Category Archives: Books for Kids

Big Ideas are Best in Small Doses {My November column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

Let’s just be honest here.

I’m better at GK Chesterton in (very) small doses.

First, I love the great quotes characteristic of this prolific Catholic convert and early 20th century English writer:

“The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.”

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

I also enjoy some of Chesterton’s fiction, setting aside his “metaphysical thriller” The Man Who Was Thursday. That was tough to get through, but I have read it twice. I just couldn’t love it.

As an aside, the recent BBC series (available on Netflix) based on the Father Brown stories is an extremely enjoyable show and in many ways captures the spirit, if not the letter, of Father Brown. The series is set in post-World War II, which makes it truly a loose adaptation, since Chesterton died in 1936.

But when I’ve tried to read one of Chesterton’s book-length non-fiction works, I get seriously bogged down in the sheer volume of thought. His writing meanders, and my mind wanders. I confess freely that I’ve never made it all the way through, with close attention, Orthodoxy, or indeed any book-length Chesterton work of non-fiction.

Surely I’m not the only one?

That’s why I love ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox. It’s just as it sounds—short excerpts from G.K. Chesterton’s writings, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet.

This well-planned book begins with a forward by the noted apologist and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft, who explains why Chesterton’s writing has stood the test of time, and what he has to say to us today.

Then, for each letter of the alphabet, there is a different topic, such as St. Francis for F; Insanity for I; Religions Compared for R; and Yes for Y. Each is a several-page, unabridged excerpt from one of Chesterton’s essays or books. It’s more meaty than a quote, yet not as overwhelming as a full-length book. Interested readers can see in the afterward where the excerpt first appeared, whether in his classic The Everlasting Man or one of his other books or writings.

Actually, this is actually the way Chesterton is meant to be read. He was chiefly an essayist and critic who published essays, reviews, and criticism in magazines throughout his career. That’s how he was known most during his lifetime, and it is in these shorter essays that he shines.

Reading ABCs of the Christian Life is a refreshing introduction or re-introduction to this perceptive writer and his enduring insights about human nature and living as a Christian in modern times.

You might also be interested in:

For someone who doesn’t “love” Chesterton in large doses, I have reviewed a lot books related to him:

*Here’s my review of Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Woman Who was Chesterton, her sweeping biography of Chesterton’s wife.

*Here’s my review of The Chestertons and the Golden Key, a mystery imagined based on real-life friends of the Chestertons.

What are your favorite Chesterton or Chesterton-inspired works?

Staying Catholic Everywhere {My May column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my May column that appears in this issue of the print edition of  The Catholic Post.

It’s graduation season, and time to consider gifts for students in your life. A new book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard: 40 Tips for Faithful College Students is a standout among potential gift book ideas. 

But despite its title, the book is not just for students going to Harvard, or students going to college, or students. It’s for everyone.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is a genuinely helpful and charmingly written guide for anyone from high school on up, wanting to living a faithful, balanced, joyful Catholic life in the midst of our busy, diverse culture and world. As I look through all the quotes that I pulled from this book, each one is applicable and practical not just to students or grads, but to every Catholic.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is written by Aurora Griffin, a recent Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar. I would be inclined to buy this book just for the following quote, in which Griffin talks about distraction in prayer:

“A friend of mine once said that when we focus on the mystery in a decade of the Rosary, we give Mary a flower. When we get distracted, we give her a frog. That may be, but we are lucky that moms love us so much that they still like getting frogs.”

As you may be able to tell, the book is not written in a super-scholarly way, but informal and friendly, like a conversation with your bookish, agreeable friend who’s serious about her Catholic faith and wants to encourage you in yours.

How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard is full of great little nuggets of advice. For instance, in a brief discussion about fasting, Griffin makes the case that refraining from good things we like is not just a virtue and character building practice, but can also help open us to God’s grace:

“The important thing is that if you wish to grow in your spiritual life, you have to get used to saying no to yourself in small ways so that you can be open to God’s grace in big ways.”

After a basic introduction about Catholic life, the book is divided into four major sections: Community, Prayer, Academics, and Living it Out. Each of the 40 “tips” is in one of these four sections.

Griffin puts “Community” first because she considers it the most vital aspect of living out a Catholic faith. But that can be true in life in general—so many studies have shown that people do better in physical and emotional health with social support. She also encourages Catholics to recognize and embrace the diversity of how people live out their faith:

“If you find yourself in a leadership position in a Catholic organization on campus, you’ll need to accept that there are other ways of looking at the Faith apart from your own. If you try to force your views on everyone else, you will waste time and damage the community. Instead, try to appreciate the incredible diversity that comes from being part of the universal Church.”

What I love best about the book is that Griffin is intensely practical about so many things, and yet also calls readers to go deeper in their faith. Even for those who aren’t in college, being intentional about practicing faith is a big part of progress in the spiritual life. Griffin especially recommends a daily “routine of life” for prayer and spiritual practice.

In the tip, “Read Catholic Literature,” Griffin writes that “reading good stories makes us better people: it’s humanizing.”

While it is applicable to everyone, there is a lot of Catholic college-specific advice that is sound and important to consider. For instance, in the “Living it Out” section, Griffin writes about how living one’s faith can be a countercultural act:

“The secular world tells us that college is about getting all our wild days done with before we enter the real world and have responsibilities. It’s absurd, but I’ve even seen parents buy into this myth. The truth is that you never get to put real life on hold—not even in college. Your actions have as many, if not more consequences in college as they do later in life.”

I would consider How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard a great book not just for high school graduates, but those in college, as well as those earlier in high school, so they can begin to consider and integrate some of these ideas into their own developing faith life.

You might also be interested in:

I also highly recommend another book for college-bound students. It’s Your College Faith: Own It! by husband-and-wife team Matt & Colleen Swaim. You can read my reviews of this book here and here, among others. Turns out I’ve mentioned this book (and gifted it) a lot.

Gift Fiction Ideas for Christmas & Beyond

If you’re looking for ideas for a book gift for kids or adults, there are a lot of newer releases, as well as some old standbys, that could fit the bill. Here’s a round-up:

Treachery and Truth: A Story of Sinners, Servants, and Saints by Katy Huth Jones is a fictionalized account of “Good King Wenceslas,” the martyr Vaclav I, as told by his servant Poidevin. It would be great for middle-grade students on up, and is exciting as well as informative about the 10th century in Eastern Europe and Christianity’s spread there.

For even younger readers, The Wolf & the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick by Sherry Weaver Smith and illustrated by Nicholas McNally, follows 11-year-old Kieran as he struggles between wanting the power of a clan leader, and learning about the goodness of St. Patrick and his faith. “What does your heart hunt for?” Patrick asks him, and his adventures in this book helps him discern the right path.

For fans of historical fiction, Ignatius Press has two newer releases that are satisfying for fans of historical fiction:

The Time Before You Die: A Novel of the Reformation by Lucy Becket, tells fictionalized stories about real-life people in 16th century England, a period when choices about living one’s faith were not just difficult, but life-altering.

General Escobar’s War: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War by Jose Luis Olaizola, and newly translated into English by Richard Goodyear, is a fascinating account of the real-life Antonio Escobar, a devout Catholic and faithful general who upheld his oath to support the legal government. His imagined “diary” as he awaits trial and execution from the new government is well-drawn depiction of life in that time and why people choose from among impossible options in wartime.

For Kindle readers, a formerly “local” writer, Angie Sue Dobbs, has published her first novel.
Perfect Timing: A Catholic Romance is the story of two young professionals wanting to find an honorable soul mate, and how they connect is by turns funny, sweet, and fairly realistic. The Catholic perspective of the characters, their friends and family members, is refreshing and natural.

Finally, here’s are a bonus of two family friendly read-aloud during the days leading up to Christmas:

Paraclete Press has a lovely new edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Yes, we’ll be watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” like many families, but nothing compares to reading the original. This handsomely formatted edition includes illustrations from the original 1843 edition. Try not to choke up as you read the last chapter.

Rumer Godden’s The Story of Holly & Ivy, her classic tale that I often recommend to people as a Christmastime read-aloud.

All of Rumer Godden’s books are tinged with a kind of melancholy joy, as well as a sense of wonder and magic of the everyday. That is what makes them so worthwhile to read. “The Story of Holly & Ivy” follows orphan girl Ivy as she tries to find “her grandmother” and develops a special relationship with Holly, a Christmas doll. In the hands of a different writer, it could be syrupy sweet, but Godden is a master of combining sadness with humor and eccentric characters in delightful and gripping stories.

Do you have any ideas of fiction gift books? What are the favorite perennial Christmas books at your house?

Meet a Writer: Marie Taraska {@TheCatholicPost}

DSC_0150 My headshot
This month, the book page of The Catholic Post features a local Catholic writer, her new book, More Than Heaven Allowsand her love of writing and reading.

How you know me: Most people know me as the Spanish teacher who taught at Peoria Notre Dame High. I also set up Spanish programs at St Mark’s School, St. Thomas School, St. Patrick School in Washington and St. Mary School in Metamora. I have also tutored the sisters from Mexico in English at the Spalding Center for many years.
Why I love writing: I have always loved writing. I write in a diary every day. I’ve also published two children’s books:Villie the Germ and The Crust Fairy. I’ve written many other children stories, had them professionally illustrated, and gave them to my grandchildren, who always have a lot to say about them. Since I was a teacher for nearly 30 years, my children’s books always teach a lesson. The Toe Ring and The No-No Boy were about some of my grandchildren.

My current book: More Than Heaven Allows was my first memoir/novel, and it’s the story of my and my husband’s life.

My journey begins with having met my husband in college and continues with our lives in medical school and through his residency with little money. It talks about the birth of our five children. It encompasses our struggles when a horrible explosion endangers the lives of two of our children leaving scars both physically and emotionally. The story continues with my journey of forgiveness, love, and faith in Our Lord and the family’s ultimate triumph over adversity.
What I’m writing now: I am working on another book about my husband’s life having grown up during the Depression and his endeavor to become a pathologist.

What I’m reading now: At present I am reading Treasure in Clay the wonderful autobiography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheens life. I find it fascinating.

The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl {Kidlit Corner}

It is really hard to get Catholic fiction “right” for younger readers, especially for tweens and teens. That’s why it is so satisfying to finish a book like The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl.

The Perfect Blindside is a fast-paced mystery/romance told through the lives of two teens in a small Colorado town— Jake, an Olympic medalist snowboarder who’s new in town, and Sophie, an honor student who’s judgmental and skeptical of Jake’s intentions.  The book is an excellent novel, period, and it also happens to weave in Catholic themes.  That’s a win.

“Mystery” is the primary focus of the novel, as the two teens, often at odds, improbably work together to find out what’s going on in a nearby abandoned silver mine.  The romance is a subordinate, but lighthearted aspect.

At times, The Perfect Blindside reminded me of a Nancy Drew novels, which I adored as a young reader.  What I loved was all the excitement of solving a mystery by yourself, or with the help of a few trusted same-age friends.  When I began to introduce Nancy Drew to my children when they were young, I was momentarily horrified to see how much Nancy put herself and her friends in danger solving mysteries.  But the situations she puts herself in are so improbable that it’s not really an active inspiration to younger readers.  They just enjoy the stories and the excitement, as I did as a kid.

In the same way, the teens in The Perfect Blindside make over-adventerous decisions when it comes solving their mystery, but it’s so far “out there” that it wouldn’t inspire younger readers to be reckless in solving their own mysteries.  Instead, it’s just a diverting and an entertaining plot device to move the story along.

A “blindside” in snowboarding is a trick that a boarder makes without being able to see the path, and this book improvises on that theme to explore how the teens try to make their way without being able to see the path ahead.

While the primary enjoyment of this book is in the mystery and the perilous situations, it is also present in the very natural progress of both teens’ spiritual and emotional development.  Both Jake and Sophie learn where they’ve been wrong, where they can improve, and how to avoid rash judgment and rash decisions.  Catholic life and faith is woven seamlessly throughout the book without seeming “preachy” or moralistic.

Leslea Wahl has written in an interview (here) that she “simply wanted to write good, moral, young adult novels full of adventure and excitement.”  Consider that goal richly fulfilled in The Perfect Blindside.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? {My August column @TheCatholicPost }

In a word, no.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the title of an award-winning graphic novel/memoir by the artist and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an amazingly funny, poignant, unapologetically honest account of the decline and death of Chast’s parents, and how she processed it both emotionally, physically, and artistically. If you’ve been through caring for elderly parents, you will find yourself nodding at this book.

For obvious reasons, the title of that book was prominently in mind when I began to review an important new book about at the scourge of pornography on our culture.

Believe me, I’d much rather talk about something more pleasant. As frequent readers of The Catholic Post  can tell from the books normally reviewed here, I genuinely try to focus on the positive aspects of life as a modern Catholic. And there is plenty of positive to focus on. But every so often, a cultural moment making it vital to tackle uncomfortable truths.

The tipping point for me was the open letter written and read in court earlier this year by the young woman who was raped by a student at Stanford University. The details of her account convinced me and many others that there is a huge crisis of depersonalization in our culture, and that sexuality is the center of that struggle.

If you don’t think this kinds of event is directly related to the epidemic of porn in our culture, you haven’t done even the tiniest bit of research on how pornography affects the brain, especially those of the young. And some of the generation growing up right now are, to put it mildly, adversely affected by easy access to pornography.

Cleansed: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn by Marcel LeJeune is a sobering, but ultimately hopeful, book about the cancer that is pornography.

LeJeune works in college ministry—he’s the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, the largest campus ministry in the country. LeJeune writes candidly about his own struggles as a young man with porn, but much more importantly, he writes both about the ways that people who struggle can break free from this pernicious addiction, as well as the ways people can avoid and help young people especially stay away from it.

Cleansed first outlines the incontrovertible evidence that pornography is highly addictive and corrosive to healthy relationships, families, and society at large, and why that matters. LeJeune then shares a Catholic vision of combatting porn, from virtue development, to accountability groups, to prayer and penance, to protecting those under one’s care. He points that in extreme cases, professional counseling may be needed, as porn is widely recognized as a “process addiction” such as gambling.

Cleansed isn’t just for those who struggle  with pornography. It’s also for parents who want to know how to keep kids safe from encountering pornography. Mostly, it’s for anyone who would want to be aware and equipped.

Because of the subject matter of a book like Cleansed, it’s obviously is not for young readers. Yet one of the key points of the book is keeping the very young from encountering and potentially becoming addicted to pornography online. LeJeune gives a lot of excellent advice for parents, including close monitoring of Internet use, a well-adjusted relationship, and a willingness to talk to young children candidly about the beauty of sexuality and how pornography distorts and even kills its healthy expression.

For parents who want to talk about this sensitive area in a careful way with children of all ages, I highly, highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids by Kristen A. Jenson M.A. and Debbie Fox.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures shares a large amount of information to help even very young children understand that “bad pictures” are out there, and it’s likely they will encounter them, but must work to keep away from them to grow up healthy emotionally, physically, and developmentally.

Parents should absolutely read the book first to decide how to present the material, but the narrative provides not just data about how pornography is freely available, but can be extremely damaging to children’s developing brains.

Even with the best internet filters, children may be in a situation where they encounter pornography or something that could lead them towards the damaging, hard-core images. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures helps children develop their own “internal internet filter,” and compellingly makes the case for why they should do so. The book offers a five-point CAN-DO plan to help kids who might accidentally encounter troubling images, and helps them have a pro-active stance towards internet use.

Healthy parents want for their children what’s best. And healthy parents want their children to grow up healthy in every way, so they can flourish in relationships, from friendships to marriage, and in every area of life. Giving children the tools strategies to do that is a gift parents can give in so many ways. Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, is a vital resource book for parents to help give that gift to their children.

Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights {Finding Your Fiat talk notes}

I am still processing the wonderful Finding Your Fiat Conference I attended last weekend here in central Illinois.  So many great memories and take-aways. Before I get to my promised talk notes, here are a few highlights of “Finding Your Fiat” from me:

*Friday night gathering: a mini-concert and then Karaoke with Marie Miller. I didn’t actually do Karaoke but I loved getting to sing and dance along. So many ladies ( Bonnie and Nell and so many others) did really funny and great songs. Now I want to somehow do karaoke with the family or friends. Is there an app or inexpensive way to get started with this?

*Saturday’s program: so many awesome women, so many adorable babies, praise and worship with Marie Miller, and more.  The coloring pages provided by Katie Bogner, were lovely and relaxing as we began the day.  Katie also hand-stamped sweet charms with the word “Fiat” on them.   I wrote down tons of quotes from Colleen Mitchell and Meg Hunter-Kilmer and Jenna Guizar.  I wish I could have heard the talks by Annie Tillberg and Laura Fanucci, but I was listening to a different talk during the former and giving my talk during the latter.  I was super grateful that Mary Lenaburg agreed to come up towards the end of my talk and share some of her wisdom about finding time for life-giving pursuits even while processing grief and life changes.

So without further ado, here are notes from my talk, entitled:

Eleazar’s Commonplace Book, or Shine Like Lights

“Finding Your Fiat”

Intercession of

Venerable Matt Talbot

Venerable Father Solanus Casey


“Shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life.” —Philippians 2:15-16

entire quote:

“So then, my beloved obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to dear and to work.

Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among who you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”



Hebrew scribe, 90 years old, martyred in Maccabees persecution

“But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.

“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty.  Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”  –2 Maccabees 6:23-28

(worth reading the whole chapter and 2 Maccabees 7, the martyrdom of mother and seven sons, and she died after all her sons).

Commonplace book:

a notebook/scrapbook combination, a way for a learned person, scholar, or writer to keep random bits of information in one place.

have existed in that name since the 17th century, but even beforehand in works like the Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci.

Here is a link to a facsimile of John Milton’s Commonplace Book

Here is a link to John Locke’s A New Method of Making Commonplace Books.

So, Eleazar’s Commonplace Book: random quotes and pieces of books from one who wants to be “worthy of her years and gray hair”  to help you consider ways to “shine like lights” throughout life, and be able to persevere (“hold on to the word of life” and not “run in vain”).

Making Books–

Here is the hot dog booklet, and a link to the website with various other small book projects.


St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Beatitudes

“Bodily health is a good thing, but what is truly blessed is not only to know how to keep one’s health but actually to be healthy. If someone praises health but then goes and eats food that makes him ill, what is the use to him, in his illness, of all his praise of health?
“We need to look at the text we are considering in just the same way. It does not say that it is blessed to know something about the Lord God, but that it is blessed to have God within oneself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I do not think that this is simply intended to promise a direct vision of God if one purifies one’s soul. On the other hand, perhaps the magnificence of this saying is hinting at the same thing that is said more clearly to another audience: The kingdom of God is within you. That is, we are to understand that when we have purged our souls of every illusion and every disordered affection, we will see our own beauty as an image of the divine nature.”

QUESTION: How is the Kingdom of God Within You?


From City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Kraków by George Weigel.

“He was a moral reference point for his friends and did not hesitate to be a challenging counselor and confessor. But the pastoral stress … was always on personal responsibility. He was not the decider for his friends; they must be their own deciders, he insisted, if they were to be true to the moral dignity built into them as human persons and as Christians. “

later in the book:

“(Fr. Wojtyla was), according to one of his friends and penitents, uninterested in the ‘mass production of Christians’ in a confessional assembly line, but deeply committed to accompanying a fellow believer in his or her quest for the truth, including the truth of failure and the truth about making wise decisions. Yet Wojtyla, the confessor who gently prodded good decisions, never imposed decisions. ‘You must decide’ was his signature phrase in spiritual direction. One couldn’t opt out of the drama of life in the gap. One had to decide–and, with the grace of God and the support of the Church, wise and true decisions could be made.”

QUESTION: How can you be a decider? How can you be a good decider, filled with personal responsibility?


 Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery (writer of the Anne of Green Gables books).  I dearly love all of the Anne books, and this is the last in the series about her family, and about Anne & Gilbert’s youngest child, darling, charming and growing-up Rilla (named after Marilla). Rilla of Ingleside is such a good book as a coming-of-age story, but also great historical fiction about WWI written close to the time. Noble and heartbreaking without being completely depressing, as a lot of fiction about WWI is, and rightfully so, since it’s the first modern war.

At one point, Rilla is bemoaning in a conversation with her brother Walter how the war is changing their whole community and family. Her brother Walter says:

“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.”

QUESTION: What kind of happiness have you won in the way of duty?


Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

Set in early 20th century Minnesota, Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the iconic Betsy-Tacy books, is a coming-of-age story about a high school graduate, Emily, who can’t go away to college like her cousin and friends since she is taking care of the elderly grandfather who raised her. At first, she wallows in pity.

“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.

Later, she learns to “muster her wits” and she starts a reading group, and goes out to dances, and becomes active in helping Syrian immigrants.  She discovers a quote in Shakespeare: 

“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.

QUESTION: How Can you Muster Your Wits? What are your Resources for Doing that?  (friends, faith, outside help) 


C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon “(Screwtape) to his nephew about ways to ensnare a young man in WWII-era England.  It’s a classic on the spiritual life and growth in holiness, both funny and spiritually insightful. All the terms and suggestions are backward (the Enemy is God).

“The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

QUESTION: What is Your Tripe & Onions?


Rumer Godden’s Autobiography: A House with Four Rooms.

“There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual . Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.” 

Question: How can you air out those four rooms each day, or even each week?  What can you do to be well-rounded?

RESOLUTION: How can you make time for something you “want” to do, not “have” to do?

My best example of a “want to”: The New York Times mini-crossword.

Some of mine:


Daily Mass–more when kids were tiny, less when kids were busy



QUESTION: What “want-tos” are you going to make intentional over the next few weeks? 

I would love to hear what want-tos are in your line-up the next few weeks.  If you attended “Finding Your Fiat,” I’d also love to hear your favorite parts and things you are pondering.

As a sharing of one of my “want-tos,” here is my completed New York Time mini-crossword for Wednesday (BTW, I didn’t do it in 35 seconds! I did it late last night, as I mentioned in my talk, and forgot to take a screen shot, so I did it again this morning. But many times I do get it in under a minute.):


Chesterton Mystery Book a Charming Introduction to Catholic Literary Giant {Kidlit Corner}

Today I’m introducing a new feature called “Kidlit Corner.” I’ve long wanted to be more intentional about introducing readers here and in The Catholic Post to good children’s literature (sometimes called “kidlit”), both old and new. So I’m just going to jump in and start.  I’m sure it will evolve over time, and perhaps have a name change. Stay tuned!

“Whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” — Philippians 4:8

Keeping younger kids in chapter books, the shorter, interesting stories to help readers transition from easy readers to full-length novels, can be a challenge.  There are always the classic series like The Boxcar Children and The Magic Tree House series, which offer enjoyable and well-told mysteries for younger readers. 

But sadly, this category in recent years has also filled up with many “branded” or commercialized stories that promote the latest movie or television show, and are the equivalent of processed food.  Kids might be “reading” these books, but they are not especially nourishing.  It’s like chips for the mind.

Younger readers deserve hearty fare as they are beginning to love reading—books that are fun and relatively easy to read, but provide an interesting and worthy subject matter. Consider such books meat & potatoes, or healthy comfort food, for the emergent reader.

One great new offering in the chapter-book genre is The Chestertons and the Golden Key by Nancy Carpentier Brown, with Regina Doman, and lovely period-style illustrations by Ann Kissane Englelhart. 

The Chestertons and the Golden Key is a charming story about GK Chesterton and his wife, on vacation one summer, meeting and befriending a young family, and helping them solve a child-friendly mystery.

As I read the story, I thought it was mostly fiction.  It turns out the story is based on the real-life Nicholls family, whom the Chestertons did meet and befriend when they  visited Lyme Regis, England.  The afterward describes the actual story, and how Carpentier Brown’s research lead her to the Nicholls family and relatives who were still alive to tell her some stories.

You might also be interested in:

Previously, Nancy Carpentier Brown also has adapted for younger readers a good variety of Chesterton’s most famous Father Brown mystery stories. 

The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton, and The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton offer budding mystery lovers a chance to be introduced to one of the classic sleuths from the prolific Chesterton.

Carpentier Brown is also the author of the well-regarded adult biography of Frances Chesterton, The Woman Who Was Chesterton.  You can read my review of that book here.

The #YearofMercy : Ideas, Links, and Modest, Merciful Goals

My column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post, and here in just a few days, essentially involves me admitting I haven’t made any plans for the Year of Mercy.

My column does offer books that relate to it, but for me, writing that column prompted me to take a minute to “get with it” and make some plans and modest goals for living out this tremendous year. And it’s well-known that writing plans down makes them more likely to be achieved.  In addition, I will be glad to have a place to capture all of my thoughts, important links, and other notes.  So here goes:

The Divine Mercy Chaplet: I’m not sure if this is ironic or something else, but one of my first thoughts was when I heard about the Year of Mercy, was “I’m going to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every single day of the year.”  That may seem like an ambitious plan, but really, I end up saying it more days that not.  Making it an explicit goal should help me be sure to do it every day, right?

Here’s the ironic/funny part: I’ve barely said it (maybe twice?) since the Year of Mercy started last week.   So I’m laughing at myself (in mercy? see how I did that?), and also resolving to find a regular time that I can pray the Chaplet.  I’ve loved this prayer for at least 18 years, I’m pretty sure since my oldest was a baby. Praying it as much as possible this year is doubtless a good idea.

As many people know, I am a big user of apps for prayers and novenas.  I find most of the Divine Mercy chaplet apps fairly annoying, including the “official” one. App developers, get rid of the sound effects, or give us the opportunity to in settings, already.  This is a very simple and effective one for iOs I’ve discovered recently.


Looking for Mercy:  Here is the Vatican document, called “Misericordiae Vultus,” which released on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Second Sunday of Easter) this year to announce and prepare for the Year of Mercy.  Just glancing at it, though, makes me want to read the entire thing, more slowly, to get a sense of what the year is meant to be for people and the Church.

Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy: Pope Francis composed a prayer for the Year of Mercy.  Our family will try to pray this prayer, perhaps in advance of saying night prayer.  I’ve already formatted it nicely in a document–perhaps I will try to put it in an edit. Another modest goal.

Pinterest Board: It occurred to me that a good way to capture articles and ideas for the Year of Mercy is to create a board on Pinterest. I’ve begun that  (and will pin much of what I’m gathering here), but what I really need to do is just keep coming back to the Year of Mercy board created by local blogger Katie Bogner.  Here is just one of her blog posts about celebrating the Year of Mercy, but her board includes resources from all over the Web.

Visiting Pilgrimage Churches and Chapels: The Diocese of Peoria website has a “mercy” page with Bishop Jenky’s Festival Letter, as well as a list and photos of all the churches and chapels designated as “pilgrimage” sites.  I thought it would be a great way to celebrate the year as a family to try to get to all those sites sometime during the year, and walk through the doors of mercy in all those locations. Wouldn’t it be great to get to Rome to go through the Jubilee Door in the Vatican?  In lieu of that, visiting the local sites ( or looking into ones places we travel this year) would be a great way to keep mercy in mind.

Living the Year of Mercy in the Family:  Marcia, another local blogger and dear friend, has compiled a list of ideas for living the Year of Mercy in the family. I love the idea here of “virtually” visiting the Divine Mercy Shrine in Poland, and many other ideas here.

Confession: Confession seems to me the most important sacrament this year. So perhaps working on not just going to Confession more often, but trying to make better confessions.  Related here would be trying to be more merciful and forgiving to others and myself.

I know I will come up with many more ways to celebrate and mark this Year of Mercy.   You’ll notice that I’m not listing a lot of books.  I read so much as it is, and I want to be sure to try things that can  involve more than just me, or allow me to reflect on the year. What I will do is create a shelf on my GoodReads for the Year of Mercy, and add books to it as time goes on. Suggestions welcome!

What are some of your ideas for the Year of Mercy? What do you have planned?

I will update this post with any other ideas I have, and I’d love to hear (and perhaps add!) yours.   If you’d like to be added as a collaborator on the “Year of Mercy” Pinterest board, please let me know, or send me a message on Pinterest.  I’d love for it to be a group board with lots of ideas.

Meet a Reader: Amy Lee

Following is the monthly feature that appears in the print edition of The Catholic Post, featuring a Peoria diocesan reader.


How you know me:

I’m a parishioner at St. Marys’ Cathedral in Peoria, IL. I was blessed to start attending and serving Mass there when I was a sophomore at Bradley University. It is through the Newman Center at Bradley and the Cathedral that I met my husband, Phillip Lee. We were married in 2013, and last year welcomed our daughter, Elizabeth. In addition to being a wife and mother, I also work as a full-time nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Galesburg, IL.

Why I love reading:

I love reading fiction mostly, and good books have become friends. When I read, I can instantly visit a new place, meet new people, experience different cultures, and even travel through time. My favorite books have the ability to inspire and challenge me to learn and grow into a better person. They have introduced me to characters that I admire and desire to emulate. When I read, my imagination can take over, and I can dream.

What I’m reading now:

I’m currently reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, aloud to my husband and daughter whenever I get the chance.

Other frequent contenders in the “board and baby book” category include: Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, I Love You Through And Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and Five Little Monkeys Storybook Treasury by Eileen Christelow.

I am also (slowly) reading Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fr. Andrew Apostoli.

My Favorite Book:
This is a tough one to answer. If I have to choose one, I would have to say Little Women. I can’t even begin to remember how many times I’ve read it. I also love just about anything by Jane Austen, and Pride and Prejudice  in particular, is at the top of the list. I’m also a big Tolkien fan, and have been known to be addicted to the Star Wars universe.