My plate is full. My cup runneth over.

It’s been a big week at work. First, the announcement that Holy Cross Family Ministries is welcoming CatholicMom.com as part of the family. I’m beyond grateful for the job I’ve had since March of 2015–I love the work that I get to do, and that it offers me the flexibility that my family circumstances require.

I’m equally grateful that Holy Cross Family Ministries will be keeping me on to do this work.

On the outside, things shouldn’t look too different. There may be some extra logos and links around as the various HCFM sites cross-promote each other. But nobody wants to change what makes CatholicMom.com special.

It’s so special, in fact, that founder Lisa Hendey and I won an award this weekend; for the second year in a row, CatholicMom.com placed second in the “Best group blog” category of the Catholic Press Association awards! Our names are on the award, but without the 125+ contributing writers, CatholicMom.com wouldn’t be what it is today.

closeup of blue ribbon

On the inside, things will be different. That’s the part you can’t see. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a different thing. There’s a whole team at HCFM that I’ll be working with. I’ve had a few emails from them and everyone is friendly and helpful and I think it will be easy to work with them. Eventually there will be someone who will be trained to do what I do, so there’s a backup plan in case of emergency or vacation.

I’ll have to get used to people who like to conduct business via phone instead of email, Evernote or Slack. I’ve never talked so much on my cell phone since I’ve had it than I have in the past week or so!

There are lots of people I need to meet and lots of details on lots of lists that we need to get figured out. It’s going to be a busy summer. I want to make sure that the transition is as seamless as possible for the many writers whose work I edit and for the readers who see it once it goes live on the website.

Right now, I’m overwhelmed. I’m happy and apprehensive at the same time. Once I have those boxes checked off on all those lists, I know I’ll feel better. I’ll feel even better when I finally get to meet everyone in person–that’s tentatively scheduled for August. (Not that I’m not used to working for and with people I haven’t yet met; I worked for CatholicMom.com for more than four months without ever meeting Lisa or even talking with her on the phone!)

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m probably hiding holed up in my office. And there’s a good chance that I’ve put M&Ms on the grocery list. For medicinal purposes.

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Image created at Recite.com. Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart”

My 1970s-era Catholic upbringing did not include the passing along of devotion to (and knowledge of) the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am one of the many Catholics Anne Costa mentions in the introduction of Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart (Servant Books, 2017) who

“know the image but have yet to experience the depths of the love story behind it. . . . the graces that flow from enthronement of the Sacred Heart are being missed by far too many today.” (xi)

What’s devotion to the Sacred Heart all about? Where did this devotion come from? What’s “enthronement,” and how and why do we do this?

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“Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we encounter [the] faithful love of God.” (4)

Chapters are punctuated by prayer prompts called “Heart Notes.” These are invitations to contemplate the information presented and ponder it in our own hearts. Sometimes these are invitations to engage in works of mercy; others are Scriptures to read, topics on which to journal, or traditional prayers.

I’ve been a Catholic all my life, but until I read this book I did not understand the significance of the First Friday devotions I’ve seen practiced in many parishes. There’s a whole section about that devotion, and I appreciate Costa’s balanced approach to it, cautioning readers not to practice such devotions in a legalistic, ritualistic or superstitious manner, but to remember instead to “approach it with sincere and simple love in our hearts.” (49)

Costa leads the reader through an account of the revelations experienced by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, then breaks down the ways in which the faithful can foster devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their own lives.

Costa’s writing is clear and to the point, and that does not get in the way of her obvious devotion to her topic.  As I tend to be turned off by overly-flowery prose, Costa’s simple and direct style proves that yes, you can invite the reader into a deep experience of prayer without using the type of language that was in vogue before your reader was even born.

Healing Promises is packed with opportunities for growth in prayer and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whether you’re already familiar with St. Margaret Mary’s revelations and their application in our lives or this topic is new to you, Costa’s book will invite you into a deeper practice of the Faith.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

A Big Announcement #WorthRevisit

Just over 5 years ago, my first article was published at CatholicMom.com. Since that first “Tech Talk” June 12, 2012, I’ve written well over 500 articles for the website: mainly book reviews, Tech Talks, and recipes for the year-round Meatless Friday feature.

In March of 2015, that volunteer opportunity turned into my dream job.

It’s exciting to be able to work for one of my very favorite websites, and to be working WITH a veritable army of amazing contributing writers.

I’ll still be doing a little writing for CatholicMom, but most of my work is behind-the-scenes. I’m like Stage Crew, but for the Internet: checking props, hauling scenery and signaling the director to bring up the lights and start the music.

Best of all, I’m working from home, which means I can be available for Mom Duty at any time, I can get to daily Mass, and I don’t have to wear uncomfortable shoes. That’s a vocational WIN right there.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a stagehand for a website that’s been a big influence on my life for quite a few years.

CM joins HCFM -f

Yesterday, there was a big announcement at CatholicMom.com: it’s been welcomed into a big family at Holy Cross Family Ministries. Translation: more power for the website, a larger and possibly multilingual international audience, and the opportunity for me to continue doing what I do (within my own time zone, even–I’ve been living in Eastern Time and working in Pacific for over two years)!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to write and work at CatholicMom.com, and I look forward to what the future will bring.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

The “Liberty” Series: Win this Catholic Dystopian Trilogy

Theresa Linden’s “Liberty” series will appeal to older teens and adults who enjoy dystopian fiction. I’ve ordered a copy of the first book, Chasing Liberty, for my teenager, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be fighting over that book.

Liberty trilogy – A young woman named Liberty lives in a dystopian society where the earth has been elevated above man and the government controls everything. Moving from one trial to another—escapes, imprisonment, secret missions, rescues, 3D games—this action-packed trilogy follows Liberty to her final sacrifice as she learns that true freedom is within, cannot be taken away, and is worth fighting for. The titles in the series are Chasing Liberty, Testing Liberty and Fight for Liberty.

chasing liberty trilogy promotion
Courtesy of Theresa Linden. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Enter the Chasing Liberty Trilogy Giveaway for a chance to win the complete trilogy!

Giveaway ends: 12:00AM July 9th

Winner will be announced at the end of Sabbath Rest Book Talk, 7:00PM July 9th and later posted on author website.

Learn more about why the author chose to write Catholic dystopian fiction.

Fight for Liberty will be on Erin McCole Cupp’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk July 9th. The theme for the books discussed in July: revolution!

Theresa LindenAbout Theresa Linden: Raised in a military family, Theresa Linden developed a strong patriotism and a sense of adventure. Love for faith, family, and freedom inspired her to write the dystopian Chasing Liberty trilogy. Her other published works include award-winning Roland West, Loner, first in a series of Catholic teen fiction, Life-Changing Love, and Battle for His Soul. A member of the Catholic Writers Guild, she balances her time between family, homeschooling, and writing.

Visit Theresa on Facebook, her blog Things Visible & Invisible, or on her website. Or follow her on Twitter.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Barb's Book shelf blog title

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Born to Soar,” a spiritual journal

The beautiful monarch butterfly is the source of much fascination, the subject of many grade-school science lessons, and the motif around which Born to Soar, Melissa Overmyer’s new Scripture and prayer journal (Servant Books, 2017), was created.

The image of soaring flight evoked by a brilliant butterfly is a metaphor for the soaring prayer experiences described in the poetry of the mystic St. John of the Cross. The author includes short excerpts of this mystical poetry to remind the reader that, in prayer, our hearts seek to soar toward heaven.

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This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to Soar.

Don’t let the butterflies and flowers on the cover of the book fool you: this journal is designed to push you out of your spiritual comfort zone and motivate you to explore ways in which you can take the risk of growing closer to God.

Praying through journaling can be a liberating and beautiful means of expression. Your writing can take on the feeling of a love letter or a song and can be accompanied by a heart-wrenching release of emotions. . . . Do not be afraid of writing down how you truly feel — God knows your heart already. Instead, offer yourself — in all your beauty and your brokenness — freely to God and ask him to use your journal to bring you closer to him. Do not be afraid to give it all to God, who can turn our ashes to beauty, heal our deepest wounds, and set us free. (from the Introduction, p. xvii)

Each of the six sessions follows this format:

  • Description of the physical stage of the caterpillar’s life cycle
  • Overmyer’s reflection on how this stage compares to the process of spiritual renewal
  • Thoughts to ponder, with space for journaling
  • A moment with St. John of the Cross, including a quote from the saint’s writings, questions for reflection, and space for journaling
  • Thoughts for discussion (for group discussion or journal prompts)
  • Prayer
  • A “renewing truth” to be revisited on multiple occasions during the course of the week
  • Scripture passages for daily reflection, followed by a journal prompt and space for writing

I’d recommend Born to Soar to any reader who seeks to go deeper in the spiritual life. Overmyer makes the mystical works of St. John of the Cross accessible even to people like me who tend toward the practical. Her inviting approach and simple language engage the reader; I found myself wanting to go beyond each day’s reflections because I was hungry for what would come next.
Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Wrong Answer. Wrong Question?

“How was church?” I asked my daughter yesterday after she returned from the 8:00 Mass.

“Boring.”

Maybe I’d asked the wrong question. Maybe I should have inquired if she’d seen anyone she knows there, or how the music was, or who had preached the homily.

I don’t know what answer I’d hoped to hear. But the answer I did hear leads me to believe that I’ve failed.

When I was her age I suffered through the summers because I had to sit in the pews instead of with the musicians. I didn’t have a place to sing at home in the summertime. I’d go to Mass with my parents sometimes (and once I begged sheet music for original hymns from the songwriter who was playing them at Mass.) Other times, I’d walk to the church a mile away from our house. A lot depended on my work schedule.

I didn’t consider it boring, but then again, I didn’t go to Mass expecting entertainment. My biggest obstacle in the summer was that I wasn’t serving.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I haven’t taught my kids that Mass isn’t about entertainment. Maybe I haven’t stressed enough that we’re not there to get, but to give (and I’m not referring to what we’re putting into the collection baskets).

I can make my kids go (as long as they’re living in my house) and I can even insist that they don’t wear shorts to Mass. But I can’t make them want to.

Is my example enough? Is bringing them week after week after week, sending them to Catholic school, enough? Should I have done, said, been something more?

Have I failed my Domestic Church?

Photo copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#OpenBook: May 2017 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

The Memory of Butterflies by Grace Greene. Secrets have a way of coming out–and the longer you keep them, the deeper the repercussions. As Hannah prepares to send her daughter Ellen off to college, she begins rebuilding her childhood home, opening the door to the revelation of long-buried secrets that threaten the foundation of her family life. Hannah must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect those she loves. Grace Greene has created a world that the reader will picture vividly. Some scenes will make you weep, and there are some good surprises in the story as well! (Netgalley review.)

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This heartbreaking novel, based on a true story, follows several children from a Depression-era family who are snatched from their home and their parents under the guise of a corrupt social program that’s a cover for illegal adoptions. Parallel story lines detail the children’s experience in the Tennessee Children’s Home and the efforts of their modern-day grandchildren to uncover the mysteries surrounding their grandparents’ early lives in order to offer peace to their grandparents in their last days. (Netgalley review.)

Then Came You by Becky Wade. Carolyn got me interested in reading this author’s work after talking it up in last month’s Open Book. Then Came You is a novella that sets the stage for the Bradford Sisters Romance series: it’s the story of the three sisters’ early life with their father, Garner Bradford, heir to a huge shipping empire. The story is told through letters, phone conversations and journal entries.

True to You by Becky Wade. Nora Bradford, the middle daughter in the family, is a genealogist and owner/curator of a local historical village. Nora is still getting over a breakup several years ago, but she finds herself falling for the former Navy SEAL who’s hired her to locate his birth mother so he can find out more about his medical history.

Unquestionably Yours by Becky Wade. Oilman’s daughter Meg inherits her father’s business empire but doesn’t want any part of running it. When she decides to shut down his ranching enterprise, manager Bo Porter sets out to convince her to keep it open. He doesn’t count on falling for her in the process.

Love’s Prayer by Melissa Storm. In this sweet Christian romance, Summer arrives in town to run her aunt’s flower shop for several weeks. Ben, who despairs over his life ever getting better after his brother’s suicide ruined his family life, takes a chance on prayer–a prayer that’s immediately answered when Summer delivers a mysterious flower arrangement to his home. This is a fast, clean read set in a town that sounds like a wonderful place to live. Its message: love changes things, if you let it. First in a series.

Love’s Promise by Melissa Storm. Second in the First Street Church Romance series, this novel (like the previous one) is a quick, fun read. The Christian characters openly pray, attend church services and functions, and read the Bible, but the reader won’t feel like they’re being beaten over the head with religious platitudes. In this story, Kristina undergoes gastric bypass surgery and her coworker Jeff struggles with his father’s professional expectations for him as well as his feelings for Kristina. A meddling friend convinces him to keep his affection to himself (against his better judgment) while Kristina wonders if Jeff could ever fall for a girl with a weight problem.

The Bookshop on Rosemary Lane by Ellen Berry. After the death of her mother, a cookbook collector whose volumes are stored all over her home, Della decides to open a bookshop to sell the cookbooks and encourage community. Along the way, she learns some of the secrets her mother was keeping and discovers how to handle the breakdown of her own marriage. Some things fall into place a little too conveniently, but it’s a fun read.

Children’s/YA

McCracken and the Lost Lady by Mark Adderley. Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment. For ages 10 and up. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Turning in Circles by Michelle Buckman. “If only we had known.” That’s the refrain at the heart of Michelle Buckman’s latest novel for teens: Turning in Circles, a story of sisters, small-town secrets and teenage rebellion. The novel is a study in character contrast. Savannah, busy covering for her sister who’s sneaking off to meet Dillon, uncovers way too many long-buried secrets as she seeks a way to protect her sister from her boyfriend. You know this won’t end well, but the ending is not what you expect. At the same time, it’s the only ending possible. This novel for teen readers is a study in contrasts. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author.)

Nonfiction

When the Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life to Make the Most of 10 Minute Increments by Katharine Grubb. While the author calls herself the “10 Minute Novelist,” this book on time- and life-management is not simply for writers. Anyone who works from home will benefit from the wisdom and the exercises at the end of each chapter. Katharine is honest about the challenges those who work at home (especially parents who work at home) face, and shares family-tested solutions for handling those challenges.

Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers and Devotions by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. For those who wonder what the Blessed Mother’s apparitions 100 years ago to three young shepherd children in Portugal could possibly mean for Catholics today, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s new book provides both context and inspiration. Each chapter concludes with a section inviting the reader to consider the impact of Fatima for ourselves. My full review is at CatholicMom.com. (ARC provided by publisher)

Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days by Lisa Mladinich. This book of prayers can be used by catechists, Catholic-school teachers or homeschooling parents. Prayers are organized a week at a time, and include liturgical-year themes as well as themes related to common school issues. There are even two weeks of prayers for teachers to use as they prepare for the upcoming school year. (ARC provided by publisher)

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!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Turning in Circles

“If only we had known.”

That’s the refrain at the heart of Michelle Buckman‘s latest novel for teens: Turning in Circles, a story of sisters, small-town secrets and teenage rebellion. So close in age that they’re in the same grade at school, Savannah and Charleston have always done everything together. That’s changing now that they’re teenagers. Charleston is younger but more strong-willed and independent than her naive sister Savannah.

turning in circles

The novel is a study in character contrast. Older sister Savannah is deliberate, careful and cautious. Resistant to change, she’s a rule-follower and a worrier. Charleston, on the other hand, lives for the thrill of taking risks: she’s impulsive and rebellious.

Charleston’s first love is the neighborhood “bad boy,” Dillon, who finds trouble to spare–while Ellerbe, the quintessential good guy and boy next door, crushes on clueless Savannah.

Savannah, busy covering for her sister who’s sneaking off to meet Dillon, uncovers way too many long-buried secrets as she seeks a way to protect her sister from her boyfriend. You know this won’t end well, but the ending is not what you expect. At the same time, it’s the only ending possible.

This Southern YA novel is appropriate for high-school students.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

#WorthRevisit: Booties and Diplomas

The story of a pregnant high-school senior who wasn’t allowed at her own graduation ceremony has been all over the news.

For many years I was a homebound tutor for several local school districts. I have plenty of experience with pregnant and postpartum high-school students.

I do enjoy the one-on-one work with a student who is too ill/injured/postpartum/pregnant/anxious/depressed to attend school. (Yes, I’ve had students in each of these categories–as well as a few discipline cases and a couple of malingerers.) There are students I’ve only taught for 2 weeks or so before they return to school. Most of them, I never hear about again.

Every once in a while I run into one of my students, who lived here in town and had a baby girl during her senior year of high school. I was paid to be her English tutor, but I also did a good bit of informal encouragement; this young mom was breastfeeding her daughter, keeping up with her classes, and handling quite a bit of the housework. She later married the father of her baby and they have another child as well; now she’s a stay-at-home mom, although she did work quite hard when her little girl was young, managing a Domino’s Pizza. Her resilience, determination and dedication served her and her family well, and it touches my heart that every so often, SHE recognizes ME. She is eager to tell me how things went for her family and I love to hear how well they are all doing.

I remember that student so well. I held her 10-day-old baby while this student took a test on Shakespeare. My student was mortified when the baby threw up all over my sweater; as I’d had several years of motherhood under my belt (and was wearing layers), I just shrugged off the sweater and went on with the test. She was from the same Catholic high school that all 3 of my kids attended (my youngest is a student there now).

There’s nothing magic about a faith-based high school that will make it immune from problems like drinking or drugs or bullying or teen pregnancy.

What is different about a faith-based high school is the way it should be supporting a teen in any of those situations. Support does not mean condoning their actions but it certainly means helping them accept the results of their actions with grace.

Audrey Assad observed on Twitter, “How many teen girls at that school will quietly get abortions because they watch how maddie’s being treated and talked about by the school?”

Moms who give birth and then go on to finish high school do not have it easy. Many times they have it even tougher at home than your average student, and the fact that they rise to the challenge of their circumstances is not grounds for punishment.

If we claim to be prolife, what do we do for high-school students like this one? Banning her from graduation is not the answer.

Not even close.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

On Barb’s Bookshelf: McCracken and the Lost Lady

Engineer, solver of mysteries, faithful Catholic and owner of a zeppelin: “Mac” McCracken is an intriguing character even before he ventures into the Russian wilderness in search of a lost icon.

Fifth in Mark Adderley’s adventure series for readers 10 and up, McCracken and the Lost Lady can be read as a standalone story due to the author’s careful inclusion of just enough backstory to inform the reader of what came before–without quenching the reader’s desire to read the rest of the novels.

Lost Lady Front Cover

In the spring of 1917, the world is embroiled in an ugly war and on the brink of change as revolutionaries are poised to take over the government in Russia. McCracken and his team overhear a conversation that leads them straight to Lenin, then receive a surprise commission to seek out the missing icon of the Blessed Mother: the lost Lady of Kazan. Restoration of this icon to its proper place is key to bringing peace to the world.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions this year, McCracken and the Lost Lady is the perfect historical fiction to accompany a discussion of the historical context of the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima.

Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.