Thursday, December 29, 2016

My New Year's Resolution: Indulge my Creativity

I generally don't do well with New Year's Resolutions. Those self-improvement projects tend to fall by the wayside quickly. When I set goals for myself that I don't meet I feel horrible about myself which isn't great for someone who regularly fights depression. I don't need any help feeling horrible about myself.

But, I am a very project-oriented person, reasonably good at time management. I have lots of work projects I'd like to accomplish this year. The reality is that I most likely won't be able to accomplish all of them, which is okay. What I want to do on a personal side is embrace my artistic side a bit more. I love art, so much so that I majored in art in college.

I firmly believe the world needs art and beauty and those who take the time to embrace and appreciate the beauty. But since those college days, my relationship with pure art (like drawing and painting) has been complex at best. I was never able to make it as a fine artist. I've only sold a handful of pieces in my life. What this means is that if I create a piece of art, it then dies a long, lonely death in my closet, taking up space, reminding me that no one wants what I have to offer, adding to my depression and feelings of worthlessness.

So, I channel my creative energy into other projects. Writing is one outlet, one in which I feel I make a contribution to the world. Quilting is another. I enjoy my Saturday night quilting projects. I may only create one quilt a year, but it keeps me busy and when I am done, I have a useful end product that can keep someone warm. But, I still miss the act of drawing.

Which brings me to my project. I've decided to spend 10 minutes a day doing a small sketch. I can squeeze 10 minutes into my day. I picked up a sketchbook at Staples yesterday. I wanted a pretty one, but all they had were black covers, so I decorated it today using magazine pictures and ModPodge to seal it. I like how it came out. That was a creative project in and of itself. And now, my sketchbook is ready for me to begin on Sunday. It gives me something to look forward to in the New Year and that is something to be thankful for.

Book Review: The Best is Yet to Come

Looking to make the most of the new year? Thinking that your life needs an attitude adjustment but aren’t sure where to begin? The Best is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment by Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin (Sorin Books, 2016) offers a wonderful guide to squeezing the maximum amount of joy out of each moment.  

Sr. Patricia A. St. John, C.S.J, who was Sr. Anne’s best friend and a fellow Sister of St. Joseph, shares in the Foreword that Sr. Anne lived by the mantra to  “live well, love much, and laugh often.” She prayed that God would allow her to touch people’s lives. Sr. Patricia emphasizes that Sr. Anne lived the life she preached, “striving to seize each moment and live it fully, to experience the ordinary events of life as sacramental, and to cultivate possibility.” At the time of her sudden death in September of 2014, she left the manuscript of this book nearly completed. Sr. Patricia put the finishing touches on it for her friend, who was always convinced that the best was truly yet to come.

In her introduction, Sr. Anne shares her hope that “as you read through these pages, you will be energized and challenged to make each day count .” As she points out, it is up to each of us “to decide how to live, how to spend those precious 86, 400 seconds” we each are given each day. Sr. Anne was an international lecturer on wellness and spirituality who also served as an educator and therapist. She had a doctorate in counseling psychology. Yet, despite all those qualifications, she retained the humility to laugh at herself. She is willing to share many embarrassing, humorous stories about herself as a means of making a point. She also shares many anecdotes she has heard. Like Jesus who spoke in parables, Sr. Anne knows that a story can preach louder than a treatise.

There is no rocket science in these pages. No doubt, you’ve heard or read similar material at some other point in your life on the value of smiling, dreaming, making personal connections, the gift of proper perspective, a sense of humor, and being open to change. Yet, the message is of infinite value. No matter where we are on our life’s journey, we all can use the reminder and reinforcement because in the muck of everyday life, it is so easy to forget how meaningful and grace-filled it all is. 

In her final book, Sr. Anne has left behind a beautiful gift sure to touch many lives. May we, like her, trust that the best is yet to come as long as we are willing to look for, embrace, and appreciate it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Mistletoe Secret

One of my annual December traditions is to read whatever happens to be the new Richard Paul Evans' Christmas book. Ever since The Christmas Box, I have loved his stories. One thing I appreciate about them is that they are short which means that I can read and enjoy them in one or two days - a perfect indulgence for this crazy, busy time of year.

This year's offering is The Mistletoe Secret. Alex Bartlett is a lonely man. His wife left him last year during the holidays which leaves him dreading this holiday season even more than usual. His two work friends encourage him to try on-line dating. While he is surfing the net, he decides to search for loneliness and discovers a blog in which a young woman writes letters to the universe about the pain of loneliness. She asks the existential question (which as a fellow blogger I can totally appreciate), "If you blog something and nobody reads it, did you make a sound?" Alex soon finds himself falling in love with this unknown woman who signs her posts LBH. From clues in her posts, he discovers that she lives in Midway, Utah and he sets out on a quest to find her.

While there, he meets a young waitress named Aria and soon finds himself falling for her. Yet, he continues his search for the elusive LBH.

This is such an enjoyable book, easy-to-read, charming, and relaxing, a perfect short treat for yourself during the Christmas season. It might even encourage you to reach out to someone who might be lonely and hurting during the holidays or any time of year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New Chime Travelers: The Strangers at the Manger

The Chime Travelers series by Lisa Hendey features fun-filled, time-travel adventures with a Catholic message that takes kids to long-ago times and faraway lands.

Each book features prayers and a short bio to introduce children to a major saint’s life and legend. Discussion questions about saints, sacraments, and Catholic life help children understand what they’ve learned through the stories.

The most recent story is perfect for the Advent/Christmas season.
In The Strangers at the Manger, it's Christmas time at St. Anne parish, and a new family has arrived! The Perez family doesn’t look like the other families in the parish. As five-year-old Mateo stares at Katie and Patrick, clutching his little stuffed burro, they see he's just puzzled about them. But it's Father Miguel's job to take care of them, right? Just then, a bell rings and the twins are swept up in another Chime Travel adventure, this time to find Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.

This fresh yet authentic retelling of the biblical Infancy Narratives sheds new light on the life of the Holy Family. And when at last the Magi arrive, Katie asks Mary, “Are you sure you want all of these strangers around the baby?" Mary smiles. "Strangers are simply new friends, just waiting to be loved.” Katie and Patrick think of the Perez family. Can they still make new friends for Christmas?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Books to Last All Year

Looking for a book for yourself or a loved one to provide daily meditations for the coming year? Here are books that have crossed my desk recently:

A Year of Daily Offerings

by James Kubicki, S.J.

This is a a thoughtful book of morning meditations from Rev. James Kubicki, S.J., national director of the Apostleship of Prayer provides a rich array of reflections based on Ignatian spirituality that invite you to begin each day with a sincere offering of your life to God. He provides a fresh perspective on the promise of connecting with God through the practice of morning prayer by using monthly themes, prayers of the saints, a word to carry throughout the day, and an evening reflection to reflect on the day you offered to God.

The Cross, Our Only Hope: Daily Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition
Edited by Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C. and Kevin Grove, C.S.C.

Priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross offer an introduction to the rich, vibrant spirituality of the Congregation through a series of daily reflections on the themes of Holy Cross spirituality: trust in God, zeal, compassion, hope in the Cross, discipleship, and education in the faith. You can find out more about the contributors at

Saint of the Day

Edited by Leonard Foley, OFM

This is the 40th anniversary edition of Saint of the Day, first compiled by Leonard Foley, O.F.M., and published in two volumes. Through the years, this popular book has been a go-to source for information on key saints. This seventh revised edition contains the following additions:
  • New saints and blesseds such as John of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, John Henry Newman, and John Paul II.
  • An expanded Introduction, with more detail about the current process of canonization.
  • Also, background on the evolution of Saint of the Day since the first two volumes, including its recent formats as a daily online resource and as an app.
  • A suggested resources section of additional Franciscan Media products with information about saints and blesseds
Saint of the Day has been a trusted guide for forty years, and this latest edition continues the tradition.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the Catholic Mom offering which I contributed three reflections to:

 The Catholic Mom Daily Prayer Companion
Edited by Sarah Reinhard and Lisa Hendey

Created by moms for moms, these hope-filled meditations touch on the issues and concerns you face as you try to get through the day with a sense of God's presence in your life. Whether you are a new or seasoned mom working in or outside of your home, this inspiring collection of reflections for every day of the year will help you
  • stay in touch with the seasons of the Church year:
  • remember Mary's loving presence on her feast days:
  • keep company with both new and familiar saints:
  • see the spiritual meaning of secular holidays: and
  • make you smile with occasions such as Houseplant Appreciation
    Day and National Popcorn Day.
Each day begins with a brief quotation from scripture, saints, recent popes, or important spiritual writers. A personal reflection--written by contributors including Danielle Bean, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, Lisa Mladinich, Elizabeth Scalia, Carolyn Woo, Mark Hart, and Jeff Young--focuses on some dimension of your spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or physical life. Each day also includes a brief prayer and a question or thought to ponder throughout the day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Book Review: The Loving Push

If you have a child on the higher end of the autism spectrum (or if you are without an official diagnosis but suspect that your child fits the criteria) you will definitely want to read The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help spectrum kids become successful adults. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., who has autism and is a popular lecturer on autism, teams up with psychologist Debra Moore, Ph.D. to offer a how-to guide to helping your child learn how to be an adult. 

The authors acknowledge that the definition of a successful adulthood will vary from person to person given the child’s natural abilities and the severity of the autism, however “the common denominator is a life lived to one’s own unique, full capacity.” Parents need to help their children overcome their fear and be aware of their choices. Unlike neurotypical children who are usually chomping at the bit for independence, those with autism “are going to move forward only when you are behind them pushing! And they probably won’t go willingly.”

Grandin and Moore tackle many practical topics such as dealing with obsessive gaming, training children to do household chores, resisting habitual negative thinking, dealing with anxiety, finding mentors, the value of volunteering or paid work, helping your child stretch beyond their comfort zone, and how to teach driving. That last one is particularly relevant in my life as teaching my Aspie to drive is on my to-do list for this coming year. (Prayers are definitely welcome for the success and safety of that task!)

The Loving Push is essential reading for parents or educators of teenagers or young adults on the spectrum. It will help you help your child make the most of their life as an adult.  

Monday, December 05, 2016

Pray the Angelus for Advent

The Angelus is a centuries-old Catholic devotion that recalls the annunciation of Christ’s birth by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.

Named for the opening words of the devotion's first prayer in Latin, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,” the Angelus is typically prayed at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each day. It takes about two minutes. What better way to prepare for the coming of Christ Incarnate than to pray this beautiful devotion with thousands of others each day?

Jared Dees, Catholic author and creator of the popular The Religion Teacher website, wants Catholics to incorporate the Angelus in to their prayer lives during Advent. Already almost 500 people have committed to opening themselves up to “let it be done” according to God’s Word.

The goal is to help others experience a deep conversion as they prepare for Christ’s birth. “The mystery of this prayer is that God works through the words that you say even when you do not realize it,” Dees said. “That openness leads to things you may least expect.”

Anyone who joins the Advent Angelus movement will have access to resources and periodic mediations on the devotion throughout the season. Many of the reflections are included in Dees’ forthcoming book from Ave Maria Press, Praying the Angelus (March 2017), but others are unique for Advent.

You can connect with The Advent Angelus community on the website or on The Angelus Prayer Facebook page, where Dees will lead the prayer on Facebook Live throughout Advent.

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