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It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.

the clown of god

This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.

jonathan toomey

The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.

The Other WIse Man

An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.

silver packages

The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.

small miracle

I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

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Even when I was a little girl who still enjoyed getting toys for Christmas, I also looked forward to receiving books.  Then as a teenager I remember enjoying Christmas night, after all the festivities were finished, finally getting to lie on the sofa to read whichever book I was most excited about receiving.

Well, that hasn’t changed.  These days, if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I will have a list of books ready even if I cannot come up with anything else.  Usually these are the latest installment of favorite series that tend to appear in November.  I resist the temptation to buy them myself, eagerly anticipating receiving them as gifts.

I read very fast, so I’ve already finished most of my Christmas books, and am ready to share them with you!

This is the latest of Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, a series I have been enjoying and collecting for years.  Sadly, Cornwell seems to have peaked years ago, at least as far as this series goes.  Long gone are the detailed autopsies and absorbing stories I enjoyed.  While this one was better than some of her recent work, and I did enjoy it just because I care about the characters, I am tired of hearing about the same villain over and over again.  These days, all the attacks are against Kay and her family.  I’d like to see her get back to fighting criminals and being a voice for victims.  I’ll keep reading these, though.

Here’s another series and author I love, and was again disappointed with this go-round.  For one thing, I have been wondering for YEARS what the title of this book would be.  Ever since A is for Alibi Sue Grafton fans have tried to predict her titles and of course everyone could hardly wait to see how she handled this most difficult letter.  What an anti-climax.  She didn’t play by her own rules! I enjoyed the book–I still love the main character–but again it felt a bit like the author was phoning it in.  It seems like she has lost interest and is just trying to get to the end of the alphabet.  Even the way she peppered the story with unnecessary encounters with just about every one of the protagonist’s former love interests seemed forced, like a sop to fans.  Again, I’ll read the rest of these and hope that this was an anomaly because this is the first time I’ve felt disappointed in one of these.

I wrote about my desire to read this book in a very popular post last year.  While I have not yet put its principles into practice, it has definitely inspired me to declutter and tidy.  If I really end up following Marie Kondo’s method, I will let y’all know how it works out!  Unexpectedly, one thing I’ve enjoyed about it is small glimpses into Japanese culture (like offhand mentions of the problem of storing kimonos and items for tea ceremonies).  I do find myself talking about this book a lot, which tells me that parts of it resonate with me and I am being inspired to think about “things” in a different way.

Okay, so this one is a bonus.  This isn’t mine (it’s Emily’s) and it wasn’t a Christmas present (she bought it herself).  But I did read it, so I thought I’d tell y’all about it.  Now, I don’t expect a whole lot from movie novelizations.  The best part of reading them is finding little tidbits of backstory that were cut from the final script, and this does deliver on that score.  But oh my gosh, y’all, the purple prose!  The speechifying! The dialogue!  It was BAD.  Read the book if you loved the movie, by all means, but be prepared to laugh at what are supposed to be some solemn moments.

I’ve got two more Christmas books to read, which I will write about at a later time.  What have YOU been reading lately?

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It’s been a long time since I’ve linked up to What We’re Reading Wednesday, and I’ve missed sharing books with you.  Fact is, I don’t read as much as I once did.  That’s sad but true, and it’s the computer’s fault. Because it would be more accurate to say that I still read a lot, just articles and blogs instead of books.  I read great articles and blogs, and I share them with my Facebook friends.  But it’s not quite the same. So here’s a sampling of what I’ve read (relatively) recently that I thought it would be fun to share.

I got this one via Blogging for Books, and then took forever to read it.  My fault, not the book’s, because it’s engaging, easy to read, and interesting.  And there’s probably not much I can tell you about Paleo that you haven’t already heard, because I’m way behind the times.  I will say this:  people who complain about his ideas without having read the book . . . obviously haven’t read the book. 🙂 It’s far from being the had-core-you-must-eat-this-way-or-else diatribe people make it out to be.  And a lot of it makes sense to me, even if I would never choose to eat that way full time.

I was given Teardrops That Tango to review by the author.  This is a book that will get your attention from the first page.  It tackles all kinds of rough situations: child abuse, suicide, mental illness.  I know it sounds like a downer but it has a happy ending.  It’s definitely painful to read, though, especially because you know it’s the true story of someone who has suffered a lot.  But that’s not supposed to be the message you take away from it.  Be aware that although it starts out like one it really isn’t a strict autobiography, but also combines resources for those going through rough times with inspiration and advice.  It’s ambitious for sure and that can make it a bit uneven but it’s a story you won’t easily forget.

The above constitute comfort reading for me.  Our whole family loves Star Trek.  We have many, many Star Trek novels, which are some of our few books that survived the destruction of our home by fire four years ago.  We’ve been watching one Star Trek episode each night for months now, and having made our way through TNG and TOS (yes, in that order!) we are now experiencing Deep Space Nine for the first time!  Anyway, those first two books are sequels to the second-to-last TOS episode, which put me in the mood to read them; and having read them, I was in the mood to read more, and the next ones pictured are two of my favorites.  If you like Star Trek, you will like these books.

And I just started the Grisha Trilogy this week, and I am already on the third book!  Emily (grown up daughter) has been urging me to read these for awhile.  Emily reads like I used to read.  She keeps the library busy and she buys books too. Christmas and birthday lists are and always have been full of books.  And of course it’s more fun if you can discuss what you read with someone else who’s read it too.  I don’t know why I was so reluctant to start these.  I think I was afraid they would be demanding or exhausting but they aren’t.  The author has set her world in something resembling Russia in the 1800s and the familiarity makes it easier to immediately relate to.  Obviously the story is engaging and interesting or I wouldn’t be reading it so fast.  Whether I would recommend them I cannot say until I see how they end, and how the romance plot resolves.

Emily has already informed me what series she is going to make me read next, so I’ll have something else interesting to write about next time!

What are you reading? You can tell me in the comments! And for more reading suggestions, visit the other posts in the linkup!

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Greeley 2

It might seem a bit odd to review a book that was published almost 30 years ago and that I’ve read many times before.  But having recently re-read Patience of a Saint by Father Andrew Greeley, who died in 2013, I wanted to talk about him and his writing.

patience of a saint

In 1987 I wouldn’t have been able to understand or appreciate Father Greeley’s work.  I’d read about him, of course–what Catholic hasn’t been horrified at the idea of a priest writing “racy novels” with actual sex scenes? (Such very mild and tasteful scenes, by the way.)  I’m sure at the time, without having read any of his books, I disapproved.  I’m sure I thought that a priest ought to have better things to do than write sexy novels.  I’m sure I assumed it was notoriety the man was after.

Of course, Father Greeley, a sociologist as well as a priest, was doing other things too.  In addition to his priestly duties, he was cranking out scores of non-fiction books in his field.  But he considered his novels a ministry too, something that is obvious to me when I read them now.  In his own words: “I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish.”

Anyone who reads Father Greeley will see that he loves Chicago, the Irish, and the Church.  That doesn’t mean he won’t point out what he thinks their flaws are!  And I don’t always agree with his perception of the Church’s flaws–I’m no authority on Chicago or the Irish!  But always the love is there, and his conviction of the truth of the Church and of the power of the love of God to transform people’s lives.

Red Kane, a somewhat dissipated Chicago journalist, is a perfunctory Catholic when Patience of a Saint begins.  A conversion experience comparable to St. Paul’s on the Road to Damascus propels him reluctantly into a reformation of his life which simultaneously delights and threatens his friends and family.  He comes to realize that “if one party in a relationship undergoes a transformation, then the other party in that relationship must be transformed too,” and that this is scary for those around him who have grown comfortable with the roles they were used to playing.

In a climax that is foreshadowed throughout the novel, Red’s family decides he has had a nervous breakdown and they send for the men in the white coats.  In the end, in what to me was a particularly moving passage, Red asks himself where he can go for help.  “The answer was still obvious.  The only institution in the world that could help him now was the Roman Catholic Church–the real Catholic Church.  Send in the first team.”

I’ve read many–not all, by a long shot–of Father Greeley’s novels.  He’s a good writer, not a great one.  He does have what to me is crucial–the ability to anchor his novels firmly in a particular place and time.   Chicago and its environs are intrinsic to his books.  His characterization is terrific, his dialogue not so much, although to me in Patience of a Saint it rings most true.  But most important is that his books are deeply Catholic, even the “sexy parts.”  It’s a misunderstanding of and a disservice to Church teaching to claim that Catholicism believes sex is bad, or base, or dirty.  Greeley’s novels elevate sexual love within marriage almost to a sacramental level–the ultimate act of self-giving that reflects God’s love for us.

Greeley 1

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Off The Shelf-V3

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Off the Shelf book review for Beacon Hill Press.  Today I am happy to be sharing The Relationship Project by Bill Strom with you.  As always, my views are my own, and the only compensation I received was the book itself!

When this book arrived, I was intrigued right away.  I love the subtitle: Moving from “You and Me” to We.  I enjoy books that offer insights on marriage, especially from a Christian worldview.  And I like books that are interactive, which including “project” in the title seemed to imply.

I was imagining that this would be a book to read with my husband, something we could work on together.  We both agree that a good relationship takes work and we are committed to working on ours!  But here’s where the book was different from what I was expecting.  And I learned that pretty quickly, in the preface in fact:  ” . . . if you picked up this book to figure out how you can save your relationship, or fix a friend, put it down . . . the more important goal is to understand that we have our own heart work to do, our own self project.”    That’s not to say that you couldn’t read this in tandem with a spouse, but the point–and it’s a good point in general, is it not?–is that you are to work on yourself,  not on your partner!

That’s just the start of how this book is different from other relationship books you may have read, particularly if you’ve been reading mainly secular books.  In those books, you’ll learn about contracts and commitments–and those are discussed in this book too–but the focus here is on covenant relationships, which are “motivated by unconditional love and grace . . . not driven by the pursuit of personal happiness.”  It’s vocabulary I’d heard before, but here it is explained well and illustrated by clear examples.

The author shares from his own marriage, and the tone of the book is informal, making reading it a bit like listening to the good advice of a friend.  The Relationship Project is full of examples–stories of real people, their relationships and struggles.  There are illustrative quotations–and relationship stories–from Scripture as well.  There are several self-assessments along the way–I love those!  And there are questions for reflection.  In short, this is a book that asks you not just to read it, but to engage with it.

 

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I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, to Five Favorites, hosted by Mama Knows, Honeychild.

five favorites

Let’s talk books today.  I don’t know how I would go about making a list of my five favorite books ever, so instead I will call this Five Favorite Books that have changed my life.  And if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s really not.

1.  Humanae Vitae

If you are Catholic, this book should need no explanation.  It SHOULDN’T.  But sadly it probably does.

This is the papal encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI which confirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.  But it doesn’t just condemn; it also explains, and does so beautifully.

Of course I grew up knowing that the Church was against contraception.  But in spite of 12 years of Catholic school, no one ever once explained WHY.  I went into college thinking that this was just some sort of old-fashioned and unimportant idea that I should feel free to ignore.

Then I took a Christian marriage class at Georgetown and read this book, and my life was changed.  And the change went deeper than just my understanding of this one issue; it also affected my relationship to the Church.  Because it was in reading this that I realized that Church teachings have explanations, that they aren’t just pronouncements from on high.  I decided right then that before ever disagreeing with the Church, even in matters of conscience, we must first read and reflect on its teachings.

2.  Let’s Have Healthy Children

When I found out I was pregnant with Emily, the first thing I did was go to the library and look for books to check out.  This was in the first batch, but I soon bought my own copy and annotated it heavily.  Adelle Davis’s findings remain a topic for debate today, but I remain convinced that the regimen of vitamins that I took while pregnant and breastfeeding are responsible for my children’s vibrant good health.

When my kids were babies I introduced foods to them the way Davis suggested too.  I have continued to believe that nutrition is the key to good health even when I didn’t always follow Davis’s guidelines.  The effect of the dietary changes I have recently made on my health confirms this belief!

3.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

breastfeeding and natural childspacing

Besides the practical advice Sheila Kippley provides on breastfeeding, her stance on mother/baby togetherness formed the way I parented my children.  I didn’t know then what attachment parenting was, but Kippley told me that babies should be fed on demand, that nursing wasn’t just about food, that extended nursing was normal, and that mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated.

Before I read this book I thought of breastfeeding as something you did to give a baby a good start before weaning to the bottle at six months or so.  I would never have imagined myself nursing children until three or four years of age, and I wouldn’t have understood the parenting aspects of breastfeeding that go far beyond nutrition and shaped my mothering as well as my children.

This book also changed my life because it turned me into a breastfeeding advocate, which led me to develop online friendships with like-minded people that endure to this day, after our breastfeeding days are done.

4.  Childbirth without Fear

I never did have the all-natural childbirth I dreamed of when I first read this book, although I got closer each time.  Still, this book changed my life by influencing the way I viewed childbirth, by encouraging me to be skeptical of all interventions into this natural process, by leading me to read further (Painless Childbirth; Thank You, Dr. Lamaze; The Experience of Childbirth; Open Season), to take Bradley and Lamaze classes, and to become an advocate for myself in this area.  This book set me along the road that led to two successful VBACs after three C-sections.  It led me to connect with others who felt the same way who were a support for me and taught me so much.  And it contributed to my attitude toward medical intervention in general, because it became clear to me that doctors can be life-savers but that we have a responsibility to learn about our own health and advocate for ourselves, not just blindly follow medical advice “because doctor said so.”

5.  Kids Are Worth It!

kids are worth it

If you’ve read this book, and you know me, you’re probably thinking, “What’s she talking about?  She doesn’t parent her kids anything like what this book says!”  And you’d be correct.  But we all need something to aspire to, right?  I know that this is the best parenting book I’ve ever read because I keep coming back to it and quoting from it.  I don’t disagree with one word in it and I only wish I’d read it before I had so many kids and was already overwhelmed and making every possible mistake!

Still, even when I don’t follow the principles of this book, I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why, and that’s something, isn’t it?  There’s always hope.  And especially as my kids have gotten older I take comfort and advice from this: “Is it life-threatening? Is it morally threatening? Is it unhealthy?”  That’s helped me pick my battles.  Now that William is 13 I probably should re-read the teenage section of this book and see how I can improve this time around. 🙂

That’s it for this week.  If there are any books that have changed YOUR life, I wish you’d tell me about them in the comments!

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what we're reading

Participating in What We’re Reading Wednesday has shown me how boring I am.  Every week the other contributors post reviews of intellectual or inspirational reads, and I just keep on reading the same old stuff.  Which is why I skipped last week, because I figured y’all were tired of hearing about Patricia Cornwell.

So to spice things up a bit, this week I will tell you what I SHOULD be reading, and if all goes according to plan in a few weeks I should be able to tell you a little more about the books below.

the panther

OK, y’all, I have zero interest in reading this book.  But Nelson DeMille is a favorite of my next-door-neighbor, who runs the book club, so this is what we are reading for Monday.  It’s about a million pages long, and I haven’t started it yet.  But that doesn’t matter because this is a cool book club and if I don’t read it I’ll look it up in Wikipedia or something so I can throw out a few intelligent-sounding comments before I drink too many glasses of wine.  Seriously, we’ve already read one of his books, and I didn’t hate it; it’s just not my cup of tea.  But no one liked the one book I’ve had us read so far, so I will just be good and quiet and do what I am told.

I just got this one in the mail from Beacon Hill Press.  I’m an official Off-the-Shelf blogger for them, which means I get free books to write reviews about.  I have 90 days to read and write, but will probably try to do it this week.  I’m excited about this one!

I’m really excited to read and review this one, since I have three adult children in various stages of launching.  This is another Beacon Hill Press offering.

paleo.jpg

Everybody has been talking about this Paleo thing for awhile now.  So I’m excited to read this and to see how its advice conforms with the changes I’ve already made to my diet.  I’m getting my copy of this through Blogging for Books, a new venture for me.

Patricia_Cornwell_-_Black_Notice

Finally, here is what I am ACTUALLY reading. 🙂  I continue to make my way through Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, in chronological order.  Having read them all and knowing what comes later adds another layer to the experience.  Without giving anything away, this one in particular, which largely focuses on Kay’s grief over the gruesome murder of her lover, Benton Wesley, is hard to see in the same light now that I know the eventual resolution of this story arc.

Reading about Scarpetta always puts me in the mood for good food, since she is an Italian gourmet cook.  I had meant to check out the following for awhile, and had one of those late-night Amazon moments, found they were cheap, and now they are on their way to me.

I’m not a huge cookbook person–I cook mostly out of my head–but I’m going to enjoy these because the first weaves in a story about the characters and the second showcases recipes that are actually mentioned in the books.

For more of what people are reading, check out the linkup at Housewife Spice!

[UPDATE:  I never did read some of these.]

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