Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Father, we ask your blessing upon Our Lady of the Mountains Convent"

Sunday, July 29th-history was made. The first convent in Sierra Vista, Arizona was blessed. Our Lady of the Mountains Convent received a beautiful and thorough house blessing that was witnessed by over 80 people-inside the convent!!

After the 9:30am Mass all parishioners were invited to the Sisters home-convent-to witness the house blessing by Fr. Ariel Lustan and Deacon Bill Merritt. Fr. Ariel led the procession of cars from the church parking lot to our home, only taking one wrong turn and turning around only to have all the cars following him do the same.

About 80 parishioners came for the house blessing and fit inside. They felt very honored to be asked to attend such a beautiful ceremoney.

Fr. Ariel began the house blessing in the dining room with prayers said by him, Deacon Bill and each of the Sisters-Sr. Mary Ann, Sr. Anna and Sr. Carol.

From there Fr. Ariel went to the four corners of the house to bless it beginning with outside the front door.

 He went to each room and parishioners were invited to follow him. The blessing ended back in the dining room where all were invited to enjoy some delicious bakery and lemonade and to tour the house.

You could hear from many parishioners-oh those chairs in the chapel came from my house. Please say a prayer for me every time you go in there to sit and pray. And also,  that is the picture of the Madonna and Child I made for your convent. I am so pleased that you have it in such a place of honor.

And I also heard - I recognize this table and those lamps and my lazy boy chair looks great in your bedroom. The people who donatetd furniture, dishes, towels, pictures, lamps, crucifixes, statues were thrilled to see them in a real convent. They felt honored and people still gave from their hearts at the house blessing. We received lots of food, a nativity set and gifts of money to purchase other items. A more generous and thoughtful parish one can not find.

Two of our students admiring the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima that was purchased at a yard sale!

One especially touching story was one parishioner who came up to me and asked me if this was a REAL CONVENT. I said, yes it is because it has a chapel. If there would be no chapel in this house it would not be a convent, but this year we now have a chapel so it is officially Our Lady of the Mountains Convent. He said, in all my years I have never been in a convent but always wanted to see one. To see what is actually inside a convent. I went to a Catholic Grade School in Jersey City and we never got past the front door of the convent. We got to see the Sisters go in and come out but we never got to go in. I always wondered what a convent looked like on the inside. Thank you for inviting me today.

Last Thursday we were honored to have Fr. Ariel, our pastor, come and say the first Mass in our chapel. He blessed all the sacred vessels, "May those who celebrate Mass with these sacred vessels, be it a priest or bishop......" 

On a different side note, as you know we are in the monsoon season from June through the end of September and this year the monsoon has brought us rain almost every other day and downpours! And I mean downpours. Friday I was able to capture the beautiful sunset as the monsoon storm moved in and the black clouds pushed aside the colorful red, orange and yellow clouds. Just watch the progression in the following pictures.

And then it poured, thundered and streaks of lightning cut through the black clouds.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rattlesnake, Tilapia, Monsoon, And . . . .

This week was like a variety show. Something different happened almost each day or night and to think school has not even started yet. Tuesday we welcomed Sr. Mary Ann Feminella to Our Lady of the Mountains Convent. She will be the first Franciscan teaching Sister at All Saints Catholic School.

Sr.Mary Ann is preparing for her Kindergarten Class who will greet her on August 9th.

Wednesday, I received a cooking lesson from Dot, our school nurse, in how to make tilapia. Tilapia is a popular fish dish with the Filipinos. I worked with ingredients I had never used before: fresh ginger root, a fresh fish,and  soy sauce for fish. To make tilapia you must make two slits on both sides of the belly of the fish. Peal the ginger root and then cut it up into fine "sticks". Next, you need to  slice at an angle green onions.

Put a generous amount of garlic salt on both sides of the fish and put the ginger sticks and some of the green onions inside the belly that has been slit open at the bottom. Pour seasonsed soy sauce for fish on both sides of the fish and then rub the ginger into both sides of the fish.

Let the fish marinate now for 5-10 minutes.
 While the fish is marinating make your sauce.
Pour  virgin olive oil in a frying pan and add the white pieces of the onions. Check your steamer to be sure the water is heating to a low boil. At this time add ginger and soy sauce into the sizzling olive oil. The fish goes into the steamer and it is done when the slits in the belly are white-all the way.
Take the fish out and put it on the plate and pour the sauce on it and garnish it all over with the remaining onion pieces.

Invite your company to come and eat.

Now, hopefully, I can make it all on my own for the next dinner. I did learn a phrase in tagala-their Filipino dialect-"aynaku" which means - Oh my goodness!

Thursday night, I went to teach, Calla, one of our senior parishioners how to do email on her brand new computer. I ended up volunteering to help her when I went to pick up the beautiful bookcase she was donating to our convent. She told me her new desktop computer will be going to the convent next if she couldn''t figure out how to do email and pay her bills via the email. I could tell she was frustrated with it so I told her some night I would gladly come and teach her. She said, "You're on! I will feed you first. What do you like to eat?" So Sr. Mary Ann and I went to her lovely home as she is also an artist and enjoyed a delicious meal. While I was teaching her Sr. Mary Ann did the dishes.

The computer lesson at first was a challenge because we discovered that when the lightning from the latest monsoon knocked out her phone it also must have knocked out her router. After placing a call for help we were able to access the internet without a router. To her great surprise she was able to write and send two emails. Lesson number 2 will be coming up soon.

Thursday our custodian reported she saw a rattlesnake last night right outside of church -waiting to get in to pray. She watched it and eventually it went down to the parish hall  and then she lost sight of it ....and I missed getting a picture of it. I am sure there will be a 2nd sighting of it. Stay tuned. Our fire dept. gets more calls to remove rattlesnakes than any other calls. We might be calling them during school if our friend reappears.

Friday-was time to enjoy seeing the greenness around our school-a rare sight. We have had lots of rain from the monsoons so everything around school is in bloom and just GREEN, GREEN! This is a joy to see in a desert. Enjoy our cacti and desert bushes.

This is the greenest I have seen our ocotillo!
Wait till it blossoms!

Saturday morning I was off to the  Sierra Vista Mall for "Back to School". All schools were invited to set up a table about their school and pass out school supplies. The mall was packed with parents and students.

Sunday I spoke at all the Masses at our parish to talk about our school and to hopefully sign up some more students-our latest count is 99-an increase so far of 21 students from last year at ths time. .Our goal is 105 students.  I also thanked the parishioners for all their donations for our new convent and I also invited them to the house blessing and open house of Our Lady of the Mountains Convent next Sunday after the 9:30am Mass. Many parishioners were thrilled for the invite as they have been wondering where we live and what our new home looks like. You are invited too!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


When I arrived back in Sierra Vista I was invited to join a hike to Chiricahua National Mounument known as the Land of Standing Up Rocks. 34 of us hikers left Sierra Vista at 5:15am on Saturday.
Here is what the morning monsoon sky looked like when we left Sierra Vista at 5:15am for our hour and a half ride to Chiricahua.
It is monsoon season so we have lots of clouds in the sky all the time.

The hikers consisted of about 20 international soldiers from Fort Huachuca representing about 10 countries. These soldiers come to Fort Huachuca for a six months course in military intelligence. They know English very well because all their classes are in English. They stay at the Marriott Hotel during their six month stay and travel to the Fort for their classes.

 Rick and Jean, from our parish, Our Lady of the Mountains, have a hiking club and the international soldiers are eager to join in order to see parts of Arizona. The soldiers on our hike came from Belize, Philippines, Latvia, Taiwan and many more countries that you would never think has an Army and for sure would never send thenm to the U.S. to be trained in espionage, military planning and so on. After their six months of classroom work they return to their countries and then teach their fellow soldiers what they learned.

Also part of our hiking group were hikers from Sierra Vista, parishioners and our pastor, Father Ariel Lustan. We traveled in five cars. We had to stop at the border patrol inspection station outside of Benson. Our leaders, Rick and Jean, who are very experienced hikers, were in the lead car and let the border patrol agents know that we had international soldiers from the Fort and they were joining us on a hike. This way they would not be stopped and made to get out of their car and show their passports etc.

We had to travel through the Town of Wilcox as the Chiricahua National Park is 35 miles southeast of Wilcox. As we got close to the National Park here are some pictures taken from the truck we rode in. Remember that, Chiricahua is called "The Land of  Standing Up Rocks".

Once we entered the park we drove to Massai Point where we all got out of our vehicles. You had a choice of the short hike 3.5 miles or the long hike of 5 miles through Echo Valley. Myself and the hikers I rode with chose the long hike - we were up to the challenge or so we thought. 

As you enter Chiricahua National Monument you are climbing up a sky island-an isolated mountain range rising above the surrounding grassland sea. Meadows dotted with cactus and mesquite begin to fill up with sycamore, juniper, and oak trees. Farther up are cypress, pine and fir woodlands. It's the rock pinnacles looming over the road like guardians of the forest that announce you're in Chiricahua country.
The Chiricahua Apache called these pinnacles "standing up rocks."
As our group started out on the 5 mile hike, one of the soldiers pointed out a lizard, so we stopped to take a picture.

We began our hike and there were many stops to take pictures. Six of us decided to branch off from our group and go at a faster pace to really make it a hike. We still had time for pictures. The sites of the "Standing Up Rocks" were awesome. Here are a few of them. Try naming them by how they look.

Following the path around the rocks. As you turned corners you never knew what rock formations you would see.
The trails were made in 1933 by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal to help turn around the economy after The Great Depression. These workers had a very difficult task making trails through the rocks and with a very steep climb. One wonders how they got their equipment in here to break away the trail.The workers received $30 a month and $25 of this was sent home to their families.
 Known as "Balanced Rock"

 Our pastor, Fr. Ariel Lustan, showing how agile and daring he is.
 Perfect weather for hiking. We came prepared with rain jackets in case a sudden monsoon came up.

We brought water, Gatorade, sandwiches and snacks to eat along the trail.

Looking down instead of up.
Elevation is 9,763 feet.
80 % of this park was burned last May in one of the major AZ fires. The park was closed for about a month. You can still see the charred trees in some areas.

 We only made one wrong turn on our hike and had to back track a little. We were thrilled when after three hours of hiking we reached our destination - The Visitor Center.

Our Filipino hikers shared the lunch they made for all of us:egg rolls, adobe chicken and rice.  To my surprise and relief the hikers who took the shorter hike drove our vehicle to the Visitor Center so we didn't have to hike all the way back.

Some of my hiking partners.

On our ride back to Sierra Vista an Arizona white tailed deer crossed the road in front of our truck. We also passed several border patrol agents parked along the highway. One followed us for a distance and then stopped us. The agent asked if we were all U.S. citizens which we were. All of the people in the truck were Filipinos except for me. This is the first time I was stopped by the Border Patrol while traveling on a highway.

Once we got back from the Land of Standing Up Rocks we got ready for the 5:00pm Mass and the 21st Anniversary Party of our Parish - Our Lady of the Mountains. After Mass a potluck dinner was held for over 100 people in our parish hall.
Father Ariel offers the blessing over the food before we eat. 

 Presenting the anniversary cake.

 There was entertainment for the evening. Different parishioners shared their talents.

 The 5:00pm Saturday night Mass choir that I am in were invited to sing  a few oldies. Three of us were on the hike and were still able to sing away. I am wearing my Packer apron as I was helping out in the kitchen.
 Brother and sister act.
A great evening of fellowship. Many parishioners were part of the founding group 21 years ago.
This was quite a Saturday and a great welcome back to beautiful Arizona and the friendliness of our parishioners.

Appropriately, at Mass tonight, Father Ariel read a letter he received from a winter visitor who came to our church for Mass. He complimented the parish on their welcoming spirit during Mass and great hospitality afterwards. That is very true. You visit Our Lady of the Mountains Parish and you will be warmly welcomed as you enter the doors by our ushers and at the beginning of  Mass when our pastor asks who is visiting our parish for the first time. They are given a warm welcome of applause then. And you can be sure that after Mass in our courtyard someone will come to talk to you and find out more about you and invite you to come again.