On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Apparently We Like Twins

On Friday of this past week my daughter got engaged to a most amazing young man, who happens to be an identical twin. Now I have to admit that both my mother and I always longed to be the mother of twins, but it never actually happened. On Sunday while talking to my brother-in-law (who lives in Missouri), I discovered that my niece, who's getting married this year as well, is also marrying an identical twin (although not the identical twin of my daughter's fiance - that really would be strange). My children only have 2 biological female cousins so the odds of this happening must be relatively astronomical. The fact that it happened with neither of them even knowing the other one was dating an identical twin is even more humorous, although not all that odd since they live half a continent apart and see each other pretty infrequently. But we have met Laura's Dave, we just didn't meet his twin... or even know of the existence of his twin... Oh, and btw two of my sisters best friends in high school were also identical twins...I don't know if there are more twins in our future, but we're telling our other niece that apparently she needs to find herself an identical twin...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Links

I put some new links up this week. One was a site that my friend Karen sent people to last week. It's called Et Tu and it's the blog of a former atheist, now Catholic convert. She's an inspiration! Currently she's doing a radical experiment in prayer and doing the liturgy of the hours despite having 3 very tiny children. Stop by and check it out.

The other link is to the blog of a real life friend. Heart Strings is the blog of my friend Ellen, whom I see far too infrequently in recent years. We were homeschoolers together and two of her kids were two of MY lit kids (in the past, not currently. Her son married my daughter's best friend in high school and Abby was a bridesmaid at the wedding. And Ellen and I were in the same Pampered Chef unit lo those many years ago when we both briefly (she for longer than me) did Pampered Chef. So it was really fun this week to discover, via Facebook, that Ellen has a blog of her own.

Ellen is the mom of 6 living children, one of whom is now in Iraq (AGAIN). So if you want to know what it's like to be married to a military man and be a military mom as well, here's your chance to check in with one. She's a fun lady who loves the Lord, loves her kids and grandkids, and is incredibly creative in ways that I can only dream of being.

Currently she's planning a wedding for her youngest daughter Amy (one of my favoritest of all times lit kids). Amy is getting married in a couple of weeks and will be heading to Japan with her new husband this spring. So... Ellen's blog may not get updated very quickly for awhile, but you can catch up with what's been happening of late and even read Boomer Question ( a list to tell you how you know you're grown up).

It's nice to have new links, it's even nicer when they're people you know in the real world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Book to Savour

There are books that I race through lickety split to get to the end. There are books that I read through diligently to absorb information. There are books that I skim. Then there are the books that I savour, slowly. Right now I'm savouring a collection of essays by Thomas Howard selected by Vivian W. Dudro. The book is entitled The Night is Far Spent and it is worth every penny I paid for it, and a lot of pennies that I didn't.

I love Howard's style. He so obviously loves the English language and always chooses just the right word to convey his meaning. One of the essays in the book even talks about love of language and authors who choose just the right word ("Let Us Purify the Dialect of the Tribe"). His love of authors as diverse as Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, Anthony Trollope, and John Bunyan comes through loud and clear.

One of the things I love most about Tom Howard's writing is his irenic style. He can take a subject, such as liturgy, that has been surrounded by controversy and help one see in a gentle fashion a side of things that those with a more polemical style fail to illustrate. Howard's Evangelical Is Not Enough was one of the books that helped me understand the value of liturgy in the first place, although it was not the first of his books that I read. The first book of his I read was then entitled An Antique Drum, it's since been republished as Chance or the Dance. I'm going to pull it off the shelf today because some of what he says in it is applicable to the current lit class and our study of Dante. Howard's book On Being Catholic is one of the most beautiful descriptions of the Catholic faith that I've ever read. It invites the reader to come and see rather than engaging in tough debate, yet the arguments that are gently offered are also, I think, very compelling.

The Night is Far Spent is a collection that includes essays Howard wrote while still a Protestant ans well as more recent ones. I haven't even finished reading them all yet (as I said, I'm savouring them), but I wish the collection were even larger. I truly hope there will be yet another volume. However, the present collection has much to offer. So if you are interested in literature:Beowulf, Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot et.al, or art: the Whitney Museum, Vermeer, Picasso, or music: gospel hymns and Handel's Coronation Anthems among others, or liturgy and sacrament there's something here for you. I can't recommend this one highly enough to Christians of any stripe and to all who love the arts.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Puzzle

This is a puzzle for those of you who read old children's books. It's actually more of a query on my part. When I was a young child my mother used to read books to us about animals. Some of them were Thornton Burgess's animal stories, and I'm not sure whether the ones I'm thinking of were in that collection or not. I rather think not, although some of the character names were the same, as I recall. The stories I'm thinking about had very strong morals and included a rabbit who clapped his hands together when he was in danger. When he did so a Fairy named Joy would appear and come to his rescue. These books were a delight to me when I was young, but by the time my children appeared I could no longer find them, nor could I remember their titles. I wonder whether any of you homeschoolers who read old books to your children have ever encountered them or whether any of you older readers might be familiar with them.

When my kids were growing up we didn't have accesss to the Burgess books for the most part, and the ones I was able to locate certainly didn't have these stories in them.

I know, I know, I should have asked my mother nearly 30 years ago. In my defense I'd just discovered books like Make Way For Ducklings, Little House on the Prairie, Paddington Bear, and the Narnia Chronicles. Somehow Uncle Wiggly, and the Burgess books never made it onto our list.

So can anyone help me out here? I'm also on a search for a book I do know the name of (Clematis) about an orphan girl. That was another one my mother read to us. She had a propensity for reading late Victorian literature (think Beautiful Joe, Black Beauty, and Elsie Dinsmore). Probably I wouldn't find any of this particularly enchanting now, but I do still remember that rabbit clapping his hands.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Does A Teacher Do?

What does a teacher do when her class of literature students requests doing the second volume of Dante's Divine Comedy instead of moving on to Walter Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow? Does one stick with the plan, or go with the flow?

Well let's just say I'll never discourage kids who want to read Dante.

Sorry, Walter, your book is just going to have to wait!

Even when I'm teaching other people's kids I've got a bit of the unschooler in me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Used to be So Smart

I used to be 23 and skinny
My cousin was 18 and fat
I knew it was lack of discipline
That made her so
I knew it would never be me
I was SO smart

I used to be 25 and single
I knew everything about
Raising kids
That my friend with 4 didn't know
My kids would never... you fill in the blank
I was SO smart.

Then I was in my 30's
My friend's kids were teens
They were giving her fits
My little ones were never going to do that
I was SO smart.

Then I was in my 40's
I was fat
My kids were teens
And you know what?
I wasn't So smart anymore.

Now I'm in my fifties
I've figured out a lot of things
I'm not fat today, but I was
I know more than I did before
But I don't feel very smart at all.

What I Learned From My Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law had a very difficult life in some respects. She lost her mother at 2 and was raised by a grandmother already over 60. Her father did not live in the home with her for many of her growing up years. She developed tuberculosis in her twenties which altered her lifestyle dramatically. She married in her 30's and had two babies in rapid succession. When the second was barely 3 years old she was admitted to a sanitorium for treatment of a now very active case of TB. She stayed there for nearly a year away from her two small children. Later she would have a third child who would be diagnosed with diabetes before he was a teenager. In her late 50's she developed breast cancer. Then later her husband developed lupus. Several years after his death was diagnosed with colon cancer. That's a life in which suffering certainly played a huge part.

I first met Ma (as I called her) when I was in my early 20's and was her daughter's roommate. I got to know her first as the mother of my friend, and only later as the mother of my husband. We did not always agree, but we did always have lively conversations. Looking back I am often amazed at the generosity that she displayed to a sometimes "smug" twenty something. I was so sure of myself, sure of myself in areas that I now realize I was quite mistaken.

She had been unable to nurse her own babies due to the TB, yet she learned to accept the fact that my babies didn't get bottles. She was, however pretty enthralled when she finally got to give a bottle to her granddaughter Amanda. It made her feel not quite so out of her depth. Yet she was the one who taught me how to do a rectal temperature, how to transition a 2 year old from one activity to another, and that a child throwing a temper tantrum sometimes needed simply to be held firmly until they calmed down.

She had been a teacher and our choice to homeschool was a huge disappointment to her. She felt as though we were passing judgment on her profession and on her choices. Yet she came to be a large part of my children's homeschool experience and ultimately, I think, rather reveled in the fact that all of her grandchildren were homeschooled and very bright.

I've often pondered whether I ever would have become Catholic if it had not been for her. The churches I grew up in had very grave doubts about the possibility of Catholics being Christian. Ma was no Catholic wannabe, but she was extremely ecumenical. Her example led me to raise my children without anti-Catholic prejudices which made them a whole lot more open to Catholic truth, and had the same effect on me.

We often pondered together the way that educational philosophy seemed to cycle around to the same ideas over and over. We laughed at the fact that unit studies were a big thing in the 80's because unit studies had been all the rage when she was training to be a teacher. Even the methods of teaching reading seemed to have gone back and forth. She admitted that she never saw herself as a good teacher of reading and was amazed at how easily I was able to teach my children to read.

What I realize at 58 is that she was very patient with my smugness. She challenged it, but she gave me room to grow as well. She made me feel as welcome in her family as the children who were born in it. At the end of her life I knew that I had had the special privilege of being not only her daughter-in-law, but her true friend as well. She coped with the various hardships in her life with determination., despite the fact that she was at heart a person plagued with fears. It's no wonder, she had fears, her life experience led her to expect yet another possible problem. My more casual approach to things always amazed her. She had to be "ready" for stuff. She couldn't go to town without dressing up, she couldn't leave the house without checking things twice. It amused her that I could head off to town in blue jeans without a second glance. In many ways we seemed like such very different people, it was amazing that we liked each other at all. Yet we did. She accepted me for who I was, and I accepted her for who she was. I knew people who had very rocky relationships with their mothers-in-law and I considered myself most fortunate.

My daughter and her cousin spent quite a lot of time in the past few years reading their Grandmother's old diaries. What they gleaned from them is the degree to which tuberculosis changed her life, not just physically but more importantly emotionally. They never really knew the active person she was in her early 20's. I knew much more about it than they did because of all the hours of talking across the kitchen table over cups of tea. Yet even I didn't realize some of the things she'd been interested in. She became an even more interesting person to me as I result of the diaries. It also made me realize where her fears and apprehensions stemmed from.
I think I understand her even better now.

I'm not a mother-in-law yet. However, I can look down the road and see that some of what she taught me will (hopefully) make me a better one when that day arrives. I don't believe that she was the one who taught me the following phrase, but it seems to me that it sums up much of what she demonstrated about our lives together: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. And that applies even when dealing with smug 29 year olds. By the way I'm speaking of myself as a former smug 29 year old. That was not meant to be a dig at any contemporary 29 year olds.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

You May Not Notice

Every now and then I clean up my links. I'm not sure whether anyone else even notices when I do it, but there's always a reason. Sometimes it's because the link has become obsolete, but often it's because I have found offensive stuff on the site (usually in the comments section) that the blogger has refused to deal with. I had to do it again today. I actually e-mailed the bloggerand requested that she to do something about something about offensive comments and an offensive link on her site. She removed the link and the most incendiary of the comments, but left other offensive comments up. I'm hoping that she just missed the offensive comments and will get around to cleaning them up later. Meanwhile I've deleted the link from my site to hers. I figure I may not be able to stop nastiness, but I don't have to promote it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The End of An Era

Yesterday at around 2:09 A.M. my husband's aunt died. She was 92 years old and had not been in good health for several years. It was not an unexpected death and she died peacefully at home surrounded by people who loved her, including an especially generous caregiver who offered to spend the night so that my sister-in-law wouldn't have to be there alone when Auntie died. So while death is always accompanied by sadness, as deaths go, this was a good one.

However, it is the end of an era for us. For the past 25 years or so we have been dealing with aging and ailing relatives. For me it actually went back even a little further since my own father was battling an illness that ultimately led to his death from the time I was around 18. Taking care of the elder generation has accompanied taking care of the younger one. Now that era is completely closed and, for better or worse, we are the elder generation. It's still a bit of a new thought that there is no one we need to be buying supplies for, being on call for, taking to the doctor's, etc. So much of the last few years have revolved around medical decisions, sitting in hospitals, reviewing once again the Church's teaching on death and dying.

It isn't that we won't face those decisions again, it's just that the next time it won't be with parents or closely related elders. I still have cousins and in-laws who have those decisions to face, but those elders live far from me, I'm not a part of the caregiving or the decision making.

It seemed Tuesday as though I were getting a glimpse of some of the next tasks. As my sister-in-law and the caregiver were dealing with Auntie and the visiting nurse, I was dealing with their grandchildren. A little girl of 6 years old was listening to the Christmas story in several versions, she began to learn to sing Immaculate Mary, we talked about it being the feast of the Mother of God. She's only started to go to church and Sunday School late this fall. She's longing for baptism and, other than her Sunday School teacher, I'm the person most involved in sharing the faith with her. I sang Immaculate Mary to her just because it was the feast of the Mother of God and we were reading Christmas stories. Learning the song was her idea. Of course the question of what Ave meant came up. That lead to my praying the Hail Mary with her for Auntie. We sang Immaculate Mary over and over, and then she decided that she wanted to sing it for Auntie. All of this (which ended up including a discussion of the Trinity and the fact that even Mary asked "how can this be") made for not only a diversion for a little girl in the midst of a difficult time, but a sense for me that this is in fact how life is. One person was departing this life, another was learning about our life in God.

Auntie spent nearly her whole working career as a secretary for the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ and it's former organization the Vermont Congregational Church. She loved God, was a deacon in her on congregation for a number of years and was one of the kindest people I've known. She never had children of her own. Consequently, my husband and his siblings were treated as the children she never had. Our children and my nieces and nephew were welcomed into her home, were given to generously, and loved her in return. My niece Amanda spent many hours in the past few years here in Vermont caring for Auntie with great love and affection. Auntie and I shared special hours when I was hospitalized before my daughter's birth. I was in Burlington where Auntie lived and each day at her lunch hour she would arrive at the hospital, complete with Scrabble board and we'd play Scrabble. Sometimes she was back in the evening as well. My husband and son stayed at her house on weekends so that they could visit me. Of course during all those Scrabble games Auntie and I learned a lot about each other as well. She'd had an interesting life (including being a captain in the Civil Air patrol and having a private pilot's license). We liked some of the same sorts of books, so buying books for her was fun for me. One of the last meaningful things I was able to do for her from my perspective was to read Melissa Wiley's books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's Scottish grandmother to her when she was in the hospital last spring. At that point the jokes in the book could still garner a smile. Later she seemed no longer able to concentrate well enough for books.

So, you see, it was fitting on Tuesday that I spent my time reading and talking about God with a little girl while this elderly woman whom she loved was dying in the next room. It was fitting that she learn a song that she could share with her. It was fitting that she learn a prayer to pray for her. It was a meaningful way for me to spend those hours. Later in the evening I was back again to sit and talk with people without the children there, but in the afternoon when we were dealing with medical personnel and procedures it was important that someone deal with a little girl and her even smaller brother. I felt very fortunate that I was the one who got to do that particular job. All of this elder care has never come easily for me. Kids, on the other hand, I've got a little bit of talent for. And sharing songs and stories with kids is probably the thing I'm the very best at.

There is a time and a season for everything under the sun and for us this seems to be a changing of seasons. Your prayers would be appreciated both for Auntie and for the rest of us (especially my sister-in-law whose life is about to change dramatically since Auntie was living with her).