book report - lady edition

Heeeeeey, she started reading again. Or more accurately--she started reading fiction again, which in turn, helped her start reading non-fiction again.

I said on Coffee & Donuts a few weeks ago that once I get mired down in too much non-fiction, I'm hopeless to finish anything until a good novel jumps my literary battery and gets me rolling again. So the pic above shows said battery-jumping novels, plus two non-fictions, but somehow ALL of it skewed toward the feminine, hence the "lady edition" of this book report.

First up: Christy!

In my quest to find some rather squeaky-clean picks for a book club, I stumbled upon a fantastic resource on Goodreads: LDS Book Club Reads. Turns out the Mormon ladies join the great Mama Needs Coffee in seeking books that won't make you blush.

So, Christy. City girl/woman heads to Appalachia in the early 1900s to teach the little wild mountain children some reading, writing and religion. She falls for the preacher man (kind of) and stays for the typhoid. I hated the first 5 pages, and then loved the rest. Author Catherine Marshall has some sweet takes on bringing Christ's love to the world--even if that world is openly hostile and suspicious of it. Sweet ending and fine characters. When I posted on IG that I was in the middle of it, a veritable gaggle of lovely ladies commented to say "Ooohhhhmigosh, I read that book 3 times when I was 14--and I loved it, but of course, I was 14, so I can't actually say if it's any good."

To that I say: Yes it is good, and your 14-year-old-selves have fine literary taste. :)

Next: What Alice Forgot

Yeah, everyone has already read this. Maybe you already read it and forgot about it. Ha! Liane Moriarty's books are best sellers for good reason--she writes humorous women-centric stories set in everyday life, with a streak of either mystery or medical trauma thrown in. Big Little Lies (which I read a couple years ago) turns on a murder case; What Alice Forgot takes amnesia and shows what would happen if a mother took a hard hit to the head and forgot the last 10 years of her life--including the births and very existence of her three kids. I enjoyed the commentary on marriage and friendship; I eye-rolled over the IVF and the nonchalant attitudes on divorce, contraception, and sex outside of marriage. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading; I just wouldn't exactly recommend it.

On to A Return to Modesty!

LOVE. Back in 1999, Wendy Shalit was talking modesty, embarrassment, and sex ed--and she did it with more humor than I could ever muster. Shalit wrote A Return to Modesty while still an undergrad pursuing her Bachelor's in philosophy. That fact alone makes her pretty legit, but the book itself is a triumph of research, source notes and just damn good perspective at a culture that's been turned upside down by the quest to eradicate any embarrassment associated with sex.

While reading at one point, I had 10 internet tabs open on my phone to look up her cast of characters: Simone de Beauvoir, Camille Pagila, Kathryn Harrison--the list of infamous feminists (who, with Shalit's treatment, begin to look incredibly like misogynists) goes on and on and can seem daunting. However, the balance of Shalit's source material is taken straight from the desperate "letter to the editor" pages of Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and YM magazines. And it is those letters that paint a clear picture of women being duped, dated and dumped by their supposed feminist champions. A must-read (although I'm 20 years late with that enthusiastic recommendation).

Last: Dressing with Dignity

Ok, yeah, I admit it: I'm on a modesty kick. Strangely enough, I picked up A Return to Modesty, thinking it could be alternately titled A Retreat from Pants. (I was completely wrong.) It is Colleen Hammond's little treatise on skirts vs. pantsuits that is the real anti-pant book.

I appreciated the guidelines Hammond gives for what truly makes an outfit modest. For instance, do not kid yourself: If you bend over and can see down your own shirt, EVERYONE ELSE CAN TOO. Cami up, girl.

Hammond references papal statements and Vatican documents on modesty that I hadn't read before, as well as the proper (read: required) dress code for visiting the Holy See. She also included a story about St. Padre Pio that was new to me: A woman came to his confessional (behind the screen, of course), and without seeing her, he dismissed her from the confessional, saying that her skirt had to be 8" below the knee. Hearing things like this make me wonder how women seemed to survive for millennia  wearing dresses and skirts, and yet here I am in 2019 with a wardrobe firmly built upon pants--and "skinny" pants, at that. The evolution of it all boggles my mind. Hammond's book gives her take on how we got to this point, and her own personal plan for reclaiming modesty in dress.

Have I thrown out all my pants? No, not at all. Have I been thinking more deeply about why I wear pants in the first place? Yes. Do I think this is a moral issue? For the most part, no. Have I been sucked down the dressing-modestly rabbit hole on instagram? Aaaaaabsolutely.

I've also felt the pull in this age of gender absurdities and rampant gender role confusion to present myself in a more clearly feminine way to my kids. I don't know how to say it more gently than that. I'm not an anti-pant crusader, and my selection of skirts is currently pathetic. I'm also a woman who bore four children in six years--and I look like it. The slender me of my pre-married working days used to be able to pull off a high-waist set of trousers, tall heels and crisp button down. These days, everything in my closet is at least 5% spandex, and my heels house little dust bunny colonies.

I don't know where this all goes, but I'm grateful for writers and women who continue to write about this subject and discuss it with openness and grace.

One note: most all of the book links here are to my new favorite place to buy books online: Thrift Books! Most used book copies are $3.79-.99, and shipping is free at $10. Purchases also earn points towards free books. All that to me screams "BETTER THAN AMAZON!!" (Also, this ain't no ad, and Thrift Books doesn't know me from Eve.)

My next book report here will include Bud MacFarlane Jr.'s Pierced by a Sword, which I'm so excited to start. Happy reading!


Catholics get the dregs of commercial Christmas--and that's awesome

Christmas morning! Bright, glorious, and deeply happy. Sean and Joe tiptoed out at 11:30pm to head to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but even with that, everyone slept well. Our once-yearly allotment of bacon for breakfast was met, and after all that we headed to Mass as a family.

But the next day, the day after Christmas? Just as wonderful. Truth:

Yeeeeeeee-ahhhh. I love Christmas break. I wake up on December 26 with a happy twitch in my fingers, which are ready to snap up bargains and swipe my debit card at all the big box stores, which are groaning under the weight of all the clearance Christmas merchandise they've got to get rid of. Sean can usually take a week off work for Christmas, and so once my clearance Christmas shopping itch has been scratched, we dive into a 12-day spree of FUN STUFF which more often than not is free or dirt cheap.

Unlike the vast wasteland of summertime with its frequently empty days, whiny or bored kids and no end in sight, Christmas break to me feels like one of those Advent calendars that opens up a new door every day in December with a TREAT. But those calendars kind of get it wrong, you know? Advent is the little lent, the preparation time, the fast before the feast. And then Christmas comes, and BAM! Catholics Gone Liturgically Wild.

Catholics have scraggly, Charlie Brown-esque Christmas trees, with bare patches and half-dead limbs. Why? They go buy them on Gaudete Sunday, or on the 23rd, or even on Christmas Eve, and all the great trees are gone, and the ones left are marked down 50%. AND THAT'S OK! Do you know what you do with a Christmas tree? YOU COVER IT IN PRETTY STUFF.

Catholics have great Christmas decorations. Why? We scoop up everything on SUPER clearance on the 26th when stores are practically giving it away. At 50, 60, heck, 90% off, you can get all the garland, twinkle lights, candles, shatterproof ornaments (obviously) and gift wrap your little liturgical heart desires--and spend about $3.26 for all of it.

Catholics can skip the lines at all those fun Christmas-light shows and neighborhood light attractions. Why? We go on the 26th, which is usually the last night those things run--and barely anyone else in the world still cares to go see them at that point.

Catholics have the best New Year's Eve, New Year's and Epiphany parties. Why? IT'S STILL CHRISTMAS, BABY! We've been saving our eggnog, our champagne and our shrimp cocktails for these moments. We know between Christmas and Twelfth Night, you've got more solemnities than you can shake a candy cane at. Live it up.

The last two scrawny crabs in the seafood department, plus steamed artichokes and GF noodles with mizithra: All just vehicles for melted butter, all in honor of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Our Epiphany included King Cake cupcakes. Why? Because gold and purple and green sprinkles were about $0.30 each in the clearance section of Walmart.

This is all to say, of course, that my big kids are now back in school, and we took the tree down yesterday (a fire hazard, truly) and packed the stockings away, and now it's just me and the littles at home. My Nativity sets are still up and will be for another week or so. I love seeing the Christmas season come and cover the house and our hearts with the glorias and hosannas announcing the arrival of the Baby King to the world. We're still listening to Christmas music in the afternoons, and Baby Steve still belts out Joy to the World to announce to me he's woken up from his nap.

My Christmas Decorations Closet of Bargains is mostly closed up for the year, but you can bet that if I can still find some strands of twinkle lights marked down to $0.80 at the grocery store, I'm snapping those puppies up.


celebrate December's saints in 5 minutes with $5 (or less)

Ahh, there's nothing like celebrating saints' feast days to make a mom feel either stressed out or inadequate! Woohoo!

But here's what I think. I've seen an exchange like this happen many times: The mom of a baby and a toddler looks at a mother of nine and says, "HOW do you DO IT? I only have two and I'm drowning."

And the seasoned mom says, "Honey, you are given the grace you need for the battle you're fighting. However many kids you have right now, that's all you can handle! We're all maxed out where we are."

I think that's it, too, for the big bad world of beautiful liturgical living. I've lived through so many Decembers during which I forgot to reserve and check out the St. Nicholas books from the library ahead of time, and also didn't have enough spare money just floating around in the budget to go buy us a copy. I didn't know how other people did it.

But you know what? The kids know who St. Nicholas is. They know he's the patron saint of children, and they know he was generous. They know St. Nicholas loved Jesus and lived his life for Him. And they know that because we told them. Not a book or a clever video. Just us, the parents. 

So, all that to say: I don't think it's all about the books you own or grab from the library, nor is it all the correct food you cook to celebrate and keep the feast. Those things are well and GOOD, really, very very good! But they're not the be all and end all of infusing home with faith. You use the grace you have right now to do what you can handle.

These are the things we'll be doing in our home:

Thursday, December 6 (tomorrow!): St. Nicholas
Do: Set out the kids' shoes tonight, and fill 'em with some treats for the morning. I've heard from moms who *forget* to buy chocolate coins that their children will still joyfully accept quarters, dimes, and stray tic tacs. (That mom may have been myself.)
Eat: Candy canes!
Read: quick read for little ears on St. Nicholas of Myra

Friday, December 7: St. Ambrose
Do: Just say it's the feast of St. Ambrose. It's a cool name to know. :)
Eat: Toast or tea with honey! He's the patron saint of bee keepers. Our little Ambrose gets to pick the dinner menu, as is the tradition of saint-name-days in our house.
Read: St. Ambrose: Strangest Life Story Ever? 8 things to know and share

Saturday, December 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Eat: Ice cream! Anything to celebrate for dessert!
Read: great read aloud here from Peanut Butter & Grace

Wednesday, December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
Do: Just tell 'em what day it is.
Eat: Tacos! Burritos! Nachos! Viva la shredded cheese!
Read: Meet Juan Diego

Thursday, December 13: St. Lucy
Do: Light an extra candle at the dinner table (besides the advent candle), since Lucy means light.
Also, Lucy is (rightly) such a popular name, so tell kids that if they have a Lucy they know or in their class, wish them a happy feast day.
Read: Saint Lucy

Monday, December 17: Start the O Antiphons!
Do: Sing one verse "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" as your before dinner prayer starting on the 17th, going to the next verse/antiphon each day, until Dec. 23. Here's a great link with all of the verses and their Latin counterparts (for you fancy folk).

Tuesday, December 25: Christmas
Do: PARTY!!!

That takes us to the Christmas Octave, and that will be a separate post. Blessed Advent! 


finally pulling the plug on PBS Kids

This isn't a shocker, of course. I've already ranted on Coffee & Donuts with John & Mary about the sing-song nihilism of Daniel Tiger's little ditties in episode 31.

And, I've always had an eye out for the subtle suggestions, the little winks, the discreet nods at the liberal agenda, sprinkled in the PBS Kids shows.

But today, I didn't see a wink or a nod--no, today it was a straight up high five to indoctrinating my kids. This PBS Kids commercial aired this morning while my little ones were watching, I'm ashamed to say.

Come and see, come and see
Come and see my family
I got two awesome daddies 
And a brother who's just three
I like them, they like me
Now come and see my family

So, that's that, then! We'll be taking the same approach as we did with Netflix, and removing it from our tv immediately. Although unfortunately, we could actually cancel our subscription to Netflix, whereas PBS will continue to receive our money through taxpayer subsidies. Ugh.

Anyone else taken this plunge and gone cold turkey on PBS Kids? I put a Brother Francis DVD on for Gus this afternoon and, surprisingly, she didn't melt into a puddle of Let's Go Luna-deprived despair. So that's a win. I'd love some good recommendations for shows or DVD series appropriate for the 3-5 year old range.