Life is Worth Living

Travelogue: Part 2, Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma

My last post highlighted our visit to the Benedictines of Mary near Gower, Missouri. We drove about seven hours to pray with these traditional nuns, and it was worth it.

Today, I’ll share a few photos and words about the remainder of our trip, which took us to the monks at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. While the first part of our trip was for the girls, this second part was clearly designed for the boys.

The drive from Missouri to Oklahoma was a bit shorter from the previous day’s, but after a night of hotel sleeping–the first night is always the worst!–everyone was a bit tired. The Little Girls were especially silly on the drive. Perhaps delirious? For I turned around at one point and saw them giggling with underwear on their heads and rain boots on their feet.

“And how did those rain boots up in the van?” I stupidly asked.

Little Girl Number One laughed, “We put them in, in case it might rain.”

I spent so much time carefully planning what ought and what ought not to be brought along on this trip, so as to avoid unnecessary items and van clutter and…sigh!

In any case, after an interesting drive through the rundown countryside of Oklahoma, we finally arrived–the last hour being the most stimulating, as the road significantly narrowed to about a lane and a half with no painted lines as it bent here and there, going up and down wooded hills and over single lane “bridges” with no rails. Interesting, no? Frightening, a little!

After awhile, we finally arrived arrived at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey.

The Unfinished Abbey Church

These Benedictine monks are relatively new to Oklahoma, having come from Fontgambault, France, in 1999. Like the sisters in Missouri, they are still in the building process. In fact, the abbey church in the photo above has a temporary roof, as they wait for the second story to be added. The doors, too, aren’t in yet, and the interior is very dark. When we prayed our rosary inside, there were only candles, which while mysterious and beautiful, are not conducive to my camera phone, so I didn’t take any interior photos.*

Here is a postcard plan of what the monastery looks like, or will look like, in a few years. Most of the other buildings are completed, I believe.

Notice the intended second story of the church with the rose window.

Since the main body of the church is unfinished, Masses and certain hours of the Divine Office are prayed in the crypt, which was where we joined the monks that first day.

The following photo shows the other building that the public is allowed into, which houses the bookstore, where the Guest Master reigns quietly answering questions and for all the world, kindness and meekness itself.

The Bookstore is located through the center door, under the arches. One also inquires here for confession.

Now this bookstore was a real treasure. We bought a number of things: Fontanini pieces for our nativity set, postcards, books, an icon of St. Joseph, biscotti, and gouda cheese, which was made by the monks from their herd of milk cows.

Did I mention that they have about 55 monks, 20 of them priests and the rest brothers? One can see monks everywhere, doing all kinds of things–driving beat-up trucks and tractors, stocking bookshelves, walking and praying, welding old machinery, feeding cows or sheep, and weeding in their massive gardens.

Speaking of gardens, if any layman wants to put in a few hours of backbreaking work with the monks, he can. (Women and girls may not, however, as they are only allowed in the public places.). For example, my husband and sons volunteered to help the monks weed their beans. They began by praying the hour of None in the crypt and then they hiked down the hill to the gardens with Brother Gardener and pulled endless weeds in the hot, hot sun. And I mean, hot, HOT sun.

Want to guess what the girls and I did? We perused the air conditioned book store.

This was the best picture I could get of the gardens, which begin behind the little shed. If you look closely, you can see my husband and sons walking down to meet Brother Gardener.

So, just where did we stay, when visiting the monastery?

In one of their guest houses, which are meant for families. If a man were to go by himself, however, he may stay in other male-only quarters and have access to other areas of the monastery, but not women and children. One must remember that monks are set apart for God and have chosen to live not “in the world.”

This is the guest house we stayed in, which was very large. In fact, we shared it with two other families visiting from Texas. We had great fun meeting those families.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a bridge shot. Indeed, the Abbey gets its name from Clear Creek, which runs right through their extensive property. My boys in particular loved wading in the creek, especially after weeding on that hot and humid afternoon.

This boy is just waiting for permission to tear his socks and shoes off to get in.

If you need a place of pilgrimage, I’d highly recommend both the Benedictines of Mary and Clear Creek Abbey.

*If you’re wondering why I didn’t snap any photos of the monks themselves, it’s because one has to obtain permission from the superior to do so. It’s too disruptive of their monastic life to be continually photographed. If you’re curious how they look, however, click HERE on their website for some beautiful shots.

Life is Worth Living

Travelogue: Part 1, Benedictines of Mary in Missouri

I thought it couldn’t be done. I thought it was impossible, not to mention impractical, unimaginable, and absurd.

But we did it. We drove hours upon hours with nine children into four different states just to visit two traditional religious orders. And it was well worth it.

Let me break it down for you.

Last Monday morning around 7:30am, I slammed the cooler lid shut, grabbed my coffee mug, and strode out to the van with a troop of children carrying various bags and things behind me. My husband, wearing his special clip-on sunglasses, met us in front of the van and handed out printed maps of our itinerary to each child as they scrambled in. These maps were intended to let the children know exactly where we were at all times and so to avoid the irritating question of, “Are we there yet?”

And then we were off across the beautiful state of Minnesota, which ran into Iowa, and finally Missouri, where we made our first stop at the Benedictines of Mary, a traditional order of nuns living on a few acres near the town of Gower. (Click HERE for a video done 4 years ago. Wow, just wow.)

The Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, near Gower

Now why did we trek across the country to visit these nuns? Because we wanted our girls to see and experience fully habited nuns following the Traditional Rite, which means they celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 missal.

Inside the church, facing the west. (Remember the altar faces the east.) The nave is filled with the sisters’ choir stalls, where they pray the Divine Office and Holy Mass.

When we arrived at the Abbey, we prayed the liturgical hour of None, which was sung by the sisters, and the rosary–these being open to the public.

This is the high altar with a canopy, facing the east, the Rising Son. Again, the choir stalls flank the body of the nave.

Close-up of the choir stalls, which is occupied by 35 sisters, with room to grow. (And their order is growing! So many young faces!)

The high altar with communion rails surrounding three sides.

Perhaps some of you may remember the Benedictines of Mary as the nuns with the chant CDs? They’re available on iTunes, if you’re interested, and they’re fabulous.

Anyway, after walking around the grounds a bit, we drove into the nearest town with a hotel and spent the night. (We didn’t know about the sisters’ Guest House, but it was booked anyway.) The next morning we drove out again for the office of Terce and High Mass and a visit with Sister Grace.

The Eldest and her Next Younger Sister and I were all privileged to visit with Sister Grace in the parlor. This was a unique experience for us, as it doesn’t happen too often that one has a chance to ask any question one wants to of a nun.

And Sister Grace was all graciousness and smiles. She came from a poor family in Kansas and has a brother at Clear Creek Monastery, which was fun information for us, as that was our next destination. Sister told us her vocation story and the history of their foundation. She mentioned with a sparkle in her eye the “wicked cold” prowling about the monastery and their poor, sick cow, Pia. We promised to pray for them and the sick cow, and then the monastery bells began to ring for the next hour. Time was up!

Truly, if you have teenage daughters and you can make it happen, consider visiting the Benedictines of Mary. They’re beautiful.

In the next blog post, I’ll continue this Travelogue with a few words and pictures of Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma.

Life is Worth Living

Travelogue: 9 Hours in the Van with 7 Kids to North Dakota!

We did it. We drove 9 straight hours with 7 screaming* kids all the way to North Dakota for a few nights and then back again yesterday.

Now, how does one accomplish this Herculean Feat without losing one’s mind? I can think of 5 things that helped:

  1. Snacks. Lots of snacks, including all the food groups: apples, Hot Tamales, brownies, chips, and suckers.
  2. No Chugging of Water. Only tiny sips allowed until within 15 minutes of destination. This prevents multiple bathroom breaks. We don’t like to stop on the road; it’s too demoralizing. In fact, on the way there, we only stopped once.
  3. Podcasts. We listened to Dr. Taylor Marshall, Timothy Flanders at The Meaning of Catholic, and Mass of the Ages by Cameron O’Hearn. These great talks effectually bored the little children to sleep, which was best, and instructed the older ones, which was even better. My husband and I? We were just plain entertained, especially by O’Hearn’s interview with Eric Sammons.
  4. Audio Books. The little children begged for Winnie the Pooh. The older children wanted The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi. We took turns, going back and forth. Don Camillo, by the way, is hysterical, if you need a good laugh.
  5. Texting Parties. I had great fun texting a picture of my friend in her Trump dress that she wore to a gala in North Dakota. Apparently she was very popular, as everyone wanted to take a photo with her.
She made this dress. What talent!

You know, on our drive, all the way across Minnesota and North Dakota, we saw countless Trump signs. Apparently it doesn’t even matter that the election is over. I guess rural USA is still pro-Trump. Since a few signs had “Trump 2024,” though, perhaps that’s the reason?

What Did We Do in North Dakota?

Besides visiting family and friends, we did the following:

  1. We held our baby Godson while he was baptized according to the Traditional Rite.
  2. We enjoyed my mother-in-law’s fabulous meatballs. (I look forward to them every time.)
  3. My husband and I went on a double-date with friends at our favorite restaurant in Bismarck–Anima Cucina.
  4. We paused for a minute and took this family photo:

It’s impossible to get everyone to smile at the same time…

5. I greatly enjoyed looking at the vast, beautiful, blue skies. (There is nothing like it, and I’m serious.)
6. We went on lovely bike rides through tall, cottonwood trees.
7. We attended a TLM out in the middle of nowhere with many other young families. The place was crawling, literally, with babies and toddlers.

St. Vincent Catholic Church on the top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere.


7. I drank coffee and chatted with some wonderful friends.
8. And lastly, I didn’t sleep! I never do anyway.

And that’s why this post is ending. I’m hoping to get a nap in.

Until next time, blessings!

*Actually, the children were pretty good on that loooong drive. Nobody screamed. At least, nobody over the age of 5.

Life is Worth Living

Travelogue: One Night of Freedom! Part 2

In today’s post, I’ll continue our travels into interior Wisconsin. If you missed out on Part 1, click HERE.

As I was saying a few days ago, my husband and I had One Night of Freedom last weekend, so we drove to Wausau, Wisconsin, and checked into a hotel. We had hoped to stay downtown, but all those rooms were booked, so we were forced to settle with Holiday Inn Express, which wasn’t so bad.

Naturally, the first thing we did in Wausau was seek out a Happy Hour somewhere. We drove to a pub named Sconni’s Alehouse. I had a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon; my husband had an IPA. We then pulled out our books and read for an hour. I think the neighboring table of bearded men in Carhartt jackets thought we were weird.

My Book: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff

Now, if you’re a book lover and you have never read Helene Hanff’s first book, 84, Charing Cross Road, you are missing out! Go to your local library and get it. Better yet, just buy it. That book is sheer bliss.

Hanff’s sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, is also worthy of reading, but not quite as hysterical as the first. Those of you who have read the first, and couldn’t put it down, though, will definitely want to read the second, for Helene actually does fly to London even though the night before she, “got out of bed, had hysterics, a martini and two cigarettes, got back in bed, and whiled away the rest of the night composing cables saying I wasn’t coming.”

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is Helene’s day-by-day dairy in London. One of my favorite episodes is when her acquaintances drag her all over Oxford, neglecting to show her the one college she wants to see–Oriel College. (She’s a huge fan of John Henry Newman.) Helene won’t stand for it; she must see Newman’s Oxford, and so, “I stood in the middle of Wadham Yard and hollered: “WHEN ARE WE GONNA SEE SOMETHING I WANNA SEE?” They immediately took her to Oriel and she sat in Newman’s chapel.

Did you know, Helene also scandalizes the hotel bartender by demanding a real martini? She had to first show the guy how to make it and then convince him that she wouldn’t be, “face down on a bar table sodden drunk.”

Oh, it’s a delightful read.

Tine & Cellar

After Happy Hour, we made our way to Tine & Cellar. We had to make reservations the week before to get in. The place was hopping. We were seated up a few steps on a landing with three other tables, all obviously for two person “dates.” I had great fun watching couples come in and out. It was St. Valentine’s Day weekend, after all, so lots of sweethearts and formal dinners and flirting and wine flowing everywhere. Do you know, men don’t tuck in their collared, buttoned shirts anymore? Scandalous.

At our table, we began with a charcuterie board, a Manhattan, and a glass of Donati Cabernet. Then, I whipped out my deck of cards featuring Greek gods and goddesses and proceeded to lose playing Gin Rummy.

You see, my husband and I play Gin Rummy all year round and keep score for the whole year. I lost last year, and I’m still bitter about it. What’s worse? I’m losing already this year. In fact, I haven’t won since 2017. I’m not sure why I still play that game.

Ah, well, the food was good. I had pan-seared Atlantic salmon with wild mushroom couscous in roasted pepper cream with carrots. My husband had roasted duck breast with caramelized fingerlings (what’s that?), prunes, and braised purple cabbage. De-licious. Naturally we had our food paired with the appropriate wine–Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc and Monte Oton Garnacha, respectively.

Quinquagesima Sunday at St. Mary’s Oratory: Heaven On Earth

One reason why we chose Wausau was because of St. Mary’s Oratory. If you live within…say 3 hours of this place, THERE’S NO EXCUSE. Your life isn’t complete. They have a magnificent choir, gorgeous church, beautiful TLM liturgies, babies and children everywhere, and a real altar triptych. Now when’s the last time you had all those combinations together?

Here are some pictures to prove it.

Exterior. My apologies for not getting a frontal shot, but it was -20 below and I didn’t want to run across the street.
Narthex. The first thing that greets you. Notice the lovely foliage in the vaulting. What’s your church’s entryway look like? (Hopefully you do NOT have TVs or screens in it.)
We came a half hour early, hoping to take a few pictures. Turns out people actually come early to Mass to pray here. Novel idea. All the lights weren’t even on yet. And just look at those light fixtures!
Real altar triptych. With hinges. Gorgeous. And notice the gothic columns, soaring to the heavens.
After Mass their priest began a Forty Hours Devotion wherein Jesus was exposed in a monstrance for 40 straight hours and the people came to pray. Now that’s a vibrant parish.

The End

After Mass we made our way home, back through the meandering highways of Wisconsin. We look forward to exploring more of this great state when the weather is nicer.

Life is Worth Living

Travelogue: Sconnie Edition. One Night of Freedom!

Last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a night away from home. My inlaws–bless their souls!–drove 600 miles to watch, feed, bathe, and drive around 7 obnoxious, giggling children. What’s more, they willingly lent us their clean 2019 Ford Edge to cruise around in while they endured our messy, sticky 15-passenger van.

Anyway, after stuffing an extra skirt and a few books into a bag, we were off. The children didn’t even say goodbye to us. They were too busy playing Rummikub and Sequence with Grandma and Grandpa.

Naturally, the first thing we did on our Tour De Force was to buy cappuccinos. Then we were off into the countryside of beautiful Wisconsin. Or rather, perhaps I ought to say, the forests of Wisconsin? This was exciting because we live on the Mississippi River, which is on the western border, and I had never been past the town of Sparta, which is only 30 miles away.

Our destination? Wausau, which sits bang in the middle of the state. Why Wausau?

  1. It’s past Sparta, hence new territory for us.
  2. It’s only 2 and half hours away.
  3. The route drives by two ancestral cemeteries of my husband’s family.
  4. Wausau boasts a lovely restaurant, Tine & Cellar.
  5. And it has a GORGEOUS TLM church, St. Mary’s.

The Drive

Now, I’ve lived most of my life in the Dakotas where we know how to do long, straight highways. We do highways so well, in fact, that we can legally drive 80 mph on them because they’re nice and straight. But Wisconsin? Oh, no. They do not do long, straight highways. They would much prefer to curve all over the place and go up and down and up and down. Why level this hill? That would require too much work. Let’s just go up! What about this little stream? Should we build a bridge across it? Nope. Too much work. Let’s follow it and swerve about everywhere. Bah!

Ah, well. Sconnies are just different, I guess. I will say, however, that it is beautiful, even in -20 degree weather.

And did you know, if we passed one Trump flag, we passed a million? These people are passionate about Trump. They don’t even care that Biden was sworn into office. It was Trump everywhere–Trump signs, Trump flags, Trump billboards. I actually saw one woman pause in her shoveling, lean over her Trump sign affectionately, and adjust it carefully so as to afford optimal viewing pleasure to her Trump-loving neighbors. Truly, I was wishing we had some Trump flags streaming out our car windows so that we could fit in.

Example of a typical Sconnie house in the country.

The Cemeteries

As I said earlier, we chose Wausau because the route put us in the path of two ancestral cemeteries of my husband’s family. The first cemetery was in Arkdale, which is no longer a town, I don’t think anyway. It’s just in the middle of a forest on some gravel roads. At least I think they’re gravel roads. You see, it was snowing and nobody bothered to plow those roads, so I don’t know.

Anyway, we found the tiny cemetery, and as it was -20 degrees outside, I sat in the warm car while my husband ran about in two feet of snow looking for the Lecy family. He looked awfully cold out there, so I rolled the window down and yelled, “Shall I put your seat warmer on, Dearest?” (Seat warmers are a luxury that we only get to experience when driving our parents’ vehicles; they make us giddy with delight.)

My husband did find some tall Lecy headstones, but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to dig down to the actual graves of Christopher Lecy and his wife, Helga. (We don’t know when Christopher died, but we do know from family records that Helga died in 1865.) Sigh. All that work.

It is rather stupid to go grave finding in February.

On to the next cemetery!

Before driving to the New Miner cemetery, however, we discovered that we were hungry from our grave finding efforts and needed a restaurant first. Since the nearest, sizable town to Arkdale was Necedah, to Necedah we went.

Necedah has a population of 916 people, so naturally it has a Main Street Cafe. It’s one of those local cafes that serves like five breakfast dishes and five lunch entrees, all accompanied by french fries. I picked a chicken sandwich; my husband had a burger. The floor sloped and the table was greasy. The ceiling fan above us had inches of dust perilously drooping off of it. The bathroom was down a creepy flight of stairs that have never been cleaned. The toilet, however, was new and spotless. What a surprise! It felt like an adventure.

I met the owner of Main Street Cafe. He was a spry, old man who had come into the restaurant a few minutes after us. He squinted and mused, “Well, I have to eat here, or I won’t get anything to eat.”

New Miner Cemetery

After we paid our bill, which was hand-written on those old green tickets (you waitresses of some years will know what I’m talking about), we drove to the New Miner Cemetery. Like Arkdale, there is no town here, but there is a church–St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran. There are also no woods here because “New Miner” is in Cranberry Country. Cranberry Country means lots of little sunken fields, much like what I would imagine rice fields to look like.

But I digress, New Miner Cemetery. Once again, my husband ran around the graveyard, as respectfully as possible, and attempted to locate his great, great, great grandfather, Jakob Jakobs Norsby, who died in 1910. His wife, Merit Olsd, was also buried here in 1899. But he couldn’t find the graves due to the extreme cold and deep snow.

Husband, looking for graves in two feet of snow and windchills nearing -30 below.

And that was that. We’ll go back in the spring, like sensible people.

The rest of the drive to Wausau was uneventful. We twisted and turned onto many different roads. (Alas, one must remember that Sconnies prefer roundabout ways.) We listened to Tim Flanders and Kennedy Hall discuss fasting. (Excellent podcast HERE.) We arrived in Wausau and checked into our hotel.

Later this week I’ll post Part 2 for those of you who are interested.