Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Sisters the Saints

I recently finished the book My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carrol Campbell, the first book I chose from my earlier What I Want to Read post. And what a book it was! I loved it.

My Sisters the Saints is the story of Colleen's life beginning in college until about her mid-thirties. During that time she faces many struggles including overcoming the emptiness of living a lifestyle focused on temporal pleasures, her father's more than a decade long struggle with Alzheimer's disease, searching for what it truly means to be feminine and how that affects work/life choices, as well as a long, difficult struggle with infertility. Throughout this time she discovers the lives of 6 different women saints who show up in her life (usually in the form of a book given to her) at just the time she needs them. Through their life stories she discovers insights into how to deal with the very real difficulties she was then facing. For instance, the father of St. Therese of Lisieux also battled and died from Alzheimer's. The example of a very holy woman facing the exact same cross in her life provided unmeasurable consolation and strength for Colleen as she watched her dad's condition slowly degenerate. You'll be inspired, as well, by Colleen's dad himself. If I can be a parent to my children the way her dad was to his and suffer with as much love and dignity as he did, then I know I will have done well and pleased God with my life.

This book is very well written, seamlessly weaving the details of the lives of saints into the narrative and making Colleen's personal struggles come alive. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and often had a hard time putting it down so that I could get some sleep. I very highly recommend it!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I Want to Read

So many good books. So little time.

My goodreads "to-read" shelf is just busting with good books that I want to read. Almost all of them are recommendations from bloggers, podcasters or friends so I have no doubt that every one of them is worth my time. So, these days my problem isn't trying to find a good book but trying to make up my mind as to which good book to read next.

To help me focus, I'm going to make a list of the books I would like to read this year in several different genres. I may or may not get to all of them, but I'm going to try to give some kind of short review of each of them on the blog as they are finished.


Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. I read The Wednesday Wars by the same author and loved it. Mr. Schmidt is an excellent YA writer and I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

It looks like I need some more light fiction recommendations. Anything? Anyone?


Something by C.S. Lewis. I'm not sure if I'll read The Problem of Pain or The Great Divorce (oops, this one is fiction, isn't it?) or Mere Christianity or maybe something else. What's your favorite book by C.S. Lewis?
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey. Continuing on my Tolkien kick.
The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter. Have I mentioned my fascination with Tolkien and Lewis?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As an extreme introvert, I need to read this one.


My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carrol Campbell. Memoir and saints? I'm there. It doesn't hurt that the author is named Colleen.
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. I'm very intimidated by this one. But, I'm determined to give it a go.
The History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millenium by James Hitchcock. I think this would be a good follow up to the Walking with God book I mentioned in my last book post and just finished last week.

Read Alouds

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald and The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Elizabeth and I have been enjoying princess books and both of these were highly recommended.
The Marvelous Land of Snergs by E.A. Wyke-Smith. I think both my older kids should like this one.
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart. A fun prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society books. My kids are begging me to read this one to them.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read this in high school and don't remember much except that it was very hot and the characters were all sweaty and uncomfortable. I want to read it again before the movie comes out this year.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I like to read a Dickens book every year.
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite authors. Every book of hers is a treat.

What else do I need to read this year?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What I Wore Sunday: vol. 2

What I Wore Sunday linkup

So last week I decided to join this link up on a whim. I didn't think too much about my outfit, just snapped a quick picture of what I was wearing before heading out to church. Well. This week I've been planning all week to do this again and for some reason I decided to put all this pressure on myself about it. I was determined to come up with an original outfit that I have never worn before (even though none of you would know if I've worn it before or not!). So silly. But, I did it. So here's my outfit, a combination of clothes and accessories that I haven't put together before.


We're at an odd place seasonally in Texas right now. It's still January (i.e. the middle of winter!), but temperatures were near 80 degrees! I wouldn't normally wear this linen dress this time of year, but this weekend it was appropriate. I could have easily worn sandals as well, but I went with boots in memory of the cool weather that seems to be long gone.

Dress: New York & Co. 
Belt: Kohl's
Cardigan: New York & Co.
Watch: Timex
Boots: Dillard's
Earrings: JC Penney

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I Wore Sunday

What I Wore Sunday linkup

I've been watching this "What I Wore Sunday" link up from the sidelines for quite awhile; I love seeing other people's posts but I hadn't really thought much about doing it myself until today when I saw that Blair was participating. Well, that did it. One of my friends was doing it so I decided to do it, too (I always have been a follower).

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Photo credit: Jonathan

So, here I am before mass this evening. We attending the evening mass because Eric and Jonathan were camping with the scouts this weekend and didn't return until mid-afternoon. My hair is getting really long and is overdue for a significant haircut. We had beautiful weather today (upper 60s) so I pulled out a shorter skirt that I haven't worn since the weather got cold. Lavender is becoming a staple in my wardrobe. It's a color that I'm drawn to more and more often when I am shopping. I'm pretty conservative when it comes to accessories so, as you can see, they're pretty basic.

Shirt: New York & Co. (a great store for all you tall girls out there!)
Skirt & Belt: Kohl's
Shoes: Dillard's (a birthday present this year)
Watch: New York & Co.
Necklace: A four-way medal, a gift from my parents when I was a child. I wear it always.
Earrings: James Avery (simple hoops)

This was really fun to do. I hope to do it again soon!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I took a picture!

I took out my big-girl camera and took a few pictures yesterday. I think it may have audibly groaned when I turned it on, being a bit stiff from it's long hibernation in my camera bag. I am determined to get my creative juices flowing again and turning on the camera and snapping a few pics while the kids played in the backyard was a good start. The temperatures are back up in the 60s again, perfect for some outdoor play for kids and grown-ups alike.

And the light was beautiful.

Bathed in light

I got a little artsy-fartsy with the processing of this one. What do you think? (Honestly. Does it look too processed?)

Here's the original to compare:

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I wanted to keep the light, airy feel of the original but improve the overall color and punch it up a bit. I also wanted to de-emphasize the less than beautiful background of our backyard fence and playground.

A note for Jill (or anyone else interested in post-processing): I edited this one by overlaying it with a texture in photoshop as well as adding some brightening, adjusting the contrast and warming up the colors.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Favorite books read in 2012

According to my "read" bookshelf on, I read 64 books in 2012. At the beginning of the year I had set a goal for myself to read 25. I guess I got on a roll. Here is a short review of some of my favorite books from the past year.


Clara, Gustin and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. The illustrations and humor are delightful and they are at the perfect reading level for my little Kindergartner who is learning to read this year. I gave a pack of these books to my four year old nephew for Christmas. They are wonderful books.

Elizabeth and I loved reading The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and The Borrower's by Mary Norton. Both these books fire up the imagination and are simply lovely, especially for young girls. Elizabeth also really enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This book is unique in that the illustrations are not merely a companion to the prose, but rather they actually advance the story. It's a fascinating book that is great for both boys and girls.

Both Elizabeth and Jonathan eagerly sat through The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart as well as the other two books in the trilogy. The books had them thinking hard trying to figure out the different puzzles and mysteries in the story and often laughing out loud in delight.


I've been on a literary analysis kick lately fueled by great books like How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger, which discusses the Christian symbolism of the Harry Potter books as well as the fascinating structural and stylistic choices that J.K. Rowling made while writing the books, and Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen. I've posted a number of times in recent months about my admiration for Professor Olsen's podcasts and I found his book just as fascinating.

Eric and I both read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Wow, what an amazing true story and Laura Hillenbrand (the author of Seabiscuit) has the unique ability to make a work of non-fiction flow and engage the reader as well as any fiction author. Highly recommend.

Catholic Non-Fiction

A Catholic book I read this year, gave as a gift to friends, and am sure to read again is Style, Sex and Substance by Hallie Lord. There is so much to learn from this book and the writing is so good that it immediately earned a spot on my mental list of "books to read again".

I took my time reading A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms by Lisa Hendey. The book is formatted to read about a new saint each week with prayers and reflections for each day of the week about the saint. I followed the format and loved my time spent meeting and praying with so many wonderful saints.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins but I had to include it as one of my favorites. The book walks you through all of salvation history bringing richer meaning to old Bible stories and unraveling the confusing or obtuse sections of the Old Testament to create a clean, coherent story that leads up to our redemption by Christ. I often found myself stopping and reading particularly fascinating sections aloud to my husband.

Catholic Fiction

I read two light-hearted, fun, but still Catholic, books this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. Looking for the King by David C. Downing is a mystery novel with references to Arthurian legends and the characters interact with several members of the famous Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien). Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut by Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman is Catholic chick-lit that is quirky and fun yet also intelligent. It was a great summer read.


My list of favorite fiction books is too long to go into each one individually, but I really loved all of them and did not want to leave any out. My favoites include: The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montegomery, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

Two others could also be considered great Catholic literature with their complex Catholic characters, moral dilemmas, and insights into the nature of sin, grace, human nature, and God. They are Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset and Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge. These two books are probably my top two books of the year, though I feel compelled to include Bleak House as well, so instead I'll say they are two of my top three books of the year.

Favorite Re-reads

Since I am often drawn back to my favorite books because they seem to have more and move to give with each reading, I decided to re-read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Now, I'd love for you to share. What are some of your favorite reads from 2012 that I simply must add to my "to-read" bookshelf in 2013?

Friday, December 14, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: vol.18

--- 1 ---

Advent accident. We almost had a catastrophe at breakfast yesterday morning. We light our advent wreath candles for every family meal and so Eric had them lit before the kids came down for breakfast. When Gustin came downstairs he was getting settled into his seat and while wrapping a blanket around himself he leaned forward over the table and managed to catch his hair on fire! I was in the kitchen and heard him scream and turned around to see flames on the side of Gustin's head until Eric quickly patted them out. Thankfully he was standing just a few feet away from Gustin at the time. Though shaken up and with a patch of hair singed away, Gustin was fine. Somehow the skin of his scalp was not burned. I guess I should call this take an Advent miracle!

--- 2 ---

Silhouettes. At our last Cub Scout campout I was able to capture some wonderful silhouettes of my kids by the lake. Silhouettes is one area of photography that I haven't experimented with much so I was very happy with how these turned out! I only had a few minutes of lovely sunset light to work with and, for once, my girls decided to be willing models. Serendipity! Please humor me while I share a bunch of them.

A still two-year-old may only be found in a photograph

Sisters at Sunset

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Sunset sitting

I happen to love that these are not complete silhouettes; the kids' forms are not totally black. A bit of light still falls on their round cheeks or on the folds of their clothes.

--- 3 ---

Zoom lens. My photography output has really slowed to a trickle these days. I pretty much share all the pictures I take here, and you know how rarely I post to this poor little blog these days. Part of the problem is a bit of frustration over my lenses. I love my prime lenses for good photo quality, but I really need the flexibility of a zoom lens. But, whenever I use my cheap zoom lens I'm always disappointed with the results.

So, I'm thinking about getting a nice zoom lens, a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. The only problem is that it is a very expensive lens. I've been saving my money that I have been earning from selling my photos through Getty Images and I now have enough saved to buy it. But, I'm scared. It somehow seems wrong to spend so much money on a hobby. On myself.

Any thoughts? Should I go for it?

--- 4 ---

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Nope, not me. The other day Gustin was taking off his socks and he noticed a long hair on his sock.

"Oh, that must be one of mine," I said.

"No, Mommy," he replied, "this can't be your hair. It's gray and you don't have gray hair. It must be a string from my sock."

Such a smart, smart boy.

(The above photo is from 2 years ago. There may be a wee bit more gray now.)

--- 5 ---

Consumable Christmas. I'm all about consumable Christmas gifts this year. I know we have way too much stuff around our house and I don't want to be the one to make other people's homes even more cluttered. So, the kids on my Christmas list are getting lots of art supplies: coloring books, markers, crayons, playdoh, paints and notepads. The adults are getting chocolates, salsas, beer, marinades, coffee, trail mixes and pickles. Of course all of them are special brands that most people don't get to consume on a regular basis. To top it all off, these gifts were really fun to shop for!

--- 6 ---

The Hobbit! Eric and I have plans to see The Hobbit movie this weekend. It will be one of the two times all year that we actually go to a movie. I'm expecting to be impressed. I really enjoyed rereading the book several months ago. To further feed my hobbit appetite I also really enjoyed Prof. Corey Olsen's new book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It's great literary analysis for those of us who don't hold advanced degrees in literature.

--- 7 ---

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

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For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, October 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday vol. 17

--- 1 ---

Unplanned candids. My favorite kind of photograph.


--- 2 ---

Brain food. I love being a stay-at-home mom, but it can be a challenge to keep my brain from turning to mush during all the hours of laundry and cleaning and potty training. The discovery of podcasts a year or so ago completely changed my life (a great place to start is with any of the fantastic podcasts at My current favorite, though, is The Tolkien Professor. You can find his feed in iTunes and he has a variety of series including recordings of classes he teaches at Washington College. Right now I'm listening to a series on the Lord of the Rings books (episodes labeled WC Tolkien Course, Sessions 22-40 in iTunes). They are totally nerdy, but also completely accessible to people like me who do not have a background in literature or literary analysis. Fascinating stuff.

Also, if you're interested in the upcoming Hobbit movies, check out Professor Olsen's series, The Riddles in the Dark. In these podcasts they discuss particular aspects of the book, The Hobbit, how they might be adapted to the big screen, and make predictions as to how these themes/characters/back stories may be portrayed in the movies. Lots of fun.

--- 3 ---

Hi! Bye!

A local gem. I am frequently surprised by some of the simple, cheap family activities that surround us but are so often unknown. We recently visited a local orchard (persimmons are in season though we didn't pick any) where my kids had a blast playing on the playground and haystack, going on a long hayride, and just getting lots of sunshine and fresh air.

Riding through the orchard

The highlight of the day, though, was the huge tire swing. You could hear my kids' screams and laughs echoing through the entire orchard. Fun times and good memories.

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All that fun and we also supported a local, family owned business. It can't get any better than that!

--- 4 ---

Second time around. I picked up Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset again. I began the trilogy a number of years ago but somehow got distracted and stopped reading somewhere in the middle of the second book. I was enjoying it the first time around, but this time has been even better. I love stories that are both interesting and make me think and Sigrid Undset's medieval Norwegian novels definitely fit the bill. I was struck by this wonderful discussion between Kristin and Brother Edvin:

"... the Devil only [seems] big as long as we harbor fear within ourselves. But if a person seeks God with such earnestness and desire that he enters into His power, then the power of the Devil at once suffers such a great defeat that his instruments become small and impotent. "
Brother Edvin continues:

"There is no one, Kristin, who does not love and fear God. But it's because our hearts are divided between love for God and fear of the Devil, and love for this world and this flesh, that we are miserable in life and death. For if a man knew no yearning for God and God's being, then he would thrive in Hell..."
 So much good food for thought.

--- 5 ---

Kids' Portraits 2012. Here are some of my favorites from this year's portrait session. I made some mistakes photographically speaking that I am forcing myself not to enumerate ad nauseum (even after 4 years of pursuing this hobby, I still have so much to learn!), but overall I'm pleased with the results.

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 Clara, age 2

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Augustine, age 5

My sweet 8 year old
Elizabeth, age 8

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Jonathan, age 10

--- 6 ---

Just ask. At our Mom's group at church we were recently discussing how difficult it can be to get to confession when you have young children. The times that confession is available can be inconvenient to young families and it's difficult to keep children quiet and entertained while their parents are receiving the sacrament. One of my fellow mom's then casually approached are associate pastor and asked if he would be willing to hear confession's during the meeting time of the Mom's group since we are already there on the church campus and our children are being cared for in the childcare ministry. Well, our priest enthusiastically supported the idea and was there to hear our confessions during our October meeting where at least two dozen moms received the sacrament of confession, some for the first time in more than a decade! He also committed himself to being available for confession during every one of our scheduled meetings for the rest of the year. It's amazing what can happen if we only ask!

--- 7 ---

A few more candids. I just love it when I can capture them laughing!

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For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cooking in the Sandbox

We recently visited Eric's hometown for the birthday party of his triplet niece and nephews. I love weekends in Eric's hometown. It's small, quiet community and we always leave feeling renewed and refreshed.

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My kids, of course, love visiting grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles but I love that they spend most of their time outside in my in-laws wonderful backyard. Tree swings, sandboxes and pogo sticks are the main sources of entertainment. Sunshine and fresh air abound.

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And simple toys. Like old pots and pans in the sandbox. The kids absolutely love them, much more than the plastic shovels and pails in our own sandbox at home.

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The way kids' imaginations explode after being handed a pot, a pan, a serving spoon, and a big pile of sand blows my mind. To find such joy in simple things . . . such a blessing.

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And a sun slowly sinking in the autumn sky with delicious, soft, golden light . . . more beautiful blessings.

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There are some moments in life when your heart just about bursts with gratitude and all you can do is savor the moment by expanding your lungs with a deep breath and then exhaling a most sincere, "Thank you, Lord."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

We Made it to September

A Little Woodland Sprite

What a week. My mother's surgery (mastectomy and reconstruction) was this past Wednesday and (praise the Lord!) it went very well. The doctors believe they were able to remove all the cancer and she has not had any complications (again, praise the Lord!). She was able to move from ICU to a regular room today, Saturday, so my kids were finally able to visit her. I think that visit raised all of our spirits. Isn't it amazing the blessing a few vivacious, care-free children are to stressed-out adults? Their being there at the hospital also testified that we are past all of the scary/worrisome stuff and now Mom just needs a little time to get back to her old self.

Mr. Sweaty Head

Thank you to all of you who prayed for my mom and my family during this time. I was amazed at the sense of peace I had while waiting with my dad during the hours and hours of Mom's surgery. I know that peace was a gift from God and a direct result of all the many prayers offered up for us.


I'm about brain-dead now and better finish off this post. Hopefully tonight I'll get a good night sleep with no worries, kids with bad dreams, or obnoxious, repeat, 3 a.m. prank callers to interrupt my slumber.

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I hope you enjoy these pictures of my kids from a recent fishing outing with the Cub Scouts. The beauty of nature never fails to remind me of God's great goodness.

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Until next time,

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Embracing the Wide Side

When I got my first DSLR camera (about 4 years ago, has it really been that long?!) I was amazed at all the capabilities it had that my point-and-shoot did not. Most especially I loved that I could get so close to my subject. It was heavenly to be able to fill the frame with my beautiful kids' faces, their eyes sparkling back at me in the photographs just as they do in real life.

Mustang Island, TX

I found shooting nature and flowers close up to be a awe-inspiring experience, as well. So many details! All the amazing colors and shapes and beauty to be found if you get down close to a simple wildflower or moss growing on a rock.

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However, before long I found myself firmly in a photography rut. All of my photos began to look the same and my inspiration was waning. My photographs looked tight and cramped to me and I was feeling a bit cramped myself.

Wave jumper
Elizabeth is jumping over the waves in this photo. 

Finally, I learned to mix things up and breathe some new life into my photographs by embracing wide angle focal lengths. For me that meant shooting on the 18mm end of my 18-105mm kit zoon lens or shooting with my 24mm prime lens.

Sisters and Flip Flops

All of these pictures were taken on our recent vacation during a brief visit to Mustang Island State Park using the wide end of my 18-105mm zoom lens.

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In these photos there is room for my subjects, be they children or husbands or birds, to move and interact with their environment. It's also easy to see there different sizes of the kids relative to each other.

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I particularly love capturing so much of the sky in a photo so you can see the beautiful natural gradation of the blue. Capturing the surroundings as well as the subject in a photo adds so much more interest.

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It's a whole new world on the wide side.

I won't stop taking those close ups of my kids' precious faces, though. I just now know to mix them up with a few shots that capture their entire bodies and their surroundings, as well.