On Giants' Shoulders

Friday, May 21, 2010

Revisiting An Old Friend

Thinking of babies and books reminds me of a cherished book of my own. As a young mom I found a book written by a serious Protestant Christian, Gladys Hunt, called Honey For A Child's Heart. It not only gave solid suggestions for books to read to your children at various ages, it also outlined a philosophy of reading aloud that underscored what I did with my children from the very earliest years. I didn't do everything exactly as she said, we adapted, but in very real ways this book influenced how I read to my children, and what I read to my children. I can't give enough credit to her for the number of fine selections I would never have discovered if it hadn't been for her. For awhile this book was one of my favorite things to give to young mom's as a baby shower gift (I know, weird...).

So now I'm recommending it to you. If you're Catholic, you'll find places you disagree with her theologically, but if you can get by that and simply catch the enthusiasm she has for children and books and children and books together you'll be well served. A number of other people have written books about books, and I actually own several of them (Michael O'Brian's, Jim Trelease's, Elizabeh Wilson's, Laura Berkwith's, Madeleine L'Engle's) and yet none of them have come close to being the guide to literature that Gladys Hunt's was for me. Check it out. I believe it's still in print, but if it isn't it's worth looking for a used copy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Babies and Books

In some families books don't make much of an appearance until after the child's first birthday. Some parents seem to find it a waste of time to try to introduce books to a younger baby. I'll admit to being one to push the envelope on this score. Our first born arrived on November 29th and I bought him books for his first Christmas. By 5 months he actually had a "favorite" book (God Made Me, which if I could only locate among the boxes in the attic I would have introduced to LW long before now!). By 11 months he would sit for up to 40 minutes listening to books. Now it was not books with story lines of course, but sing songy type books and books that labeled things. His little sister at the same age was only willing to sit still for 20 minutes worth of books, but she's more than made up for that over the years.

There are books that even now bring a smile to my face when I see them Goodnight Moon, I Am A Kitten, Millions of Cats, Paddington Bear, Make Way For Ducklings and countless others. I bought books for birthdays, books for Christmas, books for Easter, and books for no reason at all other than that there was a good book available. We also frequented at least 3 libraries, hit up the library book sales, etc. It was a very happy day when the library discarded our beloved "Isabelle and the Library Cat" (it's awaiting LW being old enough to enjoy it).We undoubtedly have a collection that rivals the children's room in our local library.

I honestly believe that introducing babies to books very very early is a really good thing. The predictable book that drives adults mad after several readings is a joy to a very little one. My son-in-law recently railed about Dr. Seuss, I'm not sure which Seuss he's read once too many times, but I heartily disagreed with him. I've read Green Eggs and Ham to more than one little child more than dozens of times to each, and the book still never fails to make me smile as well. LW is still a little too young for Green Eggs and Ham, but One Fish, Two Fish is a good choice for her right now. I was absolutely thrilled to find a lovely copy of the Berensteins' Inside Outside, Upside Down for her last fall. It was like time traveling for me to sit with a baby in my lap reading that book. The cadence with which I read it hasn't changed over the past 30 years and I still love the last line, "Mama, mama, I went to town, inside, outside, upside down."

There will be books that are far more sophisticated in the future. The day will come when the Little House Books, Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables get pulled out. However, I must admit I'm looking forward to two and Make Way For Ducklings, Katy and the Big Snow, Blueberries for Sal, The Honey Hunt, and Peter Rabbit. In the meantime, I've got to rustle up our copy of Mr. Paint Pig, Papa Small and Mother Goose. LW is about to turn one and that's a wonderful time for books as well.

For little babies it's the rhyme, and the predictable words. For one year olds the labeling becomes important. Books are a wonderful way to help a child expand their vocabulary and they become a window to a wider world. City children learn about things in the country and life on the farm. Country children learn about things like subways, and taxi cabs. Actual Bible stories, like other books with more complex story lines don't really seem to catch on until around two, but books that remind a child that God loves them, that Church is a special place, that they have a guardian angel. Those fit well sometime in the second year.

Poetry is good from the beginning. I've been singing Over In the Meadow to LW since she was a tiny little baby, but I can't wait for her to be old enough to appreciate "Whenever I Walk In a London Street," "They're Changing the Guard at Buckingham Place," "Animal Crackers," and other favorites from my own children's early years.

Children may be "carnal" lovers of books as they don't understand that books aren't for eating or ripping, but one of the joys of life is to have a little person drag a favorite book out of the stack and bring it to you to read. It may in fact be tiring for some adults to read the same story over and over again, but for me it's a reminder of G.K. Chesterton's thought that "Our Father is younger than we are." Chesterton pointed out that God says to the sun each day, do it again. So I'll continue to respond happily to "read it again."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saga of the Skirt

The two hour skirt is finally nearing completion. After 2 tries I got the casing sewn. After 3 tries I got the elastic in. Now all I have to do is stitch the seam in the elastic, close up the gap where the elastic got inserted, get it pinned up, and hem it. I figure that's probably at least another hour worth of work.

When my dd was here this weekend she looked at the skirt with a little bit of disdain and asked why it took me so long to sew just a few seams. She said she'd made skirts like that with zippers in them that didn't take more than 3 hours even with the cutting out. She's right, she has. That's why she can get a pattern with just numbers off the internet, create a paper pattern, and tackle making her own pocket diapers. I did mention that she didn't get her sewing ability from me didn't I?

Not to be defeated by the sewing machine, I bought more patterns on Monday. Abby was getting material for the aforementioned pocket diapers. I got what are supposed to be (please, Lord, let them be) easy patterns for little tops, shorts, and dresses for me to make some things for LW with the leftovers from skirt material, and remnants. I keep believing that good grandmothers sew for their grandchildren, and I did make dresses, shirts, shorts for her mommy when she was little. What I could not find, and don't apparently still have is the incredibly simple dress pattern I used to make a dress for Abby when she was about that age. Of course I also can't find the knitting pattern I used to make a dress for her when she was 4 either, but I'm still searching for that one.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Two Hour Skirt

In case no one was aware of this I am not the seamstress that my grandmother and my sister were, nor the seamstress my daughter is. I can read a pattern (if it's not too complicated), run a sewing machine, even do a bit of hand sewing. Anything like tailoring, flounces, ruffles, etc., well I avoid them.

I've been looking for skirts lately, and although I managed to get a couple at TJ MAXX I sort of wanted more than two skirts for dress up wear. So I decided I'd sew some. After all I'd just gotten my 35 year old sewing machine rehabbed. So I went to the store and picked out two patterns. One was marked easy, which is Simplicity's term for something that will be right at the edge of my challenged zone probably, and the other was marked two hour skirt. It had no zippers, no darts, and no notions required. I assumed it probably had a drawstring at the waist, although I didn't see one, because the envelope didn't say you need elastic.

Well their two hours obviously doesn't count the time it takes to cut out the tissue paper pattern, and I don't think it even counts the time it takes to pin the pattern on the cloth, and then cut out the pieces. Obviously, it didn't count the time required to pre-shrink the material (a step my sister taught me years ago is necessary). So I get all that preliminary stuff done and I'm already way past two hours, but that's ok.

I sit down to sew. The first seam makes it very clear that the tension on my machine is seriously out of whack. This is a very frustrating moment because one of the things I'd taken the machine to the shop to get done was adjust the tension. So I took a piece of scrap material and tried every single setting on the tension wheel and none of them were significantly better. A light bulb finally went off in my head and I took the bobbin out and checked it. Yup, I hadn't gotten the thread all the way through the correct doo hicky slot. Bobbin reinserted correctly, tension set at 3.5 all that was left to do was rip out the first lousy seam. That's ok, ripping out is my speciality. Of course this whole procedure ate up at least another 20 minutes or so. Finally I was sailing along quite sweetly, I didn't just keep right at it because life kept happening. One thing that became evident as I read along in the pattern was that despite the fact that neither the pattern envelope nor the front of the directions said so, elastic was needed. So after my lit class with Brigid I went to the store and picked up two packages of 1" elastic, because I recalled seeing something about 1" in reference to the elastic in the directions. I should have read more carefully...

It turns out when I finally got to the casing step that the directions didn't specify the size of elastic, but it did specify the size of the casing: one inch minus the 1/4 inch raw edge you turn under. Hmmm, that means that what I really needed was not 1" elastic but 3/4" elastic (wish they could have specified that in the first place). So today after Mass I went back to the store and got 3/4 inch elastic. Hopefully by the end of the weekend I will have managed to mark off and press under the 1 inch casing (not marked on the pattern, unfortunately), stitch it down, put the elastic through it, and get someone to pin the hem up so I can hem it.

The only part of this that could have possibly taken only two hours (and only if I worked really, really fast is the 8 seams with the pressing required, the casing, and inserting the elastic. Pinning up the hem is at least a half hour job, sewing the hem will be closer to an hour (and I'm a darn good hemmer).

Now the second skirt may come closer to the two hour mark since the pattern is already cut out, the material is already pre-shrunk, and I now know how the whole thing goes together, but it's pretty clear to me that Simplicity is to say the least very optimistic in their description of projects. Tow hour skirt - yeah right. Easy pattern - well for a clothing and textiles major perhaps.

The positive note of this whole thing is that I've got left over fabric. I think it's enough to make a dress for my granddaughter - if I can just find a pattern.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Little Things

In the car this week I've been listening to a tape from an earlier American Chesterton Society conference. The topic is Distributism a System or A Value. The author's conclusion is that while it may not be realistic to see Distributism as a political movement that will compete with current political parties, or even as a competing economic system, that it's more important for us to embrace the values associated with it and in that way to not only change the world around us, but live authentic lives ourselves.

It got me thinking about the little things I do, and have done that were actually representing that viewpoint long before I ever heard of distributism. To homeschool our children was a distributist sort of thing to do (doing things at the smallest level rather than allowing the state to take over our children's education and direct their values by doing so),as were building our own house, growing a garden, raising animals for meat, making some of our own clothes, caring for our own elderly relatives, reading aloud, teaching other people's kids to knit, being a La Leche League Leader.

Sometimes it feels like we haven't made much of a change in the world. It feels like we've been heading towards A while everyone else was racing towards Z as John Holt once commented. Yet when I look back I wonder about some of those small things. If even the death of a butterfly can change the world, than what sort of an impact does having property where humming birds can find bee balm and butterflies aren't poisoned by weed killer. How many babies are there out there who ended up with more breastmilk because their mom spent time on the phone with me? Has it really helped that my sister and I patronized small yarn shops and bookstores? Does it make a difference when I give meat to people whose budgets are tight? What impact did it have when nurses in the hospital heard me reading to Auntie or singing to my mother or my mother-in-law? Did it help them see a different way of dealing with dying people? I don't know. I will probably never know whether anything I did had an particular impact. I take great comfort in Mother Theresa's comment that God doesn't ask us to be successful, he just asks us to be faithful.

I will almost certainly never be famous and highly influential. I will almost certainly only have an impact on one person at a time and in little ways with little things. It doesn't feel like saving the planet to use leftovers to make an omelet for brunch instead of stopping at MacDonalds, or sewing a homemade skirt instead of buying one made with slave labor. It doesn't change the world to have a discussion about Dorothy Day with my daughter, a discussion about Small Is Beautiful with my son-in-law, or medieval guilds with my son it only means living a life where all of us are actually thinking about the way that Christian doctrine intersects with our actual lives.

I'm only following in the path of people who were more own mentors. Shari who welcomed the stranger and even the strange, a mother-in-law who let her grandchildren make operation dolls and Bible trees, a mother who stayed up far into the night canning tomato juice or freezing home grown chickens, a grandmother who made dolls out of scraps of cloth and a grandfather who made a wooden cradle out of packing crates, a father who valued education (although deprived of it himself) but also demonstrated how to work physically incredibly hard even when his body was giving out.

What I realize the more I read about distributism and Catholic social teaching is the extent to which it feels right largely because it reflects so much of what I grew up being taught. Somehow my parents and my parents-in-law as well had a far more open approach to the poor, the odd, the drunk, the delinquent than a lot of their contemporaries. So did my pastors. Consequently, although I grew up in a pretty pietistic environment I wasn't anywhere near as sheltered as some of my friends. I knew what Weeks School was like (although I'd never seen the place), I knew people who were recently out of mental institutions, I encountered drunks, and old ladies with second grade educations (who made the most beautiful braided rugs you've ever seen). My parents didn't approve of the drinking done by the drunks, but my father kept right on hiring them, believing that they were still people worth taking a chance on. So while I didn't grow up in a Catholic Worker house, I grew up with a lot of the type of people who ended up there.

So did it make a difference that my father hired those people? Did it make a difference that our pastor didn't just serve the upwardly mobile? Did it make a difference that my mother provided rides to Sunday School and prayer meeting to a little old lady with a second grade education? On a global scale, on a national scale, even on a community scale, it doesn't feel like it made much difference at all. Yet on a human scale, it made all the difference in the world because it taught my sister and me something about the unique value of each human person. So, I guess I'll continue on doing the little things, being a distributist in the little ways and believing that St. Therese, Mother Theresa, and of course Chesterton knew what they were talking about.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Distributists, Catholic Workers, and La Leche League

So what do all of the above have in common? Well, for one thing they all read Chesterton and seemed to quote him frequently in the past (some Catholic Workers no longer do and LLL doesn't seem to anymore either). The movements all got started by people who were familiar with papal encylicals like Rerum Novarum and embraced Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Workers movement of today seems to encompass a real diversity of viewpoints, some of them not Catholic at all (despite the name). La Leche League also embraces a variety of viewpoints and claims no connection with Catholicism at all (again despite the name). Yet, the Catholic worker movement and La Leche League still retain some of the philosophical positions that they began with. Catholic workers are still devoted to hospitality to the poor and La Leche League is still trying to help enhance the mother baby relationship (you can't get more small and local than that).

I've spent a lot of my time lately reading about the Catholic Worker movement. The most recent book I'm tackling is Mark and Louise Zwick's The Catholic Worker Movement, Intellectual and Spiritual Origins. I'm finding this one really helpful, almost even more than The Duty of Delight (which is the edited journals of Dorothy Day). It's helping me get some perspective on the founding principles of the movement and to understand the ways in which critics have frequently misunderstood both Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They were not Communists, nor even Socialists. Despite the impression given in "Entertaining Angels," Dorothy Day was not even particularly interested in the movement for women's suffrage (and in fact never voted herself). I'm still not sure I always agree with them, and I continue to believe that some of the ways in which the Catholic Worker branches have sometimes moved away from the Church have to do with the way that things were set in motion at the beginning (and particularly as pacifism became such a prominent feature of the movement).

I must say the more I read both about the Catholic Worker movement and about Catholic social teaching on economics the more Chestertonian I become. I have also found of late that when I'm struggling with the muddled thinking of some people around me (even when it has nothing to do with theology, philosophy, or economics directly) that reading Chesterton has the same effect as splashing cold water on your face when you're sleepy. His very lucid thinking has a way of waking you up and helping you think clearly.

This is a post from a while back, but it seemed apropos to post it again. I went looking today for links between distributism and La Leche League and low and behold my own blog post came up in first place.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hey Check Out Her New Blog

My darling daughter is blogging again after a long hiatus. She's also writing again after a long break during which she a: got engaged b: got married and c: had a baby. d: combined a new baby with a part-time telecommuting job. It was sort of a whirlwind couple of years and somehow she didn't do much writing. I can't imagine why. Anyway, if you're interested in what she has to say check out Writing Living Epistles by clicking on that my links. I tried putting the link in here, but I'm obviously not doing it right, so you'll just have to click in the sidebar. She isn't kidding when she says that a large part of her day is spent trying to keep the Little Wum from eating lint. LW is more efficient than most vacuum cleaners.

It's nice to see her writing again. I enjoy her thoughts on paper as much as her thoughts in real time. She enjoys other mom blogs, I hope some of you enjoy hers.