Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Enduring The Ultra-Marathon of Life with St. Sebastian.

I am exhausted.  It's been almost a year since my mother passed and she did it with flying colors, an A+ but I was left with an empty heart and a tired and spent mind, emotionally bereft.  I took care of her as she aged for years as the need grew slowly over time.  Right after she died I felt this great sense of accomplishment.  I had gotten her to the end of her life here on earth.  She died comfortably on her own schedule, in her own home, the way she wanted and she was smiling at the end.  Who could ask for more?

I thought I had handled the grief of losing my mother well.  After all, she was 101 when she died.  How can you feel bad for someone who lived such a long and happy life?  She always appreciated living on the land she and my father bought in the 40's on the Rogue River, the most beautiful spot on earth she would argue.  She kept her bird feeders full and raised a garden.  She walked miles of trails and back roads with her dogs and cats over the years, hunting mushrooms, Indian artifacts and wildflowers, trusting the universe to keep her safe.  Now a year after her death I find myself struggling with a sense of loss I hadn't felt earlier.  Why now I wonder?

It's an honor to support someone through the end of their life but there is a cost in doing so. I felt I had to keep a grip on every minute of every day and that no one else could or would do what was necessary to protect my mother who was old, so old she no longer could make safe decisions.  So I felt the weight of living two lives, mine and hers and I wasn't doing such a hot job of managing my own.  As I became overwhelmed with the challenges of caring for her, I became driven to pretend I was capable of doing even more.   I know now I was neglecting other parts of my life but in the midst of it, I was determined to do what was necessary to keep my mother comfortable, safe and happy through the end of her life.

Two broken hips, weeks in traction, rehab for months, dementia, Hospice came and went, allergic reactions to medications, catheters, wheelchairs and walkers, hiring and firing caregivers, keeping the groceries stocked, managing finances and businesses and on and on until I felt I was no longer able to handle one more challenge without unraveling. 

In my  20's and 30's I was obsessed with running ultra-marathons, especially wilderness trail ultra- marathons.  Those would be defined as any distance greater than the usual 26 mile marathon on trails where little aide or support or access were available.  Most often the events were 50 miles, 100K (62 miles) 100 miles and 24 hour runs.  For a number of years I trained and competed at those distances and found great reward in doing something others couldn't do, pushing my limits and gaining some notoriety for being a woman who was really good at them.  For me it was exhilarating to be running hard on a steep trail in the wilderness knowing that it was my own mental and physical toughness that would guarantee not only my survival but my success.  I spent countless hours exploring my physical endurance and my mental determination.  If you want to push your limits run a marathon.  If you want to explore the backside of your soul run 100 miles.  It was during these races that I invented the "nonexistence of no".   A lot of things can go dreadfully wrong in the time it takes to run an ultra-marathon.  I learned that what was bad early on would be fine later and what seemed fine in the beginning could become a monumental problem in the end.  I would simply tell myself  "No doesn't exist for me"'  That is what enabled me to care for my mother all of those years.  Quitting was never an option because it didn't exist.

The first time I ran the Western States 100 I got a sore spot early in the race under my heel from a grain of sand that over time grew until my heel pad was floating on one big watery blister and I had to run on my tiptoe.  I entertained the fantasy of quitting with every step and at every aide station but in my soul I knew my blister would be healed in a week but my spirit would never heal from quitting.  That's why I couldn't let up with my mother.  I knew her life would end eventually and I wanted no regrets no matter how difficult it seemed at the time, no matter how much the blister hurt or how tired I was.               

St. Sebastian,one of the early saints of the catholic church, martyred in 288,  is the Patron Saint of Athletes, endurance, soldiers, archers,  plague sufferers and more.  I like him because he showed untiring endurance in his commitment to his beliefs. He is also known as the saint who was martyred twice.  You will see images of him tied to a tree, shot through with arrows during Rome's persecution of Christians. He was left for dead but miraculously recovered.  He held fast to his beliefs.  Even after a second chance at life he confronted the Roman Emperor for the mistreatment of Christians and for that he was finally clubbed to death. St. Sebastian is the one I pray to for perseverance and determination when times are challenging and especially when I miss my mom.  He tells me that I need to hang in there, stick with what I know is right and don't give up ever. 

So a year after my mom's death it seems harder than ever because I don't have her to talk with anymore.  I miss her smile and laughter every single day.  I need to ask her about how to prune my roses one more time and to remind me what soap to mix to get rid of aphids.   I need to ask her about love,  kindness and forgiveness and how she made those things look so easy when they seem to be so hard for me.  I want to ask her about how it felt when she lost her mom and what she missed most.  I need to know how she survived the death of my father, who was the love of her life.  I forgot to ask her if it gets any easier and if  there was a time she thought the sun might never come up again.  I pray to St. Sebastian for the endurance I need to heal my soul and recognize the sun when it does come up. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

How to Repair a Saint Statue and Survive a Broken Heart

This past week I had the opportunity to be a part of an incident where someone's heart got broken.  Her heart had been aching for a long time but a low grade chronic kind of ache that she could push below the surface of everyday living and  pretend other things were more important.  It works for many of us but really, we all should be grateful to have an aching heart finally break so we are forced to repair it once and for all.
Broken Infant of Prague Statue

One of the things I do for a living and love doing is repairing saint statues. When someone brings me a broken statue it is a rewarding challenge to glue the pieces back together, adding new clay where parts are too shattered, touching up the paint and polishing the gold leaf that has been taken for granted. I would love to help my friend by repairing her heart, making it as if nothing ever happened but it's not nearly as easy.

She could pray to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes but who wants to believe that a broken heart is a lost cause?  She could ask for the intersession of St. Valentine in hope of recovering the romantic love that was destroyed but it's impossible to rekindle that kind of thing until you know the fracture is not irreparable.  It would be best to call on St. Valentine later.  I suppose she could focus on St. Lucy, the Patron Saint of Vision, and wish for greater insight the whole time her heart just ached but regrets of the past won't heal the present.

Molding a Stronger Foundation during Restoration
One possibility is an 8th century knight from Burgundy she could pray to named St. Gengulphus, who is known to work many miracles and was highly respected in the community, a particular favorite in his region.  He is the Patron Saint of Difficult Relationships, victims of deceit and unfaithfulness. It seems he had some class, leaving his unfaithful wife to become a hermit while still providing for her, wishing her no harm.  I'm not sure if he can heal my friend's broken heart but it might be a place for her to begin.  Me thinks it might be better to focus on the simple things of daily living, the beauty of the sunrise, the smell of autumn, true friends that protect and support you and keeping the bird feeder full like my mom always did.  That's when I invoke St. Therese, who said on her death-bed, "I only love simplicity. I have a horror of pretense".

So the other day, when I had the privilege of repairing a broken Infant of Prague statue I remembered St. Therese's  words.  I think about the people who bring me their statues, hoping for a repair that fixes both their beloved statue and their sense of loss.  There is always great emotion attached to wanting a broken saint fixed.  It could be because of who gave you the statue.  Maybe your mother or Grandma wanted to protect you in the only way they knew how or it might be because of how it got broken....a couple of grand-kids who thought the Infant of Prague would like to play dress-up and everyone ended up in tears.  Or maybe a particular saint's story is motivation for you to stay true to your values, who you love and how you love, helping you to remember to make the right choices.

The Infant of Prague after being repaired at Chris Hart Studio
When your favorite statue takes a tumble and you bring it to me, here is what I do.  First, I sort out every single piece, painstakingly assess the damage and brutally get rid of the parts that do no good.  Usually, I create a stronger foundation and piece by piece I patiently glue, sand, mold and paint until the statue is beautiful again, no matter how long it takes.  I don't strive for perfection because the little dings and dents are a reminder that there is a deep story attached to how broken things get repaired and that includes my friend's broken heart.

In 1631 when the Saxons seized Prague,  the Carmelite monastery was destroyed and the Infant statue was discarded.   The statue was rediscovered by a priest in the rubble in 1637 with broken hands.  It is said that the saint sat on a shelf until the priest heard it speak these words.

"Have mercy on me and I will have mercy on you.
Give me hands and I will give you peace.
The more you honor me, the more I will bless you."

Since that time, the Infant of Prague has been credited with many miraculous healings, one of which I pray will include my friend's broken heart.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Patron Saint of Dementia, Life, Love and Hope During Ordinary Time - The Infant of Prague

When I first realized my mother was showing signs of dementia, I made excuses.  "She is just confused by all of the things going on today" or "She always has trouble remembering things when she is tired".  My favorite..."even I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch".  But finally, you get hit smack in the face with real life memory issues and it can no longer be denied no matter how much you don't want it to be true.  Dementia is a shadow that changes in the light of the moment, confusing and illusive and hard to grab a hold of.  Just when you think your loved one is lost to the darkness forever, they remember something so detailed and obscure that you are thrust back in your sunny place of denial.

My Blessed Mother Mary at 100
 I didn't want to recognize it.  I wanted my mom to be my mom.  She was always there for me and I didn't want that to ever change.  As she slipped away from me I had to do some serious self-introspection, deal with my control issues and let go of organizing the universe.  Most of all, I had to quit being someone's little girl and be an adult, care giving someone who was no longer able to take care of me.  I told myself when she didn't recognize who I was, I could put a salve on my own discomfort by staying home and she wouldn't know if I came to see her or not.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Memory loss comes and goes.  One moment she made no sense but then her brain somehow inventively found another way to connect the neurons and she not only made sense but made abstract enlightened sense.  We laughed and talked and I learned  I could figure out what she was saying even when no one else could.   It was like being in a private club with only the two of us as members using a secret language. I learned that a pokey thing was a fork, that gender was interchangeable and that holding a baby doll was comforting for her. She taught the doll how to drink from a straw and in doing so she remembered how to drink herself. One day after the two of us had played with her doll she smiled at me and said "I'm not sure how this works because she isn't really real, you know".  I loved those times with her.  I learned to redefine what a good visit was and how to do for her what she had done for me for so many years....ask questions, listen and make her feel like she mattered.

My mother could recite any recipe in detail.  For years she sent everyone she knew a birthday card. Once you were on her list you could count on a card every single year with a handwritten note even if you had been her garbageman, the Safeway store clerk or met her fishing on her riverbank 20 years ago. She knew how to grow a garden and how to preserve every vegetable in Josephine County.  She knew how to make cheese from milk she got from a real cow and how to make mayonnaise using a fresh egg .  She knew how to feed a family all winter on fryers she raised from chicks earlier that spring.  Most of all she knew how to care about you and make you feel valued.  All of that gradually changed.

There were times I wanted my mother back so bad I could barely breathe.  Sometimes I could hardly face visiting her.  After all, I wanted to remember her the way she was, not experience her the way she was now.  But I  forced myself to stay present no matter how much it hurt.  I made myself be with her, learn her language and I worked to make her feel like she was contributing to every conversation even when it made no sense.  For all of my discomfort and self absorbed pain, I learned that this was just another component of our relationship like a fractal.  Oddly the pattern was the same as it had been.

Broccoli from my garden showing fractal pattern
A fractal is a never ending design, repeating itself over and over.  They appear on the outside to be utter confusion.  As you look closer at the details of a snowflake, a sunflower or a head of broccoli  you see the pattern repeated over and over again putting order to the disarray of their design.   What felt like chaos with my mother was the same pattern just on a different scale. We kept doing what we had always done, smiling, loving, caring and sharing as her mind lost its foothold.  We both found comfort in the familiar patterns of the relationship while in the midst of what seemed to be an indecipherable mess.

At the end of one especially happy visit filled with laughter and stories of our lives together, my own mother asked me how my mother was.  Even though my heart squeezed tight with grief for a moment, I told her about herself...that my mother had broken a hip and was now using a walker but she was getting better.  I told her I  often visited my mother and always brought a bouquet of flowers from my garden.  For a confused moment my mother looked at me and then gave me the warmest loving smile and said "Oh, that's right.  You're the one who brings me flowers."   That was good enough.

The Infant of Prague from Chris Hart Studio
After one especially difficult visit, I received an order for an Infant of Prague statue from a church in the Midwest.  This saint statue is of the Holy Child in a robe with his right hand raised in a blessing while his left hand holds a sphere topped with a cross symbolizing the universe resting in his hands.  The statue always wears a crown and a beautiful robe. Ancient tradition is to change the color of the robe based on the liturgical season following the church calendar.  A red robe symbolizes royalty, Holy Week and the Holy Cross.  I sometimes will paint the statue wearing a white robe trimmed in gold leaf symbolizing purity and holiness for Easter and Christmas periods.  A violet robe represents repentance for Lent and Advent.  The most common color of robe is green because it represents life, love and hope during Ordinary Time.

As I painted this particular statue with a green robe, I thought about the life and hope I shared with my mother even with dementia.  The Infant statue served as a reminder of Jesus as a real human being, here on earth.  I thought about the fact that my mother was still a real human being even with her dementia here on earth.  I could not begin to understand the greater plan the Almighty might have for us but I could understand the value of sitting with someone who didn't always remember my name.  She may not recognize me but she recognized love.  She may not have been able to say "I love you" but she could nod when I said "I love you and you love me".  She may not have known how to hold a pokey thing but she knew how to hold my hand.  She may not have remembered the names of the flowers but she knew the meaning of the bouquet.  That is life, love and hope during Ordinary Time.   




Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Course in Miracles for Barking Dogs? Peace be with You

Who lets their dogs bark?  Apparently lots of people, at least in my neighborhood.  I am the first to say I really don't enjoy watering my plants while being serenaded by the neighbors' dogs.  First I just figured they were getting accustomed to being in a new neighborhood but the ones behind me still bark after 5 years and the ones next door bark after two years.  Oddly, the owners are rarely inconvenienced enough to ask the dogs to be quiet.  I guess there are differing philosophies.  Some think it is better to let them bark until they quiet down on their own, which occurs once I give up my pursuit of outdoor activity and go back inside.  The others let them bark for ten minutes and then bring them in the house, training them to become a fifty-bark dog.

The Patron Saint of Dogs, St. Roch from Chris Hart Studio
I've tried quietly opening my door, tiptoeing outside hoping to be able to steal a moment of tranquility.  But no... a dog's ears are sharp enough to hear a mouse pass gas a mile away apparently.  They erupt in a cacophony of watch-dog style noise, snapping and chasing along the fence, needing to guard their master who is either still sleeping or left for work. After several years, one would think a guard dog could figure out who was a menace and who wasn't. 

I knew I had to do something with the way I was perceiving the barking dogs, since clearly the owner wasn't as candidate for doing their part.  I needed a Course in Miracles for Dogs.  I began looking for a saint that could help me out.  St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Animals seemed like he had more important things to do since he is in charge of all animals and there are lots of animals who need help.

In my research, I found St. Roch, Patron saint of Dogs.  St. Roch was stricken with the plague after healing many of those around him from it.  He went to die in a cave but was healed by a dog who brought him bread and licked his sores.  I sorta liked that but I couldn't see the neighbor dogs doing that for me.  However, I am going to pray to St. Roch, who is not only the Patron Saint of Dogs but the Patron Saint of Contagious Diseases.  I think his talents could be put to better use helping out with the Ebola problem, instead.

Next I discovered St. Hubert of Liege, Patron Saint of Archers, Dogs, Forest Workers, Trappers, Hunting and Huntsmen.  He often took long walks in the forest for both pleasure and hunting accompanied by his hounds.  That had a certain appeal because I pray that the neighbors might find it in their souls to walk their dogs so they would be too tired to bark at me the rest of the day.  So far no luck yet.

Maizey and Mary at 100
I don't remember there ever being a barking problem at our house on the ranch where I grew up with the procession of canines who lived with us. My mother truly loved animals, especially dogs.  She had a way with them, taming the frightened, the lost that showed up on our doorstep and the injured thrown out of a car.  Most of my mother's pets were other peoples' castoffs, throwaway pets, discarded by others, all rejects, some I'm sure because they barked too much.  She took them in, healed, fed them and in return was rewarded by a faithfulness and dedication beyond measure.  So I've decided to pray to my mom for her intersession with the neighborhood's barking dogs.  When it comes to animals, she exemplified a life of  "nothing hinders" and she lived with "heroic virtues", the first two steps toward sainthood.  Once a couple of miracles occur through her intersession, I expect the pope will declare her a saint.  It truly will be a miracle if they stop barking but like I said, she had a way with animals.    



Monday, August 11, 2014

Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Nightmare at the hairdresser

Our Lady of Perpetual Help  from Chris Hart Studio
I did it again!  I put my faith in the wrong hairdresser even though I knew in my heart it was chancy.  Being a desperate optimist, I can convince myself of almost anything, with the help of the devil whispering in my ear.  On this particular occasion I was in a hurry.   I forgot to pray to St. Mary Magdalene and now I need to pray to Our Lady of Perpetual Help since I have to live with the results of my hair for the next 8 weeks.  Lets hope she sees her way clear to meet me in the shower every morning where I slather my hair with conditioner, hoping to remedy the over processed mess.  I've put her picture by my mirror to help heal broken and fried ends, calm unmanageable frizz and quiet my soul so I can go out of the house in a state of peaceful tranquility.  No matter I know that happiness is found inside, not on the outside, I am still deeply affected by icky hair.  Truth is I don't want to spend much time on it.  I just want it to look effortless and fabulous all the time while I do important things. When it doesn't, I get all twisted up. 

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an icon as old as the hills.  Everyone has seen the image or quite possibly, has noticed the image floating around their grandparents' house.  She has been a popular art piece even for non-Catholics.  The wooden icon panel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is 16 x 21 and was crafted some time before 1499 by a Greek artist, it is believed.  The icon is an image that embodies and symbolizes the central mysteries of faith, redemption, salvation, loving intersession of Mary and glory of the Divine. This beautiful representation of Mary and Child shows St. Michael and St. Gabriel holding items of the Crucifixion.  The symbolism is rich and has been the subject of a variety of interpretations, debated for centuries but most agree that Mary is shown as the great intercessor between us and the Divine, the Star of the Sea, offering guidance to all who seek her assistance.

I figure I should be embarrassed to call upon her to help with my hair.  She has much more important things to help out with.  She has been credited with preventing cholera and small pox, numerous healings of the afflicted, helping sailors find their name it she can help out as her name implies.  My grandmother told a story about having butchered a calf and with a sink full of meat, canning and chopping and preserving going on in her kitchen, my Grandfather brought home the town mayor for dinner.  Being a tiny Swiss woman coming to this country with her daughter on determination and resolve, she wasn't someone to cross.  I think I know why the small print of Our Lady of Perpetual Help hung in a plastic frame by her kitchen door.  Our Lady is there for anyone who needs her no matter how small or how large the request.  The Perpetual Help part is great because that means she doesn't take time off because our troubles certainly don't.

My Grandmother, Maria Lenard
Unlike me, Gramma didn't court disaster because she had never had a haircut or colored her hair, not once.  She wore the exact same hair style her entire life, eliminating the whole frustration factor that can mess up 6 to 8 weeks of your life  So I look in the mirror each day and pray for a miraculous healing of this mess that is called a hair style.  I ask for help in making better decisions, to hear what my heart is telling me and not place so much value on a hairdo but more on what  I do.

I'm pretty sure Our Lady of Perpetual Help is willing to intercede for us even on the smallest things but I noticed that her hair is covered entirely by her veil.  Not even a strand is showing which leads me to believe even she had those days.         



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

St. Anne, Patron Saint of Homemakers. - Mary P's French Silk Pie Recipe.

My Blessed Mother Mary at 99
Recently, I wrote a post of the things I remember about celebrating my birthday with my mother and what I miss most about her not being here physically on the planet.  One of the things I mentioned was the French Silk pie she made for my birthday.  So many people have asked for the recipe that I decided to share it here. It's not as hard to make as it reads and when you taste it you will realize it is worth it.  This is just as my mother wrote it 50 years ago.


1 C Flour, sifted
1/2 tsp Salt
1/3 C  Lard (She never used butter or shortening)
1 T Cold Vinegar
1-2 T Cold Water

Preheat oven to 475.  In a bowl, mix together four, salt and lard using pastry cutter until the dough is in pea sized pieces.  Sprinkle vinegar and water, mixing the flour with a fork until pastry pulls cleanly away from the side of the bowl.  Pat into a ball with floured hands, wrap in damp dishtowel (She didn't have plastic wrap) and chill for 45 minutes.  On a floured board, roll out dough 2 inches larger than your pie pan.   Place in dish, fold and flute the edges.  Prick pastry shell thoroughly with fork on bottom and sides.  Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool. 


1 1/2 C Sugar
1 lb Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
3 oz of Unsweetened Baker's Chocolate
4 Eggs  (She had no concern for using raw eggs but you could use egg substitute)

Melt the chocolate over low heat (She didn't have a microwave).  Set aside to cool .
With electric mixer cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate until thoroughly blended.  With mixer on medium, add one egg at a time blending for 5 minutes between each addition of egg.  Keep mixer speed on medium and blend another 5 minutes.  Pour into cooled pie crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and a fresh strawberry.

Whipped Cream
3/4 C Cream
1 tsp Vanilla
2 T fine Sugar
Small Pinch Cream of Tarter  (She swore the whipped cream would stand up longer) 

Mix sugar and cream of tarter together. In chilled bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken and add sugar mixture and blend.  Then add vanilla, continuing to whip until peaks form.   

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Patron Saint of Confessions? I Nominate Father Tom Allender

The other day while I was cleaning my desk, I ran across a 4 page handwritten list of sins I wrote while waiting in line for confession.  As the old saying goes..."Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been 43 years since my last confession and the list is long, so long that you may not have enough hours left in your day to hear them all."

St. Ignatius
After attending a 3 day parish mission called "Life's Journey" led by Father Tom Allender, I decided he was the one to hear my confession after many years of procrastination and transgression.  Father Tom has written several nonthreatening books on the subject of love and forgiveness and life in general so I though he might be the right guy to hear the litany of embarrassing sins I had committed in my life.  He is a Jesuit priest who's life is now traveling and speaking all over the United States.  The Jesuits are considered the marine corp of the Catholic church, front line, in the trenches, gut wrenching selfless helpers of the sick and needy, the old and the illiterate.  I've always had a special appreciation for the Jesuits.  So in a nutshell, Father Tom seemed the easiest to tell.  I felt I could come out of the closet, confess that it had been 43 years since my last confession and I wouldn't see him at breakfast after mass on Sunday. He had a plane to catch and I liked that part a lot. 

 Now that I have outed myself, I need to explain why it took so long before I could face going to confession.  I felt many of my sins were unforgivable and if I didn't speak aloud of them then maybe they wouldn't exist.  Many I just dismissed, justified or refused to think about because of the discomfort they caused me.  Many I though about and felt such guilt that I couldn't even allow myself to ponder without tears the pain I most likely had caused others.  It's a conundrum to know you need forgiveness but you can't begin to ask for it because you don't believe you or your sins are forgivable.  So days,  months and years go by without really facing the weakest part of your soul and in the process you live on the periphery of a value system you know to be just and true.  I rationalized because I painted saints for a living.  I was busy convincing myself that I was doing penance and holy work by spending my time creating and painting beautiful saint statues that would go on to tell their story to others.  I almost had myself convinced until I heard Fr. Tom speak.  His topic was from his book called "God Loves An Unmade Bed" and boy, did I feel like one rumpled mess inside.

Father Tom was hearing confessions in the afternoon of his last day before leaving town on what is jokingly referred to as his Highway to Heaven tour.  I arrived early.  The line was long.  It seemed many had felt the same level of comfort with him that I felt. As I began my wait, I did the math.  There were over 30 people ahead of me and the average he spent with each was more than 10 minutes.  That meant over 5 hours of waiting.  I wanted to leave right then because after all I had other things to do that day.  Plus, it had been so long what did it matter if I went to confession today or not.  It took a giant act of self discipline to settle in and  begin my wait.  First, I quietly pulled out my iPhone and did a quick search to update myself on the process of confession.  I'm pretty sure it's a sin to use your phone in a House of God but I was desperate. Then I prayed and fidgeted and daydreamed and wished I was anywhere else but waiting in line to confess years of sin.  I studied each person around me and made up stories to entertain myself.  Periodically a transgression I had forgotten about would float through my consciousness.  I would write it down and before long I had filled a page.  Then I began to remember and list every sin no matter how small.  I made a timeline sketch and noted them in chronological order and the pages multiplied.  And then I started to cry.  Seeing 4 pages of less than stellar behavior, 4 pages of contributing to someone's  pain, 4 pages of living outside of a value system that I really did believe in, dredging up memories I didn't want made me realize that the worst part was I hadn't been able to admit these to myself let alone confess them.  Besides, just maybe the Divine didn't know I was such a sinner and I had foolishly been hoping to keep it that way.  Suddenly, I saw the value of confession in a way I hadn't before.

4 1/2 hours later I was invited into the confessional.  One look at my swollen eyes, worried face and wad of notes and Kleenex must have told Father Tom all he needed to know...I was his worst nightmare with 43 years of sins to confess and a line of 25 more people behind me and another Parrish to visit across the country by tomorrow.  I got the Confession-Lite version.  Thanks be to God.  He asked me about love in my life and who I cared for and what was important to me.  He asked me about caring for my 100 year old mother and what I felt from doing that.  As I wept for being such a horrible person, Father Tom helped me to realize that I have done much good, right along with those sins.  He told me "God is love and if your life is filled with loving and being loved then you have found God inside you.You have been forgiven but now you must forgive yourself". I was expecting to be admonished and told to do some extreme penance like scrubbing the altar with a toothbrush.  It was a beautiful confession, exactly what I needed.  Father Tom knew anything more would have made it another 43 years before I'd go again. That's why I love those Jesuits.  Instead of driving me away, I was embraced and made to see, for all my sins, I had done many more good things in my life.  I felt like I had sprouted the beginnings of wings and I was light enough to fly. 

St. Ignatius is credited with founding the religious order of Jesuits in 1534.  He professed vows of poverty and chastity and obedience to the teachings of Jesus.  Because of St. Ignatius' military background, the Jesuits are willing to accept orders anywhere in the world and live in extreme conditions when required.  They really are the soldiers of the church.

I took those 4 pages of sins and ran them through the triple shredder  and then I buried them in my compost pile.  I figure they can still do some good on earth and so can I.         



Sunday, June 29, 2014

St. Anne, Patron Saint of Birthdays?

Today is my birthday.  My mom would be the first to tell you about the 30 hours of labor she went through and that my dad had to drive her 50 miles to Sacred Heart Hospital because she was afraid to go to the small local hospital.  She would tell you I am sensitive to the heat because it was over 100 degrees when she brought me home from the hospital and my face was as red as a tomato.  She would tell you that I didn't like wearing clothes but I did like drinking out of the hose.  This is the first birthday I have spent without seeing or talking with my mother.  I was thinking of what I miss most about her not being present on earth. It's been a few years since she was able to call me on my birthday and sing.  I had gotten my own card and wrapped my own present for several years now so she wouldn't feel anxious when she saw me but what I will always miss are these things....

My earliest birthday memory is the chocolate cake with fresh strawberries nestled in her butter-cream frosting because in June the strawberries in her garden were plentiful, sweet and juicy.  She let me eat the cake with my hands.  When I turned 12, she started making me her spectacular French Silk Pie.  Never have I been able to reproduce the taste sensation she magically created with so few ingredients.  It was a concoction of sugar, butter, eggs, unsweetened chocolate and vanilla in a flaky golden brown crust made with real lard and served with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.  The proportions were exactly right and the feeling of the filling as it warmed in your mouth and melted across your tongue contrasting with the light flaky crust was like no other.  It might have been the teaspoon of vinegar she added to the dough, or maybe it was because the eggs were fresh from the chickens next door and the cream was from Clasby's Dairy just down the road but really I know it was special because she cared.

I loved the way she smiled when I walked in the room.  It was her smile that truly substantiated, confirmed, approved, validated and gave force to my existence on the planet from the time I was born.  I wonder how many times she smiled at me over our lives together.  Every single time our eyes met, I got that smile, especially as she lost her ability to speak.  It said "we exist in this moment in each others' lives, solid and loving and real". We didn't need words. No one ever smiled at me like that but her.  That's what I miss.     

St. Anne with Mary statue from Chris Hart Studio
St. Anne was Mary's mom, Christ's Gramma, and the Patron Saint for homemakers, women, grandmothers, mothers, pregnancy and labor, lace makers and seamstresses.  She is traditionally shown beside a young Mary with a book teaching her to read because she valued education over stuff like my mom did. Mary was born to St. Anne late in life like I was.  I understand St. Anne.  She loved her daughter.  There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for her.  She felt that Mary was a gift not a chore.

With Jesus as a grandchild and Mary as her daughter, those who venerate St. Anne should have a pretty good chance at having their prayers answered, don't you think?  I can't imagine a petition that wouldn't be given serious consideration because of her connections. I don't usually pray to St. Anne for anything but instead, I find myself  giving thanks to St. Anne for bringing honor to motherhood and homemaking.  The thing about the saints is that they are just people doing  things they believe in, standing up for their values and principals regardless of the challenges they face.  St. Anne is a saint because she is somebody's mom and she loved and cared for her child.  She stayed true to her beliefs. She didn't conquer armies or fight the forces of evil like St. Michael.  She wasn't clubbed to death for her beliefs like St. Jude.  She wasn't an abused wife like St. Rita or have her eyes gouged out like St. Lucy.  Instead, she was just a mom, loving and comforting her child and grandchild, hoping good things for them and encouraging and caring for them just like my mom.

So on my birthday, I think about my mother's smile and the French Silk Pie and I thank St. Anne.  Without my mom I wouldn't have a birthday.                   



Friday, June 27, 2014

St. Michael,the Achangel, Protect Me from Myself!

My mother loved to sleep with her cat. but at 97 she ended up in the hospital with an extreme allergic reaction to poison oak and the resulting dehydration.  I felt that I needed to spend every second protecting her from the well meaning intentions of the medical system and staff.  I knew my mother was frail and old and probably not long for this world but I wanted her to die on her own schedule. I didn't want hospital staff inadvertently  killing her.  It was clear from the first moment she entered the emergency room that protection would be necessary.  She was a tiny woman and very irritated by the poison oak coursing through her body.  She itched on the inside and the outside.  There seemed to be no relief and when the nurse tried to catheter her with an adult size catheter it sent my mother into a frenzy.  Being old, tiny and dried up, with the staff holding her down, it was like trying repeatedly to force a football into a microscopic hornets nest.  When I arrived in the ER I could hear her screams in the hallway.  I was met by the nurse supervisor who told me my mother was combative.  That made two of us.  It wasn't until 24 hours later that I finally found a pediatric physician to quietly and softly put the catheter in so my mother could empty her bladder.

The Hospitalist charged with her care told me she was from a country that didn't have poison oak.  She apparently was from a country that didn't believe in family involvement when making decisions regarding patients' care either.  I was determined not to leave my mother alone for a second so I set up a schedule with caregivers and myself to protect her.  It seemed vigilance was of utmost importance and it seemed like a good time to pray to St. Michael, the archangel, the protector and warrior angel.

Detail of St. Michael with his foot on Satan's head in triumph over evil
Its a solid feeling to know someone is in your camp, looking out for you and there to protect you from the evils that sometimes pass your way.  St. Michael is the Patron Saint of policemen, soldiers, knights, EMTs, against temptation and of the dying.  He is known as the defender of heaven and he holds a double edged sword symbolizing truth and justice.  He is God's extraordinary friend, who is known as the "angel of death", descending at that moment to carry the soul to heaven, giving us a last chance at redemption.  St. Michael is the leader of heaven's Special Forces and their triumph over the powers of hell.  He is also known as a spiritual warrior, helping us with the battle against evil that wages within each of us.  St. Michael is definitely someone to have on your side.

St. Michael  statue from Chris Hart Studio
I love painting the St. Michael statue.  I always find the statue looks best when the finish is a metallic verdigris with a bronzed highlight.  For some reason, the statue seems to take on the strength of the metal.  He is depicted with his beautiful wings spread, holding his sword, his foot on Satan's head in a show of strength.

Later when my mother was feeling better, I told her St. Michael must also be the Patron Saint of Poison Oak, as he had helped in her battle against it.  She smiled and said "no, he just picked me up by my wings" .....And that he did.  .       .         .  


Friday, May 30, 2014

St. Rita "Be Careful What You Wish for...You Might Get it."

St. Rita at Chris Hart Studio
I have spent much of my life wishing for something that never happened.  Thank goodness!  I have found over the years that the things I dream about are sometimes best left as dreams, where I can savor the fantasy rather than deal with the reality. St. Rita reminds us to be cautious of thoughtlessly wishing for things that bring with them unforeseen problems.  I have become acutely  aware of unintended consequences that result from decisions I blithely make throughout my day.  Some are easy to work around or simple to solve but sometimes I misjudge the seriousness of what can happen, leaving me wishing I had known then what I know now.

St. Rita is one of my favorite saints.  She is the Patron Saint of Impossible Dreams and Difficult Situations.  She is the saint to pray to for challenging circumstances, infertility, victims of spousal abuse, the forgotten, widows, against loneliness and bodily ills.   She is usually painted in a black nun's habit holding the crucifix with a small red dot called a stigmata on her forehead  As St. Rita meditated on the image of Christ, a small wound appeared on her forehead as if the Crown of Thorns encircled her head. For 15 years she bore the stigmata, the symbol of her dedication to the Divine.  Throughout her life she saw her prayers granted under terribly painful circumstances but she never lost faith.         

St. Rita Statue from Chris Hart Studio
My mother used to say "Be careful what you wish for, you might get it". Now I know she was channeling St. Rita.  Once I wished I didn't have to go to school and the next morning I woke up with a horrible fever and had to go to the doctor instead.  Another time when I was married, I wished my husband would get fit, lose some weight and quit smoking..  When he did, it seemed every attractive woman was flirting with him and I found myself complaining and insecure, wishing I hadn't opened that Pandora's box.. Once I was in the midst of fantasizing about a career change and suddenly it happened for me in a most disturbing and uncontrollably painful way. I got the new career.  Along with it came several years of reassessment and introspection and emotional recovery. While I would say now it was something I am grateful happened, it was still personally agonizing .       

In spite of wishing to become a nun, St Rita married a very cruel man and had twin sons.  She prayed for her husband to stop abusing her.  Her beatings ended when her husband was killed in a violent murder.  Her sons were obligated to avenge their father’s death but St. Rita prayed that her sons would not commit the sin of murder. She convinced them to join the army and go far away.  It was during this time they contracted the flu and both died.  It was after these events that St. Rita was finally accepted as an Augustinian nun. So in a sense, St. Rita got what she wanted....Her husband stopped beating her.  Her sons were not murderers.  She became a nun.  Her prayers were answered but her dreams were shattered.  That’s what my mom meant when she warned “Be careful what you wish for.....”   

It is so easy to want things to be different and to pine away for things you don't have without any regard for what may happen once you get them.  That's why I keep St. Rita near my bed.  At the end of my day she is a reminder to not casually wish for things to be different, for people I am upset with to be silenced, for big changes in job or relationships.   She reminds me to be in the moment, grateful for what is and hopeful for the future.  To wish for something else diminishes where we are.  It exposes us to the potential of unintended consequences that significant change can bring.  Sometimes the gain is tiny while the losses are huge and sometimes the risk and pain are worth it.  Wishes are prayers, not to be taken lightly.  St. Rita makes us thoughtful and aware of what comes to us when our dreams collide with reality.                       



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Which Photos Will Be Used for the Slideshow of My Life? Ask St. Veronica, Patron Saint of Photographers

My blessed mother, Mary,
This Mother's Day is the first one I have spent without my mom.  I am not so sure it will ever be any less lonely for me.  There is no end to the memories that come with the day. This was the day I usually planted her vegetable garden and the flowers for her deck.  Mother's Day falls on the day that frost is no longer a concern, making planting the things she loved the perfect gift.

For years it had been too big of a job for my mother to put in a garden but eating the fresh produce was never too hard for her.  Even at 100 she could tell the difference between a garden tomato and a store bought one.  She loved freshly steamed zucchini with butter and salt and pepper.  She would eat green peppers straight from the plant like apples. She always had a sink full of cucumbers in ice water waiting to be slivered into a bowl for her famous sour cream cucumber salad.  She saved coffee cans all winter to place over the celery so it would grown long, tender, pale green stalks for her soups.  Early in the morning she could be found picking the ripe strawberries for shortcake before the birds could get them.  So many memories come to me on this day, leafing through the scrapbook of my mind. 

The Shrine of Saint Veronica
St. Veronica is the Patron Saint of Photographers.  Her fame came from wiping the sweat, mud and tears from Christ's face with her veil as he carried the cross, leaving the clearly visible imprint of his face on the cloth. They say this holy relic still exists today in Rome.  Late one night I remembered this story as I scanned and cropped the 54 photographs to be used in the 5 minute memorial slideshow of my mother's 101 years on the planet.  I recalled each event as I decided which picture to choose. A family reunion of fifteen, where now I count 5 people, some young and some old, gone.  There is the photo taken on a snowy day, in front of the log cabin, of my mom playing with her dogs.  There is a photograph, with new outfits for all, leaning against the green Plymouth, holding a new Easter purse.  My mother watching from a chair as my brother and sister-in-law plant her garden, the year I was too busy.  So many wonderful memories and some regrets, all captured in photos to be used at a funeral to describe your life in 5 minutes.  We really don't know at the time the photo is taken that it will be chosen, do we?  So now I say, look your best because this might be the one.

In the days prior to my mother's death, it was apparent she was ready to go as she gradually quit eating and drinking, her breathing labored and the blue splotches began to appear on her legs.  As I absorbed every minute with her, intently memorizing the moment, I remembered St. Veronica's veil as I blotted her face with a towel. I thought about her long life, 54 million minutes to be accurate, and the gift she gave me as my mother, seeing me into this world.  It only seemed fitting to see her out of this world, the best Mother's Day gift I could give her, although, at the time I didn't know it.

St. Veronica holding her Veil from Chris Hart Studio
The St. Veronica story is an archetype, the act of the saint is the vehicle for finding meaning in our lives.  It is to say that the simplest act of kindness is an act bigger than we can begin to understand.  A mother wipes a child's face after a meal. A husband offers a handkerchief to dry his wife's tears. A friend helps with a dustrag while you bake a birthday cake. A brother holds his sister's towel at a 10K run. A father hands you a cloth after you catch your first fish.  A daughter and mother share a dishtowel at Thanksgiving.  You wipe your mother's face in her last days.   

The simplest acts hold such great meaning.  So many photographs didn't make it into her slideshow of life but so many memories cannot be erased.  Happy Mother's Day.                                       

Friday, April 11, 2014

St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Impossible

Have you ever taken one of those psychological profile tests with questions like "Would you rather be lost in a huge scrap-booking warehouse or take your demented grandmother to the carnival?"  Both sound like horrific nightmares to me. I once had to take a Causality Dilemma Test to prove I wasn't mentally ill.  It was kind of fun.  I put my eye makeup on my lips and my lipstick on my eyes and didn't use any hair gel.  I figured if they think I'm a nut case, lets go with that.  It was one of those tests that asks the type of questions where there is no right answer.  You want to say, ":Whoa, I wouldn't be in that situation to begin with.  Would I rather have a fatal car accident or unknowingly drink strychnine?  Yes, please!".   The questions are annoying at best and you are going to sound like you're on a day pass from the asylum regardless of your answer. Ask me something I know for sure like..."Would you rather be dead or continue taking this test?"  Dilemmas are what make you look for answers elsewhere.

St. Jude Holy Card from Chris Hart Studio
St. Jude is the Patron Saint of the Impossible, hopeless cases, lost souls and lost causes.  That brings the saddest of the sad out of the woodwork to ask him for help.  People who have no job and are losing their family's home, those who have suffered illness and injury for which there is no recovery,  people who are caught in financial, emotional or physical dilemmas that seemingly have no solution and those who have lost their soul because of the destruction of personal relationships.    

I have a crush on St. Jude (not to be confused with the traitor Judas).  First of all, he is often portrayed as a big handsome guy who wears robes and seems to have a strong sense of self.  Very little is known about him historically.   He's a quiet man who does nice things for people in need.  That's my kind of guy.  As a matter of fact, he has done more for the downtrodden since his death than when he was alive.  He is often shown with a flame shooting out of his head, a symbol of the Holy Spirit and sometimes he is holding a club, the symbol of his martyrdom.  I dated a club carrying guy with flames shooting out of his head but he was no saint.  

When my mother broke her right hip at 98, it was a challenge.  Getting her through it was doable with dedication to her care and extensive rehab but when she shattered her left pelvis 4 months later, her raw animal pain was more than I could bear. I was told she could only be released to a nursing home with no hope of recovery.  I decided to bring her home to die. The only way to relieve her pain was to be flat on her back in a traction device her grandson invented.  If there is a hell on earth, this was it for sure.  She was bathed, changed and fed all while keeping her pelvis supported in the same flat position, stabilized by a rope and a bag of rocks hanging off the end of the bed.  Hospice was brought in to keep her comfortable.  I was told that it was impossible to recover from this kind of break at her age.  We could look forward to having complications like infections, bedsores or pneumonia.  The question on this insanity test was..."Would you rather your mother died now, her last memory of life on earth the angst of horrific pain or would you prefer she take her time calmly dying from nasty bedsore infections which finally invade her entire body?"  

 I was deeply effected by her pain.  It was truly a hopeless case. Then I remembered years ago chuckling at my mother for putting a classified ad in the newspaper thanking St. Jude for interceding on behalf of a dear friend who had a terminal illness.  As the helper of the hopeless, St. Jude asks us to persevere no matter how harsh or difficult our circumstances seem.  You see, St. Jude is one of the most powerful intercessors with the Divine.  He has the private number for the hot line  to the Almighty. So I asked St. Jude for his help in delivering my mother from this impossible situation.  I didn't deny that death was imminent. I asked that she be allowed to live her last days without pain and die in peace and then I let go of trying to control the impossible.
St. Jude Statue from Chris Hart Studio
 It felt like I was playing a slot machine for miracles, pouring in the prayers, hoping the cherries lined up. Some weeks later, Hospice told me my mother no longer met their criteria for care.  Instead she was showing signs of thriving.  She wanted to sit up and eat breakfast. She was worried about filling the hummingbird feeder.  Couldn't simply being 99 years old be defined as a terminal condition but who's to argue with Medicare?  

The real gift from St. Jude is that when you ask for his intercession you free yourself from the feeling of  hopelessness, opening the path for what is yet to come. You may not even recognize the answer right away. You must be willing to accept the outcome, find relief in handing over your hopelessness and believe what happens is always what was meant to happen.

My mom died comfortably at 101 of old age, no infections, illnesses or pain.  When cleaning her bedroom after her death, I found a slip of paper. This was what she printed  in the newspaper years ago.  "O blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor, to honor you and gratefully encourage devotion by telling others of your holy intercession. You came to my aide during the darkest of times. I ask that you continue to watch over me and all who invoke your aid. Amen"   



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Living With a Saint Statue. The Basic Rules of Etiquette

When you share your home with a saint statue or two there are some basic rules of etiquette that apply.  It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with them and show a sense of propriety that may help earn you a spot in heaven.  While it alone won't get you there, it may add some weight while you are standing at the gates.  You could say...."I always kept the Blessed Virgin on the top shelf, where I looked up to her and I used a soft cloth when I dusted  her.  No harsh chemicals..." and St. Peter might say in return..."Oh, great! That's exactly what I needed to hear.  You've hit the tipping point. Come on in.".

First rule of thumb is never leave an old saint statue rolling around in a drawer or box destined to Goodwill regardless of how chipped up it is.  It seems every house whether Catholic or not has a least one broken statue that they just can't toss out.  If you can't or don't care to have a professional repair your statue, put it out anyway.  You'll be surprised when you look at a statue every day with chips and dents and a broken finger, how comforting it can be.  Just like us, we show our wear.  History tells a story on our earthly body.  My arthritic ankle tells about a night when I was 11, sneaking out for a moonlit horseback ride. I had to hobble a mile back home with an ankle the size of a football.  The horse was already back at the barn eating his hay while my father waited for me.

The extra wide thumbnail on my right hand is proof that my mother was wrong when she said sucking my thumb would ruin my teeth.  Instead it ruined my nail which grows more ridges than a topographical map now that I am older but also,  it tells about a childhood filled with separation anxiety.  I didn't get the scar on my knee until I turned 34 and began running wilderness ultramarathons.  Falling in Mule Creek Canyon was something I barely noticed until my shoe was warm with blood but that scar holds such great stories of self discovery and confidence.  All these little dings that life hands out, makes us a walking storybook, some grand memories, others deep unsettling heartbreak.  Enjoying the imperfections of an old saint statue can offer us the reminder to embrace our own imperfections, visible or not.

Our Lady of Lourdes from Chris Hart Studio
When I paint a Blessed Mommy statue, I usually paint her eyes looking down.  That is because she is made to be placed above your eye level.  That way you are always looking up to her face, toward heaven.  And that's a rule.  But rules can be broken as in the case of a very large Blessed Mommy statue, 36" or taller, whose eyes I paint looking out and slightly down.  She can be placed lower and because of her height she will appear to be radiating her love out into the world you live in.

Now, the Christ statue is usually shown looking down toward his flock, as well. So try to place the Christ statue up on a shelf or a stand of some type or in a reliquary.  A big rule here is, if you have a statue of both, your Christ statue should be comparable in size to your Mary statue if they are in the same vicinity.  That seems to be an important rule to some.  If you have a disparity in your statue size, put them in different rooms.  Personally, I like this because each saint has a message of it's own and like telekinesis, too much in one place gives you a boat load of spiritual static.  There's enough already out there.

The Blessed Mother and the Christ statues are what I consider to be a direct line to the big gun and I don't usually call them into play until I have exhausted my other saints.  Being raised a good Catholic, I hate to bother God until it's really necessary.  He's pretty busy and I know he hears me regardless of who I am talking to, as long as my petition is clear and honest.  So I prefer to have St.  Lucy where I can see her when I start my day.  She reminds me to see clearly, look below the surface and to be real with those around me.

St. Rita from Chris Hart Studio
St Rita hangs out by my bed.  At the end of my day, she reminds me to be careful what I wish for because I might get it and that makes me mindful of the unintended consequences of negative thought.  Those wasted moments hoping for some disaster to happen to someone that pissed me off are tempered by her wisdom.  Sometimes I wish for bad things to happen to someone I have no control over just to make myself feel better, less angry, less put upon. I can taste it like a glass of wine gone bad.  St. Rita helps me to replace the cork and put it somewhere to mellow.      

I keep a small St. Teresa statue at my work table to bring to mind her love of the simple things in daily living. The value of talking with people when you don't have time, watering the tomatoes on a hellishly hot day, picking up someone elses dog's poop and the inconvenience of doing the dishes after a meal with a loved one.  She helps me see that the chores I sometimes dread are a privilege and not a burden.  Believe me, I don't feel that way by nature but she keeps me mindful enough in the moment to try.  My Aunt Margaret said to me when she was 92..."It was just yesterday when I had my 16th birthday and it's gone in the blink of an eye."  She died a few days later. I don't think she'd mind the opportunity to do tonight's dinner dishes. I thank St. Teresa for trying to turn my resistance into an appreciative act of love, as hard as it may be.

And what about saint statues for non-Catholics?  I say the more the merrier.  One in every home.  Find the saint with a meaning that works for you. The story of how a person became a saint is a story that affects us all.  Their stories are archetypes that help us stay conscious in our own lives.  Yes, I know, you tell me, some of the saints were probably having psychotic visions before Prozac was invented.  So what?  That doesn't make their journey to sainthood any less valuable then your own journey through this crazy life on earth.  Embrace the saints, and be grateful you don't have to be martyred to to learn from their lessons.     




Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Art of Saint Painting

 Chris Hart Studio
What happens in my brain when I pick up a paint brush to paint a saint statue?  If you could do a CAT scan at that moment, I suspect it would look something akin to a drug addict about to shoot heroin.  I get a little sweaty on my forehead, my stomach flips a tiny bit and I start to look around, keenly observant of my surroundings.  For a split second I don't know where to begin because every part of saint painting is so awe-inspiring.  It's like playing dress up as an adult with something holy, not only is the outcome amazing but the process is a blast.  I have to focus closely on one tiny area at a time.  I squeeze a small amount of Ultramarine Blue on my work table then next to that a bit of the Titanium White.  I begin adding a dab of blue to the white, back and forth until I have the basic tone of Our Lady's robe.  A tiny drop of black or brown will knock back the too fresh look of the paint and make it look like its been there for all eternity.

I begin by painting the colored areas of the robe and cape, scumbling and blotting as I go until all of the beautiful draped clothing is done.  Next the base the saint stands on, gets dashes of color to mimic either the clouds or  stone surface, depending on which statue it is.  I work overlaying tones of paint by applying a thinned almost glaze-like transparent coat, one on top of the other, layer by layer with a semi-dry brush until the piece radiates a warm energy from inside.

 Then I know it's time to paint the face, the biggest challenge of saint painting.

Years ago I learned through grievous trial and error to never attempt to paint a saint's face when I was angry, tired or had PMS.  They always reflected whatever emotion I had at the time.  Angels would look murderous.  The Blessed Mommy would look overwrought and crabby.  St. Theresa looked anything but in the moment and St. Rita of the impossible, looked like she was still an abused wife.  It was uncanny how the saint became a mirror for my emotions du jour.

Once when I was sick,  I painted an entire batch of angels that looked so evil they could be related to the devil.  Even when I put them on the sale table, not a soul would touch them.  I finally buried them in the garden for the winter thinking their faces would soften with age.  Instead, that spring my Rhubarb died.  The only angel that works at looking fierce is St. Michael the archangel, guardian, warrior and protector.  He holds a sword and has his foot on Satan's head.  All of us should pray to St. Michael once in a while, since he leads the army against evil and probably protected me from those horrible little devilish angels I mistakenly painted when I had the flu.       

I love painting the saint's eyes.  Over the years I have developed the exact colors for each saint.  Mary's eyes are always a reflective blue.  St. Magdalene's eyes are a beautiful rich green to compliment her gorgeous auburn hair and St. Rita's are a golden brown set off by her classic nun's outfit of basic black.  When the eyes are finally finished I imagine the saint crying out...."I can see!  I can see!" and suddenly the statue becomes alive in my hands.  Usually, I paint the saints' eyes so that they are looking heavenward but the Blessed Mommy statue should always be placed above your eye level so her eyes are cast downward.  Yes, the next thing I will tell you is a fact.  There is unspoken saint etiquette and those of us who share our home with a saint statue should become familiar with it.  That's for a future post.       

The next step is the old world process of gold leaf.  That is where the thin-as-air sheet of gold is adhered to the statue usually around the base, on crowns and on edges of veils or capes and rosaries.  The radiance of the leafing makes the statue  glow with a warmth that actually gives off a bodily heat, a radiance of  the passion.  Gold leaf is like wrapping bacon around something.  It makes it delicious and you just can't stop feasting on it.  That's the beauty of gold leaf.        

Infant of Prague statue from Chris Hart Studio
 After finishing the layers of painting and glazing, the details of the face and the gold leafing then it is time for the nicotine aging process.  This is a special recipe that makes the statue look like its been around for at least a century, most likely in a dusty chapel or quite possibly the library of a lifelong smoker.  The glaze is greyish brown, thin and yet coarse with a weight that makes it want to settle in the cracks and crevices of the statue, showing off every beautiful imperfection and detail.  It is what allows the eye to wander slowly over the abundant surface, soaking up the rich visual impression..

St. Lucy with her beautiful eyes, St. Mary Magdalene with her mass of auburn hair, St. Teresa's crucifix and roses of all colors, St. Rita's cross and stigmata, The Blessed Mommy in blue with a gold leaf crown or the Infant of Prague wearing a robe intricately woven with jewels and gold, all beautiful saints that hold special meanings for us through their stories.      

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What Doe She Ask For When She Goes To The Hairdresser? Sister Mary Magdalene Help!

      .          .               

As I have crossed over into the second half of my life and I no longer get a second glance from others like I once did, I wonder what makes women become unnoticeable as they age.  We know all that stuff  the feminists say about objectification and valuing women for how smart they are and how shallow our society is to measure a woman's worth in the physical.  This isn't about that.  I admit I look at other people, both men and women, because I enjoy seeing well put together people regardless of age, apparently something that is becoming extinct.

To clarify, I am not talking about the young here.  Anyone can skate on their looks, some longer than others, based on youth.  Skin undamaged by sun, silky hair and a glut of hormones makes even the not so attractive people attractive.  This concern I am voicing here is about the middle aged women who seem to have lost their luster and have not found a way to let go of their past and flourish in the present.

What is it that makes some women age and still look attractive and others age to visual indifference?  Our eyes pass over the plain, the rumpled, the ones who look like an unmade bed.  Out of every 10 women over age 50, only a few will catch my eye.  It boils down to three things....being somewhere within a reasonable weight range but not necessarily thin.  The second is to wear well fitting, clean clothing. The third and most important thing is hairstyle.  You can have the first two of the three but without the third, you vanish.

I have to ask "What does she ask for when she goes to the hairdresser?"  How is it possible that so many middle-aged women pay money for a hairstyle that doesn't look like one?  What did she ask for?  "Yes, I would like a haircut where you chop my hair in uneven layers, then dye it a flat mousy brown and preferably leave the color on too long so it is fried.  Then, please, blow dry it on too high of a heat so the ends frizz all over." or "I'd like highlights on my already dried-out naturally curly hair.  Just process it long enough to turn orange and then style it in a football helmet like I wore in high school." or better yet "I'd love it if you could give me a style that shows no shine, no body, no interesting color and I'd prefer that you give me a cut that ages me at least 15 years."    

St. Mary Magdalene at Chris Hart Studio
Look around, ladies!  We could be praying to any number of saints....St. Mary Magdalene, to intervene with your hairdresser, St. Lucy, patron saint of eyesight and insight, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to be there everyday while we do our hair or if you really have crummy hair, pray to St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes.  Hard to say who will be the one to answer your prayers.  My vote goes to St. Mary Magdalene.

St. Mary Magdalene is always shown with a luxuriant head of hair, holding a jar of perfumed oil or a cross.  Yep, you're right, she was a penitent sinner, washing the lords feet with her tears as she wept bitterly for her sins.  Then using  her beautiful, thick head of hair, she dried his feet.  Any saint who has enough hair to dry off with after a bath must know what the fuss is about.  It seems she would be the most likely to intervene on our behalf when it comes to crappy hair.

When you go to the hairdresser next time, it might behoove you to pray to St. Mary Magdalene, ask for her intercession to allow your hair to become a halo of light and vibrancy, to help you be comfortable letting go of the past and find comfort in the future.  We are all sinners here but we don't have to be sinners with bad hair.     

Friday, March 21, 2014

St Lucy, Thank You for the Insight!

Whenever I paint St. Lucy I take extra care to be sure her eyes are especially beautiful .  She is the Patron Saint for the blind and those with eye problems.  She stands for insight, lucidity, great vision and the ability to see the underlying truth in all things.  The statue of St. Lucy shows her holding a palm frond in one hand, which is the symbol of good over evil and in the other hand, a dish in which 2 eyeballs sit.  Lucy's life story teaches us to stand strong for what we believe, no matter how hard the situation is and even in our darkest moments, stay focused on what's important.   

When my mother was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration resulting in gradual loss of her vision, I prayed to St. Lucy every night to let her eyesight and life spend their last days in a happy marriage.  Please let her live as long as her sight will allow her vision to be of value and not confusion.  At 98 her loss of vision began to create the confusion that is easy to label dementia.  Blurred vision blurred the sharpness of her mind as well, it seemed. 

It hurts me when I think of how the gradual loss of my mother's eyesight began a withdrawal from her surroundings.  I became insane with caregivers who didn't put her glasses on when she woke up in the morning.  The excuse was the same...."She doesn't know what is going on anyway, so why bother."  Is it possible that she is lucid of mind and the loss of her eye sight created a confusion that the lazy call dementia?

St. Lucy Statue made by Chris Hart Studio
Many afternoons were spent talking with my mother, asking questions and listening to her answers.  Why yes...she couldn't always remember words to describe what she saw out the window but I filled in for her without a hint of criticism.  I encouraged her gibberish and watched as it sorted itself out the more we talked and the more she gained confidence.  I thought how hard it must be to have people who expect you to make sense every time you spoke and how the drought of conversation only makes you thirstier for words until finally you choke.  We had many enjoyable conversations that only the two of us understood.

We are in a society that depends on how quickly we return a text, not the sight of the morning sun coming over the mountains and the sound of the goldfinches chattering on the thistle sock. St. Lucy reminds us to see what's important.  My mother's days were spent sitting on the deck in the sunshine, watching the birds at the feeder, talking with loved ones, enjoying the world around her.  As her eyesight failed, her vision became more acute.    

St. Lucy's story is that she had very beautiful eyes and a General in the army wanted to marry her because of her beauty but because he was not a Christian she refused.  The General sent his army to convince her but they had no success for she stood up for what she believed in.  From here the story goes one of  two ways.  Her eyes were gouged out by the army as part of her punishment or the version I prefer, she plucked out her own eyes to make herself undesirable to the General.  In either case, she could still see.  Her sight was restored, hence she holds the tray with the extra pair of eyeballs.

So like St. Lucy we have two pairs of eyes.  One pair makes our daily tasks easier and faster.  We can tie shoes and button shirts, comb our hair and eat with a fork more easily because of our sight.  The other pair reveals the underlying truths, insights to greater meaning and visions for the future.  St. Lucy teaches us to know our truths, stand up for them no matter how hard and to stay focused on the deeper meaning.

Real Eyes

Thank you St. Lucy.