Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas: Is this all there is?

I came across these words of wisdom in Barbara Bernard's column in the Springfield Republican today:

But, I am bold enough to say it makes little or no sense to have this holly, jolly, splashy Christmas eve and day with weeks leading up to it in almost a frenzied pace, and not remember what it is really all about. It’s the birth of a baby chosen by God to live not too many years but enough of them with example and teaching. 

Those who are wise enough to understand the benefits of a good life have such happy ones. If our few years on Earth are led without cruelty, crime or callousness, we will have an eternity of peace.
Too many of us neglect to do what the Christ child was sent to teach us – to keep peace in our minds, love in our hearts and faith in our souls. 

Christmas is over. Is that all there is? Not if we don’t let it be. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Christmas at Harmony Hill

Christmas at Harmony Hill
by Ann H. Gabhart
Grand Rapids: Revell, 2013

While I have read my share of Amish fiction, I've never read any Shaker fiction before. The inviting cover and title of "Christmas at Harmony Hill" grabbed my attention, however, and I am so glad that it did. It tells the story of Heather Worth, a young married woman during the waning days of the Civil War. Her father, a southerner, turned her out when she fell in love with a northerner. She married Gideon and followed him into battle as a washer-woman. Heavy with child, her husband tells her she has to go home. He is convinced her family will not turn her away in this condition.

Unfortunately, he is wrong. Her mother and two brothers have died, hardening her father's heart even more. But her mother had written her one last letter before she died directing Heather to seek refuge in a nearby Shaker community where her Aunt Seraphina lives. The remainder of the story focuses on her time there, the changes in her aunt, as well as her husband's quest to survive the war and return to her.

This is a touching story - keep the Kleenex handy! - and I absolutely loved it. "Christmas at Harmony Hill" is wonderful historical woman's fiction that would be enjoyable any time of year. I will definitely be checking out other books by this author.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Quilt Block in Honor of St. Joseph

I received a few more requests for Patron Saint Quilt Blocks. This one is for St. Joseph, which seems very appropriate for this week when we are focused on the Holy Family. To find out more and download the free pattern, please visit: Patron Saint Quilts - Quilt Block in Honor of St. Joseph

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pope Francis - the Art Behind the Time Cover

I just finished reading the feature article on Pope Francis in Time Magazine. I love the choice of Pope Francis and I thought the article was well-written and reasonably balanced. I'm sure other writers will dissect it thoroughly and I will leave that to them.

What I want to draw attention to is the art behind the cover. Honestly, I thought it was a photograph until I read a sidebar in the magazine that said to find out more about how the painting was created, I could go online at: Behind Person of the Year Cover.

It is actually a digital painting that took over 70 hours for artist Jason Seiler to create. The process is truly amazing - every bit as involved as creating a work on canvas. Seiler created an incredible work of art that radiates the joy of our humble pontiff.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: College-Prep Homeschooling

College-Prep Homeschooling: Your Complete Guide to Homeschooling through High School
by David P. Byers, Ph.D. and Chandra Byers
Denver, CO: Mapletree Publishing Co, 2008

To be perfectly honest, reading College-Prep Homeschooling: Your Complete Guide to Homeschooling through High School completely stressed me out. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be read, however. Dr. David P. Byers is a college professor with a Ph.D. in education as well as a homeschool dad. He writes from the perspective of what he expects from his college students. It is a good, but demanding, perspective. Chandra Byers offers the homeschool mom point of view. The couple has six children with two who, as of the writing of this book, had homeschooled through high school.

Topics in this book include are making the decision to homeschool through high school, what should be taught in high school, and how to prepare for college. They offer concrete information on how to create a high school program, including how to create course descriptions and write educational objectives. Keeping adequate records and developing transcripts is also covered.

This is an info-heavy book, but definitely worth reading if you plan to homeschool through high school.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review - The Christmas Candle

The Christmas Candle
by Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson, 2013

"The Christmas Candle", a classic Christmas story by best-selling Christian author Max Lucado, was originally published in 2006 but has been reissued to coincide with the movie version, currently in select theaters.

Set in the small town of Gladstone in 1864 England, it is a story of Christmas miracles. Every twenty-five years for the past 200 years, the town candlemaker (which has been a member of the same family) has been visited by an angel that lights one special candle. The candle-maker then chooses one family in need of a miracle to bestow the candle upon with the direction to light the candle and pray.

Reverend Richmond is the new preacher in town, taking over for a Reverend who had served for fifty years. Even though he is a person of faith, due to a personal tragedy in his own life, he is a man without much faith in miracles. He refuses to preach on the candle (even though this is the year the angel is expected) and doesn't really fit in with the community. With or without his endorsement, however, the angel will arrive.

Meanwhile the candlemaker has his own problems. He and his wife, both far along in years, are in need of their own miracle, and don't know what to do about all the people coming to them begging for the candle for their own needs.

"The Christmas Candle" is a beautiful Christmas novella, perfect for enjoying during the Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Welcoming Those with Developmental Disabilities Into Our Church

I admit that welcoming individuals with developmental disabilities into our Church isn't something that has been on my radar, but it should be. A recent article in US Catholic, Real Presence, brought these issues to my attention. Obviously, the Church exists for everyone and should be accessible and welcoming to everyone. My parish does have ramps into the entrance and dedicated handicapped seating, but you need someone to open the door (there is no automatic button). There are also stairs to get to the altar which would prevent some from serving on the altar in any capacity. We definitely have some individuals with developmental disabilities that attend our Masses and I think the parish is welcoming, but obviously there is much more that can be done.

One area that is very important to make accommodations is in religious education. The National Catholic Partnership on Disability offers many resources, including for those who are on the Autism spectrum.

Ultimately, though, the responsibility lays with each one of us to be welcoming to each person who walks into our churches. We may not be able to personally do anything about physical barriers, but we can do everything about our attitude.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Book Review: Starry Night

Looking for a light, clean Christmas romance to help you enjoy the season? Starry Night by Debbie Macomber is like savoring a sweet piece of chocolate. Carrie Slayton, a Chicago journalist eager to get off the society page and start reporting hard news, sets out to find and interview the elusive Finn Dalton, a best-selling author who happens to be a recluse who lives in the Alaskan wilderness.

After Carrie falls for Finn, she faces the choice of advancing her career or hoping for a romance with a man who doesn't seem to want her.

This is a quick read, perfect for a one-night adventure, curled up under a warm quilt with a cup of hot chocolate at the ready.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Book Review: Yes, God!

Have you ever looked at a priest or religious and wondered how it was that he or she came to be there – what made that person willing and able to say “yes” to God’s call? Susie Lloyd, author of Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and Bless Me, Father, For I Have Kids, decided to find out. She interviewed ten priests and religious to discover what their families of origin had been like in order to learn what lessons those families had to teach. As Lloyd states, “I wanted to raise heroic kids – kids who could say yes to God in whatever way he calls. Or at least, I didn’t want to blow it.”

It is heartening to know that there is no one right way to be a parent and these families illustrate this point quite nicely. Some families were large and others small. Some struggled with poverty. Some homeschooled, while others attended public or Catholic school. Some lived lives literally dripping with the Catholic faith while for others it was more subtle. Yet each of these families has something to teach the rest of us, a virtue or practice we can emulate. These include generosity, love of God and neighbor, respecting duty, treasuring the inheritance of our faith, being strong, and embracing spiritual poverty. 

Lloyd is best known as a humorist and she brings her sense of humor into these pages. She is willing to laugh at her own parenting mishaps and challenges, and in her laughter, parents will recognize some of their own challenges. (For the record, I actually have had a child drink a bottle of holy water – I would like to say it brought instant sanctity, but there seemed to be no discernible effect.) She is a mother who, even with her vast experience as a mother of six, is willing to admit she is not perfect and that there is still much to learn.

As Lloyd hoped when she set out on this literary and spiritual quest, there is much to be learned from the families profiled in Yes, God! It is also great reading for those who wonder how it is that a young person receives and answers a call from God. It can help make all of us more open to God’s small quiet voice speaking in our lives.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Book Review: The Bridge

The Bridge
by Karen Kingsbury
New York: Howard Books, 2012

The Bridge by New York Times' bestselling author Karen Kingsbury intertwines two stories in a beautiful Christmas tale about second chances. Charlie and Donna Barton are a kind older couple who have run The Bridge, a small-town bookstore, for thirty years, but a flood has done in both the business and their lives. Desperate and broke with no hope of rebuilding the business, they don't know where to turn for help.

Ryan Kelly and Molly Allen were once college students who sought shelter and sanctuary in the familiar confines of The Bridge. They were in love, but due to involvements with other people back home, never admitted it. Now it's seven years later, and they are both filled with regret but feel there is no way to change the way things are.

This is a sweet Christmas story about second chances and miracles that brought me to tears several times. It is a wonderful short book for anyone who loves bookstores or a gentle romance.

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