7 Quick Takes Friday – Summer Fun

7_quick_takes_sm1Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday. Today is the beautiful Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

After the excitement of the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and the Catholic Writers Conference near Chicago, I had a relaxing week of visiting relatives in New Jersey. #5 Son and myself took a tour of Philly and Atlantic City.

1. Carpenters Hall

Carpenters Hall

Carpenters Hall

2. Ben Franklin Museum
(Not to be confused with the Franklin Institute)

Ben Franklin Museum

Ben Franklin Museum

3. Cool Printing Process
In an effort to show people how the printing process took place in the 1700’s, any museum visitor can add his/her name to the front page of a book published by Ben Franklin. (In my opinion, this was worth the $5 admission fee alone!)IMG_1041

4. Boardwalk at Atlantic City
Next we headed to Atlantic City to visit the Boardwalk (photos below) and to also visit the original site of the Seaside Hotel (where a key scene takes place in my novel, A Subtle Grace). The Seaside was torn down years ago and a modern casino built in that location.IMG_1064

5. Lucy the Elephant
Whenever we’re in the vicinity, we always like to visit Lucy, now a national monument in New Jersey. (That’s #5 son and myself at the bottom left-hand corner of the photo)IMG_1101

6. St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church
We attended noon Mass at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church near the Boardwalk.IMG_1095IMG_1099

7. The Phily Diner
One of my favorite places to eat in the South Jersey area.IMG_1124

All photos copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

The Miracle of the Rosary

Today is the Feast of St. Dominic. The modern recitation of the holy rosary has its beginnings with St. Dominic. Read more about the history here. St. Dominic said, “One day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, Our Lady will save the world.” If you don’t know how to pray the rosary, here is a helpful link.

Oftentimes, we expect miracles to take the form of visions or healings. But miracles also happen when a person’s heart changes. The following is a true story.

When I was about ten years old, one night after supper, I was sitting on the couch doing my homework. My parents began to argue over bills they couldn’t afford to pay. Each time my mom would yell, my dad would yell louder. It made me feel anxious to see the two people I loved most in the world screaming at one another. Don’t they love each other, I asked myself. And why won’t they stop yelling?

At one point, Dad said something about moving out. Oh God, please, I don’t want my dad to move out. Mom replied, “That’s good.” Please, Mom, don’t say that. I looked at them, but neither of them saw me or the panic in my eyes. They only glared at each other. My father went upstairs. I ran after him and watched as he got a suitcase out and started putting clothes in it. God, why won’t you stop him?

I passed by my bedroom and noticed my rosary sitting on the bedside table. I grabbed it, sat down on my bed and began saying the rosary. As I said each Hail Mary, I pleaded with Our Lady, “Holy, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Please, Our Lady, don’t let my Dad leave us. As I was saying another Hail Mary, my dad walked by my room and didn’t notice that I was there. He stomped down the steps. I couldn’t hear whether he said goodbye, but I listened as the door slammed shut. “Oh, God, please make him come back.”

I continued to say the rosary, each Hail Mary becoming more fervent than the last. I prayed until my heart was bursting. Please, God, listen to my prayer. I began to recite the Hail Holy Queen prayer at the end of the rosary and suddenly, I heard the door open downstairs. Without finishing, I stood at the top of the stairs and I could see my dad standing in the doorway. Mom walked over to him. At first, they were silent. Then, my father started to cry. “I can’t leave you. I can’t leave my family.” He and Mom embraced. I began to cry with joy.

Thank you, God, and thank you, Our Lady, for bringing my Daddy back.

My parents remained married until my father’s death in 1978. Dad was buried with his rosary in his hands. Mom died seven years ago, on this very feast day. May they both rest in peace.

Copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Excerpt from A Subtle Grace

A Subtle Grace front cover Nov2013

My new book, A Subtle Grace, tackles the compelling issues of love, obsession and stalking. Read the news release here. Read reviews at the link above. Excerpt below:

I just witnessed another human being coming into the world.

Kathleen’s head sunk deeply into her feather pillow as she stared upward. Her oil lamp, as always, was dimly lit and projected a small yellow circle onto the ceiling. Kathleen had always despised the blackness that surrounded her at night. Keeping the lamp aglow meant that she never had to endure the black night. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt safer when there was light, even a flicker.

She tossed back and forth as sleep eluded her. How could she possibly rest — or sleep — after what she had just experienced? And would she see other births at nursing school?

While she looked forward to college, she wished that her non-marital state hadn’t necessitated her making a decision to attend post-secondary school. She would have been happy to be married at this age, but thus far, no eligible bachelor — at least one with whom Kathleen approved — had shown serious interest.

The clock downstairs struck quarter past three. Her brothers hadn’t wakened during the night – Mama had kept fairly quiet during the birthing – but in the morning, they would all be excited to discover they had a new sibling.

For the moment, Kathleen thought of her own vocation, of which she was certain was marriage and motherhood. At 19, her “coming out” reception early last year was a tremendous success. Two of her friends from high school, Margaret and Anne, had already married. Kathleen was beginning to think she might become a spinster or, heaven forbid, an “old maid.” Therefore, it was essential to meet her future husband immediately. Of course, after seeing firsthand what her mother just went through, Kathleen questioned whether she would have the high endurance for pain her mother obviously possessed.

Turning up the lamp, she got out of bed and sat at her desk. She reached deep inside the top drawer for her journal.

At the front, she kept the tintype portrait of her mother and her “real” father, Papa’s brother, Liam, at his wedding to her mother. Mama had given her the photo when she was 12, explaining that her first husband had died and that she had married his brother. Over the years, she had learned that Liam was a fine, godly man who had died in a carriage accident before Kathleen was born. Staring at his face, she concluded that he was a handsome man with light hair, which Kathleen obviously had inherited from him. When she was a toddler, her blonde hair was so light, it was almost white. Now, of course, her hair was a darker blonde.

She pulled out a small holy card with a picture of St. Agnes holding a lamb.

St. Agnes, where is my sweetheart? Please send him to me soon!

St. Agnes, patron and martyr, had become Kathleen’s favorite saint a few years previous. In the fourth century, Agnes’ virginity was preserved despite the young girl being stripped naked and taken to a brothel to be violated by a group of men after she turned down one man’s proposal of marriage. The saint was saved when most of the men could not go through with the heinous act. The man who wanted to forcibly marry her was struck blind. She was eventually martyred.

Kathleen paged through the earlier entries until she came to January 20th of last year, on the eve of St. Agnes’ Feast Day, where she wrote down a prayer/poem to St. Agnes.

January 20th, 1895
Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And show me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

On that January day a year and a half ago, she had recited the prayer, then had finally drifted to sleep. Indeed, she had dreamt of a man.

His face was blurry like an Impressionist painting, except with less detail. The man leaned in to kiss her, a soft kiss that gently brushed her lips. Immediately, Kathleen knew that this was her beloved. She couldn’t explain how, but she knew that this man’s heart was pure and true and good. All of a sudden, he vanished. In his place was a blue and green hummingbird hovering above her. How would she recognize her sweetheart if she could only see his heart?

Excerpt from A Subtle Grace, copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Highlights from the 2014 Catholic Writers Conference Live!

Last week was a whirlwind of activity at the Catholic Writers Conference and Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show near Chicago. Every day was a blessing with Daily Mass, Confession, Adoration and wonderful presentations. Along with four other CWG members, I was interviewed for the EWTN show, Bookmark (with Doug Keck). This past Thursday, Fr. Frank Pavone gave us the opportunity to venerate a first class relic (blood on vestment) of St. John Paul II.

It was fun being interviewed by EWTN's Doug Keck

It was fun being interviewed by EWTN’s Doug Keck

Selfie (photo courtesy Ann Margaret Lewis) with Immaculee, Alan Napleton and myself

Selfie (photo courtesy Ann Margaret Lewis) with Immaculee, Alan Napleton and myself

Speaking to the booksellers on Tuesday

Speaking to the booksellers on Tuesday

Another shot of me speaking to the 130 or so booksellers

Another shot of me speaking to the 130 or so booksellers

Before I stepped forward to announce the CALA winners to the 600 CMN breakfast attendees (photo below), I looked at the podium and suspected I would not be able to see over it (given my four feet nine inch stature). So when Ann Lewis (conference coordinator and treasurer of CWG) and I approached the podium and I stood in front of it, all I could think to say was “Can everyone see me?” Laughter erupted from the audience and slight embarrassment (note facial expression) led to assistance from a tech person and Ann to get the microphone down. Then I stepped away from the podium and stood beside it. Subsequent speakers (including Fr. Mike Gaitley) decided to carry the humor forward and each one began their presentations with “Can you see me?” then looking my way and smiling! It was fun!
Announcing the CALA winners. The podium was too high so Ann helped me get the microphone down and stepped away from the podium so I could be seen.

Announcing the CALA winners. The podium was too high so Ann helped me get the microphone down and stepped away from the podium so I could be seen.

Presenting the CALA to Arthur Powers

Presenting the CALA to Arthur Powers

More photos later this week!

Most photos courtesy James Hrkach

7QT – Intimate Preparations

candlelightSmallLast week, we commemorated NFP Awareness. For 7QT Friday, I’d like to continue the celebration by posting this reprint from early 2013. (Head on over to Conversion Diary to see more Quick Takes.)

“And so I take (my wife) not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to bring us to old age together.” Tobit 8:7

“…Now, gird up your loins and arise…” Jer: 1:17

Which scripture verse more accurately describes how a couple should prepare for the conjugal embrace? Praying for a singleness of heart, without lustful motive…or girding up one’s loins for “war”?

Yet many couples prepare for intimacy by “girding up their loins:” wearing condoms, inserting diaphragms, taking a pill, putting on a patch, having an IUD inserted, undergoing an operation. It seems to me that these couples are preparing more for “war” than for the marital embrace, “protecting” themselves against unwanted pregnancy, “protecting” themselves against their spouse’s fertility.

Compare that to the couples who do not use contraceptives. They are generous in opening their marriage to children, and when necessary, they use Natural Family Planning and abstain in the fertile time. They’re not girding up their loins; they’re not “protecting” each other from an unwanted pregnancy. When they give of themselves in the marital act, it is a total gift, not a partial one.

The question is: How do you prepare for intimacy?

Some might answer, “We watch porn.” Others may say, “I make sure my diaphragm is in place,” or “We keep a packet of condoms by the bed.”

And yet, are these really appropriate ways for a couple to prepare for the most intimate act between husband and wife?

Obviously not.

So how can a couple prepare? Here is a short list of helpful ways:

1. Pray Together
Marital prayer is an ideal way to prepare for intimacy. When marital prayer is frequent, praying before relations becomes a logical extension. The conjugal embrace is itself a prayer. Let’s review what makes this act so holy and meaningful. In the marital embrace, with their bodies, husband and wife renew their wedding vows. Becoming one with our beloved spouse is the ultimate spiritual, physical and emotional experience. We become one flesh…so much so that sometimes, nine months later, we must give the representation of that oneness a name.

2. Throw Away the Contraception
No, I’m not asking couples to have as many children as possible. But what I am saying is that for the conjugal embrace to be honest and life-giving, it must be free, total, faithful and fruitful. Natural Family Planning allows a couple to love each other as God loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully. NFP couples chart the wife’s fertility signs and, if avoiding pregnancy, abstain in the fertile time. They are not using devices; they are giving themselves fully and they are open to children with each and every act of marital relations. See my previous post on the Theology of the Body in a Nutshell. For more information on NFP, check out my previous post on Catholic Mom, NFP Q & A.

3. Healthy Relationship
I know a few couples who fight constantly. These same couples brag that they have a great sex life. Well, they may have a lot of “good feelings” but when a couple is not getting along in their day-to-day life, sex, even ‘good’ sex, is not going to fix that. What about the husband who treats his wife in a condescending, critical manner, then expects her to be ready and willing to engage in the marital embrace…or a wife who constantly nags her husband, then wants him to be affectionate to her? Communicate with one another; treat each other with kindness, respect and love.

4. No Pornography
Some secular marriage counselors recommend that a couple use porn to “spice up their sex life.” Instead of “enhancing” a marital sex life, viewing sexually explicit videos has the potential of destroying a marriage. Blessed John Paul II said: “…the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” Porn trains people to be selfish about their sexuality, not selfless. It teaches them to think about sex as something they take, not something they give. Any behavior that causes a person to be self-centered or selfish is never good for marriage. And…pornography can be highly addictive. Mary Anne Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of PA’s Center for Cognitive Therapy, called porn the “most concerning thing to psychological health that I know of existing today….pornography addicts have a more difficult time recovering from their addiction than cocaine addicts, since coke users can get the drug out of their system, but pornographic images stay in the brain forever.”

5. Single Candle Light
I enjoy romantic, candlelit dinners with my husband. Well, why not a candlelit conjugal embrace? In the 15th century, it was common for painters to place one solitary lit candle in their paintings to symbolize the presence of Christ. If you have small children or might fall asleep too quickly afterwards, perhaps you can use an electric candle/light…or set an alarm…but be prudent. A simple, solitary light can bring more symbolism to your intimacy. And…it can help put you both in the “mood.”

6. Focus on Your Spouse
“Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” This quote from Blessed Mother Teresa is an ideal quote for marriage. Marriage isn’t all about “me.” It’s about “us.” What are your spouse’s needs? Think of his/her needs in all facets of your relationship. Intimate ‘memos’ bring a couple closer. Notes in your spouse’s lunch, special messages left on his workbench or on her desk, daily texts are all ways to intimately connect during the day and let your spouse know you are thinking of him/her. The important thing is to focus on the other in all things and when it comes time for the marital embrace, this selflessness will follow naturally.

7. We Can Work It Out
When you consider all the day-to-day challenges like children, work, fatigue, family bed, stress and sickness, it’s often a miracle that a couple has the time to engage in marital intimacy at all. The spontaneity of early marriage eventually gives way to planning for intimacy. “Family bed?” Consider another location for the marital embrace. Mom too tired? Perhaps Dad can take the kids out to the park while Mom gets a well-deserved rest after dinner. Dad too stressed? Mom can have a hot relaxing bath waiting for Dad when he arrives home.

Do you want to prepare for the holiest, most satisfying intimate experience possible? Treat your spouse with respect, pray together, focus on your spouse, don’t use porn and be creative in finding time for intimacy.

Check out Conversion Diary for other bloggers’ Quick Takes. 7_quick_takes_sm1

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Recent Reviews for A Subtle Grace

A Subtle Grace front cover Nov2013Special thanks to Jamie Anne Bentz and Jeannie Ewing (Love Alone Creates) for these wonderful reviews of A Subtle Grace:

Review from Jamie Anne Bentz:
“A Subtle Grace,” a stand-alone sequel to “In Name Only,” offers a compelling read that is the perfect assortment of romance and suspense. The characters that Gable brings to life complement each other with their own nuances, and this proves entertaining and interesting.

Without disclosing too many plot details, I can say that Gable deals with important themes—themes that are challenging to write about—in a manner that is as frank as it is delicate. This period romance is a tribute to true love, perseverance, faith, and healing. While Gable effortlessly transports her readers into the brink of the twentieth century, she keeps the story relevant to our times.

Another “treat” that Gable gives us is the introduction of another ruthless, merciless antagonist. As she proved in “Stealing Jenny,” she writes “love-to-hate” characters well.

A great and highly recommended read!

Excerpt of Review by Jeannie Ewing:
Ellen Gable’s sequel to In Name Only, appropriately titled A Subtle Grace, is refreshingly beautiful and bold in a world in which Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility meets modern-day Downton Abbey. Set in late nineteenth century Philadelphia, the reader immediately delves into an epoch of romance, the stark reality and contrast between good and evil (in the days before relativism became the norm), and the ethereal realm of horse-drawn carriages, puffed sleeves with matching hats and gloves, and high society living.

As one who prefers non-fiction to fiction, I was pleased to be captivated by Gable’s impeccable development of the O’Donovan family, despite the fact that I had not read the prequel to A Subtle Grace. In Gable’s literary creativity, she immediately draws the reader into a sweet fondness for the O’Donovans, a wealthy (and devout) Catholic family who model the virtues of charity and humility with an ease that reminds the rest of the world what the faces of corporal and spiritual works of mercy appeared to be in ages past.

What is A Subtle Grace? It is the quiet beckoning that each of us receives from our Lord, the gentle persuasion we encounter at the dawn of each new day and season of our lives. A Subtle Grace is redemptive, healing, transformative, and life-giving. It is the joy each of us has the potential to unlock, despite life’s circumstances and challenges. A Subtle Grace is a heartfelt, pure novel rife with the raw pain reflective of humanity, and it is certainly a timeless tale that will withstand cultural changes and philosophical ideologies.

Because of this, it is a story of the heart that is certain to reach man, woman, adolescent, those in any vocation and in any stage of his or her personal odyssey. It traverses with the person, nudging his or her conscience to discover something new about oneself and to desire personal reform; what a beautiful gift we have in Gable’s storytelling and in A Subtle Grace.

To read Jeannie’s review in its entirety, click here.

A Subtle Grace Kindle Edition

A Subtle Grace Print Edition, Create Space (For a limited time only, to get $5 off the retail price, use code: AVHCBEW8 at checkout)

To buy on Amazon:
A Subtle Grace Print Edition on Amazon