Christmas Blessings

This Christmas is already very different. Of course, 2020 has been a different kind of year. There will be no American relatives visiting us here in Canada (given the fact that the border is closed), and even our dinners will be low key in trying to keep with less than ten at each gathering. But one thing that hasn’t changed is how we decorate our Christmas tree. Over the past nearly 39 years, my husband and I have collected hundreds of ornaments. Placing the ornaments on our Christmas tree is like taking a trip back in time.

The first Christmas we were married, we asked friends and relatives to make or give us ornaments. Not all of these ornaments have survived 39 years, but these are some that are still in excellent condition. Clockwise from upper left: 1) Angel with bell: my mother gave this to me in 1978. 2) Small wreath with grandma: My mother-in-law gave this to us on our first Christmas together as a married couple. 3) An old-fashioned glass ball given to us by my Aunt Flossie and 4) a red sleigh given to us by my cousin Linda in 1984.

Despite the challenges of 2020, let us imitate the Blessed Virgin and open our hearts to the Christ Child!

A Blessed and Peaceful Christmas to All!

Two New Books From FQP!

Dubbie: The Double-Headed Eagle by Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Illustrated by James Hrkach

On this beautiful feast of the Immaculate Conception, FQP is proud to release two new books, Dubbie: The Double-Headed Eagle by Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen (children’s book) and Gus Busbi by Jim Sano (contemporary fiction).

Synopsis: What if the ugly duckling was actually an eagle — an eagle with two heads? It’s not easy being a double-headed eagle. This is something little Dubbie finds out soon after hatching. With his single-headed family being clueless how to raise him, he embarks on a quest to find kindred eagles. On this journey, he makes friends with a runaway girl named Emma, but also encounters villains with a hidden agenda who are intent on keeping the past in the past — particularly double-headed eagles. Will Dubbie find his double-headed family? Will he and Emma be able to outwit their foes? Follow their adventures through the magical city of Vienna and find out for yourself.

This delightful children’s book is FQP’s first venture into the world of children’s books. The author, Eduard Habsburg (Archduke Eduard of Austria) is a direct descendent of the Emperor at the time of the beginning of WW1. My husband James illustrated the book (including the cover).

Until Christmas, the book is only 9.99 USD (after Christmas, it will be 12.99).

Buy: Kindle edition at this link

Buy: Print edition at this link

Gus Busbi by Jim Sano

Synopsis: What can a black teen from the gang-controlled South End projects of Boston and a seventy-year-old curmudgeonly Italian man, who has given up on life, have in common? Jamiel Russell and Gus Busbi live in the same house but they’ve never met. They both would have just assumed it stayed that way, but life often has more in store for us than we plan for. This timely novel is the second story in the neighborhood of St. Francis Parish and shows the power of relationships, love, and forgiveness.

This is part of the Fr. Tom series by Jim Sano (two more upcoming books in the series!) and takes place in the Boston area at St. Francis’ Parish. A timely story about forgiveness!

Buy: Kindle Edition at this link

Buy: Print Edition at this link

Pregnancy: An Advent Eternally Renewed

My latest at CatholicMom.com:

Image by Bartek Ambrozik FreeImages.com

“Pregnancy, an advent eternally renewed in every woman expecting a child, is a book written by the hand of God, with each page, each day, each hour, reminding us of the first Advent.  Think of the first Advent now, when worlds were hushed and angels still…waiting, waiting for the answer of a young girl!  Her fiat, spoken so softly as to be almost a whisper, shook heaven and earth, and began the ineffable, incomprehensible, most beautiful mystery of the Incarnation!  Each pregnancy sings of the first Advent.  Each time is a time of waiting, of joy so immense that it can only be encompassed by the eyes and soul of a woman in love and filled with the fruit of that love.”  Catherine Doherty, Dear Parents

There are so many things to be thankful for during Advent this year.  Yes, it’s 2020, and many would prefer to rush to the end of this eventful, stressful year.

I don’t agree.  During this challenging time, we can use these beautiful weeks to prepare for and to be thankful for Our Savior’s birth and for Mother Mary’s “yes” to carrying Jesus. 

I was blessed to be pregnant during five Advents, and during each one, it was easier to understand this truth that “every pregnancy sings of the first Advent.”  However, the Advent before my January baby (number-four son) was probably the most impactful, given that I was exceptionally large, and I had suffered more during this pregnancy than in the previous three healthy ones combined. I had debilitating migraines every two days until four months along. I’m four feet nine inches tall and, before pregnancy, my weight was typically 95 pounds. I had already gained 65 pounds with that pregnancy, and the baby measured at seven pounds during December. (He would be born a month later at nearly ten pounds).  While I didn’t love the difficulties and challenges of childbearing, I was filled with joy when I was pregnant because it was a time when the fruit of our love was growing and kicking inside of me.

And growing and kicking this baby did. A lot of it! Because of the excess weight, I could barely walk, let alone move. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting on a stinky donkey and traveling in warm weather, far away from home, then giving birth in a damp, smelly stable. 

Needless to say, that was the first time I understood with greater clarity what Mother Mary endured that first Advent. I continue to be in awe of Our Lady’s yes to carrying Our Savior.   Mary was – and continues to be –a beautiful example of patience and virtue during pregnancy, having to sit on a donkey for miles and miles, then having to give birth in a stable, with the accompanying sounds, odors, and discomforts.

Mary also acted as my consoler when I lost seven babies through miscarriage.  There is no other woman who could so completely understand the heartbreak of losing a precious child better than Our Lady herself, who stood under the cross, her heart pierced by the sword of watching her own flesh and blood, the very Savior of the world, die in agony.

Let us embrace this Advent with Our Lady’s open welcoming of the Savior, the one she bore for mankind.  And let us pause, remember, and pray for all those who carry a precious child in their wombs, that they will understand with great clarity the unique and everlasting gift of carrying an eternal, human soul.

Nearing the end of a challenging pregnancy (1996)

Copyright 2020 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Veterans Day 2020 #veteransday #remembranceday

My three fathers served a total of 16 years in various branches of the United States armed forces.

My father, Frank Gable, served in the United States Marine Corps from 1946-1950 and in the United States Army from 1950-1954. However, November 11th has always held a special place in my heart because it is my father’s birthday. Today he would’ve been 92. He died suddenly and tragically at the age of 49, just before my 19th birthday. My family and I walked around in shock, trying to get through the days following his death.

Frank Gable was short in stature (around five feet six inches tall), enjoyed watching “Gomer Pyle,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and the “Honeymooners.” He enjoyed playing the card game, Rummy, and Monopoly. His favorite candy was Hershey’s Kisses.  Over the years, he worked as a clerk and mailman. Years ago, my mom shared with me that he is the one who named me. And, when I was 15 or 16, he used to hug me and say, “El, you need to find a guy just about my size because you fit perfectly to me when we hug.” (I did!)

For Christians, the consolation is that we will see our loved ones again. I know that I will see my dad again someday. Until then…Happy Birthday, Dad. Remembering you in a special way today.

My father-in-law, Tony Hrkach (1925-1995) served as a tail gunner in the United States Air Force during the second World War.

Near the end of the war, during a routine mission, Tony’s plane was shot down over Yugoslavia (coincidentally, near his father’s birthplace). Frantically, he and his buddies parachuted out of the airplane. Unfortunately, however, one of his friends hit the side of a mountain and was killed. Tony and the others made it safely to the ground and were captured as soon as they landed.

They were marched for miles until they reached a POW camp. Remarkably, they found the Germans running the camp to be kind and, while it was not easy to be a prisoner of war, they were treated humanely.

When an announcement came over the radio that Germany had lost the war, their captors immediately handed their weapons and guns over to the Americans. Then, in a strange moment of understanding, they exchanged small personal tokens as reminders of their time together.

“I don’t just think of myself as a citizen of the United States; I think of myself as a citizen of the world,” he used to say. His idea was that we should remember first and foremost that we are all human beings, especially in time of war.

Like my own father and many other veterans, my father-in-law enjoyed “Hogan’s Heroes,” the television sitcom from the 1960’s about a German POW camp. The show attempted to put a human spin on such horrific times…the very thing that Tony found in his real experience with the ‘enemy.’  (With thanks to my husband James for writing this account of his father’s experience in the second World War.)

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My stepfather, Joseph Power (1933-2012), trained in Parris Island, South Carolina, before shipping out to Korea. He attained the silver badge in Marine Marksman. Like my father and father-in-law, Joe never liked to talk about his experiences with war.  But he would say things like, “Be grateful for warm showers,” or “If that’s your only complaint, be thankful that you’re not being fired at.”

While we remember all those who fought in wars so that we may live in freedom, let us also remember that the real enemy isn’t necessarily the people we fight against, but the evil circumstances that result from greed, lust and power.

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach 2020

An Open Book – November #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month!

What Follows After by Dan Walsh

Amazon Synopsis: 2nd Edition – Carol Award Finalist, Selah Award Winner !! (Best Historical Fiction) It’s October, 1962. Life is simple. The world makes sense, and all families are happy. When they aren’t, everyone knows you’re supposed to pretend. With their family about to collapse, Colt Harrison and his little brother, Timmy, hatch a plan. They’ll run away from their Florida home, head for their aunt’s house in Savannah and refuse to come home until their parents get back together. But things go terribly, terribly wrong. Colt’s parents must come to grips with years of mistrust and fight for their son’s return…and to mend their broken marriage. In this emotional story, Dan Walsh takes readers on a suspense-filled journey to rediscover the things that matter most in life.

My review: I liked this book because it had some twists and turns and an interesting plot. The part of the story that takes place in 1962 was very well done and mentioned songs, TV shows and movies from that time. Recommend. 4/5.

The Crown of Sanctity
by Daniel O’Connor

Amazon Synopsis: 2,000 years ago, the Son of God prayed to His Father, “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This prayer, the greatest ever uttered by the lips of man, will not go unanswered. Jesus has revealed to an Italian mystic named Luisa that the time has now at last arrived for its fulfillment; that is, for the restoration of what was destroyed by Adam 6,000 years ago in the Fall of Man. In brief: the entire world is about to be radically transformed like never before in its history. This is probably something you should know about. This book has been written to inform you about the transformation and to enable you to take part in it and hasten it.

But this transformation will not be achieved through human effort. It will be given directly from Heaven by way of God’s greatest Gift: the Gift of Living in the Divine Will, which is the Crown of Sanctity, and which even now we must all strive to receive. In this sanctity is found The Culmination of Deification, the Fruitfulness of Mystical Marriage, the Aspiration of the Unification of Wills, and the Essence of Marian Consecration. This is none other than the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary promised at Fatima. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God.

This is a long book, but its length should turn away no one, as a thorough and detailed table of contents is given so that each reader can easily select only those sections in which he is interested for his perusal.

And any reader is sure to find much that interests him. Within these pages is a treasury of resources; not only concerning Luisa’s revelations directly, but also on new arguments for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity, extensive Catechesis on Private Revelation in general and on the spiritual life in general (including overviews of the greatest teachings on spirituality in the history of the Church), and details on the Era of Peace as revealed to Luisa and many other mystics, visionaries, and seers (Fatima, Medjugorje, Venerable Conchita, Fr. Gobbi, and dozens more). You will not regret reading this book.

“This is our great hope and our petition: “Your Kingdom come” – a kingdom of peace, justice, and serenity, that will re-establish the original harmony of creation.” St. JP II

My review: Amazing, compelling book about the times we’re living in and approved revelations of Jesus to Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta back in the late 1800’s and 1900’s. She was bedridden for most of her life and neither ate, drank or slept, only being nourished by the Holy Eucharist. She was called the “Little Daughter of the Divine Will.” Highly recommend. It’s permanently free on Kindle. 5/5.

Firstborn by Robin Lee Hatcher

Amazon Synopsis: Erika Welby had a secret she thought no one would ever discover. But someone knew …

“Dear Mrs. Welby, I know you were only seventeen when I was born. I’ve got many questions. I wonder if you have questions to ask me, too.”

Erika’s worst fear is realized when her well-kept secret shows up on her doorstep. As she reaches out to the daughter she gave up for adoption 21 years ago, her husband pulls away, leaving Erika with an impossible choice.

My review: The synopsis hooked me in, so I downloaded this when it was either free or .99. However, for me, the story didn’t deliver. We find out that before she was married, Erika had a one-night stand, got pregnant and wound up giving up the baby for adoption. She never told her husband or the man she had the one-night-stand with. When Erika hears from the daughter she gave up, she panics because her well-kept secret is about to be revealed. I found both the husband and wife standoffish and not that likeable. 3/5.

Mommie Dearest by
Christina Crawford

Amazon Synopsis: The 40th anniversary edition of the “shocking” #1 New York Times bestseller with an exclusive new introduction by the author (Los Angeles Times).
 
When Christina Crawford’s harrowing chronicle of child abuse was first published in 1978, it brought global attention to the previously closeted subject. It also shed light on the guarded world of Hollywood and stripped away the façade of Christina’s relentless, alcoholic abuser: her adoptive mother, movie star Joan Crawford.
 
Christina was a young girl shown off to the world as a fortunate little princess. But at home, her lonely, controlling, even ruthless mother made her life a nightmare. A fierce battle of wills, their relationship could be characterized as an ultimately successful, for Christina, struggle for independence. She endured and survived, becoming the voice of so many other victims who suffered in silence, and giving them the courage to forge a productive life out of chaos.
 
This ebook edition features an exclusive new introduction by the author, plus rare photographs from her personal collection and one hundred pages of revealing material not found in the original manuscript.

My review: I downloaded this when it was on sale for 1.99 on Kindle. Like many people, I’ve seen the disturbing movie. I was prepared for any disturbing incidents, but it was hard to stomach most of this book. Recommend only for those with a strong stomach. 3/5.

In a People House by Dr. Seuss

Amazon Synopsis: When a spunky mouse invites a passing bird to see what’s inside a People House, chaos ensues while beginning readers learn the names of 65 common household items—and that people are generally not pleased to find mice and birds in their houses! A super simple, delightfully silly introduction to objects around the home—from none other than Dr. Seuss!

My review: This is another favorite of my sons as they were growing up and I’m sure will be a favorite of my grandson’s. It’s got catchy rhyming (as usual for Dr. Seuss) and when reading it to a toddler, you can almost read it as a rap. I was surprised that I knew this book almost by heart! Highly recommend! 5/5.

Llama llama Nighty-Night by Anna Dewdney

Amazon Synopsis: What’s the best part of bedtime? Stories with Mama! Before cuddling, Llama Llama must splish and splash in the tub, then put his red pajamas on.

Dewdney’s catchy rhymes, effortless rhythm, and adorable artwork can now be enjoyed by even younger audiences. Toddlers will love this perfect read-aloud.

My review: This is a clever little book for toddlers with adorable pictures and great rhyming. One of my grandson’s favorites. Just short enough for bedtime. Highly recommend. 5/5.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day 2020

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Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day but the entire month of October is devoted to Infant Loss Remembrance. James and I feel very blessed and grateful to be the parents of five young adult sons (ages 21-33) and one beautiful grandson. We are also blessed to be the parents of seven precious babies we lost through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. This month, we remember in a special way these seven little souls (and intercessors) in heaven.

Here are a few of my reflections on pregnancy loss:

Among Women Podcast Episode 89 (Pat Gohn interviewed me about miscarriage and pregnancy loss)

Ecce Ancilla Domini, an article on openness to life.

Five Little Souls in Heaven (This article was written 25 years ago and published in the Nazareth Journal)

Difficult Anniversaries/Responsible Parenthood

One of the themes of my first novel, Emily’s Hope, is pregnancy loss.

This excerpt describes Emily’s loss of baby “Seth.”

“I need to push.” She wanted so desperately not to push, to allow her baby to stay inside of her, and for her to continue to nourish and nurture her child, but her body wouldn’t allow that. She pushed only twice and her small child was born. Emily heard a sound like a kitten crying, then realized that her baby had let out a small, soft, weak cry.

As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, the nurse immediately carried the baby across the room as the pediatric staff attempted to work on their child. Emily and Jason sat quietly, their hearts heavy with emotion. A few minutes later, she felt another contraction and her placenta was delivered. She could hear a nurse referring to “him,” and realized that their child was another boy. After a few minutes, the doctor brought him back, his small form still hidden in the blue hospital blanket. He spoke in a hushed, almost apologetic voice, “There is nothing we can do for him.”

He handed the tiny one-pound baby boy to his mother. Jason held onto Emily’s shoulder and watched as she cradled the smallest baby they had ever seen. He was so perfect and looked identical to their oldest son, Jake. His small body was covered with minute white hairs. He was perfect as he struggled to breathe. He was perfect as he opened his mouth to cry. Emily held her new son as gently as she could. Jason reached over and poured a few drops of water on him and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Emily could feel the vibration of his tiny heart beating fast.

The nurse came in with a Polaroid camera and asked if they wanted her to take a photo of their child. Emily nodded as the nurse took a photo of her and Jason and their tiny son. She gazed in awe at this miniature human being and marveled at the fact that even though he was tiny, he was so perfect. His little hands looked like a doll’s hands. She removed the baby blanket and laid his small, warm body on her chest. She could feel his heart beating rapidly. After several minutes, she wrapped him again in the small blue blanket.

Then, in an instant, he was still. She could feel that his heart had stopped and he wasn’t breathing, but he continued to feel warm and soft. He looked like a sleeping angel.

(End of excerpt.)

If you have lost a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or infant death, please click on the link above “Baby Loss” for resources and helpful links.

Here is a list of other novels that include themes about infant/pregnancy loss:

In Name Only by Ellen Gable

A Subtle Grace by Ellen Gable

Stealing Jenny by Ellen Gable

A World Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer

Rose, Sola by Carmela Martino

The Rose and the Sword by Gina Marinello-Sweeney

Bane’s Eyes by Corinna Turner

Passport by Christopher Blunt

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

For Eden’s Sake by T.M. Gaouette

Life-Changing Love by Theresa Linden

Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body edited by Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable

In memory of our seven little souls in heaven:

Baby Hrkach Twins (June 1986)

Baby Hrkach (February 1991)

Baby Hrkach (June 1991)

Mary Elizabeth Hrkach (June 1993)

Seth Hrkach (April 1998)

Lucy Hrkach (March 2006)

Fatima (2020) #Review #FATIMAthemovie

I was blessed to be able to watch the new movie about the Miracle of Fatima entitled, Fatima, a few months ago. I’ve heard a lot about it from one of the screenwriters on social media. It is available on demand as of August 28. You can watch the trailer here:

First, the synopsis: Based on historical events, three young shepherds in Fátima, Portugal, report visions of the Virgin Mary, inspiring believers and angering officials of the Church and the government, who try to force them to recant their story.

I would consider myself a quasi-expert on the miraculous events at Fatima. I’ve read many books on the subject and I’ve watched documentaries, as well as the original Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima from 1952.

What I loved about this movie: The cinematography was breathtaking. The music was beautifully done and added greatly to the story. The script was well done as were the costumes. I was especially pleased to see Lúcia Moniz, who played Lucia’s mother in the film. She looked familiar, but I had to look her up on IMDB to find out where I had seen her: she was the Portuguese girl and love interest of Colin Firth’s in Love, Actually. She plays a very different part in this movie as the unbelieving mother of Lucia. The acting of most of the cast was above average (although there were a few minor actors who weren’t quite on par with the rest of the cast).

The Miracle of the Sun was effective and well done, and for this, the music, and the cinematography, the movie is definitely worth seeing.

Photo Credit: Claudio Iannone ©2020 PICTUREHOUSE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The two youngest children were delightful and believable. (The girl playing Jacinta was adorable.) I enjoyed both of their performances very much.

Photo Courtesy of Picturehouse ©2020 PICTUREHOUSE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

What I didn’t like about this movie: I personally didn’t like how Our Blessed Mother was portrayed and how distracted the children seemed when they were receiving visions from Our Lady. To me, there was nothing heavenly about the woman in the vision. In fact, there seemed to be no attempt to make the Blessed Mother look ethereal. She was a beautiful lady dressed in white, barefoot and, at one point, bled from her heart. It almost felt like she walked up to the children when she appeared to them.

The young actress who played Lucia did an adequate job, but at times, there was something missing from her performance.

Photo Credit: Claudio Iannone ©2020 PICTUREHOUSE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

There were several events that the writers choose to either change or leave out. For example, the writers also chose not to include that the Communist mayor threatened to boil the children in oil if they did not tell the truth. That’s a pretty big part to leave out. In the actual events, the children refused to say they were lying, regardless of the threats to be boiled alive.

Bottom line: Although the original 1952 Fatima, in my opinion, is a more faithful representation of the events of the Miracle of Fatima, this is a movie absolutely worth seeing. It’s powerful and uplifting. Recommend! 7/10.

This movie will be available On Demand starting August 28. If you’d like a code to see this movie for free in the comfort of your home, please comment below (before August 31) to be entered to win a free code. I have two free codes to give away!

This post is sponsored by Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Elevation Pictures. Opinions expressed are my own.

Copyright 2020 Ellen Gable Hrkach