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The importance of a “we” moment

Yesterday Chiara came into our bedroom early in the morning, and as she snuggled up next to me I said, “We have to go sell Girl Scout cookies today.” Here’s how the rest of that conversation went: Read more

Simon Who? First pope revelations

Here’s how tonight’s dinner conversation went:

Dennis: Who did Jesus tell,”Upon this rock, I will build my Church?”
Olivia: Simon?
Mary: Yes. Simon who?
Chiara: Simon Cowell?

We don’t normally focus on this sort of stuff while passing the mashed potatoes, but tonight we went off on a religious education tangent. This answer definitely won the prize.

A little holy cleaning at Auriesville

We spent this beautiful August day doing a little cleaning at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. Various youth groups are going to the shrine to do some minor maintenance work to help get ready for the canonization celebrations that will take place this fall when Blessed Kateri finally becomes a saint. Read more

To-die-for mud pie

When Chiara’s birthday rolled around this year, she opted for pie rather than cake for her party dessert. Initially I thought, pie?!? I’m not a huge pie fan, and, as my sister-in-law and I have discussed, you’re either a pie person or you’re not. Well, if you’re not a pie person, this pie will make a believer out of you. Because it’s not “real” pie; it’s mud pie. Read more

Happy Birthday, baby

Seven years ago today my beautiful and brave Chiara Elizabeth was born. Seven. Where did the time go? Seven years ago at this time I was waiting for my castor oil cocktail to kick in so I could bring on my extremely overdue delivery without being induced via IV. Called my midwife, told her what I did and to expect me later that day. Right around noon labor kicked in, right on schedule. At just about 7:30 p.m, Chiara entered the world, and what joy she has brought to our family ever since.

I’ve written a lot about the benefits of being an older mom — I was just about 43 when Chiara was born — because every day I am the one who continues to learn new lessons from this fearless little being. Just a few weeks ago Chiara’s absolute courage at the top of the Shotgun Falls at a Wildwood water park inspired me to go down on the chute next to her. Two days ago she insisted on going off the diving boards at the town pool, something I have yet to do. Although I am often hesitant to let her do things out of my own fear, she will have none of that.

Her enthusiasm and sensitivity, her courage and kindness teach me on a daily basis how to be a better person. Happy birthday, baby. I love you, and I’m so glad I decided to forget my old age and become a mom one more time.

Here’s a snapshot view of Chiara’s life:




Being an older mom has its benefits

I’m used to being the oldest mom in a crowd, at least when it comes to spending time with my youngest, Chiara, who is only 6 years old. Having had her just before I turned 43, I am closer in age to some of her classmates’ grandparents rather than their parents.

Although on the surface that might seem to be a negative, when I am willing to look beyond the inevitable challenges of being an older mom — like not having nearly the same energy level I had when I was running around with my first 15 years ago — I think being of an “advanced maternal age,” as they say in the OB/GYN industry, has it benefits. Wisdom is the obvious gift that comes with age, but also a deeper appreciation for making the most of the moment when you’re in it. As I approach the half-century mark, I have become all too aware of how fleeting this life is, how quickly my 15 years of motherhood have passed and how quickly the next 15 years are likely to fly by. Read more

Happy Anniversary to me, to us, to NSS

Happy Feast of St. Francis de Sales and Happy Anniversary to Not Strictly Spiritual. It was four years ago today that I decided to launch this blog, choosing the feast of the patron saint of journalists and one of my personal favorites as the perfect day to jump into the wild and wacky world of blogging.

Back in the early days, my blog was housed on my website, which you can see by clicking HERE. Then I moved it over to blogspot. It has ebbed and flowed with my life. When I’m writing books, as I am right now (two of them, in fact), NSS suffers a bit. When I have a little more time, I’m back at the NSS keys. Truth be told, writing on this blog is really one of my favorite “jobs.” I love talking to you and sharing my faith journey — and my recipes and photos.

This anniversary caused me to go back and look at some of my earliest posts, which gave me a good laugh at where I’ve been and a sobering reminder of the places where I haven’t made any progress. We had THIS photo of Chiara at work while I blogged, and THIS post about trying to get through Mass with a cranky toddler (how quickly we forget those days). And then there was THIS post about being “politically homeless,” especially during a presidential election year. It’s deja vu all over again.

Who knows what the next four years will bring? I can guarantee that in the coming months you’ll be hearing about my new books, one from Ave Maria Press and one from Penguin. And I know you’ll get regular updates on my kids, my cooking, my gardening, my travels, and, of course, my spiritual journey, which twists and bends and changes with each passing year. I’m always amazed at where it takes me, where God takes me.

So thank you for joining me here whenever you can. I truly appreciate your friendship and loyalty to this blog, even when I don’t show up for days at a time. And now I thought I’d end this post the same way I ended my very first blog post, with a favorite prayer written by St. Francis de Sales (one I have hanging on my bathroom mirror):

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.


Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

— St. Francis de Sales

Manic Monday: Closing in on Christmas

We’re in the homestretch. My kids, especially my tween, are practically hyperventilating with excitement. Okay, not the teen. He’s keeping the excitement close to the vest. I’ve been too busy with work to even realize Christmas is so close, which could be bad news for those expecting presents.

That’s our Christmas tree, over there on the left. Fred the Cat is standing guard. I tried to remove him from the picture, but he jumped back in every time I got set up. So, clearly, he was meant to be in the shot. Oh, and that’s one of my Nativity sets — my main Nativity set — in the header at the top of the blog. I collect them. Nativity set, not blogs.

So, here’s our Manic Monday rundown for the week…

Bookshelf: I’m reading too many books to list here, most of them as research for the book I’m writing. What I’m reading for fun, inspiration, enjoyment when I have time is a magazine I discovered on the shelf at Sam’s Club: The Soul Body Connection, a special annual publication of the monthly Spirituality & Health. If you are into meditation, centering prayer, mindful eating, breathing exercises, prayer in general, check it out. It’s wall-to-wall articles, and what I really love is the fact that this Eastern-leaning publication includes lots of Christian information, including a Q&A with Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a leader of the centering prayer/contemplative living movement.

Soundtrack: Christmas music, of course. Here’s one of my favorites, a rocking version of Angels We Have Heard on High by Relient K, a very cool band.

Viewfinder: While other people were out shopping this weekend, or baking Christmas cookies, I was with the nine girls in our Daisy troop, along with four other moms, for an OUTDOOR winter discovery day. Who thought that was a good idea in upstate New York in mid-December? Actually, it was a really fun day. And a warm-up for our January winter camping trip.

Here’s Chiara working on an animal track rubbing:


The whole gang:


Olivia decided she really wanted pomegranate seeds for lunch. So there I was, working the seeds out of the pomegranate below at 7 a.m. Whatever happened to PB&J?

Since I had about three million seeds after I finished, I decided to throw a few on top of my usual bowl of oatmeal (below). Added a nice crunch. Doesn’t it look lovely? Yes, that’s a candle beside my oatmeal. Truth be told, the absolute best prayer time I have every day is when I sit down to my silent, mindful breakfast and pray before I dig in. It’s become an almost-daily prayer practice for me, one I really miss when I can’t find the time, or the silence. Which is often in this house.


So, onward, as we celebrate the fourth week of Advent and pray the O Antiphons each evening as we light the candles on our wreath. Enjoy these last days before the feast. Shop, bake, party, but remember to breathe deep and find a few minutes each day to sit in silence and contemplate the reason for this season.

My Dinner With Chiara

Chiara and I ended up home alone this evening, sort of unexpectedly. Dennis and Noah are in New York City for a class trip (eating at Carmine’s as I write this), and Olivia was invited to dinner and a sleepover at a friend’s house. Although she was a little disappointed not to have anywhere special to go, Chiara was happy to have me to herself for a little while.

And so over a quiet, candlelight dinner of soup and salad (her choice), we had a chance to talk. She raised a couple of pretty insightful questions over the course of 30 minutes or so, things that make me sure she’ll go far in this life, or at least in the world of entertainment.

Question #1: If Goofy is a dog, and Goofy can talk, why can’t Pluto talk? Ah, this is an age old question, one that has confounded Disney fans for generations. It is, as we say in Catholic lingo, a mystery.

Question #2: If the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz knows she can be melted by water, why would she keep a big bucket of water out where anyone can grab it? And her follow-up question: I wonder if she can drink the water? Excellent question. I wonder…

Now it’s time to play a board game. Then it’s popcorn and a movie. I believe her pick is Peter Pan. It’s certainly not how I intended tonight to work out, but in the end it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.