Tuesday, February 20, 2024

How Catholic parishes can support homeschooling families

My family and I are moving to the area soon, and we're homeschoolers. What is a good church that offers opportunities for homeschooling families?

A variation of this question regularly pops up within social media groups, especially as people look ahead to the coming school year. Over time, I've noticed that in the Catholic community, the same handful of parishes tend to be recommended over and over. Homeschooling families flock to these parish communities. They know they will be supported in their educational journey, and they are excited about the existing opportunities they can enjoy. 

It's wonderful when parishes encourage homeschooling families, and I'm grateful for the encouragement that homeschoolers receive from the diocese as well. However, I wonder if more parishes could join in this support and outreach. Catholic parishes do a fantastic job supporting and celebrating Catholic education when it comes to the school system. Yet, there are families in the pews who seek a Catholic education through homeschooling. 

Homeschooling families are part of the parish community, even if we don't utilize the Catholic school system. We don't need a homeschooling equivalent of Catholic Schools Week, but we would love encouragement and support, too. I've encountered Catholic homeschooling communities across America, and between my experiences and those of my friends and acquaintances, I've observed different ways that Catholic parishes can reach out to homeschooling families. Here are a few ideas to get us started as we support these families in their mission and work: 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Journey into Lent with Barbie (and Ken)

In the aftermath of a glorious battle that began with hobby horses and tennis rackets and ended in a fabulous dance sequence, an assortment of Barbies, Kens, and Mattel employees ponder the events of Greta Gerwig’s delightful film, Barbie. One of the Kens speaks to the group, his voice deep and resolute:

"We were only fighting because we didn't know who we were."

Throughout a series of wild adventures, the film probes the topic of identity. We follow Stereotypical Barbie on an ordinary day as she soars through her predictable, perfect life. She has always seen her core identity in being the perfect Barbie: arched feet, flawless skin, and a fun "girls' night" every night. However, when she discovers cellulite, experiences mishaps in her Dream House, and her heels touch the ground, everything falls apart. Who is she? And who is Ken, the blond guy whose job is “beach” and whose core identity relies on being Barbie’s boyfriend-but she's not that interested in him? 

Are the Kens supposed to find their identity and purpose in being subordinate accessories to the Barbies? Are the Barbies supposed to find their identity and purpose in being “long term, low commitment casual girlfriends” to the Kens?
Their confusion bursts into conflict: the Barbies against the Kens, the Kens against the Barbies, and the Kens against each other. There is no true peace. 

In order for harmony to exist, in order for them to experience fulfillment, in order for them to truly be able to love themselves and each other, the Barbies and Kens need to discover who they really are. Who they were made to be. 

We each need to do this too, don’t we? We need to learn who we are. Otherwise, our relationships--and our own lives--will suffer. 

The season of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to do this. 


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

An Open Book: January 2024 Reads

Another month has arrived, so it's time to link up with An Open Book! I'm very excited to share the books that took me through the first month of 2024. Fiction and nonfiction titles hit my shelf, and courtesy of a teething toddler, I even managed to get through a 700+ page biography! Let's dive in. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

"Unanswered" prayers

It was October, and I wanted to watch Overthe Garden Wall. There was just a problem: every single library copy was checked out or reserved for other people.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Over the Garden Wall is a miniseries that follows a set of brothers who are lost in a dark wood. This animated show originally aired on Cartoon Network and may not seem too profound at first glance. It's dark and very, very weird. However, the story, characters, and themes are incredibly deep and ripe for discussion and reflection. The show is also perfect for fall time and Halloween, which is why I wanted to watch it—and why every copy was unavailable. (I know online renting is an option, but I didn’t want to pay money just to watch a two-hour show)

Then, at the very end of October, on the cusp of our departure for a road trip, I received word from the library: my copy had arrived. So, for the final two evenings of October, my husband and I tucked our sugared-up kids in bed and I introduced him to this weird, delightful, profound show. As we discussed the different episodes and characters, I was filled with gratitude. God cares about my desire to watch Over the Garden Wall, I thought. Furthermore, because this DVD came in just before a huge road trip, we took it with us and introduced relatives to the beauty of Over the Garden Wall. My husband and I got to watch this show twice in a week, and another time over Christmas (since it's a "Halloween show," I could keep renewing the DVD as long as I wanted...no one else wanted it anymore haha!). It was amazing. 

Soon after this, the temperatures began to dip—and I thought about cardigans. As much as I love cozying up in a hooded sweatshirt on chilly days, there’s something particularly awesome about wrapping myself in an oversized cardigan while I read, write, or take my kids to the park. All of the cardigans I had owned in the past had worn out or gotten donated in a move. The thought briefly slipped through my mind one day: It would be nice to have a cozy knitted cardigan again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

An Open Book: December 2023 Reads

Happy New Year! It is so fun to think about the year ahead, but I want to take a quick moment to review the books that helped me finish off 2023. Back in November, I hadn't gotten to many books; between lots of travel, a couple books that I started but put down for different reasons, and lots of activity in our home, I was happy to finish the few books that I did. In December, however, I made up for it. I read a really good mix of fiction and non-fiction, both adult and children's books, and I really loved some of them. I'm linking up with An Open Book; let's dive in! 

Monday, January 1, 2024

2023: Reading & Writing in Review

It's that magical time when countless people share their reading highlights from the previous year, and I'm excited to jump in! 2023 was a great year for reading. I didn't get around to reading poetry as I had planned, but I focused on reading whatever was working for me and not feeling bad about putting books down that I couldn't get into.

In 2023, I dove into a mix of novels for adults, graphic novels (the kids and I read all of the post-show Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels!), nonfiction books and children's novels. In my official total, I reached 95 books (which does not include some cookbooks and the multitude of picture books I read to my kids). A lot of the books I read were awesome! Here's a small sampling of what I read over the past year:

Thursday, December 21, 2023

I'm not "ready for Christmas" yet (and I'm OK with that)

 “Are you ready for Christmas?”

If I was quicker on my feet, perhaps I’d be able to answer this question with some witty remark. Yet, I don’t come up with good one-liners on the spot, so when this question has been tossed my way recently, I’ve either given an offhanded comment like “sure, I guess?” or I’ve begun rambling about how our family doesn’t spend December in a frenzy of shopping and activities.

How do I put the gift of Advent into words? How can I express that I’m not ready for Christmas—but not for the reason that other people expect? How can I share my deep gratitude for this season that leads us into the desert as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ?

The act of writing is an oasis where I can silently sift through my thoughts and make them coherent in some way. So, as I sit here in the respite between the winter Ember Days, I want to rest in this question for a moment. 

Am I ready for Christmas?

No, I’m not—and I’m okay with that.

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.