Dec 31, 2010

Books I Read in 2010

Every year I keep a list of the books I read that year. Usually I can tell something about what I've been doing by looking at the list. This year I wrote young adult fantasy and historical romance, and some of the books I read fell into those genres. I try to read a few classics (I missed a lot of them during my school years because for some reason the classics fell out of favor with English teachers in the 1970's--at least where I was.) I also try to read some current (published in the last couple of years) mainstream best sellers. I'd like to up the number of those in the coming year. I read some books written by my friends, some books for research, and some I just wanted to read just because.

As a result my list is always a bit eclectic. But what do you expect from someone who is just as passionate about Ireland as she is about baseball--two interests that don't cross paths often.

There is not one baseball book on my list this year. I think that's because I didn't write anything baseball-related in 2010 and I took very little time out to read anything that wasn't somehow related to my writing journey. I'd like to fix that in 2011.

I read 31 books in 2010. That's down from 36 in 2009. However, I did read (or rather listen to) New York by Edward Rutherfurd. That book is as long as three normal books--30 CDs!

I do listen to a lot of audio books on my iPod. This year I expect to finish some books on my Kindle application. I'm in the middle of a couple of them.

The books I've started this year and expect to finish in 2011 (therefore they'll be on next year's list) are Rooms by Jim Rubart, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and an odd book that I came across on a site from Harvard that contains materials pertaining to American Immigration called Imported Americans: The Story of the Experiences of a Disguised American and His Wife Studying the Immigration Question by Broughton Brandenbery. Long title, but it's really interesting.

So, here's my list. I'd love to hear your's.

  1. When the Astors Owned New York, Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan

  1. Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson (audio)

  1. A Promise Born by Cara Putman

  1. Breach of Trust By DiAnn Mills (audio)

  1. Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (audio)

  1. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

  1. Brigid of Kildare by Heather Terrell

  1. Abigail by Jill Eileen Smith

  1. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

  1. Emma by Jane Austin (audio)

  1. The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens (audio)

  1. Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

  1. Protector’s Honor by Kit Wilkinson

  1. On Agate Hill by Lee Smith (audio)

  1. Thin Places, An Evangelical Journey into Celtic Christianity by Tracy Balzer

  1. Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran (audio)

  1. Club Sandwich by Lisa Samson (audio)

  1. The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen

  1. Eragon by Christopher Paolini (audio)

  1. The Chieftain’s Daughter by Sam McBratney (short)

  1. White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner (audio)

  1. Sabotage by Kit Wilkinson

  1.  Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent (audio)

  1. Riven by Jerry Jenkins (audio)

  1. Stars in the Night by Cara Putman

  1. The Humming of Numbers by Joni Sensel

  1. Faithful by Kim Cash Tate

  1. The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

  1. New York by Edward Rutherford (audio, 30 CDs.)

  1. Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

  1. Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart

Dec 29, 2010


Photo is from my recent hike among the cedar trees.

As we approach the New Year, lots of people start thinking about goals and what they hope to accomplish in the next year. It's good to experience a renewal, a time to make things right.

But I'm finding myself being more drawn to the concept of journey, of seeking the path God has marked out for me and following the best I can, in faith because I cannot see how it ends. I may have hopes and dreams and even plans for the coming year, but only some things are within my control. The rest I will leave up to God. And that's not an act of giving up. It's a journey I choose to take with a little bit of wariness and a lot of anticipation. God's plans are always better than my own.

Alone with none but Thee, my God,
I journey on my way;
What need I fear when Thou art near,
Oh King of night and day?
More safe am I within Thy hand
Than if a host did round me stand.
~Attributed to St. Columba

Dec 25, 2010

Out of the Mouth of Babes!

This traditional Christmas Carol dates from 12th century Wexford, Ireland. This version sung by Katherine Forrester when she was ten years old (two years ago) is one of the most beautiful I've ever heard. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belovèd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass:
From every door repelled, alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble oxen stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God’s angel has foretold,
They did our Savior Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by His side the virgin maid
Attending to the Lord of Life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

Dec 22, 2010

Merry Christmas in Armagh

We visited an empty St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. I would have loved to have seen this in person!

Dec 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

Greetings! Happy winter!

While December 21 is the date of the winter solstice, it's celebrated for a few days running at Newgrange in Ireland.
View of the roof box (above)

When Tom and I visited Newgrange in October, we were led into the inner chamber. The lights were switched off and a beam of light was cast from the front into the chamber to simulate what the morning of the winter solstice would look like. It's such a wonder that ancient people built that structure and that we can see what they saw. At sunrise on the winter solstice, a specially designed roof box above the entry captures the ray of light and sends the beam all the way through the chamber to the rear. You are not allow to take photographs inside the chamber, so I'm including some (above) from

Below are some images we took on our visit.
A sample of the carved images. Carvings just like these are inside the chamber. There are some more modern carvings as well from before the time when the site was protected. But the ancient ones are very evident and amazing.

A view of the entry where you can clearly see the square shaped roof box that funnels the sunlight inside.

What's incredible to think about is how old this structure is. It was built about 3200 BC, making it older than the pyramids in Egypt. It lies in what was, and is to this day, a fertile farmland in the Boyne valley. What the chamber was (and there are several others in this valley as well) is up for speculation. It's called a passage grave, but it could have been used for worship activities and perhaps burial for only a few special people. You can learn more about Newgrange and what is happening there at this year's winter solstice on this blog. A lottery is held every year to determine who will get go inside at the solstice. We were invited to enter the lottery while we were there. If you go to the blog, where there are lots of photos, you'll see that there is snow on the ground. That is not a common occurrence. It's been a snowy season thus far in Ireland!

Dec 20, 2010

Tomorrow's Winter Solstice

Tomorrow morning (where I live) a unique occurrence in the heavens will take place. It's the first time in 372 years that a lunar eclipse will coincide with the winter solstice. The moon is supposed to be high in the sky because of where it is located at the solstice, making viewing the eerily glowing moon easier--if, that is, there are no clouds to block it.

Where I live the eclipse will take place between 1:30 and 2:40AM, so I'm not likely to see it. How about you???

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I'll be blogging about the winter solstice in Newgrange in Ireland.

Dec 17, 2010

Immigrant Eyes

I was trying to decide what to post today when I found this video. I have been writing about immigrants who came through Ellis Island, so this really touched me.

Did your ancestors come through Ellis Island? None of mine that I know of did. But we have all been touched, even unknowingly, by those who came and contributed to this country economically, socially, and in many other ways.


Dec 15, 2010

The Stuff Legends Are Made Of

We know that the rock at the Giant's Causeway was the result of cooling lava compressed together millions of years ago (at least most people think it was millions of years ago.) This black rock is basalt and it's a natural wonder.

But what did the ancient people think when they saw it? They were no less intelligent but the study of rocks and the earth's composition was not part of their world. So what did they think when they gazed over the cliffs toward the sapphire blue ocean and see these rocks trailing out toward Scotland? (but disappearing before they reached it.) What they did was explain the
wonder in the traditional Irish way: they made up a story about it. This was not a manmade structure. No man could have done this, certainly. The gods? Well, maybe, but the gods are credited with all kinds of things. What if this was the work of a man--not an ordinary man, but a super hero?

They didn't use the term then, of course. This was the work of a giant, a mighty warrior. A giant named Fin MacCool or Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish.

It seems Finn had a rival giant over in Scotland by the name of Benandonner. The two giants would shout to each other over the sea, challenging each other's strength. Nothing could be done about it, so Finn started building the causeway to reach the other giant.There are different versions of this story, but basically, when the Scottish giant started coming toward him, Finn realized how much larger he was. Using his sharp Irish intellect, he came up with a plan. He made himself a bed out of the rock and either went to sleep or pretended to be asleep. (I'd go with the latter. A bigger giant was after him! How could he fall asleep?) He pretended to be a baby while Finn's wife entertained the other giant by giving him tea made with stones and telling him MacCool would return shortly. As he chewed on the tea, Benandonner thought to himself, "This MacCool must be a tough one to drink this stuff." Then he noticed the "baby" asleep in his bed and thought, "If this is the size of the baby, how big is his father?" He reached out to touch the child and got his finger bitten clean off. Then he thought, "If the baby can do that, what is the father capable of?" Terrified, he ran off toward his home, tearing up part of the causeway as he went. That's why today it disappears into the sea.

This explanation of the existence of the causeway makes sense to me. How about you? ;-)

Dec 13, 2010

St. Fingar and St. Piala

Today is the feast day of brother and sister Fingar and Piala. Never heard of them? Me either until I read a short entry in The Celtic Year by Shirley Toulson. I did a little Internet searching and discovered only a bit more.

Their story takes place in the middle of the 5th century. Fingar was from a royal family, the son of a king name Clito who drove him out, along with many others including Piala, because St. Patrick had converted them to Christianity. They went to Cornwall. One account says there were over seven hundred people who went. However, they were not well received. King Theodoric, a pagan king, ordered them all killed. So, Fingar and his sister were early Irish Christian martyrs.

It's often been noted, and I've written about it myself, that Ireland was converted with no bloodshed. It's true that there were no holy wars, nothing like The Crusades, and the people came to the faith because it melded so easily with what they already believed. But obviously people did die for their religious beliefs.

Fingar had a monastery named for him at Gwinear, near Hayle, the place of this massacre. Gwinear is the Welsh name for Fingar. As was common in the Middle Ages, a biography of this saint was written by his church (pictured above.) Many miracles were then assigned to the saint, of course--restoring a cow that was slaughtered to feed him and his companions, sticking a staff into the ground from whence came a fountain of water...but for me the thing to remember about Fingar and Piala and so many, many ancient Irish Christians is that they gave up their way of life, their homeland, and sometimes their families, to embrace the Christian faith.

This is still happening in some parts of the world. I don't know about you, but my life suddenly seems very easy.

Dec 11, 2010

Benediction of a Day

Benediction of a Day

George MacLeod (1895-1991)

To take a natural analogy, there is a living flower. You want to have it, so you pluck it. But, by your act of plucking, it dies.

You are fascinated by a sparkling running stream, a living stream of water. But, if you grasp it, it runs through your fingers, you scoop it into a pail, you no longer have life, but just a bucket of H2O.

There is a sunbeam dancing in your room, life from the sun. If you pull down the curtain to capture the beam, it is gone.

There is a bracing wind that enlivens your whole being. But try to catch it in a bag and you have stagnant air.

All this reminds us how not to get in touch with life. Here is the root trouble of our lives. We all love life, but the moment we try to hold it, we miss it. The fact that things change and move and flow is their life. Try to make them static and you die of worry.

This is just as true of God who is the Life of life. The only way to achieve a sense of God’s presence is to put yourself in the way of Him. In our analogy, you achieve a sense of life in the presence of a flower, by a running stream, in a bracing wind, with sunbeams falling on the stream. You come home to say you have had a perfectly lovely day, which means a lively day. It has been a benediction of a day.

You can only achieve a sense of God in a similar way … You can only find God in the now.

~George MacLeod, founder of the modern day community at Iona, July 1955.

Dec 6, 2010

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Nikolaos of Myra, in modern day Turkey, died on this date in
346. He had a reputation of secret gift-giving, and thus evolved the legends we celebrate today. In Britain he is called Father Christmas.

Some believe the remains of Nikolaos--St. Nicholas--are buired near a ruined abbey in Ireland. During the Crusades saints remains were often carried into battle and thus transported all over the place. That could be what happened here. The remains are said to have been moved from Italy in the 12th century. There is a slab with the image of a bishop carved on it, along with two Crucaders, and it is here where it is believed St. Nicholas was buried, or reburied, in 1200AD, in a placed called Newtown Jerpoint near St.Nicolas Cathedral in Kilkenny, which still stands.
Jerpoint Abbey, near the possible sight of the remains of St. Nicholas.

Dec 3, 2010


Happy Friday! I'm sitting in Bob Evans with my laptop. Isn't it cool how many places have free WiFi these days (well in America, anyway!)

Later today I'll be interviewing J. Philip Newell and that has prompted me to explore again his book Listening For The Heartbeat of God, A Celtic Spirituality. It's not his latest book but it's my favorite.

The book begins with an introduction that is not to be missed because it talks about the Synod of Whitby in 664. This was a turning point (and not a good one) for Celtic Christianity. I blogged about this event here. With that foundation Newell continues with a chapter on Goodness (referencing Pelagius).

Regarding goodness, where does it come from other than from God? Quoting Newell: "Thus the grace of salvation received through the Church is given not to replace our nature but to release what is most fundamental in all people, although bound by the oppression of sin and wrongdoing." He contrasts this belief of Pelagius with Augustine's (the characters involved in the debate at Whitby). What this is all referring to is the concept of original sin, something that was never part of the ancient Celtic Christian beliefs. However, Newell says, "Pelagius' emphasis on the essential goodness of humanity did not involve a denial of the presence of evil and of its power over the human."

Still referring to the Synod at Whitby, Newell discusses the Church's following of Peter and the Celtic Church's leaning toward John. John was the apostle who leaned toward Jesus at the Last Supper (as referenced in John 13:23-25.) He is the one listening for the heartbeat of God according to Newell. However, the Peter tradition is listening as well, in a different way. Peter, Jesus said, was the rock upon whom He built his church. In the concluding chapter in this book Newell says, "The Church would have been infinitely richer if it had embraced both Pelagius and Augustine, affirming the essential goodness in every life while remaining alert to the evils that can destroy us."

I think that is food for thought if ever there was any. I'll be sure to have something to say after I talk to Newell. Stay tuned!

The emphasis of the book is listening. Listening is a concept that is simple yet not fully practiced in my opinion.

Dec 1, 2010

The Ardagh Chalice

One of my great pleasures during my trip to Ireland was to visit the National Museum. I saw things there up close that I had only before admired in photographs. One of these objects was the Ardagh Chalice, pictured above.

This magnificent chalice was named for the place it was found in County Limerick in 1868. Two men digging for potatoes found it, along with other valuable items. It was made in the 8th century, and that is what amazed me as I gazed at the detail. These ancient craftsmen were every bit as talented as modern craftsmen, and with fewer advanced tools. The cup itself is silver. The decoration is fretwork, scrolls, interlace--it's beautifully detailed in silver, bronze, gold filigree, and enamel.

Here is a closeup of some of the detail. What is sometimes missed by just looking at photographs is that the cup is not large and yet is composed of 354 pieces.

It was buried but not encased in anything to protect it. Perhaps it was swiftly buried to avoid the Vikings plundering the treasure, or who knows? Maybe someone not long before 1868 buried it.

What is amazing to me is just how old it is, and yet so beautiful. So much like many of the things I saw in Ireland.