Simple Holy Week

It has been a long time since I have been able to celebrate Lent and Holy Week the way I might wish to. With Anselm and Perpetua so close in age I spent four and a half straight years pregnant and/or nursing, which puts fasting and such right out. (That enforced non-participation is not something to feel guilty about, but it did often feel strange.)

In the Holy Weeks since 2015 I have had a baby, and then a toddler and a baby, and then two toddlers, and now a toddler and a preschooler to wrangle. Holy Week services are inevitably scheduled during someone’s naptime or bedtime; our particular family situation means that if someone needs to stay home from church with the children, it’s me. That probably sounds like a complaint — it’s not, really, just a reflection of reality right now — but it also means that I can’t even remember the last time I made it to a Good Friday service.

It’s easy to read all of those wonderful liturgical parenting blogs and feel that my own efforts have fallen rather flat. But the point of Holy Week is not my efforts — it’s about nothing less than the immeasurable grace of God towards a sinful and desperately-loved humanity. And in these seasons with small children and scattered church attendance and ridiculously improvised celebrations at home… well, there is grace for that too.

Yesterday afternoon, Anselm and Perpetua helped me bake bread, marking its top with a cross (recipe). We talked about how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and instituted the first Lord’s Supper. Later they went to bed and I got to go to the Maundy Thursday service at our new church. We won’t be at home on Easter Sunday, so perhaps we will make empty tomb cookies tonight instead of on Saturday, assuming I find and unpack my mixer. (Note for those who would try them: I remember from last year that using a full cup of sugar is way too sweet. This year I’ll halve it.) And that’s how we’ll do it this year. Mostly at home, mostly simple, mostly expecting to meet with God in the chaos of family life and the stillness in between.

A blessed Easter Triduum to you and yours.

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Reading Round-Up: March 2019

In February, I was busy and stressed, and so I only read two books. In March, I was busier and more stressed, so my switch flipped to compulsive escape reading. Here’s the list:

  1. To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis)
  2. The Street Lawyer (John Grisham)
  3. The King of Torts (John Grisham)
  4. Gray Mountain (John Grisham)
  5. The Associate (John Grisham)
  6. The Elephant in the Room (Tommy Tomlinson)
  7. The Alphabet of Grace (Frederick Buechner)
  8. The Final Beast (Frederick Buechner)
  9. Rogue Lawyer (John Grisham)
  10. Remember Me? (Sophie Kinsella)
  11. My (Not So) Perfect Life (Sophie Kinsella)
  12. Shopaholic and Sister (Sophie Kinsella)
  13. False Colours (Georgette Heyer)

You know what I love about John Grisham? No matter how much you read, there’s always more John Grisham. His back-catalogue is something like thirty titles. All of these were easy-reading page-turners, which was perfect for last month (and especially for some long car trips). Of the five I read in March I would call Gray Mountain the best of the lot; I note also that The Street Lawyer made me bawl at one point. The King of Torts seems to have disappeared from my memory entirely.

Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog is a long-time favourite that I go back to every couple of years (last read sometime in 2016 I think). In this alternate universe, time travel exists, but its only real value is in academic historical study. In TSNotD, Oxford historian Ned Henry is sent to the Victorian era in a bid to find out what happened to the “Bishop’s bird stump,” needed for a replica of Coventry Cathedral (destroyed in the Blitz, a hundred years in the past from Ned’s native time). It’s a slightly madcap comedy of manners, plus time travel and chaos theory, plus a satisfying romance and homage to a lot of British literature and culture from the Victorian era through WWII. Oh, and it’s very, very funny.

The Elephant in the Room is about weight loss. Kind of. Saying that a book is “about” weight loss makes it sound like a diet book, or some other sort of gimmicky who-knows-what. It’s not; this is Tommy Tomlinson’s beautiful memoir about journalism, marriage, life in the American South, and his own struggles as a morbidly obese man in a rapidly fattening nation. His quest to lose weight is central to the book, but he also uses it as a jumping-off point to explore his past and present. A big strength of the book is his willingness to explore why he got as big as he did: not the too-many-calories bit (which is just math) but the personal reasons behind his overeating. I’m glad to have read this one.

It was interesting to notice some strong and similar themes in the three Sophie Kinsella books I read, most notably that of (attempted) self-reinvention. In MNSPL, farm girl Katie tries to remake herself for the sake of her hip branding job in London; in RM? Lexi is trying to understand the ways she has apparently changed after she wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the past three years; in S&S, Becky tries to change her money habits for the sake of her new husband, Luke. All of these were ultimately unsuccessful; Kinsella’s conclusion seems to be that reinvention is perhaps ultimately impossible, and not worth the damage it does to your authentic self (even when your “authentic self” is an insufferable twit, ahem, looking at you, Becky). Of the three, I think MNSPL was by far the strongest offering; it’s funny and charming.

The central idea of Remember Me? is a compelling one, but certain aspects of its execution left a bad taste in my mouth (spoilers upcoming). In the weeks following her discharge from the hospital, Lexi is horrified to realise that she has been having an adulterous affair with a man named Jon, one of her husband’s employees. She views herself as a fundamentally faithful person and can’t imagine how or why she would have changed so much in three years as to see that as acceptable. As the narrative progresses we find out that her marriage is an uncomfortable one (her husband is kind of weird and doesn’t particularly understand her); Lexi eventually leaves him and resumes her relationship with Jon, upending her pre-amnesiac convictions that cheating on her husband is morally wrong. Perhaps the marriage did need to end — but that was because of the damage done to it by Lexi, not her husband. The novel’s other subplots were engaging enough, but I found the romantic storyline troublesome and deeply unsatisfying.

Speaking of affairs, that’s what the whole town assumes is going on between a widowed young pastor and his pretty redheaded parishioner when they both disappear at the same time in Buechner’s 1965 novel The Final Beast. What’s actually going on is, of course, a lot more complicated than that. I think I liked this book (?) but it’s already mostly slipped out of my memory — that’s the trouble with escape reading, it often escapes you as well. Same thing with The Alphabet of Grace as well (I found that one a little difficult to read; Buechner’s prose is not always the clearest).

Last but not least, I finished off the month with Georgette’s Heyer’s Regency-era romance False Colours, which was a delightful romp centered on a twins-changing-places plot. Great fun.

The burning of Notre-Dame

French Christians sing “Je vous salue, Marie” (Hail Mary) as the Cathedral burns last night:

I’ve been loosely following reactions to the news in a few forums I read. Most of the comments are about what you’d expect: shock and sadness at the fire, relief that no lives have been lost (or even reported hurt, last I’ve seen), speculation about the cause, people telling each other to stop speculating about the cause. Some are mourning the loss of so much of the Cathedral as a symbol of Christianity; others are pointing out that the Church is made out of people, not buildings; both parties, of course, are correct.

Notre-Dame is a building, of far less worth than human life. It can be rebuilt –it won’t be exactly the same, but it will survive in some form. Just look at Coventry Cathedral: despite its irreparable losses in the Blitz, the new Cathedral is beautiful and does a lovely job of incorporating the ruins of the old. Even with the loss of Notre Dame’s roof, and its spire, and its beautiful stained glass, the destruction was not complete.

At the same time, the Cathedral is much more than “just a building”. It is a symbol of history, memory, the sacred, of France herself. Its site has been a place of worship not just for the 850 years that Notre-Dame has stood, but for hundreds of years before that, dating back to at least the Roman era. Many Cathedrals have been lost to fire and other disasters throughout history (again: see Coventry), but this is the first that I have witnessed*, and I was moved to tears as I watched footage last night. We have lost something beautiful, haven’t we?

Notre-Dame is/was a symbol of Christianity in France — it is my prayer that the burning of the Cathedral will not be for nothing. I hope to see it restored and rebuilt, but more than that, I hope that this tragedy moves many in France and beyond to open not just their wallets for restoration efforts but their hearts to God. May these flames spark revival!

* NB: St Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit was also irreparably damaged by fire within recent memory (2005); however, I barely remember hearing about it at the time, so for me it doesn’t count as one I’ve personally “witnessed”.

That time we moved (back) to Canada

Greetings from the magical land where milk comes in bags and tea (oh rapture) in boxes of 200+. We’re here. We moved.

Actually, it still feels like we’re moving at this point, despite having been here for about a week. We’re still living in box land, still learning the city, still running around to stores and government service centres and post offices, and all the rest. But at any rate, we’re cleaning and unpacking and arranging, slowly working our way towards our new normal. Anselm and Perpetua are probably adjusting better than the adults at the moment!

I have been a little perturbed to find how many things I have forgotten about living in my own country — not quite an immigrant experience, of course, but disconcerting nonetheless. Like the mail that’s shown up for the previous tenant: if I write “return to sender” and stick it in my mailbox, will Canada Post take it from there the way USPS does, or do I have to drop it in an actual postbox? I don’t know! I should know! (I just looked it up: I have to take it to a letter box. But now I have to find one, since I don’t know the neighbourhood yet. Oh help!) I know about how much milk we drink in a week in gallons (1.5) which is… six bags of milk? Maybe? And let’s not even talk about the relative cost of groceries. All I can say is — I miss Aldi already.

For my move-reading I’ve been working my way through Dorothy L. Sayers’s collected short stories (all of the Lord Peter Wimsey, all of the Montague Egg, and all the one-offs besides). Despite the 700+ page count it’s been the perfect choice for this season, since most of the stories are only a handful of pages long and they all stand alone. It’s great for picking up and putting down, and the tidiness of detective/mystery stories is appealing in this time of relative personal chaos.

… I started this post without any idea of how I was going to end it. Suffice it to say that things are settling down, we are acclimating, and I hope that regular posts here will soon resume. Next up is March’s reading round-up — as soon as I figure out which box my reading log ended up in!

Perpetua’s Blankie (expanded edition)

About a year and a half ago, I made Perpetua a blankie, which I detailed here. She’s grown since then (kids: it’s amazing what happens if you feed them) and so it was covering less and less of her. Time for an expansion! Here’s the before shot:

And here’s the after:

What I ended doing was simply flipping it around so that the long edge became the short edge, ordering three more skeins of the yard I’d used, and continuing the pattern from where I had left off. It’s a simple repeat of three rows of single crochet, followed by four rows of triple. I ended up using the whole of two skeins, and somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the third, so the size of the blanket has more than doubled.

For the border — yes, a proper border, look at me getting all fancy here — I first did three rows of single crochet followed by a row of triple, echoing the pattern of the blanket body. After that, I did two rows of chained loops (chain five, skip one, single crochet, repeat) to make a nice floppy fringe. And there you have it.

Several times I found myself wishing that I had used a nicer yarn when I originally started this project. Red Heart With Love is a sturdy workhorse sort of acrylic that will wear really well, but it’s stiff and a bit coarse straight out of the skein, and it splits like crazy. It just isn’t fun to work with. The end result will be ok, though; the older part of the blankie, which has of course been through the wash several times, is very soft and drapey. Tomorrow I will put the whole thing through once or twice and that will make a big difference. In the meantime you can see exactly where the old yarn stops and the new yarn starts:

After a big push to finish this tonight, I’m feeling a bit crampy in my hands. It’s totally worth it, though. On the one level, I’m always happy any time I finish a project and get it out of my queue — taking something from the idea stage all the way through to its completion is always a bit of a rush. But more than that, it’s very special to me to be able to give something to my daughter that I’ve made especially for her, that she will (hopefully) be able to use for many years to come. Not even the Red Heart can take away from that!