Missing Emergence

I remember well our city’s last two exposures to the Brood X cicadas. It’s one of my favorite “old person” stories to tell. “Gather round kiddies. Mimi’s got a story to tell you, that began way back in NINETEEN-EIGHTY-SEVEN (i.e., … Continue reading

God Gave Me Homework!

You might be wondering where I’ve been lately. During Lent I was busy with a stack of faith-based reading, and from that reading, a book idea was born. At first, I thought it might be just an article idea, but the more I read and the more people I turned to for opinions, the clearer the audience and essence of my brainstorm took shape. Now, I am VERY excited about the potential of this work I’m doing! I feel the Holy Spirit has truly encouraged me to write this book.

I always thought that my first “real” book (recall those two children’s books that I self-published, but then failed to self-promote…) would be a comedy. I do love to make people laugh! But these days, I feel like people don’t laugh as easily, and what most of them crave (even if they don’t know it) is baby food for their souls. (And besides, comedy is not what it used to be. I search for places to sell my comedy pieces, and publications are looking for really raunchy and shocking pieces that make me want to puke! All in the name of so-called comedy.) What I’m undertaking with my new book idea is preparation of a homemade batch of spiritual baby food, in an attempt to draw people back to the source of all life, truth, goodness, and lasting joy.

Being a child of the 60’s (i.e., old, and not as tech savvy as I should be), I don’t go right to my computer when I start a big writing project. I prefer the comfort of my lounge chair to a desk chair, and piles of books filled with tab page markers. From that set-up, I begin to fill a composition notebook (in an organized format) as the “story” reveals itself to me. Once I have all of my research done, I’ll be sitting at the computer for hours, writing and re-writing, organizing and editing (many times!), and composing a logical, sensible, and (hopefully) inspired piece of writing.

So THAT is why blog posts have been put on the back burner. I’ll try to provide monthly updates on my progress, and in between times, I humbly ask that you keep me in your prayers, as I struggle to do God’s work with my talent of writing. I thank you in advance for those prayers!

A Sale on Brawls at Victoria’s Secret (a short story)

I have a friend who tells THE BEST stories. In addition to that, she always has the most unusual encounters and experiences. Put those ingredients together, and she’ll have you on the edge of your seat and/or laughing so hard you’ll cry. Sometimes I ask her, like a kid who loves a book so much that they never grow tired of it, to retell old favorites again. She told this particular story as several friends were gathered around someone’s dining room table (with an, older, mother-in-law in attendance).

She had gone to a local shopping mall one day with her kids (and this was an upscale, ritzy mall, in the wealthy part of town!). They were in the food court, when her older children pointed out to her a sinister “buzz” building in the atmosphere. She decided they better clear out….QUICKLY! This was before riots and radical vandalism had become routine and rampant, but still, she already had good instincts!

She and her kids planned to head to an exit, but the crowd began to trail after them, rapidly gaining speed and fever pitch, and her two older children got separated from them. She scurried along with her younger daughter, trying not to alarm the little one too much and hoping for the best. At some point, she looked back and realized that the crowd had all funneled into a Victoria’s Secret store, and there was a now a hullabaloo taking place in there. She made it to her car, and waited nervously for ten or fifteen minutes for her other kids to show up (which they did). In the meantime, cop cars were streaming into the parking lot.

She sat for a while. Allowing her trembling hands and beating heart to calm so that she could drive safely, and they headed back to their rowdy, west-side neighborhood (where such events are expected!).

We all sat there at the table, amazed by this story (and wondering why she’d never told us this before), and then I said, “Wait a minute…., there was a brawl…at VICTORIA’S SECRET? Was there an announcement on the mall’s PA system just prior to that, announcing ‘Attention shoppers, there’s a sale on “brawls” taking place right now at Victoria’s Secret?!’” Everyone laughed and laughed, and then I remembered we had an older woman at the table, and I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry, are you okay.” And she got a big smile on her face and said impishly, “I’ve never been better!” (I’ve simply adored that woman ever since that moment!)

My theory is, this is EXACTLY what we all need right now, good story tellers equipped with a sharp-witted comedian standing by (along with the ability to laugh at ourselves and smile at others, whenever possible). The world would be a much better place, if we all surrounded ourselves with such friends!

Let’s Get Real About Our “Catastrophe” Prep

Last night I checked the weather forecast. Yikes, it’s not looking pretty. I made up a quick grocery list so that I could head to the store early this morning and have all I needed for a full week of meal prep and snow survival. Heaven forbid that I should have to survive (possibly more than seven days….GASP) without wine and chocolate, yogurt and eggs, butter and strawberry jam!

That brought to mind all of those books I read a few years ago, by Bess S. Aldrich. She was a fairly prolific author, writing mostly about the early pioneers who settled the plains states. Man, did they suffer through some rough winters! I highly recommend Aldrich’s books. In particular, A Lantern in Her Hand is an excellent story of the settlers resilience and determination.

Back then, folks started preparing for the winter in the spring, by way of crops planted (mainly corn). The women had their “kitchen gardens,” and wild berries and nuts were gathered as they ripened. Some produce was stored (using very precise, tested methods) in the fruit cellar. Other produce was made into preserves, or canned using fermentation techniques. Dried goods (such as grains) were tied up in sacks and suspended from the rafters. Some grains were stored whole, while others were ground into flours. Beans were dried and stored likewise to protect them from rodent “squatters” in the house! In the fall, after the fruits of their labors and wild gatherings were properly packed away, the butchering began. Slaughtered beef and pork was dried into jerky, sometimes smoked or salted, all to help protect it from rotting. If necessary, the men of the family went hunting to increase their stores. All of this was done with very little waste of their resources, and with the whole family chipping in on the work, from the oldest grandparents down to the youngest, teachable children. Just when the first snowflakes began to threaten, they hunkered down and worked their way through the hardships of a harsh winter with their never-give-up (and never complaining about “cornbread and beans for supper again”) attitudes.

And, speaking of snow, after I checked our snowy forecast, I researched a couple of the historical “biggies,” just to put my week in context…. Back in 1888, a blizzard hit the Great Plains with somewhat of a surprise, even though it had actually been forecasted. On Jan 12th, the noontime sun became so warm that snow from previous storms began to rapidly melt. Carl was a teenager whose family had emigrated from Norway, ending up in southern Minnesota, in the town of Fortier. Carl had this to say, “Later in the afternoon, after 3:00, a dark and heavy wall builded up in the northwest, coming our way fast, like a shot! In a matter of minutes, we had the severest snowstorm I ever saw in my life, with a terrible hard wind, like a hurricane, snow so thick we could not see more than three steps ahead!”

The storm, which earned the name “The Children’s Blizzard of 1888,” turned out to be deadly because many people were fooled by the midday sun and warmup. Many teachers in those plains states, who would normally hunker down with the children in the schoolhouse when a snowstorm sprung up, had sent the kids on home, and suddenly, the fast approaching storm came upon them, with treacherous snow and rapidly falling temperatures. Thousands of people were caught in the blizzard, and 235 people died from exposure (the majority of them school-aged children). You can read a book of poems by Ted Kooser about that fateful day.

Two months later, in March, the Great Blizzard of 1888 struck the East Coast, from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, with winds of 45+ mph, and drifts as high as 52 feet. There were 400 deaths blamed on that storm, as well as several devastating fires, which firemen were unable to get to because of the deep snow covering all the streets. More than 200 ships were either grounded or shipwrecked, with 100 of the storm’s death attributed to seamen who had perished.

There’s nothing like a little history to help us all take things in stride. Blizzards (and other natural disasters) have ravaged the earth, and mankind, since the beginning of time. Same too with plagues, and civil unrest, and war, and toilet paper shortages…….OKAY, you’re right, that is definitely a 21st century thing. Modern man can claim that bizarre catastrophe all for himself, only because of a strange and inexplicable desire to hoard such things in amounts that will last for YEARS! In the days of the settlers, they solved their own problems (in that regard) by way of corncobs, leaves, or (once newspapers, farmer’s almanacs, & Sears catalogs came along), read a page, tore it out, and wiped! And that’s the real reason we’ve developed a habit of reading in the bathroom!

At any rate, I bought only what we’ll need for the week (and absolutely NO toilet paper; if all else fails, there are always rags, buckets, bleach, and the washing machine!) If bad weather settles in for a longer period of time, we’ve got whole chickens in the freezer, packages of dried beans, various flours, and some canned items hiding in the basement pantry. So, shop wisely, and instead of hoarding (which only subjects others to needless suffering), employ some pioneer ingenuity, while lending a helping hand (or a few rolls of hoarded TP) to your neighbors in need. And, SAVE THOSE MAGAZINES (just in case…). Winter’s not over yet, people, and the way things have been going, we’d better be prepared for anything.

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