Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead

May 2012 Reads

April came and went without a post of our reads so I’m catching up now! I always end up reading more than one book at a time. Does anybody else do that? Or do you dutifully finish one before you start the next?

I started and finished The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins and I stayed up way too late in the process. I’m honestly not sure what I think about them yet. They were exciting and engaging; however, I felt like Collins was making me, as the reader, complicit in the crimes of “The Capitol” which viewed the Games as entertainment since I was being entertained by the violence as well. What did you think about the books or movie (haven’t seen it yet)? Any good articles that might help me think about them more?

I’m about halfway through Men at Arms, the first novel of the Sword of Honour Trilogy by my all-time favorite author: Evelyn Waugh

I finally finished the last book of the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead. My love for all things Arthurian is a tad embarrassing, but I can’t help it. I was mildly obsessed with Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott as a young child because Anne loved it and because I loved all things Anne. I also adored the musical Camelot with Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Harris. I watched it every time I got strep throat, which was often, between the ages of 5 and 7. Seriously. They knew me well at the walk-in clinic (because I always fell ill on the weekend of course) and nicknamed me “the strep magnet.” I became buddies with the cool nurse named Val. Oh the good times we had…

Anyhow, that’s my story for why I’m willing to read books with humiliatingly bad cover art like so:

Let’s move on shall we?

I plan on finishing The Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Familiaris Consortio tomorrow morning. So so good.

I’ve been trying to find something in the chapter book category that would catch 3-year-old Benjamin’s fancy as a read aloud. He’s not ready for Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book, or anything else without pictures on every page that I’ve tried reading to him. BUT, yesterday I discovered with glee that he LOVES Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. We read a chapter last night and a chapter this morning of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald and he was giggling and completely captivated. Hooray!

What are you reading? What are you reading to your littles? And do let me know what you thought of The Hunger Games. I’m dying to know.

March 2012 Reads

For you wonderful new readers, you should know that we are book people. Books are everywhere in our house and I’m constantly trying to figure out more nooks for storing books. I try to post once a month about what we’re reading and I love to hear what books my readers are enjoying, too, so let me know in the comments!

I recently finished Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. I adored it. Waugh is one of my very favorite authors. His most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited, is in my top 5 most favorite books ever. And I also love A Handful of Dust, although, I warn you, it’s so depressing that after finishing it I had to take a 4 hour nap. But Helena isn’t depressing. It’s wonderful. It’s a novel about the life of Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, who discovered the True Cross. The language is delightfully anachronistic (a roman soldier will refer to another as “old chum,” etc.) and Helena is a fantastic character.

After I finished Helena, I started Waugh’s highly recommended, but super super long Sword of Honour Trilogy. I’m only a chapter in and I can tell that I’m going to love it, maybe as much as I love Brideshead. And it’s long enough to keep me busy for a good long time. It’s set in WWII era. As I explained in the Big Ol’ Catholic Reading List, Waugh’s writing was a huge influence on my conversion to Roman Catholicism. Someday, I’ll tell you the whole story.

And, although the cover art is dreadful, I finished the penultimate book in Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle. I promise that this Arthurian historical fiction series isn’t as lame as it looks. Just trust me on this, ok? Ok.

I’m still enjoying Karen Edmisten’s Through the Year with Mary.

And I’m still reading the Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Familiaris Consortio during my Holy Hour. It really is amazing.

Daniel has been reading Winnie the Pooh with our 3-year-old (a beautiful edition that my sweet mother-in-law gave our boy for Christmas) and Benjamin is loving it!

I have continued to read him slightly more challenging read alouds like Little House in the Big Woods during bathtime (when his hands are occupied with water play and he can’t run around the room).

Sometimes he really isn’t interested, though, and wants to just read picture books. Should I just let him take the lead on that? I don’t want him to start to feel like read aloud time is a chore, but I also don’t want to read only books that are beginning to be below his level (not that good quality picture books are ever something to leave behind).

My dear friend, Holly (at Whole Family Habits) just wrote a great post about reading to her girls and ways to transition into books with fewer pictures while still keeping your little ones interested. We got to spend some time with Holly and her precious girls during our recent visit to Texas and it was so refreshing to spend a few hours catching up. And, Holly, who takes beautiful photographs, gave me some basic lessons on how to use my Canon Rebel. I’m so excited to experiment with it now that I have a rudimentary knowledge of how to take pictures manually. Maybe all my pictures won’t be blurry anymore? We shall see.

For more posts about books and children, check out 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter and 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son (and take a look at the comments as well because readers had all sorts of good recommendations to add).

What are you reading this days? What are you reading to your little ones? Inquiring minds want to know.

The Big Ol’ Catholic Reading List
February 21, 2012, 4:15 pm
Filed under: Books, Husband, Prayers, Rosary, Saints | Tags: , , , ,

Ok, so it’s not that big and it’s definitely not in the ballpark of comprehensive (would that even be possible?). But, in response to a reader’s request for resources on Catholic teaching, Catholic motherhood, Catholic blogs, and books that influenced our decision to convert, here’s…well, something. It’s off the top of my head with a couple suggestions and notes from Daniel. I would LOVE your suggestions and recommendations for additions!


(Daniel’s note regarding recommended reading for Catholic thought that also influenced our conversion:

“Read the Church Fathers, beginning with Ignatius of Antioch. Before I was Catholic, I thought that the Protestant Reformation was necessary because of a steady decline that had taken place in the Church from its very beginning. I thought that everything would be great if we could just get back to the Early Church. But I figured we just didn’t have a record of that time. Turns out, we do. Ignatius of Antioch lived in the first century and was martyred in the beginning of the second so his writing held a lot of weight with me. When I read his letters, I was quite surprised by what I found. Over and over again, he emphasizes loyalty to the bishops; an idea that was totally foreign to me. He spoke of the Church as a single organization with a hierarchy and chain of command. He also spoke of the Eucharist with great reverence and called it the ‘medicine of immortality.’

Continuing through the centuries… St. Augustine, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Anselm. With these guys, it wasn’t so much a particular argument they made that drew me to the church. Instead, it was the continuity that exists over the centuries in their writings. This flew in the face of my idea that there was a ‘falling away’ from the truth. Quite the opposite, their was unbroken consistency of thought and teaching that existed from the early church all the way up to the contemporary Catholic Church. Maximus emphasizes this continuity (albeit in the 7th century).”)

A good place to start is with The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch. There’s a good Paulist Press edition. Also worth reading are: The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, Confessions or the Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love of St. Augustine, and Selected Writings of Maximus Confessor.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church—doesn’t get much better than this. Confession: I haven’t read the whole thing. Maybe remedying that should (obviously?) be one of my Lenten devotions.

Signs of Life by Scott Hahn—Daniel and I read this together during Lent two years ago. There are 40 chapters so it’s perfect for lenten reading.  Dr. Hahn is also a convert and this book is a beautiful introduction to Catholic sacraments, sacramentals, and practices. Hahn includes many, many Scripture references in his chapters which is always helpful to those of us coming from a Protestant background.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton—Just awesome. Everything Chesterton writes is delightfully funny and painfully true.

On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard: Written by a convert, this book explains facets of the Catholic faith and Catholic worldview and dispells minunderstandings of the Catholic faith that might arise coming from a Protestant worldview.

On Loving God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux—Following in the footsteps of St. Augustine, this medieval saint writes beautifully. I am a medievalist at heart and I just love St. Bernard. Here’s an example: “Faith certainly bids me love him all the more whom I regard as that much greater than I, for he not only gives me myself, he also gives me himself.”

Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything by Michael P. Foley—Written by one of our Baylor profs, this is a delightful read.

And if you’re up for something dense but amazing—any of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.


Return to Rome by Francis Beckwith—Dr. Beckwith’s story of his reversion to Catholicism after becoming Protestant and being President of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Crossing the Tiber by Stephen RayPart I is his conversion story from Protestantism and Parts II and III are on Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

Confessions by St. Augustine—the ultimate conversion story.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton—Another good conversion story highlighting the working of God’s grace guiding us, even when we are unaware.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by the Blessed John Henry Newman—The spiritual autobiography of a former Anglican. Confession: I haven’t read this one, but Daniel really liked it.


St. Benedict’s Prayer Book—We love using this for morning and evening prayer for our family.

An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales—Exhortations to holiness through prayer and examination of conscience by a wonderful saint of the Church.

The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary by Karen Edmisten—Fantastic introduction to praying the Rosary. I’ve read it twice and it has helped me make the Rosary a frequent and familiar devotion in my spiritual life.


Familiaris Consortio, Encyclical by the Blessed Pope John Paul II: This one definitely falls into the category of Catholic teaching but has much to say on motherhood and the family in modern life. I’m more than halfway through and loving it.


Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset—Well-researched and beautifully written biography of St. Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset, another fellow convert to Catholicism.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, “The Dumb Ox” by G.K. Chesterton—Nobody writes biography as delightfully as Chesterton. A wonderful introduction to this great saint.


ANYTHING written by Flannery O’Connor. My favorite is The Violent Bear It Away.

(Daniel’s note: “This is hard to explain. Perhaps it was that she was a Southern author writing about the South. I guess she was able to translate her Catholicism into the language of my Southern Protestantism. I can’t really put my finger on it. Obviously, the sacraments are a huge part of her work, even when they are slightly hidden. There is a kind of radicalism in her stories that makes sense to me and I think is a core part of the Gospel message. There is a totality to it that I think is clearly shown in Catholic theology. She also helped me see that some of my objections to the Catholic Church were actually rooted in my modern, materialist perspective and not really in anything biblical.”) Warning: If you’ve never lived in the South…these works will be just about impossible to understand.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: THE 20th Century Catholic Novel. Wickedly funny and full of heartbreaking truth, Brideshead follows the working of God’s grace in the aristocratic Flyte family through the eyes of their friend Charles Ryder. I read it every year and the characters have become beloved companions. I can’t explain why, but I think this book influenced me to become Catholic more than any other.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: I’ve written about how much I love this saga before—how often do you find good medieval historical fiction? Kristin’s spiritual journey chronicled throughout the books is complex, beautiful, and worth reading.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Daniel’s note: “I guess this is hard to explain, too. Maybe part of it was that I absolutely loved Tolkien and his worldview. So the fact that he was Catholic made me see Catholicism in a more positive light. There are also a lot of sacraments in his work. The Eucharist shows up all the time.”)


Karen Edmisten

Simcha Fisher

Elizabeth Foss

Kate Wicker

Kitchen Stewardship

Waltzing Matilda


Catholic Cuisine: Helpful in seeing what’s coming up in the liturgical year and has some wonderful ideas. Warning: most of the recipes are for cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and other desserts made of white flour and sugar. Rarely is there a recipe that isn’t full of processed ingredients and tons of sugar, so there isn’t much that I actually want to cook for my family.

Feast!: Our Seasonal, Real Foods, Christian Year Celebrating (and very neglected) food blog.

What are your suggestions for MUST-READ books and resources on Catholic faith?

(p.s. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a copy of the clothbound Penguin classic edition of Pride and Prejudice! It ends tomorrow at noon!)

GIVEAWAY! (NOW CLOSED): Penguin Clothbound Edition of Pride and Prejudice
February 15, 2012, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Books, Children, Giveaway, Health | Tags: , , ,

Well, it’s high time for a giveaway! Due to the flu bug hitting our house, Lucy getting pneumonia, and Benjamin having asthma attacks…it’s been a pretty lousy past few days. We’re still kind of under the weather and Lucy is still coughing, but I think we are at least on the mend. But wow, with two sick kids and a sick mama…mark down yesterday as a big, fat mothering fail that included tears, desperate threats, and hollering. Apparently, I’m not great at handling a 3-year-old asthmatic wired from albuterol and prednisone, worry about my sweet baby girl (how scary is the word “pneumonia”!), and tending to the two of them while muddling though the day with my flu symptoms. I need a little fun today so…..giveaway? Yes.

Everybody needs one of the beautiful clothbound Penguin classics editions of Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, amirite?

I am completely obsessed with these gorgeous clothbound classics. I talk about them all the time. My in-laws gifted me several for my 26th birthday and I have them all on a pretty shelf in the bedroom. I love that when Lucy reads Miss Austen for the first time, she’ll be reading such a lovely edition. And since I have such wonderful readers, I want to share my love for Austen and these Penguin Classics by doing a giveaway and sending a copy of Pride and Prejudice to a lucky reader.

So, here’s the drill: subscribe to Carrots for Michaelmas via email or an RSS reader and then leave a comment to say you did. If you’re already a subscriber, leave a comment letting me know. For a second entry, leave an additional comment telling me which Austen novel is your favorite and why. For a third entry, share this giveaway on Facebook (you can use the FB “like” button at the bottom of the post under “share it”) and leave an additional comment letting me know that you did. For a fourth entry, you can link to this giveaway on your blog and remember to leave an additional comment telling me you did. Be sure to include an email address or blog where I can reach you if you win! I can only ship the giveaway prize to readers in the continental US. Giveaway ends next Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 at 12pm EST. I will use a random number generator to choose a winner. Giveaway will be announced soon after it closes and I will probably have a book sent to the winner directly from Amazon.

Disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with, Penguin, or (unfortunately) Miss Jane Austen (unless being a fanatical admirer counts). I just like giveaways and saying thank you to my dear readers!

p.s. Does anyone use the Amazon affiliate program on their blog? Do you like it? How does it work?


A Dinosaur Birthday
February 8, 2012, 6:58 pm
Filed under: Books, Children | Tags: , , , , ,

Ever since his farm-themed two year birthday party ended, Benjamin has been telling me that he wanted a dinosaur birthday when he turned three. “Well, you shall have it, my love,” I told him.

Daniel’s parents picked out some pretty fantastic decor and our Little Bear dressed like the paleontologist he is with his special dinosaur fossil digging hat. I told him that he could invite whoever he wanted but he just wanted it to be family: uncles and aunts, grandparents, and mama, daddy, and Lucy. And hey! I wasn’t going to argue with that!

The little stinker was VERY specific about what kind of birthday cake he wanted: “Chocolate with chocolate frosting and with dinosaurs on top that look real…but you can eat ’em.” Since he requested chocolate, I knew I would make my favorite chocolate cake of all time that my friends Lara and Rachel made for me years ago on my birthday. They covered it in edible flowers. It was gorgeous and scrumptious and I was overwhelmingly awed by their combined artsiness and culinary skills. I won’t post the recipe because it’s their family recipe, but I’ll make it for you if you come over. Their aunt created it and she passed away recently. So, as I stayed up late the night before Bear’s party to bake it, I thought about his precious little life just beginning and I remembered Lara and Rachel’s aunt and praised God for her life, too. I will tell you this: the recipe includes coffee and cinnamon so…yeah, it’s amazing.

My friend Jenna who owns a cake business took pity on me and told me how to use chocolate molds to create the requested edible decorative dinos. They’re not perfect (Jenna is probably giggling as she looks at this) but Benjamin thought they were pretty cool and we’ve been making dinosaur shaped candies all week to his delight.

“Happy Birthday, dear Benjamin…”

Bear was quite taken with his birthday “grappler logging truck.”

What a nut.

And I was quite taken with the treasure box, treasure (buffalo nickels), and beautiful illustrated Treasure Island from my folks for our boy. (Treasure Island was one of the honorable mentions from 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son and one of the books most likely to be found on the shelves on Downton Abbey’s Nursery in that delightful guest post from Katherine.)

As for other birthday loot, the birthday boy is currently snuggling with his Benjamin-sized T-Rex stuffed animal named “Ronny” from my brother and he’s been moving dried lentils all around the kitchen floor with his new construction equipment set from Aunt Vanessa and Uncle Travis. Win.

So glad we got to celebrate our boy with such wonderful extended family!

January 2012 Reads

Now that we’re really settled into life with two kids, my sleep-deprived mind is getting back into the swing of reading for pleasure.

In January I finally finished Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was a beautiful clothbound Penguin edition, see?

I am more than mildly obsessed with these Penguin editions and my wonderful in-laws gifted me several for my birthday last year. Can’t imagine a better gift. Cranford was my first Elizabeth Gaskell. I loved the miniseries with Judi Dench and honestly, although the book was delightful…(I’m scared to say it) I kind of liked the film better. Don’t tar and feather me. Cranford doesn’t read as a novel so much as a collection of vignettes. It’s charming but I think I will like North and South or Wives and Daughters better in book form.

And while we’re on the subject of the clothbound Penguin classics, this is the coolest phone charger imaginable:

Thanks to Cassie for alerting me that such things exist.

I also finished Stephen Lawhead’s Arthur. I can’t say no to Arthurian related books. I didn’t like Arthur as much as the first book in the series, Taliesin. But it was still worth reading and I’ll probably track down the final two books. It’s actually well-researched and not as embarrassing as the cover art would lead you to believe.

During my Holy Hour I started reading the Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Familiaris Consortio: On the Christian Family in the Modern World. It’s as wonderful as I expected.

And every morning I treat myself to the day’s reading in Karen Edmisten’s Through the Year with Mary. Sometimes I forget and the next day I treat myself to TWO wonderful quotes about Our Lady.

Benjamin has recently made a leap in his reading time attention span and has been enjoying Dr. Seuss in particular. He can sit through several stories in a row and beg for more.

What have you been reading? What are your kids enjoying?

10 Books You Must Read to Your Son

After 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter, I thought the boys were getting rather left out. Having never been a boy, this list didn’t come as naturally. But, being the mother of a boy it seems equally important. Basically, I want my son to be a confident, thoughtful, compassionate, strong-minded, and virtuous man like Mr. Knightley, not a weak, desire-driven, selfish cad like Willoughby. So here goes (with some help from Daniel)…

1. The Once and Future King by T.H. White: I cannot wait to read this to Benjamin. This retelling of the King Arthur story is delightful and full of important questions of honor, justice, and manhood. Also, there’s adventure galore and falconry. So, what more could you want?

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings is the foundation for a huge amount of modern fantasy literature, movies and video games.  It would not be exaggerating to say that even the genre of “fantasy” became nearly synonymous with the general aspects of Tolkien’s world. Beyond the fantasy genre, LotR has influenced everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars. Despite this far reaching influence, Tolkien’s imagined world remains unmatched in depth, history, richness, and detail. But more important than all of this, The Lord of the Rings teaches virtue in an incredibly powerful way. Of course, there is Aragorn; wise, strong, courageous, and skilled in warfare. But, despite what the LotR movies would have you believe, Tolkien was not enamored with war. Battles make up a very small percentage of his books and he does not romanticize fighting.  The true heroes, Sam and Frodo, are neither physically strong or all that knowledgeable and they spend almost no time engaged in any sort of physical combat. Their great feat is their faithfulness to the task given to them, their courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for others.

3. Beowulf: Get yourself the Seamus Heaney translation and introduce your son to some epic Anglo-Saxon manhood. There are dragons, monsters, and really strong guys who can rip monsters apart with their hands. But it’s not really about brawn, it’s about honor, courage, responsibility, and sacrifice.

4. The Iliad by Homer: Just in case Beowulf didn’t thoroughly saturate your kid with epic poetry, read him the Iliad. It’s kind of a classic.

5. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: I’m not a huge fan of the YA Fiction “coming of age” story, but this one is pure gold. On the surface, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows Jody Baxter, a young boy living in backwoodsy Florida, and his friendship with a deer, but there are deeper themes of family, sacrifice, and the painful process of growing up. There are enough bear hunts and snake bites to keep any boy’s attention but this fine novel can wring tears from a grown man.

6. Anything Jane Austen: I know, I know, you think they’re just for girls, but you’re wrong. The heroes of Austen’s six novels don’t slay dragons or hunt bears but they are fighting everyday battles of self-sacrifice, honor, and compassion. I hope Benjamin grows up to be a chivalrous Mr. Knightley or a noble Colonel Brandon and I want him to understand the consequences of acting like a rakish Willoughby, Henry Crawford, or Wickham: everything gets ruined, especially the cad’s own soul. These novels aren’t about weddings, they’re about virtue. A thorough knowledge of Miss Austen’s novels also won’t hurt a young man’s ability to win the heart of his lady love.

7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: It’s no secret that these books are favorites in the Stewart household. When I was pregnant with our firstborn I said to Daniel in a horrorstruck voice, “What if our kids don’t like Harry Potter?!” We decided to just dismiss the thought because it’s too ghastly to consider. So, many fine male characters, friendship Aristotle would approve of, a view of evil that’s thoroughly Augustinian, beautiful depictions of sacrificial love, and a high view of family are just a few things that the series has to offer.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: First of all, I can’t believe I left this series off the girl’s list. They’re worthy of a place in every kid’s childhood. Benjamin’s almost three and I really want to give these wonderful books a try for reading aloud at bedtime.

9. The Boy Scouts Handbook: Daniel tells me that an old-timey version of this book about gaining cool skills was one of his favorites as a child. I think it’s important for young boys (and girls) to be outdoorsy savvy.

10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: OK, so I should confess that I haven’t read this one, but Daniel wrote his thesis on it and says it’s a must read, so it makes the list. The theme of Man vs. Nature is sure to appeal to your young man and the book also includes ships, whales, and sharp objects. Most boys really like the idea of going into the wild and being tested by the forces of nature, or at least that’s what I’m told.

Here’s some more titles highly recommended to me that I didn’t include in the list because it’s been too long since Daniel or I have read them: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (more man vs. nature), The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Montecristo is also really great), Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Got any suggestions? What would be on your list?