Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To the former owner of my new copy of Wuthering Heights


Dear Gordon,

I’m not sure if I should really call you Gordon. Maybe Mr. Taylor would be more respectful. After all, you are probably older than I am, since during your life you both acquired and sold off your beautifully-bound copy of Wuthering Heights.

Since I am holding your Wuthering Heights, you are not holding it any longer. Why? What separates my life from yours…why am I in the habit of acquiring lovely books for my library while you are parting from the ones that once comprised yours?

Did you ever even read this book? If you did, you held it gingerly, barely opening the covers to be sure you wouldn’t put any pressure on the spine, the way my old friend Colleen does, wanting to ensure that her beloved books are always perfectly preserved. I searched the pages for telltale signs- your notes (not a one), a crease (no such thing), a stray pencil mark (no pencil has ever touched this book). Nothing gave you away until page 259, where I found a single, solitary crumb, maybe from some long-ago cookie. It left a tiny grease spot on the thick cream-colored page when I brushed it off. It might have once been oatmeal.

I wonder- do you like raisins or chocolate chips in your oatmeal cookies? And do you think a person needs to choose one or the other, or can someone really appreciate both?

(I’m definitely for chocolate chips every time.)

Wuthering Heights might not turn out to be the best book I read this year. I might not love it. I read it once before, in high school, and I remember almost nothing about it except the names of the characters and the windswept Yorkshire moors. I can’t predict whether I will love this book enough to read it again and again as I have some of my others. I just don’t know yet.

What I do know is that I am very much enjoying holding your book, and that even if I don’t enjoy it, I will keep it for a long time. When I buy books, I like to buy used ones, and I always buy the very nicest copy I can find.

My hunt for the very best copy I could afford, in this case, led me to your old book, now absent from you, its original owner, but still bearing your bookplate on the front page. It proudly proclaims that it was “privately printed and bound expressly for The Heirloom Library of Gordon J. Taylor.”

There is nothing at all wrong with a paperback book. Some of my most treasured book friends have been paperbacks, the covers eventually curling at the edges and separating from the spines as the glue ages. I have literally read them to pieces. Your book, your former book which is now mine, is not going to fall apart. It’s serious about self-preservation- the kind of binding my daughter Lucy would use as a stepstool to reach something forbidden on a higher shelf- solid, heavy, and clearly not going anywhere. The cover, a sort of medium blue, stamped with gold vines and flowers is the kind of cover my daughter Nora would trace gently with her finger and then carry off to hide under her pillow, hoping I wouldn’t notice it was missing from the shelf. The blue ribbon marker, a tiny bit frayed on the end, is substantial. It’s no cheap ribbon. It’s the kind of ribbon marker my son Sam would say “indicates that this is obviously not an inexpensive book.”

And so, just like that, we are connected, and I’m wondering about you- about this bond we now share, about whether you were a fan of British literature in general or just added this one to your shelf because it was the next in the series. Was this a gift from your grandmother, who always hoped you’d be a reader? Did you have children who borrowed it from the shelf to set up risers for their toys to have a concert or to build steps for a castle, the way I used to do with my dad’s never-opened collection of Harvard Classics?

Whatever the situation, I’m grateful to have your book now that you no longer need it. I promise to give it a good home. For now, it will be living on the table at the end of my sofa or on the one beside my bed as I make my way through it and get reacquainted with Heathcliff and Catherine. After that, it will live on the second shelf of my living room bookcase, snug beside Pride and Prejudice on one side and Jane Eyre on the other. I think it’s important for sisters to be together, and besides, the divide between fans of Austen and the Brontes has been grossly exaggerated, don’t you agree? I tend toward Austen over Bronte, although I reject the need to make such a silly choice at all.

Come to think of it, I would definitely put raisins in oatmeal cookies if I had no chocolate chips.

Thanks for the book, Mr. Taylor. I hope this note finds you happy and at peace, wherever you might be.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Five-Minute Friday: Middle.



I’d never choose to be in the middle of anything
preferring a window for the scenery and a place to rest my head
or even the aisle, for making a quick escape with a restless child or a restless heart.

The middle is confining-
claustrophobia sets in.
I can’t easily go forward or back
and I feel stuck.

I’d much rather just have started
                in love with a new yarn!
                loving this story so much!
                delighted with a new training plan!
or be nearly done
                only three more rows to knit!
                just a page and a half to go!
                finish line in sight!
               
But life is teaching me that the middle has its advantages.
Hugs and snuggles from both sides,
a better view of the pictures in the storybook,
plenty of popcorn still in the bowl when it passes by,
sofa cushions perfectly broken in but with years of life left.

So I’m sitting in the middle more often these days,
cultivating an appreciation of the here and now
noticing what’s right in front of me
resisting the temptation to hurry ahead or linger, looking backward.

Sometimes the middle is messy, tear-stained, sticky, or covered in fingerprints,
  but it’s where we are right now.
If we can’t go over it, under it, or around it,
if we have to go through it anyway,
we might as well try to appreciate it.


For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Heading Home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Angus.


When we look back on it, I think we will say that Nora’s first love was a horse named Angus.

He has been sitting in our backyard for several years, ever since some older friends outgrew him and he needed a new home. As the youngest in a chain of families, our children often receive special things that other kids no longer want to keep but also don’t want to give away completely. If things live at our house, the thinking goes, the bigger kids might be able to come visit them sometimes.

They almost never actually do need to come visit their old things, but I think it makes it easier to rehome them if the possibility exists- we can see them again if we need to!

Angus has been occasionally ridden by many people, but he truly began to live a couple of weeks ago when Nora suddenly adopted him. After checking out every book on horse care from our little local library, she relocated him from his square of dead grass near the sand table to a space she cleared out under our play structure, which she now calls “Angus’s stable.” She put down a bed of straw and grass from the field for him, which she cleans out every day and replaces with new grass. She brings him water and “oats” (a mixture of sand and clover and crushed sea shells) in a bucket every day. She takes him out to the field, dragging the heavy metal frame with its springs behind her, and “trains” him, then carefully reinstalls him in his stable and rubs him down with a cloth before covering him with his “horse blanket” - an old towel we use when we occasionally decide to wash our van.

She does all of these things in all kinds of weather, wearing her flowered “horse working” boots.

Her devotion is inspiring and a little puzzling. I’ve never seen her take care of anything with such joy or dedication. She throws on her coat and mittens after breakfast, pulls on her boots, and heads out the back door, calling, “Gotta go do my horse chores now!” before skipping off to rub noses with Angus.

She and I have struggled together lately to do things with a cheerful heart. It's hard sometimes to help her navigate through the bumps of her day when she just wants to sit down and complain about the parts she doesn't like...and for my part, it's hard for me to admit that God didn't create her strong will for me to control! It’s amazing how this self-assigned plastic horse has given her such purpose. It's amazing how Angus has easily created a rhythm in her morning that has nothing to do with me. It’s amazing how willingly she does her other chores in the morning so that she’ll have time to take care of Angus before our morning meeting. It’s amazing, because I couldn’t have come up with this as a Nora management strategy, and it’s amazing because she didn’t need me to come up with it at all.

She did it all by herself.

Sometimes, parenting is hard...but sometimes, we make it harder than it is. Sometimes, our kids know exactly what they need. Sometimes, we just need to trust them to figure it out.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Light...with heart.

“I hate this stupid church.”

With this pronouncement, my two year old beam of sunshine cast his board book onto the stone floor and proceeded to kick the back of the pew in front of us with all his might.

Meanwhile, the bishop was sealing the door of mercy a few hundred yards away.

All I could think was that I needed to walk through that door a few hundred more times before he closed it up.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

After the solemn Mass at the Basilica, my family drove back through Washington, D.C. on our way home. As we passed the Capitol, I noticed that the scaffolding had been removed since I had last seen it. I had two thoughts about this: 1) maybe the prayers I hurled at the building as we drove past will be able to penetrate more deeply into the walls than before, and 2) maybe the whole thing will just crumble and fall down now.




*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

As we enter this week of liturgical no-man’s land between the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, which ends the Church year, and the beginning of Advent next Sunday, I feel a little lost. There is no playlist or devotional guide or special set of prayers for this week, for the in-between, for the days in which we must wait to being our official season of waiting for the birth of Christ.

There’s Thanksgiving, of course, and there are things to do to be ready for Advent, too. Normally, this trips me up- I have to hurry up and get ready! so much to do ahead of time to prepare so that I can prepare properly!- but this year, I'm not anxious about preparation. There are a thousand more important things to be anxious about than whether I can find the wreath form I usually use for our Advent candles and whether anyone will give me any magnolia leaves for decorating.




The fact is, I can’t wait to start lighting those candles. I don’t care if they are just sitting on a paper plate on the kitchen table this year. I am just so done with sitting around in the dark and twiddling my thumbs. I am done with reading the news and feeling my pulse quicken and my blood pressure go up. I am done with scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, clicking hearts over here and a sad face over there and an occasional angry face on a story about a billboard in Mississippi.

I am so done with all this useless activity that passes for doing something.

Being informed is good. It’s good to know what’s going on. It might even be good to know how other people feel about it. What’s not good is feeling compelled to read four stories about the same issue to be sure I’m getting all the perspectives, then cross-checking those perspectives with the ones I follow on Twitter (which are different from the ones I follow on Facebook, so I have to check those, too). What’s not good is feeling so emotionally affected by the news stories I’m reading that I can’t muster the energy to actually get up and do anything about it.

The time for scrolling passively, if there ever was such a time, has passed. What’s needed now is prayerful contemplation of the depth of the darkness in which we find ourselves. What’s needed now is careful conversation, talking and listening with open minds and hearts in a genuine exchange of thoughts and perspectives. What’s needed now is to ask God, “What are you requiring of me?”

Things I am pretty sure God is not requiring of me:
  • a perfectly cleaned and decorated house
  • more time spent on my phone finding out what other people think about the issues of the day
  • more time reacting to those other people’s thoughts by clicking on emoticons
  • more time reading about the negative impacts the incoming administration might have on the country
  • more time reading rebuttals of those articles about the potential negative impacts
  • more time hitting “refresh” to see if there are any articles I haven’t read yet

Things I wonder if God is requiring of me:
  • deliberate steps taken to remind us that we committed to keep Jesus at the center of our family life
  • more attention to the places He is already present, casting light, restoring brokenness, making things new
  • more careful words that promote a climate of kindness in our home (instead of snappish words that spread around the anxiety I have been feeling)
  • more time spent in actual conversations with people whose perspectives and life experiences are different than mine, even if I have to go to some trouble to find those folks

I think what I’ve been lacking lately is focus.

With that in mind, I’m going to take a break from all the scrolling during Advent. I’m going to stop reading so many news stories and start looking for God in the little things that are actually in front of me in real life again. I’m going to try to find concrete ways to be Christ to my brothers and sisters, whether they live in my house, on my street or on the other side of the globe. I’m going to light candles with all my heart…because I think candles lit with heart are a good first step in battling darkness.





Candles (regardless of the amount of heart with which they are lit) do not fix problems, especially overwhelming, centuries-old injustices with complicated history and huge emotional entanglements- but they do keep us from sinking into the darkness of despair. Candles lit with heart are a rallying cry. Pick yourself up. The darkness doesn’t win unless you let it. Go out with your light and do something to make the darkness less dark.

Meanwhile, the Light of the World is still coming. All the darkness in the universe can’t stop Him. Take heart. And in the meantime, do your part to make things a little brighter.


If you’re looking for a way to focus and make things a bit brighter, come join us on Instagram for #HolyLens. Daily photo prompts based on the scripture readings for the day will start next Sunday, November 27. Take a photo as a way to find the holy in the middle of the ordinary, and share it with our community as a way to push back the darkness a little bit.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pneumonia Silence (and a super-fast Mass Box Giveaway for Advent)

* Update: The giveaway is now closed! The winner has been notified. Thanks for entering. If you didn't win but still really want to get a Mass Box, you can use the affiliate discount code ABBEY10 to save 10% on your subscription. *


This post is about pneumonia and why I am subscribing to The Mass Box. You can enter to win a Mass Box at the end of the post or get a discount on ordering one. If you would rather not read about pneumonia or The Mass Box, I will see you again soon with a post about something else, okay? No hard feelings.)




What happens when you're a mama and all your kids get sick?

You slow down a bit, cancel what you had planned, and tend to them until they are better.

What happens if you get sick, too, and fall into what feels like a bottomless pit of coughing and exhaustion?

You quit everything that isn't essential and tell yourself you will deal with it later.

I've been thinking that if someone could create a business with a pool of Substitute Moms, she could make a lot of money. I really, really needed a sub several times in the last few weeks...someone to do a little light cleaning, put dinner in the oven and read to the kids in the afternoon for a bit so I could take a nap. 

We've been in survival mode for what feels like forever (though it's really only been a few weeks). In the middle of that, I somehow managed to pack for and pull off a family trip to Niagara Falls for George to run the marathon. When we got home, I crashed harder than ever. In my very best Scarlett O'Hara manner, I put off anything I could deal with later and crawled around the house in my comfy pants with a mug of tea in my hand. 

Later has finally come for me. I am crawling out of the hole of pneumonia (apparently something not reserved exclusively for the elderly and chronically ill, who knew?) and trying to pick up the pieces. My calendar tells me that we're on week 5 of our second six-week term of school. I think we are really only on week 2.

I have a lot of catching up to do on the laundry, my fridge should have been cleaned out week before last, my kids have been watching too much Disney Junior, and we've been eating way too much frozen pizza...but we're alive.

The thing that startled me most upon emerging from the pneumonia pit is that Advent is only days away. Not even two weeks separate us from the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, which always throws me into a liturgically inappropriate tizzy. I have to get all the things ready right now so that I can have time to get ready! It catches me off-guard every year, but this year, I think it's worse than usual.

I know I'm behind in writing and that I owe you an update on the birthday party from last month and the big road trip we just took (which was epic). I promise to get to those things.

One thing I've been planning to share with you (that has suddenly become time sensitive in the middle of the pneumonia) is that The Mass Box is going to be launching for Advent.

Our family loved using the box during Lent, when we read the Sunday readings together from the Magnifikid magazine (included with the subscription) and then did the craft together. I was surprised to find that it is more than just a craft subscription box- it's a way to get your entire family engaged with the Sunday readings each week. In addition to the Magnifikid, the box includes supplies and instructions for a craft or activity for every Sunday and any other holy days in the month, plus coloring pages for each week. The team recommends the box for ages 3-7, but we were easily able to expand things to pull in our oldest son (who is now 8) and our littlest boy (who is now 2) because we did the activities together as a family.



I'm really excited about the Advent box for two reasons. First, it includes making beeswax Advent candles as the first craft, which is something I have always wanted to do with my kids. Second, having this box show up on my porch means I will not need to find activities for my kids to do with the Gospel readings during Advent (something I really try to do during this season). The Mass Box people have it all planned out, with a craft activity and all the needed materials prepared for every week. There's even an online video each week of Clare and her dad working on the craft together while they talk about the readings.

Even when I don't have pneumonia, I always want to do more than I am actually able to do. I have good intentions, and if I had the time and energy to carry them out consistently, I could probably come up with great crafts to do for each week of Advent all by myself. To be honest, though, I would probably not manage to make it happen every week. The likelihood of being able to actually do it increases exponentially for me because of The Mass Box. Their team has put together a solid product that saves a lot of work for families who want to engage with the readings together but find themselves short of time to plan it all out.


Having The Mass Box delivered to me with all the materials included during Lent actually helped us to spend more time reflecting and talking together on the weekends about the Sunday readings. It made a difference in how my children listened and paid attention at church, because they were familiar with the stories ahead of time. To me, that's worth the $20 cost, especially in a liturgical season like Advent where I really want to be sure this engagement is happening. (Side note: if you don't already get Magnifikid, it's a wonderful resource for kids to use both inside and outside of Mass. My oldest son has been using it for years to follow along with the Mass, and he even does the extra prayers and activities on his own most weeks. I'm not an affiliate for Magnifikid, but I love the magazine and think the included subscription to Magnifikid is a great benefit to receiving The Mass Box.)


If you're interested in subscribing to The Mass Box, you can use my affiliate code ABBEY10 to save 10% on your subscription. The code is good through December 31, but you'll want to order soon so your first box can arrive by the first week of Advent and you can be ready to jump right in. I have already subscribed for my family and am excited to get started. Knowing that at least this part of our Advent plan is covered helps me feel like I can breathe more deeply...even with pneumonia.

I have one Mass Box for Advent to give away to a lucky reader! If you want to win, leave me a comment below and tell me what you're most excited about or most stressed about with Advent right around the corner. Be sure to include your e-mail address so I can reach you if you win. This one has a quick turnaround- I need to choose the winner on Monday so you can order your box on Tuesday!- so the giveaway closes at midnight on Monday, November 14.

This concludes my brief but sincere plug for The Mass Box. I only ever write about products that I love using, and this one definitely falls in that category. I was not compensated for this review. If you purchase a Mass Box subscription using my affiliate code, I will receive a small commission...so thanks to any of you who do that!


Giveaway fine print: You must be 18 to enter the giveaway. You don't have to be Catholic. Winner will be chosen at random and will receive a code to order one free Mass Box through the Mass box site. The giveaway code expires 11/15/16 and must be used by then. Entries without an e-mail address will be considered invalid...so be sure to leave your e-mail address. Thanks, and good luck!


Friday, October 28, 2016

7 Very Quick Takes: The I'm-Still-Alive Edition

I am still alive!

Since last Sunday night, I've been dragging myself from my couch to my bed and back again (depending on other adult availability for supervision of my children). My kids have watched more television than they had seen up to this point in their lives. We are all here, though, and we're still able to take our big roadtrip, so that's something.

I have a small mountain of laundry to deal with before I can pack for the bitter climate of the Northland (just kidding, I know it isn't that cold yet, Canada)...so of course, I am taking a moment to blog. Priorities.

1. Disney Junior is not the best thing in the world. I'm pretty much convinced after a week of watching princesses, tiny cartoon scuba animal marine biologists, and conflict-ridden lion sibling relationships that it might be contributing to the demise of our society through an unrealistic standard of beauty and a ridiculous emphasis on individualism.

That said, it isn't the worst thing, either. I respect Doc McStuffins' dispassionate but empathetic approach toward her patients, and it's difficult to dislike Mickey Mouse under any circumstances. He's such a nice guy.

I am a little concerned that my girls have apparently fallen in love with some toy called "Adoptimals" that they saw repeatedly advertised this week and now want for Christmas.

2. In case I was worried about the effects of Disney on female identity in my house, my girls pretended last night during their bath that they were a twin swimming duo breaking the world record. When they touched the end of the tub, Lucy sat up and said, "Do you see where the other people are? Waaaaaay back there. They haven't even started." Then she granted me an interview, in which she confessed that she had been a bit nervous, but the world record race was really just like all her practice races. "I just did my best, not just today, but over the course of my life, and I wasn't intimidated," she said.




I was impressed.

"And my sister here tried really hard and got the silver," she said, gesturing at Nora.
Nora shrieked and splashed her in the face.
"I...GOT...GOLD...TOO...justbecauseyouwerebornfirst you poopy top!" she yelled.

Apparently lions are not the only ones with difficult sibling relationships.

3. Felix has started his superhero phase claimed his true identity as a superhero.

video


"Who are you?"
"Superman."
"What are you gonna do?"
"I gonna fly!"

And he did. Unfortunately, his flight was cut short just after this by his brother, who crashed into him in the middle of a sword battle with a ninja princess who was defending her planet.

We obviously just need wider hallways.

4. I am tired of eating frozen waffles. Last night we had Chinese takeout for dinner, and it was the first real food I've eaten all week, and it was heavenly. Not quite as good as the turkey sandwich the hospital gives you after you have a baby, but almost.

5. I got some great ideas from readers and friends for things to do in the car that don't involve screens. We've had so much screen time this week that I really want to take a break from them for a bit. I'll let you know which ones work after we get back from our trip. In the meantime, feel free to follow along on Instagram (#dupuysgonorth) for occasional updates. Sam plans on featuring his Playmobil guy's travel adventures with the hashtag #

6. My friend is taking my big kids to the playground this morning so I can finish packing. THIS IS SUCH A GIFT. If you ever find yourself in the position to offer this kind of love to a stressed out parent, you will earn a place in the friend hall of fame. Seriously. It seems like a little thing, maybe, but it is going to make such a difference!

7. Believe it or not, it's almost time to start thinking about Advent...is there anything you'd like me to be sure to talk about? That's a question, not really a quick take, but I'd love to be helpful to you if I can as I start thinking about preparing for this season of um, preparation.

Now, to do something about all that laundry. (I am probably not going to do anything about the french fries under the backseat. Just being honest.)


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The occasional knitting post {yarn along}


It's not that often that my reading and my knitting end up being color coordinated.

The book is All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It's our Well-Read Mom pick for this month, and I've just started it. (Goodreads tells me I am 6% done, so I can't really have an opinion yet- but I think I'm really going to like it.)

I've just finished the cowl I was working on before. (It still needs blocking- it's curling up a lot on the bottom edge- will blocking fix that?)



This week, I cast on and started knitting a hat for Sam, which he desperately needs.



This is the last hat I made for him (and a pair of matching mittens).



It was 2011. He's overdue.

The new hat pattern is Luuk by Annis Jones on Ravelry. I'm using a wool yarn from Knit Picks that I haven't tried before. I was afraid Sam would say it was scratchy, since it's wool, but he says he thinks it is going to be okay. The color is "sea monster," which he loves. He's calling it his Leviathan Hat.

So far, it's working up pretty quickly. After the counting involved with the eyelet, it's kind of nice to be back to just straight rows of knitting and purling. As often as I'm interrupted, the chances of my losing count on a complicated pattern are pretty high these days.


I'm linking up with Ginny's Yarn Along again- head over there to see what other people are making and reading...and tell me- are you reading or making anything you really like this week? I'm always looking for more books for my list and more projects for my endless Ravelry queue.