Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Straight but Twisted Book Review for Your Halloween Treat

Wool sculptured pumpkins See my Etsy shop for holiday gifts.
I am an avid and prolific reader and of late, I have been choosing my books according to their price range.  Free is best and next to it, an occasional 99 cent or $1.99 book downloaded on my tablet is best for my budget and already stuffed bookshelves! Rarely do I bother to pay more as there are plenty of books out there in this range waiting to be read. Being an unpublished author, I feel it is my duty to oblige authors who offer their books at discount to become better known, though many of them are already top writers.

I wrote this review as a test to see if I could get it all straight. It was a mystery with lots of twists and turns, not always the easiest of reads for a person with a Lyme Brain and it is a documented fact that I have such a brain. I am proudly certifiable and this Halloween I have no need of mask or wig and furthermore, I have brain scans to prove me half zombie!! Keeping names of characters straight can be a challenge for me, but seeing as how it is a mystery, I will keep the mystery and not use the names of the characters, just in case you decide to read this book. Being the curious person that I am, I couldn't put this book down once I started it! It is called The Villa in Italy, by Elizabeth Edmondson. She has written many mystery novels!

This is the mystery of four apparent "strangers" named in a will of a woman who owned a villa in Italy. None of them knew the deceased woman. Her will was anything but straight forward. The four individuals that gather had to find the hidden codicil in a puzzle-answering-sort-of-way, exploring why this unknown woman knew of them and had listed them in her will. Of course, the reader wants to also know what part of this glorious estate is left to each and why.

Although most book reviews don't tell the end of the story, without naming names I am going to outline the entire mystery, though it shouldn't spoil the book in any way. You will soon see why. The villa in the end is given to her granddaughter that she had never met and the land to the man who was the grandson of a lover of hers, who had killed the granddaughter's bad brother, who turned out to be the granddaughter's father's wife's son, who was actually fathered by his mother's lover, who was the husband of her best girlfriend who was trying to hide from him as he was a mean and evil person. She couldn't divorce him as it would expose her best friend's father's wife of infidelity, who she believes is her best friend's dear, but unloving mother.

This same best friend had a brother who married this granddaughter's sister, who is actually only a half-sister, as their father had an affair with a woman who was the daughter of the mysterious woman with the villa. Her daughter, a scientist during World War II had helped develop the atom bomb and wouldn't marry the father of her child as she preferred to be a career scientist and and later died of a radiation burn and was comforted and attended in her dying days by her scientist friend, a colleague, who was also invited to the Villa and named in the will, though he doesn't know that the villa belonged to his friend's mother.  He finds his religious faith while he is at the villa and is happy to leave science and the horrors of his creation and its destruction behind him.

The granddaughter's girlfriend is rescued by her friend's father who is ready to expose his wife's infidelity, divorce her and leave his unhappy marriage, and he uses this threat to insist that his daughter's friend's husband not contest the divorce that his daughter's friend has long wanted, thereby restoring her peace and even her livelihood by leaving his company for her to manage in his retirement. The granddaughter's friend's mean husband had fathered the granddaughter's brother who is instead really her father's wife's son, though her father didn't know at the time he married his wife that she was pregnant.

Another woman invited to the will reading was a well-published author, who had found and rescued the mysterious woman with the will, though she didn't recognize her picture as when she found her, she was covered in a pile of rubble from a bombing in England and had to be dug out. Fortunately this author woman had powers to hear voices that others did not hear and hence tipped off rescuers to her whereabouts and that is why the mysterious woman with the will named her in her will and while at the villa, she is stimulated to write again having given up writing following a break up with her girlfriend. She was also rewarded by the mysterious woman's young editor friend who encouraged her to write again by promising to publish her next book. So if you will, the mysterious woman of the will saves this author's life just as the author has once saved hers.

The woman who inherits the villa undergoes a transformation, and falls out of love with the brother of her best friend who married her sister, though it is really her half-sister.  All this happens as she begins to fall in love with the man who inherits the land, though both are temporarily content with their own healings brought about through their personal and renewing discoveries while at the villa and are more ready to move on with their lives with new found career changes, making them complete and happy as they proceed to allow their love relationship to develop more perfectly.

The father of the granddaughter who inherits the villa appreciates that his daughter doesn't want to carry on the family business and is delighted that his daughter's best friend will continue to manage his company, which not only will not only support herself following her welcome divorce, but it will also help support his two daughters, the younger one too ditsy to run a company and the other a contented artist sort. His ditsy daughter is the one married to his other daughter's best friend's brother and they are happily expecting their first child, likely to be raised, with love, to be another ditsy-sort of person.

The  granddaughter of the mysterious woman now sees her friend's brother for the shallow person that he is and is happy and ready to move on in her life, appreciating how lucky she is that he prefers her half-sister, who is the one that is ditsy and rather dumb, that she thought was the preferred  and best-loved daughter of her mother, but she now appreciates why her mother never really loved her, as she wasn't her mother at all but instead she is the daughter of the scientist who gave up her rights to her custody so her father, who had an affair with her, could raise her daughter, while married to the granddaughter's half sister's mother.

I am hoping that I didn't spoil the story for anyone that wants to read it! I think that I haven't spoiled the mystery of how this story unfolds, though I am reassured that I got it all straight, I think?  You will have to read this story to check to see! The good part is that this story all ends happily, which is a good thing as I don't think you would like to read my re-write of the ending if it hadn't!!

My husband suggested that perhaps the convoluted twists and turns might be why it was offered as a free book on Book Bub, and suggested that I might want to invest more in my reading books in the future...but I think that this provided much mental exercise and intrigue for my Lyme brain and just as Book Bub Club knows, I might now have to try another of this author's books at regular price!!

It is a good Halloween selection for you...and can be downloaded very quickly right after the last trick-or-treater leaves your door!!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pilgrimages of All Kinds

It is nice to have directions in our pilgrimages.
I have a friend that just walked  part of The Camino in France and Spain on his way to Santiago. In support of his journey I watched the documentary film about this pilgrimage called, Walking the Camino; 6 Ways to Santiago. I prayed for him as he traveled, requesting that his journey be a personally meaningful experience for him. Pilgrimages, I have learned, are wonderful journeys undertaken as a quest or a pursuit to find or obtain something. Often they help us to get in touch with God and "His" purpose for our life. How important it is in today's busy world, when it is so easy to forget the real meaning of our lives, to take time for such pilgrimages.
This pilgrimage, like our lives is often a rather lengthy journey!
Take time to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Years ago I used to take a yearly pilgrimage to the eastern Canadian Catholic shrines. An elderly Catholic woman made it her life's work, in gratitude of a healing she had received, to arrange a three day, two night pilgrimage and gathered any interested Catholics from parishes in the state to fill a tour bus. We would go "off-season", which decreased the costs of our lodging.  She arranged for English speaking masses and other devotional services, as well as scheduling our lodging accommodations at the Madone House at Cap de la Madeleine at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.
The pilgrim accommodations across the street from Cap de la Madeleine. 

I heard about this pilgrimage through my participation in a Catholic Women's Guild at my church. Several women started telling stories of their experiences while on this pilgrimage. It was clear listening to them that they enjoyed their trip so much that they returned year after year. I couldn't wait to sign up!

Though I went by myself the first year, I wasn't alone. A few of my friends from church were there and it was a real opportunity for me to meet and make new friends. I was assigned a bus seat mate/ roommate, and I had a great time! My husband supported me by taking over with the kids and driving me to the location where we were to board the bus and then picking me up afterwards.

This pilgrimage stopped at The Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Montreal, where resident monks greeted us and lead us through their outdoor Stations of the Cross. One of my friends pointed out the curled toes of their sandals as they spent so much time on their knees praying.
This is a picture of Father Frederick.

"Our Lady of the Cape" statue at the Rosary Church at Cap de la Madeleine.
We then stopped on our way to Cap de la Madeleine in Quebec to visit the museum and tomb of Father Frederic, one of the priests most instrumental in establishing what has now become the old Rosary Stone Church there. Being a Catholic convert, I had no idea how much Catholics revere tombs and relics of those they consider to be saints! They also love stories about modern-day miracles!

Miracles were have said to have happened at the Cap de la Madeleine during the time when missionaries were establishing the church there. The river is said to have iced-over at a rather unseasonable time so building materials could be transported over the river to build this church. Later the beautiful statue of Our Lady of the Cape was said to have opened her eyes, and another time shed tears. It is now the location of not just this beautiful little Rosary Church but the Baslique Notre Dame du Cap.
Baslique Notre Dame du Cap (Our Lady of the Cape).
The inside of the Baslique Notre Dame du Cap.

The following day we would take a full day's trip to Saint Anne de Beaupre! Its lovely chapels, statues and artwork are more than inspiring! Many other religious buildings surround this beautiful church and each is steeped with stories of the many healings that took place there! On the hillside surrounding St. Anne's are little French gift shops as well as a special French auberge that became a most welcome place to sit and rest our feet while having a nice warm lunch.
Saint Anne De Beaupre.

Rounded structures back of St. Anne's are small altars behind the main altar.
Main statue of St. Anne holding her child, Mary in front of one of the altars.
This is the altar where St. Anne's holy relic (arm bone) is displayed.
The ceilings of each of the smaller altars is done in beautiful mosaic work.
This is the ceiling of St. Anne's, a lovely mosaic depicting the life of St. Anne.
Crutches left behind by people that were healed at St. Anne's.
The Interior of St. Anne de Beaupre showing the main altar.

The crypt church in the basement of St. Anne's, 
Scala Santa, Holy Stairs to be taken on your knees while praying. Very hard!! 
My young daughter left her picture at the feet of this statue of Jesus. Many do..
On the last day we would return through Montreal and stop at Notre Dame Cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen.  It is no less than breath-taking!

Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal, breathtakingly beautiful!
Same picture with different lighting.
A closer view.

The back of Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal.
We would then go on to St. Joseph's Oratory where we spent the rest of the day visiting the tomb of Brother Andre as well as the rest of the Oratory.  Brother Andre is now a celebrated saint. He was a simple man, who due to lack of education and skills became a simple doorman at the Oratory and greeted the many visitors.Taking his job quite seriously he would pray for those that had come, by requesting the intercessory prayers of St. Joseph while blessing them with the special "Holy Oil of St. Joseph". Pilgrims soon noted that Brother Andre blessings and prayers seemed to have healing power. It wasn't long before a special station was needed to accommodate all those who came to be blessed by this humble and holy man. Again walls of crutches and braces were left behind by people who had been cured.
St, Joseph's Oratory, Montreal, Canada.

Statue of Brother Andre, now officially canonized a saint.
The tomb of Brother  (Saint) Andre.

The actual heart of  Brother Andre at the Museum of Brother Andre.

Saint Joseph's Oratory is now home to a unique international creche collection. It is so beautiful to see the Holy Family done to match every skin color and culture!! There is also a special Hall of Lights that is lit and warmed simply by the many candles lit there, in remembrance of special prayer intentions.
One of hundreds of special creches from all over the world.

Each creche depicts The Holy Family in their own culture.
The life-sized creche.
Hall of Candles is lit and warmed by candles.
Statue of St. Joseph surrounded by votive candles.

Renewal was the purpose of our trips and though each trip was essentially the same, every one was different according to the changing needs that we brought with us.  Enlightenment came in different ways as. We always returned home tired, but re-inspired and ready to live out our faith in fresh new ways. Each of us was strengthened to face whatever life brought us. Sharing our own personal stories and ways that we had been blessed brought encouragement to others and became bonds of friendship. We were filled with new appreciation of God's love for each of us.

I never returned empty-hearted or empty-handed either. Souvenirs filled my bags: books, prayers, statues, prayer beads, all blessed but best of all were the stories of my trip! It was as though I had been in a time warp. Despite being gone for such a short time, our pilgrimage had taken us to a bit of heaven and we returned happy and "centered" in our faith.

As I read One Million Steps, the story of one person's Camino journey, in support of my friend's pilgrimage, I realized that each of our lives is a pilgrimage. A person doesn't have to leave home, to make a pilgrimage, though they are truly wonderful opportunities. Any of us can take the time to reflect and pray for a renewed spirit and draw closer to God. While our lives are filled with the seemingly small and mundane commitments, we can choose to view them as "steps in our life's pilgrimage". Whatever we live-out and lift to God in our everyday life becomes "our personal and Holy way" to God.

Pilgrim resting his tired feet during his Camino Pilgrimage.
Pilgrim in wheelchair being pushed by his best friend and helped by others too!
 Camino sign with well-worn boots. Our bodies often become like these boots!
Pilgrimages are about perseverance and patience, asking and thanking God and taking time to recognize the many blessings we receive as we journey through life. The very actions of our everyday life, be it loving our spouse, mothering our children or grandchildren, caring for an ailing relative, pursuing a career or just being there for our friends or neighbors and/or doing the various tasks we undertake in our jobs are ways that we can honor God.

Needle-arts, my way of meditating. Each stitch  a step in my pilgrimage.
Needle-arts fits right into these sorts of meditative practices. Making stitch after stitch as we create a quilt or crochet or knit an afghan, or scarf is no different. Every activity we undertake can be "our way" of connecting to our creator. I have a little sign over my sewing table that reads, "I saw that. (signed) God". I laughed when I saw this thinking that He IS indeed watching over my sewing. I have come to realize that while no one but God can make or do anything perfectly, it is my job to do my best and thinking of God sitting right there on my shoulder, along with my mom, watching my every stitch or action is a way of making me accountable to not do less than I am capable of doing. There is much truth to the old adage that "anything that is worth doing is worth doing well".  It is part of our life's pilgrimage to be all we have been created to be.

Mother Teresa taught her sisters that "doing small things with great love is" what our lives are all about! It is important for me to remember that even the smallest task done well is of consequence to God.

However much I plan and scheme and rush about, I need to also appreciate that my life is a marathon, not a sprint! It is about taking time and pouring my heart and love into each day's goals and accomplishments, however small. While taking deliberate journeys to sacred places can be very transforming, pilgrimages aren't so much about where you go, as much as they are about taking time to reflect and re-fresh our perspective where ever we may be. Our life's pilgrimage takes place wherever we are and opening our hearts in our work and relationships is what makes our pilgrimages satisfying and rewarding,.. thanks be to God!

This blog is dedicated to my friend, S.N, and to my readers, with a special prayer that their life's pilgrimage be filled with purpose and joy!

(Note that these pictures are not my own, but rather pulled from images on line at these various pilgrimage sites. I credit the individual photographers for inviting us all to take whatever sort of pilgrimage best suits us. I especially appreciated the picture of the pilgrim in a wheel chair.  I took a friend of mine in a wheel chair on one of my pilgrimages. I am not so very strong myself, but miraculously a bee flew up my dress and stung me several times...bee sting therapy can eliminate pain, and so I miraculously had little discomfort on that trip and my joy doubled to share it with my dear friend, besides which, we got access to special places that I wouldn't have otherwise seen!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Little House's Best Recipe Ever...

Hannah''s Crust-less Vegetable/Sausage Pizza
I am getting back into cooking after having given it up for several years.  My daughter is a wonderful cook and liked doing it, and it is only after her move out that I have taken back this dreaded task, though I must admit that I learned a lot from this period of watching my daughter cook and set about to adopt some of her ways.  It is easier than ever and no more boring boiled vegetables! What a difference it makes roasting them.

This is the best roasted vegetable recipe ever and credit goes to my daughter, Hannah, telling me just how she makes it, though I soon personalized it to fit our individual tastes. This is my variation of what I now call Hannah's Crust-less Vegetable/Sausage Pizza. It is a great substitute for pizza for those that need to eliminate gluten, and though I have many recipes that where gluten-free baking mix can be used, this is even more nutritious as it is simply roasted vegetables with sausage and garlic salt added and then topped with Mozzarella cheese melted on top. It has quickly become my husband's favorite dish, and he is not to be fooled with any sort of healthier version of anything! Of course enough sausage and cheese and it is not exactly a fat free dish!! You will not believe how easy it is to make!

Simply prepare it as follows:
2 large yellow summer squash diced (without seeds).  May substitute other sorts of squash instead.
1 large onion sliced into strips. You may want to use more as they become deliciously caramelized!
1/2 large red or green pepper cut into bite sized pieces. May use yellow peppers.The more colorful the better!
2 large potatoes washed and sliced into bite sized slices. Leave skins on.
Stir together in a big mixing bowl with about a tablespoon of olive oil, breaking apart onion slices and sprinkle on greased cookie sheet.
Slice two and a half or three six inch fat sweet sausages into bite sized pieces and spread evenly on cookie sheet among the vegetables. Sprinkle entire pan with garlic salt. Bake in oven at 375 degrees until potatoes are tender and sausage pieces are brown.  If you like food crispy, cook a little longer, and then pull out of oven and with a spatula move all vegetable and sausages to the center half of your cookie sheet being sure to cover any bare spots in pan and sprinkle mixture with shredded mozzarella cheese and place back in oven to heat until cheese is melted.  If you double the recipe there is no need to pull vegetable mixture to the center of your cookie sheet first, as your cookie sheet will be densely filled.

Cut into pieces like you would a pizza and serve.  This is richer than pizza and so it doesn't take much to fill you up. Made as a single recipe it will easily serve two to three hungry people. Double and it will fill many more! This is easy to fix and will convince anyone that you are a gourmet cook!! My husband couldn't stop oohing and awing through dinner as he loved it that much!  I am certain that other veggies can be added as long as there is sausage, potato, onions, peppers and cheese! The squash is delicious but acts more as a filler. I think cauliflower and broccoli would be good in it as well, and likely any other sorts of squash could be used as well. Bon appetite!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Acupuncture: a Needle Art that Stitches Mind and Body Together

A "Van Gogh Pincushion", a gift for my acupuncturist.

I have written many blogs about living life with Chronic Lyme Disease. It is no secret that sewing is top on my list of therapies, and now I have discovered another new needle art that provides yet more healing: acupuncture!

I have just recently been evaluated at our local cancer center for possible hemachromatosis, a condition where a person absorbs too much iron, resulting in high ferritin blood levels, which can cause pancreas and liver damage if not treated, as that is where excess iron gets stored. My dad was discovered to have it many years ago. It can be hereditary and so my siblings and I were tested along with our children. What I didn't know and just found out, is that women often don't develop it until after menopause as apparently their monthly periods can self-correct the problem. Learning that, I had myself re-tested using a newer genetic test for this blood condition. I was found to have one genetic marker making me more susceptible to developing it and so I will be followed for about a year to be sure that my ferritin tests don't rise. My status of being a patient at the cancer center, along with having some pain, made me eligible for acupuncture treatments via a grant. I was eager to accept their generous offer for this care.

Having an affinity for needlework of all kinds, and being a nurse, I am not afraid of needles, not even when used for healing. I learned years ago that the needles used for acupuncture are so very fine that the most you feel is a slight pick and had acupressure treatments with massage years ago, and found them most helpful!

I have now had two treatments, both with great results!! My first treatment involved several needles in each ear and only twenty minutes later I found myself "at one with the table" I laid on. The acupuncturist told me that he was going to calm what appeared to him as my agitated state of mind along with some work on my upper intestine. How appropriate, I thought systemic inflamation does inflame the brain and the digestive system is the center of a person's immunity and I indeed had immune issues. He told me that it would stimulate my sludgy gut as well. I had been doing much thinking and worrying about what seemed to be "mounting" medical issues and I welcomed aid in relaxing as I faced changes in my present long term treatment for lyme and all the challenges I would have in finding appropriate support.

Driving home after my acupuncture treatment was an amazing experience. I had never noted this short drive home to be so beautiful! I noticed the temperature of the breeze, the sunshine, the trees and mountain ranges, and the splendid feeling of cruising the highway. Further effects came later that week. My intestines seemed to work as they never had, and I was more focused and better able to sort through data that had been burdening me for some time, and when I felt anxious, I sought a private and quiet space. These were all great alternatives to rushing around without paying attention to what was around me, experiencing much anxiety and worry, feeling constipated, and overwhelmed. I am often guilty of tackling what is difficult in a "crash and burn" fashion without taking pauses, no matter how stressed it made me, but not this week!

My second acupuncture, a week later, was equally, if not more effective and the needles must have gone a little deeper, for the issues I had complained about were gone, though others replaced them. I experienced a sudden sadness and a rush of thoughts and feelings that I hadn't thought about in a very long time. Viewing messages on Facebook, I saw happy relatives vacationing and winced, remembering times when I wondered why our life had such few carefree moments, only to learn later that I had a chronic illness that often took pleasure from the present moment.  My illness was so insidious that I hadn't realized how much it was robbing me of the energy to live life as fully as I wished.

This dark mood came on suddenly!  It was like my treatment had tapped a vein of sadness that I had struggled to deal with much of my life. These resurrected feelings, I had thought were long since resolved, but maybe not? They were ones that had taken years of counseling, and here they were again. I didn't dwell on them but did recognize that they were still there, and made me realize that these deep-seated feelings still have a bit of a hold on me, literally creating "dis-ease" in my body. The mind-body connection never ceases to amaze me. I had to see it for what it was, emotional pain that connects to my chronic disease.

While I had dealt with my feelings years ago, how they connected to my body was a fresh reality to me. Recognizing and honoring them as manifestations of my present dis-eased physical state was just what I needed in order to deliberately let go of their residual and give myself permission to stop the discomfort of being who and what I am.

It is really OK to be me and treat myself kindly, and love and respect all of me, mind, body and spirit and I will forgive those that taught me otherwise. Another vein of truth that opened for my healing was the understanding and compassion for those that taught me not to accept myself, as they treated themselves the same . I am sure that they didn't know how to do different or surely they would have. I will not wallow in these feelings.  They have come out in response to my acupuncture treatment so their residual can be released. My acupuncturist's goal had been to find the "heated, and inflamed areas and quell any allergic responses, including itching and irritation they create". He also worked "to promote circulation to improve my general well-being and healing of my skin". Clearly, my treatment did just that and was way more than skin deep!!

My acupuncturist has a four year graduate degree in Chinese Medicine in addition to a sports medicine degree. His analyses of my presenting conditions are rather metaphorical-like. They are holistic, combining the mind and body, quite literally stitching or seaming them together! I wondered how the two ever came to be separated?  We are the sum of our experiences and truly those experiences are stored in our bodies in one way or another. How wonderful it is that medicine recognizes the need to treat the whole person, and it is a privilege to receive these acupuncture treatments! I can't help but feel that I was supposed to be evaluated for hemachromatosis again and right now, and at this particular center in order to receive these soothing treatments.

I noted that my  acupuncturist's chart is labeled in Chinese and I couldn't resist asking if he had to learn Chinese in order to learn this foreign treatment. He said that he didn't have to but did choose to learn the Chinese terminology that goes with these treatments and then rattled off what points he had used and what they tapped, all in Chinese!

Acupuncture is a beautiful science and needle art. None of us will live forever, though the way I plan my quilt making, you would think that I planned to do just that! What a treat it is to learn and expand my awareness of the mind-body connection in order to become more fully present! Years ago I found a wise saying on a greeting card that I purchased and displayed on my desk, until it became a part of me.  It read, "If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?" Knowledge of how to care and respect my body is growing, just like my knowledge of needle arts!