Category Archives: A Literary Pilgrimage

Reading Catholic and Great Catholic Memoirs {Talk notes, St. Thomas Women’s Group}

I spoke earlier this month at a local parish’s women’s group, and I had promised in a few days to post the notes (much like I did for my talk at the  “Finding Your Fiat” conference.)

Much to my regret, it’s been more than a few days, but I am finally uploading these notes.

I combined two concepts for this talk, as the organizers asked me to speak on both “Reading (as a) Catholic” and “Great Catholic Memoirs.” So I first outlined and discussed some “Reading Catholic Rules” with general principles and take-away ideas for being a well-rounded and savvy reader; and then shared a number of Catholic memoirs for ideas to get started. You can click on this sentence see images and links to the Catholic memoirs (and more!) on a Pinterest board I created a long time ago sharing Catholic memoirs. 

Most of all, I want to encourage the women I spoke with, as well as anyone reading this, to be a Catholic reader, and to encourage you to take the time to read.
Reading Catholic Rules (along the lines of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules.”)

Even the English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon had food in mind when discussing books:

“ Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

*A Catholic reader knows “you are what you read,” in the same way the expression, “you are what you eat” works for food.

*A Catholic reader filters everything through a Catholic worldview.

*A Catholic reader goes with her strengths, but is not afraid to stretch.

*A Catholic reader is social shares books and love of reading with others, just as eating in family or community is better for us.

* A Catholic reader recognizes and rejoices in beauty.

* A Reading Catholic collects quotes like recipes.

Great Catholic Memoirs:

Sir Walter Scott wrote, “There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”

A well-told memoir like the ones shared here  you offer testimony to the heroic in life.

Classic memoirs would be works like: St. Augustine’s Confessions, St. Therese’s “The Story of A Soul.”

Modern Catholic memoirs, my definition: I would say any autobiographical book by a Catholic, or someone with a Catholic vision. Sometimes, faith takes center stage, sometimes it is just an element in the story, but the well-told stories–even with flaws, either in the person or the way the story is told–can still provide reflection for that “heroic story.”

Some Catholic memoir categories:

Two memoirs by” insiders” in Church affairs

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by John Thavis

Two traveling memoirs:
Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin, SJ

Running with God Across America by Jeff Grabosky

Four memoirs about tough times:

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilabagiza

Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Lines by Abby Johnson

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther

My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden

Three memoirs — voice of experience:

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life & Pastimes by Ralph McInerny

Treasure in Clay by Venerable Fulton Sheen

The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’s Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows by Mother Dolores Hart and Richard DeNeut

A Cure for “Historical Amnesia” {The American Catholic Almanac Blog Tour}

With apologies to Jane Austen, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire Emily Stimpson.

I’ve reviewed her books before here and here , and she was a “Reader” back around the time of the 2012 Behold Conference, where I first met Emily in person (photos to prove it in the link). To use another literary reference, Emily is definitely a “kindred spirit,” and I’m happy to claim her as a local author since she has roots in the Peoria Diocese and many of her family still lives here.

Headshot Living Room

So that’s why I’m delighted for Reading Catholic to be a stop on the blog tour for The American Catholic Almanac by Emily Stimpson and Brian Burch.  My review of the book appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post and will post here in a few days. 

Thank you, Emily, for doing this Q&A, and for this great new book.

NP: Tell me a little more about your book, your co-author, and the writing process. How did you decide to write the book?

ES: Credit for the idea behind the book goes to Brian Burch and the Catholic Vote team, particularly Josh Mercer and Kara Mone. In the wake of the HHS Mandate and recent court rulings on same-sex marriage, many Catholics were justifiably concerned about government-imposed limitations of their religious freedom. But many more Catholics didn’t seem concerned at all. There was a lot of shoulder shrugging.

On top of that, more and more Americans have been questioning the Church’s place in the public square, seeing the Church (and faith itself) as a threat to democracy. Brian believed part of that problem stemmed from a sort of historical amnesia.

As American Catholics, we’ve forgotten our story: why our ancestors came here, how they sacrificed to establish the Catholic Church in America, and how much they contributed to the growth of this country.

The hope was that by re-telling our family story—in a fun, interesting, and accessible way—we could help Catholics (and all people of good will) both appreciate what the Church has done and work more vigorously to protect it.

As for the writing process, that’s where I came in. Brian approached me to work with him because I’m a storyteller, and he thought my voice could help set the right tone for the book. As I said, we didn’t want to write dry history; we wanted to tell stories that did justice to the great men and women who nurtured the Faith in America. Anyhow, I felt incredibly blessed to be asked to participate and jumped in with both feet.

After that, the actual writing process began with our fantastic research assistant, Tom Crowe, who organized the calendar and supplied us with materials to read. Then, I wrote the first draft for each month. As each individual month was complete, it went to Brian for review and revision. From there, it went on to Random House, then back to Brian, and finally back to me, so that I could smooth out everyone’s changes and ensure that the book didn’t sound like a committee wrote it.

When I explain the process like that, it sounds so sane. But it wasn’t. Everything was happening at once—filling in dates on the calendar, writing new entries, revising old ones, reviewing proofs, even designing the book cover. It was a massive undertaking, but we’re so proud of the end result.

NP: There’s such a variety of Catholics profiled, from Catholics as varied as singer Perry Como to Alexis de Tocqueville, to Rose Hawthorne, to concepts like the Act of Toleration. How did you come up with so many great entries?

ES: Again, Tom Crowe deserves a lot of the credit. He started by identifying the biggies—America’s saints, blessed, and venerables—as well as other key people and events in American Catholic history. Then Brian and I chimed in with more ideas. After that, as we researched and read, we kept identifying more interesting things to cover.

For example, while researching an early court case in New York about the inviolability of the seal of the Confessional, an off-hand mention of “Mrs. Mattingly’s miracle” piqued our curiosity, so we did some more research and discovered a fascinating tale of a miraculous healing that had been coordinated by an American priest and German prince via trans-Atlantic postal mail in 1823. How could we not write about that?

At another point, in the course of researching Terrence Mattingly, one of the great Catholic labor leaders, we found out that the original Mother Jones was also Catholic. And of course, we had to include her story! That’s how it went every step of the way. One interesting story led to another interesting story and before you knew it, we had more interesting stories than we could possibly include in just one book.

NP: You featured not just canonized saints or universally loved Catholics and events in American history, but also some controversial (either mildly or wildly) Catholics and events. It seems to me you don’t whitewash or downplay the controversy. Why was it important to you to share the good, the bad and the ugly here?

ES: Well, as James Joyce wrote, Catholic means, “Here comes everybody.” We’re not just a Church of saints. We’re a Church of sinners as well, and those sinners had a hand in shaping our history, too, for good and bad. To only tell the good parts would only be telling half the story.

Even more fundamentally, though, very few of us are all saint or all sinner. We’re a messy combination of both. And when we look at the last-minute conversions of men like Buffalo Bill, John Wayne, or Dutch Schultz or the tragic loss of faith experienced by someone like General William Tecumseh Sherman or even the mess of contradictions in the lives of Mother Jones, Andy Warhol, and Al Capone, we understand ourselves better. We understand grace better, and get a glimpse of what God can do through even the weakest of his children.

NP: Do you have a favorite entry?

ES: Oh gosh, that’s like asking if I have a favorite child. I enjoy the writing in this book far more than any decent person should enjoy their own work. I definitely have favorite people I met along the way, people to whom I now turn regularly for their prayers. Bishop Joseph Machebeuf, the first bishop of Denver, is one. He reminds me of an evangelizing Yellow Labrador— ever faithful, endlessly enthusiastic, and completely devoted to everyone he served.

Father Peter Whelan, who saved thousands of men’s lives in Andersonville Prison during the American Civil War, is another. I think the actual entries that I enjoy the most, however, are the ones where there’s either some sneaky, understated humor (like the November 30 entry on America’s first Catholic martyr, Father Juan de Padilla) or the entries where we found ways to shine new light on already well-known figures like Dorothy Day and Walker Percy.

NP: As I read through the book, I found myself thinking of who would be in a future, 50 or 100 years from now, version of The American Catholic Almanac, and what current pioneers might be included. I hope you won’t be embarrassed if I included you in there, with your books on a variety of topics and your passionate commitment to sharing our Catholic faith in honest and realistic ways. Are there people or events you wished you could have included in the Almanac?

ES: If I am among the best someone could come up with for some future Almanac, Nancy, the Church is in more serious trouble than I realized!

I will admit, though, that was one of the reasons I was pleased we included Katherine Burton in the Almanac. She was a Catholic convert and freelance writer, who was absolutely prolific throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. She wasn’t a great writer, and almost nothing of hers remains in print, but she wrote a lot and she wrote well on a wide range of topics, particularly women’s place in the world. She’s a terrific example of a faithful, ordinary Catholic trying her best to help her contemporaries know and love the Faith—a patron “saint” for Catholic hack writers like myself, I suppose.

As for other stories, yes! There were so many we couldn’t tell, simply because of space limitations. Likewise, we wanted everything attached in some way to a date, and on some days 10 interesting things happened. On others, we were lucky to find one thing. That means people like our newest Blessed, Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, and the religious sister who took on Billy the Kid, Blandina Segale, didn’t make it in. But hopefully, the Almanac will just inspire people to go out and do more reading on their own.

NP: What is your next project?

ES: Brian has this crazy plan to maybe do a second volume of The American Catholic Almanac, but we need to see how this one goes first. In the meantime, I’m getting ready to start writing a travel column for The Boston Globe’s new Catholic website, Crux.

That’s particularly exciting for me because it’s going to give me the chance to write a bit more about some of the people and places covered in the Almanac and visit those places as well. I’m afraid this Almanac has turned me into the crazy Catholic trivia lady. I’ll probably be annoying people for the rest of my life with the odd facts and fun stories I’ve learned this past year!

10 Books, 10 Quotes, and an Island or Two

Several people tagged me on a meme going around Facebook to list “10 books that have had a lasting impact.”  I keep meaning to do it, but I really have been doing a lot of IRL (in real life) things.  The younger kids and I are trying to get into a homeschooling routine, and I’ve been trying to accomplish a lot of house projects.

After the (for me!) success of Sugar-Free August, I started a Facebook group called De-Clutter September, and again, I’m loving the support and accountability.  I haven’t done very much de-cluttering, but I’ve been doing a lot of house organizing/painting projects that have been on back-burners.  Yesterday I put together an IKEA island, and that was really satisfying.  I even had the kids help me, in my quest to have them comfortable with power tools at a young age.


Yay me!

But I digress.  Here are the 10 books that have had an impact on me.    They are in no particular order, and I can’t even say if these are my life-long ones–just ones that have had a recent (in the last 20 years or so) impact.  I’m also including a quote from each one that I just love.
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

“The answer to that question is that she didn’t do it because Cousin Ann was Cousin Ann. And there’s more in that than you think! In fact, there is a mystery in it that nobody has ever solved, not even the greatest scientists and philosophers, although, like all scientists and philosophers, they think they have gone a long way toward explaining something they don’t understand by calling it a long name. The long name is “personality,” and what it means nobody knows, but it is perhaps the very most important thing in the world for all that. And yet we know only one or two things about it. We know that anybody’s personality is made up of the sum total of all the actions and thoughts and desires of his life. And we know that though there aren’t any words or any figures in any language to set down that sum total accurately, still it is one of the first things that everybody knows about anybody else. And that is really all we know! 
 So I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Ann did not go back and cry and sob and say she couldn’t and she wouldn’t and she couldn’t, as she would certainly have done at Aunt Harriet’s. You remember that I could not even tell you why it was that, as the little fatherless and motherless girl lay in bed looking at Aunt Abigail’s old face, she should feel so comforted and protected that she must needs break out crying. No, all I can say is that it was because Aunt Abigail was Aunt Abigail. But perhaps it may occur to you that it’s rather a good idea to keep a sharp eye on your “personality,” whatever that is! It might be very handy, you know, to have a personality like Cousin Ann’s which sent Elizabeth Ann’s feet down the path; or perhaps you would prefer one like Aunt Abigail’s. Well, take your choice.”

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace. (I love all the Betsy-Tacy books, but I’d have to say this is my absolute favorite book of Lovelace).

“Depression settled down upon her, and although she tried to brush it away it thickened like a fog. “Why, the kids will be home for Thanksgiving! That will be here in no time. I mustn’t get this way,” she thought. But she felt lonely and deserted and futile. “A mood like this has to be fought. It’s like an enemy with a gun,” she told herself. But she couldn’t seem to find a gun with which to fight.
“Muster your wits: stand in your own defense.” She had no idea in what sense he had used it, but it seemed to be a message aimed directly at her. “Muster your wits: stand in your own defense,” she kept repeating to herself on the long walk home. After dinner she sat down in her rocker, looked out at the snow and proceeded to muster her wits. “I’m going to fill my winter and I’m going to fill it with something worth while,” she resolved.”

The Last Battle (Book 7 in the Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis.  The Last Battle is not necessarily my favorite of the Narnia books–The Horse & His Boy is my definite favorite, though I love them all.  But last month the younger kids and I were reading it for the eleventeenth time, and I find it tremendously powerful.  Every time I read this one, I also grow more and more devoted to Emeth, the virtuous Calormene who serves Tash all his days, but was really serving Alsan.

“It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child ? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope.  This is the last of the Pallister novels.  I love the entire series, and I’ve just begun re-reading it.  I’m only in Can You Forgive Her? but I knew my favorite quote would be in The Duke’s Children, describing the Duke of Omnium after his wife, the wonderful and my most favorite Trollope character ever, Lady Glencora, dies.

“It was not only that his heart was torn to pieces, but that he did not know how to look out into the world. It was as though a man should be suddenly called upon to live without hands or even arms. He was helpless, and knew himself to be helpless. Hitherto he had never specially acknowledged to himself that his wife was necessary to him as a component part of his life. Though he had loved her dearly, and had in all things consulted her welfare and happiness, he had at times been inclined to think that in the exuberance of her spirits she had been a trouble rather than a support to him. But now it was as though all outside appliances were taken away from him. There was no one of whom he could ask a question. “

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, because how could I not?

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

“‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them . I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind  you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’”


Hard Times by Charles Dickens. I’m re-reading Tale of Two Cities but Hard Times is one of my favorite Dickens.

“How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, oh, Father, What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?’ said Louisa as she touched her heart.”

“Now we won’t be sober any more. We’ll look beyond the years—to the time when the war will be over and Jem and Jerry and I will come marching home and we’ll all be happy again.”

“We won’t be—happy—in the same way,” said Rilla.

“No, not in the same way. Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness, I think, little sister—a happiness we’ve earned. We were very happy before the war, weren’t we? With a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn’t help being happy. But that happiness was a gift from life and love; it wasn’t really ours—life could take it back at any time. It can never take away the happiness we win for ourselves in the way of duty.”

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink.  I feel like I’ve had a lot of downer quotes and even books, but this is such a great, funny book, and it’s had a great impact on me when I need a really good laugh.

“Once Mr. Peterkin’s hard heart had started to soften, it was just like ice cream in the sun.” 

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown.  So many of her books are my favorite picture books, but this is my absolute favorite.

“The important thing about you is that you are you.”

So that sums up my book list (for this week). Consider yourself tagged if you’re reading this– I’d love to see your list.

“The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land” Tonight!

My blogging has been seriously light of late.  That means a busy and full life off-line, and actually a ton of reading, that I wish I could get onto here as well.  I have some great ideas as we head towards Lent, so stayed tuned.

While I hope that the approach of Lent will help me get back into a groove blogging-wise, I wanted to highlight a show that will be premiering tonight on EWTN, “The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land.”


I have been a fan of Diana von Glahn, the face behind “The Faithful Traveler” series, since way back when she had a series of US-based travel shows that featured Catholic pilgrimage locations, primarily along the East Coast.  We DVRd it back then, and my husband and I (and sometimes our kids) would watch one every so often and really enjoy it.

(True confession/rant here: Much later, I discovered when going through a spam folder that Diana had actually e-mailed me to review that first series in advance of it coming out.  I was so sad! And it just annoyed me to no end that I still don’t have a good system for keeping up with e-mail.  I’ve just resigned myself to being as good as I possibly can with it, and not getting too annoyed at missed things–like this!–in the past. True confession over).

So I was very excited to read in the EWTN newsletter that Diana and Dave von Glahn, the husband-wife team behind “The Faithful Traveler”  had a new series premiering on The Holy Land.  It airs tonight and every night this week on EWTN, and can be streamed on the website here.

Those who know me well in real life will know that one big goal I have for our family is to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land sometime before our kids are all grown up.

My husband Joseph and I are  members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and the daily requirement of being in EOHSJ is to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”  One of the lifetime requirements is to make a Holy Land pilgrimage.   Since I was pregnant with our youngest child when we were instituted, we haven’t made our pilgrimage yet.  So watching this series will be a good way to go on a virtual pilgrimage right away, and inspire us to begin our planning for it.

I tell people from time to time that I’m saving pennies so that  we can go on a pilgrimage with Steve & Janet Ray of Footprints of God Pilgrimages.  And I still think that may be our plan, but I was happy to see that the von Glahns are also hosting a pilgrimage this summer.  I know this summer won’t work out for our family’s schedule, but I hope they continue to offer Holy Land pilgrimages.

In the meantime, over the next few nights we will be watching what I expect will be an excellent series about the Holy Land.   And to the von Glahns, know that I am a big fan of your work!

Have you made a Holy Land pilgrimage?   Any advice for me if you have?

Pride & Prejudice, Books & Balance

Late year, I was invited to speak to the First Saturday group in Peoria, a gathering of mostly younger women who meet monthly for talks and fun fellowship. To get a feel for this group, you might want to read my article for The Catholic Post covering a bigger gathering they had last year to gather women for talks by Lisa Schmidt and Sister Helena Burns. That was a terrific evening!

My talk to First Saturday was slated for January 4, but since a snowstorm was on its way, the meeting was rescheduled until February 1. Back in January, I had a bare-bones post, mostly to include each of the books I quoted, slated to go, so women wouldn’t have to take notes.  When the talk was canceled I put it back into draft.

My talk was entitled,The Anti-List for the New Year: Books, Balance and Self-Care”. Here’s the blurb about it from First Saturday Facebook page:

Have you made new year’s resolutions? Any for just you?  Join Nancy Piccione at the “first” First Saturday of 2014 as she shares some ideas (through books, naturally) about finding balance in the new year for busy women and moms.  Nancy is the book page editor of The Catholic Post, mom of three, and inveterate reader of Jane Austen.

Clearly, it was meant to be a new year’s talk, but I didn’t want it to be a “to-do” type of talk. I can find those 10 ways to be a better mom in 2014” kind of talks interesting and sometimes helpful.  At the same time,  knowing how busy my own life is, I don’t want to load women up with any more “to-dos.”

What I did was pick a book and a theme for each month, and offer a quote from the book and some ideas about it. I’m not challenging women to read all the books, but to encourage them (and myself)! to do things that bring them joy and energy.

Here at Reading Catholic, I plan to share the idea, quote and book for each month, during that month this year. When I give the talk in February, I’ll have a post with the entire list of books. At the same time, I thought a monthly post about the month’s topic, book and quote was in order.

My goal for the talk is to keep it light, fun and encouraging, and these posts, too, will definitely be impressions rather than fully formed essays. I hope they are enjoyable to you and give you a few new book ideas, or inspire you to re-read an old favorite.

Thanks to Marie, and the rest of the First Saturday team for inviting me. I’d love your feedback here, and I welcome you to the talk, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 1, at the Sacred Heart Room of St. Philomena Parish in Peoria.

January:  “Be Yourself”

A much earlier Norton edition was the first P&P I read ( in college).

Pride & Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet is surely a heroine who is “herself,” and that is what leads Fitzwilliam Darcy to grow in love and pursue her. Because she is not trying to “catch” Darcy, he is able to see her in a natural way, and grow to love her effervescent, smart personality.
That’s also true of our happiness and wholeness. If we pursue the things we love, especially related to our faith, happiness and wholeness is often the result.

Setting up the quote from P&P: This exchange takes place at Netherfield Park, the home of Charles Bingley, a young wealthy man who is pursuing Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Jane. Elizabeth is a guest while her sister Jane is recovering from illness. She prefers to read, and is teased about it by Caroline Bingley, Charles’ sister and certainly a woman who is molding herself to what she thinks Darcy wants in a wife. Caroline teases Elizabeth for reading instead of playing cards with the rest of the party:

“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”

“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”

Soon after there is a discussion about what makes “an accomplished woman,” and Caroline again strives in vain to insinuate herself into Darcy’s good graces by over-agreeing with him.

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

I would argue that it is important to “improve your mind by reading,” since that’s what I love. There’s a quote by Susan Wise Bauer (I can’t find , even after some searching) that younger moms should definitely let the kitchen floor get sticky so you can read the classics, slowly over time. As one who loves reading, and doesn’t have the cleanest kitchen floor on the block, I’m all for this.

For me, reading seems as natural, and as necessary as breathing. I always have multiple books around, and I always have a Jane Austen book going (it’s currently Persuasion, one of my favorites).

But maybe it’s different for you, and reading isn’t a passion, and you learn better other ways. Still, you have talents and health passions that are yours. You don’t have to be an accomplished woman via the Caroline Bingley “checklist” (or mine)—you get to make your own list.

How can you resolve this month to spend more time on what gives you joy and pleasure, so you can be happier and more effective in all the areas of your life?

Scripture take-away:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 12:2.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Can you think of another fictional character, or person you know, who exemplifies a strong sense of self?

Twitterature, December 2013: Jane Austen Birthday Edition

Linking up with Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly round-up of quick reviews.  I enjoy doing this and sharing great current reads, and seeing what others are reading.  This month, since Twitterature falls on Jane Austen’s birthday (I’m writing this the day before, and wondering if Modern Mrs. Darcy will also have an Austen-themed Twitterature?), I thought I would share all Jane-inspired reading.  Coincidentally, many Austen and Jane-inspired books have been in my reading queue in recent months. This month I’m sharing three favorites.

I also realize that planning needs to get underway stat for  the annual tea party that my girls & I host each year in January.  Here’s where I wrote about last year’s gathering, and some fun gift-type items for Austen-lovers. 


I always have a Jane Austen novel going, and it’s easy to pick it up because I have all the novels downloaded to my Kindle App.  Currently, I’m reading (and loving, of course) Persuasion.


As I told my book group when we read Emma earlier this year, this is the first time I read Emma from the perspective of Emma’s dead mother.  I hope that doesn’t seem too maudlin or macabre.  It’s just. . .  interesting.  I am also reading Persuasion from the perspective of Anne Elliot’s  dead mother, and so wishing she could have been there for Anne.


I have just begun Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay , and I SO DEARLY LOVE IT I MUST WRITE IN ALL CAPS SO YOU KNOW.   All things I love in fun fiction: Jane Austen-theme? check.  Epistolary novel?  Check.  A retelling of the beloved Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs? Yes!  Even more icing on the cake: the main character applies to the graduate journalism program at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, my alma mater.

I would write, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire this book.” But I already did that when I reviewed Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom. 


As I wrote back in September’s Twitterature,

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire this literary “memoir” of sorts.  Deborah Yaffe is a kindred spirit to me, similar in age, temperament, and obsession about Jane Austen before Jane was cool. She’s convinced me to do what my husband has long encouraged: join JASNA and attend a convention. #JaneAustenForever

Now I am happy, having written about and thought about Jane Austen and some of my favorite things today. I needed that little boost of happiness in a big way.

What are you reading this month? Whatever it is, I hope it’s making you happy, too.

The Gettysburg Address and the Land of Lincoln

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

On November 19,  1863, Lincoln delivered the 272-word speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, and it has been remembered ever since.

I didn’t realize this anniversary was upcoming until my younger teen and I attended a field trip just this past Saturday with her American Heritage Girls troop to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. On display–only until the end of November–in the museum was one of the five copies Lincoln wrote out in his own handwriting.  Also on display were part of a vast collection of 272-word essays collected this year from schoolchildren, world leaders and others–from governors and college presidents to notables like Pete Seeger (I liked his letter).

We noticed the actual anniversary would come up this Tuesday, and I thought it would be fun for the younger kids and I to suspend our normal school work for the day and explore the Gettysburg Address and other Illinois history.  I made a mental note of it, but completely forgot when the strong storms ravaged nearby communities here on Sunday.

As virtually everyone knows, local communities, primarily Washington, IL, had entire neighborhoods destroyed by the tornadoes on Sunday.  And like most people here in central Illinois, our family knows directly or indirectly many families that either lost all their possessions or had severe damage to their homes & property.

The aerial view of the destruction (it was on the front page of our local newspaper today, but I found it online from an AP gallery here) is just tremendous, and it’s a miracle there were not more casualties.  So we’ve spent the last few days helping or, mostly, trying to figure out how best to help, those in need around us.  We’ve spent some time helping people with child care, and the kids have been brainstorming ideas about having a bake sale to raise money for the Red Cross or other charity efforts.

Early this morning, though, I heard the Gettysburg Address being recited on the radio as I took my older teen to school, and remembered, and so we did spend time exploring it.  We visited the Lincoln Museum website, with lots of information about the anniversary, including activities for school children.

While I was checking out some of the links, and letting others in our local home education community know about today’s anniversary, the kids did the Gettysburg Address as copywork and began to memorize the first section.  I memorized it as a grade school student, and since I can’t recall it verbatim, I’m working along with the kids to memorize it.  So far, I’ve got the above first sentence of the Address down.

We tried to join in with a scheduled webcast from the Lincoln Museum, but it turned out the website information was incorrect. In the meantime, we watched some fun videos of people reciting the Gettysburg Address and other similar on the Lincoln Museum’s YouTube Channel.  And of course, I ordered lots of relevant books from the library. (Late in the day, an online friend shared that PBS aired a documentary called “Lincoln@Gettysburg,” had aired, and so I DVRd one of its showings for later viewing.)

Then we also discovered that “Abraham Lincoln” has a Twitter account, and we could ask questions to a historian there via Twitter.  We asked two questions and got two answers. For some reason my screenshot of those is not formatting here even when I add it, but I’m @ReadingCatholic on Twitter and you can see the questions and answers there.

lincoln tweetThat led me to post on Facebook, “Twitter can be fun. Don’t know whether it is cooler that Matt Maher followed me briefly on Twitter (last week) or that Abraham Lincoln just answered two questions we asked about the Gettysburg address.”

About Matt Maher? That is another very interesting story.  I will be posting a long Q&A I did with him after his concert here in central IL last week, and it will appear in The Catholic Post.  Look for that here later this week, or subscribe via e-mail to Reading Catholic (it’s the box on the upper right of this page), and you won’t miss any future posts.

Back to the Gettysburg Address.  For obvious reasons, commemorating Lincoln, a loyal son of Illinois, at the same time that we are witnessing the outpouring of support for those who lost so much, is very moving.

I have November 19 on my calendar to come up in future years, so hope to commemorate this anniversary well.

Did you do anything for the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address?

Roll Call

I have so many posts in draft, either in my mind or on my laptop, it is unreal.  I think I need to do one of those month-long blog every day challenges just to get me going.  But it’s already November 4, so I’m just going to jump in and blog today, and ponder the concept for a future month (maybe January for me?)

 The post I have most on my mind is a somewhat depressing/somewhat inspiring one about the difference between turning 40 and turning 50.  But I think that would have be crafted a little more carefully before it’s ready for prime time.  Also, I really want to share my own “life skills,” bring back home ec, ideas from the Boston Globe article I first read about here from Dawn at By Sun & Candlelight.

Meanwhile, I just completed a super fun exercise, a “Roll Call” on a local home education list.  I got the idea from a literature e-group I’m on, and since I loved hearing about everyone’s families and projects, I invited the other members to post about this during November.  The responses so far are great, and I thought, I better write mine since I’m the instigator.  But then I wanted to keep mine short so as to encourage those who might not want to write long.  And then I started writing and I was like, I can’t stop! This is so much fun.

Because this made me happy, and got me writing without it  being such a chore, I’m sharing here (more personal information redacted):


I am Nancy. We home educated from the earliest days until a few years ago, when the kids spent 1.5 years at (small, terrific local Catholic grade school). It was a great experience for us, and helped clarify that there are myriad ways that work to educate children and be a happy, holy family.

Here are just three of the many wonderful things about educating our children at home in the early years. First, time with them and the ability to share so many early experiences/read aloud a million books with them. (this can also be a disadvantage, because: February). Second, I love that I was the one to teach all my children to read. Third, the ability to travel so much when kids were younger, chiefly when my parents were ailing & dying in Ohio and we could go back and forth a lot.

(Re: #2: hilariously, two of my children claim they taught themselves to read. I cannot laugh hard enough when I hear this, and so wish I had a video of even 30 seconds of all the hours I spent on the couch with each of them and my well-worn copy of “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,” or various readers of all levels. Teaching kids to read is SO HARD, and I’m so proud that I did it).

When oldest daughter went off to (excellent local Catholic high school) last year, the younger two campaigned to be homeschooled again and I relented. I think I might have even said, “You know, it’s about the same amount of work for me either way.” I’m not really sure that is true, but I do enjoy having them around and learning along with them.

My husband works in health care ethics and ministry.  We call him the theologian/philosopher in the family, since he has a doctorate in theology and does a lot of that for work. I’ve never seen him without a beard, except in old photos (from high school or before).

I just turned 50 last month. I’m telling you because I LOVE my birthday. I also love dark chocolate, Jane Austen, reading, running, and lots of other things.

For the past several years, I have written a monthly book review column for The Catholic Post. This has been good for me spiritually & intellectually. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, mostly because this is how I feel about writing in general, even though my master’s degree is in journalism. You think I would like writing more, but darn it’s so hard sometimes. Here’s the blog where I post my columns, other material from the Book Page, and assorted other writings:

(and I encourage all of you to share if you have a blog or other online site).

Here is a random homeschool story:

Last week, when the younger kids and I perused the book Design Your Own Coat of Arms (suggested in The Story of the World, my favorite history curriculum), and we each made our own coat of arms. I kept trying to come up with a profound motto to translate into Latin, the preferred language for heraldry. For example, my 10 year old selected and translated into Latin, “cross bearer,” since he’s an altar server, and I got a little teary-eyed when he told me.

But for mine, finally I just gave up and translated into Latin “everything tastes better after a hike.” But if I had to choose a funny motto, it would be (translated into Latin, of course) “we’ll jump off that bridge when we get there,” my mom’s favorite Malopropism. She had a lot of those, but that is my favorite, and until very recently my children thought that’s how the saying went.

Here, for realism sake, is a photo of my actual coat of arms:

why cannot I rotate this photo? I think I have done it before, but I can’t. If you tilt your head you can see “everything tastes better after a hike” translated into Latin.


That ended my roll call, and I’d love to hear a “roll call” from any reader who would like to share here, or on your own blog.  Or, if you’d like, care to share what your “motto” would be?  The kids & I would be happy to translate it into Latin for you–with help from Google Translate, of course).

Another 9/11 Anniversary and books to ponder

Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of 9/11.   Do you commemorate this sad anniversary?  Do you remember where you were on the day? I do (and wrote about it for my column on the 10th anniversary of 9/11), and I think most people have total recall of that moment and day.

As usual, I’ve got some book suggestions for helping to both remember and to process 9/11.  And as if often true for tough topics, children’s books can be a great choice.

The primary book that I reviewed for the 10th anniversary was a children’s book about the events of 9/11, He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge, by author Kelly Ann Lynch.   It wasn’t entirely intentional to focus on a children’s book, but as I argue, sometimes “just a kid’s book” can be more insightful and meaningful than books for adults.

hsycoverAt the time of the 10th anniversary, I listened to a radio interview with a American studies professor discussing the “art of 9/11,” focusing exclusively on novels, movies and songs for adults that have come out of the tragedy, and their meaning, and how they have helped us heal (or not) after 9/11.

It was a fascinating interview; yet I found myself thinking about how much more do children need help in processing and understanding difficult events like what happened on 9/11.

I was a volunteer in the library of our local Catholic grade school, and I was fortunate to get a chance to read He Said Yes with different grades of kids, and we talked about what happened that day.

This book ended up being a great way for kids who were unaware of 9/11 to learn about it gently, as 9/11 images were all over the news, and the students are bound to be confronted with it.  Learning about the heroism of Father Judge and others will give, I hope, some framework for understanding beyond the images.

Some of the kids asked me, “Is that a true story?” so we talked about how Father Judge is the listed as the first official fatality on that day.

I was surprised that every single time I read it, I choked up on the last pages of the book, when author Lynch quotes John 15:13, “When Father Mychal ran to the towers, he was following in the footsteps of Jesus, who told his disciples, “No one has grater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Two other excellent children’s books to help the young and not-so-young explore 9/11:

coverThe Little Chapel That Stood by A.B. Curtis is a beautifully illustrated and lyrical poem-book about Old St. Paul’s Church, which survived the attacks at Ground Zero, and became a place of refuge for firefighters and others.

If you can, reading an actual copy of The Little Chapel That Stood makes for great reading with small children; the book itself is handsome and a nice size.  (I finally did break down and buy a copy of the book after a visit to the 9/11 memorial this summer).

If you can’t locate a copy of the book, please consider reading it online on the author’s website.

If you do, remember that this book needs to be read out loud for full effect.  Be prepared to choke up a little if you do read it out loud, when you read many lines, especially about how the firefighters hung up their shoes on the fence of the church:

“Oh what gallant men we did lose, who never came back to get their shoes!”

[The interesting Catholic trivia connection to Old St. Paul’s, an Episcopal Church, is that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born canonized saint, was married to her husband, William Seton, in St. Paul’s, on January 25, 1774.]


Fireboat:  The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman, is another great book about the great and small heroism around 9/11.

This book, too, shows how ordinary people worked to stop the fires at the Twin Towers with a previously retired and restored 1930s-era fireboat.  The illustrations are a kind of modern folk-art, and the text is delightful in conveying such difficult themes.

Do you know of any other 9/11 books for children or adults?  How are you discussing 9/11 with your children?

Here are some links to my prior writings on 9/11 books:

Here is my column on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Here is a Q&A with Kelly Lynch, author of He Said Yes.

That summer, I happened to discover QR codes, and became obsessed with making my own that could go in the print edition of The Catholic Post.  I did eventually make one, that would lead readers to a prayer for 9/11.  You can read about that here.

Finally, I wanted to share a few photos and reflections from the 9/11 Memorial Site.  Our family had the opportunity while in New York City last summer to visit the site and some related areas nearby.

IMG_1234Here is a photo of the interior of St. Paul’s Church, the “Little Chapel that Stood.”  Much of the church is given over to displays on 9/11.  It was quite moving–this was a bed that had been used (among dozens of others) to house workers in the days after 9/11.

This is not exactly apropos of 9/11, but I found this memorial marker in St. Paul’s fascinating. Notice that the man here died, “in the midst of his usefulness.” May it be said of all of us.

The memorial itself is on the site of the twin towers.  Some of the entry areas, and the museum, are still under construction, but it’s a fascinating site.  It’s also heavily visited, and we were fortunate that we could get in after a short-ish wait.  Often there is a long wait to go through security for it, and you can order tickets ahead of time.  We were not aware that tickets were even needed.

The memorial itself consists of the footprints of the two towers.  In place of the each tower, there is a square flowing fountain.

IMG_1254IMG_1256Later that day, I had an interesting discussion with one of my brothers-in-law about the memorial, and his strong objections to it (He’s an architect, so he has some expertise and opinions about these sorts of things).

He commented that the falling water at the memorials was “always falling” as if the towers were falling again.  I don’t agree, since I saw the water and the fountains as cleansing and healing for the land there.  It’s just interesting how there can be different perspectives on the same place.

Around the fountains is a framework, listing all those who died on 9/11, not just in the two towers, but also the planes, those at the Pentagon, and the site in Pennsylvania.

Here is Father Mychal Judge’s name

IMG_1277Here is something I became just a little obsessed with at the memorial.  For some women listed, the wording is “and her unborn child.” (this photo is of “Jennifer Howley and Her Unborn Child.”)

I kept walking around the framework looking for other women who perished in the towers along with their unborn children.  On my casual look I found six total, but there may be more. I was not thinking in a pro-life extremist way, that somehow these lives were more precious because they were so innocent.  Rather, I wondered how the wording happened to be agreed upon, especially in our day and age.

How did these women come to be listed with their unborn children?  Did the families request it?  Were they offered the opportunity to add this on? Was there any controversy about this among the memorial makers?

There is so much political correctness that surrounds abortion, especially in a city like New York.  It’s just intriguing to consider what the backstory on this might be.  More importantly, however, we spent a lot of time that day praying for those who died that day, born and unborn, and that there may be peace in our world.

IMG_1286Are you doing anything to remember the 9/11 anniversary?


A Literary Pilgrimage: Washington, D.C.

In the last few weeks, three different mom friends have asked for some ideas about what to see and do in the DC area, as their families are trekking there this summer. So I’m putting on my thinking cap to offer some ideas.  It’s not exactly a literary pilgrimage … yet.  Books will be added in here eventually; I just want to share some ideas first.

DC is a great travel destination. My husband and I met and married in Washington, DC; I worked there for quite a few years; and I still have a sister who lives there.  So I do know my way around the town a bit.

What’s so great about DC and the surrounding area?

First, most of the attractions and museums are free, so you can easily pop into things without much commitment.

Second, it is such a great walking (and bicycling) city. There’s so much to do and see outside, and one of the best ways to see the city is to walk from one destination to another.

Third, DC has a lot of fun food choices, from ethnic to American. I’m not a gourmet, and these people are traveling with families, so I’m suggesting fun and family-friendly ideas.  Since we live in a small town, eating out for us is a fun part of traveling.

First, let’s get to some of the attractions that are worthwhile seeing: Monuments. A day, or part of a day, is worthwhile to visit the monuments at one end of the National Mall.

When I took the kids to DC for a family graduation several years ago, we took an afternoon to do a “speed walking tour” (we had somewhere to be)  from the Lincoln Memorial and onto the monuments surrounding the Reflecting Pool. Here is the map of those monuments:

DC Monuments Final
This route covers a little more than two miles.

Museums. Another day (or more) could be taken with visiting some or all of the museums/attractions on this side of the Mall. Here’s a Google map of some of those sites that I think are worth seeing:

Museums walk final
This covers close to 2.5 miles.

I added the Old Post Office onto this map as it offers a food court. I think the one at Union Station is better, and also offers real sit-down restaurants as well, but I’ve added that onto the map for Capitol Hill sites.

The following map is somewhat more nostalgic one for me, as it goes near my old neighborhood, the Church in which my husband and I were married, and a favorite casual restaurant we enjoyed, Le Bon Cafe.

Capitol Hill walk

One other site that is important to see and well worth the short drive from the Capitol, is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception  It’s worth trying to catch a daily Mass there, and then visiting the chapels to Our Lady throughout the Shrine. The one to Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of my favorites.

The bookshops/gift shops in the Shrine are really well-stocked, too. just right behind it is the John Paul II Cultural Center. I haven’t been there in years, so I’m not sure what is offered there, but it’s just a short walk from the Shrine, so if time permits it’s worth popping in. In the CUA/Shrine area, the student center at CUA called “The Pryz” has good and inexpensive eats.

Outside of DC, friends who are still local mentioned that the Air & Space Museum at Dulles is excellent:

Family members really enjoy running or hiking along the C&O Canal.

I love seeing Mount Vernon all times of the year. It’s not free but beautiful. I spent many Saturdays riding my bike from my Capitol Hill apartment to Mount Vernon, along the bike trail that runs along the Potomac.

Here’s what I do with a little extra time in the DC area: I am completely enamored of the idea of big city bike shares.  This is a program where bikes are available nearly free at many sites throughout a city.  There’s usually a small fee, like $6, to join the program for a day (or a year, if you live there), and then you can take a bike out whenever you want.

I first saw a bike share program in London when we were there in 2010, and when we saw them in Minneapolis on our Betsy-Tacy pilgrimage last year, I vowed the next time we went there, we would bring helmets and get these bikes for an afternoon or a whole day.

It turns out DC has a bike share program. If I were going this summer, I might try to bring along helmets and figure a way to do a ride, maybe along the Alexandria to Mount Vernon trail.

As far as eats outside DC, I have several fun suggestions, but they are more based on my time in DC many moons ago than anything current.

Arlington, VA, is known for ethnic eateries, and I have three ideas. I’m willing to be corrected or amended here, so comment away.

First, Vietnamese. My husband and I had our first date at a Vietnamese restaurant in Arlington, VA, called Cafe Dalat. But that no longer exists. Sad! I found one called Minh Restaurant. The reason Vietnamese was good in Arlington is there is a significant immigrant community; I hope that’s still the case.

The other kind of food is Peruvian chicken, a special kind of rotisserie chicken that is popular with Peruvian immigrants. El Pollo Rico is the classic version, and it’s excellent and served really simply.    I’m not a fan of Anthony Bourdain, but the video on their website shows how yummy the food is.

This is not exactly ethnic, but rather true blue DC in my mind: Red, Hot & Blue. We like to stop at the one in Annapolis sometimes on our way back from the beach. There are various locations.

Where to stay in DC? That’s for another post, but our family has stayed successfully here since we have family living very nearby.  One set of friends will be staying here . I think this property that is a great location, and Springhill Suites has been renovating its hotels beautifully lately.  If we didn’t have family up in the Northwest DC/Maryland area, I’d definitely try that one next time.

I have some ideas in my mind of books about DC and environs, but that will have to wait for another time.

Do you have any ideas for DC must-see attractions, must-do activities, or must-eat food?