A to Z Challenge: K is for Klimt’s The Kiss

Klimt The KissI’ve always loved this painting. I love the simple lines, the colors, and above all the intimacy depicted here. I love how the woman takes center stage without being a madonna, whore or femme fatale. She is simply embraced and kissed for who she is. I also love the way he holds her face as he kisses her. I’ve always been in awe of the intimacy of this picture. I feel like I’m interrupting an extremely private moment. I think that’s the true power of this painting: the fact that you feel like your intruding on a private moment between a couple that no one else should be privy to.

A to Z Challenge: J is for The Plight of the Junior Detectives

junior_detective_day_logoThe junior detectives debated
Exactly how they’d get the evidence
Without them (and their jorts)
Winding up in jail.
“We’ll need Jesus and a few miracles
Plus a whole lotta Hail Marys.”
The jelly bellies did not bring
Additional inspiration,
On how to maneuver through their
Jungle of questionable legalities.
They were following the jack rabbit
Down its proverbial hole.
With loud jeremiads and weeping they
Finally decided they weren’t brave
Enough to make their home in a jail cell.
The case forgotten,
They decided the only thing to do
Was drown their sorrows in junk food
And lose themselves in an iCarly marathon
Lounging in their jammies.

I couldn’t come up with anything for this post, so I went to Facebook and asked for help. All the J words in this poem were suggested on that post.

A to Z Challenge: My Favorite Irish Saint, Brigid of Kildare

St. Brigid icon by Katherin Burleson

There are three things this Irish-American girl loves: Irish Soda Bread, Carolans Irish Cream and St. Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is one of my favorite saints because we can’t separate history from legend when it comes to her story. She’s part woman, part saint and part goddess. Throw in a few miracles and Brigid time traveling to be Mary’s midwife and the foster-mother of Christ, himself, and you just have one good story (and I love a good story).


Here is what we do know about Brigid: she created the first monastic community that grew into the most renowned monastic city in Ireland, Kildare. Brigid was the abbess of the convent and church and the leader of the town that grew up around Kildare. She was known for her piety, her hard work, and her hospitality. She worked side by side with her nuns tending sheep and milking cows, along with weaving and cooking. Gifts given to the monastery by the rich were given to the poor or sold for food. No one was turned away from her convent, and she provided for all. One of the legends say that Brigid could speak to a cow and get her to give milk three times a day when she needed it for visitors. Here is a table grace attributed to Brigid:

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith,
And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God embrace.

Kildare grew so big that Brigid could no longer run it alone. A local bishop, Cloneth came to the monastery to help her and he brought monks with him. The monks were master silver and bronze smiths who created beautiful silver and metal ornaments to go with the nuns’ woven and embroidered tapestries throughout the monastery and church. One of her biographers, a monk who lived at Kildare during Brigid’s life, said this about the monastery and town:

But who could convey in words the supreme beauty of her church and the countless wonders of her city, of which we speak? “City” is the right word for it: that so many people are living there justifies the title. It is a great metropolis, within whose outskirts–which Saint Brigid marked out with a clearly defined boundary–no earthly adversary feared, nor any incursion of enemies. For the city is the safest place of refuge among all towns of the whole land of the Irish, with all their fugitives. It is a place where the treasures of kings are looked after, and it is reckoned to be supreme in good order.

Cogitosus also hinted in his biography that Brigid functioned as a bishop preaching, hearing confession and ordaining priests. The lines between laity and clergy, and the roles between men and women, were not as fixed in Ireland as they were in other places in Europe. It is possible that abbesses as powerful and influential as Brigid did function as bishops (this would quickly change once the Roman Catholic church gained a foothold in Ireland).

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. As I mentioned before, the Celtic tradition honors Brigid as Mary’s midwife, Jesus’ wet nurse and his foster-mother. “Time” was not a fixed, linear progression for the Celtic people. The material world and spiritual world intertwined in and out of each other. There were thin places where one could cross from one world to another with time running differently. This is why the legend of Brigid at the birth of Jesus was entirely believable for the Celts. The material and spiritual were not separate worlds in their thought.

Back before the stories of helping Mary and hanging her cloak on a sunbeam to dry out, Brigid was a goddess in the Celtic pantheon. She was the goddess of poets, blacksmiths and healers. She was a triple goddess revealing herself as maiden, mother and crone: she was the fair maiden to poets, the mother creating new life to blacksmiths, and the old wise woman who knows how to heal. She has long been the symbol of spring coming to the land and the arrival of more light during this time of the year. February 1 is her day, and she was called on to protect the ewes who at this time would be carrying lambs.

As the light comes back this spring, let us remember Brigid: a woman committed to her God, to helping the poor, and to taking care of all who came to her. She established a community that became a light to all who wanted to come pray, learn, work, or needed shelter and food. She believed that everyone was part of the realm of God, and for that reason alone should be treated with respect and cared for. Everyone should have a home they can come to. There is room at the table for all. There is enough food to go around. And if not, Brigid will be seen whispering in the ears of her milk cows.

A to Z Challenge: H is for the History of My Home

My home!

One of the reasons I love living where I do, is that my building has quite the history in Chicago. It was built in 1915 and opened in 1916 the main YMCA Hotel in Chicago. Chicagoan William Messer conducted a study with University of Chicago students a few years earlier to show that the South Loop did not have many reputable places for young men to stay when they came to Chicago at Dearborn Station in the South Loop. He started by getting donations from some of Chicago’s plutocrats including John Shedd, Cyrus McCormick and William Wrigley. The Y opened with 1,821 rooms and was soon running at full capacity.

In the 1920s so many people were turned away that the board decided to expand the hotel. When the expansion was done, the hotel had 2,700 rooms, making it the second largest hotel in Chicago. After a lull during the Great Depression the Y Hotel bounded back at the end of the 1930s when millions of people poured into Chicago for the Century of Progress Exposition. Servicemen kept the hotel full during World War 2, along with travelers and tourists who wanted to stay close to downtown, but couldn’t afford the swankier hotels.

Painted ceiling in the what used to be the dining room (now the garage).

After its expansion in the 1920 the hotel had a huge lobby and restaurant on the first floor. The second floor boasted a lounge and huge library and the next three floors were full of meeting rooms that were kept busy with clubs in photography, philosophy, literature and religion. There were dances, speakers and other events every night. Residents, both overnight and long-term, were encouraged to get to know each other. There was also a rooftop deck where residents had great views of both Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. (The current residents still enjoy those great views from the roof.)

In the 1930s the YWCA a block east of the Y was closed due to how easy it was for the building to be robbed. The top four floors became the YWCA, and the building was opened to both men and women. A lady I attend church with stayed in the Y when she first moved to Chicago after college until she married that fall. This is how small the rooms were. My friend who stands at 5 feet, could stretch out her arms and almost touch both walls. The size of the typical room was 4 feet by 6 feet.

The YMCA Hotel when it first opened. Our management office has several historical pictures of our building.

In the 1960s and 70s the hotel fell on hard times. Not as many people stayed, and people who wanted to stay close to downtown wanted nicer hotels with more amenities. The hotel was shut down in 1979. Until then it was the third largest hotel in Chicago, and the largest YMCA hotel in the world.

In the mid-1980s the building was gutted and developed into apartments then in the late 1990s it was then into a condominium as people started moving into the South Loop.

As you can see from the pictures ghosts of its lively past still live in our building. My favorite is the painted ceilings from the dining room that still decorate our garage. (I also find it a little weird that our garage used to be the dining room.) I enjoy living in a building that has so much history. I also don’t have to worry about the building going anywhere. When the hotel first opened in 1916 its advertisements assured potential roomers that, not only was the building fireproof, but each room was fireproof. I thought that was odd until I remembered the Chicago Fire, which happened in 1871. This part of the city was burned down. My building was built to withstand another Chicago fire. It’s not going anywhere. And neither am I.


The Reader, “Checkout Time for the Hotel,” by Steve Bogira, September 28, 1979.

YMCA Hotel, 826 S. Wabash Ave,. Chicago, IL at Society: The South Loop Historical Society at East-West University.

A to Z Challenge: G is for Green–ALL the Green Spring Things!

Northerly Island, Chicago

I grew up in Oklahoma then lived in Kansas City, MO for eight years before moving to Chicago. After almost 11 years in the Second City there is still one thing I have not gotten used to: how freaking long it takes spring to get here. In Oklahoma it’s already hitting 80 occasionally and is solidly in 70s. In Kansas City it’s getting up in the 70s and is solidly in the 60s. What is it in Chicago you ask? Well we’ve broken into the 40s today after a cold, rainy, windy week spend mostly in the 30s. In April.

G is for All the Green Things because I will take anything green now: green grass, green buds on the trees, green tulips leaves unfurling from the earth–anything to say: “Hey, spring is coming! It will be warmer! One day you will be able to go outside without a coat (and a hat, and gloves, and a scarf)!”

By the time April rolls around this girl who grew up warmer climates to the south has had it with “cooler by the lake” and STILL needing wool socks. Don’t even get me started when I have to wear a sweater for Easter and not a sundress! And you should’ve heard me a few years ago when I looked out my window, and it was snowing in May. Snowing. In. May. (Yes, this good little Episcopalian would’ve made a sailor blush that day.)

So c’mon green! Green grass! Green trees! Green stems and leaves bursting from the ground! Send Mother Nature a memo that it is SPRING, and she needs to get her butt to Chicago. Because this Okie is tired of still wearing a coat! And she really wants to wear her pretty sundress to Easter services in eight days: please, pretty please Mother Nature: bring the SPRING!

A to Z Challenge: F is for Favorite Things

Me in my favorite dress and heels with My Favorite Man on our favorite holiday.

In today’s challenge let’s list some of Shawna’s Favorite Things:

Favorite Man: The Hubby (aka Tracy Atteberry)
Favorite TV Show: MASH
Favorite Food: Chocolate
Favorite Drink: Coffee
Favorite Adult Drink: Gin Martini
Favorite meal: Anything with seafood
Favorite authors: Neil Gaiman, Madeline L’Engle, J. F. Penn, Douglas Adams, J. R. R. Tolkien, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Amber Belldene (There is no way I can name a favorite book)
Favorite genre for books/TV/movies: Sci-fi/fantasy
Favorite Chicago bar: The Whistler
Favorite Superhero: Wonder Woman
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite walking route: Through Museum Campus along Lake Michigan around Adler Planetarium and the 12th St. Beach.
Favorite after church haunt: Flaco’s Tacos
Favorite burger place: Five Guys
Favorite special occasion place to eat: The Curry House
Favorite woman in the Bible: Mary Magdalene
Favorite piece of clothing: Red 50s style dress with black polka dots
Favorite shoes: Red Mary Jane heels
Favorite holiday: Halloween
Favorite flower: Lilies (I’m not sure when this happened: it used to be white roses)
Favorite baseball team: Chicago Cubs
Favorite football team: Chicago Bears
Favorite golfer: Phil Mickelson

A to Z Challenge: E is for Evening

Evening at the California Blue Line Stop

Waiting for the Blue Line
At the California stop, my
Best friend and I soak in the
Vivid twilight colors.
We watch the fiery reds
Engulf the train tracks,
As the sky overhead deepens and
Darkens through hues of blues.
Until we look up to see
The moon shining brightly
In a field of cornflower blue.

Here is a picture my best friend, Lainie Petersen, took that evening.

California Blue Line Stop

A to Z Challenge: C is for Comfort & Companionship

food and wineI’ve needed a lot of comfort and companionship in the last year. It began last Lent (the 40 days before Easter) when I caught a viral infection I couldn’t shake and was sick for most of the season. Everything came to a dead halt: my writing, church, friends–everything. The extended illness led to clinical depression. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression about 12 years ago, but I had kept it under control for three years, and was even able to get off of anti-depressants.

Fortunately I didn’t need to go back on medication, but I did see my psychiatrist weekly for almost five months. We didn’t just treat the symptoms; in our sessions we dug down to the root causes of what triggered the depression and dealt with those too. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time. There was no quick fix. But I did it. I worked through some issues and ghosts that needed to be dealt with for quite some time. Eventually I came out on the other end.

My psychiatrist was not my only companion through this dark night of the soul. My husband was right there beside me along with several friends. I discovered a lot of the comfort I found, and consequently a lot of the healing that happened, occurred with these friends while we were eating. I shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all,  I am a member of a religion (The Episcopal Church) whose main service revolves around a symbolic meal, Eucharist. It also shouldn’t have surprised me because I’m a word nerd that knows the Latin root words for companion are “with bread.” But surprise me it did.

Over tables full of food and drink we talked about what was going on in our lives: the good, the bad and the ugly. I had a lot of ugly. That was OK. Some of the best advice I received last year came around these tables as I decided I was done with being self-employed and wanted to go back into the traditional job market. A pretty scary prospect for someone who has worked from home for the last decade.

Some of the biggest self-revelations came to me over these meals as well. The largest revelation occurred during a quiet dinner at home with my husband and two of our friends when I said: “I want writing to be fun again.” I didn’t know I felt that way until I said it.

Being self-employed and seeing writing as my “business” (especially fiction writing) had become torture for me. The one thing it hadn’t been for a very, very long time was fun. So the decision was made with friends across tables: it was time to find a writing job out in the world as my career and leave fiction to be a fun hobby.

I’m now in a time of great transition as I polish up the resume and send it out. All of these friends are still meeting me around tables and supporting me. They’ve given me advice on my resume, tips for answering questions in interviews and getting my wardrobe back into shape.

They met me around tables after my father died suddenly earlier this year.

They will continue to meet me around tables through the coming year. I find great comfort in this. Knowing that no matter what this year throws at me, they will be there introducing me to a new restaurants, pouring me a glass of wine, patiently listening then imparting their wisdom.

A to Z Challenge: B is for Bloom


Hunching against frigid wind
Awaiting the end of Chicago’s
Harsh winter, I eagerly look
For Spring’s first blooms:
Eternal reminders that
Days will grow longer
And warmer. Mother Nature
Will shake off the frost
And bloom once again in
Vivid hues,
Brilliant colors,
Delicate pastels.
North winds will give way
To southerly breezes and snowfall
to thunderstorms. But now I
await Spring’s first blooms.