Friday, January 30, 2015

Seven Quick Takes Vol 10: Invest in Kleenex

-- 1 --

The picture above is of the sock monkeys my sister bought for all the grandkids at Christmas. These were made by a woman who went to high school with my sister who now has an Etsy shop. I've forgotten the name, but I'm sure I can find it for you if you're interested. The kids adore these monkeys. The three four-year-old boys were a little rough on them and you may notice a few sock monkey injuries in the picture, but they had fun! Second Son's is now one of his steady bedtime companions.

-- 2 --

This is what happens when I give my niece permission to photo bomb the sock monkey picture.

-- 3 --

We have been juggling sickness since coming home from our holiday trip to Illinois, but the most recent round began two Mondays ago with First Daughter. Everyone took turns, the next getting sick as the previous one started on the upswing. Second Son fell particularly ill with a fever that lasted over five days. He still has a cough, but seems to finally be recovering. (I was pretty worried about him; he's so skinny and he ate so little! Thankfully, he doesn't seem to have lost too much weight.)

-- 4 --

The kids are feeling better, but I am still suffering. I had a terrific ear infection a week ago Tuesday. I can't remember my ear hurting so much. Kansas Dad sent me to the doctor, though not in time to prevent the ear drum from rupturing (if there was any hope of that). I'm hoping it will heal on its own, but I'm at day ten and still have muffled hearing on that side along with constant ringing. I'll have to call the doctor on Monday, I think, if it's not noticeably better.

-- 5 --

A week after the ear drum rupture, I woke up without a voice. I told Kansas Dad it was only right I be dumb while deaf. Not much reading aloud happened this week. The older kids have been keeping up with their independent lessons, but kindergarten and our all-together lessons have been patchy. I told them not to worry; we'll just have school through the summer so we don't miss anything. Ha!

-- 6 --

In good news, I used some of the missing read-aloud time to complete my thought process for our Lenten cross so I could actually make it. Post to come!

-- 7 --

Somehow I managed to convince eight ladies to meet once a month to talk about Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles using Brandy Vencel's Start Here. Luckily, our first meeting was the night before I lost my voice. As the person who proposed the study, I am the de facto leader (though not a confident one, even when I have a voice).  The first meeting was really fun. We mostly just introduced ourselves and talked. We'll tackle the first principle next month. (Yes, I think the meeting had something to do with losing my voice. I always talk too much at those things which is a good reason not to trust me as a leader. I think I was going to lose my voice anyway; it just hastened it.)

Join in Seven Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Book Review: Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

Mr. Gaffigan is a comedian who jokes often about living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with his wife and their five children. In this book, he speaks on another topic about which he claims to be knowledgeable: food and eating. The short chapters are easy to read when you are constantly being interrupted. (Perhaps he found them easy to write that way as well; after all, he does have five young chldren.) True to expectations, I sometimes laughed out loud (only a little embarrassing while I was sitting at First Son's taekwondo lesson). Kansas Dad liked the bit on a certain cinnamon bun airport restaurant so much he read it out loud to me while laughing in between every fourth word.

My favorite quote is not as funny as the rest of the book, but struck me as true.
I'm tired of people acting like they are better than McDonald's. You may've never set foot in a McDonald's, but you have your own McDonald's. Maybe instead of buying a Big Mac, you read Us Weekly. That's just a different type of McDonald's. It's just served up a little differently. Maybe your McDonald's is telling yourself your Starbucks Frappuccino is not a milkshake, or maybe you watch those Real-Housewives-of-some-large-city shows. It's all McDonald's. It's McDonald's of the soul: momentary pleasure followed by incredible guilt, eventually leading to cancer.
Mr. Gaffigan is a Catholic which is mentioned in the book when it's a part of a larger story. The book is intended for everyone, not just Catholics or Christians.

As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). This review is my objective opinion. I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Product Review: XBoom Speaker

XBOOM Mini Portable Capsule Speaker

Brandy mentioned this speaker on her post of gifts for the Classical Charlotte Mason Mama and I was immediately intrigued. Kansas Dad had often said we needed a speaker and I had always demurred, imagining big bulky speakers and wires all over the kitchen.

We do most of our homeschooling in the kitchen. That's where the table is and when we're reading aloud or listening, it's usually around the table (with some food involved). In the past few years, we have turned to the laptop to:
My laptop speakers are rather disappointing, so a few things were unworkable. We tried listening to audiobooks on Librivox, but my speakers just couldn't compete with the background noise of life in the house. Sometimes I would try to listen to a podcast, but that really only worked if I used headphones. I thought...maybe this speaker would be useful. It's small and easy to put away when we're not listening, but is a better speaker than I have now.

Kansas Dad's parents bought it for me for Christmas and oh-my-goodness, is it ever useful! Nearly every single day, this speaker is plugged into someone's laptop or Kindle. The quality is excellent for such a small thing. Often, I have to turn the sound down.

We listened to the sequel to Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, on Librivox without any problems even while doing morning chores (unloading and loading the dishwasher). I had been reading the free version of this off my Kindle because our library didn't have a copy, but Librivox came to the rescue when I had a sore throat. As a bonus, the reader has an actual British accent.

I also discovered just before Christmas that I could download Audible files on the Kindle keyboard. My Kindle is one of these old ones (so old Amazon doesn't even allow an affiliate link) and we were gifted with Grammy's old one as well. If you pay attention, often you can add the Audible version of Kindle books for a discount. Before our drive to visit my parents, I "purchased" Heidi and Treasure Island for free for the Kindle and added the Audible versions for $0.99 each. My six- and four-year-olds have been listening happily for weeks. The little speaker works perfectly with the Kindles, too, so we could listen to an Audible recording on one of the old Kindles in the van or out and about easily. (The battery lasts a long time. As I said, we use it every day sometimes for hours and I've had to charge it about once every ten days.)

I've also successfully used it to listen to podcasts, though I've discovered I can only concentrate enough on a podcast when there are no children in the room. If they come in and talk to me or each other, I have to pause it.

Thanks, Brandy! This speaker is everything I'd hoped and just perfect for me. I still think bookshelves should have made your list, but I guess I'll let it slide this year.

I highly recommend signing up for one of the paid subscriptions to Spotify rather than the free service. The commercials were often highly inappropriate for children (and sometimes even made me blush). I don't receive anything if you sign up.

As an affiliate with Amazon, I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links, add something to your cart, and complete the purchase (in that order). This review is my objective opinion. I received the speaker as a gift.

Monday, January 26, 2015

First Son's Golden Birthday

Last December, First Son turned eleven.  He's growing up, of course, because that's what they do, but he's still a sweet boy.

He has an infectious laugh. It always delights Kansas Dad and me when he starts to tell us something funny. It's not unusual for him to start laughing so hard he can't finish his story.

First Son is almost unbelievably tall for his age. I have to buy size 14 pants so they're long enough. It's hard to remember how tall he is until I see him surrounded by friends his age and he towers above them. He also has large feet. Just before Christmas, we took him shoe shopping and had to buy size 8 (just a half size smaller than Kansas Dad). They cost a small fortune.

He hates shoe shopping so much he refuses to acknowledge when his shoes have holes in them. First Daughter will often comment on it first. Last time, when I glanced down, I could see his socks poking out of both sides of his shoe!

This boy loves to run! Around the living room. Outside, he doesn't run quite so much. I used to quietly remind him we don't run inside (or yell, depending on how much patience I had left), but after doing some reading and thinking, I decided taking a break from lessons and running around the living room was probably good for his brain and his concentration. So now we just try to limit the running to the times the living room is relatively toy-free to avoid injuries to self and toys.

We tried out a taekwondo class last spring. He found it much to his liking but the timing and expense were difficult for the family. After much thought and debate, we decided to enroll him elsewhere and he's been attending about twice a week since Labor Day. Here he is with his first broken boards. Before the end of the year, he tested and moved from a white belt to a yellow belt. He said one of his goals for the coming year is to progress to a green belt and he's been working on his forms diligently. First Son is one of the least aggressive boys I've ever met and taekwondo fits that personality well. Much of the focus is on concentration and self-control. I've been really pleased with the instructors, too, who are able to make just a few pointed comments to elicit improvement without overwhelming the students.

He really wanted his own camera, so we let him use some of his saved money to buy one when Kansas Dad saw a great deal on Black Friday. I regularly find staged LEGO pictures on the memory card.

First Son is in fifth grade this year. I doubt he would want to choose a favorite subject, but he does enjoy some of his lessons. He says The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is his favorite book, but he doesn't want to read it enough to read ahead. One chapter a day is quite sufficient for his tastes. He often complains about his science, but loves the dissections. He loves reading Life of Fred. He read quickly through the elementary series First Daughter is using and is moving more slowly through Fractions. (I won't let him read ahead without doing the math problems.)

In his free time, he loves to read Diary of a Wimpy kid books, Big Nate books, and anything Minecraft related. One of his favorite birthday presents was King of Tokyo which Kansas Dad picked for him.

Last year he had braces on his birthday, but they were taken off in about a year. He's been enjoying his caramels and gummy candies and gum especially during the holidays. Kansas Dad and I enjoy his smile!

For Christmas, he really wanted a Wii U. After much deliberation and debate, Kansas Dad and I asked Grammy and Paw Paw if they would like to purchase it for the boys. First Son has already purchased an additional game with his own money and is very pleased.

Kansas Dad made a pancake bigger than his head for his birthday breakfast and he ate it all up. Check out the stripes! Apparently, they remain a favorite birthday look. (This shirt is one of my favorites. It cleans well and looks sharp, too. I wish we had more of them. For everyone.)

For his birthday, he wanted to go out to eat at a sushi restaurant Kansas Dad and I have visited, but always without the children. So Grammy and Paw Paw fed pizza to the others while we took him out, just us. He was adventurous in his choices and we all had a great time.

We talked a lot about his birthday party. Given the expense of his evening of sushi, I wanted to keep the party simple. In the end, he decided he just wanted a chance to play games with his friends, so we hosted a board game party for him. Friends brought games along and I made an angel food cake. No decorating required. I also made homemade Oreos (this is the recipe I use, but it's originally from Smitten Kitchen), which he loves, and some honey cookies for Kansas Dad and the girls who can't have dairy. He chose Andes mints, peanut butter M&Ms, and gummy bears for the candy dish.

On his baptismal anniversary a few days later, we ate pierogi and dumplings for dinner. He loves pierogi and has requested it several years running, in part to honor one of his favorite saints, St. Pope John Paul II, who hailed from Poland. Making homemade pierogi would be quite a task, so we always just buy frozen ones at the store. We all ate on china plates except Second Son. I was going to allow it, but he preferred his regular plate.

My aunt brought enough material for all the kids to have a tied blanket over Christmas. First Son tied this one all by himself. The sweet baby is his newest little cousin who apparently smiles all the time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Advent 2013 and 2014 Picture Books of interest

Somehow Advent 2013 passed and my blog was never updated with any of the picture books we read. To remedy that, I have one big post to cover the new noteworthy books we read in Advent in 2013 and 2014.

Each year, I wrap a picture book for every day of Advent. The children take turns opening them and we read them together. Just in case you've never done such a thing and are intrigued, let me share what I've learned since we started this tradition back in 2010.
  • One book a day is sufficient. Trust me.
  • Be selective in your Nativity story picture books. Fewer is better. I try to limit myself to one a week.
  • Don't make them all long and serious. Put in a few silly ones.
  • Choose at least a few absolute favorites to read every year and feel free to mix up all the others.
  • If you miss a day or two, don't despair. This year we did better than ever and still read about five books on a later day.
  • Wrap library books! The kids don't care.

Now that you are (hopefully) no longer overwhelmed at the thought of a picture book a day during Advent, here are links to all the Advent and Christmas posts I've written.

Past Advent-Picture-Book-a-Day Booklists

2010 list (the first year we did this activity)
2011 first week of Advent
2011 second week of Advent
2011 third week of Advent
2011 fourth week of Advent
my favorite five (or seven) Christmas picture books (2012)
an additional Christmas book for My Favorite Picture Books (2012)
2012 new and noteworthy Advent picture books 
My Twelve Books of Christmas (written in 2013)

Finally, here are the noteworthy new books we read during Advent 2013 and Advent 2014.

Advent 2013

Christmas Is Here, words from the King James Bible illustrated by Lauren Castillo was my favorite new-to-us-book for Advent 2013. These are not the gloriously beautiful illustrations in other Nativity stories, but simple and sweet. They are just right for reading to little ones and work well with the biblical text. Highly recommended.

This Is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Delana Bettoli, is a quiet repetitive book with lovely illustrations. I especially like how the Holy Family is depicted because they are not white.

Christmas Lullaby by Nancy Jewell, illustrated by Stafano Vitale, is a poem of small gifts brought to the infant Jesus by many different animals. The paintings by the illustrator are truly artistic and quite different from most children's Nativity books. I loved how the stable and Jesus appear a bit closer on each page.

Marta and the Manger Straw by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Robyn Belton, is the story of a girl who is generous despite her poverty and receives blessings in her own need. It's one of my new favorite Christmas books. (I included it in my Twelve Christmas Picture Books I'd Carry Into the Wilderness list.)

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea is another one I really liked. It's not about the meaning of Christmas if you think only of the birth of the baby, but the way Pyn lovingly prepares for a Christmas tree, trusting in her father, and the way his heart is comforted and he gives her the one thing she wants most sweetly hints at the Love Christ brings to the world.

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Gingerbread by Maj Lindman is one of many books about triplet brothers (Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr) or triplet sisters (Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka). Some of these are better than others and the gingerbread book is one of my favorites. The children loved it.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand, is one I should have found years ago. I was hoping it would inspire the children to make some "ornaments" for one of our trees, but we ended up reading it in a rush late one night after some busy December day. I still think it's lovely, as are Ted Rand's illustrations.

Advent 2014

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble is a lovely story of a young girl's memorable Christmas, one she thought would be sorrowful and instead was beautiful.

The Christmas Giant by Steve Light is about a giant and an elf entrusted with growing the Christmas tree for the North Pole. Usually I avoid Santa books (other than books about the real St. Nicholas and the classic The Night Before Christmas), but this one was sweet and creative. Humphrey and Leetree make good on their mistake with ingenuity and beauty.

The Stone: A Persian Legend of the Magi by Dianne Hofmeyer, illustrated by Jude Daly, is one I intended to read last year when we started school again in January, but everything had been disrupted by our holiday travels. I scheduled it earlier this year. The illustrations are different from most of the other books we read. I love the idea of a gift from Christ to the Wise Men and what it becomes.

The Storyteller's Candle / La Velita De Los Cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a good book for Epiphany, though we read it before Christmas. I love how this book combines the compelling story of a real librarian in New York City, the isolation of immigrants and newcomers, and how traditions (old and new) lift us up and can show us the light of Christ. Even better, traditions shared allow us to be that light for others.

A Kenya Christmas by Tony Johnston is a tale of Father Christmas visiting a remote village in Kenya. I found it while seeking out picture books in Africa to read to Second Daughter and knew she would enjoy it.

Mim's Christmas Jam by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is from one of my favorite picture book writing and illustrating teams. This book is set during the building of the New York subway system. A father is working far from his family on Christmas when some homemade jam changes the hearts of his bosses. I always like to include a few more historical books in our selections and this was a nice addition. There's a recipe at the end for the belly-hum jam, but we didn't have a chance to make it.

The Mitten by Jan Brett is a wintry tale more than a Christmasy one, which might be why we hadn't read it during Advent before, but it's my favorite Jan Brett book and the children all enjoyed it.

The Fourth Wise Man by Susan Summers was recommended by a friend after I posted about The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. This book is easier for young readers than Van Dyke's book without eliminating all of the rich language. I liked the illustrations, too.

Over the years I have built quite a library of Christmas and Advent books. A few we have received as gifts (at my request), a few I have purchased used on Cathswap, and many I have received from members of PaperBackSwap. You may have to wait a few years for copies to be available, but if you have young children, you have a few years before they'll outgrow the tradition. My 11 year old son hovered only rarely during the readings (though he was often near-by) but the 8 year old, 6 year old, and 4 year old were snuggled up close for every book.

All Amazon links are affiliate links. If you click through, add something to your cart, and make a purchase, I receive a small commission. If you click on (here or above), sign up, and post ten books, I receive a free book credit. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reading 2014: A Year in Review

I'm a bit behind the other blogs and I always wonder if these kinds of posts are helpful. After all, I usually end up adding more books to my lists after posts like these than I can read in a year! But reading is what I do, so here we go.

The book covers below are affiliate links to Amazon. Underneath, I've linked to my book reviews or monthly book report.

Favorite Book of 2014

The Hidden Power of Kindness by Lawrence G. Lovasik - my review. More than any other book I read in 2014, this one changed how I live.

Best Fiction

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk - my review. Please read this book before you watch the movie! (Or just read the book and skip the movie altogether.)

Best Non-Fiction
These Beautiful Bones by Emily Stimpson - my review. If you only read one book on theology of the body, make it this one.

Best Book of Poetry

Still Life with Dirty Dishes by Ramona McCallum - mentioned here. This book inspired me to start reading a poem or two every day.

Best New-to-Me Author

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen - my review.

Best Classic Book I'd Never Read Before

I don't have anything to put here. Hopefully I read a classic in 2015 I like better.

Best Book I Pre-Read for School

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart - my review. I pre-read this mostly for First Son and expect him to read it over the summer, but now that I think about it, I just might read it to the whole family. It's most certainly my favorite book in the series.

Book that Made Me Cry

Why did I even keep this category? All the books make me cry.

Book that Made Me Laugh

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy - my review. All of the Hero guides are laugh-out-loud funny and perfect middle grade reading books.

Best Homeschooling or Education Book

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig - my review.

Most Challenging

The Idea of a University by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman - my review. This was a fantastic book for contemplating the purpose of higher education.

Best Book I Read Aloud
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus - mentioned here. I cheated a little and checked out the audio CD from the library. It was nice to have someone else pronounce the Japanese words. We had the book as well, though, because the illustrations are fascinating.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman - The whole series is great. Read about it here, along with my musings on young adult dystopian literature.

Best Memoir

Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler - my review.

Most Surprising (in a good way)

Clare's Costly Cookie by Julie Kelly - my review. This was originally recommended to me by the owner at Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. I bought it there and highly recommend the store. My 7 year old daughter loved this book.

Best Book on Faith

My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell - my review. Six of the books above are on faith, so it seems a little much to pick another one, but this one was also surprisingly good.

My Other Favorite Books They may have been beaten out by one of the books above, but they still deserve a mention as one of my favorite books read in 2014. In alphabetical order by title, for lack of a better system:   

The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Micheal W. Goheen - my review.
The Giver Quartet boxed set by Lois Lowry - my review (spoiler warning). I haven't seen the movie yet but I think I will.
The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith - my review.
A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership by Wendell Berry - my review.
Way of Holy Joy: Selected Writings of Sofia Cavalletti by Sofia Cavalletti - my review.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. Doolittle's Mansion

Grammy and Paw Paw generously gave the girls the Playmobil Large Grand Mansion and the Horse Farm with Paddock (which I think was less expensive at a local store than it seems to be on Amazon) for Christmas. The first night after it was all put together, Kansas Dad and I found ourselves intrigued by what we found after the girls went to bed.

 The zebra and the goat rule the second floor...

 though they do have to share it with a family of squirrels.

 The first floor is apparently a nursery and guinea pig habitat.

 All of the people, meanwhile, are living in the stable...

except for this one little girl who is dangerously wandering the roof.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

December 2014 Book Reports

Somewhere More Holy: Stories from a Bewildered Father, Stumbling Husband, Reluctant Handyman, and Prodigal Son by Tony Woodlief - my review. (library copy)

The Other Side of Dawn by John Maarsden is the seventh book of the Tomorrow series which I reviewed for another website. It's probably not worth your time. (library copy)

Cast Two Shadows: The American Revolution in the South by Ann Rinaldi is the story of a fourteen year old girl on a South Carolina plantation during the Revolutionary War. Exploring issues of war, loyalty, family, slavery, and identity, this book would be a good addition to a history study. The audience was too old for me to read it aloud to my kids (11, 8, 6, and 4). I think a mature 11 year old could read it (one who already knows how babies come to be), but I don't think my son is mature enough to appreciate the themes of the book so I put it aside. Perhaps one or more of them would be ready the next time we cycle around to the Revolutionary War. (library copy)

Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway - my review. (library copy)

Men and Women Are From Eden: A Study Guide to John Paul II's Theology of the Body by Mary Healy was the book for our parish adult education class. It's a very simple introduction to theology of the body and appropriate for class discussions, but I didn't find it challenging myself. If you are interested in theology of the body, I'd recommend These Beautiful Bones. (copy borrowed from the parish)

Come, Lord Jesus: Meditations on the Art of Waiting by Mother Mary Francis provided daily readings for Advent. There were just a few pages for each day drawn from her talks to her convent over the years. Though directed at cloistered nuns, I found much of the exhortations to be perfectly adapted to a mother of active young children. (received as a gift) 

Books in Progress (and date started)

Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Other links are not affiliate links.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Book Review: Not God's Type

Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway

I enjoyed reading this account of a woman who followed her reason from atheism to Christianity and finally to Catholicism, mainly through the reading of rich literature and the relationship with her fencing coach. If I had ever been an atheist, this book would probably be exactly how I would have discovered my faith, so I was interested to read about this woman who in many ways is like me. More than anything, though, I read it as a Catholic who knows she should be evangelizing but is uncomfortable with many of the ways I've encountered others who evangelize (like walking up to someone and asking if they are saved). This book showed me how I might reach out to others through reason and the written word.

From the beginning, she admits she had heard about Jesus and God but had almost dismissed them without hearing the message at all.
The difficulty was not a lack of opportunity to hear about God. The problem lay deeper: in my very concept of what faith was. I thought faith was by definition irrational, that it meant believing some assertion to be true for no reason. It had never occurred to me that there could be a path to faith in God involving reasons, or that there might be evidence for the claims of Christianity. I thought you had to 'just have faith'--and the very idea of faith baffled and horrified me.
Kansas Dad, who also read himself into the Catholic church, has always been clear that faith and reason are not exclusionary at all. There's a Christmas song by a Christian artist that speaks of Mary's irrational decision to carry Jesus in her womb that bothers him particularly: Following the will of God is in fact as rational a decision as anyone could make.
Believing something irrational on demand to get a prize: that is what the evangelical invitation to "accept Jesus and get eternal life in heaven!" sounded like to me.
I'm uncomfortable with those kind of statements, too. Eternity in heaven is not the only reason to become a Christian. Living in accordance with Scripture and the church's teachings is not just a ticket to heaven; it's how we can be most fulfilled in this life.

I loved one of the interludes in which she experienced how prayer can encompass the whole world. She was reading the liturgy of the Prayers of the People in which the congregation prayed for those who had not yet hear the Gospel and realized she was one of those people. Year after year, people all over the world had been praying for her.
How easy it would have been to write me off: a lost cause, a waste of time, an enemy of Christ. And yet, I had been prayed for, by those who knew me and by those who did not. For just a moment, I sensed a living web of prayer, bright and strong, connecting past, present, and future, far and near.
She repeatedly speaks of her comfort in speaking with her fencing coach and his wife, confident they would respond to her questions with logic and reason without attempting to convert her and without dodging the hard questions.
The mere thought of philosophical apologetics might cause some people's eyes to glaze over. For me, it was like asking for a mere glass of water and getting champagne instead. I was stunned by the very concept that there were rational arguments for the existence of God.
The author claims that her readings of Tolkein and poetry by those of great faith helped lay a foundation for her eventual conversion. For someone who spends most of her waking hours seeking out and sharing quality literature with children, it's always encouraging to read how literature helped change the course of a real life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review: Somewhere More Holy

Somewhere More Holy: Stories from a Bewildered Father, Stumbling Husband, Reluctant Handyman, and Prodigal Son by Tony Woodlief

Mr. Woodlief is a non-Catholic Christian who writes in this book of the holiness found in daily life with a wife and family. What sets this book apart from so many others is his openness about his suffering after the death of his daughter to cancer when she was just three, his descent into sin and adultery, his desire to end his life, and his continuing recovery. It is a powerful testament to the loving forgiveness of the Lord.

Often we read about the problem of evil and the forgiveness of God and much of it seems like empty platitudes. Mr. Woodlief's honesty about his family's sorrow and suffering and the goodness of life and faith despite it offers those who suffer and those weep for those they see in pain and trapped in sinful lives a real hope that God is there with you, suffering and weeping, and that life is still worth living.

That's just the introduction. The rest of the book is a collection of essays and vignettes centered around different rooms of a house (bedroom, schoolroom, living room, and so on) that depict how our faith infuses a family's house and life.
We began to think that God was out there--in heaven, a sunset, an ornate temple, a megachurch. We forgot that he has always come to where we are, to dwell with us. We began to think of him as being somewhere else, and told ourselves that we had to get dressed up, put on smiles, and go out to find him.
Writing from experience, he encourages us to remember that what we see is not the entire truth.
I'm meeting more and more parents who have the same suspicion that someone else could do it better. Maybe that's because we all see the wretchedness inside ourselves, but very little of what resides in other people. We fall into the error of thinking that what we see of others--which is almost always the best of them--is what they mostly are. And we conclude that our best, which is of course what we try to show other people, is really just a contrivance, and not part of the real us.
If you are struggling to see the value of faith in your daily life, you might want to read this book.

I checked this book out from the library.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel

The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) by Pope Francis
Forward by Robert Barron
Afterward by James Martin, SJ

In this encyclical, Pope Francis calls us all to live the Gospel and proclaim it in our daily lives. It's easy to forget that call, given I am not a missionary in a foreign country (or even in an under-served area of our own country).
Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.
The Pope reminds us that the very joy we ourselves find in the Gospel, in the saving message of Christ's resurrection and in the love of God for each of us, calls us out of ourselves. If we are truly joyful, then we want nothing more than continuously sharing that joy.
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization...
I didn't really need to read The Joy of the Gospel to be convinced I should be proclaiming the Good News (though a gentle and encouraging reminder is not unwelcome), but it's difficult to know how I, a homeschooling mother in rural Kansas, should be sharing the Gospel.
Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers...Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.
While reading this book, I found myself wondering what I could be doing with all the little opportunities God is presenting to me each day, in speaking with our children, in teaching Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, in the relationships we are developing with other members of our parish. How can I reach out to others in mutual celebration or to share with someone new?

The text of the Pope's encyclical is available for free online at the Vatican website, so I thought I should comment on the book itself in this review. This is a lovely little hardcover book printed on quality paper. It's the right size for slipping into a bag or purse for adoration reading or to keep in the car (and the text can be read in small bits quite easily).

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are my own.