the answers

Alas, there was no winner for my first Giveaway Quiz. Maybe I’ll try this again sometime, but for all of you who are dying to know, here are the answers to last Friday’s quiz:

1. The drawing room in the post “the wounds give life” was the drawing room in the old TV version of “Dark Shadows” which ran from the late 60s to the early 70s. I always felt right at home there!

2. My banner photo shows Flirtation Point in Pine Orchard, Branford, Connecticut.

3. The town in the first photo in “no lasting city” is Greenfield, Massachusetts. That’s Main Street, and the current name of the business on the right is Baker Office Supply.

4. The artist of the sketch in “failure” is Vincent Van Gogh.

5. Besides the New Testament, St. Therese always carried a copy of the Imitation of Christ by St. Thomas a Kempis.

6. Three books Branfordgirl likes: see my sidebar for a selection of books I like which are available on Amazon (and Branfordgirl will earn a few pennies if you navigate there from this site and make a purchase). I also listed a number of books in my post “it’s all for you.”

7. What’s so special about Branford, Connecticut? Well, here’s my answer: it’s Branfordgirl’s hometown!


When I was growing up, we lived with my grandmother, Alice Weisheit Collins. Her husband, Jeremiah (“Pop”) Collins, had died before I was born, and my grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was a gourmet cook and talented gardener of naturalized perennial flowers. I had lived on my own for years before I realized that the reason everyone’s yard did not have beautiful fairy bowers, mounds of blue iris against a backdrop of mint, and other wonders like those I romped through in my youth was because of Angy’s unique skill at making the plants look like they had appeared on their own.

Angy was the organist at my childhood parish, St. Mary Church in Branford, Connecticut:

This photo is of the church (and rectory to the left) that I knew in my youth;  it was destroyed by arson in the early 1970s and replaced with the more modern structure that exists today. But back in the day, every week my grandmother mounted the ancient steps to the organ loft to play the organ at Sunday Mass.

The highlight of every year was accompanying Angy to the annual Cat Show held at the Branford Armory. (Another day I’ll tell you about the time my friends and I painted flowers and peace symbols all over the army tank on display on the Armory lawn in 1980, just before we left for college. From then right up until the tank was– sadly– removed last year, if you looked carefully, you could see that the swirls of the camouflage paint were carefully applied to cover our artwork).

We were a “cat family” and the cat show was a wonderland of Abyssinians, Persians, Siamese, Manx, Russian Blues, and other exotic breeds.  Angy, my sister Julie, and I spent hours admiring the felines, watching the judging, picking our favorites. The event had only one flaw: the maddening repetition of exactly ONE song, over and over again, on the sound system. That song was Mairzy Doats, and after hearing it ten, twenty times and more in succession, it was over a week before you could get it out of your head:

My grandmother was a soprano who, in 1920, founded the Branford Musical Arts Society, an organization which fulfills its original purpose to this day:  to promote the love of music in the town of Branford. She also gave singing lessons in our home, although for the privilege of taking lessons with Alice Collins, her students– the sopranos, anyway– would have to tolerate being accompanied by the howling of our dachshund, Handsome Dan. But despite her quirks, Angy was a legitimate musician.

However, the day after the Cat Show, Angy must have been a little distracted up in the choir loft. The Processional and the Offertory were the usual traditional Catholic hymns. Even the first Communion hymn was nothing out of the ordinary. But a few moments later, as I returned from receiving Holy Communion to piously take my place in the pew, Angy’s fingers started wandering over the organ keys, and I heard– perhaps unnoticed by others but unmistakeable to someone who had attended the Cat Show– the lilting strains of Mairzy Doats.

Granted, there is a Lamb reference in the piece. So maybe it can be justified somehow. I had always thought my grandmother was distracted by that maddening song and had started playing it subconsciously. The truth is, she played it for us, Julie and I. A little bit of grandmotherly humor from the organ loft. That’s liturgical music– Branford style.

This week, I am launching my very first Branfordgirl Giveaway Quiz! My “seven quick takes” will consist of “seven quick questions,” all based on information in my blog posts (some are under Archives), plus a little light internet research. The first reader to respond (via the “leave a comment” button) with 7 correct answers will win a $10.00 gift certificate to http://www.Amazon.com. Responses will be accepted until midnight Monday night and on Tuesday the lucky winner will be announced. Have fun! Your friend, Branfordgirl.

— 1 —

Identify the drawing room in the photo in the post “the wounds give life.”

— 2 —

What specific location on the Branford shoreline is shown in my banner photo? (Tough one. Search hints: it’s black and white, right? And the name contains the word “Point.”)

— 3 —

What town in western Massachusetts is shown in the first vintage photo in the post “no lasting city”? (Hint: the business on the right that the man is walking past still exists, under a slightly altered name).

— 4 —

Who is the artist of the chalk sketch of the woman with her head in her hands in the post “failure”? Hint: it was completed in 1883.

— 5 —

In my post “my Bible problem,” I mentioned that St. Therese always carried a copy of the New Testament. What other book did she always carry ?(Hint: she had memorized it by age 15).

— 6 —

Name three books Branfordgirl likes.

— 7 —

Name something special about Branford, Connecticut. Yes, I know, this is purely subjective and completely unfair but all sincere replies will be counted as correct!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

This post has moved to here

ImageThe dream came night after night. In the dream, I sat bolt upright in the bedroom I shared with my sister in the house in Branford that was built by my Irish great-grandfather. I turned, my feet touched the floor, and I was on my way down the narrow wooden stairs to the drawing room. I stood at my usual post before the window with the filmy, cigarette-smoke tainted curtains from which I could see every doorway that led from this darkened room. This was the worst part; as I stood watch, the noise became unbearable. It was the hum of the oil burner. In daylight, activity and conversation would drown out the sound; it was scarcely noticeable. But tonight, as I stood alone in my nightgown with bare feet on the cold wooden floor, keeping vigil while the house slept, it grew louder, louder, almost deafening, but I stood firm. Then, the dream faded and I awoke.Image

Years later, I recounted this dream to my sister, the dream that haunted me every night as a young girl. What she said gave me a chill: “It wasn’t a dream. You really did that. I remember it. You were sleepwalking.”

It made my blood run cold to think that what I thought was only a scary dream had been a nightly reality. At age five or six, I had become the nocturnal guardian and protector of my family.

My parents were loving but troubled. My mother, one of nine children of Polish peasants and the only one with a college education, was highly intelligent and had a poetic soul, but she was a drunk. My father, a Yale grad with a keen Irish sense of humor, was shell-shocked and tormented by memories of his experiences as a Marine on Okinawa and Guadalcanal during World War II. There was rarely enough money, things were always a bit precarious, and though I treasure countless delights and happy memories from my childhood, there was always the sense that something…might….happen.

I recently read something interesting about sleepwalking: during sleepwalking, the person arises and performs, in a low state of consciousness, activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness. Yes. That makes sense. I remember being invited to a sleepover at a friend’s in Hotchkiss Grove, but a couple of hours into the evening I had to call for a ride home. I had to be there; I was afraid my parents would not be okay without me. That something would…happen. At bedtime each night, I would line up my many stuffed animals to kiss each one goodnight, making sure not to miss a single one of my charges because, well, they would be sad, and something might…well, you know, happen. As adults, my siblings and I have joked about what we call the “Collins hyper-vigilance,” a trait we all share to some extent. Even our family coat of arms bears the image of a pelican plucking its own breast, while our family motto is Dant Vulnera Vitam: The Wounds Give Life.Image

The wounds give life.Those words bring others like them to mind. Isaiah 53:5 reads:

But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.

And I Peter 2:24 tells us,

He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Jesus suffered so that we would be healed of sin, so that we would have eternal life. Alone on the cross, He held back the tide of evil that threatened us. In the Mass, like the pelican plucking its own breast to feed its young, He feeds us His own body and blood to give us life.Image

But there is more. When Jesus appeared to the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska, he revealed to her that what wounds His heart most deeply is our lack of trust in Him. He wants us to trust Him completely, so much so that he asked St. Faustina to have this image of His Divine Mercy painted, showing blood and water pouring from His side along with the words “Jesus I trust In You” so that we would never forget that He is standing watch:Image

The little Branford girl can go to sleep now. Jesus is there.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. -Psalm 4:8


You wouldn’t know it by my messy house or failure to accessorize, but I have an eye for detail. This dates from way back in childhood, when my nickname was Mouse and my small stature (at the time) brought me eye to eye with the world of tiny things. Of all my many stuffed animals, a three-inch teddy bear was my favorite.

My failing eyesight confirms that this habit is not a matter of superior vision but of perception; I seek out the small and hidden. As an acupuncturist, my eyes and fingertips were trained to find a specific point on the body so infinitesimally precise that the finest needle could be placed there and nowhere else to heal an illness. As an antique dealer, I learned to notice subtle differences that distinguished a piece of authentic Staffordshire pottery from a knock-off. As an herbalist, when I take a walk I habitually scan the environment, whether dusty roadside or woodland or meadow, seeking medicinal plants (I’m good at finding four-leafed clovers too). As a mother, I know where virtually every tiny Lego or microscopic Polly Pocket shoe have been dropped by childish hands (picking them up is another matter).

Today as my children and I walked to Mass, I was scanning around as usual and my eyes fell on a small broken robin’s egg under a tree. As I usually do when I find birds’ eggs, I looked up for evidence of the nest, and there it was, also small and hidden, amid leafy branches. Up there, some mother and father bird had watched the tiny egg crack open, and later, urged the fledgling to the edge of the nest for its first flight, all out of sight of the big busy world of human beings below. While no one noticed or cared, something very important was happening in the life of a very small creature. Just yesterday, my daughter (who has the gene) assembled a box containing an abandoned birds’ nest, some dried plants, and a small seashell, and she asked if she could have the eggshell for her collection. I told her yes, but to be on the safe side, I cradled it in the palm of my hand all the way to Mass, and all the way home again.

At church, I was preparing for Mass using my favorite vintage prayer book, Mary My Hope, and reflecting on how God prefers the humble. ImageIn fact, He seeks out the small and hidden. The lowlier we are, the less worthy of notice, the less significant we are in the world’s eyes, the more God’s eyes of love are seeking us out; the more His heart of love hears our every word, our every silent anguished thought or dream or prayer. He seeks us out, lowly as we are, as He sought among thousands for the humble virgin who would be the mother of his Son.

Mary seeks us too. Like the mother she is, she knows where we have mislaid everything. She knows our hearts, the things we cannot say, the things no one else is asking or wants to hear. She holds our hand in hers because, like a mother, she does not want us to become lost or broken. She seeks and finds us, and she cradles us in the palm of her hand, all the way home.

7 quick takes #2

— 1 —

I am continually caught off guard by my 9 year old daughter’s little discoveries that remind me of my own girlhood. When she shows me a sewing shortcut she figured out, or how to make a flower chain, it could be me 41 years ago. Is it wired into our family genetic code? Or the universal code of girlhood? I don’t know, but it makes me feel young again.

— 2 —

We are going to Lake Wyola today for the first time this season. Lake Wyola is a beautiful sandy beach here in western MA with pleasant swimmable water and the occasional duck family. We go at least once a week all summer. For the kids, Lake Wyola means fishing off the little dock with a pole or net; trying to position themselves just right so their shadows don’t fall across the little schools of fish in the shallows that they are trying to catch with their hands; building in the sand; swimming with snorkel and goggles; and sometimes (but not today because I’m broke) Bobby’s Hamburger Stand for hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and ring pops. For me, Lake Wyola is sitting and reading with the sound of children’s laughter in the background; abandoning myself to the gentle tide, floating with my eyes closed, and opening them to see where I have ended up; not talking or being talked to for long stretches, which is rare in my life.

— 3 —

I have a little patch of herbs in a wooden frame outside the kitchen door. The easiest thing for me to do at dinnertime is to go out with a scissors and pick some parsley, thyme (we have lemon thyme), oregano, sage, rosemary, and basil, wash them, snip them into little bits, and put them into whatever I am cooking with fresh garlic, salt, and pepper. I tell you, I have thrown a handful of those same herbs into half a dozen meals over the past couple of weeks, every one has received accolades, and no one tells me that all the food tastes the same!

— 4 —

Speaking of herbs, my new discovery is chocolate mint. If you are at a garden center, rub a leaf between your fingers and sniff. It really smells like an Andes mint candy, or a delicious chocolate truffle with a mint center, or mint chocolate chip ice cream, or…well, just try it! You will immediately think of several great summer desserts that could use this! I have a plant growing in a pot outside that keeps sending new tendrils down to the ground that want to take root in the wider world. How do they sense where to go? How do they know “there’s soil down there?”

— 5 —

After my last blog post, the one I wrote after a funeral, there is no hiding the fact that this practicing Roman Catholic and Third Order Carmelite is, well, a little weird. Now that I’ve stepped out of the shadows, who knows what I might find myself writing?

— 6 —

Speaking of shadows, I have no interest in the new Dark Shadows movie. The reviews I’ve read and the trailer I watched make it seem, well, puerile and trashy. But I am addicted to the old black and white TV series from the late 60s and early 70s, which I own on DVD. My maiden name is Collins, I grew up in a spooky house (there I go again) by the water, and visiting Collinwood is a little like going home. My take is: it’s not really a vampire story. After all, he’s a reluctant vampire, tormented by the evil from which he is trying to free himself. It’s really a Gothic romance.

— 7 —

She’s done it again. Evangeline just walked in with a paper chain and said “it’s me friendship chain.” (She uses “me” instead of “my” a lot.) “It’s got the names of all me friends on each link.” Evangeline is the initiator of a number of neighborhood clubs: a Girls Club, a Friendship Club, a Health Club, a Garden Club. One club morphs into another as moods and seasons change in our neighborhood. We are alike in many ways (see item 1), but unlike her reclusive mother who constantly seeks solitude, she is constantly trying to find ways to bring people together, a trait for which I am thankful.She even started a blog: http://www.avisitwithevangeline.wordpress.com.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!