St. Casimir Church Riverside NJ detail of Brother Sun stained glass window

At Prayer as Thanksgiving

My latest article on prayer, Prayer as Thanksgiving, is available at

A few highlights:

Expressing our gratitude to God reinforces our relationship to him, in the same way expressing our thanks to someone for giving us a gift or helping us can strengthen our friendship or family bond.

Prayer of thanksgiving can be a spontaneous “Thank God!” after hearing good news after a difficult time, or a formal prayer such as Grace before Meals.

We need to look for, and be grateful for, God’s gifts even in difficult times or when we’re dealing with something unexpected.

Read it all at Prayer as Thanksgiving.

This is the fourth in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at

St. Casimir Church Riverside NJ detail of Brother Sun stained glass window

"Two small kindnesses" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (

Two Small Kindnesses

"Two small kindnesses" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Yesterday was quite a day.

My daughter had her wisdom teeth out. That was a 4-hour chunk of the day, almost half of which was devoted to driving. All went well and she’s sore but not sick, so we are grateful. That’s the part of the day that went right.

As for the rest of it:

TheKid found a dead bunny in the backyard when he was mowing the lawn.

I’d been up since 4:30 AM getting the hang of my new job and trying mightily to stay caught up on my first job. (“Just keep swimming … “)

My daughter is dog-sitting and since she’s not allowed to drive until tomorrow because she had anesthesia, I had to drive her 4 miles each way two times to take care of the dog.

TheKid had soccer practice from 5 to 7:30.

I was supposed to sing at Mass at 7 PM with the folk group, but Hubs was in New York for the day for training, so he wasn’t going to be home in time for the end of soccer practice, and my daughter can’t drive. So … no church for me. I’ll have to go tomorrow and take my chances on the music.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand … the dryer is broken.

My daughter’s boyfriend arrived, milkshake in hand, while I was getting TheKid after practice. He drove an hour each way after working all day to bring her a vanilla shake.

It was well after 8 PM by the time I’d cooked, we’d eaten, and I got things put away, then headed out to the laundromat with two heavy loads of wet laundry and the pots and pans still in the sink.

I bundled all the socks and towels into two big dryers and settled in with my Kindle to wait for it to be done.

My daughter texted me to ask if I wanted her to finish the dishes. I told her not to worry about it; she was hurting and I was giving her the day off from chores. Then, a few minutes later: “My boyfriend washed the dishes.”

He’s a keeper.

Then the dryers buzzed and I started the foldathon before heading home. I was one sock short, but figured it had just gotten separated out at home. As I piled everything into my basket, a lady unloading her washing machines turned around with my other sock in her hand to ask if it was mine.

Then she went and held the door open for me as I carried my overloaded basket outside.

Earlier, I had almost been reduced to tears by the small erosions of things going wrong. The tears finally came as I slid my laundry basket into the back seat of my car. Gratitude. Relief. And, yes, exhaustion.

Two small kindnesses, when the day had very nearly gotten the best of me.

They might not seem like a very big deal, but when the day is full of little things that go wrong, two little kindnesses mean a very great deal.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Gratitude on a Monday

And Monday is another day. Not a bad day, not a super day, just a day. I’ll take it.

Before I left the house this morning, I made a list of the Christmas Eve Cousins. In my husband’s family, every child gets a present on Christmas Eve from every family who has children. Thanks to Facebook, I had everyone’s name and age. I left the list on my desk with the intention of texting Middle Sister at lunchtime and asking her to go shopping.

That text message never happened. But I got home to find her (and the list) gone. I ran out to do some grocery shopping for the week, since this is the only night I don’t have a rehearsal or a performance. When I got home, there were bags of toys everywhere.

I am so very grateful that she got this huge chore done–and her cousins, I’m sure, will love the toys she chose for them.

Then, my answer to “what’s for dinner” was “hot dogs and fries.”

And the kids cheered.

I was feeling like a total slacker for not cooking them a proper dinner on the one night this week I don’t have to be somewhere. The kids, though, are happy for the hot dogs.

I like this article I just read at  How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure and Stay Focused This Advent.

Hot dogs and fries are OK. Happy kids, even more so. We can have Advent-wreath battles just as easily with plates of hot dogs in front of us as with chicken piccata.



What You See Every Day

Confession time:  I am suffering from scenery envy.

It all came to a head last night when Maria posted a very beautiful photo on Twitter.

“Do you get to see that EVERY DAY?” was my reply.

Turns out, she does.


Next week we’ll spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. When you look out her kitchen window, you see endless woods. And deer. And pretty rocks. She gets to look at that EVERY DAY.

Paterson Falls copyright 2012 Jackie Estrella
Paterson Falls copyright 2012 Jackie Estrella

Growing up, I had the opportunity to see this several times a week:

I miss that. I really do.

There are advantages to living here in the ‘burbs:  I have neighbors who have become good friends. We have shared joys, sorrows, pantry staples, child care, recipes and backyard pools. I live a block and a half from the nearest gallon of milk. I can walk to Target, Panera, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the post office.

But all that convenience does come at the price of beauty. I have 3 gas stations in a half-mile radius, but I don’t get a panorama uninterrupted by a looming orange Self-Storage sign.

I could wallow in self-pity that I don’t get to enjoy, on a daily basis, a Georgia lake, the North Jersey mountains, the Paterson Falls. Or I could take better notice of what I do get:  beauty on the micro scale. There are no sweeping vistas, but I have a lilac bush right outside my living-room window, with a bird feeder nestled inside. That window faces west for optimal sunset viewing. My dining room and kitchen face east, so I can see morning sunrises as I pack lunches and evening’s moonrise while I wash the dishes. I can appreciate my neighbor’s pink-flowering dogwood tree every spring. I can marvel at snowflakes collecting on empty lilac branches and tiny snowbird footprints beneath the bird feeder.

The beauty of God’s creation is both big and small. Do you appreciate the beauty in your world, in what you get to see EVERY DAY?

All Clear

love vs cancerWe are breathing a big sigh of relief here after getting the good news that TheDad has passed his 1-year Cancer-Free Anniversary.

We are grateful that after this morning’s X-ray and CT scan, punctuated by a surprise blood test that led to a little bonus panic, came out clear–we knew this even before the smiling surgeon spoke the welcome words. (That big smile gave it away).

I passed the morning of waiting with my rosary in hand, bouncing around on social media on the iPad. TheDad sat beside me, dealing with work emails. I am beyond grateful for the people who left encouraging comments on this blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Waiting rooms are lonely places, even if you’re sitting there with a loved one. The prayers and encouragement that reached us across the miles (and, in some cases, across oceans) mean so very much. You were very much with us in that big, crowded, noisy, lonely waiting room.

My tears this afternoon are grateful ones–grateful to God for the blessing of 6 more months cancer-free for my husband, grateful to Fox Chase Cancer Center, and grateful to all of you.

Thankful Thursday: It’s the Little Things

Tuesday and early Wednesday were not good days around here. I can chalk that up to some bad nutritional choices (a Philly pretzel, a bag of M&Ms and 2 cups of coffee for breakfast and lunch) and a few bad nights of sleep in a row and a whole lot of stress coming to a head.

It wasn’t pretty.

butter pecan iced coffeeLast night I spent some time laughing and unwinding with friends, ate a salad with my pizza, enjoyed a little Music Therapy (AKA folk group practice) and got a good night’s sleep. What a difference a day makes! Today I am ready to be thankful.

In no particular order, today I am thankful for:

  • daily Mass, two days running. I need that source of strength!
  • butter pecan iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts
  • the prayers and listening ears of good friends (and fellow saints-in-training)
  • an encouraging article for work-at-home moms that’s helping me prioritize my schedule (I bit off a bit more than I can chew with an upcoming assignment)
  • the fistful of coupons I brought to the supermarket this morning, and that I rebooted my routine so I’d get the shopping done before Saturday
  • my ability to enjoy, and be thankful for, the little things.



Day: Made

This afternoon I was handed a packet of thank-you notes written by the 5th grade at Little Brother’s school. Every child in his class wrote me a thank-you note last week, during Catholic Schools Week, because I am a weekly volunteer in the school library. The notes were hand-written on stationery that the kids decorated themselves. I know this class well, because I’ve worked with them for 4 of the 6 years I’ve helped in the library. This is a great bunch of kids–they’ve been together since kindergarten and as a group they’re pretty tight.

As to the sentiments expressed in the letter, they were often at the corner of Funny and Sweet, because that’s where ten-year-olds live. Here are a few of my favorite gems:

“We are all very grateful for you donating your time for the school. You’re a very thoughtful person. As they say in Spanish, gracias!”

“It is a massive responsibility for you to go to the library every single Friday.”

“Every time you come on a Friday it makes me feel happy inside.”

“When you are supporting us we are supporting you.”

“I hope you are proud of yourself!”

“I am thankful because you could be doing something other than helping.”

“You are the greatest book stamper ever!”

Two kids wrote “Go Notre Dame” on their letters as well. (After all these years together, they know me well. And I know them well enough to know that for one boy, that was a big thing–he’s absolutely not a Notre Dame fan. But he wrote it on my letter because he knows that I am.)

And one child made a special point of thanking me for finding a copy of a book she’d been looking for, and setting it aside for her until her class came to the library. That’s what it’s all about.

That packet of letters made my day. I love helping the school by lending a hand in my favorite place!
Plus, it’s good to know that my book-stamping talent has not gone unnoticed.

A Litany of Gratitude

I’m not going to lie; I’m worried about how my appointment with the surgeon is going to go today. I’ve got a whole bunch of questions to ask.  I wrote them down so I don’t forget.  As long as I remember to bring that paper with me, it’s all good.

The closer I get to my appointment, the more anxious I get.  The more anxious I get, the more prickly I get.  Right now I’m practically a porcupine.  My poor husband gets the worst of it, and the guy really doesn’t need any more stress than he’s already got.  I’m pretty sure they should take his blood pressure at the doctor’s office today.  Today, I am grateful that he puts up with me when I get like this.

Today, I am grateful that he stayed up half the night working so he can leave the office early and come with me to this appointment.  Even though I act like I want to be all independent and everything, he doesn’t take no for an answer when it really counts.

Today, I am grateful for a friend who rearranged the Chess Club Carpool.  It was my turn to drive today, but she’s taking that shift.  This way, Little Brother doesn’t have to miss his favorite after-school activity.

Today, I am grateful for my neighbor who will be home when Little Brother gets here; if we’re not back yet, he can hang out at her house, do his homework and play with her kids until we get home.

Today, I am grateful that my appointment has been moved to 2:00 instead of the original 3:00.  This means we’ll have a better chance of beating rush hour on the way home.  Rush hour in Philly can be a bit terrifying.

Today, I am grateful that Middle Sister will be traveling to a track meet after school, even though she’s recovering from an injury and can’t run yet.  She’s got team spirit and she’s going to be there to encourage her friends.

Today, I am grateful that Little Brother thinks of everything.

Today, I am grateful for a doctor who listens and who takes my concerns and observations seriously enough to send me to a specialist she considers the best in the business.

Today, I am grateful for the prayers of my parents, family members, cousins, and friends near and far.