Since 1997, I have been providing a book a month for "higher studies" at the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, New Mexico. The ongoing book donations honor the memory of Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., who showed me the "merry" heart of a cloistered nun, and answered my many questions about convent life while I was writing Galileo's Daughter. At first I ordered the titles she named, by contacting a variety of religious publishers such as Ignatius Press and Pauline Books. Later, after I sent Mother Mary Francis my credit card information so she could place the monthly orders directly, she assured me by return letter that she had "resisted the temptation to buy a villa in France." In recent years the new abbess, Mother Mary Angela, has further streamlined the process by ordering three books at a time on a quarterly basis.

In November, a charge appeared on my credit card bill for more than $100 worth of merchandise from The Teaching Company. I thought it must be an error or incidence of fraudulent use, so I called the vendor to question the transaction. A clerk informed me the materials had been sent to an address in Roswell. It was the first time in my experience that "my" nuns had shopped with a secular supplier. In another few days I received a thank-you note from Mother Mary Angela with the names of the latest acquisitions. Availing herself of a sale on The Great Courses, she had purchased "Experiencing Hubble," "Our Night Sky," and "Building Great Sentences." Those choices, which reflected my interests more than theirs, bound me ever closer to the group. While it's true I was raised Jewish in the Bronx, my ongoing association with the sisters has proved a continuing source of joy.

"I wish you could have seen us last night," Mother Mary Angela said in her Christmas greeting, "as we went outside during recreation to view the stars with the planisphere that came with the course on the night sky. We were able to see the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the Andromeda galaxy with binoculars and pointed out to each other Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Taurus, Auriga, and the great Square of Pegasus. One month ago, we would have stared at the sky with great wonder but little understanding of what we were seeing."