A Walk through the Gardens

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

These pictures are from St. Francis Retreat and Conference Center in DeWitt, Michigan.

It is the week of Your Word is my Delight Catholic Writers Retreat.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The retreat is wonderful, and productive! And the 95 acres luminous.












Hope you can  join us for the next writers retreat in 2015…




Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Mystical Magpies and St. Oda

Magpie, Pica pica. Image of Pica pica from public domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elster_wikipedia2.jpg

St. Oda of Scotland, c. 680 – c. 726

Feast day October 23rd

Patron of Visually Impaired

Association with Magpies

St. Oda was a beautiful young woman who was born blind. Her family sent her to Liege, Belgium, on a pilgrimage and while praying at the graveside of St. Lambert she miraculously gained her sight. After returning to Scotland her father, now confident that he could marry-off his lovely daughter, sought a suitor for her. Instead of obedience he found her filled with resistance; after her wondrous healing she wanted only to serve the Lord.

St. Oda eventually left Scotland and her family to reside in the Netherlands. Sixth century records describe how Oda prayed in various villages in the Netherlands and Belgium only to be continually disturbed by magpies. She was not aware that these persistent little creatures were on a mission from God.

One day while she was trying to flee from the birds, they herded her to an open space in the forest. She saw how perfect the space would be for prayer and moved to live in this protected expanse of woods. Eventually a convent was built and a village developed around the monastery. This municipality in the Netherlands became known as Sint-Oedenrode…in Dutch a small man-made open space in the woods is called a “rode” with the village named after the saint.

Sint-Oedenrode suffered greatly during the Second World War.  It was invaded and eventually occupied by the Germans as they took France and the Low Countries. It wasn’t until 1944 that the town was liberated by a US Airborne Division. Eventually the municipality regained its culture and in 2000 was awarded the Entente Florale [i] for being one of the greenest villages in Europe.

The magpie associated with St. Oda is the Eurasian species Pica pica. This startlingly beautiful bird is a member of the crow family.  It is a sizable bird at about eighteen inches long (with half of that being its tail!) and a wing span of up to twenty-four inches. This breed of magpies is considered the most intelligent of birds, and possibly of all animals except for humans. It works as a team–or more colloquially called a gang–in deterring intruders or when hunting. It creatively solves problems using tools, observes social rituals including expressions of grief, and can recognize itself in a mirror.

There are many superstitions throughout Europe and the British Isles pertaining to this bird. Legends have it that if the bird is seen singularly, it is an omen of bad luck. When seen in groups, it is a bearer of goodness and foretells of good weather. Farmers considered themselves well blessed if these birds nest in nearby trees, and often fed the birds throughout the winter to keep them from leaving the farm.[ii]

(Excerpt from Faithfully Gardening manuscript)

[i] The Entente Florale is an international horticultural competition established to recognize municipalities and villages in Europe for excellence in horticultural displays. Trophies are presented annually by tourist boards and horticultural societies in European countries.

Seeing Stars and the Holy Trinity

Image morguefile.com.

I love apples! Seriously. Love them almost more than chocolate. Biting into a warm, crisp, just picked apple is only one step away from doing the same in summer with tomatoes.

Living in Michigan, where apple production ranks number three in the States, the harvest of this fruit peaks in late September through early October. There are so many apples to choose from that I have a great time every week at the farm markets buying a mixed bag of a dozen.

Apples are wonderful to teach the youngest of children about our faith. When you cut an apple in half along the equatorial plane, the cross section in the core looks like a star; the five-pointed Epiphany Star. Most of you will remember from the teachings of the Church that the Epiphany is a celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus, the Christ. The five seeds inside the five-pointed star stand for the five wounds of Christ. Other stars in our traditions are the four-point star, often used in art as the star over the place where the child Jesus was born and called the Bethlehem or Natal Star.  The eight-pointed star is known as the Star of Redemption, while the six-pointed star, two triangles interlocked is called the Star of David.

A second apple story used to teach about the Trinity is cut an apple in half from top to bottom and note the three parts: skin, meat and seeds. The outer skin represents the Father who encompasses all, Jesus is the meat of the fruit that feeds us, and the seeds are the Holy Spirit that when planted, will bring new life. An apple wouldn’t be an apple if any one of these elements was missing; so, too, with the Trinity.

Now, since you’re cutting up all those apples for educational purposes, how about a recipe! This is a savory and sweet soup more for the adult pallet; cut the spices by half for kids.

Apple-Parsnip Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion (Vidalia is best)

2 1/2 cups (about a pound) chopped peeled Pink Lady apples (or any slightly tart apple is fine—Granny Smiths are too sour!)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) chopped peeled parsnip

1 clove garlic finely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider (don’t use apple juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream dollops when serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add apples, curry, ginger, and cardamom.  Simmer for about a minute to dissolve spices, stirring constantly. Add broth, parsnips, garlic, and cider. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. CAREFULLY blend soup until smooth using a blender (or immersion blender). Serve with sour cream.

A side note here…I like to use oven roasted parsnips. They tend to be sweeter and lend a fuller flavor to the soup. Of course, your stove-top cooking time will be reduced.


Tony Esolen, our newest family member at the Catholic hub on Patheos.com, shared with me a small bit of information about the word, apple. The Old English word “aeppel” did not mean “apple” but “fruit” in general, excluding berries. So the early translations of the Bible into English that use “apple” are not really specifying the type of fruit it was. Not until the 17th century did the word apple come to mean only the pome and not all the other fruits. Our word “fruit” comes from the French, after the Norman Conquest (cf. Latin fructus). The word “fruit” in Hebrew is p’ri, and is used as “be fruitful and multiply.”

Thanks Tony!