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.

Should Women Work Outside the Home?

November 15, 2014

I’m pretty passionate, when it comes to certain issues.  In my (online) travels I get to read all sorts of articles and posts, but it’s really the off-balance treatises on femininity that get my blood boiling.  I can’t stand writers who think they know it all, think they’ve got this cut-and-dried world all figured out and tell you exactly how God will work in your life.  At the same time, it’s in reading the crazy thoughts of other people that I’m able to refine my own ideals and sensibilities, because I have to focus on what it is that I find crazy and figure out why.  So when I do calm down, I’ve got what I need to delve a little deeper into the true meaning of femininity. 

Take the issue of whether women should work outside the home – hot-button topic, isn’t it?  I read something recently that was so totally ridiculous that it forced me to think through the issue, step by step, and come to a few conclusions.

The first thing I asked myself was are women even needed within the marketplace? 

Of course they’re needed!  In fact, their gifts are in high demand.  Fulton J. Sheen, in his article entitled “Does a Business Career Harden a Woman” listed out the ways in which women are essential to each facet of society.  Within the Law, they can temper justice with mercy and soften administrative rigidity: they “breathe blood into red tape”.  In Medicine women can restore reverence for life and make the practice of medicine more personal: treating persons instead of just diseases.  In business and manufacturing women can prevent men from “stiffening into automata” and be prudent and inspiring guides within the creative process.  Within politics, women, because they are centered on people and relationships, can be most effective instruments for peace.  We live in a culture that is not life giving or life affirming, so there is much work to be done to change it.  The presence of women is necessary for that change to happen because by their very nature women give and affirm life.

John Paul II knew full well what our culture, often labeled the Culture of Death, was all about and the presence women bring to it.  Katrina Zeno in her book “Discovering the Feminine Genius” says that in his writings, JPII often “implored women to live out the feminine genius in the home and in public life and in the Church.  Why all three?   Because ultimately it is culture – the context in which we live life – that must change.  And that context includes the home, the Church and society.”   While life at home constitutes a big part of society (working to raise morally and civilly responsible, Godly children contributes greatly to our culture) women cannot be limited to working ONLY within the home.  Our dignity as persons prevents us from being so pigeonholed.  In his encyclical Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II said, “the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women justifies women’s access to public functions” (public functions meaning workplaces outside of the home).  

In addition, since men and women are complimentary beings – their bodies, souls and spirits (as well as their gifts and talents) offset one another in the best possible ways - how can women NOT be needed in the workplace?  How can men “do it all” and do it well without the aid or even the input of women?  I don’t think it can be done, or done well, at least. 

So if women are needed in the public sphere, it then begs the question, should every woman work at home AND in the Church AND in the marketplace? 

Some would say emphatically yes, and others would say absolutely not.  I’m somewhere in between.  Every woman, insofar as she must eat and wear clean clothes, must work at home.  I happen to think that every woman should contribute something to the Church and every woman should contribute something to the world.  The question isn’t so much if every woman should contribute to home, church and world, but how much should she should contribute and when.  That, my friends, is up to her and the Lord. 

Katrina Zeno says that every woman is “given the task of reflecting on her own feminine genius so as to unlock its spiritual dynamism for the Church, the family and the world.  […] The feminine genius is the distinctive way a woman expresses her gift of self in all her feminine fullness and originality, as God intended her to be from the beginning.”  Every woman has something unique she is meant to give to the world – a handful of gifts and talents she can offer, and it’s only through offering those to the world that she can be happy and fulfilled.  The problem is that we sometimes assume, when a woman is talented, that she “owes the world” her talents in a very specific way - as if offering our abilities to the world can only mean working in public positions.  Not true.  All women have some genius and not all women are called to use it in the exact same way, or at the exact same time as anyone else.  Some may work outside the home before they have children or after the kids are grown.  Some may never work outside the home.  Some may use their gifts to start online businesses or become writers or poets or playwrights.  Some may focus their time and talents solely on having a tidy home and educating their children.  The only thing that matters is where, and to what, God is calling each woman right now.  If I have “x” set of talents and gifts, how can I incorporate them into my vocation(s) at this moment?    

Because at the same time as she’s asking herself where her talents are and where she can best apply them, all women must ask themselves where their priorities lay (and raising children (if applicable) should be very high on the list).  John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) stated,
“Experience confirms that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother’s role, of the toil connected with it, of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons…Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it hinders these primary goals of the family.”  [emphasis mine]
Abandoning, commuting the task daily to someone else or delaying the vocation of raising children (due to career choices) should only be done after serious thought, prayer and discernment.  I remember one coworker, many years ago, telling her friends that she barely made money from working 9-5 every day, only because she lived so far from work and shopped so much that everything she made was gone every month.  Her kids were in daycare all day for what?  A few new shirts every month?  It’s true, there are circumstances and situations that require a woman to work outside the home, but every woman must as least ask herself if it’s necessary and why. 

Because what matters in the end is the children and their well-being.  Fr. Blair Bernard, the editor of the book “Nazareth Family Spirituality” quotes Catherine Doherty as saying that a young mother’s vocation is home and children, but he explains in the footnotes that these words were written for families in the mid-twentieth century when few mothers worked outside the home.  Although we’re in the twenty-first century now and much has changed, things haven't changed all that much.  He clarifies:
“Both Catherine and Pope John Paul II [in Laborem Exercens] are bringing into bold relief that it is the needs of the children which have to be paramount.  This is for purely natural reasons – their need for individualized care, love and affection, something that can only be effectively done by someone with the vocation to love each of the children.  […]  Parents are the “primary educators” of the children and it is their vocation to pass on a faith which can only effectively be “caught” by the children rather than cursorily “taught” to the children.”
There is so much of a child’s education that must come from his/her parents – that can’t be taught by someone who doesn’t have the vocation to love that child – that the proper care and raising of children must be one of, if not THE primary goal, of every parent. 

Now what that looks like, practically speaking, will never be exactly the same for everyone.  I have friends whose father stayed home with them during their formative years, as their mother was able to make a better salary.  Unconventional yes, but suited them and their kids are Catholic, happy and contributing members of society.  I have other friends who both must work for serious reasons, but they entrust their children only to family members, grandmas and grandpas mostly.  Or there are friends who both work, but are able to tailor their schedules so that when mom is gone, dad is home and vice versa.  Then there’s my sister-in-law, a highly educated woman homeschooling their 5 children.  She describes herself as a “mom-with-a-masters” using her skills to educate the next generation of our family.  And there are probably a million other individual stories and situations out there, every one of them having merit and virtue.  As long as the needs of the children are carefully considered along with the needs of the family as a whole, who’s to say what each family is doing is wrong? 

Saint Augustine is famously quoted as saying, “In the essentials, unity, in the non-essentials, freedom, in all things, charity.”  The question of whether women should work outside the home is not (as many might like to think it is) a black and white issue.  There’s no church dogma declaring that “all women must work only at home, no matter what”, and there never will be, because one size can never fit all. Catherine of Sienna (a saint and doctor of the Church, mind you) didn’t say, “Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.  Except you women.  You must only stay home.  The end.”  No, there is freedom within this issue to make decisions that work for your own family.  That being said, each woman must be honest in seeking out and using her gifts, humble in admitting her limitations, and fiercely brave in protecting her choices and boundaries to the outside world. Because it’s been my experience that those women who are doing so, who are using their God-given talents, while discerning their vocations carefully, are already contributing to the making of their homes and to the betterment of their parishes, Church and to our society as a whole in the process.  They are, in fact, setting the world on fire and probably don’t even know it. 

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