Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Have You Read-2008? What Do You Hope To Read- 2009?

I always find it satisfying to go back at the end of the year and recap what I've read over the previous year. It feels like an account of , at least in part, how I've spent my time.

The Challenge: What have you read this past year? What was your favorite? What was your least favorite? What book would you most recommend to others to read? Also list one or two reading goals for next year. What do you hope to read? Do you hope to read more? Do you hope to read more of a particular type of material?

Even if you haven't read any books- what blogs, news sources, message boards, or magazines have you read?


Either leave your list in the comments or on your own blog with a link in the comments!!


What I've Read 2008

  1. Bridge of Sighs - Richard Russo
  2. The Beautiful and The Damned- F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. E=MC2: A Biography of The World's Most Famous Equation- David Bodanis
  4. Rebecca- Daphne DuMaurier
  5. Wise Blood- Flannery O'Connor
  6. Canticle for Liebowitz- Walter A. Miller
  7. Pudd'nhead Wilson- Mark Twain
  8. Gang Leader For a Day- Sudhir Vankatesh
  9. There Are No Children Here- Alex Koltowitz
  10. The Maltese Falcon- Dashiell Hammett
  11. Papillon- Henri Charriere
  12. The Heart of The Matter- Graham Greene
  13. Love In The Time of Cholera- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  14. The End - Salvatore Scibona
  15. Straight Man- Richard Russo
  16. The Idiot- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  17. Whatever It Takes- Paul Tough
  18. The British Museum is Falling Down- David Lodge
  19. Sentimental Education- Gustav Falubert
  20. Native Son- Richard Wright
  21. A Question of Upbringing (A Dance To The Music of Time part. 1)- Anthony Powell
Currently reading:
  1. One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich- Alexander Solzhenitsyn (lol! It was lost for a few weeks, and so I started a new book and haven't gone back to finish yet)
  2. Our Mutual Friend- Charles Dickens
  3. Mr. Ives' Christmas- Oscar Hijuelos
Favorite: Bridge of Sighs. Least Favorite: Wise Blood. What Everyone Should Read: There Are No Children Here.

Goals For 2009
  1. A Remembrance of Things Past- Marcel Proust (I've waited until I was getting more sleep, so that I could really read this--so I am hoping this year sleep, and hence Proust, will come)
  2. An American Tragedy- Theodore Dreiser

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feast of the Holy Innocents- on Suffering

Everything-everything that happens to us is in God's permissive will-not His active will, but His permissive will, i.e. He allows it to happen. And as such, all of it has the potential to be used for good. I don't understand how anyone can read the New Testament and not see the fundamental nature of suffering as an inherent quality of Christian life. The entire Gospel hinges upon Jesus accepting immense suffering and complete helplessness--The whole Christmas story revolves around suffering-can you imagine having people thinking you were whoring around, and then riding on a donkey! (ack!) for miles upon miles while nine months pregnant, and then having no place to stay so you stay in a dung filled animal shelter to give birth?? And then fleeing to Egypt with a toddler...I mean just driving with a toddler is a pain. And God comes to us in helpless form-as a wee baby, rather than a mighty king. He comes to us as one who cries in hunger, and cold, and wet diapers. The Crucifixion- again abject suffering and helplessness. Redemption is ALL about poverty, all about helplessness, all about suffering. If we are to become Christ-like, doesn't that necessarily mean that we will suffer?

However, it is not meaningless suffering. Christ-like suffering is redemptive, it brings forth new life, it yields to hope and salvation. One of my favorite Scriptures:
“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).” And "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church. (Col.1:24)". And:
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12)"

Meh. Faith isn't a feeling, it isn't a series of feelings. Faith is an act of the will, which chooses to simply get up again and again-eyes trained on the hope which is unseen. We attach, in my opinion, too much value on how we feel about our faith. When we see that all of this, everything, even a struggle or loss of faith is all within God's permissive will, then we can just wait expectantly through it, trying to do our imperfect best in any given set of circumstances.

No I don't think faith is a test which some people fail and some people pass. I think our relationship with God-who is infinite mercy and at the same time infinite justice is far, far more dynamic than that model allows. Suffering refines our faith, it allows us to become ever more transformed into Christ in the world, it allows us to view our selves humbly and honestly as feeble creatures dependent upon one another and upon God (remember the Great Commands- to love God and love neighbor).

I think we spend far too much time and energy trying to avoid suffering and gain blessing (as if there is someway we could work to be entitled to more of God's love and blessings). Suffering is what forges our souls; it is what allows us to shrug off those things which keep us from God and one another. Just like when a woman is in labor, if rather than trying to pull up and out away from the pain-which keeps labor from progressing--we must breathe down into the pain, accepting that it does hurt and that it is supposed to hurt, and that the hurt is bringing forth new life. We simply just have to wait it out, and then at a time beyond our control or manipulation--our blessing will be ours to embrace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Best Post of 2008

Although I've only been blogging a short while, I thought the Simply The Best challenge at
Confident Writing would be a good way to review what I've written so far. Additionally I feel it will help me assess how well I am sticking to my purpose for blogging in the first place, which is to write on a regular basis in order to relearn the discipline of writing.

My one regret is that I haven't yet finished my short story; the not-having-water aspect of December kind of crushing my creativity.

Choosing one post is tough, as I find it challenging to remove my emotional attachment towards what I've written in order to view my writing objectively. Also I think it is difficult to choose a set of criteria from which to judge. Do I choose the post with the most comments? Do I choose the post which I feel stretched me the most to write? Do I choose the one which I think has the best flow? Do I choose snark or substance?

After some deliberation, I think I will choose: Missing: Mary, Mother of God. Last seen: Shoved Down In the Couch Covered In Popcorn Kernels . I think this is my best post, because it draws on my most well-developed strengths as a writer, as well as being picked up on the feed at Charlotte Was Both .

Friday, December 26, 2008

We have water! We've found Mary! And My Kids' Favorite Christmas Memories

Late in the afternoon on the 23rd I was able to turn on the tap for the first time in a month! We are still working out some kinks- sediment in the pipes and water supply issues for tasks like laundry--but we have WATER!

We ended up boring another well, even though we'd have a more long term dependable water source if we had drilled. It would have only cost $250 dollars for the empty hole, had they not found a usable amount of water. Had that happened we would have drilled, but drilling would have cost around $10,000, and we'd have had to pay irrespective of whether or not they found water. They didn't get the amount of water that they life to have, but it is about 12 ft. of water, which is where we were at a few years ago before the drought. We are hoping that this will sustain us until we finally sell our house and land. We will continue to be very conservative in our water use, using rain water to flush most often and carrying on with our laundry-nazi policies.

A hearty thank you to everyone who has helped us over the past month. What could have been just an awful, awful time was instead transformed into a true testament to the goodness of people. Everyone's generosity has just moved me to tears, and strengthened my personal conviction to pay forward when we are blessed with abundance. It's a small thing for me to throw a casserole together, but that might be an enormous gift to someone else. It's a small thing to have someone else's kids over to our house for a couple hours so that their parents can spend sometime together. Even those with little often have hidden abundances in their lives from which they might give.

Mary also showed up in time for Christmas! After a rather trying Christmas Eve morning, I sent out some last ditch prayers to St. Anthony. Looking in a basket where I know I have looked previously- there she was! I guess she was waiting for water. I don't blame her. Lol!

At dinner on Christmas Eve, my children wanted to go around the table and have everyone share their favorite Christmas memory. My kids overwhelmingly voted for the time Mommy was very pregnant lying on the floor holding up our toppling Christmas tree, while our oldest (then 9 years old) called Dad at work to come home. Why I didn't let it just fall, I have no idea- perhaps because I was afraid that the toddler would have then been all in the tree, perhaps it was just pregnant brain. I honestly don't know. However, that memory is absolutely ingrained in my children's memory.

I am really kind of a small disaster magnet around Christmas. This year was no different. My mom and I went to the post office on Christmas Eve so that I could get a refund on shipping which didn't arrive by the pre-set deadline. I had no idea that you could even do that, but the gracious post office clerk told me to make sure that I kept my receipts and checked the delivery time, because if it was even a minute late it's fully refundable. Four minutes saved me a bunch of money.

While my mom and I were at the post office I suggested that we drive by a house that my husband and I have looked at as we dream of moving someday. It's a wonderful little log house with great porches and a barn on about 4 acres. It's only a couple miles from the post office, and I thought it would only add about ten minutes to our trip. If only...

When I was backing out to leave, I was looking in the rear view mirror, to make sure that I didn't miss the turn around when I heard a thump and we quit moving. I had run over railroad ties which lined the gravel driveway and somehow completely wedged the car. We could neither roll forward, nor backward! My mom had the idea to try to jack up the car, but the railroad tie was in the way. We hauled some of the railroad ties out from in front of the car to see if we could just pull the other tie forward and get unstuck, but that was impossible. So I dug out underneath the tie with a metal pole we had found and precariously jacked up the car. With the jack in place I backed up a little but (and ran over the jack-which luckily hurt neither the car nor the jack). That freed the back tire from putting pressure on the back of the rail road tie, but left a bolt on the undercarriage gouging into the wood up front. I jacked the car up again, and with my mom on her butt pushing the railroad tie from the back, I pulled it forward and two hours later, we were free!!! We had thought about calling AAA, but I wasn't even sure of where we were. I didn't know the address or how to give anyone directions about how to find us. The only real regret I have is that my kids weren't there to add this to the list of their favorite Christmas memories; as it surely would have made it into the top three!


I hope everyone has had a wonderful beginning to their Christmas celebrations!

From the vault:: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Oh Crap!

Written at Christmastime 2006 (small disaster magnet, 'm telling you!) I am so excited I found this,, I hadn't saved it, so I was psyched to find it where I had posted it online!

O Christmas Tree..O Christmas Tree...O crap!

Have you ever had one of those weeks? You know- one of those weeks where all kinds of random stuff just goes wrong?

Last week- our batrhoom faucet broke, a pipe under the house sprung a leak, the showerhead was dripping down back inside the wall, my tire kept going flat...and we were over drawn by about a dollar which ended up costing us about $100 for the 24 hour period our bank account was screwed up.

So I had the brilliant idea that this year we would just put up a fake tree. I knew there was one in a box up in the attic that my MIL had bought one year for probably a quarter (it doesn't really matter for her what it is- if it is super cheap she''l buy it- and probably 10 more just because it's a good deal). Usually my husband and kids go out into our woods and find a cedar tree and cut it down-- but I thought since everything had been so nuts- it really might be so much easier this year just to have the fake tree.

My husband got the box out of the attic. He opened it-- there were two pieces....which together stood about 3 feet high The kids were heroic in being good sports about the idea that this was to be our tree for the year. My husband put some lights and garland on it, and had the kids hang a few ornaments- and then moved it to their bedroom and put it on top of their dresser. They were thrilled.

But- we now kind of had to cut a tree. There was one not too far from the house that seemed like it would do. On Sunday morning my husband went out to cut it, only to discover that it was covered in fire ants. It's been like 70+ degrees here and those buggers have come out in full force to enjoy it. After he battled them, he wrestled the tree into the stand--none of which are made for Southern Christmas trees- the cedar trunks are so skinny they don't fit on the prongs properly. So the tree turned out to be rather tippy- but he thought he had it all under control.

Eventually- the lights and garland are hung- and today the kids hung the ornaments. I kept thinking the tree seemed kinda crooked- but didn't really want to say much about it- knowing that my husband already had about 10 man hours into dealing with this tree.

Fast forward to tonight: very pregnant mommy home alone with her four little kids...as the entire tree begins to topple!!! I dove under it to hold the stand down..and instructed my son (who is 9) to call his dad at work. He works retail and it is totally nuts there- my son got hung up on after waiting on hold twice! Finally he got my husband on the phone- who told my son he'd call him back! Meanwhile preggo is lying sprawled across the floor holding the tree up- every time I try to manuever the tree to stand better, it would lurch forward.

My brain was totally fried after I had just spent like two hours baking these stupid cookies- for which I had the brilliant idea that it would be much easier to use the cookie gun--which was totally non cooperative and caused me to spend so much extra time trying to get it to work. I finally gave up on it and just rolled and pressed the cookies by hand. I could NOT think of a viable solution to the tree tipping problem.

Finally my husband called back- and through my son my husband tried to tell me to do the 10 things I had already tried to no avail. So he ended up driving home-- and relieving his wife from her 30 minute sting as a Christmas tree stand. He got the tree kind of propped up-- and at least out of immediate danger...

But oh my gracious! If it wasn't so just cotton pickin' hilarious I think I would just be curled up fetal position and moaning....

If you have read this far--and you have a story-- would you please share one of your own Christmas fiascoes? I really need to commiserate!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook

In the spirit of creating gratitude and greater awareness of living in the moment, I thought I'd participate in the Simple Woman's Daybook. (LOL! Which I am assuming means simple as in, focusing on what is really important, and not simple, as in being an ignorant fool--though at different times, I suppose, both apply to me)



FOR TODAY, Dec 23, 2008...

Outside my window... It is dark still, but the first light gray of dawn is filtering into the sky on the horizon. It was cold enough again to freeze our collected rain water

I am thinking... how chaotic and crazy it will be all day with the grandparents here. I wish my kids didn't go into hyper"pay attention to me " mode, while they were visiting

I am thankful for...coffee and for my husband having a job

From the learning rooms...not so much right now, but Clue ($5 at amazon, w/ free shipping) arrived yesterday and we'll probably play today. So that's, what? Deductive reasoning?

From the kitchen... Ugh! Hoping to bake some cookies. Yesterday's baking was sort of a disaster, as we baked at my MILs and her oven is just, so, not right and I couldn't find all of the utensils, etc. I needed. However today, I think we'll bake here and just take the dishes over there to wash.

I am wearing... my jammies! Woot!

I am creating...a long, wide scarf out of great bamboo yarn. It's soooo soft, and varigated enough that it hides a lot of my beginner's mistakes.

I am going...kind of crazy not getting any down time all day while my folks are here.

I am reading... Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. So far, it's way up there on the list of the best modern fiction I've ever read.

I am hoping...that the well people will come today and finish the job so that we will have running water today or at least by tomorrow.

I am hearing... "Levi Stubb' Tears" by Billy Bragg

Around the house...really not many projects left. Fold some laundry and finish wrapping stuff

One of my favorite things...is the ipod my husband gave me for an anniversary/Christmas/birthday next year present. It's like my own little world I can escape into while I am doing chores.

A few plans for the rest of the week: baking, Christmas!, maybe going with the granparents and kids to see Bedtime Stories, maybe a trip to a special Christmas display.

Here is picture thought I am sharing...

Monday, December 22, 2008

A World Without Water

We still do not have running water at our house. Today is the four week mark. We now have a new bored well, but as of this morning it neither has a pump nor is it connected to the water lines leading into the house.

Throughout this time I have reflected often how very, very blessed we are. We can go down the street to fill up jugs of water. We can buy disposable diapers, plates and cups, as well as having those used things hauled off to the dump and away from our home. We have available to us a plethora of waterless cleaning products- disposable disinfectant cloths, waterless hand sanitizer, disinfectant sprays. We have an ever present choice to vacate our home and either visit someone where we can shower and bathe, or even to go live with them for awhile. We have friends who have generously donated so much to help us out.

Throughout this month, my heart has grown heavier and heavier thinking about the many, many people throughout the world who live without running water as a permanent lifestyle. They cannot simply borrow water from a neighbor or run to the store to buy some cleaning products. Wondering about the true numbers of people without water, I came across these staggering statistics:

  • 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly one in eight of the world's population.
  • 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, this is almost two fifths of the world's population.
  • 1.8 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. This amounts to around 5000 deaths a day.
  • The simple act of washing hands with soap and water can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40%.

This simply floored me. It makes me wonder, how can we with so much, who live in such abundance allow so many people to live without such a basic need. Not only do Americans live in abundance, but they squander their abundance. American households use on average 69.3 gallons of water each day, which is roughly twice the amount of water as their European counterparts. I urge you to think, to really be mindful of how you are using your water. My husband has been showering at his mom's house, and we've done laundry at other's houses,; however, our laundry has bee radically reduced from about one load a day to about 3 loads a week through insisting that we all wear our clothes until they are visibly dirty, and through using paper goods. (When water is restored, we will return to eliminating paper goods and disposable diapers-which yields to probably another load of laundry a week)) Removing those tasks leaves us using about 8-10 gallons per day.

Most of our water consumption, by far, is from flushing the toilet. Luckily we've had a bunch of rain and live in a place where it only gets below freezing for a few hours at night, if at all, so we've primarily been using collected rain water to flush when it's absolutely needed. Apparently Americans use 26. 7% of their potable water flushing the toilet.

This begs the question of why we aren't developing and widely using grey water systems, at least to flush the toilet, certainly we could use the water drained from the shower, washing machine and dishwater to flush the toilet. Why in the midst of an historic drought don't we see rain barrels at each and every house? Think of the water saved just in our little community if everyone who owned a home or rented a house collected rain water to use for flushing their toilets! The conservation would be staggering, even if just done on a small scale.

Over the Christmas holiday, I ask you to be mindful each and every time you use water. Whisper a prayer for those billions of people who suffer without adequate water and sanitation each time you turn on the faucet, shower, flush, wash dishes or do laundry. And I challenge you as we enter the new year, to buy or make some rain barrels. Even if you don't want to use that water for flushing everyday, pick one day a week to turn off your toilet and flush with something other than drinkable water for that one day. Lastly, if you are on city or county water I urge you to to donate the monetary savings from your conservation efforts to charities whose aims are pointed towards creating greater access to potable water and improving hygiene. Just a brief list of possible places to donate:
Water Aid America
Charity: water (which uses 100% of donations towards their goals of building wells in underdeveloped countries, relying on private donations and sponsor ships for travel and overhead expenses--and has a set up to send a $20 Christmas e-card letting someone know you've made a donation on their behalf. The video in this post is from them)

Statistics in this post pulled from here and here.

O Antiphons- O Rex Gentium (Dec 22)

O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

O Antiphons -O Oriens (Dec 21)

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

O Anthiphons-O Clavis David (Dec. 20)

O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

7 Hours! And a head wound

7 hours. In a row. That's how much uninterrupted sleep I got last night....I still can't quite believe it. While that doesn't seem all that monumental, I can probably count on two hands the number of times that's happened in the past twelve years. Between being pregnant or having a nursling without stop over the last decade, my brain (as a part of my body) has atrophied and all that remains of a once great ability to sleep is a vague shadow of remembrance. So even on the freak occurrence when all of the children sleep through the night, my body sputters and coughs itself awake, protecting me from the danger of getting more than four hours of continuous sleep, or from the threat of sleeping past six o'clock.

Our youngest, Andrew, will be two in February - information which I am sure extrapolates into a particular number of months, but knowing that detailed information is reserved to parents of far fewer children. I'm doing well just to know how many children I've got, and to have a general idea of where they are. You'd think in a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house I'd always know where everyone is, but oddly this is not so. Anyway, so this two year old, was a pretty good sleeper post-womb eviction. It might have been Zoloft laden breastmilk, or perhaps that he hadn't yet had enough exposure to The Others yet to watch and learn that sleep is something which a child avoids at all costs.

For awhile a couple years ago, some of the older children had decided to try out the phrase "What the!?" as a regular interjection. As if in prophecy of how influenced he'd be by The Others, Andrew was born and the expression which he most normally wore couldn't be mistaken for anything else but, "What the!?". He had a freakish ability to stare and watch without blinking; it was unnerving at times. We thought perhaps that he was wondering what he'd done to get here, or that he'd be one of those "easy", "laid back" children about whom we'd heard others speak.

Now here in the dark lands of Toddlerhood, the truth has been unearthed. Andrew wasn't judging The Others with detached disdain. He was studying. Studying hard. The kid is the paragon of childhood. He is truly a prodigy. To illustrate: the other night while the rest of us were curled up by Christmas tree light chanting along to choruses of "You'll shoot your eye out!", Andrew had slipped quietly away, down the hall to the dress-ups. Stealthily, he crept back exploding into the living room pirate hatted and sword brandished, letting out a hearty "Arrrhhhhh!", before running through both me and one of his sisters before he could be relieved of his weapon. Recall: he is not. even. two.

Andrew knows where everything is, which shoes, clothes and toys belong to whom, how to play tea party, how to climb to pretty much wherever he wants to go- using multiple chairs and make shift step stools if needed. To keep the climbing in perspective, The Others are prodigious climbers. They climb the walls, literally. They climb fences, they climb metal poles, they climb so high in trees that I simply must turn away because it makes me so nauseous to watch. So when I say that Andrew climbs, I mean he climbs. In his absolute determination to be included in everything The Others do, he is just absolute destruction in motion.

As I type he is playing tea party with his just-turned-four-year-old sister. It starts out that he carried the supplies to her piece by piece, came to me and shoved a plate in my face insisting that I "eat" (make chewing and yum noises). Somewhere in the middle of this, a flip is switched, his body remembered that he is an inhabitant of Toddlerhood, and he summarily threw everything behind him in a methodical fury. Nothing must be left to remain. This is his whole day. Everyday. A trail of carnage left in his wake.

This morning I was lamenting about how chaotic the house looks, as well as how I can't seem to get anything accomplished. As I looked at the piles of my stuff I just can't seem to get put away I thought, "What the!? Why can't I get this done when I just got seven hours of sleep. I ought to be invincible today. I really ought to be able to be more productive" And then I got whacked in the head by a tomahawk.

Friday, December 19, 2008

O Antiphons- O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Antiphons- OAdonai

O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Antiphons, - O Sapientia

Today begins the concerted final liturgical push to prepare ourselves for Christmas. For more than a millennium, these prayers have been part of the tradition of the Church. The term "O Antiphons" refers to the the antiphons (short verses) said before the Magnificat each day while praying Vespers the evenings immediately preceding Christmas . Each antiphon focuses on a different title of Jesus, stemming from Isaiah's prophecies concerning Him, and focusing on a different aspect or attribute of Jesus. For those who don't know, Vespers are the prayers said in the evening as part of the Liturgy of the Hours-which is the praying of the Psalms done by the religious and clergy, and optionally by lay persons, everyday. There are particular hours designated for praying each of the many different Psalms throughout the day, and the practice essentially translates to the Church praying always-someone, somewhere on the earth is praying the Hours at all times. To me it is particularly moving to contemplate that we are also not only always praying, but that we are all also praying the very same prayers. That sense of connectedness overpowers this little waif, who has always struggled in feeling isolated and alone. The rhythmic and perpetual praying of the Psalms is also very moving, as I can relate to the ebb and flow of the Psalms, which sometimes are overcome with joy and others cry out, wondering where, where is God. So this week, I will post each of the Antiphons and some personal reflections about them.

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

"Come and show your people the way to salvation." How is it that Jesus comes to us? He comes not as a storm, nor as a mighty warrior- rather in His infinite wisdom and power, He comes to us as a newborn baby. He comes to us tiny and helpless and completely reliant upon others for His well being. He comes to us in total poverty, surrounded by livestock and dung.

It is an awesome thing to contemplate, that showing us the way to salvation begins with such abject vulnerability. It is a lesson which I think we often lose throughout our lives. We both construct ways of protecting ourselves from being vulnerable, and at the same time transform the practice of faith into something where we essentially try to work hard enough on our own to get to heaven, so easily forgetting that we are One Body and that we are in this together. But here in this Baby, we see that Wisdom has it that we are to bare ourselves wide open before one another and that interdependence is a virtue , not something to be overcome.

The "fear of the Lord" in the context of a baby is so overwhelming to me that contemplating it makes my eyes fill up with tears. I remember well, the fear I had when our oldest son (now 11) was born. I had never loved, nor been loved so unconditionally. Before he was born I had given two babies up for adoption. In those early weeks and months of our son's life, I couldn't help but be fearful that he might go, that I might lose this love, that now having knowledge of the depth and breadth of this love, a new gaping wound and emptiness would erupt if this little baby, my son, was now to fade out of my life. I held this little boy in such wonder and awe, and our interdependence was the impetus for so much healing in my very broken soul. If he hadn't been so needy, or wanted to nurse so much, I probably would never have fully embraced motherhood, as I would have left him with his dad more and gone out with my friends. If he hadn't been grown inside of and birthed naturally by and nurtured through what, up to then, I viewed as my worthless body, I never would have had the courage to say for the first time that I had been raped as my first sexual experience at age fourteen. I never would have taken that first step in beginning to heal from that horror which up to that point, unbeknownest to me, had defined my life. Peering at my wee little son, simultaneously brought up to the surface of my consciousness the broken past and the promise of a different, unknown future; a future both filled with promise and possibility and at the same time a new and deeper vulnerability than I had ever yet experienced.

Let us today contemplate this "fear of the Lord" as not one of being punished, but rather one of a radical transformation of healing and love brought forth by healthful interdependence upon one another. Let us view it through picking up our little, wet, newborn-smelling baby, gazing at his smallness , feeling our hearts intertwine. For it is through this view where true Wisdom lies, the essence of our universal vocation, to give love and be loved with wild abandon, even though we are afraid of what we might lose.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wanna Read It With Me?

Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. Available at your local Barnes and Noble, your local library, or if you must-used through Amazon for like a penny. Here's a blurb for it:

"The spirit of Charles Dickens seems to hover over the pages of Oscar Hijuelos' fourth novel. A Christmas Carol comes to mind frequently, for most of the transformations in Edward Ives' life occur during the holiday season. As a very young child of unknown parentage and uncertain ethnicity he is admitted to a Catholic orphanage. His years there permanently fuse in his imagination his love of the season with a belief in the redemptive power of faith. He is adopted by a sweet-tempered widower at Christmas. He meets his wife Anne at Christmas. And, in the tragic event at the heart of the novel, he loses his 17-year-old son to an act of random violence during the holiday. Much of the novel's action is taken up with Ives' long struggle to retain his faith in the face of loss, and to reaffirm it by reaching out to his son's imprisoned murderer.

As he demonstrated in his exuberant earlier novels (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien), Hijuelos shares with Dickens a deep conviction that often serves to preserve or redeem us. He's also fascinated with the way in which place shapes our lives, recording here an exact, gritty portrait of Mr. Ives' New York City neighborhood from the 1920s to the present.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Missing: Mary, Mother of God. Last Seen: Shoved Down In the Couch Covered In Popcorn Kernels

Mary is missing. We hide the Mary and Joseph figurines from the nativity set each day for the kids to find, as the Holy Family "traverses" ever closer to the stable, where they'll finally reside on Christmas Eve. The whole experience culminates in a raucous rendition of "Happy Birthday, Jesus" when we get home from Christmas Mass and place Jesus in the stable, while at least one child tells us that actually Jesus was probably born in a cave. But Mary is gone. I have looked everywhere. The four of the five kids who are old enough to understand, in theory, directions have scoured the house for her. I think she saw our Christmas preparations and headed for the hills. My guess is that after being in toddler mouths and sticky hands an untold number of times, carried around in the bottom of bags full of pre-schooler "treasure" for hours at a go,and shoved in the microwave more often than a frozen burrito (no, not her donkey-though he ends up there with some regularity, too) , Mary thought to herself, "These people are nuts. There's no way I'm going to stick around there! I'm outta here."

The blogosphere is ripe with idyllic, peace-filled Christmas preparations. Wives, mothers, and homemakers baking and crafting and immersing themselves in nurturing activities with their children in pristine houses. Checkout Charming the Birds From the Trees, Like Merchant Ships, There's No Place Like Home for fine examples. And reading in open-mouthed awe I can only come to one conclusion: I must be doing it wrong.

I think the first place things go awry is the organisation-through-absolute-randomness approach we have in storage. All of the Advent and Christmas stuff is packed in the Scary Place I Don't Go, otherwise known as the attic. Year to year it's never packed away the same, and the labels on the outside of the boxes and totes have years of conflicting information. So just getting down the things to begin preparing is at least a day long event filled with all of the dramatic tension (but none of the promise of cold hard cash) of Deal or No Deal. Even now, after many trips up the Exorcist steps we still are missing things. Things I know we have. It eats at me. It wakes me nights after dreaming about frantically tearing open box after box after box. It's like a chase-dream, but it's the December 24th deadline which looms in pursuit.

Don't get me wrong. I like peace. I like joy. I like little Christmas knickknacks placed artistically around the home. I like the idea of little crafts and quiet prayers of preparation with my children. But the knickknacks in our home become projectiles, the crafts end with glue in someone's hair and someone writing on the walls, the prayers end up with threats from mommy to send everyone to bed forever.

Our Christmas decorating looks far more like those boxes and totes came down those rickety stairs turned their heads around while spouting obscenities and spewed out their contents around our house. Putting them up involved dehooking an ornament hanger from someone's finger, a snowball-esque ornament fight over the kitchen table, a duct tape incident about which we shall just not speak. There are death matches over which Christmas movie to watch next, which Christmas book we'll read tonight, over who gets to to put which ornament on the tree where. Christmas is historically a disaster prone time for us, trees toppling over and pies dropping and dripping all over in, out and around the oven.

And yet somehow, year after year, we keep at it. We keep attempting to find our miraculous Christmas peace and good-will inside our holiday mosh pit. We keep trying to make little crafts, and whisper little prayers. I wonder if someday it will be different. I wonder , as all those people assure me against my steadfast refusal to believe it, if I will miss these days once they are gone. For now I will just live one day at a time, each day striving for hope and waiting expectantly...waiting for evening when the children are in bed and hoping they won't get up , so I can crack open the next selection in the Winter Brew beer collection in peace and silence . And if you see Mary, can you let me know? I think I want to hole up with her until after Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm done asking

What's up with us women? No matter how strong, how independent, how clear minded we normally are- we get into the confines of our child filled homes and turn into cowering first graders. We ask for permission to do everything.

Is it alright if I take a shower? Can you watch the insane-destructo-toddler-bot while I go to the bathroom? Is it alright if I run to the store to get us things for dinner? Is it alright if I make dinner now? Can I vacuum? We're going to have chicken for lunch, is that alright? And even once granted permission, we buzz around like Stepford Wives on speed like we're trying to break the world record for dish washing. And I wonder what's up with that?

Men aren't like that--they want to go to the store, they go to the store. They want to take a random nap- they just lie down or sit down somewhere and fall asleep. They want to take a dump-and it's adios for the next half an hour. Men talk in the declarative- "I am going to go work outside." Women talk in the interrogative, "Would it be alright if I go fold laundry?" Men don't even think twice about it. On the freak occasions where women boldly wander into statement territory, they are racked with guilt- "Am I being selfish?""Am I being neglectful in some way?" "Am I scarring my children irreparably?"

Is this hardwired programming within us women? Is there some unseen pheromone interaction which causes this? Is this something else to take to counseling which has been handed down to us from our mothers, to whom it was handed down by their mothers? Is it an evolutionary advantage of some kind?

Well, I've got to say, I've had it. I am sick of asking permission for every cotton picking detail of my life, even and possibly most especially, for things which are service to others, to those from whom I am requesting permission. No more, I say! I will shower when I want. I will make whatever I please for any meal. I will visit the potty whenever and for how ever long I want. If I am sleepy and there's another adult around, I am going to take a nap. When I need to go to the store I am going to go. I will clean whatever and wherever I feel like it. I will boldly venture into the land of the declarative.....is that okay??

Monday, December 8, 2008

From an email to a friend--Struggling

I am so sorry about your struggles with rejection. It's always so very hard, particularly when you already struggle with some deep seated feelings of being inherently unlovable. And I know it seems like-and even is- your whole world right now--but if you just hang on and hang in there--things will get better, especially if you start the hard work of trying to heal yourself and to make a place within you to allow healing to happen. I wasted so much freakin' time thinking that if I just prayed more or harder or better then God would fix me--but really I just needed to learn how to allow the pain, accept the pain and really address the awful things which happened to me and really work on acquiring new tools and skills to repattern how I think and act and communicate. Working all that out allowed a place within me so that God's healing could take root. It's why I think the path is narrow--I think most people don't want to do all of the hard work necessary to further themselves along the path towards wholeness, which I think is holiness. God is all about relationship-the Trinity is relationship-the Great Commandments are all about relationship, and we cannot have healthy relationships with anyone if we are relating out of lack, relating out of our brokennesses and weaknesses. Our relationships will only be fulfilling if we relate out of wholeness. That isn't to say that we can't have any weaknesses or that they need to be hidden away and we pretend they aren't there--but rather that we have the courage to bring those broken parts into the light and work on trying to heal them.

I used to think that there were just people out there who were just lucky or blessed or whatever to just be alright--but the honest truth is I don't think anyone is alright. Everyone is a mess. Some people have worked really hard and are working really hard to seek out all they have been created to be (and you know those people when you meet them- they stand out as exceptional people, they are the people who inspire us to do more to reach further and deeper).

Many people have just learned relatively effective, non-destructive coping mechanisms for dealing with their brokennesses, and so they don't seem a mess- but live very superficial lives just going through the motions. I think this makes up most of the people we meet. They seem like things are fine, but they just keep their demons at bay and never become ALL that they have been created to be. These people immerse themselves in work or television or children or even religion and become competent, but they rarely allow themselves to be stretched and challenged.

Others are just walking wounded. They have given in to their hurts and wounds completely. They lead lives of hopelessness essentially. They find the familiar daily agony less scary than the unknown pain of trying to heal and become well. The hurts and wounds become a fortress to hide behind, offering their own form of protection. Often these people ache and cry out for love, but can never seem to get or hold onto that love--which then reinforces the desire to stay immersed in the safety of the pain which is known.

I don't know--somehow when I reflected upon all of that, it made me feel less isolated and alone in my sorrow and hurt. It was as though I didn't need to be born of royal blood or something to get to live a life not defined by pain and brokenness, but rather that it was a universal condition. And that knowledge gave me strength and courage to even begin to try.

I have been all of those people described above, I think. People have often told me that they've been helped by me just sharing my brokenness with them- so while I don't think I am a model of well-being by any means...I think I have helped facilitate others to get further along their own path to wholeness. I think that connectedness with others gives us courage--I don't exactly know how or why that is-but when we don't feel all alone in our struggles it makes them far easier to bear. I think in someways it's that sense of being willing to share the depths of who we are with others who are willing to share their depths. Almost everyone at some point has written something or painted or created something--and has only ever shared it with someone who has first shared their work of art. So maybe our brokenness is in some sense another one of our works of art--and much the same as art, if we do not share it, no one will ever be blessed by it.

So if you are having trouble finding the courage to struggle and let yourself look your pain and the causes of your pain squarely in the face, if you are having trouble doing it for yourself--do it for me. Because without you sharing the depths of your wounds, I cannot grow and be better. And I desperately need to grow and be better.

Have a great, great day--and try to find a moment of true and unique beauty, even it's just the rainbow in an oil slick.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Water Update

Well we had water, a trickle of water, yesterday-but no water pressure. And today when my husband measured the well, it was a foot lower than it was yesterday. *sigh* So that means that we will now start the process of finding out or options as far as finding a new water source (no idea if they can drill from the existing site or if they have to go to a new site, or if drilling is our only option.) I'll probably start making some phone calls today--but I have no idea how that translates into a time frame for having running water again.The inclusive cost runs about $12 a foot, and in GA drilled wells range from around 500-700 feet, depending on where the rock is and where the water is. I have no idea what kind of financing is available, or if with things as they are if there is credit even available. Any chance you think we could get the government to bail us out??

Thank you for all of the prayers, the water, the diapers and paper products, offers for showers and other gifts towards helping us deal with this situation. For someone who has struggled all her life with feelings of being unlovable--I sure have felt deeply and truly loved this past week. I don't think I could have made it through this week and retained my sanity and sense of humour and hope if not for all of you. Thank you--from the depths of my being--and even that seems to so inadequately express what I want to say...

I will continue to update as I know more.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Soup


Soup is a staple of our lives. We almost always have a pot of soup in the fridge-it's cheap, it's good, it's healthy and you can eat it for dinner one night with some cornbread or quick bread or yeast bread of some kind and then for lunch for much of the rest of the week.. (My kids and husband love when I don't leave enough time for a hearty bread and have to make a rapid cycle white bread recipe in the bread machine).

Tuesday we went to an end of the year part for my 5 year old daughter's 1 day a week co-op where the hit of the event was this delicious blackeyed pea salsa-sometimes also called Texas Caviar. I thought it would make a great soup and made it last night. It turned out amazingly good- especially for blackeyed peas, which most normally are a food I relegate solely to New Year's dinner as reluctant tradition.

Here are both recipes, the salsa in time for all of the holiday parties, the soup in time for all of the busyness of the holiday season:

Blackeyed Pea Salsa
1 can (15 oz) black eye peas – rinsed and drained
1 can(11 oz) white shoepeg corn
2-3 fresh vine ripe tomatoes diced
½ sweet onion diced
½ bunch of fresh cilantro chopped
½ bottle of Italian salad dressing

Mix the above ingredients in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Must marinate for 8 hours or is even better if marinated overnight. Serve with Fritos scoops or Tostitos scoops. **Recipe may be easily doubled for a large appetizer.**Save time by putting the tomatoes, onion, and cilantro in the food processor to chop. They can be done all at the same time for easy prep.



Texas Caviar Soup
(all cans undrained)
2 cans blackeyed peas
2 cans shoepeg corn
2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes w/ cilantro and lime
1 medium sized sweet onion, diced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock (1 box of stock)
2 cups water
1/4 cup of rice vinegar
1 package dry Good Seasonings Italian dressing seasonings
2 T olive or canola oil

Heat oil in a large pot, saute diced onion until tender- dump in everything else bring it to a boil cover and simmer for an hour or so. If you use homemade stock, you might also want to add a little salt. The Rotel tomatoes are pretty spicy and so if you don't like spicy food I would use Italian diced tomatoes or fire roasted diced tomatoes. Adjust the vinegar to taste-and if you don't have rice vinegar on hand, you could definitely use either white vinegar or cider vinegar--but rice vinegar adds a natural sweetness to the soup, so if using another kind of vinegar I would also add a couple Tablespoons of sugar, at least.



(And for those who have been asking- I am hoping to have time later today to work on the rest of my story. We've pretty busy with end of the year activities and a little distracted by the water, or rather no water, situation. And still no water--but my husband doesn't work until afternoon today and will have the house to himself most of the day, so we should have a little more info by later today.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No Water Day 3

We are now into Day 3 of life without running water. In the middle of running a load of laundry the other morning, our well ran out of usable water. There's water down there, but it's too low for the pump to pump. There hasn't been enough daylight when my husband has been home to be able to measure the well or to teach me how to measure the well to see where we're at on the road to recovery.

It feels like the makings of a reality TV show. Let's take away something that we completely take for granted, like running water and see how people cope. We've had just an outpouring of offers to help- a neighbor came to do a load of laundry, someone cooked us some dinner, another offered to bring dinner with paper plates, one woman offered us some bottled water she ended up with and to drive it to us-though I know their financial situation is one which makes using that gas a huge sacrifice, several people have offered their homes as a place to come bathe and shower and do laundry. It is a truly awesome thing to see how people offer themselves in a time of hardship, and it makes me think that we are, perhaps, far less isolated than all of the "Studies" show. We might not live together with our grandparents, but we are surrounded by a broader view of family. It takes so much of the stress out of our mini crisis to know that we are not alone, to know that if we need to that we have somewhere to go.

One of the things which is a difficult transition for us, is that we haven't lived with paper products for a long time. They are both expensive and wasteful. I don't think I realised quite the range of disposable household goods available. I am trying to think of it in terms of having years in using cloth diapers, and napkins, and cleaning rags and wash cloths--to make it set easier to use throw away face cleaning cloths, diapers, and dishes now. I still haven't gotten myself to plunk down cash for any of this except diapers for the toddler. It is kind of a sad thing that a conviction like this is the first thing to get tossed out the window when tough times hit, and I wonder if this is also a marco phenomenon- now that economic times are harder will we take steps backwards in terms of environmental protection?

The one who is suffering most is my 3 year old clothes horse of a daughter. The new martial law rule has told the children that they need to pick one outfit on Monday and wear it all week unless it gets visible dirty. Change socks and underwear everyday- but clothes need to last until Saturday. This little girl just lives to change her clothes, and is likely the biggest generator of laundry in our house. I think I might have to relent a little with her, after her tears last night thinking about today and the torture of having to wear the same clothes....again. I can't plead what I've dubbed "The Little House Case" to her, because just like Baby Carrie-she's kind of oblivious to the lesson Ma is trying to teach.

Yesterday, I was washing 2 day old dishes in 2 gallons of water I had boiled on the stove and I wondered just how the heck those Ingles washed their dishes--surely they didn't use gallons of water everyday-and I am sure that they didn't substitute paper products. I thought about how this is all far much more work- trekking down the street to fill up water, washing dishes by hand, etc. -but that is also is really connecting to the water which we are using. I realised how mindlessly we use the things in our life, how separated we are from what we do, so much of the time. Luckily, though I can reflect on such things while washing up(and saving the water to reuse), with my children glued robotically to the television.

I had no idea, that the commitment to learning to give thanks when things kinda suck would be put to the test so soon. Although, part of me thinks that I should have known.... And I am learning something important about that, too- a very important addendum to saying "Thank you!". I think it is important to clarify that it's important to learn how to do it without saying it sarcastically. I am slowly making progress in that area, as person after person reminds me that in this situation somewhere, there is goodness. There is somewhere, somehow a plan here. There is hope to be found and cultivated waiting expectantly for the water to flow. It seems not insignificant that this forced asceticism is running parallel with the hopeful, joyful expectant waiting my children have for Christmas.....

Monday, December 1, 2008

How about some serial fiction? Part 1- Potted Bleeding Heart

Here's the first part (as in the part that's done) of a story I'm working on. I haven't written a story in probably a couple decades--so it's rather rusty. Go gently, but suggest away ways to make it better or where it would be better changed. Wish me luck, that I'll actually be able to finish it!

Potted Bleeding Heart


The sticky, humid heat seemed like the most oppressive thing in all the world and under its weight she felt like one of Newton's apples being inevitably dragged to the ground by unseen forces against which she was powerless. So, she sat back-to-trunk under the dogwood tree digging her toes into the red clay until she unearthed the freeing coolness of years past. She liked that thought, the thought that digging was time travel. If she kept digging it wouldn't be China where she'd end up; it'd be the same place as now but lifetimes away. She'd have no context there, heavy belly and swollen feet would be a vague idea left far behind in present time. Gravity and humidity wouldn't be conspiring against her with such force. In the world in the dirt she was still free to choose any of many futures and nimble enough to bring those futures to pass.

Startling, her head twitched as the dog licked her toes. She looked at his pink tongue and rusty dirt covered snout. “He must be a time traveler, too,” she thought and gently laughed out loud.
“Okay, boy. We'll get you something to bury.” She rolled over to her hands and knees in a motion more like a heaving ship than that of a woman -buoyancy and gravity fighting an epic battle. As she caught her breath and prepared herself for the final effort to assert victory against the axis of downward forces, the dog cocked his head as if to ask what new game this was, barked, and rolled over playfully several times. He looked at her as if to ask if that was what she was trying to do.

“Show off!” she grumbled and stuck her tongue out at the dog. Smiling she reflected how she must look to him suspended in time there stuck on all fours. She put one foot flat on the ground , she steadied herself and she walked her hands closer to her feet. With a deep groan and monumental effort, she stood up. “Let's see you do that!” , she teased the dog. Slapping her thigh, the dog followed as she stiffly walked to the house to get him a bone.

The little white house was a few miles out of town, far enough that there was a sense of isolation, yet close enough that a Saturday morning cup of coffee or a midnight taco was only ten minutes away. It wasn't exactly a nice house, the term “modern conveniences” would need to be applied loosely to describe how the house was equipped, its fixtures and flooring and appliances being several decades old. Old enough that it left a small lump inside where throat meets stomach when thoughts about just how much grime had accumulated weren't dismissed or overlooked quite fast enough, but not old enough that it was considered to have character and intrinsic value simply because it was old. However, it was not like some of the places she had lived. She felt safe here; it felt almost like a home, filled with glimmers of something that felt almost like love. It had a yard with flowers planted by unknown hands for unknown reasons which bloomed unexpectedly throughout the year. Little hooks and shelves in random places hinted that there was lots of living done here. The little white house kept out the wind and the rain, and most importantly right now to her it contained the cold air pumped into the one bedroom whenever the air conditioner was in working order.

After filling an old jelly jar with slightly egg smelling water from the tap in the kitchen, she paused for a few moments to stare at the brown stains in the porcelain of the sink. She wondered about the other people who had filled their glasses with their slightly egg smelling water and whether any of them had ever been pregnant while living in this tiny house. Full of these musings she made her way to the Palace of Cool, which was what she called her bedroom in the midst of the late summer. Her whole body covered in sweat, she flopped herself down, exhaling, on the thrift store recliner next to her bed. It felt so good to be off of her feet, and she laughed to herself that she had only been on her feet for about five minutes. She thought about how as her belly grew, time expanded and contracted , as though going through it's own labor pangs. Something like standing at the sink felt as if it had been a marathon of time, whereas the past nine months felt as though, when she looked back, that they had passed in but a few moments.

The chair was itchy on her damp skin, but it was too much work to get up and move to the bed, so she stayed on the orange brown slightly off center recliner. Taking a big drink of her water, she thought about how everything she touched had been touched by someone else before her. Her life was constructed out of other people's discarded stuff, in a house that other people had left. Her body, too, a dwelling which other people always left , which they renounced and replaced it with something newer and more beautiful and less rough and without the slightly off kilter feel to it. The only thing in this house that was new and untouched by anyone except her was the baby growing within her. Yet, that being, too, would be jettisoned , fleeing her life for something better ,for someone better suited to motherhood than her. She breathed deeply and turned her face so that the stream of frigid air would now dry the hair around her temple on the other side of her head . The cold was at the same time painful and everything her body craved to feel.

She must have drifted off to sleep, and piece by piece information filtered into her consciousness. She was absolutely freezing. It was much darker than when she has sat down. Her abdomen was hard and tight. She had to go to the bathroom. She really had to go to the bathroom. Having brought herself to full awareness, she waited for her stomach to relax before attempting to get up. Her body was stiff from the cold and from sitting so long in one position. Awkwardly she pushed herself out of the chair, belly first so as to give the rest of her body the momentum it needed to overcome its inertia. As soon as she stood, she felt a pop inside her and water ran down her leg. Confused for a moment she wondered how a woman who could pay her own rent could pee on herself. Slowly, like the puddle gathering around her feet, the realization spread over her that this wasn't pee. Her water had just broken! The baby was getting ready to move on out of her life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Music I like- The Weakerthans



Music in its highest form ought to stretch us and leaves us better than we were before we heard it. It might break our heart, or make our being swell. It might help us to think in a way completely foreign to us, or make us remark "I've always thought that, but I never had the words to say it." The music of The Weakerthans does all of this...it is music which I find nearly impossible to listen to in a passive way.

Louis Zukofsky, an American poet wrote " Writing occurs which is the detail, not mirage, of seeing, of thinking with the things as they exist, and of directing them along a line of melody”. To me this is precisely what the lyrics of Weakerthans songs accomplish. The lyrics might be written from the point of view of a cat, or a bus driver, or as in the song above- a man lingering at a curling lounge reluctant to go home. The lyrics are detail, and combined with the music the songs powerfully focus on the emotion present in the given situation. Ezra Pound wrote of poetry "Only emotion endures." (Zukofsky goes on to write "Only emotion objectified endures.)--and as such many, many of The Weakerthans' songs are the essence of the emotion in a given snippet of the presented situation.

Their music reminds me when I feel overwhelmed by the business of my life that the white dogwood blossoms against a deep magenta sky at sunset-matter. That the people I meet who each have their own unique stories of joy and heartbreak-matter. That the deer crossing the frost covered field and have a life of their own-matter. And they matter because they are all connected and bring forth the very essence of living the human condition.

As a great example, here are the lyrics from the song, "Without Mythologies" from the album Left and Leaving:

Without Mythologies

A soft breeze with the slippery concrete black and full of muddy slush,
contrasting with the hoarfrost,
clean and hung on a tunnel of silent shivering trees
(the ones you said you'd like to be),
and the birds that screamed at the sun
now buried deep down below the ground,
beneath the snow, I press my shoulder to this wall between us.
I know you are behind me but I press my shoulder to this wall,
determined not to turn around.
I know I'll see you standing,
still that statue that I molded in my mind to kiss,
so beautiful you'll never move again.
Someplace far away, at some sad table littered with bad light,
with chipped plates,
in 48 frames from a movie on the cutting room floor,
you said "True meaning would be dying with you",
and though I wanted to, I did not smile.
But now I will give up on this wall that we have fought with,
never uncover meaning behind our rich words.
If I could I would make you a raging river,
with angry rapids, supplied with rain,
so you could always meander
and forever be able to run away
without contending with myths wrongly interpreted with pain.
A harsh wind.

If you'd like to hear more Weakerthans they have a great MySpace page. There are lots of songs to listen to for free--if you click on the "Choose playlist" button on the music player on the page, there are selections from several albums and the "artist's choice". The Weakerthans homepage has a really great set of links to peruse-with other interesting music, some great visual art, and literature, as well as some other things. And lyricist and lead singer John K. Samson also runs? a progressive publishing house , Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Year of Giving Thanks in the Midst of Suck

I can't help but feeling a little annoyed every year as Thanksgiving rolls around. It's not that I object to a day focused on being thankful, but the sap of it all gets under my skin. Every day, ought to be a day of thanksgiving. Every day ought to be a day of reflection for the abundance which we have. It also bothers me that the mythology behind this holiday involves a cooperation with a people who ensured the settlers' survival, who we then went out to subjugate and eradicate. Talk about burning bridges...we taught you and fed you and then you drove us out of the land of our ancestors where we had lived for centuries. Let us give thanks for imperialism!

Sarah Josepha Hale

And so to find meaning in Thanksgiving, I will look not to the history of the early European settlers, but rather to Abraham Lincoln's establishment of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday. (Interestingly after 40 years of pressure and lots of editorial and political writing, ala Shawshank Redemption, by one determined woman- Sarah Josepha Hale):

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one

thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.


By the President: Abraham Lincoln





To me this is such a poignant reminder, not to just simply be thankful for blessings, to be thankful for the things which have gone well, to be thankful in our abundance- but rather a call to remember to be thankful when things are going horribly wrong. Lincoln signs this into law, in the midst of immense death and suffering and upheaval. He calls on the nation to stop and give thanks as their loved ones are far away from home and dying in unprecedented numbers.

As we come upon the end of the year, and as a Catholic- the beginning of a new liturgical year, I feel called to declare this next year: The Year of Giving Thanks In the Midst of Suck. I want to try to focus each day on being grateful for the things which are the most challenging, the most awful and the most difficult. I want to cultivate a heart of gratitude, and in doing so nurture a heart of peace. Our souls are forged and created in difficulty. Our compassion for others grows exponentially in our hardships. If we can learn to say , "Thank you!" in the midst of struggle, then I believe that we also become open to learning what there is to be learned through those hardships; we become open to being stretched and growing as human beings. And this is what I shall try to focus on throughout this next year.

So this year as we gather around our Thanksgiving tables, let us not just say thank you for those things which have gone well this year, but also let us include a thanksgiving for something which has been the absolute hardest part of our year. And then--along with me- let us try each and everyday before bed to call to mind three things this day which have gone well for which we are grateful, and three things which have just really stunk and say thank you. Let us try to habituate gratitude in the midst of our lowest points, and live Thanksgiving throughout the year.