Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Unfinished Quilt

From the web archives: The Unfinished Quilt

Snip, snip, snip went my scissors as I cut six-inch squares from my son’s old clothes.  He was eighteen months old and I was pregnant with my second child.  We collected sixty squares over a couple of months.  I was going to make a baby quilt.  But ... 

I enrolled in my first writing class – writing for children.  And I loved it.  After years of doing science and scientific writing, it felt good to return to my childhood dream of becoming a writer.  I wrote stories about my son, our cats and my childhood.  And the six-inch squares lay in a box.  All sewing came to a standstill. 

After the course was finished, I made an apron from those squares for my son’s second birthday.  He deserved one for being such a good helper (he still is).  I was heavy with child.  Two months later, I gave birth to a ten pound baby girl.              

Pure happiness.  Pure tiredness. 

For six months, I wrote only grocery lists.  Sleep became a high priority.  Then I began to flex my writing muscles. 

My teacher had said, “Write what you know.”  So I wrote a short story about a little boy and his mother who cut up six inch squares from old clothes that don’t fit anymore.  The boy receives a quilt on his birthday.  My first version was longer, with details.  But I pared the story down to its bare bones, about one hundred words.  After reading it over I thought it would make a good rebus (story with pictures to help the beginning reader) so I submitted it as such to Ladybug

Four months later, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, my SASE arrived.  I expected another rejection.  I had submitted about fifteen stories to various magazines that I enjoyed reading and they had all been returned, some with a form letter, others with a note of encouragement scribbled on them.   

I ripped open the envelope and unfolded the letter.  It said, “Thank you for sending Six Inch Squares for our consideration ...” and I thought, Oh, a personal rejection letter.  But by the end of the first paragraph I felt my grin spread across my face as I read, “ ... I’m happy to tell you that we would like to accept it for publication in Ladybug.  This is a wonderful presentation of old things begetting new memories.”

Waving my acceptance letter, I ran to the backyard where my family was picking the last of the blackberries, shouting, “An acceptance!  An acceptance!”  I got blackberry kisses.  Later we had a celebratory reading of Six Inch Squares. 

My children still don’t have a home-made quilt with all their favorite pieces of clothing.  But they’ll get to read my story in print instead!

Six-Inch Squares has been published in the Oct. 2005 issue of Ladybug with darling illustrations by Sylvia Long.   

What is a rebus? 

A rebus is a picture puzzle originating from ancient Egypt and hieroglyphics, which by the sounds of their words suggests words or phrases.  For example: Johnny Carson = jaw + knee + car + sun.  These are fun, but for children learning to read, a rebus is not meant to be a pun, but a tool.

Ladybug substitutes pictures for concrete nouns within the sentence.  An illustration shows the key.  Highlights for Children has a picture next to the noun.  Generally a rebus has 5-10 picturable words that are repeated a couple of times in a very, very short (75-125 words) and satisfying story.

"The Unfinished Quilt" was first published in August 2004 issue of Kid Magazine Writers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Today's Moment of Truth

Lee Strobel is one of my favorite authors (he's written many books on apologetics -- Case of Christ, Case for Faith, etc.) so when I saw TODAY'S MOMENT OF TRUTH, a devotional with a apologetic bent, I had to request a review copy. Strobel and Mittelberg ask questions that most non-believers ask: Where did the universe come from? Who designed the designer? How can you know Jesus is God? Was the tomb really empty? How can you believe in a Trinitarian God? If God is good and great, why is there evil in this world? And so many more.

They make a case succinctly, in just 2 pages for each question. They quote Scripture, reflect upon it using historical, scientific or Biblical facts, and end with a "Truth for Today." Their goal is not just to help those who are questioning Christianity to have some answers but for those of us who believe to increase our faith, which in turn gives us the armor to defend it.

A random example: Too Narrow?

Enter through the narrow gate. For the wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matt 7:13-14 

How can Jesus claim he's the only way to God? Mittelberg gives the example of landing a plane -- you really can land a plane anywhere, unless you prefer to stay alive. The narrow path in this case is the runway. "Similarly, there are many religious teachers, prophets and gurus. But only one came with the credentials to show he was the Son of God. Only One came to lay down his life as a ransom for his friends. Only One paid the penalty for our sins by dying in our place. Only One proved it all to be true by rising from the dead."

Truth for Today: "Sometimes truth is narrow. Are you willing to follow the One who said he alone was the way, the truth, the life?"

There are 180 devotions. I have not read them all, but I'm making my way through them and they are a delight to read and ponder. I am growing in my faith, which is what I always pray for. I highly recommend this book. It is beautifully designed with a ribbon to mark your place. My only quibble is that it doesn't have a topical index.

Thanks to BookLook for providing me with a review copy. I have posted this on Amazon as well.

And because I really like this video on having reasonable faith given that our universal constants are so finely tuned to promote life, I share it with you. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Socializing Kittens

As promised, I have better kitty pictures because they no longer hide under the bed or in dark corners. We've had them now for almost three weeks and it's interesting to watch and learn their personalities. They are still not sociable, preferring to be left to themselves than to be with us, but they know that we bring them food and will come near us to eat. They also love to play and get so engrossed chasing a piece of fleece on a fishing rod that they forget we are there. I pick them up when they are well fed and sleepy and oh, how they purr!

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

This is my first experience socializing feral cats and I could cry (oh, who am I kidding, I do cry). I miss having a cat in bed. Or on my lap. Or on my papers or trying to type. With my other cats, within a week of adoption, they had the run of the house and they *owned* us.

Some things I'm learning about socializing feral cats (and the jury's still out on whether we're successful with this pair).
1. Go slow. Try not to rush the interaction. Best thing is to sit with a good book while they go about their business so that you become a natural presence to them.
2. Give them a limited space where they will be comfortable, but still accessible. Too much space too soon and you'll never see them. We had these kittens in Dagny's room but they quickly figured out that we couldn't reach them at all under the bed. Now they are in our bedroom/bathroom and it's so much easier to pick them up. 
3. Withhold food once they get used to the surroundings. Feeding time then becomes special and you can use food to encourage them to come near you.
3. Have special treats for new experiences. These kittens love salmon off the grill, so much so that bad boy Benny growled at Jules. Funny how he's the alpha cat even though he's a runt. 
4. Do disturb them. Pet them while eating. Pick them up. The sooner they associate the human touch with food, the better.
5. Play with them. Kittens love to play. Tucker them out and then pick them up.

And consider yourself blessed if a cat deigns to come to you of its own accord. I'm still waiting ... Pray for them.

And because Catholics have a saint for every malady, there's even a patron saint for cats! St. Gertrude of Nivelles.

Our shelter and vet have been very helpful and I also found this excellent website on taming feral kittens.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Marriage and Math

Today, on this Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary. We exchanged wedding vows on a beach with a retired judge presiding and about a hundred family and friends witnessing. Sunday 1pm.
 
Five years ago, we celebrated our 17th anniversary in Charleston. We had just arrived three days prior and school was starting up Monday so the Sunday respite was very welcome (and habitual*). Also I couldn't help thinking what a momentous leap of faith we'd taken both in getting married and moving here.

So I was curious if there's a pattern to this. How many times will Aug. 14 fall on a Sunday? I've been doing this manually and it is complicated (math is hard, my kids would say) because of the leap years. I found a great website that lists the table for repeating calendar years. This is for 1994. 2005, 2011, 2022 ... But wait a sec. How come 2016 is NOT on the list? That's because it's a leap year. So the pattern is not a simple 11, 6, 11, 11, 6, 11, 11, 6 ... but rather 11, 6, 5, 6, 11, 6, 11, 11, 6, 5, 6, 11 ... but then it falls apart after 2095 because there are 3 sixes in a row :( (2100 AD is not a leap year). I suspect that the repeating pattern of 11, 6, 11, 11 will continue after 2101. I love that there is an overall period of 28 years and that within this, a littler pattern of 6, 11, 11 (these add up to 28) and within the 11 (5+6). I don't know why all these things fascinate me so much but they do satisfy the desire for seeing order in what can sometimes feel random. Thanks to my friend and organist extraordinaire Steve Collins for letting me know there is a pattern if I looked hard enough.

The calendar site is a very useful for writing historical fiction. It lists the phases of the moon since so many holidays are dependent upon this.

Below I have some more wedding photos. We love looking through our album and seeing that even though we had an unholy beginning, followed by a marriage that was less than perfect (we didn't really understand the part about sacrifice), God blessed us, chased after us, and showed us the way. We are helping one another and our children get to heaven. I hope by our witness we'll take as many of you along with us :) What can I say except faith *is* evidence. I need only examine my life to see it. Hebrews 1:11 hangs in Max's room: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. So true!
 


 

Sweet pea flowers from the garden
 


With my wonderful MIL, who made many of the arrangements.
Thank you, Charlanne!
 


Heading home in our Barracuda. I still miss it.
Thanks Michael, I didn't know I could love you more today than that happy day 22 years ago. God bless you always.

*When we went through RCIA, we plunged into keeping Sundays for the Lord, for rest and recreation out of necessity because our RCIA classes were attached to Mass, the adult at 9am and the children's at 5 pm. Imagine when our classes were done and we only went to one Sunday Mass! It freed up several hours ... but having our lives revolve around Jesus became a habit. The only way I'd miss Mass is if I'm contagious.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Purr-fect Way to Build Up Bones

From the web archives: A Purr-fect Way to Build Up Bones by Vijaya Khisty Bodach
 
 
Why do cats purr? We have wondered about that soft and soothing sound since cats became our companions over 5,000 years ago.
 
You’re right if you think that cats purr because they are happy and content. Cats choose to purr, just like you choose to laugh. Purring is part of a cat’s communication. It signals a friendly social mood. But did you know that cats also purr when they are frightened, hurt, or even dying? Such observations have led scientists to ask if purring is involved in healing.

Elizabeth von Muggenthaler is a scientist who has always been interested in animal communication and the sounds animals make. She and her team from Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina recorded the purrs of several different types of cats: the common house cat, the puma, the ocelot, the serval, and the cheetah. (Larger cats, such as tigers and jaguars, can roar. But they are not known to purr.)
 
Von Muggenthaler and her group discovered that all these cats’ purrs had a very specific sound. What exactly is sound? Vibrations. If you pluck a rubber band, it vibrates or moves back and forth, creating sound. The frequency of the vibrations can be measured in hertz (Hz): the number of vibrations per second. 
   
A cat’s purr is created by the movement of the diaphragm and the voice box. The twitching of these muscles causes the vocal cords to rapidly narrow and widen, which in turn causes the air molecules around them to vibrate at the same rate, or frequency. Amazingly, cats that have had their voice boxes removed due to disease can also purr. This means that the vibrations of the diaphragm alone can initiate the purr. A cat can purr while breathing in or out or with its mouth completely closed. A kitten can purr while it nurses.
 
When your cat is lying on your lap, you can feel the vibrations of its purr on your lap and under your hand as you pet it. But how do you hear the cat purring? Again, it has to do with vibration. The vibrating air molecules bump into neighboring molecules, which start to vibrate at the same frequency, and so on and so forth, until vibrating air molecules enter your ear and bump against the eardrum. Now your eardrum vibrates. That vibration is converted to an electrical signal in the inner ear. The auditory nerve sends it to the brain for processing. And you hear the happy sounds of your purring cat. Humans can hear frequencies of 20 to 20,000 Hz; cats can hear up to 100,000 Hz!
 
My two cats sound like motors when they purr. And guess what? The hum of a diesel engine has the same range of frequencies as a cat’s purr. So do the lowest notes on a piano. But they differ in two important ways: their intensity (loudness) and their quality.

Think of playing a key on a piano and listening as the string vibrates. You hear the note that string produces. But different parts of the string are vibrating at higher rates, and these higher frequencies, called overtones, define the quality of the sound so you can tell you’re listening to a piano and not a guitar or a violin ... or a purring cat.
 
What the Fauna Communications Research team found is that, just like the vibrating piano string, a purring cat produces a number of different frequencies with portions of the purr registering at 25, 50 and 100 Hz. As the frequency increases, so does the pitch. (Think of how each key on a piano produces a higher pitched sound than the key just below it.) A cat’s purr can go as high as 250 Hz. All the vibrations are in perfect harmony. No wonder we love to hear a purring cat. It calms us. But what else is so special about these frequencies?
 
They are the same ones that help bones to heal and grow!
 
Several years ago, Dr. Clinton Rubin and his team from the State University of New York found that exposure to low-intensity, low-frequency vibrations increased bone density. They placed one set of sheep on a gently vibrating plate for twenty minutes, five days a week. The other set of sheep, known as the control group, remained in the pasture. After a year, Dr. Rubin found that the vibrated sheep had stronger bones. He got the same results with turkeys and rats.
 
Other scientists also found that low-level vibrations help bone growth and fracture repair. Physical therapists have long used vibrations to strengthen muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and to lessen pain and swelling in people who are hurt.

The studies on healing frequencies, bone strength, and purring cats have led some scientists to hypothesize, or tentatively suggest, that purring is a natural healing mechanism. As any cat owner can tell you, cats spend a lot of time lounging around. Regular exercise is the best way to keep bones and muscles strong, but if a cat exercises only now and again, purring while resting would be good. It would stimulate bone growth, increase muscle and ligament strength, and maintain good health. And if a cat were wounded, purring would help to heal and comfort it. Many veterinarians have observed that bone and muscle diseases are rare in cats. Cats are remarkably resilient and recover quickly from injuries. Maybe purring is the secret of their “nine lives.”
 
Our bodies are constantly dissolving old and damaged bones and replacing them with new bone. Walking, jumping, weightlifting, and many other kinds of physical activities help keep our bones and muscles strong. But what about elderly women, children using wheelchairs, or astronauts in the weightlessness of space – all of whom are especially prone to osteoporosis, or “porous bones”? In his research, Dr. Rubin found that gentle vibration at low frequencies (within the same range as those of a purring cat) not only help to maintain healthy bones, they even reverse bone loss. This is good news. Dr. Rubin and other scientists think that an exercise program that includes a way to vibrate humans could be used to promote strong bones in people unable to exercise. Gentle vibration of children that use wheelchairs for just ten minutes a day can help to keep their bones healthy and prevent fractures.

So the next time you have a purring cat on your lap, think of how it is becoming stronger. And who knows? Perhaps it’s helping your bones to become stronger, too!
 
This article was published in the June 2006 issue of Cricket magazine and the Oct. 2006 of Odyssey magazine.  Reprinted here with permission from Carus Publishing.

© 2006 Carus Publishing

Of course, they had professional illustrators, so although I cannot reproduce them here, I am pleased to share the pictures of the kids at the time I wrote the article :)

 
 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kittens!!!

We have kittens!!! Better pictures to follow once they begin sitting in the light. They are still very scared and haven't explored all of Dagny's room yet. We had to give them their de-worming medicine today. They did not like it one bit. But they have short memories -- got busy playing with a mouse and each other's tails. I also clipped their sharp little claws. So important to begin this early, otherwise they  fight it and it becomes a two-person job. Both are soooo purry. I can't wait until they begin to own us :)

Friday, August 5, 2016

On Love and Loss, Again

Our 18-year-old cat has been declining for a couple of years now. The first observation was how she stopped running up and down the stairs. Second, she slept a lot more. She also preferred the canned food over the dry and was constantly hungry this past year. I'd feed her a teaspoon every 2-4 hours, or on demand. Still she continued to lose weight. From 12 lbs down to 10 and finally 7. She was sooo bony by the end. I could delineate all the vertebrae as I'd run my hand down her back. But she was still sprightly, chasing geckos on the porch, bringing them indoors.

Tue night, she cried out for food. She could hardly walk. It was so sudden. She wouldn't come to her normal feeding spot so I brought the food to her. She ate, drank some water from a glass, and then *dragged* herself upstairs. Dagny said she collapsed on the carpet. I didn't sleep much, thinking she would probably die in her sleep. But no, early in the morning, she was up and Michael fed her before leaving for work. I don't know how she managed to crawl up on our bed, but she did. It was so painful to watch her try to get comfortable on Michael's pillow. I petted her but she wouldn't purr at all. Later in the morning, I carried her out to the porch so she could enjoy the fresh air, the symphony of birds and insects. I knew I needed to call the vet. And I was so thankful they could end her life that very afternoon. She would probably have passed away on her own within a week, but I didn't want her to suffer any longer. As it is, she was probably in pain only for a few hours.

 
As you can imagine, we had some discussions about euthanasia, how it is right for our animals but never for humans. I've wanted to die when I've been in severe pain for days and I'm grateful nobody chopped my head off. No, the answer for humans is better pain control, sitting and praying with them, not shunning them but letting them know you love them, even if they are a burden. That's compassion -- to suffer with. 

I have appreciated how the pets always sat with me when I needed some company. I have so many wonderful memories.

We got Kali from the shelter when I was pregnant with Max. Our older cat, Moje, hated her. But when I left for the hospital and didn't return home until two weeks later, they'd become the best of friends, grooming one another. And how curious they were about Max!

 
 

 


Kali was my muse too. I've written a couple of books for the kids and they loved them so very much -- stories about themselves. Ladybug published a rebus I wrote: Where is Kali? based upon true adventures right at home. I've used this homemade book in writing workshops for kids and it's such a great hit every time. And then they write their own stories, some steal-worthy.




She inspired all of us to make more art.







My first picture book submission ever was actually Kali and Baby Max. I made photo dummies and sent them out to eight publishers. I even mentioned that they could use an illustrator to draw pictures based upon mine. How little I knew about the world of PBs. Still the publishers were very kind, sending me a gentle and encouraging  rejection. They all commented on what a cute baby and cat I had.
 

 

 
 

Ah, good times! 
 
Last year, we had a discussion about names with a wonderful Polish priest. I had learned that you can inadvertently summon demons by playing things like Ouija, tarot cards, etc. So I asked him whether I had unwittingly invited evil into our home by naming the cat after the goddess of destruction. He asked whether we meant to invoke her. I said no. Her name also means black/darkness, and she was destructive as a kitten, clawing the furniture, the cushions, the carpet so the name seemed apt. He said not to worry about it, but the next time we have a pet, to not go naming it after known demons. He laughed when I told him that soon after our conversion to Catholicism, the kids *baptized* her with Holy Water.

It is strange to not have a cat in the house. It's been over 20 years since I've been catless and I am acutely aware of the things I miss, especially the purr. I need to post the article about how beneficial purring is ... but that's for another time. For now I bid you ciao meow.