Saturday, December 9, 2023

Gather 'round the manger

The other day, our family attended an annual Advent Lessons & Carols; an event which intersperses Bible readings and hymns that prepare us for the coming of Christ. During the “Third Lesson,” from the Book of Isaiah, the following happened in our pew:

Reader: “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

My preschooler, an incredulous look flooding her face, leans over and whispers: “She said Princess Peach!”

Me: “Shhhh…no.”

My preschooler stands up on her seat, indignant as she loudly whispers: “SHE DID! SHE SAID PRINCESS PEACH!”

And thus begins Advent.

We've been gently easing into this new liturgical year, and only just pulled out our nativity sets and Advent materials a couple days ago. My young children excitedly opened boxes, handing plush nativity pieces to the toddler and "fluffing" our small tree. My five-year-old took it upon himself to set up the breakable nativity set on our counter. I walked over to see his work, and I noticed that he had arranged the pieces in the same way that he did last year.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

An Open Book: November 2023 Reads

With the arrival of December, it's time to join An Open Book to look back on the books that brought me through November! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

An Open Book: October 2023 Reads

Happy All Saints Day! On this beautiful solemnity, I'm linking up with An Open Book to discuss the books that accompanied me in October. I read a lot of fiction with a little bit of nonfiction sprinkled in the mix. Let's dive in! 

Arabella and the Battle of Venus, by David D. Levine

Arabella discovers that her beloved fiancĂ© is a prisoner on Venus, so she concocts a plan to go rescue him. She winds up becoming embroiled in the ongoing war between Britain and France, and also is torn between her loyalty and love for her fiancĂ© as well as a rather roguish captain. I didn't like this book quite as well as Arabella of Mars, and honestly didn't care for the romantic tension plotline, but this was still a very enjoyable story, and the ending was satisfying!  

More All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor

(I thought I had already reviewed this one, but if not-here we go!) Ella, her younger sisters and baby brother return in this second book that follows a Jewish family in early 20th century New York City. The girls experience the ups and downs of life, from dealing with moral struggles and growing up to celebrating holidays like Yom Kippur and watching Uncle Hyman fall in love. This is a fun, beautiful book, and my seven-year-old and I enjoyed racing to see who could finish it first :) 

Smoke and Shadow, by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru 

In this continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender saga, Zuko and his family return to the Fire National Capitol, to discover that a group of people want to overthrow him and place Ozai back on the throne. In the midst of this tension, small children begin disappearing in the night as they are seized by mysterious figures that look like spirits. Together, Aang and Zuko work to uncover this mystery and bring peace to the city. I really enjoyed this book. It was a bit darker than the others that came before it, and the story was fantastic. 

Suki Alone, by Faith Erin Hicks, Peter Wartman, and Adele Matera

This small graphic novel takes place during the Avatar: The Last Airbender show, and it follows Suki during her time alone at the Boiling Rock. This short story mostly follows Suki's struggle against loneliness as she experiences a loss of community in prison, and how she pushes through her circumstances. The story was interesting, but a lesbian couple enters the story (which I hadn't been expecting, since the Avatar show doesn't include that type of content), and it was pretty unnecessary to the plotline. This was a fun quick read, but it's not one I feel like picking up again (the graphic novels are way better!)

Passprt to Heaven, by Micah Wilder

Micah Wilder was the perfect image of being a zealous LDS teenager. He was passionate about his spiritual journey and yearned to convert others to what he believed was the true church. However, when he was on his two-year LDS mission after high school, Wilder encountered Jesus Christ in a whole new way...and wound up becoming a Protestant. In this memoir, Wilder shares his intense spiritual journey. Although I don't share all of his conclusions, I greatly admire his courage and his witness, and he has a lot of beautiful reflections in here! 

Arabella the Traitor of Mars, by David Levine

Just when Arabella and her husband slow down and celebrate England's victory over Napoleon, a new problem arises: the Crown asks Captain Singh to lead the charge in conquering Mars and bringing it fully into England's empire. Angry that her beloved Mars is being targeted by England, Arabella takes matters into her own hands to fight for her people. This conclusion of the Arabella trilogy was fascinating and fun to read, and most of the threads were tied up in a pretty satisfactory manner. I was annoyed at Arabella's brief infidelity to her husband; things never got physical and weren't dwelled upon too much, but it bugs me when stories always seem to revert to that conflict when there's a married couple involved. Overall though, this was a pretty fun installment, and I really enjoyed reading this trilogy! 


North and South, by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Not to be confused with Gaskell's novel, this North and South is a continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels. This volume follows Sokka and Katara as they return to their beloved South Pole--only to discover that it looks completely different than before they left. There are strong tensions between those who want things in the south to be how they were "in the good old days" and those who desire expansion and industry. Caught up in the discord, Sokka and Katara try to focus on their love for their dad and finding peace in uncertain times. 

All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, by Sydney Taylor

Although this is the fourth book in the series, it actually takes place shortly after the first one. The girls enjoy spending time with each other and caring for their baby brother (and coming up with money-making schemes) and celebrating their Jewish faith. A big plot point in this book surrounds Guido, an Italian boy who lives in poverty with his very ill mother. The girls are exposed to the harsher side of life as their family finds ways to help Guido and his mother. Even with the hard moments, though, the girls are full of a zest for life and gracious generosity, making this another delightful book to read. 

The Desert a City: An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestian Monasticism Under the Christian Empire, by Derwas Chitty

This introduction to Christian monasticism by an Anglican priest took me a long time to get through, but I'm so glad I read it! I've read that it is basically a classic and authority on the topic, and I can see why. It covers the development of Christian monasticism from its earliest days until around the sixth century. This book is an academic survey, so it is not a devotional work and it has a lot of names and places, so I definitely got a little bit lost at times. But, it really opened my eyes to just how diverse and varied the growth of monasticism was, and it provides a great historical context to another book I've started about the desert fathers. 

REREAD: Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle

Each time I picked up this book, I came away edified and inspired as I read L'Engle's thoughts on being a Christian artist. I definitely do not share all of her religious beliefs (her glowing comments about a priest who changed the baptismal formula make me cringe), but there were a lot of good, beautiful, and wise things she says in here. 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!

Friday, October 27, 2023

On Reading Cookbooks

As a young child, I'd page through the Philadelphia Cream Cheese cookbook, gazing at the photographs of creamy cheesecakes with longing. I'd happily pore over the themed crafts and recipes of the American Girl party book. Sometimes, I would even peek at the diagrams and detailed instructions of The Joy of Cooking with amazement. 

I loved reading cookbooks as a kid. 

Years later, when I got married and began setting up a home with my husband, I found myself scrolling through recipe websites as I planned our meals. As convenient as this was, however, it was not the same experience as my cookbook-filled childhood. So, I began to drift to the cookbook section of the library.  Eventually, one of my children even went through a phase as a toddler of always selecting a cookbook at the library each week. We'd spend great lengths of time on the couch oohing and aahing over photographs of food. 

There's something special about rifling through cookbooks; of looking at the glossy photographs and imagining that very dish sitting on my table. Of calling my children near to look at this! Of walking into the room and seeing my children curled up on the couch with a cookbook spread across their small laps. 

I really love food, so I think it's fitting that I enjoy reading through cookbooks. However, I've begun to wonder if my appreciation for these books goes even deeper than this.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

An Open Book: September 2023

Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi! Not only is today one of the greatest feast days around, but it's also the first Wednesday of the month-so I'm linking up with An Open Book to discuss the books that took me through the past month. Shockingly, I did not finish any nonfiction books in September! (I slowly started working through one that I will hopefully finish this month) I read a lot of fun books (mostly children's books), so let's dive in!

Friday, September 29, 2023

Musings on a broken butter dish

The glass jar was sitting too close to the edge of the counter. 

When I noticed that empty yeast jar, my mind immediately flashed to one of my young children accidentally knocking it onto the hard tile: a beautiful floor that brutally shatters everything that falls upon it.

I tucked my laptop under one arm and my opposite hand reached over to move the jar out of harm’s way until I could put it in the recycling bin. Flick. I accidentally bumped it into the butter dish. The handle of the butter dish—a little ceramic bird—flew to the counter, then slipped to the floor.

I slowly picked the shards up from the floor, shaking my head at the irony. 

All I was trying to do was move a now-useless yeast jar so that it wouldn’t smash in the floor; but I had to clean up shards anyway—and now my butter dish has rough, sharp edges. Really?

Friday, September 15, 2023

What "traditional" education is not

Like clockwork, when September rolls around, memes begin flooding social media with a consistent message for homeschoolers: Dear homeschooling families, please stop trying to do "school at home" and just enjoy learning. 

I see these message and think of all the people who, after brick-and-mortar schools went to the virtual model during Covid shutdowns, were frustrated as they tried to understand lesson plans and help their children complete schoolwork...and decided that homeschooling was not a good fit for them. 

I think of the new homeschooling parents who feel exasperated as they try to force their young children into a rigid schedule and curriculum to fill several hours a day because "that's what school is." 

This is a problem. 

Homeschooling isn't always a good fit for every child at every stage, and I'm grateful that there are some good schools in this country. I'm also grateful for the amazing teachers who work selflessly to help their students; they do tremendous work. However, we can't make our educational decisions based off of dramatic assumptions about what education necessarily looks like. A variety of factors contribute to our conclusions, including the terms that we use. 

Specifically, I'm thinking of how we pair the word "traditional" with education. 

For the past several years in America, we've acted like a specific model of schooling is "traditional education": a model that involves students from around the age of six to eighteen years old, segregated by age, staying in buildings from around nine a.m. to three p.m., five days a week, nine months a year, to learn a variety of preselected subjects. This is "traditional education." This is normal. This is necessary for the proper education and development of children. 

When we embrace this model as "traditional education," we then assume that any method of schooling which deviates from this schema is "nontraditional."  These other methods may be good for some kids, but they are abnormal--and treated as such. 

However, what we think of as "traditional education" is not exactly traditional. In fact, this whole business of segregating students by grade, for thirty-ish-hours each week in a building, is a relatively new innovation in America.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

An Open Book: August 2023 Reads

 It's time to chat about literature! I started off August with some really deep books and then hit a complete slump where I was struggling to get into anything-I kept trying books from the library and returning them unread (even books that had been recommended!). So, I finished off a children's book series that I started last summer, and finished up a couple more books that I had been slowly working on. I'm linking up with An Open Book; let's dive in! 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

A cozy cup of tea (Or coffee. Or cocoa. Or chicken broth)

Last night, the kids went off to bed and I made myself a cup of hot chocolate. I heated milk in the pan and mixed in some cocoa powder. I sprinkled in some chocolate chips. I splashed some vanilla extract into the pot. I gently whisked the milky mixture as the house filled with the savory smell of the za’atar manaqish that I was preparing for an event at church.  Soon, I sat with my husband as we talked through our schedule, full cup of hot chocolate in hand. The world slowed down as I sipped.

There’s just something special about curling up with a warm drink.

Books, movies, and television shows covering different historical periods and cultures embrace the goodness of a warm drink. At the end of a long day solving mysteries or dealing with heartbreak, characters gather in the kitchen for a cup of cocoa. They begin the day with strong cups of tea to weather them against any storms and turmoil. Or, like the Ray family in the classic Betsy-Tacy novels, they greet moments of stress or crisis with a fresh pot of coffee.

While we still gather with friends and family for mugs of hot coffee or dainty cups of tea, in modern America, we’ve shifted things.

Tea and coffee have ceased to be gentle embraces of warmth and relaxation with friends, and they have instead found their place next to the computer or in the car. We now see them as ways to fuel ourselves with caffeine and push through the day (and yes, as I write this, I’m sipping a hot mug of coffee). I’m not planning to ditch caffeinated beverages anytime soon as I try to keep up with my several young children, but it’s important to remember that we need to slow down. We need to stop, sit with friends or by ourselves, and savor the warmth of that coffee, tea, or cup of cocoa.

Saturday, August 5, 2023


I bounced out of the bedroom, exuberant. A pad of paper was covered in scrawls, noting wisdom that I had gleaned in the past hour and a half. I had just participated in a free online webinar with an editor at a renowned Catholic publishing house.

Information and advice had piled into my lap, and I was encouraged by all the other people I saw participating in the webinar—some of whom I already knew of through various online Catholic publications. I was also excited about this opportunity: to receive wisdom from a woman who was freely offering her thoughts and expertise to us.

In a culture where countless offerings from creatives are monetized, this shocked me.

It’s important to compensate people for their work. Resources require time and money, and someone, somewhere, has to pay for them. Paying for books, art, classes, and conferences helps to offset the cost of producing these things. It also creates a general recognition that these resources are valuable—they are so worthwhile that we pay money for them. 

However, we’ve reached a point where we stick price tags on everything. Articles, talks, newsletters, courses, conferences, meetups—just to name a few—often have some kind of fee attached. Everything has a price, and if you don’t have the money to pay up, then you don’t receive the mentorship, training, or advice that is touted as “indispensable.”

“My time is valuable” is a refrain that I’ve seen bounce around frequently. People who create courses and other online content spend a lot of time doing this work, and it’s important that they are compensated in some way. However, our attempts to stick price tags on our time can get obsessive.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

An Open Book: July 2023

Summer is flying by, so I'm grateful for the chance to pause and look back on the books that accompanied me through some hot summer days. I mostly dove into fiction, but I did have a couple of fascinating nonfiction books that I began reading (and will hopefully finish in time for next month's linkup!). I'm joining An Open Book, so make sure to check over there for other literary discussions :) Let's dive in!