Good read

I’ve been reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. This book was first issued in 1418. Note that it wasn’t “published.” The work pre-dates movable type by nearly 50 years.

Originally written in Latin, my version was translated in 1900. It is supposedly one of the most widely read spiritual books, second only to the Bible. Of course, books that have been around for six hundred years have quite a head-start on anything written in the last century.

I confess that, knowing nothing of this book or the author, I was extremely intimidated at the thought of reading it. It is one of three books in a nice, leather-bound volume that Bill gave me for Christmas. All three are books I intended to read at some point in my life. I took one look and decided to save it for Lent when suffering is expected.

Bracing for the headache that was sure to come, I began on Ash Wednesday. Surprisingly, it is easily digested. The chapters are fairly short, and it reads much like the book of Proverbs. Because of the hundred year old translation, there are plenty of “thou”s and “didst”s and some archaic spellings like “contemn” instead of “condemn.” But the original Latin must have been so plainly written, that the more flowery style of prose I’ve noted in many “great” works of literature is absent here.

Although written for those with a religious vocation, many of the recommendations for how to live life are applicable to the lay person’s life, even six centuries later. No, perhaps the lay person can not withdraw from human interaction to the extent that a cloistered nun can, but the exhortation to minimize negative contact with others is a valid one: it is one thing to spend time chatting with other moms about recipes, child-rearing tips and good shopping deals and quite another to spend the time complaining about your husband, gossiping about the neighbors and criticizing the upbringing of the other children on the tot lot.

If you are looking for a five-minute spiritual meditation for Lent or any time, I have to recommend this as a bedside companion. One caveat: if you were to buy a copy, I would suggest vetting the edition. My volume, by a secular publisher, has an annoying introduction focusing on this book’s role in the Protestant Reformation (a hundred years later) and barely indicating it’s ties to Catholicism – especially not to modern Catholicism (as though, had a Kempis lived a century later, he would have been right there next to Martin Luther nailing those 95 complaints to the church door).

Something in the water

First off, welcome to the world Isabella Ruth Di Silvestri (Number Six) and Michael Rankin (Number Four).

Next, a hearty congratulations to Sarah, who is expecting Baby Number Two.

And then there’s Jennie who is due today with Number Six. I hope if she’s already labored all is well, and if she’s still waiting that hubby gets there in time and all is easy and peace-filled.

What’s wrong with incest?

I just don’t know where to go with this…

German Siblings Challenge Incest Ban

Leaders of Germany’s Green Party have voiced their support for the Stubings’ cause. “We must abolish a law that originated last century and today is useless,” said party spokesman Jerzy Montag. Critics of the laws against incest say that they were developed as a product of Hitler’s theories on racial purity.

A lawyer for the couple said that their relationship should be preserved as a matter of “sexual self-determination.” He pointed out that neighboring Belgium, Holland, and France do not make incest a criminal offense.

Gee, I really thought laws against incest pre-dated Hitler by at least a few years – give or take 5 or 6 millenium. I vaguely remember reading something about it in the Old Testament…could be wrong…and really, if Belgium, Holland and France think it’s okay, why on earth should we argue? And another thing: they have four kids already! They are just doing their part to raise the declining birth rate! They’re actually saving Germany! Ja wohl!


Katie: Mommy, can you get the blue Lego bucket down for me, please?

Fritz: Those are MINE! You can’t play with them!

I overrode him, assisted Billy with a math problem for thirty seconds and turned to go upstairs to get the blue Lego bucket. By now, Katie is hysterically crying.

Me (more than a wee bit exasperated): What, Katie?

Katie: Jenny took my (plastic Playmobile) unicorns and washed them in the sink!

Me: Yes, I know (and there was peace and quiet throughout the house). What’s the problem?

Katie: They’re MINE! She can’t play with them!

Right. Because we don’t share toys around here. Saves me going up the stairs for those Legos………..oh, what’s that? We do share toys?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

A comedy of errors…

…except I really don’t find stupidity amusing.

You know, if you’ve ever received poor services from a professional, some wisecrack may remind you that for every doctor or lawyer or CPA or whatever to finish in the top half of his (or her) class, there is a doctor or a lawyer or a CPA or whatever who finished in the bottom half. The same goes for architects and engineers and designers.

Half of my problem is that I went to a really good school, the kind of school that makes you think. It was not enough to design an adequate road system or an adequate bridge or an adequate sewer treatment facility. No, you also had to look at cost, convenience and common sense. Major engineering failures are well-known, generally for the catastrophic loss of life, but it is the minor engineering failures that cause us the biggest trouble in our daily life. Most of us can get in our cars and quickly find a badly designed parking lot or intersection. Perhaps you don’t really know why it doesn’t work, you just know to avoid that area because it’s a nightmare. Well, a degree is a degree and at some point potential employers stop asking you for a college transcript and an account of your GPA. My guess is that most parking lot designers for shopping centers were not in the top fifth of their class…but that’s just a guess.

And so I live in housing on a military post. The housing is new – my house is less than one year old. But the neighborhood style is not new – this is the third neighborhood like it built on this post by the same private firm. You would think that by the third neighborhood they might have made some design changes. Surely, surely, families who live in the other neighborhoods have had similar complaints.

I won’t even bore you with construction complaints like the creaking hallway floor, the bathroom door that sticks (and sticks again a month after my husband shaves down the edge), the drafty windows and doors, and the carpet padding with obvious holes in it. OK, I just did. My bigger complaint, though, lies with the poor design of the house itself.

Overall, the layout and the size of the rooms are good. I think the closet size in two of the bedrooms is ridiculously small, but they meet my young children’s needs (I wouldn’t want to live here with teen girls, though). We have an attached garage and a five foot tall privacy fence that locks in the back yard between my neighbor’s garage and mine. There is no gate to the fence.

Problem number one: the phone/cable/internet hookup is on our outside garage wall – which is in my other neighbor’s backyard. When the poor phone guy came to install our connection he had to climb the next door fence three times (6 times if you include the return trip) to access the box, since we had no neighbors at the time. And if we had had neighbors, they would have had to allow this person access to their yard for my sake.

Problem number two: I have a laundry room between the garage and the kitchen. This laundry room has a single electrical outlet for the dryer. There is no place to plug in an iron. No place to plug in chargers for cell phones and other electronic leashes (even though it makes the most sense to have them there, since it’s right by the garage where they want you to park your car). No place to plug in any of the rechargeable household things that some people (not me) may have.

Problem number three: the hot water and furnace and blower for the A/C unit are “conveniently” located right there in a closet between the kitchen and the family room. I’m not sure who finds this convenient. If I needed work done on my furnace, I’m not sure the middle of my living space is the best place for someone to park themselves, especially since that kind of work is usually dirty and done by filthy men (no offense, just an observation of the nature of the business) and that section of flooring is carpeted. But the worst part of this location is the noise, which seriously, seriously reduces quality of life every time the heat or A/C kicks on.

Problem number four: speaking of carpet, the eating portions of my kitchen and my dining room are carpeted. I really prefer hardwood floors throughout, but if you’re going to be cheap, I’d really rather have linoleum in the eating areas. Not carpet. Do you know what tacos can do to a beige rug?

Problem number five: I guess the specs called for two outside water spigots on the house. So they gave us one in the front and one on the side. But the one on the side was on the same side as the attached garage. The only way to access the backyard was to get a really long hose and wrap it from the spigot by the front door, across the threshold and around the other side. Unsightly and inconvenient to say the least. They finally, begrudgingly, corrected this after six months.

And today pops up problem number six. Last week, I received a letter informing me that a contractor required access to my home this morning for an unspecified purpose, and that they would come in regardless of how I felt about it. I just wonder, if I am not at home and my protective German Shepherd gets a little too defensive of home and hearth, would I be liable? They followed up with a phone call, and I said that I would indeed be home (I have no life). I should have asked the nature of the business, I suppose. When the doorbell rang this morning, the dog, of course, had to let the people at the door know that she was here and she did not like visitors. Not knowing where they needed to go, I put her in the backyard.

Guess where they needed to go? The backyard, of course. They needed to get to the electricity meter in the backyard right next to the phone/cable/internet box. But that’s not my electricity meter, it’s my neighbor’s. Mine is in my other neighbor’s backyard.

Soon, the powers-that-be will begin charging me for my electricity and water consumption (that’s right, I don’t pay a single red penny right now, which is good since the drafty doors and windows have me cranking the heat up quite a bit). The water meter is on the side of the house near the front. It is easily accessed without bothering anyone. But to reach my electricity meter, you have to enter a home. In my case, it is my neighbor’s home, although some of the houses do happen to have them in their own backyards. They really should have just installed them right next to the furnace in the middle of the house. Or next to that water spigot at the front door – why not? It’s not like these designers have to live here, right?

And that, ultimately, is my biggest complaint. Nobody who designed these houses had to actually live in the models they built. They couldn’t have, since quickly certain flaws would have been corrected. In addition, I don’t believe these houses were actually designed to be lived in at all. Not really. How many neighborhoods today are populated by people who spend sun-up to sun-down at work, or school or daycare? And the weekends are so packed with errands, or sports or mini-vacations that they’re never home to notice that the furnace drowns out the TV or to realize how difficult it is to fill a kiddie pool without a water tap in your backyard.

It is terrible, I know, especially during this season of Lent, to be complaining about my adequate house when there are people starving in the world and living in shacks. I should be grateful for the roof over my head and my “cushy” lifestyle that permits me the luxury of sitting at a computer with a fancy high-speed internet connection typing away with the heat cranked and no job to go to because I have a husband with a good enough salary to keep me home by my choice. And that, really is part of the problem. Having finished near the top of my class, I should be out there affecting change for the good instead of backseat-driving all the hardworking schleps out there. That guy who has to go through my house to read my neighbor’s meter? It’s all my fault. At the minimum, if I were working, I wouldn’t be around to notice all these pesky problems.

Battle of the Sexes

After watching Adam’s Rib Saturday night, Bill commented:

“I always thought I’d like to marry someone like Lauren Bacall. Little did I know I would marry a Katharine Hepburn.”

Ouch. Sadly, Hepburn’s character’s behavior made me wince through the whole flick precisely because I recognized the same obnoxious tendencies in me. From her oblivion to the overt passes made at her by her neighbor and her equal oblivion (disregard) to how much these passes irritated her husband to her competitive nature that compromises marital harmony, there’s not much to like about Amanda Bonner, defense lawyer.

We hope to watch Desk Set later this week. Every movie I’ve seen with Hepburn has her playing an independent, liberal (for the 40s), strong-minded woman. Unfortunately these qualities come across as harsh, self-serving, and irritating. Also unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the movie makers are unjustly portraying her this way: her bad decisions are in character, she shows remorse for hurting someone’s feelings, but not remorse for doing what she’s doing. In other words, she is sadly real.

The age of reason

Happy 7th Birthday, Billy.

My miracle baby. Born with a knot in the umbilical cord. Reluctant to breathe. The first 30 seconds of your life were the scariest in my life; the next 30 seconds were the the most joyous as I heard you cry. I’ve been threatening your life ever since. You are my biggest challenge, but you are worth every minute, and I love you so.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may you grow up to be the man He wants you to be; and may He send His angels to protect you day and night, since you need all the help you can get, and the Lord knows I am insufficient for the task.

Woe is me

On Thursday, Fritz had an expander installed in his mouth and brackets placed on his upper teeth. This is a new experience for all of us: neither Bill nor I ever had braces or an expander or any orthodontic work. I could tell Fritz was anxious – he has been pretty upset about this whole ordeal beginning last summer when he was found to have a cyst in his jaw. I’ve been pretty matter-of-fact about all of his medical treatment, including his braces. The orthodontist is of the opinion that early intervention is the best thing for him, especially on the bottom where the cyst moved teeth completely out of alignment. So that is that. Fritz can bemoan the surgeries he’s had for the cyst and the braces he has to wear on his teeth, but it won’t change the fact that Bill and I have decided this is best for him. He has to do what he has to do, and there are worse things that kids have to suffer.

In the waiting room, Fritz leaned over and put his head on my lap. He said his stomach hurt. Nerves. I rubbed his back and told him it would be fine. When he went in, I briefly thought that I ought to have taken a picture of him or at least taken one last good look at his crooked mouth. After a while, they fetched me and I got to see the appliance. It closely resembles a medieval torture device…and I get to crank it twice a day. I feel like I should be wearing a black mask to protect my identity in case the prisoner manages to escape.

We left the office and headed for home. Suddenly a wave of emotion swept over me, and I felt myself struggling to keep from crying. In part, it was that mother’s nostalgia that comes when your child passes yet another milestone. I cried when he outgrew those 0-3 month clothes, and the 3-6 month clothes and the 6-9 month clothes. I cried when that first tooth popped out. I cried when he made his First Penance and his First Holy Communion. And now, he’s getting braces.

In part, my tears reflected the pity I had for him having to go through this. My poor boy. He’s too young for this – he’s not even nine. Why did he have to have a cyst? Why does he have to have an expander? Why can’t his life be easy?

And if that pity for my son isn’t pathetic enough, I realized finally that my tears were in part ones of self-pity. Why do I have to go through this: the appointments, finding babysitters or dealing with squirming toddlers at the doctor’s office, cranking his torture device, listening to his complaining and whining, correcting his uncooperative attitude? Why can’t my life be easy?

Fortunately, recognizing self-pity is, for me, the fastest way to get over something. There is no emotion I loathe more. From self-pity comes anger at my uncoordinated little ones, since I have to clean up their spills. From self-pity comes impatience when they want to do something themselves or when they want to help me, since I have to slow down and wait. From self-pity comes annoyance at my husband, since he isn’t able to help out around the house or with the kids.

Fritz will get through this ordeal, and so will I. They say the expander is only for 4 or 5 months, and I will pray it does its job quickly. Even the braces they say will only be for 6 to 9 months. This is no big deal. Really. There are worse things than hauling your kid around to doctor’s appointments, right?

Meatless Fridays

I was pretty shocked when I learned a few years ago that Vatican II did not do away with the “no meat on Fridays” rule. Somehow, post Vatican II, Catholicism got watered down, and it seemed that the only Fridays we had to avoid meat were the ones during Lent. I guess the American bishops threw in some “equal substitution” clause that made it possible outside of Lent for practicing Catholics to do another penance instead, although the preferred sacrifice was still to go meatless.

My guess is that this allowed us to blend better in normal society. Office party on Friday night? No need to look different by shunning the chicken marsala. Neighborhood barbecue? Go ahead and chow down on those burgers. Of course, that substitution clause quickly fell by the wayside. After all, can’t we all come up with some other “sacrifice” we made during the day if pressed? I cleaned the pantry instead of reading a book…I walked the dog even though it’s my husband’s job…I cleaned up that mess my toddler made without complaining. That counts, right?

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect in observing meatless Fridays throughout the year. There are times it is inconvenient. Perhaps we are traveling or running errands and need to get a quick bite to eat. Perhaps we are visiting friends and that’s what’s on the menu. Perhaps we have people at our house and a meatless meal would not be popular.

But isn’t that the whole point of abstaining from meat on Fridays? Are we, as Catholics, called to “blend in,” to not draw attention to our faith, to segregate who we are outside of church from who we are while sitting in Mass? I’m not talking about holier-than-thou pointing out to everyone you know that you’re eating a tuna fish sandwich because it’s Friday or ranting that the office cafeteria doesn’t offer any vegetarian selections on Fridays for all those Catholics who work there or demanding that your neighbor who invited you over for the barbecue grill up some shrimp too. Most people would think you are eating tuna or shrimp because you like tuna or shrimp. I like tuna and shrimp, and I’ll eat them on random days of the week just because I enjoy them. I like lots of meatless meals, and really have no trouble observing the no meat rule during Lent. It’s just those few inconvenient times during the rest of the year.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22

Hooray for me and for you if going meatless is no sacrifice. The point is obedience. And then try to obey the rule come Easter time. See just how difficult it can be.