Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

The Black Madonna

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As part of Mary’s month, I’d like to something written by my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath, artist and author. This article, titled We Need Images of the Black Madonna Now More Than Ever appeared in the March 5, 2018 issue of America Magazine. Below is one of the pictures that appeared with the article.

Our Lady of Montserrat. (c) Brother Mickey McGrath 2020

Tomie de Paola, Children’s Book Illustrator and Writer (1934-2020)

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When I was an Early Childhood teacher, I produced my own lesson plans. I wrote most aspects of the daily/weekly curriculum within a philosophical framework. Different schools had different core objectives, but one thing every school I taught for had in common was literature. Books fit into every aspect of every other subject. The play area was filled with role playing items and dress-up clothes that related to a book we were reading. Blocks, Lego, and building supplies re-enacted scenes from the stories we read all week. Exercise and walks outdoors were times to talk about the children and their families and again, relate their lived experiences to what they had seen and heard their favorite characters do.

Early childhood settings often, more often than not have a period that we call circle time. The kids and their teacher sit in a circle on the floor and begin their day with language. Talking, singing, reading. Repetition is one of the major factors in the early childhood curriculum. Many of the books I chose could be read and enjoyed simply by listening, but others lent themselves easily to child participation.

Each morning, the first book I read was Here are My Hands by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambeault. It was beautifully illustrated, but simply written, and easy to follow. Rhyming, watercolor illustrations, parts of the body. Everything you could want in a circle time book.

Here are my hands for catching and throwing,

Here are my feet for running and growing.

Easy to remember, too.

I’d read and when I read a body part, the children would lift it up and name it in unison. Many of the books read that way.

One of my favorites at the time (and still is) was Charlie Needs a New Cloak by Tomie de Paola. There was just something about its simplicity, how it showed the process of making cloth, from sheep shearing to sewing. As each part was told, the last line was, Charlie needs a new cloak. The kids listened intently, and each time it came up they all chorused, “Charlie needs a new cloak.” Each successive time getting louder and louder. (We disturbed other groups, but we were learning and laughing.) I can still hear their voices rising, their bodies moving in anticipation of their favorite line.

As a teacher I collected many books. Many of them were written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. Most people are familiar with Strega Nona who was a witch who had a magic pasta pot. She always had enough, and always had enough to share with her helper, Big Anthony who once made the pot overflow. This was a favorite of the kids. It had everything: magic, friendship, good deeds, respect, and of course, spaghetti. The book was set in Calabria, which is where Tomie’s Italian grandparents were from.

When I began to go on retreats a few years ago, I sat quietly in the retreat house chapel, staring at the enchanting mural at the back, on the wall behind the altar, behind the plants, behind the tabernacle. Seven women, saints, and the Blessed Mother. There was something about them. They were captivating, and they seemed alive. I have a friend who says that she can see Mary move when she’s watching her. It’s a wonderful mural, bright colors with their names labeled under their feet. I take a new photo of it nearly every time I visit. It is such a peaceful place for meditation and contemplation. The mural is just one of the many reasons why. I don’t know when I noticed a newspaper article in the retreat house that mentions the artist, Tomie de Paola. I had no idea, although once I saw his name, the images clicked with his art that I was already familiar with. He painted the mural in 1958. It still looks like it did when he first did it; like he painted it last week.

I was so sad to hear that he had died just a few weeks ago, in March. He was eighty-five, and died from complications from surgery after a fall in his barn studio, He lived in New Hampshire, and being so close by I had always thought I might meet him. I don’t know why I thought this, and I am heartbroken to see him go. His books, and his art will live on through eternity.

Mural at the Dominican Retreat Conference Center in Niskayuna, NY (by Tomie de Paola, 1958). Cover of Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola. (c)2020

Photo of some of my Tomie de Paola Collection of children’s literature. (c)2020

Feast of St. Francis de Sales

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Today is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales. He was born in Chateau de Sales to a noble family in 1567. He enjoyed a privileged education, eventually becoming a Bishop and a Doctor of the Church before his death in 1622.

He was canonized in 1665.

His motto in Latin is Non-excidet which translates to He will not fail or He will not give up, either appropriate for his patronage of writers and journalists.

Some of his words of wisdom may be found here, but I include some of my favorites below:

Be who you are and be that well.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.


Such simple advice, common sense thoughts, and yet…so much more, so much to contemplate.

Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with him until meeting my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath who is a Salesian Oblate. He is also an artist. This is his most recent offering. Clicking it will direct you to his website where you can see his other works including his books on variety of spiritual/religious topics, saints, and Popes. It is well worth your time.

Lakota Mary & Jesus with Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr. quotation. All rights reserved Mickey O’Neill McGrath. (c)2020

We Bend; We Do Not Break

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Original Artwork. Inspired by Captain America in Avengers: End Game (in his last big fight scene) and the brave protesters in AL, GA, MO, UT, and all around the country who are fighting for our reproductive rights and our freedom of choice of what to do with our own bodies. I had wanted to write an opinion piece about that subject, and I couldn’t find the words, but this little shield came to me. I wanted to share it today, the 100th anniversary of the House’s passage of the 19th Amendment! (c)2019

St. Elen, Pray for Us

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Today is the feast day of my own saint, Saint Elen. There is little known about her, but I still find what is available about her fasinating. It’s taken me more than a few years to complete this project, and hopefully next week, I will have actual cards made for anyone who wishes one, but for now, I’d like to share with you the prayer card I made for my patron: St. Elen.

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