Constantinople’s Lament

Constantinople’s Lament

My mom still talks about a time when I was a toddler and wanted so badly to see the inside of a church I had spotted on the side of the road. Being an adventurous mom, she pulled over and took me inside. Next thing you know, little Connie Ann is running up and down the aisles from the front to the back, pointing at the cross and shouting gleefully, “Jesus!”

I’ve since learned to control my outbursts (mostly). But I still love, love, love churches. Today I want to talk about my experience visiting one of the world’s greatest, found in the city of my namesake. (Yes, my name is Constance, but when my mom was in a playful mood, she called me Constantinople. And this was before I became a lover of Church history.)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, August 2010, Evening

Dedicated on my birthday, December 27 (though in 537), the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful masterpiece of Byzantine culture as well as an engineering marvel. The ring of windows at the base of the dome amazed everyone who saw it. “What is holding the dome?” they wondered. It looks as though the dome is suspended on a ring of light.

If you squint, you can see the Theotokos on the wall in the back, behind me head.
Standing where the Empress Irene would sit. If you squint, you can see the Theotokos mosaic in the apse.

Apart from the columns, the marble, the dome, and the windows, this church was filled with the most ornate mosaics in the empire. Beautiful scenes filled every wall and alcove, designed to lift the viewer’s thoughts to the world above.

HagiaSophiaMary
Mary and the Child Jesus with Empress Irene and her son, Emperor Alexander.

Visiting this great wonder of the world was a dream come true, though it was also marked with sadness. You see, when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1431, they converted our beautiful home into a mosque. The Christian artifacts were removed and the heavenly mosaics were covered in plaster. Islamic art and writings were hung over the images of our Lord and the Saints. The Glory of Christendom was forced to submit to the Muslims, guarded by four minarets.

In 1935, Mustafa Atatürk had the Hagia Sophia converted once again- this time to a museum. In an effort to honor both the Christian and Islamic history of the building, some of the mosaics were once again exposed, though many remain covered to this day.

Deesis
Deesis Mosaic: Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist.

This is our Constantinople, bound by the shackles of time. Being in this place, seeing what it was, and knowing what it has become created such a storm of emotions in my soul. They say you many not pray in the building- but they can say what they want.

What is there to say when one walks where such tragedy has occurred? What once was the beautiful house of God is beaten down and chained by years of wounds and disenchantment. Would anyone believe the glory it used to house? Will it ever again be what it truly is? How many souls are just like this temple, tragically fallen from grace and seemingly without hope? What glorious beauty hides beneath the whitewash of our conquerors? When will we break the shackles and accept who we were meant to be? Do we have the Faith and Hope to live for the One who built us?

I hope so. And yes, it will always be Constantinople to me.

Connie Ann’s blog is getting a new name!

Connie Ann’s blog is getting a new name!

Dear Readers,

Connie Ann’s blog finally has a name!

Tales from the Valley was inspired by my current journey through the depths of infertility, but it represents my life journey from the beginning. “For though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” -Psalm 23.

What originally began as a personal blog to highlight some of my writing has now turned into so much more. I’ve known for some time now that the next step was to give this site a proper name of its own.

One of my goals in 2015 is to give this blog a makeover. I’ll be playing with the backgrounds and layouts for a while until I’m happy with it, so please be patient with me during the process.

Thank you for your support! You all mean so much to me.

Love,

Connie Ann

Lights, Canyons, Action!

Lights, Canyons, Action!

Dreams are so important. I really think God inspires dreams and goals within us to give us something good to focus on in the midst of chaos. I don’t just mean the big dreams. Smaller goals such as learning to knit, to speak a new language, to play an instrument, to write a novel are all beautiful little sparks of light within us. They do so much good for the soul in the best of times, and even more so in the worst.

Today I was thinking back on my travel bucket list from 2012. Since then I’ve really only knocked one off the list: the Caribbean. We had a wonderful time in St. Thomas, and we hope to go back someday soon.

Here’s one Bucket List trip that may not be on the original post, but definitely deserves to be there:

We’re heading out west to see the Grand Canyon and the Pacific coast in southern California! Neither of us have been out west before. We’re attending a wedding in Las Vegas, so we figured it’s the perfect time to do this Great Western Adventure.

Day 1- Arrive in Las Vegas, NV. See the Strip. Go to the rehearsal dinner. See more Vegas at night.

Las_Vegas_Wiki

Day 2- The wedding isn’t until the evening, so we figured we could go see Red Rock Canyon. Does anyone know if it would be possible to see the Hoover Dam this day too?

red rock

Day 3- Mass in the AM followed by the rest of the day exploring Death Valley National Park. Come back to our Vegas hotel at night.

death_valley_01

Day 4- Wake up super early and drive to THE GRAND CANYON!!! Sleep nearby in Flagstaff, AZ.

GrandCanyon

Day 5- Wake up early again and drive to the Pacific!!! Staying in Southern California.

los-angeles-socal-beaches_596x334

Day 6- Restful day in SoCal, on the coast.

orange-county-beach

Day 7- Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, want to see Big Sur. Explore. Staying overnight.

BigSur1

Day 8- Drive back down to LA. Last night in California.

LA

Day 9- Fly home to Maryland. From one Bay State to Another.

maryland_flag1

I’m so excited for this trip! Does anyone have any suggestions on things to do, things to see and places to eat?

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’?

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’?

Today, my weekly email to my coworkers wasn’t a sonnet. We’ve moved up a few centuries. Check it out.

 

 

 

Subject: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’?

 

Everyone,

 

If you think you’re so Dangerous, that you’re such a Smooth Criminal, I want you to know The Way You Make Me Feel.

 

That’s right. I want you to take a look at the Man In The Mirror.

 

Are you someone who doesn’t label your food, even though it’s as easy as ABC? Is living on the wild side such a Thriller?

 

I want you to know that You Are Not Alone.

 

Before you throw up your hands and Beat It, I’d like you to stop a minute. Together, we can Heal The World.

 

Label your food. Write you name on it. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.

 

And if you get a chance, take a look up into a Corner of the Sky and wish a Happy Birthday to the King of Pop.

 

 

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

 

Connie

 

Things I Do At Work, Ep. 1: Shakespeare Tribute

Things I Do At Work, Ep. 1: Shakespeare Tribute

Every Friday, I have to clean out the refrigerators. Not too glamorous, right? I’m supposed to warn everyone before hand with an email. Again, boring, right?

In comes Pollyanna. Friday emails have actually become my favorite part of my job, because I get to WRITE. Instead of sending a quick, “I’m cleaning the fridge, write your name on anything you want to keep,” I’ve been getting creative. Here’s the latest installment of this series:

Friday Email 8/15/2014

Subject: “The Raven Himself Is Hoarse” or “Men in skirts: Part 1.”

This day in 1057, after being warned by witches and having endured the harsh monologues of his wife (who had an odd relationship with ravens), MacBeth was killed by Malcolm, and Malcolm became the new King of Scotland. Of course, MacBeth should have seen it coming- he had killed Malcolm’s dad, King Duncan, because his bird-obsessed wife told him to.

 

Centuries later in 1603, when King James VII of Scotland became King James I of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare honored him by writing the great Scottish play, Macbeth.

 

Shhhhh don’t say the name!

 

Of course, Willie Shakes changed it up a bit so James’s ancestors would seem a bit nobler, and their enemies a bit more grotesque (Nothing new with the Mainstream Media. But since #17thcenturyTwitter made use of actual birds, it wasn’t very user-friendly. It tended to poop out, a lot).

 

 

In honor of the great Elizabethan Playwright, Master of the Stage, we have a Sonnet to place before thee, in hopes thou doth not protest our use of Iambic Pentameter.

 

Sonnet 155:

As now we reach the setting of the sun
And leave the day and all its woes behind,
Before the clock doth chime the week be done,
Methinks there must be rules to thee remind.
Although we have enjoyed a brave repast
Of lunches fraught with chips and salads brave,
The unclaimed feast must now be onward cast
To meet the somber silence of the grave.
Yet hark, forsooth, a better way I see
To save it from a fate so rightly crude:
Perhaps a name, a date upon it be
The way to halt the slaying of the food.
Instead of ruing, casting me the blame,
Methinks thou shouldst just give thy food a name.

 

#HappyFriday #HastagImDone

Faith of Our Fathers

James and I went to our beloved Williamsburg, VA for the long 4th of July weekend this year. One of the wonderful things about Williamsburg is that each time we visit, I am struck by a different facet of our nation’s history. One of the things that really hit me this year is the prevalence of religious faith in our story.

Friday at 12:00, we gathered with a crowd to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the courthouse. Before the reading, the man doing the introduction said, “Let us begin with a prayer.” I heard a voice in the crowd remark, quite shocked, “Prayer?” As shocked as he was to hear the mention of public prayer, I was shocked to hear his shock. In my mind, I thought, “Yes, you unfortunate product of secular indoctrination. Prayer was acceptable in 18th century America. It was a part of life. Just wait til you hear the language in the Declaration.”

Later that afternoon we listened to a speech by Patrick Henry, where he informed all of us that he faithfully read the Scriptures twice a day without fail, an hour in the morning and an hour at night. His religion shaped every bit of his politics. Why, he even talked about Thomas Jefferson, and how even though evidence shows him to be a Deist, his faith in a God had a profound influence on his work.

Saturday morning, we took a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown. I haven’t been since I was a little kid, and James had never been at all. We had so much fun exploring something new together. It felt like our honeymoon all over again.

When we got to Jamestown, there was more evidence of God in our history. Check out this monument:

 

"Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out."
“Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper an achieve Good Success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your Country and your own, and to serve and fear God the Giver of All Goodness, for every plantation which our Heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out.”

Religion is part of our history. You can’t erase it. It is so fundamentally embroiled into the fabric of this nation and her people that you cannot re-write the story without it. Our forefathers created a nation on the idea that there IS a God, and that He is the ultimate source of our inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Deep Into the Stars

Deep Into the Stars

From the time I was a little girl, my dad would take me outside at night to teach me the constellations and show me the moon and planets through his telescope. I would have so much fun out there looking into the sky that I wouldn’t go inside until Mom called out and said it was time to go to bed—for the 3rd time.

James gave me this gorgeous telescope for Christmas. (In case you’re new to this blog, James is the best husband in the history of the universe, and spends all of his time making my dreams come true.) Star watching happens to be a passion we share, which makes it all the more exciting.

Observatory

I have everything I’ve ever wanted. Right here in the home that I share with the man of my dreams, I have my books, my telescope, my piano, my KitchenAid mixer, my National Geographic subscription, my photos from trips overseas… really, I could go on. The little Connie Ann looking at the stars with her daddy would be absolutely THRILLED to know how her life turned out.

That little girl would have some questions, though—she’s a smarty pants, after all. She would ask why I didn’t become an archaeologist, or a singer, or a scientist. She wouldn’t mind at all if I told her that I’m a writer. In fact, she would be pretty excited about that too. She would want me to write books, though. She loved books. She still does.

Maybe I should invite that little girl to come visit, and listen to her talk about all the things she wants to do when she grows up. Maybe she knows what I should be doing now.

I’m sure I’ll see her soon, the next time I go out to look up at the stars.

Just Like Riding a Bike…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my first love.

Relax, hubby. I’m talking about Music. There was a time in my life where I lived for singing, cantoring Masses,  and playing in the band. I went to music school and dreamed of symphonic glory. My favorite thing to do was spend hours on end alone at my piano.

I don’t really know exactly what happened to that life. All I can say with certainty is that it changed.

For the past few months or so, I’ve been feeling drawn back to music more and more. I’ve started playing my piano again, a lot more often. At least one person I know is really enjoying this:

Our pet bunny, Brownie, enjoying his mommy's piano playing.
Our pet bunny, Brownie, enjoying his mommy’s piano playing.

 

His favorite song seems to be “Sing to the Mountains”. He’s a good little Catholic bunny.

I hope I can stick to my practicing. Who knows where it will take me. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. There are so many emotions to sort through. Maybe playing the piano will help me figure things out, somehow.

One Year Into Happily Ever After

This month we celebrated out first anniversary. James surprised me by planning a whole weekend of fun, romantic dates. Saturday we went to Mount Vernon, which I’ve never visited. As a history person growing up in the DC suburbs, I know, it’s surprising. Sunday morning we went to Mass at St. Patrick’s, the place of our wedding. After Mass we walked around Ellicott City and the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and had dinner at Rusty Scupper overlooking the water. After dinner, James took me to the hotel where we spent our wedding night, and the staff had put up a sign for us and scattered rose petals on the bed. Everything was so beautiful. I cried. In a good way.

That weekend of celebrating was kind of like our first year- happy, excited, totally in love and completely elated. We still feel like we’re on our honeymoon.

Yes, we have challenges, but we’re dealing with them together. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I think, thanks to God’s help, we’re holding hands as we go along.

Year 2 of Connie and James is forecasted to be another fun one. Hopefully we’ll be going to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Newport Beach, CA in the Fall, and touring the United Kingdom in the Spring. We may continue pursuing the adoption process, but after our last agency visit we learned we might not be in a good enough financial position yet. While I think I might like the idea of spending a few more years to ourselves, the emotional side of infertility is currently our most difficult struggle- but that’s for another post.

No matter what lies ahead, we know we can continue to be as happy as ever, as long as we keep God first, always.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Spring!

Spring!

True to the season, we have so much to be happy about right now. There is so much to look forward to, and so many things to process.

 

Our first married Easter was beautiful. We are truly blessed. My parents joined us for Mass, followed by brunch at our house. It was really wonderful. My sister had gone to the Vigil the night before, so she hung out in my kitchen and cooked while were at church.

 

Later, James and I went to his side for dinner. We had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. After talking with his mom, aunts and cousins over the course of the weekend, there was one recurring idea that was mentioned.

“Why don’t you guys put in the application, get the home study, and leave the rest in God’s hands?”

Wow. Honestly it’s such a mind-blowing idea, though it might not sound like it to some. It’s a little different than just deciding to “try” like our fertile friends. If you get pregnant right away, you usually have 9 months to prepare for the baby. If you get chosen right away, with adoption, it can be WEEKS or, in rare cases, DAYS before a baby is in your hands. Of course, it can also take several years.

That, perhaps, is why many have said to put it all in God’s hands. Nothing will happen without a home study, of course, but after that, leave it, and trust.

I think I can do that. Trusting can be hard, but it is something we’re not strangers to. I know that with our family, if we were stuck and needed baby stuff in a pinch, they would help us. As for careers and child care, maybe God will lead me to something I can do part time or from home. My other worry has to do with all the traveling I want to do. Can we take the baby with us? Will we be good at that? I mean if Will and Kate can take George to Australia, surely James and I can take our baby to the great cities of Europe. Does that sound ridiculous? I mean people live with babies every day in every city of the world. It’s more expensive, but it has to be doable, right?

Maybe this is where trust comes in.