Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Longest Lent--Home

Lent began Feb. 26th and my reflection for that day is up on CatholicMom. It's strange to go back and read it again, but our pastor's advice is gold--begin the practice again. Who could've predicted the kind of Lent we're having? The sacrifices we didn't plan on making? The common enemy? Over and over, I learn that we are not in control. 

Our kids arrived with their friends that weekend, the same weekend I received my miraculous healing from the migraines. It was a wonderful spring break, full of laughter and games, food and conversations. Max turned 21 and Michael had a couple of beers brewed for him--an out stout and a hazy hoppy kind. All the older kids enjoyed sampling the birthday beer. Oh, these Scrambled Square puzzles are the hardest to solve. Joe managed to piece the cats. Can you tell what's wrong with the retriever puzzle? I've not been able to solve it--the closest I come is with one edge not matching, which means you have to start all over again. Anyway, it's a great brain-teaser. 

Michael set up the hydroponic garden again. We're enjoying our fresh greens and I see a stir-fry with that bok-choy in the very near future. I love how quickly the bean plant curled around the string we lowered. This kind of touch response is something we studied in my years at the Max Planck. It's fascinating. 

And our latest pets are honeybees, 10,000 of them! That's 3 lbs and it makes a good math problem for a kid to determine the weight of one honeybee :) Michael's been taking classes on beekeeping and is pretty comfortable with bees crawling all over his hands when he feeds them. I'm not so brave. It's been so interesting to watch them. They're settling in nicely, drinking sugar water, collecting pollen, making combs. The queen must be busy laying eggs. Sometimes Michael inadvertently brings a bee indoors but the cats are very good at finding it. Here they are having a little play-fight while I write. Cat-watching has to be the best.

I've been getting back into the writing groove and now that the kids are home from college, we all need to get into a good rhythm of work and play and prayers. I love praying these outdoor Stations of the Cross on Daniel Island, where the new St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church will be built. Check out the building progress. We are soooo blessed.

These are the books I've been reading. In these times when so many are suffering, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is a must read. And I love having these beautiful Sunday Sermons from Fr. Leonard Goffine in book form. It's a little less intense than The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Gueranger, which Michael's been going through for a couple of years. Such lovely treasures in the Church, and so timely, since we cannot go to Mass. Again, my heart continues to be full at how privileged we've been to assist at Mass these past 11 years. Never again will I take it for granted. I pray you are well and I pray for God's peace upon your hearts. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Longest Lent--Consecration

I purchased this little Eastern orthodox icon to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph. I have it on the wall above the family computer and my eyes are often drawn there. What a treasure to have the smaller scenes around the Holy Family.  

I confess I've taken the ability to attend Mass for granted. I'm not a daily communicant--I'm too lazy to get up in the morning and get dressed. Usually, I'm petting the cats in bed while I read my Bible and scribble a few thoughts. But I like being able to go when I want, especially on special feast days. I miss praying together with my church family. I miss singing in the choir. I miss receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament--He is the Divine Physician and He comes to us in His Entirety. He heals our whole self--body, mind, soul. The sacraments have power, the priest's hands are set apart and holy to do the work of God. I've been very much troubled by our bishops forbidding public Mass or gathering for any other devotions, even outdoor ones, and also confessions and anointing of the sick. Isn't the soul more important than the body? Isn't the Mass more important than being able to go to the grocery store? The worst is not knowing how long this is going to last. Truly, I feel this loss most acutely and despite the numerous online resources, including Mass on EWTN, which I've been tuning in to for many years, it's just not the same. Oh, how I feel in solidarity with all the persecuted Christians throughout the ages. When I first heard of the closures, on St. Patrick's Day, I cried. And I find myself crying more and more. It's a grief I cannot explain. And then to watch Pope Francis in a desolate St. Peter's square for a special urbi et orbi blessing. Sad and beautiful.     

On the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), I was able to go to our lovely little church to make my consecration. At first, I worried that there might be too many people for all the cars parked but they were beach-goers! The church was empty and it was so peaceful to sit with our hidden Jesus. I couldn't help but reflect on the hidden life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Nazareth, the holy conversations they must've had, what a perfect family! I was able to pray the Stations by walking around. And finally, a prayer composed during the time of the plague to St. Roch. Note the dog and the biscuit :) I prayed for you all too. May God bless you and protect you from all dangers, may He draw you ever closer to Himself.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Longest Lent--Reading

I don't even know where to begin after taking such a long hiatus from the blog. All is well after a very difficult couple of months--headaches mainly. But it's also been a period of many graces and miracles so I am thankful. Of course, all is not well with the world, so I'm praying for all who are sick, suffering, dying, their caregivers, families, our leaders, our priests. I thought I'd share what I often neglect--ebooks. I loved all of these books and hope you find some gems for yourself. 

Enid Blyton: the Biography by Barbara Stoney is such a wonderful and detailed biography of my favorite author when I was a child. I had no idea that critics didn't think her books were literary enough. The pox on them. Sorry. No one remembers the names of the critics but children are still enjoying her stories. I didn't realize how prolific she was but her writing process is enviable. She just sat and typed out what was in her head and it came out clean. Wow! This happens only very rarely to me.

Beckoning by Claudia Cangilla McAdam has the cast of characters from Awakening back in Jerusalem starting Good Friday. This time Ronnie's best friend Tabby is the one who tells her story. She's the daughter of the Centurion who pierces the side of Christ. I loved this so much, the healing, the miracle, and Tabitha's conversion. Wonderful writing, twisty plot, happy ending.  

The Bargain by Vanessa Riley. I don't read much romance anymore but when I did (in my late teens) there were no characters like me. It didn't stop my imagination but how refreshing to see brown girls getting the boy! 

A Robot Named Clunk by Simon Haynes. Again, I don't read much sci-fi anymore but many moons ago, I started writing the great American novel using Simon Haynes' yWriter. It was a help in organizing my jumbled thoughts. I no longer use it but when I joined Writer Sanctum (a wonderful board for self-publishing) I saw Simon there. He's always as ever helpful and so I got his robot book. Fast-paced and funny, I really enjoyed it. He has lots of interesting books. I hope you'll check them out. He's another like Enid, who just sits down and types out his story. He makes all his own covers too. 

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith. I've already talked about how if you purchase one writing book, you should consider Writing into the Dark. I loved it so much for giving me back what I thought I was losing, my voice, I had to check out his Sacred Cows--it is a great title, no?--and it will debunk many of the myths that are making the rounds in the publishing industry. I should know, I've been part for it for nearly 20 years. This book gave me the confidence to trust my voice and vision and to bring it to fruition. Thank you, Dean! 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by William Kenower was such a wise and gentle book guiding me to lose my many fears regarding this writing life. It was like having a good friend hold my hand through the tough times.  

Some People are Dead: Part Essay, Part Memoir, Parts Unknown by James Scott Bell is exactly that. I've always enjoyed reading obituaries but this was so much more, a reflection not only on people's lives but on society. I enjoyed this book very much, especially since I read it while I was in bed sick, contemplating death, and because he made me laugh with stories from his own life. I enjoy getting to know other writers, especially writers I admire. Mr. Bell is not only a terrific writer and storyteller, but a wonderful teacher.  

Snowmallows by Carol Ann Soisson was such a delight. It has everything I enjoy in MG fiction--active kids, good families, heart, humor, fantastic plot twists, along with science and faith. Wow! What a wonderful debut! I look forward to reading more stories from Carol Soisson! Well done!!! And because it's so pretty--I wanted to have a bigger picture of the cover!  

Happy reading and writing, my friends. What books have you enjoyed recently? Please do share in the comments. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

St. Joseph

I've been waiting for Consecration to St. Joseph by Fr. Don Calloway since I first heard he was writing it. We need St. Joseph's prayers and guidance more than ever given that half the families do not have a father in the home, that family itself is under attack, that there is so much confusion in the world. 

I didn't grow up with a father and have sought other spiritual fathers--two of my favorites are St. Alphonsus and St. Padre Pio but the one whom I've always longed to know more about has been St. Joseph, chaste spouse of Mary, foster father of Jesus. I've read about the devotions some saints have had to St. Joseph and looking forward to putting myself into his care and protection. After all, he was the head and guardian of the Holy Family. The hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are completely united and it feels so right to complete this circle of consecrations. I begin tomorrow! Anyone else interested?

A Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020


I loved Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. He's another physician-writer (my childhood dream!) and I was so immersed I could practically smell the little Missing hospital. I loved all the details of medicine practiced in the tropics, the creativity of doctors operating on a shoestring budget, the wisdom of never forgetting that sometimes the best part is being touched by another human being. I already shared a bit of wisdom from Dr. Stone with a nursing student.
"Tell me, what treatment in an emergency is administered by the ear? The answer: Words of comfort." Don't you just love that? But I will never forgive him for giving a bad end to one of my favorite characters. Oh how I cried. I wanted to beat his chest. For I know that even if this is fiction, there's no fiction without facts. He also made me laugh aloud with delight. I want to quote here one of my favorite scenes about Shiva, who's wired differently than most children. The narrator is his identical twin, Marion (yes, it's a boy--you'll find out when you read the book).

"One  of you scored a perfect one hundred. But he or she didn't write a name on the paper. The rest of you were miserable. Sixty-six percent of you failed," he exclaimed. "What do you think of that number? Sixty-six!"
For Shiva, rhetorical questions were a trap. He never asked a question to which he knew the answer. Shiva raised his hand. I cringed in my seat. Mr. Bailey's eyebrow went up, as if a chair in the corner which he'd managed to ignore for a few months had suddenly developed delusions that it was alive.
"You have something to say?"
"Sixty-six is my second-favorite number," Shiva said.
"Pray, why is it your second favorite?" said Bailey.
"Because if you take the numbers you can divide into sixty-six, including sixty-six, and add them up, what you have is a square."
Mr. Bailey couldn't resist. He wrote down 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 22, 33, and 66--all the numbers that went into 66--and then he totaled. What he got was 144, at which point both he and Shiva said, "Twelve squared!"
"That's what makes sixty-six special," Shiva said. "It's also true of three, twenty-two, sixty-six, seventy--their divisors add up to a square."
"Pray, tell us what's your favorite number," Bailey said, no sarcasm in his voice anymore, "since sixty-six is your second favorite?"
Shiva jumped up to the board, uninvited, and wrote: 10,213,223.
Bailey studied this for a long while, turning a bit red. Then he threw up his hands in a gesture that struck me as very ladylike. "And pray, why would this number interest us?"
"The first four numbers are your license plate." From Mr. Bailey's expression, I didn't think he was aware of this. "That's a coincidence," Shiva went on. "This number," Shiva said, tapping on the board with the chalk, getting as excited as Shiva allowed himself to get, "is the only number that describes itself when you read it. 'One zero, two ones, three twos, and two threes!" Then my brother laughed in delight, a sound so rare that our class was stunned. He brushed chalk off his hands, sat down, and he was done. 
It was the only bit of mathematics that stayed with me from that year. As for the student who scored one hundred percent?--whoever it was had drawn a picture of Veronica on the test paper in lieu of a name.

The entire book is filled with such wonderful stuff! It also brings alive the people and culture of Ethiopia. Now I long to visit. Some say the Ark of the Covenant is there.

I've not read a travel book in ages but Michael got Walking Calcutta for me for my birthday. Because it's really happening! I'm going!!! All thanks to Max--because he wanted to stay longer to serve with Mother Teresa's sisters. So when his group from Ave Maria leaves, I'll join him to work alongside him and the sisters. Please pray for us! I can't even express the joy of having this opportunity to be in my homeland with my son, walking in the footsteps of one of the greatest saints, caring for the sick, disabled, and dying. I realize why the poor will always be with us--for our salvation.

I got Cool-Minded Home Wine-Making by Kemet Spence for Michael. Kemet was my undergraduate advisor and was not only a terrific mentor but became a friend. He taught me practical microbiology and I'm so grateful that he compiled what he knows about making wine into this book. I'm looking forward to having Kemet's expert guidance in my life again.   

And speaking of practical, I decided to resubscribe to FundsforWriters (how else am I supposed to get to Calcutta and back?) and was delighted to discover that C. Hope Clark is a Carolina girl with her own series of mysteries set in the Lowcountry. The first is Lowcountry Bribe and I'm enjoying it very much, especially since it's based on her own experience working at the USDA. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It felt like a cozy because the main character, Slade, is so real--lovable, flawed, a regular working mama, but one who knows how to use a gun. But the book started with a bang and is filled with unsavory characters, including the husband. I loved the relationship she has with her daddy and that's why I was surprised at the creep she ended up marrying. Still, it has one of the most realistic portrayals of a marriage in trouble. Warning, it's graphic. This is a hard-boiled mystery, not a cozy. I enjoyed the details of rural life; it's what I prefer over city life. I loved these lines:
"Panic coursed through me at the altered state. Like hearing that your churchgoing mother liked bourbon straight and sex on top." 

Many years ago, when I was a newbie writer I used to check out FundsforWriters so that my writing would pay for itself and I'm quite sure I got many leads. Thank you, Hope! And it makes me so happy that she updated the Shy Writer--it's definitely a wakeup call for this introvert. Check it out. It's chock-full of inspiration and practical advice. I stumbled upon many of her tricks independently and will attest that the advice she gives works. I just need to practice it more.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

On Disappointments and Surprises

March for Life weekend coincided with the annual ALA meeting when the awards are announced for the best books published in the previous year. Youth media award winners here (I've not yet read a single one, but our librarian is wonderful about stocking the major award-winners, so will remedy this soon). Even though I spent much of my time in prayer that weekend, I was aware of a little hollow. There was no phone message for me. See, I had entered Tongue-Tied for the Schneider Family Award. It didn't even make the honor. I wanted to cry. The previous year, I entered Bound. Yes, I cried then too. The sticker you see on Bound is the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writing Guild, just the first step towards the Catholic Arts & Letters Award.

Why do I do this to myself? Because I think they could've won. Yes, I'm biased. But I'm also a big reader and my books are comparable to the ones who've won in previous years. We're told to not compare ourselves with others, to do the best we can do, but seeking comparable titles is something we should do. Why am I looking for more validation? The biggest reason is for gaining more readers, having a wider audience. If I get that shiny sticker, it's vetted by people in the business. I know that kids don't care about stickers or whether a book is work-for-hire or trade. They just want a good story and they are discerning. You can't fool kids. But the people who put those books in the hands of kids are adults--parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents--so you have to woo them too. Thankfully, Tongue-Tied is marketed directly to schools so it will get in the hands of kids, still I would've appreciated a sticker. I know, vanity, vanity, it's all vanity.

In other news, I went to my KDP dashboard and was surprised to see a spike--10 paperbacks sold of Bound! On Friday, Jan. 22nd, the day of the March for Life! I assumed it must've been a youth group leader or teacher who wanted to use it for discussion. I thought for sure I'd hear from this person and if they were within driving distance, I'd visit their group. But there were no such calls or emails. Then I thought, I should look up where the sales came from on my Author Central account. People, if you are not using this wonderful tool, you are missing out on data that Amazon collects. I discovered that the sales were spread throughout the country. What a coincidence. I wonder what prompted ten people to purchase a copy of Bound because I've observed that unless I run an advertising campaign, there are no sales. With self-publishing, discoverability is low. And I'm giving up on advertising because I lose money. Let's face it, I'm a writer, and I need to focus on the writing, but something somewhere triggered ten people to buy a copy and I'd like to know what it is. Maybe it was the recent magazine article in Shalom. That's the only thing I can think of. If you have any ideas, let me know. Regardless, I'm delighted that ten more people will read BOUND and share it. My readership will grow slowly. We write to change the world, to make a difference, one person at a time, and what a privilege it is to have this beautiful writing life.

Your thoughts on awards? Do you read award-winners?
ETA: Jan reminded me how personal it can be so adding a link to the time when I served as a judge for the SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards.  

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Feast of the Presentation of Jesus

This is one of my favorite mysteries, when Jesus is presented in the Temple. I recall the baptism of Michael and the kids, how I gave them back to God--I knew finally that they belong to Him. I also like to pray for the gift of obedience because there's nothing more I want than to live in the Divine Will. I'm discovering it's where my true happiness lies. 

This year, the feast falls on a Sunday so we'll celebrate with a High Mass with another favorite--Missa cum Jubilo--along with the blessing of candles. The picture is from the Sherbrooke Missal.

Like Jan. 1st has several feasts associated with it--Octave of Nativity, Circumcision, Holy Name of Jesus, Mary Mother of God, so Feb. 2nd is also known by different aspects when Sts. Joseph and Mary bring the Infant Jesus to the Temple: the Presentation of Jesus, the Purification of Mary, Candlemas, and the Meeting (Simeon and Anna meet the Christ-child and recognize His Divinity). Simeon's song, Nunc dimittis, is sung at the end of the night (Compline). Below is the full account of the Presentation (Luke 2:22-40) Christe lux mundi:
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
--and you yourself a sword will pierce--
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

Msgr. Pope has a beautiful reflection on this Meeting along with a little history lesson.  

Benny Boo ended up knocking over St. Joseph, breaking his hand. This Nativity set has gone through several mishaps. I'm surprised the angel is still standing. She was wobbly from the start and lost her arm and trumpet from another cat attack, but is fixed up well enough. This week I'll put away Christmas (but it always remains in my heart) and begin preparations for Lent. A dear friend sent me this perfect tea-towel for my birthday. It's already helping us to keep our monkish routines and inspiring me to write--there just might be a picture book hidden in that tea-towel (I'm a sucker for shiny new ideas, especially in the middle of revisions). It's my new favorite towel and it keeps getting softer and softer.

I just received a lovely note from my aunt reminding me that today is also the death anniversary of her oldest brother, my uncle Rev. Dinanath Pathak. He was the first-born of seven and consecrated to the Lord. What a beautiful grace to return home on this Feast of the Presentation! We pray for him even as we ask for his prayers.