Category Archives: Mmmm …. books

In the [soccer] fields with God

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My grandmother had this lovely little book when I was a child.  It was one of a few kids’ titles she had in a plastic shopping bag in the spare bedroom closet. When my sister and I came to visit, she’d often take them out for us to read.

I never read this book as often as I did the others.  Perhaps it was because it was a book of poems and prayers, not the stories and narrative-driven books I preferred.

But I found this book again recently, and last night, during a few quiet moments at my prayer desk, I leafed through it.  The gentle, detailed illustrations charmed me.  And as I turned the pages, I felt a nostalgic sense of cozy well-being, the kind I always felt at my grandparents’ house.  Grandma suddenly felt very close; I imagined her seeing the book in a store somewhere (it was long, long before Amazon!), admiring the sweet drawings and poems (Grandma loved all things literary), and buying it to have on hand for her four grandkids.

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One poem in particular caught my eye.  It’s called “Out in the Fields with God,” and the book lists it as being by an unknown poet.  A little online sleuthing, and I found that it’s often attributed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Either way, it’s a gem:

The little cares that fretted me.
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea.
Among the winds at play;
Among the lowing of the herds,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.
The foolish fears of what may happen,
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay;
Among the husking of the corn
Where drowsy poppies nod,
Where ill thoughts die and good are born.
Out in the fields with God.

I’m not often in fields, in my modern suburban life.  The one exception would be soccer fields.  And though soccer fields can often feel more like opportunities for tension and care (I die a thousand deaths during every game, I swear, especially if my son is playing goalie), there is something so beautiful about being outdoors in the fresh fall air on a Saturday.

Two Saturdays ago, it was especially true.  We’d had the first real rain of the season the day  before, and the air was so sweet and fresh and clean, and the colors seemed so much more vivid than they usually do.  The entire experience of being outdoors in the morning just made my soul expand.

And then I saw these beautiful flowers growing by the fields, and they seemed like a little gift on a Saturday morning, a reminder that there is beauty everywhere if I am willing to look for it.

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In the book of poems, I felt closer to my grandma.  In the fields, I felt closer to God.

Every day, there is grace.

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!

 

A rose is a rose is a rose …

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Sometimes I wonder which phrases my kids will associate with me in years to come.  Which sayings do I repeat over and over?  I’d guess “Be careful!” and “Did you remember to flush?” are two of the most common ones.  I hope, though, that “Look at those roses!” is right behind.

I’m a rose junkie.  An entire chapter of Taste and See is devoted to them, not just because they offer such beautiful sensory experiences but because they invite me to think about how humans can co-create beauty with God. (We humans are the ones who have hybridized and come up with all these different marvelously colorful varieties, tapping into the Creator’s artistic genius.) So now that it’s summer and rose season is in full bloom, I thought I’d share a little visual complement to that chapter and share some of the glorious beauties I’ve come across lately.  (No, these aren’t from my yard – though I wish they were!).

Let’s start with red:

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Pink more your speed?  There are no lack of those, either.

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I know the Yellow Rose of Texas has its own song, but the Yellow Roses of California are pretty nice, too:

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Purple isn’t the color I naturally associate with roses, but they are striking as well.

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White has its own purity and grace:

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And I love this one, too — sort of peach, sort of yellow:

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Where are you seeing beauty lately?