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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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.)

Valentine’s Day & Good poems for Lonely Hearts

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John was out of town for work all of last week. My mom came monday night, just in time for Ithaca to get cold again. The temperature was in the negatives this morning. She brought heart-shaped cookie cutters and we’ve made cookies and heart pancakes and oh lots of things.

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John came back & he and will made this heart garland (above) for me. (Based on this little Valentine’s Day book we’ve checked out from the library to read with Will. Kind of a deep book about how a little mouse makes a huge valentine and wants to find someone to give it to, but it’s too big for anyone else so he and the little girl mouse cut it up into smaller valentine’s to give to lots of people. I mean, that’s really deep for a children’s Valentine’s Day book, right?)

On these cold days we need all the strung up hearts and little honey-spice cookies and treats we can get. My toes refuse to warm up, even in thick wool socks and shearling-lined slippers. I vowed last year that I would never do another winter here, and well, here we are.

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(Above: Will and my mom doing one of many baking projects together; Will eating raw batter. Below: Keeping things classy with orange paper plates.)

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And maybe it’s just me and my enneagram type or my idealism or having read too many Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery novels at an impressionable age, but even with all these babies and this really, really good man (and the sweetest parents ever and friends far beyond what I ever deserved) my heart still feels so lonely and so sad sometimes. And I wanted to write a whole thing about this, about Simone Weil and Augustine and the void and our hearts being empty and restless and all that, but I just am so exhausted from babies and toddlers not sleeping that I can’t.

But just very briefly. I wanted to say, especially on this particular day, that our hearts are made with this infinite empty space and this space aches so much sometimes. Even when you’re married. Even when you have little darling babies who are latched onto you 24 hours a day.

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And I wish I knew how to make it stop, but pretty much everything from Jesus to Anne Lamott seems to suggest that we just have to sit with the emptiness and let it be a little empty, without trying to stuff it down with all the chocolate in the world, cough, cough. not me, other people, I mean. Other people do that.

But Jesus, annoyingly, showed us that sometimes we have to sit in a garden and cry. Sometimes we have to pray, “God, why have you left me completely forsaken and alone?” And that is a hard prayer to pray. There is nothing fun or easy or cute about that prayer.  But maybe one of the main reasons I believe the Bible to be true is that the longest book in the whole thing is a book of poems.Poems for empty hearts. Poems for the betrayed, poems for the angry, poems for the soul-starved. Ok, so they are poem-prayers. And ok, the first and second ones are a little austere, if you’re starting from the beginning. You can skip around. 3, 4, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 42, 46, 56, 62, 63, 69, 73, 84, 90, 91, 121, 130, and 143 are some particularly good ones.

And the beautiful thing about these particular poems is that they don’t leave us in our misery. There is plenty of room for wallowing and languishing and angst in these poems. They say that every single one of our tears is counted. Matters. But these poems carry us through the ache and into the holy, shining radiant love of God. They gently teach us that our own empty heart is not the center of all things but that the beautiful Home of God is the center of all things. And that that dwelling place, that lovely home, is what our hearts long for (Psalm 84).

And the other beautiful thing is that Jesus prayed all of these poems for us. He became the loneliest and most forsaken for us. And there are no depths we feel that he has not felt. And he is just gathering us all up &  oh so soon will mend all the broken hearts & wipe all the tears from the saddest faces and bring us all home. (speaking of which, pleasepleaseplease listen to this song.) Anyway, happy valentine’s day, y’all.

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Stories and Light for The Ones Who Are Waiting (It was Candlemas)

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Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Days, coughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

January: Some Good Things, a Fat Baby, Weather, etc.

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DSC_1879Life around here is so beautiful and so crazy. We all have terrible colds so I’m making little potions for us of cayenne pepper and honey and apple cider vinegar and kleenex are strewn about hither and yon in the way you’d imagine they would be in the home of an INFP mother of two babies.

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It has been a mild winter so far; we have had several days above freezing so far. Unlike last winter. But we won’t speak of last winter.

I bought plane tickets to take the children and myself to Nashville in late March, by which time the South will be all daffodils and sunshine and joy and low taxes, and Ithaca will be 14 degrees and miserable. I cannot wait. I’m flying by myself with a baby and a toddler and I don’t even care.

Some good things around here lately:

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Bullet journal!!!! I want to recite all of shakespeare’s sonnets to you every day.

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Making butter with some cream I found on sale at the co-op. Awesome toddler activity.

Watching lots of Jeeves and wooster with the toddler. He’s obsessed. It’s the best.

This baby:

There are lots of other good things I wanted to write about, but I am being clawed at by a toddler. More later.

The New Year and Just About the Best Thing I Ever Did

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Just a quick update. Life is beautiful and crazy. I just started a bullet journal yesterday (using this as a guide) and I love it more than life itself, pretty much.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to cook my way slowly and haphazardly through Jerusalem, a cookbook I’ve heard about over and over the past couple of years and then finally cooked no fewer than 6 recipes out of with my mother in law one afternoon over Christmas. The dinner we made was epic and insanely delicious as of course anything with that much garlic and cilantro and lemon juice and za’atar would be. It was exhausting, but glorious.

Which, by the way, pretty much sums up my entire year. Exhausting but (or maybe I should say and) glorious. A toddler, being pregnant, being a chaplain, living through last winter in Ithaca, giving birth in a bathtub in complete terror and ecstasy, and now two babies, another winter, and potty training the toddler. Heights of glory and depths of, well, something.

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I also want to listen to more music this year and read more novels. So those are my resolutions or hopes or intentions or whatever.

Next on the agenda. So obviously the best thing I ever did was to marry the most amazing man in the world. And then the next best few things I ever did were: go to Davidson College, birth two babies without pain medication, and sing in a gospel choir when I was in grad school. But maybe the next best thing I ever did is this:

Right before Christmas I had John take Safari off my iphone. I don’t have a facebook app, instragram app, or any other social media apps on there. I also have disabled the email on my phone. So now I can: text, make calls, take pictures, and use a map. Oh, and listen to podcasts. That’s all. At first I kept looking frantically for the safari icon, desperately wanting to check email or Facebook or read something to make me feel good. But now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all, I don’t even have words for how awesome this is. Now I have to use the actual computer if I want to check my email or facebook, so it happens maybe 3 times a day instead of 500.

Maybe you are not like me and you have self control and you don’t get sucked into all that crazy not-real stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to share. I am un-tethering myself from that blasted thing & just feeling better and happier and more present than I have in awhile. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, and I’m not trying to be all, “Look how awesome I am.” But it just feels good not to have access to those empty sink holes any more.

Anyway, now i must return to my bullet journal and some trashy tv! Love & joy to everyone and hope your 2016 is going beautifully so far!