A Year of Service: Starting Out

So, this year I’m participating in a service program in Harrisburg, Pa. as part of the Episcopal Service Corps. Six other recent graduates and I are living together, building a community and working four days a week at a nonprofit. I hope to write a lot about this experience, since writing is how I process things, and I hope to post most of it here, since I don’t get to go home very often. Stay tuned!



After about three hours of driving through the beautiful and varied Pennsylvania landscape last weekend, I made it to Harrisburg, and settled into my new home.

We are living in Governor Bigley’s old home on the banks of the Susquehanna in downtown Harrisburg, next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The house is enormous and rambly, and I’ve got a first-floor bedroom that’s just enormous—my NYC bedroom would probably fit in the closet (a walk-in closet! I’ve got a walk-in closet for the first time in my life!).

Everyone has been incredibly friendly and supportive so far: the six other girls, the various administrators we’ll be working with, parishioners, even the lady at the visitor’s center, who let us stock up on brochures.

I am in an in-between place right now, in my life and also in this journey. I’ve moved in, but I’m not fully a part of the community in any way, yet; I love what I’ve seen and learned and done in the program in the past few days, but a part of me longs for the easiness that could be life in East Aurora with Rick and a pug puppy.

Our program director talked today about being “bridge-builders” this year, in several senses, including in our role as liaisons between the parish and the community, the church and the community, Harrisburg and our homes, and our generation and others. I love that image, in part because I’ve always liked that “pontifex,” the Latin title for the pope (also his Twitter handle), means “bridge-builder.” It seems apparent that this is an ancient, significant ecclesial theme, and I want to explore it further!

As part of Sycamore House, we each serve in three ways: to the house (biweekly dinners, hosting an open community dinner each Sunday, cleaning, etc), to the church (altar guild, choir, and so on) and to the city (our 4-days-a-week internship, plus volunteering elsewhere as needed). I am one of three girls who will be spearheading community relations for the house. We have a choice of a lot of cathedral activities, and my top two right now are book club and theology on tap, so we’ll see what I end up doing.

My placement is at Feeding Pennsylvania, and I am excited for it, but also nervous because I haven’t really done this type of work before.

More to come. In the meantime, feel free to read more about the Episcopal Service Corps on their website!

Why DuoLingo is the Actual Best

Duolingo is a language-learning website (and app, although I don’t use the app as much) that –finally–makes learning new words somehow both easy and fun. Here are four reasons why I love it.

italy street

The Italian alleys that I’ll be able to navigate with ease, thanks to Duolingo….

1) It works.

I love the idea of knowing another language, but I have failed to actually learn one over and over again.

With Duolingo, which I started using abroad about two years ago and have picked up again this summer, a little bit of Italian has actually stuck.

It may not be the best/most efficient/most pedagogically correct tool out there, but I can stick with it, and that makes all the difference.

2) It’s fun.

Duolingo is like a game. You can set goals and collect points (for answering questions correctly) and rack up “lingots” (for completing levels or a certain number of days in a row). It tells you how “fluent” you are. There’s a graph that shows your progress day-to-day and noises that cheer you on as you race against the clock.

For the first time, I actually enjoy learning a language after the first three days.

3) It’s competitive.

I am incredibly competitive (sorry family) and Duolingo feeds that (sorry again). There’s a leaderboard that shows how you’re doing compared to your connections each day, week and month, and now that my whole family (including my father, who dropped about four language classes in college and now does Duolingo) is playing, I have incentive to learn my way to the top of the field.

The various language skills are grouped into categories (house, people, possessives, etc) and those turn gold once you’ve mastered them, but they also decay over time, meaning that you have to constantly be practicing to keep all your skills gold as well as to learn new ones. This is referred to as “gilding the tree” and it’s serious business (here’s a blog post on keeping your tree gold).

4) It’s collaborative.

While Duolingo does bring out my competitive side, it’s also incredibly collaborative, and this is more seamless than in any language-learning app I’ve used before. Users can leave comments, so you can see what people have written about a particular phrase and discern why it tripped you up, for example, or if it has a more colloquial meaning. The other/business side of Duolingo is translating the Internet, and you can earn points by doing that too. There are also discussion boards for more general topics and advice.


Duolingo is the first program, including Rosetta Stone, that has worked for me on a consistent basis. I’m nearly halfway through Italian now, and next I’m going to give German a shot–all the better for studying theology.

Happy travel Tuesday! Linking up with Bonnie, Sara, and Christine

Olivia’s Top Three: Classic East Aurora

Well folks, the summer is pretty much over, and it’s our last weekend here in East Aurora, the idyllic little town outside of Buffalo that has hosted us for two summers now. 

polo picnic

These ladies had a historically authentic picnic at the Knox Farm Memorial Cup polo match, and they are my new idols.

This weekend is about goodbye, since we don’t know when or if we’ll be back. I am a little more emotionally attached here than Rick (I have our future dream house all picked out on Zillow), but we’ll both be sad to leave. 

We’re kicking off the weekend right with A Midsummer Night’s Pub Crawl tonight. A few of my coworkers are the organizers of annual East Aurora pub crawls, which I’ve never been around for, so I convinced them to hold one as a goodbye party. 

Either Saturday or Sunday we’ll check out Elm Street Bakery, my favorite place of all time (not really but close), and we’ll probably also stop in Vidler’s 5&10 for souvenirs and do some work at Taste, the coffee shop with the best wifi. 

Lastly, we’ve got to start packing. It’s no fun but getting a least a few boxes of stuff ready to go is one of my goals this weekend. 

On to the next great adventure!

Life Lately & Long Form

This summer has absolutely flown by! I know we still have about a month left, but I am leaving my summer job in just a week, followed by two weeks of vacation in the Poconos (AKA using my parents’ laundry, AC, and fridge) and then on the 23rd I’m off to Harrisburg.

In the last four years I’ve bounced between rural Pennsylvania, Queens, Rome and Western New York, and now I’ll be getting to know urban PA in the state capital.


The hood ornament on a vintage Pierce Arrow, a car manufactured in Buffalo.

I love new places, but I detest moving and that’s probably what I’ll spend this weekend doing.

Last weekend a friend of Rick’s from school visited and we had a nice time doing all the touristy things in Niagara Falls and around East Aurora, as well as Canalside and of course the Made in America Store.

I’ve been reading a lot of long-form/longer journalism lately (is that what’s in, or is it me?) and here are a few of the best pieces I’ve found:

To those who are hungry for real, well-researched news–which it seems like many are, based on what I see and hear–it’s out there. And it’s worth finding it.

I’ve also been really into email newsletters (I know, so 2009) so I may share my favorites soon!

Olivia’s Top Three: Celebrate Food

Hi everyone!

Last week, I didn’t get around to doing a “top three” because of the holiday.

We had a three-day weekend and wanted to go home for Independence Day, but our ancient, dilapidated Buick was old and grumpy and reluctant to start, and definitely would not have weathered the trip.

So on Thursday afternoon, after working from 6-3 so we got a full day in, we went and successfully navigated buying a grown-up car that has air conditioning, brake lights, all four windows, etc, and then we bought 40 chicken nuggets to celebrate and drove the five hours home.

It was worth it to get to see the whole family, however briefly (I think that the five of us+Rick+Ben’s girlfriend were all under one roof for less than 12 hours), and we got a few crucial things like marriage counseling and fingerprinting for work checked off the to-do list.

Anyway, this weekend looks to be a nice one, with good weather all around, which is a welcome change.

My first pick is the Taste of Buffalo food festival, a huge celebration that’s one of the largest in the United States. We went to this last year, and to my surprise Rick was insistent that we go again.

After that, I want to check out a Buffalo classic, Shakespeare in the Park. It’s the last weekend for Romeo and Juliet, and I’m really disappointed we haven’t made it yet.

Finally, in Delaware Park on Sunday, Buffalo is hosting something called Buffalo’s Largest Picnic. I LOVE picnics and I love that this is just a little bit out there. Plus, any meal made up of cheese, wine and fruit can’t be bad, right??

I also haven’t gotten a chance to explore Delaware Park, which was famously designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and I’m excited to see more of that.

Here’s to a relaxing weekend full of nice weather and good food!