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. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

March for Life Pictures

My kids sent me some pictures from their trip to WA DC to March for Life. It just keeps growing. As our pastor says, "simple truths prevail." I know our laws will change when our hearts change, when we recognize that every life is worth living. This was Max's third year so he knew a lot of people at the March. And I was pleased to hear he ran into Dagny and her friends too.   


I love that the kids sent me pictures of the beautiful churches where they heard Mass. They were packed. Max has spent two summers interning in DC and he said it's not the case on a regular basis. He told us about a very interesting observation from one of the priests at Mass, that before every great miracle, there's been a terrible killing of innocents, especially children to prevent it from happening. Think of Moses, how he was saved, because Pharoah was killing Jewish children. When Jesus was born and the Wise Men came looking, Herod decided to murder the Holy Innocents. Until Our Lady of Tepeyac made an appearance in Mexico, child sacrifice was common. But nowhere in history have we seen the massacre of children until our recent times--1 billion worldwide and counting (that's more than 1/10). And it's been the bloodiest century as well. Is there a great miracle about to happen? What's the devil afraid of? I should ask, Whose presence does he fear? Come, Lord Jesus. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Day of Prayer and Penance

Today, the anniversary of Roe v Wade, is a day of prayer and penance to end abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.   

I am so grateful to all who are fighting the lie that children are a barrier to women, who are braving the cold and the crowds to march for life. 

O Mary, Virgin and Mother, pray for us. 

I loved this verse from today's psalm: Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.   

Monday, January 13, 2020

Retreat...and Write

We've had a wonderful Christmas holiday with our family and friends and I had a birthday celebration. We went to see what I think is one of the best movies in recent history: A Hidden Life. It's about a young Austrian farmer who refuses to make an oath to Hitler and who suffers and is condemned to death. His family suffers as well. It makes me question whether I would have such courage. It is beautifully filmed and really allows one to experience the feelings of this man and his wife as they consider what it means to have free will, what it means to do the right thing, even when it cannot change the course of history. If there's only one movie you watch this year, make it A Hidden Life (reviewed in the link).

So thankful to God for all the blessings, the trials, this writing life. What a delight to receive complimentary copies of Shalom Tidings that featured a little review of Bound as well as my article on the parable of the Sower and cultivating the soil of our hearts. It is what I must continue to do. And as it turns out, the Saint Generator picked St. Patrick--he's a reminder to live my baptismal promises. The inspirational word was Beauty! Ah, time to retreat into my imagination and write more beautiful stories. How is the New Year shaping up for you?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy Holidays

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday. I know it's not always easy being with family members who are difficult or demanding but as our pastor reminds us, even Jesus came amongst us through a family, thus sanctifying ordinary family life. And speaking of family, I read two books, both featuring tightly knit families. I'm so glad I saved Behind These Hands by Linda Vigen Phillips for the holidays. I'd picked it up in Sept. at the Write 2 Ignite Conference and Linda kindly signed it for me. She writes so beautifully, lyrically, and does she know how to weave plot threads tightly together, just like a Bach fugue. The story begins with Claire's pressing concern the upcoming music competition and how it might change her friendship with Juan, another musical prodigy. Then we learn about her younger brothers, Davy and Trent, and what they're battling and what it means for the whole family. The disease is Batten, which I'd never heard of before, but just as Claire learns, so do we. It's a terminal disease; there is no cure but progressive neurological impairment. It's a genetic abnormality of the lysosomes, which are responsible for cleaning up and recycling wastes in cells. Just think, if your cells cannot process waste products, they will be poisoned by them. 

Claire calls it a monster. G. K. Chesterton wrote about dragons being real, but what happens to a person when he cannot defeat the dragon? This book shows how to live courageously with a monster breathing down your neck. I recommend this book highly.

I'm not a poet but I do find free verse too...too breathy at times, the line breaks too random. When we read, we pause naturally. Line breaks force you to slow down. I think a mix of prose and poems would be more powerful because not all aspects of Claire's life demand the same level of introspection and attention. Still, it's a well-crafted story about a family navigating one of the most difficult circumstances in life--the knowledge that your child will die young. 

Burnt Bread and Chutney by Carmit Delman is a fascinating look into how the culture of Jewish Indians (Bene Israel) shaped the author, how she didn't fit in the Indian community nor the Jewish community in America because the first is mostly Hindu and the latter is mostly white. Talk about being a minority within a minority. She includes bits and pieces of her grandmother's diary. It reminded me of my mother's tall notebook where she had copied some sayings and facts from Mother Teresa and other saints. But I also wish she'd written some of her thoughts about the ordinary, every day. Perhaps she did and threw them away, like I do :)


Midnight Mass was lovely. Note the four small red candles below the Altar flowers--these contain the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine, St. Cecelia, and Blessed Seelos. They are not usually displayed, just during High Mass. I wonder now if this has anything to do with relic stealing from the olden days. I didn't know about this until I read The Miracle Thief by Iris Anthony. She's woven a wonderful story of three women during 10th century France--a penitent nun who guards a relic of St. Catherine, a pilgrim who has no one, nothing, only her faith that St. Catherine will pray for her to be cured of her deformity, and a princess who wants to believe St. Catherine will give her a sign, protect her somehow from marriage to a pagan. I love historical fiction like this that's meticulously researched and masterfully written. But I digress...     

ur pastor gave a much-needed catechesis on the Eucharist recognizing that all present aren't believers, that all aren't here voluntarily. What's happening in the Mass? God comes to us! He comes to us in Spirit, in Word, and in His very Self. Christ transforms bread into His Body, the wine into His Precious Blood. Why? Transformation is the key. He comes to be with us, to transform us--hate into love, fear into hope, sinners into saints.

He gave another beautiful reflection for New Year's Day and on the word happy. The Greek root has to do with "pining" and happiness is to be without pining. We try to satisfy all our wants and needs and we live in a world of addiction but even the addict knows he doesn't get pleasure from his ever-increasing needs. So how does one get happy? Pursue goodness. We are made for truth, goodness, and beauty. I love our lowcountry Christmas with seashells and starfish, palmettos and Spanish moss! Happy New Year!