A Formula for Epiphany

20 + C + M + B + 18

It sounds like a mathematical equation, doesn’t it? In fact, this is a house blessing, one of many traditions in the Catholic Church, and one of the earliest memories I have of my family. I remember early trips to see my grandparents and arriving to their door and in stark white chalk, these symbols (the numbers were different) blazed against the dark wood grain of their front door. But for the uninitiated, like I once was, what does it actually mean?

Saturday, January 6th 2018 marked the Feast Day of the Epiphany, the time in the Church when we celebrate the arrival of the Three Magi to the manger, and their gifts for Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The feast day, also known as Twelfth Night, was observed on Sunday and marks the close of the Christmas season and the return to Ordinary Time in the Church. This is why, for many Catholics (or for folks behind schedule), you may see the decorations and holiday lights lingering after the New Year.

The 20 and the 18 reference the current year (next year, it’ll be 20 + C+M+ B + 19) and the three letters represent the names of the three wise men: Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior.

It seems almost counterintuitive that the Bible, which condemns astrology and all forms of divination, would remember and honor these foreign sages who believed that the Nativity Star was a sign in the heavens of the birth of a great ruler, and they came bearing gifts. But there is no question that the manner of gifts they brought was divinely inspired. Gold, a symbol of His kingship, and which I like to think was what Mary and Joseph used to supplement their income during their time in Egypt; frankincense, a symbol of His status as our High Priest; and myrrh, a symbol of His eventual death.

On the feast day of Epiphany, my husband and I received a piece of blessed chalk (now in fun, bold colors!) and said a prayer of blessing over our home (provided by our parish) that God would help us in this new year to remember the gift of His Light, Jesus, and nurture the gifts that He’s bestowed on each of us, to bring glory to His name, and to reach out to a hurting world.

As we struggle to find our way in the midst of the darkness and the Storm, may God’s light shine in our hearts and through us, the watchmen on the hill, so that we may be ready for His sudden coming.

Thoughts on Being a Plain Jane

I’ve never been one of those girls who comes across as uber-feminine and frilly. I probably spend the least amount of time (in my age bracket) on my personal appearance than any of my female coworkers. You won’t see me with makeup, styled hair, skirts or dresses, or God-forbid, heels. I’ve just never been that type, at least, not since I was ten years old.
vintage-635265_1920 I remember going to the mall and getting my first (and only) ear piercings for my tenth birthday. We looked at the frilly and fun earring options but I was told the first time round, you just get a simple pair of studs.

The attendant missed on the first attempt and we had to do a do-over. The pain was indescribable. I remember being terrified and I didn’t want the second ear done but I was told that it would “look unbalanced” and so I gritted my teeth for a second round.  Sitting here writing out this blog entry, I’m pulling my ear lobe thoughtfully and they’re barren now, not closed, just more often than not, unadorned. My first introduction to the adage “Pain is beauty”.

Somewhere growing up, I learned that there was more separating me from the other girls than just the right clothes or hair style or makeup. I would never be “that girl”.  This early pragmatism was tested when I was thirteen and allowed my first makeup kit (a new type of makeup every year was thereafter introduced). By sixteen, I’d lost interest in it entirely.

If it were as simple as beauty = more opportunities in life, then maybe I might have given it more effort but I came to the conclusion that the benefits didn’t outweigh the investment of time and money. So you’ll rarely catch me out of slacks, and the fanciest hairstyle I’ll do is a low ponytail. Occasionally, a bit of lip gloss, or nail polish, or even rarer, a bit of foundation/concealer so my acne at thirty-something doesn’t scare the hell out of people.

Lately, I’m thinking that I’ve lost more than just the appearance of beauty, it’s as if folks assume that because I choose to dress a certain way, that I am not feminine and have no capacity for appreciation of beauty.  That couldn’t be further from the truth!

vintage-635265_1920

I have a very feminine side, but I don’t usually collect random shiny things like a magpie. I often admire from a distance.

There is incredible beauty to be found in nature, both in the animals God has created, and in elements of science that I don’t understand — butterflies and dragonflies, dogs and kittens, starfish, nautilus, a Redwood forest, the iridescence you find in bubbles, refracted light, or sea sparkle.

I love baubles and open umbrellas, silver glitter, mermaids with floating lanterns, vintage rhinestone brooches, crystal chandeliers and prisms, Moroccan architecture, Parisian architecture, wrought-iron spiral staircases to unknown destinations, skeleton keys, picturesque sky carnival rides, cotton candy, pink roses, lit candles, old books, tulle, macaroons, white coral, glamping, old books, lazy days, dancing in the rain, and romantic period movies. (Sing with me, “These are a few of my favorite things..”)

When did it become “not okay” to appreciate beauty without desiring it for yourself or emulating it in your on life? Or is this the dispassionate argument of a Plain Jane?

Strangely, as I write this I am reminded of a conversation from Christy (TV series) between Ida Grantland and Ruby Mae, discussing Miss Christy’s beauty. Ruby Mae is effusive about Miss Christy being like a flower and Miss Ida chastises her soberly that a woman’s beauty can be like “a tree or a mountain or a river” and helps Ruby Mae to come to define beauty in one’s own terms.

It is a thought that weighs on my mind still and a tiny voice wonders what may I have missed out on in life by accepting the role of a Plain Jane?

The Heart of #Ferguson

Since the death of Mike Brown two weeks ago, I have been quiet on my website about the fact that I am a Ferguson, Missouri resident.  Some of you who have known me longer than this blog has existed will already have known that information, for newcomers, this may be a complete surprise to you. You might even wonder why I didn’t blog about it when I lived basically where the riots and looting were going down.

First, I wanted to put some distance between myself and the events that were going on, and second, I didn’t want to post something that might inadvertently be opportunistic in the aftermath of what was a horrible tragedy.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of family and friends contact me to make sure that my husband and I were okay, offering us a place to “get away for a while”, offering assistance if needed. To those people, thank you for your kindness.

In the years since my husband and I moved to Ferguson, we’ve had two tornadoes, and now, the events of this summer taking place around/on W. Florissant at the Ferguson/Dellwood border, that’s brought national and international attention to our small town.

After spending some time reassuring one friend that we are, in fact, not in the proverbial ‘eye of the storm’, she encouraged me to share my news on my blog, I think because people need to hear good news and straight talk (to paraphrase).  So here goes…

Continue reading “The Heart of #Ferguson”

Shannon Hale Visits St. Louis

Wednesday night was the single best author event I have ever attended (sorry Gregory Maguire). There I was, a 30-something female reader going solo, surrounded by a large crowd of teenage girls and their parents, teachers, or youth group leaders.  Those girls were excited.

Shannon Hale talking

Shannon was at St. Louis County Library (SLCL) Headquarters to promote her newest venture, Ever After High, which already has its own line of dolls (ala the Monster High variety), courtesy of Mattel.  In addition to answer the slew of questions from her (mostly) younger audience, Shannon treated us to her rap version of one of the songs in Ever After High.

First off, I cannot believe how substantive the questions were coming in from such a young crowd.  These girls (as a whole) really knew Shannon Hale’s books and asked some great questions.  Maybe we had some future writers in the crowd. 😉

Shannon also revealed that she is a mother of four (including twins) and that (I think) this was her first time visiting STL.  Next stop on the list was LA.  On a side note, that’s got to be really hard being away from your family that long.  If she felt homesick, you’d never know it.  Girl brought energy!!!

Shannon Hale readingAs a writer myself, I am impressed with her turnout time for novels (Goose Girl was three months, I think she said), and two years for some of her other books.

She spends about three hours a day in her office, during “writer stuff”.  Although nobody asked about target word counts, I imagine that Shannon must be really productive when she does get down to work.  I think that two years for a book is pretty darn fast.

Waiting in line for the signing, I met some awesome people while waiting in line including some Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) who had met Margo Dill. You may remember that I reviewed Margo’s book, Finding My Place, back in  August.

Back to Shannon Hale.

Shannon grew up reading one of my favorite fairy tale authors, Robin McKinley, author of Beauty and Rose Daughter.  It was reading Beauty that inspired Shannon Hale to try and write her own version of a fairy tale and answer some questions left unanswered by the original, The Goose Girl.

For those of you who didn’t read The Goose Girl (the original), I recommend the beautifully illustrated copy written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Robert G. Sauber.

C.S. Lewis once said:

“I wrote this story for you [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe], but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.

I think this quote is often taken out of context. In context, it implies that C.S. Lewis’ family member outgrew reading children’s lit during the long process of him writing it.  Out of context, it focuses on  the idea that fairy tales are something you come back to again and again (although in Lewis’ case, I think he probably meant when he/she was old enough to have children of their own).

Anyway, my point is, some of us never stopped reading fairy tales. I haven’t.

I never really grew out of fairy tales.  I remember being a toddler and reading fairy tales and then even as I grew older, I kept reading them.  I loved Robin McKinley and Jane Yolen, and then later, Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale brought this revival of interest in fairy tales as literature.  Both ladies have written fairy tale-ish stories that explore the characters on a much deeper level than the originals.  It’s not just a fairy tale anymore.

Shannon Hale and Lauren Miller

Beyond the fairy tales, what Shannon Hale brought to SLCL was a little magic of her own (ala the author kind). As I described the experience to one friend, she summed it up best, “Sounds like an author who knows how to treat her fans.”

I think that that’s the important thing to remember.  Shannon Hale may write her books for herself, versus a specific audience, but people are drawn to her stories. They buy her books. They go to her signings. They follow her online.

Respect your audience.

Embrace your audience.

Sometimes do both!

That’s the magic I think Shannon Hale brought to STL with her, the magic an author brings when they genuinely appreciate their readers and go above and beyond.  She stopped to talk to each person that came to see her. She signed their books.  She personalized them for Pete’s sake. Some of us took photos.

My favorite thing she did didn’t even involve me actually.  There were some really young girls in the audience and I watched Shannon interacting with one of them, a seven-year-old, and sharing with her some snapshots of her own young children.  How cool is that?

If our experience at Shannon Hale’s author event in STL was any indication of what LA can expect, readers are in for a rare treat.

Here’s some of Shannon Hale’s writing credits for those of you unfamiliar with her work: Shannon Hale on Goodreads

I’ve reviewed two of Shannon’s books for adults so far on Pocketful of Prose, The Actor and the Housewife and Midnight in Austenland.  Let me know what you think!