Category Archives: Moms

A Commonplace Book {Talk to St. Jude Moms Group}

As promised, following are the notes of books & resources I mentioned during my talk today to the St. Jude Moms Group.

Father Solanus Casey, “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” and “Thank God ahead of time.”

Father Solanus Casey Guild 

St. John Bosco

Philippians 2:15-16 (read entire passage)

Mini-Weapons of Mass Destruction 

Night Prayer (and the entire Liturgy of the Hours, daily plus Mass Readings)


Ephesians 4:26

1 Peter 5

Humana Vitae

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk 

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair 

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr 

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Kids (highly recommended)

John Milton’s Commonplace book

John Locke’s “A New Method of Making Commonplace Books”

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen 

The How of Happiness

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin 

Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery 

(but if you haven’t read the rest of the series, consider starting with a $0.99 Kindle version of the whole series, starting with Anne of Green Gables . 

The Mistmantle Series by M.I. Mcallister 

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (highly recommended):

Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Rumer Godden:

The Kitchen Madonna 

The Story of Holly & Ivy 

In This House of Brede

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell

an incomplete list of “Catholic memoirs” from a talk I gave last summer 

The New York Times Crossword app

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain) by Lloyd Alexander 

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.

Good Reads for #Krakow2016 #WYD

World Youth Day in Krakow is underway.

In the category of “better late than never,” I’m sharing some great reads to consider reading or re-reading to get and stay in the spirit of World Youth Day, especially for those of us watching from afar.

First, a few fun links:

The #WYD website.

A Facebook overlay for your Facebook profile. This took me a few tries, but I’m really glad to have changed my profile photo to reference WYD.

Now to the books:

I mentioned this book recently, but it’s well worth reading–travelogue and spiritual biography of Poland, chiefly Krakow.

Two great quotes from City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow about the spiritual fatherhood of St. John Paul II:

“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. “


“(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.”

George Weigel wrote City of Saints, but he’s known best for writing the definitive biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope.  This is a long book, but so worth reading. A classic.


I’ve written about Jason Evert’s book, Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves before, but I’ll reiterate that this book is highly readable and fascinating account. I mean this as a compliment, but it’s like a lighter version of Witness to Hope.
Many pilgrims to World Youth Day will be visiting Divine Mercy sites related to St. Faustina.  Divine Mercy for Moms is an engaging introduction to the saint and the devotion.

I have many more books to add, including my favorite poetry books by John Paul II, but this post has been in draft long enough!

What would you recommend people read to celebrate World Youth Day 2016?

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

The Right Kind of Encouragement for Family Life {my July column @TheCatholicPost}

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

To be honest, I sometimes get irritated at the topics or titles of books because of the potential hubris involved.

“The Best and Only Diet for Everyone. “The One Fool-Proof Way to Get Your Baby to Sleep.” “Have a Perfectly Organized House in 3 Hours or Less.” These aren’t real book titles, but could be, because we all recognize something similar in books or articles out there.

Maybe that’s because the more I live, the less convinced I am that there is ONE WAY to do any one thing. Think you have it all figured out? You probably don’t. Even if an author has expertise in a field, the most effective books will inspire people with gentle guidance and information, and encourage people.

That’s why I appreciate three newer books that offer a tremendous amount of sensible advice and encouragement for three stages of life—wedding, childbirth, and child-raising— with none of the guilt or stress that can vex readers. If you’re in one of these stages of life, or know someone who is, these books are first-rate.


Like many women, I have always enjoyed bridal magazines and seeing the fun crafts, food, and other details that go into wedding planning.

The lovely book  Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner by Stephanie Calis, provides a Catholic perspective on these topics.

The first half of Invited focuses on the practical, complete with checklists for budgeting, other marriage prep and ideas, the Mass, and the reception. The latter chapters are a very gentle, very well-put, explanation of Catholic teaching on various areas related to marriage and the wedding, from “holding on to your sanity” to starting your life together.

Particularly strong were the chapters on beauty, inspiring women to have a healthy sense of beauty without going overboard or playing the “comparison game” too much; and what Calis terms “the sex chapter,” a sensitive and thorough explanation,rooted in the Theology of the Body, of Catholic teaching on sexuality. Calis’ husband Andrew writes periodic “from the groom” sections providing a male view of things.

Each chapter ends with a “for conversation” paragraph meant to spark healthy discussion between bride & groom.

Invited would make an excellent gift for a recently engaged couple.


The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust is like a motherhood retreat, for both expectant and new moms, and even moms of any age.

Theologian and mother of five Windley-Daoust has written a personal, Catholic, and realistic look at the process of birthing, both normal and not-so-normal circumstances. Her writing style is theological, but with a mother’s heart. She shares some of her own birth stories, as well as those of many others. The book is suffused with the spiritual as well as physical, emotional, and practical aspects of childbirth.

Though the title may make it seem like it’s for the title, it’s not just for pregnant moms or moms of young ones.

I thought I would be less interested or affected by this book, since it’s been more than a decade since I have had a baby. But I found as I read that it was both lovely and healing to reflect back in a spiritual way, my own experiences of giving birth. The Gift of Birth offers space for moms to reflect and consider the awesome things, the good things and the less-than-great things that happen during pregnancy and childbirth.

The Gift of Birth spans four sections: “The Theology of the Body and Childbirth,” “Reading the Signs of Birth,” “When Childbearing is Difficult, Where is God?”, and “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories.” It’s hard to pick a favorite section, but the chapters of “Reading the Signs of Birth” follow the progression of labor and birth, and the spiritual meaning present. The range of birth stories shared in “Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories” is both fascinating and prayerful as eight women reflect on giving birth in their own lives.

Obviously, a book like The Gift of Birth would be ideal for an expectant mom, but would also be excellent for women of any age.

Once-local author Marc Cardaronella, who previously worked in evangelization in the diocese of Peoria, has written a remarkable new book called, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick. [Cardaronella is now director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute for Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph, Missouri.]

The title of Keep Your Kids Catholic gave me the most worry, since any kind of parenting book or advice always strikes fear and sometimes amusement into the heart of many parents, myself included. Perhaps it’s because I, like so many others before me, vowed when I didn’t have kids that I would parent differently (and so much better) than all the parents I saw around me. You know, the statements like “my child will never eat candy before lunch” or “my children will never interrupt two grown-ups having a conversation.” Etc. And then you laugh at your younger self.

Keep Your Kids Catholic is by no means one of that kind of book. It could be titled, Keep Yourself Catholic more than anything else, since Cardaronella stresses the importance of personal witness and a vibrant Catholic home environment as being vital to fostering faith among young people.

The book is divided into four sections, all leading towards encouraging young people to explicitly embrace the Catholic Faith as their own: “How Does Faith Work?”, “Is Your Own Faith Secure?”, “What Kind of an Education Fosters Faith?” and “How Do You Create An Environment of Faith?”

Cardaronella emphasizes two interconnected goals: one, as a parent, having a rich faith and prayer life; and two, having a strong relationship with your children, especially as they grow older. Those two features are also key for a healthy family atmosphere. He also covers the importance of strong mentoring relationships with others in teen and young adulthood years and having healthy relationships with a Catholic community in one’s parish, among families, and among children themselves. The maxim, “It takes a village,” is certainly relevant here.

Cardaronella combines his own story of reversion to the Catholic faith along with what he’s learned as a parent and catechist. He admits he is not an expert in child-raising, but Keep Your Kids Catholic provides ample good advice and information for parents everywhere.

Meet a Reader: Teresa Oltman {@TheCatholicPost}


How you know me: I am a homeschooling mother of five children, ages 15 years to 10 months old. My husband Joel and I live the country life just outside of Geneseo. We are members of St. John the Baptist parish in Rapids City, where Joel and I teach 2nd-year confirmation class. I am a hairstylist by trade and worked in the salon for eight years before having our fourth child. I come from a family of Carmelites on my mother’s side. I’m the oldest child of Kyle and Paula Hernstrom, and I have lived in the Quad Cities Area my whole life.

Why I love reading: In all honesty, it is a chore for me to read. Unlike my 11-year-old son, who doesn’t know what to do with himself if he doesn’t have a book in hand, I never read outside of what was necessary until I was about 20 years old. Oddly enough, it was reading that brought me back to the Faith. We did not have the Internet for the first few years of our married life, so books became my way to learn more about the Catholic Faith. I started with Sacred Scriptures, chiefly the Gospels. From then on, I have always had a desire to read about the history of our faith and any reading that might aid in spiritual growth. I now enjoy reading now but only if it is spiritually edifying.

What I’m reading now: Outside of the kids’ school history lessons and stories, I do not have much time for reading outside of the Daily Mass Readings, devotionals, articles, and emails.

But now that it is October (the month of my namesake, Teresa of Avila), I have pulled out my copy of Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, along with Mornings with Saint Thérèse by Patricia Treece, and Therese’s Story of a Soul.

My favorite book: St. Augustine’s Confessions was one of the first spiritual books that I dove into, and it remains one of my favorites.

I love anything written by C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dietrich (or Alice) Von Hildebrand, our dear St. John Paul II, or the Early Church Fathers. But I’d have to say that the book I’ve read most often and therefore my favorite would have to be The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.

Promoting Vocations Within the Family {Talk Notes}

Following are notes for my portion of the talk that my husband Joseph & I will give to the “Wake Up the World: The Joy of Consecrated Life” conference in Peoria September 19.  Surprisingly, I am recommending a lot of books (ha), and so this post helps people recall the books without having to take copious notes.  Also, for those who are not able to attend but might care to see.

Joseph & I have discussed about the division of labor for this presentation, and I’m really looking forward to what he has to say.  He’s a much more experienced speaker than I, so part of me is also hoping to get my notes down here in a slightly more “polished” way so that I will be slightly more “polished” than normal for me.

I’d love to hear your book suggestions on this topic, as well as any other ideas you have on this.  The survey I reference very briefly below (I hope to do a longer post about it when time permits) reflects many perspectives, and I was so grateful for all those voices.  If you are interested in taking the survey I reference, let me know in the comments and I will send you the link.


Quite a few months ago, a religious sister we know well asked my husband Joseph & I to give a talk at a vocations conference.  We were honored, but also felt un-equipped to speak on the official topic, “Promoting Vocations in the Family.”  After all, we only have two teens and a tween at our house. But Sister Sarah reassured me, (and I quote), “I have full faith and confidence in you.” So I’m hanging my hat on that.

We are each going to take different elements of “promoting vocations within the family.” We heartily believe that each of our children has a vocation—it may be to the priesthood, or religious life, or marriage. Helping them understand and discover that vocation, and being open themselves and being open to their journey, is a chief goal of parenting.

Here’s what I plan to cover:

*FAMILY AFFAIR:  how forming your family in faith, as individuals and as a family, is super unique, and there’s no formula to.  Related to that is that no family is perfect, and bickering and differences are  completely normal.  At least I hope so. 🙂

*BOOKS, BOOKS, and more BOOKS.  How books, and individual stories, can help anyone, young person, adult, or others, understand a little of how someone experiences a vocation to consecrated life, and how families and faith communities can be open and supportive of those journeys, wherever they lead.

*FINALLY, the MYSTERY of VOCATION.  I’ll share some thoughts from those who live out a vocation in religious life or the priesthood, and a survey I sent out to them and how it reflects on this mystery. We’ll also reflect on how we are ALL called to VOCATION, and how that will look for each person is very different.

I hope to expand on my notes for each category in either future posts or updating the posts, but right now here are just the highlights and chiefly, book links to my prior reviews, of the books mentioned.


*forming children in the faith

*looks different for every family: “Prayer is as individual as a fingerprint.”

*what works best for your family? Is it family Rosary? Night Prayer? Mass together? Separate?

*do what works best for your family.

*don’t be afraid to abandon what doesn’t work, or no longer works in this season, or to try new things.

Scripture from Night Prayer, Saturday night:

from Deuteronomy 6:4-7

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

2.  BOOKS, BOOKS, and more BOOKS

Yes, God!: What Ordinary Families Can Learn about Parenting from Today’s Vocation Stories by Susie Lloyd.

Here is my review. A quote from that:

“Each chapter of Yes, God! Susie Lloyd profiles one of ten priests and religious from families, large, small and in-between; broken, barely intact and robustly healthy. The book shares how each family shaped in some way each person’s vocation path, and what makes it unique.

Is there any similarity between the families, a formula that guarantees kids who grow up happy and whole, much less following a vocation? No, and that’s what makes Yes, God! so fascinating. The stories of five men and five women who followed religious vocations is fingerprint-personal to each of those featured.

Tolstoy (yes, in Anna Karenina) famously wrote that “all happy families are alike, and each unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.”  But as I wrote in a college paper way back, I think he got it backwards. There are myriad ways to be happy and therefore holy.

Look at the saints. Aren’t you grateful there isn’t just one kind of saint or path to holiness? Most of us would be doomed, and I am grateful to hold dear the saints who most speak to my life and spiritual gifts. Yes, God! offers that kind of variety.

At the end of each biographical sketch/chapter, Lloyd offers a reflection of “Saying Yes,” to different virtues that informed the person’s path. For instance, “saying yes to patience,” “saying yes to strength,” and her own thoughts on how this quality helped the person say yes to God’s invitation, and how readers might adopt that virtue. She offers some interesting and quirky reflections from her own family, and offers a peek into the mystery of a vocation.”

Reflections from Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith and Family by (local author) Monsignor Richard Soseman.

Here is my review: “Tapas for the Soul.” A quote from it:

“The reflections in the book are both realistic (as fits a rural Illinois native) and intelligent (as Monsignor’s many degrees attest, including canon law and Spanish, which is why I know Monsignor won’t mind me comparing his book to tapas).

The reflections are not written to talk “down” to people, but rather build them up. He offers such a wide variety of teaching, Catholic varia about the saints or some point of doctrine, and simple wisdom that he makes it look easy.”

And here is a Q&A with Monsignor Soseman, an old friend of our family.

The Grace to Race: The Wisdom and Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun by Sister Madonna Buder.

Here is my review,  and here is a Q&A with Sister Madonna.  The book is really strongest talking about how she came to know her vocation, as well as out she lived it out over the years. A quote from my review:

“Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.

Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life. Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:

“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts. My Irishman! Monsignor Doheny! My European adventures! The past, the present, the future! What was God really asking of me? Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’ The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine. My true longing was becoming clear.”

He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

Here’s a review from the Lent Book Series, “A Lesson in Letting Go.”

The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows by Mother Dolores Hart.

Here is my review (where I said she was much more interesting than another top book from that time, Lean In).  An excerpt from that review:

The Ear of the Heart offers space for pondering and reflection, no matter your age or life path, on living life fully and intentionally, on spiritual friendship, and on maturity.

Like all good spiritual autobiographies, The Ear of the Heart really takes off once the vocation begins. Struggles with early doubts, times of desolation, community struggles and more, make for fascinating reading.”

Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen

A Priest Forever: The Life of Eugene Hamilton

The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier and Korean War Hero

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes

What other books do you recommend for learning about how vocation to religious life or the priesthood happens?


*my survey of several dozen: priest, religious, or lay people who had spent time in seminary or a convent, discerning a vocation.  Inspired by Susie Lloyd’s book, but more focused on how to foster an openness to vocation, whatever that means.

*questions included how supportive/surprised/ unsupportive was their family and/ or faith community, how the family can foster and support young people discerning what God wants from them, and how lay people can support those in consecrated life and priesthood. So many of the survey respondents were generous with their time and sharing their vocation stories and thoughts about this.  I hope to do a longer posts with more of their beautiful words.

*some common themes:


-family members varied in their support, surprise (maybe parents supported, but siblings did not, or everyone surprised, except the dad)

-pursue holiness as individuals, as families

-be comfortable with religious and priests–invite into your home, visit their monasteries, etc. natural relationships

-pray for religious and priests

-recognize “the consecration of the baptized” & the universal call to holiness

-ongoing dialogue about vocation, whether religious life, priesthood, marriage

-openness to whatever God wants

-everyone in a community can be a support to vocation, not just the parents or siblings

-an active, dynamic relationship with Jesus

Renewal, and Books {Lent Book Series}

I had the great good fortune last weekend to go to the University of Notre Dame for a Catholic women’s blogging conference.

I have been scheduled and registered to attend at least three other blogging conferences in past years, but one thing or and another and another forced me to cancel plans.

So I was super grateful when local friend Bonnie of A Knotted Life invited me to attend, and even more grateful that I got a chance to ride along with Bonnie and Katie of Look to Him and Be Radiant.

I wish I could say this Lent has been all about renewal, but instead it’s more like the Lent you are given. Those are often the most fruitful Lents, but at the time it can feel like hard, hard work.

The opportunity to be with other Catholic women for an entire day, pray with them, learn from them, and just enjoy fellowship and great food, was a gift and a grace.

I must confess I enjoyed being the oldest at the conference, often by several decades.  But best is that I was the learner, and I’m still soaking up super helpful and encouraging presentations by Nell of Whole Parenting Family and Rhonda Ortiz of Real Housekeeping. I also loved the general conversations and input by the other bloggers, and getting to visit the Grotto, however briefly, and eat dinner with the group at this delicious restaurant.

As shared here before, I’ve been in blogging burnout, off and on, for several years.  I hoped the conference would help inspire and encourage.  It’s done that and more–here’s hoping that will be reflected here a Reading Catholic in coming months.  Baby steps.

No one will be surprised to learn that I spent much of my time in conversations with the other women suggesting … books.    And so, as part of the Mid-Lent Reset, I’m going to share books chosen specifically for the Catholic Women’s Blogging Conference.FullSizeRender

Some books are ones I individually recommended to women last weekend, and others struck me (on a scan of several bookshelves)  as apropos of last weekend’s the group.  I wanted to pick a range of non-obvious books perhaps off the radar of younger women, but are worthwhile reads.

Ralph McInerny’s memoir is a good fit since the conference was at the University of Notre Dame, and he was a longtime professor there. I wrote about it briefly here (and talk about what he thought about my chocolate cake).

This one just jumped out at me. So good.  Here’s my review. 

I’m only about halfway through this one–one of my sisters suggested it, and I am in tears about every other page. I want to be a Jesuit when I grow up.  Very good Lenten reading.

It turns out this book was updated several years ago as G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles.  Adding that to the TBR list.

I mentioned this book as several “background reading” ideas to one of the bloggers who’s working on  a book. I’m not sure if her book plans are public, so I won’t name her or the topic, but I am very excited to read and review it when it does come out. Here’s my review of Gawande’s book.

Mary Eberstadt wrote what is one of the best, if not the best, retellings of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I re-read  The Loser Letters a few months back when my older teen was reading it, and I still loved it.   I reviewed the book here and interviewed Mary Eberstadt here.
I read this book in late 2013 or early 2014, and my younger teen and I did a modified version of her “seven” during last year’s Lent (seven foods, seven articles of clothing, etc.).  I was reminded that I still have not written about this terrific book and its impact on us yet when our family recently discovered re-runs of her home renovation show on HGTV.  Someday…

Meet God Halfway {My January column, The Catholic Post}

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

You probably know this old chestnut–a man prayed faithfully every day for years: “Lord, please let me win the lottery.”  Finally, after 10 years of petition, God answers the man: “Meet me halfway–buy a ticket.”

I’ll avoid commenting on whether “win the lottery” is a good prayer petition, except to say that the right number of lottery tickets to buy is one, every once in a while.  Even God (well, the God of this joke) agrees.  

The reason that joke has longevity is that it’s so true, especially at this time of year when making resolutions.

We want to eat healthier, but don’t put away the leftover Christmas chocolate.  I’m using the royal “we” here, as I’m currently guilty of that one.

We want to start an exercise routine, but don’t plan out when we’d get to the gym or go for a walk.

We say we’ll get more organized, but spend more time on Pinterest pinning gorgeously organized spaces, than actually cleaning out the closet.  

Even in the spiritual life, we might desire to grow in faith, but don’t take the practical steps needed.  We need to recommit to meeting God “half-way” by doing what we can to cooperate with grace.

There’s a common formula for goal-setting that helps people get more specific—have you heard it? Goals should be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  

Because I’m a goals and resolutions type of person, I love this approach.  So following is a newly-released book paired with each of the SMART principles. 

First is specific—so let’s tackle a specific, and often controversial, topic: contraception.

Angela Franks, PhD, has written Contraception and Catholicism: What the Church Teaches and Why a helpful, easy-to-read guide that covers the personal, the practical, and the nitty-gritty about openness to life.  Dr. Franks calls herself a “theologian mom,” so she manages to be intellectual and down-to-earth, and funny, as she shares the Catholic Church’s teaching in this area, and what it means for couples and families.

Next is measurable—and what better than a book about science?

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno, SJ, and Paul Mueller, SJ has a long, potentially intimidating title, but it’s a highly readable and engaging book.

Brother Consolmagno and Father Mueller are both Jesuits who are work at the Vatican Observatory, one of the world’s leading research facilities, and they write about “what its like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutual respectful terms . …for people who want to take (both) science and faith seriously.”

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? points out, “Science isn’t a big book of facts. It’s a conversation.” 

So the two authors have an actual, back-and-forth conversation throughout the book explaining and learning together about various topics, from Galileo to the star of Bethlehem to the end of the world.  The conversation format allows the authors to cover complex topics without overwhelming readers.

As Father Mueller writes, “We don’t claim to be able to teach you, ‘How to’ do it.  Instead, we simply want to share with you the joy and hope—and fun—that we find in doing science and living faith.”

Well said, and well-written.

Next for goal- setting is attainable.  How about working to achieve a real trust in God?

From Fear to Faith: A Worrier’s Guide to Discovering Peace
by Gary Zimak is a sensible, back-to-basics overview of ways to begin the never-ending work of leaving behind our worries and fears, and focus on Jesus and our faith.

Zimak writes from first-person perspective, since he has struggled with anxiety and depression for most of his life. From Fear to Faith is a book-length explanation of the main talk he gives in his work as a Catholic evangelist.

What I love most about the book is that Zimak doesn’t downplay— at all — the importance of getting professional help for mental health issues, whether that includes counseling, medication, or many other ways.  But he’s not providing those in “From Fear to Faith,” but enriching them. by offering simple and effective spiritual strategies—a way one can follow Jesus at His word and “be not afraid.”

Next is relevant — having a goal that is personally meaningful, like sharing the faith with loved ones.

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve never reviewed a book by the excellent and prolific Scott Hahn.  Knowing I will date myself, let me share that I recall listening to a Scott Hahn cassette tape in the late 1980s, and it has always stayed with me.

Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization is Hahn’s exploration, through his usual Scott Hahn style, of how to spread the faith naturally in our lives.

As Hahn writes, “You can’t keep the Faith unless you give it away,” and this book offers personal stories, background of church history of how Catholics have shared the faith, and practical advice about how and why to “do evangelization.” It’s an encouraging read that is informative and inspiring.

Finally, goals should be time-bound.  What better than a daybook, which promotes a small amount of reading each day?

I enjoy and recommend daybooks often, but Peace and Good: Through the Year with Francis of Assisi by Franciscan Fr. Pat McCloskey, stands out.

Each month offers a specific theme, such as peace in January and service to the poor in September.  Each day has a quote from Francis or early writings about him, then “Life as Francis Did” applying it to today, and then “Growing with Francis,” with a very specific, and very do-able, action item.

Twitterature, College Angst Edition

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature, a monthly round-up of current reads.

This post is brought to you by the fine folks at College Angst.

No, it’s not a real thing, but it should be.

Planning for college, paying for college.  I genuinely find this a fun time, now that my oldest is a high school junior.  But being honest, this time also involves a ton of stress.

Reading this article from The Onion, “New Parents Wisely Start College Fund that Will Pay for 12 Weeks of Education,”  made me laugh, but then cry, because of the truth of this.

As parents, you diligently save, and then you look at the balance and think, “Well, this could cover textbooks for the first year, maybe.” I’m joking a tiny bit, but wow, the cost of higher education.

For several years, I’ve been asking my siblings with older kids, friends with college-aged kids, and random people I meet, about their modus operandi to college and paying for college for their children.

A very few of the many approaches I’ve heard (in no particular order):

*student attends community college for first two years to save money and explore major options, then transfers to a four-year school to finish.

*no debt allowed for undergrad, but debt allowed for graduate school. So, for instance, student goes to school offering best package, and then has more money from parents or can take on debt for graduate school or launching into “the world.”

*parents provide a set amount for each child, and student is responsible to make up rest–future debt of student not considered.

*parents and student together plan to pay for best school student can get admission to.

Not covered in this is faith formation. Some parents have shared that they require a student to attend a Catholic college or one with a strong Newman Center.    I’ve enjoyed having those conversations, too, and this might be for another post, down the line.  At our house teens and parents are on the same page about these issues.

You may be wondering, “what is your teen doing/reading about this?” but this is my blog, so these are my thoughts and impressions starting on this journey, not what our high schooler is doing, or even much of what we (mom, dad & kids) are doing together.  Rest assured this is a collaborative process, and we are all learning together.

So, good things so far:

*we’ve been saving for college.  Many years ago we started a Bright Start Savings account for each of our children, and auto-pay each month into it.  I’m really glad we started it way back, as it has grown, slowly but surely.

*we’ve talked with other parents.  It really does take a village, and parents need to learn from each other and support each other through this process.  A group of parents will be meeting next week to share our approaches and resources we like, and since I can’t be there, this post is going to be my contribution.

*we’ve gone on college visits with the teen.  Two of my siblings suggested that we do several college visits the summer before junior year (and more of course before senior year).  I’m very glad that we did.  It helped my teen to see colleges, get a feel for what’s out there, and help make the process a little more real.  We had hoped to visit a few more this fall, but

*we’ve gathered information.  For me, that means a lot of books.  Here are just a few I’ve skimmed or read:

I found this one so helpful after getting it from the library that I purchased a copy.  The person who suggested it to me (on an e-list I’m on devoted to Maud Hart Lovelace, showing how seeking information and advice from everywhere is a good idea), said that the book makes clear families need to start financial planning the fall of junior year of high school, if not before.  There are a lot of good ideas and behind-the-scenes information about how financial aid is offered to students.

Both these books are helpful overviews.   This summer, we saw a  cousin who’s finishing college this year.  She suggested a planner she used when she was starting the process, and we’re looking into that was well.

Both these books were suggested by parents who’ve been through the process.  I haven’t read yet, but they look great.

Finally, I’m almost finished with William Deresiewicz’s latest book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.  It’s not a how to get into or pay for college, but an exploration of what’s wrong with elite education these days.

I read his book A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
several years ago, and really loved it.   But I’m somewhat conflicted about this one.

Excellent Sheep is primarily about elite schools and the drive to get into those, from both parents and students, and also how the students are struggling with a lack of vocation or purpose.  But I don’t run in these circles, so it’s not really relevant to me.

Deresiewicz writes a lot about how students at elite schools work hard and excel, but lack a sense of the purpose of life, a sense of vocation, and a love for the life of the mind.  But it didn’t ring true.  Not that it’s not true for certain people in elite schools, but we talk about faith, vocation and purpose often  all the time at our house, and most of the families we know do the same.

So if you are a family of faith, and talk about these issues of vocation and purpose, as we do, often and early, Excellent Sheep is not especially vital to read.

But it’s an interesting read, and it did inform me of a memoir I’ve not read, but now want to: Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class by the excellent New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.  Yet another book to read.

Are you going through the college process, or have you been through it?  Care to share a resource, a book, or a piece of advice?