November 2008


Overall it’s been a quiet month at the castle.  Life is good.

Latin Watch: SuperHusband is joining us in the effort.  He attended a workshop on Gregorian chant, just the thing for an engineer who loves music.  He is the type who has the technical ability to understand and lead; I am pure seat-filler material — I’ll enthusiastically follow and join in, but will never be mistaken for one of the musicians.  In between services just send me to the scriptorium or something.

SCA: Went to a weekend-long event this month, had a fabulous time.  SuperHusband, Mr. Boy & Aria competed in the archery, little girls and I mostly drifted around and picnicked.  SH also got an intro to fencing (rapier, in SCA terms), which subsequently turned into a newly-discovered love for heavy fighting.  When they say ‘heavy’, they aren’t kidding — he brought home some loaner-armor last night, and wow, steel plate weighs a ton.  New appreciation for the services of a good squire.

Other Field Trips:  Went to the zoo with some new friends from church.  The other mom is also the sit-and-observe type, which makes for a more relaxing zoo visit.  Find a nice animal, settle in, watch for a while.  Repeat.  Good event.   And then today we watched some young dance friends perform in the Nutcracker.  Or so I assume, couldn’t actually see faces well enough from our seats to pick them out, so we’ll figure they must have danced very well, and therefore blended with the rest of the troupe.  Aria of course wants to participate next year, certain mothers at this castle are encouraging another year off, or two, or three, before doing it again.  Big committment as far as rehearsal times and all that.

The Ailment: Eh, spoke too soon last month.  In a bid for decreased mysteriousness, the ailment is getting interesting again.  Interesting to me, anyway — it is amusing to see how otherwise ho-hum symptoms can be absolutely captivating when yours is the body enjoying them.  So my new hobby this month is tremor-watching — mostly right hand, intermittent, all very mild, just enough to know Something is Not Right, not significant enough to cause any actual interference with daily life — above and beyond the unavoidable obsessing over it.  Blessedly still staying below the threshold of interest for itchy neurologists.  This suits me fine; I can sit quite content with any ailment that agrees to stay in the spectator-sport realm of neurological quirkiness.  We’ll see.

Cleaning House: I’ve finally gone and done it.  Or at least, a good chunk of it.  It’s a good year for de-cluttering, what with all the bad economic news — you can be confident that the local thrift stores will have plenty of customers.  So all that spare stuff will get to a good home.  Still need to finish sorting some kids’ clothes, and then attack the aged-paper collection and the lifetime supply of extraneous photos.

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In the month ahead . . .

Thanksgiving tour tomorrow – Nanny & Pop’s for the midday meal, and then back to TR’s again this year for a late-afternoon feast.   Might try to get out for a hike over the long weekend, and do odds and ends around the house; some friends are bringing adults dinner Sunday night, looking forward to that.

Advent is on its way, and once again I find myself candle-less.  Must rectify that situation early next week, would like to get a little advent wreath assembled for the CCD class.  Also want to come up with a nice advent-y prayer to close class with each week for the month.

Holy-day mania . . . Advent is terribly festive for us, what with St. Nicolas day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Immaculate Conception — so much to celebrate.  Good problem to have.  And adding to the excitement: Aria has learned to make coffee!!  Which means that we are now ready for a proper observance of St. Lucy’s day.   She’s thrilled, and so are her parents.  Mornings are a very happy time for us now.

Caroling? Not sure.  Don’t want to host a party this year, do want to go caroling.  If I can get up a respectable contingent of enthusiastic singers, we’ll do it.  Will do some practicing during school regardless.  You can’t know too many good hymns.

***

Not sure whether Dark Night will be done in time to review for this month of long dark nights, or if it’ll fall more into the pre-lenten season.  Am ‘enjoying’ it, to the extent that one can enjoy listening St. John of the Cross tell it like it is.  The trouble with people who know what they are talking about, is that they don’t necessarily tell you what you wanted to hear.  Good stuff, highly recommended.  And much more readable than I had feared.

Meanwhile, have a great Thanksgiving, and see you in December!

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Jim Curley reports here and here on ideas gleaned from the book Better Off by Eric Brende.  Not a book I’ve read, but I wanted to comment on some of what Jim had to report, because it really seems relevant to us suburban-homeschooling types.  And to contemporary American families in general.

He quotes Brende:

There was this phrase they kept repeating: “Many hands make work light.” The statement was true, though hard to explain. Gradually, as you applied yourself to your task, the threads of friendship and conversation would grow and connect you to laborers around you. Then everything suddenly became inverted. You’d forget you were working and get caught up in the camaraderie, the sense of lightened effort. This surely must rank among the greatest of labor-saving secrets.

What struck me, is that this is the exact opposite of life as a suburban housewife.  Perhaps the reason the feminist movement was able to be so persuasive, even, with all it’s talk of home life being lonely and unfulfilling.  Here I am at home, the only adult around.  I’ve got a few retired neighbors in the immediate neighborhood, and I’ve recently spied another stay-at-home mom who lives a couple blocks from me, but we don’t get together.   It’s me and my mechanical servants (washing machine, plumbing, heat, stove, oven . . .) running the household.
I could get together with my neighbors, or do the more usual thing (as I mean to tomorrow) and drive across town to go visit a friend I particularly like; but doing so cuts into my work time.  Every social interaction comes at the cost of little less housework done.

Now the thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.  My friend Jennifer & I could take turns meeting at each others’ homes to work together, instead of just sitting around having coffee.  Or more radically, I could make friends with the mom who lives on the other block, and she and I could develop a routine for working together.  But we don’t.   It isn’t what suburban american middle-class ladies do these days.   So we don’t.  And I think we are worse for it.

Another implication of the mom-home-alone-in-charge scenario, is that everything hinges on mom.  There isn’t another adult to contribute energy and motivation and accountability on days when the mom is tired or sick or just rather lazy.  It is fun being the mom-home-alone, because I get to be in charge, I don’t have to deal with another adult (children are easier), I can go curl up with a book during recess instead of having to speak to other people.   As much as I suffer for lack of other adults to push me towards greater holiness, I also am not pulled down by those other adult’s little sins that I might learn.  (Come on, you know your extended family is chock full of sinners.  Don’t deny it.  You know, people with habits just as bad as yours, only with a few twists to keep it interesting.)

Anyway, all that just to think about.   Because we do choose how we live.  And there might be a better way.

***

And another quote that caught my attention:

My dad bought one of the first word processors ever made in hopes of easing the time and effort of writing. He spent so much time with that machine, I almost never saw him again.

This is true!

Before I had a computer, I still spent ridiculous quantities of time writing.  The difference being that I was often within eyesight of my family.  (And thus my poor mother being asked by a grandmother, “What is she writing about??”  And my mother giving the unsatisfactory answer: “I don’t know.  If she wanted me to read it, she would tell me.”)  A notebook is portable.  A notebook is more easily set down and picked back up.  A notebook doesn’t beg for hour-upon-hour of minuscule re-edits as you reread your own writing for lack of something better to do.  For about a dollar, anyone else who wants to ‘use the notebook’ can get their own, ending all arguments over ‘whose turn it is with the entertainment device’.  A computer is definitely an isolater.  I’m not giving mine up, but let’s not kid ourselves.

***

Finally Jim concludes with a few comments of his own:

But this is the basic case Mr. Brende makes; that a lot (especially more advanced) of technology has a large initial cost, a maintenance cost, an operating cost, doesn’t save as much time as you think, detracts from physical well-being (i.e. exercise) and detracts from social interaction.

I have made my livelihood via technology: in industry as a patent agent and more recently as a book publisher. There is no way I could do what I do at Requiem Press without advanced techonology…and yet this computer takes more of my time each day than it needs to-and it is solitary work. Technology can be a seductive mistress.

Mr. Brende makes mention of a tribe in Africa whose members work only 2-3 hours per week to live (gathering nuts and berries). The rest is leisure time. The trend is there: the more (and more advanced) technology that a society has, the more the members have to work to maintain it. There is a balance between being enslaved by our desire for comfort provided by technology and the nut and berry gatherers mentioned hereinbefore. Each of us must decide that balance for ourselves …

Of course I agree, what with my being a Jim C. dittohead.  But here is a thought I wanted to add: It is very difficult to forgoe a technology that the rest of your community considers ‘essential’.  You get used to it, but it takes a real willingness to be the neighborhood freak.  Fine Homebuilding recently published their latest “Kitchens and Baths” issue, complete with a rousing editorial on the need to make changes in building and lifestyle practices to reduce water and energy waste.  The SuperHusband cynically observes that this is a classic marketing technique — sell to your customers based on how they wish to perceive themselves, not how they really are.  Therefore Patagonia doesn’t advertise with photos of overweight parents pushing strollers in the mall.  My thought was elsewhere: If we want to use as little water as is used in places without indoor plumbing (the stated goal of the FHB editor), we need to be prepared for a significant increase in stinkiness.

I’m too familiar with the course of history to think this is somehow an insurmountable problem.  Stinkiness is a viable option.  But woe unto you who is the first on your block to adopt such a measure.  It does not promise to be the most popular decision you ever made.

But that example is maybe too vivid.  Try being a person who keeps the thermostat between 55 and 60 during the winter.   You either turn up the heat when guests come over, or else pass out blankets and don’t expect many repeat visitors.

I could go on.  An interesting book that explores the issue of what it is like to consciously choose not to live the same way as your peers is Not Buying It by Judith Levine.  All she did was go a year without making unnecessary purchases.  Shouldn’t be especially countercultural.  But it is.  The social pressure is powerful.

And I’ll stop there in the mulling-things-over department, and go clean my house now.  With my children.

The Bun came into the bedroom the other night, as the SuperHusband was trimming the insoles for his new sneakers.  In her special I’d-like-one-too voice, she announces, “Are those your swimming floppers?  I’d like some swimming floppers . . .”

Flippers.

This, by the way, is my #1 weakness as an educator — I cannot bear to correct the sayings of a four-year-old.  It was only late this summer that we reluctantly told Aria that it’s ‘mow the lawn’, not ‘lawn the mow’.  It’s true what they say about me, I hoard linguistic cuteness.

***

Unschooling Pays (Not that the other methods don’t, too).  Though I am by nature an unschooler, we try to be a bit more structured the bulk of the time, especially as the kids get older.  This for purposes of marital harmony, and also because my inner accountant secretly thinks that a bit of rigor is not all bad.  Nonetheless, when we learned two Fridays ago that Mr. Boy would not be going camping All Hallow’s Eve as planned, but would instead be attending trunk-or-treat at the SuperMotherInLaw’s parish, I did decide that spending the day making his costume would be sufficiently schoolish.  I think there’s something on the curriculum about holidays and traditions and all that.  Close enough.

It was schoolish, after all — he’s been reading a book about the Spartan army (not for ‘school’ except when I say “Oops, I don’t have a history selection for you this week, what have you got?” and he pulls that one out), and for his costume he decided to make cardboard armor and go as a spartan soldier.   Went trunk-or-treating so armed, and I get a call last week from my mother-in-law that his costume won an honorable mention for creativity.  (Good thing she called the parish office to find out the winners — the secretary could describe him, but didn’t know who he was.  Grandma to the rescue to identify that unknown spartan.)   More than a mention — prize money was $5, which is decent to cash to certain third-graders who usually work for serf-like wages around this castle.

***

Forgoing the teen novel yet again. After I finished my review of The Fathers I went to go pick out my next book to review for The Catholic Company, and discovered I had twenty days to wait until I was elgible for my next book.  Took a look at the choices all the same, and the top two contenders were Catholic, Reluctantly (“Great Teen Novel”) and Dark Night of the Soul.  Yes, *that* Dark Night of the Soul.  Once again, fears that this book would be too hard for me.  But, let us observe the work of Providence, you should know that last winter when I did the parish book study of Come Be My Light, one of the notes I made was that I needed to go read this one. (And Story of a Soul, which I did read.)

What with twenty more days to make a decision, I tried going to the library to preview the book.  No luck, library doesn’t have it.  And I’m never, ever, at the parish library when it’s open, so no chance of getting a copy there.  (Or, picking up my copy of the parish pictoral directory.  One of these weeks the announcements before Mass reminding us our copies are ready for pick-up is going to be whittled down to, “Yes, Mrs. Fitz, that means you.”)

–> Playdate to the rescue.  Last monday while Mr. Boy was out camping, three girls and I went to go play with the new toddler in the parish.  Turns out said toddler has a grandmother who is a third order carmelite.  Ooh, I say to her on learning this, have I got a carmelite question for you . . . And sure enough, you can count on a carmelite to have a copy of St. John’s collected works sitting around the house, ready to be lent to unwitting visitors.

Good stuff.  Lots to say about it already (and I just put in my order for my own copy tonight, though I still have the borrowed one in my hands), so I may do some pre-review excerpting and comments.  Ooh and it looks like Jim Curley at Requiem Press might be faster about getting a book for me to review than the method I had planned on (the ‘browse your local catholic bookstore and pick something out to try’ method), so we’ll see how that works out.  Dark Night is going up here (under ‘catholic topics’); depending on the title (Requiem does some history stuff, some social issues stuff, etc., but also has a children’s book out, a poetry anthology, and other homeschool-y relevant stuff), the to-be-determined RP book may end up on the other blog.

1st Wednesday of the month, slated for the so-called ‘catholic topics’; wide open here, since they’re all catholic topics. But if you’ll track with me in my compulsive post-election commentary, I do get to a decidedly catholic issue down at the end.

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I’ll say up front that although I was staunchly anti-Obama on account of his hideous record on abortion, and not particularly in agreement with him on a number of lesser issues (and let us not forget: McCain made my stomach turn, too), I’m thrilled with the historic milestone we’ve acheived as a nation.

Sorry that it is one – would that neither skin color nor ethnic origin played any role in politics — but given that there was a barrier to be broken, as well that we’ve gone and done it. Based on what I have seen of statistics and anecdotal reports at this time, I expect that if McCain had been the African-American candidate, he would have won. [Probably not by as much as Obama did, because democrats would have been campaigning very hard against him. But I think he would have won.]

Is there a kind of racism in this? Not nearly as much as some will say. I think more than anything, there is a whole section of the american population who is largely alienated from our two-party political system, but who is ready to be done, once and for all, with the legacy of slavery and racism that has plagued us from our nation’s founding.

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All the same, why the indifference to Obama’s record on abortion? And why is it that the GOP had such a hard time giving us even a mostly-pro-life candidate?

A friend writes privately, in response to a situation she has been dealing with in her personal life:

I am fed up beyond all reason that a zillion Catholic bishops can pound away at the fact that there are NO proportionate reasons at this time to vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is a pro-life one running too, and yet what happens?

If every Catholic in the US had obeyed their bishops, McCain would have won, pure and simple.

And here begins my one-word rant, that you will no doubt hear from me many times: Catechesis.

The church is desperate for it. Bless our current and previous popes, who have done enormous work on this front. Bless the many catholic writers, publishers, priests, religious and lay faithful who are doing their best in the work of instructing the ignorant. The information is out there. But it needs to get into the heads of ordinary catholics.

I am not yet talking here of lapsed catholics, of self-identified ‘catholics’ who attend some other church or no church at all. I am not even thinking first of all of catholics who come to church on sundays (some, most or all, depending on their personal situation), but who are otherwise relatively uninvolved in the life of the church. Let us begin with the lay leadership of the church. Let us begin, most desperately, with our catechists.

–> The situation is that bad. Why don’t ordinary self-identified catholics feel strongly about the need to vote for pro-life candidates? Well, why aren’t ordinary, loving, committed, enthusiastic, hard-working catechists able to keep straight the basic facts of the Nicene Creed?

No hyperbole there. If you doubt me, do a check at your own parish. (And if your parish is an anomaly, you know it it. Quit your gloating and go say a rosary for the rest of us.) The technical knowledge of the basic facts of our faith is at times sorely lacking, even among the people whose job it is to spread that knowledge.

And here I have nothing but compassion. The catechists I know really are committed to doing the best job they can, and really do volunteer their time out of a genuine love for God and for the children they teach. I’m sure I’ve botched explanations when I’ve been teaching, and know for a fact that my best intentions do very little to make up for limited classroom experience. I realize that knowledge alone is not enough to bridge the gap and connect with students – even after you yourself understand a topic, there is a whole art in getting the information out of your own head and into someone else’s. I speak of the need for training catechists not as some elite superior instructor, but as one of the willing-but-desperate who wants for the training.

[And my friend whose complaint I shared above? She’s earned her right to complain – if it weren’t for her guidance, my students would be suffering even more at my hands than they currently must. Good teacher, and good teacher of teachers.]

Anyway, that’s where I am this morning. Wake-up to the news that our nation has voted for the most strongly pro-abortion candidate in history, and I have to say that I’m not all that surprised. If we catholics don’t know our own faith, don’t really know how to think about right and wrong, about the proper place of God and man, who are we to expect anyone else to do better?

It’s free, it’s helpful, it’s worth your attention.  Register at www.catholicwritersconference.com . For more information, see my expanded comments here.