Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media" This Saturday, Feb. 3 UPDATED

Shamelessly taking from the blog post about this weekend's gathering here:

Have you ever questioned the role of friendship in your life?

Why do women have a need for authentic friendship - to be accepted, supported, and loved?

How has social media changed our idea of friendship, perhaps making it more easy to find like-minded friends, or more difficult to deepen new friendships?

How does authentic friendship relate to our femininity?

Please join us for an exciting and pertinent talk on
Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media
given by Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
Doors open at 7:10pm
Event begins at 7:30

Saint Philomena Catholic Church
3300 N Twelve Oaks Dr
Peoria, IL

There is no cost to attend this event,
though a small donation for this special event is very appreciated


I plan to attend this Saturday, and I'll be doing a book giveaway. I'm especially excited to get to see Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt again, as well in see in person so many women that I don't get to see very often.   I hope to see you there, too.

I thought it would be fun to have a Twitter hashtag for the event, and I thought #authenticfriendship  while a little long, could work.  I also thought #firstSaturday could be a good one, too, though also longish. Do you have any Twitter hashtag ideas for the gathering?

UPDATED: Dianna Kennedy, of The Kennedy Adventures, suggested on Facebook the hashtag #1stSat.   Works for me!  Any others?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A WinterJam Primer, or How to Keep Your Hearing, Your Faith, and Your Sanity, and Have a Good Time

Note: In lieu of Worth a Listen (normally appearing here on Wednesday), I'm writing this after the WinterJam just occurred in our area with a concert in Peoria Sunday night.  When I posted occasional updates on Facebook & Twitter from the concert, there were a lot of questions (on FB) about how the concert, how it was, should people bring their small children, etc. This is to answer those questions as well as talk about this great  I'll re-run this next year as WinterJam makes it way to our area again, so consider this a "primer" on how to encounter WinterJam successfully.

I'm a veteran, having just attended my third WinterJam.  I think I've got this "down" now and have a good strategy for attending and making the most of this great concert.

WinterJam, the largest Christian concert series in the world (and largest altogether if Wikipedia is to be believed) is a traveling concert series founded by NewSong and featuring more than a half-dozen Christian contemporary music (CCM) acts.

Read the rest of the story at my new website, Reading Catholic.  Click here for link to the rest of the article on Reading Catholic.  I invite you to follow me there!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Jane Austen Monday: Various and Sundry Sharing

No, I'm not starting a new blog series of Jane Austen Monday, though I would dearly love to.  I just wanted to share some links before this month ends.  January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen's Pride &Prejudice.  As longtime readers will know here, Austen is probably my favorite author and I read and re-read her books regularly.  I have at least four shelves on two different bookcases full of multiple copies of her novels (including The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, a present from my husband several years back), biographies, graphic novel versions, retellings and so forth.

I discovered from getting the newsletter of the Jane Austen Centre that it was planning a live reading of P&P.  I can't seem to find the latest news on the read-a-thon (here is an earlier story about it), but I think it is a great idea, and I would enjoy getting to stream parts of it if they still do it.

Earlier this month my daughters and I hosted a Jane Austen tea party that was surprisingly fun for all ages.  We had lots of tea, some of my favorite scones. My cell phone photos snapped throughout the day did not turn out very well.  I'm sure that is shocking and never happens to you.  So I'm sharing images and video here from around the web.

We played the "Pride & Prejudice" board game, available from the game designer here.  Actually, the moms were busy visiting and laughing in the kitchen, so none of us got to play the game.  The teens and little girls played the game.  From what I can gather, it was quite a competitive event.  Very fun. (and yes, I would love to get A Christmas Carol game made by the same company, in case anyone is looking for present ideas for me for next Christmas).

On the subject of Jane Austen-inspired games, here is a link to a Jane Austen trivia game.  I may have to add this to my wish list for next year's party, though nothing can top the P&P board game, in my mind.

More details from the party:

Food and drink.  We had many kinds of tea, as well as hot chocolate.  But the tea was the biggest hit, even for the younger ones.

This mug, also a gift from my husband, reads, "There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort."  This was actually not used at the party, since I had out our "good" china teacups, and various other assorted proper teacups (with saucers).

I made my famous scones in two versions: plain cream scones, and cinnamon chip scones.  How I make my scones is a state secret. Actually, it's too complicated for me to share in a n online recipe.  If any of the party-goers would like to know how to make my scones, I would be glad to have you over for a personal tutorial.

My favorite find of the last year was a recipe for homemade cinnamon chip scones.  They absolutely make the scones!  Here the DIY recipe that I basically use--I don't think I changed anything.  (I am infamous for changing recipes a little here or there, which is what makes my scone recipe so unreliable read off the page).

I also made (and changed slightly) Pippa Middleton's Millionaire Shortbread (this is a link to Pippa's tumblr recipe for it; unfortunately, it's in British measures, but this is the recipe).  This is from her newish book, Celebrations, that I picked up off the new books shelf at our local library.  It's actually a really nicely done book--reminiscent of Martha Stewart books, but not quite as fussy.

When I was cutting the layered shortbread the night before the party, my husband and I sampled it, and we thought "meh."  I was sort of annoyed to have spent the time and butter for it, because as I said, plain shortbread would have been just fine.

Apparently a night's rest does wonders for the stuff, because it was the huge hit of the party and praised by everyone, and there were not even crumbs left over.  I tried some again when everyone was raving about how good it was, and I did like it better.

I also enlisted a friend who volunteered to come early to make cucumber sandwiches.  She had several teens on an assembly line, and they turned out two terrific versions of cucumber sandwiches.  I don't have a photo of them, unfortunately!

I had put on the invitation that promptly at 3 p.m., we would start a showing of the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth version).  I thought perhaps a few of the teens and moms not too busy would want to stay, but it was a busy weekend.  It turns out it was just the Picciones, so we opted to wait until everyone left shortly before 5 p.m. to start watching.  We only got through the first DVD of this (meaning the first 3 hours) that day, and still haven't watched the rest.  We really need to finish it before the month is out.

Now for one more book to relate specifically to Jane Austen in the modern culture.  Last year,  I received a review copy of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor.  Kantor argues compellingly how Jane Austen-manners (not dancing the right way or wearing Regency gowns, but rather guarding your emotions, learn about potential partners within the context of your family & friends, and so forth).  It's a pretty sensible guide, but definitely meant for college or post-college aged women. Worth a read!

Do you have an obsession for Jane Austen, like me?  What are you doing to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Pride & Prejudice?

Finally, here is one super sweet British video about the lure of Jane Austen and Bath.  Makes me want to go back right now.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Choose to Eat Mindfully and Prayerfully:" A Guest Post Reflecting on "Cravings" UPDATED

Update: I've updated this post to reflect more of how this guest post came to be written and shared here. 

When I was getting ready to review Cravings by Mary DeTurris Poust, I knew another person whose feedback I wanted was my dear friend and fellow blogger Marcia Mattern of "I Wonder Why."  Mostly, I wanted someone more "expert" than I to read the book.

It was really helpful to get some thoughts and ideas, since Marcia has a background in nutrition and is a deep thinker when it comes to spiritual things.  After a fun (dare I say mindful?) talk over coffee and treats last month, Marcia shared that she, like me, found Cravings a great read and very thoughtful.

She also said there were quite a few books written by dietitians on these themes, especially mindful eating, ones not mentioned in Mary's excellent bibliography.  Marcia also liked, as did I, how Mary drew on different religious traditions, but noticed that Eastern Catholic thought was not represented.  Since Marcia's family often worships at a Byzantine Catholic parish, I asked her to write a guest post for Reading Catholic, sharing some of the other resources, and even bringing in Eastern Catholic thought on food and eating.  

Once Marcia sent me this reflection on Cravings, I shared with her that it was more like a reflection than instructive, and would really benefit from photos.  That's how I looked around for some photos from my library (of coffee and chocolate, as if there were any doubt!) and asked Marcia for some other ones, and she graciously shared.  

I've updated this post to reflect some of the additional books that are helpful for additional reading, as well as some of Marcia's prior writing on these issues.  I think they make a good complement to Marcia's guest post, as well as provide additional reading for those interested.

Thanks to Marcia, for being willing and for reflecting on these themes so beautifully.  And thanks to Mary, for writing such a timely book, Cravings, that inspires discussion and reflection on these themes.


It's all the hype in early January.  What ever shall you do to lose that weight?  Eat differently, right?  And we make great lofty plans...But now it's nearly the end of January and...  poof.

We are back to our "regular" eating habits.

But what is regular, healthy, normal eating?  Is it the Paleo, the vegan, the TLC diet, the DASH diet, the raw food diet?  We try various approaches with hope and goals in mind.

Some believe that the best diet for you is the one that you choose and are able to stick to the rest of your life.  Does the word "diet" present challenges for us? Might we instead speak of our relationship with food?  Mary DeTurris Poust skillfully discusses this in her book, Cravings:A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.

Think you can do that with the Paleo?  Probably not.  Can you go without meat or eggs or milk the rest of your life?  Perhaps no.

But you can choose to eat mindfully and prayerfully the rest of your life.

If we think of food as simply nourishment for our physical self, then choosing more grains and vegetables with smart meats sounds ideal.  But we have options for chocolate and candy at our disposal.  Aren't they tasty too?   There is room for everything wonderful (and not so wonderful) in this world in our diet.

What if we ate what we wanted and liked, but carefully opted for being thankful before, during and after it?

God has given us a bounty of goodness.

How often do we just hurry through our eating without having tasted anything past the first mouthful? When I slow down and taste the goodness of food, I am encountering something of the goodness of the Lord.

So how do we practice being thankful and mindful during eating?

We can begin by a prayer before every meal.   You might think this simple, but do you ever miss a prayer before a meal?  Remember the meal you ate in the car?  Over the kitchen counter?  Those are meals too!   What if you prayed over the cookie you got at the drive thru with your coffee?

If a prayer before meals is a habit for you already, how about choosing a personal prayer rather than the memorized prayer?  We say in the Creed each week "I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth...". So why not begin by thanking THE ONE, in your own words, who creates the substance from which all our foods come?

To begin first pause, to recognize his presence.  Then say in your own words what you want to say.  It could be: "Thank you God for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make it nourishing to my body.  Help me to feel full and strong to accomplish my work today. Amen."

Simple?   Yes.  Mindful?  Yes.

Next stop during your eating and thinking about what you enjoy.  Take a moment to again thank God for it.

" Wow, God.   You created some amazing things for me.  Today this peanut butter is salty.  The strawberries in this jelly is so sweet. I enjoy this very much!"

And again when your meal is over.  Once again thank Him.

"I'm full, God.  Thanks again for making this world for me.   Help me to remember how great this lunch was when I get distracted from all your gifts for me today. Amen."

So what if mindful prayers over food has already become habitual for you?   Can you add to your prayer even more?  Would being prayerful about each mouthful you take impact what kinds of foods you eat?  Would you choose a greater variety of foods this way?  Would you be less likely to mindlessly eat a whole bag of cookies or things less healthful for your physical self?

What IS the connection between faith and food?

It's the abundant blessing that God has already provided for us his sheep (John 10).

It's Eve and Adam when they allowed their physical passions to contribute to broken communion with God (Genesis 3).

It's God continuing to see our fragile humanity and providing always for our physical need of food even in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11).

It's the restoration to wholeness at the Eucharistic Banquet (John 6).

God creates us in his image.   We reflect His image when we foster growth of the virtues gifted at our baptism.  When we see the greatness of God and desire to know him more, this honors Him.  We are responding to His love for our human needs and this draws us closer to Him.    But we don't live our our faith in isolation.  We live it with others!  We participate in the Liturgy with others each time we go to Mass.

Eating and sharing a meal is sacramental and has a foundation in the very life of the sacramental economy. When we receive the Eucharistic presence of Christ as food, we are nourished. Eating is a profound form of communion!

Research over the past few years has linked families eating together with healthier lives.  It's not just about the food you consume, but also the smiles, laughter and chatter around the table.  Building relationships with those we eat in our own home is basic to life.  We know this about the Liturgy as well.  We worship, adore, petition and praise as well as consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with others that profess the faith with us.  And those we eat with can encourage us to eat better.  Just as those who we worship (and eat the Blessed Sacrament with) encourage us in our life of faith.

It's still January.  Let's begin again towards a better relationship with food.  Can we make a new step in growing in love of God as we draw closer to Him around the table?  The mindfulness we have at prayer over food is a step toward living healthfully.  We can find persons (even in our own family) to help us make wise choices each day and support us in those good decisions.  Embrace the gift of normal, regular eating God has given us and thank Him.

For further reading and exploration:

21 Days of Eating Mindfully: Your Guide to a Healthy Relationship with Yourself and Food by Lorrie Jones.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth.

Marcia has also written about food and Eastern Catholic thought on her blog, "I Wonder Why."  Here are just a few posts that relate to the spirituality of food.

The St. Phillips Fast

Adjusting to new circumstances: home management meets food changes.

What are we eating.  Marcia's written a number of times about The China Study (I'm not a fan, which has made for interesting discussions around the dinner table when our families gather, wink), and her entire family at least once has done the book's 30- day vegan challenge.

Marcia Mattern fosters wonder and awe with her husband and six children around their dinner table and at the door of the refrigerator.  Her experience as a Registered Dietitian and conversion to Catholicism has impacted her study of food and faith.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Three Quotes for the Feast of St. Francis de Sales

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

--St Francis de Sales (from Catholic Digest's Quiet Moment for today)

I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

--from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (excerpted from the second reading from today's Office of Readings)

The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.  

--St. Francis de Sales (quote from Franciscan Media's "Saint of the Day.")

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of this blog, and one of my favorite saints.  He's the patron of journalists.  

Usually during Lent I bring out my well-worn copy of Introduction to the Devout Life, and this year will be no different.  Today I'll be celebrating in style, as this day is also the baptism anniversary of our oldest.  She requested that I make chocolate fudge and peanut butter fudge (both adapted from my mom's recipe), so I did so yesterday.  Since  I didn't make these sweet treats over the Christmas season, we are really enjoying how good they taste.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Five Ideas for the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy.  It's a sad anniversary, but one we need to keep marking.

I'm glad to see a lot of discussion about the anniversary, the March for Life and other pro-life events and ideas, on Facebook and Twitter.  And it's the younger people who are really active about this, (along with some of us more seasoned veterans of pro-life work).  I'd like to share five quick thoughts about marking the anniversary, though even as I compiled this list I came up with many more.

1.  Day of Prayer for the Protection of Unborn Children.  The U.S. Bishops have declared January 22 each year as "a particular day of prayer and penance for abortion."  Consider attending Mass, giving up something, or saying a Rosary or other prayers specifically for unborn children.

2.  The March for Life.  The March actually doesn't take place until this Friday, January 25.  I wish I could be there this year, especially to be able to participate in #3 (see below), but I hope to in future years.  The night before the March, there is a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Both events will air on EWTN, so we will be watching along at our house.

3.  The 5K for Life.  As I wrote about here and here, I'm a LIFE Runner now, and I so wish I could be in Washington, D.C. this Saturday for the inaugural 5K Run for Life.  Race director for it is Jeff Grabosky, who wrote Running With God Across America (my review is here and Q&A with him here).  I may try to run a 5K if schedule permit this Saturday, so I can run along in spirit with my fellow LIFE Runners.  Any one who r

Last year, I wrote about three books on pro-life themes.  I'll share two of those for the remaining two "ideas."

4.  Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman.  This stands the test of time as a beautiful reflection of unborn life, suitable for the littlest children.  It should be read to kids of every age, and I dare you to do so without choking up.  Wonderful!

5.  UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Director's Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line by Abby Johnson (here's my review and Q&A with Abby . For local readers, Abby Johnson will be speaking at St. Jude's Parish in Dunlap, IL, February 5 (the best way I could find to give details was by directing to the parish bulletin here.  I, for one, cannot wait to hear her speak in person, and I think I will bring along my copy of UnPlanned for her to sign.  Her book is a great read and very eye-opening.

What are you doing to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade?  Do you have any other ideas to share to mark the occasion?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The "Cravings" Blog Tour: My Q&A with Mary DeTurris Poust

Today is my day on the blog tour for Mary DeTurris Poust's latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.   I reviewed the book in my January column for The Catholic Post.  Since Q&As are one of my favorite things, I decided to do a Q&A with Mary as my part of the blog tour.  Thanks, Mary, for letting me wrap up your blog tour here at Reading Catholic!  Please visit this link to enter to win a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card as part of this tour.  In addition, I have a copy of Cravings from the publisher to giveaway at the First Saturday gathering early next month.  If you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry in the giveaway.

Q.  Mary, tell Reading Catholic readers more about yourself, your work and your family.

I’ve been a writer focusing on Catholic issues for almost 30 years. These days my passion is my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual, and my books. As I get older, I find myself focusing more on the spiritual side of Church and less on the “business” side of things, such as issues and news and events, which I covered for many years as a Catholic newspaper reporter. When I’m not writing, I’m usually driving my kids around or cooking or doing yoga. We have three children, ages 7, 12, and 16,  so our home life is pretty busy. The dual vocation – Catholic writer and mom – can be a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Q.  As I wrote in my review of Cravings, I thought you saved the best for last, and that the last two chapters were the most compelling.  Did you have a favorite chapter or concept from the book?

It would probably depend on the day. Different chapters suit different situations, moods, seasons, struggles. I think as I was writing, whatever chapter I was working on was my favorite.

Q.  Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of people I know maintain health with various and contradictory food plans that have been popular in the last decade (vegan, paleo, low-carb).  It strikes me that one’s diet (meaning general food choices, not a “diet”) is as individual as a fingerprint, and finding what works to maintain health is important for each individual to work out.  Your thoughts on this, and how you’ve come to embrace a vegetarian diet as best for you?

When it comes to diet plans and food choices, I’m a bit of a rebel. I don’t like to stick to any one plan, and I tend to go against whatever the latest fad might be. Mainly I choose what feels right for me and what I know tends to work long-term. Yes, I’m a vegetarian, something I chose after my mother died of colon cancer at age 47, but I am not rigid about it. I think balance is the most important thing. We see, as you mention, all of these extremes – no carbs, mostly carbs, no meat, all meat. From one week to the next diet recommendations change drastically. Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs. Drink wine. Don’t drink wine. So I think we have to stop listening to everyone else and listen to our own bodies and hearts and minds. We ultimately know what’s good for us, even when we don’t always do it. When we find a balance, enjoying what we love in moderation, we find we don’t need all these crazy diet plans. We just need to bring some common sense and some mindfulness to our meals.

Q. I am a (mostly) healthy eater, but I am not at all a mindful eater.   Reading your exploration of that makes me want to give it another try, not just for myself but for the whole family.  For those new to mindful eating, can you describe how that might look, especially in a family setting? 

Well, mindful eating isn’t necessarily something you can do on a full-time basis, at least not if you have a houseful of kids. Try it on your own at first to get a feel for it. In our house there are certain things we never do during dinner: No TV, no phone calls, no texting, no computers. Dinner is dinner, with no outside interruptions allowed. So that sets the stage. Even when the dinner table feels more like a something out of a three-ring circus there are certain elements of mindfulness built in. The next step is to try to keep the mealtime calm – no fighting, no tension. This is not the time to start talking about things that will lead to arguments. That may not always be easy, but it’s the ideal. And last but certainly not least: prayer. We always start our meal with a blessing. Sometimes when we’re out at a restaurant, the kids will be the ones who remind us that we should pray. So something’s sinking in even when it feels like we are totally off course. Little steps. Don’t expect to turn your kitchen into a monastery if you’ve got kids. Again we need to be realistic and gentle with ourselves and aware of what we can and cant’ do. It’s when we hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations that the healthy food plans and diets often go out the window.

Q.  What do you mean by a food ritual?  How can it be beneficial?

Try to develop something that brings a sense of the sacred to a meal or snack. In Cravings I talk about my “mindful oatmeal” practice, where I clear the kitchen table, light a candle, pray before I dig into my regular oatmeal breakfast, and then eat in silence and with total mindfulness. It can really transform a meal into a meditation. Even something as simple as making a pot of tea with attention and intention can become a ritual. When you slow down the meal or snack or whatever you’re doing and bring some awareness to it, it becomes more satisfying. You really taste your food as opposed to eating without thinking or while you’re doing something else, and that makes you less likely to go looking for more food a few minutes later – because you’re feeding yourself on a deeper level.

Q. What is the one thing a person who is struggling with their relationship to food could do to make the new year healthier?

First, I’d recommend bringing even five minutes of prayer into everyday life. It’s amazing what that can do for your heart and head. Then I’d suggest keeping a food journal. When you write down everything you eat – and I mean everything – it really makes you aware of your habits and it allows you to see patterns and begin to understand why you might eating if you’re not really hungry. It’s really what makes programs like Weight Watchers work – you track every single bite, not to be obsessive about calories but to be aware. It’s not about counting fat grams or carbs but about understanding the reasons behind the food habits. When I keep a food journal, I’m much more accountable. And I’ll jot down whether I exercised that day or if I have any particular aches or pains or discomforts, even my moods. As a result, I can actually go back and notice where I was last year and whether I repeat certain patterns at certain times.

Q.  You are a prolific author.  Can you share any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m focusing on spreading the word about “Cravings” and about my other new book, “Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality,” which focuses on finding the divine in the mundane moments of our lives. So I’m hoping to do some retreats and workshops related to both books. I’d also like to have time focus on my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual. This past year I was so busy writing two books that I didn’t have a lot of time to blog, which I really love because it allows me to connect directly with readers and explore the spiritual journey day by day.

Mary, thanks again for answering all my questions about your book and letting me be the "grand finale" of the blog tour.  Readers can visit this link to the blog tour to see all the prior stops, and don't forget to enter to win the $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card.  Remember, if you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry to win a copy of Cravings, that I will be giving away at the First Saturday gathering on Saturday, February 2.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Speaking about Food...

Serendipity is pretty cool, if you ask me.

It seems like I've been thinking about and reading about food a lot lately, whether online or in real life, since I reviewed Mary DeTurris Poust's Cravings.  Part of this is following along with the stops on Mary's blog tour and what others have had to say about it, but part is just the new year/new you.  Strangely, I haven't been doing much running this month, even though I reviewed Jeff Grabosky's book Running with God Across America.

Now about that serendipity---one of my favorite websites, and probably my most-used App on our Apple devices, is Universalis.  My husband Joseph introduced me to Universalis back when we had Palm Pilots, and I've used it through the years to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Sometimes very consistently, sometimes not. You know how it goes... but Universalis is always there, making it easy for me to jump back in.

Occasionally, Martin Kochanski, the creator of Universalis and its associated Apps, writes a reflection for the saint of the day.   Often these relate to the "big saints," but often there is something about an obscure British or Irish saints, since he lives in the UK.

The "about today" regarding St. Wulstan, relates to food, and is well worth reading and pondering (emphases mine):

In the Chapel of St Oliver Plunkett at Downside Abbey, a stained glass window depicts a less official story concerning Wulstan: that one day, whilst celebrating Mass, he was distracted by the smell of roast goose, which was wafted into the church from the neighbouring kitchen. He prayed that he might be delivered from the distraction and vowed that he would never eat meat again if his prayer were granted.

The modern world needs stories like this more than it realises. The watered-down puritanism that serves so many of us as a moral code today equates pleasure with evil – cream cakes, the advertisements tell us, are “naughty but nice”.. or even “wickedly delicious.” Messages like this are a libel on the name of God, who created the pleasures, and on his Son, whose first recorded public act was turning water into wine. There is nothing wicked about delicious food in itself, or in any other pleasant or beautiful thing. 

Let us enjoy God’s creation all we can and rejoice in its creator as we do so, and if, like Wulstan, we have to deprive ourselves of something for our spiritual or bodily health, then let us suffer our deprivation cheerfully, blaming the weakness in us that made it necessary. Let us never devalue our sacrifices by denigrating the things we sacrifice, or the sacrifice will be pointless. Let us remember what God did, day after day, as he was creating the world: he looked at it, and saw it, and behold: it was very good.

Tomorrow is my day on the Cravings blog tour, and I'm excited that I get to be the "grand finale" (sort of!).  I hope you'll join me then.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"That Man is Me": Local Priest in America Magazine this week

Father Charles Klamut, a priest of the diocese of Peoria, who is currently serving at St. John's Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign, is featured in this week's edition of America magazine with a reflection on Les Miserables and his first reading of it as a young adult.

My husband pointed it out to me since he follows The Deacon's Bench blog by Greg Kandra.  I do too, but I can't keep up with all the blogs that I "follow."  So thank God for a husband who keeps up on blogs and shares with me.

Here is the quote that I pulled out of Fr. Klamut's piece.  Keep in mind this was before I went to link to Deacon Greg's post on it.  It turns out we picked the same one! So it is true that great minds think alike (or at least, it's true that bloggers like me can sometimes think like a superblogger):

I read Les Misérables in a week. It was the perfect book at the perfect time, with soul-shaking impact. For a long time afterward, I went over and over it in my mind and in my heart.

One day I had a revelation: Monseigneur Bienvenu never knew! The heroism of Valjean’s subsequent life was unknown to the bishop. Fantine, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, the Thénardiers, Gavroche, Javert, the barricades, the students, the wedding—all unknown. The bishop sent Valjean off with his silver and a promise, never to see or hear from him again. For all he knew, Valjean went back to his old ways. And yet it did not seem to matter. He treated Valjean as he treated everyone: as Christ would. Bienvenu was the unknowing mover of all that was to follow. But for his act of mercy toward Valjean, the whole beautiful story would not have been.

This was when it hit me. I thought of the bishop, and the impact he made and what his priesthood meant. I can remember praying, “Lord, if that’s what it’s about, if my life can do that…sign me up.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fr. Klamut's entire article is well worth reading.  I also didn't realize Fr. Klamut has a website for his music.  Interesting!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Worth a Listen: Come to Me by Jamie Grace

(Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen").  Explanation (of a kind) here.

We are more than excited at our house for Winter Jam, a concert series coming to our area later this month.  

Jamie Grace will be one of the artists.  I hadn't heard this song when I was looking for something to post, but it's worth a listen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Q&A With Jeff Grabosky, Author of Running With God Across America

As I wrote in my January column for The Catholic Post, I truly enjoyed Jeff Grabosky's memoir Running With God Across America. And since I became a LIFE Runner myself last year when I ran my second marathon in St. Louis (read about that experience here and here), we are sort of "teammates."  So grateful to Jeff for being willing to do this Q&A.

Q. Jeff, tell me a little more about yourself, your writing and your running--what you are currently doing.

I have always been a runner and have always loved my faith. I ran my first marathon in college and also received a supplementary degree in Theology while studying at Notre Dame. After graduating and dealing with personal tragedy, I continued running marathons and 100-mile races. My run across America was a way in which God called me to use my passions to bring the message about the power of prayer to others. It was difficult to leave my family, friends, and job to undertake the journey, but I felt an unmistakable call to run for the prayers of others.

After the run was over, I worked with 3rd graders at a Catholic school in Phoenix for a year. While there, I also worked part time at a running specialty store and spent my free time writing the book. I then moved back to Northern Virginia to be near family, where I now working at my previous job as store manager of a specialty running store and also coach runners. Periodically, I give talks about the power of prayer and appear at book signings. I have been so blessed and recently got engaged to a beautiful and holy woman named Mary.

I’m also the race director for the Cross Country Relay for Life, which will correspond with the 40 Days for Life (February 13 to March 24).  We are currently filling 5K segments for the relay, and encourage pro-life groups to sign up.  Visit the LIFE Runners Relay for Life page for more information about that.

Q. I was really impressed with the quality of your writing and narrative in Running with God Across America .  Since you self-published, I am curious what kind of editing help you had.  Have you always considered yourself a good writer, or was this a unique experience to share?

Whenever I would give a talk about my run across America, the first question people always asked me was when the book was coming out. I have never been a big writer, but settled into the project and approached it with the same persistence I do with anything I go after. I must have read through it a dozen times to get it as accurate and readable as possible. I had it read over for spelling and grammar, but that was it. My goal was to tell a simple story and bring people with me on the journey. I wanted the reader to feel what I was feeling at the time and to realize the power of prayer and to hopefully develop a deeper relationship and belief in God in the process.

Q. As I wrote in my review, I found myself envious of two aspects of your run; one pretty serious and one kind of funny.

First, you had so much personal time and space for prayer, and for running, of course.  This time and space helped you have a lot of spiritual and emotional breakthroughs.  Do you miss that aspect of the run, and how have you tried to bring that spirit into your daily life now?

I found that on my journey, the further I stepped back from daily life, the more I was able to concentrate on prayer and on the Lord. Spending so much time each day lost in prayer was an incredible experience that solidified my relationship with Him, especially in the midst of great discomfort. Now that I am back in a much more normal daily routine, I find myself truly missing that time alone with God. In order to incorporate prayer more into my life, I have since started praying the rosary daily. I love searching out new prayers and devotions. I try to go to confession and adoration more often. Essentially, I came to realize just how much I need the Lord in my life and it is my desire to get as close to Him as possible.

Q. The other aspect I envied was the sheer amount of food you needed to eat to keep up your weight!  I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so you descriptions of some of your more memorable meals stuck with me.  Did you enjoy that aspect either during the run or in your writing?  Do you miss that now that you are living a more normal day-to-day life?

The amount of food I ate during my journey always makes for good stories. People were always shocked at how much I consumed and how quickly I made the food disappear. For the first part of my run, I really looked forward to dinner because it seemed to be the one comfort of the day. Sitting down and eating a good meal always sounded so incredible when I was out on the road and I could not wait for that moment. What I learned was that it was just that – a moment. The moment of enjoyment from dinner was so fleeting and it only sustained me for a very short time. I learned a lesson through that experience of just how fleeting the pleasures of this world really are. It made me focus more on Christ, because He is the only one who will sustain us forever. He will never abandon us or let us down. The experience only helped to deepen my desire for Christ in my life.

Q. You are a Notre Dame grad, and you ran through campus on the run.  What kind of reaction have you had from the Notre Dame community about your run and its goals?

I’ll never forget how the weather was cold and the skies were overcast as I approached the campus of Notre Dame. Just before the Golden Dome came into view, the skies opened and the sun shone down. When I caught site of campus, the dome was glistening and my aches seemed to melt away. It was essentially a 500 mile detour to run through there, but it was well worth it. I loved seeing some of my old roommates still in the area and praying at the Grotto. It was a wonderful experience and the reaction from the Notre Dame community was fantastic. I’ve been told by the Notre Dame community that my journey embodied the Catholic identity Notre Dame was meant to have. The important messages of focusing on prayer, giving glory to the Lord, and encouraging a devotion to the Blessed Mother is something inherent to Notre Dame. I am honored that the run across America for prayer can be associated with my school and I hope it makes the community of Notre Dame proud. 

Q.  You wrote at the end of Running with God that you don’t run long distances any longer.  Any plans for a long-distance run in future years? 

Since finishing my run across the country, I have very little motivation or desire to compete in long distance races. In the past year I have run a marathon for fun, paced a friend through 25 miles of an ultra marathon, put in a 100 mile week, and gone out for a 30 mile run on my own. Despite these runs, the amount I have been running has decreased significantly. However, I find my passion for the sport has not diminished, but has been redirected. Through multiple coaching programs at the store I work at, I have been able to help others train for distance races and become more fit. The satisfaction I have in hearing about others finishing races is much greater than any pride I would have from completing a race of my own. I am honored to have the opportunity to help others reach their goals and I hope it is something that I can continue to do in the future.

Q. You are a LIFE Runner, and I just joined the group in to run my second marathon as a LIFE Runner.  Tell me about how you got involved with the group and what you are doing with them now.

If the wheel on my stroller had not broken in St. Louis, then I may not have become involved with the LIFE Runners. It essentially opened up a window of time where I met Pat Castle for breakfast in Alton, IL. He got me involved with the LIFE Runners as our missions were very much aligned. I am so excited to use my passion for running to help the Pro Life cause. We have a very exciting relay planned that goes over 4,000 miles across the country. I am the race director of the relay and also of the 5K we are holding in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, DC. The LIFE Runners do so much for the unborn and also to assist the mothers and children who choose life. I am truly honored to work with such great people and for the cause of protecting the right to life for the most innocent of us.

Q. Any plans for future books?

As of now, I do not have any specific plans for another book. However, I know God works in amazing ways and if I find myself called to something that warrants another book I will gladly oblige.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add or wish I would have asked?

I would just like to add that I am no superstar runner or extraordinary human. The only thing I did was say “yes” to the calling the Lord placed on my heart. He met me where I was at and took care of the rest. Things were not always easy, but I have realized just how beautiful a picture the Lord can paint with our lives if we allow him to use us. Ever since I placed myself in God’s will for His glory, my life has taken on a completely different direction. My life has certainly been difficult and even painful at times, but it has developed into something bigger than I could have ever dreamed of on my own. I will continue to put my trust in the Lord and follow wherever he calls me to go. I am just hoping it does not involve another run across America!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Meet a Reader: Todd Volker

"Meet a Reader" appears on the monthly book page of The Catholic Post, and it features someone within the diocese of Peoria who enjoys reading.  Here are the four questions I ask "readers" to answer: how you (meaning Post readers) know me, why I love reading, what I'm reading now, and my favorite book.  This month, I feature author and reader Todd Volker from Ottowa. Todd, thanks for being a "Reader" here.

How you know me: I grew up in Princeton, went to school in Galesburg and Urbana, and have lived in Chillicothe, Peru and Ottawa. I've recently been helping with the local Theology on Tap program in Ottowa.  My wife, Linda, and I have a nine year old son, Leo, who goes to Marquette Academy grade school, and we are members of St. Columba parish.  I’m a lay Dominican.

I’m also a published author, having written two outdoor guides with history and geography in them:  The Starved Rock Almanac and The Complete Grand Illinois Trail Guidebook. The Starved Rock Almanac focuses on Starved Rock State Park and the Grand Illinois Trail Guidebook is a thorough guide to a 575-mile trail loop through the top part of Illinois.

Why I love reading: Reading is liberation. You get to go everywhere and get into everything, and it's also addictive: the more you read, the more you want to know and learn. I get into nonfiction a lot more than fiction.

What I'm reading now:  This is pretty heady stuff, but I'm reading a book on contemporary physics and theology, New Proofs for the Existence of God, Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Robert Spitzer.

I've been scanning the Phaidon volume on Gustav Stickley. We recently bought a nice Morris chair.

Before picking these up, I finished a new book on intellectual history, The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson. It's a look at specifically German contributions to areas like chemistry, physics, psychology, biology, sociology, jurisprudence. These advances were based on certain education ideals.

My favorite book: Nancy, this is your toughest question! I’ve been thinking recently about the ten most important books in my life, so it's tough to sort out just one. There's a lot of good stuff out there. For nonfiction, I can recommend The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg, which is a micro-history of a family bar in Buffalo, New York. For fiction, you have to find a way, and some time, to wrap yourself up in Moby Dick, which can be forbidding, but which is really a masterwork of language and plot. It's really something that can be enjoyed if you prepare for it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year, New You: Be Mindful, Be Inspired

Here is my January column that appears in this weekend's edition of The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here or elsewhere online.

A new calendar year offers many a chance to start fresh with eating right or maybe a new exercise plan.  Bookstores shelves are full of how-to books this time of year to help kick-start that process.

That’s all well and good, but many times a shift in thinking is what’s really needed.  Two great new books offer just that.

Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God  is Mary DeTurris Poust’s personal and spiritual journey about the intersection of food and faith.

“For Catholics, any conversation about the food-faith connection will always come back around to this one central theme. Ours is a faith centered on a meal,” Poust writes, and she shows in Cravings how it is vital to understand and internalize the link between our spiritual and physical well-being when it comes to food.

A big strength is that Poust’s book is both Catholic and catholic, tapping into a wide range of spiritual practices and traditions related to food and meals.  So much of our Catholic liturgical year relates to fasting and feasting, and seeing how other cultures and religious traditions share this is constructive and broadening.  Poust also shares stories of various people who have struggled with weight, food issues or spirituality related to food, and how they handle their struggles.

Cravings is more spiritual “how-to” than healthy-eating “how-to.”  Considering the many competing theories that seem to change by the week (is it paleo or vegan that’s best these days?), that seems healthy in more ways than one.

At the same time, Poust takes the time to make the case about how our modern American food promotes unhealthy lifestyles rather than healthy ones.  And her helpful appendix, “Practices for the Journey Forward,” summarizing healthy eating and lifestyle principles, is sensible and balanced without being too much.

Poust saved the best for last, in the final two chapters: “Soul Food: Turning Meals into Meditations,” and “Just Desserts: You Can Have Your Cake and Spiritual Life, Too.”  I’m not just saying that because I love dessert best of all.  Her own experiences of mindful eating, both alone and with her family, as well as her ideas for creating food rituals, are encouraging rather than daunting.

After reading Cravings, I feel motivated in many ways, and so grateful for our Catholic faith’s rhythms and rituals.  My take-away is to practice small times of mindful eating, and make more intentional and positive food rituals at our house.

Running With God Across America is decidedly not a “how-to” book about getting in shape, but many readers will find it inspiring and compelling.

Running is University of Notre Dame grad Jeff Grabosky’s account of his decision to embark, after a rough post-college time, on a cross-country run, praying for others’ intentions the entire way.

Each short chapter is titled by “day” (day 1, etc.) and covers one day of his  3,700-mile, months-long journey.  Most days he ran more than 30 miles, and he relates with openness his spiritual, physical and emotional state through many ups and downs.

“I set out on my journey to help bring our world closer to God,” writes Grabosky at the end of Running with God Across America, but it’s his own spiritual journey that takes center stage, with a endearing narrative and flow.

This book is hard to put down--I would resolve to set it aside for dishes or some other responsibility, but kept reading and telling myself, “just one more day.”

As a busy middle-aged mom (and runner), I found myself envious of two aspects of Grabosky’s trek, one serious and one kind of funny.

First, Grabosky had tons of time and personal space for prayer, while running, of course. That’s why the book reads like a retreat journal or spiritual memoir in many ways.  His spiritual highs and lows are recounted in vivid and emotional detail.

Second, food lovers will marvel as Grabosky relates the sheer amount of food he needed to eat to keep up his weight on this long run. I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so his descriptions of memorable and delicious meals stuck with me.  Talk about mindful eating.

Most people aren’t going to embark upon a solo cross-country run, though some might want to join in Grabosky’s latest effort, as he organizes the LIFE Runner's cross-country Relay for Life that begins next month.

Still, most readers will glean from Running With God Across America spiritual fruit from his journey, and be inspired to consider their own spiritual and physical life more like the real journey that it is.  Just one more day ....


Note:  I will be doing Q&As this month with both Mary DeTurris Poust and Jeff Grabosky.  My Q&A with Jeff will appear next week, and I'll be part of the blog tour for Mary's book; Reading Catholic's "stop" is scheduled for January 20.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading Catholic on the "Cravings" Blog Tour

Tomorrow, my column that appears in this weekend's edition of The Catholic Post will post here on the blog.

This year, for my traditional "new year, new you" column, I review one book about food and one book about running. --covering both those who resolve to eat healthier and those who resolve to get in shape.  Most of my resolutions this year have to do with organization, so I'm sure I will try to share books along those lines as well.

The exciting news is that one of my reviewed books, and I will be part of the blog tour for Mary DeTurris Poust's latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God.  I'm on the schedule for January 20th, which means I get to finish the blog tour.  Pretty exciting!  I'll be doing a Q&A with Mary on my date, and I look forward to reading all the other tour stops as well.

If you click on the link, (here it is again if the image doesn't work), you can see all the stops on Mary's blog tour, as well as enter to win a Williams-Sonoma gift card.

What are some of your New Year's resolutions?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Worth a Listen: Remember Your Chains by Steven Curtis Chapman

Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen".  Explanation here. 

Several weeks ago, I had an encounter with an acquaintance that left me really sad about her views.  Suffice to say that even though I pitied her, I was tempted and did indulge in feeling superior for several moments.  Then I realized, oh, hey, I pretty much was this person at her age (early 20s).  Later that night, this is the song that came into my head.
After this, I just had to laugh at myself for feeling (and trust me, I'm using the air quotes here) "better than" someone when I'm 30 years older and wiser.  Recognizing pride, especially spiritual pride, really should lead us to laugh at ourselves, don't you think?   I'm pretty sure St. Francis de Sales has a great quote about this, but I can't  find it at the moment.  Anyone else know it? When I searched for a video of the song, I found this nice reflection from Steven Curtis Chapman about how he came to write the song.  ("It's why we have to keep preaching the gospel to our own hearts"--what a great turn of phrase). Beautiful. The entire song is worth a listen as well; I've just bought it on iTunes, and I encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

First, What Are You Reading? New Year's Edition (Volume 29)

Well, I jumped the gun a little by doing my traditional new year's post several days back, so I'm going to re-post here as my "first, what are you reading?" since it's a survey about what were my favorite books of 2012, and resolutions for the new year.  I'd love to hear yours!

Faith at "Strewing"answered a series of book-related questions about the books she read this year, and that inspired me to come up with a quick list of questions related to books and invite you to share your favorites, too.

I want to clarify that I do always recommend all of the books that I review, and you can find them all in the book review tab up at the top of the blog.  (Note:  I need to add the last few months, but I resolve to do so as a year's end housekeeping).

So here is my 2012 Book Survey and Reading Resolutions for 2013.  Please share your answers on your own blog, or here in the comments if you are so inclined. Happy reading!

What was the most important/best book that you read this year?

I've got two here, and I reviewed them both in my July columnAdam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution by Mary Eberstadt and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden.  Must reads.

What book was most spiritually fruitful for you this year?

God Will Provide by Patricia Treece is a tremendous book.

What was the most enjoyable read this year?

Two memoirs come to mind.  Amy Welborn's Wish You Were Here and Colleen Carroll Campbell's My Sisters the Saints were both great reads.

Actually, I really enjoyed and found lots to ponder from all the memoirs I read this year, from Alberto Salazar's 14 Minutes to Chris Haw's From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart.  

What was the favorite book you read (or re-read) this year?

Re-reading (and reading out loud to my children) Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has been a highlight.

What are your reading resolutions for the new year?

I have three:

Get more organized. Just in the last few weeks, I've started a list for review books that I add to each time books come in with the title, author and publisher.  If I get a chance to glance through it or even read it, I give it a grade and a couple of notes about the book.

I also hope to get up to speed on GoodReads or one of the other websites to help organize reading with everything I am reading, including with the kids, and books I want to share with my husband.  For many months, I kept a book log on my phone of all the books I read--usually a dozen or more a month, yay me!-- but I've gotten out of that habit and I need to do so again.  I find it so satisfying to look back at the list of all that I have read.

Get more opinions.  I really enjoy getting to host other bloggers or other people reviewing books, and I want to make that a bigger part of Reading Catholic next year.  I really hope to tap into the local Catholic community for this, and have more voices chime in on all the great books out there.

Share more in real life.  I am determined to start an in-real-life book group again, and this one will not be about Catholic books--there, I said it!  I am definitely up for the fun I had several years back with a now-defunct Jane Austen book group.  I need that kind of talk and enjoyment with fellow readers.

What about you?  What are your favorite reads from 2012, and are you making any reading resolutions for 2013?