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Thankfulness – Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for so many things in my life right now. Yes, I have had my share of trouble. This fall was especially tough. But the Bible tells us to give thanks in everything and so I do.

Besides, no matter what my troubles, if I have a roof over my head, food in the pantry, and someone to love – and to love me – my life is blessed beyond measure.

I am thankful.

I am thankful for this little guy who has brightened my life and changed it for the better. He turned five months old today.

I am thankful for my farm and for my life in Virginia…for the beauty around me and the grace to see it…

For morning walks and evening strolls, for trails nearby and forest paths, for hikes and charity 5Ks and the fact that I am healthy enough to do all these things, for this I give thanks.

And Lord, most of all, I thank you for the gift of words. For writing what I see in my mind’s eye with clarity. For imagination. For fortitude to continue to write until the end of a novel and publish it and not know how people will react to it. For the words, the wisdom, and the stories – thank you.

And thank you, dear readers, for your support.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Learning Humility the Hard Way

Matthew 23:12 says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled…” and boy, did I learn a lesson in humility this past month. God chose to use my point of pride – my writing and my work – to teach me valuable lessons in humility.

First, there was the fiasco of my October book release. If you purchased the edition of I See You released on October 27, 2019, please update the edition on your Kindle starting this weekend, November 23, 2019.

Friends immediately contacted me after its launch to alert me that the book looked like a draft. Not just a few typos, but dozens of them. Missing words, incorrect words, missing punctuation. Oh. My. Goodness. This from the wordsmith, the editing queen…yes, I used an automatic proofreading software on my novel. Never again. I missed more typos than I caught and it seriously degraded the quality of the book to where a friend said, “I cannot read this.” Ouch. Pain. The truth hurts.

Thanks to Barb who flagged the book and brought it to my attention, and to the generosity of Eleanor, Lucy, and Linda who volunteered time as typo-catchers, I was able to correct the mistakes and reissue the book today. I had to pull it off Amazon in the meantime, apologize to my readers, and swallow my pride. I screwed up. I had to fix it. I fixed it. Now I move on.

It was, however, a lesson in humility. I know I tend to rush through things and this was a great example. I was tired from taking care of our new puppy and rushed, and I thought, “Well, I know it’s a good book, one or two typos won’t matter.” Try about 40 typos. Ugh. Yes, it does matter.

God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, decided I needed still another dose of humble medicine, and gave me that dose in November. I cannot go into the details as it involves too many other people whose stories aren’t mine to share. But it was another lesson in trusting God with my work and not my pride.

God chose this month to help me overcome a big stumbling block in my spiritual life. I am a Daughter of St. Francis de Sales. Humility is one of the key Salesian principles. Yet God saw that pride remained in the way and chose the fall of 2019 to help me learn new lessons.

I hope His school is in recess for a while, but I trust Him to know what’s best for me.

Ugh. October and November are months around here I wish I could forget!

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle – a Review of the New Netflix Movie


The Netflix movie follows the book faithfully for the most part. I loved the book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of Shirley Jackson’s masterpieces yet it has never achieved the fame of The Haunting of Hill House or The Lottery, her over-anthologized short story that most school children in America have read, dissected, and studied. And that’s a shame because it is truly a chilling masterpiece and odd story with what is known in literature as an ‘unreliable narrator’ – a narrator who cannot be trusted because she herself isn’t trustworthy.

(At this point I must announce SPOILER ALERT. If you do not like spoilers, read this after you’ve seen the movie or read the book. It’s impossible to write or speak of this story without some type of spoiler.)

The story is told from the point of view of 18-year-old Mary Catherine Blackwood, a reclusive, odd young woman who plants fetishes such as her father’s watch and coins around the Blackwood’s property to cast spells of protection.

Mary Catherine lives with her older sister, Constance, and that is where the plot takes off. For Constance was accused of murdering her entire family save Uncle Julian (who survived) and Mary Catherine. Arsenic added to the family sugar bowl poisoned all; Constance purchased the arsenic, rat poison, as she murmurs in one scene “to kill the rats.”

Only Uncle Julian survives and he’s confined to a wheelchair and yes, also slightly cracked. We have a family of crazy people here. Constance suffers from agoraphobia thanks to the awful cruelty and hounding of the villagers locally who seem to loathe the Blackwood family. Perhaps that’s due to their father, John Blackwood, who seems to have brought sadism to a new extreme by pushing off all of Constance’s beaus including a young man who was sweet on her. John Blackwood had the boy fired, stripped of all his possessions, and pretty much ruined. So much for wishing his daughter’s happiness.

Although not much of the backstory before the fateful night of roasted lamb and blackberry dessert dinner is mentioned, one gets the impression, reading between the lines of the novel or watching the acting of the characters in the movie, that there is much, much more cruelty lurking behind the Blackwood’s facade.

There has to be to make both of these girls absolutely crazy.

Constance, agoraphobic, who smiles sweetly and waits on everyone hand and foot. Julian, who mumbles to himself constantly replaying the fateful evening, seeing his brother John lurking in every corner.

And of course, Mary Catherine, with her bug-eyed stare and her short, clipped speech.

Into this world comes Cousin Charles, a fast-talking young man driving a sporty automobile. The book did a better job of describing the backstory here: in the novel, Charles is a fortune finder, a gold digger whose parents left him penniless and who has heard rumors of the Blackwood fortune kept in a large safe in the house (John Blackwood didn’t believe in banks.)

Charles arrives and sweet talks Constance, but neither Mary Catherine nor Julian fall for his charm. He’s a lout. He moves into John’s bedroom, wears his suits, and harasses Mary Catherine for her oddities like burying a box of silver coins under a broken back step.

As the story progresses, we see the persecution of the townspeople when Mary Catherine walks into town for the weekly grocery trip and the burgeoning tension between Charles and Mary Catherine. She begins asking him nicely to leave; when that fails, she throws dirt, leaves, and water on his bed. And when that fails, she casually knocks his lit pipe — her father’s — into the wastebasket in his bedroom starting a conflagration that kindles a blaze in both the physical house and in the minds of the townspeople who flock to the impressive sight of the Blackwood mansion burning to ashes.

There’s no resolution to the story except to learn the true identity of the person who put the arsenic in the sugar bowl and the reasons why. Here the movie fails to truly hit the right note until the very last frame when Mary Catherine gives a half-second grin, her one, and only smile in the entire hour and a half movie. When she realizes that Constance and she will be together forever, she smiles. She is safe. She has chased away the town bullies from the door, she has secured the castle fortifications both real and imaginary, and she is safe.

Oh, the nuances of this story get me every time…the castle as a metaphor for the mind, the aching backstory that longs to be told but never is explicitly mentioned.

The movie does justice to the novel and the acting by the women playing Constance and Mary Catherine is excellent. I found Cousin Charles too good looking and too sincere in the movie; he comes across better in the book as a fortune-finder who will stop at nothing to grab at the Blackwood money. And in the book, Uncle Julian is portrayed as slightly older, but the actor playing him does a great job swinging between past and present in a seamless rambling monologue.

There are some parts of the movie that feel slow even for this fan of the book but all in all, a faithful retelling of a story that’s difficult to put into the visual medium of a movie. It is well done, if not a horror or ghost story like The Haunting of Hill House. The horror is, instead, one of the mind: of two women locked into a family that has constricted them to the point where they must literally blockade themselves into a crumbling mansion.


My new novel, “I See You,” will be available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions on October 27, 2019. It is Book 2 of the Majek Family stories that started in “I Believe You.” Don’t miss it! It’s a hauntingly good tale in which the Majeks must solve a 50-year old cold case of a missing Down Syndrome child, lost on one of Long Island’s famous estates.

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New Majek Family Mystery Available SOON

Good news to fans of my first novel, I Believe You – the second book in the Majek Family Mysteries series is now edited and nearly ready for publication!

I See You takes place two years after the events in I Believe You. Turquoise Daniels, the family’s quirky housekeeper and now property manager, purchases a snow globe at an antique store for David Majek as a Christmas present. Soon, the family finds themselves battling an unseen entity who seems bent on making sure he – or she – is both heard and seen. The family quickly becomes embroiled in a decades-old cold case involving one of Long Island’s most prominent Gold Coast estates. How far will the wealthy go to protect their good name?

I love this story. It is like a roller coaster that gradually takes you higher and higher and higher with some dips and curves, but then to THE big hill. Held my attention throughout, characters that are relatable, mystery that makes the reader hungry to know what…who…etc. Well done.

It’s a ghost story…and the story of how disabled children were treated in the 20th century.

It’s the story of why everyone human life matters.

And of course, it’s a story about family – every family – and especially, the Majeks.

COMING SOON

  • Official release date – paperback and e-book to be released on Amazon.com
  • Media kit and press release
  • Book Club Discussion Guide
  • Links to places that inspired the book
  • Down Syndrome Resources
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The Choice to Love: A Poem

Dedicated to Annette Hertzler

The Choice to Love

A poem by Jeanne Grunert

Moments, drop by drop

Slip through time

Nothing brings her back

Pinpricks of pain

The sight of her bed, of bowl, of leash

The silky feel of fur

Remembering

Stroking her head and praying her into heaven

As she exhaled her last in the vet’s office

Cancer on her heart, in her spleen

No longer able to eat, or drink

Existing just for me

I let her go

The braided rug where she watched me weep for her

Knowing she was to die in an hour

Knowing she could not live

My heart, cracked in two

Half into the grave with her

A dog I did not want, did not like at first

Too clingy, too needy, too everything

She became mine because she needed me

And I learned I needed her

Oh, what a hard lesson it was

Then, she was gone

Just when I knew I loved her truly and forever.

The house, too silent, too clean

My days, too quiet, too sedentary

I relished the quiet

I grieved the quiet

Then the realization

Of missing the knowing eyes

The dawn walks, the dusk rambles

The adventures on four footed trails

Winding through mountains, meadows

Yes, we can get a new dog

A puppy who will be raised alongside cats.

Warm and soft

A promised, cherished gift

I could not enjoy

I could not relax

Something kept me from being present

I looked at him and wished for her.

“Why won’t you grow up?”

Why can’t you be her?

Never resting, never quiet

My heart aching for the past

So full of past it could not embrace the present

Anxiety stealing every moment

Lending harshness to an unfolding relationship

The puppy, quietly questing,

Wondering why

Nightmares of her gone

Going

Here and then gone

Never seeing her again

Losing her, over and over

The puppy, questioning

Why won’t you love me?

Am I a bad dog?

Then, a gift

An autumn day

A river and friends and dogs

Tumbling in the water

A quiet moment

A confidence

“What are you afraid of?”

“Are you afraid he’ll die?”

Denial

Then

Yes

I am afraid.

Afraid of opening my heart again

Sealed In the tomb

Against loss

It can be cracked in two again

By the ultimate cleaver, death

Which comes for us all

And will come for this puppy

And for me

And for you

But I chose love

I choose love

I choose now

I choose hope

I choose happiness

I choose friendship

I choose love

I look at the sleeping puppy by my feet

He feels the difference

He chooses to be with me today

And I

With him

The old is gone; she is passed away

She cannot be replaced.

New relationships forged

On autumn days, in riverbeds

In meadows and streams

And time spent together

A choice to love.

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The Great Novel Experiment: Night Song

Are you ready for my great novel experiment?

Many, many years ago, I wrote a horror novel which I really liked. I never tried to get it published. I was focused at the time on fantasy and science fiction writing.

My type of horror writing as you know from my collection of short stories, “An Ancient Gift and Other Stories”, is more like the Twilight Zone-type of fiction. Light horror, as someone called it. A cross between Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allan Poe, another reviewer stated.

I’ll take it – any day I can be compared to Poe or the great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, I’ll take it.

Spooky, Catholic-themed stories where the good guys win and crosses still repel vampires (there are no vampires in this book) and demons really exist (there are real demons in this book) don’t appeal to acquisition editors at big publishing houses, or they didn’t, years ago when I tried to find a buyer for this book.

Acquisition editors for publishing houses want different horror books. They want books with lurid covers and sex scenes and grotesque mangled corpses and all sorts of things I don’t write about. My novel languished in a box, then in a closet in my office.

I pulled it out a few months ago and started rereading Night Songs. I’m in the middle of writing not one, but two novels at the moment. “I Know You,” the follow up novel to “I Believe You” continues the Majek family story. “Salt + Light”, the second novel I am in the middle of working on, chronicles the journey and choices of the Russo family, five brothers living in a small town in Virginia. Both of these books require dedicated focus, attention to my craft, and more time than I really have (but I make time for my fiction).

Yet here I was, sitting at my desk, flipping through Night Songs. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Or so I think.

But what do you, my loyal readers think? That’s what I want to know.

NEW NOVEL

Join Me in the Great Novel Experiment – One Chapter a Week Published on My Blog

Here’s what I plan to do: I am going to publish a chapter a week of Night Songs, here on the blog, open for all to read. Drop a comment if you want to in order to help shape the book or just read to enjoy it.  When the entire book has been published on my blog, I’ll package it up and post it to Amazon for sale at a reasonable price in paperback and Kindle versions.

I’m taking a big leap of faith and a big risk doing this. There’s the risk everyone will hate it – and let me know,  quite vocally. There’s also the very real risk of thieves pirating the story. Just for the record, I already own the copyright to Night Songs. I will register the copyright once the entire book has been updated. This will afford greater protection should someone try to publish it under their name or do something else to rob my of my creative product.

Hint: don’t even think about it. You’ve heard about mama bears protecting their cubs? Don’t stand between a writer protecting her creative baby, her novel. Just. Don’t.

Onwards…I present to you Night Songs, a spooky story that is G/PG rated 🙂 Enjoy!

 

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Royal Weddings, Royal Questions: Why the Fascination (and Fascinators?)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or a die-hard American patriot, you may have heard about a little event that took place this weekend in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Several thousand people lined the streets to cheer the happy couple and the world watched with pleasure the beautiful spectacle of a lovely, wealthy young couple wed in a historical chapel – and make history.

I myself overslept, a far cry from July 1981 when my sister Ann and I rose before dawn, tiptoed into the living room, and watched with breathless anticipation as Lady Diana Spencer swept into St. Paul’s Cathedral with her enormous train and puff sleeves. By the time I remembered that Princess Diana’s son (as I like to think of Prince Harry) was getting married, the ceremony was over and the happy couple were in a horse-drawn carriage waving to the crowds.

I caught the reruns thanks to the marvel of the internet which already boasted several videos on YouTube of key moments. I found myself sighing at the beauty of the Duchess of Sussex – the former Meghan Markle – as she alighted from the Rolls Royce in a simple bateau neck white gown, completely devoid of ornamentation save for a flowing white lace veil. With a figure and looks like Miss Markle, who needs lace and pearls? She was the ornament; her smile lit the skies on that May day like none other.

Prince Harry looked nervous, then delighted, then so much in love with the American actress that it made me feel good inside as if I were his proud mum looking on.

What is it about a royal wedding that makes even an American like me, and a Catholic too, tune in to every nuance? Here we have the Church of England, founded by an adulterous king who threw a royal temper tantrum, stamped his royal food, beheaded a few royal wives, and disobeyed the pope solely to beget a male heir (God had the last laugh; his eventual heir was, of course, a woman, Elizabeth I.)

Here we have, of course, Great Britain, a powerful ally and friend to the United States. But we are a country who eschews kings and elects our leaders, God help us.  (I watch eagerly for a glimpse of the Queen and am not disappointed. The hat! Purple and yellow! Go, Your Majesty!)

Here we have the royal family, beset by scandals themselves. Even my beloved Princess Diana was an adulterer and Charles, too. Yet I watch, and watch, and enjoy the pomp, the ceremony, the flowers, the hats, the order of service and tradition.

What gives? What makes an American Catholic in the 21st century lap up the royalty like so much English toffee?

First, it’s the simple beauty of the entire ceremony. My eyes ache for beauty, for formality, in a world where flip flops, torn jeans, pajama bottoms and every other sloppy garment rules the day. A ceremony where hats are the norm and the household cavalry rides in formation satisfies my deepest need for beauty.

Then, of course, there is love. Love, plain and simple. It shone from Meghan’s eyes as she looked up at Prince Harry. He looked delighted with his bride. I remember Prince William and Duchess Catherine’s wedding in 2011; they had the same look, albeit a bit more formal and guarded. His father, Prince Charles? I remember how terrified Diana looked and how uncomfortable Charles appeared, both adults doing their royal duty as had their ancestors for generations before, marrying to ally families, titles and fortunes rather than for love.

Love, beauty, and pageantry. But there is something deeper which calls the soul on a day like this, and Father Dwight Longnecker put his finger on it in a brilliant essay, A Catholic Anglophile on the Royal Wedding. 

We are all yearning for Tradition.

reflecting pool maymont

It is Tradition our eyes seek in the royal ceremony to the point, that, when it is changed, we notice it. We notice that Meghan walked herself partially down the aisle (her father could not attend the wedding due to ill health); we notice that the choir sang “Stand By Me” in stead of a stately hymn, another slight shift in tradition.

We yearn for the symbolism of monarchy simply because we live in a world devoid of tradition. We know that Meghan Markle is a divorced woman, yet we expected her to wear a flowing white gown, traditionally the sign of a virgin bride; tradition again. We love Prince Harry in his military uniform, the Prince waiting for his Cinderella even if his Cinderella is a wealthy actress. We love the traditional flowers, the songs, the carriage, the household cavalry, the queen, and all the rest of it.

As a Catholic, I am lucky to live with a sacred tradition that includes the holy Mass, which is built upon 2,000 years of tradition. I am blessed to be part of a church that values tradition, symbolism, and the inherent meaning within them. My eyes yearn for symbolism, tradition and beauty; my heart, too, and it is satisfied when I sit before the altar.

I wish Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and the former Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, all the happiness in the world. And I thank them for giving me a respite from the drudgery of a sweatpants and flip flops world with a glimpse into High Tradition.

Side note: A few things that blew my mind during the ceremony:

  • Meghan Markle is descended on her mother’s side from Georgia plantation slaves. A descendent of slaves is now the granddaughter in law of the Queen of England. You can’t make this stuff up.
  • Prince Philip is 96 years old and had hip surgery a month ago. He walked right into that chapel on his own steam without a stick, cane or other crutch. He really is the Iron Duke.
  • Fascinators when chosen correctly are beautiful. When poorly chosen, they look like strange, exotic, science fiction movie props.

IMG_2244.JPG

 

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When the Mob Strikes – Cultural Appropriation

Utah teenager Keziah Daum wore a lovely Chinese cheongsam dress to her prom. Originally when I first read the story of how the online mob charged her with virtual flaming torches once she shared her pictures, I felt sympathy for her.

However, Daum also posted photos showing her friends with hands clasped in what did appear to be a pose mocking Chinese culture.

That’s not acceptable.

A good friend who IS Chinese-American shared a thoughtful post intended to spark a dialogue on Facebook about cultural appropriation. I admit, I didn’t take her seriously and posted a flippant remark about how she could wear my dirndl anytime. (I don’t actually own a German-Swiss dirndl, my cultural clothing; my sister in law does, however. I’m assuming I could borrow it in a pinch).

I finally decided to look up the definition of cultural appropriation. It means, according to the wisdom of Wikipedia:

Cultural appropriation is a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.[1][2][3] It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power.[4][3]

 

Reading that simple definition finally put it into perspective for me. The elements of colonialism – that’s why it is such a hot button issue.

It is not simply wearing clothing or creating art inspired by aspects of another culture. People have been doing that for centuries. It is a dominant culture usurping elements of minority culture and unintentionally denigrating them.

This, I get. When Madonna wore rosaries around her neck and Sinead O’Connor mocked the pope back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was outraged. “Artists” who mock icons or images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus also raise my ire. It is not that they are a dominant culture and I belong to a minority, colonized culture. It is the mockery of something that my culture – Catholicism – holds dear that raised hackles.

I think the young lady wore a lovely dress. If she had left it at that, it might have been all right. It’s the pose of servitude in the group picture that unintentionally threw gasoline on the fire of social media ire.

Imagine a young person today who dons a tuxedo and blackface and struts out on stage with a banjo. He may have seen such an act in an old film and not understood the hateful connotations involved. As the older generation, we need to help youngsters understand the connotations of donning the clothing or assuming the characteristics of other cultures.

It isn’t as simple as putting on a dress.

Thanks to my friend Cecilia for helping me see the other side of the story.

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