On Barb’s Bookshelf: 61 Minutes to a Miracle

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.

61 Minutes

Sheen’s intercession is credited with not only baby James’ survival after he spent more than an hour without breathing or a heartbeat immediately following his birth – but also the child’s development without the ill effects medical professionals expect after extended time without oxygen at birth.

Bonnie Engstrom confides, at the beginning of the book, that she did not have a lifelong devotion to the storied archbishop from her home diocese, whose TV appearances were must-see Catholic TV in the mid-20th century. I found the story of her growing devotion to Sheen to be approachable and inspiring, underscoring the fact that first impressions don’t always tell the full story.

Much of this book centers on James Fulton Engstrom’s birth story, and Engstrom doesn’t hold back on the details there. If you’re the squeamish type, like I am, you’ll want to know that right up front. But even with that sensitivity issue, I was never discouraged from reading the rest of the book, and I’m glad I powered through that difficult, intense section.

61 Minutes to a Miracle is an inside look at the details of a miracle as well as the canonization process.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Detached”

detached review
Image created using Stencil.com.

I’m fighting my way through T.J. Burdick’s Detached, which is a good sign that I really needed this book.

Detached: Put Your Phone in Its Place (OSV) challenges readers to rethink how they use their phones. Awareness is key to the whole process, and I’m becoming painfully aware of my own lack of self-discipline when it comes to using my phone.

  • Waiting in line at the supermarket? Check email.
  • Before putting my car key in the ignition? Take a quick peek at Twitter or Facebook.
  • Waiting for the water to boil for tea in the morning? Cue up Instagram.

All those times, there are other, better things I could be doing. I’m not going to say that email and social media are bad things. Facebook and Instagram allow me to keep in touch with my cousins, many of whom live far away, as well as friends old and new. Social media is also job-related for me.

It’s really easy to give in to the temptation to use my phone unnecessarily. I pick up my phone a lot. And I do not intend to get rid of my phone or stop carrying it around with me. Here’s why:

  • My husband and kids text me during the day about changes in plans, or with questions about plans.
  • I like being able to check the weather.
  • If I miss a call on our home phone, voicemail forwards to my phone as a text message, so urgent calls can be answered immediately.
  • I enjoy listening to podcasts while I fold laundry, wash the floors, or drive.
  • One of my sons has type 1 diabetes, and we use an app to monitor his blood sugar. While he’s a quite independent teenager, we keep in touch frequently (by text, usually) regarding adjustments he needs to make (insulin dosing or snacks).

I’ve been keeping a journal as I go through Detached. I will admit that I did not (and will not) sign on for a full-on 21-day technology retreat. (Again, social media is job-related.) Also, I’m not yet done reading the book. But this process is definitely making me think twice about how, where, when, and why I use my phone.

For several months already, I’ve had an email boundary in place. A change in mail servers meant that email for one of my jobs was not longer accessible on my phone, and I decided to turn off phone access for email for my other job as well. This means that I can only use my work email when I’m on my laptop, and I have not missed the ability to reply to work emails from the checkout line in the supermarket (yes, I have been guilty of doing that). So the boundary has been good for me.

While the author recommends a total 21-day social media fast (involving deleting the apps from the phone), I didn’t go there, as I said above. I did, however, find out how to use the Screen Time feature in iOS to keep me accountable for the time I use on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There was a bit of a bump in the road with that, because I use Skype to communicate with my coworkers, and that was counting as social media time. But thanks to some helpful replies to an SOS I sent out (on Twitter — oh, the irony) I got it figured out, and that little popup reminder telling me that I have 5 minutes left for the day is a good indicator for me that I do need that extra help setting boundaries.

I like having a tiny but mighty computer in my pocket. I like that I can keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers easily — no matter where I am. I like that I can help my son stay healthy. I like knowing when that predicted thunderstorm will roll through. I like listening to podcasts that edify, entertain, and educate me while I do repetitive chores. In Detached, T.J. Burdick isn’t asking me to give up any of those good things. He’s challenging me to be more intentional about whether I am efficiently consuming and producing content (11), or just wasting time.

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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.

Journal Options for the New Year

Journal Options for the New Year

Do you keep a journal, or have you resolved to start journaling this New Year? I’ve road-tested several options for you, including two journals that you can use with your children. Journals make great last-minute gifts, too!

For You

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CatholicMom’s own Allison Gingras created the “Stay Connected” Journal series (GraceWatch Media) this year and authored the first of the three journals from the series that have already been released. If a full-year blank journal is overwhelming, try these short journals: Each is designed to be used over the course of seven weeks and can be used individually or in a group setting. They’re pretty journals, printed on quality paper, and the line drawings throughout can be used for coloring if you wish.

Allison wrote The Gift of Invitation: 7 Ways Jesus Invites You to a Life of Grace, which examines seven powerful ways Jesus extends invitations to you and leads you to examine how each invitation plays out in your own life. The second journal in the series, by Tiffany Walsh, focuses on one of my favorite topics: reading! Exploring the Catholic Classics: How Spiritual Reading Can Help You Grow in Wisdom introduces seven spiritual writers: Thomas á Kempis, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. John Paul II, and Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Deanna Bartalini’s journal finishes out the series and is titled Invite the Holy Spirit into Your Life: Growing in Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. This journal will help you open your heart to what the Holy Spirit can do in your life.

Catholic journaling Bible

The Catholic Journaling Bible (Our Sunday Visitor and Blessed is She) is the full Catholic Bible, the New American Bible, Revised Edition, so you’ll read the same translation of Scripture you hear at Mass. The outer margins of each page in this Bible offer faintly-ruled lines for writing. I begin my day with this Bible; right now I’m praying over the daily Gospel and then jotting down a few thoughts. Occasionally you’ll find a page with a hand-lettered verse: If you’re artistic, you might want to embellish that page. This Bible is a high-quality hardcover book with a linen cover and elegant design.

above all

Above All by Elizabeth Foss (To Take Up and Read) is a beautifully presented Lenten lectio divina journal. It’s based on Colossians 3:12-17 and combines original art and essays with Scripture readings and meditations — and offers plenty of space for you to write your own thoughts. This is a slightly oversized book, at 7×10 inches. To Take Up and Read has also produced many other journals for other times of year.

For You and the Kids

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Side by Side: A Catholic Mother-Daughter Journal by Lori and Ava Ubowski (Ave Maria Press) was written by a mom and her tween daughter and is a fun way for moms and young girls to bond. Each page contains writing prompts that invite users of the journal to share their thoughts and their faith while they learn about virtue through the example of biblical women and the saints. (ARC received from publisher)

daily question for you and your child

The Daily Question for You and Your Child (WaterBrook) is more of a conversation starter than a journal; at one page for two people’s answers for three years in a row, each person will only get to write a sentence each time. But the questions are a lot of fun. This journal would be good to use at the dinner table to spark an interesting discussion, or anytime parents and kids have some down time together. I’d recommend this for use with children 8 and up. (ARC received from publisher)

What’s a new journal without new pens to go with it? Here are a few of my favorites:


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of books where indicated, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Reads for Moms with Resolutions

Reads for Moms with Resolutions

It’s almost THAT time of year. And I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m talking about that post-Christmas time when we have time off work and some extra mental space to consider our goals, practices, and routines.

I don’t know about you, but I need that space every now and again to evaluate how things are going, and what I can tweak. I naturally live in problem-solving mode, and it’s good to use that mode regarding my home life and my spiritual life. So while I’ve got the planner and the brain-dump notebook and the colored markers in front of me anyway, adding some books that inspire me to think outside the box I’ve painted myself into is always a welcome practice.

Make My Life Simple

make my life simple

I started reading Rachel Balducci’s work at least a dozen years ago, but social media (and lack of Google Reader) distracted me from keeping up with most of the blogs I used to follow. Sure, I catch her on Instagram, when I remember to check Instagram … so I had totally missed that she’d made a huge life change after anxiety and exhaustion caught up with her as she pursued (simultaneously) careers in teaching, writing, and speaking while raising 6 kids. That’s a lot to juggle, no matter how multitalented you are.

Make My Life Simple, published by Our Sunday Visitor, hits the sweet spot of memoir/tip book combination: it’s practical and encouraging without talking down to the reader. And speaking of talking, if you’ve caught Rachel on Instagram Stories or The Gist, you know what her voice sounds like, and you’ll read this book to yourself in her lovely Southern accent. Rachel describes what she took on, and why, and what she decided to do about it when it all became too much.

Three sections focus on practical peace (order within the home), personal order, and peace and order in our spiritual growth. This is not a long book, but you’ll want to spend a while reading it so you can let ideas sink in, or scribble in your notebook about it. I loved that this book didn’t focus solely on moms with young children. My two oldest are older than Rachel’s kids, and my youngest is 16, so I was glad to see that this book wasn’t directed exclusively to the booster-seat-and-diaper-bag moms. It doesn’t matter what age your kids are — you’ll find inspiration in this book.

I was so inspired, at one point, that I put the book down and decided to go around cleaning baseboards (read the book and you’ll understand). So I broke out the small canister vacuum, which is something primarily used by the kids when my husband assigns them to vacuum out his car. Figuring the bag hadn’t been changed in a while, I opened up the vacuum to discover that someone had been using it without a bag in it at all! So I got to clean my vacuum before I could clean my baseboards. But it is a testament to the power of this book that it got me to put the book down and go clean something.

I’m going to do something else I never do, and that’s share a quote from the last page (because I’m confident that this is not a spoiler.)

Keeping your bathroom clean can make you a saint.

The Grace of Enough

grace of enough

Haley Stewart’s book got a lot of press because people made much of the fact that she lived for a year on a farm with only a composting toilet. I want to say right up front that I was curious about that too (because “roughing it” for me still involves functional indoor plumbing) but this book is not a back-to-nature memoir, and you’re doing Haley and her book a disservice by making that assumption.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing less and living more in a throwaway culture, from Ave Maria Press, challenges readers to embrace simplicity in a way that works for them. We can’t all move to sustainable farms and raise our own chickens. We can all make big and small changes regarding how we pray, how much stuff we own, and how we spend our time. We can all find ways to savor family life, even if our husbands commute 50 miles each way instead of just down the road.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on gospel living, family dinner, and holy hospitality. You’ll also find encouragement in the areas of community-building, technology use, nurturing a love for the land, and choosing hope — among many other topics. It’s the perfect time of year to consider these factors in relation to your family life!

And yes, you’ll learn how Haley, her husband, and their three small children fared with only a composting toilet in their apartment for a whole year. But don’t let social media sell this book short: it’s not really about the toilet at all.


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

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

Self Care

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

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

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

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

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

Why don’t I take better care of myself?

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

OUCH.

She’s right.

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

I have a long way to go.

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

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

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

My 3-step plan to improve body image:

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

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

My 3-step plan for better nutrition:

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

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

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

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

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


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