Review: A Handful of Dust

I picked up with book based on a recommendation of a friend, and the fact that it was actually available at my library for immediate checkout during the COVID lockdown(1.0) Written in 1934 by Evelyn Waugh, I was intrigued, as I had only read his most famous “Brideshead Revisted.”

I had absolutely no idea what to expect; I approached the book expecting it to be akin to an Austen or Dickens. Nothing prepared me for the sarcastic and satirical novel that it is.

Without revealing too much, it is about the on-goings of several shallow, decadent post-WWI young adults in England. It gives a short glimpse into lives of Tony Last and his wife, who I liked immediately, the annoying and droopy John Boever, and a funny range of other miscellaneous characters in their London society.

As the plot continued to spiral into absurdity after absurdity, I emailed my friend “What is happening in this book?! Why am I bothering with it?” She laughed, as she knew Waugh was known for his satire and off-handed way of showing just how empty and trivial life could be in the post-war(1) era. I continued on and wanted to throw the book across the room most of the time, yet the writing was so good and the ending was hilarious. Tony spends the rest of his days reading Dickens aloud to a crazy man in South America. (I’m not the biggest Dickens fan…because I just haven’t given it enough time.) so the thought of reading it aloud for the read of my life is a level of torture that is fitting for this novel.

If you need a light read, yet want more substance than most current best-sellers, I’d recommend “A Handful of Dust.”

Covid: 8 months in…

Two weeks to flatten the curve…two months to help our healthcare workers…two years until life returns?

When I started this again in March 2020, I really didn’t realize we were in for the long haul with covid-19. (Did anyone?) I really don’t want to get political or opinionated on this blog, but just want to remark on the really crazy year this has been for everyone. I have experienced every emotion about this pandemic, ranging from 100% onboard with the lockdown, to wondering if we can really isolate forever from a virus (viruses are everywhere and usually spread beyond our control; of course daily counts will increase if we increase testing.) Eight or nine months in, I’ve run through the gamut of trying to decide what is/was/should be our cultural and social response to the novel coronavirus. Isolate the most vulnerable and let the rest get herd immunity? Would this actually happen (keeping the vulnerable safe?) I don’t know. What about the workers and staff? Yet, the reality is that we still don’t completely know how this virus will act in different individuals, and we do know it wrecks havoc and takes lives on those who are already compromised.

As we enter this winter season, I am trying to gain the mental and physical stamina to go through another lockdown, or at minimum, a cold, long winter without much outside contact of friends and family. Living in a cold climate with harsh Januarys and Februarys, we have done this before, and I’m trying to approach it with the same mindset.

What I’ve learned (or observed) this year:

Family observations

-I am so glad to have a supportive husband and happy kids, even if the constant time together drives us all bonkers.

-Kids make so many messes.

-Fun and life-learning lessons are usually messy and loud.

-It takes a lot of activities to keep a toddler happy inside the house.

-Nature is often the best medicine, and not just for children.

-Set routines, especially for mealtimes, quiet time, and prayer have been the backbone of keeping some sanity.

-Creating music together bonds us together as a family and gives us and external goal we can strive for together.

Personal Observations

-I can wake up early if I commit to the habit, if I have an external reason that forces me to. Yet, I am better for it.

-Reading is really the only hobby I can easy do at home with lots of noise and activity AND which keeps me very sane.

-The old saying that the mother sets the temperature and the tone for the home is TRUE (even as much as I begrudge and sometimes resent it.) My attitude does matter a lot.

Review: Island of the World

“You will not want to put this book down until you finish it, and you will continue to live in it even after you close it’s covers. This story will change you. And make you a wiser better person- is there any greater success for a book thank that? —Peter kreft

Not very often does a book come into my life that utterly consumes my mind and heart. I have heard people say they were so consumed with Kristen Lavransdatter that they found themselves actually praying for the characters, but this sounded pretty silly and far-fetched to me.

Until I met Josip Lasta.

Michael O’Brien is an author that I always associated with Catholic-apocolytic books. (This is a pretty inaccurate view.) But when this novel Island of the World kept popping up as a must-read in several online Catholic book circles, I added it to my to-read list.

We meet Josip as a small boy, in the beautiful hills of Croatia/Serbia (the lines are drawn and redrawn thoguhtout the book). It is just before a Communist takeover of the country, and the people live a beautiful, simple life. And shortly, hell breaks loose, and deep questions haunt Josip’s life.

“Love is the soul of the world, though its body bleeds, and we must learn to bleed with it. Love is also the seed and milk and the fruit of the world, though we can partake of it in greed or reverence. We are born, we eat, and learn, and die. We leave a tracery of messages in the lives of others, a little shifting of the soil, a stone moved from here to there, a word uttered, a song, a poem left behind. I was here, each of these declare. I was here.”

What is it all for? Why are we put on this earth, especially when life feels, or is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”? (to quote Thomas Hobbes.) We want to leave our mark, to say that we lived and we count for something. But how do we make life worth it, even when stripped of everything that we think will bring us joy and happiness?

Odysseus By Valdavia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Some have compared Lasta’s journey to Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom or Odysseus’ Odyssey, and this its accurate in a sense. We follow Josip over his entire life, and in the end it is a book about returning home.

Never before have I felt such heartache over a book (heartache is an understament) and never have I continued to think about a book every day since finishing it. It is certainly one of the most life-changing books I have ever read.

For anyone who enjoys historical fiction, loves to contemplate life and its meaning, and how we maintain our identity and faith in a world of islands, of solitude and suffering, I urge you to try Island of the World.

Here is the summary From Ignatius Press that explains succinctly the plot, especially the political/social dimensions of the region.

Island of the World is the story of a child born in 1933 into the turbulent world of the Balkans and tracing his life into the third millennium. The central character is Josip Lasta, the son of an impoverished school teacher in a remote village high in the mountains of the Bosnian interior. As the novel begins, World War II is underway and the entire region of Yugoslavia is torn by conflicting factions: German and Italian occupying armies, and the rebel forces that resist them—the fascist Ustashe, Serb nationalist Chetniks, and Communist Partisans. As events gather momentum, hell breaks loose, and the young and the innocent are caught in the path of great evils. Their only remaining strength is their religious faith and their families.

For more than a century, the confused and highly inflammatory history of former Yugoslavia has been the subject of numerous books, many of them rife with revisionist history and propaganda. The peoples of the Balkans live on the border of three worlds: the Islamic, the orthodox Slavic East, and Catholic Europe, and as such they stand in the path of major world conflicts that are not only geo-political but fundamentally spiritual. This novel cuts to the core question: how does a person retain his identity, indeed his humanity, in absolutely dehumanizing situations?

In the life of the central character, the author demonstrates that this will demand suffering and sacrifice, heroism and even holiness. When he is twelve years old, his entire world is destroyed, and so begins a lifelong Odyssey to find again the faith which the blows of evil have shattered. The plot takes the reader through Josip’s youth, his young manhood, life under the Communist regime, hope and loss and unexpected blessings, the growth of his creative powers as a poet, and the ultimate test of his life. Ultimately this novel is about the crucifixion of a soul—and resurrection.

Disclaimer: This is not an easy read. The descriptions of war and suffering can be almost graphic at times, and some may find the historical/political underpinnings boring or too much to follow. Know thyself and proceed with caution!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I read in 2019

I’m slowly starting to compile book lists and recommendations for my “book List” page. I will be adding to this and providing a brief one-to-two sentence summary and recommendation of each book. stay tuned!

Book Completed in 2019

January and February

  • The girl of the limberlost –  Gene Stratton-Porter
  • Happy times in noisy village – Astrid Lindgen
  • Lila – Mailynne Robinson
  • The Children’s Blizzard – David Laskin
  • Shirt of Flame – Heather King
  • Exiles – Ron Hansen
  • Ella Enchanted –   
  • Henry and Ribsy (read aloud) – Beverly Cleary
  • Beezus and Ramona (read aloud) – Beverly Cleary
  • I saw three ships – Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Scent of Water – Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – 
  • The Life-giving Home – Sally Clarkson

March and April

  • The Great Divorce – CS Lewis
  • A Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
  • 84 Charing Cross Road –
  • The Dean’s Watch – Elizabeth Goudge
  • A Lantern in her Hand – Bess Streeter Aldrich

May and June

  • The Dollmaker of Krakow-
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill –
  • Panassus on Wheels- Charles Morley
  • Rainbow Valley – LM Montgomery
  • Imagination Station: Problems in Plymouth (read aloud)
  • A Storybook of Jesus – Enid Blyton
  • The Grace of Enough – Haley STewart
  • Mistywood Series- read aloud
  • Island of the World- Michael D O’Brien

July and August:

  •  Mrs. Buncle’s Book – D.E. STevenson
  • A Gentleman in Moscow –
  • The Boxcar Children – (Read aloud)
  • Beatriz Potter Treasury (read-aloud)
  • James HErrior Treasury for Children
  • The Hundred Dresses –

September and October:

  • Something Other than God – Jenifer Fulwiler
  • Wit; A Play – Margaret Edson
  • A White Bird Flying – Bess Streeter ALdrich
  • Journey in Love: A Catholic MOther’s Prayers after Pre-natal Diagnosis – Kathryn A Casey
  • The Loser Letters –
  • From Fire, by Water – Sohrab Amari
  • Rilla of Ingleside – LM Montgomery
  • Edith Stein: Our Sunday Visitor

November and December:

  • The Light between Oceans – M.L. Stedman
  • The Anti-Mary Exposed – Carrie Gress
  • All-of-A-Kind Family – Sydney Taylor
  • More All-of-A-Kind-Family – Sydney Taylor
  • My Father Left me Ireland – Michael Brendan Dougherty
  • The Housewife – Rumor Godden
  • The Catholic Table – Emily Stimpson Chapman
  • The Theology of Home – Carrie Gress

Why blog? Isn’t blogging a dead art?

typewriter
yes, yes it is. All the top influencers are on insta, Twitter, fb and whatever new app that I don’t even know about.

But that’s not my goal. Five years ago when I started this domain name, I put all this weird pressure on myself. I was fearful that everyone would think what I wrote is silly and a waste of time. So, I basically stopped (plus, throw in the fact that my kids hardly napped or slept for the first few years!)

As I am now thrown into the world of homeschooling and watching the world unravel from covid-19, I felt the need to keep up a hobby at home and document what I was seeing around me. I started a paper journal, and my toddler kept stealing my pen.

So, I picked up the ol’ Blog again. The same toddler will probably be after my keyboard next. But, I figured this is worth a try, even if it’s just a means to remember what we are doing and try to bring some clarity and maybe even joy ( by discussing happy things like books, faith and food)  to my little world.

The Marvelous Friendship of Frog and Toad

“They sat there, feeling happy together.”

Isn’t this just the type of friendship we long for, especially during difficult times and trials? A friend who understands and can just be with us, without offering judgement or even advice.

Easy Readers, with their short words and small plots, don’t usually fall into the ranks of great literature. Yet Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series-  Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Days with Frog and Toad, and Frog and Toad All Year – are an enduring and timeless tales all children should encounter.

The short stories are a great mix of silliness and real-life frustrations and drama. They are centered around two friends- Frog and Toad. Toad is the melancholic, dramatic, anxious type, while Frog is always hopeful, happy, and sagunine. Their days are filled with routine, everyday experiences, including misunderstandings, sickness, lost buttons, frustrations, and silly fun. In short, much like our experiences of friendships and family life.

Instead of a moralizing tale, children can see how Frog and Toad’s simple friendship mimics their own life experiences.

Frog, always hopeful, encourages Toad to get out of bed to see the beautiful spring weather- even tricking him into waking up so as to not miss out on the joy of life. Toad, for his part, tries hard to be thoughtful, fetching ice cream or planning the perfect Christmas Eve for Frog, even if he bungles the whole thing and lets his imagination run away with him.

Yet, each in his own way, they exhibit selflessness and helpfulness to each other. They resolve misunderstands and learn to forgive. Who hasn’t had friends or days like these? Even the youngest children can attest to feeling the big emotions expressed in Lobel’s books.

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I’ve often thought that the first temperament test could easily be based on Frog and Toad, and maybe one day I will create one of those annoying a buzzfeed quizzes to reveal your % of Toad-to-Frog attributes. But children, without saying the words, can easily identify who they are more like, and how to overcome the defaults their personality may come with. All introverts can attest to the truthfulness of Frog’s behavior in “Alone” and all those with sweet-toothes keenly understand Toad’s frustration in “Cookies.”

Of course, children aren’t *actually* thinking about all this on such a deep level during real aloud time, but kids take much more to heart than we give them credit for. By introducing these stories to our children, we can provide them a window into the joy and goodness of true friendship.

 

 

Catholicism in the time of Covid

This image circulated social media the other evening: a completely blacked out map of the United States. Someone had been tracking each dioceses’ responses to covid and social distancing, and on Sunday, all public Masses had been canceling across the entire country.

public-masses-canceled

It was startling and heartbreaking to see this. We had already seen this happen across Italy, and we knew it would be coming to the US. I even agree with the measure; nevertheless it it is very hard to accept.

(Also: if you doubt the idea of social distancing and taking extreme measures in general, please read 1) De Civitate website, 2) this piece on social distancing on Vox, and 3) start following Michael Brendan Doughertry on Twitter. I’ve followed him for quite awhile, and he was one of the first people to take this seriously.)

I remember learning as a child about the faith of the Japanese Catholics under their harsh rulers. Catholics who had to go years, even as many one or two hundred years, without a priest or Mass. They had been baptized and catechized, and then watched as their government killed and exiled all remnants of the faith, including the clergy. Yet, when new missionaries, including Fr. Bernard-Thadée Petitjean, arrived generations later, they found faith among the people. The children knew their prayers and catechisms, even without every witnessing a Mass or meeting a priest or religious. The Church has suffered much persecution and hardship in her history, and I believe we can model ourselves after these fervent Christians who held close to Jesus and Mary even without the presence of the sacraments. (To learn more about the Japanese catholics, click here.)

The greatest consolation for me is that Mass has not been canceled, outlawed or banished. Just public Masses. Maybe that doesn’t seem like it is much of a difference. However, the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Altar continues. Priests can still offer glory to God and pray to the Trinity on our behalf. The Mass is still the perfect prayer, even if we are not there.

These times are certainly unsettling and I kind of can’t believe we are experiencing this- no one ever thinks they will live to see this type of thing happening. Let us maintain faith through personal and family prayer and taking part in the many live-streaming and recorded Masses and devotion.

My greatest fear at this time is that diocese or priests will limit Confession times and the Last Rites. I’m begging God daily that hospitals and state officials will not deny priests from hospices, hospitals and the bedsides of the sick- and that priests will have the courage to continue their ministry. The sick must not be denied this mercy, but sadly we are already hearing of these cases. Let us fast and pray especially for those about to die and for those priests and medical workers who are serving them at their last hour.

Here is a great prayer to start with!

Annie and John-Paul from PrayMoreNovenas.com have started a Pandemic Novena. It’s okay to start it late 🙂

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Father in Heaven, have mercy on us and on the whole world. We come to you today with our fears and concerns — You know what’s in our hearts. We love You, trust You, we need You. We ask You to be with us. Stay with us. Help us through these times of uncertainty and sorrow.

We know you are the Divine Physician, the healer of all. And so we ask that you bring your loving and healing presence to all those who are sick and suffering right now. Please comfort them.

Please be with the grieving families of those who have passed away. 

Please have mercy on those who have died, may they be with You in heaven. 

Please stand at the side of all medical professionals who are putting themselves at risk while they work to bring healing to others.

Lord, we are scared and we are sorrowful. Please heal us. Send us your peace and overwhelming presence. 

(Mention your intentions here)

We ask the Fourteen Holy Helpers, those who lived during the time of the plague, to pray for us and all who are at-risk!

Jesus, we thirst for You. You chose to enter this world as a vulnerable baby. Be with the most vulnerable now. Help us to continue to return to You with our whole hearts throughout this ordeal. 

Amen. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

My Favorite Toddler Books

Reading to babies and toddlers isn’t always the great experience we imagine it will be. They throw, rip, and eat the books. I remember with my first child thinking that I will start reading right away…and she couldn’t sit for longer than maybe 30 seconds at a time! How do you read to this age?

After finding a Montessori book at a garage sale when she was 6 months old, my perspective changed. The Montessori method of education encourages the type of activities that include the entire person- including movement, real-life work, thought, play and book learning. With this in mind, I started to try introducing books to my children primarily through songs, actions and touch.

Touch and feel/ open flap and rhyming & songs books engage the entire toddler and teach them that books are something to interact with (in a way that isn’t eating them. 😉 )

The beautiful thing about children is that they love and crave repetition, so even with a small home library, you can nurture your baby and toddlers love for books!

A few of my my Favorite Toddler Books:

Mother Goose Anthology (so many good choices!)

Where is Spot?

Usborne “Is that my Lamb?” (and all the others in the series)

Usborne “Peek Inside” Series

Hide and Seek Forest

Moo Baa La La La! (and other Sandra Bynton

Good Morning, Goodnight! A Touch and Feel Book

Peekaboo Zoo

And of course…Goodnight Moon!

The Power of Story

Storytelling is one of the oldest arts in human history. The images of drawings inside caves show us even the earliest people described their lives and shared their history through story. Stories have the ability to teach lessons and morals, provide a distraction during a difficult time, and transport us to times and places we could never travel to. Even the Bible uses storytelling as the means to tell us God’s plan for salvation and His unending love for his people. Sarah Clarkson, in her book “Caught up in a story” describes how her parents tried to pass on their love for story to her and her siblings.

“You can be like Aragorn or Frodo or Sam in the battles of the world, you can bring beauty like Jared (in The Journeyman by Elizabeth Yates), or discover something new like George Washington Carver. What kind of hero do you want to be?”

I love that quote and the idea that stories can form us into who God desires us to be. By consuming good books, and witnessing how characters encountered hardship, trials, betrays, and even times of joy, we are equipping ourselves to know how to act when we encounter similar troubles in our real lives.

Clarkson goes on:

“Terms such as “courage,” “kindness,” “good,” “evil,” or “heroic” are abstract concepts for a child. In order to learn what it means to be “good,” a child needs to be shown, not merely told. In all honesty, I think that is true of the human race, adults as well as children.”

It happens almost on a daily basis that my children and I will refer to a book or character during our normal daily routines. “Don’t stand on the table or you will be like Humpty Dumpty!” Rather than droning on in a moralizing lecture, I can simple ask them, “Do you remember what happened to Edmund when he was greedy? Do you want to go see the White Witch?” My kids respond really well to this type of correction and reminders.

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As a child I would read for hours. I started a journal in 1997, keeping track of each book I completed (I was in fourth grade). When I flip through the pages of my 4th grade penmanship with glittery gel pens (do you remember that ’90s trend?) I can almost feel my emotions of being a 10 year old. I remember picking certain books out at the library, or finding it on my parent’s bookshelves. The years and pages go on and on, and the reading quantity ebbs and flows- slowing down particularly during college and early motherhood- but the act of finishing a book isn’t complete without writing the title and author in my book journal and detailing what I’ve read.

Now that I have children, books have continued to be a large part of our lives. I may not be able to play imaginative games like dress-up or kitchen for hours on end, but I can sit and read and read and read. Sharing the love of books with my children has been one of the highlights of my children growing older- I can’t wait to share with them the beauty and goodness in the world through the power of story.

On this blog, I plan to share reviews of my favorite books, book lists that we love and maybe didn’t love so much. I challenge you to view books in this way; as a tool to expand you and your family’s world and see how your love for books can transform your life.

 

Corona Diaries 1

It’s 11 PM, March 4th, and I’m on my phone placing a bulk order of cold, flu and basic medicines to fortify my home medicine cabinet. For the past couple of several weeks I had been following the situation in Wuhan, and then Italy and Iran. I couldn’t really believe my eyes, and like most in the country, was slightly skeptical that this would or could hit our shores.

However, more and more mathematicians and virologists on Twitter started banging the drum that this virus is not the flu. It’s more contagious than influenza, and we are not prepared. The exponential growth of the sick and dying kept ratcheting up each day, and I was starting to pay attention.  I began chatting often with a friend who had an impeding trip to Italy scheduled with her family. Should she go? What was the situation there? Would her family get stuck in quarantine in their hotel? This resulted in me spending too many late nights scrolling Twitter for real-live updates and stories from abroad.

After an hour of comparing prices and products, I placed my order. The medicines I needed- Sambucol, Tylenol, Motrin, cough medicine and throat drops, canned soup-  were still all in stock, and in two days would land at my door. This provided a little bit of peace of mind that I could care for my family, if we did get sick. But, schools was still in session, groups were meeting, business as usual.

March 3, 2020- the US now had several cases in Seattle, and I began thinking that this small handful would soon double, triple and then jump higher and higher. It was just a matter of when.

I was very concerned but most people around me weren’t, so life carries on. A week later, my husband and I saw this as a true emergency. Schools, governments and businesses were “monitoring the situation” and noted they would take action if anyone in their commmity got sick. It was clear to me, however, that once someone was sick, it was too late. Mostly out of protest to a world that had not yet reacted to covid-19, I decided to keep my kids home, even though the schools were open. I emailed my reasons, and urged the administration to realize that social distancing was the only way to hopefully keep this at bay.

My home state, a somewhat isolated and rural Midwest state, now had 9 cases and one death. My gut told me if this state had 9 cases, my urban city surely had many more sick people- they just were asymptomatic or not yet tested. Thankfully, as Friday, Saturday and Sunday progressed, the governments and dioceses called for social distancing and the cancelations began.

I ran to our school to pick up my children’s school work and then faced the new reality: I have to now actually take my own advice. We will now be home all day, with everyone home! All day! What would that look like? On this page, I will detail how we are (or are not) staying sane and happy at home.