Friday, February 28, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes

Dagny had the wonderful opportunity to go to a birthday party with a painting lesson. What a treat to celebrate and paint with friends! You can see how much she has improved. I love having the kids' drawings and paintings up on the wall. Sometimes they don't like seeing something from when they were little because the drawings look "babyish," but I like having a few keepsakes from their younger years.

It is the same with writing. Looking at those old stories once in a while reminds me how far I've come and boy am I glad for those rejections. But other stories need only be revised for publication. But it's reading great books that reminds me how much farther I have yet to go. They push me to keep studying the craft and keep writing.

This morning we polished off the last of these little orange/mango/peach jam muffins!!! Dagny has discovered Pioneer Woman and routinely uses her recipes and is now improvising them. A sign of a true cook! Oh, what a difference a year makes!

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Hope

What do Courage and Hope mean to you? Caroline Starr Rose is starting a conversation about these two virtues to celebrate her beautiful new website AND her book May B., which is out in paperback.

I've been sick for over a week with a rotten migraine, and have been contemplating the gift of hope. These lovely words keep me company:

In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded. ~ Ps. 30:2

Because he hath hoped in Me, I will deliver him: I will protect him. ~ Ps. 90:14

A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. ~ Ps. 50:19

I used to think of hope as it pertained to this or that outcome, and I still can't help it, but when I can do nothing but lie in bed and shed bitter tears, I am able give up all those material longings, and begin to finally say and mean "Thy will be done ... on earth as it is in Heaven" and I can't help but long to be in Heaven. I am not suicidal, but I do know I'm a traveler here. My true home is with God.

A squirrel hid these peanuts
 hoping to find them another day!
St. Alphonsus says: Hope is a supernatural virtue by which we confidently expect, in virtue of God's promise, the endless happiness of Heaven and the means necessary for its attainment.

Three things necessary for the attainment of eternal life:
the pardon of our sins (to every sinner who desires to repent, He promises pardon),
the victory over temptations (not by our own good resolutions ... but place our hope in the merits of Christ),
and the crown of all graces, a holy death (Christ alone can give us the strength to suffer, with patience and profit, the trials of this last decisive moment).

We are united to Jesus Christ by bonds of love so strong that nothing can ever break them unless we ourselves break them by mortal sin. ... The Lord has written us in His hands with His own blood. Therefore we should allow nothing to disquiet us, for He arranges and disposes everything with these very hands which were nailed to the Cross as a proof of His love for us.

So this my friends is hope! With it comes courage to bear all things patiently and humbly and with love

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Notes from Matthew Kelly's Talk/Retreat

My husband bought us the best Christmas present: tickets to see Matthew Kelly. It was sold out within a week. The retreat was on a Friday night, after the unusual icy spell. Michael and Dagny were stuck on a bridge coming home from school. Giant icicles had fallen from the support beams onto cars ... I was almost ready to give away their tickets, but Michael said to leave them on the kitchen counter. They didn’t mind if they were late. Max and I settled ourselves at the back and five minutes before start time, Michael and Dagny walked in. I don’t know how many people made it just in the nick of time with that awful traffic. I was so thankful we were able to walk to this event.

We’ve heard a couple of Mr. Kelly’s talks on CD. He’s got a great Australian accent and my kids have responded to his message of “being the best version of yourself.” He’s funny, articulate, full of facts, and he is passionate about lighting Catholics on fire. Some devastating facts: Only a third of the Catholics go to Mass on Sundays. Of Catholics registered in a parish, 7% contribute the 80% of volunteer hours and financial assistance for the running of the parish and the good works. MK is setting out to change that. In his new book: The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, he writes about the habits practiced by people who are engaged. They are a people of prayer, they study their faith, they are generous, and they evangelize. All this might seem obvious now, but MK is studying the Catholic culture systematically and developing programs to re-evangelize Catholics. His motto: Meeting people where they are ... Leading them to where God calls them to be!
So without further ado, let me share some of his words from the retreat (of course I took notes!). I'll skip the jokes, because I'll mangle them. But I highly recommend getting one of his FREE books or CDs or better yet, attending an event if it takes place near your home.
Matthew Kelly
I'd say MK is a happy Catholic!
He asks four questions:
Who are you? What are you here for? What matters most? What matters least?
When you figure it out, you get really good at saying NO. That's freedom! The problem is that when we say yes to everything, we miss out on the stuff that’s just for us. So the key is developing discernment and clarity.
How to achieve this? In the classroom of silence. In CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters, the older devil tells the devil-in-training, “Make so much noise that man cannot hear the voice of his God.” This is so true. We must make the time to be in prayer and to listen!
He proposes three things: read the Gospels for 15 min per day, go to confession once a month, and be attentive at Mass. What is God telling you? Listen. Obey. Our lives change when our habits change. God wants to transform you (not tweak you!). God accomplishes great things once we abandon ourselves to His will.
It’s not easy being Catholic. It takes courage to follow Christ completely. But if we don’t, all we have to do is look at Europe and see how the light of Catholicism is dimming there, and if we do nothing, that’s what will happen in the US.
MK speaks about the "genius of Catholicism." I really enjoyed his book: Rediscovering Catholicism. What a gem for people who have fallen away from the faith, who don’t take it seriously, who never learned it, or who might be interested in the Catholic faith. There are so many misconceptions about Catholics. But here's the truth. We are the biggest family on the planet and our Daddy is the most famous! Catholics feed more people, educate more people, minister more to sick and imprisoned people, than any other government or group. Yes, there’s also scandal. It's because we bring our humanity along with our holiness. We are a fallen people. We are a family with problems.
But that doesn't mean we cannot strive for holiness. MK says the most diabolical lie we tell ourselves is that holiness is not possible. The saints weren't born holy. They became saints! They became holier one holy moment after another. A holy moment is simply being who you are, doing what God is asking you to do that moment. And it is repeatable! The goal of the Christian life is to achieve holiness. And now is the time for it.
Come Holy Spirit! And enkindle in us the fire of Thy love.
Matthew Kelly has free books on his website Dynamic Catholic. Check them out! They just may change your life!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

President's Day

We are so proud of Dagny. Here she is, reading her winning historical fiction about the life of a particular child changing during the Revolutionary War to the local DAR chapter. All the winning stories had a few things in common: details, details, details woven into the narrative. As Patti Gauch says, "there is no fiction without facts." Dagny tugged at the heartstrings by killing off the father. Yes, it was a cheap shot, but it works. How else can we test our mettle unless there is suffering and adversity?

Below, we are all together, along with the principal of Divine Redeemer Catholic School. Dagny's English teacher couldn't make it, but we are so thankful she pushes the children to do their best. It's no easy task.


Afterwards we got a tour of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. I don't know whether you can really see the Roman groin arch, but it is amazing to see bricks from that period. This structure has withstood earthquakes, hurricanes, and gunfire, nad whatnot. In 1965, there were some excavations and they discovered the original seawall that was built in the 1600s.

In this dungeon pirates were held until they were hanged by the marsh. Later, the dungeon held the patriots before they were executed by the British. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have the courage to die for what I believe. I hope so, but Lord, don't put me to the test.
Original sea-wall built in 1600s

Blackbeard with Gentleman Pirate
The Post Office at the Exchange (above the dungeon)

How fitting to pose with George Washington!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

More Ice Days

We're having another round of closures -- bridges and schools -- and with Valentine's Day and President's Day holidays coming, my kids are having a nice long break. Don't these guys look happy? They are supposed to be programming but I have a suspicion they are watching funny cat videos. As if we don't have our own entertainment.

Dagny has been drawing. So impressed with her horse. The things she can do with a pencil. She's a good writer too! Her short story won a Daughters of the American Revolution contest, and we've been invited to a luncheon and tour downtown.

She's following in Max's footsteps and developing her picture-taking skills too. Of course, a gorgeous sunrise is inspiration. I hope we return to our usual 70 deg. temps. soon. I miss our Carolina warmth.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mary, Undoer of Knots

Last year, my sister sent me this prayer card. I love it. Later, I discovered that Pope Francis brought an image of this to Argentina and promoted devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. How apt, since it is our sins that cause the knots in our lives, and Mary is always eager to help us undo them, so that we may draw closer to her Son. Below is the prayer:

Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot...I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Conversation with Bish


How do you escape a hungry tiger? Why do ram-goats smell? What happens if you get too greedy? In this collection of ten retold Jamaican stories, Anansi the spider tricks, sings, and dances his way into and out of trouble.

But who is Anansi? It was the Ashanti of West Africa who brought the spider into the Caribbean. He clung tight to the web he wove in the minds of those who had been captured, surviving not only the harrowing passage across the Atlantic Ocean, but hundreds of years of slavery.

As a trickster, Anansi has both good and bad traits, which makes him very human. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. When he wins he dances and sings for joy. When he loses, he shakes it off and keeps on living, a lesson for us all.
Congratulations to Bish on her debut! She kindly agreed to answer questions I had about writing, researching and publishing her delightful book of retold Anansi tales. Take it away Bish.

Thanks for having me, Vijaya. I appreciate the time you’re giving Anansi and me. Now, on to your thought provoking questions!
When did you first conceive of this project and what were the major steps towards publication? It began a long time ago, sometime before Hurricane Marilyn which hit the Virgin Islands in 1995 and ripped the roof off our family home. My sister gave me – for safe keeping – our old volume of Jamaican stories compiled by Martha Warren Beckwith. It seemed rather serendipitous that that particular the book was saved when the storm destroyed most of the others in the house. There must have been a reason I had it. That led to my seriously thinking about reading them and maybe retelling some of them.
Being a process junkie, I’d like to know how you managed to choose the stories. There is such a nice variety, yet, I know it must just be the beginning. Martha Warren Beckwith went to Jamaica in the early 1920s and recorded storytellers telling Anansi stories. When she returned to the states she faithfully transcribed them in the Jamaican dialect/patois. I was surprised at how difficult they were to read and make sense of. It took me a long time just to learn how to read the stories. Figuring out which ones to pick and then how to retell them in a way that would be understandable took even more time. Most of them are more like fragments than real stories. As for how I chose them, I don’t really know. They just seemed to evolve organically. I would say this whole project from first reading to publication has taken about twelve years.
What was the journey into self-publishing like? I’ve been blogging for a long time and I kept seeing fellow bloggers self-publish and being happy about it. My own efforts going the tradition route was going nowhere. And, the older I got, the more I realized I just didn’t want to play the waiting game any more. I knew in my bones my stories were just as good and, in some cases better, than what’s being published by the big guys and I thought, “What the heck, what do I have to lose?” The answer came back, “Nothing.” So, I took the plunge.
That takes a great deal of courage. What did you have to learn to do? I think the one thing I’ve had to learn was to trust my writing. You, Vijaya, and several other people whom I consider “real” writers, [Everyone who writes is a real writer! Those who publish are authors] have consistently encouraged me and told me my writing is good. But I’ve had to convince myself of that. The other thing I’d had to learn was to not be afraid to ask for help. The blogging community has been phenomenal with its wealth of information and willingness to help when asked. I wouldn’t have even thought about self-publishing were it not for all my blogging friends.
Would you do it again? Yes, absolutely I will continue to self-publish.
I’ve always been worried about copyright issues. I even worry about plagiarizing myself since I sell all rights. Can you explain what makes a retold folktale uniquely yours? I suppose there’s always a possibility of encroaching on copyright issues. Anything published before January of 1923 in the United States is in the public domain. According to Stanford University Libraries
Expired Copyright
Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. In other words, if the work was published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, you are free to use it in the U.S. without permission. As an example, the graphic illustration of the man with mustache (above) was published sometime in the 19th century and is in the public domain, so no permission was required to include it within this book. These rules and dates apply regardless of whether the work was created by an individual author, a group of authors, or an employee (a work made for hire)
.See more at:

But Martha’s book was published in 1924. How do I protect myself?
The Renewal Trapdoor
Thousands of works published in the United States before 1964 fell into the public domain because the copyright was not renewed in time under the law in effect then. If a work was first published before 1964, the owner had to file a renewal with the Copyright Office during the 28th year after publication. No renewal meant a loss of copyright.

If you plan on using a work that was published after 1922, but before 1964, you should research the records of the Copyright Office to determine if a renewal was filed. Chapter 13 describes methods of researching copyright status.
  - See more at:

From everything I was able to determine, the copyright had expired. I also significantly changed the stories making them uniquely mine. I gave them a beginning, middle and end that few of them have. In many cases I gave them a moral or lesson that is only implied or I made one up to suit the story. That’s why I say they are retold. They have also been translated making them more understandable to a broader readership. AND, to give myself an extra layer of protection – I hope – I cited Martha’s book as my source. I’m not claiming those seeds as my own, they aren’t. Those seeds belong to the storytellers and to Martha’s foresight in preserving them.
Can you share with your readers what they must do if they want to publish a story that their grandmother told them, and not get into trouble? If your grandmother told you a story I can’t think of any possible reason why you would get in trouble for writing it down. That’s not plagiarism. That’s preserving family or cultural history. However, if your grandmother wrote a book that was copyrighted and that copyright was still in effect, it would be plagiarism if you took those stories, copied them, put your name on them and said they were your own.
Thanks. You’re welcome.
The riddles are great fun. Did you make them up or are these specific to the Caribbean culture? The riddles also came from Martha’s book. Even though they were collected in Jamaica, I heard similar ones while growing up in the Virgin Islands, so I’m going to say they’re traditional to the Caribbean. But some of them have a distinctly European flavor.
You used very little dialect, which makes it easier to read, of course. But the few times you did, it was very flavorful. How did you choose the balance? Well I’ve heard/read from more experienced writers/editors, to keep dialect to a minimum. The dialect of the Caribbean is musical and has a quality that is difficult to write. When I first started working on them the characters spoke completely in dialect. But I soon realized how difficult it might be for a child or even adult to read. My purpose was to make the stories accessible, so toning down the colloquial way of speech wasn’t a hard decision.
Did the stories become increasingly Anglicized? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think I stayed true to the nuances.
Speaking of evolution of stories (I told you I was a process junkie), you mentioned that the original stories were extremely violent. The folktales I grew up with were filled with murder and mayhem. I am curious that children nowadays are exposed to more violence from movies and games than ever before, and even some of the literature is more graphic, yet we worry about folktales that might be too violent. Something doesn’t compute. I’d like your thoughts on this. It’s because kids, particularly younger ones, are so exposed to violence that I chose to remove as much of it as I could. When you and I were children, violence wasn’t coming at us from all directions like it is for today’s kids. Yes it was on TV, but for me, what little I got to see, was in black and white. When the good guys shot the bad guys often there wasn’t even any blood. Nowadays it seems the more graphic and realistic the better. I think this can lead to a desensitizing to real pain and suffering. I want, if only for a little while, for there to be a small space that is calm and peaceful, that is filled with the magic and wonder that should be the natural state of childhood. Thus, I took out the violence.
What are your hopes for Anansi? I hope that he brings a smile to someone’s face and that the lessons his stories teach will not be forgotten. I hope Anansi gets the credit he deserves for being the grandfather of the Uncle Remus stories.
Hey, what are you working on right now? Lizard? A couple of other people have asked me about my next project, but only you could have guessed right, as YOU were the very first person to read the story. Once I get Anansi into a print version I'm going to work on getting A LIZARD'S TAIL published. Here's a little bit about Marvin's story.

From the moment he hatches, Marvin P. Tinkleberry knows he is destined for greatness. For one, he has a marvelous, well-groomed tail. For another he can puff out his throat pouch in the most spectacular way. Maybe the other lizards in his colony don’t take him seriously, but he knows the truth. It lives in the marrow of his bones; he’s going to be a hero.

When a feral cat threatens the lives of all who live at Stone Wall in the Garden by the Sea, Marvin knows it’s HIS destiny to get rid of the fearsome beast. Travelling Over the Hill to find help should be as easy as snapping up a sleeping moth. But it doesn’t take long for Marvin to see that the world beyond Stone Wall is not the same as his pampered life back at the garden. From the deadly Sucker Cactus Forest to deadly mongooses, danger lurks around every corner and Marvin will have to decide if he’s willing to be the hero he’s long bragged about being.

I'm so happy to hear this Bish! As a great fan of animal stories, it was a great delight to go on an adventure with Marvin. I couldn't believe it was a first draft, how well plotted it was! But it was Marvin himself who drew me in. I won't spill the beans on the other animal ... but just so you know, I do have a fondness for tropical fruits, chocolate, and good books!

Folks that's it. I hope you are excited about all the stories Bish is putting out into this world!!! She is a great inspiration to me and I am very thankful she chose to share her stories. I have ICL to thank for my connection to Bish. That's where me *met* many years ago. 

[Coral+Shower+Mustache.jpg]Bish Denham, whose mother's side of the family has been in the Caribbean for over hundred years, was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She still has lots of family living there and visits them regularly. She says, "Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named them, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. Pirates plied the waters and hundreds of years of slavery left its indelible mark. It was within this atmosphere of magic and wonder that I grew up. My hope is to pass some of that magic and wonder on to my readers."
You can learn more about Bish by visiting her blog Random Thoughts: 


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On Drawing and Writing

Last semester, Max took an art class. He has a sketchbook full of practice art and it's uncanny how similar the process is for writing. It's sifting, sorting through the information, looking at it from different angles, until you finally decide what it is you want to shine a spotlight on.
In the ICL course, we devote two lessons solely to developing the skills of observation, one is to describe a place from the past, and another is to observe a child and then make up a story. I find that even the weak students really shine at the memory exercise. We ask for specific details and almost everybody comes through. If someone is experiencing writer's block, I tell them to sit down and write what is in front of them. Ground yourself in the concrete. Don't even try to remember a thing. What is amazing is how quickly one thing leads to another and the person is writing with greater confidence. But it begins in the concrete. Our story people need flesh and blood and need to interact with other flesh and blood characters and their environment. Stories have to be rooted in physicality.
When I do workshops with kids, I ask them to focus on concrete objects, their space and their relationship to it. I have them draw maps. And when I work with really little kids, we draw what I call a "small moment" and try to write a sentence. And it was volunteering in the kindergarten/1st grade classrooms that I discovered how important it is for me to do the same. Draw and then write. Drawing helps you to pay more attention to the details. I don't have a sketchbook like Max, but I am an inveterate doodler, drawing patterns and faces, maps and places, in my notebook. As I look at Max's drawings, I am convinced I should do more of it. By the way, he is also an excellent writer!
Small moments. A story is made up of many small moments (scenes). And I've found storyboarding to be a powerful tool. I learned from Carolyn Coman to not only draw the major action of the moment, but to write the primary emotion so that we could track the emotional journey as well.
What about you? Do you enjoy drawing? Do you create maps and storyboards? What other activities or artistic endeavors do you find enormously helpful in your writing life? Curious minds want to know.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Faith

St. Paul calls faith "the substance of things to be hoped for, and the evidence of things that appear not." Heb 11:1

In the most unlikely place, surrounded by atheists, two unlikely people, finally recognizing their own inadequacies, turned their faces towards a power higher than themselves. This act opened the door to faith. 

Was this blind faith? Hardly. St. Alphonsus says beautifully what it would take me pages to express: Reason takes us, as it were, by the hand and leads us into the sanctuary of faith, but itself remains standing at the threshold. Once we are convinced that the truths we are asked to believe really come from God, we are obliged to submit our reason and, on the strength of God's word, to accept as certain truths proposed, though we may not or cannot understand them.

The deeper I grow in my faith, the easier it becomes to accept my limitations. My understanding is largely in the sphere of nature, but everything directs my attention to the supernatural. I am able to place my trust in Jesus more and more. St. Alphonsus says: Our blessed Savior commends those who accept the truths of faith without being able to perceive or comprehend them: "Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." John 20:29 

But why the Catholic faith? I want to say reason and intellect, because it made sense to go back to first principles, to the first Church. But the truth is, reason is only a small part. Now that I'm less prideful, I believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There was a new church at the bottom of the hill that promised “no weird stuff” and people were meeting every Sunday for Bible and fellowship at our local elementary school. All within walking distance. It really seemed like a safer entry into the Christian world than those crazy Catholics with all their rules. But we are so glad to have listened to promptings of the Holy Spirit. RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) was a crash course in Catholicism. And it is a love story that is ongoing, deepening, melting my heart into His. Proofs of Catholic faith became evident as we began our studies: prophecies, miracles, courage and constancy of the martyrs, and the fact it is unaltered from the time of the apostles.

St. Alphonsus writes: The Catholic Church has remained the same in all ages and in all climes. The doctrines she teaches today are the same that were taught and believed in the first ages of the Church. The sects, on the contrary, that have separated from the Catholic Church, have not remained unchanged in the doctrines they propound.

A year after we were received into the Catholic Church, we discovered the traditional Latin Mass (TLM). I know so many families who travel over an hour just to attend TLM. And I can see why. It is the superior form of worship. Liturgically speaking, that is. Everything is oriented towards God. It’s not about me or how I feel, but about offering myself completely. I could never give it up. In fact, the first thing we did when we got the call to move to SC was to see if there was a parish that offered TLM. Stella Maris is the only one in our area. So we said yes! We had been praying for more faith, and I would never have imagined that it would involve a cross-country move. Neither did I expect a young woman named Faith to walk into my life. But God has a great sense of humor.

We continue to pray for greater faith. It is the foundation for all other virtues. St. Alphonsus says: Faith is our shield and protection. … When faith grows weak, virtue is in danger; when faith is lost, virtue departs with it. Finally, when my faith falters, here's a prayer: I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief. Mark 9:24

What opened the door of faith for you? And if you are struggling, what prevents you from losing it? If you do not have faith, are you curious?

I will continue to share my 12-steps to Holiness with St. Alphonsus with you every month.