Posts filed under review

Memoirs of a Happy Failure: Alice von Hildebrand {Read this book!}

If you asked me to name the three most influential Catholic writers in my faith journey, there is no question that Alice von Hildebrand would be among them. I first encountered her writing as a young mother when looking on our shelves for something "easy" to read. Her slim volume "The Privilege of Being a Woman" seemed to fit the bill. It looked like it would make me smarter, had a pretty blue cover (I like blue), and most notably, was only about 100 pages. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit would use those few pages to open my eyes and heart a little wider... and transform me into someone a little (or a lot) better than I was.

I am tempted to say that Alice von Hildebrand's little book saved my marriage but that seems too dramatic since there wasn't any direct threat at the time. But it is is completely accurate to say that it (along with Fulton Sheen's Three to Get Married) changed my understanding of marriage, my place in marriage, and the meaning of my feminine identity... and built a strong foundation against the challenges that would inevitably come.

When I saw recently that St. Benedict Press had published the memoirs of Alice von Hildebrand, I stared with the hunger of a child in a candy store. I didn't need it but I needed it... know what I mean? When they sent it to me to review, I haunted my mailbox waiting and read it within two days of receiving it. I wasn't disappointed.

I wouldn't call the book exciting in the modern sense. Even the most dramatic moments of her life (escaping Nazi Germany, for example) are told in an understated way. And it is fitting. We live in a time when we feel that we must add emojis and exclamation points to everything in order to be understood... but von Hildebrand speaks of all of her life in the same reverent and tempered tone. With the innate understanding that the Holy Spirit is present through each moment as powerfully as the next. And as I read through the events of her life, from big to small, I understood that the most dramatic moments are really the ones in which the soul is moved toward God. Everything else is just window dressing.

Memoirs of a Happy Failure follows von Hildebrand from her childhood in Germany, education in the United States, marriage to Dietrich von Hildebrand (one of the great theologians of our time), all the way through her retirement from teaching philosophy at Hunter College in New York. It was a time before the internet and "education via meme." A slower time but no less rampant with the errors of relativism and modernism. Von Hildebrand combatted these enemies through the faithful and bold teaching of Philosophy. She wrote:

"How often did my students say to me, "I never heard this before," to which I would answer that to learn is to become acquainted with insights one has not had before. I had come to see that relativism is the one great obstacle to faith. Once this bastion is torn down, the rest follows. Man's longing for God is thereby "unleashed."

The book, like much of Alice von Hildebrand's writing, left me with a feeling of deep peace and confidence in the power of God working through the mundane. It also left me with a renewed hunger for a renewed pursuit of the intellectual life and a profound appreciation for the under-appreciated queen of the sciences: Philosophy. 

You can buy "Memoirs of a Happy Failure" at St. Benedict Press and I strongly recommend doing so!

Posted on November 4, 2015 and filed under review, Womanhood, books.

Catholic Soap Artisans {Holiday Guide}

I am not a high maintenance frou frou kind of person. I like to remind my husband (because men do need reminding) that he should be grateful I don't spend much money at all on hair, make-up, and accessories. But I do have my weaknesses. Like handmade soap. Not the melt-and-pour crafts using commercial bases but the real artisan stuff with lye and goats milk and essential oils and... Oh man. You can't buy just one. 

It started when I discovered that almost all commercial soaps and shampoos, lotions, and make-up cause my skin to burn and welt. It ended with... well... it hasn't ended. It has just continued to escalate into a fascination of sorts. And a deep enjoyment of pure, beautiful, handcrafted goodness. 

I love to purchase from small businesses and specifically, small Catholic business. In my search for Catholic soap makers, I have met several lovely artisans and am highlighting their shops and work here today... and giving some of it away! Please take the time to get to know them and consider doing some (or lots) of your Christmas shopping at their stores. Each one is unique. Each one uses good and wholesome ingredients. Each one loves the Lord and strives to honor Him through their handiwork and businesses. And yes, I did receive free products to review so I know what I speak of when I say... they. are. gorgeous. Let's get to it (in no particular order of awesomeness)...


If you love handmade bath and body, you are going to have a ball in Maggie's gorgeous shop. And if you don't, her stuff will be enough to convert you! She has everything from bar soap to lotions to laundry soap and, oh my, her stuff is good. Multiple members of my family use her shampoo bar (grapefruit for girls and rosemary mint for boys) and yes, it does work on long hair. 

The icing on the soap is that Maggie is a really great Catholic mom (the kind you slip into conversation with like old friends even though you have never met in person) who has promised me a tour of her workshop and soap making party next time I'm visiting her area. (In spite of never having met her, this charming woman is surely a BFF. She clearly knows the way to my heart.) This is her official reminder that I have not forgotten! And if I ever get to her place that "looks like a meth lab and smells like a garden," I will be sure to blog about it.

One of the best features of the For Goodness Soap website is the blog where Maggie shares tons of DIY recipes for healthy handmade bath and body. Tooth powder, bug repellent, dishwasher detergent... and she is also working on sharing her secrets for handmade make-up. She convinced me it could be done, gave me instructions and direction and... I'm almost out of my last bit of store bought make-up. My next beauty project? Handmade face. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, please check out the shop at For Goodness Soap. There really is something there for everyone, including pretty gift sets ready for Christmas, body butter, laundry soap, shampoo bars, clay facial scrubs, bath bombs and salts , hand lotion, liquid foaming soap, shaving soap... so much goodness. Keep an eye out for bulk discounts throughout the store!


I am a real sucker for the work of blogging, soap-making, pro-life, homeschooling, Catholic mothers. I have the same problem with all Catholic soapmakers: The more I know about them, the more I want to buy all their stuff! Shalimar not only rocks handmade, but her words feed my soul.

How does a mama of 9 find time to create? Please, just do yourself a favor and read her family Mission Statement. So good. And everything that she has written on her blog at Life Victorious.

It didn't take much to add Victory Ranch Soaps to my favorites list. True story...
Ever since my midwife dropped a bottle of lavender essential oil into the water of my tub during advanced labor, I can hardly stand the stuff. Too much smell. Too much pain. The smell association was just... too much. However, Shalimar sent me a bar of Lavender Peppermint. I eyed it warily at first. And now I keep it on my hutch just so that I can randomly pick it up, sniff, and walk away happy. My happy soap. This is one of many reasons she is the master soap maker and I am not! 

In addition to goats milk soap, the Masters family handcrafts Catholic jewelry and gifts, beeswax candles (including an Advent set... get on that), lotions, and custom products. The artist's soap would be a perfect Christmas gift for the special creative in your life. To add to the list of the family's many talents and services, they also offer professional accounting service at Accounting Masters.

Need one more huge reason to shop at Victory Ranch? Soaps for Life. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Artist's Soap from Victory Ranch Soaps


When I first read Amy's shop description on her site, I was blown away. I was sure that I needed a bigger soap budget in order to buy everything I found at Sole Sanctifier Soaps. You've got to read it for yourself to see what I mean...

This business is only one way in which I express my love for God. I completely incorporate water together with sodium hydroxide to form lye. I then mix this with God's oils he has placed on this earth for mankind's use. This soap reminds me that I am cleansing my "self" and each time I go closer to my sweet Jesus, I gain new life in the Lord.

Right... see? And her work definitely reflects the purpose she expresses. Beautifully and wholesomely crafted. She even uses blessed water in the processing of her soaps as a reminder of our life in Christ.  I do have to give you one warning though. If you have young people, they will attempt to eat the soap because it smells that good. 

One of the things that separates intentional handmade from big box commercial is how purposeful all ingredients are. Nobody is putting any garbage in that doesn't belong. With that in mind, I think my favorite product from Sole Sanctifier is the Shea Butter Balm. Amy crafted it to meet a need and perfected it to bless others who have skin issues. Without having used it, I recognize the intentionality, the time that went into it, and the purposeful ingredients. Need help? Buy it.

Amy is a busy Catholic wife and mom and I have noticed that her stock does tend to sell quickly. I recommend heading over to make a purchase soon in order to get your top choice!

Free shipping on all orders over $45 with code RESPECTLIFE. A percentage of some soaps go directly to support Rachel's Vineyard. (Twist. my. arm.)

I'm always looking for gorgeous soap and recently asked around the digital homeschool world for recommended Catholic artisans. There were many recommendations but none were listed as many times as Anna from Roots Soap Co. It didn't take me long to discover why.

Aside from the excellence of her soap, her history drew me in. The daughter of a soap maker, she still uses her mother's recipe. Clearly, Roots Soap is not the creature of hasty internet searching, but of intentional crafting and beautiful ingredients. Read more HERE. I don't usually follow companies on Instagram but I made an exception for Anna since the process and details of her business are downright lovely. 

The real genius of Root Soaps is the simple goodness and although Anna portrays it as "soap for the working class," it is clear that wholesome ingredients are luxurious in themselves. You'll see. I dare you to buy the gingerbread and not head straight for the shower to try it out! (And then you'll hide it like the treasure that it is so that your kids won't scrape holes in it next time they take a 30 minutes shower... because kids do things like that.)

In addition to soap, Anna sells Organic Bath Tea, salves and oils, gift sets, laundry soap and shampoo, and custom monogram favor soaps. Don't miss her Black Friday sale... 50% off of soap rounds this week!


One winner will receive:
A box of
representing the shops featured above.

Don't let the rafflecopter scare you off. All entries but one are optional. The others are there to honor the work of these Catholic women and families and get you motivated to check them out.There's no shame in this kind of worthy networking! 

Posted on November 24, 2014 and filed under Beauty, handmade, review.