Saturday, December 8, 2018

Pet Etiquette

Here are some thoughts we had about pets, more specifically, dogs, around the holidays.

Be strict that dogs should not eat food that humans eat. If your dog is on a particular regimen, make certain that you keep the dog on that diet.

Only the dog’s owner needs to feed the dog. Consider putting the dog in another room where the dog will not have the temptation to eat the scraps that fall on the floor, or that someone who wants to be kind to the dog will give them a slab of ham or a piece of roast beef. The person is not being kind, but actually is disrespecting your boundaries. The best solution is to keep the dog away from people who are going to discreetly feed the dog.

It is always kind to ask the owner, “May I pet the dog?” or “May I feed the dog?” If the owner says, “no,” don’t do it otherwise.

Some dogs will be persistent in begging for food. You are free to ask your host if they can clear the dog away, so you can attend to the meal and conversation at hand. The dog can be a distraction. Ask your host to take care of your needs.

Try to send a standard of having no dogs or cats at the table when you are eating.

If a person is bringing a pet to the house, suggest that they should ask you for permission. Someone might be allergic to dog hair, or you simply might not want to clean dog hair from your house afterwards. You do not have to solve the dilemma for them about what they should do with their pet if they can’t bring it to your house. It is something that person has to consider.

Likewise, if you are bringing a dog to someone’s house, have a conversation about pet etiquette. Discuss the rules and expectations and be clear to mention those areas that might seem problematic to the host or to other guests. Sometimes it is helpful to bring a pet cage where the pet feels safe. Dogs are highly sensate animals and the many distractions may confuse them.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Winter Festival

This has been a fascinating week. With an earlier trip to Tower Hill Botanical Gardens with a small group of alumni, we were able to see some beautiful Christmas light displays inside the building and in the exterior gardens.

I also spent time with the Ignatian Volunteer Corp, which is a group of aged 55+ volunteers who work in apostolate for disenfranchised people. We meet in Providence, Rhode Island and we were the largest group assembled yet. We finished the book “God Isn’t Finished with me Yet,” which is about Ignatian Spirituality for the mature years. The conversations were fascinating and the reflection of people’s experiences of looking toward a time of diminishment, death, and legacy were quite insightful.

Earlier today we had a luncheon for the Retired Teachers and Staff, which was quite festive. The mass was quite meaningful as well. Nearly every Advent mass is special.

So, I’m down of SoWa, which means South of Washington Street. The art studios are right next to the old Boston College and Boston College High School, not far from the Cathedral. It is the second weekend of the Winter Festival. Last year, the festival was one night and this year it is spread over two weekends. The cold weather is forcing everyone inside.

I am meeting the nicest people. Some see the SJ on my paintings and ask if I am a Jesuit. Some say, “I went to BC or BC High.” Tonight I met people from Jesuit schools across the country, including Loyola Chicago and Creighton University.

Many will have conversations about the priesthood and art, which they find fascinating. They have read my bio outside of the room and then it gives them something to ask me when they come inside the studio. I want to paint or draw tonight, but a number of people are stopping by for conversations or viewing. This is also the First Friday, which Bostonians know to be the night to attend SoWa.

The winter festival has a thousand crafters in the Makerspace exhibit and there is an large heated tent with food and alcohol stations, plus other pop up events. People seem happy, and I like happy people.

The artist community is quite supportive. I have some good friends who were very excited to show me their new pieces of work and they came by to wish me luck during the event.

All in all, it is a good start.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Gift Giving

During a recent discussion with parents, we discussed how to communicate our expectations to family and guests over the holidays. The conversation turned to the expectations around gift giving.

Here are some examples that we discussed.

We attach unspoken expectations to our gift giving. We want to please others and sometimes we expect a person to act a particular way when receiving the gift.

Discussing what we want and need is important and if we think we are doing well with it, we need to do better.

Ask a person if there will be a gift exchange or if there is some way you can spend time together. It eliminates the awkwardness when one person gives a gift and the other does not. If that happens, fall back on the agreement you made to one another and discuss how it is awkward for you.

Gift giving can be unequal. If you give a $20.00 gift to someone and they give you a $60.00 gift, there is an imbalance that can be awkward. Money often determines the value we place of the relationship.

If there is gift-exchange, ask a person what he or she wants and ask the person to be precise. It helps you get them what they expect. There is still variation that can be given in the gift, but you want to be able to hit the mark.

Check out the expectations after your agreement. Those uncommunicated expectations can be hurtful. One man asked his wife what she wanted for her 50th birthday. His wife was adamant that there be no party, no surprise, and no gift. That is what he gave her, but she was devastated that he did not honor her on her 50th birthday. These are sensitive areas.

Everybody wants the holidays to be enjoyable, but we have different ideas about what is fun. Talk and plan with the family about those things that each person would like to do. Negotiate. Compromise. Discuss. Often, most families want to spend time with each other. Decide how and when you will do that and discuss it early so that children and others do not make alternate plans because they do not know your intended schedule or expectations.

If children are returning from school or or a limited visit, decided early when and how you will spend time together. Ask them to reserve time for the family. Then they can schedule time with their friends. People want to know the ritual expectations.

Examine your traditions. Why are you doing them? Are there new ones you want to begin? Talk about what would be meaningful and enjoyable for each person. Christmas is about spending time with each other. Be mindful that this is the reason people are visiting. They want to spend time with you. Give them family time and private time. Arrange a brunch with each child separately so you can maximize the opportunities to be with family.

A suggestion is to try gift-giving a little differently. We think of Christmas as being for the children, but the children need to see the primary relationship in the household, which is the parent-to-parent relationship. Because the parents love one another and chose each other as lifelong friend, this is the primary relationship. Because of their love, they have children, but the adult-to-adult relationship is the most important one. Try this out. Let the children see how the husband and wife exchange gifts first. Then the children can open their gifts.

Also, we can manage the gift-opening well. When a person receives a gift, perhaps the one who gives it to them, even if it is from Santa (parent), hand the gift to the person so that they know another person is involved in the exchange. Perhaps, even a little explanation can be given so the person understands the reason he or she received the gift. The person then has to acknowledge the gift-giver and convey thanks.

Parents need to talk about an estimated budget for the gifts merely as a guideline. When a person knows the expectations, they can purchase mindfully.

Parents can purchase a limited number of gifts: one for a need, another for a want, a third for something fun, and a fourth for a surprise. Additional gifts are not needed.

Give time as a gift. Instead of a physical gift, invite family to a concert or theater, schedule breakfast with a person, go to an art museum, a light display, a Holiday Open House,  or take part in some fun activity. People will value that you are giving them your time. Your presence to them will let them know they are secure with you and that you care for them. It is more precious than a funny decoration that you think is appropriate for them. The incarnation is about choosing to be with those whom you love.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Holiday Meal Planning

This is a summary of this morning's meetings about how to prepare for the holidays.

At this morning's meetings, we discussed how the Thanksgiving meals went for everyone. While they were certainly happy occasions, there were moments of stress for the households. There is much to discuss about how to have polite and meaningful conversations, but today we focused on how we might need to prepare guests to our houses for timing and food gifts. Proper boundaries help others know your rules and expectations.

These are notes from our meeting today and they are inarticulately expressed.

When you are inviting people over to your homes, even if they are family, remind them that it is your house, your rules, and your schedule. You don't want to be very rigid in laying down the law, but you do want to communicate your expectations. After all, you are the ones who are preparing, cooking, planning, organizing, and you are not getting any rest. You will want to find a way to politely say that so they can honor your request.

In some ways, planning for a large meal is like being an event manager. Rather than leaving everything by chance and goodwill, organize and manage the outcomes directly. It will help your guests if they know the rules.


It is quite appropriate to ask people to come for appetizers by a certain time. If they are the ones to bring appetizers, make certain they can arrive before the other guests do. For instance, you do not want your brother, who always brings appetizers, to show up at 3:00 p.m. when the other guests are arriving at 1:00 p.m. The unintended consequence is that people will eat his appetizers and will then not have room for the served meal. This makes the cooks, who spent a lot of time preparing the meal, feel annoyed or "fill in the blanks."

It is helpful to set a schedule for the day and to communicate it. Find out when people can arrive and adjust what they can bring according to their visit times. For instance, you might want to tell people to come at 1:00 p.m. and that appetizers will be served at 1:30 p.m., there'll be time for watching a game, and then dinner will be served at 4:00 p.m.

Also, please note that desserts and coffee will be served at 5:00 p.m. with departures at 6:00 p.m. Of course, you want to keep this fluid, but if you give people a clue about what to expect, they know when it is time to leave. You can even pace the meal so that everyone's contributions will respected.

Meal Planning

Plan your meal a month in advance. Start planning your Thanksgiving meal by November 1st and the Christmas meal by December 1st. Assign people parts of the meal that can be helpful to you. Guide them into the ways that they can be helpful to you. After all, you are making the main portion of the dinner.

If you are cooking the turkey, let people know you will make stuffing and gravy.

Ask others to make the mashed potatoes, the squash, a cranberry plate, broccoli or brussel sprouts, green bean casserole. Their contribution does not have to be sexy; it just has to contribute to your having an easier day. Your guests want to make you happy. Ask them to contribute what you need from them. They can still add their culinary expertise to their dish. You do not have to do it all.

Your guests won't have to guess what you might want. They might not have to spend time thinking about what to get you if you simply tell them what to bring and at what time. You want to avoid have four people bring cakes when you have made three pies. You don't want two cheese platters when one will suffice. It takes some organization.

Remember that food is a gift, and gift-giving is tricky. There are always invisible strings attached.

It may feel awkward or corporate to assign parts of the meal to others, but it will become easier with practice. It helps them to know the boundaries, and good boundaries make for happy gatherings. Just think if your only cooking job was turkey, stuffing, and gravy. That means you too can spend time with family and friends or to watch the game.

Make sure you have food that is gluten-free, for diabetics, for people with allergies so that everyone can join in on the feast.

After-dinner activities

If there are particular traditions and customs you want to uphold, let your guests know about when they will be done. Gift-giving will be done at this time; caroling will precede it; eggnog and hot chocolate will be served at another time; games will be played at a particular time. We will attend mass at a particular time.


Let people know when they are expected to leave. You are tired, perhaps. Let them know you need rest. You also have to clean up, put food away, and say goodnight to the guests.

Depending upon what you want. Let people know a month in advance that they need to bring containers to take food home. It might seem generous to them that they leave their cake with you, but when you have four cakes and three pies in the house, you are going to throw much of it away. It is not your job to make sure the food gets to a food pantry. You can ask people to bring food home or not to bring as much as they do in the first place.

Enlist them in sweeping and mopping the floor, doing the dishes, tidying up the parlor and living rooms, and helping with the off-hand tasks. Ask someone to take and retrieve the coats from guests.

Let them know you need rest and you will get that rest when people leave by 6:00 p.m. Everyone will try to test boundaries because we are all exceptions, but you need to know what you want beforehand and then communicate it.

This might sound peculiar to you, but the more planning and preparation that you do, the happier you will be. The same goes for your guests. Although these are short-hand notes, remember that you are to deliver these messages in your unique style, which will make you be heard and honored.

Know what you want. Ask for it. Choose well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Contest, of sorts

As many of you know, I opened an art studio recently and I'm in the process of setting up a new website, printing business cards, and getting appropriate signage.

I paint in oils and watercolor and I take photographs. I sometimes paint scenes from my photographs, and I paint representational landscapes and portraits. In fact, I paint anything that strikes my fancy and I tend towards brighter colors. I try to set moods that help people contemplate and meditate so they are drawn into a deeper reality.

I try to "celebrate what is right with the world," and to find joy in the simple, minimalistic aspects of life. Our heightened senses draw us to an opportunity of meeting the divine, therefore, we must pay attention to the details in our senses and notice how we feel.

With this new endeavor in mind, let me know your ideas and suggestions for a website name, a studio name, or a short tag that describes my studio.

Either post here or send a message to

Many thanks. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Night to Remember

On Friday night, I attended a mass for the deceased of the parish of our family home. The church of St. Denis in Douglas is taken from the name of the first bishop of Paris, France, and the church on Montmartre was the site of the first vows of Ignatius and his lay companions. It was a homecoming of sorts for me to return to the parish of my hometown. I was expecting to be a participant in the audience, but when I arrived at the church, my name was listed as a concelebrant. 

The mass and service of remembrance was beautiful. After the homily and before the prayers of petition, family members were called up from the congregation to light a candle in remembrance of the deceased. Some approached solemnly, some had tears streaming down their cheeks, some were in disbelief that a loved one has gone so young. I learned by older sister's classmate was among the deceased. When I talked with the people before mass, I found out some parents lost their children far too young. I learned that many people remembered me and my siblings from the days of our youth.

During the prayers, I remembered a litany of names of people who died recently. The names kept pouring forth and as the incense rose to the rafter, I felt my prayers being lifted up as well. I kept remembering more names.

After the mass, the parish bereavement group hosted a fine reception. These women were very generous and showcased their baking skills very well. Even a woman who was 102 years old baked dozens of Italian cookies. At a certain point, it is good to go home. I felt nourished.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Studio's First Day

Well, I opened the studio and I invited people into the gallery space. I have to admit that I was sheepish saying things like, "I just moved in. I'm not quite set up," or "I'm a new painter." I was self-dismissive because it is unsettling to have someone evaluate your creations. Then I began to enjoy the people who were visiting.

I had a fairly extensive conversation with a couple from France who were visiting the city. Then a family from Italy came by for a viewing, then a charming older woman from Switzerland stopped. ya ya. Next, some Germans walked through and they said they were visiting their college-aged son. One couple from New York chatted and asked, "Why are there few people here?" I explained that the outdoor SoWa Markets closed in October and the foot traffic slows in the winter. They said, "We came up from New York to see it." I met two other families from New York who came to Boston for a holiday to escape the big City. It was fascinating to discover who was visiting.

I share the space with a studio mate who does abstract work. Several people gravitated to her work, but I also notice that many people lingered at mine. This is not a comparison because the work cannot be compared, but it at least gave me confidence to know that my work is appreciated and admired.

A teenage girl popped in and said, "I like your paintings. I like that one, that one, that one, that one, and that one, but this is my favorite." I said, "Thank you." She replied, "My sister likes museums, but I like art galleries. The people are real in the studios and you get to talk with the artists. You can't talk with anyone in the museums."

After half an hour, the girl came back with her family and said, "Of all the paintings in this studio, I had to come back and look at my favorite one." That warmed my heart.

In the nearly two hours that I spent in the gallery, 46 people stopped by for a visit. I can't wait until First Friday.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Dream Come True

To my great delight, I just opened an art studio this weekend in Boston’s South End at 450 Harrison Avenue, Studio 201. I share the space with an abstract artist, whom I met at a MassArt painting class.

Here is the link to the site:

The artists have been hosting event on First Fridays, and we have been trying to build the “Second Sundays” as an event as well. This Sunday is a “Second Sunday” and it is a long weekend to celebrate Veterans.

I am still in the process of setting up the studio, but I am delighted for the opportunity to paint in an energizing space with a community of very kind artists. I hope to you have a chance to visit sometime.

I had three visitors my first day and the studio wasn't even open. It was fun, but also unsettling. All of a sudden, I begin to wonder, "Am I good enough? Will anyone buy anything? Why am I here with all these accomplished trained artists?? 

Then I thought, "This studio is not a measure of what I have done; it is the promise of what I will do. The goal for me is to enjoy the process of creating through paint and to work on programs that will help people pray better." Then my self-doubt subsided. 

Last night, I put the first brush of fresh paint onto my canvass and I was hooked. This is nice.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

My Artist Statement

My name is Jack and I like to paint. I like to be called John too. I like colors, especially orange and blue. I like long shadows and dark values. I like bright colors, pencils, paints, chunks, snow, water, dogs, even cats, my Dutch heritage, family, friends, food, my Italian heritage, chocolate cake, torrone, pizzelles,  frost, a warm breezes, praying, the smell of roasting coffee, reflecting, textured surfaces, choral singing, biking, hiking, camping, listening, cooking, baking, spices, crumpets, cheeses, fresh vegetables, poetry, fashionable hats, shadows, writing, blogging, blowing bubbles, writing poems, cutting grass all day, pushing snow, crunching fall leaves, frolicking in it too, creating most anything, moonlight, stars, dawn, dusk, the setting sun, clouds, the rising sun, praying, and everything in between, glitter, laughter, piano, trumpets, small birds, sleeping, waking, the sound of the ocean, holidays, walking, tropical fruit, oranges, dark chocolate, flying, music, kayaking, photographing, diving boards, a good pencil sharpener, a smooth pen, painting, teaching, learning, helping, listening, boating, contemplating, getting older, sledding, the boardwalk, the beach, the seasons, snow, mountains, deep forests, clowning, museums, herbs, antiques, gardens, sending cards, elbow room, the quiet, silence, meditation, jigsaw puzzles, monasteries, traveling, seeing new things, seeing things news, floating, tools, stretching, gazing, trees, tumbling leaves, rocks, fireplaces, decorating, making you laugh, stained-glass windows, holding your attention, creating wonder, old dictionaries, losing oneself in a book, rain, warmth, my stole, a very large swing attached to an even larger tree, a deep breath, an even deeper breath, a long sustained breath.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Jury Duty; Religious Life

As some of you know, I am serving on a jury trial in Boston this week. The trial will continue next week and possibly even longer. To my dismay, I was called when I was to be on vacation so for the third year in a row, I will not get a break that I need.

I’m also not in a position to preside at two funerals this week. One funeral is for a colleague’s mother and the other is for a childhood friend’s husband. I watch him die last night as he labored to breathe. I kept seeing Christ suspended on the cross unable to gasp for air. Fortunately, for my friend, palliative medicine helped him become comfortable.

I am instructed not to discuss the trial in any way, but I will provide some reflections on the process.

The Call

First of all, I was surprised to be called to jury service. This was my first time ever receiving notice of jury duty. I had been told I would never be called as a priest and I made sure that I spoke about being a Roman Catholic Religious Order priest. Still, prosecution and defense accepted me.

I will write further on the entire process because it is astounding and awe-inspiring.

Nevertheless, I was stunned when I heard that I was accepted. I really was disbelieving. We did hear about the case before we were interviewed as potential jurors and I was relieved because I realized I would not be called. I was wrong.

The Role of the Judge

The judge’s role is fascinating. He is the law. It is his or her job to maintain a respectful, pleasant atmosphere. His job is not to judge the case. His job is to apply the law. The prosecutor has the entire burden to prove the State’s case beyond reasonable doubt, and the defense’s case is easier because the defendant is declared innocent until the jury may decide otherwise.

The Jury is the Judge

The jury’s role is to be fair and impartial and to listen to the two sides of the argument. The jury is to be convinced of the prosecutor’s facts or not be convinced. When it comes time to deliberate, four of the sixteen jurors will be randomly dismissed. Certain points of law will be applied, and the jury will be given instructions.

The function of the jury is not to do research, seek, search for the truth. It is not necessarily to assess guilt. It is to determine if the prosecutor’s proved the case beyond reasonable doubt. The jury is instructed to not include hearsay; we have to suspend our desire to draw conclusions or do additional research. Our job is to hear the case.

A Hearing

The trial is called a hearing because this is the primary role of the jury. The jury does not ask questions or interact with anyone. The jury maintains confidentiality throughout the whole process. We do not talk with each other, except about the weather, break times, or looking forward to the weekend. The jury’s job is merely “to hear” until it is time to deliberate.

Jury Selection

In many ways, jury selection is like discipleship. We are called. We don’t know why. We don’t know why the person next to us was called. We sometimes cannot see any similarities or draw conclusions about the type of persons that we selected. The selection is a mystery.

It is just like religious life. Sometimes we wonder why a certain person was selected. We come from so many diverse backgrounds and yet Christ calls us to the same way of life. Somehow it works.

Equality and Dignity

Every juror has the same dignity. No hierarchy exists. If someone is repeatedly late to service, no one can ask why, and no one can ask that someone try harder to arrive on time. Service depends upon the goodwill of people to honor and respect each other and the common good. We are equal. We take the role seriously. We know it is our honored constitutional civic duty.

Good Table Manners

Just as, in a very basic sense, the Catholic mass is a set of good table manners, the courtroom has a particular set of table manners that is upheld. The presider is respected by the court. Everyone rises when the judge enters or exits the courtroom. Prosecuting and defense attorneys have a particular decorum in the court, always asking permission of the judge to perform certain tasks, such as, “May I approach the witness?,” “May I show the jury this evidence?,” “May I enter this as evidence?” Objections are done according to the discretion of the judge. Good manners are a necessity. It is always kind to use good manners.

As the jury is the judge, the entire courtroom rises when the jurors exit or enter the courtroom. You never see this on television or in the movies.

Biblical Role of the Courtroom

I keep seeing parallels between the Old Testament imagery of legal proceedings and today’s courtroom. God, the just judge, presides over the dispute, and Satan is the adversarial prosecutor that is trying to trip up plaintiff. God is also the jury. Christ, the Advocate, is the defense witness, who declares his defendant’s innocence. This imagery begins with the Book of Job, throughout Hebrew Scripture and Wisdom literature, right up through the Gospel accounts. Christ’s representation will see us through the trial and he has won us eternal life.

The Law versus Mercy

While the legal system has the duty to apply the law and be judged by it, God’s judgment is mercy. Mercy always wins out. It is the defining aspect of Christian life, which is a reason it needs to be given ascendancy. Christians work within the law, but the law of Christ has its primacy. We are freed from the law so we can promote works of mercy.

Onto the Next Week