Stressed or not, a mom’s just gotta read

Busy as I am, I always find time for books.  Here are some of the highlights of the last two months (or however long it’s been since I did my last book pile post?).


The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book.  First of all, how gorgeous is this cover?   I just want to eat it up. If the cover hadn’t hooked me, the author sure would; this book is by Vinita Hampton Wright, my editor and friend, whose books on spirituality are always edifying.  And the subject is the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, the fascinating Spanish saint who was a steely reformer with a mystic side.  This wonderful little book offers a biography of the saint, as well as information about her spiritual influences, but the core of the book is a week of morning and evening prayers centered around topics close to St. Teresa’s heart (“God With Us,” “Always Humility,” “Patience in Our Prayer.”)  Each day offers “prayer liturgies” made up of St. Teresa’s own writings, as well as Gospel readings, psalms, a prayer by a saint whom Teresa herself would likely have known, all arranged around the topic for the day.  It’s a wonderful approach that highlights the saint’s unique spirituality while still showing how her prayers centered on universal Christian themes.  (Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.)


There are not a lot of authors whose books I’ll buy in hardcover, but Kate Morton happens to be one of them.  The Lake House has many of the same delicious ingredients as her other novels: an evocative English setting, a fluid movement between past and present, a mystery that unfolds gradually, a wonderful sense of atmosphere.  This one, interestingly, took me a little longer to get into than her others — why, I’m not sure — but once it got spinning I was hooked, and it reached a most satisfying conclusion.   It’s a great book for that rainy or snowy weekend where you just want to block out the world and read.


Heather King is a terrific writer, and her new book — Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture, and Christ – is a darn good read.  She writes about her experience navigating the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer (as well as how it fits with her Catholic spirituality) with laser-like insight and humor.  This is a book that raises so many big questions about suffering and healing and hope, and as someone who (like many of us) has seen friends and family members dealing with cancer, I appreciated King’s frankness and vulnerability.   Whether or not cancer is currently a part of your life or the life of someone you love, this book is worth reading for the way that King wrestles with the most essential questions about our bodies and our souls.


The decorative endpapers for Vain Shadow (all Persephone books have a plain gray cover and unique endpapers … just one of the things that makes this publisher so special.)

Persephone Books, the marvelous British publishing house that revives “forgotten classics,” has another winner with the book Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey.  First published in  1963, it tells the story of a family gathered at an English country home for the death of the patriarch.  Following the old man’s demise, the family dynamics begin to reveal themselves, and the various layers of conflict in the family make for engrossing reading.  It’s not a book with a lot of action, but it is a book with well-drawn characters, flashes of dark humor, and utterly realistic human drama, if you like that sort of thing (and I sure do).


Did you know that Christopher Plummer loathed the part of Captain von Trapp?  Were you aware that a massive part of the movie’s success belongs to the  screenwriter, Ernest Lehman?  Did you know that the reason the Mother Abbess has her back to Maria when she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is because the director felt it would be too corny for her to be singing it right in Maria’s face?  (good call).  All this and more is revealed in the book   The Sound of Music Story, which is extraordinarily detailed and recommended for the movie’s diehard fans.  I guess I can come clean here and admit that I’m one of them.

What are you reading?  Do tell!



Man, sometimes life seems so complicated and stressful and dark.  I’m all for modern technology that enables us to communicate quickly and effectively, but it means we have more information coming at us than ever before, and a lot of the time that information is just too much.

I listen to the news far less than I used to, not because I’m an ostrich with her head in the sand, but because as I get older I find I’m more sensitive to the harsh stuff.  Even a few minutes on Facebook can inject all kinds of conflict into my day; people argue about politics and religion and red cups at Starbucks, and while I believe in healthy discourse and disagreement, a lot of the information streaming at me these days doesn’t feel healthy.  It just sort of wears me down.

You too?

So I thought I’d compile a list of moodchangers. These are things that can help me push the mental “reset” button on those days when there’s just too much conflict or stressful stuff coming at me.  They work for me; they just might work for you, too.  (And please share your favorite moodchangers below.)

*A brief walk, especially morning or evening when the pace of life seems a little different (slower).  It is meditative and renewing, even if it’s just around the neighborhood.

*A baby to hold or admire or smile at.  (And if the baby smiles back, well, that’s just the best.)

*Sitting at my prayer desk with a scented candle burning and a rosary in my hand. I  don’t even have to be praying the rosary; in fact, I usually don’t pray it the conventional way.  Just holding onto it grounds me.

*The ocean.  I don’t get there nearly often enough, but when I do, it puts a new spin on everything.


*A cup of tea.

*Flowers, in a vase on my table or in a garden outside.  Even a photo of pretty flowers can make me feel better.



*A song like this one, by John Goodall (it happens to be the theme song from the British series “The Vicar of Dibley” — another thing that can instantly lift my spirits).  This melody has soothed me and calmed me I do not know how many times.

*A butterfly, or a hummingbird.  Catching a glimpse of these little winged creatures make me stop whatever I’m doing to watch, and makes me instantly happy.

*Hugs from my boys.  I love it, the feel of their skinny arms and little bodies.  I think it’s the best moodchanger of all.


November is …


November is …

…leaves turning orange and red.

….needing a comforter on the bed.

…darker evenings, more indoor time, more indoor play — a time of year when there are even more toys all over the floor than usual, but somehow, it’s cozy.

…planting bulbs in hopes of a colorful spring.  (There’s always such suspense around bulbs, isn’t there?  Will they bloom, or won’t they?)


…praying for and remembering the dead, in keeping with Catholic tradition.  I like listening to this setting of the Litany of the Saints all year, but especially this month:

…finally having a fire in the fireplace.

…pulling out some of our favorite Thanksgiving books and reading them with the kids.  Something about Cranberry Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Is Here!  always makes me feel happy.




…Pumpkin everything.  Somehow, it seems premature to eat it until November.

…Warm, comforting drinks, like this chai I made the other day.  My friend Hemali gave me a jar of mixed chai spices to use – peppery, sweet,  and wonderful.


What does November mean to you?

Tuesday talk: Tune in to hear an interview with yours truly!


Hi everyone!

This Tuesday the 27th, I’m delighted to be a guest on the radio show An Engaging Faith with host Elizabeth Reardon. Tune in here at 1 pm Pacific Time/4 pm Eastern Standard.

Happy week to all!

Tea and spirituality



“Do you take coffee or tea?”  Some people are firmly in one camp or the other, but I believe in the power of both.   If I want to get out the door in the morning, I rely on a commuter mug of joe,  but if I want to take a quiet reflective pause in the evening, I put on the teakettle.

I guess it’s fair to say that coffee fuels my body, but tea fuels my soul.

Tea and prayer really are a perfect pairing.   Something about this drink seems to invite and create a powerful, contemplative frame of mind.  I think there are a few reasons for this.

1) Brewing tea is a ritual, and I’m big on those when it comes to prayer.  Filling the kettle, plunking it on the burner, hearing the catch of the gas as it lights, picking a teabag from my extensive collection (my husband wonders how I can possibly have a whole shelf devoted to tea), waiting for the whistle, pouring the hot water and watching the water turn to amber … it’s something I know by heart.  In all the things life throws at me (Sick kid! Big change at work!  Car trouble!), it is lovely to have a constant.

It’s one of the reasons I love the Mass, in fact.  We need some things to be as familiar as breathing.

2) Tea makes you slow down.  You can’t gulp it; it’s not Gatorade or beer.  You have to sip it at a leisurely pace, especially if you take it black as I do, without the cooling properties of milk.  You can’t rush a cup of tea, and since life makes me rush almost everything else, I love this forced pause.

Pret-tea tin, isn't it?  (the taste is amazing, too)

Pret-tea tin, isn’t it? (the taste is amazing, too)

3) Tea involves the meeting of multiple senses.  There’s the sound of the boiling teakettle.  There’s the heat of the cup in my hands.  There is the fragrance curling up to my nose.  There is the taste of the tea on my tongue.  There’s the gradual darkening of the tea as I steep it.  Sometimes there is even the visual feast of a floral teacup or a particularly pretty kind of tea packaging.  And savoring  these senses is a potent prayer to the One who gave them to us in the first place.

But enough writing;   I’m going to put the kettle on.  Care to join me?