An Open Book #openbook

Open Book


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


Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time.  G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) was an English author who wrote on a variety of subjects such as mysteries, philosophy, religion and biographies. Chesterton is best known for the Father Brown mystery stories, as well as Orthodoxy, which is seen as the intellectual quest of a spiritually curious person. Orthodoxy is considered a classic for Christian apologetics.

Daughters of Jim Farrell

The Daughters of Jim Farrell by Sylvia Bambola

I look forward to reading this one! Pennsylvania 1873: When, in the harsh world of Pennsylvania coal country, Jim Farrell is hanged for murder, his wife and three daughters must turn their beautiful home into a boarding house in order to survive. But struggling beneath the shadow of shame becomes too much for eldest daughter, Kate. She resolves to clear her father’s name in spite of her mother’s admonition to “let it go,” and convinces her sisters to help. All too soon their dangerous quest rips the family apart. Will it also cost them the men they love?

Bambola is also the author of Tears in a Bottle, a very moving pro-life novel.


 Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb

My review: Only .99 on Kindle!  Entertaining and made the time fly. Hard to put down. I normally read 50-75 novels a year and most of them I read and forget. This one has stayed with me. Quirky romantic hero, well-defined characters and a great story. There were a few typos and other grammatical issues, but easy to overlook when the story is so good. Highly recommend!


Transitions: Stories of How to Help Mom and Dad With Their Stuff 

by Jean Long Manteufel

My review: Transitions: Stories of How to Help Mom and Dad With Their Stuff is exactly what the title suggests: an extremely helpful resource for seniors making the transition from independent living/house living to community living. Just how does one go through 50 odd years of precious memories? This book, which is a compilation of columns the author has written, is an excellent guide to assist seniors and their adult children through the downsizing and transition period. Highly recommend!


Last, but certainly not least, are the two books that FQP has been working on these past several months.

Discovery Front cover revised

Discovery by Karina Fabian

Available for Pre-Order on Kindle

Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity’s first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe, but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins – and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, something terrifying. Something holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.

“…a suspenseful space adventure with deep roots that extend to questions about life, death, faith, and purpose.”
Tom Doran, fantasy author of Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press)


Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body

edited by Erin McCole Cupp and Ellen Gable

Available on October 22, 2016 (Feast of St. John Paul II)

If St. John Paul II ever summarized his Theology of the Body, it may have been when he said, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” But how does this sincere gift look when lived out by human beings with all their failings? What happens to our humanity when we withhold that sincere gift? What does life require of us when we give most deeply?

Full Quiver Publishing brings you this moving collection of poetry and prose, featuring some of today’s brightest Catholic literary voices, including award-winning authors Dena Hunt, Arthur Powers, Michelle Buckman, Leslie Lynch, Theresa Linden, and many more. By turns edgy and sweet, gritty and deft, but always courageous and honest, the works contained in Image and Likeness explore countless facets of human love—and human failure. Readers of Image and Likeness will experience in a variety of ways how humanity, in flesh as well as spirit, lives out the image and likeness of a God who created human intimacy to bring forth both our future and to illustrate our ultimate meaning as human persons.

With a Foreword by international Theology of the Body voice Damon Owen, Image and Likeness puts life and breath into St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in ways that readers won’t soon forget.

Promotion…or the Strangest Place I’ve Ever Sold A Book

Picture 126Since a self-published author doesn’t have a publisher to help with promotion, it’s important to take every opportunity to promote oneself. Keep copies of your books in your car, always have business cards or bookmarks in your purse or wallet and…don’t be afraid to talk about your books.

I’ve sold books to the insurance man, the animal control officer, at family functions and churches. I’ve sold books to people on the beach and at the grocery story.

But, by far, the strangest place I’ve ever sold one of my books was at a local club/bar.

Now, I never go to bars or clubs, but on this particular night, my husband was performing with his jazz fusion band. During one song, he actually plays two different guitars. My husband is a very talented guitarist (see video).

That night, as I watched my husband perform, I noticed a tall fellow swaying to the music and staring at my husband. When the song finished, the band took a break. The tall man ran off in the direction of the stage. I followed close behind. The tall man spoke to my husband with the adulation of an adoring fan.

“Man, you’re the best guitarist I’ve ever seen! The way you play those two guitars…it’s just incredible! You’re better than Mick Jagger,” and he went on to list three or four other famous guitarists.

Now, my husband has enough humility for both of us. So he didn’t respond to the praise. Instead he looked my way and said, “This is my wife, Ellie.” My husband’s newest fan turned to me.“Your husband is the most incredibly talented guitarist I’ve ever seen or heard.”

“Isn’t he amazing?” was my response.

“He sure is.” We chatted for a few moments, then, out of the blue he said, “He’s so good, you should write a book about him.”

I burst out laughing. “Well, actually, I have written a book. It’s a novel called Emily’s Hope and it is loosely based on my life…and my husband is a major character in the book.”


“Yes, really.”

“Do you have any copies with you?” (Self-published authors should always be prepared.) So I responded, “Of course.”

Admittedly, this 40-year-old tipsy man probably was not the target audience for my first novel. And…my husband felt I took advantage of a fellow who was drinking, and perhaps I did. But, well…a sale is a sale.

Humor aside, I’ve often wondered about this fellow who walked into the bar to have a good time and walked out with my novel in his hands. I hope he’s doing well.

(Re-edited) Copyright 2016 Ellen Gable Hrkach

A Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion

CMPC photo

My box of contributor copies for a Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion has finally arrived north of the border!   Release date is set for the end of this month.

Created by moms for moms, these hope-filled meditations touch on the issues and concerns you face as you try to get through the day with a sense of God’s presence in your life. Whether you are a new or seasoned mom working in or outside of your home, this inspiring collection of reflections for every day of the year will help you

  • stay in touch with the seasons of the Church year;
  • remember Mary’s loving presence on her feast days;
  • keep company with both new and familiar saints;
  • see the spiritual meaning of secular holidays; and
  • make you smile with occasions such as Houseplant Appreciation Day and National Popcorn Day.

Each day begins with a brief quotation from scripture, saints, recent popes, or important spiritual writers. A personal reflection—written by contributors including Danielle Bean, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Lisa Mladinich, Elizabeth Scalia, Carolyn Woo, Mark Hart and Jeff Young—focuses on some dimension of your spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or physical life. Each day also includes a brief prayer and a question or thought to ponder throughout the day.

In just a few minutes of quiet you’ll find the boost you need from a friendly voice. Each month also has a special theme such as love, family fun, and slowing down. Start these reflections any time throughout the year and feel your days become more grace-filled and inspired.

Other contributors include: Erin McCole Cupp, Barb Szyszkiewicz, Ann Frailey, Celeste Behe, Jeannie Ewing, Patrice Fagnant MacArthur, Jennifer Fitz, Pat Gohn, Margaret Realy, Leticia Velasquez, Karee Santos and many others!

“Insightful and eminently relatable.”

“The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion is packed full of reflections that are both insightful and eminently relatable. Five minutes with this book will get your day off to a great start.”

Jennifer Fulwiler
Catholic radio host and author of Something Other Than God

To order the book from Ave Marie Press, go here to this link.

I Was Blind, But Now I See #TOBtalk

rocks and water hrkachMy latest post at Catholic

When I was eight years old, I had no idea that what my eyes were seeing was, in actuality, a huge blur. Even my parents didn’t realize that I needed glasses. Because my eyesight had gotten worse so gradually, no one knew that I could not see well until the religious sisters at school sent a note home to my parents indicating that I should have my eyes checked.

There were hints, of course, that neither my parents nor myself noticed. I used to watch TV basically within an inch or so of the TV. When I read, the book was on top of my face. However, according to my mom, she never noticed me squinting. Again, I thought what I was seeing was normal and didn’t realize I couldn’t see clearly.

My mother eventually took me to an optometrist in downtown Philly to have my eyes tested, then we ordered glasses. I could not suspect how much my life would change with that small pair of (ugly) glasses. When we returned to Philly to pick them up, the elderly optometrist put me on a booster seat in the chair, took out the glasses and put them on my face. My eyes widened and my mouth fell open. I gasped. I could see every detail and every letter of every word in that office. I could see across the street. I remember the wide smile the optometrist had on his face as I was pointing out everything I could see.

On our way home, I kept pointing to everything. “Look, Mommy, I can see the Horn and Hardart’s sign! I can see that store says “Lit Brothers! I can see that pretty dress in the window over there!” Colors were brighter; it even seemed like I could hear better now that I could see so clearly. I was still in awe that night when I could watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In from 20 feet away and still see everything clearly. To me, it was nothing short of a miracle.

In the years following, although I went to Catholic school, my family had begun to fall away from the regular practice of going to Mass and I began learning my morals from television.

Fast-forward to 1979. I had visited my pen-pal in Canada and met my husband through her brother at a rock band jam session. We fell in “like at first sight” and began a long-distance relationship with me in NJ and him in Canada. However, when we were together, things usually got pretty intense, given that we rarely saw each other. I wanted to enter into a sexual relationship, but thankfully James had a pretty strong Catholic grounding so he kept us from going farther than we should. Three years later, when we were engaged and about to be married, it was James (age 19) who insisted that we use Natural Family Planning (NFP) and not artificial birth control. I saw no moral reason why we shouldn’t use artificial birth control, but he remained adamant. “I would rather have sex once a month without birth control than use birth control and have sex every day.” I remember thinking, “What planet is he from?”

However, as we communicated through letters (back in the early ’80s there was no free long distance, no texts, no SnapChat, no Facebook, no Instant Messaging, no Skype, no Facetime, no Instagram or any other instant communication), I realized this was no ordinary young man. The advantage of writing with snail mail letters is that we were able to take time and reflect on what we wanted to say. It became obvious that contraception was something that James was not willing to budge on. When he said, “Ellie, trust me and trust God,” I said say yes and agreed to go to an NFP class with him. I learned that NFP works in this way: a couple charts the woman’s signs of fertility and infertility. If they are avoiding pregnancy, they abstain from relations when the woman is fertile.

One thing we both agreed on and that was that we should wait for a few years to have children since James was only in his first year of college. A few days before our wedding, we realized that I would be right in the middle of the fertile time, which meant that our consummation would have to wait until a week or so after the wedding. After waiting three years, I was resentful. I went along with NFP, but was not happy about it. NFP seemed like a burden, not a gift.

A few months into our marriage on an evening that would be the beginning of Phase III (the infertile time), we had a romantic dinner and a beautiful evening of intimacy after a period of abstinence. All of a sudden, as I was lying in bed later that night, I realized that James and I were truly one, physically and spiritually, with nothing separating us: no pills, devices, no chemicals, no surgeries. With each act of marital intimacy, I felt as if we were renewing our marriage vows with our bodies.

That evening (and many others to follow) truly felt like another honeymoon night. Until that moment, I went along with NFP to please James. I wasn’t enthusiastic about abstaining. But when that light bulb moment hit, I realized what a beautiful gift NFP is, despite its challenges. Not only that, but I realized what a great gift it was to us that we had not had intercourse until marriage. “I was blind, but now I see.” NFP became glasses for my soul, and the reasons for NFP became much clearer to me.

From then on, I became a big promoter of chastity before marriage and a loud and enthusiastic proponent of NFP. In the grocery store, dentist’s office, anywhere that someone would listen, I would tell people about NFP, just like the time I got my new glasses: “Look, NFP has no side effects!” “Look, NFP means a couple can be truly one when they are making love!” “Look, NFP doesn’t harm fertility!” “Wow, NFP is 99% effective when a couple has serious reasons to avoid pregnancy and can even be used to achieve a much-wanted pregnancy!”

For me, without NFP, our marital union would have existed in a blur. With NFP, our marital union is clearer and more meaningful. NFP truly is like a pair of glasses for the soul.  NFP has been nothing short of a miracle for our marriage. Does it mean there have never been problems or that I’ve never resented the abstinence? Of course not.  But NFP truly is a marriage builder, one that I can honestly say has been the main reason that the romance, intimacy and closeness has remained even after 34 years of marriage.

1968, with my new glasses

1968, with my new glasses

Copyright 2016 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Fasting: A Powerful Weapon in the Fight Against Evil

Fasting retreat bread and water“Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
  (Matt 19)

In this passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus talks about the importance and indissolubility of marriage and summarizes it by saying, “Whoever can accept this, ought to accept it.”

A good marriage takes a lot of work. It’s a big responsibility. For the vast majority of Christians, marriage is meant to be forever so that the spouses can assist each other on the road to holiness and heaven.

There is a prophecy from Sr. Lucia of Fatima regarding “the final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan. The battlefield is the family. Life and the family.”

One need only to look around at our world to see marriage and the family are under attack: same sex marriage is now legal in most states and in Canada, living together before marriage is common and accepted as the norm, and contraception and abortion use are now considered “acceptable.”  Couples getting married today face a 50% divorce rate.  Transgender kids as young as five and nasty custody battles are becoming more commonplace.

We are living the culmination of Sr. Lucia’s prophecy.  And perhaps we feel helpless. Maybe we feel there is nothing we can do.

However, there is something very important we can do: fast.

St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (1994) said, “Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil.” (P.101-102)

St. Theophan the Recluse said, “When there is no prayer and fasting, there are demons.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly brings benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.”

Many Catholics mistakenly believe that fasting only belongs in Lent. Up until the 1960’s, fasting was recommended and encouraged during the entire year. Fasting on bread and water two days a week (usually Wednesday and Friday) is a very powerful weapon in the fight against evil.  Fasting on less food and abstaining from meat, treats or coffee are also good ways to deny one’s self.

Benefits of fasting:

  • Fasting opens up our hearts to conversion
  • Fasting gives weight to our prayer intentions
  • Fasting strengthens us in resisting temptations
  • Fasting and prayer promote peace in our hearts and peace with one another
  • Fasting teaches us the difference between “wanting” and “needing”
  • Fasting reminds us of the plight of the poor and for many in the world who are perpetually hungry
  • Fasting and prayer can free us from addictive behavior
  • “Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind.” — Fr. Slavko Barbaric O.F.M
  • Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others

With all fasting, we strongly recommend consulting your physician— as everyone’s physical health is unique.
Fasting is not always easy.  Fasting takes a lot of work. Fasting takes self-control. But whoever can accept the challenge to fast, ought to accept it.

Our world needs fasting.  In Scripture, (Mark 9:27-29) Jesus tells the apostles that said that some demons can only be expelled through prayer and fasting.  This is the power of fasting and this is what our world needs.

Evil exists in our world.

Join the movement.  Try fasting.

For more information on how to get started with fasting, check out our website (http://livethefast.orgAlways check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.

To sign up for our free biweekly fasting newsletter, click here.

Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is focused on bringing more awareness to the discipline of fasting by offering educational resources on prayer and fasting, a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast and providing nutritious fasting breads. (Priests and religious receive fasting breads and resources free of charge.)

Ellen Gable Hrkach 2016

Picture Perfect Motherhood

copyright J&E Hrkach

copyright J&E Hrkach (2002)

Below is an article I wrote back in 2002.  I was thrilled when Family Foundations published it!  It remains one of my favorites.  It’s hard to believe that all these boys are now much taller than me!

I tried to take a mental snapshot of the previous 10 minutes or so. Everyone had come to the table for dinner without being asked twice. The food was piping hot. All five children were sitting and quietly waiting for grace to begin. A soft snow had started falling outside, the woodstove was crackling, cookies were baking in the oven and the Christmas tree, which smelled fresh and green, sparkled with the twinkling lights. It all seemed so perfect, like a painting by Norman Rockwell or a scene from “Ozzie and Harriet.” For just a minute, I had wished that, like in the “Twilight Zone,” life would stop so I could savor the moment. I knew, however, that the scene wouldn’t last like that for long.

“Uh-oh,” exclaimed my six-year-old son, Adam. While I was visiting Ozzie and Harriet, he had tried to pour himself a glass of milk. Now it was all over the perfectly set table. “I didn’t want to bother anyone.”

I took a deep breath and headed to the counter to get a towel to clean up. In the meantime, Paul, the three-year-old, started jabbing his 13-year-old brother with his fork. “Ow, cut it out,” Ben replied. Paul turned and starting bothering the brother on the other side of him, Josh, 15. “Hey, stop it.” Just then, Tim, the 10-year-old who was sitting next to Adam, started complaining that he was getting wet from the spilled milk.

My husband, sensing my frustration, replied with his usual empathic, “Welcome to motherhood.”

Over the years, I have found it difficult to adjust to the fact that real life is just not like television. I had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s watching family sitcoms such as “Brady Bunch,” “Partridge Family” and the like. I spent hours watching reruns of the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” “I Love Lucy” and others. While still entertaining, most of these shows were two-dimensional: there was always a problem and it was (usually) solved in less than 30 minutes. Everyone always ended up happily ever after. And, as always, I was entertained.

It became quite evident that the TV land I experienced while growing up had very little to do with real life. I did grow up in a real family but since I spent so much time watching television, I grew up with the illusion that life, especially motherhood, is two dimensional and problems are usually solved in 30 minutes.

My illusion came crashing down with the birth of my first son, Josh. Newborns are supposed to come out and sleep all the time. Mine didn’t. In fact, he not only didn’t sleep, he cried most of his first six months. After one particularly difficult night of not getting any sleep at all, I sat on the edge of our bed, holding our screaming infant and started crying and bawling myself. My husband, ever patient and blunt, replied (for the first time) “Welcome to Motherhood.” Admittedly, I wanted to slap him, but later when we talked, much of what he said made perfect sense.

“Ellie, God has given you this particular baby for a reason. We don’t know what that is but we have to trust His wisdom.” I started thinking about that. Sleep had always been an important part of my life. Previous to this, I resented anyone who used to wake me up: people calling on phone, noisy neighbors, etc. Now, I had no choice but to wake up for this little baby. What better way for God to help me become less selfish about my sleep than to give me a baby that rarely slept.

With each child, I have seen how much more patient I can be. Seeing to the needs of two, three, four and then five children can be overwhelming. Sometimes I just want to sit back and watch an old rerun of “I Love Lucy” or “Partridge Family.” However, if I (try) to put God first, my family second and myself third, I can step back and see to the “Duty of the Moment,” as Catherine Doherty from Madonna House once said: “The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don’t just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and the child.” This is not always easy, but always seeing to someone else’s needs (my children or husband) is a perfect way to grow in virtue, especially patience.

Several years ago, when I trudged into the vehicle registration office to renew our car’s license plates, I sat down next to an older woman, who commented, “Are these children all yours?” “You bet they are,” I replied, counting all five heads. “Five children, that’s a large family these days. You must be very patient,” she said.

I smiled and thought of a reply. “To tell you the truth, I have become more patient with each child I have. But, you know, I certainly ‘haven’t arrived.’ I definitely need more patience so I’ll probably have to have at least one more child.”

The look on her face was utter shock! And then she sighed and went back to reading her paper.

This is so true of motherhood, I believe. If everything was really perfect with no messes, no fights, no sicknesses, no crying babies, then we, as mothers, would never have an opportunity to grow in virtue and in character, not only as mothers but as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Caring for children is a perfect way to quash selfishness because they are, by nature, very selfish. We, as parents, are totally responsible for these fellow human beings until they are old enough to be on their own and proceed on their own journey toward selflessness.

Motherhood is the ideal life for those of us who need to grow in virtue. Rarely does life seem perfect, and yet we picture it that way in our own mind’s eye. In reality, there are always messes to clean up, fights to help settle, a sick child to comfort or a crying baby to nurse, not to mention the stresses from outside of the family. And, while it is a tremendous and awesome responsibility, motherhood is ultimately, a “perfect” opportunity for us to grow in virtue.

Copyright 2002 Ellen Gable Hrkach