December 19, 2014

The third week of Advent reminds us that even in the waiting there is joy. We do not yet have what we long for, and sometimes that longing is difficult to endure - but we can have joy.

How?  How is it possible to be joyful all of the time? Life is hard! There are disappointments. Must we go through life smiling like vapid fools, fostering Pollyanna personalities?  No! Joy isn’t a smile or a giddy need to laugh. It isn’t a temporary feeling, dependent on external conditions – though it is possible to feel the effects of joy. I think joy is more an underlying condition, the subtext to our life. Practically speaking, it is a fruit of the spirit and therefore it is possible to increase our capacity for joy through practicing virtue.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Neh. 8:10)

Joy comes from living in God’s love, from making the True, Good, and Beautiful our priority. It comes from dismissing barriers to God from our life. Joy comes from putting:

Jesus first

Others second

Yourself third.

It may come across as trite when stitched into a needlework sampler, but the truth of it remains: the more we are able to put God first, the less we can be shaken by earthly troubles. And that is where joy bubbles up in a continuing spring.

Please don’t be tempted away from the Source of joy by pressure to celebrate Christmas the way it is modeled for us by the secular world. Don’t dam up your joy by placing unreasonable expectations on yourself to bake and wrap and entertain flawlessly. Find some moments of quiet so you can converse with God. Let Him guide you in your preparations – spiritual and material. I’m certain that by giving God the reigns in this, you will experience greater peace and joy this Christmas, no matter what all the other little details of your celebrations look like.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! (Phil 4:4)


Gift Guide for the Busy Catholic Woman

December 13, 2014

I've been checking out gift guides lately - mostly because I enjoy looking at the utterly ridiculous gift ideas that others have come up with for the people who "have everything".  So when a friend wrote and suggested I write a gift list for the busy woman, I thought it an interesting challenge.  Here's what I came up with:

Prayer and Devotion
A Catholic Woman's Book of Days by Amy Welborn looks mighty lovely. I haven't read this, but it has short reflections for every day of the year and is written specifically for Catholic women.
Catherine Doherty has an engaging book called Grace in Every Season. I have read portions and found Catherine's reflections to be short and to the point, yet contain depth and relevance to my personal life. Perhaps Moments of Grace is more what the busy woman needs—a flip-style desktop calendar with 365 days of Catherine's wisdom. Even Catherine's one-liners are spicy enough to make you stop and think.

For a more frugal gift idea, the Companions of the Cross have a small booklet called Treasure in Heaven: A 40-Day, 10 minutes a day prayer guide. The guide is available for free online and gets any busy person into the habit of prayer and meditation, starting with 10 minutes per day. I've been using it now for several months and I appreciate the ease and flow of the prayers as well as the opportunity to meditate on Scripture.

And no Catholic woman is complete without a pretty rosary, perhaps one that doubles as an elegant bracelet. Check this one out. And this one. And this one. Who says you can't fit more beauty and prayer into your day?

Gifts that make life a bit easier and a bit better
When I first started living on my own, I couldn't cook much more than spaghetti and eggs. A friend of mine encouraged me to start cooking, giving me recipes for things like "rouladen" and "salmon" and thus began my life long love affair with food. Regardless of whether you love cooking or do it only out of necessity, a good knife is essential. Seriously. You don't even need a whole set, just one good chopping knife. It saves you a surprising amount of time and fingers. Trust me on this one.

You want to know what else saves time? Full meals. In the freezer. (I just blew your mind, didn't I?) Although I don't own this book, it's been on my wish list for months now. It's called Don't Panic—Dinner's in the Freezer by Suzie Martinez, Vanda Howell, and Bonnie Garcia. There's something comforting about knowing you've got a backup plan when the "There's nothing for dinner!" blues hit.

Did you know that merely writing out your goals increases the likelihood of reaching them? It's a fact. Being specific and breaking your goals down into smaller, more manageable pieces helps even more. The creator of Passion Planner has come up with a beautiful, practical gift for the busy ladies in your life that could use a bit of direction or even for those who just like to doodle or write. It's a superb gift for those whose idea of a good time includes a stationary store, but I digress. (Incidentally, if you check it out and happen to like it for yourself, she's offering it for free if you share her link on social media. I got the PDF file after I shared the link on Facebook and have been trying it out and I'm sold. I'm going in for the actual day planner. They're back-ordered at the moment, but I'm patiently waiting for mine to come in January.)


Many working women have jobs outside the home. For those stretches of time where they are commuting to work (or for those with quiet time every day), audiobooks are the perfect (and frugal) gift. has over 7,000 titles available free for download onto just about any technological device. Librivox has all sorts of public domain books ready for download. Some of that quiet time could be used to "read" Pride and Prejudice or listen to the eyewitness accounts of the sinking of the Titanic. Who says active women can't be smart women?

Fun stuff
I've often heard about "Of the Month" clubs but have never tried them. It's one of those things that I would find delightful, but would never buy for myself. In other words, the perfect gift. I found this site ( that has a whole list of drool-worthy options. Wine of the Month, Chocolate of the Month, Beer, Tea, Candy, Candle, BBQ (and they even have a gluten-free option). I can't vouch for how awesome this particular club is, or the quality of their stuff. I just think the idea is so cool.

There are always the go-to gifts for those living hectic lives. Gift certificates for favourite coffee shops or local haunts are good. Even gift certificates to grocery or big box stores are practical and useful—who doesn't eat? Coupons for personalized meals or services are also excellent ways to tell a busy friend or relative that they are appreciated.

A magazine subscription is also a great gift idea as they're handy for the bits and pieces of extra time you find for yourself.  There are plenty of Catholic and Secular magazines that range in prices.  Catholic Insight is an excellent publication, both in print and online.  I personally love getting my home decor magazine every month.  I got this decor magazine subscription for $16 for a year (just wait for the sales).  There are plenty of others.  Perhaps find out what the lady in your life enjoys and go with that.

Merry Christmas and happy gift-giving!!

(**Just as an FYI, I am not receiving anything from any of these companies if you click on their links or buy their products.  This is merely a list of gifts that I have found interesting, needful, appropriate or beautiful.)

The Immaculate Conception. Or, how we, too, can bring Christ into the world

December 5, 2014

We’re deep into the ‘holiday season’ now, making preparations for Christmas. Signs of festivity abound, from carols played on a loop in shops to hyper signs advertising sales to entice deeper spending.  As Christians we must fight hard against consumer culture in order to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’.
Each Sunday we will light one more candle in the Advent wreath, the increased light a sign that we are drawing closer to the anticipated event: the birth of our Lord. Christ truly is the centre of this great feast, and yet the narrative itself reminds us that we are all players in the story. At different times in our life we may identify with one character or another: the shepherds privileged to witness; the curious, intrepid foreign kings bearing gifts; the rejoicing angels; the simple animals sharing their crib; the humble mother and father. God’s plan, His great gift of salvation, has a role for them all.

The Church is wise, I think, to give us the Feast of the Immaculate Conception now, just when we are focused on the coming of the Lord. The Immaculata shows us what is required in order to be Christ-Bearers, to bring Christ into the world, to make Christ present to those around us. She is the ultimate example of conformity to God’s will, of perfect obedience, of dying to self, of surrender, of being a fit dwelling for the Word of God.  Yes, Mary is granted freedom from original sin, and we are not.  But, however imperfect we may be, God makes grace available to us through the sacraments. That is no small thing!

If we avail ourselves of that sacramental grace, we can begin to grow in holiness by increasing in virtue, by being able to surrender more of ourselves to God. Mary's model of meekness is not insipid, remember. She was a strong woman who spoke out when she needed to; the rest of the time, she let her Son do the talking. She was fierce in her love for her child, and I'm sure that fierceness extended to the disciples and greater community of followers. Saying yes to this awesome request God asked of her took a great deal of strength, too. So to be like Mary, we also must be strong when that is required of us.

Here is something important. I want you to take this to heart: Mary would be the very first person to chide you for being too hard on yourself. When you tell yourself you can never be as holy as Mary, that you are nothing but a worthless sinner, and there's no way you are able to share Christ with anyone, Mary would hug you to herself and tell you to hush; that no child of God is worthless; that she loves you because our Father loves you. Then she would tip your head back so she can look you in the eye and say, "My child, you are beautiful. God has given you many gifts.  Be brave. Be humble. Be obedient. I'm always right here for you. Now go." Because though we are flawed, we are still called. Pick yourself up, and carry on.

God does not ask me to be Mary, He asks me to be me.  Mary is an example of how to use God-given gifts in the service of God and neighbour: I can be obedient and humble as Mary is; I can carry the Christ Child in my heart.  I, too, can be a sign of Love.
Peter Paul Rubens
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, didst prepare a worthy dwelling place for Thy Son, we beseech that, as by the foreseen death of this Thy Son, Thou didst preserve her from all stain, so too Thou wouldst permit us, purified through her intercession, to come unto Thee. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost , God, world without end. Amen.   

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is December 8.

Yakov's Golden Elixir

November 29, 2014

There's a radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called "Under the Influence".  It's a show about all things advertising and marketing: brands and branding, ad wars, the lengths companies will go to to make a buck, laws protecting the consumers, and everything else under the advertising sun.  I find the industry interesting - and revolting at the same time - because the more I learn about the tactics it utilizes, the goals it has and the billions of dollars it generates on the backs of hard-working people, the more it disgusts me.  So in silent protest, sometimes I will close my eyes and cover my ears when commercials come on (and I don't even see them often because we don't have cable).  When I'm on youtube, I mute ads and click away for a few minutes.  When there are billboards or commercials on tv screens in restaurants, I do my best to focus my attention on the living people around me.  But I know I'm not immune.  We humans are bombarded with advertising just about every waking minute because we live in the noise of the world.  Unless we're conscious about silence, there's usually a radio or tv blaring, a billboard or ad we're passing, or the internet's there, constantly beckoning us to brainless surfing.  It all just makes me angry and defensive, and makes me want to live off-grid, in a small cave somewhere in Denmark (because there can't possibly be advertising there, can there?!).

Advertising is wily and subtle.  It wants to tell you what to think, how to think it and where to put your money.  The industry manipulates you, desiring to sell you things you don't need so that you can buy more things you don't need.  It wants to tell you you'll be happy only when you buy this or that, and then it's goal is to make you unhappy with this or that so that you trade up, or buy four more, until you're finally debt-laden and growing in unneeded stuff.  Then it gives you the kiss off, says "sorry about your luck" and moves on to the next poor schmuck.  (Something to think about the day after "Black Friday", eh?  The day when people die every year from being trampled at Walmart.)

My husband and I aren't necessarily "brand" people.  Normally when we need something we will buy whatever's on sale until we hit on something we really like, and then buy that, despite what brand it is.  So it happens that we usually end up testing several different brands until we hit on one that suits our needs best - toilet paper that doesn't clog up our septic system, shampoo that smells nice and cleans hair, tea that tastes good, cereal that's gluten free and doesn't taste like cardboard with sugar on top.  You get my drift.  While I'm careful to choose products that may suit our needs, it's pretty rare that I'd pick a product based on the words on the side of the containers, especially unneeded descriptives like "All Natural" or "Good tasting" or "Fresh".  Yes, I already know that I like plain yogurt, that it's all natural.  And who sells un-fresh stuff anyways?  If it's not fresh, I will know as soon as I open/taste it, and then if it's not fresh, it will go back to the store/company.

I think it's the brands that are trying to tell me what to think that annoy me most - advertising that isn't merely describing what the product is, but rather passing off subjective assumptions as truths. Take for example one of our shampoo bottles which had this to say:

“You want a moisturizer and can’t wait to go straight.  And then it hits you.  A shot of lush conditioning in a light clean formula fused with extracts of honeyed pear and silk.  My hydrators will go straight to your head to help you go flat out.  Say when, for sleek, silky, shiny hair.  Take the straight path; add Dangerously Straight Conditioner."   
Yes, I get it (and you probably did too).  This shampoo has something to do with straightening your hair.  The words are witty, but how exactly does "honeyed pear and silk" help straighten, clean or moisturize my hair?  They sound nice and luxurious for sure, but does anyone know if honeyed pear is actually good for one's hair?  They could totally be making it up and we'd have no idea.

Here's a game for you.  Can you guess what this product is?  It's advertised to be "more nuanced and flavourful than your typical” (similar) product.  The box goes on to say that “Shamans also believe it to be useful in remembering what “nuanced” means first thing in the morning” and that this product is “an enticing source of wonder, inspiration and optimism.”

It's tea.  Who knew that tea could be an enticing source of wonder, inspiration and optimism?   And how in the world do the people behind this specific tea brand know that it is more flavourful than other typical tea brands?  Have they tried every single one, all around the world?  Even if they have, I don't think they can say that definitively, because everyone's tastes are different.

What about this one?  This product “ignites skin’s natural glow” and leaves your skin “feeling healthy and glowing”.

I know that doesn't give you much to go on, but it's plain old hand lotion.  I haven't tried it yet but I'm curious to see what igniting one's natural glow looks like, and what healthy skin or glowing skin feels like.  How do I know my skin is glowing?  Or healthy?  What if I suffer with eczema or psoriasis?  The bottle doesn't say it will heal my skin only make my skin feel healthy. The words are meaningless and are meant to give us an impression of goodness and health that will make us open our wallets.

Remind you of something?

I suppose my point is to encourage you to cultivate silence in your life - to be as free as possible of the influence of advertising.  It's not necessarily a bad thing to be aware of the products and services available to you, but it's also not the best thing to be blindly led by anybody, especially the advertising industry, who makes it their business to convince you to buy, buy, buy.

Be good to yourself

November 23, 2014

We're about to enter the Silly Season with its social obligations and mile-long to do lists.  We may
attempt to Keep It Simple, Stoopid, but a certain level of craziness is inevitable at this time of year.
But here's what I want to say:  be good to yourself.

You're going to spend an unusual and possibly uncomfortable amount of time with family. You'll be on the roads with frantic drivers, in stores with crazed shoppers, at functions with stressed-out colleagues and neighbours.  You'll be dealing with 'flu bugs and cold viruses and run down children or spouses. You'll be thinking of names to send cards to or buy gifts for.  There's all that baking and meal preparation to do.  It'll be very easy to forget to look after yourself.

Without pausing for thought, I could name a double handful of friends who are coping with grief, depression, anxiety, fatigue, stress.  These next few weeks can be challenging enough without the grief, depression, anxiety, fatigue, or stress - even though we love the decorations and carols and new-fallen snow.

Make sure you put yourself somewhere in the top bit of  your to do lists.  Keep your dates with your running buddy, or invite a friend out for coffee. Be faithful to daily prayer, spend time in Adoration if you are able. Acknowledge when you've reached your limit. Adjust your expectations. Simplify when it makes sense. Do what you enjoy doing and shelve the rest for another year.  The only important thing about this season is the celebration of the day of Noel itself; everything else is our own devising. It's ok to make sure you are in a good state to enjoy it all along with everyone else.

Be good to yourself.
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