On Barb’s Bookshelf: Geeking Out Over Timelines

Geeking Out Over Timelines

When you’re interested in the study of history, there’s nothing like a timeline to help you get everything in order. Kids, parents, and teachers will all benefit from two new books that give the visual learner (like me) plenty to geek out over: The Great Adventure Catholic Bible and The Church Rocks!

Begin at the Beginning

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible from Ascension Press combines a beautiful Bible with color-coded timelines, a 90-day Bible reading plan (which covers the highlights of salvation history), and guidance on interpreting the Bible, applying Scripture to our lives, and praying with Scripture. The Bible is divided into sections, each of which has a fascinating introduction featuring maps, charts, and historical background:

  • Early World
  • Patriarchs
  • Egypt & Exodus
  • Desert Wanderings
  • Conquest & Judges
  • Royal Kingdom
  • Divided Kingdom
  • Exile
  • Return
  • Maccabean Revolt
  • Messianic Fulfillment
  • The Church

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Each of these sections has its own color, and every page of the Bible has a band of that color to help keep you on track as you read. Key events are marked with a box with extra information at the top of the page and a symbol within the text that corresponds to the box. There are ample footnotes and a mini-concordance at the bottom of each page. Jesus’ words are in red type. Every feature of this Bible is designed to help the reader place events in history, understand their significance, and learn why the message still matters today.

This Bible is colorful without being juvenile and uses the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition translation. The cover is blue vinyl with gold lettering and an embossed compass logo, and there are even two page-marker ribbons.

The Great Adventure Catholic Bible would make an excellent Confirmation gift. I’m really impressed with all the useful features and historical information.

History and Heritage

Beginning with Pentecost, the “birthday of the Church,” and ending with the New Evangelization, Sister Mary Lea Hill, FSP, has put together a history of the Catholic Church that will appeal to kids, teens, and the adults in their lives.

The Church Rocks! (I see what the author did there) is a century-by-century look at Church history that covers everything from stained glass to saints. It’s clever without being irreverent and definitely takes the “boring” out of historical study, providing a clear sense of time and place to Church events.

Each chapter begins with a timeline that lists major events in that century. In addition to the chapter’s narrative, readers will find an “I Witness” paragraph, written from the point of view of someone from that time period; this will grab the attention of younger readers (grades 3 to 5). Older students (grades 5 and up) will appreciate “More than the Facts,” “Latest and Greatest,” and “On the Record,” all of which offer more information on special topics, events, or important people. For further research, “Mystery of History” suggests topics for study. There’s also a writing prompt, vocabulary builder, and prayer in each chapter. “The Bigger Picture” closes out each chapter by placing that century in historical context and setting up what’s to come in the next century.

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Packed with black-and-white reproductions of famous art from the time, pictures of saints, and a useful index, this book would make a useful classroom tool and will intrigue history buffs of all ages.

Take a peek at the inside of this fascinating book:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Amazon links are included in this post. I received review copies of both these books, but no other compensation, from the publishers. Opinions expressed here are mine.

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“It’s OK to Start with You” and Physical Self-Care

Self Care

It’s not selfish to take good care of yourself.

Why is that so difficult for us to understand? I’m no exception — especially when it comes to physical self-care. (Which is why I thought it was hilarious when author Julia Hogan invited me to help introduce her new book, It’s OK to Start with You, by concentrating on physical self-care.)

When it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the poster child for excuses. I’ll get all that out of the way right now. Hogan enumerates four ways we take care of ourselves physically:

  • Sleep. I’m a poor sleeper, and often I’m woken up in the night by TheKid’s glucose monitor — he’s not a poor sleeper, so he sleeps through those alarms. There I am at 4 AM, rummaging in the fridge for apple juice. On the plus side, I know I can’t function well with little sleep, so I do make the effort to get to bed well before 10 PM, since I wake up at 5 AM. I don’t see much I can change here.
  • Nutrition. Yes, I have a food blog that features nutrition labels for every recipe so people with diabetes or other dietary issues can get carb counts. I also have the remains of a 4-pound bag of M&Ms in my desk drawer. That’s a problem.
  • Exercise. I thought I’d make a commitment to exercising for the week leading up to this article. Later that day, as I was walking (to get ice cream … I was on vacation!) my left knee buckled under me, so I slowly made my way back to where we were staying, without any ice cream, and I’m not going to be taking any power walks around the neighborhood anytime soon. Even with the knee brace, it’s hurting.
  • Body image. Now, this I can work on, sore knee and all. No excuses.

To be honest (and if nothing else, this book is all about honesty), I think the area of body image is the one where I need the most help. Other issues (except for sleep) stem from that.

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

For one, I’m lazy. Self-care takes time. But Hogan notes, “the way we treat ourselves betrays what we really think of ourselves” (20).

OUCH.

She’s right.

I like that Hogan, right up front, emphasizes that self-care is not an excuse to behave selfishly (11). Self-indulgence is not self-care, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking we deserve that pumpkin-spice latte or new pair of shoes to reward ourselves for merely getting through the day or the week.

I have a long way to go.

“Instead of aiming for ‘perfection,’ aim for appreciating the body you have been given and the amazing things it can do” (76).

While my body can’t do all the amazing things right now because of that knee injury, and it may never look picture-perfect since I’m 53 and, um, allergic to exercise, it’s nurtured three children and can still, even with a knee injury, do the laundry and go to the supermarket to get fresh vegetables for dinner. (I might milk it a bit when it comes to housecleaning, though.)

This is a book you’re meant to write in. I didn’t only write in mine — I underlined those points that I’m going to need to reread until they sink in. Or until I let them sink in. There are places in the book to work through self-care action plans. I decided to focus on two physical areas, and I chose steps that I thought were realistic and measurable.

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

  • Work on my wardrobe. If it doesn’t fit and flatter, it’s out. I made an appointment for a clothing-donation pickup and have already filled three bags. I’ll try on skirts and pants when moving is a little easier. Also, I want to reserve sweatpants for exercising and relaxing at home. If I’m going to leave the house, I should look better than that.
  • Get a haircut. I looked back in my planner. My last haircut was June 6.
  • Moisturize. I don’t do makeup. And I usually skip basic skin care too.

[Put] in the necessary time and effort to groom and dress in a way that communicates your worth (77-78).

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

  • Eat more protein – add a protein source to every meal.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – add a fruit/vegetable/both to every meal.
  • Stop eating junk food in the office. I’ll eat less junk if I have to go downstairs to get it. I’ll leave a jar of mixed nuts in the office in case I need a snack. But I’m removing the M&Ms from my desk.

Make a conscious decision rather than letting your emotions decide when (and what) you eat (71).

Check out the YouTube playlist to get a full week of self-care challenges:

It’s OK to Start with You isn’t the kind of book you devour in one sitting, and it’s not the kind of self-help book that works from the assumption that you’re doing this on your own. Hogan writes from a Catholic point of view, and she includes mental, emotional, social, and spiritual self-care in her whole-person look at this topic.

Learn more by following author Julia Hogan on Facebook and Instagram. And don’t miss the contest on Instagram: you can win a copy of this book! To enter, visit the Instagram blog tour post and comment with the new self-care practice you will try. Contest ends Friday, September 14th, 2018 and the winner will be chosen at random on Monday, September 17th, 2018.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: Summer 2018

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently.

At the end of July I was preparing for my trip to the Catholic Writers Guild Conference (a combination of business, pleasure, and spiritual retreat), so this will cover the best of what I’ve read this summer. If I gave it 3 stars or better on Goodreads, it made this list.

Fiction

year of extraordinary momentsA Year of Extraordinary Moments by Bette Lee Crosby. The second book in Bette Lee Crosby’s “Magnolia Grove” series brings readers back to the small-town neighbors who feel friendly and familiar. Tracy is finally beginning to put her past behind her and has gotten help for her profoundly deaf young child. Complications arise when Dominic, her ex, shows up, summoned by his dying grandmother, who wants to do the right thing for her descendants. But Dominic’s grandmother, despite her serious and painful illness, has a heart of gold and a spine of steel. Tracy’s sister Meghan, the main character in the first book in the series, must come to terms with her own need to follow what she believes were her late father’s wishes. This story of family, love, healing, and strength is one you won’t want to put down — and you won’t want the book to end. Highly recommended. (Netgalley review, but I preordered this book months ago and I know I’ll reread it when it’s released October 16.)

13th chanceThe Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo. What a fun read! Olivia, a pretty teacher with a bad case of OCD, gets mixed up in a MLB pitcher’s scheme to get his career back on track. Turns out she’s a bit of a good-luck charm, and while the two of them irritate each other, sparks begin to fly. This book is funny, and the characters have enough quirks to keep it interesting (there’s nothing worse than plain vanilla characters). A clean romance with plenty of banter. Great read for the summer!

unveilingUnveiling, a luxurious read by Suzanne Wolfe from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art. (Review copy received from publisher.)

still fallingStill Falling (Home in You 0.5) by Crystal Walton. In this prequel to the “Home in You” series, musician Bree finds she can’t run away from the violence from her old neighborhood as quickly as she ran away from her old block — and her old flame, who’s now a police officer hoping to make detective. Bree and Josh are thrown together again when her father comes under fire from the gang Bree hopes to help her brother escape. I enjoyed this whole series and wish I’d read the books in order!

fearedFeared (Rosato & DiNunzio #6) by Lisa Scottoline. Snark, suspense, and plenty of local color flavor Lisa Scottoline’s crime novels. While this is not my preferred genre, I’m a fan of this author’s newspaper columns and I enjoy her books because she’s heavy on the Philly connection. In this sixth book in the series (you don’t have to have read them all before reading this), a former neighbor’s vendetta threatens to take out the no-longer-all-female law firm, an associate is mysteriously murdered, and Rosato & DiNunzio just aren’t sure who can be trusted. Premature labor complicates matters further. Not to be missed: the Rosary Society invading the mobster’s mom’s home. (Netgalley review)

falling for youFalling for You (Bradford Sisters Romance #2) by Becky Wade. Will they or won’t they? Willow Bradford and her former boyfriend Corbin are thrown together by Corbin’s young niece, who wants them to help her find a long-lost aunt. Along the way, opportunities for romance abound, along with some danger as supermodel Willow is stalked by some over-the-top fans and the two of them discover the extent of an apparently squeaky-clean politician’s secret corruption. Another obstacle: Corbin’s father, Joe, is dying — and he doesn’t want Willow involved with his son. I wasn’t wowed by this novel; all the main characters and their boyfriends seem to be beautiful and have perfectly-perfect careers. But I enjoyed the character of Corbin’s niece — she’d be great in a YA spinoff!

good samGood Sam by Dete Meserve. A refreshing change in the mystery genre: there’s no dead body opening this story. Instead, the mystery revolves around who’s been leaving bags with $100K at people’s doors. LA TV-news reporter Kate, seeking to advance her career with this Big Story, finds a connection to her former fiance and risks losing the new guy in her life. Just because there’s no corpse doesn’t mean everyone’s motives are above board.

YA/Children’s

where you leadWhere You Lead by Leslea Wahl. In this fun-to-read romantic suspense novel for teens, Eve is prompted by an odd vision to goad her parents into a cross-country move. She can’t tell them the real reason: she knows she needs to help or protect the young man playing frisbee in front of a red castle. But when Eve engineers a chance to meet him, he (understandably) thinks she’s a crazy stalker. Soon the professor’s daughter and senator’s son find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving lost Civil War treasure — one that may have international implications in the present. It’s refreshing to read about teens who openly pray and who try to find out what God wants them to do, especially as this felt like a natural part of the story, not something forced. The dialogue and characters are real, and the cranky elderly neighbor provided comic relief. I was immediately drawn into this page-turner. (Review copy provided by author.)

boundBound by Vijaya Bodach. High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

33430141_10216812107521559_4057467162288193536_nSecrets: Visible and Invisible from CatholicTeenBooks.com. This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection. From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

born scaredBorn Scared by Kevin Brooks. A harrowing novel written from the point of view of a young boy/teen (?) who is afraid of EVERYTHING. His fear paralyzes him to an amazing degree. He can’t go anywhere. He’s almost all out of the only medication that even takes the edge off his terror, it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a blizzard. His mom goes out to meet the friend who offered to pick up the prescription, but doesn’t return, so the terrified boy, in his desperation, ventures out in the storm to find her. The book is poetically written and absolutely gives words to the terror he feels. There were a few plot elements that weren’t very clear, but this is a good novel for the middle- and high-school reader and will generate good discussion about coping with fear and anxiety. (Netgalley review)

merci suarezMerci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. Entering middle school is a challenge for any kid. Merci has extra obstacles to face: she’s a scholarship kid of a different race than most of her private-school classmates, she’s not super rich, and she’s noticing that something about her grandfather is not quite right anymore. Plus, her friends are starting to pair off into couples, and she’s not ready for that. Merci must face down classmates who’ll do anything to win, academically and socially. A good look at what it’s like to be a 6th-grader under a variety of pressures. (Netgalley review)

benefits of being an octopusThe Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. Zoey, a middle-schooler, is charged with work beyond her years: caring for her three very young siblings while her mother works, trying to keep the kids fed (by any means necessary), and staying out of the way of her mom’s emotionally-abusive boyfriend. A caring teacher shows Zoey enough compassion mixed with demanding toughness to help Zoey realize that she has to take some action to help two vulnerable friends, her siblings, her mother, and herself. I would give this book 10 stars of out 5 if that were an option, and it is going to take me a long time to process everything I’ve read here. This is a YA book that any adult who deals with kids should read. It will be eye-opening for teachers and other school leaders. (Netgalley review)

louisianas way homeLouisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I devoured this middle-grade novel with a spunky main character whose voice reminded me very much of Junie B. Jones. Louisiana Elefante’s granny takes her on a journey in the middle of the night, abandoning their home and Louisiana’s friends and pets. Stranded in a Georgia town by Granny’s dental emergency, Louisiana discovers that she’ll need to find a way for herself in the world. This is a sweet story of unexpected kindnesses that would make a terrific movie. (Netgalley review)

everlasting noraEverlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. Nora is a little girl who lives in a shantytown inside a Manila (Philippines) cemetery — she and her mother actually live inside the mausoleum where her father is buried. The book goes into extensive detail of what it’s like for the homeless who live in the cemeteries, which is a real thing in Manila. Nora and a friend try to find her mother, who disappeared one day, while Nora does her best to hold down the menial job she has to keep herself and her mother, a compulsive gambler, fed. This is an intense story with themes of addiction, organized crime, and violence. For middle-grade readers. (Netgalley review)

It looks like the big theme in YA/middle-grade this year is going to be kids living in home-insecure situations (either homeless or close to it.) I had 3 Netgalleys this summer on that subject alone.

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 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Making sense of the church crisis

I don’t want to read about it.

But I know I have to. (And not just because I work in Catholic media.)

Even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, the sex-abuse scandal in the Church was back on my radar screen. That’s because Cardinal McCarrick served in two New Jersey diocese. He presided at my husband’s Confirmation.

Before the grand jury report was released, my pastor dedicated his bulletin column to this difficult topic. He shared his disgust and how the first sex-abuse scandal had affected his priesthood. He called for our parish to participate in a 54-day Rosary novena, beginning August 15.

I’ve been reading about it, and trying to pray, and trying to figure out what it will mean for a Church that’s largely empty already — largely due to the first round of scandals in 2002.

Since 2006 I have been VIRTUS-certified so that I could volunteer and substitute-teach in a Catholic school. I have had to attend the class (which, having also been through the Boy Scouts’ Youth Protection Training, was less informative than the class the BSA offered). I’ve had to go to the really sketchy places in semi-abandoned industrial parks every 3 years to get my fingerprints done. (How sketchy, you ask? How about so creepy-people-in-the-elevator-sketchy, you think it’ll be safer to take the stairs on the way out — because at least you can run if you’re on the stairs? Yeah, that sketchy.) And to be honest, I haven’t had the best attitude about all of that, because I feel like I was being treated like a criminal because some other people were criminals.

I tried to turn that attitude around by praying for the victims and, yes, even for the criminals (they need prayers too) but I still feel that the rest of us were punished for the actions of a few.

But if that’s as much as this has touched me, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine the torment the victims and their families have experienced.

I feel like something is broken in the Church and it’s not something I have the power to fix.

I’m very unsatisfied by the statement of the New Jersey bishops, as well as the bishop of my own diocese. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that we need more than platitudes and talk of best.

We need shepherds, not CEOs.

Especially right now.

On Thursday, when I went to Adoration and took my rosary out of the little pouch, it was broken. That nearly undid me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but that broken rosary (which was all in one piece the week before when I’d prayed it at Adoration) was a symbol, for me, of the brokenness we are experiencing now. So I sat there using my fingernails to try to repair the links, since I don’t generally bring pliers to the Adoration Chapel. I had to make it whole before I could begin to pray.

I will not stop going to Mass. I think we need to pray harder than ever right now. We need all the grace we can get. The criminals are not the Church. The bishops are not the Church. The Pope is not the Church. They are all part of it, but they are not all of it, and there is too much that is good in it to toss out the whole thing because of the bad stuff.

Helpful Resources

(to be updated)

The National Catholic Register ran an interview with seminary professor Janet Smith this week. It’s worth the read, especially if you are wondering what you, one lay person in a broken Church, can do right now.

What can the laity do right now?

We should certainly pray and fast and try to keep our faith strong and that of others.

We also need to help other Catholics see how seriously bad the presence of homosexual networks in the Church is. We should write letters to our bishop. We should 1) commend our bishop for the good works he has done 2) demand a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. Carefully give evidence if we have some prefaced by “I have heard; I don’t know if it is true but I have heard it enough to think queries if not an investigation should be made.” Demand that if there are credible accusations against priests and more evidence is needed, that private investigators need to be hired 3) tell him that if cleaning up the homosexual network means that there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions 4) that a lay board be set up to which priests and others can make charges of sexual harassment by the bishop himself and priests and the particularly priests can report any mistreatment from the bishop without fear of reprisals; 5) send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage; 6) promise to pray and fast for him 7) send copies of your letter to DiNardo and the nuncio; 8) get signatures of others who may not be inclined to write; 9) ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don’t get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the public newspaper.

Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and one of my employers) offered a short prayer for the innocent victims.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

“Kick Me: Clinging to the hurt”

Last night when we were on our way home from dinner, we stopped to let some people cross in front of us in a parking lot. Hubs recognized them and said, “Isn’t that …” but couldn’t think of their names.

“The people who didn’t call you back when you volunteered,” I shot back, as he tooted his horn and waved in greeting.

My comment came from a place of hurt, but that doesn’t mean it was warranted. I could just as easily have reminded Hubs of their names. But, as I always do, I let that old grudge take over.

My superpower is hanging on to grudges. I’m really good at it. I could write a long essay detailing the many offenses behind my retort, but where would that get me?

Fact is, we’re not part of the in crowd. We don’t belong to the clique. We’re not rich enough or stylish enough or fit enough or beautiful enough. We don’t drink enough or travel enough or own a shore home. And we’ve discovered that in certain settings, people who volunteer but don’t belong to the clique don’t get called upon to help.

That hurts. Deeply. You’d think that now that I’m solidly in middle age, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but you’d be wrong. I’m hurt, and I’m steadily crossing the line into bitter.

Worse, I’ve passed along that bitterness to my kids — I’ve heard echoes of my own pain in their words.

Honestly, hanging on to all that hurt is exhausting. I hold tight to it, thinking that will help. I’m not sure what I think it will help me do.

It won’t make me rich enough or stylish enough or fit enough or beautiful enough.

It won’t get me into a clique that I don’t belong in anyway.

It won’t take away the very real fear that I’ll get hurt again.

I cling to the hurt like it’s a security blanket, hoping it will become a protective armor (or, at the very least, an invisibility cloak.)

But in reality, it’s more like that “kick me” sign the third-grade bully pins on the back of your T-shirt.

Closing myself off from the people who shut me out doesn’t prevent me from getting hurt.

Maybe it’s time to try something new. Anni Harry writes:

At the end of the day, my response to the “cool moms” is what is most important. I can lambaste them, throw shade toward them, or think bad things of them. And, I have to admit, I struggled this past weekend to not give in to excoriating them – both in thought and word.

Yet, every time I began to get angry, there was a calm voice running under the current – pray for them.

I have learned through the past five years that prayer is an amazing thing. When I pray for someone I don’t get along with, or someone who has hurt me, I find myself changing. I am strengthened and given a different perspective. I stop finding fault with the other individual/s, and rather, focus on the contributions I can bring to the world – I focus on being the change I would like to see. So, if you are struggling with another person, I encourage you to join me in praying for them.

woman-491623_1920
Via Pixabay (2014), CC0 Public Domain

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fiction and Fun for Summer

Here are 5 summer reading picks for readers of all ages.

For the Kids: A Staircase for the Sisters by Pamela Love

staircase for the sisters

Inspired by the true story of an architectural marvel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, A Staircase for the Sisters tells about the miraculous construction of a staircase to the choir loft of a tiny church where there wasn’t room for any stairs. I remember visiting this church during a cross-country trip as a child, and I was struck by the fascinating story of a mysterious carpenter who was an answer to prayer. Insisting upon working alone, the carpenter constructed a spiral staircase without nails or a center support — and then he disappeared. At the end of the book, readers will find information on the Loretto Chapel, St. Joseph, and a novena to St. Joseph. This short book is an excellent read-aloud for children 5 and up, and older independent readers will enjoy it as well.

For the Kids: The Pope’s Cat by Jon M. Sweeney

popes cat

Jon M. Sweeney’s chapter book for independent readers, The Pope’s Cat, recounts the story of Margaret, a stray cat who is adopted by the Pope (who likes to take early-morning walks outside the Vatican). Through Margaret, readers will get a peek at the daily life of the Pope, including a meeting with the Queen of England! Will Margaret be able to sneak past the Swiss Guard to join her new friend, the Pope, at dinner with the Queen? Cute illustrations accompany this story — and I hear that a sequel is coming this fall!

For Teens and Adults: Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell

black bottle man

Can a novel be both chilling and enjoyable at once? Black Bottle Man, the tale of a young boy caught up in a Faustian bargain, manages that feat. Alternating in time from Rembrandt’s younger days through his ninetieth year, the novel slowly fills in the blanks of a deal with the devil that turned a whole family’s life upside-down and left Rembrandt alone in the world and unable to stay in one place longer than 12 days. Imagine being homeless and always on the move for 80 years! YA novel recommended for high-school age and up.

For Teens and Adults: Bound by Vijaya Bodach

bound

High-school senior Rebecca can’t wait to go away to college — far away, where she can leave behind her father, who’s retreated into his work after her mom’s death last year, and her developmentally-disabled older sister. Rebecca, who was burned over 50% of her body as a preteen, is still dealing with surgeries and treatments for the burn scars and can’t remember the accident that caused the fire. But Rebecca’s dad isn’t dealing with Joy’s needs, leaving Rebecca to make decisions far beyond her years. When Joy becomes pregnant, the family is forced to rework this unhealthy dynamic. This engaging story is a sensitive treatment of prolife themes including abortion, end-of-life issues, and eugenics. Appropriate for teenagers, Bound would make an excellent classroom read.

For Grownups: Unveiling by Suzanne M. Wolfe

unveiling

Unveiling, a luxurious read from Paraclete Press, is a story that was easy to dive into — and tough to stop reading. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Assigned to Rome to restore a mysterious medieval painting, Rachel leaves her life in New York behind, along with a bitter divorce and a childhood trauma that’s left a mystery to the reader until she is no longer able to bury the secret she’d rather keep hidden. Meanwhile, Rachel and her team work against the looming threat that the art will be removed from the church after restoration is complete. My favorite part involved the question of the identity of the artist behind the beautiful painting Rachel was restoring, and this book made me want to discover more about religious art.
Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of these books (except BOUND, which I purchased), but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Sweet Little Saints for Christmas in July

Little Drops of Water Christmas in July
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

It’s Christmas in July this week, and there’s no better way to celebrate than taking a peek at the cutest little Nativity scene! Little Drops of Water, a family business based in Portugal, created their line of saint figurines when Anna Amaral, now a teenager, asked her father to help make child-friendly toys that celebrate the saints. The company recently introduced special Christmas products, including its Nativity scene — and they’ll have a Santa coming soon.

Little Drops of Water Nativity
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

This is the Nativity I wished we’d had when our children were small. We eventually got a Playmobil Nativity set, but that is not appropriate for toddlers, with all the tiny parts! But a Nativity like this — it looks like wood, but it’s made of high-quality resin — is basically indestructible and child-friendly. This would be perfect to bring out each Advent so the children can help prepare for Jesus’ birth.

I’m really impressed by the workmanship behind these figurines. I first reviewed Little Drops of Water products in March of 2016, and my collection of figurines is still in great shape — even the Holy Family that sits on the very narrow windowsill above my kitchen sink. It’s taken more than one tumble into the dishwater, but the colors are still bright and there’s not even a chip or a crack. That’s a huge plus when you’re selecting toys for small children.

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Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

Yes, I said “toys.” They’re religious figurines, but they’re made to be held and carried about in little hands or little pockets. Most of these figurines are 3 inches high (statues with crowns, such as Our Lady of Fatima and the Infant of Prague, top out around 4 inches) and they fit well in small hands.

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Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

There are two dozen different Mary statues, ranging from the Madonna and Child to regional favorites such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, Maria Pomagaj (Slovenia), and Our Lady of Lourdes — and more. In addition, Little Drops of Water offers dozens of saints, from St. Anthony through St. Therese. There’s even Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the newly-canonized Fatima visionaries, Saints Francisco and Jacinta.

Francisco Jacinta
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

As Little Drops of Water is based in Portugal, the Fatima connection is strong. In fact, they are the number-one supplier of statuary in both Fatima and Lourdes, and they offer several products related to each. They also create charms, plush toys, and more.

Little Drops of Water offers free coloring pages and craft activities for parents, teachers, and catechists to download and use, and you’re invited to share your creations with them!

Shop at Little Drops of Water using the coupon code BN63EE5EA9Y6 and you’ll receive a 30% discount on your order! They also offer free shipping (always my favorite perk) on orders of $50 or more.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Opinions expressed here are my own. I received a Nativity set and other figurines from the manufacturer for the purposes of this review.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Short-Story Anthology for Teens from CatholicTeenBooks

A brand-new #1 new release on Amazon is a terrific introduction to the work of 7 Catholic authors! Secrets: Visible and Invisible, a short-story collection compiled by CatholicTeenBooks.com, reached #1 in the “Values and Virtues Fiction for Teens” category in its first 24 hours!

I’m very familiar with the work of many of the authors whose stories are featured here: Carolyn Astfalk, T.M. Gaouette, Theresa Linden, Cynthia T. Toney, and Leslea Wahl. Two other authors are new to me: Susie Peek and Corinna Turner — and I’ll definitely be taking a look at these authors’ full-length work after getting a taste of their writing.

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Here’s a bit about the 7 stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • In a dystopian future, an innocent picnic turns deadly!
  • Elijah knows nothing of an elderly stranger’s secret past — until her disappearance changes everything.
  • A mysterious, ever-changing painting alarms a group of teens.
  • A cannonball took Dario’s legs … Will he lose his soul too?
  • The arrival of a mysterious girl challenges everything about Jason’s life.
  • An unlicensed driver. His dad’s truck. What could possibly go wrong?
  • An old tale of murder and forbidden love leads to a modern-day treasure hunt.

As a rule, I don’t endorse a book I haven’t read. I’m proud to endorse Secrets and I’ll state right now that I’ll definitely be reading it again. Here’s my endorsement:

This anthology of Catholic fiction for teens will introduce readers to seven diverse authors. Many of these stories, in a variety of genres but linked by a common theme, offer a peek at characters from full-length novels. Readers already acquainted with these authors will enjoy new perspectives on favorite characters. Kudos to CatholicTeenBooks.com and these seven authors for dreaming up this excellent collection.

From dystopia to historical fiction to sweet romance to mystery, there’s something for every reader to like in this collection — and it might even encourage a reader who’s locked in to a certain genre to branch out a bit.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle-school and up, and would be an excellent addition to a school or classroom library. As described by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, who provides the foreword, “Each story reveals something different about the human heart and our constant (though, often veiled) desire for truth and virtue.”

Want to win a copy for your teen?

Enter the blog tour giveaway!

Visit the other stops on the Blog Tour for more chances to win:

Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4              Steve McEvoy                        Book Reviews and More

July 5              Leslea Wahl                            Leslea Wahl

July 6              Barb Szyszkiewicz                 Franciscan Mom

July 7              Shower of Roses                     Shower of Roses

July 8              Carolyn Astfalk                      My Scribbler’s Heart

July 9              Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur  Spiritual Woman

July 9              Sarah Damm                           Sarah Damm

July 10            Corinna Turner                       Unseen Books

July 11            Christina Weigand                  Palace of Twelve Pillars

July 11            Virginia Lieto                         Virginia Lieto

July 12            Theresa Linden                       Things Visible & Invisible

July 13            T.M. Gaouette                        T.M. Gaouette

July 14            Karina Fabian                         Fabianspace

July 16            Therese Heckenkamp             Therese Heckenkemp

July 17            Ellen Gable Hrkach                Plot Line & Sinker

July 17            Barb Szyszkiewicz                 CatholicMom

July 18            Catholic Teen Books              Catholic Teen Books


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: June 2018 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:

Fiction

just in timeJust in Time by Marie Bostwick. Grace’s life revolves around her quilting hobby and caring for her husband, who’s been in a coma since a hiking accident on their honeymoon. Her friends from a grief support group stand by her and push her toward new adventures even as new crises in her work and personal life threaten the fragile balance of her life. Terrific characters.

not that I could tellNot That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. A disturbing read about a group of young moms in a neighborhood and how they react to the sudden disappearance of one of their peers, who seems to have taken off, small children in tow, with no explanation. The resulting media circus seems to point to Kristin’s estranged husband, and others in the neighborhood must deal with their own crises. I’m not entirely sure the surprise ending works. (Netgalley review)

bound by brokennessBound by Brokenness (The Healing Season’s series #2) by This story is a continuation of a series; definitely these need to be read in order. Dr. Matthias Mason is injured while treating the people in the mountain region where he lives and works; his young assistant steps out of her comfort zone to take care of things while he cannot. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Samuel is left on his own to manage a household, the vegetable garden, and his schoolwork — and he finds himself embroiled in a bootlegging scandal while trying to protect a friend. Some anachronistic dialogue got in the way of the historical-fiction experience.

way life should beThe Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. Kind of farfetched, but good escape fiction: Angela’s friend convinces her to try online dating, but it doesn’t turn out quite as she expected and it has disastrous effects on her job. When she heads to Maine to either escape or start over (even she doesn’t know which) she finds a surprising way to start over. I almost didn’t purchase this because of the reviews I read on Amazon (people were upset that this wasn’t anything like Orphan Train, but I really enjoyed it).

every time you go awayEvery Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison. This novel reminded me a lot of the movie “Ghost.” Ben, who died prematurely, leaving a wife and teen son, comes back as a ghost to their beach house, a place his wife had avoided since he died there alone 3 years before. Willa has a lot of healing and grieving to do, and a lot of repairing of her relationship with her son. Predictable, but an enjoyable read. (Netgalley review)

sister circleThe Sister Circle (Sister Circle #1) by Vonette Bright & Nancy Moser. A sweet, if farfetched, story about a recent widow whose husband left her nothing but an enormous old home filled with antiques. She opens a boardinghouse, filling the rooms with 3 women with little in common except they all need a place to stay. The book’s Christian message is strong, veering toward the didactic at times. This is the first in a series, and it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a discovery that two characters have an unexpected connection (I’m trying to avoid spoilers); honestly, that’s the only reason I purchased the second book in the series.

least expectedLeast Expected by Autumn MacArthur. This short novel takes place over the course of a week or two at Christmastime; a middle-aged store owner with an overbearing mother falls for the quirky, artistic freelance window decorator. It wraps up a little too neatly, of course, but it was a fun read that definitely had me hoping these two characters would get together.

Nonfiction

catholic baby namesCatholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys by Katherine Morna Towne. I was honored to be asked to endorse this book! Choosing a Marian name for your baby, or helping your teen select a Confirmation name, just got easier. Kate Towne takes the guesswork out of the naming process, offering hundreds of names and nicknames that refer to Mary or are used in her honor. Complete with feast-day information, a bit of history, and plenty of variations and cross-referencing, this guide to names that honor the Blessed Mother is fascinating and full of surprises. Read my full review.

rethink happinessRethink Happiness by Paul George isn’t simply about self-help; its focus is solidly on spiritual growth. Don’t let the subtitle, “Dare to embrace God and experience true joy,” leave you thinking that this book doesn’t deal with the tough stuff or offer a true challenge. Paul George discusses depression, success, decision-making, beauty (and deceptive beauty), despair, simple living, fear, and other topics with an honest touch and just the right number of anecdotes to make his points relatable. Each chapter ends with reflection questions for prayer or journaling.

followKatie Prejean McGrady’s Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus invites young Catholics to get to know Jesus in practical ways. But it’s not for young Catholics only! There are only four chapters, but they’re comparatively long ones, divided into sections of a few pages each. These four chapters cover four important ways to build a relationship with Jesus: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and service. There’s a lot of information in this book: the chapter on prayer, for example, includes the Litany of Humility, a list of all the mysteries of the Rosary, and extensive coverage of various ways to pray.

psalm basicsPsalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way by John Bergsma is a Bible study, but Bergsma’s lighter approach makes this book perfect for summer. This book is informative and engaging without being too formal or serious. Charts and diagrams illustrate the discussion of salvation history and the distinctions among the psalms themselves. There’s much more than basic information here! The book has eleven chapters, so reading one chapter per week will take you right through the summer. I found it hard to stop reading at the end of each chapter — I was quickly wrapped up in Bergsma’s explanations about the history behind the psalms.

go bravelyEmily Wilson Hussem’s Go Bravely: Becoming the woman you were meant to be was definitely written for an audience more my daughter’s age (22) than mine (more than old enough to have a daughter who’s 22). That didn’t stop me from grabbing a pen and underlining large chunks of it. Wilson’s advice is for women of any age — the anecdotes will appeal most to older teens, college-age, and young-adult women, but the advice is definitely for us all. It would be great for a mother-daughter book club! This book is divided into twenty short chapters, each with a different piece of advice: for example, Find Your Gaggle, Honor Those Who Love You Most, Forgive and Forget, and Radiate with Light.


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

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!

open book new logo

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Us, Them, and the Creation of a Parish Culture

Ten years ago, my diocese created a new parish by merging two parishes that are in the same zip code, but on opposite sides of a state highway.

On the weekend of our no-longer-new parish’s tenth anniversary, which would be commemorated by a parish picnic on Sunday afternoon, the Saturday-evening Mass was celebrated by a beloved former pastor of one of the churches.

He’s retired, and will be helping out occasionally on the weekend (we’re a one-priest parish with two buildings and four Masses each weekend) and holding down the fort in a few weeks when our pastor is scheduled for surgery.

I’m going to say right here and now that this is going to set the creation of our parish culture back, in a big way.

Father F (F stands for Former Pastor) celebrated his first Mass as a weekend assistant at the church he used to lead, decades ago. He was mobbed before and after Mass by people happy to see him again — and that’s fine.

Not so fine, the applause at the beginning AND end of the homily.

Father C (C stands for Current Pastor) has mentioned more than once that there is a definite difference in the cultures at the two churches in our parish. I agree. As a musician, I’m bounced around among Mass times and locations. There’s only one Mass out of four that the folk group doesn’t play, and that’s 8 AM on Sundays.

It feels like we’ve still got competing parish histories, warring allegiances, and there’s still (after ten years) reluctance on the part of many people to cross the highway to attend Mass at the other church.

After ten years, people still identify themselves by the church they used to attend — the one that’s now part of our merged parish, which has a new name. The churches within the parish kept their original names, which makes things complicated but you have to identify places somehow.

After ten years, we have not yet begun to create a new parish culture. We have two separate cultures duking it out in the background of every little thing, from the location of daily Mass to whether parish musicians are volunteers.

Here’s the thing about a merge: you’re going from two lanes to one. You’re not still traveling in separate lanes.

I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the announcement that Father F would be around to help out every now and then until I started hearing people talk about how wonderful it is that he’ll be back.

He’s not here to be in charge; he’ll probably be celebrating one Mass per weekend except when Father C is sick or away. I’m not sure people get that, though. It seemed to me that people were ready to dig his old office chair out of the basement and put his nameplate back on the door.

There was lots of nostalgia, which is nice, but nostalgia is the last thing we need right now.

We’re ten years in. It’s time to invest our hearts in the culture of our new parish. The first ten years have been largely focused on administration — how things would get done, by whom, when, and where. That’s all figured out. And that’s fine for the first year or two — not the first ten (it hasn’t helped that by year 7 we were on our third pastor). I think it’s come at the expense of the spiritual and community life of the parish, which is important too. Without it, there’s going to be nothing to administrate.

It’s nice that we will have a weekend assistant, but I wish the bishop had assigned someone else to the task, someone who doesn’t have a connection to only half the parish. There’s too much emotional baggage involved, and I don’t think this will be a good thing.

We need to find a way to get rid of the idea that we should still be traveling in separate lanes.

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Photo by Jenny Bennett (2008) via Flickr; all rights reserved.

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz