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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Happy Jar

I’m always happy to review children’s books. I may not be reading them along with (or ahead of) my kids anymore, but since I volunteer in the school library, I spend a few hours each week surrounded by children’s books and children asking for book recommendations.

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Jake Frost’s new picture book, The Happy Jar, is one I’ll definitely recommend to young readers, but I think it’s most effective as a read-aloud.

That’s because The Happy Jar, as the back-cover blurb indicates, is “about life’s little moments and the love that transforms them into memories for a lifetime.” Jake’s inspiration for this book was an idea his oldest child came up with when she was only four years old. In the book, the little girl explains,

“Every night when we say our prayers, we also say something from the day that goes in our Happy Jar, and we thank Jesus for it.”

What a wonderful bedtime-prayer ritual, and what a great story of the daddy-daughter bond. Then again, the bond between father and child is the signature topic for Jake Frost, and one he explores with great humor and tenderness.

The illustrations in this book stand apart from many of the children’s books that are published today. While these illustrations are brightly-colored, they’re not garish or glaring. They’re simple and engaging, just right for a bedtime-story book.

When you read The Happy Jar with your young child, you’ll be reminded that the best memories don’t have to cost a lot of money. Many of the best memories don’t cost any money: they’re just based on time spent together, having fun, letting children use their imaginations and enjoying the world around you.

After you read The Happy Jar with your young child, ask what they would like to add to their “happy jar” that day.

I know it’s early to be thinking about Father’s Day already, but this book is a perfect gift for a small child to give to Daddy on Father’s Day.

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.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Getting Past Perfect

I found Kate Wicker’s book on perfectionism, Getting Past Perfect (Ave Maria Press, 2017) to be a book of surprises, beginning with the fact that a “seasoned” mom like me, with kids age 15 to 25, can learn important lessons from a mom whose oldest child is younger than my youngest.

 

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I may be a more-experienced mom, but that really only means that I have logged a lot more years of falling into the comparison trap. I’m old enough to know that it’s not good for me (or for my family) but I’m not always strong enough to keep myself from teetering over that precarious edge.

Clearly I spend too much time listening to what Kate calls the “evil earworm.” She begins each chapter with one of these, then counters is with the “unvarnished truth.”

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We need to hear this kind of truth. We need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. As Kate observes in chapter 3 (the same chapter from which the text in the above graphic is quoted):

What often prevents God’s grace from working in our lives is less our sins or failings than it is our failure to accept our own weaknesses–all those rejections, conscious or not, of what we really are or of our real situations. We have to set grace free in our lives by accepting the parts of ourselves that we want to perfect, hide or reject. (35-6)

While I definitely agree with Kate’s premise that perfectionism is damaging to us as women and as mothers, I do believe that there’s also a danger in perfect imperfection. We need to be careful about crossing that line between openly admitting our own flaws and foibles in the name of commonality and bringing comfort to others who are stuck in that “grass is always greener” mode, and showing off how bad we have it (even if that’s our schtick.) I confess to being guilty of the latter and even though I tend to fall into that trap, I find it very annoying when all I hear from someone is how “crazy” her life is. It’s almost like we’re competing for the booby prize: who has it worst? We all need to find a balance here–there’s a time and a place for the good, the bad, and the funny.

Whether you’re a brand-new mom or, like me, over 25 years into your mothering journey, Getting Past Perfect has truths you need to hear. My copy has stars and arrows and comments; I’ve circled and underlined and even written down some of the most important points. When you read it, keep your pen handy and open up your heart to realizing that you really are enough.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Getting Past Perfect Book Club at CatholicMom.com! The book club kicks off with an author interview tomorrow, and we’ll begin discussing the book on April 1.

 

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

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Monday Recap: January 2017

It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces.

At CatholicMom.com

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Tech Talk: Listen to Our Writers: Several CatholicMom.com authors have their own podcasts! Subscribe to their shows for encouragement, entertainment and education.

At Cook and Count

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Walnut Spice Cakea dressed-up quick bread perfect for dessert.

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Mushroom-Rosemary Marinara: a hearty meatless pasta sauce.

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Orecchiette with Ricotta and Peas: comfort food!

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Cod with Mustard and Panko: a jazzed-up baked fish dinner.

 

Monday recap 2016 edition

New Year’s Reading (on the Spiritual Side)

I’ve always got at least one novel going, but there’s a huge pile of nonfiction awaiting my attention.

Here’s what I’m reading as the year begins.

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The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion will be with me as I start each day. I’ve been reading it since the summer, and its wonderfully-varied reflections fit just right into a busy schedule.

There’s even a book club on Facebook!

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I’m not sure where I heard about this one, but it ended up on my Amazon wish list and I treated myself to it last week. Live Today Well by Fr. Thomas Dailey breaks down the work of St. Francis deSales. I knew I’d chosen well when I discovered in the prologue that deSales was heavily influenced by St. Francis of Assisi.

What are you reading to feed your soul in 2017?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! 

On the (Nativity) Scene

The figures in my Nativity made a special appearance for today’s Nativity Scene Linkup at CatholicMom.com.

It was always the custom in my husband’s family that one of the children would put the Baby Jesus into the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve. When our children were little, we took it one step further, gradually adding figures into the scene to build anticipation and correspond with liturgical celebrations. All the figures are kept behind the manger (backstage) to await their appearance.

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Right around now, we’d put the animals into the manger (except the donkey, who was on a journey with Mary and Joseph.)

Early on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph and the donkey would make their appearance. Baby Jesus would be placed in the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Day, the shepherds would arrive; the kings wait until Epiphany. And the whole scene stays in place at least until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord–sometimes until Candlemas.

I always wanted a set of figures that had Baby Jesus separate from the manger, so he could be placed in it ceremoniously on Christmas Eve, but these are the figures that came with the stable we could afford 25 years ago when we bought our first Christmas decorations together. I’ve added in a table runner that my mom made for me (which doesn’t fit my table but is perfect here), and four different handmade Christmas trees, all made by special people in our lives.

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I’m joining in at CatholicMom.com for the first-ever Nativity Scene linkup! Join the fun; share a photo of your Nativity scene on your blog or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (use hashtag #CMnativity on social media).

Monday Recap: October and November 2016

The beginning of November got away from me, so I’m including 2 months’ worth of articles in this edition of Monday Recap. It’s the first Monday of the month, so I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces.

At CatholicMom.com

coloring-book-notes-logoColor and Pray: At Play in God’s Creation Coloring Book

A review of a different kind of coloring book: At Play in God’s Creation is an invitation to prayer and creativity.

Review of "The Perfect Blindside" at Franciscanmom.com

Book Notes: The Perfect Blindside

My review of Leslea Wahl’s novel for teens, “The Perfect Blindside,” featuring an unlikely couple who team up to solve a mystery and find something more.

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Meatless Friday: Burrito Bowls

Faster and cheaper than takeout: I break down the veggie burrito bowl for your Meatless Friday dinner.

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Courtesy of Holy Spirit Radio.

Tech Talk: Spirit in the Morning Radio with Gary Zimak

Catholic evangelist Gary Zimak launched a new morning radio program this week! Here are the details on how you can listen, no matter where you live.

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Book Notes: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino deals with the sensitive topic of infant loss and brings up questions about living out the Works of Mercy. I discuss the book with the author and interview key characters.

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Book Notes: YOU, a Theology of the Body study program for teens

YOU, a new Theology of the Body study program for teens from Ascension Press, that challenges and engages teens in the discussion of a difficult subject.

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Book Notes: Journey to the Cross by Shane Cloonan

My interview with teenage author Shane Cloonan about Journey to the Cross, a picture book for children that’s perfect for Advent and Christmas reading.

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Book Notes: Who Does He Say You Are?

My review of Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen C. Mitchell, a book inviting women to put themselves in the places of women in the Gospels.

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Meatless Friday: Cod with Caper-Mustard Sauce

Here’s an easy way to dress up plain baked fish fillets with a 4-ingredient sauce. This dinner takes just minutes to make but looks and tastes fancy enough for company.

Book Notes: Two Guidebooks for Young Adults

My review of two guidebooks that will make great gifts for the young adults in your life, with tips on keeping the faith in college and finding a faithful spouse.

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Earthquake Topples Benedictine Basilica

The Benedictine Monks of Norcia, who released a chant album honoring the Blessed Mother last year, have suffered the destruction of their monastery and basilica in this year’s earthquakes in central Italy.

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Book Notes: Ornamental Graces

My review of Carolyn Astfalk’s newest novel, Ornamental Graces, and interview with four of the novel’s supporting characters.

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Book Notes: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta

I had a hard time putting down a new Advent devotional by Heidi Hess Saxton. Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers food for thought and prayer for any reader who is devoted to this fascinating saint.

Biographical Book Notes

Capsule reviews of 6 biographies: no tell-alls here, but books that will inspire you in the spiritual life.

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Courtesy of PraytheYear.com

Pray the Year: Liturgical Resources for Families

My interview with Jonathan Sullivan, the creator of “Pray the Year,” a free email service providing liturgical prayer resources for families. Sign up today to receive the Advent email from “Pray the Year!”

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Book Notes: Prayer in the Catholic Tradition

How many ways can a Catholic pray? “Prayer in the Catholic Tradition” covers the history and how-tos of Catholic prayer.

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Advent Wreath Linkup 2016: A Celebration of Advent Wreaths

Join our Advent wreath linkup! Share a photo of your family’s Advent wreath on your blog, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Don’t forget the hashtag: #adventwreathcm

At Catholic Underground

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At Cook and Count

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Romanian Chicken Paprika

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Cookie Time: Giant Orange Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

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Chicken with Red Wine and Onions

At Dynamic Women of Faith

Book Review: Catholic Coloring Books for Prayer, Reflection and Relaxation

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Book Review: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta

At Midwest Review of Books

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At The Ruth Institute

At Today’s Catholic Teacher

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Monday recap 2016 edition

Advent Wreath 2016

Our Advent wreath is the same one that Hubs had when he was growing up. My mother-in-law gave it to us several years ago. I add a white pillar candle in the center for Christmas, and place it on a red charger. This year, I decided it needed a little something, so my daughter wrapped the wreath in string of golden berries. Basically, it’s pretty simple.

We only have one child at home most of the time now, and he’s 14, so our issues with Advent fire are different now than they were when the kids were preschoolers. (Now it’s all about re-lighting the candle and seeing how far away one can stand and still manage to blow the candle out…)

If you’re worried about combining lit candles and small children, those LED candles are a terrific substitute. I wish they’d been around when my kids were small. Back in 2005 I offered some advice to parents who worried about combining toddlers and flaming objects on the dining-room table:

Don’t skip the Advent wreath just because you have young children. The Advent wreath has been great for our children during this season. Three times now, we have been through the Tremendously Terrifying Twos at Advent wreath time and I’m pleased to announce that no one has been hurt yet. However, now that we have a Teenager in the house, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher at hand.

Maybe you have one of those cake plates that sits high off the table. Set your wreath on top of that, if you need to keep it away from the little one.

I wish you and your family many blessings this Advent!

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I’m linking up today at CatholicMom.com for the Advent Wreath Linkup!

I’m also 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!

Small Success: Season’s Over

Thursdays at CatholicMom.com begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

We have officially reached the end of the two seasons that sucked the life out of our household routine: sports and theatre. The show closed Sunday, and yesterday was the final soccer practice (an anticlimactic one, since the last game was played Tuesday. But there was a pasta party scheduled, so they practiced. Anything for spaghetti, when you’re a high-school boy.)

Lessons were learned.

  1. Playing a sport at the high-school level and participating in community theatre is going to have an academic impact. Which, of course, we knew, but we didn’t know to what extent.
  2. With a lot of careful advance planning, a home-cooked dinner can be had by all on nearly every evening.
  3. There is no shame in grabbing a drive-thru dinner for your Renaissance Kid when you’re en route to the theatre on a performance night, directly following an away game that’s 45 minutes from home.
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I spent almost as much time admiring the fall foliage as I did watching soccer last Thursday! (That’s TheKid in maroon, in the center of the photo).

This week, my success is that we all survived the last week and its 2 soccer games, 4 performances, 1 music rehearsal (that was mine), Mass on Sunday and a set strike after the final show.

Now it’s time to settle in, to vacuum up the dirt left on the floor of my car by the soccer cleats, to make a new menu plan for November that leaves me some wiggle room to cook things that take longer than 25 minutes, to put away the Oxi-Clean and the bucket where I soaked the white home-game uniforms, and to hassle TheKid a little more about studying his algebra.

TheKid is sorry that his seasons are over. Don’t tell him, but I’m not. Sports and theatre are good for kids, but they do have a cost, and that’s measured in more than sports fees and show tickets.

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Share your Small Successes at CatholicMom.com by joining the linkup in the bottom of today’s post. No blog? List yours in the comments box!

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.