Some Frivolous Books about France (for March in Ithaca, or If for Some Other Reason You Need a Little Extra Joie de Vivre, or How to Learn to Do Almost Anything Better)

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So, I made a goal last fall that I would EMBRACE this winter with JOY and VIVACITY, and to not complain one single time about the weather. And guys! I’ve sort of done it! (And for the record, it was 3 degrees two Sundays ago. Fahrenheit, not celsius. That’s -16.1111 degrees Celsius, if anyone cares.)

It’s been a discipline, but I’ve caught myself actually enjoying the winter so far, for the most part.  And yet now, in the middle of March, it is still really cold. Under 20 most of the time, and for at least the next 10 days. This is when winter in Ithaca starts to get real, and you remember that you will not feel anything close to warmth until May.

So for the past few years this has been the time of year when I start reading all the books about France I can get my hands on. Or blogs about French cooking, and I make lots of chocolate cakes…. Because at this point in the winter I need a little inspiration, a little extra help to find beauty and delight in the midst of these ordinary days in a tiny apartment in the frozen tundra.

And if anyone knows how to find joy & loveliness in daily life, it’s the French. In fact, they do almost everything, well, better. They dress better, they have better posture and overall poise, they are healthier, slimmer, consume less, eat (much, much, much) better, and generally are amazing at life. Ok, they’re not perfect, and I’m not saying I agree 100% with maybe all the hedonism or moral aspects of their culture, but if you’re on a quest for Joy in the midst of an everlasting winter I can assure you that lessons can be learned from the French.

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[My only caveat is that I read these deliberately in order to enjoy my own life here, which is decidedly not very Parisian or south of France or eating mussels on the coast of Brittany in August. And not to use these books to think thoughts along the lines of “My life would be so much better if I lived in Provence, etc.”  And I fully admit that many of these books are incredibly frivolous. Like, The French Beauty Solution and things like that, with chapters about grape cleanses and how to do your makeup. It’s a rather indulgent habit, but France is my one weakness (to paraphrase the oft-repeated quotation by Miss Lane from this delightful show).  BUT nearly every one of these books helps me to find small ways of savoring my actual life (rather than simply longing to live in Provence, which of course I do, but which doesn’t help me very much to thrive right here where I am). How to enjoy food a bit more, drink more water, how to move more slowly but with more grace, how to make everything from my wardrobe to my house neater and more beautiful, how to have elegant tea-drinking rituals, etc.]

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I usually start with re-reading French Women Don’t Get Fat. I’ve owned this delightful volume for over 10 years and I re-read it almost every year. Not as a manual for losing weight (though it would be incredibly helpful, if anyone needs help in that area), but as a manifesto for how to savor food, ritual, seasons, and life in general. The author explains that Frenchwomen simply know how to care for themselves well (without feeling guilty), how to derive great joy from simple pleasures, and how to feel indulged (rather than resentful and harried, which is probably my default) in the midst of daily life.  There’s a lovely passage toward the end where the she talks about the “little nothings of daily pleasure that are actually quite something to us… We have so many words for pampering– gater, dorloter, bichonner, se chouchouter— but we don’t equate it with decadence. It makes us enjoy life more, from moment to moment, and keeps us from seeking too much consolation from any one pleasure, such as food…”

And since having children I also re-read Bringing Up Bebe this time of year.  Not that I agree with every single aspect of French parenting, but it’s a delightful read and helps me remember to be calm, not to feel guilty for taking a bit of care of my own self, and to sometimes wear something other than yoga pants. (This book also has one of my favorite stories about a French woman ever: the author, an American, and her family went on a trip with a French family they knew, and the French husband went out one morning early and bought a baguette and brought it back, and when he did, his wife purred contentedly, “J’adore cette baguette.” (“I adore this baguette.”) Not jumping off the walls with excitement, but just a deep, calm sense of joy and delight– about a baguette. I think this thought now when I drink my morning coffee– I adore this coffee, etc. A slight shift towards joy. It works.)

I also requested from the library The Elegance of the Hedgeho, a French novel that was recommended to me a few years ago by a dear friend. It’s lovely. One of my favorite novels.  So I’m re-reading that (although I also somehow got myself in the middle of a potty training book— I’m gearing up to train little person #2, eek!– and a book about super-runners in a remote Mexican tribe that’s turning out to be surprisingly thrilling and one of my new favorite books of all time).

And then I was telling all of this to a friend of mine from church, and she said that she had a stack of French novels (these below, minus the Elegance of the Hedgehog) she would lend me! So my spirit is richly supplied with French literature of varying qualities.

Anyway, here’s to finding beauty & simple joys in the middle of winter, or in the middle of whatever dreary or hard season you might be going through. And to huge piles of books.

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Happy Cozy Friday (Fredagsmys)

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This is a re-post from last year, but it bears repeating on this 23 degree February day. Most of my friends and relations live in places like Nashville and Charlotte and Houston, where it’s in the 80s right now, so if you find yourself in a place where you are getting enough vitamin D for the day from 3 minutes of sunlight exposure and where you are wearing flip flops, please ignore this. But if you, like us, are still 3 months away from weather like that, here’s a good tradition to do on Fridays. (I suppose you could still do something similar even if you live in a more temperate climate, because it’s fun to have a Friday tradition. We’ve been doing this for over a year now, and it’s become one of our favorite parts of the week.)

Our Fredagsys is going to be (post kids in bed) a big bowl of popcorn & Victoria (because John is awesome and generously lets us watch the shows I want to watch, which tend to take place in England and involve more drinking of tea and fancy dresses than he would probably prefer. Thank you, sweetie.)  Hope you all stay cozy today & can treat yourselves and others with as much gentleness and generosity and warmth as possible in these cold days.

More about Cozy Friday from a post I wrote last year:

I read about the notion of Fredagsmys in this blog post from A Cup of Jo about parenting in Sweden.  The word basically means “Cozy Friday,” and it pretty much captures my feelings about Friday nights.  I just didn’t think there was a good word, let alone an entire cultural phenomenon, that celebrated it. So, as far as I can tell, in Sweden people curl up with lots of potato chips (ok, a little weird, but ok), huddle under blankets, watch movies, and just spend quality time with the fam. Amazing. We’re not at a movie-watching point in our kids’ lives quite yet, but we are all about getting cozy on Fridays. We sometimes make a pizza all together (Will is obsessed with cutting things with his little knife, plus I think there must have been a Daniel Tiger episode about making pizzas, because he knows ALL ABOUT IT), and sometimes pancakes or waffles. Or something else easy and cozy. Now that the days are getting shorter and the weather colder we are going to do it up for Fredagsmys. Some ideas for getting cozy on Fridays:

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DSC_03511. Do a super fast pick-up with the kids late in the afternoon to get ready

2. put Christmas music on (or this album). or whatever music makes you happy.

3. Put on pjs and a robe and slippers or thick wool socks

4. If you have a fireplace, make a fire!

5. Or if not light as many candles as possible

6. turn off and put away all the phones/ipods/ipads/computers/devices (for real)

7. Invite friends over and order cheap pizza

8. Or get some pizza dough from trader joes and cook your own

9. Or make a big pot of chili or soup earlier in the day to have ready for dinner

10. Use paper plates, bowls, etc.!

11. Make a big pile of all the pillows and blankets you can find and curl up with the kids and read

12. Make hot chocolate for everyone

13. Or cider and drink it through cinnamon sticks like straws

14. Or some good hot herbal tea in special mugs

15. Bake cinnamon rolls (from the can, obviously– Cozy Friday is all about No Dishes)

16. Play board games!

17. Family camp out in sleeping bags in the living room (or wherever)

18. Family read-aloud of whatever awesome book you’re reading

19. Watch a movie or show (we try to not watch much during the week so Friday is our night to binge on episodes of the West Wing or Chefs Table)

20. Pancakes for dinner (with sausage or eggs)

21. make popcorn on the stove. (it’s easy, I promise) or in the microwave. or over a fire pit. or whatever. sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast. or check out these 30 awesome toppings.

Happy Cozy Friday, y’all! (And if anyone has other good ideas for making Friday nights cozy and special I’d love to hear! read here for more about a similar concept in Denmark: Hygge)

Charity Suffereth Long & Other Unpopular Ideas about Love.

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Valentine’s Day this year found us in right in the middle of what we might not call our finest days. Nothing catastrophic or excessively horrible, and probably most of it is just due to dark, cloudy, slushy, freezing winter weather (much easier to think the weather is at fault, than that I am). But regardless of the cause, these have been days that have called me to deep meditation on what really might be meant by “love is patient, love is kind.” Charity suffereth long, as the King James so beautifully puts it. The word in Greek is makrothymeo, long-suffering, or what we now call patience.

And I am realizing that I grew up thinking of patience as a weak, insipid sort of thing, like a girl dressed in a pink frilly dress wearing white gloves sitting primly waiting silently for…. something.

And now, as real patience is being required of me, I am coming to know patience as she really is, as a fierce kind of virtue (the word virtue itself comes from a Latin root meaning strong.)  A virtue of blood and sweat and tears and rolling up ones sleeves to do very, very hard work.

Patience is actually, I realized, most closely related to the Classical virtue of Courage (or Fortitude, as it is also called). And Courage means: forbearance, strength, endurance. To persist (with dignity and grace) in the most adverse of circumstances. (My first draft of this included a long, long, long digression about the four cardinal virtues, and Plato and Aristotle and Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. I was supposed to be a theologian, and here’s one of the Edwards texts if you’re interested, because it’s lovely, and some day in another life or in twenty years when my babies are grown, I might write a book on the subject.)

At any rate, the Christian word for patience, or long-suffering, as I prefer to call it, comes from a root that means suffering, from a further root, thyo, which means TO KILL OR TO SLAY or TO SACRIFICE. 1 Corinthians 5:7 uses this verb: Christ, the paschal lamb, is thyo for us.

So yes, patience is not a pink frilly thing, or a calm and quiet thing. Patience, at its root, real patience, is (Chesterton was right) a kind of duel to the death. The Christian notion of long-suffering means (from here):

  1. to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles

  2. to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others
  3. to be mild and slow in avenging
  4. to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish

So. Charity suffereth long. It sounds much better than “love is patient,” which sounds like love is supposed to be daffodils and posies and frolicking through fields on a sunny day.

But also, the kind of long-suffering that charity does is not the kind that is secretly bitter and angry and full of hate. Real long-suffering is also a kind of joy. A hard kind of joy (again, not the frilly lace and rosebuds kind of joy). Charity suffereth long, and is also kind.

And this word for kind (which is related to the word Jesus uses when he says, “My yoke is easy.”) means to act kindly, to be useful, to be mild and gentle. Love suffers long, and acts with kindness.

And I know everyone knows this so I hesitate to repeat it, but all the above means that LOVE IS NOT HAPPY MUSHY FEELINGS TOWARDS SOMEONE. Inherent in the definition of love, according to 1 Corinthians 13, at least (also see 1 John 4:10), is experiencing suffering and pain and still acting with kindness and love towards someone. Real love is behaving in a loving way. When you perhaps might not feel like acting in a loving way because of what the other person has done. That’s why patience is courage. Because acting in kindness, sometimes, feels more like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard or being on a medieval battlefield being trampled by horses or running a long, long marathon when every bone in your body is weary past belief. Patience is not for the faint of heart.

(VERY IMPORTANT NOTE, WHICH I HOPE IS QUITE OBVIOUS: Long-suffering does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It ALSO does not mean letting someone do whatever they want with no consequences. It does not mean that ways that you have been hurt do not matter, or have not left very deep and real wounds. If you are in any way wrestling with this, and the related issue of what does forgiveness really mean and look like in cases where you have been hurt, or are being hurt, please, please read Dan Allender’s and Tremper Longman’s excellent book Bold Love. Sometimes real love means packing it up and high-tailing it out until someone gets their act together.

But probably for the majority of cases, our situation is not that requires the fierceness of leaving (as Allender and Tremper explain, out of Love), but the fierceness of staying. And this we can only learn from the truly Patient One. The one who suffered the most out of love, for love. The one who had the most patience with us (because we needed it the most). The one who was kindest. Real patience is learned from him. From the supper he prepared for the ones who would betray him, deny him, fail him, and flee him when he needed it the most. From the dirty feet he washed (with how much tenderness) of those same men. From the quietness and gentleness with which he walked the path to his death amid abandonment, being utterly misunderstood, and being wounded in every imaginable way.

And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.” (see below)

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Further Reading & Listening on Long-Suffering. (If anyone other than my own self is in  a relationship and in need of growing in Patience. Or if anyone is single and also in need of Patience of a somewhat different kind.)

HAS EVERYONE ALREADY HEARD THIS ON BEING EPISODE?!?!?! (Ok, caveat, I have only listened to the first 3 minutes. But I think this man is saying everything I wanted to say, only in a British accent, and much more intelligibly, and with fewer etymological digressions, so he wins.) (Ok, I have listened to half of it AND I WANT TO QUOTE THE ENTIRE THING HERE. But I won’t, so just trust me and listen to it.)

THE BEST POEMS FOR BROKEN HEARTS, FOR LEARNING PATIENCE. True story.

This is what Augustine said about the cardinal virtues: “For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it.” (De moribus eccl., Chap. xv)

A gloriously beautiful poem on patience, by possibly the second greatest poet in the English language, G. M. Hopkins. Who was a Jesuit.:

“Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.”

Happy are those who endure hard things with patience, who are steadfast under trial, for theirs is the crown.

It is not all beauty that is called virtue.

Also by him, Charity and Its Fruits.

A poem: the Country of Marriage. (“the forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in,” italics mine)

A song for the brokenhearted.

Winter Days

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The last day of January. The cold has settled in & we are settling into winter routines. Space heater in Margaret’s room, extra blanket on my side of the bed at night. A hot water bottle (ok, also for me), piles of down comforters on couches for story time, cup after cup of tea & roasting things in the oven. Well, lately we’ve mostly been roasting cheap econo-bags of tater tots, but whatever. Letting go of food perfection sometimes is healthier maybe for souls than clinging too tightly to All the Rules. Little chickadees and the brightness of cardinals flitting at the bird feeders.

I want to write much more, but on this rare morning with a three year old asleep from some kind of sickness, and the baby still taking a morning nap, I figured I’d at least post a few pictures and say I’m still here! And I’m sifting through whether I want to keep writing here (well, obviously I do, but finding time for this seems impossible these days), and if so about what and why and all those things.

I’ll try to write again soon, but until then, stay warm and cozy and take deep breaths and take good care of yourself and your people, whoever your people are, in these cold and strange days.

Life Lately (A Birthday and Berries and Other Things)

 

DSC_1799.jpgIt’s summer here, finally. My mom came to town for 8 days which meant: a date night; Will’s hair got combed; and I got to sleep in for a lot of days in a row.  And she bought me two darling linen dresses from Old Navy, but that’s a post for another day. My mom is awesome. It was also Margaret’s birthday, so we pulled out the camera a bunch to get some pictures. (John’s parents are also awesome, for the record, and they were here for Will’s birthday, which I just haven’t gotten around to writing about because life is just in full swing around here.)DSC_1783.jpgDSC_1815.jpgDSC_1840.jpgDSC_1867.JPGDSC_1877.JPGDSC_1903.jpgDSC_1904.JPGDSC_1941.jpgDSC_1967.jpgI bought pretty much every kind of berry, plus cherries, at the grocery for Margaret’s birthday (one year since she so gloriously popped right out in our bathtub, on accident). And peonies. I made a cherry tart, but we put the candle in a little bowl of whipped cream with a raspberry on top. I’m normally  not the best at executing party-things, but we managed to put up a little banner and have cute plates and napkins and whatnot! DSC_1988.jpg

So anyway. It feels like a complete victory that we got some actual pictures of this child and her birthday. I haven’t wanted to post anything in a long time, and I hesitate even to post this, because it’s so easy to look at other people’s photographs of one little slice of time and not see all the other slices of time that are so very unphotogenic. Things are generally messy and ever so slightly hectic and just yesterday I had my first hair cut in six months, and there is some insane toddler behavior and babies who crawl around trying to put everything in their mouths and husbands who travel for work and all of that. We are at a point where scrambled eggs constitutes a fancy dinner. True story.  But it’s summer and we don’t have to wear coats and socks and gloves and hats to walk out the door! And these babies are fat and healthy! And John wakes up with them just about every morning so I can sleep in a tiny bit! And things are beautiful in an intense and crazy sort of way, and I am thankful. DSC_1915.jpg

Happy Father’s Day to Him & so on

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Almost a year ago today you straddled the bathtub next to me and caught our baby girl. The paramedic rushed in and gave you a blade and your cut her cord with your own two hands. I know you didn’t believe I was really in labor until she was literally on her way out, but you did a beautiful job nonetheless.

This has been an exhausting year: potty training the toddler, moving, job stuff. Lots of bath times and cleaning food off of small people’s faces and hands (jam hands!). Lots of laundry and diaper changes and sweeping floors. Car repairs and shoveling snow and taking the trash out, over and over and over.

Thank you for being a hero to all three of us in the midst of the hectic and mundane. For reminding me to slow down and enjoy the little in-between moments. For taking Will on adventures. For inventing beautiful and curious games to play with him. For all the stories you read and music you play. For all your patience and goodness. For planting that little mint yesterday on top of everything else. I can’t believe I get to do this whole crazy life with you. Happy Father’s Day, sweetie.

(And a very happy day to our dads, too. We love you each so much. Thank you for everything.)

A Creative Economy is the Fuel of Magnificence, Parisian Onion Soup, and Other Things

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I’ve had M.F.K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf on my list for ages, and I finally got around to requesting it from the library. Because I am trying not to buy every book I want to read on Amazon. Fisher wrote this book in 1942 to teach women how to cook and eat well in the midst of the scarcity of war. How to make do, but do it well. Chapters include “How to Rise Up Like New Bread” and “How to Be Cheerful Though Starving.” Gorgeous. Even if you have no interest in cooking any of her recipes the writing is stunning. Her chapter on eggs had me in hysterics.

One of the chapters’ epitaphs, a quotation from Emerson, reads: “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.” Yes. Amen.

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(This table of contents should look familiar to everyone, because I know all of you own Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal by now.)

It was only after I had started caramelizing a heap of onions in my second-biggest stockpot this morning, in anticipation of making an onion-potato soup for tonight’s dinner, that I read far enough to see her recipe for “Parisian Onion Soup” followed a few pages later by her recipe for “Cream of Potato Soup.” I will call my soup Parisian Onion Soup with Creamed Potatoes. Because it sounds better than “Random Vegetable Soup That I Plan to Puree So That Will Will eat the Onions.” (Because this child eats everything, but he doesn’t like little pieces of onions in things).

We are so conditioned to think that every meal requires an enormous, solid chunk of animal meat with it, and that to me seems such a violent and inelegant way to nourish oneself and one’s family. And we forget that a nicely cooked pot of vegetables can be a supper worthy of a Frenchman, maybe just served with a glass of red wine and a tiny morsel of cheese. Better a supper of herbs, etc.

So anyway, How to Cook a Wolf is lovely. A good cookbook, but mostly a book to be read for the stunning prose. It is more delightful than any novel I’ve read within recent memory. And borrowing books from the library feels strangely thrilling and sort of subversive. I do not need to buy all the objects! A creative economy!

Anyway, in the life of the family: Margaret is 8 months old and sort of floppily sitting up. Eating like a champ and basically being the most sanguine, happy, darling baby of all time.  We started moving her crib to the living room at night, and she immediately started sleeping the night through. It’s a bit Gaffigan-esque of us, but that’s how we like it. Who needs a bunch of bedrooms, anyway? Not us. Will adores her and requires her to sit right next to him at all meals.  When he pretends to be anything, she is a baby whatever it is: baby baseball player, baby kangaroo, baby fire dog (when he’s a fireman).

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Anyway, we made it through February, and we only have to exist in Ithaca for 10 more days before escaping to Nashville for the remainder of winter!!!!!!!!! Will is officially out of diapers, both night and day. It feels like I won the lottery. So life is good, except for Donald Trump and income taxes.

p.s. This is Hilarious (youtube video for parents. If you’re not a parent, this will probably not be funny, or even make sense). I have been dying all week.