Gather Together: Recipes for Fellowship

The ultimate challenge in 2020 might be releasing a book about the blessings of gathering as friends … in the same week that several states restricted such gatherings to 10 or fewer — and some cities even prohibited getting together with anyone outside the household.

But we Catholics are people of hope. We know that these measures will not last forever, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather outside our household or social bubble to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship.

In the meantime, there’s no point in wasting any of the wonderful recipes you’ll find in Catherine Fowler Sample’s new cookbook, Gather Together. I always recommend that you try a recipe on your family before serving it to guests — so now’s the time to taste-test these dishes, make note of any “to taste” seasoning adjustments you made, and bookmark the ones you’ll want to use when (finally!) you can invite friends over for a meal or afternoon tea.

In the Introduction, the author offers a few creative ideas for making connections with family and friends we can’t see in person:

You could make the recipes with loved ones over video chat, or plan an evening of reflection by phone based on the questions and prayer prompts. While distance makes forming community more challenging, the consistency of intentional connection can be a unique balm during uncertain times.

I firmly believe that the best kind of cookbook is one I can read like a novel or memoir. Gather Together is that kind of cookbook. Each chapter begins with a story from the author’s life, along with a spiritual reflection, a prayer for gathering, a few conversation prompts, and a soup-to-nuts themed menu for brunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. Each menu offers at least four dishes including dessert. 

Gather Together, which releases Friday, November 20, was written with both the cook’s and the guests’ needs in mind. Author Catherine Fowler Sample anticipated the possibility of substitution of certain ingredients containing dairy, as well as where in your grocery store you should look to find specialty ingredients. There are also prep-ahead tips, and along with ingredient lists for each recipe, there’s a list of kitchen equipment needed. That’s a feature I almost never find in cookbooks (and I have a big collection of cookbooks) — but whether you’re a beginner cook or very confident in the kitchen, having this list handy saves you time. When I taught my children to cook, I told them to always get everything in place (ingredients and equipment) before you start. Gather Together makes all of that easy.

If you think the cover is beautiful, wait until you see what’s on the inside of this book! Gather Together would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift; it’s also perfect for a young person moving to his or her first apartment. But since it’s about building community as much as cooking, this cookbook is an excellent housewarming gift as well.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. All opinions are my own.

Pre-Advent Giveaway!

Is Advent coming up faster than you expected it to this year? It’s like that for me, for sure. While I can’t help you with the pink and purple candles, I’m happy to say that thanks to my friends at Creative Communications for the Parish, I have 10 Advent prize packs to offer readers this year (plus 3 bonus prizes)!

Wonderful Life in Christ prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Wonderful Life in Christ prize

This prize pack includes:

Our Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life in Christ by Michael Hoy, a page-a-day devotional based on the scenes and themes of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, placing the events of the fictional George Bailey story in the context of our faith.

Hear the Angels Sing! Christmas carol sticker book

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing by Stephanie Hovland, a daily prayer book for Advent based on the angel messages in the Old and New Testament.

Prayer bookmark for Advent


Prince of Peace prize pack from Creative Communications for the Parish
(Advent wreath and gift bag not included in the prize)

Prince of Peace prize pack

This prize pack includes:

Sarah Reinhard’s new booklet, Prince of Peace, offers four weeks of family devotions and related activities. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are embodied in a weekly activity focused on helping others. 

Heavenly Peace, an Advent daily prayer devotional by Sarah Thomas Tracy, written to prepare readers for the coming peace of Christ.

Advent wreath table tent (no candles required!) with mealtime prayers for each week of Advent.

What Do I Wonder About Christmas? This set of 25 daily trivia cards are fun at meal time or to end the school day.

Prayer card and Prince of Peace ornament


I also have three bonus copies of Prince of Peace to give away!

To enter: Leave a comment on this post or on the posts on Facebook or Instagram stating your biggest Advent challenge.

More opportunities to be entered to win these prizes will be offered on social media, so be sure to visit the posts at the accounts linked above for bonus chances to win!

The fine print: This giveaway is open to winners in the USA only. This giveaway closes at 6 AM Eastern on Tuesday, November 17. 13 winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by email (for winners on this blog) or by direct message on Facebook or Instagram. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address; unclaimed prizes will be awarded to alternate winners.

Image created in Visme.co

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos of prizes provided by Creative Communications for the Parish

#OpenBook: My October 2020 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading.

Sorry for the crazy big images, but free WordPress has forced me to use Blocks, and I can’t figure out how to put images into a paragraph in the size I want. (And at this point, I’m not in the mood to fight with it.)

Fiction

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green
I can never resist an epistolary novel and this is one of the best I’ve read. Chronicling just under a year in the life of a brilliant linguistics scholar toward the end of World War II, this story takes a hard look at our nation’s treatment of entire ethnic groups while we were at war with their native country. Effectively forced to work as a translator in a POW work camp in rural Minnesota, Jo Berglund, who had befriended an American young man of Japanese descent at the university, finds herself in an impossible position because of her insistence on seeing the German prisoners not as a collective enemy tool but as individual human beings. (Netgalley review)

The Christmas Table by Donna VanLiere (Christmas Hope, #10)
A poignant Christmas tale involving two families and one table. In 1972, a young husband begins building a kitchen table for his wife, who eagerly begins learning to cook using her mother’s memories. The table – with those same recipes still in the drawer – shows up in a secondhand furniture shop nearly five decades later, and its new owner is determined to get those recipes back to the family where they belong, learning a sad family story in the process. (Netgalley review)

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
Robin Windsor, who’s been living under a sort of self-imposed witness protection program since her parents were imprisoned while she was a teenager, finds her carefully protected life upended when she begins receiving books related to a time in her life she’d rather forget. As she strives to save her struggling indie bookshop, she endeavors to preserve her anonymity and keep old memories from taking over. A compelling story I’d be happy to reread.

The Dress Shop on King Street (Heirloom Secrets #1) by Ashley Clark
A vintage gown, two antique buttons, and an embroidered flour sack are the only clues to a mystery involving a biracial slave girl sold away from her mother at the age of 9, a young woman in the post-WWII South trying to pass as white, and a present-day college student trying to make it as a fashion designer. Two sweet love stories and heartbreaking family secrets make this a tough book to put down. (Netgalley review; releases 12/1)

Circle of Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts #9) by Jennifer Chiaverini
This was my first time dipping back into the Elm Creek Quilts series in several years. The author skillfully interweaves the stories of a group of applicants vying for two open teaching positions at the Elm Creek Quilt retreat. An enjoyable novel (and series) with characters who are talented, but who show their human side. Definitely requires the reader to be familiar with the series.

YA/Children’s

I’m a Saint in the Making by Lisa M. Hendey, illustrated by Katie Broussard
This children’s book has a message for grownups as well as kids: saints are superheroes, and we are called by God to be heroes too. Every saint is both a role model and a prayer champion, Lisa maintains, and in language simple enough for kids (without ever talking down to them) she demonstrates how they can strive for both those goals in their everyday lives. A wonderful variety of saints, from the days of the early Church through modern times, is represented. Illustrations are fun, inclusive, and engaging, and include many wonderful details about the saints discussed in the book.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo, illustrated by Randy Gallegos.
Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God. Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Read my full review.

Nonfiction

Let Go of Anger and Stress! Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Holy Spirit by Gary Zimak.
This book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives. Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP.
With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. (Review copy provided by publisher.) Read my full review.


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

Praying for the Souls in Purgatory: A Rosary, a Novel, and a Prayer Book

I was called on to sing at a funeral Mass one day this past summer, and after I read the obituary it became clear that the death was due to addiction. Sadly, this is not the first in that family to die in this way. These are not people I know, but they live in my neighborhood.

On the night before the funeral, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and that was on my mind. I couldn’t go back to sleep because I kept thinking about it, so I decided to pray a Rosary. On the bedside table, I had a knotted-twine Rosary made for me by a friend.

I dedicated that Rosary for the repose of the soul of that recently deceased young man.

As soon as I finished the whole Rosary, I went right off to sleep. I guess I was not being let off the hook — I needed to pray for him right that minute.

In the morning before the funeral, I got in touch with the friend who had made that Rosary for me, and asked her to pray too.

An urgent impulse to pray for a soul who has clearly struggled in life is not something we should ignore. And who better to intercede for such a soul than the Blessed Mother — our Mother?

As we commemorate the holy souls this month, let’s remember them in our prayers, especially in the Rosary.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


Scared straight: but with Purgatory.

The story above reminds me of Theresa Linden’s novel, Tortured Soul, a compelling tale of a haunting — with a twist. Jeannie Lyons is pushed out of her family’s home by her older brother and into a remote cottage that also houses a gruesome “presence.” Afraid to be at home, but with nowhere else to go, Jeannie enlists the help of the sort-of-creepy guy her brother had once pushed her to date. This edge-of-the-seat story of guilt and forgiveness emphasizes the importance of praying for the souls of the deceased — and would make a great movie.

Tortured Soul reminded me deeply that the deceased need our prayers — not only our deceased loved ones and friends, but in particular those who have no one to pray for them. Maybe they were alienated from family during their lives, as depicted in Linden’s novel; maybe their loved ones don’t pray. But we can, and we should.


Susan Tassone’s The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory focuses on the power of intercessory prayer for the needs of the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contains more than prayers. You’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the book leads the reader through learning and devotions.


Download a free set of printable bookmarks with the prayer for the holy souls, and make a commitment to pray for them every day.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was provided a free review copy of Susan Tassone’s book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Eliminate the Negative: Two New Books that Encourage Holy Habits

As we approach the month when we celebrate All Saints, it’s good to look to their example — and their advice on living holy lives. New books by Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, aim to help readers conquer our tendency toward negativity, as shown in anger, stress, and complaining.

Let Go of Anger & Stress! by Gary Zimak employs St. Paul’s wisdom about the Holy Spirit as an encouragement to transform our mindset. Subtitled “Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Spirit,” this book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives.

Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger.

It’s significant that the call to action in the book’s title is “let go” and not “conquer” or “get rid of” — that shows that we are holding anger and stress much too close, and are all too ready to grab them out of our emotional toolkit. Gary’s book explains the ways St. Paul challenges us, instead, to reach for positive virtues: the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Each chapter of Let Go of Anger & Stress! is divided into short sections, so if you don’t have a lot of time to read all at once, that won’t be an obstacle. The chapters end with a list of the most important points, several reflection questions (keep your journal handy!), and a closing prayer.

If you’ve listened to Gary speak at a parish mission, podcast, or radio appearance, Gary’s writing style will be immediately familiar to you. He writes like he talks: simply and honestly, with relatable examples from his own life. His books aren’t filled with buzzwords, jargon, or complicated theology; instead, you will find sincere words from someone who clearly loves God and wants to follow His will.  

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, goes by @CrabbyMystic on social media, so it’s not a reach that she’d write Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic. Anyone who knows me knows of my tendency to complain (even if I turn it into a joke, I’m still often complaining), so it’s a comfort to me that saints (AKA people much holier than I am) complained too.

But just because St. Paul, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Thérèse of LIsieux, St. Damien of Molokai, and St. Faustina, among many others, had their moments of complaining, Sr. Mary Lea reminds readers that this is not an excuse for us to indulge that tendency. 

We aren’t getting off scot-free. If we learn from those who were holy before us, then we need to offer this same example to those whose paths we cross, as well as to those who will follow us. (127)

With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. Some of these include:

  • Pray the news in order to bring all the events of our history to God’s throne (138)
  • Read the life of a saint (80)
  • Pray for couples we know who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships (101)
  • Recall a disappointment that brought you closer to Christ (82)
  • Reflect on a time you blamed another for something that turned out badly (120)
  • Note Gospel incidents that might have sparked both human and holy reactions from those involved (37)

The last part of the book goes through the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the Characteristics of Charity, expanding upon St. Paul’s list with examples from the life and writing of saints and saints-to-be. It’s different from the rest of the book, but is an excellent summary of the ideas Sr. Mary Lea discusses in a lighter form in the earlier chapters.


These two books were released several months into a pandemic, and the challenges we have faced this year often seem like they’d lead even the most saintly person to complain and to give in to stress and anger. Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill’s understanding approaches and sound advice lead us to follow God more closely, even in difficult circumstances.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

In the Christmas Basket: A New Picture Book by Raymond Arroyo

I am of the mind that you can never have too many Christmas storybooks for your children to enjoy. When my children were younger, we had a large basket of Advent- and Christmas-themed picture books, which we would bring out on the First Sunday of Advent, along with our Advent wreath and the empty stable from our Nativity scene. The kids looked forward to rereading their favorite stories, and sometimes I’d surprise them and slip a new one into the basket.

Raymond Arroyo’s new picture book from Sophia Institute Press is a wonderful addition to your collection of Christmas storybooks. The Spider Who Saved Christmas: A Legend, beautifully and vividly illustrated by Randy Gallegos, begins with the Holy Family on the run from King Herod, during the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Entering a cave to hide from Herod’s soldiers, Mary and Joseph notice a large spider protecting a sac of eggs. Joseph, fully on alert and wanting to protect Mary and Baby Jesus from all threats, slashes at the spider’s web with his staff, but Mary stops him, noting, “All are here for a reason. Let it be.”

As the family rests in the darkness of the cave, the distant wails of the slaughtered innocents and their bereaved mothers are heard. The spider, who wants to repair the web Joseph damaged with his staff, realizes that she needs to protect a Child not her own — so she calls forth her dozens of older children to help spin a thick web at the entrance to the cave, so that Herod’s soldiers will be tricked into thinking that no one is hiding inside.

Readers familiar with Charlotte’s Web will enjoy another story in which a friendly spider selflessly takes risks to save someone else. Unlike most stories that feature “saves Christmas” in their title, The Spider Who Saved Christmas isn’t about removing obstacles that threaten to prevent Santa’s delivery of gifts to children. Instead, it’s about a lowly creature willingly accepting a dangerous mission to save the Son of God.

The Spider Who Saved Christmas is based on an ancient Eastern European legend which tells the origin of the tinsel we often use to decorate Christmas trees.

Not only does this book tell a wonderful story, it’s an excellent catechetical tool for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
A review copy of this book was received from the publisher. Opinions are my own.

On Location: 2 Catholic Novels with Unusual Settings

Location, location, location: the Realtor’s motto might belong to authors as well. Two new novels published this season feature unusual settings. In both books, the main character lives in an out-of-the-ordinary place that figures prominently in the story.

Michael D. O’Brien’s The Lighthouse (Ignatius Press) is a beautifully written literary novel about a man without any family who becomes a lighthouse keeper in a remote area of Nova Scotia: on a tiny island off eastern Cape Breton Island (that’s three layers of islands if you’re keeping track). He can go weeks, or even months in winter, without seeing or speaking to a single soul. It’s mentioned that he suffered a painful childhood and was on his own by his mid-teens, so solitude is not a burden for him. 

But little by little, he opens up to some of the people who find their way to the island and some who live in the nearby town where he purchases groceries and other supplies. And as the years pass, he finds unexpected connections with some of them, and develops unexpected artistic talents that fulfill his unspoken need for the family he lacks.

I was privileged to read The Lighthouse while on vacation at the beach, and the background music of the waves and shore birds made me feel as if I were right there on Ethan McQuarry’s tiny island.

Because it’s always a good time to read a Christmas novel, Paraclete Press is releasing John Gray’s Manchester Christmas on November 10. Chase, a young writer looking for her next big story and a fresh start in New England, winds up in Vermont just after Thanksgiving and moves into a former church that has been converted into a private home. 

The stained-glass windows, all that remain of St. Pius Church’s original furnishings and features (because they could not be safely removed), appear to change every now and again, alerting Chase to dangerous situations to come. Immediately adopted by the community and catching the eye of a local farmer, Chase gets involved in Christmas festivities and hopes to bring an end to a painful chapter in Manchester’s past.

Manchester Christmas is a fun story, perfect for those times when you like a happy ending that brings a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

An Open Book: October 2020

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. It’s been a long time since I participated in this fun event, so I’m going to cherry-pick the best of what I’ve read this summer.

Fiction

I couldn’t put Love and a Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray down. It’s a really fun read about a woman who tries to “pass” as a Christian to keep a temp job at a church after a bad breakup – and then realizes that the role she’s playing might cost her a relationship with one of the musicians at the same church. And all the while, there’s the landscape architect who seems to always be around and who’s picked up on her secret. Every little detail adds up to a wonderful story – I’ll look for more from this author.

Debut novelist Brendan Hodge, in If You Can Get It (Ignatius Press), tells the story of a high-powered fashion executive whose confused younger sister’s arrival in her luxury apartment is the catalyst for a reexamination of her career goals and, ultimately, what she wants out of life. Neither sister knows what to make of their parents’ newfound religious fervor, and Jen chases after power and money in a new job that requires her to look the other way at bad business dealings and worse after-hours behavior. A new start in a less-glamorous position close to her parents’ Midwestern home provides Jen the opportunity to ponder what she really wants out of life, even as her sister Katie happily determines her own life path. If You Can Get It is an engaging read that explores the consequences of the single-minded pursuit of success at the expense of faith, family, friendship, and love. There’s a bit of a surprise at the end — and it’s very satisfying. (Review copy received from publisher.)

I almost let the first page deter me from reading Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Glad I stuck with this story of a newly single mom struggling to make it outside the lifestyle to which she and her highly leveraged ex had been accustomed. Mrs. Saint, the meddlesome woman next door who inexplicably has seemingly incompetent people working for her, is charmingly mysterious and excels at pushing people to reach their potential. You’ll need to suspend disbelief in a big way while you read this, but the characters are wonderful and the novel is truly entertaining.

Bette Lee Crosby’s latest, A Million Little Lies, is set 60 years in the past (or so) but the theme is timeless: what happens when you tell one lie to try to bring about some good, then have to protect yourself by telling more and more lies, until even you begin to forget what the truth is. Susanna, escaping an abusive relationship with her young daughter, sneaks into a crowded funeral hoping for a free meal – and winds up being mistaken for the long-lost granddaughter of the deceased. Going along with that seems to be the best idea at the time for herself and her little girl, but the truth will have to catch up with her at some point.

 

YA/Children’s

Theoni Bell’s The Woman in the Trees, the story of Slainie, a young immigrant girl from Belgium who meets visionary Adele Brise in Wisconsin and learns about Our Lady of Good Hope (the only approved Marian apparition in the USA) will appeal to middle school students as well as adult readers. Set roughly at the same time as Little House in the Big Woods (and not too far away), this novel details the struggles of the immigrants in that time and place, including the Peshtigo fire, a forest fire that devastated their community, all as seen through the eyes of a young girl, beginning when she was only four years old and continuing through her teenage years.

 

 

Nonfiction

I picked up The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore when I discovered it was set in my home state of New Jersey. This was a long book (500+ pages) and very detailed about America’s fascination with the glowing element. Teenage girls and young women were hired to paint watch faces with radium so they would glow; they spread the spare paint on their fingernails, and because they put the paintbrushes in their mouths to shape a point on the bristles, wound up ingesting the carcinogen that caused horrifying physical effects within only a few years. There’s quite a bit of graphic medical information included here, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this one.

I’m in the middle of a new cookbook right now: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. This cookbook is less about the recipes and more about the science behind cooking, and I am spellbound by what I’m learning. There are pull-out charts, such as a continuum of acidity for common ingredients (lime juice is the winner on the high-acid end!) and a wheel of oils and fats organized by region (don’t cook Asian food in olive oil). There is so much to be learned about science and technique, and it’s presented in a very engaging way. I’m keeping this one on the coffee table so I can page through it and soak up the information.

 

 


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Plan Your Days with the Christian Planner: Catholic Edition

On a bookshelf in my office, you’ll find planners dating all the way back to 2013. I recently found a few more in a box in my basement and will be adding them to the shelf as well. For me, a planner is not something I use all year and then throw away. It’s an essential part of my record-keeping for home and work. 

While 2020 has meant that out-of-the-house activities and work travel came to a screeching halt in mid-March and still haven’t really resumed, that doesn’t mean I don’t still need a planner. In some ways, I need it more than ever. I’ve been exploring new-to-me ways to use planners and new planner formats, and I’m very impressed with the new Catholic edition of the Christian Planner. You can use this high-quality planner at work, home, or school — and it doubles as a spiritual journal. 

I’m a beginner at using planners for spiritual journaling, but it’s a practice I’d like to try more often, ever since I listened to a recent episode of the Catholic Momcast in which Lisa Hendey shares how she uses her planner as a spiritual journal.

The Christian Planner: Catholic Edition offers a weekly two-page devotional spread. At the bottom of one of the pages you’ll find references for the Sunday readings and a quote from Sunday’s Gospel. The rest of the space is for you to use however you’d like; one page is blank and the other ruled, so you can doodle, letter a quote, write … or even use some space for pre-planning the week ahead.

The spiritual content in this planner begins as soon as you open the book, with an overview of the liturgical year and four pages of “Seeking Sainthood” worksheets with prayer/journaling prompts, bucket list, and yearly spiritual goals.

I prefer that my planners contain liturgical-year information; the monthly views in the Christian Planner: Catholic Edition boast feast-day information and the liturgical designation for each Sunday of the year.

Another aspect of the monthly view I’m finding useful is its 6-week format. You won’t see those split boxes with two days jammed into the space for one because the planner only offers a 4- or 5-week grid. With a 6-week grid, there’s plenty of room, and it’s good to see the extra days preceding and following the current month. The dates for the current month are in bold type, so they stand out.

The monthly pages also contain a to-do list, Scripture quote, and reflection/action questions to help you celebrate your blessings and contemplate ways you’ll serve God and others in the month ahead.

The weekly pages in this planner are divided into day and evening sections, but do not have specific times written in. That allows for flexibility to use those sections for appointments, scheduled tasks, or simply to-dos, whichever you prefer. There’s also a list section in the side margin, a habit tracker, Scripture quote, and some extra “free space” for whatever you need.

In the photo above you can also see that instead of tabs for each month, this planner has a little shaded index section. No more bent tabs, but it’s easy to flip right to the month you want to view.

The Catholic Edition of the Christian Planner is available in hardcover with a lay-flat binding and elastic to help keep your page open, as well as two bookmark ribbons so you can easily flip from monthly view to weekly view. There are three color options, including plum, celery, and this lovely sapphire blue.

The paper in this planner is high-quality, bright white 70-lb. paper, and the planner measures approximately 7 inches wide by 9 inches high. There’s also a slip pocket on the back cover for those extra papers or receipts.

Do you like to try before you buy? You can download free PDFs of the Christian Planner to see if the format works for you. These PDFs don’t include the Catholic content, but the basic format is the same. You’ll be asked to provide an email address, and then you’ll immediately receive access to the downloads.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received a free copy of this planner for review purposes. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Meal Planning in the Real World

Courtesy of CatholicMom.com. All rights reserved.

What a surprise to wake up this morning and find that I got a mention on the latest episode of the Catholic Momcast! Thanks, Danielle and Allison!

If you’re visiting from there and are looking for the recipes, you’ll find them at my cooking website, CookAndCount.

My recipes are not “just for diabetics” but I include nutrition information with each one, so that families like mine who have someone with special nutritional needs can find out what they need to know before they cook. These are simply recipes that my family enjoys. I hope you find some new favorites among them.

Here’s a little info on how I do meal planning:

I divide a sheet of paper or page in my planner into 3 columns: type of recipe (easy, meatless, takes all day) / name of recipe (and source, if it’s not mine) / groceries needed.

Then I go through my recipes and sometimes take a peek into the recipes I’ve recently printed out from other websites (I have a whole crate of these, with folders … I may have a problem).

I ask family members if they have any requests.

Then I fill in the “name of recipe” column with the meals I want to make for the next week or two. (Sometimes I get really organized and go for a whole month, but it’s been a while.)

I categorize the recipes, so I know what I have to work from – that makes it easy to choose in the morning (or the night before) based on what the day is going to bring. If I have 3 meetings for work, I’m not going to be picking a labor-intensive “takes all day” recipe. That’s when I want to go for something quick and easy, which gets its own category on my recipe site!

Finally, I look at each recipe and take note of any ingredients I’ll need in order to make those. That becomes my shopping list.

Minus the description column, here’s my menu plan from earlier this year.

Thanks for visiting – let me know which recipes you plan to try!

Peace and all good,

Barb


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz