Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Book Survey and 2013 Reading Resolutions

Year's end is a great time to take stock of the past calendar year and make some new-year resolutions.

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 promise 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.  First, 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?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

10 Great Free or Nearly Free E-Books for Kids

This post was inspired by two of my (four) sisters.

One sister has a daughter with a Kindle and is always looking for something new to read.

The other sister has two girls who received a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and was looking for ideas of good free or nearly free books for the device.

I wanted to put out a quick list of good reads that would keep a younger reader (I'm thinking middle-grade level on up) busy for a long time.  I've chosen books that are classics and ones our family has returned to again and again.

There are so many great books in the public domain that free or nearly free reads are plentiful.  I think there are also some series and books worth spending out for, and having them in your Kindle library for reading anytime.

I can picture that my sisters, and some others, might complain, "oh, my kids have read that," but honestly, having favorite books around to read "just because" can be a really good thing.  Who said one must not re-read a great book?  Not me!

I'm only providing the Amazon links to this, since Kindle and Kindle Apps are what we use for e-reading.  If you use a Nook or read in iBooks or GoogleBooks, what is your experience with free or near-free books on those platforms?  Please share away with your experiences, and your favorites.

These are in no particular order, by the way:

1. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  I'm pretty sure I got this as a free book several years back, but I can't find a free edition.   This is 99 cents and well worthwhile

2. The Anne of Green Gables series (11 book set), $1.99 by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  This has all of the Anne books in the public domain, plus a few other LMM titles.  I think it's well worthwhile, or if you just wanted to go with the 99 cents Anne of Green Gables, you could, but why stop there?

Certain LMM titles are free on the Kindle--I think the first one we got was Rilla of Ingleside, but it shouldn't be legal to read that one first since it is very last in the series.  So go spend the $1.99 and read through the series and enjoy.

3. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.  Finally, a truly free one!  The story itself is beautiful, and after finishing you can watch one of the two really nice movie versions of this old classic, one starring Hayley Mills as Pollyanna, and one newer one that was on PBS some years back.

4. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Free.

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Free.  I like this one best of all of Burnett's books.

6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Free.  Also several good movie versions if you read through this one.

7. Betsy-Tacy Treasury (first 4 books of Betsy-Tacy editions) is $9.78.  This is really worthwhile because it is the first 4 books in the Betsy-Tacy series, at less than $2.50 each.

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  It is $6.38 on Kindle, not a bad price.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in One Volume by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Only $9, or $3 a book.  A great value.

10.  For splurging:  The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  I was shocked that the Narnia series cannot be purchased as a set, and need to be purchased inidividually at about $6.50 each.  Not bad but it does add up.

However, I see that in April Harper Collins will be releasing a complete Kindle "set" of the seven Narnia books for $50 (FIFTY DOLLARS!).  I must confess that my first reaction is WOW, that is steep!!!!!!  I hope there is a lot of great content to justify that kind of purchase, since you can purchase the entire set separately for about $45.

We only have one of the Narnia books on Kindle; when we first got our Kindle one of the kids accidentally purchased Prince Caspian, and since I didn't realize you can return a book you bought by mistake, we kept it.  We have at least three full "real book" copies of the series (just like with LOTR), and so  we don't "have to have" the Kindle version.

If a Kindle owner purchased all the books listed above (excluding the pricey Narnia series), you would spend less than $30 for a great collection of classics to enjoy again and again.  Even if you bought the nearly free ones, you would spend $3 to get a ton of classics.

I know I will be adding more books to this list, and I can think of a few right now. Which ones did I leave out?  What are some of your favorites?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kids Books for Christmas: Focus on Trusted Authors

Did you know that some families have a tradition of giving books on Epiphany instead of Christmas?

I sincerely hope families still have this tradition, because otherwise I fear this post on great Christmas books will be a little late for giving on Christmas Day itself.  Remember, though, Christmas season goes for much longer, so consider giving books after Christmas for great reading.

My general principle this year: focus on TrustedAuthorsTM.

What is a TrustedAuthorTM? I'm joking (mostly), when I make the phrase a TM. There are some writers, whether Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who can be trusted for their entire canon.  Certain authors can be relied on to write from a certain worldview that is compatible with a Catholic ethic.  I feel like I wanted to add a Trusted AuthorTM after the author's name when I write about writers like C.S. Lewis.  You can basically trust everything they have written.

Not surprisingly, most of these are not living authors, but there are a few that are go-to authors at our house, and we anxiously await each new book.  So who are some of our other TrustedAuthorsTM?  John Flanagan (for children; we discovered about a year ago that he has written some grown-up thrillers, but there’s a little too much violence in them for kids), and his  Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series; Regina Doman, who writes excellent and compelling fairy-tale retellings; and of course many more.  Most of these are known as Catholic or Christian authors, or we suspect as much because their work is entertaining and is in line with a Catholic worldview.  And of course Catholic authors writing on Catholic themes (such as saint books) also would be in this category.

Other authors we put in a “good, but be careful” category.  A good example of such an author (and there are plenty, I'm just picking one at random) is Wendy Mass.  She’s written a slew of popular middle-grade novels, most with some great themes about being yourself.  But there are some cautions about her books, and annoying things like having someone “thanking the universe” instead of God.  Since I’ve read a few of her books, I’ve been able to have some discussions with my younger readers about her style and what I don’t like about her style.

Some authors we don’t even consider--Philip Pullman, for example. We just won’t even start a book by this kind of author.

What I want for my own children is for them to love and enjoy TrustedAuthorsTM best of all, but be able to read and enjoy stories by “careful” authors with discernment.

Here are just a few good book gift suggestions that would be for Christmas, Epiphany or any other nearby giving opportunity. Consider them pre-screened for your family as wholesome, enjoyable books:

*Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by TrustedAuthorTM Ben Hatke.  My kids devoured this second in the series about Zita.  Graphic novels can be fun reading, but sometimes the illustrations can be less than appealing.  Not so Ben Hatke's works--they are delightful to read and enjoy.

*Habemus Papem: Pope Benedict XVI.  Another graphic novel, this one by Trusted AuthorTM Regina Doman, portrays the life of Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope, from his earliest days.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of manga, I really love the books by Manga Hero (Should I make a TrustedPublisherTM?).  We own and love all the Manga Hero titles.  Here’s one small thing we didn’t like about Habemus Papem (that's new from the prior Manga Hero titles): it’s written in the traditional manga fashion, so you read it from the back to the front.  This takes some getting used to, and I definitely prefer normal way.  It's still a great story and shouldn't deter people from reading it.

*The Prairie Thief by TrustedAuthorTM Melissa Wiley. Wiley writes the lovely blog “Bonny Glen” and she’s definitely a kindred spirit when it comes to reading. She loves and blogs about Betsy-Tacy, the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other TrustedAuthorsTM.  She has six children, she’s a homeschooling mom, and in all her free time she writes books, most notably the "Little House" Martha and Charlotte books.  The Prairie Thief is her latest middle-grade novel, and it's a little silly, a little sweet and all great read about prairie and family life.  Here's a wonderful review that captures what's so terrific about this book.

*Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I can't say whether or not Palacio is a TrustedAuthorTM, because this is her first book, but what a great beginning.  Palacio writes about Auggie Pullman, who has a facial deformity that prevents him from going to school--until now.  Auggie's experience of belonging and rejection is beautifully crafted. I must admit that when I started it, I thought it might be depressing or otherwise too realistic and gritty, as these kinds of modern novels for kids can be. But instead, it is a gently realistic and hopeful story.

Here are a few really excellent saint books for younger readers:

My Soul Magnifies the Greatness of the Lord: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by Bernadette Nippert and Brenda & George Nippert.  This book was very sweet!  I especially liked this for being multifaceted and having a pro-environmental theme that's not done for PC reasons but just naturally in the story and Kateri's life.  Best to order this book from Hillside Education (A TrustedVendorTM ? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?)

Juan Diego:  Mary’s Humble Messenger by Barbara Yoffie and also Kateri Tekakwitha: Model of Bravery by the same author.  These are nice little volumes with the saint stories for little ones.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Minor Revisions" for the Advent-Stressed

For the love of Christmas, I just cannot seem to keep up with Advent and Christmas.  Am I the only one?  I feel completely behind on everything this year.

Blog-wise, I will spare you just how many half-started posts I have in progress right now.  Here are just a few:  1. gift books for Christmas for adults, 2. gift books for children, 3. Christmas-themed books we love at our house, and many, many more.  It's December 20 and there are just a few days left for those posts to have any meaning, so I fervently hope to get at least a few of them finished.

What have I been doing with my online time since I was able to sit down here about half an hour ago?  Watching Episode 1 of "Minor Revisions,"  the online reality show about atheist to Catholic convert Jen Fulwiler.  Local readers will remember that Jen spoke at Behold 2011, the Catholic women's conference, and she also was a featured blogger at Behold 2012.  This was thanks to Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life (who is doing such an excellent Advent series on her blog) reminding me about the second episode online tonight.

I was traveling last Thursday night, so unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch the first episode, only available online live.  Fortunately, there was such a demand for watching it online that the producers posted it on YouTube for a short time.  So I'm taking the opportunity to watch it now.  It is super well-done and enjoyable.  Here it is, in case you haven't seen it.

I can't tell you how eager I am to read Jen's memoir when it is released, and I trust it will be just as great as reading her blog and seeing her on "Minor Revisions."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Worth a Listen: Mac Daddy by TobyMac

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

We really enjoy this song from TobyMac's newest album.  Cute!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meet a Reader: Amy Dyke

This month on "Meet a Reader" I'm happy to feature someone I've known for many years.  Amy Dyke has a new role as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  Thanks, Amy, for being willing to share your love of books with Reading Catholic!

How you know me:  I am happily married to Craig Dyke, the proud mother of five daughters and have recently begun working as the NFP Coordinator for the Diocese of Peoria.  I happen to also be one of five girls and am originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We have settled here in Peoria, quite content to be rooted in the heart of the Midwest.  St. Jude is our home parish, where we are blessed with an incredibly warm, faithful and loving community.

Why I love reading:  My spiritual director told me years ago, "the minute one stops moving forward in their spiritual journey, they're actually moving backward."  I find this to be especially true in regards to literature and spiritual reading.  I love to immerse myself in books that challenge my heart and mind, and bring me to a greater love, knowledge and understanding of Christ.  I also love reading because it's a great way for me to grow closer and connect with my husband.  In addition to books we read on our own, we love to cozy up and read to each other before going to bed.  It's a standing joke between us of who can be more animated so the other doesn't doze off to sleep.

What I'm reading now:  Saint Gianna Molla:  Wife, Mother, Doctor by Peitro Molla.  St. Gianna shines brightly for the women/wives/mothers of our day in a powerful way.  Written by Gianna's very own husband, Pietro describes Gianna's many virtues, in particular he mentions her prudence, how Gianna truly wanted to do only what the Lord wanted from her, and she did it whole-heartedly.  Gianna's simple witness speaks volumes, especially in today's fast-paced, self-centered culture.

Her devotion to God first, followed by a devoted relationship with her husband and children, allowed her to live her life in a way that was selfless, sensitive, complete.  St. Gianna wrote that "our task is to live holy the present moment," which was abundantly evident in her interior life, her family life, in her public role as a doctor.  In a culture where our children are desperately needing parents to be 'present'  (and vice-versa!), we see that the mission of the family has perhaps gotten side-tracked with an unhealthy fascination of instead being 'present' on social network sites, etc.

Technology is literally in the palm of many of our hands, and begs the question: could these fun and exciting novelties be causing families to be distracted from our mission, and lose sight of the amazing privilege and gift of authentic love to be lived out more fully within our home, within our vocation?  St. Gianna says, "our earthly and eternal happiness depends on following our vocation very carefully."  Such simplicity.  Incredibly revealing to spouses/parents in our sincere pursuit of a happy family, showing that we must take heed to nurture and protect the precious relationships within our family, under our very roofs, at all costs- recognizing that each day is a gift from God to grow closer to Him and closer to the family with which He has blessed us.

I'm also reading George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral.  Craig and I recently polished off Weigel's fascinating look at the de-Christianization of Europe and the role that secularism and government have played in seeking to wipe out their deep-rooted Christian heritage.  Weigel points out that the state of Europe should give the attentive reader pause, as we Americans can see the seeds of secularism boldly taking root in the United States today.  Drawing on Blessed John Paul II's rich understanding of God's rightful place within society, Weigel shows the stark difference of the people of the "cube" and the people of the "cathedral," and that in the end, atheistic humanism places society on a path to destruction, whereas authentic human enlightenment comes from God's illuminating presence in the world.  Written in 2005, we found Weigel's book and insights to be incredibly prophetic, especially in light of the government's recent HHS healthcare mandate being forced upon Catholic institutions throughout the U.S.  

Pope Benedict XVI: The Infancy Narratives:  Jesus of Nazareth.  We just received our Holy Father's newest book, and are excited to keep each other awake (!) and prepare well as a couple to enter into Advent more fully.  We appreciate the pointedness and direct style that our Holy Father uses in his writing, constantly seeking to bring Jesus more alive to those that are sincerely longing for truth, for Christ.

My favorite books:

G.K. Chesterton:  Orthodoxy.
Karol Wojtyla (JPII): Love and Responsibility.
St. Teresa of Avila:  Interior Castle.
St. John of the Cross:  Dark Night of the Soul.
Thomas a Kempis:  The Imitation of Christ.
Fulton Sheen: Life of Christ and Three to Get Married.
St. Francis de Sales:  Introduction to the Devout Life.
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memoirs Help Give "A Reason for Hope"

Here is my December column that appears in this weekend’s print The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Pop quiz:  why are you Catholic?

Could you tell your story in a way that makes your friend want to be Catholic, or your children glad that they are Catholic?

It’s harder than it appears at first thought, isn’t it?

And yet as St. Peter tells us, we should “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  Personal stories, more than statistics or arguments, are one of the best ways to transmit faith, whether ourselves or those closest to us.

You might be strong in your Catholic faith, or looking for a booster shot for a faith grown anemic.  Or you might be looking for a gift for someone wavering in his or her faith.  Consider one of the compelling and enjoyable newer memoirs, where others share what gives them hope.

 Here are two very different choices among recent offerings:

*My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts Campbell’s spiritual journey from nominal Catholic college student through young adulthood as she struggles with faith, work, dating, a parent’s decline, and infertility.

What keeps her moving closer to, instead of away from, her Catholic faith, are a series of women saints whose lives point the way for her to experience life fully--and fully Catholic.

Many know Campbell as a gifted author--she wrote the 2002 book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed that book, and found it well-done, but My Sisters the Saints is far richer and more compelling, because it is Campbell’s own story, shared honesty and sensitively.

I confess that I shed a few cathartic tears at Campbell’s own story, since I’ve been through similar struggles.  Her account of losing a parent over time, in particular, is handled with grace and candor.  Campbell writes warmly and well, and her book should be widely read.

*A very, very different memoir, but equally compelling, is Chris Haw’s From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism.

I have much more in common with Campbell, as I’m a cradle Catholic who never left the Church.  Chris Haw, while raised Catholic through young childhood, began his faith life as an “non-denominational” Christian, basically anti-Catholic, at the mega-church Willow Creek in the Chicago area.  But Haw’s book is hard to put down.

Learning of worship and faith life in mega-churches is interesting.  And yet, it is Haw’s journey from evangelical and anti-liturgical/anti-denominational zealot to--of all things--a faithful, liturgical Catholic that makes this book fascinating.

For a non-theologian like me, some of the middle chapters of From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart are a little too theology-rich (or theology-laden, depending on your tolerance for straight theology).  I wish there had been a bit extra “personal story” in those middle chapters. The story of how Haw and his young family live their faith radically in a poverty-stricken area of Camden, New Jersey, is remarkable, and I wish there were more about how they live it out, day to day.

Still, I read each chapter with interest and attention.  Haw’s voice challenges one to “think different” about the meaning of Catholicism.  His perspective is radically unique, like a kind of Dorothy Day for the millennial generation (and even those of us just  a bit older than that).  Most of us are not called to live or worship the way Haw does, but reading about it prompts questions and challenges about how we do live out our Catholic faith.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My St. Nicholas Day Present--Radiate by Colleen Swaim

I was so grateful when Bonnie Engstrom of "A Knotted Life" (as part of her Advent series) asked me to write about Advent traditions in our family.  I must have been feeling a little discouraged when I wrote about not being well-prepared for Advent, because it was very encouraging for me to have the   chance to articulate what we do well this time of year.

I write about "go with your strengths" and our family's strength, of course, is using books to celebrate Advent and Christmastime.  The one book I featured was The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan and beautifully illustrated by Judith Brown.  We finally read our copy of The Miracle of St. Nicholas  until after dinner, but it was a nice quiet after-dinner time.  There was a lot of chocolate eaten today (including by me!)

But my St. Nicholas Day present (a surprise, and welcome surprise!) came in the mail this afternoon--when I picked up the mail and saw a copy of Radiate: More Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim.

I am a huge Colleen Swaim fan since I read her first book Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints.  It's a book intended for teen readers, but I loved and all my kids (8-13 at the time) loved it.  I've given it as a gift multiple times, and everyone I've given it to or recommended it to has loved it, without exception.  I reviewed Ablaze here (calling it a "gem") and interviewed Colleen here.  I hope to have another Q&A with Colleen again soon, since she is willing. Look for that here soon!

I've been anxiously awaiting this book's release ever since I saw it had a November 1 release date, and actually planned to review it for my November print column in The Catholic Post.  The publisher told me it was a little delayed, so I held off so I could review it for my December gift books column.  Unfortunately, I wanted to be absolutely sure it was officially available, so that prevented me from reviewing it for my December column, which appears in this weekend's Post.

But I was really, truly excited to see in the mail this afternoon a hot-off-the-presses copy of Radiate.  Now do you believe me that I am really into books? :-)

This isn't actually a review of the book, since one of the kids has run off with it.  From my first look at it, it looks just as handsome and well-produced as Ablaze, with both new and well-loved saints.  Review soon!  In the meantime, if you need a book suggestion for a tween or teen reader, Radiate is your book.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Worth a Listen: O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Sixpence None the Richer

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

We are well into the first week of Advent, and I hope to share some good Advent (not Christmas yet!) songs to help keep us in the Advent frame of mind.

I've enjoyed Sixpence None the Richer since my husband introduced the band to me in the 90s, and other than Leigh Nash's voice, I like best the way they got their name.

What are you doing to mark Advent this year?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Catholic App Spotlight: My Year of Faith

I have been a bad Twitter user in recent weeks (For those of you on Twitter, I'm @ReadingCatholic and I'd love to connect with you there).

I've been on Twitter very rarely lately, even with the excellent TweetDeck desktop. Officially, Twitter can be a time-waster, but when I am there I invariably learn some great things from the links people share.  Lately, I've been feeling too "busy" and harried with my to-do list, both online and off, to be able to spend any time on Twitter, or figuring out Pinterest, or any of the other social media goals I have.

But last Friday, I was procrastinating/trying to get my writing juices flowing, in the hopes of finishing a post on Advent books, when I decided to spend a few minutes on Twitter, just checking in and tweeting a few things.  I retweeted some great articles shared, and also an article from the last issue of The Catholic Post about my friend Amy Dyke, the new NFP coordinator.

One of the articles I saw tweeted was "Who Is Your St. Andrew?"  It's well worth a quick read if you have a minute.

The article was posted on a site called "My Year of Faith," and in exploring that I discovered that it is actually an App called "My Year of Faith" produced by Little iApps.  I've written about Confession, one of the first Apps produced by Little iApps, as well as one of their Novena apps here.   I really do use these Apps to aid in my own prayer life, as well as that of my kids.  I'd have to say that  the Universalis App on my iPhone is my most-used App, but I do use fairly often the various Little iApps that I have.

I've just downloaded My Year of Faith (a bargain at 99 cents) so I can't give a review yet, but I like what I see in the iTunes description and since I have found apps by Little iApps to be useful, well-designed and edifying.

Do you know of any other Apps for The Year of Faith? How are you using your phone or tablet to help you live out the Year of Faith?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 28

Here are the questions I ask and answer on the first of each month.  The questions, as always, are:

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 or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?

Thornton Wilder:  A Life by Penelope Niven, a brand-new biography of the playwright and author.  Niven had unprecedented access to Wilder family letters and papers in writing the book.

I'm slowly making my way through reading aloud  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with the younger kids.  We are almost finished with The Fellowship of the Ring.

What do you like best about it?

I picked up Thornton Wilder at the new book shelf of the library after a book I'm highlighting as a good kids book features his play Our Town.  Our Town was a favorite of and oft-quoted by my late father.  He was fond of saying with a wry smile to one of us daughters at various times, "You're pretty enough for all ordinary purposes."  This was emphatically not a put-down, as it's a famous line from the play.  My dad also loved The Bridge at San Luis Rey, probably Wilder's most famous novel, as do I.

I very much enjoyed reading how Wilder's family spent part of his childhood in China, as well as the time he spent at boarding school in China away from his family. (He was required to write long letters to his family every Sunday, which gives me ideas).  There must be something about spending part of one's childhood in a foreign country that makes for great writers.  I can think off the top of my head of Rumer Godden and Jean Fritz, and I'm sure there are many others.

What do you like least about it?

I'm sure I won't finish Thornton Wilder--I'm about halfway through-- but what I have read has been great.

I both love and don't love reading The Fellowship of the Ring aloud.  Reading aloud is the best and most connected way to share a book in a family, but it is hard work.

I have so far resisted getting an audiobook version so we could all listen together, or let my nine-year-old read it to himself.  He has mentioned reading it to himself a few times, and he certainly could.  But there truly is nothing to having a book read aloud, and by reading it aloud myself I am learning much more from Tolkein's excellent writing, as well as highlighting quotes.

The reason I resist having us just read the books individually is that we are all really fast readers.

Case in point:  this week, when my nine-year-old was looking for a good book, I gave him my childhood copy of The 21 Balloons by William Pene Dubois, a Newberry winner from the mid-20th century.  He had not read it before, and when he looked a little dubious, I challenged him to give it 30 minutes and if he didn't like it, he  could put it aside.

Forty-five minutes later, I called the kids for lunch.  He came walking in reading it (breaking our family rule, "no reading & walking" as I tell kids on the walk home from the library, trying to train them for not texting & driving).  He was already nearly halfway through the book.  Total time for him to finish the book?  Less than two hours.

I know this is technically a "good problem to have" but I find it super annoying, in a sort of funny way, and I told him so.  I already have enough trouble keeping older kids in books that are well-written and good!    More importantly, I have been concerned in the past that kids are not comprehending anything they read, getting through books so quickly, but I have found that comprehension is not a problem.  For instance, I asked him to tell me about The 21 Balloons, and he talked intelligently about the book for five minutes until I had to answer the phone.

Even though he was able to relate the plot and interesting vignettes from the book, I still feel we all miss out by reading too quickly.  Sometimes I try to slow myself down by taking notes of a book.  Reading aloud, especially with a classic like The Lord of the Rings, is completely worthwhile.

What's next on your list?

Finishing The Lord of the Rings.

So many review books have come in lately I feel a bit overwhelmed, so I'm sure I will be taking some time in the next month to organize what I've got and try to map out the next few months.

What are you reading this month?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Traditions for Advent and Christmas

I'm excited to share that I've been invited to be part of the Advent series hosted by Bonnie at A Knotted Life.   Kicking off the series this Sunday will be Lisa Hendey.  I truly look forward to following along with it, and of course I'm delighted to be included among the bloggers writing guest posts.  I will be writing for the feast of St. Nicholas.

As a little sneak preview, I am writing about--surprise, surprise--books for Advent and Christmastime.

But I wanted to share here in a more general way how I have used books during Advent, as well as offer some resources and suggestions.  After I wrote in part of my November column for The Catholic Post about some newer books to help keep Advent well, I realize that literature (and for kids in particular, picture books)  can be just as good as devotional works, to get in the spirit of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Here are some of the nuts & bolts of how we use literature during Advent at our house.

I keep a basket of Advent- and Christmas-themed books tucked away in a closet.   I’ve kept this basket for years, and added to it over time via book sales, library cast-offs and Barnes & Noble “after Christmas” (though during Christmas season) sales. There are perhaps a dozen books that we truly treasure, but the rest are seasonal enough to hold interest and keep us reading.  There are about 50 books in our Advent/Christmas book basket, and I usually also order a lot of other books from the library, either new ones, or old classics we don't own.   So there is plenty to read this time of year.

I began the Advent/Christmas basket of books when my oldest (now 15!) was a toddler.  I learned about the tradition from Catholic moms on various e-groups (in the Wild West, before we got all our great ideas from blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest).

At that time, some moms shared on the e-groups about how they wrapped (sometimes in liturgically correct purple or pink) each one of the books well ahead of Advent, and then unwrapped one each day of Advent and Christmastime.  

That idea makes me tired just thinking about it, so needless to say that has never happened here.   I used to have some guilt, like I wasn’t quite “mom” enough to pick out and wrap dozens of books.  Now that I’m a little wiser, I leave that behind.

In reality, I feel accomplished simply that I am able to keep those books tucked away all year and bring out the basket at the beginning of Advent.

I won't list all the books in our family's basket (though I will share one special book on Bonnie's blog next week, and a few others later in Advent here).  For one, I think there are fewer than a dozen that we cherish.  Mostly, though, it's because so many moms over the years have made some great lists that I don't need to re-invent the wheel.

Here are just a few sources if you are interested in starting this tradition at your house:

*Elizabeth Foss, whose endless energy and generosity has enriched her own family and shared freely with other families great book suggestions and themes, takes special care with Advent.

*Mary Ellen Barrett has a blog devoted to keeping Advent at O Night Divine.  Here are some of her many, many book suggestions.

*Jessica at Shower of Roses has a nicely curated list of Advent books (and trust me, I hold nothing but admiration for her for actually wrapping the books, God bless her).

*for those who would like a book rather than a web resource, Cay Gibson’s amazing Christmas Mosaic  has a list of dozens of books, crafts, recipes and other ideas for making Advent and Christmastime special for families.

Picture books and Christmas-themed literature are unique and wonderful to move and inspire us during this season of preparation, and then as we celebrate Christmas.

Do you have an Advent and Christmastime book tradition?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Envoy for Christ: Patrick Madrid in Peoria

Patrick Madrid is coming to Peoria later this week, speaking on Evangelization and Apologetics (visit this Facebook page for more information and how to register)

I'm super disappointed that I won't be one of the many people to attend Patrick's talk this weekend and get the chance to meet him.   Our family has multiple conflicts Friday and Saturday.  But many of my friends will be there to hear him speak, and I look forward to hearing all about it from them.

But I am happy to be able to write about Patrick Madrid's newest book, Envoy for Christ: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist.  I've had a copy for awhile, but didn't get the chance to read through it until about a month ago.

I've read Patrick Madrid's work since I subscribed to Envoy magazine back in the 1990s.  I have always enjoyed his work, and loved the magazine and found it a great way to grow my faith as a young mom.  I recall the Top 10 lists, quizzes, or other humor that were great for a laugh.  The graphic design and "feel" to the magazine was first-rate.

Madrid has a popular blog that I admit I don't visit often enough, as it's a great resource and source of reflection and encouragement.  (Note to Patrick Madrid: add an e-mail subscribe button to your blog!).  It's just top-notch.

I must confess that one of the reasons that I didn't turn to the book is concern it wouldn't be as great as I remembered Envoy magazine to be.   Maybe it wouldn't measure up to my memories, like going back to the house you grew up in and finding it much different.

But Envoy for Christ is great.  I recommend it highly.  It's especially good for busy moms and dads who might not have time to read a full-length book, but would benefit from the short chapters on different subjects Madrid tackles.

Envoy for Christ would also be appealing to people like me, who might have fond memories of reading Envoy back in the day, or who have following Patrick Madrid through his radio show or elsewhere.  Madrid tells the story of how he got into the "apologetics" business (can I call it a business?), and I love hearing those kinds of stories.

In addition, Envoy for Christ would be great just to have around the house for younger people to pick up.  At our house, I will often tell others, "this is a really good book," and then leave it out for them to pick up when they get the chance.  Often this leads to great discussions.

My one quibble with Envoy for Christ is that I wish it were a little more well-sourced.  After many of the chapters, where the essay originally appears is listed--perhaps Envoy or another catechetical magazine.  But some are not sourced, and so it leaves me hanging a little--is that from his blog, or some online writing, or is this original to that book?

Otherwise, this is a terrific read.

One humorous aside: while writing this post, several times I  mistakenly wrote "Envy" instead of "Envoy," and since it's a word, it wasn't auto-corrected.  I had to chuckle a little at a book titled, "Envy for Christ."   I think I caught all of my too-fast typing mistakes, but in case I didn't, there you go.

Are you going to see Patrick Madrid this weekend?

Worth A Listen: Forgiveness by Matthew West

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

For some reason, every time I hear this song I think about Confession.

It's time to make an effort to go, as we head into Advent and Christmastime.   Advent or just before Advent is a great time to schedule a time to get to this great Sacrament.  Consider yourself reminded, and I will do the same.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Worth a Listen: Revelation Song by Phillips, Craig & Dean

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

I had another song cued up for this morning (I'll save that for another Wednesday), when at Mass this morning, I head the first reading proclaimed.

I immediately thought, I know the song I should feature!  I can actually be liturgically appropriate for today.  So I rushed (unsuccessfully) to get home before 7 a.m. (when the other song was scheduled to post), to post this one instead.

The first reading, like all this week in the days leading up to the feast of Christ the King this Sunday, is from the Revelation to John.  Here is part of it:

The four living creatures, each of them with six wings,
were covered with eyes inside and out.
Day and night they do not stop exclaiming:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come."
Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks
to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
the twenty-four elders fall down
before the one who sits on the throne
and worship him, who lives forever and ever.
They throw down their crowns before the throne, exclaiming:

"Worthy are you, Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created."

And I thought of a song we are hearing on the radio a lot these days, "Revelation Song."   The video above, which features a bit of the song, shows the band describing how the song is powerful in moving people.  I agree.

Our family tries to read the Mass readings in the morning, taking turns reading.  Our kids sometimes bicker about who gets to do what, lest you imagine a holy scene at the breakfast table.

Every few weeks, a reading or responsorial Psalm will remind us of a song we hear on our local Christian radio station.  I do like this, as it helps reinforce how steeped we are in Scripture as Catholics, and how worship music and some Christian music can aid our prayer life and knowledge of Scripture.

(A humorous aside:  just yesterday, the kids read the Mass readings as I was driving my teenager to a friend's  house, and when she finished the Gospel about Jesus encountering Zaccheus, I immediately launched into, "Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.")

This week, as we lead up to the Feast of Christ the King, the Church's readings point towards the last things, the end of the world, to prepare us for the beginning of the liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent.  My theologian husband told me once that there's an old church tradition/hope that the Lord will return in glory on the feast of Christ the King.

One of the band members says in the video about the song, "We felt passionate about the song. When I hear that song, whatever circumstance I am in, it takes me to that place.  And where is that place?  It's in the presence of Jesus Christ."

As Catholics, we have the knowledge that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.  So when we visit Jesus, whether in a time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or just a quick prayer time at a Church, we are in a very special way in that Presence.  Meditating on this song, too, can help dispose us to worship:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Q&A With Sister Helena Burns, Author of "He Speaks to You"

As I wrote in my October column, Sister Helena Burns is an expert on media literacy and Theology of the Body, a Catholic new media maven, and a great friend to the Peoria diocese, speaking here often and living in nearby Chicago.  Turns out she’s also a gifted author, writing the excellent and deceptively simple daily book for young women, He Speaks to You

Sister Helena, who is often busy at her own blog, Hell Burns, or on Twitter, graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me here.  Thanks, Sister, and thank you for your great book.

Q.  Sister Helena, tell Catholic Post readers more about you, your religious community, and your work.

The Daughters of St. Paul are an international congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelizing with the media. We try to use as many forms of media as possible, and now with the new media, we’re like kids in a candy store. When I was discerning my vocation, I was very drawn to sharing the Faith and helping people in spiritual pain (like I had been), and I thought: “What better way to bring God directly into someone’s heart and mind than through a book, a song, a magazine, a film?” I also loved that the Daughters had a kind of “mixed life”: contemplatives in action. Even though we’re an active order, we have approximately 3 hours of prayer each day, including an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, which was very important to me. Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, wanted us to “share the fruits of our contemplation in action.”

Q.  You write in the introduction: “The sisters and I have long talked about wanting to find a way to share ...basic principles of the interior life and how to live them in daily life.”   Why do you think this is so important, for young women in particular?

My Sisters and I often meet young women who want to pray more, go deeper with Jesus, but don’t always know how. Often they say: “I pray, but He doesn’t talk back.” We knew that if we could share some of the basics of prayer, of how the spiritual life “works,” we could really help young women not become discouraged, or give up on their interior life. Although each of our relationships with Jesus is unique, still, there are patterns that saints and mystics, spiritual masters and spiritual directors have identified that are universal.

I believe young women in particular need to look to and develop their interior lives because there really is a “war on women” today (but it’s the exact opposite of what the media says it is)! 

Ever since the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation Movement, women have been encouraged to think and act like men interiorly and exteriorly. Women are told to squelch their essential feminine nature (body and soul) because it is “weak, irrational and limiting.” Women’s gifts (the feminine genius) are devalued, most of all by women themselves! But women are naturally “receptive,” (body and soul). We are receptive to men and to new life, but first of all to the Infinite, and we teach men and children how to be receptive to God. 

Women are supposedly “more religious” than men (the world over), but can we say that of our young women today? I’m afraid many (young and older) women’s “radar” is broken today. We don’t know what it means to be a woman. We don’t know our own identity in Christ, in Mary (the New Creation: the New Adam and the New Eve). But our radar can be fixed! It’s IN us. “He Speaks to You” is my little attempt to help “fix women’s radar.”

Q.  How long did it take you to write the book?

Approximately two years, very part time. Which was great because new ideas sprung up all along the way.

Q.  How did you come up with the themes for every month?

We tried to cover the essentials of a ground floor for the building of an “interior castle”!

Q. Was it difficult to write any one part of the book?  I enjoyed in particular the “speaking” quotes beginning each day from Jesus, and I wondered if it would be difficult to write so many.

I’m probably going to have an “extended stay” in Purgatory for putting words in Jesus’ mouth! A priest got it right, though, when he guessed: “Sister, is this how YOU hear Jesus?” Jesus is always comforting and challenging at the same time when He speaks to me, and I think that might be a universal for how He speaks to everyone. 

He also has a sense of humor. I think probably one of our biggest sins is to take the unimportant things too seriously, and the important things not seriously enough. Actually, Jesus’ parts in the book were the easiest to write. I’m REALLY hoping the Holy Spirit had a big hand in that, because I was asking Him to!

Q. Do you have a favorite section of the book?

I think it’s the month of October--dedicated to Our Lady--because the BVM is my BFF. I loved learning about her different titles and apparitions and sharing them in the book.

Q. What do you recommend as one or two good ways for a young woman to make the interior life and prayer a reality in our culture’s busy lifestyles?

Fidelity to daily prayer is essential. Sporadic prayer is like a sporadic relationship. You never really get to know the other person. There is NO other way.

Q.  You are busy with so many projects.  Anything in particular you’d like to share as particularly noteworthy?

We’re doing a 90-minute documentary on the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione. We’ve finished shooting, laying audio and are now completing the visuals. A rough cut is due January 25, 2013. We’re still fundraising for it and have a pledge of a $10,000 matching grant if we can raise that by December 31! The trailer can be watched (in 10 languages so far) at  and donations can be made securely on the website. 

GIFTS for donations to the Fr. Alberione Film (from November 1--December 31) are:

$20 donation--Fr. A medal

$50 donation--Fr. A medal and DVD when completed

$500 donation--Fr. A medal, book (biography), and DVD when completed

$1,000 donation--Fr. A medal, book, DVD, and 12" resin statue.

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

Yes, the question would be:  “If you were to write the same book today, would you do anything differently?” (I wrote it about four years ago.) 

The answer?  Yes. I would make it even more mushy, lovey-dovey with Jesus and stuff it with even MORE Theology of the Body. Women need to go to Jesus FIRST for their love, self-esteem, self-dignity and to feel beautiful. THEN go to your earthling guy. God’s love never changes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Worth a Listen: Blessed John Paul Autotuned

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

HT Hell Burns, the blog of Sister Helena Burns.  The maker of this video is asking for suggestions about other videos to autotune, and some of the commenters suggested Cardinal Dolan's prayer at the end of the Democratic National Convention.

This reminds me a little of a video (I didn't actually realize it was a video until I Googled it.  I have the audio version in iTunes from way back when BXVI was elected, and a French girl living with us at that time shared it with me).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are You Ready for Advent?

Truth be told, I’m not. I usually dig out the Advent wreath well after Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, and we don’t light it every day.  I confess we’ve been uneven in our use of a Jesse tree.

Does it count that for the last few years, I have gotten the kids a Trader Joe’s chocolate calendar and they open a door every day of December?

I thought not.  

I know Advent is a great time of preparation, so I’m hoping for better success this year.

Here are some new books in case you, too, might need some fresh ideas to make Advent a time of joyful preparation:

*Father Gary Caster, a priest of the diocese of Peoria, has a new St. Therese-inspired book out:   The Little Way of Advent: Meditations in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Father Caster’s latest book, like his previous title The Little Way of Lent, provides for each day (in this case, of Advent) a Scripture passage, a reflection and a little quote from St. Therese.  For those who love Father Caster’s preaching style and his prolific writing, The Little Way of Advent does not disappoint.

(Go here to read my Q&A with Father around the time that I reviewed The Little Way of Lent).

*A Catholic Family Advent: Prayers and Activities by Susan Hines-Brigger offers family-centric activities, reflections and Scripture for each day of Advent.  I especially liked the “talk together” portion to spark conversation, perhaps around the dinner table, before lighting the aforementioned Advent wreath.

*Lisa Hendey has a slim new volume O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath, with short, very do-able reflections for most, and also some for younger children, for each day of the Advent season.

*Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Vincent de Paul by John E. Rybolt, provides short reflections and quotes from the writings of St. Vincent de Paul, particularly focusing on the saint's reputation as "the Apostle of Charity."

The above appeared in this weekend's edition of The Catholic Post on the book page.  Even as I wrote it, I began to realize that our family does "do" Advent a wee bit better than just the Trader Joe's chocolate calendar.  And does it not surprise you that the way we excel at keeping Advent and Christmastime is through books?

So in addition to trying to make some of these new books part of my Advent tradition, I also plan to take a look (as we get closer to Advent) at some of our favorite classic Advent/Christmas books--including many picture books--that might help you keep Advent well, too.  Watch for a special series of posts as Advent draws closer.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Meet a Reader (and Writer): John Kelly

Here is the monthly feature from this weekend's print edition of The Catholic Post called "Meet a Reader."  As I do from time to time, I feature a local author in these pages as well.  Thanks so much to John Kelly for agreeing to be featured in The Post and for sharing about his new book, The Other Law of Moses.

How you know me:  I was born in Peoria.  I attended St. Thomas grade school & Bergan High.  I’ve been in the financial services industry for thirty-six years.  I am widowed from Nancy and married to Amy.  We have four grown children and one grandchild.  I’m still active in my parish (St. Thomas), and Amy and I have headed up our parish’s Great Adventure Bible Studies for the last six years.  I’ve also been active in the Cursillo, and in the Diocesan Vocation Support Group.  Amy teaches at Holy Family School in Peoria.  I enjoy reading as well as writing.  Last January, I published my first book, The Other Law of Moses. I have also published several articles about the intersection between our faith and practical, widespread prosperity.

Why I love reading:  I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction, but I like non-fiction best.  It might be history, politics, biography or Catholicism, but I’m usually into a book that will broaden me, and hopefully challenge me.  There is so much to learn, and I believe the answers to most of our problems are already out there.  On the other hand, I also enjoy a good mystery or thriller, or even poetry. Perhaps another reason I love reading is that I love to see what truly talented wordsmiths can do with our wonderful language.

What I’m reading now:   True to form, it’s non-fiction.  I’m in the middle of Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.  I just finished The True Gold Standard by Lewis Lehrman, the author of Lincoln at Peoria.  Before that, it was Father Robert Sirico’s excellent book, Defending the Free Market – The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

My book:  I wrote The Other Law of Moses about the economic Law inside the Law of Moses, and how well that great, but mostly unknown gift, worked.  The Law brought about great general prosperity, and made ancient Israel the world’s first middle-class nation.  The book follows God’s people through their cycles of compliance and non-compliance with the “Land Law,” as I call it.  I even suggest that Jesus spoke of this Law often; that his followers understood what he was saying about it, but that we do not.  The ending highlights the uncommon prosperity many places in the world enjoy where parts of this Law are practiced.  Surprisingly, these places are unaware of the ancient pedigree their successful economic rules have.

My favorite books:  Progress and Poverty by Henry George, written in 1879, is at the top of my list.  Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also up there.  More recent favorites are Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. The surprises and answers in the Bible continue to astound me.  And the list would not be complete without Michael Novak’s excellent The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cultivating Prayer, The Dominican Way

Here is my November column from this weekend's print edition of The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback.

“Without prayer, there is no chance for success in this world.”

Kind of grabs you, doesn’t it?  That was my reaction when I began to read the beautifully produced and spiritually rich new book from Paraclete Press, How to Pray the Dominican Way:  Ten Postures, Prayers and Practices that Lead Us to God by Angelo Stagnaro.

Stagnaro refreshes, without changing the essence of, St. Dominic’s “Nine Ways of Prayer,” a classic spiritual work, adding  on a 10th way of contemplative prayer.  (He describes the 10th way as an outflow of the other nine). Stagnaro wishes to convey in the book that our bodies can dispose our souls to great strides in prayer and closeness to the Lord, if we take the time to learn and practice these ancient postures and gestures.

I was actually unaware of “The Nine Ways of Prayer,” a short volume written by St. Dominic as a description of his ways to pray before the Lord, but what a treasure!  The nine ways are deceptively simple (for example, praying by prostrating, or  praying with hands raised), but rich in wisdom for growth in the spiritual life.

Stagnaro’s book updates St. Dominic’s ideas with a fresh eye and a mature spirituality born of his longtime work as a catechist.  In this volume, Stagnaro wants to fulfill the Dominican motto, “to hand the fruits of contemplation on to others.”  It offers a step-by-step guide as well as takes readers on a spiritual journey.

What I think makes How to Pray the Dominican Way especially worthwhile is that the high quality of printing paper; the just-right size of the lovely font (along with plenty of white space on each page), as well as the size of the book itself, makes it a joy to read.  It feels great in your hand, it’s  handsome to read, and therefore creates an atmosphere conducive to spiritual reading and growth.

Sometimes books have great content but can lack a certain polish. E-books can be convenient, and in general I’m no snob for “only” real books.  But while I recommend all sorts of books, it’s a real pleasure to recommend one so beautifully produced (and real) as How to Pray the Dominican Way.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Worth a Listen: "Busted Heart" by For King & Country

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Electoral College and Voting

After Mass this morning, I took our younger kids to go and vote.  I'm always so grateful for the opportunity to vote.  I was personally surprised at how easy the ballot was this year in our district.  Both our (excellent) state Senator and state Representative ran unopposed--I liked getting to show the kids how I could only vote for one person in quite a few races.

The kids got stickers, too!  As a side note, our youngest really, really wants the chance for kids to vote.  We are all wearing our stickers proudly.

We've had some discussions in recent days about the electoral college, and what that means. I subscribe to the lovely blog Like Mother, Like Daughter and a recent post  gave some ideas and links to help kids (and grown-ups!) learn about the electoral college, and work to call the election one way or another.  So we are taking a little break today from regular schoolwork, and our very halting start at kids NaNoWriMo, to do math, geography and other subjects via politics.

We printed off multiple copies of this map, and right now the kids are working to color in the likely states for each candidate.  They are using the Real Clear Politics website's predictions as a start, because there are so many "toss-ups" listed, and it gives us the opportunity to check the latest polls and make our own predictions. 

Our 12-year-old just pointed out, "Romney has more states, but Obama has states with more elecctoral votes."    They are just getting to their predictions, but the Real Clear Politics site provides many, many polls for each state, so the kids will have a chance to see who's likely to win each of those states.  After discussions about the margin of error in polling, the nine-year-old has decided to flip a coin for each toss-up state; not a bad plan. 

After they finish this map, they will start on a new set of maps based on the FiveThirtyEight blog, run by Nate Silver for the New York Times (note to self: make a request at the library his new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail, But Some Don't--I've heard an interview or two with him and keep meaning to check out the book).  

The Five Thirty Eight map is more "filled in" (for some time, it has been calling the race for Obama) and I will be interested to see whether the kids' predictions match Silver's own predictions. 

I took the time to do some reading up on both websites, and from what I can tell they are both reputable as far as details.  The former leans conservative; the latter leans liberal.  Regardless of their political bent, the sites seem well-respected by most, and by each other.

Kind of late to the party, I have (just today, if I'm being honest!), put on hold a number of youth books at the library about the electoral college and presidential politics.  Doing so reminds me about one of our favorite authors, Jean Fritz, who has written many, many excellent books about American history and presidents.  I love everything I've read of hers, but probably my favorite is Homesick: My Own Story, her memoir of living in China as a child.  She is still writing books; here's a look at her book newly published last year about Alexander Hamilton.   If I'm still alive at 95 years old, I hope I am still writing.

Have you voted yet?  Are you doing anything special to mark today? 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 27, The All Saints/Marathon Edition

Happy Feast of All Saints!   Be sure to celebrate in style this great feast of the Church.

I'm interrupting my marathon story (here are Part 1 and Part 2) to post my monthly "what are you reading?" questions, with a focus on a book about someone who probably is a saint, as well as one book about running by a prayerful young man.

The questions, as always, are:

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 or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?

I actually read Jeff Grabosky's book Running With God Across America back in the summer, but I want to feature it now, because Jeff is a fellow LIFE Runner.  I also plan to do a Q&A with him in the future since he's agreed to do one.

I'm also in the midst of Leonie Martin:  A Difficult Life by  Marie Baudouin-Croix.

What do you like best about them?

I most enjoy Jeff Grabosky's voice and honesty in talking about his spiritual journey in Running With God Across America. 

Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life is quite moving.  I had read before in an article about Leonie that some believe that she, almost more than Therese, deserves formal recognition as a saint.  I'm not sure about that, but reading about her mental health issues and how she worked to overcome them and persist in seeking to fulfill her vocation has brought me to tears on several occasions.

What do you like least?

I am surprised at how much I enjoyed all of Running With God Across America.  I receive a lot of review copies of self-published books, and the vast majority have major issues, whether style, content or grammar/typo issues.  Jeff's book, while self-published, genuinely reads like a memoir from any major publisher.  I'm not sure if he had a great helpful editors or friends read through it, or just has a gift, or both.  He's a great writer and the story flows.

Leonie Martin was written in the French, and sometimes the translation  feels a little awkward.  It's easy to overcome, and certainly worthwhile to know more about this member of the Martin family.

What's next on your list to read?

I have a huge stack of books that are possibilities for my December column featuring good gift books.  So many great choices, but I'm on the lookout for more.  If you know of any great newer books that would also make great Christmas presents, please comment here or send me a tweet.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

LIFE Runners Marathon, Part 2: Race So As to ... Finish

You can read Part 1 of my marathon story, "High Five!" here.

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians (9:24) that all runners in a race run, but only one receives the prize, and we should run for the prize.

In running a marathon or a half-marathon, all finishers receive a medal, so perhaps the prize becomes “to finish.”  In fact, each person running a race will have a unique goal or "prize."

For instance, a few of the LIFE Runners racing in St. Louis had ambitious goals, such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is very difficult: you can see the time cut-offs for this year

When I had the chance to visit with some of my fellow runners at the pre-race banquet, I found a multitude of goals: having fun, going for a specific time; running "not just for myself" (a LIFE Runner from Massachusetts told me this goal); finishing my first half-marathon; finishing my first marathon; being a witness to life.

I think all the LIFE Runners were excited to be there as part of the largest charity group running the St. Louis marathon and half.  I know I was; this was my first time being part of a charity group for a run (I'm normally in the category of "run for myself"!), and it was terrific.

My personal overall goal (in addition to my LIFE Runners participation) for the marathon was not a time goal, but rather a positive experience.

The marathon I ran last year was difficult.  I loved the course; it was a trail marathon, not at all technical and very beautiful; and the race series was well-organized and small.  On purpose, I chose my first marathon with a super-long time limit, to ensure that I would finish (there was also a 50-mile race at the same time, so I had 12 hours to finish!)   But I struggled mightily the last nine miles, and that’s a long time to be struggling.

I was determined to have a more positive experience this time, and improve my time if I could.  I could write many paragraphs about this, but suffice to say that I trained much more this year, and tried to be careful about everything from nutrition to strength training.  As in the past, I’ve used a book called Marathoning for Mortals by John Bingham and Jenny Hatfield, but I was much more “by the book” this time, especially for my taper--the last several weeks of reduced mileage and training before the actual race.

But I also tried to do “more. “  For instance, last year I did only one 20-mile long run in training, and this year I ran that distance twice (the second time was actually 21 miles, as I had misjudged mileage that day).

Even with all my training, my times this year were a lot slower for pretty much every run, whether long or short, from the same time last year.  So before the marathon I was pretty sure a better time might not be achievable.  So the "better experience" was top of the list.

Race day was beautiful--nice and cool to start.  I walked over from our hotel, about a mile away from the start, with several runners who had run many Rock'n'Roll events, so I got a lot of good stories from them and encouragement for doing the full marathon.

After a bit of looking around, I found the LIFE Runners group for the pre-race prayer service.  LIFE Runner leader Rob Rysavy gave a reflection concluding with “No one runs alone today... You are all LIFE Runners.”   He encouraged us to pray for life and those affected by abortion while we ran.  I wish I had taken better notes, but the pre-race jitters were beginning to build.

Then we all prayed the LIFE Runners Creed.  It was very powerful to pray it out loud with such a large group.  If it's hard to read it in this photo, read it on the LIFE Runners website.  It's a powerful prayer, one I'm convinced was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Then I got a photo with a new friend, fellow LIFE Runner, Amy G, (who incidentally went on to run a very strong half-marathon).  At the banquet the night before, I kept thinking, "I know her!"  So after the program, I went up to introduce myself.  It turns out she and her (now) husband went to Bradley University in central IL  She had also babysat for some local families that I know a little, so we may have encountered each other during her Peoria days.

At the race start, there was a nice sunrise behind the Arch.

Both half and full marathon runners started at the same time, but in “waves,” (several hundred runners starting a minute apart) so I had plenty of time to wait and visit with many other runners.  I loved this couple (who were actually married 2 weeks before, and were running the half together that day):

The race officially started at 7 a.m., but they delayed the start to 7:05, and since I was in a later corral for my "wave" I didn’t start running until about 7:30.

True confession:  in the days before the race,  I had a moment or two of nervousness about wearing the LIFE Runners t-shirt; what if there might be abortion supporters who would say or do mean things as I ran?  I didn't seriously think something violent would happen, but also didn’t relish the idea of having to argue with people.  In reality, and on race day, I had nothing but positive feedback from fellow runners, especially the many LIFE Runners that I encountered along the run, but so many others.

Once I started running, however, I had a growing concern about any post-abortion women who somehow felt judged by the t-shirt saying “Remember the Unborn” on the back.  Part of me thought as I ran, that I should have tacked on a note with “Healing After Abortion” and a web address to Project Rachel.

There were several women LIFE Runners I met Saturday night who have had abortions (and who wore their t-shirts in the race Sunday morning), and I wish I would have thought ahead to talk to them about it, and find out their thoughts.   As it was, I made a special effort to pray for any women (or men) running who had been involved with abortion in any way, and for healing for them.

The half-marathon portion of the race was great--there were more than 11,000 runners in that part, so I was always surrounded by people, and here and there a few LIFE Runners, and some other people who wanted to chat.  A Rock’n’Roll race has bands about every mile or two, and most were really great and helped you pick up the pace.  There were plenty of water, gatorade, and porta-potty stops.  All fantastic.  The course had more hills than I realized ahead of time, and I hate hills.  But the beauty of the course helped to make up for it.  Here we ran past the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Then I got the part where the half-marathoners went to their finish, and a smaller group continued on with the marathon.

I don't know if you can see in this "fork in the road" photo, but the black sign says, "half stay straight" and the green sign says, "marathon turn left."  You might be able to see that there are a lot more people on the right than the left.

This is where things got to feel a little lonesome.  There were about 11,000 runners who did the half, and only about 1,700 who did the full marathon.  There were still bands every mile or so, and even a “mile of music” with speakers blaring along the route towards Forest Park, but there were very few people around me.  As I passed a few of the bands, especially a really great one at about mile 23, I felt guilty being one of only two or three people passing by!  It was like a little private concert, and that felt strange.

Because I was in the back of the marathon pack, and the course overlapped, I had a chance to pass by (going the opposite direction) some of the faster marathoners in while they were around miles 20-24, and I was around mile 14-17.  That was fun, and I got a photo and high-fives (really) from fellow LIFE Runners.

Here is Bishop Paprocki (in the middle of this photo).  He finished in 4:22.  Amazing!

Before this, I had passed Pat Castle and Jeff Pauls (one of the LIFE Runners who qualified for Boston at this race), but didn't get a photo.  It was great to see fellow LIFE Runners, but also a little daunting realizing how far I would have to go yet, and how much faster they were than me.  But I needed to keep in mind my goal.  I'm not going for a BQ (Boston qualifying finish); I'm going for a good experience.

Another LIFE Runner, probably an hour or more ahead of me, and looking great!

As I described above, during my first marathon, the final nine miles or so were difficult, both mentally and physically.  I kept saying to myself, “I still have nine more miles to go!” and then eight, and so on.  It was brutal.

This year, I was determined to think more positively.  With advice in advance from fellow runners, I repeated the following phrases to myself:  “trust your training,” “you only have single digits to go”  and “this is like a short training run” (which 9 miles, or anything shorter, is for a marathon).  Strangely, I did not tell myself “high five!” but I’m sure that would have worked as well.

The result?  It helped so much.  Even though this course was harder than last year’s marathon, and I was probably just as physically drained, the mental focus helped me feel better.

Now, here, as promised, is the part of the marathon story that relates directly to books, to prove definitively that books and authors are super important to me.

As I approached the finish, there was a man I had seen the day before at the expo.  At the expo, there was  a small stage at the end of the vendor section where Olympians and others would share encouraging words and talk about racing to pump up runners.

Our family got to hear the end of a talk by Olympian Frank Shorter, and I thought the person holding the microphone for him and kind of "emceeing" looked like John Bingham, co-author of Marathoning for Mortals, the training book I used.  I asked the man seated next to me if it were him, and he said,“No, Bingham spoke earlier.”  Now at this point all the members of our family (including me!) were super hungry, so I didn’t stick around to verify that, in fact, it wasn't Bingham.  (Note to self for future big-city races: enjoy the expo and check out the speakers in advance).

But here was this man again about 100 yards before the finish. Keep in mind, there are only a few people running around the same time as me, so it's not like I was holding up the race, I asked, “Are you John Bingham?” and of course he was!

So I had to stop then and there and get a photo.  Fortunately, my family was nearby, and my nine-year-old snapped some photos of us.  I was so excited to get to meet Bingham, and so I visited with him for a couple of minutes.  (Clearly, I was not interested in my time).  I was delighted to tell him how much his book helped me train for numerous half-marathons and for both marathons.  I told him how encouraging the book is to new and slower runners, and how inspiring and practical his book is.

Then I happily ran across the finish line.  Here I am with the family just after the race.

They had been keeping busy having breakfast,  going to the Arch and walking around downtown during my six-plus hours (!) of running.

I feel the need to report here that my husband Joseph is much cuter and far more photogenic than this photo attests, but perhaps it was his morning corralling kids in a big city. ;-)  Again, high five! to Joseph and our kids for all their support and love this weekend.

My husband said later that it looks like I strolled a mile rather than ran 26.2, since I looked so fresh and happy.  That was sweet!  But I have to say that my smiles were all about relief, because I did work very hard. I was so happy to have finished and not to be running any more.

There is also something very cathartic about long-distance running that shows in the faces of those who finish, and I’ll write more about that next.