What I’m Reading

It’s been awhile since my last quick review of recent reads…oops. Let’s hope I can remember what I read/what they were about/who I liked ’em…

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve gotta say first off that I only had to wait a couple weeks on the wait list at our small, local (city) library. I’m currently still about #180 (not kidding!) on our county system.

Anyway, it’s the worth the wait, because this book is fascinating and absolutely gripping. Sounds weird, when it’s an annotated biography of a girl growing up in the late 1800s midwest, but it just is. If I could always learn about history like this, I’m convinced I’d remember 95% more of it than I normally do. I actually haven’t read The Little House series in oh, about 18 years, but remember enough of the series for this to be even more interesting, since there are many aspects in the novel that are based on real events, but fictionalized, either lightly or heavily. This is the real story, and who doesn’t love getting that? The footnotes are right on the page, and are extensive, which normally I find irritating, but these were so useful and helpful in fleshing out the historical context for Laura’s narrative.

Highly recommend for lovers of American history, and The Little House series.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

This one’s been on my To-Read List for ages. I’m so glad I finally had the chance to read it. It is beautifully written, and Berry does a masterful job taking on the character and voice of a woman, reminiscing about her entire life in her old age. There were many passages that actually reminded me of The Little House on the Prairie, since Hannah was growing up on a farm, and she and her family had to work really hard to make their living on the land. The book explores relationships, loss, the ties of family and place, living and working the land, and growing up in a rapidly changing world.

Highly recommend if you love The Little House series, Willa Cather novels, Kristin Lavransdatter, and American history.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

Just a little fun reading to prep for homeschooling in about 2.5 years…ha! This is a hefty tome, and a great resource. I read most of the beginning chapters which focus on what classical education is, as well the first couple chapters on teaching the early years. This will be a one I’m sure I will buy aw we really start planning in earnest. There are good book-lists, and tons and tons of resources listed as well.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth Hainstock

I borrowed this as an e-book and read it in about 45 minutes, so it’s not a heavyweight, and it is slightly dated. But there were some good ideas and step-by-step guides for doing Montessori-esque activities with your preschooler at home. There are also some pages in the back that you can copy and use to make worksheets, activities, etc. It’s a good book if you want to add a little low-key structure to your preschooler’s day without going crazy (many of the activities center around normal, day-to-day household chores and activities).

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

I guess I was on a Godden kick this summer. This novel wasn’t nearly as good as all her others I’ve read, and I definitely didn’t fly through it. It’s a coming-of-age story (never my favorite genre) of a young English girl, who is spending the summer in a French seaside hotel. I didn’t really like any of the characters, the ending was extremely dissatisfying, and there were copious passages of untranslated French dialogue that were tough even to figure out via context. Annoying.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, or if you’ve ready any of the books here!

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Currently, Vol. 5

Recovering: from a lovely mini beach vacation earlier this week, and the three days before that in which everyone but me was sick with nasty summer head colds. The beach did seem to be a great antidote though (those Brits were onto something when they “went to the shore for their health”).

With that in mind, I’m just here to drop a few pictures (half of which were taken by my much more on-top-of-it sister-in-law/her dad…

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Someone super excited to start the road trip…

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…and some great links that I’ve been saving to share. Some of these things are probably old at this point, but still worth sharing I think!

4 Reasons Midwives Are a Superb Women’s Healthcare Solution

This is an excellent and informative article by our friend Joy. I can firmly attest to the truth of all the facts she mentions here, and I think it’s worth a read even if you love your epidural (which is totally fine, btw) and/or think midwives are illiterate backcountry women asking you to go boil some water (they’re not). Particularly in light of the recent Planned Parenthood scandals and discussion about women’s healthcare. The only thing I’d add here, is that if you are someone who really needs or wants the hospital setting/drugs, you can still use a midwife! Many midwives only practice in hospital in conjunction with an OB system, so that is a very common option for anyone not ready to go 100% natty.

Our Marriage is Stronger Because My Husband Isn’t My Best Friend

Another article by a friend, Julie (we have a lot of talented writer friends!). This one sparked a lot of interesting controversy amongst the comments, but I totally understand where she is coming from. Tom and I had only known each other for a short while before starting to date, and then got engaged less than 6 months later, so I would never say we were some kind of life-long besties or anything. Many people missed her main point though (probably because of the click-baity title) that while a spouse can be a best friend, he or she is actually much more than merely that.

To the Gentleman in the Target Parking Lot

I already shared this on Facebook, but it’s just so good. It’s hard to imagine fielding such vitriol but apparently lots of adults have little self-control. Anyway, if you see a mom of multiple little ones trying to navigate any place in the public sphere, just a) offer to help or b) smile and say something positive (and no, “You’ve got your hands full!” does NOT count).

Hope you’re week is full of joy and cheese!

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A New Little Saint

At the tail-end of my pregnancy with Lucy, Tom and I met up with the sweetest doula-in-training, to see if she would be a good fit as our birth doula. We clicked right away with Tabitha– she was warm, personable, comfortable, and overall, super encouraging about our out-of-hospital birth. We talked for a long time (way longer than our 30 minute scheduled meeting), and I had several more (long) conversations with her via phone as well, as the pregnancy continued on.

She actually never had the chance to be at Lucy’s birth, since Lucy came so unexpectedly early and fast, but somehow that morning, Tabitha knew something might happen. She texted me in the early morning, probably an hour or two after my contractions had started, to let me know she had another birth that morning but would be available for anything I needed later. I never did get to text her back, but her sweet, motherly soul somehow intuited that I was in labor and going to give birth. Amazing. We talked and met up a few times after the birth, and she proclaimed me a birthing warrior and hoped I would have Irish twins every year (ha!).

I remember the morning she emailed the birth announcement for her tenth child, Sebastian. He was born the day after my birthday, and I quickly wrote back to congratulate her. I told her I loved the name they chose, and it had been at the top of our list if Lucy was a boy. And then I told her we were unexpectedly pregnant again, and she was ecstatic for us, and so, so encouraging. She’s just one of those rare people who exude calm, love, and peace pretty much all the time. Oh, and she is the mother of 11 kids, making it look easy somehow.

I was heart-stricken to hear last week that little Sebastian was in extremely critical condition in the hospital just down the road. He struggled for a few days and passed to Eternal Rest on Tuesday. The grief of Tabitha and her family in unimaginable. Her sweet boy, right between my two girls in age, is gone. She wrote the following on her Facebook, as she held her son in the last hours:

So we miss our other children, who are hurting and sorrowing and missing us, and we are here with our beloved baby boy, whose existence is so delicate and so hard to disentangle from all the machines and wires and procedures. But since they removed the EEG stickers from his dear head, I was able to sponge bathe his hair, which just recently got long enough for him to twirl in his fingers the way he likes, so I spend a lot of time holding his head in my hands and kissing it and his face and cupping his brown shoulders and trying to memorize him, whose body I know so, so well. It’s just like labor is for me: I always want to just stay in those moments forever, to take those sensations and put them into a bottle I can open anytime. But I can’t. This time of having his body to hold and keep is about to pass, and if I step outside of the exact moment, it’s so unbearable, there are no words. Even now, his temperature is so low, and they keep trying all kinds of measures to raise it, without much success, so when I touch him, he is so cold. But I can still feel the heft and contours of his body. I don’t want to sleep even a single moment that I could touch him and smell him and feast on the sight of this beautiful life. The big girls spent a lot of time yesterday making molds and prints of his hands and his feet, but I want his sturdy, dense body with its bubble toes and…how can this be borne? As much as I rejoice in the fact that my son is a saint, now and for all eternity, I just can’t understand how to live without taking care of him every day.

It’s nearly unbearable to read these words; how much more impossible to have lived them? And yet, here is a picture of Tabitha and her husband, holding their dying son, and still smiling, rejoicing in the last moments of his short but beloved life:

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Please keep this family in your prayers. Here is the giving page, if you feel moved to donate to their medical/funeral expenses.

St. Sebastian, pray for us!

Pulse Check (we are alive!)

Wow, it’s been a long blog silence this time around. Thank goodness I finally got a minute to do my book review for the Kalpakgians’ book, which gave me a little kick in the pants to get back on here. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything about which to write, it’s just that my brain has melted into an incoherent puddle of mush every night, and every afternoon that the girls are simultaneously napping, leaving only enough energy to lie on the couch and scroll through Facebook feeds filled with all the depressing news. If only my housework were less neglected than the blog, but alas…

Anyway, some of the reasons for this recent lethargy are starting to lift, like the fact that Lena now sleeps through the night. Her definition of night, however, is of the non-conformist variety (7:30 PM- 5:15/20 AM. No one else here has the desire to get up any earlier than say, 7). She’s the hangriest person I think I have ever met…her new nickname is Low-Blood-Sugar Lena. I mean seriously, she wakes up screaming, and won’t stop till she has downed a small bowl of blueberries, two sausage patties, and either a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. And that’s just First Breakfast for our little hobbit.

Here I had to bring her booster chair into the kitchen with me and feed her part of the dinner while I finished the rest. She's reaching for more, of course.

Here I had to bring her booster chair into the kitchen with me and feed her part of the dinner while I finished the rest. She’s reaching for more, of course.

Eating bean burritos is serious business.

Eating bean burritos is serious business.

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At dinner, she often out-eats even Tom and I (and always Lucy). The girl is crazy. But you know what, at least she’s sleeping all night. Only took a few screaming episodes (and honestly, she would scream even if we were holding/rocking/nursing her, so it was just the way she needed to learn to fall asleep. In case any attachment parenting police stumble upon this blog and felt a little queasy reading that sentence). And the upside to her early as heck rising? She now takes her morning nap and a good afternoon one too. Cue angels singing.

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Oh, right, we have another kid too. I better include a picture of her!

Oh, right, we have another kid too. I better include a picture of her!

Tom is also now finally, finally on vacation, as of the last week of July. It’s been so spoiling to have an extra adult in the house all the time, because I can take NAPS, and he’s getting tons of house projects done that he never has time for during the school year. We’re scheduling the re-painting of our dining room and our master BR at long last, and we finally, finally got NEW CURTAINS for both rooms. Do you remember the paint colors and the “custom” curtains, both hideous and heinous? Here:

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This is my only “before” picture, which is actually a “during”…see Tom’s elbow right there……….^ He was hanging our new curtains. Anyway. Those who-knows-what-color curtains, with a papyrus-y texture are finally gone. Their counter parts in our bedroom will be shortly, and I will post the official after pictures here after we’ve got the new paint. But here are the colors we chose, just to give you a little taste:

Not our dining room…but the same paint– Wythe Blue by Benjamin Moore.

And one more. We kind of love it and can’t wait to have it up.

The bedroom will be Pale Smoke by Benjamin Moore. (Our room will have a lot more color than this one and so things won’t look quite so washed-out)

So, a great improvement, no?
We also celebrated our 3rd anniversary with a really nice afternoon and evening out. We ended it by stopping by for a quick visit to the church where we got married, and it turned out they had Mass starting in 5 minutes, so that was a serendipitous moment.
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How beautiful is this church?!! We do miss being parishioners so.
Hopefully, I will be back soon with more of our recent pictures, news, stories, links to share, etc. Now I need to go make more coffee (by the by, we got an Aeropress after some intense debate on Facebook re: the best method for brewing single-cup coffee. I’m reallllllly loving the Aeropress, and it also means we’re steaming our milk every time. We’re so fancy).
Ciao!

Stars, Stripes, and Edelweiss: Book Review

In what now feels like another lifetime, I once spent a semester living and studying in Europe. The ubiquitous semester abroad. It took place, in my case, in a tiny Austrian mountain town, and we lived and went to classes in a 14th century Carthusian monastery. As you can imagine, some of my best college memories and closest friendships were forged there. I also learned an immense deal about myself as I traveled almost every weekend to a different country, soaked up wisdom from the humanities professors there, and experience the universality of the Catholic Church as well as the profoundly individual love of God for me.

My dear friend Mary shows off our digs

My dear friend Mary shows off our digs

The waterfall just down the road from our campus in Gaming

The waterfall just down the road from our campus in Gaming (ignore my terrible fashion choices)

Beer at the Hofbrauhaus in München

Beer at the Hofbrauhaus in München

So, when my former Student Life Director of the study abroad program and his wife, Mark and Niki Kalpakgian, wrote a book about their time working and living in Austria, I couldn’t wait to read it. I got to know them and their boys well while I lived there, and loved having the connection to a young family amidst all the flux of travel and being in a foreign country. When Niki sent me a copy of the book so I could review it, I pretty much devoured it.

The stories in the book not only brought back countless memories from my time there (like sorting our trash into multiple bins each week and the idiosyncrasies of the little village grocery store), but I also learned many things about Gaming and Austria that I had never known in my short time there, especially the Advent and Christmas traditions which I didn’t experience in the spring semester.

Mark and Niki take the reader on their crazy adventure of leaving their comfortable, suburban life, and learning how to live and thrive in a very different culture. They include snippets of the local and national history, the personality of the Austrian people, illustrated with hilarious anecdotes, and highlight many of the differences between the United States and Austria (particularly a small, rural community like Gaming). I loved reading about their experience with the local public school, the village doctor. They describe the sense of community in the little town, how the neighbors look out for each other, the storekeepers guarantee all their products and replace them when something goes wrong, and how everyone participates in the holiday customs that have been around for centuries. And there are plenty of downright hilarious accounts of their cultural “education”: learning about the local spa and its very naked patrons, how they received a note after the first day of school, because they sent their snacks in plastic baggies, rather than the eco-friendly plastic boxes all the other kids had, and getting cited by the local police because the university students were riding bikes on the sidewalk.

Their stories definitely open your eyes to how differently other countries handle things, from school and child-rearing, to medical care and trash collection. Living abroad is a fantastic way to help you both appreciate your own homeland, as well as see what could be done better there.  The only complaint I had about the book was the frequent jumping from one tense to another, sometimes within the same sentence. Most of the time, though, it didn’t detract from the stories themselves, which were told with humor and vivid detail.

If you have lived or dream of living abroad, this book will inspire you. You’ll also enjoy it if you just love travel, adventure, and learning about new cultures.

Their book is available on Amazon!