Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story: “Your Light Must Shine”

On this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel is the familiar sermon from Jesus: “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.” As I read today’s Mass readings, I couldn’t help but think that Nancy Ward’s Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story is the perfect next step.

Sharing your catholic faith story

This Gospel reading is all about how we evangelize. Sometimes people interpret the reading as a caution not to hide your gifts and talents, but I think there’s another way to read it, as well. It’s a call to use our gifts and talents, given by God, to witness to His love and His work in our lives.

I’m an introvert, happiest when working behind the scenes. The idea of putting myself out there and talking about my faith is daunting. But Nancy Ward knows what she’s talking about here. She’s put together an easy-to-use book of “tools, tips and testimonies” to help readers, no matter what their level of comfort with talking about God in public, figure out how they can best let their light shine.

The first part of the book helps you define your faith story, sorting out what’s significant, and learning to use a spiritual journal to organize your thoughts. Chapter 9 was comforting to this introvert: titled “Gentleness and Reverence: Tips for Sharing Your Faith Story,” it drove home the point that a soft approach (definitely my style) is both possible and beneficial.

St. Francis of Assisi is frequently (mis)attributed with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Whether or not the saint actually said, this, it’s good advice. If you’re a person of faith, it’s not only your words that reflect what you believe. It’s your actions and attitudes.

About three-quarters of this book is packed with testimonies of Catholics: writers, speakers, and others who have found ways to let their own light shine and guide people to Christ.

Nancy Ward’s favorite Scripture quote about evangelizing is all over this book:

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

Do you want to be ready? Reading Sharing Your Catholic Faith Story will provide concrete tips and plenty of inspiration.

stencil.blog-post-feature


Copyright 2020 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.

Encouragement for moms of growing-up kids: “Giving Thanks and Letting Go”

 

Before my oldest became a teenager, I found Danielle Bean’s writing, tucked each day at the bottom of a newsletter for a Catholic electronic-greetings service. I looked forward to those newsletters and the little stories about family life, paired with some food for the soul, that Danielle included each day.

It never even crossed my mind that there was a possibility that one day we’d even meet: but here we are, with our then-little kids grown — and growing — up, working together. Originally the publisher of Today’s Catholic Teacher, Danielle is now the brand manager at CatholicMom.com, so I’ve worked with her in two places, and that’s something my 2004 self could never have imagined.

After all these years, I feel like I know her kids … from what she says on Instagram, her 17-year-old sounds an awful lot like mine. And her new book speaks to my heart right now, in this emptying-nest season of life.

giving thanks and letting go

Danielle’s newest book, releasing today from Ave Maria Press, was written to encourage us moms of growing-up kids. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood, Danielle doesn’t sugar-coat the tough stuff, but reminds us that yes, it’s worth it; it matters; we’ve got this.

Can this small work, unseen and unthanked, wiping up spills and cooking macaroni, really matter? … God tells me yes. And it’s him that I meet in that gap, that space between what I know and what I feel. It is God who sees me there in that space and calls me to trust and to grow closer to him inside my suffering. I just have to remember to look for him there. (46)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to be reminded that I’ve got this — and that God’s got this — when struggles get me down.

Getting used to new seasons in life can be hard. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go, Danielle acknowledges that, and gives us permission to grieve (a little) for days gone by and missed opportunities, but calls us to look forward in hope and joy to what life will bring.

Find Danielle:

The Catholic Momcast (CatholicMom.com)
Girlfriends podcast with Danielle Bean (Ascension)
The Gist (CatholicTV)
DanielleBean.com

DBrelease

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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Extreme Blindside

leslea wahl books

New this winter from Pauline Books & Media: Extreme Blindside, Leslea Wahl’s second book in the Blindside series.

The series begins with The Perfect Blindside, which follows Jake, a self-described “snowboarding phenom” and teenage Olympian with a chip on his shoulder and his classmate Sophie, a small-town girl who’s proud of it–and who tends to geek out over local history. Jake and Sophie become an unlikely pair as they puzzle over suspicious occurrences in the town of Silver Springs, Colorado.

In Extreme Blindside, Wahl revisits the world of extreme winter sports. Jake and Sophie seek to protect other athletes from dangerous competitive sabotage even as the world-class athlete and aspiring reporter face threats to their relationship.

Wahl shines in creating true-to-life characters with real flaws, yet who have faith and strong family example to guide them along the way. Both books in the series are told from dual points of view, allowing readers to relate to each of the main characters.

extreme blindside cover

The author graciously agreed to answer my questions about Extreme Blindside (and her other fiction for teens, much of which is interconnected).

Is it tough to write a “sequel” when you’ve done several other novels in between? Or do you view this more as an installment in a series?

I’m hoping to write at least one more book in the Blindside series. But yes, it was a little difficult to get back into the characters. I had written two other YA books, An Unexpected Role and Where You Lead, since I had written The Perfect Blindside. When I finally decided to focus on the next installment of their story, it took a little while to get back into their voices. I struggled a bit until I finally decided to write a few short stories with Jake and Sophie as well as two characters from An Unexpected Role. For some reason, this helped.

What’s your favorite thing about each of the main characters?

I love Sophie’s curious nature. She wants to be a journalist and that questioning aspect of her personality helps when they become involved in these mysteries. I really enjoyed researching topics for Sophie’s nervous ramblings about Colorado facts. It was so fun discovering interesting tidbits that I didn’t know about my native state.

Jake is probably the most difficult character for me to relate to of all the characters I’ve created. But this guy really has a great heart and is trying to do the right thing. Writing the snowboarding scenes take a lot of research and imagination. But honestly, watching videos of amazing athletes hardly seems like work.

Do your kids ever worry that something they do or say will wind up in your books? I know you had a character with that worry in another novel.

That was the premise of An Unexpected Role, an author causing trouble by including too much about her children in a book. While I usually include some little incidents that have happened to our family, the characters are nothing like my children and I stay away from anything personal. However, I did ask their permission regarding the book I’m working on now, a sibling adventure, because from the outside the family does seem to be a bit like ours. My children are all young adults now and are very encouraging of my work. They all actually help me out in various ways through marketing, editing, offering feedback, and inspiration.

Do you or your family members do extreme sports?

No. The kids have tried snowboarding a few times but really, we are a family of skiers. I have always loved watching the winter Olympics and especially the snowboarding events. I’ve also been fascinated with the dedication and sacrifice it takes to become a top athlete.

What’s next for these characters? Can you give us a sneak peek into your future book plans?

I have two projects that I am currently working on. One is the family mystery/adventure I mentioned before, tentatively titles A Summer to Treasure. This one is a little different than my other books. Since it’s about siblings, it doesn’t contain as much romance, but it is a project I’ve been excited about for a few years. The other is the third adventure for Jake and Sophie. eXtreme Blindside ends with a bit of unfinished business that I will explore in the third book.

leslea


Copyright 2020 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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Living Memento Mori” by Emily DeArdo

 

Emily DeArdo’s Living Memento Mori: My Journey through the Stations of the Cross, is a little book that packs a big spiritual punch.

A couple of years ago when I first started seeing books on the topic of memento mori (several of which were written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, who also wrote the foreword to this book), I wasn’t sure what to make of the whole idea. I’m a head-in-the-sand girl when it comes to thinking about my own mortality, or that of the people I love. I roll my eyes when my mom (yet again) re-plans her funeral and sends me a new list of instructions, right down to the musician she wants to play at the Mass. (A classmate of one of my kids, he lives 150 miles from my parents’ home and has never met them, so I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but Mom’s entitled to her hopes and dreams, I guess.)

I was surprised to find that Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s books were anything but creepy and morbid. But I didn’t let myself get too deep into the whole topic … and then, this fall, I entered into a season of life in which I just can’t avoid the thought anymore. The reality of my loved ones’ mortality was brought to the fore in some very big ways, and it has been a very stressful time. Couple that with the fact that my teenager lives with type 1 diabetes, a disease which he keeps under very good control but which has its scary, sometimes random moments, and I was perfectly positioned for the comforting take on this topic that Emily DeArdo provides in Living Memento Mori.

living memento mori

Yes, I said “comforting.” I’m not the one in my family facing health problems, but I’m supporting several loved ones with theirs, and there have been times when that was very overwhelming. I didn’t think I’d want to touch a book on the topic of death when the idea seemed way too close for comfort as it was, but I truly felt that DeArdo gets it. I needed to read this book.

You get news that shatters your world to its core and smashes your heart into a million pieces. And yet you still have to do laundry and make dinner and put gas in the car. It was the same for Jesus. On that day in Jerusalem, people still had to earn a living, clean their homes for Passover, buy vegetables, and fruits for dinner, get water at the well, tell their kids to stop fighting, and set the table.

But even if the world doesn’t stop, Jesus does. He know what we’re going through when our hearts break. Jesus knows what it’s like to be judged, to lose everything, and to receive a death sentence. … In our heartbreak, we can go to the Lord, and he wants us to come to him. The question isn’t whether Jesus is with us; the question is whether we will turn toward him or away from him in our pain. (5)

What if realizing you can’t do this on your own and surrendering your will to God — giving him the whole messy situation, all the pain, all the emotion — is what God wants you to do? (48)

Each of the 14 chapters corresponds to one of the Stations of the Cross. DeArdo begins each chapter with a short meditation on a particular Station, then discusses her own spiritual journey as well as the particular health challenges she faces as a cystic fibrosis patient and lung transplant recipient. Keep a notebook or journal handy as you read: every chapter concludes with several questions for journaling.

stations of the cross-CHCBos2019
One of the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, Massachusetts. Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I’m not unfamiliar with the Stations of the Cross; my great-aunts and great-uncle, to whom I was very close, had a deep devotion to the Stations and made sure to get to a church daily to pray them. Over the years I’ve prayed various settings of the Stations of the Cross, but Living Memento Mori has brought this devotion home to me in a way that hasn’t happened before. It’s an encouragement and a comfort, even upon contemplating the horrors of Jesus’ Passion, to know that He understands our suffering. DeArdo’s insights into this topic make the burdens we face a little lighter.

I’ve learned that saying yes, even through clenched teeth in a whisper, is better than saying no to God. Why? Because even when you’re saying it amid a torrent of tears as you’re curled up in bed and you have no idea how this yes can lead to anything good, God is there. On the Cross, on Good Friday, Jesus felt abandonment. He felt the loss of God. He is the only one who can really understand the way you feel. (64)

Lent is an excellent time to foster a devotion to the Stations of the Cross, as many parishes offer weekly services on Fridays. But you don’t need to attend a special service to pray the Stations of the Cross. You can bring Living Memento Mori to church with you to walk the Stations as you pray; there’s an Appendix with a specially written meditation for each of the 14 Stations. Or you can pray the Stations at home. You don’t even have to wait until Lent to start. Living Memento Mori is an excellent prayer companion for anyone going through a time of trial and challenge.

sc station 9
One of the Stations of the Cross at St. Casimir Church/Resurrection Parish, Riverside, New Jersey. Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.

Copyright 2020 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.

Resolution: Keep the Feeder Full

On Friday, December 27, 2019, I filled my bird feeder for the first time in four months.

These past four months have been beyond difficult. We returned home from a blessedly relaxing vacation on August 31, and things fell apart the very next day.

This fall, my family has experienced two very serious health crises; September 1 marked the beginning of an extremely rough time. For six weeks, I spent about half my time traveling back and forth to northern New Jersey to help with things there. After that, an illness closer to home kept me here, taking care of one while simultaneously feeling guilty about leaving my family “up north” behind.

And just as things began to settle down, we emptied our entire home into the basement, the garage, and a storage pod so some long-overdue renovations could be completed; we lived in an extended-stay hotel for 2 1/2 weeks.

On Saturday, finally, I loaded my brand-new bookcases with books I hadn’t laid eyes on since early November.

2019-12-28 21.53.16
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

All this to say: My bird feeder has been sorely neglected. I was barely keeping up with work. I took shortcut after shortcut when it came to meals, and the laundry got done, but when I sat down at 7:30 to relax with a book, I’d be snoring on the couch within 15 minutes. I had no bandwidth left for birds, or anything else.

We’re back in the house. My loved ones are still feeling the effects of those health crises, but things are improving for them all the time.

My bookshelves are full, and so is my bird feeder. I’ve missed taking those five minutes to fill that up. I’ve missed seeing the sparrows, cardinals, and house finches nibbling at the birdseed. I’ve missed hearing the birds gleefully begin to chirp when I approached the feeder with cups of seed in my hands. In all the necessary rushing around, I’ve missed those moments.

Four months is a long time to let a feeder go unfilled. That 5-star bird feeder rating that I’ve worked years to achieve is not mine to claim right now. But I hope that by the time the juncos return to herald the winter snow, the neighborhood birds will have discovered that my feeder is open for business.

This New Year, I’m resolving to keep the feeder full. Because it feeds me, too.

2019-12-27 10.23.36
Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

“The Saint Monica Club”: Comfort for the Worried and Weary

If you have a loved one who has left the Church, or one who’s just fallen away, you’ve probably already learned what won’t work.

Nagging. Begging. Pleading. Crying. Yelling.

I’m here to tell you that none of that is going to be effective. And it was a great relief to read Maggie Green’s book, The Saint Monica Club, and be affirmed in this.

Yes, I said “relief.”

This is certainly not a club that any of us want to be in. Of course, we all want to be in that other club, the one in which people’s loved ones willingly and happily join them in the pew each Sunday and maybe even more often than that. The club where they can talk about church, and faith, in their homes without being greeted by reactions that range from eye-rolling to open antagonism.

Because I am not in that other club, I need to embrace what I’ve learned in The Saint Monica Club

Saint Monica Club

The hardest part of loving someone estranged from the Faith is the sense of isolation. … there are no support groups for those grieving the loss of a family member from the Faith. This loneliness is no accident. It is the Devil’s design to make not only your child but you, too, feel cut off from God. You will need people with whom you can walk, pray, and weep when it gets hard. (25)

The Saint Monica Club will not tell you how to lure someone back to the Church. It will tell you how to live with your own grief, how to bring your loved one to the Lord in prayer, how to connect with others in the same situation, and how to build up the virtues you will need to be the witness your loved one needs.

You don’t necessarily need to read this book start to finish. Skip around; look at the table of contents and open to the chapter whose descriptive title speaks to you right now. Bring the book to the Adoration chapel or read a chapter as you pray before Mass — the chapters are short and well-designed for this purpose.

My only regret is that I read an electronic version of this book. I was highlighting it all over the place. I’m going to need to get my hands on the print edition, so I can highlight some more, make notes, and easily refer back to it when I need a shot of perseverance and some inspiration in patient endurance.

Make friends with the company of saints, and if you have favorite saints, put them on notice. (26)


Copyright 2019 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.

 

A Cozy Catholic Read-Aloud: “The Attic Saint”

New from Emmaus Road Publishing, The Attic Saint by Tim Drake is a wonderfully cozy story, perfect for family read-alouds or for newly independent readers.

Leo and his family have just moved to a big old house in a new city. As the old-fashioned charm of Leo’s new home (a former convent) begins to grow on him, the reflection from a stained-glass window leads him to explore the attic, where he discovers an unusual piece of art: an icon of St. Ambrose.

When the icon seems to speak to Leo, explaining how icons are created and what they mean, the little boy learns about this religious art form and the story of the saint depicted in the icon in his attic. Leo’s insistence on hanging the icon in a special place in his new home begins a transformation for the whole family.

The Attic Saint

Charming illustrations by Theodore Schluenderfritz bring the story to life. The depiction of a small boy in a large, nearly-empty home underscores Leo’s loneliness in his new city. Just as the story is quiet with a touch of suspense, the art is not garish or harsh. The story’s gentle message of openness to God is underscored when Leo’s parents follow his lead in opening the door to faith.

An article in The Central Minnesota Catholic tells how both the story itself and the illustrations were inspired. Schluenderfritz, the creative director at Today’s Catholic Teacher (where I work), told me that Leo’s house in the story was based on an actual home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I lived in Scranton for four years during college, so that was a fun connection for me.

Don’t miss this cozy Catholic read-aloud: The Attic Saint is a charming picture book featuring a lonely child, an old convent, and a mysterious icon.

"The Attic Saint"
Illustration copyright 2019 Theodore Schluenderfritz. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the publisher.

Copyright 2019 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.

Christmas Reads for the Whole Family

I read Christmas books like some people watch Hallmark movies — and my friends know it. Christmas reads are the most common recommendations I receive from fellow readers. I’m good with that.

When my children were little, I used to keep the Christmas storybooks separate from the other picture books we had for them. At the beginning of Advent, I’d bring out the Christmas book basket so they could enjoy those old favorites.

Consider this my virtual book basket — filled with Catholic Christmas reads for readers (and pre-readers) of all ages.

Board Book

joseph guardian of the holy family

Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family by Marlyn Evangelina Monge, fsp; illustrated by Mary Rojas (Pauline Kids). Nearly all of this board book is focused on the nativity story, so I’m calling it a Christmas book. The illustrations are adorable, and the story emphasizes Joseph’s love for God, Mary, and Jesus, and his desire to know and follow God’s will. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Picture Books

molly mcbride christmas
Enter a caption

Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Who can’t relate to spunky Molly’s Christmas-play dilemma: She was so sure she’d get to play Mary in the pageant! But when she doesn’t get the role she wants, she doesn’t want to be in the show at all. A gentle teacher reminds Molly that Mary followed God’s plan, even when it wasn’t her plan. This story about obedience is effective without being didactic or heavy-handed, and the illustrations definitely evoke the mood of the story.

Guess Who's in the Manger

Guess Who’s in the Manger? A Christmas Story by Vicki Howie; illustrated by Julia Seal (Pauline Kids). The Christmas story told (in rhyme) from the perspective of a barn owl, high in the rafters of the stable? What’s not to love? Little ones who love to show off their skills at imitating animal noises will be fans of this book, which calls for this very ability. I wish this were a board book, because it really does appeal to the very young. (Review copy received from publisher.)

santas priority

Santa’s Priority by Tom Peterson (TAN Books). Don’t let the word “Santa” in the title throw you off. This is definitely a Catholic Christmas book, not a secular holiday story. Santa is shown stopping along his way, because the first thing we should do on Christmas is “come home to Mass and celebrate the holy Christian season.” A short rhyming read that would be a good book to enjoy together before Christmas Mass. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Bible Storybooks

While not technically “Christmas books,” both of these include the Christmas story. Bibles and Bible storybooks are wonderful gifts any time of year.

my bible gods word for me

My Bible: God’s Word for Me by Mary Martha Moss, fsp; illustrated by Augusta Currelli (Pauline Kids). Catholic Bible storybooks aren’t very easy to find. I was thrilled to see this one published this year! This gift-quality book includes a presentation page, a prayer section at the end with familiar Catholic prayers and instructions on how to pray the Rosary, and four pages of colorful maps of the Holy Land. In the introduction, the author notes that this book “will show you God’s amazing plan for the world — and for you!” Each story ends with a one-line prayer, and the stories are perfect bedtime-story length. (Review copy received from publisher.)

god gave us the bible

God Gave Us the Bible: 45 Favorite Stories for Little Ones by Lisa Tawn Bergren; art by David Hohn (WaterBrook). This book intersperses Bible stories with commentary by a family of bears and their animal friends. The Bible stories and commentary are set apart by different styles of art and varying typefaces. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Chapter Book

sisters of the last straw 5

The Case of the Christmas Tree Capers (Sisters of the Last Straw #5) by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). I’m a longtime fan of the Sisters of the Last Straw and this latest book in the series does not disappoint. It features all those favorite characters, the Sisters who each have a very human flaw and who are working — together and separately — to overcome their failings, plus the sour Mr. Lemon and the helpful farmer down the road. In this story, the Sisters open a Christmas tree lot to raise money to buy gifts for poor children in the parish. When the trees start disappearing, a few at a time each night, the Sisters set off on a mission to catch the thief, with sweet (and hilarious) results. For readers 7 and up, but would make a great read-aloud with younger children. (Review copy received from publisher.)

Story Collections

christmas around the fire

Christmas Around the Fire: Stories, Essays, & Poems for the Season of Christ’s Birth edited by Ryan N.S. Topping (TAN Books). This keepsake book is designed to be read aloud (as the title indicates, by the fire — or maybe, as we liked to do when our children were little, by the light of the Christmas tree). I remember some of the stories in this book from my own childhood (“The Selfish Giant,” “The Other Wise Man,” and the excerpt from “A Christmas Carol”) and was pleased to see them included with a medieval mystery play on the Annunciation, an essay from Pope Benedict XVI (“Advent Calls Us to Silence” — read this one first!), and poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rosetti. The hardcover volume is cloth-bound with gold printing on the cover and a gold ribbon bookmark, and will be a lovely treasure for your family library. (It’s available as an ebook as well, but you’d definitely miss out on the heirloom-quality presentation if you go that route.) (Review copy received from publisher.)

gifts ctb

Gifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore. No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These eight stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Review copy received from publisher.)

For You or a Friend

Christmas List book cover

The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra. Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them. Appropriate for teens and adults.

Christmas Reads


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

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Overtipped

takeout
Pixabay (2013), CC0/PD

I was unexpectedly home alone for dinner tonight. In between working and stressing out over packing the house for next week’s renovations (we basically have to move all our stuff out, and live someplace else for the duration of the job), I figured I’d grab some takeout for a quick dinner.

There are Chinese takeout places all over, but I chose the one around the corner, because it’s around the corner so it would be faster.

I chose poorly.

I called to place my order at 5:50. I waited at least 15 minutes before heading over there, only to find 4 people waiting ahead of me and a 10-year-old running the store. They were slammed. Her mom was doing all the cooking (there are usually two adults cooking and a teenager taking phone calls and filling orders). Two smaller boys (the bigger one was no older than 7) were running around.

The little girl told me my food would be ready in a couple of minutes.

The back door to the restaurant was open; the whole family was working with coats on. I don’t know what kind of crazy had happened today, but it was definitely not business as usual. I slid into a small booth to wait for my lo mein.

I waited.

And waited.

It was after 7 PM and I still didn’t have my food. Other people left. Some politely canceled their orders before leaving, at least, so that overworked mom didn’t have to try to figure out whose food she was cooking for no reason at all.

I texted my husband and told him what was happening, concluding that if I ever got my food, I was leaving a big tip for that kid.

Because really, it was not her fault. She was working hard: running around taking orders, filling orders, going to the freezer for her mom, and manning the deep fryer (except for the time the 7-year-old did that. YIKES.). And her mom was handling multiple woks and answering the phone and keeping the two little boys in line.

Maybe I’ve used up all my anger at situations I cannot control by directing it at other situations I cannot control. I don’t know. I was cold (my feet are still not warm, and I’ve been back home for an hour now) and was working on a hunger headache but I figured that it would be worse to abandon ship and leave that mom and her little girl to try to figure out what other order to cancel, and with one fewer dinner check for the night.

So I stayed, and commiserated with a couple of other customers and expressed my admiration for the poise this kid was showing.

And at 7:25 when they finally called me up to get my food, 95 minutes after I’d ordered, I left $5 in the tip jar after paying for my $7 bowl of lo mein and a spring roll.

I can only hope that the customers behind me did the same.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: Fall 2019 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 in September and October:

Fiction

All in Good TimeAll in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carolyn Astfalk’s novel is packed with relatable characters who aren’t too good to be true, and that’s refreshing in the world of romance novels, where everyone’s young, successful, and great-looking. These characters struggle, and their kids make messes, so it all feels true to life. Melanie, a widow with 3 little kids, meets Brian at her son’s baseball game. Brian has sworn off dating, but he changes his mind after spending some time with Melanie. But his long-kept secret threatens their relationship, and another threat brings danger to the couple as well as Melanie’s kids. A well-told clean romance with just the right amount of suspense — and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Big Lies in a Small TownBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Told in split time, this is the story of two artists, both of whom were helped in some way by a recently deceased famous artist. Morgan gets out of jail on parole on the condition that she restore a badly damaged mural in time for a gallery opening. She has a lot to do to put her life back together, but can’t help becoming intrigued by what she can find out about Anna, the mural’s original artist who added disturbing elements to the mural at the last minute. The author intertwines the stories beautifully, with just the right amount of plot twists and suspense. (Netgalley review)

SourdoughSourdough by Robin Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve ever baked with sourdough, this book will make sense. Lois, a Silicon Valley robot programmer in a soulless job, is given a sourdough starter when the immigrants who run a takeout business she patronizes return to Europe. As she learns how to bake with it, she discovers that this starter is alive in ways others are not — and this discovery turns her career on its head. Beautifully written.

The Overdue Life of Amy BylerThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging cast of characters populates this novel about a school librarian whose almost-ex reappears after 3 years and wants back into her life. Given the opportunity to visit NY for a professional conference, she heads to the city on a journey of rediscovery.

Appalachian Serenade (Appalachian Blessings, #0.5)Appalachian Serenade by Sarah Loudin Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delilah’s return to her hometown as a widow means the end of all her dreams to be a mother. As World War II comes to an end, she settles in the small West Virginia Town and finds a job at the local store, then discovers herself in an unexpected competition for the affections of the storekeeper. A sweet novella about two people suffering different kinds of grief.

The Union Street Bakery (Union Street Bakery #1)The Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Daisy McCrae, newly unemployed, returns home to rescue her family’s bakery before the business fails, she discovers a few surprises: the ghosts in the attic, the ghost of an old relationship, and the journal she inherits from a former customer who holds the key to the truth about Daisy’s past. A good story, but wrapped up just a little too neatly.

The Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove NovelThe Schoolhouse: A Hickory Grove Novel by Elizabeth Bromke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, if totally farfetched, story of second chances. Becky returns to her hometown after nearly 20 years with no idea how she’ll support herself and send money to her son who, improbably, is a student at Notre Dame. Becky wants to purchase a tumbledown schoolhouse on her grandparents’ property and turn it into a bookstore — but has no capital for the project. Enter her high-school sweetheart, who works for the school district and is tasked with arranging for the demolition of that schoolhouse.

My Stubborn HeartMy Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kate takes a sabbatical from her job, where she’s burnt out working in social services for at-risk kids, to help her grandmother restore an old family home and inventory its collection of antiques. Their contractor, a former hockey pro grieving the loss of his wife, seems attracted to her, but is always holding back. Grandma and her friends lend comic relief to the story with their matchmaking attempts. It’s a good read, if a shallow one (everyone’s gorgeous, the contractor is super rich, the old home is filled with ridiculously valuable antiques – none of it’s junk). Definitely falls into the “escape read” category.

Someplace Familiar (Laurel Cove Romance #1)Someplace Familiar by >Teresa Tysinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Livy returns to her hometown to refurbish a family home and sell an impressive collection of antique furniture, she finds that her grandmother’s friends are busy trying to set her up with the contractor who’s restoring the house. She’s not looking for a relationship, and he’s a former hockey star grieving the loss of his wife. One of those romances where everyone’s successful, wealthy, thin, and gorgeous, but an enjoyable read.

Christmas (It’s never too early!)

The Christmas List (A Girl Called Hoodoo Book 1)The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them.

YA/Children’s

Ella's Promise (Great War Great Love #3)Ella’s Promise by Ellen Gable

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This standalone novel concludes the “Great War Great Love” series, and I’m sorry to see it end. As a whole, the series has been a fascinating look at a time period we don’t read about much. Ella Neumann, the daughter of Germans who emigrated to the USA long before the war, is a volunteer nurse in France. Having been a medical student at home before the war, she hopes her experience will land her a coveted place as a surgical nurse, but her supervisor doesn’t trust her because of her ethnic background, and gives her the least-desired jobs. Ella’s encounter with a prisoner of war and an enemy officer, coupled with her ability to speak German, put her in danger as well as allowing her to help others in unexpected ways. With edge-of-the-seat suspense, the story will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Gifts: Visible & InvisibleGifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These 8 stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Advance Reader Copy provided by Catholic Teen Books)

Nonfiction

9781627853385

Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs by Melanie Rigney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. (Advance review copy provided by author)

When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny PeopleWhen Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you read When Life Gives You Pears, you can expect the medical details, the celebrity bio, and the funny. And you can also expect a powerful testimony of the role faith played in Jeannie Gaffigan’s life and in her recovery. In this book, she candidly shares it all: her fears; the details of her surgery, treatment, and recovery; how the whole experience impacted her outlook on the world; the role faith played in her life before, during, and after her illness.
(Review copy received from publisher)

61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family's Devotion61 Minutes to a Miracle: The True Story of a Family’s Devotion by Bonnie L. Engstrom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people who pick up 61 Minutes to a Miracle already know how the story turns out. But the spoiler in the book’s title won’t ruin the experience of reading Bonnie Engstrom’s riveting story of the miracle that opened the door not only to life for her child but also to the beatification of Fulton J. Sheen.
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!

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

open book logo