Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Four Weddings and a Kiss

Four Weddings and a Kiss: A Western Bride Collection

by Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014

Summer is a time to indulge in some light reading, and for me, that often comes in the form of a Christian romance. Four Weddings and a Kiss is a compilation of four novellas taking place in the post-Civil War West that fit the bill perfectly. The novellas are bookended by a prologue and epilogue regarding Reverend Gregory Miller. He is taking part in a weeklong revival meeting, working in conjunction with several other ministers. Reverend Miller recently broke up with Elizabeth, a young woman he loves but who he can’t imagine as the wife of a minister. She’s somewhat less than conservative and, despite his deep feelings, he feels that the marriage would be doomed from the start.

The other ministers are quick to offer their own take on the situation and are eager to share their own stories of couples who seemed doomed to fail, but never-the-less created a happy union. Their four stories are told as the four novellas.

The first tells of Maizy MacGregor and Rylan Carstens. Maizy has been raised by her father and has been doing the work of a man on their ranch since she was a child. Unfortunately, she has a tendency of wandering onto Rylan’s land. He warns her to stay off, but she doesn’t listen and comes face to face with a mean grizzly bear. Rylan saves her but breaks his leg in the process. When her father makes her care for Rylan in his infirmity, they both get more than they bargained for. 

Molly Everton and Jack Ludgrove are the central characters in the second story. Molly, a college graduate, works for her father’s newspaper. When he decides to appoint the next editor and turns the reins over to Jack instead of Molly, she is deeply wounded and determined to make the new editor’s life miserable. Meanwhile, Jack is being hit on by every eligible lady in the area, but he only has eyes for one.
Katie Pearl survived a tornado that killed her father, but suffers from what today would probably be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The whole town thinks she’s crazy, but she is determined to rebuild her life and that begins with rebuilding her house. Treb Rayburn’s horse dropped dead in the middle of nowhere (a.k.a. Katie’s town) and needs to make some money in order to buy a new one. Katie hires him to fix her place. In doing so, he will fix much more, but not without great cost. 

The last tells of a black widow, Grace Davenport. She’s a young woman who has had three husbands die under suspicious circumstances. She’s currently in jail, accused of murdering the last one. Her twelve year old son takes all the money he has, fifty-six cents, and sets out to hire the one good lawyer in town, Brock Daniels, to defend her. Brock has no intention of taking the case, or the boy’s money, but he agrees to meet with Grace. After doing so, and seeing the way she is being treated by both her own “lawyer” and the prosecution, he decides to defend her to the best of his ability. 

This is a great, relaxing read, and I love that there are four stories in one book. It’s a wonderful indulgence on a lazy summer afternoon. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Baptism Day - a.ka. "Princess" Day

Yesterday was Amy's Baptism Day! I tried to impress upon my two older children as we were doing all the prep work this week for the party that took part after the big event that this day was even more important than her adoption day. After all, her adoption day only made her legally ours; her baptism day means that she has been claimed, in a special way, by God, and given the graces she needs to be a good Christian.

I've always been in the baptize children as soon as humanly possible camp. Both my boys were baptized within six weeks of birth. So, one of the hardest things about being Amy's foster parents for so long was that we could not have her baptized (except in case of an emergency, which thankfully, didn't happen). Not only was it illegal, but also we couldn't stand in Church and honestly promise to raise her in the faith if we didn't know whether we would get to raise her at all. And so we waited and trusted that God would honor her baptism of desire - that He knew we wanted to have her baptized. She's been in Church every Sunday since we've had her and been prayed with every day. Still, having her baptized was a big deal.

Yet, there is a compelling reason beyond the spiritual for baptizing children when you can hold them in your arms and they can't talk - you don't have to worry about how they are going to behave! Sure - they might fuss and cry, but they aren't going to start screaming "No - I Don't Want To!" at the top of their voice.

We did try to get her excited about being baptized - a concept that is difficult for a three-year-old to grasp. My very generous neighbors bought her a beautiful dress to wear for her special day. They told her it would be her "Princess" day. At first, I cringed a bit, but then I thought about it more. Several books my Bible Study group have read have talked about how we are "daughters of the King" - therefore we are princesses. This was the day she would become an official "daughter of the King" - it was, in fact, her princess day. And so we went with that as the theme. She loves princesses and always tells us she is one. Also, Friday, as I made cakes for her party, she asked, "Is it my birthday?" I told her, "Yes, it is your birthday in the Church." Sometimes, you go with whatever works.

She's a high-spirited strong-willed young lady and I had no idea how she would behave. Thankfully, the Monsignor who baptized her has a good sense of humor and took it all in stride. Truly, she could have been much worse, although it did take four of us to hold her over the baptismal font because she did not want anything to do with that. After, she told us in no uncertain terms, "I did NOT like having water poured over my face!"

Amy and Monsignor David Joyce

But, thankfully, she is now baptized, indelibly marked by God. I was hoping there would be some sort of miracle and that her attitude would now be less. That does not seem to have been the case, as today her attitude was even larger than usual (no doubt due to the overstimulation of yesterday).  So, our adventure continues, but now I know that she has God's grace in her in a special way. It can only help!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classically Catholic Memory for Homeschoolers

I had seen Classically Catholic Memory advertised in the Spring catalog of Ignatius Press and have been meaning to blog about them for a while in case they might be of interest to any of you homeschoolers out there.

Divided into Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Years, each year offers memory work in the areas of Religion, Latin, History, Science, Math, Geography, a historical timeline, as well as "Great Words" (poems, historical documents, and speeches).

Religion:  Each year provides various Catechism questions and answers and passages from Scripture.
Latin:  Each year provides various prayers and hymns.
History:  History sentences from one of four time periods:
  • Alpha Year:  Creation through the Birth of Christ (Ancients)
  • Beta Year:  The Time of Christ through 1500 (Middle Ages)
  • Gamma Year:  1500 through 1800 (Early Modern Times)
  • Delta Year:  1800 through Modern Times (Later Modern Times)
Science:  Science questions and answers from one of four science topics:
  • Alpha Year:  Life Science:  Animal Life
  • Beta Year:  Earth Science and Astronomy
  • Gamma Year:  Chemistry and Physics
  • Delta Year:  Life Science:  Human Anatomy and Physiology and Plant Life
Math:  Skip counting (every year)
  • Alpha and Gamma Years: Geometric Formulas
  • Beta and Delta Years: Conversion Formulas
Timeline:  The same timeline is learned every year.
Geography:  Countries, some capital cities, and physical geography of either one or two continents per year.
  • Alpha Year:  Asia and Australia
  • Beta Year:  Europe
  • Gamma Year:  North America
  • Delta Year:  Africa and South America
Great Words I and II:  Every year provides material that includes poems, historical documents, and speeches.

Classically Catholic Memory Materials
Classically Catholic Memory materials consist of the following:

Student Text: The Student Text contains the memory work for each subject, broken down by week, and includes a weekly summary sheet for each week. Almost every page includes beautiful, full-color artwork from great artists, chosen to enhance the student’s understanding of the main topic of each subject in each week.

Teacher Text: The Teacher Text contains introductory material explaining the relationship and importance of memory work to a classical education; a full explanation of the Classically Catholic Memory program; teaching techniques and strategies for each subject; the entire student text in a smaller size form; detailed background information for each week of science, along with multiple options for science activities to go along with each week’s material; background information for the history sentences; suggested activities for the math memory work; and more.

Maps and Stickers: The map set consists of five laminated maps of either one or two continents for the student to label with the included stickers. Most countries on each continent are included (countries that are excluded are primarily very small island countries), along with major capital cities, states of the U.S. (in the North America set), and physical geography.  A map of the entire continent is included on the back of all maps so that the child can trace country and continent borders to gain familiarity with the geography of each continent.

3-CD set: All of the memory work is contained on a set of three (3) audio CDs. CDs 1 and 2 contain the memory work broken down by week, while CD 3 contains the memory work broken down by subject for easy review and mastery. Math skip-counting (2s through 12s) and all of the history sentences are sung to easy-to-recognize tunes to aid in mastering the material.

Timeline Cards: This set contains 144 4x6 full-color cards depicting events and persons from Creation through Pope John Paul II. 15 essential dates are included on certain critical events in the timeline. The front of each card contains the name of the event/person along with famous artwork, maps, or photographs depicting that event/person. The back contains detailed information, or Scriptural references, about that particular event/person. The cards are clearly labeled in numerical order on the back of each card.

Which materials are necessary?  It is best if each family has, for each year, at least one Student Text, one Teacher Text, one CD set, and at least one set of maps and stickers; the same set of Timeline Cards can be used each year, so it is only necessary to buy one set.  In some families, it may be best if each student who is "participating" in the program, and who can read, has his or her own Student Text and possibly his or her own map set.  However, sharing and copying materials within a family is permissible.  Copying materials for other families, including in a co-op setting, is NOT acceptable.  Please make sure each family in a co-op purchases their own materials.  Remember that the timeline cards are a one-time purchase, as the same timeline is learned every year.

For more information, please visit their website at: 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Restorative Reproductive Medicine - Offering Hope for Infertile Couples

Life can definitely be a challenge for Catholics who choose to follow the Church's teaching on birth control and reproductive medicine. It isn't easy to have to face your doctor and refuse the treatments that they have to offer due to religious reasons.(Jesus never said the road would be easy!)

For couples suffering from infertility, it can be especially hard to refuse things like in vitro fertilization when the innate desire to have a biological child is so strong. Thankfully, there is hope. Restorative Reproductive Medicine is dedicated to finding and treating the root causes of infertility. It is actually far more successful than traditional methods of treating infertility.

The International Institute for Restorative Reproductive Medicine is the leading voice in uniting providers and researchers who share a common belief that patients deserve scientifically-based and well researched reproductive health care services that cooperate with and restore reproductive function. 

To address reproductive health problems, Restorative Reproductive Medicine (RRM) exclusively focuses investigations and treatments on identifying and correcting abnormalities, restoring or optimizing normal reproductive function.

The organization offers a page on their website especially for patients seeking help and if you email them, they can put you in contact with someone in your geographic area. 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Book Review: What World is This? and Other Stories

What World Is This? and Other Stories is the collection of Catholic fiction short stories published by Tuscany Press featuring the winners of their annual contest. Upon opening this book, I had no idea what to expect, but I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised and pleased by the fiction presented in this collection.

Editor Joseph O'Brien writes in his introduction, "The editors of Tuscany Press humbly submit both last year's stories and especially this new crop of tales as evidence that the Catholic writing world has a great desire to incorporate 'believable faith' and also to acknowledge that the transcendent is believable as an element of fiction precisely because it appeals to both the things of this world while anticipating the things of the next."

The writers and editors have succeeded admirably. From National Book Award Winner Gloria Whelan's tale of two young girls who make up a story about a Marian apparition, to Natalia Sarkissian sharing the tale of a young woman riding a bus to face her demons, to Mary Finnegan writing about a marriage trying to recover from an affair, to Samuel Miller's tale of a priest hearing the confession of an unusual hitchhiker, each of the stories in this book will keep you turning pages and appreciating all that Catholic fiction has to offer.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Autistic Brain - Thinking Across the Spectrum

I almost didn't read The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin (April 30 2013). It has been sitting in my "To Be Read" pile for 6 weeks and is due back at the library tomorrow, but I decided to pick it up today and I'm so glad that I did.

Author Temple Grandin was born in 1947 and was autistic before it was a common part of childhood. She brings an unique perspective to the book, being high-functioning herself and having devoted much of her life to studying Autism in its many forms.

What made this book particularly interesting was the neuroscience involved. They have the capability now to scan brains and see how those with autism are wired differently. The amazing thing is that even among those with autism, there is considerable variation among their brains, depending on the individual strengths and weaknesses of each person. For example, Grandin has great difficulty with balance (a common trait in those with autism) and discovered that her cerebellum is 20 % smaller than the in the brain of a neurotypical person. 

Also, she discusses possible causes of autism. With my own children, I have always felt that it was genetic. David was different from the day he was born (I only realized this is insight, but it is definitely true). There is a long history of mental illness in a family and it always seemed to me that he got all those unfortunate genes, only ramped up a bit - that somehow the gene was tweaked just enough in my eggs to cause the issues (due to environment?). Grandin talks about the DRD4-7R gene which has been linked to anxiety, depression, epilepsy, dyslexia, ADHD, migraines, ocd, and autism. Five of those things run in my family. I know there has been some research suggesting that those who take antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to have an autistic child (I never have), but what if the connection is the depression itself - that genetic disposition to have something wrong with that gene? It's something to think about.

Later in the book, she emphasizes practical strategies for those with autism, especially for those on the higher end of the spectrum, to make great use of their strengths and to find employment. She disputes the currently popular idea that 10,000 hours practicing something will make you good at it, maintaining that you need at least minimal talent in an area to make that true. For those with autism who are profoundly ungifted in certain areas, all that practice will only lead to frustration, not improvement. Instead, one needs to focus on one's strengths and make the most of them. She wants people, including well-meaning educators and parents, to stop focusing on what is wrong with those with Autism and start focusing on what is right with them. Working on deficits is important, but it isn't everything. See beyond the label.

I found this book extremely interesting. It is definitely geared to help those on the higher end of the spectrum, but if you know and love an Aspie, this book is for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Journey of Our Love: The Letters of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla

The Journey of Our Love: The Letters of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla

Edited by Elio Guerriero
Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2014

St. Gianna Beretta Molla is a popular saint, not only because she was so profoundly pro-life as to give up her own life in order to save her unborn child, but also because she was a modern woman and a working mother. She is someone mothers of today can relate to and aspire to imitate as we carry out our own vocation. “Journey of Our Love: The Letters of St. Gianna Beretta Molla and Pietro Molla” allows us an intimate look at the relationship between husband and wife as they sought to establish and nurture their domestic church. While her letters were previously published, this is the first time the letters of both have been published together as Pietro Molla requested that his correspondence not be published until after his death.

As editor Elio Guerriero states in the introduction, “These letters are a convincing proof that the way of holiness does not necessarily pass through religious life or the priestly ministry, but can unfold in the midst of the world, living one’s own vocation as a Christian called to holiness with Christ in married life.”

The book offers a short biography of both St. Gianna and her husband, who met when he was 42 and she was 32. Their friendship quickly grew to love and they married in September of 1955. Their marriage would last seven short years until Gianna died soon after giving birth to their fourth child. They packed a great deal of love and joy into those years which is revealed in their letters. 

“Journey of Our Love” includes letters from their dating and engagement period as well as their marriage. They were separated frequently due to Pietro’s work travel as well as during vacations. While they did have access to the telephone and made use of it, they often wrote each other every day during these separations, leaving a wonderful record of their relationship. The copious footnotes provide the reader with background information and allow for a greater appreciation and understanding of the text.
In the days of their courtship and engagement, we see two people who want to make each other happy and who delight in each other. As Pietro wrote on September 6, 1955, “Your love makes everything more beautiful to me.” Their love, even in its infancy, was always rooted in prayer and references to God and the Catholic faith are frequent in their epistles.  This love, centered on God, made their relationship more blessed. 

During their married life, they shared the joy and expectation of the birth of their children and their struggles in caring for them when they were sick. The couple comes across very human as they discuss the early hour their daughter awakes, Gianna’s fear of airplanes, Pietro’s need to have teeth pulled, their in-laws, work issues, financial matters, and the simple missing of each other. These were two people living married life, coping with all the everyday matters that entails. Where their holy virtue is evident is that all of this daily living was deeply rooted in God. In addition, their love for each other always shines through.  

“Journey of Our Love” is a beautiful book for anyone who has a devotion to St. Gianna and who wants to learn more about her married life. It also provides a wonderful look at the beauty of a married life rooted in the love of God, the ideal to which Catholic married couples should aspire.