Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nudges From Heaven



Me and Sandra-- we love to sign books!


Dear readers:
Writing a book takes a lot of time and a lot of people to make it work. The author isn't the only one creating the story; illustrators have a big job creating, too. They read the story before it is published and get to create the characters and setting and make it come to life on the page. Sandra Casali LewAllen sketched all of the pictures for Olivia and the Little Way. Everyone thinks she did a fantastic job! When she asked me what Olivia should look like, I told her my only request was that she be a normal-looking girl with long, brown hair. I didn't want her to be so beautiful that she looked like she belonged in a glossy magazine, like she wasn't real. I wanted her to look like a regular girl, someone everyone could relate to. Mrs. LewAllen decided to model Olivia after her daughter, Sarah. Lots of people say that the resemblance is incredible; sometimes kids at school think Olivia is walking down the hallway!

Sketching the illustrations and drawing the cover of the book took a lot of Mrs. LewAllen's time. She used her talent to help spread the message of St. Therese to kids like you, so you would be inspired by St. Therese's Little Way through her lovely pictures.

You know how authors can sometimes get writer's block? Illustrators can get it, too, and it isn't easy! When I was sharing some of my writer's block moments with Mrs. LewAllen, she told me that, once or twice, she had some of her own, too. I told her that St. Therese had helped me through mine by giving me ideas and inspiration when I needed it. Mrs. LewAllen laughed and said that the Little Flower had assisted her, too! I thought that was very special, and it further motivated us to do our very best work on this book. It was wonderful and such an honor that both of us felt her nudging us and directing us during the project. We are so happy you are enjoying Olivia and St. Therese through the writing and the illustrations of this book!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Thanksgiving

Me with reader Elizabeth
at a recent book signing


Dear readers:
I am so thankful to all of you for reading Olivia and the Little Way and letting me know your reactions to the book. Thank you for telling me how much you are enjoying it; this means so much to me. I had to smile when Elizabeth, a cute and spunky fourth-grader, told me, "I loved reading about how Olivia tries to be cool like the other kids and how it doesn't feel right to her. St. Therese sort of guides her that it's wrong."

Thank you, Elizabeth! I am thrilled that you love Olivia as much as I do! Readers, I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, and grateful hearts for God's many blessings...one of them being our dear St. Therese!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My "Gal Pal" Therese And The Beauty Of Friendship


Dear readers: A good friend of mine once referred to the Little Flower as my "gal pal." I had to laugh when she said it. It sounded cute. But I think of that often, because I like to think we are, indeed, gal pals. Good friends. Good girlfriends.

Another friend of mine said almost the same thing recently: She mentioned that I am a friend to St. Therese. That really got me thinking: could I be a friend to her, just as she is to me? The thought had wonderful appeal. It is so nice to think that I can be a friend to her, too. That it's not just a one-way street, me asking for favors from Therese.

Think about your friends. What if the only basis to your friendships was that you asked them for favors and they gave them to you? And you did nothing for them in return? Would that be a true friendship?

I think a friendship, even with a saint, should work both ways. I got to thinking: what could I possibly do for a saint in Heaven? Little old me here on Earth, a mere human? Maybe my friend thought that, perhaps with the writing of Olivia and the Little Way, I am a friend to St. Therese. I am spreading the word about her and her Little Way of serving God to hundreds of children, hopefully thousands.

But you certainly don't have to write a book to be a friend to Therese. By simply trying your best to follow her Little Way each day, you are showing your love for her and for Jesus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

You Just Never Know

Therese, center, in the convent laundry

Dear readers:
Has someone ever done something to you that you didn't like? Of course, it has happened to all of us. And many of us never miss a moment to correct that person of his or her wrongdoing, right? Like the time someone cuts in line ahead of us at the store. We let that person know we were the next in line. Or when someone hurts our feelings, we tell them, don't we?

There is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself, especially if it is something big and hurtful. But for the small stuff in life, sometimes it is better to keep silent. Maybe we don't know the real reason the person cut in line, even if it seemed rude. It could very well be that she was late picking up her child from school, or someone at home urgently needed an item she was buying. And perhaps that person who hurt our feelings had no idea he was doing it and is normally kind, or we were feeling oversensitive that day. How many times have we found out some important information later that made us say, "Oh, so that's why he was crabby to me today. If only I had known, I wouldn't have been so hard on him."

Therese knew this, and she knew how much silence could be golden at times. This does not mean that she was a doormat. But maybe, just maybe, denying our self will can do beautiful things for the common good of everyone. Maybe it can make the world a more peaceful place.

Therese had many opportunities to practice denying self will in her short life. For example, while washing handkerchiefs in the laundry at her convent in Lisieux, Therese worked near a sister who would continuously splash her with warm, dirty water. She so badly wanted to draw back and wipe her face, just so this sister would realize how annoyed this made her. But she never did. Imagine how hard this must have been for her! But who knows what this sister had on her mind while this happened. Maybe she was having a really hard day and was upset about something and was not splashing Therese on purpose.

It's something to think about. Sometimes it's best to simply say to yourself, "Oh, just let it go."

You just never know what people are going through.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Little Flower With A Will Of Steel


Dear readers:
One of the things I love so much about St. Therese is that she was very sweet and gentle, but she had a will of steel. When the Carmelite convent refused Therese as a young teenager, she approached the bishop. When he said no, she went over his head as well...in Rome to the pope himself! Therese, who was once so shy, knew what she wanted and went after it with all of her might. And at the young age of fifteen, she entered Carmel, which would never have happened if not for her determination. I love the contrast between a little flower at God's feet and a strong, young woman who had the persistence to follow God's call.

Like Grandma Rosemary told Olivia, there is a resemblance between Olivia and St. Therese. Olivia is shy, too. (Remember her on the first day of school as she stood to face her new classmates?) But being gentle souls like Therese and Olivia does not mean you have to be taken advantage of or stepped on. Olivia eventually finds the courage to stand up for what she believes in and stand up for Chad and Jenna.

You know what else is gentle but powerful too? Prayer. Watch how powerful that can be!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Your Own Little Way Miracles


"Yes, I can feel it, when I am charitable, it is Jesus working in me." —St. Therese

Dear readers:
You know what I love? When your moms and dads tell me how much you love not only Olivia, but St. Therese as well. The stories your parents tell me about how they are now seeing your "Little Way" miracles at home and at school are very touching. These little kind acts of love please St. Therese and God very much. Imagine the smile on St. Therese's face as she watches you from Heaven, following her Little Way of serving and loving God.

Keep up the good work!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Being Content


"The only happiness here below is to always be content with what Jesus gives us." —St. Therese

Dear readers:
This insightful quote of the Little Flower is shown leading off Chapter 23. In this chapter, Olivia is not happy with how her life is going. She is not content.

What does it mean to be truly content? The dictionary from my computer defines the word to mean a state of peaceful happiness. I like how that sounds. I think we all, adults and children alike, would love to be in a state of peaceful happiness.

What does the Little Flower mean when she writes that the only thing that should give us joy here on Earth is to be happy with our God-given blessings? Does she mean that we should never be sad or disappointed? Or that we should never wish for things we can't have?

I certainly don't speak for St. Therese or God. I would never aim to do that! But in my opinion, I think what St. Therese means above is that it's perfectly human to want things we don't have. It is perfectly natural to pine for a different house, a different school, a different way of life, a different teacher, or a different set of friends...even different parents from time to time! Wanting things can be a good thing. It can light a fire under someone who wants to learn something new, or be a better person. It's when wanting things that we don't have interferes with our daily lives that it becomes especially troublesome, like it did for Olivia.

Grownups want things they can't have all of the time, too. Some people I know wish they had better jobs or a nicer car. Some wish they had better relationships with their families and God.

When St. Therese said our only happiness is to be content with what Jesus gives us, I believe she means that we should look at our lives in a positive way, being grateful and thankful to God for all that we have. We may live in a smaller house, but at least it's a home. Many people do not have homes. We may not be good at spelling, but perhaps we excel in social studies or math. We may not have many friends, but at least we have one or two good, nice people who we can hang around with. We may not have the same teacher as our other friends do, but at least we can see them at recess and at lunch.

You see, St. Therese was very wise. She knew that it's all in how you look at things in life. If you wake up and are upset about something and tell yourself it's going to be a bad day, then you quite probably will make yourself have a bad day. Of course, there are serious problems in life that cause very real sadness: death and illness, to name a couple. St. Therese was not perfect, but she tried her best each day (even through death in her family and her own very painful illness) to be content. She tried her best to live in a state of peaceful happiness. That didn't mean that she wasn't deeply sad or in pain; on the contrary. But she tried, in spite of these things, to live out her life while looking at the positive side of things, by being grateful for what she did have.

Sometimes it's so very hard to do. I don't do that all of the time. It's so much easier to lapse into a "woe-is-me" attitude. But God has given us so many wonderful gifts. We couldn't possibly thank Him for them all! But following St. Therese's Little Way, which includes being grateful for the great things in our lives, is a big start.

It takes effort and willpower, but it's much nicer and more pleasant to be in a state of peaceful happiness. It makes God happy, and so I'll do what I can do to get there! Will you join me?

"There are some who take such a gloomy view of things they make them much worse. I always look on the bright side." —St. Therese



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Those Pesky Cinnamon Chips


Dear readers:
Some of you have asked me where to find the cinnamon chips that are called for in Jenna's Cinnamon Chip Scone recipe in the back of the book. I am sorry if the cinnamon chips are a bit tricky to find near you. I found some made by Hershey's at a local specialty grocery store. You can go to their website at www.hersheys.com/productlocator/index.asp to find out where they are sold near you. I also found them on internet websites like www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/detail.jsp?id=1604 and www.preparedpantry.com/gourmet-cinnamon-chips.aspx

If you like, you could even add chocolate chips instead, and omit the cinnamon called for in the recipe.

Happy baking, and don't forget to give one or two away!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Little Bit Different

Dear readers:
Did you know that St. Therese had something in common with Chad? She was teased in school, just like him. She went to an all-girls' school in Lisieux and was miserable there. A very smart student, Therese was teased by the girls, who were irritated and jealous that she knew the answers in school and excelled in her studies. But Therese wasn't trying to show off. She couldn't help that she knew the answers.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Therese was a bit of a loner, with few friends. While the other girls would play games during recess time, Therese preferred to be off by herself, exploring nature, and she felt calm and happy doing this. A very sensitive child, Therese would look for dead birds lying about so she could give them a Christian burial. Chad seemed happy enough reading his book alone at recess, but I bet he would have loved it if someone had sat down beside him and showed some interest in it, too. And I think Therese would have enjoyed having a friend to talk to at recess.

Eventually, Therese's father permitted her to continue her studies at home, with one of her older sisters as her tutor. She was much happier learning in this environment, where she felt she could be herself.

Sometimes it's hard to be different, and to have different interests than the rest of the crowd. Can you think of someone in your class like Therese or Chad? Someone who seems to be by him/herself most of the time? I like to think that, if the girls in school had given Therese a chance, they would have discovered that she was a fun-loving, nice person to be around. Maybe someone you know could use a friend. Don't always assume that he or she wants to be alone. This could be the case, but wouldn't it be better to offer that person your company, just in case? The next time you see someone by himself on the playground, walk up and say "Hi." You never know what might happen!


Monday, November 3, 2008

Thanks all around

I would like to express my gratitude for all of you, young and young at heart, who have been so supportive of Olivia and the Little Way. I so love meeting all of you and signing your books. I am especially humbled when you thank me for writing the book. I, in turn, thank you for supporting Catholic children's fiction. We all know that there isn't that much out there for our Catholic youth. Please continue to support quality Catholic fiction whenever you see it in bookstores.

In my mind, it's the difference between feeding children junk food and wholesome food, only for their minds and souls. I am honored that you are bringing Olivia into your homes so that, with the help of sweet Saint Therese, she can feed your children's minds and souls with God's love.

Dear readers: You'll notice many references to recipes and food in the book. I can't help it; I love to cook and I love to eat! I thought I'd share Olivia's recipe for raspberry white chocolate muffins, the ones she left on Sister Anne Marie's desk. These are especially delicious on chilly days when they are warm from the oven. Mmmm...

Recipe makes one dozen muffins. How about leaving one on your principal's desk?

Ingredients:

1 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh raspberries (frozen may be used, but do not thaw)
1/3 to 1/2 cup white chocolate chips (or more to taste!)

Ingredients for topping:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted in microwave
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix milk, butter, and egg in a large bowl. Stir in flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. (Do not overmix or batter will be tough. Only mix until flour is just moistened). Gently stir in raspberries and white chocolate chips.

Spoon into foil- or paper-lined 12-cup muffin pan. Bake for 24 to 28 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly; remove from pan.

Dip top of each muffin in melted butter, then in sugar.





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