Seven Quick Takes, Friday, November 21

1. This week my mind has been largely elsewhere, thinking and praying for peace in St. Louis where I grew up, and praying for all of those in Buffalo, NY where we lived for four years. Both the places and the people in those places have my affection. It is hard to see suffering and to only be able to stay here in Minnesota and pray for them.

2. You know my first snow storm in Buffalo was a pretty big one. We maybe got 12 inches in the North towns, but the South towns got close to 24″. It happened about 5 days before Christmas, and I-90 (our route to visit relatives) was closed for a day due to the snowfall. I ended up going into work the day of the storm and being ignorant of snow driving decided to drive on the right side of the road rather than the less deep left side of the road. I got stuck. I was six months pregnant, barely ever had driven in deep snow conditions, and stuck. I saw a man shoveling his driveway a few houses down, and being the good neighbor Buffalonian that he was, he got my car unstuck. He showed me how to put on the gas and rock the car back and forth until you get it out. And I know that is the kind of stuff going on in Buffalo this week. People are helping each other.

Our yard before the spring thaw last year. These poor snowmen were frozen all winter and then went the way of Frosty.

3. I also know what it is like to have 4+ feet of snow melt from your yard in a short amount of time. That happened to us last spring, and we had a minor basement flood. It turns out that it is a good idea to shovel snow away from all around the level surfaces, especially patios that go right up to your foundation. This is much more easily done when you get your snow in 2-8″ layers over the course of a winter than in 48 hours. So, I will continue to pray as the snow in Buffalo melts this weekend.

A snow angel the size of a five year old girl. 🙂

4. Speaking of snow, we have a little ourselves. But could someone please explain to me why we are down in the single digits already? Yesterday when I was out with G, it was 9°F. It is only November. We are supposed to hit the 30s this weekend, but then look at Thanksgiving:

iPad screenshot, woot!

I am pretty sure that people should not have settled here. I might need to squeeze in a rereading of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter along with my Jane Austen, so I can realize that we have it a lot better than they did.

5. Another snow question, do you think we can convince our elderly neighbors to let us build a snowman on their rock? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

6. Do you think it is time to potty train when the two year old hears me mention the word and then tries to drag me to the bathroom yelling, “POTTY TRAIN! POTTY TRAIN!”? I am not sure if it is worth it five weeks before a long visit with family. Maybe it is. Maybe I should just let her do it before she loses the desire. I have never potty trained without a younger baby around, so maybe it will be a breeze. Plus, she takes a good long afternoon nap, so it would just be in the mornings that I would be doing it alone. hmmm…

7. Last of all, for some reason, my giveaway only has two entrants right now… Don’t be shy, enter the giveaway, even if you don’t have a girl of your own, I bet you know a girl who would love Christmas with Bernadette, and I bet you would enjoy the Advent features of the Magnificat Advent Companion App. 🙂

Linking up with Kelly who is filling in for Jen at Conversion Diary.

GIVEAWAY: Magnificat Advent Companion App and Christmas With Bernadette

Advent is coming and the Catholic world is full of great suggestions of how to prepare for Christmas. I have been given the opportunity to review a book for children, Christmas With Bernadette, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App. One is a sweet story of a young girl and her family throughout Advent, and the other is a beautiful spiritual resource designed to enrich your spiritual life this Advent.

Christmas With Bernadette

Christmas with Bernadette is the second volume in the delightful children’s book series authored by Emily Ortega and illustrated by Meg Whalen. I reviewed the first book of the series, I’m Bernadette, earlier this year.

Bernadette is a spunky first grader in a Catholic elementary school. She is the oldest in her family with two younger brothers and a baby on the way. It is refreshing to read children’s literature about a loving but not perfect Catholic family. Bernadette has the typical struggles of an oldest sister with her two younger brothers who are set on destroying things and share none of her interests. And of course there is school and remembering her items for the Christmas party.

Christmas With Bernadette is a great story for showing children the traditional Catholic way of preparing for Christmas with a full season of Advent. We follow Bernadette and her family from the beginning of Advent through Christmas day, with tales of the Advent wreath, helping Mama in the kitchen, Daddy solving the problem of figuring out Christmas presents, and wondering when that baby is going to be born and if it will be a sister this time.

The book itself is 106 pages long with easy to follow chapters. A child ready for simple chapter books would be able to read it alone. My pre-reader daughters, a five year old and four year old, really enjoyed listening to the story, which took us about a week reading aloud one or two chapters a day.

Advent is the perfect time of year for children to read this story. (I am planning on sending it to my nieces for St. Nicholas Day, so that they can follow along with Bernadette during Advent.) I doubt that there are many other children’s chapter books that contain the liturgical year, a growing Catholic family, and a likeable, believable, and kind main character. If you know of any young Catholic readers or almost readers, Christmas With Bernadette would make a great gift this year for Advent or for Christmas.

The Magnificat Advent Companion App/eBook

I had the print copy of the Magnificat Advent Companion last year, and used it along with the daily readings to prepare for Christmas. This year, I have had a chance to preview the Advent App, which features much more than the print copy. In the app there is the daily Advent Meditation, but there are also prayers for the morning, evening, and night, the daily Mass readings and prayers (including the Order of the Mass), and a whole slew of other Advent features. There are recordings of Advent chants, an Advent penance service, the Advent stations, prayers for the “O” antiphons, and even blessings for your Advent wreath and Christmas tree.

Furthermore, the app is very simple and intuitive with the same format as the print Magnificat on the screen. One can easily switch from one screen to another. And there is a calendar feature to allow one to choose the day, though the current date is automatically chosen. The prayers on the app run through Christmas day.

With this app on my iPad (I still have a lame phone), I have all the liturgical resources I need for this Advent. I am pretty excited to use the meditations for my personal prayer time and the other prayers for our family Advent practices.

I will be conducting a giveaway of both items ending on Wednesday, November 26. There will two winners, one for each item.

If you wish to simply purchase them, they are both very reasonably priced. Christmas With Bernadette is available for less than $8 here, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App is available for only $0.99.

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Seven Quick Takes, Friday, October 24

1. I am mentally planning a post on our favorite Mass books for different ages, but today I just have a funny story to tell about one of them. F (23 months) has an illustrated Mass book that goes through the parts of the Mass. She really likes the page at the consecration of the Precious Blood where you can see the consecrated hosts in the ciborium, and always points to them saying, “Cookies!” I told this to M, and he suggested that maybe I should redirect her to understand that the hosts are not cookies. So, last Saturday at morning Mass I explained to her that the hosts were Jesus. During her second flipping through the book, she paused on that page, pointed to the hosts and proclaimed, “Jesus cookies!”

Jesus Cookies. From We Go to Mass.

2. Also, last Saturday, when I was busy in the morning, M winterized the vegetable garden. I am eternally grateful to him for doing this chore. I really am. It makes me really happy, thankful, and loved. He dug up all the dead plants and turned over all the soil, and trimmed back the lilac bush which tries to shade the garden. We plan on throwing some mulched leaves into the beds to add to the soil, and I am still planning on getting a compost bin for the garden stuff. We really should compost, I know, but the garbage disposal is soooooo nice.

The Empty Garden. Here you also see our crazy oregano plant and the hearty parsley.

3. My friend, Jacqui, mentioned to me that she loves my food/canning posts, but due to pregnancy I have been having a really hard time eating things that are not either made out of beef, are junk food, or are extremely bland. Maybe I should share my favorite whole wheat pancake recipe, which always works to settle a pregnant stomach. I can’t really think of anything else worth sharing…

4. Speaking of food, I discovered that my yogurt recipe works even if you let the crock-pot go on low for an extra hour (solo bedtimes will do that to you). It went all the way up to 195°F, which seems to be the limit on other yogurt recipes. But I cooled it to 115°F and added my room temperature starter, and it worked. I was pretty nervous that I had wasted 8 cups of milk plus a brand new yogurt, but instead I ended up with super creamy yogurt. I think I might have to let it go to a higher temperature every time. Maybe after a little experimenting I will update my yogurt recipe.

5. We pray a litany of our family patron saints every night during family prayer time. Tonight, L (almost 4) decided to throw out a few suggestions, wanting to repeat her patron saint as well as her sister’s. I explained to her that we do not need to do saints more than once because they are always listening when we pray to them. Her response, “I don’t always listen.” At least she is honest, right?

6. And now it is G’s (5) turn. M has been doing some home school with her twice a week in the afternoon, and one of the topics they have been covering is geography. Lately, they have been working on states. However, M, as a native of Michigan seems to favor Michigan above all other states. You can take the man out of Michigan, but you can’t take Michigan out of the man. The other morning at breakfast, G held up her hands to represent the Upper and Lower Peninsulas and said, “Mommy, this is Michigan. It is like two hands!”

7. In case you missed it, I am running a giveaway of a beautiful rosary book. The giveaway ends at Midnight at the end of the day Monday/beginning of Tuesday. Click on over to see the review and enter the giveaway!

And as always, I am linking up with the lovely hostess of Quick Takes, Jen at Conversion Diary.

Review and GIVEAWAY: Sacred Art Series Rosary Book

Welcome everyone coming over from Truth and Charity! For the giveaway, scroll to the bottom.

One of the most difficult parts of praying the rosary is keeping focused on the mysteries. Most of the time, I name the mystery and immediately get distracted. However, I have found that praying with beautiful images of the mysteries is a good way to focus. My cousin-in-law, Will Bloomfield, was inspired by a beautiful painting that he saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art to put together a prayer book for individuals to use to pray the rosary.

I asked him several questions about the book, and will let him do the explaining.


Susanna: What inspired you to put together the rosary book?

Will: About a year ago, my sister, Emily Ortega, published her first book I’m Bernadette. [I, Susanna, reviewed the book here.] About the same time, my brother, Benjamin Bloomfield, edited his first book, A Collection of Christmas Carols. I soon was inspired to begin my own publishing project: a version of the Gospels for children, featuring a story-by-story format, large font, and beautiful images of sacred art. That project has evolved over the last year into The Sacred Art Series, the flagship product of which will be released this Advent, The Holy Gospels of St. Luke and St. John. This book will feature a leatherette cover, gilded pages, a sewn binding, and a ribbon.

In the midst of editing The Holy Gospels and discussing the project with printers, I happened to take a trip to New York City for a conference for work. While there with my wife and baby, we seized the opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was thrilled to see some of the very paintings that I had already included in my early manuscript for The Holy Gospels. But while there, I also stumbled across The Fifteen Mysteries and the Virgin of the Rosary by Goswijn van der Weyden. The painting was created for devotional use for a member of the Habsburg royal family. I immediately thought that this beautiful public domain image, which was designed for royalty, would make an excellent devotional aid for families and individuals. And since I was already in the midst of a publishing project, it was quite easy to add another product to the Sacred Art Series. It was also about this time that I joined the Confraternity of the Rosary, and thus had been praying the rosary more both individually and with my family. And I had recently read St. Louis De Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary, and was impressed by St. Dominic’s promotion of the rosary, described by De Montfort, as the most effective means of converting sinners. So the Rosary Book is really the convergence of many things that all came together at the right time. You might say that it was a perfect storm of grace.

What remains strange to me is that something like this did not already exist. But to my knowledge, the Sacred Art Series Rosary Book is the first of its kind. So your readers are on the cutting edge!

S: Would you tell me about the painting used? Are rosary panels common in sacred art?

W: The Metropolitan Museum of Art attributes the painting to Netherlandish Painter, possibly Goswijn van der Weyden (c. 1515). I like the painting because it includes an image of each of the traditional 15 mysteries of the rosary, and each image is the same size, includes figures that fill each scene, and thus provides a complete set of rosary images. I also like the image of Mary in the bottom panel because it shows her crowned with 55 roses, recalling that when we pray five decades of the rosary, we offer Mary a beautiful rose for each Hail Mary and for each Our Father.

In my searches, I have not found any other similar rosary paintings. It’s, of course, easy to find beautiful images for individual mysteries, but I have yet to find any other complete sets of a similar quality. This is also strange to me, because one would think that rosary images would be readily available. Also, from my own personal experience, I know that the stained glass windows in many Catholic churches include the mysteries of the rosary; but for whatever reason, complete sets of rosary paintings seem to be rare. (And I will gladly be proven wrong if anyone can tell me otherwise.)

S: We usually pray our family rosary in the car (the children cannot get up and run around); do you have any tips for a peaceful family rosary with little ones?

W: Pray the rosary with a Sacred Art Series Rosary Book! Your children will enjoy the ability to have a picture to look at and to take turns flipping the page for the next mystery. Apart from that, I have also found the car to be a decent place to pray the rosary with the family. Every Sunday morning, during the 15 minute drive to Mass, we pray one decade of the rosary, followed by the Angelus. Our kids (ages 1, 2, 4, and 6) are so used to this routine that it never occurs to them to question it. The three older ones participate quite well. (Although getting the pacing of the words right has sometimes been a challenge for them–and consequently, for their parents!) So I think that consistency is important. Also, it’s probably better to focus on one decade prayed well, than five decades prayed poorly. Once the kids have mastered one decade, it’s easy to add more decades. And for families that are just beginning the rosary, it may help to begin the devotion during an appropriate liturgical season, such as Advent, or Lent, or during the Month of May for Mary, or during October, which includes the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7) and is the month of the rosary.


This book comes with a metal spiral binding on top and has a fold out cardboard easel. It is available in two sizes, 4×5 inches and 8×10 inches. We have the 4×5. The front page has the entirety of the panel while the inside pages feature each of the panels of the painting close up, showing the individual original 15 mysteries of the rosary.

As for the paintings themselves, just looking at them outside of praying the rosary leads to meditation on the mysteries. In each painting there are tiny details of the scene that give an opportunity for deeper meditation. As Will mentioned, all of the panels are the same size and the people are all to scale with each other. This being the case, the artist had to be very creative in fitting all the characters into the scenes. You can especially see this in the painting of the Ascension, where Our Lady and the apostles are painted in their entirety, but we only see the feet of the ascending Christ.

We have had the rosary book on the family altar for about a week now, and while I think the bigger size would be better for seeing detail, our family altar is pretty packed as it is. The children have been paging through it from time to time, and they seem to enjoy the images. My (almost) four year and I looked through it the other day, talking about each mystery, and while she was familiar with the events, she could not match the picture to them. That is perhaps one of the failings of the family car rosary, but I now see ways that our children’s catechesis can be improved.

I highly recommend the rosary book as something to display in the home or on a desk, and to pray with. You can purchase it through this website, and receive a discount of $3 off each book when you use the coupon code ROSARYBK through October 30.

Further, you can enter the below giveaway of a new 4×5 rosary book which ends Tuesday, October 28 at 12am CT.
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Review and GIVEAWAY: I’m Bernadette!

  When I was a girl, the library bookmobile used to park about a block away from my house on Saturday mornings. I would walk over with an old stack of books, return them, and spend an hour or so combing through the stacks to find a new set of reading fun. I tried very hard to pick good books, with worthwhile content, but it was often very difficult. If I had found I’m Bernadette! by Emily Grace Ortega, I am sure that I would have brought it home and read it quickly. I was always interested in stories about girls my age, and Bernadette is about a girl in the first grade. She goes to a Catholic school, and has two younger brothers, a four year old and one year old. Her mom stays at home with the kids and her dad goes to work, and it is clear that her parents are raising their family to be devoutly Catholic.

I was really excited when Emily Grace Ortega contacted me to review her book, especially when she sent a letter along with the review copy explaining her view on children’s literature: “I think it’s important for kids to have positive thoughts, ideals, and characters introduced in their reading. The current push in education to have kids “read” without offering high quality, thoughtfully produced literature infuriates me.” While my eldest is almost five, and still learning to read, I have had a lot of difficulty finding even worthwhile picture books. There certainly are a lot of good books out there, but it takes a lot of effort to find them amidst a sea of not so good ones. I have spoken to other Catholic parents who struggle to find good books for their young readers. And if you are searching for a new chapter book series, this one is definitely a gem!
The premise of the first Bernadette story (there are more coming!) is the approaching celebration for All Saints Day. Bernadette has been thinking about her Halloween costume only to hear that her school will be having a Saint parade. She has to figure out which saint she wants to dress as, and let go of her disappointment of not celebrating Halloween.
My almost five year old and three year old daughters loved listening to the story. They remembered their own experience on All Saints Day dressing up like saints, and were very eager to hear about Bernadette. The story was written simply enough for them to follow, but also, I think in a way that a child could read on his or her own. Within the telling of the story, bigger words and concepts are explained through Bernadette’s narration, and we even learn a little bit of Church teaching: some angelology (they have no genders) and how boys and men may not cover their heads in church.
Besides the wholesome and Catholic content, I think that Ortega captured the different ages of childhood well, which makes a lot of sense since she has six children of her own. There were a few scenes from the book about the four year old brother that reminded my husband and I of our own four year old, and even helped us understand that maybe that is just what four year olds are like. For example, they seem to be very good at destroying things. The illustrations by Meg Ross Whalen are very sweet, but my particular favorite is the one of the family at dinner where the baby is throwing noodles on his sister, and the mom is clutching her glass of wine.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a sweet book about childhood in a realistic, loving Catholic family. I think that children who are home schooled or those who go to school could relate to Bernadette and her family. Ortega did a wonderful job creating a world from a first grade point of view, that any Catholic family would delight in knowing.

Finally, I am happy to announce my first giveaway on my blog. You can enter twice:

1. Leave a comment.
2. Like my blog on Facebook. If you are already a Facebook fan, then that counts!
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Congratulations to Brandi M! I will be contacting you by email shortly. 🙂

P.S. If you did not win and would like to own a copy, you can order it on Amazon