Books Domestic Church Reading Reviews

Best of My 2018 Reading: Nonfiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard

Best of My 2018 Reading: Nonfiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard

I used to think I was an all-fiction-all-the-time type of reader, but last year proved me wrong. Last year, I found out that I love nonfiction just as much.

I had a stretch of binge reading, and it included some great novels.

But I found something missing. I wanted something that {gasp} wasn’t fiction.

I read a lot of nonfiction anyway, both for paid review and for pleasure. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much that’s good. There’s…just…so…much.

So without any more rambling, here are my favorite nonfictions reads from my 2018 pile!

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Cardinal Robert Sarah with Nicolas Diat. This was a book I couldn’t whip through, and yet one that I savored and couldn’t put down. Reading it felt anything but accidental, that’s for sure. (I wrote about that here.)

To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age, by Robert E. Barron. My first inclination with this was to offer it to a new deacon at our parish, who, as it happens, had already read it. Barron has a way of boiling things down and, yet, also planting seeds that stay with you.

Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom, and Joy from the Women of the New Testament, by Elizabeth M. Kelly. Water is a recurring theme that Elizabeth Kelly uses throughout this book, and it struck me throughout. It began like a long cold drink on a hot day: refreshing and soothing. It continued like a mug of steaming tea: comforting and snuggly. It traversed the paths of a wet washcloth on a hot forehead, a shared laugh over a glass of iced tea, a moment together over the baptismal font. Kelly’s depth of insight and the reach of her wisdom went right to my heart, in each and every chapter. The book examines eight women from the New Testament, and they may not all be the ones you expect. Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Martha and Mary of Bethany: no surprise there. But a shepherd girl who was there on Christmas night? That caught me…and captured my imagination. Kelly has a way of doing that throughout this book, and it’s a beautiful experience.

Clueless in Galilee: A Fresh Take on the Gospels, by Mac Barron. You’ll laugh, yes. (A lot, if you’re like me.) But you’ll also look differently at those Gospel stories that may be so old hat that you don’t even hear them anymore. I love Barron’s approach to “riffing” on the Gospels, and I also appreciate his innate ability to challenge readers to go beyond.

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. I’ve been following Fulwiler for quite a while, and I’ve enjoyed watching her hard work pay off in success. I read this in a can’t-put-it-down kind of way and laughed so hard, at times, that I was crying. She has a self-deprecating way of writing and sharing her life that makes her approachable. This book also challenges readers to think beyond their constraints — it’s equal parts memoir, humor, guide, and good story.

The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search, by John O’Neill.This reads like an adventure in many ways, and yet it’s true. O’Neill has a way of turning the dry facts into interesting tidbits, and the pictures don’t hurt either. This is a book you can whip through and then find yourself saying, “Wait, what just happened? Was that real?”

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel.I’ve become a late-to-the-game Anne Bogel fangirl. I listened to this, but I think I’ll be getting a hard copy because…truth. She speaks to me and inspires me with her reading.

How Catholic Art Saved the Church: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art, by Elizabeth Lev. This book was such a gift to read. I didn’t mean to start reading it, to be honest. I was just leafing through it, looking at it and admiring the pictures. I glanced over the table of contents and the introduction caught my eye. I’ll read just about anything, but this was GOOD. Elizabeth Lev is a master storyteller: She had me flipping to examine pictures, smiling at what I read, and thoroughly enjoying every aspect of this book. Of course, at least part of that was because of the beautiful job Sophia Institute Press did with the actual book: thick, glossy paper and four-color, magazine-quality images. Truly, this is a book that’s an aesthetic delight on many levels.

Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me, by Amanda Martinez Beck. I read this book for the first time this year (it’s a new release, so I couldn’t have read it sooner), and then I reread it. I think, in fact, I’ll be reading it a third time in 2019 with a group of friends. Beck starts strong and finishes stronger. I think every woman probably needs to read and reread this book.

What nonfiction did you read last year? What did you love (or hate)?

Books Domestic Church Ink Slingers Reading Reviews Sarah Reinhard

Best of My 2018 Reading: Fiction Edition with Sarah Reinhard


While I drink enough coffee to drown a fat pony, I also read enough books to weigh that same pony down. Well, it was a lot for me, and a respectable 100+. When Martina heard that I had written about my favorite reads of 2018, she invited me to share it here. Never one to be outdone in ideas, I offered to do one for fiction and one for nonfiction.

So, let’s dive into my favorite fiction reads from 2018, shall we?

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. This was a massive novel I intended to read years ago. I started by listening to it, and tried to supplement my listening with reading (because I have the book). I just couldn’t limit my enjoyment of it to the times when I could hear it. The story was huge and long and wonderful in all the ways I love.

Endless Water, Starless Sky, by Rosamund Hodge. This is the sequel to Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. I’m not classically trained, but Hodge is. I know, at some level, that I miss a huge amount of her brilliance because of my own ignorance. And yet, I am hopelessly a fan of hers. Of the books she’s written, I think these two may be my favorites. I’d call this the best writing I read all year, judged on actual writing and on storytelling and on enjoyment level.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1), by Neal Shusterman. I heard this referenced as someone’s favorite book, and that’s sometimes all it takes for me to run after a book. I read and loved Shusterman’s so it stands to reason that I may like his other books. I just…hadn’t gotten around to them. Though this is first in a series, it stands alone. Once again, Shusterman has taken an old trope of a question and carved it into a mind exercise of a book. There’s a plot, but there’s also the exploration of ethics and the great what-if. AI meets immortality meets scandal meets human nature. This is a book not just to read, but to discuss and ponder.

The Eighth Arrow: Odysseus in the Underworld, a Novel, by Augustine Wetta, O.S.B.This book made me want to actually attempt Homer and some other classics. (I’ve read Dante, so I got those references.) And yet, the book made sense without any of that and only a rudimentary knowledge of what I knew were deeper references. The adventure was great, peppered with humor. I couldn’t put it down, and I found myself thinking of it in the times I wasn’t reading, which is, to me, always a sign of a great book.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. I listened to this and found myself wanting to hold it and actually read the words. Cather paints an image of the Southwest that I could see as I listened.

A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron. My teen daughter handed this to me, and I’ll be honest: I was going to quit if it didn’t pick up or something. Cameron has his own style, that’s for sure, and the premise behind the book didn’t make sense to me until I was about a third of the way through. And then…hooked. The storytelling is fabulous, and you’ll never look at a dog the same way again.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It seems like I’ve read it about even 18 months or so since the first time I read it. Every time I pick it up, I find some passage that was right there for me. The premise: A devil writes letters to his nephew, filled with advice and tips for tempting more effectively. Turn your expectations upside down and prepare to be wowed by Lewis’s wonderful writing.

The Cricket on the Hearth, by Charles Dickens. Another all-time favorite book, and one that inspired my handle for many years. This year, it also inspired me to read some other Dickens. It’s a family story, in many ways, and a glimpse at life many years ago. I never saw the movie (which I heard was horrible), but Dot Peerybingle remains a favorite character of mine.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. I listened to this via CraftLit and was then inspired to listen to the rest of the eight-book series. And then, because I couldn’t get enough, I listened to Before Green Gables and Marilla of Green Gables. My girls have both turned their noses up at Anne, but I think I’ll be revisiting her quite often.

What fiction did you read last year? What did you love (or hate)?


Domestic Church Erika D Homeschool Homeschool Raising Saints Reviews

Virtues Program Review & Giveaway for the {Catholic} Home & School

Rosary QuiltThis is not your normal homeschooling article as this program can be used by any Catholic parent, a Catholic Virtues Program integrating the beautiful Holy Rosary into it!

About a month ago I noticed my children ages 4, 6, 8, 9, and 16 were bickering more than usual!  It was a little upsetting to see them act this ugly way towards one another as we do all the “right things” as a Catholic family.  We pray the Rosary daily right after lunch, we read about the lives of the saints, we use a Catholic Curriculum which incorporates the Faith across the board (OLVS), and we go to Mass every Sunday as well as often as possible during the week!  We even recently participated in a Rosary Procession in the streets near downtown Scranton, PA and this coming Sunday will participate in a Eucharisti Procession!  All these thoughts raced in my brain as I saw them calling each other names I cannot print here and which are NOT allowed to be uttered in my home.  No longer did they want to help each other with chores and the constant bickering was driving me insane!  For goodness sake, we even go to the High Mass of the Latin Mass, aren’t all Latin Mass children supposed to just *know* how to behave in a virtuous manner?  I guessed not.

This brought me to the realization that I needed to be more proactive in my integrating the virtues into our daily routine.  I went Googling for virtues, Christian virtues, and  even Catholic virtues and found a plethora of information on virtues. The CCC tells us, “Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.”

virtutesWhile reading through the virtues (cardinal and theological) according the Ancient Christian teachings (on morals [CCC #1749-#1802] and virtues [CCC #1803-#1845], these are under Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Articles 4 to 7 of the CCC), there are four cardinal (from “hinge”) virtues:

  • Prudence: discern the good in circumstance and the means to attain the same
  • Justice: constant and firm will to give what is due to God and neighbor
  • Fortitude: firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good
  • Temperance: moderates the attraction of pleasure (natural elements of created goods) and balance in the utility of created goods

Further, there are three theological virtues. Their highest object is God.

  1. Faith: belief in God and his promises
  2. Hope: desire of God’s presence and trust in his Ways
  3. Charity: preference of God above all things, others and self being second, and things third

All this was wonderful information but HOW was I going to easily incorporate it into my already busy homeschooling day?  Then I remembered a book I received from Catholic author, Cassandra Poppe!  When you first look at the cover of this great books, you would not suspect that it is jam packed with so many practical ideas on how to incorporate and teach virtues using the Holy Rosary.  As I thumbed through her book entitled, The Rosary Quilt Manual, I realized I had the answer to my prayers right in my own home!  A virtues program that is Catholic and incorporates our beloved Rosary (my children love praying the Rosary, they can do it in English, Spanish and Latin but their favorite is to chant the Rosary – it’s really adorable and I know brings joy to Our Blessed Mother’s heart!)  It was such an answered prayer when I discovered this gem which sat collecting dust on my bookshelf for months!  So quickly I put the books into action and found that explicit teaching of the virtues was definitely something that I needed to do, implicitly by reading the lives of the saints and living out our Catholic faith was not enough!


So I contact the author Cassandra Poppe and she agreed for me to do a review of this beautiful program AND she would also give us a FREE PDF of the whole program to one of our readers!  Simple fill out as much as you can of this following form for your chance to win this amazing Catholic virtues program, The Rosary Quilt Manual comprised of  ONE digital file which will contain the books, poster and directions on how to make your own Rosary quilt.

In the meantime if you would like to visit Cassandra or check out this beautiful curriculum, you can like her page, see the product at her Etsy Store, Intercessories Family Ministry, LLC OR enjoy reading her amazing blog, Flectamus Genua where she shares her journey as a Catholic mother, homeschooler, and author.  Cassandra has started another great venture Christian Crafts for Children, join her group on Facebook for some really neat kits.

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Christi Domestic Church Homeschool Ink Slingers

Online Homeschooling Curriculums- A Review: Part 1

confused homescool reviewYou may be starting the new school year in mid to late August or not until after Labor Day weekend, but either way we have rounded the homestretch and the dig date is looming on the horizon. Whether this is your first time to homeschool or you have been schooling for a few years (or decades in my case – it’s what happens when you grow a baker’s dozen in your home!) you might be looking at the many different options available. It can be so overwhelming and, with the advent of the internet, online options are sprouting up left and right. I have tried my hand at a few, as well as looked at others that I chose not to use. Typically this was due to cost per course, not because I didn’t feel confident in the quality of the classes. I will start with one of the three online options with which I have first-hand experience.


Time4learning  When I originally used this program they stopped at grade eight but have since added a high school curriculum which intrigues me quite a bit. I like that they emphasize that they are a curriculum program and as such the parent is teacher and in charge. They make it very clear that they are not accredited and, as such, can not issue a diploma. The parent is also the transcript/record keeper.  They do a good job of explaining how to determine credits which I know some parents find disconcerting when they try to determine the value of their student’s work and how it translates into credits.  From their FAQ section under the title How Many Credits is a Time4Learning High school course they share the following:

“Although each state is unique, a typical one-year high school course equals one credit, while one-semester courses equal one-half credit. Another way of counting credits is in hours spent on coursework. In general, 120-160 hours spent on a course equals one credit, while 60-90 hours of work equals one-half credit.”

When I have a free minute I will be looking more closely at the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Homeschooling High School which Time4Learning frequently links and refers to, given that I have two high school students and several more upcoming.

I have broken down the details and my thoughts about the program into four sections below:


For pre-K – grade eight students the cost is $19.95 per month per student with a discount offered after the very first student when the price is discounted to $14.95.  It is not immediately clear how many courses this entails. They do share how many actual lessons are available per grade; just not how this breaks down as to variety of subjects.

Once I looked at the lesson plans and course demos, I concluded that in terms of subjects, kindergarten offers math and language arts while grade one offers the same with the addition of science. Grades three through eight offer math, language arts, science and social studies with art becoming an option in fourth grade after the first month of enrollment.

It took a lot of digging around to determine this and I’m still waiting to hear back from Time4Learning to confirm these numbers. When communicating with them by email it takes them 48 hours to answer, but first one must enroll for their newsletter. (I did not enjoy learning this detail after initiating communication through their ‘contact us’ link.) They do have an 800 number you can call and talk to someone directly, an option I chose not to use.

For High school courses the cost per student is $30 per month per student and includes four courses for each student. Additional courses may be purchased for an extra $5 per month for each course.

There are no discounts for additional high school students but they do count towards a discount for the younger grades. So, in my case, if I were to enroll all five of my current students at home I would pay $60 a month for my two high school students and only $14.95 for each elementary/middle school student, to the tune of $104.85 a month.

*Ease of Use: There are appears to be little need for additional materials as much of the reading required by the various courses is online. You do not have to worry about installing software and as long as you have a working computer and an internet connection you can access the courses wherever you are. According to the technical information, tablets equipped with Flash-based technology can support their curriculum. Ipad users can download the Puffin Academy app which is free on iTunes. I poked around a lot of the demos and for the most part the lessons appear to be easy to navigate. However, when attempting to use the grade eight math demo there was no sound and both demos appeared to freeze after the first two or three exercises were completed. I don’t know if the demo ended in the middle of lesson or if there is a bug that needs working out. High school is a new addition so it might be a bug. The curriculum is designed to be started at any time of the year that suits your needs.

*How much time must the parent as teacher invest? At the lower grades, a parent will need to be available to guide the child through the online lessons and will need to be able to read the multiple choice questions to the non-reading child and let’s face it — most children are  not reading in the first weeks of kindergarten and often not reading until midway through grade one. In the higher grades a parent should not need to be present throughout the lesson. There are supplementals available but as I can not access these I can not state how much the parent needs to be involved. They are, however, optional.

*Quality of Classes: I clicked through a large number and various grade levels of classes and was more impressed with some than others. I can say with certainty that the grade levels offered could be completed by my children at a younger age than suggested. When I had one of my high school students view the high school biology demo, I did not tell him what level it was. He guessed it was designed for a fifth grade level student due to the depth of the material and the type of cartoons being used throughout the lessons. I feel the use of cartoons in their materials (from middle school and up) is their Achilles heel. Both of my high school children and one of the middle school aged children were insulted by the juvenile feel to the cartoons. I feel I need to also point out that my kindergarten student, who enjoyed the grade one science demo, quickly lost interest in the phonics lesson.

I would strongly suggest watching and working through the demos with the children for whom you are considering using this course. It should help you to determine if the depth of material covered would work for them. Also, if you have the time, work your way through the detailed lesson plans available online to help you to decide whether to invest in this program. A serious positive is that they offer you a 14 day money back guarantee.

Conclusion: Ultimately, I believe this is a good option for families that have multiple children and really need to optimize their budget dollars. Compared to what I would pay monthly to use Seton just for two high school students, it is a substantial savings. With Time4Learning I would, however, be totally responsible for the keeping of my students’ grades and would have to issue the students diploma. Seton (which now offers the ability to submit lesson work and tests online) does grade a percentage of your  child’s coursework, is accredited, and will provide a transcript as well as a diploma for students who meet their requirements. However, if as a parent, you are comfortable with doing your own record keeping (which Time4Learning makes easy with their online records), economically Time4Learning is a serious option to consider.  I do think that it is more valuable for younger students than for high school students, though the Algebra demo was good enough to have me considering using the high school level just for that alone.

So that wraps up our first peek at one of the many options available to homeschoolers! Homeschooling curriculums have come a long way in a couple of decades, and it’s great to know that the right option is out there for your family. Throughout the rest of this series, I’ll share my experience with some of the other online curriculums that my family and I have explored over the years.

Catechism Doctrine Domestic Church Faith Formation Homeschool Movies Prayer Rosary Tiffany P

Brother Francis: A New, Faith Building Cartoon Series

In light of the coming holiday, I decided to take a break from my usual, heavy apologetics stuff to provide a review for a Catholic kids cartoon series that I ran across, entitled Brother Francis,  one of which I purchased for my two year old daughter. She is already hooked, and being that she is one who soaks up what she sees on her favorite cartoons like a sponge (she can count  thanks to Mickey Mouse and knows her exotic animals thanks to Dora), I thought that Brother Francis would be a perfect way to help her memorize the prayers and Teachings of the Church, things that I have already begun to teach her on my own.

The biggest Christian cartoon series out there right now is Veggie Tales. My daughter loves Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, just as I did as a kid and still do today. Veggie Tales is a Protestant produced cartoon, but the message is simple and ecumenical, free of denominational specific messages; I have yet to come across anything that the Catholic Church would disagree with in any episode. In fact, in their Christmas special on Saint Nicholas, they indeed depicted him as a bishop and incorporated aspects of the Mass into the episode telling of Saint Nicholas’ life. So Veggie Tales is a hit in this house—but sometimes you really want to drive home those deep, 2,000 year old Truths that the Church has received from the Apostles. Brother Francis delivers in that department.

The main character is young monk wearing a brown robe (hence the “Brother” in his title), sporting blue jeans underneath his robe, sneakers, and a basketball in tow: in other words, a very friendly, down-to-earth guy. But as the theme song says “he ain’t no fuddy-duddy, his faith is strong in every way”. Brother Francis addresses the invisible audience that is the children viewers, explaining classic Catholic prayers and theology in a very simple, childlike way. The DVD I purchased was “The Rosary” and the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Apostles Creed are recited, broken down line by line, and the purpose of each is explained. Brother Francis then throws his basketball to the sky to make it draw a Rosary in the air, and the order of the Rosary is then explained, along with each mystery. There is also an animated portrayal of the Annunciation, showing Mary’s joyful submission to God’s Will.

Other episodes available on DVD include “Let’s Pray!: A Lesson on Prayer”, “The Bread of Life: Celebrating he Eucharist”, “Forgiven: The Blessings of Confession”, “Born into the Kingdom: the Miracle of Baptism”, and coming in Spring 2013, “The Mass”.  The graphics in each are bright, colorful, and three-dimensional, which easily grabs toddler and young children’s attention.

I should be clear that I am not advocating for leaving your toddler’s religious education in the hands of a cartoon DVD series, or that you should ignore you children while they watch television. But for those of us less-than-perfect parents who occasionally use television as a means to catch a mental health break or breathe for a few minutes, then I say you can’t go wrong with a program that teaches them the Faith of the Apostles.