Tendrils of Faith


“As we extend the tendrils of our faith above and through the walls of our resistance, our lives become green, verdant, affirming… As we cling to our conscious optimism, finding footholds of faith despite opposition, our lives become rooted in the soil of grace. We are nurtured, prospered, and blessed.”

~Julia Cameron, Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartfelt Life (New York:  Tarcher Perigee, 1998) p. xii.

Image by StockSnap 27562 at pixabay.com.

Aprons and a Harvest


Another season of harvest is rolling through. The farmers’ markets are bursting with food and folks eager to buy. It’s only been a few years since I last canned and pickled what grew in my gardens.

The other day I decided to make a black bean and corn salad, and unhooked the apron from the back of the kitchen door. I smiled at the thought of a young millennial friend who loves to cook, and wondered if she too wore an apron. As I tied the apron in place, I recalled the “Two Margarets”—I was named after my Italian grandmother—setting to work in a kitchen with bushels of harvested goods lined up in the side porch.

I remember…

…a draping bouquet of aprons. They hung together as colorful as a flower garden border: a meadow print, a faded red windowpane plaid, another a mint and white gingham, and a blue calico. Some had ruffles, and could be half or full, crossing the back or wrapped at the waist.

They were clustered together on a cup hook in the small kitchen pantry.  The ties would drag on the floor when they weren’t draped haphazardly over the pencil sharpener attached to the narrow door. A wonderfully curious association, the smell of pencil shavings mixed with aromas of cooking.

I loved the full apron, a thick cotton meadow print—a true 1940’s piece. Grandmother preferred the thinner white with the calico of blue forget-me-nots.  She and I would always wear one from the assortment of aprons when putting food by in August, or making jams for Christmas.

Grandma never failed to remove any stains that found its way onto the apron bodice. Boiling water was poured through the cloth from the backside for fruit stains, and rubbing peanut butter into a grease splatter always worked.  Good old ammonia in the washtub brought freshness to even the most well worn of cover-up.

The last of her aprons is folded away in a small shirt box at the back of the linen closet.  It doesn’t release the fragrance of pencil shavings, it isn’t one she wore very often; it’s a thin frilly pink and white laced half apron worn when serving company that came to our house.  It was the only one not ragged-out for dusting.

Chopping the celery and onions for the salad I was comforted by the memory of a grandmother who taught many things in the simplest of acts. She was a parable of living from the abundance, from grace to grace, no matter how meager or full the harvest.

Image by Greg Montani at pixabay.com.


Revealing , a Cardinal’s Song


Earlier in the spring I was blessed with two nests of cardinals in my yard. Cardinals are very territorial birds but for some reason these two families shared the space congenially. The two nests of fledglings gave way to a small flock darting about the Locust tree and flowering shrubs.

One late-summer morning a flash of red streaked close to the upstairs window. My prayers sputtered to a stop as my morning gaze was suddenly altered from a distant sky to the male cardinal that had rocketed across my view. He landed on the apple tree branch nearest the house.

I watched the cardinal as his tail ticked nervously. He hopped within a cluster of branches, turning himself to get a better look at the reflection coming from the glass. What he saw did not register as his own image. Agitated he dove at the window, pecking and flapping his wings, angry at the uninvited intruder disrupting his peace. “Cht, cht, cht” he spat as he banged against the dark reflection of himself. I was troubled by the sound as he struck the window with force…it had to hurt.

Finally he stopped and crouched on the sill. He appeared dazed or maybe tired of assaulting the bird-in-the-glass that wouldn’t surrender. Seconds later he darted into flight.

I settled back to restart my prayers when I saw him land on the dwarf pear tree further back in the yard. Once more he leapt among the branches with short harsh chirps matched to his tail’s nervous flicking. He slowed his frenetic movements and finally came to rest on an upper branch.

Exposed against the crisp blue sky he began to sing the signature song of a cardinal. Tentatively he released a partial high-low call—chipika, chipika, chipika. Fluffing his wings he shook his head and let out a few more notes, then a trill. From a distant tree I heard another male cardinal answer back. He, hearing the response from the neighboring yard, began singing more boldly. The call-and-response song between the two male birds restored the morning’s peace previously lost to the war-at-the-window.

It didn’t take long until a female cardinal appeared, and landing on a lower limb of the pear tree, hopped closer to the singer. The other male cardinal had also come into the yard and bobbed about in the airy Honeylocust. The three of them appeared delighted with each other’s company as they flitted from limbs to fence to clothes line.

The cardinal who was alone only a moment ago was now less interested in attacking the image of himself—an imaginary foe. In the company of others his true self was evident.

I recognize a grain of truth in this early morning drama. That who I think I am is not what I imagine mirrored back to me in my solitude. My true self—my song—is brought to life with others.

Image by Anthroputer at pixabay.com.


CWG Live Conference and a Fish out of Water


Like all of their conferences, the Catholic Writers Guild Live Conference in 2013 was a huge success. That was our fifth year and had doubled in attendance. My job at the conferences was Volunteer Coordinator. That year was particularly challenging: I had put my back out days before, then three volunteers quit due to family emergencies or illness. I had no idea what I was in for but believed it wasn’t going to be good.

My prayers (and those of Ann Margaret Lewis) stormed the Gates of Heaven. God was in control and would guide, but it never occurred to me He would have so much fun.

The comedy began before we left Indianapolis, that August in 2013:

I’m a private person —having lived as an eremite for decades— and it has taken some time to be comfortable sharing a motel room. Preparing to leave Indianapolis in a few minutes, kneeling in Ann’s living room, I completely unpacked the conference suitcase searching for pajamas. I soon realized that they were still neatly folded at home on my dressing table. Desperate, I lunged into my dirty laundry bag and pull out the previously well-worn pajamas. Rummaging through the matching duffel bag I grab the travel-size bottle of Febreze.  Frantically I spritzed the living smell out of the tricot PJ’s, roll the dampened nightwear and shoved them into the suitcase hoping for positive results. Sunday night found them refreshed, badly wrinkled and a wee bit clammy.

Tuesday’s arrival at the conference center brought a flurry of activity setting up the booths. I was of no use because of back problems, so changed clothes into something less durable and much cooler. Touring the trade show floor I found the Ave Maria Press booths. Sure enough, there was the acquisition editor of my book, Bob Hamma. Delightful man, sweet guy, and the kind of gentleman that would never tell you your blouse was inside-out, and it was.

Tuesday night I scarcely slept, stressed out over absent volunteers. In the morning my back pain was fierce and anxiety rocketed from lack of sleep and stress. Ann was justifiably worried, but I assured her wonders are worked with prayers and pills. Soon enough I was showered and after blowing my hair dry, I thoroughly fluffed it with toothpaste instead of VO-5 Silver. Minty fresh, I headed back to the tub.

I ordered cupcakes from Tom McDonald’s daughter, Meg, and expected his arrival mid-morning. The poor man got misdirected and toted two large hot-pink cupcake carriers throughout the conference center and trade-show. When we finally met up, he good naturedly accepted my rather boisterous greeting informing him of what I’m sure he was already aware…he was tall.  Sometimes I can be a bit of a social klutz, and have been told that this is part of my “charm.”

I must have seemed pretty charming at the pub that night with the Patheos writers. I got quite a rise out of them when I said I was learning to snark by their example. The lovely Elizabeth Scalia exploded with laughter, and the ever composed Pat Gohn wrapped her arms around me and hooted with delight. I really hadn’t meant to be that funny…but I did feel loved.

My social charm continued into the next day. While on a panel I answered a question that I thought I had heard. And it was a good answer…to the wrong question. We all laughed and moved on.

That night while singing happy birthday to a friend…I…forgot…the words.

But the humbling and laughter didn’t end with the conference. Heading home, we stopped at the Russell Stover’s Candy store in Pennsylvania. Chocolate is always good for the wearied soul. And I was obviously wearied. Our travelling companion, the sweet Rebecca Willen  called me back from the men’s lavatory where I stood trying to decide whether to use the urinal or a stall.

Being a recluse by nature and thrust into an environment bursting with activity, energy and life can cause me to be a bit anxious and off kilter. Our Lord knows me well, knows how I love to laugh, and took me in hand, reducing my stress through humorous humbling. I’m grateful for all the friends who laughed with me and their hugs as I bumbled my way through the ten-day trip, a fish out of water.

I was grateful and relieved to be back home, to be returned to the quite of my cell.

Image by Conger Design at pixabay.com.

Dance Since Nobody’s Watching


As long as nobody’s watching, I’ll dance. Don’t for a minute imagine that I’m a “good” dancer. The simple truth is I can’t not move to music.

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

It began before I was a year old. My grandmother said if music was on I would wiggle and sway when I crawled, when laid in the crib, or when being fed—with arms outstretched and fingers waggling. As soon as I could stand my Irish grandfather would take my hand and, with me holding on to his thick fingers, jig.

As a kid I would hear my parents’ Big Band music playing on the phonograph as it floated up and into the attic. I would sway between the stacks of boxes and pretend to dance with my Guardian Angel. No matter the hardships, dancing allowed a sort of disconnect, relieving anxieties.

I was a teenager in Detroit, and so Motown was my rhythm of choice. Though still shy as a young adult, I would occasionally dance at wedding receptions when asked.

When I went to college in my mid twenties, I thought it would help my shyness if I registered for a modern-dance class. I thought that everyone in class would be somewhat inexperienced, and I was eager to let go of my fear. In my excitement, I spent part of my tuition on matching Danskin leotard, tights and long flowing skirt—I looked lovely in burgundy.

Eager and bright eyed on the first day of class I walked into a mirrored room with ballet bars on three sides. Lean men and women in ragged tees and scrunched legwarmers over tights were stretching and swaying as they waited for the instructor…who walked in just behind me. I sat cross legged on the floor—in my perfectly matched outfit—and waited with the other students for the usual introduction to class requirements.

Somewhere near the end of the instructor’s directives, she looked directly at me and said “…and if you are here to lose weight or get in shape, this is not the class for you as a non-theater major.” That moment of being totally clueless still makes me laugh. I envision it as a Norman Rockwell painting: short and slightly overweight young woman in coordinating leotards, happily sitting on a wooden dance room floor, looking up in eager anticipation, while the avant garde with tight buns and worn ballet slippers looked down at her with humor and disdain. I dropped the class and registered for Arthurian Literature Then and Now. A better fit than leotards.

Sometimes I still dance in my little upstairs hermitage. When I can’t think of what to write, when I’m overjoyed or over anxious, when I simply need to shake loose of earthly bonds, I will dance. With a wink to my Guardian Angel, I reach my hands up as high as I can knowing Our Lord will reach down the rest of the way, and we’ll twirl since nobody’s watching.

Image from pixabay.com.