7 Quick Takes

seven quick takes friday 2

1. Out of context quote of the week: “Okay, just don’t pee on the yogurt.”

2. I think it was on Thursday, I had one of those, “This is my life” moments. The four of us — me, the baby, the toddler, the preschooler — crammed together on 1.5 couch cushions. Victor nursing. Lucia, squeezing herself practically underneath me (“I want to be clooose to you!!”), trying to read an Elephant and Piggie book out loud while dramatically contorting her body (maybe reading upside down is easier?) every few words. Felix, standing on his head next to her, annoyed that she is reading slowly and getting all the attention. Lucia, getting annoyed that he is annoyed. Victor, annoyed that he almost got kicked in the head by Felix. Me, squished. Can’t we at least use the whole couch?

3. I wasn’t going to garden this year. I’d come to terms with the fact that “gardening” is more like my euphemism for “throw some starter plants in the dirt and watch them die on the deck,” and I was going to be happy if I could keep a couple pots of herbs alive this summer. But then my intrepid, “Square Foot Gardening” library copy-wielding neighbor stopped by, asking if I wanted to share (oh, and build) a raised bed with her, and I couldn’t resist. (Luke: “Did you tell her your contribution to the building process will be blogging about it?”) Hours of sleep have been lost this week, pouring over MotherEarthNews and OrganicGardening.com in the glow of the tablet, calculating lumber and soil mix costs, and pondering the qualities of loose leaf lettuce.

On my last library trip, I detoured through the gardening section and, while the best books seem to have been snatched up by now, did get my hands on this. I have a feeling I’ll be laughing/crying over it soon. Oh, and did I mention we both have newborns? Pictures to follow, unless it’s a total disaster. Then we’ll just pretend it didn’t happen, and that we totally meant to build a really long, narrow sandbox in full sun squeezed between a deck and a driveway. Perfect.

86654

4. Summer is such an easy time, though, to get lost in fantasies of being the perfect little agrarian. For the past two years, we’ve been part of a farm share, and I get all, “Look at us! Washing beet greens! Let’s sit on the floor and shell beans, kids!” Last summer I read Joel Salatin’s “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Cons,” and my aspirations culminated in asking Luke for a vermicomposting kit (for under the sink!) for my birthday.

He took me to New York instead.

5. Lucia this week: “I think Neptune is a saint.” I was telling Faith recently how Lucia’s grasp of theology seems to weave seamlessly into her love of fairy tales, and how I wasn’t sure about adding mythology into the mix, but it looks like the kid beat me to it. This is the same child who, after being told point blank by her loving father that Santa wasn’t real, answered nonplussed, “No, he’s real; I read about him in a book.” And around the same time, explained that a Heffalump must have come into her room that night, because she couldn’t find her bear in the morning. She wonders if St. Lucia has magic powers, like Elsa’s, that allow her to light up a room instead of freeze it. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I’m counting on you.

6. I found out recently that Felix, when he’s supposed to be brushing his teeth, enjoys scrubbing the bottom of the sink with his toothbrush before sticking it back in his mouth. I think he thinks the extra bubble/cleaning action is beneficial for both the sink and his teeth. I don’t know. I steeled myself against overacting when I caught and scolded him, only to have him say, “No, I sticking it in THERE!” [pointing to the black drainage hole at the rim of the sink]. Gaaaah.

7. That’s all I’ve got. Go to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more quick takes!

He’s almost as good as Santa Claus

I just finished a long-overdue letter to a friend of mine in the convent, and, knowing she enjoys sharing stories of the kids with the other sisters, I included some recent vignettes. One in particular, from St. Patrick’s Day, felt like such a microcosm of life with the two older kids. Behold:

[After our 12th reading of Tomie dePaola’s Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, Lucia decides it would be a worthy and appropriate idea to say a prayer to St. Patrick before bed. So we settle deeper into the couch, and she takes it away.]

Lucia, with gusto: “Patrick. We LOVE you!”

Me: [….?]

Lucia: And you are in heaven! Please help us to be good, and to be like Jesus!

Me: [patting myself on the back]

Lucia: “And to keep our room clean!”

Me: [oh.]

Lucia: “And to get a dog!”

Felix, finding his chance: “And to get a cat! NO! But we CANNOT get a cat because it might scratch us! And we cannot get a dog because it might EAT US!!”

Lucia, unfazed: “And keep Uncle Chris safe, and to always have enough food.”

Felix: “A dog might eat us!!”

Lucia: “AMEN.”

Felix: [SOBS, RENDING OF HAIR AND GARMENTS] “NOO!!!! I NOT FINISHED YET!!!!”

Me, over sobs: “Ok!! What else do you want to pray for!”

Felix, through snot: “And, and, and, pweez, that Wucia not say ‘no’ to me–”

Lucia: [begins to squirm uncomfotably at the new direction he’s taking this]

Felix: “–and that she MUST say, ‘I’m sorry.'”

Me: “Amen.”

Felix: “Amen!”

what we’re reading Wednesday!

1. I just finished reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Lucia for the first time, and oh man, it got me in the postpartum feels, all right. I mean, I was choking up when Father Christmas arrived.

There’s something about reading C.S. Lewis out loud – and, for the first time, actually to a child other than 7-year-old me – that made me appreciate even more deeply the poignancy of scenes such as Aslan breathing the statues back to life, or the brilliant, joyful reality of Father Christmas appearing against the Witch’s bleak landscape. It dawned on me that Lewis writes as someone who knows the ache of Loss — and if you’re familiar with his life, you know he did, from a very young age — yet he describes both sorrow and hope in such a perfectly simple way that’s somehow accessible to children and adults alike. The characters experience joy, too, of course, but it always stands in contrast to, or perhaps rises out of, the despair and hopelessness that even small children can sense in the land of always winter, never Christmas. He doesn’t cheapen or downplay the importance of children’s emotions or, in his characters’ case, their actions; everything is weighted with a sense of purpose and responsibility.

I remember reading that J.R.R. Tolkien disapproved of the Narnia books, which can only lead me to conclude that Tolkien was a poo.

2. We’ve since moved on to A Bear called Paddington, which is cute or whatever, and at least better than the live action movie, which I can only recommend if you’re interested in seeing Lord Grantham act like a sputtering buffoon and dress in drag (or hey! Just keep watching Downton Abbey; I’m sure it’ll get there eventually ;)).

3. I am trying with all my might to finish Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, but it’s painful. I just want a scene where everyone gets slapped off their high horses. Literally. That would make for a much more interesting novel.

Anyways. I seem to read a lot more when newborns are in the mix, so hopefully I’ll be blogging at least about books more often. Visit Jessica at Housewifespice for more reviews!

What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Yearling

Lately, I’ve been on a “young adult classics I never read as a young adult” kick. Think Peter Pan, A Wrinkle in Time (which…I really enjoyed, but thought would be more epic , maybe a la Harry Potter — please don’t judge :)) and, most recently, Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s The Yearling. 

The YearlingThere is so much to immediately love about this book. In my Goodreads review, I mentioned it was like reading a Wendell Berry novel set in Florida, if for nothing else than the beautiful themes woven throughout: the honorable man is the one who respects nature and only takes what he needs while making sure to leave enough for future generations. A simple, hardworking lifestyle is praised above the freewheeling, carousing antics of other settlers. Family and home are islands of safety, and the people themselves, far from being depicted as backwards, mockable hillbillies (even when they’re literally prancing around naked before dawn, playing their fiddles and banjoes), are treated with the author’s respect and given a spirit of joy and sense of culture and purpose, even alongside their flaws.

And the prose! I knew I was in for a heart-wringer when I got to to this passage in the first chapter, after the 12-year-old protagonist returns from an afternoon’s romp in the woods:

“You’re addled,” she said. “Jest plain addled.”

It was true. He was addled with April. He was dizzy with Spring. He was as drunk as Lem Forrester on a Saturday night. His head was swimming with the strong brew made up of the sun and the air and the thin gray rain. The flutter mill had made him drunk, and the doe’s coming, and his father’s hiding his absence, and his mother’s making him a pone and laughing at him. He was stabbed with the candlelight inside the safe comfort of the cabin; with the moonlight around it. … He went to bed in a fever and could not sleep. A mark was on him from the day’s delight, so that all his life, when April was a thin green and the flavor of rain was on his tongue, an old wound would throb and a nostalgia would fill him for something he could not quite remember. A whippoorwill called across the bright night, and suddenly he was asleep.

I mean. I can’t even handle it; that ache is almost tangible as I read the words again. At the risk of spoilers, I will say that, as a coming of age novel, “addled with April” doesn’t last forever; innocence confronts death, in more than one context; and young Jody emerges the next spring as much more of a hardened young man than the lively “yearling” who slips away from his chores to play at the spring.

But the ending! (Definitely spoilers ahead :)) After a veritable Return of the Prodigal Son moment, Jody’s heroic father, Penny, delivers this final homily — and that’s how it came across to me, just downright cold and preachy — on the hardness of life:

“Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life. … A man’s heart aches, seein’ his young uns face the world. Knowin’ they got to git their guts tore out, the way his was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.”

Jody goes to bed, thinking of his fawn — “He did not believe he should ever again love anything, man or woman or his own child, as he had loved the yearling. He would be lonely all his life. But a man took it for his share and went on.” (And then that last sentence of the book…oh, it is haunting.)

And as adults, I think we read that with two minds…on the one hand, we mourn the tragedy of his irretrievable loss of innocence. We empathize with Penny, wanting to shield his son from sorrow. And the mention of loneliness as almost the  defining trait of the mark of death reminded me of John Paul II’s theology of the body,  which considers loneliness in a twofold manner: first, man’s natural, “original solitude,” which points him irrevocably in the direction of companionship with God and others (and, oh, Jody’s “I must up and return to my father” moment nearly made me cry); and second, the loneliness that occurs because of man’s alienation from God. In Jody’s world, the swamp — as glorious and mysterious as it is — is marked by sin and death, and he feels the stab of loneliness acutely.

I digress. “He did not believe he should ever again love anything,” blahblahblah. Yeah. That can’t be true. Even Penny, who didn’t even marry his first love (and we get a glimpse of what could’ve been), treats Jody’s ornery mother with a tenderness that I found moving. And we know that Jody will most likely grow up, marry, have a family, and then more fully understand Penny’s love for him as he loves his own children. So I’m not sure if Rawlings is leaving us with an adolescent’s short-term view of things, or if the lesson really is, “You will never love again this perfectly, and you will never be fulfilled”?

Anyways. I’m really rambling. Suffice it to say, I thought it was a powerful book that totally took me by surprise. Also, there are fun mealtime scenes (squirrels and corn pone, anyone?) Do yourself a favor and read it, and then the next morning, after staying up until 11:30 to finish reading, listen to Andrew Peterson’s Ballad of Jody Baxter while silently choking up over dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. Except then you can’t even blame it on pregnancy hormones like me — ha!

Go visit Jessica for more of What We’re Reading Wednesday!

What We’re Reading Wednesday: The Whole Five Feet

5826496

 

Christopher Beha is a 20-something Princeton grad living in his parents’ Manhattan apartment and undergoing something of a quarter-life crisis. Sounds thrilling, I know. He finds himself drawn to the five-foot shelf of Harvard Classics books inherited from his grandma, a woman who educated herself with them through the Great Depression, and decides to read through all 51 volumes in a year. Voila: a memoir.

Overall, I appreciated Beha’s openness to the questions posed by the Great Books: What is the life worth living? What are knowledge’s limits? What is a good death? What is the purpose of education? Heck, I appreciated his openness to the “Great Books” themselves and the value of past wisdom. The book’s most moving parts occur when Beha’s year doesn’t pan out exactly according to reading schedule, and his lessons in the meaning of suffering include sharing an apartment with his dying, beloved aunt. Having faced his own trials of serious illnesses, including cancer as a college student, Beha takes history’s great thinkers at face value when they confront their own mortality and sense of purpose. Some of the most poignant sections were when Beha, a fallen-away Catholic, dwells on the importance of tradition, belonging, and faith’s role in shaping culture. And his chapter spent pondering the value of cultivating culture (especially through reading the old, good books), but also of engaging modern culture (by actively consuming popular media) — and whether the two ideas are exclusive — has given me a lot to think about.

I wanted to read Beha’s book because I’ve been trying for awhile to formulate my thoughts on the value of a Great Books education. (Also, why season three of Veronica Mars is dramatically sub-par to the previous two, and whether Felix is so far “behind” his sister in terms of talking/being a member of civil society because we ignore him too much. Keeping it real.) I mean, Luke and I met in and subsequently sat through 7 out of 8 seminars together in our university’s Great Books Honors program, so there’s that. (We bonded sophomore year when my look of surprised horror at accidentally playing footsie with our curmudgeon of a Franciscan friar caught Luke’s amused, knowing expression across the table. Pause to shudder through relived awkward moments).

Our last semester of Honors was something of a letdown, taught by a nice, well-intentioned, Distributist (he once spent an entire class waxing on the glories of owning one’s own cow) adjunct professor who left me feeling that the Catholic faith he championed was not fundamentally different than the modern ideologies we discussed and decried. I mean, he certainly thought it was, but there was something about his impassioned presentation of 20th-century Catholic thinkers — and for the life of me, I’m still trying to nail down what — that failed to convince me that a life of faith (specifically, a life lived within the Church) is bigger, more expansive, and more freeing, than ideology. I believe it is (because otherwise, what’s the point, right?) , even as I try to reason myself there. But with no thanks to Prof. Great Books, who had his books, had his thinkers, and therefore had his system which allowed him and his to lead their nice, structured lives, cow and all, with little thought to the other planetary systems orbiting around them. (Terrible analogy, I know).

Beha doesn’t go into detail about his reasons for falling away from his childhood faith, but from the sound of it, he grew up in a faithful Catholic family, surrounded by practicing members of the Church with bookshelves laden with Catholic classics and theology. That he’s read them shows in his beautiful fiction. What I’m trying to get at is that Beha’s story in The Whole Five Feet reminded me that life, and people, is more nuanced than that last Honors semester would have led me to believe. That, while there’s profound truth to Newman’s famous quote, “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” there’s also a danger of triumphalism and the easy dismissiveness of those who “just haven’t read enough of the right things yet.” And, Catholic or not, I think that leads to an impoverished culture.

To be honest, the Great Books still mystify me, mainly in part because they went over my head in college, and it wasn’t until after I graduated and started working that I started connecting the strands and realizing their relevance. (Sidenote: this book really helped me with that synthesis). The Whole Five Feet reminded me of the value  of going back to the voices of the past and participating in their conversation — even continuing it in the culture we create today. And it made me newly appreciate revisiting that canon with a reading partner whose perspective is different than mine.

Anyways. Go see Housewifespice for more book recommendations!

 

What We’re Reading Wednesday: Fairy Tale Edition

We just started listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the car, and C.S. Lewis’ dedication at the beginning to his goddaughter, Lucy, struck me. I’d read it before, but this time that phrase “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” made me smile.

“My Dear Lucy,
        I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,”

— C.S. Lewis

Lucia usually enjoys, or at least tolerates, most of the fairy tales we bring home from the library. Of course, the ratio of text/illustrations matters in terms of holding her attention, as well as the translation — we’ve read several Cinderella’s based on Charles Perrault’s version, for example, but the more archaic translations are obviously not going to hold this 3.5-year-old for long (or her mom). Not gonna lie, it gratifies the snob in me that she prefers the Cinderella books to the Disney version. (Then again, she gets stressed out over Daniel Tiger (“AUGHH!! They’re making a mess!!!”) , so Lucifer the cat was a slightly more traumatic viewing experience…) But anyway, here’s a roundup of some of our recent favorites:

CinderellaOkay, I lied, K.Y. Craft’s Cinderella isn’t actually my favorite. The text got a liiitle too long for me (Lucia didn’t seem to mind, but I think everyone here can relate to the 7:45 p.m. speed reading phenomenon), and some of the lines were pretty sappy (overhearing the ending, Luke rolled his eyes and commented, “Well THAT was treacly”), but the illustrations are lavish, and there a couple new details that I hadn’t encountered in other versions of the tale (for instance, the prince meets Cinderella as herself before the ball).

Moving on.

849287The Twelve Dancing Princesses, told by Marianna Mayer and also illustrated by K.Y. Craft. I’d never heard this story before, but it strikes me as such a perfect blend of romance (in the broader sense of the word…adventure! Courage! Awkward glances over bouquets!), fantasy, and that necessary frightening element that underlies every good fairy tale. The nightmarish aspects of the twilight kingdom went over Lucia’s head, I’m sure, but was creeped out. The image of the sorceress prophesying over the dying queen is also pretty vivid (warning: there is a sorceress prophesying over a dying queen!) In the end, the honorable gardener wins the heart of the kindest princess, the shadow of death is defeated, and love wins, with lots of dancing. Now that is the stuff of fairy tales.

812805

The story of Sleeping Beauty also intrigues me. Have you seen the trailer for Disney’s Maleficent? I’m not sure how I feel about it. I really like the Disney Sleeping Beauty, so if the new story is all about how Maleficent is the victim byproduct of the violent male patriarchy..mmmm. Don’t mess with my head, Disney. Anyways, this version by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, stuck out at me — the storytelling is really good (even when details were probably too complex for Lucia, it still held her attention overall), and the pictures…sigh. The note in the back says Sanderson pulled inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites, especially John William Waterhouse, and the results are simply lovely to look at.

I would also be remiss to not mention the fact that we’re currently hoarding our library system’s collection of the Ella Bella Ballerina stories. Nice of James Mayhew to give Swan Lake a happy ending — I was wondering where he would go with that :-o

6545523

And finally, my turn:

15783514

I wonder what it’s like to view the world with Neil Gaiman’s mind and imagination. There are a lot of good reviews on Goodreads that basically strike the same note: Gaiman, and with this book in particular, is a league of his own. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is haunting and painfully exquisite at times. The main character, a bookish, lonely child (whom I just realized isn’t even named…is he?) is so believable, even as he flounders in the unbelievable, utterly fantastical world that lies just below the surface of his reality (or literally, “at the end of the lane”). And the writing — Gaiman describes those fringes between wakefulness and dreams with such clarity, and the surreality of that magical world so vividly, that more than once I just had to pause and think…what is going ON in Neil Gaiman’s head?? There’s a lot going in on this book: the theme of memory, and our accuracy in remembering; the fears of childhood; the fears of adulthood; the longing of both children and adults…all so poignantly distilled into the elemental power of fairy tale and myth. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads but upon writing this review I’m having trouble thinking why I didn’t just give it all 5. I do think this is the kind of book that only gets better with a reread, so maybe next time I will.

Lest you think we consume only the highest quality literature and media in these parts, the past 45 minutes of blogging time have been brought to you by this little underwater Bella Swan:

and Ursuala’s about to be torpedoed, so I better go — oops, too late. She’s dead. Kids seem unfazed. Phew.

Go visit Jessica for more of What We’re Reading Wednesday!

What We’re Reading Wednesday +1

Luke and I called a sick day this week. The kids weren’t exactly on board, but we sure tried to lounge around and recover from winter’s last stomach bug as much as possible on Wednesday. I don’t know what Luke did, but I read The Penderwicks. I was telling Faith it felt downright indulgent to just lie on the couch and read a kids’ book cover to cover in a day…but oh it was delicious.

266904

I realize I’m kinda late in discovering this book (I also only read Anne of Green Gables for the first time a couple years ago, so there’s that), but I was quickly taken in by the four Penderwick girls, each believable and lovable in their own way, and their fierce, sisterly loyalty to each other. Really, the more I think about it, the happier I am to have found such a good book about girlhood. The romping, adventurous, sunshine-y days of girlhood, and the little (to grownups) joys and sorrows that can make or break a child’s summer day. My one qualm with the book is that the adult villains are just too perfectly villainous; the children’s characters were so beautifully drawn out, so I was a little disappointed that the antagonists (think the Baroness and Captain Von Trapp pre-dancing-with-Maria) felt rather cliche. Or maybe it’s just me. I still loved the book, and am now out of things to read until our next trip to the library.

I also recently finished The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris.

108681Part meditation, part memoir, much of The Cloister Walk revolves around Norris’ experiences as a Benedictine oblate at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota (sidenote: did you know you didn’t have to be Catholic to be an oblate? Huh. The things you learn.) Anyways. This was a beautiful book, and I recommend it especially for those of you who loved In this House of Brede, as I did. To me, some of the most stirring chapters were ones filled with quotes from Norris’ conversations and correspondence with Benedictine women — cloistered nuns talking about life in community, or describing in frank terms how they’ve grappled and struggled with the vow of celibacy over the decades. It was like hearing the characters in Brede come to life. (Which only gives me more respect for Rumer Godden getting it right). The sisters’ insights are searingly beautiful and, on the other side of the same coin, often uncomfortable to hear, because they destroy any romanticized vision one might have of monastic life and religious vocations. (Brede spoiler alert: Norris’ chapter on celibacy and relationships really helped me figure out Cecily and Dame Maura’s fraught relationship).

Kathleen Norris also reminds me of Heather King, in that both women have a poet’s way with words and almost seem to see writing itself as a kind of religious vocation. As far as I can see, their work falls in the bounds of orthodoxy, yet they also manage to write from outside the traditional liberal/conservative Catholic camps (well, Norris isn’t even Catholic, but still), which I find so refreshing.  I finished Norris’ chapter on the monastic women’s religious habits — and the political and theological baggage that unfortunately comes with it, especially post-Vatican II — and thought…Huh. Never thought of it that way before. And when a writer can pull that off, and not in a preachy way, I think that’s a good thing.

Anyways. Go visit Jessica for more of this week’s What We’re Reading links. And send me recommendations; I’m out of books!