Let there be peace on earth

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…and let it begin with me.

That time I didn’t take my phone to the park

Smartphones are sort of like a bad relationship.  You are convinced you need them and that you can’t do without them, and all the while they are leaching the life out of you in ways you can’t really see until you are finally apart.

I’m being a little overdramatic, sure, and let me say up-front that I am not about to jettison my phone.  But I have started to be more clear-eyed lately about its role in my life, for good and for ill.  And I’ve realized that I’ve been giving it a little more attention than it deserves.

So a few weeks back, when we were riding bikes to the park with the boys, I decided to leave my phone at home.

I actually had to wrestle with myself a little before doing that.  “Whatifs” kept popping up in my mind like a game of Whack-a-mole, and I kept having to use logic to club them down.

What if there is an emergency?
Scott has his phone. You can use that.

What if I want to take a picture of something?
Short of a UFO landing on the playground, you’re not likely to see anything you will die without documenting.

What if I get bored and want to go online?
You are a mom; watch your kids.  You are a writer; look at the world around you.

And it was that logic that worked.  Because I realized that nothing on my phone could or should be as compelling as these precious moments of life, with these two precious boys who are growing up so fast that it scares me when I really stop to think about it.

So I left the phone at home, and I didn’t miss it.  I watched my kids and gazed at the trees and the sky and the flowers.  And what is arguably just as important, my kids saw me watching them and gazing at the world, not being distracted every few minutes but an update on a screen.   They saw a mom who enjoyed their antics, who basked in the sunshine.  They saw a mom who chose to be fully present in the moment, in the way that I hope they will be, too.

Totally worth it.

Announcing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion

 

Bobblehead Pope Francis is as excited as I am.

Bobblehead Pope Francis is as excited as I am.

Life has been so busy this year  with Taste and See getting out there in the world that I haven’t mentioned anything about another, very exciting book project: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion.  This fat little book with a gorgeous cover is the brainchild of editors Lisa Hendey and Sarah Reinhard, and I am honored to have been one of many women (and even a few men) who helped write it.

This is a daily devotions book that you can pick up and start anytime.   Each day has a short reflection (sometimes inspired by Scripture, sometimes by the life of a saint, sometimes by a holiday or a meaningful quotation), a prayer, and a way to integrate the ideas of the devotion into your own life.  Short and sweet!

When I got my copies last night, I tried to keep myself from reading days’ worth of devotions at once, and I failed miserably.  It’s just so fun to read the collective wisdom of so many wonderful writers, each with a unique voice but all united around the shared goal of helping moms feed their souls and nourish their faith.

So if you’re looking to establish that new routine now that the kiddos are back in school (or almost!), check out this book.  It’s a great one to read in those few minutes while you sip your morning coffee, or to have in your bag as you wait in the carpool line.

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Why you should never, ever throw anything away

Downsizing is hot these days.  Just ask Marie Kondo, who is surely a millionaire a few times over.  And I like sorting through the things I don’t need and creating more space in my closets, drawers, and just generally in my life.  I’ve tried to do that over the past nine months, with some success.

But tidying up has its limitations.    If I had downsized too aggressively at any point in the past thirty years, I would not still have the utterly awesome Mickey Mouse Cookbook I had as a child.

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I loved it when I was young and I kept it for sentimental reasons lo these many decades.  You know what?  I’m darn glad I did, because this summer, my own children rediscovered it and were utterly fascinated.

And so we embarked on a summertime project.  I decided to teach my boys a little bit more about how to cook, with the help of Mickey and the gang.

Over the summer, I’ve let the boys take turns picking recipes from the cookbook, and we’ve worked on making them together.  I should add that we’re not exactly talking about Julia Child here; the recipes are remarkably easy, some of them more about dumping in a pan than actually cooking, but it doesn’t matter.  The boys have loved the challenge, and whether it’s Big Bad Wolf’s Brownies or Cinderella’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, I’ve loved tasting their creations.

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There was even one evening where I actually found myself sitting on the couch with a glass of Cabernet while someone else made dinner.  That someone else was my nine-year-old, who was making Chip n’ Dale’s Triple Decker Sandwiches with great concentration and skill.  I enjoyed the rare sensation of not being in the kitchen at 6 pm and  thought: Wow, I sure am glad I kept that cookbook.

So the moral of the story is to never ever throw anything away because you never know when it might be useful.  Just kidding, of course; I think the moral is to carefully weigh what you keep and what you give away.  Just because you have had something for over thirty years doesn’t mean you need to keep it forever, but it also doesn’t mean you need to get rid of it, either.

Listen to your gut, and if the book makes you smile after all these years, consider that it might make your own kids smile, too.

The Book Pile: Summer Vacation edition

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Well, Mr. Darcy, I’ve been doing a lot of extensive reading these days.  Summer vacation means that the time usually earmarked for grading gets repurposed for other, more enjoyable pursuits, such as cracking open a good book.  Here are a few of the ones I’ve enjoyed lately.

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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

This one started off at a very leisurely pace, sort of like a summer afternoon …. so leisurely that at first, I wondered where the book’s sense of urgency was. But I kept going, and before long, the story and characters had me hooked.  Read this to immerse yourself into life in a small  English town at the time of WWI.

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East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood

Sometimes you just want to dive into a thick Victorian saga.  When I’m in that sort of mood, I usually go for something by Wilkie Collins (try The Woman in White if you’ve never read him before).  This time I tried East Lynne, which has all the expected components: English country houses, unsolved crimes, hidden identities, unprincipled rakes, women in a swoon.  Great fun.

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The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West

What makes a saint?  What is the definition of “holy”?  This was a very different sort of novel, about a dying priest who is sent to a small remote Italian village to investigate the life of a dead man who is being called a saint by many.  Each of the people in the village has his/her own memories of the deceased, as well as his/her own motivation for wanting the investigation to proceed in a certain way.  It raised good ethical questions, and provided a lot of food for thought.  If you liked Graham Greene, you  might enjoy this one.

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Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden was an Englishwoman who spent a lot of her early life in India, and this novel is apparently heavily drawn from her own experiences.  It’s the story of a well-meaning English widow with two children who decides to go live in a remote village in Kashmir, seeing it as a sort of Eden in the mountains.  Her optimistic naivete and her inability to honor (or even to perceive) the cultural differences between her family and the villagers leads to conflict and, ultimately, a near-tragedy.  I’d call it required reading for anyone going to live in a different culture, whichever culture it is, because it’s a case study of how even a well-meaning person can really mess it up.  And Godden’s prose is, as always, breathtaking.  This was my favorite of the summer so far.

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Why Bother Praying? by Richard Leonard, S.J.

I heard Fr. Leonard speak at LA Congress last year, and he was wonderful.  I happened to pick this up at a retreat center a while back, and it’s a very engaging book about the many effects of prayer.  There’s wonderful wisdom in here, along with a bunch of memorable personal anecdotes (some of them hilarious) that really ground the book and make it speak not just to the head, but to the heart.

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Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

This was the perfect book to take a long cross-country flight.  The effortless narrative voice and the engaging plot (it’s about a young woman at a professional dead-end who takes a job as a companion to a quadriplegic) all made for a very fast six hours.  That said, I’d have given the book a different ending — if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean — but still, it was an excellent summer read and I can safely say that Moyes has a new fan (and, as my younger son pointed out, only one letter separates her last name from mine.  I love how kids notice these things.)

What are you reading now?  Do tell!