Reading, Eating, Etc.

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It’s May–my favorite month. Month of mothers. Month of Mary. Month of my favorite (albeit sentimental) Marian hymn. Month my husband and I met and fell in love and later got married in. Even though the unbearable Texas heat is starting to settle in, I can’t help but be happy this month and want to pass the days sipping elderflower cordial.

Reading

Books:

The Little Oratory: finally started and finished (this was my third attempt). I found it an interesting reflection on the relationship between the physical styling of a home and the interior spiritual life of the family. Also, it’s just a generally good resource about how to cultivate prayer in the home when you’re feeling overwhelmed about all the devotions and traditions you could potentially incorporate. And it really made me want to learn and make chant a part of family prayer life.

These Beautiful Bones: such a good read. Such an accessible and needed book especially since I feel the main message teenagers take away from Theology of the Body is that it’s all about sex. Of course, that’s to be expected when it’s promulgated to an audience drowning in an over-sexualized culture. But Theology of the Body is so much more and this book is an excellent resource for anyone, Catholic or not, who wants a deeper understanding of the Christian vision of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of an incarnate God. Now, I can’t wait to read The Catholic Table.

Middlemarch: I am liking it and am expecting to love it by the end because there are glowing reviews everywhere I turn. It’s already a good cautionary tale for making big life choices (e.g. who you marry). However, it’s just so massive that every time I look at it, I want to opt for Netflix. But a few bits that I’ve especially liked so far:

“Curiously enough, his pain in the affair beforehand had consisted almost entirely in the sense that he must seem dishonourable, and sink in the opinion of the Garths…Indeed we are most of us brought up in the notion that the highest motive for not doing a wrong is something irrespective of the beings who would suffer the wrong.” 

“Mrs. Bulstrode’s naive way of conciliating piety and worldliness, the nothingness of this life and the desirability of cut glass, the consciousness at once of filthy rags and best damask…”

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self–never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.” Made me think of this article again.

Articles:

Concrete ways to help in tough times

A Voice from Heaven: an eloquent reflection on experiencing loss through the lens of C.S. Lewis and the Book of Revelation.

We are Travelers: I’m always thinking about Christian pilgrimage vs. secular wanderlust not only in terms of physical travel but as radically different mindsets in this journey of life.

Being Radical: Choosing to Live within the Context of Creation: I mean, basically what I was rattling on about in half of this post.

The Look of Divine Love: “’It is godlike to love the being of someone’ (Gilead, Marilynne Robinson)…We have to love with the love we have received from God. In so doing, we are transformed into another Christ, and with divine charity reigning in our hearts, we begin to see reality as God created it.” Makes my thoughts leap from G.M. Hopkins and inscape to co-inherent love to this JPII quote. Tangential mind, ya’ll.

18 Things I’ve Learned in 18 Years of Parenting: seems like solid advice. (Number 14 is super encouraging for me at this stage of life). After reading several of her posts, I really like this blogger’s no-nonsense yet still understanding attitude towards work, motherhood, and homeschooling. It probably appeals to me because I tend towards idealistic stagnation, though I really do want to be more of a doer than just a dreamer.

-I finally read Anne of Green Gables for the first time a few summers ago. I have no desire to see the new Netflix show, but I think it’s high time I finally watched the 1980s miniseries.

Eating

Asian food

All the time. It’s been my number one craving this pregnancy. Since I can’t justify takeout on a regular basis, here are a couple things I’ve been whipping up:

-Cold rice noodles with peanut lime chicken.

-Grilled peanut lime flank steak (with leftover marinade from the previous recipe) with soba noodles, broccolini, and carrots. Topped with peanuts, basil, and mint.

-Shredded chicken with bok choy, carrots, onion, and ramen noodles in miso broth.

And lots of asian-fusion meals thrown together from our meal leftovers. Plus, thank goodness for the freezer aisle at Trader Joe’s (read: scallion pancakes and pork buns). It’s getting me through my cravings in a pinch.

Desserts:

My second biggest craving, most often satiated in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or my pantry stash of chocolate chips.

this yogurt chocolate cake found in a late-night sugar-craving-crazed google search to see what I could make with what basic baking ingredients I had on hand. With an on the fly cherry sauce (frozen cherries, sugar, boiling water) and homemade whipped cream, it basically turned out to be a light and lovely version of black forest cherry gateau.

Nigella’s lemon polenta cake with a berry compote. I might have to restrain myself from making this on repeat this summer.

Summer eats:

rosemary potato pizza: basically like potato chip flatbread. Highly recommended.

fish tacos for cinco de mayo. I only used the recipe for the beer battered fish and oh yum it was good. We topped ours with mango salsa (lit. just chopped mango stirred into store-bought salsa) and a sour cream avocado spread.

-Joe made burgers on Saturday and all I’ve been saying since is, “I wish there were more burgers.” Sometimes, you just need a non-fancy burger. Just a patty all smoky and cheddar cheese all melty stuffed in a fluffy bun. I’m already coming up with our weekend grill meal plan for the rest of the summer. Fajitas up next!

-Last night, after Joe mentioned having a hankering for spaghetti and meatballs, I put a springy-summer spin on the traditional thing and made garlicky, lemony, herby pork meatballs with fusili pasta and a creamy tomato rosé sauce. It was so good, it may get its very own post.

Of course, these are the highlights. Mostly, we eat clear the fridge stuff: whatever grains, proteins (usually eggs, beans, or tofu), veggies, leftover sauces are on hand all thrown together. Since we eat this way several times a week and as it’s usually vegetarian, it makes the meals I spend a little extra time and money on even more appreciated (by me and Joe. Leo’s palate is definitively unrefined and ungrateful).

Etc.

-We are indeed expecting baby number two in fourish months. This pregnancy has been far harder than the first time. I had a sweet part time work schedule when I was pregnant with Leo which meant lots of sleeping in and napping whenever I wanted. From weeks 6-18ish this time around, my toddler was not very sympathetic to my very real need to sleep in past seven am or to the fact that his dirty diapers made me vomit without fail every time. Most mornings, I’d hand him a piece of bread for breakfast and then I’d lie on the couch and drift in and out for an hour or two while he’d play/destroy things or come over and poke my eyes. Joe got to be on the receiving end of my broken record complaints: “Next kid has to be potty trained before we even think of a third” “I’m so nauseous” “I’m so exhausted” “We need a first trimester nanny”. Thankfully, we’re past the very worst of it and we are actually very excited.

-Recent netflix binges? Father Brown forever. I know, I know. Not at all like the stories but I’m okay with that (I suppose I risk losing Catholic cred by admitting that Chesterton’s prose is not my favorite). I think for the most part the show does a good job of showing the specific and important work of a priest while also giving me my cozy mystery fix. Otherwise, Life in Pieces has me in stitches every episode. And I just finished Master of None season 2. Still pretty dismal but Aziz Ansari explores interesting ideas and I think admits, perhaps without realizing it, that most millenials are ‘lost in the cosmos’ to steal a phrase.

-Say a prayer for my alma mater, please.

Happy feast of St. Crispin of Viterbo, St. William of Rochester, and St. Julia (among others but I liked their stories best.

 

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Reading, Eating, Etc.

Immaterial gifts

(c) Littlehampton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Ever since I became a mother, I’ve been thinking about the connection of parenthood with gift giving. Gift giving for children is a subject fraught with strong opinions. And while I am interested in the relationship of physical objects in a child’s life and formation, I’m thinking here more of immaterial things.

It’s easy to become jealous of other parents who can afford all the organic/handmade/designer things for their children. Or of the private schools, neighborhoods, and travel destinations they’ll get to enjoy. Or to be persuaded by the false idea that certain things you may pass on to a child are gifts rather than what really might be burdens: opinions, political views, aesthetic taste, unfulfilled life dreams etc. Even beyond lovely and unquestionably good gifts of homecooked meals or craft time or, heck, reading, writing, and arithmetic, there are more foundational gifts Christian parents in particular are called to give their children. These gifts aren’t bound by money or intelligence, but only by love. Only by a mother or father’s willingness to conform their will to the One who is Love.

An existence rooted in love

In a world that wishes to make the starting point of existence conveniently vague, to turn children into commodities ready to be harvested and purchased when desired or blotted out when inconvenient, it’s a gift to root a child’s existence in the loving marital embrace of a husband and wife. By conceiving and receiving a unique and unrepeatable human being, a husband and wife live out the life-long vows they made the day they wedded themselves to one another: that they were “prepared to accept children lovingly from God”. And by being conceived and received as such, a child comes to know the truth that all creation is willed into existence by love–that, as a philosophy professor of mine once said, “all existence is a love affair with goodness.”

A recognized and honored identity

The mystery of the baby in the womb is thrilling and exasperating. You see them first during the ultrasound and now this abstract, fuzzy idea of your baby becomes concrete and breathtaking. Then, perhaps, you find out whether you are having a girl or a boy and you start to visualize the little person that’s about to make their entrance. Then you give birth to them and see them face to face and, maybe like I did, think, “Who are you??” Of course you don’t know their personalities yet. Their quirks. The things that will fill them with joy or irritate them. And honestly, it’s hard to even know what they really look like, all squashed and newbornish as they come.

But there are a few things you know and that you gift to your child by recognizing and honoring: that they are your son or daughter. That they have a heritage rooted in the families and cultures you’ve come from. But far more importantly, that they are are a son or daughter of God and have been made in His image and likeness. That they have a spiritual heritage: a family in the communion of saints.

That they are born with a free will that is most free when it is united to God’s will. That they are born with a vocation written in their hearts that you as a parent can’t alter or substitute with your own desire.

That they are ultimately not yours, but ultimately God’s. That they never fully belong to you. Not when they are growing in your belly or sleeping milk-drunk against your shoulder or at any moment beyond. That they are intended for deepest union with God and may be invited into that union in ways or at times unwelcome by you. To relinquish that control, to forever be reminding them of their identity and what that identity calls them to is a gift.

A name

A name is a powerful thing. A word imbued with such significance as to summon up a whole person in your mind. And you hope the names you choose for your children will be lovingly repeated again and again all the days of their life and for years after they’ve passed.

Names far too often become style symbols: a way to reflect the parents’s good taste and originality. Moreover, parents jealously guard them from “name-thieves” and woe be to anyone who “steals” the name they’ve chosen.

But a name is not a parent’s possession. Rather, it’s something that ought to be chosen and gifted for the good in itself that it is. How beautiful to give a child a name with namesakes of saints and angels and family members who then are called upon beyond time and space to become dear friends, guardians, and role models for the child. How beautiful it is to remember firstly that a name is not something in which to look for glowing reactions from others, but the very thing under which your child will be baptized and therefore forever be tied to his or her most fundamental identity as a Christian.

An understanding of reality

It’s easy to view childhood as a dreamy space removed from reality; that is, removed from suffering and sorrow. But reality is more than just hardship. It’s the fact that there is a ground beneath your feet and a sky above your head. That the physical world is impregnated with transcendence. That there are metaphysical confines of time and space which can be frustrating, but can also be made holy. That, like the mathematical laws that keep a cathedral standing through the centuries, there are absolute laws of nature written in the heart of man that must be upheld lest the architecture of human relations comes crashing down. But that within these solid and unchangeable truths of nature, there are a myriad of beautiful nuances. As Gerard Manley Hopkins so perfectly writes:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Too often, adults withhold the beauty of reality from children because of their own relativistic confusion and fear of imposing absolutes on anyone. Parents and teachers mistakenly believe they are forming open-minded people, when instead they are turning out empty-minded people. Instead of imposing absolutes, they impose their own anxieties on susceptible minds left to fumble through the world as a distorted funhouse of mirrors. It’s, therefore, a child’s birthright to be rooted in reality. It’s a gift to share with a child stories and conversations that reflect reality, to give them experiences of the God-given diversities in nature and in people, and to sanctify the time they spend and the spaces they inhabit (i.e. living the liturgical year and making the home a domestic church). It’s through these things that a parent gives a child a cohesive and awe-filled vision of the universe.

Faith

There’s a moving part in the novel, Brideshead Revisited, where the character of Julia Flyte laments that she wasn’t able to give her childhood faith to her stillborn child:

“I hadn’t thought about religion before; I haven’t since, but just at that time, when I was waiting for the birth, I thought, ‘That’s the one thing I can give her. It doesn’t seem to have done me much good, but my child shall have it.’ It’s odd, wanting to give something one had lost oneself.”

The indelible mark left by her own baptism makes Julia realize that the passing on of faith to one’s child, no matter how poorly you’ve adhered to it, is a gift.

We are creations living in a created and fallen world so we necessarily need a relationship with the Creator to navigate the fallenness and to reach our final, intended end with Him. That relationship is nourished and cultivated through concrete things such as the sacraments, Sacred Scripture, the moral teaching of the Catechism, the works of mercy, and little traditions and devotions. It’s up to parents to integrate all the aspects of their lives with these things.

A community

There’s a reason a child is born to a mother and father rather than growing out of the ground or dropping from the sky: because we are meant for community. And there is nothing like the community of family to form a person in joy and humor and, you know, to painfully stretch their soul in virtue. This is why being open to having more children (i.e. siblings) is a gift to a child. This is why investing yourself in the larger community of extended family, friends, and neighbors is a blessing. Why choosing good and holy godparents for your child is so important. Why reading stories of the saints (i.e. their spiritual community) with your children is a gift. Why considering something radical like communal living might be a weightier choice for your child’s life than whether you should formula feed or co-sleep.

A lived theology of the body

This is tied deeply to growing up in a healthy, loving community and having a sane sense of reality, but I think it deserves its own section. We are incarnational beings in an incarnational world. But it’s a fractured world where body and soul are often at odds with one another. A world where we are never comfortable with our bodies because of ever-changing standards. Where bodily autonomy reigns even to the point of medicated self-destruction. An over-sexualized world where bodies are objectified and the caution-tape language of consent must be learned at a young age. It’s frankly scary to have a body in this world.

So one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is an lived theology of the body. To teach them, through the everyday touches of life and our conversations with them, that there will always be a tension between the desires of the body and the soul but that body and soul are meant to be reconciled and redeemed. That our bodies are groaning for the resurrection. That the bodily actions that make up our days and our lives (washing dishes and hugging and resting and crying and dancing and, yeah, sex or the sacrifice of it) are all profoundly bound up in our relationship with one another, with God, and with the course of history.

An appreciation for stories

This one might not seem as foundational as all the other ones listed, but there’s something to be said about every human culture valuing storytelling even before written language existed (or you know, before long-form Netflix tv shows). More crucially for the Christian, history is not simply a random succession of events, but the story of salvation, and we are living in that story. As such, all good stories dramatize truths about the human condition in light of the creation, fall, and redemption. And this is why good, compelling stories matter and can change your life.

Far better than I could ever put it, Jessica Hooten Wilson argues for the need to be scandalized and changed by good stories:

I hope that we…that we do not turn away from the stories that may shape us into better humans, better Christians, more faithful sons and daughters. For as Christians we all live in the shadow of the Book of books, and we all desire with great fear, trembling, and hope to be scandalized by the Word made flesh.

….

All these things might seem obvious but so often they’re considered secondary or obsolete to other, frequently false things. So if you’re like me wishing you could give your child the world (i.e. needle felted wool toys and the ability to speak French), you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re doing your best (even if your best is far from the best) to give them the things that really matter.

Image: Reginald Bottomley, A Mother and Child Looking at the Virgin and Child

Immaterial gifts

Mamas Day Movies

My sister often asks me for film recommendations for different holidays. I like themed movies so I try to come up with a perfect one, but oftentimes I just redirect her to About Time, which works for all occasions and never gets old. This year, I’m preemptively posting some for Mother’s Day. These films deal with more than just physical motherhood, but with the call to spiritual motherhood that’s written in every woman’s heart.

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1. Marie’s Story: based on a true story, Sister Marguerite works at a convent school for deaf girls. When a blind and deaf girl named Marie is rejected from the school because the mother superior doesn’t feel they are able to help her, Sister Marguerite takes it upon herself to become the girl’s personal teacher. Marguerite becomes a second mother to Marie, guiding her as it were, out of the dark, silent womb she’s been living in her entire life into the light of communication and communion with others.

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2. Babette’s Feast: two puritan sisters in late-nineteenth century Denmark take a refugee of the French Revolution into their home as a cook and when she wins the lottery, she spends it all on cooking a luxurious feast for the sisters and the other members of their church. The feast, gratitude expressed materially, works as a reordering of the senses toward a sacramental vision of life. I don’t know of anything more profoundly motherly than a marriage between physical and spiritual nurturing. Also, it’s Pope Francis’s favorite film.

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3. The Painted Veil: based on a book by W. Somerset Maugham, this film set in 1920s China centers on the character of socialite, Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts), who marries bacteriologist, Walter Fane (Edward Norton), simply to escape her stifling life at home. Once married, she continues to live selfishly and begins an affair with another man. Her husband punishes her by taking a position in a remote cholera-ridden village, but it’s in that environment, that Kitty is able to grow, to learn to live for the other rather than the self, and to come into her own motherhood. “When love and duty are one, then grace is within you,” says the Mother Superior of the convent and orphanage where Kitty volunteers at. I think those words sum up motherhood most fully lived out.

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4. Tree of Life: Confession–I’ve only watched about half of this film because *hsp alert* I can only handle so much emotional tension in a film at one time. However, Jessica Chastain’s portrayal as the ethereal and nurturing mother of three boys in Terence Malick’s film/spiritual-daydream/visual-existential-voyage is beautiful. She embodies her vocation as a mother both in the physical aspects of rocking babies and cooking meals for her family, but also in trying to maintain a sense of peace and stability in her husband’s emotionally volatile shadow.

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6. Cinderella: this is just a visually stunning film to watch, but I also love the long extending influence of Cinderella’s mother’s words to her: “have courage and be kind”. These maternal words of advice help Cinderella grow up with an inner strength that those around her lack and help nurture virtue in her.

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5. Room: I probably won’t ever watch one because of my sensitivity to sexual abuse in films, but it’s come so highly recommended from reviewers I trust that I couldn’t leave it off this list.

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6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell: okay, another one I probably won’t ever watch because of the violence, but if you’re looking for a film that shows the unwavering love and grit of mothers, this seems like the one for you.

And some fun bonus ones: Matilda (because Miss Honey), The Sound of Music, Little Women, It’s a Wonderful Life (because Mary Hatch), and if you’re in the mood to watch a hilarious and terrible mother, Love and Friendship.

What films that explore spiritual and physical motherhood would you add to this list?

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers!

Mamas Day Movies

Reading, Eating, Etc.

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Good reads, eats, and lots and lots of rambling:

Reading

One of my Lenten resolutions, the only one I’ve been keeping faithfully, has been to read only spiritual reading. I drag my feet to do it because fiction is so much easier to sink your teeth into, but it actually has been a beneficial exercise. So, I read The Screwtape Letters (for my bookclub) and it was an excellent examination of conscience and I’m still working my way through I Believe in Love (also a bookclub pick from way back in December). It’s slow going but I may actually end up adding it to my life-changers list because it really does come back to me on a daily basis and affects the way I think and act. I can’t wait for Easter though, because I have Middlemarch on the dock.

Articles

-I loved this post on Dominicana Journal about being Homesick for Heaven. It’s good to remember, when all the blogs and ig feeds you follow try to convince you otherwise, that no place, not the English countryside nor the streets of Paris, and no home, not a charming brownstone in a bustling city or a bright and airy one hundred year old farmhouse can cure us of the homesickness of heaven: “We shall be haunted by a nostalgia for divine things, by a homesickness for God which is not eased in this world even by the presence of God.” (And also, good to remember when you’re tired of the flat, hot, noisy city you live in or of shuffling from apartment to apartment that as St. Samthann says, “Heaven can be reached from any place on Earth.”)

-I don’t know what our children’s education is going to look like. I often think of how much richer my education would have been if I had gotten to follow a classical curriculum. But you know, private school=tuition, homeschooling=being solely responsible for your children’s education=ahhhh. Anyway, I know we will at least be having culture hour once a week.

A lovely article my sister sent me and also full of good reminders about raising and educating children.

“The pressure to achieve can corrupt the activity itself…not just playing the piano. If we fail to recognize the dangers, we can become enslaved to the world’s standards of value. What matters is not the richness of an individual’s experience, but the degrees earned, prizes won, schools attended, articles published, patents filed, movies made, books written. And this is true for religious people as well as secularists. We tend to become part of this culture of achievement even if we don’t mean to. And it’s increasingly true for children, who sense early on that they must make something of themselves and find an identity in some sort of accomplishment.”

-Are you an HSP? I’d heard the term floating around and thought, “Oh yes, I’m probably that.” But then I actually started reading more about it and dude….it explains so much about my whole life. The fact that I couldn’t deal with the seams on my socks when I was in Kindergarten, that anytime I’m in a tense situation, whether it’s just being in the presence of arguing people or sensing any sort of danger, I feel like I’m going to completely shut down or lose it, that my one customer service gig with a stressful boss and rude customers gave me so much freaking anxiety, that bad memories stay with me foreeeever, that I absolutely cannot handle any remotely scary movies or shows because those images stick in my mind, that I felt like I was having a mental breakdown every day when I was regularly watching my five month old nephew and my two month old son at the same time, that when Leo won’t stop whining, I have to shut myself in a room for a minute and scream into my hands. So I guess I have to figure out how to deal with it now…

-Joe and I are on a marriage panel tonight for our alma mater’s Theology of the Body club. I feel like we are so not qualified to talk about marriage because we’ve only been at it for three-ish years now, and frankly, I suck at the whole putting other people before myself part of marriage…which is like the main part of marriage. But I suppose that’s the point of an event like this. Not to show how easy and marvelous marriage is, but to admit how hard but good (and even still marvelous) it is. But anyway some other people talking about marriage who have better things to say:

The Benedictine Confessional

“Christian marriage—like any marriage—is hard work. It’s ascetical. It’s about the halting, faltering effort to unlearn selfishness and gradually grow in love—not just love for another human being but love for another sinning human being…’Your marriage is a covenant that must stand firm even if your spouse becomes a threat to your tranquility and personal fulfillment, even if the time should come when you feel that the other who shares your bed has become—for the moment, at least—your enemy. Jesus has taught us to love our enemies.'”

You’re still a bride after your wedding day, even when you don’t feel like one.

Know this: married dreams brought down to earth are good; your calling specifically heralded at this moment in time. It’s okay to feel like your wedding is a lot to come down from, and that you walked into a new, unfamiliar version of yourself as you walked out the church doors. Imagining married life in broad strokes is easy and it’s dreamy, but it’s the subtleties life layers on that pave most of our road to holiness.”

Can marriage work with all those kids?!?!

“Yes, kids are hard,  Yes, we work harder at our marriages with little people around, but don’t lose sight of the all important fact:  Love propels us into this crazy thing of marriage and family life, and Love will see us through all the many challenges because as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians: Love never fails.  Or at least, if we don’t let it!  If we don’t resist or reject Love, it never fails us.  This is the hope we carry with us as we make our vows to each other.”

-Last one, I promise! This article from Eve Tushnet reflecting about a Catholic understanding of the body seems particularly appropriate for Holy Week.

Eating

Celebrations

-My roommate and her husband were in town for a couple hours on St. Patrick’s Day so I made this beer cheese soup (not a very Irish recipe but I used Kerrygold cheddar and nixed all the peppers). We enjoyed it with Irish brown bread and together they were crazy good.

-Another one of my dear friends had a birthday last week and I got to make the cake. Her only request was that it be chocolate so I went with another “best ever” recipe. It got rave reviews even though I forgot to frost the middle.

Comfort food

-Sometimes you just need a giant pile of noodles. One of my best friends/Leo’s godmama came over for dinner one night and we made shrimp lo mein and scallion pancakes (inspired by Katherine’s post.) Everything was gloriously comforting and oily.

Turkey bolognese and spaghetti squash with toasted panko and pine nut topping. (loosely based on this recipe.) Joe got home late that night so I ate beforehand and had a really hard time not eating all the bolognese out the pot before he got a chance to have dinner.

Brunches

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I have a thing for brunching fancy at home. It started when Leo switched to one nap a day and I didn’t get to sit down to eat until 11. I munch on dry cereal first thing in the morning but if I try to sit down and eat breakfast, Leo (who’s already eaten his fill of scrambled eggs and oatmeal) finds it unacceptable and cries and claws at my legs. Sweet child.

Anyway, I celebrate my daily two hours of silence by trying to make fancy things out of fridge leftovers. And when I can turn out something worthy of going on a bistro brunch menu, I give myself a little pat on the back, snap a picture, and upload it on the gram. Morning rituals and all that. Favorites have been:

whole wheat couscous, basil, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes, a soft-boiled egg, balsamic vinegar, and tuna (the good kind packed in a jar with capers and olive oil–makes all the difference.)

Roasted artichoke, shallot-mustard compound butter, and poached eggs on top of sourdough toast.

Biscuits and gravy. My mom gave me Red Lobster biscuit mix when I went over to her house and I’m never one to turn away free food. Oh man, this combo was good. For the sausage I just fried up ground beef and added maple syrup, brown sugar, and some spices. For the gravy I threw butter, flour, and water into the ground beef mixture and let it all come together.

Leftover Korean beef and rice with a fried egg on top. I would actually cut the sugar down in the beef recipe if I made it again. It was too sweet for me, but with the egg it did taste like asian takeout, so that’s always a win.

Breakfast tacos. Always, always. So easy to throw together and so satisfying.

I don’t eat like this every day. Some days it’s cold pizza or cereal. Today it was just a piece of toast. And really, this is a celebration of nap time, so whatever the meal, it’s still every bit as luxurious.

Etc.

Wishing everyone a blessed Holy Week, Passiontide, and Easter Sunday/Season!

Reading, Eating, Etc.

Living the gritty poetry of love.

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Have you ever heard the wonderful Van Gogh quote: “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”? I’ve seen it beautifully hand-lettered and then shared over and over again on the Internet. It’s the sort of quote that would make for the perfect caption under a bright and dreamy lifestyle family photo.

It also calls to my mind something that Joseph once said while we were engaged. He was having a conversation with someone who was encouraging him not to give up his dreams of writing poetry for a wife and family. He responded by saying, “Well, Dominika’s the best kind of poetry.” Of course it made me swoon to hear that (and still does!), but there’s a weight to it that has continued to resonate with me as I enter more deeply into the mystery of loving people.

Sometimes loving people really does feel artistic and poetic. Falling in love, getting engaged, walking up the aisle on your wedding day, holding your freshly born baby. Those moments are palpably transcendent. And even within ordinary days there are moments that feel sacred and extraordinary. When Leo visibly understands different words for the first time. When he wraps his tiny arms around my neck and squeezes with real affection. When Joe traces the sign of the Cross on his forehead when we put him to bed. Those moments are met with a happy fiat on my part.

But there are a lot of days that feel emphatically unpoetic. Many days, I fail again and again and wish that someone could relieve me of motherhood. When I’m trying to fix dinner and Leo’s clawing up my legs and whine-crying, I’m so quick to lose it and snap at him. Or when I slip into all-day social media scrolling because I feel like it just takes so much energy to be present with him, I become convinced someone else would do this job so much better than I would.

On this blog, I try to write about motherhood honestly and specifically in a way that means to show its sometimes sweet and sometimes stark but ever-redemptive beauty. I do this because so much of the language surrounding parenthood tends to be banal, an exercise in fear-mongering, and generally unhelpful for young people already feeling apprehensive about the commitments of marriage and parenthood.

However, I think it’s important to admit that sometimes the beauty isn’t perceptible and it certainly doesn’t feel redemptive. It really does feel like the trenches. It doesn’t feel like you’re valiantly marching under the standard of sacramental love. It feels like you’re swimming in exhaustion and hailed on by a multitude external pressures.

And at the end of the day, after failing time and time again and wondering just how much I’m messing up my child with my impatience and harshness, all I can do is offer up a reluctant and frankly pretty sucky fiat. It usually goes something like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to get up in the morning and do this all over again. I just want a friggin break. So just make me want this. Because I’ll keep choosing it, but only because I have to.” Not really stuff of “Behold, handmaid of the Lord here” caliber, but I think God accepts and works even with my crappy fiats.

And I know He works with them, because eventually, in a calmer moment, I’m able to say with a little more grace than before:

“Now I accept the cross You have sent me, which I at first rejected, and I accept not having accepted it right away.”**

Then when I hold my sick child who cries if I move at all or look at him or dare to breathe, and I’m able to do it patiently even if I’m not feeling patient, I think it might even more poetic than when I beheld him miraculously as a newborn. When I let Joe give me a kiss when he comes home instead of swatting him away because I am so touched out by sticky toddler embraces, it’s perhaps more poetic than the kiss we shared on our wedding day.

I’ve barely been able to blog lately and I haven’t been able to write anything else. March has been the month of never-ending sickness for this aspiring-and-usually-failing-at-being-holy family (admittedly I’m generally the one dragging us down). But March also has ties to The Holy Family, since it contains both the solemnities of the Annunciation and of St. Joseph. Mary and Joseph aren’t remembered for the great deeds they accomplished in brazen acts of independence (deeds they could have been accomplishing if they didn’t have to take care of each other and baby Jesus, dang it.) They’re remembered for their humble receptivity to will of God even when that will involved fear and sorrow and the Cross. And yet, their lives have been lauded for centuries in poetry, art, and music.

It’s a good reality check for me to remember that writing blog posts or poetry about motherhood–writing poetry at all–isn’t comparable in real sense to actually living it. Great poetry might be recited till the end of the world. But really living the gritty poetry of love, living it well, even if it’s not remembered, endures eternally.

And I know several more years and children might make me look back and think a. I had ONE CHILD. One healthy, pretty easy going child. I had no idea what it’s like to really struggle and/or b. geez the death grip I had on my time and my right to a certain level of sanity was just not realistic and no wonder I was struggling.

It should also be known that I got a free chunk of babysitting this week (yes I was pinching myself the whole time) and wrote this from a cafe. Some people dream of traveling to Bora-Bora or the Amalfi Coast. I dream of traveling alone to Corner Bakery Cafe for a couple of hours.

**From I Believe in Love, a book that’s been invaluable in my daily life.

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Living the gritty poetry of love.

Reading, eating, etc.

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Reading

I’m fitting in a lot more reading so far this year which means I’m fitting in a lot less blogging and writing and small-businessing (and working out and keeping house and and and…) I don’t know whether I feel all that bad about these lopsided priorities, though. The major hits so far have been:

An Everlasting Meal: this was my secret santa’s gift to me and I’m overall completely with Tamar Adler’s food philosophy: don’t waste a thing, anything can be a meal, etc. As a result of reading it, I usually now roast and boil a load of vegetables at the beginning of the week to use in various dishes. And Adler’s ode to pickly things made me hop up mid-chapter, slather some ricotta on toast, and top it with chopped cornichons, capers, and olives. Delish! But as one Goodreads reviewer said: she writes like every sentence is competing to win a poetry contest. For Adler, it seems ingredient ought to be personified. Every act of chopping or boiling or sauteing should be the most poetic act of all time. So that’s my gripe. Otherwise, it’s a food book worth reading.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: I’d heard this title floating around for forever but always associated it with assigned school reading, and therefore meh. But oh gosh I was wrong. It’s full of both beauty and simplicity and I found it particularly poignant as a mother. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.

In this House of Brede: Another truly excellent read. I wish I had read it in high school since I was romantically enamored with religious life. It gives a very honest picture of life in a Benedictine monastery–the hardships and the glories. Not that I would have chosen a different life. Just that at the time I probably wouldn’t have run away with my fancies of old stone cloisters and contemplative raptures. Though I don’t know. Sixteen-year-old Dominika was stubbornly romantic.

Last Testament: In His Own Words: I just want to adopt Pope Benedict as my grandfather. He’s so full of tenderness and wisdom. I especially loved his descriptions of eternity:

“St. Augustine says something which is a great thought and a great comfort here. He interprets the passage from the Psalms ‘seek his face always’ as saying: this applies ‘for ever’; to all eternity. God is so great that we never finish our searching. He is always new. With God there is perpetual, unending encounter, with new discoveries and new joy. Such things are theological matters. At the same time, in an entirely human perspective, I look forward to being reunited with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and I imagine it will be as lovely as it was at our family home.”

I’m currently on Wuthering Heights and Howard’s End.

Links:

The myth of balance: a reminder I needed.

How the internet became a tool for judgment and not dialogue: a really good reflection about how social media platforms are not just neutral modes of communication but are set up to consciously conduct the way we interact with one another.

-Sometimes I get stuck on struggles particular to my own vocation and feel like myyyy life is the hardest. But it’s good to remember that each vocation has its own particular struggles and that we need to find ways to support one another in these.

Eating

-Lots of lazy stuff because Trader Joe’s is in walking distance and I can’t always be Tamar Adler and throw together three olives, a handful of rice, some wilting lettuce, a squeeze of lemon, and call it a meal. So we had this on V-day and then we had a belated sushi date this weekend.

-Another day we had the pulled pork tacos that I discovered here. Someday I’ll make homemade pulled pork tacos because the concept is a good one and the prepackaged stuff is only so satisfying.

Etc.

-Road trip! My brother-in-law turned 30 and my sister planned a Grand Canyon hike for the two of them. Somehow that turned into a good deal of my family tagging along and making a week and half trip of it. We have a lot of family in Arizona so it wonderful for all of our babies to meet everyone. And it reminded me how I have a deep need to be in nature every now and then (or preferably all the time) to feel human.

And now photo spammy:

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Reading, eating, etc.

Small circle, clear vision

small-circle-clear-vision

I saw this image on Pinterest a while ago and thought “that’s sounds about right”, pinned it, and forgot about it until recently.

When I was a teenager, before I had a laptop or a smart phone, before I had Facebook or Instagram, and before I knew what blogs even were, I would get on our family’s desktop computer (which was out in the open where everyone could see what you were up to) and I would get lost down Wikipedia rabbit holes sometimes for hours at a time. Now I have a small portable device always at the ready to tempt me down the far more appealing rabbit holes of social media. Not for two or three hour long blocks (although sometimes after Leo’s in bed…) but as a default for the frequent small pockets of empty time in my day.

A couple things happened that made that Pinterest quote pop back into my head. I couldn’t manage to text people in my life back but I could manage to fill lots of time with glimpses of other people’s lives on their blogs or Instagram accounts. I kept getting ideas for making this blog better or pursuing other projects bound up in the internet, but the idea of any more obligations to social media in my life made me feel sick and stretched thin (and I realize I’m way behind and do far, far less on social media than professional bloggers or Instagram “influencers”).

Instagram can be a really wonderful place. I’ve found so many artists whose work stuns and truly inspires me. I’ve found so many people there that I’m sure I would be great friends with if we met in real life. I’ve followed so many people whose rosy-cheeked, vintage-dressed flock of children make me think #familygoals. And I’ve made connections with kindred spirits who actually have reciprocated warmly. But it’s also a weird place when it starts making you wish you could unrealistically be bosom friends with one hundred other people. And it’s weird when you start desiring to be more like someone based on the fact that their children only have wooden toys rather than for some real virtue they possess.

And blogs are really wonderful and weird as well. They’ve been useful to me–before I had a baby, mom blogs made me less scared of motherhood. And when I first started reading blogs in college, I became engrossed with them. I adored these hilarious, warm, and wonderful bloggers and their families. I wanted to be friends with them. But I have never been able shake a weirdness about blogging: we create spaces on the internet revolving around our lives for strangers to read and look at. It’s always been strange to me how much I know about these people’s lives who know nothing about me.

I know the defense of these things usually has to do with finding or building community and I get that and I think it can be true. But the more I’ve followed and read and liked and commented on Instagram accounts and blogs, the less I’ve actually felt a part of a real community. Because at the end of the day, is simply being one among a sea of thousands of followers of a single person who will never invest the same amount of interest in your life, really being a part of a true community?

I do like the escape to beautiful images that Instagram affords me. But I’ve been realizing more and more how such a seemingly harmless thing as infinitely scrolling through lovely images can fill up your mind leaving little room for more important things. How beautifully styled pictures of bloggers homes and children, these little pieces of beauty from everday life, can in fact create an aesthetic glut. Along these lines, I recently read and was gripped by Maria Popova’s commentary on Susan Sontag’s collection of essays, “On Photography”:

“the social media photostream — the ultimate attempt to control, frame, and package our lives — our idealized lives — for presentation to others, and even to ourselves. The aggression Sontag sees in this purposeful manipulation of reality through the idealized photographic image applies even more poignantly to the aggressive self-framing we practice as we portray ourselves pictorially on Facebook, Instagram, and the like:

Images which idealize (like most fashion and animal photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.

Online, thirty-some years after Sontag’s observation, this aggression precipitates a kind of social media violence of self-assertion — a forcible framing of our identity for presentation, for idealization, for currency in an economy of envy.”

There’s nothing wrong with reading a blogger’s tips for surviving the newborn phase or seeing a beautiful image of architecture with some poetic caption or reading a meme that makes you laugh. But dozens and dozens of mildly useful blogposts and hundreds and hundreds of decreasingly inspiring Instagram squares and thousands and thousands of sort of entertaining Facebook statuses and memes can make for a fractured, poisoned attention and soul.

I’m not writing this as an admonition for using Instagram at all or for following someone who has a large following. I don’t think every Instagram account I follow needs to involve a tangible friendship between me and the person. And this isn’t a completely cyncial diatribe about the impersonality of the Internet. I absolutely believe true friendships can arise out of the Internet. And I think those friendships can form without you having to hand over your entire attention to the mercy of social media.

But because it feels like I have been handing my entire attention over to social media and have come out exhausted by the aesthetic aggression of it all, I’ve been making a few resolutions for a smaller circle and a clearer vision:

-Cutting back on the sheer amount of instagrammers I follow and the amount of blogs I read no matter how harmless or even helpful they are. If I’m not really compelled to what the person is saying, I need to silence that source of noise in my life.

-Delete Facebook. I’ve deactivated it for now but I think I really need it dunzo. I know people who have either completely deleted their Facebook accounts or have never had one and their lives don’t seem lacking in any way.

-Carve out a specific block of time each week for writing letters and thank you notes.

-Actually work on some sort of prayer life.

-Read or clean or memorize poetry or do Slovak language flashcards while Leo’s playing independently instead of being on my phone.

-Write, paint, or practice self-care during Leo’s naptime or after bedtime rather than just vegging on social media or watching Netflix.

-Become more involved at my parish.

I’ve been listening to Emma on audiobook these days and I’m so struck by smallness and the intimacy of the communities Jane Austen creates. There’s certainly more occasions for annoyance or frustration with a small community of flesh and blood people than a wide community spread thousands of miles apart hidden behind or filtered through smartphones. But there’s also so many more occasions for growth and real affection for one’s neighbors. And that’s the sort of community I want to be more a part of.

So since I like to pick other peoples brains: has social media improved your life or has it been more problematic? Have you developed worthwhile friendships through it? How do you keep it from being an energy-sucker? And do you think there’s something necessarily artificial or aggressive about it?

Small circle, clear vision