Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Rare Winter for Charleston

Someone at school predicted snow and ice in Jan/Feb but I didn't believe the rumors. However, a couple of weeks ago we brought in our little orange trees because of the freeze and schools had a late start. But this week, schools and bridges are closed due to icy conditions. It is the correct response to such a rare event. When God sends an ice/snow day in the South, it's time to hunker down at home with soup, biscuits and gravy. As you can see, we only got a sprinkling of snow, but mostly they are ice pellets. We all took a walk and Max took some pictures to share. Enjoy!

Note the leafy imprint on the ice. So lovely to capture something ethereal.

The proper way to receive a snowflake and the Sacred Host!
These two could be twinnies :)

This weather has been a God-send. We've been so busy with extracurricular activities, that to have this unexpected break in the routine has been a great gift. We are enjoying these lazy days at home, cooking, drawing, making music, and a bit of writing thrown in as well. I hope you are warm where you are.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Confusion and Controversy in Catholic Schools

You can purchase this card here
St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor of the Church is the patron saint of Catholic education, teachers and seekers of wisdom and knowledge. We are celebrating Catholic Schools Week in many dioceses across the nation and we are very blessed to have our children in schools that adhere to the Catholic faith and incorporate it in all their subjects. But this is not the case everywhere. In the name of tolerance and kindness, many Catholics do not offer fraternal correction and worse, stray from the teachings of the Bible and the Church.

I mourn the loss of the consecrated religious who taught in our schools. I was Convent-educated in India and those nuns instilled a very strong moral center. Although I left my faith, a spark of Truth remained. We are asked to live by our conscience but it needs to be formed by the Holy Spirit! Not popular culture, where morality goes in and out of fashion. Remember that the path to hell is paved with good intentions (I paraphrase St. Bernard de Clairvaux).
In the past weeks I have learned of several disturbing events at Eastside Catholic, the school Max attended for a year in sixth grade, before we moved to SC. Here's the background. Briefly, some of the faculty are choosing to get "married" to their same sex partner now that WA has redefined marriage. These teachers cannot serve in Catholic schools. Not only is it a contractual breach, but even without a contract, a Catholic school needs to make sure they are not teaching anything that goes against Church doctrine. Our lives and the way we conduct ourselves speak louder than any words we might say in the classroom. Alas, parents and kids are protesting the resignation of these teachers. They are all confused.
I used to be just as confused. My motto was live and let live. But in my lifetime, things have gone from bad to worse to insane. The Church has opened my eyes. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman. It is an institution that promotes life, fidelity, and the raising of children. Anything that deviates from this model (and in history it has) results in the failure of the culture to thrive. Two women who love each other should be like sisters. They should not sexualize it. Same with two men. Marital love can only exist between a man and a woman, the fruit of which are children. This is what the church teaches.
But we do not need the church to know that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. No children can come from that union. The body isn't designed for it. I still remember when a friend explained what it meant to be a homosexual. I was in high school and the mere thought of somebody sticking anything in the place where feces comes out made me ill. Homosexual acts are unnatural. When I worked in a hospital, I learned about torn rectums and more. I am sorry to be so graphic, but we need to develop a sense of horror for the things that are horrible.
So imagine my surprise when I was looking at the list of the ALA winners. As I was scrolling down, I saw an award for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender literature! Good grief! Why? These books can be nominated in all the regular categories. Why promote abnormal behavior or try to normalize it?
I keep wondering why is it that such a tiny minority (statistically speaking, homosexuality is rare otherwise the species would not perpetuate) can have such a huge voice and presence in the media, and it hit me. Once premarital sex, multiple sexual partners, and divorce became *normal* so did other sexual behaviors. There are no limits now to whom or what we'll use for the sake of pleasure. It won't be long before polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality is just another flavor of sexuality. We have already done the most horrible thing by sacrificing our children to the altar of pleasure, there is really nothing else left.
But we cannot be complacent, live and let live, or give up hope. We must fight the forces of evil that are destroying our families and our culture and society. Last September, our family joined the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, under the patronage of our Lady and St. Thomas Aquinas. Consider joining the fight. 
Battle of Evermore Angels

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Patron Saint of Writers

Painting taken from the Salesian Center
Today is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers. He spent his short life writing books and numerous pamphlets emphasizing that we are all called to holiness, to become saints. Below are some of his favorite quotes that help me to write:

Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

Have patience to walk with short steps until you have wings to fly.

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them -- every day begin the task anew.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.
St. Francis, pray for us.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

National Day of Prayer and Penance

The number one killer in America and the world is not heart disease as the CDC or WHO would have you believe. That spot goes to abortion both in America and in the world. Strange that we do not include the intentional death of a baby in the womb in our statistics. This is how the truth is distorted. Through language. We use words to desensitize. Throughout history, women in dire straits have committed infanticide or sought abortion, but the women knew they were snuffing out the life of a child. It was rare. A horror. As a writer I was curious how an entire generation of women could be convinced to kill their babies. In that search, I stumbled across William Brennan's book Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death. It's a hard book to read. Many of our social policies were created to sanction killing the most vulnerable in our society. And we bought it. Early feminists knew that abortion would hurt women. They fought against it. But we craved freedom. Free sex. No commitments. And the babies pay the price, over 3,000 each day, just in the US. Today, many charitable foundations provide contraception, sterilization and abortion in the name of "healthcare" especially to the poor of the world. The devil must be laughing in glee at how easily we are seduced into thinking that the killing of unborn babies is a progressive choice, even a right!
But even before ultrasonography, we knew what a miraculous thing life is, and those of us who've had the pleasure of studying embryology were blessed to see how perfectly orchestrated we are -- check out the beautiful video below. Abortion kills this beautifully developing baby, a baby like no other.

In 2002, the Catholic Church established January 22nd as a day of prayer and penance. Sometimes it is overwhelming to think how one can fight this horror, given how accepted it is in popular culture. We begin at home, well aware of the part we have played in promoting the culture of death, and are trying to teach our children the dignity of all human beings, born and unborn, healthy and ill, rich and poor, from conception to natural death. We like to help young people preparing for marriage since it is the restoration of the family that will save the child. And we like to speak and write about these things. But above all, prayer is our most powerful weapon. Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae (no. 100):

In this great endeavour to create a new culture of life we are inspired and sustained by the confidence that comes from knowing that the Gospel of life, like the Kingdom of God itself, is growing and producing abundant fruit (cf. Mk 4:26-29). There is certainly an enormous disparity between the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the "culture of death" and the means at the disposal of those working for a "culture of life and love". But we know that we can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is impossible (cf. Mt 19:26).

Filled with this certainty, and moved by profound concern for the destiny of every man and woman, I repeat what I said to those families who carry out their challenging mission amid so many difficulties: 135 a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love.

He directs his comments to women who have had an abortion (#99):

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
Please join me in prayer and penance to end abortion.

Thank you and God bless. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Low-country Gems

Over Christmas holidays we received a private tour of Beaufort's historic St. Peter's Church. We'd driven past it two years ago, on our way to another island for a camping trip, and the windows had been boarded up. I was curious about this church and by a stroke of luck (but I no longer believe in coincidences, just God-cidences) Michael and Max met a woman at the Marian Eucharistic Conference who knows the history of this church. She invited us to have a look and we had a lovely afternoon learning about the men and women who made this possible. What a beautiful, intimate space for worship! How many of us have that drive to build a church? 
An extended altar

The figures are raised and have depth to them
Keys of St. Peter match those on the stained glass!

In the confessional/sacristy
The Confederate flag still flies on the grave of the soldier who fought in the civil war.

Reminds me of my kitty

If you're ever visiting in Beaufort, go visit this gem! The graveyard is serene and beautiful too. Pick up a book by Pat Conroy, another gem of Beaufort, and bring some of the low-country home with you. I'm reading his memoir: The Water is Wide. If you want to be a teacher, this is a must-read.

All photos by Max Bodach

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Highlights Fiction Contest and Foundation Workshops

Are any of you working on the Highlights Fiction Contest? The theme is holiday stories. Deadline is at the end of Jan. Note the prize: $1,000 or tuition to one of their workshops! I can't say enough good things about the folks at Highlights -- great vision, dedicated people, beautiful location. I've been very blessed to have the opportunity to nurture my writer-self once in Chautauqua and once at Boyds Mills. Intrigued? Good! Sharpen those pencils, flex those wrists and get writing! Here's a message from Kent Brown:

Make 2014 a turning point in your creative life. Join us as we celebrate thirty years of serving writers and illustrators and choose from programs have never been livelier. Whatever your genre, whatever stage in your career, we have a wide variety of workshops designed to help you meet your creative goals.

This year, our stellar faculty includes Chris Crutcher, Jerry and Eileen Spinelli, Linda Sue Park, Patricia Lee Gauch, Pat Cummings, Joy Cowley, Donna Jo Napoli, Paul Zelinsky, and many others.

Our workshops and retreats take place in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. We conduct them in our rustic-looking conference center known as The Barn. You'll not only listen to famous authors and illustrators, you'll have the opportunity to meet, mingle, and sit down to farm-style meals with them. Plus, you'll stay in a cozy cabin, surrounded by a 1,300-acre forest. It's the perfect place to write or let your imagination take flight.

Visit our Website to find a workshop or retreat that suits your needs.

For more information about this workshop, contact Jo Lloyd at 570-253-1192, e-mail, or visit to request an application.

Please feel free to share this e-mail with others who might have an interest or to include the information in blog posts or through other social networking forums.

The Highlights Foundation is a public, not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization. We dedicate our efforts to connecting, nurturing, and inspiring children's book writers and illustrators.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Writing During a Chronic Illness

Most of you know that I suffer from debilitating migraines. I've had a good, long stretch of headache-free days (Thank You Jesus!) and productivity has been high. I've been revising a bunch of short stories, writing new ones, playing the piano, cooking, cleaning, and living what I consider a *normal* life. But how quickly that can change. Harry can arrive at any moment and stay for days. Why yes, I've named him, just as I did my monthly visitor. That one is George. Harry and George often come together, but Harry shows up whenever he pleases. No walls keep me safe from him. So I end up doing only the essentials, and one of those is writing.

If I am on deadline, I focus on getting *something* done on the project. Since my creativity is low with Harry, I'll focus on things like revisions and photo-research. Or if I'm at an early stage of the writing, I'll study the subject, making notes of interesting tidbits I don't want to forget. Even though it is slow going, I am usually able to get the work done. An interesting thing I discovered is that the quality of my writing is not correlated to Harry's visits. I write equally beautiful or horrendous prose on any given day. So I do not pass judgment until sufficient time has passed.

If I'm not on deadline, I'll work on a favorite project, write in my journal, do a blog post, visit the Blueboards, write to friends (often begging them for prayers), or read. All these things help me to keep writing and connected.

It is so common for us to offer advice along the lines of "take it easy" or "rest and recover" and surely that is the right thing to do many times. You've just had a baby, or you are acutely ill or taking care of someone who is sick. That's life. 

But what to do when you live with a chronic illness? You can write. Have faith that all the little bits will add up eventually. It's very important to know what you can reasonably do given your condition. There are days when I think I cannot do anything. But I try not to give in to that despair. Sometimes, after a good cry, I can muster enough courage to write something. And amazingly, I am happier for doing so, even if all I managed was to complain to God on the page. 

Write this upon your heart: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Anansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales

My children and I had the good fortune of reading Anansi andCompany by Bish Denham while still in manuscript form. Anansi, the spider, is an endearing fellow, full of mischief. This is one of the reasons why children (and some adults like me) identify with him so readily. What I especially enjoyed is some of the history behind these stories, the variety (why things are, chain stories, trickery), and the riddles. The complete package is as delightful as it can be, perfect for a read-aloud.

I recently received an ARC from Bish and was surprised at the reaction of the children. When they were young, they were completely captivated by these stories, but now, older and wiser by a few years, they wanted more of the Jamaican flavor. I found myself wanting more as well, a less sanitized version. When I think back of many of the folktales my grandmother told me, they were incredibly violent. I wonder if we are raising a generation of children who cannot take any kind of grief. We want to shield them from any unpleasantness or suffering. I wonder what those consequences will be.

Bish has graciously agreed to answer some questions next month, so you can post them here. The journey, the process, retelling folktales, if she has a pet spider.
I am so proud of Bish for getting this book out into the world. I think it is a perfect introduction to Anansi for young children (ages 4-8). Well done Bish!

Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Year, A New Friend

Happy New Year!!! Today is the first day back at school for the kids and I'm surprised that nobody groused about getting up early. I suppose it's because they are churched out. It's been such a gift to have this time at home together.

On New Year's Day, I found a new friend, or rather he found me. I was flipping through the latest Magnificat and the first thing that made me stop was: St. Alphonsus de Ligouri. His Stations of the Cross are my favorite, but I had no idea that he suffered so much. How silly of me ... all the saints were purified through some sort of suffering. Anyway, I turned a few more pages and discovered that this entire month is devoted to saints who suffered from chronic illnesses. How perfectly fitting for me to learn to suffer with the saints. I keep rather good company, don't you think? In any case, St. Alphonsus is going to walk with me all year with his 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation. Each month, I will work on increasing one virtue. Jan is Faith. By the end of the year I should be ready to read Uniformity with God's Will.

You can read some remarkable things about his writings and sufferings here. An excerpt: St. Alphonsus wrote his first book at the age of forty-nine, and in his eighty-third year had published about sixty volumes, when his director forbade him to write more. Very many of these books were written in the half-hours snatched from his labors as missionary, religious superior, and Bishop, or in the midst of continual bodily and mental sufferings. With his left hand he would hold a piece of marble against his aching head while his right hand wrote. This made me smile. I often write with an ice pack on my head. So I will be asking him to pray for my writing, mothering, and suffering.

On this Epiphany, I leave you with a Star and the Wise Men at the Crib. May we have the gifts of the magi: eyes to seek Him, feet to follow Him, and hearts to worship Him.

An afterthought: My daughter made the star and thought she was going to annoy me by making it seven-pointed, but I love it. I only get upset when people make snowflakes with fourfold or eightfold symmetry. People -- please, please make your snowflakes with SIX-fold symmetry. Sorry to shout. But it's a pet peeve of mine.