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.

Coffee Table Evangelization: The Catholic Catalogue

I’ve always had this problem where I get really nervous about talking about my faith with non-Catholics but at the same time I can’t keep quiet about it because it is who I am. I think I’ve gotten better with age. There was a point in my life when I stressfully felt like I had to convince people of the truth of my faith. But now, it’s more like this is a beautiful thing that informs every aspect of my life so it’s just bound to spill over into conversation wherever I am whoever I’m with.

Most of my friends growing up were not Catholic, and I remember them saying that they could never be Catholic because of all the things you would have to know.Now I think I understand. Looking from the outside in it does seem like there’s just so much seemingly superfluous stuff: all the patron saints and feast days and icons and statues and priests and nuns in strange clothes and titles of Mary (and what is it with Catholics and Mary anyway?). But at the time, the idea that there was too much to learn left me reeling. It was like saying you could never go to school because there was too much to learn. Or that you could never get married because there too much to get to know about a person. Too much to know and to love.

In college, I read Evelyn Waugh’s words on conversion and I wish I had known them before then, because it put into words those innate feelings I had:

“Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”

And then I wish I had The Catholic Catalogue on hand. Not because I think everyone must be Catholic and must be Catholic this instant. (I think everyone should be wherever God wants them to be.) But just in case they were curious about all the seemingly superfluous stuff.

If conversion, as Evelyn Waugh makes it out to be, is the limitless exploration of a new land, The Catholic Catalogue, subtitled A Field Guide to the Daily Acts that Make Up a Catholic Life, is like a guide book for that journey.

Written by a mother-daughter team who runs a website by the same name, the book is organized in different sections titled: Smells and Bells (topics include among others: relics, oils and incense, praying the rosary, and processions), Seasons of the Church Year (describing how to keep and celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Ordinary Time as well as the various feasts within those seasons), and Seasons of Life (explaining sacraments and different vocations but also giving practical advice for things like naming a child, finding a spiritual director, and choosing a Catholic tattoo).

I think what I love most about this book is that it’s coffee table evangelization. It’s the sort of book that would have piqued my interest as a kid. I have this feeling that a good deal of imaginative, spiritual formation is actually hands off with raising children. (Maybe I think that because it keeps me from stressing about the enormous task of making sure your kids end up decent and faithful people.) It made a big deal in my childhood that there were simply good books around me. So I think exposing the natural curiosity of children to truth and goodness and beauty in indirect ways goes a long way.

The Catholic Catalogue is also perfect for newly (or not so newly) married couples trying intentionally to make their home into a domestic church. It makes for an ideal reference book in creating a rule or rhythm for living out the Christian life that’s tailored to your family’s own particular needs and devotions. The spiritual nourishment it offers makes it a beautiful gift idea for any sacrament in a person’s life.

Basically, if I know you and you have a major Catholic life event coming up, you’re probably going to receive this book from me. You’re welcome in advance.

Coffee Table Evangelization: The Catholic Catalogue

Book Review: Simple Matters (plus my thoughts on minimalism and holiness in the home)

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A certain grumpy baby subjected me to marathon nursing sessions the other day so I took the opportunity to scarf down a book I had borrowed from my sister, Simple Matters, by blogger, Erin Boyle. And I was surprised by how much I loved it. I admit to prejudging the book thinking that it might be another curated minimalistic and unattainable lifestyle on display to make the rest of us feel second-rate at mothering and homemaking. Instead, I found Erin’s practices for simple living to be not only attainable but also deeply thoughtful and, in many ways, cohesive in a Catholic vision of ideal homemaking—which is the vision of a domestic monastery.

Domestic monastery–those words get thrown around often and I always think they sound lovely but am unsure of what a domestic monastery is supposed to look like and what are practical ways for making it happen. Erin’s book offers a way to achieve some aspects of that vision.

Though my lay vocation as a spouse and parent limits me from renouncing the world in the radical way that a cloistered monk or nun might, I can still echo specific vows and practices of monastic life in our homes.

For instance, I can emulate vows of poverty by rejecting consumerism in concrete ways such as questioning how and where the things I buy are made. Consequently, this would keep me from being caught in the cycle of indirect exploitation that I so easily fall into.

“When we make a commitment to using our purchasing power wisely, we set off a chain reaction that affects people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been for the better.”

I can also be a good steward of my home by practicing domestic virtues of thrift, resourcefulness, and organization. To do this, it’s necessary to adopt habits such as the continual evaluation of the things in my home that so often become a part of the visual landscape and unconsciously cause stress. Erin shrewdly points this out: “We’re under the false impression that we’re not in control of our spaces when the opposite is true.” When we strip unnecessary things away, we create an environment of calmness and order, which of course is supposed to be the environment of a monastery–one conducive to prayer and reflection.

While the book deals mainly with decluttering and minimizing what we own, Erin makes it clear that it is equally important to properly value those things we do choose to allow in our home. She tells her readers, “I genuinely like stuff. I appreciate good design. I enjoy keeping a beautiful home filled with beautiful things. Not lots of things. Nice things.”

In the Catholic vision of homemaking, this speaks to me of a sacramental mentality–that material things can hold immaterial import.

Our children’s first education is through their senses in the home. The textures, colors, smells, sounds, and tastes they experience, whether it’s through something as explicitly religious as a home oratory or as simple as freshly laundered linens or candles at the dinner table as Erin and her husband have made a ritual of having, should never be underestimated in their power to instill a sense of wonder in a child.

What I really love about this book is that the author is reasonable. Erin isn’t asking you to konmari-the-shizz-out-of-your-home so that you’re left with nothing and no budget with which to start over. She gives practical tips and exercises for simplifying your life, and she acknowledges that the lifestyle changes she suggests are a gradual process.

The only thing I would have liked to see differently is how these ideas might realistically be put into practice for a larger family, especially since I currently only have one child who is still easily contained. However, one day I hope to have a bunch of little humans and I’d like the reassurance that this whole ordered and simplified life/domestic-monastery-in-practice is, to some extent, feasible.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, but this would probably end up being equal in length to the book itself. And anyway, I should stop writing and go make the author proud by cutting up holey t-shirts to make into reusable kitchen rags.

(Update: Jenny’s got us covered with the large family/minimalism aspirations)

Book Review: Simple Matters (plus my thoughts on minimalism and holiness in the home)