Happy Easter!

A Blessed Easter!  Alleluia!  He is Risen!We have had a very busy Triduum with my husband as Cantor as all the Masses and me as Lector.

We have had a very busy Triduum with my husband as Cantor as all the Masses and me as Lector.

Easter is somewhat different from the way it used to be when our boys were very small. But we still fill a huge Easter basket to be shared by everyone!

Favorite Easter Hymn:

Jesus Christ is Risen Today

Favorite Chocolate:

President’s Choice Dark Chocolate Peppermint Melts

Favorite Easter Memory:

In 1967, when I was nearly eight years old, my mother was in the hospital in critical condition. Back in those days, children were rarely allowed to visit patients in critical care. I wrote her many letters (like the one below), but rarely could she answer any of our letters because of her illness. A few days before Easter, my father had arranged it with the nurses to allow my three siblings and myself to visit her on Easter Sunday because it was the end of March and also was very close to her birthday. We hadn’t seen her in over a month so I was thrilled to be able to be with her and talk to her again. My first view of her was sitting in a wheelchair, her complexion very pale and I remember being surprised at how thin she was. In fact, my oldest brother could put his fingers around my mother’s wrists they were so small. Mom, at five feet six inches tall, was normally about 110 pounds. When we saw her that Easter day, she weighed about 85 pounds. I didn’t care how she looked, though. I was so excited to see her again after so long. Later, whenever my mother would recall that day, she said that while she was happy to see us, just a few minutes with us tired her out so much that she wound up sleeping most of the rest of the day! Thankfully, Mom made a complete recovery from that illness (and, in fact, gave birth to another child!). She eventually passed away nine years ago. In fact, tomorrow is her birthday. Here is an article I wrote about her several years ago.

copyright Ellen Hrkach

copyright Ellen Hrkach

Favorite Easter Photos Collage:

Top Left: James and I, our first Easter together, 1980

Right: Easter 2003, with my boys dressed (as they used to like to say)

like the brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Bottom Left: My sibs and I, Easter 1962

Easter collage

 

 

 

Rightfully Ours by Carolyn Astfalk Now Available for Pre-Order

Rightfully Ours, by Carolyn Astfalk, Kindle edition is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com before its release date of April 1, 2017.

Sixteen-year-old Paul Porter’s relocation to Pennsylvania is a temporary move during his dad’s deployment. Or so he and his brother think, until devastating news lands on their doorstep.

Paul’s new home with the Muellers provides solace, especially in the form of Rachel, his friend and confidante. Their abiding friendship deepens as they work side by side to uncover what could be lost treasure.

Will they acquire the strength of character and virtue to take only what rightfully belongs to them or are they in way over their heads, with more than a few lost artifacts at stake?

(NB: That’s my youngest son on the cover!)

To pre-order the Kindle edition, click here.

Peggy’s Car

This is me with my Aunt Peggy circa 1960, copyright Ellen Hrkach all rights reserved

This is me with my Aunt Peggy circa 1960, copyright Ellen Hrkach all rights reserved

The following story was written by Michelle Kreidler, a good friend of my Aunt Peggy’s.  Aunt Peggy (my father’s sister) has been gone since 2003, but her memories and her sharp sense of humor remain.

Peggy’s Car by Michelle Kreidler

The first time Peggy ever bought a car was 11 years ago. She had owned cars before, but she never had to actually buy one. Peggy was an independent woman with a job and her own money and she wanted to make a statement with her first car.  Red!  It was going to be red!  Make? Model? Engine? Who cares? As long as it was red.  So with her son, Chris, in tow, she made her way to the car dealerships.

She started at a Honda dealership.  She had only one question, “Does this car come in red?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, it does not,” said the salesman.

Peggy moved on.

At the next dealership, she asked the same question.  She got the same answer and quickly moved on.

Peggy went from far lot to car lot looking for a red car. Each time she moved on, disappointed, yet determined.

Peggy finally arrived at a Nissan dealership. Sure enough, they had a car in red. In fact, she could have the car right there on the lot. Peggy signed the paperwork, took the car keys and moved on down the road.

Peggy drove that car with pride for years.

The last time she was able to drive the car was about four months ago. Peggy drove to get her hair and nails done. Then she moved on. She went to a restaurant and had a small meal. And then she moved on.  She got back in that shiny red car and drove it to St. Hilary Church.

It had been about thirty years since Peggy last went to church, and she was very nervous about coming back. She lit a candle and sat in the back. This time she did not move on. She sat there quietly and prayed. She went to confession with Father Yahner. She reconnected with the church that she had grown up in, that had shaped her life and that she had drifted away from.

Then Peggy moved on.

copyright 2003 Michelle Kreidler

Building a Long-Term, Successful Joy-Filled Marriage

Photo courtesy B & K Hrkach, Photography by Tim Baklinski

Photo courtesy B & K Hrkach, Photography by Tim Baklinski

My recent article at Catholic Mom:

Recently, when we were at a restaurant celebrating Valentine’s Day, we asked our waitress to guess how long we’ve been married. She guessed 20 years. I responded, “35 years.”

“Wow! How is that possible in this day and age? And you guys look so happy. Well, good for you.”

 She didn’t wait to hear our answer for how it was possible, but as I reflected on the reasons, it became clear that the most of the long-term successful and happy marriages we know about have the following practices in common:
  1. Pray Together and Attend Mass Together

Marital prayer is an ideal way to keep a couple emotionally, spiritually and physically close. We also try to say a daily Rosary together for our children (one decade for each son.)

The conjugal embrace is itself a prayer. 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.

  1. Use NFP (and throw away the contraception)

No, I’m not saying that couples should have as many children as possible. But what I am saying is that for the marital embrace to be honest and life-giving and joy-filled, 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 NFP.

  1. Treat Each Other With Respect and Kindness, Communication

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 deeply with one another; treat each other with kindness, respect and love.

  1. 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. St. 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.”

  1. Date Night and Romantic Dinners (And Have Fun Together!)

I enjoy romantic, candlelit dinners with my husband. Getting out and enjoying each other’s presence is a wonderful way to relax and enjoy time together. We’ve always tried to have a date night even (and especially) when the kids were small. When we were younger and had limited finances, sometimes our date night would occur in our own kitchen or at a park for a picnic. We often played board games together. And I have always enjoyed my husband’s strange sense of humor (he still makes me laugh!)

Why candlelit dinners? Candlelight represents sacrificial love (a light burns brightly while destroying the candle). Some Renaissance painters used to put a single candlelight into paintings to symbolize Christ’s presence.

  1. Focus on Your Spouse/Sacrificial Love

“Intense love does not measure; it just gives.” This quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta is an ideal quote for marriage. Marriage isn’t all about “me.” It’s about “us.” Marriage is all about sacrificial love. What are your spouse’s needs? Think of his/her needs in all facets of your relationship. One thought I try to have when I wake up every morning is “What can I do to make my husband’s life easier today?” If he’s thinking the same thing, one can only imagine how much easier life will be for both spouses. Also, notes in your husband’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.

  1.  The Importance of Marital Intimacy

Marital intimacy can seem impossible when a couple’s children are small. A couple must be willing to “think outside the box.” Attachment parenting and the family bed can usually be challenging. Consider another location for marital intimacy. 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. Even when the couple gets older and children are teens are adults, it can still be a challenge to find time for marital intimacy. The spontaneity of early marriage eventually gives way to planning for intimacy.

  1. Always Try to Give 100%

A joy-filled marriage is not 50-50. As Christian spouses, both should try to be reaching for 100%. When we were dating, my husband asked me, “Ellie, how hard do you try to be perfect? In other words, what percentage are you aiming for?”

I thought about it for a moment and said, “Oh, I guess I’m shooting for 80%. After all, no one’s perfect.”

His response surprised me: “Ellie, if you’re only trying for 80%, do you think you’ll ever get there? You may only reach 60%. But if you try for 100%, you may get to 80%.” After a while, it made sense to me. Neither of us are perfect, but we are trying our best.

Do you want to have a long-term, successful and joy-filled marriage? While there are no guarantees, couples who pray and attend Mass together, use NFP, treat each other with respect and kindness, avoid pornography, have frequent romantic dinners/date nights, have fun together, are self-sacrificial and try their best will have the greatest chance of having a joy-filled marriage.

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

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An Old-Fashioned Love Story: My Grandparents

My maternal grandparents, John and Bessie May, met as teenagers. In this photo from 1916 — they were married in November of that year — they look very happy and very much in love. They went on to build a wonderful life together, welcoming and raising five children. My grandfather was half American Indian and half German. Like most couples, they also had their share of heartbreaks and challenges. My mother was their fourth living child, and the first to proudly graduate high school.  Their descendants include 22 grandchildren (14 still living) and more than 30 great-grandchildren.

According to my mother, and from what I observed as a young child, they continued to grow in love and remained happily married. Over the years, my grandmother had gained a lot of weight, but my grandfather told her that it didn’t matter to him, because there was “a lot more of her to love.”

We have an old home 8 mm home movie of their 50th wedding anniversary celebration from 1966, and there is one scene where they are hugging.  It’s endearing, but also a bit humorous because my grandmother had had a bit too much to drink.

In July of 1967, my grandmother died of a stroke.  My grandfather was never quite the same.

Mom Mom and Pop Pop

Bessie and John May, January 1955

The last time I saw him was on Christmas Day, 1968.  My mother and I went to visit him in his house on Carlisle Street in South Philly.  When we came in, he was sitting in his chair by the front door, his head low, a cigarette between two fingers.  He looked up at us and I think his mouth almost lifted in a smile when he saw us, but his eyes seemed so sad. Before my grandmother died, he was very animated and he used to pull me into a big hug and kiss me.  That day we gave him a few gifts — I remember thinking that it might make him happy.  But he opened them and again, tried to smile, then nodded and said, “Merry Christmas.”  Mom tried to talk with him, but he didn’t appear to be in a talkative mood.

My grandfather passed away six weeks later (on February 7th, 1969, 48 years ago today). When I asked Mom how he died, she said, “He died of a broken heart.”

Their story is also included in my first novel, Emily’s Hope.

Remembering both of my grandparents today in a special way.

“May all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

Text and photos copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach