Tips for wrapping up your Christmas shopping

Have you been agonizing over finding a perfect gift for a special person in your life who has specific interests and tastes? If your giftee is interested in history, research, the Catholic faith, Irish-American culture, or ethnic studies, read on!

My work allows me to work with books in various phases of their production and their journey to their audience. Here are my top picks for the people on MY Christmas shopping list:

Catholic Historian’s Handbook: Researching and Writing Your First American Catholic History Project
For the past year, I’ve been working with the New Jersey Catholic Historical Commission, editing its newsletter The Recorder and coordinating its Facebook page. The members of the Commission include first-rate scholars and teachers who enjoy nothing more than sharing their love of all things New Jersey, Catholic, and historical. I am very impressed with this volume by Commission member Carl Ganz, as well as by the Foreword by Rev. Msgr. Francis Seymour. This rich handbook is filled with practical advice, sound explanations, and real-life examples to flesh out the historical research process. A must for friends who are interested in conducting ecclesiastical historical research using primary sources!

ANY and ALL of Catholic Book Publishing’s Christmas Books
If you’re like me, you grew up with St. Joseph Editions of the Bible in your house, and you had a full selection saints’ lives books by Father Lovasik in your childhood bedroom. This year, I began working with the thriving company that produces these—and nearly countless other—books for Catholics of all ages. I am proud to coordinate social media promotional and email marketing efforts for Catholic Book Publishing, based in Totowa, NJ. This company, celebrating its 114th year, offers a tremendous wealth of books that are sure to enhance the spiritual life of many of the Catholic friends on my list—and yours!

The Irish-American Experience in New Jersey and Metropolitan New York: Cultural Identity, Hybridity, and Commemoration
This book, previously available only in hardcover and e-book format, was released this month in paperback—just in time for Christmas! While the hardcover is beautiful and the e-book is convenient, the paperback is both highly giftable and affordable. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Of course, I’m not biased in any way…

So, there you have it! My top gift picks for the readers on your Christmas list. I can personally vouch for each of these gift options. And even if you’re done shopping for others, there’s still time to treat yourself!

I wish you the merriest of Christmases and a joy-filled 2016!


Punctuation Day!


My amazing Technicolor dream soup

On these very hot and humid days, I am so glad that I can work indoors and reap the benefits of air conditioning! Even those of us who spend the day in cool places must remember to keep cool and to hydrate. One of my favorite ways to do this during the summer is by enjoying a nice bowl of my amazing Technicolor dream soup, a.k.a. homemade watermelon gazpacho. It’s both pretty and hydra-licious!


I don’t have a specific recipe for it, but I use these ingredients, in all different amounts (depending on my mood and on what’s available). Also, I recommend refrigerating this gazpacho before serving it.

Watermelon (diced) – and include any juice that results from the dicing process

Yellow or orange bell pepper (diced)

Fresh tomatoes, any type (diced) – and include any juice that results from the dicing process

English cucumber (diced)

Red onion (minced)

Garlic (minced)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Dill (freeze-dried works just as well as fresh)

Water (just a little bit, if desired)

That’s it! No fancy appliances, no cooking, no fuss. Just real fruit, vegetables, and herbs. A perfect lunch for a sweltering day!

Hell hath no fury like a woman denied her sundae

On Friday evening, my father and I went to a favorite local ice cream place, one that is generally acknowledged as one of the best in New Jersey. After waiting on the very long line, we finally arrived at the counter and presented this coupon.

2015-07-08 Applegate Farms coupon

We then ordered our soft serve sundaes: chocolate with hot fudge, and chocolate with Heath bar. Much to our surprise, the young man behind the counter informed us that a soft serve sundae includes NO toppings.

How could this be?

My father immediately pulled out his phone and began reading to the young man the definition of sundae. However, this was of no avail. The (apparently new) policy of this ice cream establishment is that a soft serve sundae includes no toppings.

After waiting on line for 20 minutes, we were not going to leave empty-handed. So, we paid our $6.31 and walked away with two medium cups of soft serve chocolate ice cream.

When I first saw the coupon, I was so dazzled by the prospect of a half-price sundae that I didn’t read the print carefully. Now that I have read the coupon more carefully, I suppose that the establishment didn’t owe us anything: the coupon is for a “Mdium Soft Serve Sundae.” All things considered, I guess it’s a good thing we got any discount at all. Hmpf!


Poetic prelude to Laudato Si

Symphonic: this is the best way I can describe Laudato Si, the encyclical released by the Vatican yesterday. The structure and style of prose expression make this one of the most engaging Church texts (from my perspective, at least), promulgated in my lifetime. I don’t make a habit of reading encyclicals on the day of their release, but in this case, I made an exception: Pope Francis had a tweet fest yesterday, and my curiosity was piqued. Throughout the day, I saw tweets about the natural world, human dignity, work, interdependence, home, poverty, and more. How can it be that critics billed this encyclical ahead of time as too narrow in scope?

As I read Laudato Si last night, a particular poem kept coming to mind—and I suspect that Pope Francis would approve. His fellow Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), in awe of God’s transcendence in nature, penned this prescient poem, “God’s Grandeur”—a poem that, like his others, Hopkins never intended for publication. How fortunate for us that after Hopkins’ death, his friends decided to publish his poetry! “God’s Grandeur” is one of Hopkins’ responses to the Industrial Revolution (and I suspect that it’s a direct reply to William Wordsworth’s bemoaning of the condition of Industrial England). As a 21st-century reader of this sonnet, I find it significant that Hopkins so skillfully diagnoses the problems that industrialism had wrought, and that despite these ills, the prognosis he provides is excellent because of the renewal that the Holy Spirit offers. This is what Hopkins has to say:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Petrarchan sonnet form of this poem allows Hopkins to lay out the problem in the first eight lines (the octave) and to shift the direction of his comments and highlight the solution in the final six lines (the sestet). Despite the damage that humans, in their pursuit of wealth and dominance, have caused, Creation is constantly renewed through the protective love and constant presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a hopeful message: one that is still needed today.

Yet this poetic reassurance needs to be backed up by action on the part of humanity; belief and hope are primary, but we need a transformation in our attitude, rendering a shift in our actions. This is where Laudato Si picks up.

In the introductory passages of the encyclical, Pope Francis takes his readers on a tour de force, visiting and reflecting on prayers, letters, addresses, and exhortations by St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, Blessed Pope Paul VI, Pope Benedict, Patriarch Bartholomew, and others. While he is delivering a difficult message—reminding us that we must change our lifestyles in order to resume our proper place in creation—Pope Francis, like Hopkins, highlights hope: “The Creator does not abandon us; he never forgets his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (13).

Pope Francis does not shy away from specifics: he outlines the particular ways in which our collective habits and failed stewardship do harm not only to our planet but also to us. He pinpoints the past two centuries as the time in which we have been the least mindful of the way we treat the natural world (53). The Industrial Revolution, and its concomitant ways of life, are causes for our detachment from the order in which we were created; as Hopkins notes, our “foot [cannot] feel, being shod.”

While the magnitude of our current predicament is highlighted by the fact that we face, as Pope Francis explains, have created “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139), the interconnectedness of the elements of the problem points to a common solution. And the solution that Pope Francis proposes centers on mindfulness, humility, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, and community. Our globalizing society continually points us in the direction of interdependence, yet we, in our pride, resist. We should remove ourselves from our silos, attend to the world around us and the needs of others; in this community life, for which we were created, we can “respond to [God’s] grace at work in our hearts” (205). Through community—by sheltering together under the wing of the Spirit, as Hopkins suggests—we can hasten the return of the “morning, [which] at the brown brink, eastward springs.”

As Hopkins reveals poetically and Pope Francis demonstrates through a sweeping theological analysis that takes in elements of anthropology, economics, politics, and psychology, we collectively have taken centuries to create a difficult situation for ourselves; however, righting the ship is not merely possible but unavoidable if we pay attention to the generosity and presence of God. Laudato Si reaffirms and further draws out how the needed changes can come about, emphasizing the action of three persons of the Trinity:

The Father—“God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore” (221).

The Son—In the Incarnation, “He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours….The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation” (236).

The Spirit—“The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways” (238).

Somehow, I have a feeling that Hopkins is having a retweet fest in heaven today.

Holy Spirit window at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Absecon, NJ

Holy Spirit window at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Absecon, NJ


Summer dissertation deadline?

My dissertation.

My dissertation.

Summer dissertation deadline? Need conceptual editing, copyediting, or formatting for your manuscript? The Graceful Grammarian can help!

I’ve been through the process with my own dissertation, and since then, I’ve worked with dozens of degree candidates as they’ve prepared their manuscripts.

Send an inquiry to thegracefulgrammarian@gmail.com or call 201.463.5967.

(Dove) Promises Fulfilled

2015-06-08 Dove promises

How, pray tell, did Dove know that a communications entrepreneur would open these sea salt caramel dark chocolate promises?


Are you spelling bee material?

Feeling brave? Try this abc.com quiz, inspired by the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee.

spelling bee

Does one word make a difference?

A few days ago, when Justin Zaremba of NJ Advance Media / NJ.com contacted me for an interview, I was reminded that I’m not the only person in NJ who thinks that words and expression are very important. Read this article (featuring an interview with yours truly, the Graceful Grammarian), and weigh in: does “If” really matter, in this case?


Academics: want to be productive this summer? Let me help!

2015-05-19 summer scholarship

Summer! To academics, this means just 1 thing: trading a teaching frenzy for a researching and writing frenzy. Need conceptual editing, copy editing, or formatting for your book or article manuscript? The Graceful Grammarian can help! I’ve been through the process many times–as an author and as an editor and formatter. Send your inquiry to harrington.mauragrace@gmail.com or call 201.463.5967.

Overlooking Principle in the Interest of Justice

Guess who recently received a jury duty summons—that’s right, the Graceful Grammarian did.

As I was preparing to return my questionnaire and some supporting documents to Jury Management in Essex County, New Jersey, something on the pre-printed return address on the questionnaire caught my eye: the spelling of the name of our county courthouse. In Essex County, the courthouse is named “Veterans Courthouse.” This is just common knowledge. On the questionnaire, though, the name of the courthouse is “Veteran’s Courthouse.”

Veterans Courthouse 1

The courthouse of which veteran? I don’t know! This prompted me to do some research.

The first thing that turned up in my search was this article on NJ.com.

Veterans Courthouse 2

Note that the title of the article refers to the edifice in question as “Veteran’s Courthouse,” while the first sentence of the article mentions “Veterans Courthouse.” It appears that a major news outlet is uncertain about the spelling of the name. Is it really so difficult?

Further research uncovered the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office website, the main page of which is pictured below.

Veterans Courthouse 5

Now, that’s more like it. “Veterans Courthouse” is the location of this office. See? I knew it!

I still wasn’t satisfied, so I turned to Google itself. I did a Google Maps search, and I found this.

Veterans Courthouse 4

What Google says and common wisdom corroborates must be true.

Either way, I wanted to be absolutely certain that my questionnaire and supporting documents arrived in the correct location. So, I held my nose and looked the other way (figuratively, of course) while I addressed the envelope.

Veterans Courthouse 3

Practical concerns outweighed principles this time. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen often.

Tribute to Gilbert

A couple of years ago, I suddenly realized that I have grown up to become Anne of Green Gables (or maybe Anne of Avonlea, or Anne of the Island): an idealistic, stubborn, red-haired teacher and writer whose imagination gets her into and out of all kinds of weird predicaments. And I’m OK with that: just call me Maura of Montclair. So, you can imagine my dismay when I learned recently that Jonathan Crombie, the actor who played Gilbert in the Anne made-for-TV miniseries, had passed away. Fortunately, for generations of girls (and boys) to come, the character of Gilbert lives on in the books (and in the miniseries). In this article, Hadley Freeman explains why Gilbert is so important. 7 letters: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It’s such a rare trait in literary characters. Lucy Maud Montgomery got it just right.

Gilbert Blythe