Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guest Post: “A Beautiful Life Surrounded by and Knowing Nothing but Love”

I’m humbled today to present a guest post from Teresa Lutz, a local mom, on a book I reviewed this month, Karen Edmisten’s After Miscarriage. 

Read the full article and guest post on my newer website, Reading Catholic.  Click here to go to the post on, and I invite you to visit and follow me there. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Catholic Media Promotion Day: #silenceandword

Yesterday and today comprised the two-day Catholic Media Promotion Day(s?).  Last year I participated and listed some of my favorite online Catholic "things" like podcasts websites and other Internet sources.

Because of that, this year organizers of Catholic Media Promotion Day recommended that participants this year take a break from social media on Wednesday, May 23, then write about it on Thursday, May 24.   The hashtag to be used is #silenceandword, as a direct quote from Benedict XVI from the Holy Father's message for World Communications Day.

That message was really about the need to balance contemplation with action related to social media use.  As Benedict XVI writes, "Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak." Nice!

I saw on Lisa Hendey's site about Catholic Media Promotion Day earlier this week, and made a mental note to stay off social networks and to write today about it.  But as it turned out, that happened to be no problem.

Yesterday was the class trip for our oldest's 8th grade class, so I was on a bus from early morning until late at night, coordinating with the coach driver and keeping head counts of fellow parents (yes, that was one of my roles!)   I didn't feel bad being "offline" at all.  If I had thought about it, I might have checked Facebook on my phone (I need to delete and re-install mobile Twitter, as it hasn't worked for some months, showing how often I use that on my phone), but I truly never thought of it.

It's interesting to reflect on that, and to choose to have a day of silence, because I find myself with more silence than noise when it comes to social networks and communications.  I can go more than a day being on the computer, and even longer for checking into Facebook or Twitter. (I use TweetDeck for Twitter feeds, and lately, my laptop is running slow so I don't often have it up).

Strangely, I find that I have lots of time for contemplation, but not as much time for speaking or engaging.  I still have early morning hours and times of quiet when I reflect, or think of things I would like to write and accomplish as I go about the busyness of life.  But even though the contemplation bears fruit in the form of ideas, getting those writing ideas actually done has been very difficult lately, because when I've processed it enough to get it down, it's time to take kids somewhere, or put in another load of laundry, or go grocery shopping, or go on a field trip or ....fill in the blank of running a household and keeping kids fed, clothed and loved.  And sometimes I get to it, and sometimes I don't.  As an example, the only reason that this post is being finished, even after day of intending to, is that a huge branch came down from a tree on the tree lawn in front of our house.  It's blocking the road, and a city crew is here cutting it up with chainsaws, and the rest of the family is outside watching.  (I went out to snap a few photos and say hello to the police who came, and now I'm taking advantage of the quiet to finish this).

The topic then to share about was, “What in Catholic Media has had an impact on me during the past year?"  And to be honest, I have to say my shrinking time online is something that has had the greatest impact on me.  It's not all bad, and it's not all good.

I am trying to tweak my schedule and time management skills so that I have more time to accomplish the writing and reading that I love, and with intentionally connecting with others online, whether family members through e-mail, Facebook friends and groups, Twitter or blogging here (as I should!)  

But overall, I've increasingly realized that the season of my life right now is meant to be spent as much time as I would like, or feel called to--writing, or reading (sigh!), or interacting with others online--and to be at peace with it.  There will come a time when I'll have much more leeway in my schedule to write the Great American Novel (or whatever project I've got in mind then), and be much more active in whatever social media looks like in the future.  But for now, it's a lot of analog, and that's a good thing.

How about you?  Do you find yourself connected online more than you would like, or less?  What would you change about your online engagement?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage: Betsy-Tacy

Please visit this post on my new website.  You should click here to visit the entire post about our Betsy-Tacy pilgrimage.

Warning!!! This is a super long post with many photos (and, for some reason, more detail than you need about food in Minnesota).   If you are not interested in literary travel or literary obsessions of mine, please check back later this week for more great posts on Catholic books and authors.

What I mean to do here is share about a great experience our family had last weekend and point out (yet again) a great series of books for younger readers (and older readers who enjoy good reads).

Here's an assortment of some of our Betsy-Tacy books.

My family friends know how much I love Betsy-Tacy books since discovering them when our children were fairly small.  And I’ve certainly written about them here and there.  I can’t believe I didn’t know about them as a child, and I’m so glad to have discovered them for our kids (and myself!)  A good quick summary of Betsy-Tacy is that they are like the "Little House"books, but set in small-town Minnesota in the early 1900s.  Like Little House books, the series goes through the characters lives until they marry.  I like the Betsy-Tacy series even better for many, many reasons--that's saying a lot, as I dearly love the Little House books.

This summer, a highlight for book lovers will be the Betsy-Tacy convention in Minnesota.  I heard about it more than a year ago, I think perhaps on Melissa Wiley’s blog--no, actually, I think it was an interview with Melissa Wiley and Mitali Perkins on Book Club Girl’s podcast.  It was a wonderful interview and worth a listen if you like podcasts.  At the time, I resolved that we would go to the convention, get to meet other Betsy-Tacy fans, (and for our teen and tween daughters to meet other young people who love the books) and see the places that inspired many of the books.

Earlier this year, I realized an unavoidable conflict and that our family could not attend.  I wasn’t heartbroken about it until the convention information came out several months ago.  When I read through and saw what convention-goers will do and see, I was sad, sad, sad.  Like Emily of Deep Valley sad, because she couldn’t go to college like the rest of her “crowd,” until she decides to make the best of it.  And so that’s what I decided to do.

My husband and I were considering a late spring family trip, and I proposed Minneapolis.   It’s not really that far from central Illinois, which surprises us because we usually go East to visit family.  “And,” I said with a catch in my voice (he knew about my despair about the convention), “We could stop a day earlier in Mankato and see some Betsy-Tacy sights.”  He was a great sport, so I went to work.

We had an amazing time, thanks to the generosity and friendliness of so many people along the way.  We also had just about perfect weather—between 60 and 70 each day, sunny, no humidity.

The first afternoon found us in Mankato visiting Betsy’s house and Tacy’s houses.  I'm just smiling as I upload these photos because everything was so wonderful!

Here's Tacy's house.

Here is Betsy's house.

  The Betsy-Tacy Society has lovingly restored them as a museum and gift shop, respectively, and I can’t say enough about how great they are, and all the things we saw.  Mrs. Ray's brass bowl!

First editions of all the books.
Uncle Keith's trunk! (or a reasonable facsimile) This is in Betsy's house.

The bench on the Hill Street Hill!

Two lovely women were our hosts at the Betsy-Tacy Society.  Susan Orchard greeted us at Tacy’s house, and Pat Nelson gave our family a thorough tour of both houses, and all of us took pictures galore.

Susan is on the left, and Pat is in the middle.   Such great women who spent so much time with us.

As you can see from the photos, I pretty much could not stop smiling the entire time.   And I spent a ridiculously large sum of money at the gift shop, and I don’t regret it a bit.

I just love the three-dimensional signs in front of the houses.

Later (because we needed an ice cream break first), we saw Tib’s house (just around the corner and down a block or two), which is, in fact, chocolate-colored, on a beautiful tree-lined street, and has a plaque on the door reading, “Tib’s house.”

 On the way downtown, we also saw Lincoln Park, marking the boundary of Betsy’ neighborhood,which I had always thought was much bigger, but it’s just a little triangle in the middle of a couple of streets.

We also stopped into the Carnegie Library (now the Carnegie Art Center) Maud  (and Betsy) would have visited (Betsy for the first time by herself in Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown.

Fortunately, we were there on a Thursday early evening, and the Carnegie Art Center is only open Thursday evening and Friday morning.  I so regret not taking a photo of (Julie? I can’t recall with certainty her first name) Hughes, one of the Art Center staff, who gave us a mini-tour of the library, pointed out the children’s room (and the cloak room, pictured below, where Betsy would have hung her wraps when she went to the library by herself. )

 Ms. Hughes, our own Miss Sparrow, was delightful in every way and even told us about the art that the young B-T fans will create during the convention.  I won’t give it away, but it’s related to the Carnegie Library. 

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Mankato, and it was a great location as well as newly renovated.  We were going to eat at Number Four, a downtown restaurant recommended by several people along the way, but when we heard a Lebanese chef ran Olives, the hotel restaurant, and it also was very good, we gave it a try.  It was packed, and it was one of those rare meals in which everything was unbelievably delicious, starting with the bowls of olives and crusty bread brought at the beginning of our meal.

On Friday morning, I woke up much earlier than the rest of the family, and decided to do my own (jogging) tour of the sights one more time.  I did my own backwards "Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown" tour, starting at the Carnegie Library just a few blocks from the hotel, then along the streets to Lincoln Park, then up the hill to Besty's &Tacy’s houses one more time.  I went past the bench one last time:

I decided to try to go “over” the Big Hill.  I went up a street called Summerhill,  now a subdivision a series of nicer houses from the 50s or so.

This would have been perhaps where "the Elkstroms" house might have been, but no longer is.  I couldn’t see the Valley, or “Little Syria,” on the other side--trees block the view this time of year-- but it was nice to get to the top.  Then I headed back down to go past Tib’s house one last time, and then along some of the older streets.

Before heading back to the hotel, I went to an early Mass at Saints Peter & Paul Church, an historic church just a mile or so from Betsy’s neighborhood.  Probably "Tacy"’s family(Bick in real life), who was Catholic, attended  the St. John the Baptist parish, a little closer to their neighborhood, but that church was newer (the old one had been torn down), and the Mass time at Ss. Peter & Paul was more convenient for me.   It is a lovely church, and I imagine Maud (or certainly Bick) might have been in the church for weddings or other events.

We packed up and headed to Minneapolis, where local historian Kathy Kuhlberg took us on a terrific walking tour of the Lowry Hill neighborhood, where Maud and her family lived when they moved to Minneapolis, and houses depicted in Betsy’s Wedding.    I had connected with Kathy through the local newspaper in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, but it turns out there are links to articles she has written on the Betsy-Tacy convention page--even more reading for me!

Here's Kathy with her first edition of Betsy's Wedding.  Kathy was preparing for a tour later this month to a local historical group, so she told us we were her "test group," but she's a pro as she has given tours to the Betsy-Tacy Society and Maud Hart Lovelace Society during previous conventions.  She was an amazing source of information about the Harts, the Lovelaces and just general Minneapolis history.

Here's a plaque showing the location of the house that the Hart family (the Rays in the books) lived when they moved to Minneapolis after Mankato. It's now part of a park.  Kathy was instrumental in getting the plaque placed; you can see a photo of the original house on the plaque.

We also saw many, many other places Maud and family members lived.  One of my favorites was the "Bow Street" apartment, the newlywed nest of Betsy & Joe from Betsy's Wedding.  In fact, it's on Aldrich Avenue, and was the first apartment of Maud and Delos Lovelace.

Notice in this photo I'm clutching onto Kathy's copy of the exceedingly rare Betsy-Tacy Companion, but I did give it back.  Eventually.

I hate to keep pointing out restaurants here, but we ate so well in Minnesota that I simply must.  After our tour with Kathy, we ate at The French Meadow Bakery.  The menu was too big, and yet everything we ordered was flawless.   One funny story from here, and please don’t let it dissuade you from eating there--I'm already planning my next meal at this great place.  Also, please don’t think that I have anything against vegans or vegan food.

After our meal (I had a terrific--it may have even been vegan!--black bean chili, and sampled everyone else's choices) , we decided to order a few desserts to share.  I initially ordered a raspberry-chocolate bar.  As the clerk was putting our treats in to-go boxes, our nine-year-old son asked, “What does vegan mean?” So I explained that vegan is without any animals products at all, and for desserts that might not be quite  as good because there is no butter.  Then I realized, with alarm, that not only did the raspberry-chocolate bar say “vegan”  but “sugar-free.”  (I hadn’t noticed either label).

“What’s the sweetener in that?”  I asked the clerk, thinking it might be stevia or agave nectar, so then I might still like it. She said, “Its’ just the natural sweetness of the raspberries, and it goes really well with the carob.”  My eyebrows shot up.  “Carob? It says chocolate here on this side of the case.”  “Oh, no, it’s raspberry carob.”  So I quickly chose a same-priced lemon square instead to substitute, which seemed to bother her greatly.  “It’s really great, I just want to tell you. You’re missing out.”  And I just nodded and smiled.

 After we left, our nine-year-old asked what that was all about.  And I said, “That poor girl had no taste buds.”  Now, before all the many vegans who read my blog get all up in arms, let me say that some of my favorite foods are vegan, but not too many sweets.  I do make a great vegan pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, and an even better gluten-free version of said muffins.  Having said that,  in general vegan is best for savory foods, and sugar-free is nigh impossible to do well in sweet baked goods, vegan or not.  Finally, carob as a food is an offense against the Lord your God, people.  I’m quite sure He didn’t intend for us to eat it, especially when we know how good chocolate is for us, and how good it tastes.

Now, doesn’t this look better than a vegan, sugar-free, raspberry-carob bar?  And it tasted just as good as it looked.

Back to Betsy-Tacy. We were so grateful that Kathy Kuhlberg recommended we go to the Streetcar Museum, where she also volunteers.  It's not just a museum--you get to ride the streetcar on a round trip.  The eyes of the men in our family grew wide—trains!—and we did that the next day.  Wonderful.

We are already starting a list for our next trip to Minnesota.  We did so much--just to name a few:  we attended a beautiful Sunday liturgy at St. Olaf’s Church in downtown Minneapolis, saw Minnehaha Falls and also the Mill City Museum, made an excursion to Loome Booksellers, a Twins game, and ate more great food (that seems to be a theme here, but we are Italian, after all).   But there's so much more we want to do and see.  And oh!  I connected with another woman in Minneapolis who actually met Maud Hart Lovelace and I’m just thrilled and hope I can meet her on a future trip. 

After all the fun and all the Betsy-Tacy we packed into our long weekend, I confess that I am still pretty sad that I won’t be able to be at the Betsy-Tacy convention in July.  But now that I’ve seen many of the places, and know some of the wonderful things convention-goers will be doing, I will be able to follow along a little more happily as people share about the convention and all the fun they are having.  I’m also now an official member of the Betsy-Tacy Society, so perhaps I will get more involved over there to indulge my love of this great author and the groups there. If you are interested in going to the convention, I predict you will have a great time.  And do keep me posted!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Meet a Reader: Sharon Weiss

I'm delighted to feature this month a longtime friend, Dr. Sharon Weiss. Many thanks, Sharon, for sharing your love of reading here!

How You Know Me:   Readers would know me because of my connection to Catholic schools.  I am celebrating my 33rd year in Catholic education where I was a French and German teacher at Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute.  When the schools consolidated in 1989 and became PND, I taught French, German, & Psychology and was a freshman/sophomore counselor. In 2003, I was hired as the Principal at St. Patrick School in Washington.  I thoroughly enjoy this leadership role as I am able to maintain focus on faith formation and a strong curriculum for our children and the families we serve.

My parish is St. Patrick Church in Washington, where I have been a member for 2 years.  Previouisly, I was a member of St. Peter's Church in Peoria where I worshipped after my reception into the Catholic Faith in 1993 until I became a member of St. Pat's.

My most cherished and primary vocation is mother and grandmother:  I have a son, David, and a grandson, Gabriel.  They are my joy!  I thank God for them each day as they are His love letter to me.   

Why I love reading:

I have always loved reading!  When I am reading for enjoyment, it expands the imaginative and creative side of me.  When I read for professional development, it helps me to stay current on best practices in education in order to ensure academic excellence.  When I read for spiritual growth, it reminds me of my vocation and service to Christ and His Church.

What I'm reading now

I have been reading The Four Teresas by Gina Loehr.  The four Teresas-- Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Mother Teresa--are all beautiful examples of women who loved God with their whole hearts, minds and souls.  I read little parts of the book when I am in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask our Lord to teach me how to imitate these holy women in my personal and professional life.

For enjoyment, I just completed The Hunger Games triology!  WOW!  I found the cultural premise of these books fascinating, and I was amazed at how many of my junior high students have read them!  I have enjoyed discussing these books with some of the students.

My favorite book: 

My all-time favorite book has been and continues to be Jane Eyre.  Its theme of redemptive love is powerful and hopeful.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Trailer for "The Temperament God Gave Your Kids"

I found this trailer for The Temperament God Gave Your Kids, one of the books reviewed in my Catholic Post column this month, very endearing.  Enjoy!

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Not A Parenting Book

Following is my monthly column that appears in the print Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here, or elsewhere online. 

In May, I like to focus on books that could potentially make great Mother’s Day gifts.  But while I love to read all sorts of parenting books, I hesitate long and hard before recommending them.  There are just so many varied ways to be a great Catholic parent.

Fortunately, The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline and Love Your Children by Art & Laraine Bennett is not a parenting book.  Rather, it’s an explanation of the classical four temperaments, and how to work with those temperaments to have the best possible relationship with your kids, whatever your parenting style.  I truly enjoyed this book, and the Bennetts’ no-nonsense, kind approach to working with your child’s-and your own-temperament .

The Bennetts write not just as counselors, but fellow parents.  They have written two previous Temperament books, but I think this is their most mature effort.  You can easily glean your own temperament, as well as that of your loved ones, by reading this book (and taking the one-page  back-of-book temperament quiz).

Briefly, the four temperaments are: choleric (strong-willed & determined); melancholic (quiet & introspective);  sanguine (eager & sociable); and  phlegmatic (cooperative & peaceful).

When I strong-armed encouraged every member of our family to complete the quiz, I found that our temperaments were pretty much as expected.  Most helpful, though, was learning how these temperaments interact in a positive or negative way, and suggestions for a different way of looking at my role as a mom.   That means I treat a melancholic child differently than a sanguine or choleric child, all within my own parenting style.

The Bennets write: “Parents will find it far easier to help their children grown emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually when they build on their children’s natural strengths.”  Amen to that.

Once you understand your temperament and those of your kids (and spouse), you will be nodding along with the chapters describing slightly different you might want to parent, and also nodding along with their sage advice.

Those who know me are aware that when it comes to parenting/self-help books, I am a great fan of the numbers types of books—the five love languages, the seven habits of happy families, and the like.  What’s different—and better—about The Temperament book is the Bennett’s Catholic sensibility.  They promote knowing about the temperament in order to work with nature, instead of prescribing a “one size fits all” parenting philosophy.

I also especially loved the chapter “Growing in Virtue” which lists the virtues that come easy to each of the temperaments and ones that “need work.”  Having that information is so helpful in helping our children reach their full potential.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Q&A with Karen Edmisten, author of "after miscarriage"

Thanks, Karen Edmisten, for being so open and willing to answer all my rambling questions.  You can read my review of After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman's Companion to Healing & Hope in this weekend's print Catholic Post or here on the blog.

Q. First, can you tell Catholic Post readers a little more about yourself, your family and your writing?

I'm a former atheist (I was baptized at the age of 30 and came into the Catholic Church at age 35), a wife (my husband came into the Church five years after I did), and a  homeschooling mom of three girls. Our oldest daughter will graduate this year and my other daughters are 15 and 9. I've always written in one form or another, but I began writing for publication about five years after I became a Catholic. I started blogging (at Karen Edmisten) in late 2005, and my first book (The Rosary: Keeping Company With Jesus and Mary) was published in 2009. My second book (Through the Year With Mary) came out in 2010.

Q.  Why a book about miscarriage?

I've had five miscarriages myself, so it's something I've lived, something I've thought a lot about. I wanted to share the things that were helpful and healing to me over the years, and I wanted to offer a specifically Catholic resource to address some of the questions and misunderstandings that I hear about the Church and miscarriage.

And, the grief I experienced through my miscarriages, while devastating at the time, ultimately helped me to grow closer to God, so I also wanted to share some of that hope and encouragement. 

I also wanted to reassure others that they are not alone if they feel the grief of miscarriage deeply and for a long time. We're often expected to “get over it” fairly quickly, and while it's important to heal and keep moving forward, I think we are often surprised by how shaken we are by the loss.

Q.  You are very candid in the book about your own struggles through multiple miscarriages, and even share journal entries.  What gave you the courage to share this, and were you at all concerned about sharing “too much”?

I don't really think of myself as courageous – maybe I should be concerned about sharing too much, but that doesn't usually occur to me! It's more a matter of thinking, “If this is helpful to someone else, then it's worth saying.” Maybe because I was, at one time in my own life, such a questioner of all things religious, and I deeply appreciated people who were willing to share their spiritual journeys with me, that I want to do the same for others if I can.

Q.  Having lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth is kind of a “sisterhood” in a way.   Do you find women more willing in the age of the Internet/blogs, to share about membership in “the sisterhood” and talk about these kinds of details about their lives?  Is that a good thing or not?

I think we've always been willing to share and to support each other in that “sisterhood” – it just seems a natural reaction among women. But I think the age of the internet makes it much easier to find help, support, understanding – and I think that's a great thing.

Q.  I’m not sure if this is a question or an invitation to discussion about this.  When I interviewed Amy Welborn about her book Wish You Were Here, I was thinking of, but never got to a post about, good books for kids who might be going through grieving.  So many of the books “specifically for or about grieving” left us cold when my own kids were going through the loss of both sets of grandparents in just a few short years.   

Amy had a great response that it isn’t necessarily a book about grieving that helps when you experience a loss, but everyone finds different types of books (perhaps something completely different-mysteries, for instance) /coping mechanisms that are helpful.    It may not be the right time or healing balm to read about death and dying.

And yet the experience of miscarriage/stillbirth is so intimate and unique, I think reading After Miscarriage is helpful for most women who have experienced it, whether recently or long ago.  The resources you provide to places like Elizabeth Ministry and the like are also very helpful and pertinent.  Your thoughts?

Thanks, and yes, I do hope that After Miscarriage is helpful to women (and men) at any stage of that journey. But I agree with Amy that there are a lot of things that can be helpful that aren't specifically about grief. Sometimes the tiniest thing was a healing gesture for me – bringing fresh cut irises from the garden into the house.

One of my miscarriages occurred when my oldest daughter was six years old. She was devastated. I didn't find that books about grief were all that helpful to her – what helped her the most was just my presence. She simply needed to know that I was there, that we could play Candyland, or go out for ice cream.

When I did read books about grief, they weren't about the specific kind I was experiencing, but they were what I needed. For example, in After Miscarriage,  I quote A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, and Two-Part Invention, by Madeleine L'Engle. Both of those books deal with the loss of a spouse, and yet both were extremely helpful and meaningful to me after miscarriages, simply because they so accurately captured the state of grief itself.

Karen and I corresponded about some of the resources that are available to families undergoing a pregnancy loss.  

Karen Edmisten and the owner of one resource, Heaven's Gain, will be on an "After Miscarriage" show on the Catholic Answers Live radio show on May 28th.

In addition, Elizabeth Ministry International has a very helpful FAQ page for families undergoing miscarriage or stillbirth.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Healing New Book for Coping With Miscarriage

This review appears in my print  column for The Catholic Post this weekend.  

Read my full review at my newer website, Reading Catholic. Click here to visit the full article on, and I invite you to visit and follow me over there!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maurice Sendak, RIP: UPDATED

Rest in peace, Maurice Sendak.

Our family has a long association with Maurice Sendak, children's book author and illustrator.  In my childhood, I (or at least our house) had a copy of Where the Wild Things Are.  I especially loved Max's room and how his supper was warm in it.  We weren't ever allowed to eat in our bedrooms.  To the young me, it seemed fantastic and wonderful that Max could have supper in his room, especially after such misbehavior and such an adventure (even in his dreams).

When my husband and I were first married and he had convinced me that a puppy was a good idea, the first book we read together about it was The Art of Raising Your Puppy by the Monks of New Skete, an order of Orthodox brothers who train dogs as their charism.  For some reason, it was comforting that Maurice Sendak had his dogs trained personally with the Monks, as they discuss in the books.

And when children came to our house, Where the Wild Things Are was a perennial favorite at bedtime.  In particular, after a bad day, it was one of the very reliable soothing books, along with Goodnight Moon and really anything by Margaret Wise Brown.   Knowing that your supper would be waiting for you after adventures, that mom and dad will love you no matter how "wild" you are.  It's just a perfect book.  With every one of our children, whenever I got to the line, "and Max wanted to be where someone loved him best of all..."  each one of our children would blurt out, "with his mommy and his daddy" as if it were in actually written in the text, and so for that book, for us, it is.

When I kept a personal blog many years ago, I had pseudonyms for my children, and our son's name was "Max."  Now you know why.

Somewhere, many years ago, I read that Where The Wild Things Are is like a kids' version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Read it again with that in mind, and I think you will agree.

We have never seen the movie that was made several years back.  None of us really wanted to, even though the promotions were quite appealing.  I just don't know how you can improve upon or make a full-length movie about a perfect picture book.  It's like making a movie about The Runaway Bunny.  How can it possibly be any good?

Maurice Sendak illustrated, but did not write, the Little Bear books (writing was by Else Holmelund Minarik) , and I saw an interview with Sendak once in which he mentioned how important it was for him to get the mother illustrated just so.  The illustrations are what "make" the Little Bear series, and noticed how the picture that Little Bear drew in the story, A Kiss for Little Bear is a primitive Wild-Thing like monster.  The Little Bear books were so popular young-age books at our house.  Our oldest had "Birthday Soup" memorized at 3 years old--there's a video of that somewhere (oh, what did we people do who had kids before YouTube?).  We also know large parts of most of the rest of the Little Bear books.  I have especially fond memories of illustrations in The Goblin Story and Little Bear is Not Sleepy and oh, just about all the others.  So I'm going to stop now.

Sendak had a book come out in the last year, but it was not well-reviewed.  I didn't like all of Sendak's work, so it wouldn't surprise me if this one isn't great.  Where the Wild Things Are and Little Bear are enough to make him well-loved at our house.


Earlier today, I was driving into town to meet my husband for noon Mass, and I listened to a part of the NPR show "Fresh Air" where today, the show replayed several previous interviews host Terry Gross did with Sendak in recent years.  [As a total aside, can I say that she is an AMAZING interviewer when not constrained by the age of celebrity and uber-scripted interviews, which sadly is most of the time these days].

She asked Sendak at one point about his lack of faith (Sendak had been raised Jewish), and mentioned she thought his unbelief seemed to grow stronger instead of being tested.  He said something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing here) "oh, yes, absolutely, I don't think there is anything after death, which is why it's so sad when my friends die."   And yet he said he did not fear death, and did not mind getting old as it allowed him time to read books and listen to great music. But then he said,  a choke in his voice, "I believe I will see my brother again."

From the "Fresh Air" page with the entire interview, well worth a listen:

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

After listening to this, and hearing his search for the good and beautiful, I can only to pray for him in the fond hope that he is re-united with his brother, where are all re-united perfectly.  I need to start a category in labels of "not far from the Kingdom of God," for which I consider Maurice Sendak in that category, along with Steve Jobs.   All these Emeths (from C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle who "all find what they truly seek."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 21, May 2012

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life  by Robin Zasio. 

Various Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

What do you like best about them?

Dr. Zasio is a featured doctor on the A&E series Hoarders and specializes in treating hoarding and other anxiety-related conditions.  I’ve never seen the show, but reading this book really makes me want to DVR a couple of episodes.  She is really excellent at describing why normal people—not just the people who end up living in total chaos—accumulate stuff and hold on to it, and ways to manage that better.  Basically, for her it comes down to anxiety—we manage our anxiety about stuff by deferring decisions about it.  If we can learn to manage the anxiety of getting rid of things, through healthier thought patterns, we can have more orderly spaces.

I think I’m like most moms in that I feel annoyed by stuff everywhere much of the time, but this book gives me hope to tackle some of these projects.  In fact, last week I did tackle a major purge of my home office, filled with far too many books I get to review for the Post.

In addition, different people have a different tolerance for clutter.  For instance, if I’m in the midst of a purge, I don’t mind disorder because it means I’m getting rid of things, and then the final product is less stuff.  My husband meanwhile, likes things more orderly (read: stacks), but may have a little more trouble letting go of things, in particular, the printed word.  At one point he said, “You know, I realize that I’m not the Vatican archivist, and I don’t have to keep all these old issues of L”Osservatore Romano.” I think he was joking about being the Vatican archivist.

I think much of the tips and tricks I gleaned from this book I’ve learned over the years from

I love everything about the Betsy-Tacy books since discovering them when our chlldren were very small.  My daughters & I have read them all, from Betsy-Tacy to Emily of Deep Valley.

It’s bittersweet that because of a family reunion, our family won’t be able to attend the Betsy-Tacy Convention in Minnesota this summer.  You can read more about the convention here (the sound you hear is me weeping in the background, of all the things I’ll be missing).

Truly, I am heartbroken not to be at the convention.  I’d love to meet other Betsy-Tacy lovers and be part of all the events, such as a book-signing with Meliisa Wiley (she wrote the preface to the recently released edition of Carney’s House Party.)  But our family is planning a trip soon to Minneapolis, and we've arranged a tour of Betsy's house.

So, in the meantime, both for solace and preparation for our own visit, we are re-reading lots of Betsy-Tacy books.  I just finished Betsy’s Wedding.

What do you like least about them?

The title of The Hoarder In You is a bit off-putting for those who might feel accused of being a “hoarder” instead of just “Vatican archivist.”  Otherwise, lots of good "stuff," pun intended.

I love nearly everything about the Betsy-Tacy books.  In Betsy In Spite of Herself, (one of the high school books) there is an unfortunate recurring theme of using a Ouija board.  It’s clear from the book and the time period that they perceived it as something like playing Monopoly, but it still freaked me out more than a bit when I first read it when kids were really small (not to them; we read only the first four books when they were smaller). 

By the time they were old enough to read the high school books, we talked to the kids about the occult (and, yes, I’m such a nerd, read to the Catechism to them).  I explained how it was a parlor game for them, and we know better today so we wouldn’t go within a mile of something like that.  It’s a bit like how in one of the later Little House books, you explain to kids that it was culturally okay for Pa dressed up in black-face and performed with other men of the town, but would never happen today. 

Otherwise, I really love all the Betsy-Tacy books.

What’s next on your list to read?

I’m still working through a list of potential fiction for my July column—previously fiction was going to be June, but I’ve got a GREAT book and Meet a Reader for June, so I’m pushing fiction off to later in the summer.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?