Poem: Avonlea


Five monarchs flutter in a row–
They’re grace on wings,
And as they go,
Time stops. Am I in Avonlea?
Though Avonlea has never seen
Five monarchs in a row!

They make no sound to my own ear,
Yet my heart makes out
Music here.
Five monarchs make a chord of light.
It will ring clear into the night.
What dark have I to fear!

Review: All is Mary and Bright


Andrew Bright, the Earl of Sanders, is tired of women. Ever since he inherited his father’s title, it’s been a nightmare when his mother invites female friends to his house–especially friends with unwed daughters. Even if he expresses no interest in the unwed lady, he will find her ‘accidentally’ waiting in his library.

So irate does he become that he avoids his London townhouse whenever his mother invites friends.

This time, circumstances are different. His mother and sisters have come from their country house to celebrate Christmas with him in London. In doing so, they have sacrificed many beloved Christmas traditions, and he appreciates their visit.

There is one problem, though: they have once again brought friends, a Mrs. Hatcher and her daughter, Mary. Will Mary Hatcher be the next lady he finds in his library?

Andrew could avoid the townhouse again and spend time with his questionable friends. Gamblers and drinkers, he and his friends normally go to the city for a bit of fun…and sometimes, trouble. 

However, following an embarrassing episode with these friends at the Frost Fair, Andrew has had enough. He decides he would rather spend the holidays with his family…and the Hatcher women.

When Andrew learns that Mary Hatcher is already engaged, he feels relief. At least there won’t be another flirt in his library. This relief is short-lived, though; unknowingly, Mary begins to win him over. He wants to know everything about her. He would do anything in his power to make her happy.

What cruel fate that he has fallen in love with the one woman woman he can’t have.

He feels a spark of hope on learning that Miss Hatcher hasn’t seen her fiance in two years. It becomes clear that she knows nothing about her fiance, and Andrew wonders if he can convince her to change her mind.

The truth is that Mary’s fiance can live two years away from her, but Andrew can’t live a day without her.

He soon learns that there is a reason Mary is being forced to marry a stranger. Her father is managing her life from a distance. Can Andrew and Mary live happily ever after, or will she be forced to go through with this marriage of convenience?

Marriages of convenience were common in their era, but they were usually contracts rather than vows of love. Many arranged marriages were miserable or apathetic. A person’s heart should never be used as a bargaining chip to pay a debt.

I loved that this was the message of the book. There is no better gift for Christmas than true love.

Read Kasey Stockton’s other fantastic Christmas story, A Duke for Lady Eve!

Review: Anne of Avonlea


L.M. Montgomery’s theme in her classic series surrounding Anne Shirley appears to be change. It’s the sort of series you’ll want read when you’re about to open a new door in life. It reminds you that discomfort will cause your character to become stronger, helping you face the world.

If you’ve been to Literature class, you might have read Anne of Green Gables. A great many people don’t make it past that first book. There is treasure to be found in those installments that follow it, including Anne of Avonlea, the second book in this great series.

If you read my blog post on Anne of Green Gables, you know I believed change to be the greatest theme of the novel–how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert made a scary decision, clearing the way for new forms of joy. I see the same theme of change in Anne of Avonlea, but it it focuses more on Anne.

Anne of Avonlea presents new challenges for our dreamy heroine. Having taken on the profession of local schoolteacher, she must face a reality. The reality is that people, especially children, do not always behave as we’d like them to. She also discovers patience to be a virtue that can only be strengthened over time.

Are these not lessons that we readers have learned at some point? L.M. Montgomery makes Anne’s experiences our own.

We can reflect with amusement on Anne as a child and how her accidents brought poor Marilla such grief. Anne is fifteen when book two begins and, though she has outgrown much of her her mischievous side, remains a daydreamer.

In some ways, this helps her. She is able to relate to her students by speaking to them in the language that children understand, dreams. However, it also gives her unrealistic expectations that she must overcome in order to be more productive.

It becomes, therefore, a weakness: The first time that Anne has to punish a student, she feels so guilty that she cries.

Anne of Avonlea also explores themes of human nature. Not only does it highlight that people have flaws, but it celebrates the differences these flaws create. One of the clearest examples of this is in the Cuthberts’ grumpy new neighbor.

He lives next door, and he’s ready to wage war over a cow. It is satisfying when we see that she isn’t romanticizing this neighbor’s temper; she is old enough to accept that everybody has a personality, for better or for worse.

Our dreamer is still dreaming, then, but has planted a foot on the ground. She still longs for the ideal world of her imaginings, but has sufficient realism to survive as a teacher and a young adult.

For Anne, this involves another exercise in patience; it means accepting a world where not everybody believes as they should, resolving to leave it a better place nonetheless.

If the theme of book one was change, then I believe the theme of book two is waking up. Even a dreamer cannot blind herself to reality all her life, especially if she plans to make a difference.

As humans, waking up involves being open to differences. To successfully become a teacher, Anne allows such change to take place. The question Anne of Avonlea asks us, then, is will we do the same?

There isn’t much romance in Anne of Avonlea, her focus being on these goals rather than love. She is a perfect young matchmaker for other hearts, but–I consider this a weakness–her ‘ideal man’ lingers in the back of her mind. This keeps keeping her grounded and single, even when the town begins predicting her marriage to Gilbert Blythe.

Gilbert, for his part, waits patiently in the background. He cheers her on as she succeeds and comforts her when she fails. He watches her grow as teacher, sees her blossom into a young lady.

Time and patience are the strongest warriors, are they not?

Only in one scene does Anne begin to wonder if there might be more to Gilbert than an old schoolfellow…but she quickly returns to preparations for college. Gilbert, perceiving the brief shift in demeanor, continues to wait for his dream woman; now, though, he has enough hope to be…patient.

Review—Mozart’s Starling


Picture this: beloved composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at his piano, writing his next masterpiece.

He has a great amount of fans eager for something new, so he cannot disappoint. Soon, he will have his piano hauled onto a theater stage (he prefers to use his own at all times); he will perform, bow to great applause, and return home (once again hauling his piano.)

Now picture on his shoulder a little feathered helper.

His pet starling, Star, offers brand-new melodies, or perhaps she trills what he’s already composed, making it sound better. It’s not known the degree to which this lucky bird helped Mozart compose, as she is scarcely mentioned in his letters or journals; what we can know without a doubt is that, like any good pet owner, he loved her.

I am always looking for quirky elements in history. I am a gardener and nature lover; I want to know as much about the past as I possibly can. When I read the description of Mozart’s Starling, I couldn’t resist–this is exactly the kind of the story I’m looking for, a legend of classical music sharing time with a common bird!

Mozart’s Starling struck me because it mixed the genius (the composer and his natural talent) with something so normal that we can relate to him: adopting a pet to inspire us.

In short, Mozart bought a pet starling from a pet shop. He was not planning to bring home a pet that day; the strange thing about Star which no one can work out to this day is that she had been in the shop singing a bit from his latest work in progress—a piece that no human had heard yet, so imagine his shock when he heard this starling!

He had met a kindred spirit in a bird. He grew to love her so much that, when her short life ended, he arranged an impressive funeral, complete with original music, to see her off—but he did not go to his father’s funeral. You choose your family, I suppose!

The author of this book, Lyanda Haupt, told as much of the story as she knew. I wish there had been more about Mozart and the bird herself, but if few records exist, the only thing to be done would be making things up. I would rather have a bite of delicious truth than pages of lies.

The truth is, not much is known about Mozart’s starling except that he had one.

I enjoyed learning Lyanda’s story, as well; in order to write this book, she adopted a homeless starling and allowed her to live practically cage-free in her home. Her starling is called Carmen, and Haupt’s tales of how Carmen learned to talk and imitate the sounds of the coffee maker or the vacuum made me smile. What precious memories to make, and I am grateful that she shared them.

Side view of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, isolated on white

I learned that starlings are generally a hated species of bird, called invasive, and some people come up with cruel ways to rid the world of them. I’m not a birdwatcher, so I don’t know how much damage that entails; all I know is that Mozart had a starling, and all of a sudden his story is more interesting to me than it was.

If you know other tales like this, of historical figures being human and relatable, please share the titles; I can’t get enough of these stories. What a joy we have in history!

Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë

My Catholic Conversion Story


I just realized that, as a Catholic blogger, I’ve never shared my conversion story.

I love hearing others’ stories about how they discovered the joy that that can only be found in the Church; how they found that, in Jesus’ flock, there is a cloud of witnesses—so many Saintly brothers and sisters looking out for us that we are never truly alone!

It was the year that St. Pope John Paul II died, and it was my dear mother who made everything happen.

I remember that he was giving his Easter blessing that night—trying, as he could no longer speak without difficulty—and my mom knew that his time on this earth was almost at an end.

She went to the bedroom and woke up my brother and I; she turned on the television so that we, too, could see him for the last time.

The day of our baptism!

I still thank my mother, to this day, for making sure I had that last holy glimpse of him. The next time I saw him was after he had died, during his funeral.

Soon after this, Mom decided that my brother and I, who had not been baptized in any church yet (because half of our family are LDS, we were to be given the chance to choose for ourselves) needed to be part of a faith. She asked us to pray about it and decide what we wanted to be.

I didn’t have much to think about, really; I remembered feeling protected when my grandmother on my mom’s side would visit with her little saint statues.

These were visual reminders that there was something else. I wanted to know what that other thing was.

We went to church for the first time in our lives. I remember being awed by how big the church was, not just the building, but the sense of joy and unity within.

Not long after that, my brother and I were baptized. We received our First Holy Communion. We were home.

After my baptism, I entered a frenzy of wanting to learn more about the Church, the saints, the sacraments, history, and devotions. Perhaps I tried to get into theology too early, as I burned myself out on all of the things to know, and lost interest as a teenager. Recently, though, I have grown interested again. There is so much to know!

In rough times, when I have thought the Church perhaps too demanding or judged myself as wanting in the Communion of Saints, I’ve felt myself comforted by Mother Mary and the Saints—particularly St. Thérèse and my patron saints, Rose of Lima and Catherine of Siena. I think that St. John Paul II has also been watching over me; after all, he is the first “saint” I knew of before I was baptized, and I did see him alive.

I’m in love with the Church and all it has kept for us over the centuries. I acknowledge that there have been bad Popes, that the human aspect of the Church has led to decisions that were not Christlike. This does not change my love for her.

Until we are all in Heaven, we will all make mistakes.

What’s your story?

The Catholic Series: My Next Challenge


The Communion of Saints

Wondering what the Communion of Saints is? Read this article!

As a writer, what I love most about telling stories is that it allows you to create people. With enough practice, you can make them so lifelike that readers will feel them to be like friends.

This month, I’m wrapping up my trilogy on merpeople. It might have a spin-off trilogy later, but I’m satisfied to tell Rose’s story in three books, or possibly piece them together so that they are one. It depends on what might happen when I edit them.

Because I have written about magic for so long, I’ve decided to try something different when this trilogy is finished. I’m in a phase of discovering my faith again, seeing the beauty of being a Catholic striving for sainthood. I’ve been mulling over a new project—and this week decided to go for it.

I want to write tales of everyday Catholics who believe in the Sacraments—and especially in the Real Presence. I want to prove that faith can be captured in fiction writing. The stories will vary, but the main characters will have Catholicism in common.

It won’t all be perfect faith; I will write about the soul whose faith falters with as much care as he who believes. The point of this project is to write about realistic characters; every believer has doubts.

These stories will not be long. I predict they’ll be the length of a short story or a novella. If one does make it to “novel length,” I’ll be thankful, but shorter stories often have the most impact.

Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. – Reading has made many saints.

St. Josemaría Escrivá

As for POV, tense, or outlining, I don’t know what the stories will look like. I’m in collecting mode, gathering stories from people whose grandparents were devout, or those who believed that God would keep His promises and waited on Him until He did.

I have a few ideas; in my mind, I see these “small” acts of faith as the signs of future Saints. We can all be Saints.

They might be written in the form of a diary, or letters being exchanged; through this project, I am exploring new ways of storytelling.

We all know the tales of St. Thérèse and St. Joan of Arc; there are thousands of known Saints. I hope that the stories I write will remind us that we can also become Saints by living simple lives.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hebrews 12:1, NIV, italics mine

If you know someone with a good story about faith, love, vocations, anything that would make for an inspirational short story, please share. I can make stuff up, yes, but real people add life to the narrative.

I am eager to set aside the magic and see life through the eyes of faith. I’m going to learn a lot, writing these stories.

Nothing is stranger and more beautiful than real life, nothing more marvelous than His Sacrifice.

What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation…In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.

St. Francis of Assisi on the Eucharist and Real Presence of Christ

To Whom It May Concern


Let it be said of me
That my words waded
Where the waves
Devour,

Intent on saving you
For a new Day,
For it was not
Your Hour.

I don’t believe
I will meet you;
I shall not Know
Who you are,

Yet my words,
Relentless, found you,
Be it near or far.

For those who found my work long aft I’ve faded like a flower,

I hope you found a verse or two, to last another hour.

xx

5 Plants That Repel Pests


Many of my ideas hide out in the garden. I’ve been most inspired to write a poem when watching a butterfly perch on a daisy; the birdsong up in the trees above me rhymes more than anything I’ve been told to study for literature class.

For those of you who, like me, are gardeners as well as writers, here are five plants that naturally repel pests from this most holy of spots. After all, if you keep clean the place where your ideas take root, more will come to you.

(Also, gardening is a fun way to put aside the laptop and get some exercise. Trust me, it works.)

Wait—What Pests?

When you start a garden, you’re curating a little ecosystem. You often don’t realize how many mosquitoes are hiding near that pond where you made wishes years ago, or that the hole in the ground most certainly did not dig itself.

Many people will use chemical insecticides, but we’re writers; we know that nothing in nature is completely evil. Thankfully there are herbs and flowers that will keep these little nuisances from entering the Enchanted Garden at all.

1- Marigold

Who doesn’t love the vibrant marigold?

-They come in many sizes and can reach different heights.
-They are very easy to grow and, as sun loving plants, no shade no problem!
-They’re guaranteed to catch the eye of a casual pedestrian, stealing attention from the neighbor’s garden across the street.

Was that not enough? Here’s another reason to plant marigold: It repels aphids and mosquitoes.

Humans can enjoy these beauties; unwanted pests can’t. Plant them everywhere!

2- Peppermint

Christmas in July, anybody? Peppermint brings to mind the Christmas season, with its delicious sweets and those scented candles that usually wind up half-off on December 26.

Peppermint is more than the stuff of red and white candy. It’s an effective weapon against:

-Spiders
-Mosquitoes
-Ants
-Fleas
-Lice
-Mice

If I keep going, I’ll end up writing a poem. The point is, keep some peppermint in your garden; it’ll be safe.

Note: Unless you want the peppermint to spread all over the garden, keep them in ornate pots you can move around. Those fellows are such powerful weapons that they can take over!

3- Lavender

Lavender brings to mind beautiful plants in shades of purple with more candles (which don’t end up in the half-price basket quite as soon.)

Like marigold, lavender is more than just a pretty face. It’s a barrier against invaders, such as flies and—again—mosquitoes.

It’s a relief that some of these natural repellents are pretty, too; passersby will never know why you planted them.

4- Chrysanthemum

Speaking of pretty plants that repel bad guys, take a look at the beautiful chrysanthemum. Her colors are so vibrant, her presence so bold…

And lots of pests hate her.

Roaches, ants, Japanese beetles, lice, fleas, spider-mites, and more—all of them can’t bear to be near her.

It’s like her beauty is too much for their evil natures (I know, I contradict myself.)

5- Basil

You might have tasted basil in your food, but pests can’t stand to be near it, let alone taste it.

It repels asparagus beetle and the tomato hornworm. It’s also useful to season your dinner with. Why wouldn’t you plant some in your garden?

Conclusion

These are only five of the useful plants that repel pests. Get on Google and look it up; you’ll find longer lists with more varieties to choose from, depending on the sort of garden you want to keep.

When the pests are gone, then you can take your laptop and write outside. There won’t be as many mosquitoes to bite you while you’re distracted, and maybe you’ll finally finish that final draft.

Prologue


Let it be said of me,
“She was open, like a book.”
& like a book,
Some people can’t get much
Further than page 1.
I am a poem-volume
Amidst documents of war;
The thrill explorers felt as
Their schooners left the shore.

One day I’ll be a Favorite Book
Read ‘neath the setting sun.
For now, I’ll stay true to myself
And whisper my page 1.

Shared with dVerse Open Link Night. Check them out for great poetry!