Monday, August 9, 2021

Book Girl

"A woman who reads is a woman who taps into the fundamental reality that she was created to learn, made to question, primed to grow by her interaction with words. A book girl is one who has grasped the wondrous fact that she has a mind of her own, a gift from her Creator, meant to be filled and stretched, challenged and satisfied by learning for all the days of her life. A woman who reads is one who takes ownership of herself, aware that words give her the holy power to seek, to grow, to question, and to discern. She knows that to read is to begin an adventure of self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit that will shape the choices she makes, the dreams she bears, the legacy she leaves in the great tale of the world."

Sarah Clarkson Book Girl p 34

I have always been a book  girl. I don't remember a time when I could not read. My parents are both readers and I probably picked it up by osmosis, following their fingers across the page as they read to me. I was given the impression that this reading business was fun; but not only that, it was important. What child doesn't want to do important things?

I distinctly remember my first days in kindergarten. I was excited; I'd been told I'd learn new things! We learned the Pledge of Allegiance (to this day I distinguish my left and my right from how I stood facing the flag in that classroom). We had a game, song-time, then we settled down to work. On the alphabet. I was baffled - this wasn't new! I did it for the first week, until I felt safe enough with Miss Gibbs (the gentlest of souls but I was a wary child) to admit to her that I already knew my alphabet. I already knew how to read. I said this with some trepidation as I didn't want to get kicked out of kindergarten because I knew more than the other kids.

I grew up in a rural Indiana community with about 0.1 percent diversity of any kind. Miss Gibbs was my first exposure to an African-American. She was beautiful, with a well-modulated voice, quiet and warm, and with infinite patience. I loved her dearly. Didn't even mind when she married over Christmas break and became Mrs. Whalen (though it was hard to remember the change). Knowing the alphabet already was certainly possible but she was, understandably, a little skeptical that I could turn all those letters into reading.
She sat on one of the little chairs, pulled me close to her side, and asked me to read a book to her. She chose, I read. After three books, she was convinced. From then on, at alphabet time, I was given worksheets to practice printing, or math worksheets, or sometimes coloring pages. I wasn't kicked out of kindergarten and I did learn new things!

I devoured words. I've read, through my life, anything I could get my hands on. Cereal boxes, of course. Dad's Andre Norton, Mom's current fiction. They didn't curtail my reading. If I had questions, we could discuss. I think I read Valley of the Dolls when I was 10. That was shortly followed by Flowers in the Attic and Salem's Lot. Yuck. That was when I realized that just because it was a book didn't mean I had to pick it up. I stay away from horror, movies and books. The books are more detrimental to me; I put my own images to the words which is much more realistic than the gore pictured on the screen. I read Mom's romance novels throughout my teens, until I was glutted. Then I had a realization. I was growing increasingly restless, not only with those books but also with my life. I wasn't catching a stranger's eye across my algebra classroom. Nor was any handsome rogue eager to rip my dress away from my heaving bosom. And I had a sneaking suspicion that if one tried it, I would knee him in the groin and run away. 

I came to the realization that I was dissatisfied with my life because of the words I was stuffing into my head. They were giving me unrealistic expectations. My ordinary life didn't measure up. I'm so glad the Holy Spirit led me to that realization. Otherwise I would have kept up my steady diet of the stuff of unreality as a means of "escaping" my ordinary life. This is the siren call of soap operas and porn magazines; any addiction really. Unrealistic expectations.

So I cut out romance as a genre of interest (recently I've let it back in, a book here or there, if highly recommended by a trustworthy source). Discernment. Knowing what suits your life, your season and circumstances, your available time...it all matters in the reading life. I can't go willy-nilly through the library stacks pulling out random titles. I have to have a plan. I have a to-be-read list as tall as I am and getting bigger by the day (I put asterisks by titles I really want to read before I die). Then I choose my books to look for by what I want to get out of them in the next month. Am I having trouble praying? I'll choose reading to address that need. Just a bit of fluff? A mystery to read in waiting rooms. I usually have several books going at once, a practice I learned from my husband. And I've learned (though I still feel a little...guilty) to abandon a book if it's going nowhere for me. I once read The Catcher in the Rye for "fun" : I loathed it. And I thought, but this is a classic; I must have missed something. And I read it again! Nope, hadn't missed anything, still hated it. There's no more of that. I've tried 3 times to get through War and Peace; the last time I was more than half-way through. I cannot do it. If I've abandoned a book 3 times at 3 different seasons of my life it's time to throw in the towel.  Some people can do this innately; I had to teach myself, to give myself permission to put a book down without finishing it. I have a page at the back of my book journal that simply says DNF (did not finish). I put the title there with a line or two of why the book wasn't for me. 

Through the years I fed many interests and learned much with words. From all the poetry as a girl, confidence-building as a teen, college degree in Bible, other cultures while single, marriage and family, child-rearing and homeshooling, different abilities and love languages. I read my way into the Catholic Church. Books have shaped my life. Let them shape yours.

     "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading."

                            Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Thinking the best

 Recently, I looked into a repeat breast reduction. I absolutely loved the first one; felt good about my body for the first time ever. Never regretted it until it turned out I was unable to breastfeed my babies. That wouldn't have been so bad, except that at the time we were involved in State programs and I was at the mercy of "breastfed-is-best" nazis who thought everyone in the room should know my business. A little hint: fed is best. Anyway, after much weight gain and six pregnancies, my chest no longer looks as it did after my first reduction. I could get another reduction; if I paid for it myself. The insurance wants their pound of flesh - and they want that flesh to be breast tissue. Apparently, I don't have enough tissue. I have...fat. I also have pain, probably from scar tissue from the previous surgery. But nothing can be done about that because the insurance company has parameters.

I'm currently fighting a huge yeast infection and urinary tract infection. I'm absolutely worn out! I'm taking four extra medicines, plus pain medication on a regular basis. I keep dropping off to sleep. I've complained so much to my Beloved Bill. Retiring early, it was more of the same. "I just hurt ever where, and I'm SO tired! And to make matters worse, my right breast really hurts and nothing can be done about it because I'm just fat!" I waited a few beats. "I hate my body!" I said this with some expectation. That my husband would hear and give me a reason, ANY reason, why I didn't need to hate my body. Or that he would get off his rear, come to me, and embrace me. Like so many of my expectations, this one went unrealized.

Then I began to think about marriage; always attributing good intentions to the spouse. How often does Bill wear headphones when working at the computer on an especially difficult project? I said my last sentence quietly; he may not have heard me over the fans. And like many men, Sweet Bill compartmentalizes his life. Family and home are in outside "boxes"; easily accessible, more readily moved among. Work and hobbies on the computer are deeper boxes; harder to shake free of. Not as easily accessible and therefore not as easy to shift to another subject. He's a guy. He doesn't always hear me. That doesn't mean he doesn't always love me. And I love him; and the Holy Spirit, Who reminded me to think the best of him. Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Rain in the first world

 A couple of weeks ago, we got rain. Deluge, build-an-ark rain. The water table was already high; flood warnings out for the nearby Sangamon River. The front stalled above our house and dropped inches of rain. Epic proportions. 

Our basement flooded. The two lowest boards of our staircase dropped; disappeared. Not just under the water - no longer part of the stair. There was now a two-foot drop at the end of the staircase, though we didn't know this at first. Bill went down to explore, scraped his leg badly as his foot dropped into nothing. Bill is prone to cellulitis infections; it was obvious he couldn't go down again.

My turn. I put on my pink camo rain boots and headed down. Held tight to the rails and cautiously lowered my left leg down into the water. My boot instantly filled. Hmm. These boots are calf-high. Time for a different tack. I backed up the stairs, emptied my boot, and steeled my courage. In swimsuit and water shoes, armed with a walking stick, I tried again. Down the stairs and into the abyss. Shocking cold water. Up to my hips! Oh my!

It's never flooded this badly before. We have a submersible sump pump and a back-up; neither seemed to be working. In fact, the back-up was also submerged. Worse, the water was half-way up our furnace/air conditioner (which sits in a lower recess) and 2/3 of the way up our hot water heater. Bill had already turned the electricity off to the basement, of course. As I made my way slowly through the water by flashlight, hunched over from the low ceiling, growing increasingly chilled, my throat started to close. I could feel panic rising in my chest as I inspected the damage. I finally turned and rushed through the drag of the water from a full-blown panic attack, banging my head on some duct-work on the way out. The walking stick helped lift me to the now-bottom step, though I painfully wrenched my knee in my haste.

It took a week or so for the water to recede; but we're still using fans (no air conditioning) and washing dishes and showering in cold water (no hot water). We don't have money at the moment to have someone check the appliances out before bringing them back online, and didn't have a safe way for them to access the machines even if we had the extra funds.

Enter my parents. More specifically, my Dad. An industrial engineer by trade, he can fix anything. In my naivete, I thought all men had this gift. Bill didn't even bring tools into our marriage. I was gifted a tool kit at one of my bridal showers; we had that and a socket set Bill inherited from a great-uncle that neither of us knew how to use. He has since gained knowledge from on-line videos and we've slowly amassed more tools, however... My Dad is a Godsend. Thanks to him, we now have two sturdy new steps on the basement staircase. The back-up sump pump has been repaired; the submersible sump-pump has been replaced. My Mom has offered great comfort and distracting chatter. They've bailed us out more than once and we love them beyond measure. We  thank God for them daily.

And each time I take a cold shower I think of those who would love to have a shower, no matter what the temperature. Or those who have to carry water; they have no ready tap in the house. I think of my first world problems, and am grateful. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

 I tried to enter my favorite quotes in a profile today; but the format didn't permit that as a category. So I'll just share them here and there's nothing anyone can do about it!

The first was on a poster in a Junior-high classroom; though I can't now remember if it was my English or Spanish classroom. It struck my teen-age soul and has stayed with me since:

"You say that I am mad. Indeed, too much sanity may be madness. But the maddest of all; to see life as it is, instead of as it should be."                                    ---Cervantes,  Don Quixote

The second quote I found in the early days of my conversion to Catholicism. I've read this man's books only once so far. He and I go 'round and 'round in my head, for he tells me things I don't particularly wish to hear. Convicting things. I absolutely love this quote; it reminds me what I'm doing in praise and supplication:

"The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue."          ---St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way

What are your favorite quotes? Why?

Wherefore art thou?

 Been thinking of Romeo and Juliet tonight. Some people say it's an incredible LOVE STORY, in capital letters. I've always considered it a tragedy. A tale of rebellion, obsession, and suicide. They first defied their parents to even meet each other. That very first rebellion led to their deaths. Some will say, "Yes, but they got to LOVE." Uh-huh. A possessive, obsessive "love"; insular, yet uncommunicative. They killed themselves grasping at that love. They each thought they'd found their soulmate. 

Nonsense. You don't just find a soulmate; you make one. There is not one someone out there made just for you; someone with "Your Soulmate" tattooed on their forehead. The only Soulmate made just for any of us is our Sweet Jesus. You're compatible with many people: it's how you view them, how you treat them that makes them your soulmate. Cultivate your own virtues so you can see their's.

You meet someone; you hit it off. Pretty soon you're giddy in love; ready to say "yes" to anything. Most of us get married in that state. Are you soulmates? You think so. The endorphins are roiling; you're over the moon with love and happiness on your wedding day! But it doesn't stay that way. It's too exhausting to wake on top of the world every day. The honeymoon ends and the marriage starts. THAT'S when you begin to make your soulmate. 

In the forge of quotidian duties soulmates are fashioned. You're no longer in a transient, giddy relationship; you've settled into a stable, secure, abiding kind of love. Or should. If you don't get distracted by circumstances, or give up when the road is rough. Some of us go into marriage with an "escape plan" in case our partner doesn't "measure up" over time. This leads to - foments - divorce. A wedding should be a solemn exchanging of a VOW. A heart-meant oath to choose this person and to keep choosing this person day after day. A party on the beach or whatever trivializes that choice. It dances around the Sacrament of Marriage, mocking it all the way.

Soulmates are MADE in the daily. Working together through children and chores and chaos. Always wanting the best for and believing the best of the other. Couples who cannot do this often decide on a "civil divorce". The very idea is hogwash! Firstly, it's an oxymoron. Divorce involves ripping one flesh into two bodies - there is NOTHING "civil" about that. Secondly, a civil divorce is granted by the State. What has the State to do with love or the lack of it? It shouldn't have anything to do with it. Marriage is initiated in the eyes of GOD; and only He should be the One to end it. His Church will grant an annulment of marriage in a relatively few cases. It does not grant the dissolution of marriage.

I KNOW that Bill and I are soulmates. We've been through fire together. High-risk pregnancies, the discovery of a mental illness, disability, harsh money woes, too many illnesses to count. And we continue to choose each other. Every day. He's my best hope of getting to Heaven and I am his (he's knocking  off a LOT of Purgatory time just doing life with me).  We've been through things that could have torn us apart if we hadn't clung to our REAL Soulmate, the ever-living God. He's ever-living within us. That's how we've managed to stay in our marriage  for a quarter-century.

You see, marriage is a triangle. The spouses are at the bottom two corners; God is at the narrow point at the top. As the spouses move closer to God, they move closer to each other. Up the triangle as it narrows. When you find God, you find the other. A cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Romeo and Juliet chose death before divorce. A tragedy either way. But they were doomed from the start; they were missing a Strand.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Catching up

 It's been a long hiatus; we've been very busy since 2019!

Recently I checked out of Facebook; BIG time-suck; too many targeted ads. Yet I just signed up for Twitter. Since I'm an old(er) person, I feel quite savvy right now! I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that it won't compel me to be on devices all day, yet give me news of the world. 

The kids are great! Working or in school (community college - go Cobras). Sweet Bill is, as always, my one and only; my heart. We've had health issues - mental and physical. Monetary issues - oh, the joys of being a home-owner! And a car driver! Plus, seven people on one income...I wouldn't change it for the world! For God always provides, but only, it seems, at the very last minute! 

Even when it's not well with my circumstances, it is well with my soul. I need to do some soul-work, but the Triune God is patient. Thank goodness! I'm a slow Saint-in-the-making. I hope to one day be the patron saint of Hot Messes!