Monday, November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving Blessings

We are so blessed in our parish with a pastor who loves beauty. Since last year we've been having more High Masses with simple Gregorian chant, about once a month, and over the course of a year, I can hear and feel the difference. We are getting better, more expressive, though we have a long way to go singing like the Benedictine or Dominican monks. Here are some pictures before and after Mass this past Friday celebrating the Feast of St. Cecelia, patron of musicians and the 10th anniversary of ordination of a visiting priest. We had FIVE priests, one deacon, and our Altar boys, yet still an intimate affair. So beautiful. We had a lovely reception afterwards and I brought home these flowers to enjoy. A very Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to you and all yours.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Notes from the 7th Marian Eucharistic Conference

It just keeps getting better and better. Michael hasn't missed a single one and I won't either unless I'm invited to YALLFest. It's always the same weekend in Charleston as the ME conference in Greenville. There's just no contest. I missed Kate diCamillo though.

Friday afternoon, we went on the BMW Factory Tour. So fascinating to see how beautifully automated the process is. This is the final assembly for all the X-models and they are shipped all over the world. Every car is made to order. We are hoping our minivan lasts a few more years but our next car will either be a BMW or Volvo that's made in SC. Loved seeing all the old cars. The Isetta made me laugh--I cannot even imagine Michael trying to fit in that little bubble of a car. But we all begin with our creations somewhere. Speaking of, one of the best car movies is Tucker.

Next, as is our tradition, we went to Swad--a very homey South Indian restaurant. It's all vegetarian and delicious. Click on the link for great pictures (is it food porn if you salivate at the sight of it?)

Ah, now to the conference. It started with Mass on Nov. 9th, which is the Feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica (the Pope's local parish). It was also our 7th anniversary of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus so it was extra-special. Fr. Don Calloway gave a beautiful homily on imitating our Lord on His zeal for His Father's house. In this picture He expresses righteous anger over what's happening in the temple. He cleanses it. We hear a lot about dialogue, accompaniment and building bridges, but this isn't the time for it. We should not dialogue with falsehood. We should not accompany people when they choose to remain in sin. It is time to blow up bridges. Do not tolerate evil. Fight for truth. He reminded us that Sister Lucia warned us that the final battle will be over marriage and family

I've read briefly about Fr. Calloway's conversion but having him deliver it in person is GOLD. Can you spare an hour? It's riveting. From drug addiction, promiscuity, a life of crime, our Lady brings him to Jesus. Miracle upon miracle!!! It's a modern-day story of hope and mercy. Fr. Calloway makes a wonderful imitation of Filipino women. Everybody should have one as a friend. I am so blessed to have several, one in heaven, Liberty. At the conference I was hoping he'd have copies of his newest book, Consecration to St. Joseph, but it's at the printing press. It's shocking that in the 2,000 year history of the church, we've not had this devotion. Privately yes, like St. Teresa de Avila did, but not publicly. But I'm beginning to see that certain devotions evolve when they are most needed. God's timing is always perfect. With the horrors of the 20th century, we received the Divine Mercy. To combat the darkness, we received the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us.

As you can imagine, Fr. Calloway has a great devotion to Mary and praying the rosary, which is simply the Word of God, and a sword. We are the Church Militant here on earth and the rosary is a powerful weapon. He told us the story of St. Dominic. When his mother was pregnant with him, she had a vision of a dog leaping from her womb with a flaming torch and who ran around the world lighting the world on fire. The rosary was given to St. Dominic and his order of preachers is called Dominicans (Domini canis, dogs of God) and they spread the Gospel through the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries. How is it a weapon? It has changed the course of history. Consider the battle of Lepanto. The Christian army was seriously outnumbered by the invading Muslim army. Yet, we won, by the power of the rosary. It saved Western civilization. And there were great missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to the East and the Americas, while Europe was losing its faith due to corruption in the church. More recently, it's the rosary that helped free the girls and women kidnapped by Boko Haram. He told us the story of Bartolo Longo, a Satanist who later renounced Satan and became a Catholic priest. I love Fr. Calloway's book, 26 Champions of the Rosary. It has a brief history of the rosary and what a powerful weapon it is in our spiritual battle. Wade Menezes (he has a most beautiful singing voice and I love that he encouraged the choir to sing the ordinary in Latin) spoke about the forgotten doctrine of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell. It is such a good book we bought multiple copies to share with our parents. Plan A for all of us is heaven! Plan B is purgatory, where we'll be purified of the last attachments to sin and then onto heaven. Hell isn't part of God's plan but it's something we choose. We have free will. Do not reject God's mercy. Some great quotes: 

Let us not forget Christ's first coming so that we do not regret His second. St. Augustine
What the world lacks today are seekers of Truth. Pope Em. Benedict XVI
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus
Do not accept anything as truth without love and do not accept anything as love without truth. One without the other is a destructive lie. St. Edith Stein
Truth is a relationship with a Divine Person. Whoever is seeking Truth is seeking God. St. Edith Stein (I need to read her books)
Truth can be assaulted but never falsified or defeated. St. Boniface
You shall know the truth and it shall make you very odd. Flannery O'Connor
Truth exists; the Incarnation happened. Dr. Carroll (founder of Christendom College)
We are living in a day and age that is making great saints. Msgr. Charles Pope (wonderful priest whom I discovered during RCIA and who answered many, many questions on the ADW blog and who continues to edify).

Fr. Wade mentioned the pattern of trials in the Church that occurs in 500-year intervals. The first 500 years, there were the great Christological/Gnostic heresies. Is Jesus God? The second 500 years brought the great schism between East (Constantinople/now Istanbul) and West (Rome) over the Pope's jurisdiction over the Eastern Bishops, along with the rise of Islam. There was also the theological debate about the Holy Spirit. The third 500 years began with the Reformation. Luther was right; the Church needed to reform its corrupt practices but instead of working from within to restore it, he broke away, resulting in an ever-splintering of Christians. Now everybody is free to interpret the Bible as he or she wishes and this is the source of confusion and disagreements and disunity. Oh, may the sad divisions cease. We are entering another great trial with the ideas of secular humanism and relativism that oppose God the Father, the Creator. There are more Nones (people who have no religious affiliation in the US and Western Europe) than ever before; there are more abortions (to the tune of a billion and counting) and "mercy" killings than ever before; and marriage is no longer considered sacred covenant between a man and a woman. Christian marriage imitates the Holy Trinity; we become co-creators with God, the marital embrace producing another person. And a baby is either male or female. What else is left to oppose? Both Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Daniel Pentimone have good articles on this topic. 

One thing I know: the gates of hell will not prevail. The Church will exist until the end of time. And we shall all be united in our belief in the Lord Jesus, one bread, one body.  There's the famous story of Napoleon telling the imprisoned Pope Pius IX that he, Napoleon will destroy the Church and the Pope just laughed and told him: we've been trying for the past 1,800 years and haven't succeeded, and neither will Napoleon. It is a pity that that there are so many scandals in the church but it's better they are exposed, brought to light, so the church can be cleansed.

Fr. Wade reminded us that a priest is a marked man. Pray for them. The devil likes to attack priests because without the priest there is no Holy Eucharist and without it, no Real Presence, no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  

Catholicism has three foundation--Scripture, Tradition, Magesterium (which is the teaching authority). If you remove one of the legs, you fall. 

Fr. Chris Alar went through the Mass and how Scriptural it is. The first Mass was at the Last Supper in the upper room and consummated on the Cross at Calvary. I urge all of you to read The Lamb's Supper: the Mass as Heaven on Earth and by Scott Hahn and it will whet your appetite for The Fourth Cup and Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist because he explains Scripture so well. Mass is truly heaven on earth, the most beautiful thing. 

Our guardian angels are present at Mass, uniting our prayers to those of the priest, who is now in persona Christi. We are essentially at Calvary, where God the Son makes atonement for all of us (yes, every human being was redeemed except for Himself) to God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It blows my mind! And at the consecration, that little circle of Bread is Jesus Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity. We receive Jesus--the Way, the Truth, and the Life! We receive Him in the Word, in the Spirit, and His Body. Scientific analysis of Eucharistic miracles show that what we have is human heart tissue under duress with a blood type of AB and no Y chromosome.

Fr. Chris mentioned a very interesting story from a mystic, Maria Simma, who had visions/visitations from holy souls in purgatory asking for her prayers and sacrifices. They told her that Communion in the hand is offensive to God and the bishops who promoted this will remain in purgatory until their dioceses rescind this practice. Wow! In most countries, you receive Holy Communion on the tongue; only the priest and deacons (whose hands are holy and anointed) are allowed to touch the Blessed Sacrament. In the US it is common to have Communion in the hand and lay Eucharistic ministers to distribute it. And I think the reason so few Catholics believe in the Real Presence is because we are not practicing the faith as we should. We are body and soul and our actions reflect what's in our hearts. 

I've saved the funniest for last. It was such a great joy to listen Dr. Ray Guarendi in person. He's a husband and father to ten adopted children. He's also a clinical psychologist and has probably the best books on raising kids. Good Discipline, Great Teens saved me from much frustration. And no, I did not lower my standards. Well, maybe a little. At least they're not doing drugs, right? Dr. Ray said this is one of the first things he hears from parents we've sunk so low in our values. I told him he's the reason I didn't throttle my kids. We went through some rough times when they were 16/17 years old, wanting to be independent, free of us. I think God gave us the teenage years so that the separation is easier :) 

He said, "One of my kids said, 'I don't like you'. So what? I stopped liking you a year ago. Or so what? I have 5 or 6 who do like me." All joking aside, parenting is getting more and more difficult. I see it as the problem of absent fathers or fathers who abdicated their role as heads of household. So women tend to be the lead authorities at home. Dr. Ray admonishes the men for being too relaxed. He said to get in there and protect your wife. I am so thankful that Michael has stepped in to discipline the children, especially during the teenage years. 

Today parents ask, "Is this normal?" That's fine but they really should be asking, "Is this right?" He has many good ideas but the parents have to have the will to implement changes, especially when it comes to discipline. When I was growing up, I would never have dreamed of speaking to my mother the way my children have spoken to me. I used to say as a child that I would never do X, Y, Z to my kids but the older I got, I found myself agreeing with my mother's wisdom. Disobedience was swiftly punished. Dr. Ray said that not a single one of his ten children is stronger-willed than either him or his wife. It's all about the perception of authority. 

Right now, the biggest danger to young people is the toxic culture. More and more young people are confused about who they are (male or female) and parents aren't using common sense. It's all about affirmation and self-esteem now but it is insanity to affirm that which is not true. He said, just as an anorexic doesn't see herself the way she is, so it is with gender dysphoria. You wouldn't staple a kid's stomach--that'd be malpractice. Yet, doctors are prescribing puberty-blocking drugs and removing breasts from women who think they are men. How is this not malpractice? The vast majority (90%) of children with gender confusion will revert to their own sex at the onset of puberty. Guard and protect your kids from this dangerous ideology, that you are whatever you think you are. 

Dr. Ray is a revert to the Catholic faith. He wasn't mad; he simply drifted away. He said when people are mad, it's always over the pelvic issues (abortion, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, contraception) and never over taking care of the poor. He was in an Evangelical churches in his 30s but had a very difficult time reconciling the numerous different denominations, who disagreed on pretty important things. If they're all being guided by the Holy Spirit, who's right? People say, we all agree on the basics. But what are the basics? Infant baptism? Sanctity? Once saved, always saved? He said Protestants had really good sound bytes. Catholics need better marketing. Pete's got the Seat. The Host is the Most. Martin Luther was the first person to disagree about which books should be in the Bible. It's hard to imagine the Holy Spirit being erroneous for the first 1,500 years of Christianity. The early Christians baptized babies, prayed for the dead, believed that the consecrated Host is the Body of Christ. St. Ignatius knew St. John the Apostle! Everything the Protestants said the Catholics added was in the writings of the early Church Fathers. 

St. John Henry Newman, canonized Oct. 13th of this year, said that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.

He said what really convinced him about the truth of Catholicity was the debate on contraception. It was the 1960s and experts were saying there were too many people. So there was a lot of pressure on the Catholic Church to go with the thinking of this age. So the Pope got a committee to study it. They all recommended contraception. However, it goes against the teaching and you cannot teach error (the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error--hey, if the Protestants can have the Holy Spirit guiding them, then so can we, no?). The pope said NO. He made dire predictions in Humanae Vitae and they've all come true. But what the pope and scientists didn't know at the time is that the birth control pill is also a very early abortifacient. But God knew. When the research came out Dr. Ray realized that the Holy Spirit indeed protected the Magesterium from teaching error.    

He encouraged parents not to beat themselves up if their children leave the faith. The tendency is to blame yourself. He said, "I have 10 kids. Some will serve the church. Some will serve time. Some will go to Penn State. Some will go to the state penn." He reminded us that even the God-man could not get people to follow Him. "You think you can do better? Stop. Your job is to raise the children. You are not their Savior."

Here are a couple of funny marriage stories for sticking with me for this long post: A woman was brought to court for stealing a can of peaches. The judge asked how many peaches were there? She said, 12. She was given a sentence of 12 days, one for each peach. The husband piped up, "She also stole a can of peas."

Uncle Guiseppe was celebrating his 48th anniversary. What's the secret, many asked. "Oh you do nice things. I took her to Italy for our 25th anniversary." What will you do for your 50th? "I'll bring her back!"

But it is always so nice to come home, and to such bounty! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Picture Books to Delight

 I am soooo thankful for all the wonderful books in my life and the people who write them. I picked up Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Marlena Myles at the Carolinas SCBWI. What a delight to read so many of my favorite writers in this anthology. Both Becky Shillington and Megan Hoyt signed my copy. Aren't the math poems brilliant? And Megan's biography on St. Hildegard is beautifully written and illustrated. 

And at the end of the book, there's a section on poetic forms and literary devices--great for home or classroom use. Since gratitude is my first emotion upon waking, this is a book I'll reach for again and again. Thanku, indeed! 

I went to Ben Pogue's book launch party on Daniel Island and had to have a copy of A Walk Along the Sea after I saw the gorgeous illustrations by Johanna Hughes. It's a lovely book, sure to become a family keepsake. We have so many wonderful memories of walking along the beach with our children, collecting shells, playing in the waves, or just sitting and enjoying the sunset. 

I love living in Charleston! It's so great to be a tourist in your hometown and Very Charleston: A Celebration of History, Culture, and Lowcountry Charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler is another keepsake/reference book. 

You're welcome! 

Monday, October 28, 2019


Image result for st. simon and jude
Today is the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude and what fondness I feel for St. Jude since it was the church named in his honor that we were received in and how fitting--he's a patron of impossible causes, but all is possible through Christ Jesus! All the Apostles were martyred except for John and it fills me with awe--Christians everywhere, especially in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa are being martyred every day. I wonder if we in the West could be as brave.

I've not been well but even that's been a blessing because there's been more time to spend contemplating God. We celebrated the Feast of Christ the King yesterday and it fills me with so much joy just knowing He is King of all and to surrender my life into His care. 

For Respect Life month, the pastor of St. Clare of Assisi invited me to sell BOUND after Mass. It was so lovely to be able to tell parishioners why I wrote the book. I'm praying it will spark many discussions about choosing life when it's hard. Fr. West had two posters showing the latest progress on the building itself. I was bowled over by the beautiful stained glass windows we'll be getting and also the High Altar! Check out this short video about it. It's going to be such a beautiful house of God!  

We picked that shiny eggplant and I made a ratatouille. And wonder of wonders, there are four more baby eggplants! Good thing we'll be having a potluck supper after the Requiem Mass. Doesn't Michael look like a proud papa?!

Finally, an unexpected gift from Pearl Meaker. She composed the layout with the photograph, Hebrew writing, and calligraphy of a hymn verse. I have her permission to share it. May it bless you too! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Peppers! Okra! Eggplant!

The garden is still producing! Hot peppers, sweet peppers, all different kinds of pepper grow well. We've been eating a lot of bacon-wrapped jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese+garlic+onions. They're so decadent--I feel almost sinful, but I only want to freeze enough to last us through the winter months. Below, all the pets are begging for a bite :)

Despite the grasshoppers eating all the okra leaves, we're still picking so many okra that Michael made soup to have a change from the usual bhindi bhaji (Indian style okra).

And finally, finally, we have an eggplant. It's still a baby though :) We don't know why we never got fruit earlier because it's such a healthy plant and makes lots of flowers. We even hand-pollinated it just in case the bees didn't get around to it. I predict a ratatouille in our future! Too bad our squash and cucumbers stopped producing--we got some sort of powdery mildew and that was the end of that.
Gardening is so very much like the writing life. It takes sowing, patience, constant practice, weeding, throwing out bad stuff, but in time there's fruit. Now that I've consolidated most of my notes from the conference, tidied my desk, I'm settling into revising a couple of manuscripts (with help from my cats >^-^< they tried to type this post as well) but also sowing seeds of some new ones. How do your stories grow?
And please note, that it's Michael who has the green thumb, not me. I pick all the fresh goodness from our garden and eat it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Carolinas SCBWI Recap

Image result for carolinas scbwi pictures
I try to go to one writing conference each year and this year was no exception, except that I was presenting, so I left a day early so that I could attend the illustration intensive offered by Mallory Grigg (she loves postcards :). She covered all the basics of the picture book in a short slideshow, but hearing her critique of each person's work was very educational, as well as the comments by the other artists, who are so accomplished, so beautiful. Not once was I made to feel like I didn't belong. I was encouraged to take an art class and to think about a story to go with my Indian folk art. Once upon a time... A big shoutout to Mo (Maureen Morris of Momo Collections) for driving there and back--it's always so fun to share a ride with writer friends.

Afternoon brought critique sessions and I was so pleased to see again, how exceptional they were. All were publishable and I could immediately think of a handful of publishers for each. I'm always so happy to have a part in another writer's success. Evening brought the faculty dinner (I got cozy with Donna Earnhardt and Samantha Bell) and don't you just love my new cup! Logo designed by Bonnie Adamson. I'm all about facing our dragons!!!  

I enjoyed visiting with old friends and making new ones and excited to see some of them this weekend--our Charleston critique group is growing. I love best that we have both writers and illustrators in our group because artists bring a completely different perspective to stories.


I loved Cynthia Surrisi's keynote: The Abstraction of Curiosity. Given that my whole life I've been driven by curiosity, her words resonated deeply with me. She shared her path to publication. She spoke about being overeducated (JD, MFA); however, it's the pursuit of excellence that matters as we make our "beautiful thing." There are as many paths up the slope as people and conferences like these really help exchange of information. We see "how to get your beautiful thing to fit." She advised to keep writing, try not to go insane, and to remain curious.

Do check out Jane Friedman's 2019-2020 Key Book Publishing Paths. Having published in many different ways, I will repeat that it's a great time to be writing and publishing because the Big 5 isn't our only option.

I loved the session on creating complex characters by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill. Again, because I like to read and write character-driven stories (in fact, every story begins for me with a character in a plot and character have always been inextricably linked) this workshop was very enjoyable. Stephanie taught using great examples. She emphasized mining our own past and remembering how we felt, how conflicted we were. We can bring that emotional depth and complexity to our characters and stories. Oh, Stephanie likes character-driven literary fiction (I know some of you who are reading this write what she likes, so what are you waiting for?). 

Another favorite workshop was one on the Picture Book Biography offered by Lina Maslo and Alice Ratterree. I can't wait to read her biography of C. S. Lewis. Such a treat to get a sneak peek. Lina typically starts with the defining moment in her subject's life and then backtracks to share the moments that lead up to that point. She ends with the impact her subject has. I especially loved Alice's story about her brother and H. A. Rey--it would make a wonderful story for Highlights. What I loved is how the little details really make a piece of work authentic. However, that's not how you begin--it's just the opposite. Alice says to first research the era of your subject, then spiral in closer to the places he or she inhabited, and finally the clothing, the furniture, the telling details. A great piece of advice: put your reader first.

My workshop on Writing Memoir for Kids went well. Several people came to find me to tell me about the stories they want to write, so I'm happy that they'll take home some tools to craft their personal stories. I spent some time on marketing as well because I really want to see you all published. I cannot emphasize the value of writing for magazines. It's how I got my start, and although I know we each have our own path to navigate, magazine writing is a faster way to build your portfolio. 

I didn't make it to the illustrator Draw Off but I took some pictures the next day. We've got talent!

First Pages are always entertaining with Alan Gratz reading them, complete with sound effects!!! Plus, he keeps the editors on time. I am pretty sure Nothing Eats a Hyena will be a proper book very soon! Great voice!

Alan also gave us the closing keynote and it was brilliant. He started from the beginning from his birth in a sporty family (and it's true, the ball always manages to find you) but his gift was in telling stories. I loved that his mother edited his first story and made him rewrite it. Talk about getting trained early for editorial feedback! He used the Marvel comic book heros to illustrate his point about their Origin stories (the things that happen that define who you are and how you act). And what is brilliant is that when new information emerges, we can reinterpret them. This is called Retroactive-Continuity (in the world of comic books) and it's great for character development. The present defines the past. I loved this so much because it made me feel as though I were close to seeing myself as God sees me. I am becoming who I was created to be. It was that profound! Alan closed with: "Who are you? You *are* a writer or illustrator. Take this room with you."  What is Your Origin Story?  

This was an emotionally charged conference because our indefatigable RA, Teresa Fannin is retiring. She's been wonderful all the years I've known her and she's passing on the baton to Donna and Kelly. I was also preparing for Michaelmas. Mo got me to church with enough time to spot check the difficult bits and although I was tired, dousing my head in cold water was enough to refresh me. The moment I opened my mouth to sing--Benedicite Domine omnes Angeli--a peace descended upon me. The presence of countless angels and saints and our Blessed Lord Himself is palpable. It was a fitting way to end the conference. But for Robyn Campbell, it was the end of her life on this earth. I learned this on Monday and could picture her soul brought to heaven (painting by Bougeaureau, 1878). Mo had gone to her workshop on voice and remarked that Robyn hadn't been feeling well. Oh, how my heart breaks for her family. Requiescat in pace, Robyn. I will sing the Requiem Mass for you.