May 2013 Book Recommendations

There are many wonderful books to share with your children about faith and morals. Here are a few that we have enjoyed …

Mary is a beautiful book by Demi about our Blessed Mother. This book is for ages 6-12. Demi’s gold-enhanced illustrations are spectacular, capturing important events from Mary’s birth until her Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth. It’s a great book to read during Mary’s month of May.

The Legend of Saint Christopher, adapted by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, is a gorgeous book that children of all ages will love. You may be familiar with Richard Jesse Watson’s work as illustrator for One Wintry Night, the well-known children’s book by Ruth Bell Graham. His vivid, lifelike art is breathtaking. This is a great book to read aloud for young children, and it would also be a wonderful book for independent readers age 6-10.

The following books all highlight virtuous behavior, which is especially needed in the world today. These would be great books for your child to read during the summer.

All Things Girl: Modern and Modest, by a team of authors, is one book in the All Things Girl Series for Catholic girls. This book, along with the other books in this series, is for girls ages 9-14.

The All Things Girl series explores what it means to be the daughter of the King. I highly recommend all of these books! They cover everything from friendships to dressing modestly to virtues and how to live those out as a Catholic tween girl. At the back of each book is a section called “A Girl Like Me,” which tells the story of a specific girl saint who displays great virtue in the face of suffering and persecution. My husband has worked with one of the authors and greatly respects her. These books are a treasure for our girls striving to live out their faith in a secular world.

If you are looking for a similar title for Catholic boys, check out:

All Things Guy: A Guide to Becoming a Man that Matters, is for boys ages 10 and up. This is written by the same authors as the All Things Girls books.

Here’s a book that would make a great Confirmation gift:

Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints, by Colleen Swaim, is an inspirational book made especially for teenagers. This book features the stories of young people who have chosen to live a life of faith and virtue, perserving with joy and hope. Some of the saints featured are familiar ones but others are not as well known. Ablaze is a must read for Catholic teens. They will love it!

Let us pray for our “growing saints”, that they may live lives of virtue allowing the Light of Christ to shine brightly through them.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” -Romans 12:2

Happy Birthday to the Church!

On Sunday, May 19th — 50 days after Easter — the Church will celebrate Pentecost, the feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church and also one of the most important … because it marks the birth of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, giving them power and grace to spread the message of Christ to all the peoples of the world.

You can read about Pentecost in Acts, Chapter 2.

There are many ways to celebrate this awesome feast.

One way is by making a birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday to the Church!

Holy Spirit cupcakes for Pentecost

Holy Spirit cupcakes for Pentecost

Another fun and easy way to celebrate Pentecost with your family is to make cupcakes and decorate them with white frosting. Then cut strawberries lengthwise into slivers and place one sliver on top of the frosted cupcake (see photo). The piece of strawberry represents a tongue of fire (the Holy Spirit).

Next apply seven red hot cinnamon candies around the “tongue of fire”. These red hot candies represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Discuss these with your children as you place the candies on the cupcakes (or as you are eating them! :-))

You can also read The Twelve Apostles by Marianna Mayer while enjoying your Holy Spirit cupcakes. The artwork in this book is absolutely gorgeous! This book can be found here:

The Twelve Apostles

For high schoolers and young adults, a good alternative would be chapter ten in Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ. Chapter ten is called the “Choosing of the Twelve” and is full of great information about the apostles! The book can be found here:

Life of Christ

If you just don’t have the time to make a cake or cupcakes then wear red on Pentecost Sunday, eat some red hot candies, and talk about how awesome the Holy Spirit is!

Discuss with your children how the Holy Spirit guides the Church and gives us strength to share the light of Christ. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do the will of God and bring hope, love, and joy into the world.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

May Saint from Molokai

The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Damien of Molokai on May 10th.

St. Damien was a priest from Belgium who selflessly volunteered to minister to lepers in Molokai, Hawaii, ultimately contracting leprosy himself and dying. You can read more of his story at Catholic Culture.

Here is an activity your family can do to learn about this amazing saint and celebrate his special day …

First, make a little Hawaiian beach scene complete with real sand and shells (see photo).

St. Damien beach scene

St. Damien beach scene

Print some pineapple cutouts and place them in the middle of your beach scene. Put it on your kitchen table or in some visible place.

Next, tell your children the story of St. Damien, describing his acts of love and his total gift of self to the leper colony at Molokai.

Then, let your children know that their activity for the day is to “catch” one another acting as St. Damien would — selfless and loving behaviors like helping Mom without being asked, being kind to a sibling when they don’t want to, etc.

Throughout the day, when one family member witnesses virtuous actions from another, take a pineapple and write down how the other family member was acting like St. Damien (for example: “I saw Claire clean the kitchen without being asked and doing it with a good attitude.”)

At the end of the day, perhaps after dinner, have everyone read what was written on the pineapples. This highlights saintly behavior (and encourages more of it! ;-))

If you really want to get in the spirit of St. Damien’s feast day, you can make a dinner of Hawaiian Chicken (we had this last year and it is simple and delicious)!

As a side, you can have Mango Rice.  (I leave out the chicken from that recipe and just make the mango rice.)

Top off your meal with tasty Tropical S’mores.

Don’t have time to do all of this? Then just don a plastic lei, talk about St. Damien, and enjoy a slice of fresh pineapple. Aloha!

Fr. Damien statue outside Hawaii capitol building in Honolulu

St. Damien statue outside Hawaii capitol building in Honolulu

My husband, David, and I were in Hawaii last November and found this statue of St. Damien outside the state capitol building in Honolulu. What an inspiration!

“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40

St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us.

April 2013 Book Recommendations

Each month I highlight several books that are among our family’s favorites. This month there are five books I’d like to share …

1. A Child’s Book of Prayers, compiled by Michael Hague:

This beautifully illustrated book for children ages 3-8 which highlights traditional prayers and poems. The art is spectacular! It is perfect prayer book for small children.

2. Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco:

Thunder Cake is a great springtime read aloud for the whole family or it is also good for independent readers ages 6-10. Patricia Polacco includes amazing illustrations of icons of our Lord in this book about how her Russian Babushka (Grandmother) helped her overcome her fear of thunderstorms when she was a little girl. In the book, Patricia and her Babushka have to make a cake before a looming thunderstorm hits their farm.

We have read this book on dark rainy spring days with all the lights off and only a flashlight to help us see. The kids loved it! At the end of the book the author has included the recipe for her Grandma’s Thunder Cake. After we read the book with the lights off we then made the Thunder Cake. It was great fun and I highly recommend making this cake with your children!

3. Karol from Poland, by M. Leonora Wilson:

This is a fantastic book for children ages 8-12 to read as we celebrate the upcoming birthday of Pope John Paul II on May 18th.

One year we read this book together and then made Pope John Paul II cookies. Here’s where you can find one idea for Pope cookies.

After we made our cookies we delivered them to our priests and parish office staff as a thank you for all their hard work. It was a fun way learn about Pope John Paul II and show our appreciation for our pastor and church staff.

4. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: Journey to the Summit (Encounter the Saints), by Ana Maria Vazquez and Jennings Dean:

My son, Patrick, has a new favorite hero- Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He just finished reading this book about Blessed Pier Giorgio’s inspirational life. The book is for children ages 9-12 and is especially good for boys. Enjoy!

5. Mother Teresa: In My Own Words, compiled by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado:

This is a well organized book of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s wisdom for high schoolers and up. I think it is especially good for teenagers who are growing in their faith and need some inspiration.

Any suggestions of great books your family is reading this spring? Please post a reply below and share your thoughts!

St. Catherine of Siena: A Saint to Celebrate

Saint Catherine of Siena was quite the woman of the Middle Ages!

Living in the Fourteenth Century, she advised popes and politicians. She was named a Doctor of the Church, being one of only three women to share that title along with St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. Above all, she was humble before our Lord and loved Him with all her heart and soul.

I have a new appreciation for St. Catherine after visiting her “cell” — the small room in the home where she lived — in Siena, Italy, and seeing the church, the Basilica of St. Dominic, where she attended Mass.

The Church celebrates St. Catherine of Siena’s Feast day on April 29th. With this in mind, here are ideas of activities you could do with your children to celebrate this great saint.

Since St. Catherine of Siena is the Patron Saint of Italy (along with St. Francis of Assisi), you can make an Italian dinner on her feast day as a treat. We are going to have my family’s favorite, lasagna, that night along with Italian bread and salad. Cannolis for dessert can be a sweet addition. Here is a recipe for cannolis.

Another idea is to have children decorate an icon of St. Catherine of Siena. Here’s what to do …

  1. Print out an image of St. Catherine in a size suitable for your children (perhaps 5″ x 7″)
  2. Glue the image to white card stock and have your children decorate it with glitter, stickers, crosses, etc.
  3. Add some copy work, for example, you can add the amazing quote by St. Catherine of Siena where she said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire.”
Celebrating St. Catherine of Siena

Celebrating St. Catherine of Siena

To the right is a finished example of what my children did.

After their work is displayed for St. Catherine’s Feast Day, it is put in a page protector in our Liturgical Calendar Notebooks (more on these in a future post!) This way the children can go back and look at it easily in the future, and Mom and Dad have this and other activities organized together in one place.

Here are some great books about St. Catherine which I highly recommend and which my own children have enjoyed:

Loyola Kids Book of Saints

This book is a great read aloud for ages 6 and up. There are many different saints featured in here including St. Catherine of Siena. Amy Welborn does an excellent job of teaching us about St. Catherine in this book.

Saint Catherine of Siena: The Story of the Girl Who Saw Saints in the Sky

This is a beautiful story by Mary Fabyan Windeatt for children age 10 and up. Enjoy!

Secrets of Siena

This book by Dianne Ahern is in a series of fictional books called Adventures with Sister Philomena, Special Agent to the Pope. Written for children ages 10 and up, each book is a mystery to be solved and this one happens to be about a letter found that might have been written by St. Catherine of Siena. It is exciting and educational all at the same time!

Lay Siege to Heaven: A Novel About Saint Catherine of Siena

Louis De Wohl writes a spectacular story of the life of this great saint! This book is for high schoolers and up. If St. Catherine is a saint you are interested in knowing more about, this is a must read book!

If you want to see a fun narrated slideshow of photos from St. Catherine’s home in Siena, here is where you can watch the one our family made following a 2010 trip to Italy (let the slideshow load a bit, then, on the left side of the slideshow page, you can click on “Siena” in the navigation to jump to that section.)

How blessed we are as Catholics to have incredible role models like St. Catherine of Siena to inspire us and help us to live out our faith daily in love and humility. God can use us all to change the world if we are listening and say yes to Him … just as St. Catherine did her whole life.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us! 

Catching Fish with the Apostles

The Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2013, is John 21: 1-19 (the short form is John 21: 1-14). This passage recounts the beautiful and touching story of the disciples fishing, after the Resurrection, and not catching anything. Their nets initially came up empty. Then they see Jesus, although they do not recognize him. He tells them to go back out and cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They follow His instruction, and their nets fill to overflowing with fish. Then Jesus eats fish and bread with them before asking Simon Peter three times if he loves Him. Simon Peter tells Jesus he does love Him, and Jesus asks him to feed His sheep. I love this story!

An idea I heard several years ago was to read this Gospel passage as a family during the week before going to Mass on Sunday. After reading John 21: 1-19 there are several questions that could be discussed as a family. Some of these questions might be:

  • Why do you think the disciples initially did not recognize Jesus?
  • Why did Christ eat breakfast with them?
  • Why did they only recognize Jesus after they caught all the fish and were about to eat breakfast with Him?
  • Why do you think Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him?
  • What did Christ ask Simon Peter to do?
  • Who are the sheep Jesus speaks of when he tells Simon Peter to feed His sheep?
Fish "caught in the nets" of the apostles

Fish “caught in the nets” of the apostles

A fun and yummy activity to do after reading and discussing the Gospel is to make fish “caught in nets” as a snack. I saw this idea mentioned on several years ago and just loved it! A good idea is to use square pretzels (they actually look like little nets), Hershey kisses, and Goldfish. Melt the Hershey kisses onto the pretzels in the microwave for only a few seconds, then add Goldfish on top of the Hershey kiss on the net. You have caught a fish in your net!

I bought a cheap blue plastic platter at Wal-Mart to display our fish in the nets (blue for the ocean water).

One idea is to put empty “nets” (square pretzels with nothing on them) on the left side of the platter or serving dish, and full “nets” of fish (pretzels with Hershey kisses and Goldfish) on the right side of the platter to symbolize when Christ told the disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.

Then you can discuss the symbolism with your children as you refer to the Gospel passage, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” -John 21:6

This is a tasty treat for kids and a great way to get the Gospel to “stick” in their precious minds!

You can also use this idea for the feast day of St. James the Greater (July 25) since he was a fisherman. As you can see by the photo above, I added cockle shells and Swedish fish into the mix (the symbol for St. James is the cockle shell).

May God bless you during this Easter Season. Jesus has risen! Alleluia!

Books! Books! And more books!

I love quality children’s literature, and each month plan to post a review of some of my favorites that are appropriate for the season.

This week I wanted to share some great books for the month of March and for Easter, which is rapidly approaching.

March books:

Since St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, this is a great month to read books about other Irish saints who may not be as well known as the St. Patrick. Here are a few:

The Blackbird’s Nest: Saint Kevin of Ireland (for ages 5-10): This is a beautifully illustrated book about St. Kevin and is also a great book to read during Lent. The historical note at the end of the book includes an icon of the great saint as we as a hymn to Saint Kevin.

Saint Ciaran: The Tale of A Saint of Ireland (for ages 5-10): This is the story of St. Ciaran of Saighir, who was the first of all Ireland’s recognized saints. Even though I had to purchase this book used, it is worth it. The illustrations are spectacular! In one inspirational scene Ciaran travels to Rome and meets St. Patrick who encourages him to go back to Ireland telling Ciaran he will go there some day. It is a great read!

Brendan the Navigator (for ages 8-11): A terrific book for older elementary children who have an adventurous spirit and love of history! The author, Jean Fritz, has written many historical books for children and is known for her humor and wit which she infuses in her books. My son absolutely loved this book about St. Brendan of Ireland. It is a definite must for your home library!

Easter Books:

There are many wonderful books about Easter, but here are a few that I think are especially beautiful to read with your children:

The Easter Story: According To The Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John from the King James Bible (for ages 5-10): In The Easter Story, artist Gennady Spirin has created an exquisitely illustrated book about the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. When I first read this book and marveled at the magnificent artwork, I could not help but become overwhelmed with emotion. The text of the book is from Matthew, Luke, and John’s gospels (the King James Bible). Spirin’s masterfully created paintings truly tell the greatest story ever told, and is an incredible way for children to learn about the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

The Easter Story
(for ages 5-10): Author and illustrator Brian Wildsmith has illustrated more than thirty books and this one is just as incredible as his other beautiful pieces of art. Similar to Gennady Spirin’s book, the pictures tell the whole story. Brian Wildsmith’s Easter Story is a favorite in our home!

Petook: An Easter Story (for ages 3-8): Petook, written by Caryll Houselander and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, is about a rooster who encounters Christ as a boy and also experiences His crucifixion and resurrection. Tomie dePaola’s incredible illustrations complement this moving story. This book can be difficult to find, and I bought it used when it was not so expensive as it is now on Amazon. However, it is well worth tracking down.

The Bronze Bow (for ages 10-14): The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare is an excellent read for middle schoolers during Lent. It is historical fiction, set in the time of Christ, about a young man who learns that hate will not solve his problems, but that only in loving can we can find true peace. The Bronze Bow is a very powerful book and relevant to us today as Christians.

These are just a few books that you can read with your children during this season.

Have you found other books that are your family’s favorites? Post a comment about them below!

Relive the Passion with Purpose

Way of the Cross

Make the Passion come alive for your children by focusing on one of the Stations of the Cross

Palm Sunday is approaching, which means Lent is nearing its end. This is a good time to reflect on the Passion of Christ.

Here is a writing activity that helped this to come alive for my children.

First, let your children choose one of the fourteen stations of the cross. Looking together at the pictures of the fourteen stations, encourage them to choose one and mentally “put” themselves in the station, and then write about what they see, hear, smell, and how they feel. The idea is for them to use their senses to vividly describe the scene.

For example, your child might choose to be one of the women in the 8th Station (Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem), or maybe Simon in the 5th Station (Simon helps Jesus carry His cross).

Whichever station is chosen, talk to your children before they write anything, and try to recreate what it must have been like to be there as Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of the Cross):

  • What kind of noise would you have heard?
  • Was it crowded, and were the people full of anger, or sadness, or sympathy?
  • How did their actions reflect their emotions?
  • Did some have conversions (think about the epic movie Ben Hur) as they watched Christ, the Son of God, suffer and die a terrible death?
  • If so, what were they thinking, and then what did they do?

Trying to imagine being in that scene will make the station more real for your children. It helps them understand the gravity of what Christ did for us. It certainly did for my kids.

This is a more somber and serious type of writing exercise for children, but one that is very important. After all, there is no Easter without the cross.

This activity is suitable for upper elementary children to middle school children.

For younger children, you can easily adjust the activity by having them choose a station and draw the scene, labeling the name and number of the station. Talk about what was happening in the station, asking them to describe what is happening. This can be done with six year olds and up.

Focusing on a single Station of the Cross and making that scene come more “alive” is a great way for you and your children to deepen your reflection on the sacrifice Christ made for all of us on the Cross — and it will make an even richer experience when you pray the full Stations of the Cross at church with the rest of the Body of Christ.

May God bless you and your family — the domestic church — during this Lenten Season!

Cardinals in the Conclave

This is an exciting time for the Church!

Beginning this Tuesday, March 12, the conclave will begin and a new pope will ultimately be elected.

This week I wanted to share some resources that are helpful when learning about this important process of electing the new Vicar of Christ.

First, I recommend the site:

This site makes it very easy to spiritually adopt a cardinal, so you and your children can keep one of the voting cardinals in prayer throughout the conclave. The site will randomly assign one of the cardinals to you and give you a little information about the cardinal. For example, we were assigned Polycarp Cardinal Pengo from Dar-es–Salaam, Tanzania.


During the conclave, our family will be praying for Polycarp Cardinal Pengo

This is a great opportunity for you and your children to do a bit of research on the cardinal for whom you will be praying. In our case, after learning about Cardinal Pengo, we made up a sheet of facts and pictures representing this Prince of the Church. Some of the facts you might want to include are:

  • When he was born
  • How old he is
  • When he was ordained
  • When he became a cardinal
  • What his motto is
  • Any other pertinent information

Once you complete your sheet of facts and pictures, you can put this in a visible place to remember to pray for him throughout the conclave. Our sheet is posted in the dining room so we remember to pray for Cardinal Pengo at meal times, asking the Holy Spirit to guide him in following the will of God in electing the next pope.

Writer and blogger Elizabeth Foss has also identified some excellent resources for all ages that I wanted to highlight:

May God bless the Roman Catholic Church as this process begins, and may His will be done in the selection of our next Holy Father.

“Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” –Matthew 16:18

Choose Joy for the Journey

As Moms, it's important that we CHOOSE JOY on a daily basis

As Moms, it’s important that we CHOOSE JOY on a daily basis

This week my friend Molly Milroy, who blogs at, asked me to write a post about choosing joy. While writing, I thought how important it is for us moms to embrace joy as we strive to grow our saints. With that in mind, here is what I wrote …

Life is full of choices: What am I going to wear today? Which Mass should I attend this weekend? What should I have for breakfast? What am I supposed to do with my life?

Yet, there is one choice we can make every day … and it’s a choice that will have an incredible impact on every other decision we make.

That choice: deciding to have JOY FOR THE JOURNEY.

Here are five tips on choosing joy for the journey of the amazing life God has given you:

1. Have an attitude of gratitude. Thank God for all He has given you! Write these blessings down. There are so many things we all take for granted everyday. Think how wonderful it is to have heat when it is cold outside and that we are able to see in our homes at night because of electricity. Consider the blessing we have to be able to communicate so easily via computers and other technologies. Then there are our family members and friends that we are blessed to have in our lives. How rich we are in blessings! If you can concentrate on your blessings, it is easier to find joy in the the challenges and drudgery we sometime experience in everyday life!

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Find humor in your daily situations. I think people who laugh a lot live longer. Laugh at yourself! There are no perfect people. We all make mistakes. It is perfectly OK! When my son was two years old we were in a bookstore. An employee was helping me when all of a sudden my son launched a major two-year-old tantrum … he threw himself down on the floor and began pounding his feet and fists on the ground and began to scream so loud that I’m sure he could be heard outside. This poor lady helping me was shocked! I didn’t know what to do, but finally said, “Oh, look … he is being developmentally appropriate.” The employee and I both immediately started laughing and my son stopped screaming and pounding because he was so surprised by our reactions. Humor can diffuse so many situations and make everyone involved feel better!

3. Think happy and uplifting thoughts. Sometimes we can start down a negative thought process in our head and it turns into a downward spiral. Instead, choose to think positive thoughts. Ask yourself: “What is the good that can come out of this situation?” Don’t say, “I had a bad day.” Instead say, “I had a character-building day!” Ask questions like: What new thing did I learn today? How was my character built today? Truly, this makes a big difference! There is good that comes out of even the most challenging situations. Sometime we have to look for it, but it is there. So, in your head, instead of seeing the glass as half empty, see it as half full. It will change the way you think, and in turn, the way you act!

4. Surround yourself with Christ-centered people who also choose joy for the journey. Jesus spent time with lots of people — curing them, talking with them, eating with them — but he still had an inner circle of 12 apostles with whom he spent the most time. I think there is a lesson there. We need to be salt and light in the world, just like Christ. But we also need to have an inner circle of friends who share our attitude of joy and gratitude and who share our faith. We need these friends who can lift us up in our character-building moments, and in turn we will lift them up as well. I call these people my “kindred spirits.” Who are your kindred spirits who, like you, have decided to have joy throughout this journey called life? Find them and cherish them. Spend time with them and thank God for their friendship!

5. Pray. Ask God to help you be joyful everyday no matter what is going on in your life. He is all-powerful and all-mighty. God is listening to you. He loves you! Ask Him to guide your ways. He is with you every step of the way on this awesome journey, so enjoy it!

There are many other ways to choose joy for the journey, but no matter what you do, enjoy life and live it to the fullest! God wants us to be joyful! May God bless you as you decide to choose joy for this great journey called life!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13