Thursday, August 25, 2011

Used bookapalooza!

Anyone who knows me even slightly is aware that I have the tiniest smidgen of a book problem. An addiction really. They are my drug of choice. :) Anyway, when presented with a used book sale, well, that's even more fun than a store that sells new books, because you never know what will be in the piles. I also collect old books, and it's always fun to find inscriptions on the inside flyleaf or interesting bookplates affixed inside.

Today, I was charged with heading to the library to take a picture of the Friend's of the Library book sale. Once my job was done, I spent a few minutes perusing. And when you can buy a book for a $1, or eight books for $5, well, I was able to rack up those eight pretty quickly. The great thing was, I found one for each of my brothers and I found two for my mom as well (kids books were 50 cents apiece, so I picked up a few for my twin goddaughters, too).

But I found a few gems for myself, obviously. :) I'm a fan of old cookbooks -- the appeal is some amazing old-fashioned recipes (usually the desserts), along with some now-laughable ones that most modern cooks wouldn't want to make, let alone serve and eat (mostly those involving gelatin and things you should never encase in it), so coming across a 1938 copy of  Canadian cookbook called "A Guide to Good Cooking" compiled by the makers of Five Roses Flour was neat. It also includes completely fabulous illustrations like this:

Jellied chicken, anyone?

Another book I picked up is called "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall," subtitled "Invitation to Beauty," published in 1961. Written by a man named Gayelord Hauser, it is apparently a self-help guide-to-a-more-beautiful-you type of book, where he encourages women to attain their true beauty through healthy eating, caring for the skin, etc... It should be interesting to flip through, since some of the advice about food seems before it's time. I suppose I'm just going to have to read to find out about the "Scandinavian Complexion Secret" and whether I really can make my own cottage cheese. Unfortunately, I think it will always be a mystery to me why Gary and Ethel Patton decided to give this book as a gift to Don and Mary Black on July 26th, 1962:

But I was most excited about a two books, one published in the late 50s, the other in 1961, that look brand new. If they didn't have separate publication dates, I'd have sworn they were a set. One is "The Life of Christ" and the other is a book of Catholic prayers. 

Both are gorgeously illustrated. The Life of Christ has maps and an entire section devoted to Mary. The book of prayers includes prayers for every day, for each month, prayers dedicated to Our Lady and a number of saints and for the various sacraments, only for some reason, the sacraments of marriage and holy orders aren't included, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. I flipped through the sacraments section twice (why are there 12 pages of pictures depicting last rites?) before looking to the table of contents to confirm their absence. 

No marriage or holy orders?

Sure enough, they're not there. Why would they have been left out? Could it possibly be a pre-Vatican II thing? It seems like a rather glaring omission. Hmm...must research.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Ground down by mediocrity"

So it had been probably more than a month since I went and looked at my Google Reader page, and today I found that there were hundreds of entries for the blogs I've subscribed to (note to self: must read them more frequently!).

But scrolling through some of them, I found exactly what I needed to hear today. I'd been struggling to put my feelings of inadequacy and frustration -- I'm not miserable but I'm hardly fulfilled after close to six years at my job with nothing to show for it aside from 36 extra cents per hour, single as I ever was and wishing for something more but not knowing what exactly that something more is --  into words (I even stooped to writing some mopey, very pathetic (and stupid) poetry this afternoon, from which you will be spared).

It makes me think of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" -- the bookish "princess" I've always identified with most -- and that scene in the field just before her family horse rushes up to her, sans her father:

"I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand to have someone understand, I want so much more than they've got planned..."

But Blessed JP II (probably at a WYD) did it for me. Elizabeth Scalia, over at The Anchoress, posted it 13 days ago:

“It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

I do feel mediocre, like I am settling somehow for the compromise, or that, sinner that I am, this is all I deserve. There are so many things I hope for, or would love to do, but I feel so limited. By my location, and by being either over or under-qualified for jobs I might want. I don't want to have a defeatist's too much like how my father tends to handle things...and yet I find myself falling into that pattern sometimes, ground down by the day-to-day.

Yet, I think God uses it, too, to help us turn and return again and again to him, toward hope and away from doubt. It is a reminder I will always need, and I am thankful for it. I may have limitations, but God can and will step in where I lack, making me stronger than I am alone, improving me, one little bit at a time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter from home

I wrote a letter to my youngest brother, Ethan, today. He's deployed in the Middle East currently, and is slated to come home in early November from a short (in military terms, at any rate) six-month tour.

As I sat there, I struggled to come up with topics to write about. I felt terrible. Shouldn't I be able to come up with something witty to entertain my brother? We chatted online only last week -- a far more rapid mode of communication than snail mail -- so anything I said then would be repetitious. I wanted to write a letter that he'd be interested in reading, but everything I wrote sounded dull; trifles of my life that wouldn't mean much to him. I even mentioned the weather, usually the last of all possible conversational resorts. I am clearly in need of a more exciting life.

But as I continued writing, it occurred to me that even the boring little things I have to say do mean something to him, stationed as he is on a base in the middle of a desert (and where, I'm sure, Florida's daily thunderstorms would be a freak of nature). When he's not on missions he doesn't do much aside from play video games, read and work out, which can get old pretty quickly when you have no other options.

It also made me think that I was doing something that people have done for hundreds of years: write to their loved away at war. And although I don't necessarily think of Ethan being at war, per se (he's not in a fox hole somewhere), he is away from everything. I found myself picturing old World War II movies, where all the guys gather round for mail call, thrilled with a letter or even a flattened, stale cake from home. I'm sure it's done a bit differently now (and food sent isn't usually stale, what with faster transport times), but I have no doubt the excitement of receiving something from home is the same.

A number of years ago I read a book called War Letters. It started as an idea a man named Andrew Carroll had to preserve history in the form of letters written by servicemen and women overseas or away at war. He received thousands, and had letters (and later emails as well) from every campaign beginning with the American Revolution through Desert Storm (the book was published in the early 2000s). He's since gone on to edit several more books of the same type, one devoted solely to letters of faith. They're beautiful, moving books. The letters published are sometimes funny, almost always moving and, occasionally, incredibly sad. But they are a testament to those who were and are willing to give up their time (and sometimes more) to serve their country and the families they leave behind at home.

Even sometimes those overseas wished they had more to say (or could say more than the censors would let them) in letters home -- I know Ethan sometimes struggles with something new to come up with during Skype sessions, too. What can be said that hasn't been said already? And in one of the missives reprinted in "War Letters," an Army sergeant on Bataan during WWII laments to his wife that he doesn't have anything spectacular to write home about, either:

"I could write a lot of nonsense and a lot of foolishness but I know you will read between the lines and see more in spirit than in what I write."

So in the next week or so, Ethan should get my letter, written on the last few remaining sheets from a box of blue stationary, along with a small package. Hopefully it will prove distracting for a little while, and that he finds something to laugh at in what I've written him about movies I've watched and cleaning I've done around the house. The ubiquitous they say God is in the small stuff (although He is, of course, in everything), so I suppose it's not so much the content of a letter as it is the time taken: the love and pride implied and prayers prayed...


Saturday, August 13, 2011

"A friend who gives candid advice"

A friend of mine passed through town last night (such a rarity -- someone I know actually coming to Port Charlotte! -- is a cause for celebration). It was great to catch up with her, a FOCUS campus minister who I hadn't seen in probably two years. During dinner we talked about her work and the fact she has now fully discerned her call to religious life (it's been a lengthy process, but I, completely aware of my own stubbornness, can only admire her patience and openness to God's plan and the sometimes meandering path He's led her on) and the journey she's taking to find the right order. As we sat talking over delicious Mexican food, I realized couldn't recall the last time I used the word "charism" in a conversation and not had someone look at me askance or had to explain what it meant. :)

Afterwards, we headed to Books-A-Million and wandered among the shelves, laughing over ridiculous discount CD sets (3 CDs worth of Irish accordion music, for only $4!) and hunted for small gifts for her oldest godson. As we made our way toward the small Catholic section, she asked me, "So, what are you reading these days?"

I knew, of course, that she wasn't referring to novels or fun books about history. She was asking about my current spiritual reading. And right now, that would be a whole lotta nothin.' I told her about how excited I had been, starting over with my reading of Theology of the Body during Lent, and the fact that I wanted to continue with it post-Easter. While I didn't automatically stop reading the moment Lent was over, I haven't continued with it as I hoped to do, either. So much for commitment. I also mentioned several books that I have and want to read ("No Man is an Island" and "The Discernment of Spirits," among them) and books I've started, like "A Shorter Summa," that I've now attempted twice (I keep getting stuck because, at least at this point, I find Peter Kreeft's introduction far more readable than Aquinas' style. Maybe I'm just not ready for it yet...or maybe I should soldier on through...).

I told my friend that it's not that I don't want to read spiritual works, I do, but that it feels like "things" keep getting in the way. And as I said it, I realized it sounded like an excuse. Yes, I'm busy, but I always seem to find time to waste on things like Facebook, for example. Even reviewing morning and evening prayer and daily mass readings in Magnificat, something I've done for years now, has fallen by the wayside of late. It's not that I've stopped praying, far from it. But perhaps it's my own laziness setting up roadblocks. What things could possibly be more important and worth spending time on than my spiritual growth?

Back at my house later that evening, my friend pointed out a website a mutual friend of ours, a seminarian, recently began blogging for. Along the right side of the main page was a short anecdote about St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who's feast it was yesterday:

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal was heading to the chapel one day to pray. Seeing a young novice in the hallway, she asked "Why don't you join me in the chapel for prayer?" The young nun answered "Sister, I really don't feel like praying right now." Jane responded with  "Sister, I haven't felt like praying in years! Now, let's go to the chapel and pray!"

The story made me laugh, but it also struck a chord. While God often speaks in a "still, small voice" to whisper in our ears, sometimes I think we need another, physically present voice to redirect us. My friend urged that, instead of beating myself up for not going through all the prayers of the day in Magnificat, I should ease back into it slowly, and also to not feel guilty about occasional spates of less-than-voracious spiritual reading, while at the same time, recommending several books she's found helpful. Her visit was so timely -- certainly not a coincidence, for God always sends what I need -- and a subtle, loving reminder to refocus myself on what's really important.

And although St. Pius X was addressing priests when he said the following back in 1908, he could just as easily be addressing me now:

"Everyone knows the great influence that is exerted by the voice of a friend who gives candid advice, assists by his counsel, corrects, encourages and leads one away from error. Blessed is the man who has found a true friend; he that has found him has found a treasure. We should, then, count pious books among our true friends. They solemnly remind us of our duties and of the prescriptions of legitimate discipline; they arouse the heavenly voices that were stifled in our souls; they rid our resolutions of listlessness; they disturb our deceitful complacency; they show the true nature of less worthy affections to which we have sought to close our eyes; they bring to light the many dangers which beset the path of the imprudent. They render all these services with such kindly discretion that they prove themselves to be not only our friends, but the very best of friends. They are always at hand, constantly beside us to assist us in the needs of our souls; their voice is never harsh, their advice is never self-seeking, their words are never timid or deceitful."

And who am I to argue with a saint? :)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Je parle un peu de français...but not much

As a kid I remember watching old reruns of the "Addam's Family" and laughing at how Gomez would become suddenly amorous when Morticia would drop a French turn of phrase, kissing his way up her arm after loudly (and obviously) declaring, "Tish -- that's French!"

Now, although it is one of the Romance Languages, I hardly think that being able to speak it would have men falling at my feet a la Gomez, but lately I have had the yen to learn more French. I'm not sure what use it would be to me (I barely use my Spanish these days, truth be told), aside from just the sheer desire to learn something new. And while France isn't at the top of my countries-to-visit list, it is there, and it would be nice to have un soupçon of knowledge.

The idea struck me again the other night when I picked up a mystery set in fin de siecle Paris. And it's not really a new thought, though, me wanting to learn French. For years I've been somewhat fascinated by the language. When I was younger, being of a nerdy, bookish persuasion (moi?) and reading a lot of classics from the Regency and Victorian periods of English literature, I was often stymied by phrases, sentences or sometimes whole paragraphs of French thrown into the text, and lamented the lack of foot or end notes to help me understand. It was only later that I realized there wasn't such a key because the books were likely written for members of the upper classes who probably flitted across the Channel to the Continent with regularity and could speak French just as well as their mother tongue. That, or I just needed better editions with a glossary included.

At any rate, when it came time to choose a language to study in high school, I did briefly ponder French (after a course in eighth grade where French, along with Spanish and Latin, were each taught for six weeks), but settling on Spanish was practically a fait accompli, for several practical reasons. A) I lived in Florida, and B) my mom is a Spanish teacher, so (although she wouldn't be my teacher) I wouldn't have to travel farther than my kitchen should help be required. :)

I did love the elegant way the French words sounded, though. Ever since that six-week course, I've (quite randomly) enjoyed saying the number 60: soixante. Such a softly sibilant, fancy word for a number. :) The rest of my rather limited French vocabulary, aside from some basic counting and knowledge of various French foods, consists of "je m'appelle Anne" and, thanks to Renaissance, my high school's major fundraiser (it had a different theme every year and saw the seniors, costumed, pair off to greet guests and walk around showing silent auction items) called "An Evening in Paris," learned "bienvenue a Paris" and a few other sundry words and phrases. Somewhere along the line, from a TV show, I think, I also picked up "mon petit chou," although I don't have much cause to use the (admittedly odd) term of endearment "my little cabbage" on anyone.

My last foray into learning something new (the piano) was short lived (although that was due to my piano teacher moving away, rather then me up and quitting...although I admittedly haven't sought another instructor), and, aside from taking a class, which I'm not sure I can fit into my work schedule, I'm pondering getting a book or two and trying to learn French my own. Yet I wonder if it will go the same way as my brief flirtation with embroidery (it's only been 10 years since I almost finished the first of that pair of pillowcases) or, even better (worse?), my hope to learn Gaelic when I was 12 or 13. Though I have to say, French is a somewhat more practical selection than Gaelic. 

At any rate, we shall see. For now I will wish you a bonne nuit.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


I try not to get too whiney, but I have those moments (far too frequently, if I'm honest with myself) where all I seem to do is splutter at God about why isn't my life this or that way or why can't such-and-such happen because I'm bored/tired/frustrated? And then the news of someone else's tragedy puts my own petty worries and complaints into perspective.

A friend of mine, who for several years was my one Catholic friend in the area, moved to Georgia a few months ago with her two children, just lept and took that chance that I can't seem to take. This afternoon, without provocation, she popped into my head, so I made my way over to her Facebook wall and asked how she was and how things were going in the Peach State. I come back from exercising a little while ago to find her reply: "I'm in Florida actually. My father passed away from a massive stroke this afternoon."

And like that, my wants are nothing...just so much blather compared to how much she must be hurting right now. My heart goes out to her, my funny, sarcastic, self-deprecating friend and piano teacher who, despite feeling down sometimes, always managed to wink and smile at whatever it was that was bothering her. All I can do is pray for her, her children, the rest of her family, and that her dad, Jon Kangas, rest in God's peace. Bless and give her peace, oh Lord. May this time of sorrow not diminish her joy.