The Spire in the Fire: Why did Notre-Dame burn?

When my husband told me Notre-Dame was burning, I was sitting in meditation at my usual jigsaw puzzle, my back to the room. I began to pray. The essay below is a new analysis of the news.

Why did the fire happen at Notre-Dame?

Fire insurance investigators will come up with their own explanation of what happened at Notre-Dame. What nags at me is: what is the spiritual symbolism of the fire?

Fire itself is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christian parlance, the Shekinah in Jewish thought, Spirit in neo-religious movements. The purpose of fire is always transformation. Usually, big transformation, fast transformation.

Notre-Dame, as its name proclaims, is a monument to Our Lady. Its looming presence in Paris signifies to millions of people the blessing of The Blessed Virgin Mary on the cathedral and its church, on the city and its people.

The attic and the spire burned. As they are restored, they will be transformed. The spire is an architectural representation of humanity reaching up to a Transcendent God, the deity that is always bigger than our troubles.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is a high-profile, worldwide symbol of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t take a feminist to realize the phallic nature of the spire. What better image for the patriarchal hierarchy of Catholicism?

Decades-long sexual scandals have plagued the male priesthood of Catholicism. They continue to this day. What Our Lady did was burn away, or, if you like, transform that symbol of church power.

She left her cathedral smoking, but intact, after she blew the roof off the secrecy, the obfuscation, and the dissembling of disingenuous bishops, cardinals, and pontiffs many of whom, to date, have proved far more interested in preserving their institutional powerbase than in cleaning house.

Our Lady, tired of the game, cleaned house.

Paris reacted like it was wartime, and all political posturing ceased. President Macron, whatever his motives, attempted to call out the best in us in the same way then-New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani did after 9/11. In a national television address, he said, “I believe very deeply that it is up to us to transform this catastrophe into a moment to become better than what we are. ... It is up to us now to rediscover ... what made us, what unites us.”

Harking back to 9/11/01, when I lived less than a mile away from the Towers, I remember a softer, kinder, more united New York than I’d experienced in many a year. We helped one another unstintingly. We were transformed out of our cynicism into our humanity—all in it together.

This is what Paris will do. This is what the world will do to rebuild the glory of Notre-Dame. We will unite. We will unite because that is what humanity does when there is gaping need. It’s the right thing to do.

There remains an aching question: Will the Church heed Our Lady’s—and their Lady’s—message, and allow itself to be transformed? It’s the right thing to do.

Let us pray that they will.


For more essays like this one, I am pleased to say that you will be invited to a new platform in the coming weeks. SFC

Christmas at Cupcake Manor 2018

Our Christmas is slightly altered this year due to the presence of a new, and thrilling, being. Her name is Smooch, and she turned one on November 25th, the day I finished the Mex Mysteries’   ninth novel, Rent Rx. Essentially, this means we are eschewing my antique ornaments to preserve their lives, and have switched to petroleum-based gewgaws, whilst our wee beastie learns what’s hers and what isn’t. I can hear you thinking, You know this is a cat, right?

She calls this: What Cat on the Newel Post?

She calls this: What Cat on the Newel Post?

Welcome to Christmas at Cupcake Manor!


The Arts & Crafts Fixture in the Foyer ...

Yes, the baubles go all the way around …

Yes, the baubles go all the way around …

Let’s go upstairs to the Retreat Apartment ...

two bedrooms for two, a common area, a loo ...

Poinsettias on the writing table in the common area ...

Poinsettias on the writing table in the common area ...

Antique lights in each bedroom ...


Holly garlands in each bedroom ...


Loo garni ...

Kitten in a tube in the foyer …

Kitten in a tube in the foyer …

Cat Real Estate a.k.a. The Kitty Condo


There are more since we took this picture ...


No such thing as Christmas without mistletoe ...


We elevated as much as we could this year for You-Know-Who ...



We decided we at least had to have the smell of a real tree ...


Stockings ... we had a little giftie in the smallest one for Smooch,

but it must have been treated with catnip ...

the moment we put it up, she was ON IT


This is the [medium] pink glitter tree that lives in my office year-round ...


This is the tiny one from the bedroom ...


And this is a picture of a cat in the snow ...

under the BIG pink Christmas Tree


The little white paper heart is handmade by our friends Kim & Jess

and here is the tree fully decorated ...


This is the plain chandelier from my writing studio ...


This is the Advent Calendar hanging on the fridge ...


There’s a cat on the Christmas puzzle.

Smooch calls this: What cat? What Christmas puzzle?

Smooch calls this: What cat? What Christmas puzzle?

The garland in the kitchen chandelier ...


Smooch decided to help me wrap presents ....

“Dontcha just love Christmas, Mommy?”  I do, Smooch, I really do.

“Dontcha just love Christmas, Mommy?”

I do, Smooch, I really do.

The happiest, the merriest, the brightest


for you and yours,


We Three at Cupcake Manor


P. S. If you haven’t yet planned your retreat for 2019,

may we encourage you to choose your dates?

Christmas at Cupcake Manor

It’s Christmas at Cupcake Manor—is it ever! The elves have seen to it that there’s Christmas in every room of the house. Here are some photos to enjoy with us in this Season of Light.

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Let’s start in the kitchen where we hung the ornament our friends Aren and Mary Ann gave us. The coolest thing was that other friends had one and were we envious only to receive one of very our without even “asking!” Here’s the close-up:

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Let’s stay in the kitchen ...

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There are always flowers by the sink in the kitchen—usually carnations in various colors because they last so long, but we found this baby poinsettia at Lowe’s and couldn’t resist. It’s right under the print I bought of mother and daughter cows right after my mom died. I didn’t realize how the reds would welcome each other till after we got the plant home.

Christmas isn’t Christmas without Christmas cookies, and Tony is an excellent baker. Look at these Chocolate Lace Cookies!

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The coolest thing is that Tony encouraged me to find my mother’s Christmas cookie recipes, and this is one of them. My brother Frank and sister-in-law Shawn kindly scanned and sent the ones they had. The cookies are exactly as I remembered, and Tony says they’re not complicated at all. What a magical way to include my long-gone Mama in this holiday. I never would have even attempted these myself.

Now we’re leaving the kitchen for my office [formerly known as the dining room] ...

I always have a Mary Engelbreit calendar on a door in my office. Her illustrations make me smile whenever I see them. We all need whimsy in our world. This year’s even gives some good advice.

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Indeed, no matter what is going on in your world or the world, Be Merry! Be Bright! Be Happy! One of the greatest travesties of our time is that so few of us know we can actually choose to be happy. That it’s as simple as a choice. Happiness is an inside job, darlings.

Now let’s go to the chandelier ... and if you want an explanation of how I came to have this ab fab specimen of tacky chandelier, read on till the very sweet end of this post.

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So yes, this is really as ab fab a chandelier as you think it is, and we decided it needed a little dressing up for the holy-days so here’s a Cornucopia Ornament. Our cup truly runneth over this Christmas ...

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We are, of course, having a Very High Femme Christmas, so there is an ornament celebrating all things femme ... on the chandelier ... where else? Over the top? What top?

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And here is our nod to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow .... To quote an anonymous someone, “I am so over the rainbow,” but I, delightfully so, am not. I love rainbows ... there is some representation of a rainbow in every space of Cupcake Manor. And the pot of gold is just a side effect!

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Here is the Valentine Lovers ornament for the power of new love and romance in our lives and in the world ... also in residence on the chandelier ... and finally ...

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The Peace Dove Ornament reminding us that this is the true desire of every heart here on the planet whether that heart knows it consciously or not. And no, we don’t mean peace as a static bubble wherein nothing happens; we mean the living, breathing, dynamic, ever-evolving peace that touches and heals everyone. No exceptions.

My desk isn’t quite under the chandelier, but blessedly close, and so in the place where I normally have a single stem of flowers, I’ve put a heart-warming gift from my friend Nikki that she gave me because it’s from my all-time favorite movie;

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Every year when I unpack this snow globe, I bless Nikki and her family for understanding so well what this meant to me when she gifted me with it the year Christmas seemed so far, far away..

In the corner of my office at Cupcake Manor is a “fireplace,” and no, those are not air quotes, they’re real quotes. I wanted a fireplace installed in the house so I went up Route 28 to get a price and about passed out when they told me what it could cost.

Fast forward to Lowe’s a week or so later ... well, believe it or not, Lowe’s had a space heater that looked exactly like a fireplace down to the glowing embers and leaping flames, and truth? I just asked a sound wizard friend if he’d get me an mp3 of the Yule Log—audio only—so I can burn it to a CD and play it behind my “fireplace,” and have the sound of crackling as well as the visual! Besides, I had a store credit at Lowe’s so it cost me exactly zero dollars. Merry Christmas to me last year.

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Anyway, we always had Christmas stockings when I was a kid, and I wanted stockings for us so when I had some extra Amex Points, I ordered these ...

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They’re soft, they’re fuzzy, and some enterprising Christmas retailer had sent me stocking holders for a mantle, so here they hang ...

Now we enter the Extraordinarily Pink Living Room, but first there’s a pause which should need little explanation under the arch of the soaring round Arts & Crafts columns.

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We learned this week that mistletoe is a parasite [slightly disheartening] but we prefer its Christmas mythology. Smooch away, darlings, we won’t peek ... unless you're kissing Santa Claus.

It used to be that I’d get lots of Christmas cards but they seem to be going the way of the endangered species these days. However ...

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This is the first Christmas card we received addressed to both of us, just as you see it in the picture, and it tickled us no end. Not to mention the powerful message our friends chose: Be the Joy you wish to see in the World. We hung it on one of the columns into the living room, envelope and all.

Of course, where cut flowers usually go, more poinsettias showed up.

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As if poinsettias aren’t over the top enough ... juxtaposed with this Hollywood Regency [read: Liberace] lamp, they’re perfectly poised.

Oh, I almost forgot ... what’s Christmas without carols?

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You should know that our SONOS has most excellent sound quality, and surround sound all over the house at the touch of an app. We spent some of yesterday immersed in Dona Nobis Pacem, a Latin chant for Grant Us Peace to decide which version we liked best for a novel I’m writing that includes a Christmas Concert.

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Moving deosil into the living room, we used my favorite glass bowl of my grandmother’s and filled it with small ornaments—it’s so happy, even just to look at it, isn’t it?! And they’re plastic so they won’t break. The red trunk on which it sits is the last antique my mother and I ever bought together—it usually holds all my precious glass Christmas ornaments.

We have an odd crèche this year. We couldn’t figure out how to hang the ornaments on the tree together so we used the window hangers, left to right: Camel, 3 Wise Guys; Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and The Star; and assorted Shepherds avec sheep.

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Most of you who know me know that I use jigsaw puzzles as my preferred form of meditation. This year my favorite puzzle company, White Mountain Puzzles, had some GORGEOUS ones.

I started with the Wreath Puzzle (550 pieces) and am amidst this Christmas Nostalgia one. They’re beautiful, and beautifully made as well.

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And now for the pièce de resistance, Ta-DA!

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Our Tree

The neatest thing about this tree, for me, is that we broke my family’s childhood rule which was that we put up the tree Christmas Eve, and we took it down New Year’s Day. Instead, we got ours the week after Thanksgiving, and it will stay up till Epiphany! Excitement doesn’t begin to cover it for me. Also, we took our time decorating it: four days, to be exact. One day to get it and settle it in the stand, one day for lights, one day for ornaments, and one day for tinsel. Every single bit of decorating it was sheer joy. No pressure, lots of fun, no one got drunk, no one argued. Perfect. And she smells divine!

And if you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see a sneak peek at where we’re going: The Foyer. Let’s start with the front door.

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Those of you who were here for summer retreat or QueerMoNaNoWriMo will recognize the signature colors of Cupcake Manor—pink, yellow, green (sans purple this time)—and the glittery wreath makes them stand out even more. For inquiring minds who want to know, no, the roof isn’t done—and won’t be till spring—yes, it’s pink. Yes, that pink.

Yesterday very kindly delivered snow all day, so the bushes out front were a Winter Wonderland this morning. Look ... they look like [spiky] frosted cupcakes to me!

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Truly, better than they look without snow! And yes, we know the porch furniture needs to winter inside, we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

Back inside ...

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Here’s a wee giftie for the lovely, attentive crew at Lux, the Aveda Salon where I get my hair done in Saugerties. They are an amazingly talented crew, and sweet as can be. Julia’s in the team photo sitting on the left; if you need a hair pick-me-up, I can personally recommend her, and the rest of the team, by observation, is stellar as well.

I’ll skip the stairs up to the guest rooms for now, and show you this phenomenal Arboricola that was given to me by my students Christy and Len as a housewarming gift. This plant has bloomed since I got it. The secret is to keep it outside in temperate weather.

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Displaying her Christmas finery ...

And now, up the stairs we go, guided by two more poinsettias ...

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These old stairs turn after three steps up to a landing, and then ascend another ten. For some reason, lots of old staircases have thirteen steps. Who knew? Anyway, these are battle-scarred and creaky as all get out but they lead to private guest quarters in Cupcake Manor, where we host Air BnB guests, and house all our retreatants. And friends!

The front bedroom has a simple garland over the two windows ...

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As does the back ...

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The common area displays our special snowflakes hanging on the amber grapes carnival glass pitcher ...

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And a little stocking in the loo ...

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Now come back down the stairs with me, and let’s sashay through the living room, my office, and back into the kitchen. Most of the windows in Cupcake Manor are original but the two in the kitchen are not. I expressed a wish, somewhat wistfully, this morning that the screens would disappear from these two windows so we could see this group of trees clearly. The amazing man in my life vanished the screens. Look at what we saw out the kitchen window:

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Gorgeous, no? Some year I want to start in the spring and take a photo of this tree group every day till it ends up like this again. It’s so beautiful, and it’s such a powerful metaphor for human life. Yes, we can go out in a blaze of glory but if we’ll wait, and be still, and be silent, the magic that is life will return us to vibrant well-being. No mistakes.

So at the back of the house are a loo ...

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Another stocking, as promised ...

The mistress’ bedroom ... here’s the college photographer in her self portrait.

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With the Christmas lights that were meant to go on what appears below, but didn’t work there so I flung them over the two sconces ...

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As if there weren’t enough pink—is there such a thing?—we saw this at Target, and walked away from it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it or talking about it so we went back and thank God we did because they were almost gone! Papa focused the nightlight on it so she glows in the dark for me.

The last room is Padre’s office. The Three Wise Guys by Mary Engelbreit live on his door year-round. I think of him as the Fourth.

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Aren’t they dear? Whenever I forget that I’m guided in my own life, I touch this ornament like a mezuzah, a talisman, a reminder, that I too can talk directly to Her.

The Padre suggested I end this photo essay with this image. I put it there just in case he forgets I’m here [which I pretty much completely doubt could ever happen.]

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Ornamental grass with one small, pink bauble on a blue mirror table in his office. We are very grateful for one another this Christmas, and we are even more grateful for you, our families, friends, clients, customers.

If you need to make retreat this year, on your own, or with select others, or you need spiritual mentoring please think of Cupcake Manor as a place for you—where you are seen, recognized, honored, fed, renewed, and restored.

Happy! Merry! Bright!

From Cupcake Manor to you ...

P S. The explanation of why Christmas has exploded all over the house ...

This is my third Christmas at Cupcake Manor. The first one was two weeks after I closed on and moved into the house that I bought sight unseen from three thousand miles away. I ordered a few new glass ornaments from the Amazonians and had a Christmas chandelier instead of a tree. That less-than-appealing cast iron chandelier is stored somewhere in the basement because I found a new Boho one on that very Christmas Day—so tacky it’s fabulous [kinda like Christmas]—and had it installed early that next year.

The second Christmas was fun but I didn’t know anyone who could/would help me get a tree off my car and into my house and onto the stand so I had no tree again. My favorite ex-husband, Antony, came on Christmas Day to finish off his Honey Do List for me. I don’t even think we had turkey sandwiches although I did buy a fabulous wreath at that fancy French store, Target, and some garlands went up on the soaring round columns that ring my living room.

So this is the third Christmas I will have in this home and my sweet fiancé declared it a Baby Girl Christmas—we all know who the Baby Girl is in this scenario, right?  

P.P.S. I almost forgot! What do you get the one who has everything or being deeply spiritual wants no things for the holiday? Well, if you'll go to  Smashwords you will find beaucoup books by none other than moiself, to quote the illustrious Miss Piggy. The first five Mex Mysteries are alive and well as ebooks as are two prayer books on peace: Circles of Peace, and Each Day a New Day for #Innerpeace. There will be more to come in 2018.