Friday, December 18, 2009

The Day that Zoomed By

I woke up on time this morning at 6:30. I took my time getting ready, all the while listening to the CD I bought of The Priests. Overall, the start of morning was quiet and peaceful. As I left for work, I was pleased to find that the weather was pleasant as well. It was cold, but not a painfully cold. The slightest bit of a flurry also fell as I walked to the corner, just in time to meet a spacious railcar. As I found a seat to sit in, I quietly thanked God for letting my morning go so smoothly.

The office we also quiet when I made it in. I made myself a cup of tea and sat at my desk to begin working on my script for Zoom. The first step is to check the sites for stories. We use sites like the Vatican, ZENIT, Catholic News Service, and The Catholic Register to name a few. Usually if I'm helping write stories for Zoom, I'm able to find a few right away. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything this morning. Panic threatened to creep in, but I kept calm and checked all the sites again.

Everyday, they have the Zoom done in English and French, which means two hosts. I spoke to the French host and we both exchanged comments on what we had found. Both of us had come up with little, which wasn't as bad as I had thought. Zoom airs before a show called Catholic Focus, which takes up a 30 minute time slot. But, CF is never a full 30 minutes, it ranges from 23-27 minutes usually. The extra time is used for Zoom, which is why its length varies from day to day. Today's episode of CF was 27 minutes, which meant we had 3 minutes for our show.

After some help from one of the producers I was able to find three stories to cover: an address the nuncio for the UN gave at the Climate summit in Denmark, the Vatican's Christmas tree, and a promo for two specials that would be aired on S+L over the weekend.

Things got a little stressful when all of the producers were called into a meeting in the middle of my script writing - I had no one there to answer my questions or help me get my script in order. It really forced me to focus and get it done for myself - which probably was a blessing in disguise.

The morning flew by - I had been so busy trying to find stories and gather B-Roll (anything you want to add to your show, like clips from the Vatican or pictures of whoever you're talking about), that I didn't even realize it was already 11:30. I printed off my script and passed it off to a producer to read once they were out of their meeting and headed off to the bathroom to touch-up make-up and my hair.

I think this is when I panicked. In the solitude that was this small, two stalled bathroom, it hit me that this show would be broadcasted in hundreds of thousands of homes and streamed online. Now, of course, it doesn't mean that many people would see it - but the people I cared about, my friends, family, people from school and back in Louisiana - they would all see it. What if I sucked? What if S+L didn't like it, and I never would be able to do it again?

I think this was right about the time that I looked myself in the mirror and told myself to stop being a girl.

I left the bathroom with my nerves somewhat in check and was told we needed to begin filming immediately, and I was going first. My nerves came back. I hadn't practiced my script at all and I didn't feel ready to start. Regardless, they were ready now and faced with an editing deadline and I had to go.

I got my mic on and stood behind the table with my script in hand. I was told to hold the papers in my hands, look down at them as I switched stories, and try to look natural as I read the teleprompter. I have to admit the nerves got the better part of me. I don't think I was as nervous about people seeing this in a few hours as I was about wasting the peoples' time who were in the room with me with filming if I kept messing up, or if they thought I wasn't do a good job. I don't know why; they would never think that.

Any way, we got through it, and I can't remember much of it - just that I was nervous. I ate lunch after we filmed and found that I was too stressed out to eat very much of it - I was anxious to see the edited version of the show. I didn't have much to work on today, so I surfed the S+L site reading people's blogs. After an hour or so passed, the editor came to get me - the show was finished.

When word got out that the edited version was ready, Father Rosica, my supervisor, and some of my coworkers gathered around the small editing room to watch as well. I hovered in the doorway, scared to watch the finished product in front of so many important people. But, it was too late and before I knew it, I heard myself greeting all of Canada.

"Hello and welcome to Zoom!"

The viewing process was awkward. I looked nervous in the video. I had thought I had been expressive and warm when we had recorded the introduction, but my efforts didn't come across as blatantly as I had expected. It wasn't awful, but you could just tell I was a little uncomfortable.

Thankfully, no one else commented on this fact. Father Rosica offered great commentary with my coworkers. They thought I looked poised and put together, they thought I spoke at a good pace with good annunciation, and that over all it looked good.

I relaxed with the start of the second story on camera - that was easy to tell. They seemed to like my hook to the beginning and the smile I added with it. I was grateful for the B-roll on this story, it helped the whole thing look more natural. The final story or promo was alright as well - and again I liked the B-roll. With my closing statement, Father Rosica turned to face me and the office and shouted "That's a wrap; our Texas star is born!" I couldn't help but laugh.

When the video was posted online, I text messaged my immediately family and Ben to let them know they could watch the episode. A few minutes later I got a text from Ben saying his whole office had gathered around his computer to watch it and they all like it - I thought that was sweet. I also got a phone call from my mother saying her office just had watched, and ironically, a woman from ABC 13 was there (I think she's the wife of one of the doctors) and she was impressed as well.

It was over and feedback was good. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back.

We got to leave work early today for our Christmas party. We were having mass at 4:45 with Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and then a dinner afterward. I caught a ride with one of my coworkers to St. Basil's Chapel (small world) around 4:30. The chapel we were having mass in was directly underneath their main church, so it was a more intimate setting. I sat back and took in the room - we had about 100 people there: employees, their families, our board of directors and donators. As I was people watching, one of my coworkers came up to ask me to do the reading. I wasn't really prepared for another stressful tasks, but I couldn't tell him no.

Mass began and the Archbishop came in with Father Rosica. When it came time for the first reading, I prayed to God that he wouldn't let me mess up - I was after all standing a few feet from the bishop and Father Rosica, and the last thing I wanted to do was make S+L look bad. I got through the reading, thankfully, and was able to resume my seat and enjoy the rest of mass stress-free.

After mass, we walked to the end of the hall for a catered dinner. I found some of my friends from work and we set off to find a table. Father Rosica met up with us in the middle of the room to say hello to my coworkers' significant others. Being the last one in line, and without my significant other, I told Father Rosica hello and planned to continue walking. However, he intended differently. He went to shake my hand, and then started to direct me to a table - the Archbishops table. "Ok, sit here," he requested and pushed out the seat directly next to the Bishop Collins. I tried to say no, that it was ok, someone else should take the seat, but the next thing I knew I was pushing elbows with the Bishop and introducing myself.

Also at the table was one of the executives of St. Joseph Media (they own Salt and Light and a lot of other TV channels and publications) and then a couple who I'm assuming is S+L's biggest donators. And finally, one of my coworkers, who's daughter I've made friends with while here, and of course Father Rosica. I think it is safe to say I was at the cool table.

Before we began eating, Father Rosica addressed everyone there and thanked them for coming. Part of his greeting was to announce the latest news of S+L, of which I was a part of.

"And tonight we have with us the first intern from The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, Michelle Gautreau, who I'm proud to say made her news debut on Salt and Light tonight with Zoom. We're happy to have her here and are pleased with the work we're doing." Everyone began to clap and scan the room to see who he was talking about - 1oo pairs of eyes found a slightly embarrassed, red-faced girl smiling in the middle of the room who waved nervously back.

After a prayer from the Archbishop, we were ready to begin dinner. Our table got to fix our plates first - a nice perk with being BFFs with the bishop. The food was really good - turkey with all sorts of veggies, mashed potatoes, salad and bread. After I ate, I realized how tired I was - I guess the day had finally caught up with me. I was able to talk some more with the bishop and the people at the table before everyone started to head off around 7:00. Two of the Sisters were able to attend the party as well, so I caught a ride back home with them.

I was glad to get back to the convent and into my pajamas. The first order of business was to rewatch my Zoom - I laughed pretty much the whole time, but I was still proud of my efforts. I was able to Skype with some of my family as well - Josh, Beckie and Joanie were in The Woodlands with my parents and their friends Zeke and Ashley, so I was able to tell them about the day's events.

It's weird to think this concludes my third week of work here in Toronto. Before I had left, everyone told me the whole thing would zoom by in no time, and although I had agreed at the time, it's only hitting me now that it has. I've had some hard moments without my family, and I've missed Ben and the puppy dogs pretty much every minute I've been here, but it all gets put on the back burner when you're busy.

I'll be getting back into Houston on Tuesday night, weather providing. I'll be in Houston/The Woodlands until January 3rd. I'll be back in Toronto from the 3rd until the 16th, when I'll go back to Houston just in time for the second semester of my senior year to begin.

If you haven't seen my Zoom yet, feel free to check it out at - the video should be accessible on the front page on the right hand side. I believe I'm also doing Zoom on Monday, so I'll let everyone know if that goes through as well.

Wishing everyone a good night back home,


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Working Girl

Today, for the first time ever, I made it to the corner just as a railcar was approaching. I took it as a good omen and quickly walked towards the open doors. I was too busy concentrating on getting a ticket out of my pocket that I didn't take the time to notice the capacity issues of this particular railcar - it was so full that people were standing on the steps of the entrances (which is illegal). I considered wedging myself in as well, but the conductor closed the door when he realized I wasn't acting as quickly as perhaps he'd want me to. Can we say rude?

I crossed the corner to Second Cup and got a muffin and some juice before returning to wait for another railcar. I'm not sure why they run at such inconsistent times, but it's very inconvenient. Eleven minutes later, a less full railcar approached and I was able to get on.

Work was chaotic. Salt + Light takes off the Wednesday before Christmas until January 4, which is a pretty nice break. However, because there is no one in the office, besides those managing the live TV feed, they have to produce their programs in advance to compensate. Everyone seemed busy with two or three projects today, trying to wrap voice overs up or finishing the editing of their special. So, fittingly, today was the day everyone realized they had an intern to use.

I've never been this busy since being at S+L - I kept getting things dropped off at my desk to work on. I like to think of myself as a typically organized person (the state of my apartment may suggest otherwise), so I like to complete projects one at a time. Today I felt overwhelmed as I had to jump from assignment to assignment. I was worried half the time that I would get tax receipts messed up, or something would get lost in all of the papers and I'd be accountable for messing something up.

I needed a break and a decent lunch. I tidied my desk, grabbed my coat and took my lunch break around 1:30. Typically for lunch I eat Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, saltine crackers, and a fruit cup - all things that can be bought at a convenience store and don't require refrigeration. I'm sure I could use the Sister's refrigerator, but this is just less complicated.

Today, the last thing I felt like eating was another bowl of soup. A lot of people bring their lunches in, but in the event that they forget, almost everyone gets a lunch from Spring Roll, a Thai restaurant a block from work. I don't usually eat Thai food because of allergies, but I was set on finding something to eat there; I just wanted a warm and filling meal. Thankfully, it was an "Americanized" Thai restaurant and I was able to get Chicken, rice, and veggies. It wasn't anything special, but it hit the spot - with out giving me an allergic reaction. So, lunch was successful.

I jumped back into my work in the afternoon. I finally thought to bring my iPod with me to work, so I listened to Christmas music as I made DVDs, alphabetized letters and filled out receipt forms. Somewhere in the middle of "Jingle Bell Rock", I heard someone call my name. I looked up to see a friend of mine from Marketing with a bunch of Christmas cards and labels in his hands.

He wanted me to hand address the Christmas cards Father Rosica would be sending out to each of the bishops of Canada and two Cardinals. He asked me how my handwriting was and picked up one of the papers I was working on to assess it. I felt myself cringe - my handwriting may be neat, but it's not cursive or loopy enough to be seen on the outer label of a Christmas card going to a bishop. He remarked it was good and I should have no problem. He dropped off 100 Christmas cards and envelopes, as well as a list for the correct spelling, and left me to work.

I turned back on my Christmas music, which seemed fitting for the task, and started to work. I didn't know if I had any extra evelopes, so I couldn't count on messing up. The whole thing was stressful. My hand tensed as I wrote every letter, careful to center everything straight across the card. Halfway through my work, we broke for mass.

I still haven't gotten over the whole having daily mass five feet from my desk thing. I just think it's such a great opportunity for everyone that works there. Plus, I was extra appreciative today because I was able to rest my hand.

Mass ended around 4:00 and I had to finish the cards before the day was over. I went back to my Christmas music and addressing and was able to finish everything by 4:30. I looked back on the cards and figured I had done a nice enough job. Thankfully, I got the same response when I turned them in - they were happy with the final product.

I left work a little after 5:00 and headed over to the Eaton Center, which is the mall in downtwon. Of course I still wasn't convinced I had something good to wear on camera for my Zoom tomorrow. I browsed the shops and was able to find a burgundy dress on clearance. I think I'll wear it tomorrow - and because it's one of my wedding colors, it'll be a little shout out to Ben.

As I was leaving the mall, I was met with a crowd of people outside. Unknown to me at the time, the Olympic torch had just made its way through downtown Toronto on its way to Vancouver, which will be hosting the Winter Olympics in just a few weeks. The mass of people that had congregated to see this was ridiculous. Traffic was completely stopped, which - unfortunately for me - meant no railcar. Get home was intense - I had to walk several blocks against a stream of people flowing back from the event. Finally, I made it to the center of all of the commotion. They had Olympians taking photos with people, but I didn't see the torch. Apparently, they also had a protest by the Native Canadians. All I could hear was "No! (mumble, mumble)" I was later told that they didn't want the torch on their land.

I had to walk the whole way home. It was freezing and I was exhausted. I think the total trip took about 45 minutes or so. On the way home I stopped at Subway for a sandwich - I've figured out now that if you just get a veggie sub, it tastes fine. Something about their meat up here tastes funny. I was thankful when I made it back to the quiet convent and was able to eat dinner. It was an extremely long day, and tomorrow is bound to be similar with my Zoom attempt. I'll make sure to post a link so that everyone can watch it.

Sleep well everyone,


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Change in Plans

I spent almost three hours at the mall last night trying to find something "camera appropriate". Of course, I'm sure the wardrobe I brought with me has plenty of viable options, but being the woman that I am, I was convinced otherwise at the time. My thought was some kind of blazer or nice blouse, but I wasn't finding much. As far as stores go up here, we share a lot of the same ones. The only difference I've found is that the selection is reduced. After some serious hunting, I found a nice cardigan that I figured would suffice.

As I explained in my previous post, I was scheduled to do Zoom today. I went into work, started assembling my script immediately. After I had began to write my script, we got word of a breaking story. The story, due to its content, is not blog worthy - especially because I don't know all the details leading up to it. Nevertheless, there were developments in an ongoing priest scandal incident in Nova Scotia. Father Rosica decided that it would not be appropriate to introduce a new host when the content they would be talking about included accusations of sex, pornography, etc. I very much respect and agree with his decision and we more appropriately scheduled me for Friday.

I guess my cardigan will just have to wait for it's time in the spotlight,


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can You Fail a Screen Test?

I set my alarm clock an hour early for this morning in order to get fully prepared for my screen test. Despite my better efforts, I woke up two hours late.

Ever since I've been in Toronto, my cell phone has shown Texas time, despite the fact that Toronto is an hour later. I'm sure if I reset my phone, the time would adjust to the new time zone, but I appreciate having a little bit of Texas with me at all times. This time difference, however, is sometimes hard to compute when you wake up in the morning. Today, faced with a digital image of 6:55, I couldn't grasp what time it was. For a moment I was bummed I had missed my 6:00 alarm. And then it hit me that it was actually 7:55 and the panic set in.

I don't think I've ever gotten fully ready - shower, hair done, make-up, etc. - in 40 minutes. It takes forever to get "work" ready in the morning if you're a girl. Despite this, I tried desperately to make the new time constraint work - an effort that actually paid off.

I made it to S+L a few minutes past 9:00. A cup of tea and a blueberry muffin in hand, I started to browse the Catholic news sites for possible stories for Zoom. I had planned to used whatever stories I helped to contribute to the actual Zoom show as my script for my screen test. I was able to write two - one on a former professor from the Univ. of Steubenville, Ohio who made an online version of the current healthcare reform bill the senate is trying to pass, and the second on the 5th missionary to be murdered in a short span of time.

As the hosts of Zoom put the finishing touches on their scripts, I sat at my computer quietly reading my script under my breath. I've done public speaking before - I was a lecturer at my home parish for instance - but I've never done anything with television speaking. I definitely don't have that "Tonight on the evening news..." voice and the last thing I wanted to do was sound differently than I normally do.

A few friends I've made at the office took turns coming up to me asking if I was nervous. In all honesty, I was. I assumed if they were asking me to even do a screen test, they were open to me actually hosting the show. But I was still nervous of "failing" the test. What if I did the screen test, and instead of giving me feedback and scheduling a show, they sent me back to my desk to stuff envelopes the rest of my internship? Talk about awkward. Despite my hesitations, everyone else was very encouraging and told me not to worry.

I watched the filming of the English and French Zoom before they filmed me. I was hooked to every word each of the hosts said during filming. I watched their movements, head tilts, and timing of smiles - I was desperate for any useful tips. Once their shows were done, it was my turn. Hopeful and anxious, I made my way onto the set and faced the camera.

The first read was beyond awkward. This was just testing out the teleprompter and my speaking speed. I stopped after my first story, gathered my nerves, and announced I was going to restart. My second time was decent. I started to adjust to the lights and hearing only myself speak in the quiet room. I felt my nerves start to ease - this was going to be do-able.

And then the door to the studio opened.

In walked my audience - friends from the office and a few of the producers. I couldn't do anything but laugh. To be honest, I didn't really mind their presence. By then, I think there was a total of 4 or 5 other people there just to watch how I'd do. It was then that I found out that my supervisor, and also a producer, wanted to join the crowd to watch me live. My nerves picked up again.

She fussed the crowd when she made it into the room, but I quickly reassured her that they were my support system. She allowed them to stay. Things went quick after that. All I heard was "Ok, Stanby.....roll camera....and action!" I had to use every fiber in my being not to laugh - it was just such a different intensity that newspaper journalism. I channeled my laughter into what I had hoped looked like a nice smile.

"Hello, and welcome to Zoom!"

Everything was quiet and still. I couldn't tell how loud I was. I focused on the yellow text of the teleprompter and tried to speak slow. I found myself thinking way too much - I felt like I was having a whole conversation in my head as I spoke aloud. I found myself getting dizzy by the teleprompter. I tried to look down at my notes. I tried to sound natural. I heard myself say "That's it for Zoom. If you're joining us on our digital cable network, please stay tuned for an episode of Catholic Focus." I told myself to smile. And then to breathe. And it was over.

Or so I thought. My supervisor interjected a question. "Tell us who you are and why you're here."

Surprisingly, I didn't miss a beat.

"Hello, my name is Michelle Gautreau and I'm a senior history major at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Tx. I'm interning at Salt and Light in order to gain a better understanding of Catholic television broadcasting."

Someone shouted "Tres bien!" - the screen test was over.

I got a lot of feedback from those who had come to watch. For one, I needed more colorful clothing - I was wearing a black cami under a black blazer. Secondly, I needed jewelry - preferably a necklace. I was also told to slow down - I knew I'd struggle with this one. And also I apparently "sing" when I speak - I hit a lot of different notes, high to low. I'd have to bring the notes closer together - not necessarily monotone, but I think it strikes the right starting point.

The video was taken from the camera and placed onto a computer - I was called in to watch myself. Seeing myself speak on screen was really weird. It wasn't even an appearance issue, it was more so little things. I was blinking weird - I'm thinking due to the teleprompter. I could tell that I was nervous just from watching - something I'd have to overcome before the next filming. And boy did I talk fast. At the time, I thought I was talking annoyingly slow, but seeing it now made me laugh.

I was immediately booked to host Zoom tomorrow - the fastest turn around they've done. I'm flattered and appreciative that everyone thought I did well and I'm excited to do it for real now. I'll make sure to post the link so that everyone can watch the edited video on the S+L website.

The rest of my day was pretty quiet in contrast to this, so I am afraid I will have to leave it at this. Make sure to check back for a link to see my Catholic Canadian Television debut!

Available for autographs,


Monday, December 14, 2009

A Case of The Mondays

Thankfully, as a student, Mondays aren't so big a deal. The whole week tends to blend together, and interrupting this laid-back blend, is the occasional obligation to attend class. It wasn't until I started this internship that I understood why Monday's are so difficult for people who have full time jobs.

For one, they come out of nowhere. My weekends blink by mockingly these days. My schedule this past semester was ideal - I had no classes on Friday and my first class on Monday did not start until the afternoon. And even more delightful will be my schedule this upcoming semester - no class on Mondays or Fridays.

Secondly, I have nothing to do. Most things are tied up and finished on Fridays and with the new week, I find myself without assignment. I think this is largely because everyone else is wondering "What should I begin with?" too.

Thirdly, Mondays are bad because on Mondays, you're hit with the realization that another week has passed and you haven't accomplished anywhere close to what you meant to. I used to be able to get some work done on the weekends. Lately, I'm too tired. I don't know how working people get their errands done. I space mine out daily over an entire week; if you work full time, you'd have to try and get everything done in one day. I just can't comprehend.

So on this Monday, I was definitely having a case of the Mondays. Again, I worked more on receipts and sending letters. I also had the opportunity to write one of the stories for Zoom. To be honest, I can't remember very many details about my day, except this one.

My supervisor called me into her office this afternoon to assess how I was doing so far. I've been keeping an Excel sheet (my dad would be so proud), compiling the hours I've worked and what tasks I did on that day. I had my supervisor look this over and sign off on it for documentation for my class. At the end of our meeting, I was told I'd be doing a screen test tomorrow for Zoom. As I've talked about before, Zoom is a 4-5 minute broadcast done every night on Catholic Canadian and world events. It's just you and the camera basically. Though I got a little nervous, for the most part I was just excited for the opportunity.

I think I'll close on that note. I'm too tired to try and be more creative with this entry.

Sweet dreams,


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Good Morning, Salt and Light Television

For the first time ever, I was early to work today (I'm sure my parents are cringing now). I'm supposed to work from 9-5:00, and I usually show up around 9:05 - it's all the railcar's fault. Any way, I'm typically a late person, so showing up 15 minutes early for work is quite an accomplishment.

At 9 AM, we open our phone lines for calls, which meant I had to be seated and ready to answer them at 8:55. I was briefed on how to work the switchboard earlier in the week, so I felt confident that I'd be able to manage things. When the first call came through, I calmly answered the phone with a "Good morning, Salt and Light Television" and the person on the other end politely answered back in French.

This was one aspect I had not anticipated. I faltered for a moment, trying to decided whether or not I should responded with a "Bonjour!" and try to wing it. I quickly decided I wouldn't be able to make it two or three sentences in, and I explained to the caller that I would be transferring them to our French department. A few moments later, one of our French speakers came up to the front desk with a written out pronunciation of how to say "Hold on one moment, please" in French. Apparently the French caller did not appreciate that I didn't speak to them in their native tongue. I practiced it a few times and kept it by the phone just in case the situation were to happen again.

The morning passed quickly - the phone rang every few minutes it seemed. I also had to let in any visitors, get them signed in, bring stuff to the mail room to get shipped and deliver messages to people if there were not in the office when someone called for them. For the most part, it was just quiet. Because I was working the front desk, not many people pass that way during the day. Even if things are boring when I'm working in the main office, at least there's people constantly moving around you.

Before everyone broke for lunch, Father Rosica celebrated mass. Because I couldn't leave the front to go sit in the chapel, I stood close enough to hear and see, while still being able to make it to the phone if it would ring. I had to step away from mass a few times to answer the phone. They would politely ask for so and so, and I would respond "I'm sorry, but everyone is in mass right now. May I take a message." Everyone responded the same way - "They're in mass? Oh - I'm so sorry to interrupt. No, no it's not that important. I'll call back later." Thankfully the phones stayed quiet long enough for me to receive communion.

I had someone relieve me while I ate my lunch. I walked to the corner to a McDonalds to get a salad. It was awful. I don't know why this is, but every food place from America that has been brought in simply does not taste the same. I really don't understand why. I forced myself to eat some just so I wouldn't be hungry and then tossed the rest.

The afternoon was slow as I anticipated leaving at 5:00 to go meet my sister, Jamie, in Buffalo. She was there doing an interview for a residency program. We had planned earlier in the week that I would drive there and stay the night, and then drive back the next day when she left for Houston. I was able to get a driver service to take me there and back and had scheduled for them to pick me up from work for 5:00. My driver arrived five til; right on time.

He told me the drive should take anywhere from 2-2 1/2 hours, depending on traffic. The driver was pleasant - a older man, married with four grown sons. We talked pretty much the whole way up. When he found out I hadn't experienced Tim Horton's coffee yet (it's like the Dukin Donuts or Starbucks of the North), he stopped to get us both a cup. He also assured me we would have to stop and see Niagara Falls - he said it would be a shame if I didn't see them while I was in the area.

During the Christmas season, the falls are decorated with lights. When we pulled up to the side, I immediately noticed that anything close to the mist - the guard rails and side walk for instance - were completely frozen and covered in ice. They were quite a site to behold. The waterfalls are broken up into the American Falls and then the Canadian Falls, which are the U-shaped falls and more commonly known. They sit right next to each other though. At that time, green lights were shining over the falls - giving them a very eerie, almost fake look.

I made it to Buffalo around 7:45. The area was covered in snow. This time it was nice snow - not the nasty slush I had encountered earlier in the week. The temperature was similar to Toronto's - perhaps a little less windy. Nevertheless, it was still freezing. Jamie and me were able to catch a cab and eat at a little Italian restaurant. The food was cheap and the portions were huge - I didn't even eat a third of my plate and it still could have served 3 or 4 more.

After dinner, we walked around a bit and ended up at a small coffee house. After getting some hot chocolate, we made our way back to where Jamie had been staying. A friend of hers, named Jaime actually, was out of town and let us stay there. I had brought some of S +L documentaries with me, so we watched one before going to bed.

In the morning, we were able to get a nice brunch in at IHOP before she left for her flight. The driver from the day before picked us up at 1:00 and brought us to the Buffalo airport, where we dropped Jamie off. On the way back to Toronto, the driver stopped again at the falls and let me take some pictures of it in the daylight.

I got back to Toronto around 3:30 utterly exhausted. But, I'm glad I was able to see Jamie and get out for a night. I felt a little more homesick than normal, though, when I returned to the convent. In an effort to lighten my mood, I downloaded some Christmas music. I dozed off listening to "O Holy Night" and dreamed of the Christmas celebration me and my family will be having back in Houston in eleven days.

An Early Merry Christmas from Up North,


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Getting the Creeps in Canada

Last night I kept replaying the moment during Hurricane Ike when a twister drove a tree through the ceiling of my parents home. It's an odd memory to recount, but in context it makes sense. The convent I'm staying at is a 130 year old Victorian home. Beautiful though it may be, it creeps and moans with the slightest of movement.

Last night as I was going to bed, I kept hearing the strangest sounds. For one, the glass moves in the windows. All it takes is a little force and it sounds as if someone is knocking periodically on the window. My windows happen to be kind of set in to the house, causing the wind to funnel through - the sound reminds me of hurricane wind, honestly - thus my recount of Ike. With the change in cold weather, all the wood in the house is beginning to buckle and change as well. As I was drifting to sleep, I'd keep hearing a noise that literally sounded like someone just took a step in my room. My eyes would snap open and I'd nervously scan the room. I may have watched too many episodes of Ghost Hunters, but honestly, you could film a Halloween "Scary Sounds" CD in this house.

Unfortunately I didn't sleep very well and I was tired when I finally left for work. Thankfully I made it to the stop in time to catch the first railcar. Crowed though it was, I was able to find a seat by an elderly woman. As I tried to collect myself, fixing my windblown hair and readjusting my coat, the woman I had sat down next to leaned in to about an inch from my face. Caught off guard, I simply sat there starring back. She began to speak in a lanuage I could not understand and all I could so was say "I'm sorry, I don't understand." Because of the crowded car, there were about 7 people who were either watching our exchange or simply listening in.

The woman looked down after she realized I couldn't understand what she was saying and I followed her gaze. I looked just in time to see her pull her left hand out of her coat pocket, exposing only a palm. Her fingers had all been cut off, or so it appeared to me - all at a different length. I tried not to show my shock, and again all I could do was apologize. I looked up to see two guys witnessing the whole thing - their faces didn't hide their shock as well. I looked back when the woman began to laugh, a very low, eerie laugh. Slowly she pulled out her right hand; a perfect match to the left. As she continued to laugh, I again said I was sorry and stood up, excusing myself past the two gentlemen, and made my way to a different part of the car.

I have no idea what she was asking for or trying to tell me. At first I assumed she was homeless, but I find it hard to explain why a homeless woman would get onto a railcar for $2.75. I don't know, either way it creeped me out thoroughly.

Work passed as normal. I've been asked to work the receptionist desk tomorrow. I'll be answering phone calls and welcoming guests as they come in. It should be a simple enough tasks, but I'm worried about getting bored. I guess we'll see how it goes.

A safe night to all back home,


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let is Snow

I woke up to a gift from God this morning. From my window, I saw everything peacefully snuggled in by a fresh blanket of powder snow. The fainest flakes still hesitantly fell as the sun began to rise and I couldn't help but be excited for the day.

After I returned from my shower some 15 minutes later, the picturesque view that had cheered my morning was not longer there. Beautiful snowflakes, warmed by the sun, now fell as rain - the painting melted in front of me. Anxiously I got ready for work, knowing full well that trying to get there could be difficult. Armed with my new boots, umbrella, and two coats, I faced the day.

The day faced me back - and it was cold. Pockets of snow still clung to the ground, but mostly everything was just wet. Quietly whispering words of encouragement to myself, I made my way down the street to the corner I catch the railcar at. Halfway there, I realized I forgot a pair of shoes to change into once I got to work. I turned around and quickly made my way back to the house, slipping twice on the way.

With my heels packed, I made my second attempt back to the railcar stop. I tried to keep my focus on the ground to watch my step, but the rain and wind combo kept forcing me to cover my line of sight with the umbrella. Distracted for a moment, I took a step and landed in a 3 inch puddle of water that had accumulated in the snow. The water immediately began to soak into my boots. I didn't have much time to get upset because I could here the railcar approaching (they make kind of a metallic screeching noise when the break for the stops). I illegally crossed the street and hurried my way on.

The railcar was fairly open and I was easily able to find a seat. As I assessed my boots and quickly numbing toes, I felt the railcar jerk slightly, turn and make a "clunking" noise. My first reaction was "We're derailing", but no one else tensed like I did. Unknown to me, the railcar I had gotten on did not go east to west, but instead turned south - which explained the lack of people riding. It hit me then that I had no idea where I was going, when the next stop was, or how I was going to make it back to work on time. After a few minutes of panicking, the car slowed and I made my way to an exit.

I have no idea where we were dropped at. Had I been paying more attention, I'm sure I would have easily been able to determine where I needed to go in order to get back on the correct railcar. But at that point, I was cold and frustrated and could only think of doing one thing - hailing a cab. My driver was friendly and tried to offer me snow advice. He laughed when he saw my shoes and indicated I should get something else to wear if I were planning to make it through the rest of the week. He wished me luck when he dropped me off outside the office.

Everyone seemed somehow affected by the weather - traffic apparently stops with the first snow of the season. I had been almost 30 minutes late to work, but this didn't seem uncommon as others walked in after me. Despite the troubles of the morning, there was work to do and every dispersed to their own activities. I continued work on the receipts and envelope stuffing as I let my feet dry.

I was asked by one of the correspondents to help with Zoom today. I had to browse websites looking for Catholic news that would be pertinent to the Canadian community. After we compared notes on what we had found, I was additionally asked to write the script of one of the stories. It's not very different than writing a lead and the first paragraph or two of a newspaper article - you have to be concise and clear in a short amount of time. I was able to watch the filming of Zoom and was proud when my portion of the script was used. If you watch the Zoom from today(, I wrote about the assisted-suicide discussion Quebec is having.

After Zoom I had lunch - a very warm bowl of Chicken Noodle soup, which could not have been more appropriate for the day. I returned back to work, warm, full and sleepy. Without anything to do, I again made my rounds asking if anyone needed help with anything. I was asked to go through a set of mislabeled DVDs and determine what was actually on the disc. The effort took some time, but I was glad to be useful.

When the day approached 5:00, I was nervous to venture forth outside. My boots were still damp and I was dreading being cold again. It was then that I decided I was going to go to the Eaton Center, a big mall a few blocks from work, and buy rain boots. Enthused by my new assignment, I left work bundled up on foot.

The walk was only a few minutes, but the wind and rain made it feel longer. I was very cold and very grateful when I had made it inside and immediately began looking for a store that sold the boots I was looking for. It seemed like the rest of the population of Toronto had come to do the same. You could hardly make your way into a store, let alone try and actually shop in it. Crowds are my least favorite thing, but I was determined to find the right shoes. I think all in all I went into about 7 different stores. In the last one I went into, however, I spotted a pair of lightly insulated rain boots - green polka dotted and lined in light pink. They were, obviously, meant for me. Luckily, they were on sale and available in my size. I didn't even hesitate in buying them, knowing I could easily use them in Houston too.

I picked up a sandwich in the food court on my way out and headed back to the convent. It was still raining when I left, but the railcar showed up almost immediately so I wasn't outside for too long. The whole day was quite a different experience than I was expecting. I understand now why people become frustrated with snow. This was not magical and fun; this was gross and inconvenient and I can't imagine dealing with it daily for 3 or 4 months straight. It makes me miss Houston "winters".

Miss you guys,


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Going Live, Birthdays, and Harry Potter

I'm all about seeing the little humors in life, but sometimes I think the big Man Upstairs is taking the joke a little too far - I missed the railcar by seconds again today. Prior to leaving the convent, however, I had vowed to maintain a "rise above it" attitude for the day. So, instead of being grumpy about the lack of transportation, I took the extra time to grab breakfast from Second Cup. One blueberry muffin and 5 minutes later, I was ready and waiting for the railcar and my day.

When I arrived to work, the office was busy with preparations for a live event scheduled for later in the morning. Today is the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, a day in which the Catholic Church celebrates our belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. This doctrine is so important to the Church that it's actual considered a national holiday in Europe. The live event we had scheduled was the coverage Rome would be streaming of Pope Benedict's prayer service commemorating the day.

The chapel was converted into a set where two of our correspondents would be seated to commentate on the event before it began, to translate the pope's address as he spoke in Italian, and to give closing comments after the event ended. I was able to observe the correspondents practice their dialogue and interactions before we prepared to go live and I couldn't help but feel nervous for them. A few minutes before we began feed, I slipped into the control room to watch the technical aspect of directing and coordinating everyone to get the final product up on the TV.

It was a stressful 40 minutes - I prayed everything would go well the entire time. Salt + Light doesn't do a lot of live specials on their network, so everyone seemed a bit on edge. Thankfully, their broadcast went smoothly. Another live event is also scheduled for tonight, when Quebec will be hosting...well, I'm actually not sure what their doing. Either way, one of the French correspondents will be covering that event live tonight on the network.

The set that was made in the chapel was also used for the filming of a "Happy Birthday" commercial S+L is making for one of our sister networks in France. I thought the commercial was really cute - Father Rosica said the entire message in French, and at the end of the commercial, the French team of the office came into frame and gathered around him, and then they all sang happy birthday in French.

After the commercial wrapped up, I busied myself with assembling DVDs. Again, the task is simple enough, but I like being busy and having something to do. The process included me assembling the jackets, or sleeves, for the DVD book, placing this into the cover and then putting the correct DVD in. I haven't seen any of the specials S+L has made, but after reading all of the descriptions on the cases, I really want to see them now. FYI - if anyone is looking for Catholic Christmas gifts - I am your connection.

The afternoon was kind of glum. The temperature dropped and everyone seemed like they would much prefer going home and going to sleep - including myself. Again, tea and me were B.F.F.s and somehow I made it through the afternoon.

After work, I went back to the convent to find an empty house. The nuns had gone out to celebrate one of the sister's birthdays and I was free to enjoy my solitude - and Harry Potter. The DVD of the latest Harry Potter movie came out today, and being the nerd that I am, I found a Blockbuster and pre-ordered the movie earlier in the week. When the nuns returned from dinner, I joined in on the celebration and went downstairs to eat some of the lemon meringue pie they had made - it was really good.

All in all, it was a quiet day. I think the excitement of the newness of everything is starting to wear off and "real work mode" is starting to set it. What is exciting is the fact it is supposed to snow tonight. Hopefully I'll wake up to a whiter, more beautiful world.

Sweet dreams,


Monday, December 7, 2009

Rants on Railcars

I'm starting to develop animosity towards the railcars of Toronto.

This morning I left for work sporting a new pair of boots I bought this weekend. I never thought I'd purchase a pair of Ugg boots in my entire life, simply based on principal - but I've caved and could not be happier for it. My feet and calves are toasty and comfortable now when I walk to work. I saw a lot of girls wearing them around the city and I was able to purchase a knock off brand at a local Payless.

So, here I am, bundled and toasty-footed, walking to the corner to catch the railcar - thinking about what I would do at work today and how I was proud of myself for finally packing my own lunch - when suddenly the railcar flies by the stop without stopping. Confused, I quickly looked around for explanation. Some poor Canadian spotted me and explained that the really grumpy conductors will pass stops when they feel their car has gotten too full. I don't understand the logic - people could just as easily be exiting the railcar and you've taken away their opportunity.

After this, I stood at the stop for 15 minutes. At this point, it was 8:55 and there was no way I wasn't going to be late to work. Frustrated, I started on foot. Eventually, I made it to a corner where a railcar was approaching and I was able to hop on. I was flustered and frustrated when I finally arrived to work fifteen after.

My agitations disappeared mid morning with the arrival of the first snow flurries of the season. I heard someone comment that it looked like it was possibly snowing - that was all it took for me to rush to the front of the office where all the windows were. I stood, watching the snow fall, and immediately missed home. I heard some people call my name and laugh when they saw me already at the window - they were excited to watch me watch the snow; it's not as entertaining for them once they've seen it so many times before I suppose.

I was invited to the marketing meeting again this week; I didn't contribute much but was able to follow what everyone else was discussing. After the meeting, I returned back to envelop stuffing that I started last week - this seems like a job I'll continue for the rest of the Christmas season, and I enjoy having a task that keeps me busy and that I understand how to do.

The afternoon felt like it was going in slow motion. No one seemed to have tasks for me. The overall sense I'm getting is that the jobs people would have for me would take so much time to explain, that in the end, it would take less time if they did it themselves. I struggle with this a lot as a editor of the paper, knowing that I'd rather spend the time doing the project at hand than use that same amount of time to explain to someone else how to do it. But, this isn't productive and I'm realizing that now. At some point, you need to take the time to explain or else people aren't able to learn new skills.

The slow pace of the afternoon made me drowsy and I had to maintain a constant intake of tea to keep me awake. I ended up browsing the S + L website for some time and reading my coworkers blogs. My supervisor walked past the screen and saw what I was reading and suggested I write a blog on the site as well. I confessed to her that I already had a blog documenting my adventures in Canada, so she asked if I could also post them on the S + L website. I'll have to make some modifications, but I think it should work.

I left work a little after five. The weather was really cold and wet; the snow from the flurries earlier had already melted. As I made my way to the corner to catch the railcar, I looked up just in time to see one pass the stop, leaving me behind. I was thoroughly annoyed at this point. Yet again, I sat and waited for about 15 minutes at the stop. I finally got fed up enough with the absence of the railcar, that yet again, I began to walk on foot. I had walked maybe another 15 minutes when it started to flurry again. I looked up to the sky and smiled. At that same moment, I saw the railcar pass me out of the corner of my eye. I silently cursed the car for ruining my commute and happy-snow moment. Thankfully, however, there were two other railcars directly behind it - I guess they got backed-up from something - and I was able to catch one of them at the next corner.

I finally made it back to the convent a little after six, a full hour since I had left the office. Despite the long commute, I was happy to be inside since I was thoroughly frozen at this point. The sisters told me the bad weather is supposed to come on Wednesday. I'm not really sure if I'll be able to handle true snow weather at this point. I don't see myself being able to walk 35-40 minutes in snow, nor do I see myself being able to wait at the corner for 20 minutes in snow for the railcar. What I so see is myself - in a taxi cab.

Much love,


Friday, December 4, 2009

Hello, my name is Michelle Gautreau and I'm with Salt and Light TV

I woke up this morning slightly worried about the day ahead. I had been assigned to help the production crew with The Priests concert - which meant I would be working from 9 AM until after the concert and deconstruction of all the equipment. I tried to gather whatever energy I had and set off for work.

There was no time for tea this morning - just as soon as I arrived, we began loading the vans with equipment. I'm thankful so many gentlemen work for Salt and Light, because I didn't have to do any of the heavy loading. Once the vans were full, we set off on foot to the Basilica of St. Paul. Everyone assured me it was a five minute walk by foot, but I've come to distrust Canadians' assessment of time, and this is simply because of the speed at which they walk.

I've never been a really fast-paced person. Ben, my fiance, is over 6 feet tall and therefore has long legs. Whenever we're walking somewhere together, I have to struggle to keep up with him - being 5'3 gives you short legs and therefore a shorter stride. Here in Toronto, if you're not at least speed walking, you're considered geriatric. Being the stroller that I am, I might as well be 100 years old. It's not too bad if I'm walking by myself - I stick to the right side of the sidewalk and let everyone pass me. But if I'm walking in a group, I'm basically doing jazz runs (a move you do in marching band to span a lot of distance really quickly) to keep pace with everyone.

So I figured the walk to the Basilica was more like a 10-15 minute walk for me and other normal walking people. But I was ready for the challenge; I wiggled my toes a little to stretch out my feet and got ready for the walk. It was pretty chilly with some strong wind today. I've now found out that this is the reason Canadians walk so fast - no one wants to stay out long in this weather. The pace was faster than I expected. The cold weather and the quick walking quickly led to me being out of breath and sweating. I had to hold back my laughter - if anyone I knew was there we'd be cracking up over it all. I prayed as we approached each street that the crosswalk would be red and that we'd have to stop for traffic. Unfortunately, every intersection we approached was timed just right so that we could keep walking without slowing.

Eventually I began to see the steeple of the basilica and I quietly praised God and asked him to help me make it there without passing out. We finally made it inside and I was able to stand still; my calves burning and my feet throbbing. But, there is little rest for the weary - unloading of the van was essential. This process took sometime, as we were unloading at the same time as the Sony production crew. You had to walk up some stairs to get into the basilica as well, of which I tripped on multiple times, so that was difficult to do with heavy equipment.

I don't know how much I really contributed throughout set up. It's a very complicated system and it seems you need some pretty thorough understanding of filming events to know where things are supposed to go. Despite this, I did help with basic things and observed the more technical assignments. Our goal was to have everything going by 1:00, at which time the orchestra began practicing. When they arrived, we we're probably at 70%. They conducted their rehearsal as our technicians continued to tweak things and do sound checks. Without assignment, I stood off to the side and watched them rehearse - they were very good.

I finally found a way to be useful - taping cords. We tried cleaning up the pathways and cables, making sure no one would be tripping over our equipment. After this was completed, we were able to break for awhile until the actual priests were available for their rehearsal at 4:00. Two of my coworkers and I ran down a block to an Asian restaurant to grab some food. I just got some fried rice - knowing it'd keep me full for sometime.

I was really excited when I saw the priests come in - I mean, there are considered international celebrities. Their rehearsal with the orchestra was going to be our crew's test run of the filming tonight, because the entire event was going to be streamed live on their website and then eventually edited and replayed on their network. I watched their entire rehearsal, which was basically like a private concert. The Priests are phenomenal - I really was in awe of their ability. Two of the priests are brothers and the third is a childhood friend. They grew up singing for people, gaining the nickname the "Holy, Holy, Holy" priests. This was the first time I'd ever heard them. If you haven't, really - download their CD. It's great.

The live streaming of the concert began at 7:30, so everyone had to be at their assigned camera or location, ready to go, at 7:00. We broke for dinner around 6. We ended up at Subway, which I was thrilled about - I eat it at least once a week back home. Unfortunately, it tastes different here in Canada. I couldn't place the actual difference - the location and setup looked the same, so I naturally assumed it would taste the same. Whatever the difference, I found it off-putting and wasn't able to eat much of my sandwich. But I was still kind of full from the rice, so no big.

When we got back to the basilica, I was told the host of the live webcast show wanted to do streeters - which means to get people from the crowd to do quick interviews with. It was my responsibility to find two people to interview. I was handed a clipboard with media release forms and was instructed to start scoping the crowd for candidates. I was a little nervous, but I've never had issues with talking to strangers (you have to do this when you're looking for people to interview for the newspaper) so I welcomed the challenge.

I started to walk the aisles of the church, scoping the crowds for a put-together individual that looked talkative. I finally spotted a candidate. I approached them, media badge and all, and smiled. "Hello sir. My name is Michelle, and I'm with Salt and Light Television." I had a whole little talk down - we're doing a live webcast of the concert and we're looking for individuals who would be interested in answering a few questions live, ect and so on. I expected that most people would be interested in participating, but I got turned down several times; always a cool feeling.

Despite the "no thank yous", I enjoyed the reaction I got when I approached people. I was dressed in all black, which all the crew had to do, and was wearing a press badge - so people immediately knew I was on the "inside". I'd approach one person or a couple, but everyone in the surrounding rows or seats would lean in and listen to what I was saying. They'd "Oh" and "Wow" or nod at each other - "Yeah, she said Salt and Light - we love that channel" to one another; it was great. And of course I got stopped by people, asking me where the washroom was, were there programs available, how long would the concert be, where would be a good seat - I loved being able to help them.

I was finally able to find two willing participants and I got them ready for the live feed. I had to get information from them and then prompt them for the questions that would be asked. The webcast was done in front of the crowd, so we had a little audience watching us the whole time. I stood off to the side as the interview took process and just watched - the process was exhilarating. I was pretty much hooked to TV production at this point.

After this, I hung out in command central, the room we had all the live feed coming to where we were recording and streaming on the internet. A few minutes to the start of the show, the priests came to wait in this room. I wished them all good luck and held the door open for them as they walked onto the altar.

I stayed in command central and watched how they controlled the filming and pieced together the live image. There was a lot of "stand by Camera 3, Camera 2 on now...Camera 4, pan out some, when we go to you, pan slowly to the right. Ok switching to Camera 4, Camera 1 stand by, Camera 4, pan to the right, keep going, keep going, ok stop..." The organization and assertiveness needed for this job is overwhelming. The concert passed quickly; I think it lasted maybe an hour and ten minutes or so. It was decided during the concert that we would do streeters for the closing webcast. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to get people, because I had a hard time doing that when I had 20 minutes. This time I had maybe 2 minutes max to find someone.

One of the crew told me that Father Rosica was sitting with the new Auxiliary Bishop of Canada. I was told as soon as The Priests exited the stage, I'd have to run over there, get the bishop and then basically push him into the live show. The concert ended, applause began, and I heard, "Ok, go!" My speed walking/running from earlier in the day prepared me. I ducked low and quickly made my way to Father Rosica as people began to get up to leave. I got permission from the bishop and quickly lead him back to where the show was just starting and ushered him over to the host. We had made it in time - I breathed a sigh of relief.

Deconstruction of the set began immediately. The process went a lot faster than the assemble, but by this time I was really tired and my feet hurt - not to mention it was really cold outside and I didn't feel like moving things in the wind. But despite all that, it was a team effort and I threw myself into the work. We had things packed up and ready to go back to the station by 10:00 - which surprised me.

When we made it back to the station, we formed an assembly line of sorts to pass equipment through the doors. I was a runner - I picked up equipment from the pile they formed at the door inside. When we finally had everything put away, everyone began to clap and thank each other for the work they had done. Everyone was tired and we quickly all said goodnight and got ready to head home.

It was a really tiring and fun day. Looking back on the week, I feel like I'm starting to find my place in everything. I've experienced so much already and I'm sure there's much more to come. I'm thankful I was able to overcome my hesitations about going on this trip with the help of those I respect and love dearly. I know this is going to be such a rewarding and memorable experience.

To quote one of the songs The Priest sang, which is based on the Irish Blessing - until we meet again, may God hold you ever in the palm of His hand.

Love and stuff,


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Awaiting My Fan Mail

First, I think in light of my previous post, it is appropriate to mention that we had biscotti and chocolate cookies waiting for us on the kitchen table this morning.

I woke up late this morning - whoops. Despite being behind 30 minutes in my normal schedule, I was still able to make it out of the door earlier than I had expected. I normally try to catch the railcar around 8:40. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to nail down my commute time this week. One day my ride took maybe 10 minutes, when others have taken over 25. Today was a very slow moving day. I was able to spot pedestrians that I had passed at a previous stop walk by the railcar as we sat in traffic. I considered getting out to walk a few times, but I got blocked in by the congestion of people and decided to wait it out.

The morning was slow once I got to work. I spent some more time working on the receipt forms I had started on Monday, this time addressing envelopes and filling them with the receipt and a thank you letter. Zoom was filled later than usual; this time around noon. I was able to watch the filming of both the French and English versions again.

I haven't had time to find a grocery store yet, so I'm still buying lunch each day. I went again to the Mystic Muffin and said hello to Honey. When I got back to work, I got teased for eating at the same place each day - I don't think they understand that I legitimately don't know anywhere else to eat and I'm too scared to venture out in a 30 minute break to find somewhere new. I'll have to do some exploring this weekend.

I've found that I'm drinking a ridiculous amount of tea. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing; it's probably better for me than coffee. At work we have an electric water boiler, so there's hot water available all the time. I bought a package of Earl Grey tea from Second Cup, the coffee house across the street, and I brought it to work. I don't eat breakfast at the convent, so my first order of business when I get to work is to make a cup of tea and eat a granola bar. I always have one after lunch, and then I usually have another one or two as the afternoon approaches 5:00. They're turning me English up here.

The entire afternoon flew today. I watched Father Rosica film his advent reflections in French (during advent, they'll play snipets of these in between the regular programing). They transformed a portion of the recording studio to look like a living room, equip with a fireplace and fire, as his backdrop - it looked really nice. This took several hours to film, and when I returned to my desk to keep working on the envelops, it was after 5:00 before I knew it.

I was cleaning up my desk when I felt a slight touch on my back and an "Excuse me?". I recognized the gentlemen immediately; he was part of St. Luke's TV, a Catholic network station in Slovakia that had been spending the past few days touring the station. I didn't know this at the time, but they had come to use our facilities to get English and French speakers to do voice overs on their documentaries - which was why he was now talking to me. Father Rosica and two other coworkers had already done some. He asked me if I would be interested in trying to do two quick voice overs. Of course, I enthusiastically responded yes.

They had rigged up a voice-recoding booth in the studio. I immediately became nervous - there were four people from the network on the other side of the booth waiting for me. They put headphones on me and got me settled behind the microphone (where there was also a TV so I could watch the parts I would be doing voice overs for as I spoke). For the life of me I cannot remember any of their names. I just remember that there was a sound technician, the head producer from St. Lukes, and then a woman who had all the scripts organized - and then the guy who had asked me to come in, who was a cameraman. I sympathetically explained I was an intern and had no prior experience of doing voice overs. They were very nice and said we would just give it a try.

I was asked to read the part of "a young woman" in a documentary about a priest. The lines I did were short, maybe a sentence or two. I was trying to play the whole thing cool, but I was basically freaking out. I expected to leave after I had recorded the two lines, but the producer asked me to read more. All in all, I did voice overs for three documentaries. I loved the experience - it was really exciting and fun. After I had taken my headphones off, the sound technician and producer asked again if I had done any voice work before. They told me I had a natural talent and that I should look into doing more in the future. The producer had confessed that at first he didn't think I would be right for the part, but they really needed to finish the priest documentary. They saw I was the only girl left in the office, so that's why they had asked. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.

I left work on Cloud 9 and immediately called my mom, raving about how I was going to be famous in Slovakia in no time - my voice would be recognized by ever person there. I think my mom may have volunteered to be the president of my fan club, so we're set and ready for the fan mail.

I had been invited earlier in the week to join some of my coworkers at their apartment for mass and dinner. When I arrived there, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of new faces. The group of people were really great - it reminded me of a get together me and my friends at St. Thomas would have; very Catholic, and very friendly. Father Rosica said mass and then we had dinner. I was able to make friends with some girls who were there and we made plans to go to mass together on Sunday and then brunch after. I plan to go to these Thursday night get-togethers in the future while I'm here.

I arrived back to the convent late and exhausted. Tomorrow I'll be busy all day with The Priests' concert - so that should be really exciting.

Much love from this Slovakian-Voice-Over Superstar,


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sweet Satisfaction

For the past three days, the office has been inundated with sweets.

On Monday, two employees brought in different kinds of candies and cookies. Yesterday, someone brought in some leftover home-baked goodies. When I walked into the office this morning, a fully decorated Gingerbread House was sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Their presence seems appropriate, considering I found out today the building we work in used to be a candy factory. And if the calorie count wasn't high enough by that point, Father Rosica brought cannolis and cookies into the office after lunch. I ended up being allergic to most of the stuff (they seem to cover everything in powdered sugar), but I managed to escape with a piece of iced, candy-covered roof.

It was hard to find things to do this morning. I know I need to be forward in asking for assignments, but I can't help but hesitate in constantly asking people for tasks. After a few rounds of "Is there anything I can help you with?" someone handed me papers to organize. It has to do with the donation receipts I was working with earlier in the week. I'm now going through and matching the actual donations with a thank-you letter and an official tax receipt. Again, it's not very hard. But, there's something very satisfying about starting to work on a pile of paperwork and being able to see it shrink in front of you.

My paper sorting was interrupted by the filming of Zoom around 11:45. The correspondents were different today and it was interesting to see how different everyone's style is. I wasn't able to follow the process of developing the stories and writing the script today as I had expected, but we're supposed to try again tomorrow.

I had lunch again at the Mystic Muffin. Honey now recognizes me and calls me "Texas" when I walk in. The Sisters volunteered to take me to the local grocery store this weekend so that I can buy some items to make my lunch daily. I like eating lunch in the office. The table in the kitchen sits eight at a time, so people eat in shifts. I tend to eat with the later group - I think we sat down to actually eat at 1:20 or so. I almost feel like I'm eating dinner with family - everyone is usually very talkative and friendly.

After I ate lunch, I had to attend the editors' meeting. It's mostly a check-up meeting, trying to coordinate all the departments together. I was able to introduce myself formally to the producers and explain my background and why I had come to Salt and Light. The meeting lasted almost two hours, but I got a better feel of all the personalities.

The meeting concluded around 4:00, so I returned back to my desk ready to finish my paper sorting. I had maybe worked 2 minutes when Father Rosica came over the intercom and announced that mass would be taking place in a few minutes. Immediately following his announcement, hymnal music was played to prepare everyone.

I looked at the whole experience as surprising and beautiful. The possibility that I'll ever be in another working environment that encourages everyone to step away from their desk, walk maybe 5 steps, and experience mass as one community is very slim. I really just think it's amazing. Mass lasted maybe 25 minutes and then everyone returned to work. I made myself tea, all the while thinking this was probably the pinnacle of what Sister Paula Jean wanted me to experience in my internship - talk about Catholic impact on the profession.

On my way out of work today, one of the producers asked me if I could start doing voice overs for some promos and programs - she said she thought my voice would be good for it. I really think that would be fun. She doesn't work the rest of the week, so we're going to talk about it next week. I left work a little after 5, only to end up spending 15 minutes waiting for the railcar outside. When it finally arrived, it was pretty packed. Despite the lack of space, everyone on the street rushed on - so channeling the inner lemming in me, I did the same.

I really should have walked home. There was only standing room. Everyone was compressed into the little aisle area. Being one of the last ones on, I had to stand next to the doors. Big mistake. The next stop was a popular station and a lot of people had to exit the car. Thinking I'd slip into an open spot once the people started to move, I held onto the pole next to the steps at first. Well, I might as well have been the actual pole - people used my back to help themselves maneuver down the steps - no one paused for one moment to let me actually make my way further into the car. People can be totally lame.

I finally made it into the aisle and found a seat. I ended up sitting next to one of the friendliest strangers I've come across yet. He was an older businessman and told me all about the transit system. He also warned me that the rates were going up to $3.00 in January. That is the rate you pay to get on the railcar. It's a flat rate, so you could get on and ride all day, or you could get on and ride one block - but still pay the same price. I think it's a ridiculous rate - the gentleman told me it's the fourth or fifth highest public transportation rate in the world.

I made it home in time to have dinner with the nuns. We had chili again and pound cake for dessert. I stayed down in the dining room and was able to talk for them for sometime. They told me about how in different convents, they used to answer the phones funny sometimes for the heck of it. It was a really enjoyable dinner.

Yet again, I'm exhausted tonight. I'm hoping at some point I adjust to my new schedule so that I can actually accomplish school work at night. I've never been so appreciative that I don't have to work fun time at a day job and then do school at night. I have wonderful parents.

Lots of love,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Zoom, Zoom

Today zoomed by, in more ways than one.

I arrived to work at 9:00 this morning and exited the building at 9:10 due to a fire drill. I don't think I've experience a fire drill for almost five years now. It didn't bother me - the weather wasn't as cold this morning as they had forecasted and everyone's spirits were lifted a little over the fact we were missing work.

After we went back inside, everyone helped themselves to coffee and hot tea to warm up. It was then that I first saw how most Canadian get their milk - in a bag. It's kind of weird. They keep the milk in the bag and place it into a pitcher. Most people at the office take their tea with milk, which I thought was very European. So in the spirit of camaraderie I tried it this way as well. The combination wasn't as repulsive as I anticipated - I drank the whole cup.

I helped out with donation receipts this morning and even made some phone calls to track down reporters to attend an event the company is hosting in the next few days. For the most part, it was a slow morning.

Around 11:00 I was asked by one of the cameramen if I'd like to sit in on the filming of Zoom. Zoom is a 4-5 minute daily broadcast of Catholic Canadian News and world events with Catholic perspectives. They're filmed every day around 11:30, edited and then broadcasted that night at 5:00. It's the hope of the Zoom team and my supervisor that I do these broadcasts - crazy. The broadcasts are posted to their website the same day - which can be found here:

Tomorrow I'm going to follow the process of coming up with and finding the stories to be featured that day and how the reporters write up their scripts for the teleprompters. They're pretty insistent in getting me familiar with the process, so I may start trying things out next week. After the French and English versions were filmed, I was able to watch the editing process of the videos. For such a short program, a lot of work goes into the final product.

Someone asked me about my ring today and I was able to tell them the story of Ben's proposal. I'm pretty sure ever girl in the office stopped, "ooo" and "awww" from their desk when the topic was brought up. I blushed a lot and got teased - but it was all in good fun. One of the girls in the office offered to make my wedding jewelry - go figure?

I was also asked to help out with "The Priests" concert this Friday. "The Priests" is an ensemble of three Irish priests that sing various religious songs. They're supposedly very famous and known internationally. Because Salt and Light is filming them and recording the music for a CD, they have a ton of setup on Friday. I'm going to be there from 9 AM to 10 PM - looong day. I'm there to just observe the process and basically anything they need me for - coffee runs, helping carry equipment, etc. It should be exciting.

Tonight I walked home from work. So many people walk here in the city and a lot of people told me the walk from work to the convent was "just a quick 30 minutes". I don't think I'd walk anywhere in Houston for 30 minutes unless I was actually on a walk. I left the office around 5 and ended up at the house around 5:45. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but I'll probably take the railcar most days just because it's cold. The sisters had already had dinner when I got back, so I headed back to Second Cup for a quick snack and some coffee.

Tomorrow I'm having a meeting with the producers and editors of the company to go over expectations and further develop what I'll be doing over the internship, so that should be interesting. I'm already looking forward to the weekend - I still have school work to do, but I'm so exhausted when I get back that it's hard to make progress on it.

Wishing everyone a warm and relaxing night back home,


Monday, November 30, 2009

First Day of Work

I had nightmares the entire night that I was going to wake up late for work. I'd wake up every few hours and frantically check my cell phone. Despite all the anxiety, my alarm did go off on time and I did wake up for it.

The house was pretty quiet when I woke up at 7:00 AM (I know now that the nuns go to daily mass at 7:10 every morning). The first little glitch in my day is rather embarrassing and please excuse me now if this is too much information (it's just too funny not to share). I ended up packing two bottles of conditioner, instead of including a bottle of shampoo - a discovery I made while in the shower. I remembered there being a closet next to the shower, so I leaned out to check the contents.

I was able to find a bottle of shampoo, use it, and dry it off before returning the bottle. While placing the bottle back into the closet from inside the tub, I slipped. My right hip fell into the side of the tub - I now understand how so many people get injured in the bathroom. Not only was this painful, but the 130 year old house I'm staying in covers no sound - it only amplifies. If anyone had been in the house, I'm sure they would have thought I keeled over on the spot.

I recovered, got ready for work, and was out the door for 9:00. Unfortunately, no one had returned to the house at this point, as I was hoping. No one had explained the transit system to me yet. Feeling brave, I ventured to the railcar stop and got on regardless. I was planning on the driver knowing where to go - an assumption I should not have made. Lucky for me, I have Google on my phone, so I was able to follow a map and accurately guess when to get off.

I finally arrived at Salt and Light around 9:30. The office is really welcoming. The best way to describe it is to imagine a backwards letter "S". You enter the office on the bottom portion of the "S" and weave past the production rooms as you make it to the middle of the office, which is home to the Chapel fittingly. From there, the office curves to an opening of cubicles, tables, and an open kitchen. The kitchen is really nice, it has a big table and all the amenities you'd find in a regular kitchen (sans stove). The top part of the "S" holds the head offices, like Father Rosica's and his assistants.

I was instructed to speak to every individual in the office over the next two days to get a feel as to who I'd want to work with. Somehow I naturally gravitated to the marketing team and ended up working for them throughout the day - I was even able to sit in on one of their meetings. My work today consisted of filling out donation receipts. The work wasn't difficult, but it was an organized an quantitative job - I felt accomplished when I had gone through all the donations and filled out sheets documenting them.

Turns out most of the employees (about 25) bring their lunch to work every day. I missed that memo. One of the people from work, however, volunteered to bring me to get lunch at the Mystic Muffin (I don't even know what to say about the name). The owner insisted I call him "Honey" and gave me a free apple cake to celebrate my first day. They sell cheap pita wraps which are really good and really filling - I'm sure I'll become a regular.

The day flew for the most part - I seemed to click with a few of the people instantly. This same group of people get together on Thursdays at one of their apartments for a rosary, dinner and a movie - to which I was invited. Hopefully I'll be able to go.

Getting home was probably my most embarrassing experience of the day. The volunteer who had helped me from lunch also offered to show me where to buy railcar tickets. He explained that I had to go underground to purchase them and then when I came back to the street level to go left. I had a hard time finding the ticket booth in the rush hour traffic of people trying to make their trains. After purchasing my passes, I returned back to street level (up the wrong stairs) and turned left (which was actually right, because I was turned around). I walked about 20 minutes, in heels no less, and ended up in a park. Using my reliable Google once again, I realized I had gone to wrong direction. I felt pretty retarded. I had to ask a stranger which way to go to get back to where I lived, scared I'd get on the railcar facing the wrong direction and end up in Quebec.

I made it home right before 6:00 and freezing. The weather had dropped from the morning. Dinner is the only meal the sisters share during the day, so I was able to make it in time to join them. We had chili, salad, bread rolls, and grapes - it was a very good combo. After dinner, I went to the coffee shop on the corner, Second Cup, and treated myself to hot chocolate and a cookie. They have free Wi-Fi, so I'm sure I'll end up there a lot as well.

All in all, it was a good day. First days are always hard, but I'm fairly certain I made a good first impression. Everyone was warning me that it may snow overnight, so I'm anxious to see what I wake to. Regardless, I'm sure it'll be another eventful day.

Sending all my love from Canada,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Welcome to Canada!

By the grace of God, I've made it to Toronto.

My start was nothing but smooth. After confusion over my departure gate, I ended up at Terminal B (a domestic terminal, go figure). Because curbside check is not offered for international flights, I had to maneuver my way around the busy area with two suitcases, a book sack, coat, and purse. I'm pledging, from this day forward, to learn how to travel light.

I eventually made it through and cleared security check, finally finding my way to my departing gate. Thankfully, my flight boarded early, so I didn't have much time to dwell over the fact that the plane looked smaller than it should. My seat was in the back - I sat next to another passenger and an aisle divided us from one other seat. A tight fit doesn't even fully describe the situation. I had hoped that the passenger next to me would move into the empty seat adjacent to us, but instead, he used the open chair as a holder for all of his belongings.

Unphazed, I pulled out my laptop and immediately began watching Gilmore Girls - my go to calming mechanism. Two and a half episodes and a few songs on my iPod later, we were planning for approach. The cloud cover up north is a little thicker than down south, so the descent was a little bumpy. The eeriest part of the landing, however, was the fact that I wasn't even able to see ground until about 10 seconds before landing. Thankfully, we landed in one piece. My first taste of Canadian weather was stepping off the plane (we had to use one of those open air, movable staircases). My first reaction was, "This is wonderful" - it was a nice 50 degrees or so. I've now come to know a different Toronto climate.

Customs was an interesting experience. All of the customs agents wear full black, SWAT looking outfits, their best accessory being their bulletproof vests. They asked a ton of questions, most curious being "Why would you stay with nuns?" I eventually made it through that process as well and exited customs to be greeted by Father Rosica, who was giving me a ride to the convent. The drive was nice - I was able to pass by all the major landmarks. Finally we ended up at the Felician Sister's home - where I happily discovered hat the nuns house was off of the main shopping district - I'm sure my Dad is just psyched about that.

There are five sisters that live in the house. Only a few wear any distinguishing garments. From my initial impressions, it seems a bit more liberal than organizations like the Franciscan Sisters. They were all very pleasant, but left me alone after initial hellos to let me unpack.

At this point I was exhausted and hungry, (not having enough room on the plane to keep my laptop out and eat the snack - I chose Gilmore Girls instead). Ironically enough, there is a Texas Bar and Grill on the corner of our street. I ended up eating dinner there (the nuns tend to eat individually as they become hungry). I have a feeling I'll escape there at least once a week - there's Texan paraphernalia everywhere and they play American channels and sports.

All in all, it was a busy day. Now it's just a matter of establishing a routine and getting into the swing of things. I guess we'll see how things go :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And the Countdown Begins...

In 29 days, I'll be living in Canada.

My name is Michelle and I'm a senior at a Catholic liberal arts university. I'm majoring in History and am the Founding Editor-in-Chief of our school's student newspaper. I'm currently taking a class called Catholicism in the Professions, which requires me to complete 100 hours in an internship that integrates my faith with my profession.

In August, I was lucky enough to meet Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, who was appointed Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications by Pope Benedict XVI in February 2009 and is currently the Chief Executive of Salt and Light Media in Toronto, Canada. After interviewing with him, Fr. Rosica offered me a six week internship at S & L over my winter break.

I'm not really sure what to expect, but I'm sure the experience will be rewarding. In order to keep family and friends updated on my experiences, I wanted to create a blog to document my time up north. Subscribe to my posts or bookmark my page to check for updates. I plan to post at least two to three times a week and will also have videos and photos to share.

Right now I only ask that everyone keep me in their prayers. Not only am I facing a time crunch of trying to finish my course work before I leave, but the prospect of leaving my family and friends for such an extend amount of time is leaving me a little heartbroken.

I appreciate all the support and love.