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

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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

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

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Have you made new years’ resolutions yet? Healthier eating is one of mine, but I’m trying to be realistic about it. My sister tried to rein me into Whole 30 this month, but any diet that tries to eliminate bread feels suspicious to me. Also, I find it really weird that strips of heart disease (i.e. bacon) are allowed and pebbles of life (i.e. lentils) aren’t. Tonight I’m giving the bird to Whole 30 and making a lentil stew.

I love and hate resolutions. They feel so fresh and hopeful. But then there’s so much personal growth I feel I need to do and I have too keen a knowledge of my wimpy will power, so looking at the long list of resolutions I’ve made just makes me want to curl up in a basket of warm laundry and eat something sweet. That’s where this tart comes in. It’s a babe of a dessert, indulgent in its perfect marriage of flavors. The sugar in it is minimal. You can add more if you wish, but that’s between you and your resolutions. Eat it with friends over a bottle of port and you will have done more for your well-being than Whole 30 could ever promise. At least I like to think so. I’ll make a definitive conclusion in 28 days when my sister emerges from her bread-less existence either glowing and goddess-like or dispirited and ravenous.

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Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

Ingredients:

-Pie dough (I use this recipe and follow the suggestion to replace some of the butter with shortening).

For wine poached pears:
-Two large pears (I used red but any variety would be good. If I used a green pear, though, I’d probably use a white wine to poach)
-Half a bottle of red wine
-An assortment of cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom pods, fresh ginger, whole cloves, or ground versions of any of those things
-optional: sugar to taste

For filling:
-1 cup goat cheese
-1 cup ricotta
-1/4c honey

For streusel topping:
-1/2 cup of walnuts
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup cold butter cut in cubes

Directions:
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Shape pie dough into a tart pan, cover with wax paper and fill with pie beans or weights. Par-bake for 12 minutes.
2. Slice pears lengthwise and set aside. Heat up wine with spices to a boil, add pears, lower to a simmer.
3. Mix goat cheese, ricotta, and honey together until combined and creamy in a bowl with a spoon or in the bowl of a standup mixer.
5. To make streusel topping: place walnuts, brown sugar, and butter together in a food processor and pulse until walnuts are chops into small pieces.
4. Remove pears from wine (you can reserve the wine and boil it down for syrup) and place the pears in a layer in the par-baked pie crust. Spoon the goat-cheese, ricotta mixture over and smooth it over.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes taking it out at the 20 min mark to sprinkle the streusel all over.
6. Let it cool down on the stove top and then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

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Happy Feast of St. Basil, patron of the order of priests that founded my alma mater.

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Wine-Poached Pear and Goat Cheese Ricotta Tart

2016 in Books

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I love seeing people’s yearly reading lists. And, as a co-worker and I agreed on, time is really best measured by the books you’ve read. There are not nearly as many as I would have like to have read. However, at the beginning of the year, I felt like I’d never have me-time again, so the fact that I read recreationally at all makes me okay with this amount. And then there’s the fact that I started this blog and a small business and have yet to really figure out how to divvy up my time between all these things.

This list doesn’t count roadtrip audiobooks since I half-listened, half-attempted to appease a crying baby during those. It doesn’t count short stories or poetry or the ten books I started and never finished. (For some reason I feel like I’m trapped in a never-ending cycle of starting The Little Oratory, reading twenty pages, putting it down in favor of something else, and starting the process over again a month or two later. Haalp!)

Anyway, here we go. 2016 in books:

Fiction:

Kristin Lavransdatter: a friend put out a facebook status asking if anyone wanted to form a bookclub to read this with some class notes on the book from one of our college professors. Naturally, lots of us jumped on board. It was such a good read during the winter. Such a good read for having a newborn and having just become a mother for first time and thinking about changing roles and vocations and whatnot.

Till We Have Faces: I can’t believe this was the first time I’d read this, but I really loved it. I loved how Lewis married the archetypal style of a myth with the very personal nature of a novel. It was so rich symbolically, psychologically, spiritually–I’ve already marked it down to reread in the future.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich: technically a novella but damn it, if a read a Tolstoy cover to cover, it’s going on the list. And it really is worth it to give your time over to these sixty pages. I’m always in favor of writing that makes me contemplate my own mortality.

All the Light We Cannot See: for the most unpopular vote in the room…I was pretty meh about this one. It was just a stylistic thing, not a plot thing. I kind of felt like I was reading a film script instead of great prose.

The Remains of the Day: Ishiguro writes so finely, so subtly, and reveals so much more than he outright says.

Village Diary: sweet and sassy and British to the bone. You can never go wrong with Miss Read.

The Thin Man: a fun, quick romp with these baes.

Trains and Lovers: I really liked this one or at least the parts that I did like, I really liked. It was thoughtful and understated and kept me interested from start to finish.

Non-fiction:

Simple Matters: I wrote a review here but basically I went in thinking it was going to promote unaffordable and unrealistic minimalism but it actually gave me a whole lot to think about.

The Temperament God Gave You: ugh yes. I needed to read this. Lots of slapping-hand-to-head moments where I realized this is why I react certain ways to things (for good or for worse) and how best to motivate myself to do things. This should be required reading for marriage prep.

What Mothers Do Especially When it Looks Like Nothing: Katherine, who is a book fairy godmother and whose blog is my best internet find of 2016, sent me this after I expressed interest in it, and now I want to send it to all my friends who are new mothers. At our last bookclub meeting, a friend mentioned a quote (I don’t remember who from) that most of salvation history was brought about by ordinary people living their ordinary lives. And that immediately brought me back to this book all about the ordinary but complex, intimate but exhausting, repetitive but ever-new and important work of raising babies.

The Catholic Catalogue: my review here. I’ve read most of this but not cover-to-cover. It’s not that kind of book though, but it is the kind of book that will make your home happier and your faith richer.

A happy New Year’s Eve to you all! May 2017 be filled with good cheer and good books!

2016 in Books

Reading, eating, etc.

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Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent! I’m lighting all the candles and linking up!

Reading

1. Books

The Thin Man: If you haven’t seen the William Powell and Myrna Loy film (and the subsequent sequels), you’re truly missing out. It’s the perfect thing to watch during the holidays with cookies and cocktails. The book was a little racier and a little more hardboiled than the film but still a hoot!

Whose Body: I’ve barely started this one but it’s proving as delightful as I imagined.

I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux: I’m about to start this for our next book club and it’s a good thing, because I don’t think I’m going to get to any of my suggested Advent spiritual reading. St. Therese is my confirmation saint and I read Story of a Soul back in junior high but I haven’t touched her writing since. I need to though because she a doctor of the Church and her writing is so accessible and enriching. Also, I keep saying I need to go on a retreat so I’m excited about getting to go on one in book form.

2. Links

-I really enjoy Maria Popova’s labor of love, Brain Pickings, though I frequently save the articles for later and then never get around to them–they demand one’s full attention and I have a mind trained to skim distractedly. But when I do put the mental effort in (and it really doesn’t require thaaat much effort), I’m always glad that I did. The books on her 16 Overall Favorite Books of 2016 all look very good and I’m marking some of them down for my 2017 reads. Also an oldie, but one of my favorite posts she did: 10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings.

Sorting Jane Austen into Hogwarts Houses: The Definitive Guide. This was such a fun post. Now I want to reread all Harry Potter and all Jane Austen. Also, just yes to Mr. Collins being a squib.

Favorite Quotes and Prayers: Christmas. I love quotes. I’ve got notebooks and word docs full of them. So Christina’s beautiful list made my heart sing.

“When we give each other our Christmas presents in his name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them…And to save us from our own foolishness and from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave himself.” -Sigrid Undset

Eating

3. Feast Day Food:

Honey Cake with Fleur de Sel: made for the St. Ambrose’s feast day (patron of beekeepers) to share with a friend and it was ambrosial on more than one level. Joe ate some for breakfast the next day, left for work, came back up a few minutes later, cut himself a second slice, and declared, “This is my favorite cake.”

Cuccia: For St. Lucy’s Day, I had big plans to wake up early and make cinnamon buns and string up lights around the apartment in honor this saint of light, but that did not happen. It was all good though because this Sicilian wheatberry porridge was splendid. According to the tradition, during a famine in Syracuse in 1646, a ship arrived on St. Lucy’s Day bearing wheat. People were so eager to eat, they didn’t wait to ground the grains, but simply boiled them and dressed them with olive oil–the first cuccia. We ate ours hot with ricotta, chocolate, candied orange slices, and honey. Yum!

4. Advent eating:

Garlic and vinegar fried rice: when you need something easy and meatless (though I threw in some stir fried meat this time), this is one of my favorite go tos.

-Minestrone: I used this as loose guide. Simple and warm and wintry.

Olive oil braised chickpeas: making this tonight with soft-boiled eggs and crusty bread.

5. Christmas baking/cooking plan:

-What are your favorite cookies to make? My signature cookie over the past couple years has been a shortbread cookie sandwich with speculoos filling and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s the tops. I also like to make gingersnaps from this recipe my sister shared with me. And they really do go deliciously with an Old Fashioned (perfect for your Thin Man movie watching). Other than that, I tend to change it up. Do you have favorite Christmas cookie recipes you return to year after year?

-I have a crazy dream this year to do a seven course Christmas Eve dinner after the Provencal and Italian traditions. I’m planning to keep the courses mostly simple: a make ahead chestnut soup, a cheese and fruit course. I just don’t know though. I’m a dreamer and not a very practical planner so we’ll see if it comes off without a hitch…or happens at all.

Et cetera

6. I’m shutting down my etsy shop till sometime in early January as I figure out a new printing situation, work on new products, and make a plan to really get this business going. I’m one to get immobilized over small difficulties, so things have been going slow lately.

7. We’re having a cozy Sunday watching Harry Potter (as a result of reading the Carrots for Michaelmas article) and making paper snowflakes. But the unfairness of our coziness and safety while others are living in the most desperate, war torn circumstances is heartbreaking. We can all donate and we can all pray. When I feel like despairing I think of these words from Tennyson: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Also, this site helps specify where donations go.

Drop down ye heavens from above

Reading, eating, etc.