Busy not blogging. And blogging.

What I’ve been up to so far this Advent:

1. Acquired a cold just strong enough to plant me in front of the PC and get some writing done for a change.  I’d complain, except it’s really not that bad. For me.  My family wishes I’d start making dinner again.  I think.

2. Posted my book review of the Didache series of textbooks up at AmazingCatechists.com.  These are awesome books, and the new parish editions bring serious theology to high school and adult faith formation.  Long-needed.  Don’t cry to me you don’t have priests, but refuse to teach theology.  How exactly is a boy supposed to fall in love with a something he’s never met?

3. Guessed at my login information for the Happy Catholic Bookshelf enough times that I finally broke in.  And put up my review of Walking Dickens LondonVerdict: I still don’t like Dickens all that much, but the guide book is awesome.  Of course I had to put a reference to Rerum Novarum in the review.  Only logical.

4. I cleaned out my inbox.  If I still owe you an e-mail about something, you’d better tell me.  Because I’m under the mistaken impression I’m all caught up.

5. Planted the potatoes that were sprouting in the cardboard box in the living room.  Ditto for some garlic in the bottom of the fridge.

6.  I’ve written about 5,000 words on the homeschooling manuscript. Also pre-wrote my January CatholicMom.com homeschooling column, because once you get school on the brain, and a cup of coffee, these things just pop out.

7.  I got all vice-presidential over at the Catholic Writers Guild.  Being VP is almost exactly like being the blog manager, except that instead of plaguing the officers all month long with bad ideas and unhelpful suggestions, you also get to do it during the monthly officer’s conference call.  I think someone nominated me because the existing officers were already practiced at telling me, “No!  Quiet! Sit!  No Biscuit!” so it makes their job easier.  So mostly as VP I amuse people with my ridiculous ideas, and about 1 time in 10, I think one up that someone makes me go do.  And then I regret it, and don’t think up any more ideas for at least 10 minutes.

Also, I goofed off on the internet more than I had planned.   It happens.  I was sick.

7 Takes: From My Feed Reader to Yours

7 Takes at ConversionDiary.com

 

This week, after you pray for Allie & congratulate our hostess, I send you elsewhere.  I scrolled through all my recent +1’s in Google, and picked a few:

1.  People come here when they search on “Kolbe Academy”, and presumably when they do that, they also find Kolbe’s blog, Servant of Truth.  But in case you had a google-failure, here’s an answer to a question that gets asked a lot:  How to Change Pace in a Structured Curriculum.

2.  Brad Warthen is aggravated, here, about a homeschooling bumper sticker that he sees as a flagrant rejection of a whole community.  (He’s a Mr. Community kind of guy.  A Rotarian, no less.)  I concede in the combox that he is correct, it is indeed impossible to know what part of “the village” the hostile-homeschooler wants no part of.  But I’m going to guess it’s something like this.

3. FTR, I homeschool for the library books.  The village never even entered into it.  I just want to read.  A lot.  There aren’t many jobs let you do that.  (Also I like teaching my kids, like being with them, like playing outside, like traveling during the school year, and it’s the only Catholic school I’ll ever talk my husband into paying for . . . but it’s mostly for the books.)

4. NFP Apps.  I like a pen and a free-in-the-mail calendar myself.  (Helps if you don’t particularly need a graph or white baby stickers.  About once a year I break out the graph paper to make sure I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.  But most of the time, 4/10 of degree shows up real nice just looking at the numbers.)  But all you smart-device people can do NFP the Smart Way.

5. Can’t have too many religious education curricula.  Read about Healing the Culture’s new high school curriculum, and, completely separately, Loyola Press’s new adaptive sacramental prep program for students with special needs.

Also a Bleg: Anyone have an RCIA text you really love?  I’m dumb enough to try to make up an answer to that question, but someone who knows the field would be better suited to give the real scoop.

6. At Public Discourse: the obituary of an honest historian.  Beautiful story.  Especially if you’re the kind of person who reads a history book, and then rants towards your children about all the dumb ideas the book promotes without presenting any evidence whatsoever.

My kids say I complain a lot.  I reply that easily 10-if-not-15% of the time, it’s because there’s something worth complaining about.  The rest of the time, yeah, I’m just grumpy.  Probably the nicest grumpy person you know.

7. The reason bloggers blog is because we have something to say.  Abby Johnson doesn’t play around: If you want to be pro-life, get your act together and show up for work.

Have a great weekend!

(PS: The tiny tiger has persuaded SuperHusband not to haul her to the pet shelter just yet.  Cuteness is a powerful survival strategy.)

My vote for Most Important Book of 2012

I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world.  I bought one book.  This is it:

Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours.  Perfect timing.

What it is:  Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC.  Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right.  Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman.  But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring.  Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.

The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here.  It’s what happened.  The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler.  (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.)  The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details.  Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.

–>  I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen.  If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few.  Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.

Why “Most Important Book?”

This is a story that needs to be known.  It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today.  And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:

  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Diplomacy
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom, Period
  • Refugee Camps
  • Cultural Clashes
  • Corruption
  • Goodness and Virtue
  • Faith
  • Priestly Vocations
  • Religious Vocations
  • Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
  • Lying
  • Rape
  • Suicide
  • Generosity
  • Orphans
  • Welfare
  • Stinky Mud
  • Used Cars
  • Huggy vs. Not-Huggy

You get the idea.  There’s more.  Without a single moment of preaching.  Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.

Buy Bread Upon the Water by Deanna K. Klingel, published by St. Rafka press.

Book Review: Benedict of Bavaria

I picked Benedict of Bavaria for my latest Catholic Company review book because I had a feeling I should.  I didn’t want to.  I’ve developed this gut-reaction to all things Pope-Book, thinking that surely it will be a major effort, I’d rather be reading an American Girls mystery . . . you know the fear.  But I reasoned that a little work would be good for me, so I took the plunge.

I love being wrong.

This was a fun and interesting read, and not difficult at all.   Very enjoyable way to learn more about the Holy Father.

What it is:  The book tells the story of Pope Benedict’s life from his birth in Germany through about 2007.  The focus is on his German heritage — the villages he lived in, life during World War II and conflict within the Church over how to respond to the Nazi regime, and his career as a theologian and cleric in postwar-Germany.   His family life, including the role of his sister Maria in supporting him throughout his life, is a steady theme.

In all it’s a fascinating look at the personal life, career, and heritage of the man who now leads the Church.  An appendix detailing “A Day in the Life of the Holy Father” is particularly interesting in light of the Vatican-Leaks scandal this summer.

Included are excerpts from and analysis of his writings over the years, showing his development as a scholar, and providing inspiration and encouragement to the reader.  The author writes from a Catholic, faithful-to-the-Church point of view, but without glossing over or excusing problems in the Church.

Reading Level: I’d recommend this for adults who have some basic background knowledge of the Catholic faith, and of recent history. The writing is clear and easy to follow for those who read on a true high-school or early-college reading level, but you do need to be the kind of reader who knows words like “Jesuit” “postmodernism” “celebrant” “ora et labora”  and so forth.    A map of Germany is handy to have on hand as well — Google Earth would work fine — because there are so many German place-names mentioned.

Excellent choice for someone who knows the faith, but doesn’t know much about the life of the Holy Father. Also recommended for young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood — great glimpse into the kinds of different challenges our clergy face, from seminary on up through the ranks of the hierarchy.

Summary: Very nicely done.  This one’s a keeper.  Deserves to be better known and more widely read.

 

***

I’m grateful once again to The Catholic Company for letting me participate in their reviewer program, in which bloggers like myself get great books for free, in exchange for an honest review — though they seem to mostly stock good stuff, so that makes my job a whole lot easier.

They remind me to remind you that The Catholic Company is also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources.

Books for the Plane Ride

Flying with me on the plane with me today:

Sarah Reinhard gamely sent me a review e-copy of her forthcoming book, and if you blog you can have one too.  The snippets I’ve read seem to up the usual Sarah R. excellent standard, though I’ll admit I went straight to the special-feature paragraphs written by Jane Lebak (tear-jerking do-not-miss-lives-will-be-saved), Dorian Speed (encouragement-for-the-discouraged-disillusioned-and-cut-wide-open), and myself (you be the judge).

Heaven’s Fury, Heaven’s Grace is not my usual genre, but I asked Mrs. Peshek if I could borrow a copy to read on the plane.  She was fresh out.  But as I was on my way out the door after a lovely afternoon of mom-talk, UPS arrived with the new stash!  So I’ve got a loaner, and can’t wait to see what it’s like.

[UPS also brought Mrs. P. a big box of school books from Rainbow Resource — which happens to be the best deal going for getting a teacher’s manual for the Oxford Latin Course.  And boring  things like Saxon Math and other stuff normal homeschoolers use.]

I picked up Land of the Morning at the homeschool used-book fair the other week — great piece of history.  It is the memoir of an American missionary-kid to the Philippines who was captured by the Japanese and spent her teen years in the internment camp for expats near Manila.  It is written as a historical document, not as a heart-thumping fact-based-novel.  There’s a good overview of life as a missionary before the war that sets the stage for the details of prison life, and then freedom after.

The McAnlis family was Protestant, but the treatment of Catholicism (limited to times when it came up — just a few anecdotes here and there) is 100% respectful.  The nun stories from the internment years make it fun and inspiring reading for the Catholic reader.

My copy is headed out on loan to my dad and stepmother (who hails from the Philippines), with the hope that it will come back to me in the fall for a tour around the inferno-area, then reside in my library for future homeschool use.

Not Going Anywhere:

I finished reading The Bible Tells Me So, and yes, it really is as good as Lisa Mladnich says it is.  Review coming soon, but probably not until I return from vacation, since my review notes are written on the inside cover of the book.

Lest you think I overstate the case when I say you should save time and just buy one now before Christian comes to his senses and raises the price . . . my husband is reading this book.  Do you understand what that means?  The man is not like me.  He doesn’t just “read books” for a hobby. Basically he reads the Bible and not much else, except Fine Woodworking and a few photoblogs and archery catalogs.

But we’re ramping up for another family-sized read through the Bible over this year and the next, and Mr. Bible Guy (the one I married) is working through the other Mr. Bible Guy’s book as a warm-up for that.  Great book.

7 Quick Takes: Mother’s Day. Liquor Store Edition.

1.

In my family growing up we had a set of Mother’s Day rituals — taking Mom out to breakfast, going to the garden center to buy flowers to plant for her, sometimes even exchanging of gifts and cards.  When the Boy was born, I expected SuperHusband to just know what to do.  After all, my family’s traditions were hardly secret — you see that kind of stuff on TV.  I assumed everyone just knew.

Except that he didn’t.  Tears ensued.  Until I discovered one year that actually, there is a much, much better way:

2.

Making my own breakfast.  Why not have a day a year devoted to eating exactly what I want, prepared the way I like it, and you other people please just stay in bed and give the mother an hour of quiet to enjoy it?  It really is better.

3.

But I did tell the poor man what I wanted this year:  For him to please get repaired the watch he gave me a different year.  It needs a new battery and a new clasp, and yes I could take it to be repaired myself, but you know, he’s a mechanical engineer.  What a great way to show his love, driving to the store himself to oversee the repair of a tiny metal mechanical device?

Luckily there’s no deadline, except that I’d really love for it to be fixed by the end of August, when I go to the Catholic Blogger Foretaste of Heaven Conference.  Where our lovely 7-takes hostess will be speaking, no less.  I am wildly excited.

4.

Last year for Mother’s day, SuperHusband gave me a reprint of this book:


Which taught me how to make my own vinegar.  Seriously easy and you feel so crunchy-granola, and also it uses up wine ends.  And it is better than anything you can buy.

Small hitch: The cloth-covered Famous Grouse bottle serving as miniature vinegar barrel reminded the SuperHusband he wanted to resume homebrewing.  He’d been on a long toddler-rearing hiatus.  So he did.  Causing us to stop buying wine.  But I did the calculation, and it is cheaper to buy a bottle of Aldi wine and make vinegar out of it, than it is to buy Publix-brand red wine vinegar.  So that’s what I do.

5.

Speaking of famous grice: The SuperHusband was in the doghouse the other week, and to demonstrate the sincerity of his love, he came home with a bottle of Laphroaig for me.  Which was a tiny bit strange, because I had not been grousing about a lack of single-malt.  And the stuff is expensive.  But in a moment of virtually Therese-like holiness, I figured: Hey, this is good!  Might as well enjoy it!

He really does love me, you know.

6.

A prayer for Allie Hathaway is prayer for her mom, too.  You can’t go wrong.

7.

The American Frugal Housewife was not the first historic housekeeping title on my shelves.  The previous Christmas the SuperMother-In-Law, who knows me well, gave me this one:

Mrs. Beeton’s is much heftier than the Frugal Housewife, and addressed more towards homes with servants, and our servants are mostly the electric type anymore.  But I came across this eminently reassuring and useful* bit of advice about the rigors of breastfeeding and the avoidance of colic:

The nine or twelve months a woman usually suckles must be, to some extent, to most mothers, a period of privation and penance, and unless she is deaf to the cries of her baby, and insensible to its kicks and plunges, and will not see in such muscular evidences the griping pains that rack her child, she will avoid every article that can remotely affect the little being who draws its sustenance from her.  She will see that the babe is acutely affected by all that in any way influences her, and willingly curtail her own enjoyments, rather than see her infant rendered feverish, irritable, and uncomfortable.  As the best tonic, then, and the most efficacious indirect stimulant that a mother can take at such times, there is no potation equal to porter and stout, or what is better still, and equal part of porter and stout.

And with that, I bid you a Happy Mother’s Day.

*Do not use this advice. Or if you do and then need sue someone, sue Mrs. Beeton.  Her idea not mine.

Book Review: Doctors of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI

The Doctors of the Church is my latest review book for The Catholic Company, and I’ll tell you up front why it’s taken me so long to get through it: Because it requires peace and quiet.

I don’t mean like holed-up-in-a-monastery-for-three-weeks peace ‘n quiet.  More like, “two to three paragraphs without interruption, and ideally as much as a page or more, all at once, before someone asks you how to spell a word, or where is the milk, or . . .” you know what I mean*.  I say this not to discourage the other housewives out there, but rather to encourage you to not give up just because it’s taking you a little longer than a Hardy Boys mystery, or whatever it is you other people read.

What it is: Pope Benedict did a series of talks at his weekly general audiences on each of the Doctors of the Church, and the text of those talks was put into book form.  (St. Peter Chrytologus is missing — there was no talk as yet at the time the book went to print.  But you get all the others.)  Each person gets his or her own chapter, and certain heavy-hitters have double- or triple-sized chapters if it took two or three sessions to cover the topic.

The focus of the talks is on the development of doctrine.  Sorry, no fun stories about St. Thomas Aquinas’s family’s colorful attempts to dissuade him from his vocation, or St. Therese’s heroic willingness to eat the peas and fake it that she liked them.  You get to be a Doctor of the Church due to your contribution to our understanding of the faith.  So that’s where the book focuses: What did this person contribute to our understanding of Christ and of salvation?  How did this person respond to the needs of his or her time, and re-present the faith in a way that was needed then, and that continues to be valuable today?

–> A brief biography opens each chapter, and there is enough information to give you a clear picture of the life and times of the individual.  There is relatively more biography for lesser-known saints.  If you don’t know the general St. Thomas Aquinas story, you aren’t ready for this book yet; but if you never can keep straight all your St. Cyrils and Gregories, the Holy Father has you covered, no worries.

What are the prerequisites?

Before reading this book, you need to:

  • Know the broad outline of Church history, and of course that means having a decent grasp of world history as well.
  • Be familiar with the who’s who of major saints.
  • Have a clear understanding of Church teaching.
  • Be comfortable with technical language at about the level of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This one:

If that’s not you, be patient.  Come back to The Doctors later. Because the focus of the book is specifically on doctrine, and on the development of doctrine, this is a little harder of a book than some of the other collections by the Holy Father.

 

Who is this book for, and what good is it, anyway?  I recommend this book if you . . .

. . . Want an introduction to the topic of Development of Doctrine.  When read cover to cover, in sequence, this is an excellent first look at how the faith has blossomed over the centuries.

or

. . . Need a reference book on hand for all your Doctors of the Church needs. Great resource for catechists and others who need to quick know something intelligent about obscure-but-essential saints.  Each chapter stands on its own, and I found this to be very useful in preparing for class.

or

. . . You want a devotional that is built around reflections on theology and the lives of saints.  (Don’t laugh you Prayer of Jabez people, some of us like this stuff.)  You could either work through it a chapter at a time, or just have it on hand to browse at random when you need a little retreat into that happy place where you get to think about this stuff.

Verdict:  Well of course, it’s excellent.  If you are the target audience, there’s nothing else like it.  Worth the effort to work through it, not because then you’ll get to sit with the cool kids (though you will), but because even if the distractions of your vocation mean you can’t read through it quickly, it’s very meaty and satisfying.  A sure preventative against brain rot, and not so bad for your soul, either.  Great book.

***

Thanks again to the kind people at the Catholic Company, who would like me to tell you that not only do they do a work of mercy providing good books for bloggers in exchange for nothing other than an honest review,  they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

*No family members were injured in the writing of this post.

Book Recommendation : 5000 Years of Slavery

I have been frustrated in trying to find a good book about slavery.  Most in our library focus entirely on the history of slavery in the United States, with perhaps a brief mention in passing of the existence of slavery in other times and places.  I find this limited treatment of the topic leads to some problematic misunderstandings — in many ways perpetuating the same racism that enabled American slavery and the subsequent post-emancipation civil rights abuses.

So I was glad to discover this book:

This is an introductory treatment, very readable and with lots of pictures, but it is not for young children.  What I like:

  • Separate chapters on slavery in the ancient world, pre-colonial Europe, Africa from ancient times to present, in the Americas among indigenous tribes and states, in Asia, and in the modern world internationally.
  • Precise scope.  Serfdom, for example, is mentioned only when the conditions truly amounted to slavery — mere garden-variety medieval serfdom is passed over in favor of actual slavery in the era.  In the same way, contemporary slavery is restricted to true slavery — forced labor with no option of departure — rather than degenerating into a diatribe against poor wages and lousy working conditions.  (Those are serious problems, but they are not slavery.)
  • Honest who-did-what-when reporting.  No bizarre cultural biases or weird anti-European narratives.
  • Factual but not voyeuristic accounts.  The realities of rape, starvation, torture, and the like are all mentioned where the historical record shows they happened, but there is no morbid dwelling on gruesome details.

What it amounts to is a book you can take seriously.  Good starting point, though it certainly left me wanting to learn more.  Highly recommended.

 

Another Good Book: Operation Mincemeat

If you have seen the film The Man Who Never Was, you can now get the rest of story via  Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre (Harmony Books / Crown Publishing, 2010).   Detailed accounts of all sides — the English counter-intelligence group, the corpse, the submariner, the Spanish & Germans who variously either nearly derailed the mission or who swallowed it whole.   Also details of the subsequent invasion of the Sicily, or why mincemeat mattered.  Plus photos, including images of all the original documents.  And “where are they now” follow-ups on all the major players.

Very fun look inside a great spy story.   Did I mention Ian Fleming is in there?  (Yes, that Ian Fleming.  Though he doesn’t do a whole lot.)  Most memorable passage:

The all-night negotiations went well, but at one point the visitors were forced to hide in a dusty cellar to avoid an impromptu visit from the gendarmes.  Courtney suffered a coughing fit, which threatened to give them away.  General Clark passed the choking commando some chewing gum.

“Your American gum has so little taste,” whispered Courtney, once the spasm subsided.

“Yes”, said Clark.  “I’ve already used it.”

For grown-ups, both for content and reading level.

PS: Watch the movie first.  Or you’ll get lost drowning in the detail.  So to speak.

***

Finished reading Eric Sammon’s new book Who is Jesus Christ ages ago, and can give it an unqualified recommendation.  Had a few test-readers evaluate it for reading-level.  My ten-year-old, who can read anything at all so long as it is about guns, told me it was “Not hard to read, but not very entertaining.”  Don’t listen to him.  Parish Secretary, who is a normal catholic person who is pretty happy diving into Scott Hahn (as am I), says: Easy to read, but you have to go slowly because there is so much detail.  Official review coming soon.

More good books – medieval history

Two library finds:

Life on a Medieval Barony by William Stearns Davis (Harper & Brothers, 1923).  Suprisingly good information — I’ve seen far, far worse in more modern works.  Non-fiction, but uses a fictional barony in northern France circa 1220 to ground the descriptions of medieval life in a cast of characters.   Much of the narrative material is pulled from period sources, ie the telling of our baron’s hunt is actually borrowed from a medieval hunting account.  Makes for a very dashing baron — bit larger than life, as will happen with hunting stories.

–>  The narrative style packs in a lot more detail than you could get away with otherwise and still keep readers awake and even flipping pages to find out what  happens next.

Given the amount of information (400 pages)  and the references to mature topics, I’d say this fits better for teens and above.    Would make a good parent-teen book to read together, as it raises all kinds of theological and moral issues for discussion fodder, and using someone else’s era maybe helps take a step back and see things more clearly?

Fine as an introduction to medieval life for a teen or adult reader, but enough good details to be worth a look for any amateur medievalist.  A knowledge of catholicism in general would be helpful, since there is a quite a lot of describing medieval religious practices.

 

My second lucky find was an audio lecture series,  Heaven or Heresy: A History of the Inquisition by Thomas F. Madden.   If you are catholic, sooner or later someone’s gonna bring up the inquisition.  This set of does a good job of distinguishing the facts (sometimes sordid, sometimes not) from the legend. Gives you enough detail that you could reasonably hope to explain not just the differences between the different inquisitions (Spanish versus Roman verus medieval Papal verus medieval local, etc etc), but also how, say, the Spanish inquisition changed over time.

SuperHusband has listened to some of his other lectures in the series, and found them informative and balanced.    (Recall: SuperHusband = SuperProtestant.  Not a guy who would go in for catholic propaganda.)    I found this to be the same way.  If you are Torquemada, well, your reputation isn’t helped.

Pre-requisites: It is expected that you are familiar with the basics of the catholic faith, including vocabulary like “Dominican” “mendicant” “encyclical” “anti-pope” etc.  Madden generally offers a brief definition of these types of words, but you’ll be on much firmer ground if you aren’t hearing them for the first time.  You’ll also want a general idea of the outline of European history from the time of Christ forward.

I’d give this one a ‘buy’ recommend if your budget allows.  Though I wish the man would write a book on the topic.