Reading, Eating, etc.

Reading

Books:

Finished:

Middlemarch: loved it dearly. Also, Katherine’s post on shifting ambitions reminded me of the themes in MM and why a life spent loving the people in your community well is actually world-changing stuff.

Peace Like a River: good but some parts did make me think it would be prime material for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. And some parts were truly arrestingly beautiful.

No-Drama Discipline: full of good information, but annoyingly repetitive at times.

Working on:

The Art of Eating

Green Dolphin Street: for my bookclub. So far (and I haven’t read very far at all) this is really delicious to read. For all the unbelievable-ness of the plot, Goudge can paint such beautiful settings, round out characters so richly, and write such simple phrases that convey so much spiritual depth.

Articles:

Pregnancy and NFP

Uncharted Territory: Getting Real about NFP

NFP in Real Life: Hard but Worth It: this should be required reading for all Catholics–engaged (because you need to know what you’re getting into), married (because you need to know you’re not alone), clergy and religious (because you need to know what the married faithful are struggling with and how to minister to them), and single lay people (because we’re a family and families help each other–by upholding each other through prayer…and offers of babysitting 😉 )

What miscarriage and birth taught me about letting go: hat tip to the ladies of my bookclub for mentioning this one. Bookmarking to re-read periodically in the future when I feel like I’m drowning in babies.

On pregnancy and body image.

-And more on pregnancy and body image

Other stuff:

It’s okay to doubt.

Growing Up Poor. Here’s How It Changed My Life. “Judging the poor — or pretending that simple rules of logic apply to something often determined by blind luck — makes all of us less human.”

Home Delivery! What will they think of next?

-I use onion powder (and garlic powder) but always feel a sense of shame! Vindication!

-Pretty sure my brain’s already been rewired to be distracted…

-Forever a word nerd: The 35 words you’re (probably) getting wrong.

And because I just posted that downer about social media, here are a few IG posts that spoke to me exactly when I needed them to:

Number 2 (but real talk–how do you stop alllllll the biting??)

– When your vocation feels more like a death than a relief (because that’s an accurate description of what it feels like to parent a toddler at million months into pregnancy in a million degree heat with a million percent humidity.)

“the tough can exist with the good” (because to say I’m nervous about throwing a newborn in our pre-existing chaos is a huge understatement.)

-And finally, this meme spoke to me most of all 😂

Eating

Peach creme fraiche pie. Not too sweet–just the way I like my desserts.

Fig, date, and walnut quick bread made quickly before a friend stopped by. It was very, very good (we slathered our slices with fig jam+goat cheese) although I realized two fourths of the way to three fourths that I was using self-rising flour instead of AP. Still turned out perfectly.

-This Tawainese minced pork was delicious (and perfect for doubling and freezing). And very forgiving of my ingredient swaps (marsala for Chinese cooking wine, reg. soy sauce for dark soy sauce)

-I got the DALS cookbook from the library and I’m trying to cook out of it as much as possible before it’s due back. It’s been a really fun way to test out a cookbook before deciding whether I want to actually buy it. Some of the recipes are pretty unmemorable, but on the whole it really is a good cookbook when you’re stumped for what to put on the meal plan. Best recipes from it so far:

Apricot-Mustard Baked chicken (served with the horseradish chard–which converted me to loving chard so I feel I should buy the cookbook for that reason alone)
BBQ Chicken (I used chicken breasts instead of the recommended drumsticks and thighs and it was SO good and juicy after brining it in salted water for a few hours)
Orecchiette with Sausage and Crispy Broccoli
Grilled Fish with Smoked Paprika Butter

Etc.

Talk to me InstantPot. I’m kind of kicking myself for not getting one on Prime Day, because while I’d like to be a French housewife who would rather be guillotined than trade in her two hundred-year-old beaten copper dutch oven for this modern claptrap…it looks SO dreamy for my sweltering summertime kitchen. Not to mention perfect for all those freezer meals I may or may not make for the baby’s crash landing. Not to mention a more economical way for me to make bone broth than keeping my stovetop running for 24 hours.

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Reading, Eating, etc.

Reading, Eating, etc.

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Reading

Books:

Still marching through the middle of Middlemarch but I’ve been breaking it up with a few other things:

When Breath Becomes Air: I had high hopes for profundity from this one, but I wish there had been more of an integration of medicine, literature, philosophy, and faith. However, I do realize Kalanithi was actually dying as he wrote this and I imagine writing a book without knowing if you’ll live another week, month, or year makes it a harried process. I did find his wife’s and his largely unquestioning use of ivf out-of-character for him since he had spoken so eloquently about the dignity of human life and he made such a big deal about the need to have a critical mindset when facing possible ethical dilemmas. Otherwise, Kalanithi did come across as a genuinely kind person with both intellectual and personal depth.

La Morte D’Arthur: when Joe and I were dating, we made it a point to read together and some of my happiest memories of the early days of our relationship are wrapped up in the words of G. M. Hopkins, Kenneth Grahame, Josef Pieper, and others. Somehow, between work and babies, we fell out of the habit, but recently we picked up La Morte D’Arthur and it’s been hilarious to read together.

No-Drama Discipline: because it has good reviews and I don’t know the first thing about disciplining children well (how exactly are you supposed to react when your toddler won’t stop gleefully biting you when you’re trying to work out?)

-And some Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers on audiobook.

Articles:

Work, work, work:

The Work You Do, the Person You Are

The United States of Work

The Case for Being Grumpy at Work

-Maybe it’s just because I’m phlegmatic to the bone, but does this just seem more exhausting than laudable to anyone else?

Online life:

Before the Internet: “It was a heady time!” Made me laugh.

My son is a hashtag: “The best we can do is whatever feels OK for us and our children now.” I don’t know. Is that the best? Mightn’t we deeply regret what felt was okay at one point and wish we had thought more critically about it?

More on parenting:

St. John Chrysostom’s advice on raising children

In Defense of Motherhood as Art: I have a lot, a lot of thoughts about this, but I did especially love this part:

“At my most hopeful I think that writing and art are essential to motherhood and vice versa. Each accesses the most ancient, the most universal, the most complex emotions. Each requires the nurturing of a new consciousness, a new being, a new way of seeing. Each is endlessly different and endlessly dull, endlessly challenging and spiked with constant disappointment and beauty.”

Community: Having the Right Intention: lots of ideas here I need to be reminded of for living in my own tiny community.

-And just for fun: If you’re a word-nerd like me, you’ll love this.

Eating

-I threw a girls night a few weeks ago and my sweet friends who knew I’ve been craving Asian this pregnancy all brought me Asian food. The day coincided with National Donut Day and since donuts are one of my two very favorite foods (gnocchi being the other), I made these Vietnamese donuts. (Actually, I made prepped the dough and various friends facilitated the deep frying). I made condensed milk custard dips for them (plain, matcha, and cinnamon flavored) and writing this out makes me really need to get back in the kitchen and whip up another batch.

-We also made Taiwanese popcorn chicken and as a result, a street-food tour of Asia has made its way on my bucket list.

-More Asian yums: crispy ginger tofu. I made ours with stir fried Chinese eggplant and broccoli. Unfortunately, I didn’t dry the tofu out enough to it all got stuck together in one gelatinous mass that I had to cut up after frying. Still good. Still would make again.

-I like themey-ness, so for our anniversary I had originally intended to make something like gnocchi (our wedding day food…because my favorite food) or traditional English picnic fare (we honeymooned in the English countryside). But I had things that needed to be used up in the fridge so it ended up being pan-fried chicken thighs with a white-wine-shallot grape sauce, risotto, and a radicchio almond salad. I wasn’t at all sad for the lack of themey-ness.

-Of course, it’s an unspoken cooking rule that you should always intentionally make too much risotto so that you can make arancini (otherwise known as Italian rice balls of fun).

-Easy weeknight meal: Greek lemon-chicken soup: there was half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge and I had all the ingredients on hand, but I had forgotten how good and simple this soup is. (I made it without a recipe but this is basically what I did.)

Summer eats:

Peach-tomato salad with goat cheese, honey, thyme, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Made to go alongside steaks and smashed red potatoes.

Worcestershire-balsamic marinated flank steak salad romaine leaves, roasted yukon gold potato medallions, tomatoes, sauteed onions, and goat cheese crumbles.

Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes). That sounds fancy, but really it was a clear-the-fridge, shop-the-pantry meal because we had tomatoes that were turning mushy on the counter. I mixed tuna (the good jarred kind, not the cat food in a tin kind), cooked rice, freshly grated parmesan, assorted chopped olives, fresh thyme, a few spoons of olive oil and brine from the olive jar. Then after stuffing the tomatoes with said mixture, I topped them with panko, more parmesan, and a few pats of butter and popped them in the oven to roast. Served with a buttery toasted baguette, this meal ended up being infinitely better than a lot of meals I plan out and shop for.

Etc.

Worth a listen. I’m always wary of buzzwords and ’empathy’ is a hot one right now.

“when…you’re imagining to be empathetic or to share suffering you’re immediately incorporating that experience into a view of yourself and your own worldview. What Arendt wanted was actually something a bit more radical than that, is to imagine something that’s not your world, that makes you feel uncomfortable. And that’s where the work has to start. And that’s why she was also very committed to thinking.”

-Do you and your significant other differ when it comes to board games? Joe likes a good strategy game (Risk, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan). I like a good party game (Loaded Questions, Balderdash, Cranium). I’ve been determined to find a game that fits us both and on an online forum, someone suggested Sushi-Go. It’s actually pretty entertaining, but it’s all the more fun when you get sushi to-go alongside it. I really think we could take our sushi game nights to a whole new level with this baby.

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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

What is your true style?

william-morris-wallpaper

This is a completely unnecessary post–a first world problems post. I have a roof over my head and homemade French onion soup currently in my belly and a very cute baby who gets oatmeal stuck to the carpet and a very good husband who painstakingly cleans up after him. So my basic needs and more have been met and there’s nothing really legitimate to complain about. But for a little fluff post–let’s talk about style.

My sister and her husband bought a house not too long ago and she’ll ask for second opinions about door knockers and bedside tables and whatnot. This has led to a lot of conversations about style. What is her style? What is my style? What is the significance of styling one’s home in the first place? And the more I think about it, the more I think about how social media, particularly pinterest and instagram, have either shaped my style or perhaps imprinted a false style over my true style.

I think in one way, visual social media has helped me hone in what I really like. Without pinterest or instagram, I wouldn’t have discovered and fallen in love with designers such as Ulyana Sergeenko or Stephanie Fishwick who have made me rethink the possibilities of things like fashion and calligraphy.

But at the same time, the thought of “what my style should be” increasingly creeps into my head. When I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed and picture after picture of perfectly unstyled-styled homes with exposed natural wood furniture and white walls and thrifted trinkets and treasures and bonnet capped children (okay, that I can totally get on board with), I start feeling like I have too much visual noise in my home (not to mention too much very plastic tupperware), or like I’m at the mercy of a home full of things that have unconsciously been thrown together and don’t really make aesthetic sense. And then all of a sudden this “simple living” that these bloggers and influencers espouse, feels more stressful and expensive than simple.

Some of it is a work in progress. I would prefer pretty weck jars to the tupperware. But some of it is just a difference in style. And sometimes I just need to remind myself to follow my own stylistic impulses rather than go where are the legions of followers are. So what is and is not my style?

I adore Joanna Gaines but I don’t want wide open spaces and the bright whites from top to bottom in my home. I actually weirdly prefer colorful closed off rooms which I think has something to do with my feeling that rooms should be designated spaces for particular activities.

I think I might die of happiness if someone banished me to isolation in an English cottage but I wouldn’t say I’m all that into the shabby chic, vintage, and distressed look.

If we ever bought a house with a subway tiled kitchen, I would never ever ever breathe a word of complaint, but I’m more into this sort of thing.

I love spode and wedgewood and milk glass and jadite and brass but l love it all mismatched together. I like velvet, tufted furniture but in vibrant colors. I like patterned rugs, floral wall paper, black and white checkerboard floors, and whimsical touches like this.

So I guess my style is eclectic, whimsical, vibrant, elegant, a little bit happily chaotic?

But styling a home goes so much deeper than choosing and arranging things in it. (I guess this is going to get a little less fluffy than I originally planned.) When I think about the house and home I truly want, I think about homes I’ve been in that were made beautiful by my experiences in them. I remember falling asleep on the couch one advent evening in the glow of our Christmas tree. I remember exploring the prickly hill my grandma’s sunshine filled house sat on in Arizona. I remember crowding into my stara mama’s kitchen playing board games or eating bread and butter or just being together.

And then I think about films or stories that feature warm and loving homes. Mr. and Mrs. Badger’s home in Narnia, George and Mary’s drafty old house in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Bennet home in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, Mole End in The Wind in the Willows, both the houses in Nanny McPhee 1 and 2 and so on.

And while many of the things in all those homes have usually been chosen with a sensibility for style and beauty, it’s the living, breathing community that talks and plays and laughs and reads and prays and sometimes weeps or is silent together that imbues the physical objects in a home with their power to evoke emotion and memory.

So, I do think, depending on the community (or the disunity) within, the most photogenic and home tour worthy home might, in reality, be a cold and tense place to live. And the more mismatched and rumpled home might be the most desirable place on earth. And vice versa.

I suppose my conclusions are more questions. What do you think the relationship between fostering community and styling a home is? Can you focus too much on one at the expense of the other? Has social media helped or hindered you from discovering your true style? Do you even think there’s such a thing as a true style? And how much does discovering your true home style or clothing style or whatnot really matter in living your life well?

Image above: William Morris wallpaper–always a good idea in my opinion.

What is your true style?