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The way to ease is not easy

September always feels like the start of a new year to me, much more so than Jan. 1 ever does. It must be the perennial student in me. I can’t even resist the piles of discounted school supplies that fill every store at the end of summer. I buy at least a few neon-colored, spiral-bound notebooks and one box of perfectly pointed Crayola crayons every fall. Something about it settles my soul and makes me feel like I’ve got a blank slate and the possibility of a rainbow within reach.

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Fierce and Fearless at 57

“I’ve done my best work, really, my most important work, from the ages of maybe 57 to now.” That quote is from the poetic writer and musician Patti Smith, 72, in a recent interview with the New York Times.

That quote struck a chord and affirmed what I’ve been feeling as I head into this new stage of life. I turned 57 yesterday, and I can tell you that I believe, God willing, I will be able to say the same as Patti when I reach 72. I believe my most important work is ahead of me. I am talking about in addition to THE most important work of mother and wife, which would be enough if that was my only work in this life.

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Seeking light in winter’s darkness

One of my favorite things about this season of seemingly ever-present physical darkness is the occasional pocket or flash of light. Not just the leftover twinkling Christmas decorations, although that helps, but the “mundane” glimmers that, to put it in artistic terms, create everyday versions of the on-canvas beauty created by artists like Caravaggio through the use of “chiaroscuro”—a technique that contrasts deep darkness and brilliant-but-concentrated light in dramatic fashion. Read more

Hanging by a thread: What we need our priests and bishops to know right now

For the past few weeks, and especially in recent days, I have been hearing from readers of my monthly Life Lines column, from colleagues working for the Church, from friends and acquaintances, many coming to me with tears in their eyes, anger in their voices, and determination on their faces. Last month I wrote about casting light on the darkness of one scandal; now things have gone from bad to worse with the news out of Pennsylvania. The question I posed then has swelled to an agonizing cry now: How much more? Read more

On a lighter note…

This week our diocese held its fourth annual Concert for Vocations, which has become a favorite among the faithful. More than 600 people turned out at St. Pius X Church in Loudonville for performances by Bishop Scharfenberger, clergy, religious, seminarians, and lay people. Yours truly was among them. I brought the honky tonk. What a great night. I have so many talented co-workers! Here’s my performance of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Read more

We’re celebrating 10 years at NSS!

It was 10 years ago today that I decided to launch this blog on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of communicators. Where has the time gone? Back in those early days, I was blogging every day, sometimes more than once a day. That was before social media had become the norm, and so what today would be a Facebook post was a full-blown blog post back then. Originally, I started the blog as a way to get out there ahead of my 2008 book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Catholic Catechism (Yes, that’s just about 10 years old as well!). But very quickly this blog became a place to explore my spiritual life, share recipes and travel stories, commiserate over my struggles, and post photos and anecdotes from my life as a mom. The blog truly lived up to its name back then. It was NOT strictly spiritual. One day I might post a survey that showed which Disney princess I was or what punctuation mark best suited me. The next day I’d be posting about Thomas Merton. You never knew what you’d get, and that’s what I loved about this space. What I still love about this space. And there were fan favorites as well: Foodie Friday, Manic Monday, Wisdom Wednesday. Read more

Mirror, mirror: discovering your true self

Week three. Time is flying! How are things on your end? Here’s the weekly update:

It was a SUPER stressful week, especially the weekend. To be completely honest with you, I’m in a terrible place right now, mentally and spiritually. Things have not gone as planned. Famous last words. So why does that still catch me by surprise and throw me off course? That’s the million-dollar question for me. And I’ll tell you right now, when things don’t go well and when things get stressful, I turn up the heat on myself. I pull out my worst “tape,” push my internal “play” button and let it rip. It’s not pretty or healthy, and it certainly doesn’t take me where I want or need to go, but it’s comfortable and familiar, the road most travelled, and so I take it. Even when I know I’ll regret it later, even when I know it’s likely to lead me to other unhealthy decisions — like eating the wrong food or staying up too late or skipping prayer time. This is why I’m head cheerleader for the tribe, because I have endless experience with this struggle. I’ll tell you this, however: Although I often feel history repeating itself in my life, the time I’ve spent working on my habits, journaling, and becoming more mindful have made me more aware. Even when I’m not following the Cravings “rules,” I’m well aware of where things have gone off track and how I might pull it back. The trick is getting from awareness to action. Read more

Self-care: Getting an expensive wake-up call

When I gave up my home-based business to start working in an outside office full time more than two years ago, I gave up a lot more than writing in my basement while wearing yoga pants and burning incense. I stopped exercising. I stopped cooking healthy dinners. I stopped eating healthy food. I stopped doing yoga. I stopped blogging. I stopped using my downtime as downtime and turned everything (even vacations) into work time, or at least work worry. That’s a lot of stopping. Did I start doing anything new? Why, yes, now that you ask. I started drinking coffee by the bucketfuls. I started eating at my desk without even noticing I was eating (exactly what I tell everyone NOT to do in my book Cravings). I started skipping prayer and meditation time. I started turning into an absolute basket of nerves.  Read more

Everything is blessing. Yes, even that.

‘Tis the season to give thanks, but what if we change things up a bit this time around? It could be a gratitude throw down of epic proportions, if we all make an effort. We already know that counting our blessings in an intentional way is good for us. It not only makes us more grateful, but more content. Suddenly the smell of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning or the sight of a hawk circling overhead serve as entry points to something much deeper. But, can we take that idea one step further, into the murky waters of struggle and sorrow, and find blessings even there? That’s our challenge. Read more

‘Shining like the sun’: Merton goes to the prom

I was standing in the dressing room of Lord & Taylor recently, waiting outside a closed stall door as Olivia tried on dress after dress in the elusive search for the perfect prom attire. As I scrolled through Facebook while she ran through her costume changes, I was surreptitiously eavesdropping on a group of high school girls who had taken up residence in the other four dressing room stalls, sequins and taffeta spilling out each time one of them peeked out to ask for an opinion. They ran back and forth between stalls, giddy with excitement and generous with compliments as they gushed over each other’s choices and encouraged each other to be bold and wear something outside of their typical fashion comfort zones. Read more