Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Children Teaching Us Common Sense

I've been trying to write an article about how children teach us common sense for a while now. It's not flowing well, I probably need to scrap it and start over, and today I might finally get a chance because everyone around here is sick.

Not terribly so, but everyone is suffering from fevers and feeling miserable. So we've been drinking tea, watching some extra Netflix, lying around with extra blankets, trying not to get angry over every little thing (although that seems to be a herculean task for 4 outta 5 kids right now), and hopefully letting little bodies heal themselves. I've cancelled and rescheduled appointments we were meant to be at today and Dominic is sad to be missing his tae kwon do tonight.

But back to how all of this reminds me of this business of common sense and children!

The thing with kids is they are constantly bringing you back to reality. Your newborn's cries demand to be fed and changed and comforted. And it's simply common sense to do that for them when they cry. But the cries can't be ignored and they bring an attention and focus to the moment you can't escape. I used to think this constant demand for nourishment was so inconvenient and that newborns were impossible to figure out. But in reality their basic needs are simple if tireless. The more you come to understand the simple needs the less overwhelming it is to meet them.

But it also retrains our brains a bit to make them understand that we need to meet the demands of the present moment. The ones looking/screaming us right in the face, if you will. That's common sense. And it's a lot less common than we think.

How many of us act as if the real demands of our life at the moment can be put off, ignored for a while, or maybe looked at in just the right way that they become not really demands at all. We can shrug off feeding ourselves well, getting enough sleep, and pushing ourselves harder because of technology. We live in ways that try to ignore basic realities. And nothing calls us back to basic realities like children.

I know when I'm sick I'll still push myself as much as I can. I hate cancelling things when I'm not feeling well. I don't like to not get things done. I hate feeling like I'm lying around not accomplishing anything. But it's really hard to not see how sickness affects our littles. It reframes how I see rest, healing, and time. I can't rush or control how long it will take for them to feel better, I can't heal them instantly or pretend they aren't ill, but I do have to acknowledge that the best thing for them is rest. And that usually means a lot more work, and a lot less getting things done for me. It's one of those inconvenient truths when it comes to common sense: we can't have it exactly the way we want it when we want it.

But that's exactly what reality is. And that common Catholic way of thinking that truth is aligning ourselves with reality really does show itself in the little things. Like letting our sick kids rest on the couch when they're feeling bad. Maybe we'll grow in common sense along the way.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Seven Quick Takes vol. 136

Happy Friday! My first quick takes of 2016, let it be known! Hop over to Kelly's for the better ones...


I feel like I should be writing a little update because I haven't really updated for a while around here. Don't worry -- there's nothing too exciting. I honestly don't think I've ever had an "exciting" January. And that's ok. I feel like I can now acknowledge that January is just that guy at the party you don't like very much, but you'll try and be Christian and not hate him from a distance. Just tolerate his existence....if I have to.....I guess.


We've been trying to battle cabin fever around here and it really is something you have to intentionally try to work against. I'm just kinda dying for several minutes where I don't have to deal with children in my day. It's just a really hard aspect of homeschooling. Especially in winter. Especially when you live in the middle of nowhere. The kid's can't play outside for much longer than 20 minutes (it's warmer today, thank goodness!), I don't really want to go to the work of bundling everyone up, driving 30 minutes to go to the library for 15, then driving 30 minutes back everyday, and there's just no where else to go nearby. We usually make it as far as my parents every afternoon just to get out of the house, which gets us by, but still... So I get by on getting to town to run errands, appointments, library once during the week, and try to schedule stuff for one day during the weekend, and force myself to go outside even when it feels terrible. 


We've been back at school for a couple weeks and I think we're back in the groove from winter vacation. Winter always feels like it inches by, but I really think we get the majority of schoolwork done in these quieter months where we just plough little by littler through our work. I'm just trying to look at the positive aspects of consistency, here!


I've been asked for food 4 times since sitting down 15 minutes ago to write this post. Children!


Let's hear it for the hats!

What have you been watching lately? 

I've made it through all of The Good Wife and am currently binging my way through season six because it was just released on Canadian Netflix! It's been engrossing even though I regularly feel like punching Alicia.
I've been enjoying dark Sunday nights with Downton. I feel like this season has been good but maybe moving a little slow. I'm expecting deaths and dramatics for this last epic season - so now that Tom's back things better pick up. And for the love, I'm so glad Edith finally figured out that she could actually be the editor and she should stop listening to horrible people yell at her. But, that has been her entire life experience vis a vis Mary.
We watched Antman last weekend, and since I'm a complete and total sucker for Paul Rudd I thought it was probably the best Marvel movie of 2015. Which isn't saying much, yet at the same time it was fairly clever and funny without taking itself so painfully seriously like The Avengers. I honestly can't believe my husband still wants to watch these things, but then again I'm still watching The Good Wife and Downton after 6 years!
Also - watched the first part of War and Peace and it's stunning and beautiful. It feels a little impersonal somehow though. Maybe because it jumps around so much that I don't feel completely invested in the characters? That's how the book goes too though so I shouldn't complain. I love the epic scale, the production, the castles. Ah, Russia.


We've got a new podcast episode out this week! We talked to the lovely Ann Marie Heasley all about decluttering, making your home beautiful, but at the same time accepting the messes. So far we've loved hearing that it's helped get people in the mood to declutter! I'm thinking about doing 40 Bags in 40 Days this year because I know there are a lot of areas of my house that I'm ignoring and letting the detritus of life build up in. 


I thought I had a lot of clever things to talk about today and now I'm coming up with nothing but I hope your weekend is exciting and not full of blizzards. Is that the best we can hope for a January weekend? Maybe so. I'm going to look for another sweater and some warmer socks now. 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately

I'm back with a bit of quick lit today sharing a bit about what I've been reading - it's been awhile since I've written about books and I'm so behind that I read some of these titles months ago! I gotta catch up!

Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham

Have I mentioned I have a small obsession with Golden Age of Mystery writers? Like her contemperaries the great Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham was a wonderful detective fiction writer from the middle of the twentieth century. She had a gift for characterization that made her main character, Albert Campion, as well as a varied cast leap off the page. Her mysteries have a deft touch and always provide an entertaining foray of mystery. This title was satisfying, although I could have had even more Campion. It revolves around a troubled Cambridge family who all appear as suspects to the murder of an inconvenient and annoying relative. I really love her and recommend her if you're a fan of Agatha Christie.

Spell Land by Sheila Kaye-Smith

I went on a bit of a Sheila Kaye-Smith kick after reading about her as a popular author, and G.K. Chesterton contemporary, who has fallen out of fashion but writes intriguing British pastoral novels. Think stories that take place in rural England with strong story-telling revolving around the life of characters who make bad moral choices and suffer the consequences. She is a great writer who can really move a story along, she's probably fallen out of fashion because she is unapologetically moral in the sense that choices have consequences and sometimes very bad ones. But she isn't directly preachy and does a great job bringing to life the drama of country life. Spell Land tells the story of a young man who grows up on a farm but makes choices that lead down a tragic path.

Starbrace by Sheila Kaye-Smith

I'm enjoying immersing myself in her work, what can I say? This novel takes place in Regency times, I believe, and it's a bit more of a love story as young Starbrace falls in love with a beautiful girl but somehow becomes a rogue! I enjoyed this and was shocked by the ending. I thought this was just like this was something Mary Crawley would read in the library after dinner.

A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare's Old England to Frost's New England by Elliot Engel

Nonfiction!? What?! I haven't had time to read much nonfiction lately, but this was actually a great easy-to-read book that has succinct introductory essays on many famous writers. I found that the most interesting chapters were on authors I didn't know much about like Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so I'm sure if you didn't know much about any of these famous lives you'd find this book a treat. But you'd probably be a book nerd like me to begin with.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Have I not written and said enough about this book? I guess not. For the record I just loved this book. It's short, but there is so much packed within it that it stays with you long after you finish. Hannah Coulter tells the story of her life. From growing up in the Depression without her mother, marrying a man who goes off to fight WWII only to go missing and never to return, to creating a new life with her second husband Nathan Coulter. The beauty of an ordinary life lived with love, family, home, and a love of the land is told through this book, and Hannah's insights are often so poignant. Berry's realism is spot on, and his prose as beautiful as always.

I'm linking up with Ashley for Five Faves and Modern Mrs Darcy for some Quick Lit!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Mother's Panic Attack

I don't know what it is. Maybe the turning of another calendar year, the sentiments brought up by Christmas, potty training my baby and not changing a diaper for the first time in almost 9 years, or just Facebook memories, but for the past little while I've been confronted with the shocking realization that my kids are no longer babies and it's throwing me for a loop.

My 5 children were born in less than six years. I'm not just repeating this fact to shock and awe or remind myself because even I still can't believe it sometimes, but to emphasize how deeply, deeply entrenched in the trenches of new motherhood I was. There was always another baby, there was always more than one toddler, sometimes three. I can still honestly swear that I just couldn't even imagine a time where they would be even semi-independent from me. I would go from changing a diaper to changing a diaper to changing a diaper.

But now my older kids are just....kids. They're still young, precious, innocent, and sweet children, which I love and relish. But when I look back at pictures of a couch full of toddlers and toddlers holding their newborn siblings and realize that they'll never be that small again, that I'll never have just small kids again and it breaks my heart a little bit and I'm not sure why.

I've definitely not wished away their small children-ness even though I would have given my eye teeth for a whole nights sleep or the ability for one or two to put on their own mittens. I know I've lived their childhood with them fairly well, enjoying as much as possible their stages and growth, I have no regrets that I didn't savour each baby stage and wish them to the next quicker and neither do I regret the long days where I was more frustrated than doe-eyed at the sight of their patty-cakes.

And yet just thinking these thoughts brought on an almost panic attack feeling last night as I lay in bed. My throat chocked up, the heavy feeling pushed down on my chest, tears at just the thought of old pictures of my big kids as little toddlers.

It's not as if they're applying for colleges!  I know! I feel like I'm becoming the classic, stereotypical mother who laments as her children grow older, but I just can't help it. I've been so attuned to their stages and growth, most of the time celebrating their little steps towards independence and accomplishment, maybe this it just the normal realization of change finally catching up to me who is normally immune to such emotional dithers?

I know I'm also not mourning the loss of a "season". I still have small toddlers! I have no plans to never have children again - the thing with this open to life business is that we don't choose or make or even plan how our "seasons" of life will come and go, which is pretty hard to wrap our minds around.

It surprises me how much I feel just plain sad and heartbroken about change when at the same time I'm also really happy and encouraged in a way. I think it's almost as if there's this heart breaking and heart healing happening at the same time.

I know I think, and wish, and feel as if time, and my children, and motherhood reached a high point and just stayed that way - cemented where I wanted it to be, where it felt just right. But the reality is that motherhood and children and family is a constant thing, we're living in this stream of life and love that can't be bottled or stopped. Even though we think it'd be perfect -- it would really only be a puddle.

This heart breaking is probably a good thing. I'm probably beginning to realize and be grateful for how things were (however imperfect), how things are (flying by fast but still oh-so-sweet), and how things will be (probably imperfect and sweet). The heart breaking and heart healing is the way of motherhood.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Favourite Books of 2015

Because I've been bad at blogging my book posts are woefully behind what I've actually read, so there will be books on this list that I haven't yet posted about on the blog, but hope to soon! That being said I just love favourite books of the year posts and since I've been doing them for a couple years now I've got to keep the streak alive -- here's my posts from 2014 and 2013 and whoa -- 2012.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I did not think I would like this long, fantastical tale of magicians in the nineteenth century but I loved it. It creates a world unto itself with incredible characters while feeling at the same time Dickensian and Jane Austen-ian. (What's the Jane Austen word I'm looking for?) It's a real treat to read and I'm so glad Haley forced me to read it.

The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor

For some reason I had not read this Flannery novel. It must have slipped through the cracks of my Flannery obsession, but reading it is so powerful and moving and shocking like reading all Flannery. This book's protagonist is so unique though, I feel like he really stays with me. Maybe not a perfect first read of Flannery, but if you've read several of her short stories and liked them then this is worth the dive into Southern gothic perfection.

Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset

This is an incredible biography of the great saint by the great writer Sigrid Undset. It took me a long time to read it, but it was so worth it. Undset's view of the Middle Ages is fresh and relevant and I don't think any other writer could make such a complicated time in history so understandable. St. Catherine comes away even more astonishing than we imagine her to be yet very human as well. It's so important that saints lives are portrayed with both the holy and the human.


Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson

I'm putting both these books together because each has a completely different feel. While Gilead makes the reader hope and rejoice in the wisdom of the human experience Home is a heart-breaking story of a man's life. Robinson's writing is really beautiful and I know it can seem slow, but I really think it's rewarding enough to keep on if at first you're discouraged.

The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline, and Love Your Children by Art and Lorraine Bennett

This was the only parenting book I read this past year but this one is a great foundational understanding to appreciating and working with our children's different personalities. It's really valuable in understanding our kid's strengths and weakness and also our own strength and weaknesses when it comes to how our own personalities mix with theirs. I really appreciated this approach and I already feel as if I could go back and refresh my mind because there is so much good, common sense in here.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

This is my favourite Lewis fiction I've ever read. I loved the way he reimagined a myth yet made it completely fascinating. This story makes us probe our own hearts, minds, and motives while not being boring allegory. I really think that every rereading of this book will bring about new insights both to the story and myself.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

It's chick lit, but it's the best chick lit I've read in years and I enjoyed every page. That's all there is to it!

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

I have a thing for survival stories and this one is extremely well done. The writing and portrayal of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for months is fascinating, especially in terms of how their faith sustained them and how our broken human nature is pushed to the edge. I really appreciated the respect and care the author took in writing about these men and their lives, I came away feeling I knew so much more about working class life in Chile and the culture in general.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I didn't read as much non-fiction this year because I was reading this book for about 6 months. It's a giant book about Lincoln, but it's impeccably written and, I thought, engrossing. Abraham Lincoln is basically a saint. His political genius is staggering, but his virtue and ability to work with people in his cabinet -- and don't get me started on those ridiculous Union generals -- without losing his cool, and in turn the Civil War, is hard to believe when we live in such a terrible political climate. This book is a real testament to the power of personal character, especially in public office. (The cover has a quote about Obama loving the book, but I'm about 100% he didn't read a page.)

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I'm a sucker for Gretchen Rubin, and although I found this book easy to read, it wasn't until after I had finished reading it that I found myself thinking about this book often, and seeing Rubin's ideas and conclusions about habits everywhere. I think this book is really valuable because it makes all the big ideas about habits and personality really easy to understand on a personal level.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I still can't believe how much I enjoyed this book. I pretty much despise science fiction, I thought this book was way too over-hyped because I saw people loving it everywhere, but I thought I'd give it a shot if only to say it was lame. But it wasn't lame! It was hilarious, completely engaging, and decently written as a first novel goes. I even followed most of the science.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

I just loved this book, this story, pretty much everything about it. It is heart wrenching and beautiful, yet hopeful and realistic. Hannah's life is ordinary yet profound. I enjoyed this book even more than the very well done, Jayber Crow also written by Berry and think it's a really good short novel that anyone could pick up and find value in.

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

This memoir is beautifully written. I'm so glad Doerr won a Pulitzer because the guy can write. When I wasn't in awe of his sentence composition and imagery I was laughing at his descriptions of parenting life. He's neither starry-eyed over parenthood nor disregards the marvellous moments of transcendent amazement that comes with seeing people you've made be amazing in front of your eyes. It's just a well done book about being a parent. It's also so evocative of life in Rome. I've only visited a short time, but he describes Rome wonderfully.

Any of these your faves too??

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 and a word for the year

I have never done the "word of the year" thing.

My practical personality has simply not even contemplated a "word" of the year before. It's just so vague. Is is a resolution? A helpful tidbit? A word from above? What do I do with it? Do I just calligraphy it on my chalkboard for a year and see what happens? Make it a Sanskrit tattoo somewhere?

I mean, it's hard to know what exactly to do with a word of the year. But I do understand the idea that we're attracted to and invited to understand one word or concept to better ourselves and our life in some way. And for some reason I actually began thinking about this whole concept in December. This is like light years ahead of schedule than when I usually make New Year's resolutions in February.

And the word that keeps coming to me whenever I think about choosing a word for the year?


Which is just weird because I listen fine. I'm so good at listening that I can listen quickly and talk for at least double the amount of time. I'm decisive and judgemental. I usually know what people in my life are going to say before they say it. I don't have hours to devout to meditation to hear God's voice. If God needs to get a hold of me it's usually through the wails and cries of my five young offspring.

So listen.

I don't know how this will go, or what will happen, or what I can do to listen more but that's my word for the year and I'll guess we'll find out! Which feels kind of exciting.

(Sidenote: why aren't words of the year ever "makeup" "reality TV" or "cookie"???? Just saying.)

I also just chose a saint of the year and drew St. Nicholas. Which I guess is interesting? Single ladies, grooms, boys, fishermen, students, judges, against imprisonment, against robbery...he's the patron of a a lot of things that could maybe apply to me? I clearly may become a judge who deliberates a case between a fisherman who is robbed by a groom.

But honestly, I did pray before hitting that pick a saint button that I'd end up with a saint who could really help me out. So I'm trusting that St. Nick is my guy. Last year Saint Fabiola was my chosen saint and she's the patroness of unhappy marriages and divorced people but my marriage is still going strong. I believe saints can cover multitudes of bases!

I also wish I had more resolutions for this year. I never make resolutions. This year I feel that the only thing I really wish I would change and work on is journaling more. I want to journal just little thoughts, and things the kids say, and what I'm seeing out my window, just for myself....on real paper! I want it to be a daily practice that becomes part of my routine. So we'll see how that pans out.

And maybe I'll blog more.

Happy 2016!

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