Broccoli Buds on my Bicuspids

(Sharing with you today an oldie-but-goodie rerun!) Making the choice, and the concentrated effort, to eat healthier has many obvious good effects. However, some of you may be wondering, “What are the negative consequences of eating healthier?” I am here … Continue reading

After December Slips Away

Even though retail stores try to convince us that Christmas follows immediately on the heels of Thanksgiving, whence begins a frenzy of stressful shopping…, it doesn’t. Christmas always begins on Christmas Day when we celebrate, in similar fashion, the “humbly spectacular” birth (sounds like an oxymoron, but you know what I mean!) of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. And Christmas doesn’t end the day after Christmas either, when all of the Christmas background music grinds suddenly to a halt in the stores and on the radio. Yesterday (Friday, Jan 1st) was the final day of the Octave of Christmas, and, if you choose to follow a more traditional Church calendar, the 12th day of Christmas will take us to the day before Epiphany, when we recall the wise men from the east bearing their valuable gifts to bestow upon the baby “King.”

This past year has given a lot of us a perfect opportunity to reflect on what is important, and to take a good, hard look at our human frailty and mortality, while turning our hearts back to the one who gave His life out of extreme mercy and love for us.

Below I am sharing with you one of my favorite Christmas tunes. I have an old CD from a group named “First Call,” and they do an excellent job on this song (Donny Osmond is one of the most famous singers to record it. It was Bonnie Keen and Lowell Alexander who wrote the music and lyrics.). I share these words with you, to reflect upon as we await the celebration of the Epiphany, while clinging tenaciously to our singing of Christmas carols, and stubbornly leaving up our Christmas lights (and turning them on at night!). The Light has come, and it will never leave us, but we can allow ourselves to become disastrously distracted, turning us away from the truth of who we are, and why we are created. I challenge you to boldly embrace the Light of joy, purpose, and salvation, take advantage of it, never forget it…even (and especially) in your darkest hours!

The season comes but once a year
A gift of precious wonder
For all who hold it dear
But past the sights and colored lights
Lord, far beyond December
I will remember

After the carols fade away
After the Yule fire dies down
When there are no longer dreams to open and see
Because You are hope and joy and peace
Because You’re the only gift I need
In my heart the season will remain
After December slips away

Years ago beneath a tree
Fell the drops of crimson
That set the faithful free
The gift was life sent in love
Lord, far beyond December
I will remember

After the carols fade away
After the Yule fire dies down
When there are no longer dreams to open and see
Because You are hope and joy and peace
Because You’re the only gift I need
In my heart the season will remain
After December slips away

Book Review – The Work of Our Hands: The Universal Gift of Creativity

Work of Our Hands Paperback Front Cover

Being a part of the Catholic Mom contributor family definitely has its benefits. And if the great articles, the daily scripture reflections, the community support and prayer weren’t enough, there’s the cherished opportunity to preview books, movies, and other forms of Catholic art and media, and share my humble opinion with the world (while supporting fellow writers and artists…who will be there for me when I finally finish my next book! (My two previously published books pictured below, available on Amazon.)

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Recently I reviewed the above-mentioned book, The Work of Our Hands: The Universal Gift of Creativity. This was an easy book for me to admire and appreciate!

I did not grow up in a creative environment. Think of “The Scream,” by expressionist artist Edvard Munch, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the chaos in my young life! No one had the time or energy for encouraging creativity (unless you count my Spirograph). My parents both worked all day, and my elderly grandmother cared for me. By the age of 12, I was caring for her. Fortunately for me, my parents somehow, miraculously chose to have me baptized as an infant, so I received the Holy Spirit, and with it came the inspirations of that same Spirit. “Our very word, ‘inspiration’ comes from the word ‘spirit.’” (pg 61, The Work of Our Hands: The Universal Gift of Creativity).

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As a youngster, my creativity manifested itself in the form of a well-developed sense of humor, and later on I learned that I had a great gift of storytelling in written word. However, I was lazy and undisciplined, so my skill lay unused until I started homeschooling my children (and taught yours truly self-discipline, which is a hard-won acquisition for a grown-up!). What a great blessing this book would have been to me in my teens and twenties.

By way of 31 reflections, Patrice encourages our creativity in all inspired and “life-giving” pursuits, be it parenting, crafting, drawing, painting, gardening, care-giving, baking, etc. It works perfectly as an at-home, “mini retreat.” There are inspirational quotes for every day, beautiful illustrations, and trustworthy encouragement from the author. (One of my favorite quotes that Patrice uses in her book is from St. John Paul II, in his “Letter to Artists,” featured below.)

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If you’re like me (especially now, after almost a year of increased exposure to the interiors of our homes…), and you’re in need of a lovely challenge to get your creative juices flowing, with your mind and hands at work accomplishing something worthwhile and lasting, this is it!

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This would make the perfect gift for newlyweds, graduates, moms, empty-nesters, a friend in need of encouragement, and any coffee-table-book enthusiasts you might know (which ought to cover just about everyone on your gift list!). It’s a book that will inspire again and again!

If Snowflakes Could Talk

I recently found myself wondering what all of these beautiful, one of a kind snowflakes in my front yard would say, if they were little microorganisms with brains, instead of just frozen crystals of water? (Strange, yes, but when you’re cooped up in the house for too long, your thoughts begin to wander in strange directions!) I decided they would say this, “Why all this creativity and amazing design to make each of us wonderfully unique, and then pile us all up together when we fall to earth so that no one can see us?!” Yep, for sure, that’s what they’d say, until they melted away and went silent.

I think that God, with His attention to beauty and design in the lowly snowflake, is “speaking” to us (by way of analogy) regarding the uniqueness of each individual, and each one-of-a-kind snowflake. For thousands of years, mankind likely noticed little about snowflakes, except that they were really cold, and the more you saw, the harder it was to travel and to stay warm. But, on occasion, a single snowflake would fall on the shoulder of a dark colored horse, or on someone’s moccasins, or on a tree branch, and someone (i.e., someone who pays attention to the world around them, someone who is always open to wonder and beauty) would notice the beautiful shape and design of snowflakes.

It probably wasn’t until 1885 when snowflakes found just the right guy to share their well-hidden secret with the world – an American farmer by the name of Wilson Bentley. Here was one of those rare humans (rare, at least, in our “modern times”) who was paying attention to the little things in life, the gifts that nature shares with the observant and patient ones. After attaching a camera to his boyhood microscope, it took Bentley two years of experimenting with just the right conditions for getting a clear image of snowflakes on a microscope slide (learning to hold his breath for a long time while he worked with the snowflakes was one of those “conditions!). He also had to perfect the lighting, exposure, and depth of field setting, in order to capture his images.

Bentley saw in these individual beauties the story of a God who creates purely from His extreme love, Who provides unique properties to the animate and inanimate as a herald of Who He is, and a sign that all of creation is tenderly made by the touch of His hand. All of the natural world, from the biggest star to the tiniest organism, fulfills its purpose in God’s intricate design. Apparently, Bentley was encouraged by his faith as he pursued his goal of catching these fragile, frozen formations on film.

Wilson was divinely inspired to share his secret with the world. He said, “snowflakes are miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design; and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind. I became possessed with a great desire to show people something of this wonderful loveliness, an ambition to become, in some measure, its preserver.” Bentley also had an ambition to share how God speaks great and deep convictions to our souls through the intricacies of His creation. Many of the thousands of snowflake images he captured were originally sold for 5¢ each.

In 1904, The Christian Herald ran an article called, The Wonders and beauties of snow, for which Wilson Bentley penned the following words, “The snow crystals … come to us not only to reveal the wondrous beauty of the minute in nature but to teach us that all earthly beauty is transient and must soon fade away. But though the beauty of the snow is evanescent, like the beauties of the autumn, as of the evening sky, it fades but to come again.”

Mr. Bentley got it right, that’s for sure. That’s why you’ll find me giddy with excitement when snow is forecasted. This year, I even had to put my Christmas lights up earlier than I usually do, because we had a forecast for our first, significant snowfall. Even though I prefer to keep the liturgical seasons in their proper place (and we are now in the season of Advent; Christmas doesn’t “officially” begin until Christmas Eve!). Even though I was tired the day after Thanksgiving, my “child’s heart” managed to inspire me sufficiently to get my slow self moving and set up my modest outdoor light display. When I was a kid, I always begged my dad to put up Christmas lights outside, but he never would. I had to make do with the lights I installed myself on the inside of our windows (using lots of tape!), and a few fake candelabras added to the windowsills. The first year that my husband and I moved into our house, I started an outdoor Christmas display. The hubsters has no interest whatsoever in decorating, either, so I keep it pretty simple. One year I did get carried away and tried to string lights across the gutter in the front. I used those trendy “chaser lights” (remember those?). It was a cusser of a job, and the lights quit working less than a week later. I’m over 60 now, so these days I toss light “nets” on our sorely outdated landscaping shrubbery, and wrap string lights in a few other locations, polished off by two lighted, spiral trees.

Yesterday we woke to 2 ½ inches of snow coating my lights and transforming my yard into (what I see as) a child’s winter wonderland. I just decided to add another item, a wreath that I ordered as a splurge, but it needs more lights. I’ll finish that up today, get that installed, and start praying for more snow in southern Ohio. In the meantime, I wish you a happy, holy, and healthy Advent. May this time of reflection leading to Christmas draw you closer to the The Light that brings joy, redemption, and meaning to our own, unique lives

If Chickens Could Fly….

…I would have borrowed one of my daughter’s baby carriers, sprinkled a little grain inside, and brought Speckles the hen home with me on my homebound flight, passing her off as my emotional support animal. (I do tend to get … Continue reading

A Tooty, Teepee Day

I hear the wheels spinning in your heads. “What the heck is this story gonna be about?” you’re wondering. Well, I am not taking a train ride to an historical Indian village, nor am I in a tent in the … Continue reading

Covid Lockdown “Side Effects”

We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation, with unexpected consequences. While we all do our best to avoid getting Covid-19, our general health (mental and physical) is deteriorating. 

Some of us are gaining weight like mad. In order to pass the time and find enjoyment in this time of reduced activity, we all decided to start baking like mad (hence, the temporary yeast shortage in the stores). This was partly because restaurants were shut down (and even now continue to be somewhat inconvenient). Home food preparation is back in vogue once again. Many bakers even dusted off the old bread machines, and put them to work after a LONG furlough. Overall, this is a good trend, but I propose that we got a little carried away with the making of desserts.  Our family has always been an eat-at-home gang. It saves money, fosters good family relationships, and (generally speaking) it’s healthier to prepare your own meals from scratch. However, I was bored, so I started making my own, gluten-free soft pretzels. Then I made a cheesecake, which I hadn’t attempted in years, and a few batches of brownies. Luckily for me, dishwashing is my least favorite activity, so I soon gave up on the baking (but made sure to keep a good back stock of my favorite dark chocolate on hand!). However, based on photos I’ve seen on social media, many folks kept going with the rich desserts – pies of all sorts, cookies of every variety, and cakes that would make Betty Crocker look lackadaisical. 

Then, as the lockdown continued, and a state of ennui settled on our souls, people fought the continued struggle with backyard family picnics, movie nights, and theme parties, all centered on yummy, home-cooked foods. Mixed in here and there was an occasional walk in the neighborhood or hike in the park, but soon it became too swelteringly hot for those kinds of recreation. And, since work-out facilities are all, by and large, still in full lockdown mode, our exercise sessions became fewer and further between. I’ve heard through the news media grapevine that indoor exercise equipment and outdoor recreation equipment are much more expensive now, and often hard to find. I read a news story in early August about how more and more people are looking to purchase bikes, camping gear, hiking gear, fishing equipment, and kayaks. That same month there was another story about a ridiculous surge in the purchase of home fitness equipment. Dumbbells and other hand weights are out of stock, as well as cardio training supplies, treadmills and exercise bikes! This is a good sign, and hopefully a reversal of the weight gain trend.

We were lucky in our part of the country. By the time we were in full-blown lockdown, we were enjoying one of the mildest springs we’ve experienced in years. Long walks in the neighborhood (chatting with neighbors as they worked on their lawns) kept me sane and healthy. When the heat and humidity settled in, I had my little treadmill in the basement to turn to (that I bought used for $50 about 2 years ago) which gave me an exercise back-up plan. For someone who is prone to anxiety, it turns out that I’ve had a really good year, with the only stress coming from my youngest daughter’s wedding & reception (which turned out to be lovely, and lots of fun, with no Covid-19 spread whatsoever from our gathering!).

So if you haven’t already started, it’s time, NOW, to get serious about exercising for overall health improvement. Not only will you feel better, but your body may be better equipped to fight off the serious side-effects of the Covid virus.

An article on everydayhealth.com has this to say:

“Research shows that an antioxidant enzyme we produce when exercising (the antioxidant extracellular superoxide dismutase, aka “EcSOD”) may stave off or lessen the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is one of the complications that people with COVID-19 can develop, and it is associated with a higher death rate from the disease.” And we all know that endorphins are also released during exercise, which aids in good mental heath. Exercise is a win-win pastime!

With the end of Daylight Savings Time on our doorstep, and the cooler temperatures of fall creeping in through the door frames, don’t delay any longer! Dust off those bikes, research local parks, wipe the cobwebs off the jump ropes, work on those dance moves, or go outside. Find what your heart desires in energetic pursuits, cut back on the desserts, and ease your way back to active, healthy living (and, if needed, check out local thrift stores for indoor exercise equipment). Staying busy and healthy makes life grand, even during a pandemic!

It’s Not Funny

I like to do funny stuff on my blog, but it’s hard to laugh right now. I mean, I certainly am capable of laughing, especially with all of those comedy videos that Facebook has been alerting me to. They’ve all been good, “clean” comics so far, the ones Facebook “chooses” for me (not that I watch all of them – I’ve only watched three, but I was LOL’ing through those selections, without being offended by raunchy humor and foul language. That’s the hallmark of a true comedian – someone who can make you laugh with regular, everyday, unoffensive stuff (most often by laughing at yourself, which is a wonderful gift to acquire – being able to laugh at oneself!). And, just so ya know, I’m not including flatulence in with offensive stuff, either. As one of the comics I watched actually said, “Farts are funny! If you don’t think they’re funny, we can’t be friends!” So I’m not a prude, just an enthusiastic fan of “family comedy!”

 

At any rate, there are so many things to worry about right now, like the Covid virus still running amuck, and the organized rioting & destruction in cities around the world, and forest fires, and a heated political campaign playing out all around us. On top of all of that, it’s the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country. I just can’t come up with a comedy piece right now.

 

What bothers me the most is that people have gotten themselves so riled up with anger, it’s hard to interact in a joyful and friendly way these days. The other day, I was at the grocery store, employing my usual, “everyone is my friend, greet everyone wth a smile and kind words” style, and some guy walks towards me with a t-shirt that says, “F…” That, “F…” You. Of course the “F” word was completely spelled out. I was speechless. Really, buddy, this is what you think of the world at large, so much so that you have to walk around in a grocery store confronting EVERYONE you meet with that hate-filled message?! I was afraid to say anything to him. It looked like a lose-lose situation for me, and I wasn’t in the mood to get punched in the face (even if it would make me an internet sensation!).

 

Is that really the avenue for ushering in peace and justice to the world, by using in-your-face hateful words and unkind, destructive measures? I don’t believe that this is the way to go, and no one can make me believe it. And I’ve got news for all these angry people. If you accost me, start yelling and screaming at me to raise my fist or fall to my knees, here’s exactly what I will do. I will look you in the eye and tell you that I love you, because I do. You may be broken and confused and going about this the wrong way, but you have been hurt, and I acknowledge that. I can still love you – the very core of you that is unique and beautiful and gifted in your own particular way. I would say those words to you, sincerely believing every word of it.

 

You have promise, you have potential, and you (whether you know it or not) have love to share with those around you. You were formed in your mother’s womb, known well by God long before you were born, but you have misplaced the truth and the virtues that God imprinted on your heart; you have given up your true dignity for a ravenous and brutal venting of your anger that will not bring about a change of hearts from those you are trying to influence. What we must ALL do, to affect real and lasting change, is take a step back and practice empathy, imagine what it’s like to walk in one another’s shoes, and speak openly and peacefully with one another about this. Fruitful transformation always comes about from a groundswell of the “common folk,” not from politicians and legislators. Their efforts have only served to separate us, their “social service” walls built higher and higher through the years, tearing down bridges, keeping true dialogue from taking place. If you want peace, you must practice peace. If you spread hostility, then hostility will come back to you a hundredfold. Let us walk together and work together, in peace, and solve this in the only possible way – we must lay down our lives for one another, and love each other as Christ loves us, and only then will the path ahead of us become brightened with the light of unity, and we can follow it safely and harmoniously to a place of understanding and cooperation, where, in unity, we will all find the lost beauty of our souls, and live according to that beauty! 

 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful

And enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created

And You shall renew the face of the earth! Amen

Watching My Toenails Grow

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This Covid hostage situation is getting bleak. For busy distraction last week, I swept the entire dust bunny colony out from underneath of our bed (poor things…it was like a natural disaster out-of-the-blue for them, after YEARS of peaceful & easy living). Next, I shuffled around the millions of frames/pictures on our living room wall (thanks to my photographer husband), trying to cover up old nail holes. Then I went out to the garden and named all of my noticeable squash on the vine. Their names are Buster (the big guy), Wallenda (after the famous tightrope troupe), Tom Thumb (the baby), and Pickle (rather resembling a big one). When my creativity ran out, I played 128 card games against my iPad, and assembled 14 virtual puzzles of inspiring artwork (from a puzzle pack that cost me $5!).

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I’ve also been spending quite a bit of time bird-watching with the cats… yeah, you heard that right, with the cats. This summer I decided to put one of my hummingbird feeders right outside of our living room window. Business was slow for a while, at that location, but it has picked up considerably in the past few weeks. It seems like my “Rubios” like it better that the “Rubies” (my nicknames for the birds!). Just this week, I’ve had an opportunity to get a few good photos of my little friends, and even a couple of videos. The cats, in the meantime, spend a lot of time lounging on the couch, very near the outdoor feeder. When the hummingbirds come right up to the window to “say hi,” (which they do quite often), my cats are frozen statues. I imagine them having this discussion, “What the heck are those things?! They kinda look like tiny birds, but they never stop moving. Maybe they’re big bugs…?” Eliot, the skittish one, often looks like he’s ready to head for cover. These beautiful little flyers (along with the bizarre interaction between the cats and birds) have added so much joy to my life this summer, with Ruby’s constant overprotection of the feeders. I thrive on watching their high speed, daredevil maneuvers as they chase each other around, while squeezing in spurts of ample sampling of my homemade nectar!

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Today, to celebrate “hump day,” I decided to do something really wild….I defrosted the downstairs freezer! Wow, that was crazy. There’s nothing like frozen peas gone awry and freezer-burned salmon fillets to add a little excitement to your life. That didn’t take as long as I thought it would, so now I’m back to scheming my next project. I uncovered a new fashion trend online, and thought maybe that could be my next accomplishment…, ridiculously long toenails. Apparently, this is actually “a thing” these days. I mean, I saw pictures on Pinterest. If it’s on Pinterest, it’s got to be trendy! I considered that prospect for about 90 seconds, realizing that, if I were to grow my toenails long, I’ve have to get bigger shoes. Heck…, I would probably have to stop walking. I have always been a short nails kinda girl, with both my hands and my feet, because I’m always outside playing in the dirt. So, no….there’s another potential pastime proscribed from my list….SIGH…

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In order to get through each day, and not waste it all on pointless pursuits, I’ve decided to go back to my old style of getting things done – employing pen and paper! I’m going to start making a list every day, writing chores, baking activities, and creative projects down, and crossing items off when I complete them. I’ve gotten so carried away with this idea, I’m packing in way too many things for one day, often bumping items forward to the following day. Suddenly, I’m feeling invigorated, challenged, eager, and a little bit less of a loser. I will get through this captive covid phase, using my time and my creative talents to their full potential. And, when all else fails, I’ll just trim my toenails.

 

I Got The “Covid-rona” Blues! 

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Trying my hand at a blues “song,’ which is challenging for a happy lady, but I had fun with it. (That’s not a good sign, is it…? Well, bear with me, anyway!) If you want to try and “sing along,” check out this old youtube video for inspiration in style and mood, get yourself in a bluesy groove to belt this out with me!

https://youtu.be/N-KluFB9A8M

(But, honestly my go-to bluesy tune progression usually defaults to a jingle from an old, Enjoli perfume commercial  – “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in pan….)IMG_2600 IMG_2601.JPG

I’ll let these images of BB King, one of the great, pioneering Blues artists, set the mood for us.

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I can hear it, I’m feeling’ it…here we go! Ba, doo, doo, doo, doo (tap, tap)…,

Ba, doo, doo, doo, doo… (tap, tap)…,

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I am sick of the “Rona,” I am tired of masks, I just need a trip seaside, for a swim & a bask, ‘cause I am healthy…..but I got the covid 19 blues!

This is not really living, being stuck in the house, hangin’ out daily, with only my spouse, and I am bored stiff….I got the covid-rona blues!

 

 It’s covid, and it is “in our face” each day. It’s covid, and it looks like it is here to stay! Uh-huh!

 

Every day we hear numbers, what the heck do they mean? It’s a misguided ploy to keep us from being seen…and it’s overdone “reporting,” givin’ me the covid blues!

Now I only scan headlines, nothin’ but bad news, ‘cause people are antsy, everything lightin’ their fuse! Covid and unrest are giving me the blues.

 

 Ring around the Rosy, but don’t hold no one’s hand; we’re being pushed apart, by those with the covid commands. Uh-Huh!

 

I try to stay upbeat, share encouraging smiles, but then I remember, all they see is a mask. I could be a “bad guy,” Covid spreads fear and wariness!

I’m buying a clear mask, so I’ll look like a geek, but at least then folks will see my smiling teeth! Getting creative, to beat these pesky covid blues!

 

Covid’s a virus, but we’re making it much more. Common sense interaction, is what we all are longing for…that’s right!

 

I like to take long walks, and I don’t wear a mask. I say hi to the neighbors, they all smile and wave back, ‘cause we are lonely. We’re not made to live like this!

I stand on the sidewalk, while they stay in their yard, and we chat about weather, and gardens and cars, ‘cause we are sick of… talking about covid 19!

 

‘Cause of covid, they say we’ll all die. So, without covid, we’ll live to a hundred and ninety five?! ……… We’re all gonna go someday! 

 

We would all be more peaceful, if we just faced the facts, we will all die from something, so don’t overreact!

Take good care if you’re high risk, but be kind to all others. Love WILL heal all things, bind our hearts like we’re brothers!

 

Let’s stand together, we can’t fight on our own. We’re all made for friendship, not calling names and throwing stones! Let’s offer mercy! Oh yeah!

(instrumental interlude, leading into closing line…..)

 

Let’s shake these down-in-the-mouth, stuck in the house, gotta get out, wanna fly south,

social life drought, just want to shout….Covid 19 BLUUEEESSS………..!