Tag Archives: books

What Are You Reading for Lent?

Lent is next week, and even though I’ve been allegedly “looking ahead” since right after Christmas, but I feel ill-prepared and not a bit “ready” for Lent, whether in body, or spirit, or in books.

Many books have arrived recently with Lenten themes, and I hope to review some of them, but this will not be happening before Lent, much as I’d like to be able to tell you about them.  They will have to be mid-Lent reading pick-me-ups, so look ahead for that.

Do you have a practice of spiritual reading for Lent?  I usually take out my well-worn copy of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life, and I will do so again.  I always get something new from it.

Last year, I highly recommended God Will Provide: How God’s Bounty Opened to Saints–And 9 Ways It can Open for You, Too by Patricia Treece, pointing out that the book “brims with wisdom and grace.”  I really love Paraclete Press books–they are always well-produced and just feel good in your hand, both because the size of the books feel “right” and the paper is very… I don’t know, I’m not a book-making expert–but the paper feels heavy and nice.

Here is my Q&A with Patricia  that ran last year.

Also last year, I blogged about the Prayer of St. Ephram. (And my friend Marcia also posted about this ancient prayer last week–well worth a look).   I’ll be printing off copies of this prayer to leave in conspicuous places (bathroom mirrors and such) for us to pray at our house.  Do you have a special prayer to say as a family during Lent?

If you might be looking around for Lenten reading, here are past reviews with some ideas:

2012:  This Lent, Let Mercy Lead

2011:  A Good Spiritual Library is a Hospital for the Soul

Finally, on the Lenten theme, one of my most popular posts is “Do Sundays Count During Lent”?  As I wrote there, I’m definitely in the taking-Sundays-off camp, but I’m always interested in hearing what other people and families do.

Do you have a plan for Lent?  Care to share?  I’d love to get some great ideas.

Author Abby Johnson in Peoria this Week

Abby Johnson, author and speaker, will be in the Peoria area this week, and I for one am very excited to hear her speak.  She will be speaking at St. Jude Church in Peoria this Tuesday, February 5, at 7 p.m.  If you’re interested in attending, you can contact the parish for more information.

“Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read,” as I wrote in my 2011 review of Johnson’s memoir, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (you can read the entire review here).

This book is a great read for teens on up, perhaps especially for teens and young adults.  As I wrote in my review, Unplanned raises a lot of questions about how young people can be formed as people of life:

Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

I did a Q&A with Abby that you can read in case you’re getting ready for her talk.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing Abby tell in person how she was “loved from one side to the other.”   I’m also intrigued to hear about the new initiative she has begun, “And Then There Were None,” to help  abortion industry workers leave the industry.  Abby recently became a LIFE Runner (like me!) so I hope to connect with her there about that.

Will you be there?  Is there an author you would like to hear speak in person?

Meet a Reader: Katie Bogner

I’m so delighted to feature a delightful young woman of my acquaintance–Katie Bogner–as this month’s Reader.  I got to know her a little through working on the Behold Conference together the last several years, and I wish I knew her better as she is very funny and spirited in person.  Katie blogs charmingly at Look to Him and Be Radiant

 How you know me:   I am blessed to spend all day as the teacher of the 5th graders at St. Joseph School in Pekin, and I also serve as the DRE at my parish, Immaculate Conception in Lacon.  You may have met me around the Diocese at one of the presentations that I have done for the Office of Catechetics “Let My People Come” Series.

Why I love reading:  I always like to say that people learn best through stories because we were created and immersed in a grand story.  Every book we read moves us outside of ourselves and gives us a glimpse of that story.  Whether it is as a journey into another world, a way to challenge and expand our minds, or as a source of inspiration in our faith, books can be tools to help us learn about who we are and the plans that God has for us.

What I’m reading now:  I just finished A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz by Patricia Treece.  It was published the year that he was canonized, and while the book is threaded together by the author, the content is filled with firsthand accounts of people who knew him as a child, priest, and victim of Auschwitz. The countless interviews of those that witnessed St. Max’s life give a unique perspective on his incredible story.

A book that I couldn’t put down was The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann.  It is a new emotion-packed inspirational thriller that makes a great stand-alone novel, but is actually the third in a series that was last published ten years ago.  Exploring grief, forgiveness, and the meaning of family, this would be a great book to enjoy on a snow day with a good cup of coffee.

My fifth graders and I just read Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, and we enjoyed discussing the problems young Matt faced and the hard decisions he had to make.  We all really liked this coming-of-age tale.

I also recently finished reading/rereading all of Jane Austen’s novels.  A group of friends and I worked through them over the course of a year, and we had a lot of fun comparing them to our modern culture, which doesn’t always seem that different from Austen’s world.

Next on my stack is St. Thérèse: A Treasured Love Story, which is a collection of sermons given by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen about one of his favorite Saints.  I am enjoying his view into her life, as well as his various teachings about prayer, suffering, being a saint, and spiritual warfare.

My favorite book:  My favorite fiction has to be the O’Malley Series by Dee Henderson.  Favorite non-fiction is a little harder to choose; maybe My Life with the Saints by Fr. James Martin or The World’s First Love by Fulton Sheen or A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn.  There are just too many great books to pick one!

Discipleship as Conversion and Journey

What does it mean to be “an intentional disciple”?

What does it mean to be a disciple at all?

Are you one?  How many do you know?

An excellent new book, Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell, explains the term “intentional disciple,” as well as the steps to journey there, for both individuals and parishes.

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With such a wide appeal and important content, Forming Intentional Disciples is one of those rare “for just about everyone” books, in my opinion.  Whether you are a pastor, a DRE, a leader in a ministry in your parish or just an average parish member like me, you will find much food for thought and prayer here.

What’s so great about Forming Intentional Disciples?

Weddell is founder (with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P.) of The Catherine of Siena Institute “to form lay Catholics for their mission in the world.”  This book distills their work to help Catholics become more committed in their faith and communities.

As Weddell writes, “What we are called to do is to truly see and then make disciples of the anointed ones who are wandering in and out of our parishes right now.”

Forming Intentional Disciples outlines now as a time of challenge—-with only 30 percent of those raised Catholic who still practice their faith.  But as this book makes abundantly clear, there is also great opportunity for growth in faith life and discipleship among everyday Catholics.

In every chapter, there are great insights, stories and statistics that help readers to understand the problem–and to be part of the solution.  On more than one occasion while reading this book, I got chills, thinking of ways to become more of a disciple myself and encourage those around me to do the same.

As Weddell points out, what’s at stake in fostering discipleship is nothing less than
“*the eternal happiness in God (salvation) of every human being.
*the complete fruition of the Mass and the sacraments,
*the next generation of Catholic leaders, saints and apostles: priestly, religious and secular, (and)
*the fulfillment of the Church’s mission on earth.”

How does Weddell propose we do that?  Here are just a few of the many ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples:

*By a careful understanding of and respect for the five thresholds at which a person’s faith can grow or shrink, and how we can help ourselves and others cross those thresholds.

*By imitating Jesus in that we ask more questions than giving answers, to foster a deeper understanding and integration of faith into each person’s life.

*By recognizing and harnessing the importance and power of intercessory prayer to help others in their journey toward faith, especially at time of spiritual warfare.

*by creating space and community for committed parish members to grow spiritually once discipleship is awakened.

This may seem bold, but if you are reading this review, I urge you to read Forming Intentional Disciples.  If you are committed enough Catholic to read The Catholic Post and be inspired by the Holy Spirit  to read this blog post, I believe this book is meant for you to read and ponder.

"Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media" This Saturday, Feb. 3 UPDATED

Shamelessly taking from the blog post about this weekend’s gathering here:

Have you ever questioned the role of friendship in your life?

Why do women have a need for authentic friendship – to be accepted, supported, and loved?

How has social media changed our idea of friendship, perhaps making it more easy to find like-minded friends, or more difficult to deepen new friendships?

How does authentic friendship relate to our femininity?

Please join us for an exciting and pertinent talk on
Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media
given by Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
Doors open at 7:10pm
Event begins at 7:30
Saint Philomena Catholic Church
3300 N Twelve Oaks Dr
Peoria, IL
There is no cost to attend this event,
though a small donation for this special event is very appreciated
——————
I plan to attend this Saturday, and I’ll be doing a book giveaway. I’m especially excited to get to see Sister Helena Burns and Lisa Schmidt again, as well in see in person so many women that I don’t get to see very often.   I hope to see you there, too.
I thought it would be fun to have a Twitter hashtag for the event, and I thought #authenticfriendship  while a little long, could work.  I also thought #firstSaturday could be a good one, too, though also longish. Do you have any Twitter hashtag ideas for the gathering?

UPDATED: Dianna Kennedy, of The Kennedy Adventures, suggested on Facebook the hashtag #1stSat.   Works for me!  Any others?

Jane Austen Monday: Various and Sundry Sharing

No, I’m not starting a new blog series of Jane Austen Monday, though I would dearly love to.  I just wanted to share some links before this month ends.  January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s Pride &Prejudice.  As longtime readers will know here, Austen is probably my favorite author and I read and re-read her books regularly.  I have at least four shelves on two different bookcases full of multiple copies of her novels (including The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, a present from my husband several years back), biographies, graphic novel versions, retellings and so forth.

I discovered from getting the newsletter of the Jane Austen Centre that it was planning a live reading of P&P.  I can’t seem to find the latest news on the read-a-thon (here is an earlier story about it), but I think it is a great idea, and I would enjoy getting to stream parts of it if they still do it.

Earlier this month my daughters and I hosted a Jane Austen tea party that was surprisingly fun for all ages.  We had lots of tea, some of my favorite scones. My cell phone photos snapped throughout the day did not turn out very well.  I’m sure that is shocking and never happens to you.  So I’m sharing images and video here from around the web.

We played the “Pride & Prejudice” board game, available from the game designer here.  Actually, the moms were busy visiting and laughing in the kitchen, so none of us got to play the game.  The teens and little girls played the game.  From what I can gather, it was quite a competitive event.  Very fun. (and yes, I would love to get A Christmas Carol game made by the same company, in case anyone is looking for present ideas for me for next Christmas).

On the subject of Jane Austen-inspired games, here is a link to a Jane Austen trivia game.  I may have to add this to my wish list for next year’s party, though nothing can top the P&P board game, in my mind.

More details from the party:

Food and drink.  We had many kinds of tea, as well as hot chocolate.  But the tea was the biggest hit, even for the younger ones.

This mug, also a gift from my husband, reads, “There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.”  This was actually not used at the party, since I had out our “good” china teacups, and various other assorted proper teacups (with saucers).

I made my famous scones in two versions: plain cream scones, and cinnamon chip scones.  How I make my scones is a state secret. Actually, it’s too complicated for me to share in a n online recipe.  If any of the party-goers would like to know how to make my scones, I would be glad to have you over for a personal tutorial.

My favorite find of the last year was a recipe for homemade cinnamon chip scones.  They absolutely make the scones!  Here the DIY recipe that I basically use–I don’t think I changed anything.  (I am infamous for changing recipes a little here or there, which is what makes my scone recipe so unreliable read off the page).

I also made (and changed slightly) Pippa Middleton’s Millionaire Shortbread (this is a link to Pippa’s tumblr recipe for it; unfortunately, it’s in British measures, but this is the recipe).  This is from her newish book, Celebrations, that I picked up off the new books shelf at our local library.  It’s actually a really nicely done book–reminiscent of Martha Stewart books, but not quite as fussy.

When I was cutting the layered shortbread the night before the party, my husband and I sampled it, and we thought “meh.”  I was sort of annoyed to have spent the time and butter for it, because as I said, plain shortbread would have been just fine.

Apparently a night’s rest does wonders for the stuff, because it was the huge hit of the party and praised by everyone, and there were not even crumbs left over.  I tried some again when everyone was raving about how good it was, and I did like it better.

I also enlisted a friend who volunteered to come early to make cucumber sandwiches.  She had several teens on an assembly line, and they turned out two terrific versions of cucumber sandwiches.  I don’t have a photo of them, unfortunately!

I had put on the invitation that promptly at 3 p.m., we would start a showing of the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth version).  I thought perhaps a few of the teens and moms not too busy would want to stay, but it was a busy weekend.  It turns out it was just the Picciones, so we opted to wait until everyone left shortly before 5 p.m. to start watching.  We only got through the first DVD of this (meaning the first 3 hours) that day, and still haven’t watched the rest.  We really need to finish it before the month is out.

Now for one more book to relate specifically to Jane Austen in the modern culture.  Last year,  I received a review copy of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor.  Kantor argues compellingly how Jane Austen-manners (not dancing the right way or wearing Regency gowns, but rather guarding your emotions, learn about potential partners within the context of your family & friends, and so forth).  It’s a pretty sensible guide, but definitely meant for college or post-college aged women. Worth a read!

Do you have an obsession for Jane Austen, like me?  What are you doing to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Pride & Prejudice?

Finally, here is one super sweet British video about the lure of Jane Austen and Bath.  Makes me want to go back right now.

"Choose to Eat Mindfully and Prayerfully:" A Guest Post Reflecting on "Cravings" UPDATED

Update: I’ve updated this post to reflect more of how this guest post came to be written and shared here. 

When I was getting ready to review Cravings by Mary DeTurris Poust, I knew another person whose feedback I wanted was my dear friend and fellow blogger Marcia Mattern of “I Wonder Why.”  Mostly, I wanted someone more “expert” than I to read the book.

It was really helpful to get some thoughts and ideas, since Marcia has a background in nutrition and is a deep thinker when it comes to spiritual things.  After a fun (dare I say mindful?) talk over coffee and treats last month, Marcia shared that she, like me, found Cravings a great read and very thoughtful.

She also said there were quite a few books written by dietitians on these themes, especially mindful eating, ones not mentioned in Mary’s excellent bibliography.  Marcia also liked, as did I, how Mary drew on different religious traditions, but noticed that Eastern Catholic thought was not represented.  Since Marcia’s family often worships at a Byzantine Catholic parish, I asked her to write a guest post for Reading Catholic, sharing some of the other resources, and even bringing in Eastern Catholic thought on food and eating.  

Once Marcia sent me this reflection on Cravings, I shared with her that it was more like a reflection than instructive, and would really benefit from photos.  That’s how I looked around for some photos from my library (of coffee and chocolate, as if there were any doubt!) and asked Marcia for some other ones, and she graciously shared.  

I’ve updated this post to reflect some of the additional books that are helpful for additional reading, as well as some of Marcia’s prior writing on these issues.  I think they make a good complement to Marcia’s guest post, as well as provide additional reading for those interested.

Thanks to Marcia, for being willing and for reflecting on these themes so beautifully.  And thanks to Mary, for writing such a timely book, Cravings, that inspires discussion and reflection on these themes.

——–

It’s all the hype in early January.  What ever shall you do to lose that weight?  Eat differently, right?  And we make great lofty plans…But now it’s nearly the end of January and…  poof.

We are back to our “regular” eating habits.

But what is regular, healthy, normal eating?  Is it the Paleo, the vegan, the TLC diet, the DASH diet, the raw food diet?  We try various approaches with hope and goals in mind.

Some believe that the best diet for you is the one that you choose and are able to stick to the rest of your life.  Does the word “diet” present challenges for us? Might we instead speak of our relationship with food?  Mary DeTurris Poust skillfully discusses this in her book, Cravings:A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.

Think you can do that with the Paleo?  Probably not.  Can you go without meat or eggs or milk the rest of your life?  Perhaps no.

But you can choose to eat mindfully and prayerfully the rest of your life.

If we think of food as simply nourishment for our physical self, then choosing more grains and vegetables with smart meats sounds ideal.  But we have options for chocolate and candy at our disposal.  Aren’t they tasty too?   There is room for everything wonderful (and not so wonderful) in this world in our diet.

What if we ate what we wanted and liked, but carefully opted for being thankful before, during and after it?

God has given us a bounty of goodness.

How often do we just hurry through our eating without having tasted anything past the first mouthful? When I slow down and taste the goodness of food, I am encountering something of the goodness of the Lord.

So how do we practice being thankful and mindful during eating?

We can begin by a prayer before every meal.   You might think this simple, but do you ever miss a prayer before a meal?  Remember the meal you ate in the car?  Over the kitchen counter?  Those are meals too!   What if you prayed over the cookie you got at the drive thru with your coffee?

If a prayer before meals is a habit for you already, how about choosing a personal prayer rather than the memorized prayer?  We say in the Creed each week “I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth…”. So why not begin by thanking THE ONE, in your own words, who creates the substance from which all our foods come?

To begin first pause, to recognize his presence.  Then say in your own words what you want to say.  It could be: “Thank you God for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Make it nourishing to my body.  Help me to feel full and strong to accomplish my work today. Amen.”

Simple?   Yes.  Mindful?  Yes.

Next stop during your eating and thinking about what you enjoy.  Take a moment to again thank God for it.

” Wow, God.   You created some amazing things for me.  Today this peanut butter is salty.  The strawberries in this jelly is so sweet. I enjoy this very much!”

And again when your meal is over.  Once again thank Him.

“I’m full, God.  Thanks again for making this world for me.   Help me to remember how great this lunch was when I get distracted from all your gifts for me today. Amen.”

So what if mindful prayers over food has already become habitual for you?   Can you add to your prayer even more?  Would being prayerful about each mouthful you take impact what kinds of foods you eat?  Would you choose a greater variety of foods this way?  Would you be less likely to mindlessly eat a whole bag of cookies or things less healthful for your physical self?

What IS the connection between faith and food?

It’s the abundant blessing that God has already provided for us his sheep (John 10).

It’s Eve and Adam when they allowed their physical passions to contribute to broken communion with God (Genesis 3).

It’s God continuing to see our fragile humanity and providing always for our physical need of food even in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11).

It’s the restoration to wholeness at the Eucharistic Banquet (John 6).

God creates us in his image.   We reflect His image when we foster growth of the virtues gifted at our baptism.  When we see the greatness of God and desire to know him more, this honors Him.  We are responding to His love for our human needs and this draws us closer to Him.    But we don’t live our our faith in isolation.  We live it with others!  We participate in the Liturgy with others each time we go to Mass.

Eating and sharing a meal is sacramental and has a foundation in the very life of the sacramental economy. When we receive the Eucharistic presence of Christ as food, we are nourished. Eating is a profound form of communion!

Research over the past few years has linked families eating together with healthier lives.  It’s not just about the food you consume, but also the smiles, laughter and chatter around the table.  Building relationships with those we eat in our own home is basic to life.  We know this about the Liturgy as well.  We worship, adore, petition and praise as well as consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ with others that profess the faith with us.  And those we eat with can encourage us to eat better.  Just as those who we worship (and eat the Blessed Sacrament with) encourage us in our life of faith.

It’s still January.  Let’s begin again towards a better relationship with food.  Can we make a new step in growing in love of God as we draw closer to Him around the table?  The mindfulness we have at prayer over food is a step toward living healthfully.  We can find persons (even in our own family) to help us make wise choices each day and support us in those good decisions.  Embrace the gift of normal, regular eating God has given us and thank Him.

For further reading and exploration:

21 Days of Eating Mindfully: Your Guide to a Healthy Relationship with Yourself and Food by Lorrie Jones.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole

Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth.

Marcia has also written about food and Eastern Catholic thought on her blog, “I Wonder Why.”  Here are just a few posts that relate to the spirituality of food.

The St. Phillips Fast

Adjusting to new circumstances: home management meets food changes.

What are we eating.  Marcia’s written a number of times about The China Study (I’m not a fan, which has made for interesting discussions around the dinner table when our families gather, wink), and her entire family at least once has done the book’s 30- day vegan challenge.

Marcia Mattern fosters wonder and awe with her husband and six children around their dinner table and at the door of the refrigerator.  Her experience as a Registered Dietitian and conversion to Catholicism has impacted her study of food and faith.

Five Ideas for the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy.  It’s a sad anniversary, but one we need to keep marking.

I’m glad to see a lot of discussion about the anniversary, the March for Life and other pro-life events and ideas, on Facebook and Twitter.  And it’s the younger people who are really active about this, (along with some of us more seasoned veterans of pro-life work).  I’d like to share five quick thoughts about marking the anniversary, though even as I compiled this list I came up with many more.

1.  Day of Prayer for the Protection of Unborn Children.  The U.S. Bishops have declared January 22 each year as “a particular day of prayer and penance for abortion.”  Consider attending Mass, giving up something, or saying a Rosary or other prayers specifically for unborn children.

2.  The March for Life.  The March actually doesn’t take place until this Friday, January 25.  I wish I could be there this year, especially to be able to participate in #3 (see below), but I hope to in future years.  The night before the March, there is a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Both events will air on EWTN, so we will be watching along at our house.

3.  The 5K for Life.  As I wrote about here and here, I’m a LIFE Runner now, and I so wish I could be in Washington, D.C. this Saturday for the inaugural 5K Run for Life.  Race director for it is Jeff Grabosky, who wrote Running With God Across America (my review is here and Q&A with him here).  I may try to run a 5K if schedule permit this Saturday, so I can run along in spirit with my fellow LIFE Runners.  Any one who r

Last year, I wrote about three books on pro-life themes.  I’ll share two of those for the remaining two “ideas.”

4.  Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman.  This stands the test of time as a beautiful reflection of unborn life, suitable for the littlest children.  It should be read to kids of every age, and I dare you to do so without choking up.  Wonderful!

5.  UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Director’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line by Abby Johnson (here’s my review and Q&A with Abby . For local readers, Abby Johnson will be speaking at St. Jude’s Parish in Dunlap, IL, February 5 (the best way I could find to give details was by directing to the parish bulletin here.  I, for one, cannot wait to hear her speak in person, and I think I will bring along my copy of UnPlanned for her to sign.  Her book is a great read and very eye-opening.

What are you doing to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade?  Do you have any other ideas to share to mark the occasion?

The "Cravings" Blog Tour: My Q&A with Mary DeTurris Poust

Today is my day on the blog tour for Mary DeTurris Poust’s latest book, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God.   I reviewed the book in my January column for The Catholic Post.  Since Q&As are one of my favorite things, I decided to do a Q&A with Mary as my part of the blog tour.  Thanks, Mary, for letting me wrap up your blog tour here at Reading Catholic!  Please visit this link to enter to win a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card as part of this tour.  In addition, I have a copy of Cravings from the publisher to giveaway at the First Saturday gathering early next month.  If you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry in the giveaway.

Q.  Mary, tell Reading Catholic readers more about yourself, your work and your family.

I’ve been a writer focusing on Catholic issues for almost 30 years. These days my passion is my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual, and my books. As I get older, I find myself focusing more on the spiritual side of Church and less on the “business” side of things, such as issues and news and events, which I covered for many years as a Catholic newspaper reporter. When I’m not writing, I’m usually driving my kids around or cooking or doing yoga. We have three children, ages 7, 12, and 16,  so our home life is pretty busy. The dual vocation – Catholic writer and mom – can be a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Q.  As I wrote in my review of Cravings, I thought you saved the best for last, and that the last two chapters were the most compelling.  Did you have a favorite chapter or concept from the book?

It would probably depend on the day. Different chapters suit different situations, moods, seasons, struggles. I think as I was writing, whatever chapter I was working on was my favorite.

Q.  Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of people I know maintain health with various and contradictory food plans that have been popular in the last decade (vegan, paleo, low-carb).  It strikes me that one’s diet (meaning general food choices, not a “diet”) is as individual as a fingerprint, and finding what works to maintain health is important for each individual to work out.  Your thoughts on this, and how you’ve come to embrace a vegetarian diet as best for you?

When it comes to diet plans and food choices, I’m a bit of a rebel. I don’t like to stick to any one plan, and I tend to go against whatever the latest fad might be. Mainly I choose what feels right for me and what I know tends to work long-term. Yes, I’m a vegetarian, something I chose after my mother died of colon cancer at age 47, but I am not rigid about it. I think balance is the most important thing. We see, as you mention, all of these extremes – no carbs, mostly carbs, no meat, all meat. From one week to the next diet recommendations change drastically. Eat eggs. Don’t eat eggs. Drink wine. Don’t drink wine. So I think we have to stop listening to everyone else and listen to our own bodies and hearts and minds. We ultimately know what’s good for us, even when we don’t always do it. When we find a balance, enjoying what we love in moderation, we find we don’t need all these crazy diet plans. We just need to bring some common sense and some mindfulness to our meals.

Q. I am a (mostly) healthy eater, but I am not at all a mindful eater.   Reading your exploration of that makes me want to give it another try, not just for myself but for the whole family.  For those new to mindful eating, can you describe how that might look, especially in a family setting? 

Well, mindful eating isn’t necessarily something you can do on a full-time basis, at least not if you have a houseful of kids. Try it on your own at first to get a feel for it. In our house there are certain things we never do during dinner: No TV, no phone calls, no texting, no computers. Dinner is dinner, with no outside interruptions allowed. So that sets the stage. Even when the dinner table feels more like a something out of a three-ring circus there are certain elements of mindfulness built in. The next step is to try to keep the mealtime calm – no fighting, no tension. This is not the time to start talking about things that will lead to arguments. That may not always be easy, but it’s the ideal. And last but certainly not least: prayer. We always start our meal with a blessing. Sometimes when we’re out at a restaurant, the kids will be the ones who remind us that we should pray. So something’s sinking in even when it feels like we are totally off course. Little steps. Don’t expect to turn your kitchen into a monastery if you’ve got kids. Again we need to be realistic and gentle with ourselves and aware of what we can and cant’ do. It’s when we hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations that the healthy food plans and diets often go out the window.

Q.  What do you mean by a food ritual?  How can it be beneficial?

Try to develop something that brings a sense of the sacred to a meal or snack. In Cravings I talk about my “mindful oatmeal” practice, where I clear the kitchen table, light a candle, pray before I dig into my regular oatmeal breakfast, and then eat in silence and with total mindfulness. It can really transform a meal into a meditation. Even something as simple as making a pot of tea with attention and intention can become a ritual. When you slow down the meal or snack or whatever you’re doing and bring some awareness to it, it becomes more satisfying. You really taste your food as opposed to eating without thinking or while you’re doing something else, and that makes you less likely to go looking for more food a few minutes later – because you’re feeding yourself on a deeper level.

Q. What is the one thing a person who is struggling with their relationship to food could do to make the new year healthier?

First, I’d recommend bringing even five minutes of prayer into everyday life. It’s amazing what that can do for your heart and head. Then I’d suggest keeping a food journal. When you write down everything you eat – and I mean everything – it really makes you aware of your habits and it allows you to see patterns and begin to understand why you might eating if you’re not really hungry. It’s really what makes programs like Weight Watchers work – you track every single bite, not to be obsessive about calories but to be aware. It’s not about counting fat grams or carbs but about understanding the reasons behind the food habits. When I keep a food journal, I’m much more accountable. And I’ll jot down whether I exercised that day or if I have any particular aches or pains or discomforts, even my moods. As a result, I can actually go back and notice where I was last year and whether I repeat certain patterns at certain times.

Q.  You are a prolific author.  Can you share any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m focusing on spreading the word about “Cravings” and about my other new book, “Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality,” which focuses on finding the divine in the mundane moments of our lives. So I’m hoping to do some retreats and workshops related to both books. I’d also like to have time focus on my blog, Not Strictly Spiritual. This past year I was so busy writing two books that I didn’t have a lot of time to blog, which I really love because it allows me to connect directly with readers and explore the spiritual journey day by day.

Mary, thanks again for answering all my questions about your book and letting me be the “grand finale” of the blog tour.  Readers can visit this link to the blog tour to see all the prior stops, and don’t forget to enter to win the $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card.  Remember, if you leave a comment on this post, you can have an extra entry to win a copy of Cravings, that I will be giving away at the First Saturday gathering on Saturday, February 2.

Speaking about Food…

Serendipity is pretty cool, if you ask me.

It seems like I’ve been thinking about and reading about food a lot lately, whether online or in real life, since I reviewed Mary DeTurris Poust’s Cravings.  Part of this is following along with the stops on Mary’s blog tour and what others have had to say about it, but part is just the new year/new you.  Strangely, I haven’t been doing much running this month, even though I reviewed Jeff Grabosky’s book Running with God Across America.

Now about that serendipity—one of my favorite websites, and probably my most-used App on our Apple devices, is Universalis.  My husband Joseph introduced me to Universalis back when we had Palm Pilots, and I’ve used it through the years to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Sometimes very consistently, sometimes not. You know how it goes… but Universalis is always there, making it easy for me to jump back in.

Occasionally, Martin Kochanski, the creator of Universalis and its associated Apps, writes a reflection for the saint of the day.   Often these relate to the “big saints,” but often there is something about an obscure British or Irish saints, since he lives in the UK.

The “about today” regarding St. Wulstan, relates to food, and is well worth reading and pondering (emphases mine):

In the Chapel of St Oliver Plunkett at Downside Abbey, a stained glass window depicts a less official story concerning Wulstan: that one day, whilst celebrating Mass, he was distracted by the smell of roast goose, which was wafted into the church from the neighbouring kitchen. He prayed that he might be delivered from the distraction and vowed that he would never eat meat again if his prayer were granted.

The modern world needs stories like this more than it realises. The watered-down puritanism that serves so many of us as a moral code today equates pleasure with evil – cream cakes, the advertisements tell us, are “naughty but nice”.. or even “wickedly delicious.” Messages like this are a libel on the name of God, who created the pleasures, and on his Son, whose first recorded public act was turning water into wine. There is nothing wicked about delicious food in itself, or in any other pleasant or beautiful thing. 

Let us enjoy God’s creation all we can and rejoice in its creator as we do so, and if, like Wulstan, we have to deprive ourselves of something for our spiritual or bodily health, then let us suffer our deprivation cheerfully, blaming the weakness in us that made it necessary. Let us never devalue our sacrifices by denigrating the things we sacrifice, or the sacrifice will be pointless. Let us remember what God did, day after day, as he was creating the world: he looked at it, and saw it, and behold: it was very good.

Tomorrow is my day on the Cravings blog tour, and I’m excited that I get to be the “grand finale” (sort of!).  I hope you’ll join me then.