Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Rejoice! For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. ~ Luke 2:11

Three quotes from the eminently quotable C. S. Lewis:

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

Look for Christ and you will find Him. And with Him, everything else.

Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.

I leave you with a lovely Christmas mix from King's College. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rorate Sunday thoughts on a Tuesday


School's out and we are having such a lovely time anticipating Christmas Eve with baking, decorating, singing. I need to write Christmas cards next. My kids told me this 4th Sunday of Advent that for the next two Fridays, there is no penance because they are feast days!!! Why yes!!! After a bit of fasting, the feasting is even more special! I wish I could share bread and cookies and fresh oranges with all of you.

Our little garden didn't fare well this year. We got ONE teeny tomato and ONE tough okra. The herbs did okay, as did the peppers and when the oranges started ripening, I had to exercise tremendous self control to not pluck them and eat them up ... they are soooo sweet fresh off the tree.

I know a lot of families hide the Baby Jesus until Christmas Eve but I can't stand to have Baby Jesus in some drawer. If I were a carpenter, I'd make a Mary doll that encloses the Baby Jesus inside her (it should be easy to do with all her folds of clothes) so that we need only open a latch to release the Baby Jesus. If someone has a crèche like this, please let me know. I hope you are all having a relaxing and beautiful Advent. Waiting is hard ... I leave you with this beautiful chant with all its longing for the Messiah. The refrain means: Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


I’ve done a lot of reading in the past few months and would like to share some of my favorites. Perhaps one of these will hit the spot for you too over the holidays.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings us backto the Garden by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark. I came across the trailer and loved the art so much, I requested a review copy. I was not disappointed in the illustrations. They are stunning. However, the writing is too casual. In fact, quite terrible. I’ve always felt that language for kids should be rich and beautiful because it elevates their minds to higher things, which is the whole point of the Bible in the first place – to reflect upon the sacred mysteries. Though the author succeeds in showing the fall and redemption of man, he fails in showing how man's cooperation with God's will works. Mary's Fiat is completely missing. So also the institution of Church. So if I have so much to criticize, why do I put this on my blog? Because it is a beautiful book. I recommend you tell the story in your own words. Trust me, you can do better.

Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. I guess I’m a sucker for conversion stories. Although each story is different, the drama remains the same – my heart is restless O Lord until it rests in You (St. Augustine) – the search for Truth. I’ve listened to their stories on CDs, but when I saw they had written a book about their conversion jointly, I had to read it. And it is such a joy to see their love of Christ, for Scripture and Truth, and most of all their love for each other and others, through all the difficult times when they weren’t seeing eye to eye. It’s a good book about marriage and family life too.
Fascinating Womanhood: How the Ideal Woman Awakens a Man’s Deepest Love and Tenderness by Helen Andelin. This book was a gift to me and I was rather smug when I first started reading it because I’m happily married. But how quickly I began to see my faults. I gained a deeper appreciation of my husband and it makes me want to be a better wife. I’m afraid the feminist movement has nearly destroyed femininity and marriage. So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, whether or not you’re in a happy marriage, and share it with young women. There’s so much to regain in our relationships. Every woman wants to be loved and cherished by her husband and the way to attain this is to love and cherish your husband. I think modern women might be turned off by some of her suggestions but I dare you to read with an open mind and honest self-assessment.

Helena by Evelyn Waugh is a delightful historical novel about the journey of St. Helena from her life as a young girl and marriage and motherhood (she’s the mother of Constantine) to her quest to find the true Cross. A richly imagined story.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby was a gorgeous book. I’ve not enjoyed a recent young-adult book in a while but this one, for older readers, is beautifully crafted. Two motherless boys take care of a beat-up and broken immigrant girl. Love blooms. But she disappears. And how they get her back (yes, it has a happy ending!) from a man too powerful to fight is what this story is about. But it’s so much more. There’s the other-world, interesting characters, and other mysteries to solve. The last time I loved a YA book was Impossible by Nancy Werlin.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman was the most difficult book I've read in a long time. I suppose if your life hasn’t been touched by mental illness, it is an interesting journey in the mind of a smart kid who is delusional. But for those of us who’ve experienced a loved one go through this, it is too sad, even if it brings some understanding that a textbook on paranoid schizophrenia does not. It is a painful book because although this story ends in hope, the sad reality is that so many mentally ill people simply do not get the help they need and don’t have a happy ending. And you can't help but wonder if your loved ones will get through this ...

Good Discipline, Great Teens by Dr. Ray Guarendi is a wonderful book to help raise teenagers when they are asking for more freedom and privileges and taking on greater responsibilities. We've found this book extremely helpful in curtailing unnecessary discussions that go nowhere (um, we're not going to buy a car for our 16-yr-old and we're not going to argue about it) and also helps us fight the culture of entitlement. Most of all, the book is written with Dr. Ray's signature wit and wisdom. He has other books as well if your kids are younger so check them out.
Letters to an American Lady by C. S. Lewis is such a gem of a book. As an inveterate letter writer myself, I appreciated reading this correspondence. What a wonderful man! Always encouraging and sharing details about his own life, the little things!  Backaches, tea with his brother, even complaining about the amount of letter-writing that piled up, the antics of cats, his wife Joy. It gave me a glimpse into the man he is, not just the writer of tales and theology, but so much more, a good friend who took the time to write someone he never met. For sometime now I've come to realize that the most important thing you'll write is not a magnum opus, but a cheerful note to someone who is suffering. By all means we should use our gifts to bring beauty into this world, but these little acts of kindness make a difference, one heart at a time, with words written just for that person. A letter is a gift. 

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman is a call to celebrate the smallness in our lives, in doing our daily duty with joy and compassion, remembering that Jesus is with us in all our moments. I'm enjoying this book especially since I've had a difficult year and not accomplished many of the things I wanted to do, getting derailed by Harry and my own procrastination, but Ms. Freeman has reminded me it is enough to just be, to start each day anew in doing whatever God has planned for me.

Finally, I'd like to share The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska. It's very much in the same vein as the Quiet and Loud books by this team, but the quiet Christmas joy is very much palpable in this book. 
I hope there is something on this list that piques your interest. Do share some of your favorites in the comments. I love being introduced to new authors.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making a Living from your Art

Elizabeth is an alpaca farmer, animal lover and artist -- she can knit, sew and paint! Below are some pictures of her aviation art and hats, scarf, and cat-beds. She can make them in any color and size you'd like. Please contact her for prices and other details. Elizabeth is also a widow. Please support her so that she can continue to take care of herself and her animals. There is more information at Thank you!

To order any creations, call Elizabeth at 865-233-3155 at Ladybug Ranch
Or message her at



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!!!

This weekend feels so celebratory! We are still in the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, yesterday was the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, and today is Gaudete Sunday and the Feast of St. Lucy. The Church is full of joy; our Lord is nearer still!

Max was out most of last weekend helping load up Christmas trees ... and we have one now too! And my home smells heavenly. The kids have midterms this week and I suspect decorating will commence soon. But just having the tree in the house reminds me that it's not important what's beneath the tree (though Dagny has wrapped a present for me with a sprig of rosemary), rather what occurred on a tree ... for this He was born. Born of a woman! O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Here is a wonderful video about the miraculous image of Our Lady of Tepeyac.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day: Facts & Celebration Ideas
copied from Catholic Company:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Opus Dei Meeting Notes: Examen

Lhomme-de-Villa-TevereI came across a wonderful review of a biography of St. Jose Maria Escriva by Pilar Urbano, and was delighted to learn it's been recently translated into English. Will have to check it out.

By coincidence (or God-incidence) I was well enough to go to an Opus Dei meeting for the first time. My husband has gone thrice over the past two years with the men and he encouraged me to go to the women's circle. I don't really like group activities and was quite content to read the saints and work on my spiritual life with their guidance in the comfort of my home. But an invitation issued this fall and my heart stirred. Alas, poor health prevented me from going, until now.

And what a blessing! I know each of the women individually, some better than others, so no introductions were necessary. In fact, they've all been praying and sacrificing for me. My heart swelled with gratitude. And I think how good it is to be able to work on your spiritual life with people who talk back to you :) And so, I'd like to share my notes, especially if you are homebound for any reason -- illness, small children, introversion.

We began with a short prayer and the Gospel reading for the day (Mt 11:28-30): Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  This is a favorite of mine perhaps because I long to rest in His arms. However, our leader focused on being meek and humble as a prelude to the examination of conscience.

The examen should be a daily task to reflect in the presence of God how we've been pleasing to Him and how we've offended Him. We're talking about the little things here regarding our daily duties, our relationship with God and family and other people. But in focusing on the little things, we can begin to ask the bigger questions: Why am I here? How can I give glory to God?

The examen requires a spirit of humility so that we can see what we need to improve in our lives, instead of criticizing others. It means I need to stop telling my kids that they're making me lose my temper. LOL. I need to develop more patience. It requires a spirit of discernment to know what God would have you do so that you can follow His Divine will.

The worst enemy here is pride. When we're prideful, we see ourselves as we wish to be seen, not as we truly are. Know yourself. Acknowledge that you're a sinner. I should mention right now that the Jubilee year of Mercy has begun, but one should understand that the reason we need mercy is because we are sinners.

St. Jose Maria Escriva said to bring a "savage sincerity" to your examen. I love this kind of honesty. It is the path to change. It allows you to go deeper, to the root cause of your defects so that you can uproot, burn off, or throw them away.

Have true sorrow for your sins. It's not just a feeling but an act of the will so that you can resolve to do something to rectify your defects.

Don't get discouraged. That's a sign of pride as well, wanting everything to be perfect. Of course you will fall. Proverbs 24:16 say: For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.

Give thanks to God for everything, beg pardon, and ask for help for the next day.

Some obstacles to the examen: laziness, fatigue, routine, scrupulosity, the devil.

I've never had someone point this out to me before, but the general examen is a defense, like an armor, whereas the particular examen is like a sword. You go on the offense. In the particular examen, you try to work on developing a small virtue (ex. being punctual) and try to get rid of a small defect (ex. wasting time). I highly recommend St. Alphonsus's Twelve Steps to Holiness for this. I could read this year after year.

I am so glad this lesson on examination of conscience came at this time. Advent is penitential season and it fits perfectly with doing some of the spiritual work to prepare our hearts for Christ.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dagny's Drawings and other Arts

Perspective Study

Peppers and a Cherry
What's in My Pocket
Dagny is taking an art class in school this semester and I really love how she is learning some techniques. I firmly believe that learning about perspective and shadows and colors will allow her to express herself more authentically. She made the Bastille Day drawing for her history class (for fun!).
Extension -- you can see the original cut-out in the center
I am so thankful we are living in an age where there is more free time for artistic pursuits. I think back to my mother's life, and most of it was a struggle just for survival, yet, she too made art. She sewed all our clothes, and not just functional clothes, but pretty dresses with puffed sleeves or a little lace trim around the neckline. She knitted not just serviceable sweaters, but made honeycomb patterns or a cable design, and she could do this while carrying on a conversation. My mother would never have thought of herself as an artist; she was much too practical. Yet, she was an artist. She sang while cooking or cleaning, made the most delicious curries (even though at the time I didn't appreciate it) and I could always bring a request for a special design on my sweater. And my mom managed to create beauty with what little we had. Visiting with my sister brought back so many memories.
Dagny propels me to make more art in the home -- she's the chief decorator! I often don't have energy to do the fun things we used to do, but she takes it upon herself. This Halloween, our front porch was attractive because of the pumpkin she carved and the candles that she lit. I am looking forward to decorating our Christmas tree with her.

This photograph is something of the hidden lives of my children. They were off and about on their own ... and it looks like Dagny took the photo because Max was driving. I love it.

PS: The title of this post reminds me of a short sci-fi story I wrote for little kids a few years back: Dagny's Drawing. I should try to find a home for it. My kids no longer appreciate appropriating their names for stories ... oh, how quickly they grow up. It seems like just yesterday they were editing my stories, replacing the main character's name with their own.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Conversation with Gretchen Everin

Laundry flapping in the wind? I’m sold. You all know how much I love hanging out clothes. And I could use a new do myself …  so I was delighted to see the cover of MAMA'S NEW DO written by Gretchen Everin and illustrated by Tara Britt Story. It’s a whimsical story about the common-sense things we can do to be good stewards of the earth. So pull up a chair – I wish we could all sit out together with a hot cup of tea and fresh cranberry bread – and enjoy this conversation with Carrots, which is what Gretchen goes by on the Blueboards (now part of SCBWI) and where we got to know one another over the years. Now, she is a sister of my heart, who not only encourages me with her words and prayers but has also introduced me to a dear saint, Gemma, who has become a wonderful companion to me. You’ve got to love friends who share their friends! Please welcome Gretchen!

First, please tell me your background? I always find the journey to writing itself interesting.  
I grew up in the Midwest and dreamed of becoming a school choir director.  (Really, I just wanted a way to sing in harmony every day.) Alas, my Music Education major fizzled out early during Freshman year when I discovered that students were required to solo on command during Italian Diction class. Way too insecure for that, I did the next best thing, which was to get my degree in Elementary Education and take as many music electives as my schedule would allow.
Me too! About the music electives.
After college, I moved to New England for a year of volunteer work with Chi Rho Catholic Service Corps. Providentially, I was placed in an inner-city school as the librarian and music teacher. What a dream! When my stint ended, I stayed in the area and worked as a classroom teacher, never missing the opportunity to integrate music and children’s picture books into the lessons – even with older students! Then I got married, had my first child, and became a stay-at-home mom.
And I suspect that's when you started writing, right?
On a whim, I wrote my first manuscript in 2005. The story makes me cringe now, but the experience of writing it was life-changing. Truly. Afterward, the stories poured out of me. I couldn’t write enough.
Then I read Harold Underdown’s invaluable book - THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, which is now in its 3rd edition - and became a regular visitor to his and Verla Kay’s websites. Their wisdom settled me down and helped me focus. It made me want to do more than write. It made me want to write well. So I took two classes through the Institute of Children’s Literature, which were very beneficial.
Aha, so we're ICL sisters! It's uncanny what a similar path we both took. I'm so thankful we both ended up on Verla's Blueboards.
I think it’s quite a coincidence that your book on taking care of our earth coincides with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si'. Did you have any inkling of it? 
Wasn’t the timing remarkable? Several months before MAMA’S NEW DO was published, I learned of the upcoming encyclical, and by the time I looked at it in the middle of June, the opening paragraph had me in tears. See, Laudato Si was released on May 24. Just three days prior, I had emailed the editor my dedication, which thanks God for this universe and gives a nod to St. Francis of Assisi, who lovingly referred to Earth as “Mother.” To see Pope Francis give that very same nod to St. Francis was thrilling. I even joked to the editor that we were getting free publicity from Rome! 
I no longer believe in coincidences, just God-incidences!  
What/Who inspired you to write this story?  
The wish list of a new indie publisher propelled me to write MAMA’S NEW DO in 2009. Though it wasn’t ultimately a good fit for that publisher, the editor gave me helpful feedback that was used in the current version. I can’t remember how the concept came to me, but I remember where it happened: in my car on the way to a doctor’s appointment! I went on to finish the draft in the waiting room.  
Spoken like a true writer!  
I have to say, too, that the ideas of how to help Mama were inspired by my parents, who were “green” before it was a thing. Their example taught me to do what I can. Most of us can’t get solar panels or harness energy from turbines, but there are a thousand little things we can do. My parents consistently made time to do those things. They still do.  
Your parents sound wonderful! My mom was also recycling before it was even a word. I don't remember us producing any garbage at all growing up in India -- everything we didn't use ourselves was compostable.  
Did MAMA come as a poem to you? It’s incredibly difficult to write an entire story as a poem. I wondered why you didn’t choose lyrical prose instead.
It did come as a poem, but I later rewrote it in prose. When I was given the exciting opportunity to publish with Wandering in the Words Press, the editor, who had read both versions, gave me the final decision. Being sentimental about the original and loving to read poetry to my children, I went with the rhymer.
I love the Grandmother character in MAMA'S NEW DO. Who is she most like? Yourself, your mother or your gram? 

Thank you. She definitely looks most like me but her enthusiastic, supportive personality is from my mom and aunts. Her dancing is a wink to my dear grandma, who loved to polka with my granddad on Saturday nights (and who always had stylish hair!).

Aw, that's so sweet. This book is going to be a family treasure. The cut paper illustrations are gorgeous. Did you know ahead of time what the look of this book would be?  

Oh, those illustrations! I’m so glad you like them, too!  I first saw the line drawings a year ago and swooned. Mama and her care team had come to life! Tara Story, the illustrator, told me she was going to add color, but I didn’t know exactly what that would mean. What I did know is that she would do a magnificent job. And she did, exceeding all my expectations.  

Illustrators have often exceeded my wildest imagination! Love how they bring a story to life.
Since you and the illustrator are in the same town, was there any back-and-forth at all?  
From the beginning, Tara was careful about wanting to respect my vision, but I was equally insistent that she just do her thing. I’ve known her for many years and completely trusted her interpretation. In fact, the only time I felt led to put my oar in was the day I saw the line drawings. On the cover, Tara had made my name significantly larger than her own! I insisted that illustrators are every bit as important as authors – maybe more! Thankfully, Tara made her name equal in size. 
That rings right to me!  
What are you working on now? Or is it to be kept a secret? 
No secret! I’m working on revisions of a chapter book. Waiting in the wings are another chapter book revision and a few picture book manuscripts that need to be finished.  
Wonderful news! I looked them up -- Gretchen's chapter books will be published by Splashing Cow Books.    
Writer-mamas everywhere want to know how you make time for writing while also taking care of a busy family. Do you have a routine? Please share any tips you have … I could use them even though my kids are teenagers and sleep till noon.  
I wish I had a writing routine! Fortunately, my youngest still naps, so that would be an ideal time…..if I didn’t find myself filling it with washing dishes and folding laundry and catching up on emails. Usually, I write in the margins, grasping those moments whenever and wherever I can - waiting in the car to pick up the children, during commercials, even in a doctor’s office, as with MAMA. And although I’m a morning person, it’s never been a productive time for me to write. The few long, uninterrupted sessions I’ve had have been late at night. But I can’t do that very often. 
Aha! You have the Midnight Disease as well! 
If I have a story to tell, I am restless until I have told it. So my only advice to others is to say “Yes!” to the story. Tell it. Surrender. Even if it’s TILLY TAPIR LEARNS TO TANGO, there’s some reason it’s in you. Write it! (Then snuggle with your children and read it to them!)

LOL Gretchen! Excellent advice! Especially to surrender to the story. Thank you so much for sharing unstintingly of your time and talent here. I look forward to your future projects. May God bless all your endeavors. 
You all can learn more about Gretchen in the Newport Daily News as well as take a look at the covers of her MeeGenius books, which are now part of HMH.

I am sure she will be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hoping, Longing and Waiting

I suppose it is fitting that I am hoping and longing and waiting for Harry to disappear completely from my life in a season devoted to hoping, longing and waiting for the Messiah. It's been four weeks since I had my first set of Botox injections and after an initial response that kept pain to manageable levels, now I'm still in severe pain most days. It's very discouraging and I've cried bitterly over how long it taking. However, the pattern has changed a bit.  It's easier to control the pain. I've had a taste of completely pain-free days. Sometimes it's just a day and once even two days in a row. It's such a gift when I wake up without a migraine. And I want more and more of these days. So I continue to hope and pray for complete healing.

I leave you with a beautiful Advent hymn written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and sung to the tune of Besancon: People look East.