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

5 Reasons Why This Week is Great!

1. Caitlin officially decided to volunteer in Paraguay with me! She’ll be coming to Albuquerque sometime in January for formation, and we’ll leave for Paraguay in the middle of February. She can only stay until May, so please pray that someone else will want to replace her!

2. I can see progress in my Spanish! After feeling frustrated with not being able to understand or speak Spanish, I could actually see improvement in my comprehension last night at the youth group and young adult sessions at San Jose. Gracias, Señor! Plus, I spoke to the kindergarteners in Spanish on Monday and they understood. Granted, while trying to teach me some of the body parts they told me I had a big nose like a witch, but they’re kindergartners so it was cute.

3. I stayed out past 10 p.m.! Last night, Christina and the group she’s going on a service trip with to the Dominican Republic this summer cleaned The Pit (University of New Mexico’s basketball arena) to raise money for their trip, so I tagged along to help. I finally have people I can talk to about things 20 somethings talk about. Gradually I’m building a social life.

4. I have weekend plans! Mary, a past VOICA volunteer that served in Indonesia, is coming to spend the weekend with me. Sr. Angela is out of town at a conference (in Kansas City of all places), so Mary is coming to Albuquerque to show me around and tell me about her mission experience.

5. My ticket home for Christmas is booked! I’ll be back in Missouri for two weeks beginning December 19.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One Week In

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been here one week as of today. It feels like it’s been much longer, and I feel more comfortable living in Albuquerque and with the sisters than I would have ever thought possible ­­­­­­after knowing them for just seven days. Heck, I feel more comfortable with the sisters than I did after living with my freshman year college roommate for a month or even my housemates in Ireland after a semester. The sisters’ openness and desire to get to know me has really helped me to feel a part of the community. Plus, Sr. Angela makes a mean pasta, loves desserts, actually encourages me to eat ice cream and thinks I’m a good driver! 

Today I attended a Quinceañera retreat at the Spirituality Center. In the Hispanic culture a girl’s 15th birthday marks her transition from childhood to womanhood. The retreat was to help the girls recognize the spiritual importance of the milestone rather than just the party. Though a good experience, it was also a challenge. Like at San Jose, the retreat was done in almost all Spanish, and Sr. Marilu speaks fast! After greetings and registration, (I asked girls their names in Spanish!) we did some icebreaker type activities. One had all the girls sitting in chairs in a circle with me in the middle. I started the game by asking someone in the circle a question, and then they said something about clothing or how people looked (for example, wearing a red shirt). Then, everyone that fit that description had to get up and switch seats. The person left standing asked the question again to another person. Since I’ve gone over one lesson on Rosetta Stone about clothing and another on colors, I could, for the most part, understand which characteristics were said. I couldn’t however ask the initial question or understand what people were asking me. So frustrating! Thank goodness Sr. Marilu sent me to get some craft supplies after the game. I definitely needed that time to say a little help me Jesus prayer and to ask for patience. I know being immersed in the language is the best way to learn it, but it’s kind of annoying being lost all of time. If you can, say a prayer for my patience and memory! :)

View of our house.

Our backyard

Thursday, November 10, 2011

First Night at San Jose Parish

I am so thankful for last night and that I get to keep going to San Jose Parish until February. I’ll be going to four times a week, three for youth and young adult activities and one for choir.  I met great people, and I’m more motivated than ever to learn Spanish!

From 6 to 8:30 each Wednesday night there is youth group and catechism for junior high/high schoolers. Their participation is amazing, and a lot of it is because of Sr. Marisa. Three years ago before she came, it was only a very small group that barely filled a room. Now, the group fills the entire chapel that is probably at least 1.5 times the size of St. Mary’s.

Then, from 8:30 to 10:30 there is a meeting for young adults. As a first timer, I had to introduce myself to the group. I am the only person that doesn’t speak Spanish, and it was kind of difficult to follow along, but luckily people acted as translators for a lot of it. Regardless of if I could understand everything, it was great to be around people my age again, and nice to talk to other people that are wanting to strengthen their faith.

When I first arrived, Sr. Marisa introduced me to Christina. She’s a sophomore in college, already knows that she wants to be a missionary and is planning on going to medical school. Her family is from Mexico, and she moved to Albuquerque when she was about three. She is my new inspiration and tutor. She has so much passion towards missionary work and is involved in nearly everything at the Parish. I’ll be her shadow until February and am so excited to learn from her. On Wednesday nights she works with the youth group and is helping them practice a play that they’ll perform in December. One of her other duties is a kindergarten teacher for catechism, so she has already given me songs that I can use in Paraguay. Her help and friendship is a huge gift! 

Gracias Señor

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Settling into Life with the Sisters

Sr. Angela doesn’t like garlic or tomatoes, which knocks out about half of the things of what I know how to cook and like. I thought she was supposed to be Italian! When we went grocery shopping, I was a little scared. We got so many types of meats and vegetables that I know I will eventually have to eat. I don’t think Sr. Angela completely understands the extent of my pickiness, but luckily she is easing me into new foods. So far I’ve tried cooked mushrooms, cooked carrots and cooked zucchini. I also had pasta with a ton of meat. Apparently the Italians aren’t too big on sauce either, but it was actually extremely delicious! Today, I tackle stew.

When I first moved in, I saw a Netflix envelope and was surprised that the sisters had an account. I’m not sure why, but I guess I had in my mind that religious people didn’t have fun or time for movies. And on the Canossians' website it talked about living simply. Last night we watched Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story. It was definitely inspiring to learn how her views and actions completely changed after finding the Church, and I couldn’t believe how much she and her family gave up to help the poor.

Living with the Sisters has been interesting. Although all of them are at least in their 60’s, they’re all very young at heart. I never feel awkward, but this lifestyle is a lot different than what I was used to. I like a lot about it, and I think that it’s helping me become a better person, but I feel like I’m maybe not letting enough of my true self be expressed yet. I feel like I have to be SO good. On the first day I came here I saw the Sisters were watching TV. It was a program on the Catholic channel of a choir in England. In my "previous life," while flipping through the channels I always wondered who actually watches things like that and enjoys them. This week, I found my answer. It’s not to say that is all they watch, because as I mentioned before, Sr. Ann said she likes Modern Family, and we’ve watched the news and Jeopardy, but it’s just a mix of two I guess. I think the longer I’m here and the more I get to know the sisters, (I need to remember that it has only been 3.5 days) the more the true Hiliary will come out.

We’ve finally got my daily schedule just about locked down. I’m going to start volunteering today at the San Jose Parish in Albuquerque with Sr. Marisa who is from Mexico. San Jose is a predominantly Hispanic parish, and Sr. Marisa has developed programs for teens and young adults and also teaches CCD classes. I can’t wait to actually do something, even though today will probably be a lot of watching. It will be great to meet some more young people and since all of them are bilingual, it will definitely help me with my Spanish!

I’m also going to try joining the choir at San Jose. Not because I’m a good singer, but a lot of the sisters think it will help me improve my Spanish. Wish me luck!

Here’s what my Monday schedule looks like. Other days of the week I volunteer more at San Jose or have teaching technique lessons or have more free time, but on the weekends I have Saturday afternoons and Sundays free.

8:30: Mass
9:30-10: Breakfast
10-10:30: Free time
10:30-11:30: Mission Meeting (learning about the history of the Canossians, St. Magdalene, St. Bakhita, VOICA, volunteering, spirituality and Paraguay.
11:30-1:30: Cooking, cleaning & lunch
1:30-3: Free time
3-4: Language lessons with Rosetta Stone
4-5:30: Free time & dinner
6-8: Volunteering at San Jose
8:30-10:30 Free time

Monday, November 7, 2011

I’ve Arrived!

After a small adventure getting the train Sunday morning, I’m in Albuquerque and settling in.

When we got to the train station in Flagstaff yesterday at 5:15 a.m. they told me that the conductor had misread the schedule. Instead of arriving for a 5:40 a.m. departure he arrived for a 4:40 a.m. departure and had already left. Apparently he was very confused about Daylight Savings time! Luckily, the train ended up waiting for us outside of Winslow, AZ (about 45 minutes away), so me and about 8 others hopped in a taxi and met the train at the Winslow station. We had a small scare about halfway through our drive to Winslow when our driver was told that they weren’t holding the train for us and we would have to stay in a hotel. Luckily that was a mixup and we were still able to make it.

Sr. Angela and Sr. Ann picked me up from the train station in Albuquerque and took me to the Cannossian community of Cristo Rey and the Spirituality Center, which are in the southern part of Albuquerque or the Valley. As expected, I had no trouble identifying the Sisters at the station (FYI they weren’t wearing veils). Sr. Angela gave me a tour of the community and I got to meet the Sisters that live there. Cristo Rey is the Provincial House, kind of like the headquarters, and attached to it is Casa Angelica, a home for young adults with disabilities where I will hopefully get to volunteer sometimes. I also learned how to correctly pronounce VOICA (voy-ka) and Canossian (can-ocean), which I have been saying incorrectly since May. Oops!!

I stole these photos from the Sisters' website since I failed as a blogger and forgot to take some.

Additionally, there are two other houses of Canossian Sisters that are about a 20 minute drive from the Provincial House and closer to the Sandia Mountains (which I learned means watermelon in Spanish). I live in one of those houses along with Sr. Angela, sometimes Sr. Kate and for the past few days Sr. Ann. Hopefully the other volunteer will be joining me in December or January, too. 

My room and the house are nothing like I expected, definitely not simple. Paraguay is going to be a major shock! I have my own room with a bathroom and wait for it…WIFI!!! Plus there is a huge kitchen, a nice backyard, an office area, many more bedrooms, a living room with a TV and cable (Sr. Ann said she likes Modern Family!), a fireplace and a chapel. The other house even has a swimming pool! I’ll also have a car to share with Sr. Angela and a bike.

My bedroom

My desk

My bathroom

After unpacking, we went to Mass at a local parish/school supported by the Sisters. Following Mass, we went out for Pizza and wine. The nuns like to have a good time, too! I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome!

More pictures and information about my training to come!

Sr. Anne, Sr. Angela and me enjoying our fire tonight.

Me, Sr. Kay & Sr. Angela