Tuesday, December 31, 2013


One of the best parts about vacation is the ample time we all get to read, and I'm grateful that we can all curl up with a book. The only problem is that we don't have enough furry, purry kitties to join us in turning the pages. We're down to one old bookish cat. She usually keeps Max company, but I'm grateful for any time she graces me with her presence.

Here is just a sampling of some of the books I've enjoyed reading recently. You'll notice that all of them are for adults and a goodly half are nonfiction, but fear not, I've not gone to the other side. There's been plenty of kidlit fare on my menu, from your recommendations. Books by Sharon Creech, Kate diCamillo, Richard Peck and many others.

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches. This is a family crime drama and I enjoyed how skillfully Jackson wove present and past, Southern and Northern sensibilities, the teenage viewpoint with the adult. I picked up a couple of her other books, but they didn't draw me in as much as Gods did, though A Grown Up Kind of Pretty was another that pulled me in. Usually, I'm very good at figuring out what happens, but in both these books, I didn't see the end coming until it was revealed. What a pleasure that is!  

Her stories reminded me a little bit of Flannery O'Connor, and I had to go re-read my collection of stories, and always I see how well she captures the (fallen) human condition. She says of her stories: All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal. A couple of years ago I'd read her letters, and I was glad to find her Spiritual Writings, a collection of essays, letters, and stories. But I think I should like to have my own copy along with Mystery and Manners. I love her sharp wit and humor. Consider this quote: Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. It is a darn good thing my birthday is coming up :)

Six years ago and an abundance of kitties!
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean. In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. This book made me remember the times I went fishing in Eastern WA and Northern ID with my former undergraduate advisor and his graduate student, the quiet time spent outdoors. Maclean writes so vividly, I can picture everything, and remember how much I love Montana. We watched the movie and it was superb. This book also reminded me that sometimes, no matter your efforts, you cannot save the people you love.

The Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz and his latest, Innocence. He is another gifted storyteller. Despite the extensive narration, I was still pulled in by his characters and surprised by the plot twists I didn't see coming.

Martyrs of the English Reformation by Malcolm Brennan. Using primary sources, this book gives a clear picture of what it means to live and die for your faith. I can only hope and pray that this kind of persecution will not occur in the US. It already does in other parts of the world.

The visions of St. Catherine Emmerich. I am blown away by the details. Now, when I read the Gospels, I have even more vivid images in my mind. I realize how much description I've cut from my book because it slows down the pace, but perhaps I am wrong. I hope my beta readers will flag me where more is needed.

Six years ago, and I still miss my lovey kitty
Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard. I am always trying to improve the craft and as a nonfiction writer, loved this book, both for my own writing and teaching.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass taught me so many techniques to ramp up my fiction, I've been re-reading his Writing 21st Century Fiction as I prepare for a final run-through of my historical in the New Year.

Advice for Successful Families by Fr. Alain Delagneau has been hugely instructive and inspirational in raising a traditional Catholic family. It is clearly and concisely written, a must for marriage and family preparation.

Happy New Year, my friends. May you be blessed with good health, good fortune and good books. Do share the books you've loved, so that I can put them on my reading list.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Holidays and Feast of the Holy Family

I hope everybody is having a lovely Christmas. I am enjoying our quiet holiday, wearing my hat, reading, eating chocolates, writing letters, cooking, going on walks, watching movies, and visiting with friends. We're learning to be a holy family. We are truly meant for one another. Nothing like annoying members testing our patience!!! Myself included; pets excluded. Isn't our little rodent just darling? 
Msgr. Pope has an excellent reflection upon marriage and family life.




Thursday, December 26, 2013


A good Christian cannot be sentimental. We are told: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." ~ Tertullian. And so immediately following the Christmas crib we are reminded of the first martyr, St. Stephen. All martyrs, even those who do not will it (like the Holy Innocents), endure suffering and death for Christ.

Stoning of St. Stephen by Rembrandt

File:0 Le Massacre des Innocents d'après P.P. Rubens - Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique (2).JPG
Massacre of the Innocents by Ruben

The 2014 FSSP calendar features arresting paintings the martyrs. And lest we forget these are things of the past, George Weigel reminds us that even today, Christians in many parts of the world are being killed for their faith. Alas, I also remember the millions of babies who die before they are born. They are the Holy Innocents of our time.

Merry Christmas! It is the Babe in the crib with whom we fall in love with, who gives us the grace to confess our faith, pick up our cross and follow Him.

ETA: Pope Francis' homily.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gloria in Excelsis Deo!!!

I love this painting ... the light, the joy, a meeting of heaven and earth, something that happens at every Mass. After fasting from the Gloria all Advent, I cannot wait for midnight when the bells will ring and we'll raise our voices with the angels to sing the Mass of the Infant Jesus by W.J. Marsh. But before, a few Christmas carols ... here I share just a couple of my favorites: In the Bleak Midwinter and O Holy Night. 
Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre
 I only just learned this beautiful prayer and have been reciting it daily since Advent.
 Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
 in which the Son of God was born
 of the most pure Virgin Mary,
 at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
 In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
O my God,
 to hear my prayers and grant my desires,
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother.
Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Preparations and Decorations


This little can was a Christmas present from Charlanne, my mother-in-law. We'd gone shopping together and I fell in love with it. She was going to mail it us for Christmas, but I insisted I take it along when we moved to Belgium the summer after we were married -- I use it every single day. I love that my daughter is taking after her grandmother. She's the chief baker and decorator in our family now. Most of our Christmas decorations are gifts and there's a story behind each of them ... 

Cooking over fire is such a manly thing! We are so thankful Michael can not only bring home the bacon but cook it! And Max is preserving so many of these memories for us.

It is the fourth Sunday of Advent and there is still much to do, food baskets to prepare, gifts to finish making, cards to mail out, but my mind turns to this beautiful chant Rorate caeli ... and this prayer: Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we beseech Thee, and come; and with great power come to our aid, that by the help of Thy grace, that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Critiquing

This is much too funny not to share ... http://pages.towson.edu/lieb/bestchristmascard.html

I was cracking up at the animal rights, fat Santa jokes, and losing the paragraph!!! Giving my critters a big THANK YOU!!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Cat and a Christmas Story

Good thing the candles weren't lit. As you can see, our cat isn't the brightest. When she was a kitten we had to protect her from candles. She's only had a few singed whiskers in all of her 15 years ... whew!  They say curiosity killed the cat. But I say satisfaction revived her :) 

It's Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice!! Sing!!! When we did an in-depth study of Genesis, one thing kept coming to the forefront -- the hope of the Promised Child. The Incarnation is foretold; Christ is in the narrative thread from the beginning! Here is just one prophecy from Isaiah 61:1: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Jesus, reading this in the synagogue says (Luke 4:21), Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

How bold, how blasphemous. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere ChristianityEither this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. Like Lewis, I believe, not just with faith, but with all the reason and intellect that's been granted me. Like St. Augustine, my soul will not rest until it rests in Him, for as the Baltimore Catechism says: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. So simple, so elegant, and so very true.  
And so I am pleased to share that a Christmas story that I wrote ten years ago has finally been published in the Dec. issue of Guide magazine!!! It's a story about the providential love of God. Someday I hope to make a small collection of stories growing up in India, not just for my children but for the general public.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remembering ...

L'innocence by Bouguereau
... the young victims of the CT school shooting. In this month's Magnificat, there are two beautiful articles, one by the editor, who celebrates Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church, and another by Jenny Hubbard, a mother whose little girl was killed. I leave you with the full text of Psalm 23:

 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Here's a clip from Faure's Requiem: Pie Jesu and Agnus Dei

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conference Notes On Faith, Family and Food

At the beginning of Advent, we had a wonderful opportunity to attend Fr. Leo's ministry. He has his own show at the Food Network called Grace Before Meals. I found myself nodding in appreciation since everybody is a foodie in our home and mealtimes are always full of sharing not just the food, but stories. And since our conversion, it has also become a time of family prayer and reflection.

Fr. Leo feeds theology in bite sized portions with a generous dose of humor. Both my children enjoyed his talks very much. If you ever get a chance to listen to him, do so. And if you watch TV, check out his show.

Of course, there was a lecture on the Eucharist! After all, we are what we eat, and more important than all the earthly delicacies is the consecrated Host. He spoke of how God created all good things to eat, fed the Israelites manna in the desert, fed the five thousand (not counting women and children), and finally gave Himself up so that we may live in Him. He remains with us, even until the end of time.

Even so, no one is immune from temptation. We are a fallen people. So here are some practical tips from Fr. Leo.
A: avoid the near occasion of sin
B: bypass it
C: control it
D: destroy it

He invited a volunteer to act like the devil, to take potshots and punches, and Fr. Leo, using karate moves, showed us how to fight temptations and sins.  At the end of the demo, he told the young man, "You just hit a priest!"

He invited another young man to demonstrate the Christian life through the humble PBJ:
P is for patience, to suffer by waiting, esp. for young people (and writers too)
B is for balance, to be firmly rooted in Christ
J is for Christian joy, to share it.

It being the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I'd like to share Fr. Leo's first day of his Mariology class in Rome. A tiny Italian priest came up to the podium and said, "Maria. Virgine. Madre. ... Impossible!" They were to ponder this the rest of the class. It is a great Mystery. But we must never forget that with God all things are possible. "Omnipotentem," said the little priest. Mary "full of grace" brings Jesus to us, and at Calvary, Jesus gives us His mother. She is our mother too. She's not just important, but necessary. And so we pray the rosary. Think of it as Mary sharing her photo album of Jesus with us.

This has been a long post. I'm sorry I'm not funny like Fr. Leo, so thank you for reading.
God bless you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It Only Took a Dozen Years

but I finally have the first complete draft of my historical. I can't believe I even had the audacity to start something so big when I couldn't even write a proper scene. I have Peggy (pictured below) to thank for teaching me all the basics and more. 

Sometimes I wonder what if I'd stuck with it, instead of working on shorts and a ton of nonfiction. Would it already be published by now? I honestly don't know. All I know that the path I took, concentrating on shorts, becoming a working writer, writing this story in fits and starts (not the ideal way to write a novel), somehow made me a better writer. I guess the 10,000 rule applies to everything. I still have a couple thousand to go.

I took a complete break from this book for about five years, while I worked on a contemporary novel (that one took 3 years to write, revise, and polish). When I placed 3rd in the novel category in the SCBWI Carolinas writing contest, I thought, oh, I could finish polishing in a few months. WRONG. The re-visioning/re-shaping itself took a year-and-half. The polishing took a couple of months. Finally it's ready for my beta fish readers. And my hope is that they enjoy the story so much, they lose sleep over it.

This is a huge accomplishment for me, folks. I finally have a chance to have these characters take up residence in other people's heads. Hee hee.