A Literary Love of Flowers

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So, I think one of the perks, if not one of the outright goals, of educating little kids yourself at home is that you get to choose what to stuff into their little brains. Maybe that sounds nefarious, but aren’t the early years mostly just about learning how to learn, and learning to love learning? That’s why I used a saint-based curriculum this year for Police Preschool and it’s why as the school year winds down we are focusing on nature and birds and most of all, flowers.

Because maybe someday Pippin will be a police officer and Scout will be something totally depressing, like a dentist, but they’ll keep these memories of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil and the way robins dance beside the turned-up garden soil and how grape hyacinth smells like Concord grapes (and maybe a fact or two about St Thérèse, too).

And on our quest, there are plenty of books to light this love of flowers.

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Detective Stories and Objective Truth

Murder mysteries are a strange place to go looking for stories that point out the sacred, but in reading The Last Policeman series I was reminded of the British period drama Foyle’s War we had watched and enjoyed several years ago. Although both stories center around a lone male detective, most similarities end there: one is the story of American Henry Palace in the world’s final days, the other the career of Englishman Christopher Foyle in the shadow of World War II.

Though both men cling to the mores of a dying world, challenged by those who find their allegiance to duty futile under the circumstances, neither detective is simply a bureaucratic ritualist adhering to mindless rules at the cost of his humanity. Instead, both Palace and Foyle highlight a strength of the murder mystery: its affirmation of the vital importance of morality even in the face of dire circumstances. Read More »

Commonplace Book, 45

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

What I’m reading:

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Commonplace Book, 44

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • I love a good frittata. And I’ve only ever had one bad one — for the record, even a frittata can’t resuscitate freezer-burnt turkey. We’ve talked about my template for big frittatas, so here’s what I use as a template for a small dinner frittata for me and J with a little left over.
  • I’m dabbling in sourdough with a starter gifted me by another co op mama. I think I’m in love. I have no idea what I’m doing.

What I’m reading:

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Commonplace Book, 43

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Are you sick of cookies? I nearly am, except these double chocolate crinkle cookies, which I’m looking for an excuse to make again.
  • A couple days before Christmas I embarked on the horror show that is cut out cookies. Why are they just the worst? I love baking with my kids, but the whole process was painful — the rolling out, P’s inability to cut near the edge, the dough getting warm and sticky and tearing. I had such fond memories of baking cut out cookies with my mom, and when I mentioned it and how much I hated it, Mom responded vaguely, “Oh. I think we only did those once. They were so stressful!” So there you have it, folks: cut out cookies, delighting children and enraging adults since at least the 1980s. If you’re more ambitious than I am, these soft gingerbread cookies taste good, at least.
  • Nothing says Christmastime like cookies and cheese. If you’re looking to use up your spare bits of cheese, you might try this template for fromage fort. I made it for a NYE party, but I kind of want to make another batch to serve over pasta. Except I’d make it with blue stilton and then my marriage would be over.Read More »

My Man In the Wing Chair

While I was spending my first (always insomniac) night postpartum in the hospital, J and Roo snoring softly on either side, I read The Awakening of Miss Primsomething I’d been meaning to read for ages. Unsurprisingly, given all the recommendations I’d received, I loved it.

Prudencia Prim is a practical modern woman looking for escape, who finds it in the eccentric job posting for a private librarian in a small French town. She soon finds herself working for the equally frustrating and charming Man in the Wing Chair, organizing his enviable private library and taking part — somewhat unwillingly — in the life of the household, where he’s raising his nieces and nephews and educating others from the village. Almost despite herself, Miss Prim is drawn in to the unusual community, challenging everything she held dear.

Along the way, she receives the wonderful advice:

“You must not aspire to finding a husband who’s your equal, but one who’s absolutely and completely better than you.”

This was something I took for granted in my parents’ marriage: it was always obvious that each believed the other had settled. My mom admired my dad; my dad admired my mom. And so I set out to find a boy who was my superior, and, like my parents before me, lucked out: John Bowers, a constant inspiration to me to be more kind, patient, energetic, creative.

(Warning: mild Awakening of Miss Prim spoilers)

Like the Man in the Wing Chair, he’s brimming with bookish ideas and convictions and cheerful rants. One of the lines in which the Man in the Wing Chair most reminded me of my husband was this one:

“He wasn’t delightful in arguments, or in debates: he wouldn’t yield an inch concerning what he believed to be true, and he had no mercy with opponents when he saw they weren’t on his level.”

J is a formidable debater who argued several friends into the Catholic Church before succumbing himself. His conviction in debate can make me nervous — I spend a lot of energy monitoring people’s feelings and worry about hurting someone. But his bravery in arguing for the truth reminds me I could stand to gain in tenacity.

One piece reveals the author’s inspirations in crafting her protagonist, exclaiming: “How could one not want to read a novel in which the male protagonist is a composite of C.S. Lewis, John Senior and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma!” While I’m not familiar with John Senior, except by name, biographies of C. S. Lewis have often reminded me of J: intellectually fleet and tough, slightly intimidating in intensity, boisterous with joy. And while Emma isn’t my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley is definitely one of my favorite Austen heroes, one who’s absolutely and completely superior to Emma.

Another passage that struck me as familiar is this one, in which a friend characterizes the Man to Miss Prim:

“And there’s a third group, to which your Man in the Wing Chair belongs, whose aim is to escape from the dragon. They want to protect their children from the influences of the world, to return to the purity of old customs, recover the splendor of an ancient culture.”

Especially in this season, when J’s been able to take a lot of parental leave, I’ve seen all the big and small ways he seeks to protect our kids and “return to the purity of old customs” as he helps educate our kids, reads them books by the fire and leads them in Christmas carols on his violin.

We don’t know from the text if the Man in the Wing Chair sports a spectacular beard, like J, or if Miss Prim ends up with her Man in the Wing Chair. But today, on my Man in the Wing Chair’s birthday, I’m so glad I married mine.

 

The Man in the Wing Chair

 

Commonplace Book, 42

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

 

What I’m fixing:

  • Still coasting on the kindness of others.
  • Suet, with the kids. Gross, I️ guess. But it uses up pantry odds and ends and seemed an appropriate activity for St Nicholas Day because, you know, generosity. We used:
    • melted bacon grease, beef fat, coconut oil
    • the last bits of: golden raisins, grits, oatmeal, sunflower seeds and chopped peanuts.
    • I read you could add cayenne to scare off other critters and since a friend recently found an opossum in our trashcan, we added some.

We poured the satisfyingly creepy brew into the silicone snowflake mold I thought would be awesome for compound butter (no) and set it on the porch to cool. Then we froze them, popped the pucks out and put one in the mesh bag you get with oranges or onions. Please don’t tell me if one of these ingredients will decimate the local avian population. The kids are so proud.

Classing up the neighborhood

What I’m reading:

  • 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest or Dad — found and shared by a friend. #4 and #5 made me laugh out loud.
  • How Chickens and Goats Are Helping to Stop Child Marriage
  • The Bear and the NightingaleI’ve been reading this Roo’s whole life (ha!) and can’t decide if it’s worth it or not. Anyone have an opinion one way or another?
  • A Christmas Carolwhich J is reading aloud to me and the kids after the dinner. I think Pippin is getting maybe 10-20% and Scout none at all, but we are communicating something we love, and it’s time we might otherwise allot to TV or more chores. Instead, we sit around the Advent wreath and then the fireplace and kids snuggle with us and we slow down just a bit, and if that’s all they take away from the reading this year, that still seems like a wonderful start.

 

In other news, occasionally Roo deigns to open her eyes now
This time last year: