The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 September 2013

Let us talk of books

Let us talk of books; let us speak of words and ideas and stories; let us discourse on the great questions of the age; let us revel in the thoughts of great men long gone. Let us talk of books.

Extreme makeover: women transformed by Christ, not conformed to the culture, by Teresa Tomeo.
In this book, Teresa Tomeo reviews the role media has played in leading women away from the truth of their dignity and worth, the distortion wrought by radical feminism, the harm done by abortion, and contraception. She writes about finding and valuing our real beauty as opposed to the ideals presented by our present culture, and about Jesus and women, and the Church and women. (This was of particular interest given Pope Francis' recent comments about a necessary theology of women in the Church.)
Thankfully, saving the book from a doom-and-gloomy tune of all the ways women have been done wrong, the author includes helpful advice on how to recognize and eliminate the bombardment of misinformation and error that comes at us through the media. There is a chapter sharing signs of hope that there is change in our culture, and the book concludes with personal testimonies of women who found healing and home in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
This book was helpful as it put some pieces of the puzzle together for me, such as the history of abortion in the US. Teresa also provides excellent information about media studies on the effects of media - that section got me a little riled up. I've been doing a fair amount of reading on women and the Church (I'm tempted to call it Catholic feminism, but I don't want that to be misconstrued as being aligned with those agitators for female ordination who call God 'Our Mother who art in heaven') and this book fits nicely into that section of my bookshelves. It is wise to gather as much information as possible, isn't it?  So thank you, Teresa Tomeo for this book.

By one of my literary heroes, Dorothy L Sayers,  'Are women human? : astute and witty essays on the role of women in society'. This very slender and quick-reading volume contains two essays by the great Sayers: Are women human? and, The human-not-quite-human.
As mentioned above, I have a particular interest in matters relating to Catholic femininity (if you're interested in reading more, I contribute to The Feminine Gift) and my focus tends to be on the inherent, by-design differences between men and women. Sayers managed to take my views and readjust the lens somewhat so I saw some issues differently. Have you ever had that eye test done in which the doctor flips different lenses in front of your eyes asking, "Is this one better, or this one? The first one... or the second one?... flip flip... flip flip." And you're not entirely certain you can tell which one is more clear, or even if there is a difference! That's how I feel after reading 'Are women human'.
Because she did not reiterate what affronted traditionalists were saying about women returning to the home, and being content to be wives and mothers, she was assumed to be aligned with the feminists. That, she was not, and these two articles are an explanation of why she was not. It is important to know that Sayers wrote them in the 1930s, after the suffragette movement won for women the right to vote, and well before second wave feminism told women to burn their bras in the 1960s.
Sayers proposes that it is ridiculous to say that a woman is as good as a man, because a woman is not a man, but both are human beings. Likewise, she dislikes the notion of 'women's work' or jobs that only men can do, believing that the person who can best do the job, should, in fact, be allowed to do the job. Sayers also reminds the reader that if we were to send women back to the Middle Ages, a lot of the work now done by industry would return to the home, the woman's domain, as women used to be the weavers, the bakers, preservers, chandlers, seamstresses... etc. Men, in essence, usurped those jobs and eventually declared women unfit to do them.
There are several good passages where Dorothy admonishes women for 'aping' men - in other words copying them for the sake of being like a man, rather than because one naturally wanted to do something, "...if it is done "because men do it," it is worse than silly, because it is not spontaneous and not even amusing."
She also has a humorous take on the question of women wearing trousers that would be of interest to my friends who often visit the question of what is truly modest, and whether women 'should' wear trousers: "We are asked: "Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You do it only to copy the men." To this we may very properly reply: "It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one's activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not? As for copying you, certainly you thought of trousers first and to that extent we must copy you."
About innate characteristics of men and women in terms of work, she says this: "Few people would go so far as to say that all women are well fitted for all men's jobs. When people do say this, it is particularly exasperating. [...] What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: "You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls"; if the answer is, "But I don't," there is no more to be said. Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different. What we must not do is argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not."
These two articles so obviously come from the convictions of the author, for I recognize the voice and the principles from reading her novels. These are ideas that Peter and Harriet would have been familiar with, and in fact espoused.
This was one book from my recent haul of Dorothy Sayers finds. I'm looking forward to diving into the biography of her, next. 

The Pioneer Woman: black heels to tractor wheels, a love story, by Ree Drummond. I've not been an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman blog, only visiting from time to time when recipe searches would lead me there. This book crossed my desk at work a few months ago for cataloguing and the premise intrigued me, so I put it on my list of books to read 'someday'. I needed a respite from more serious things recently, so snapped this up when it was returned in our drop box.
First of all, the story of a city slicker throwing the bright lights over for a ranching life and nights of star gazing is a sure winner. The 'love story' bit of the title should have prepared me for the focus of the tale, as Ree gave a lot of ink to the embraces and kisses of her Marlboro Man. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the mushy love stuff, but reading about his strong arms on what felt like every page got a little wearing. I appreciate her discretion in not over-sharing intimate details, but still feel I would be uncomfortable meeting Mr. and Mrs. Marlboro in real life, having read the story of how they met and married. And kissed and embraced. The attention to those details is at the cost of portraying in greater depth her brother Mike, for example. Ree comes across as impatient with him (he is developmentally delayed), and self-centred when she runs over the family dog, or learns of her parent's deteriorating marriage. While I admire an author for revealing themselves honestly, warts and all, I thought in this case it was unfortunate because I have a feeling they really aren't accurate portrayals.
Overall, 'Black heels to tractor wheels' was a very enjoyable, light read. It also reminded me that the qualities to admire in a man  have more to do with his integrity and honour... his character, than anything else.

On the go: I have begun Dorothy Sayers' translation of Dante's Inferno. I'm well into the introduction... what an accomplishment! I'll have you know, though, that it stretches for over 70 pages. I will eventually reach the first canto, and begin the adventure in earnest.

Interestingly, I recently saw an interview with Roberto Benigni, who performed a staged version of The Divine Comedy. It ran in Italy, where roughly 40% of the population saw it, and brought it to England where not as many people saw it.
I also saw an interview with Joseph Pearce discussing his commentaries on Shakespeare. He was asked why people should bother with old Will these days, when the language is so unfamiliar to us, even difficult to grasp. He talked about the importance of reading good writing as it forms our thoughts, influences our vocabulary, feeds our imagination. And while it may be difficult, up a level or two from what we may be comfortable with, what we gain from it are so worthwhile. Good literature lingers, has an impact, can be transformative, whereas much of the 'dumbed-down' books students are assigned in current day classrooms are empty filler; they don't last or contribute much of substance.
Hear hear!

29 September 2013


Today is the Feast of the Archangels.

Statue of Michael, Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome
Right from my earliest days as a Catholic, I was fascinated by Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael... though to be honest, it was Michael who had most of my attention. Angels are fodder for any young person's imagination and I thought it was very cool that every person has an angel of their very own, a guardian angel. If I was going to have an angel to guide and protect me, though, I wanted nothing to do with those cute cherubs on chocolate boxes and Christmas ornaments.  I wanted big, strong, tough and mighty Michael, the prince of angels, the one who battled Satan and cast him out of heaven. He is always depicted with sword drawn, standing on the bad guy's head. Talk about super hero! Growing up in a military environment, literally seeing my dad go off to work in an armoured tank, I understood the importance of being battle-prepared, being equipped. I knew that if I was going to be engaged in spiritual battle, I wanted Michael to defend me. If one guardian angel is good, surely two is better?

Interestingly, The Archangel Michael is venerated in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We all recognize the need for spiritual guidance and protection.

St. Michael, the Archangel,
Defend us in this day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil
And do thou, oh Prince of the heavenly hosts
By the Divine power,
Cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
Who wander now throughout the world
Seeking the ruin of souls
Rublev's St. Michael

28 September 2013

Cookies and cocoa and the noise within

How did it come to be nearly two weeks since my last post?  I should be banished from Blogger Land. Or at least have to pay a penalty.

Whilst awaiting the transmogrification of batter into cookies in the oven (350 for 7-10 min = peanut butter goodness) I thought I'd sit down at ye olde faithful lappe toppe and tap out a few lines. If I could just think over the irritatingly happy noise of Daft Punk's Lucky. (Do not even think of the song as it is sure to get stuck in your head. Unless Daft Punk can't get lodged in your brain because you already happen to be thinking of What does the fox say, to which all I can say is... hatee hatee hatee ho)

That, actually, is a good segue to something I've been thinking about a lot since life exploded - in a minor way - this week. I need to be more protective of quiet and peace in my home. I can't really control the events in my life or what goes on at work (though, yes, I can control how I cope with them, react to them) I often retreat into hours of movie watching, endless Youtube clips, or loud music - hard rock being something of a weakness. I reward myself after a day of work or console myself after a difficult week by retreating, hiding from myself. And I can tell I've been doing it because I'm not writing. I'm so completely detached from what is going on within, that I have no tangible ideas, no concrete thoughts, no coherent words to share. There are no stories germinating in my imagination because I'm drifting passively in someone else's.

Here's an example: it was a very difficult week but with my new resolution I had determined to treat this weekend as a retreat. I envisioned myself, notebook in hand, finally fleshing out the handful of ideas I have scribbled in lists into fully fleshed articles, with even a story or two thrown in. I was going to make this an internet-free weekend, strictly me, paper and pen, and the pile of books I'm aching to sink my teeth into.

But you know what happened? I logged in before I was even out of bed this morning. The whole day since, I've been chasing my tail around the internet, from email, to chat, to Facebook, to YouTube and on and on. Oh, there have been breaks of sanity. I watered the plants. I noticed the sun was shining. I washed dishes. But those breaks from the screen have been to the tune of Papa Roach, Arctic Monkeys, and The Black Keys. (Disclaimer approaching) Not that there is anything wrong with that music. It has its time and place. However I know this about myself: my surroundings deeply affect my interior life. While I am disappointed in myself for not having followed through with my plan for the day, I now feel restless, jangly, disconnected, unsettled from a day spent with the bombardment of visual and sonic stimulation.

Well... the cookies are done. Time to turn the music off. I'm going to retreat to the living room with the last pages of a book and a cup of cocoa.

16 September 2013

The hunt, the prey, the haul.

Have I got adventures to tell you about, which involve ducks and books and... well, that's it, really.  The duck is figuring pretty large because it involved butchery and touching the carcass and discovering there are roughly 50 different conflicting theories about how to cook the bird.

Today's story is somewhat more tame, though it involves prey and capture.

The hunting ground was a used bookshop. After an hour stalking several fine specimens, I managed to bag a trio of books and am now admiring them like trophies.
The titles:

Maryland's Way: the Hammond-Harwood House cook book with a collection of recipes from 1770 to 1963. It comprises illustrations and photographs, recipes and notes (including a brief excerpt from Washington's diary) and menus such as Gentleman's Supper Parties, and, Dinner for the President. I don't know how practical it will be as a cookbook, but it will surely make for interesting reading!

Discussions of John Donne (Published 1962)  This is a collection of comments, thoughts, essays, observations, on the works of Donne, and his influence and place in English poetry from the likes of Ben Johnson (yes, the Ben Jonson of the 17th Century), Samuel Johnson, Thomas De Quincey, Yeats, and Eliot. How fantastic!  I went looking for a good translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (mine is not a good one, it turns out) but it wasn't to be found in the imposingly overstacked shelves. This unlooked for treasure more than makes up for my as yet Dante-less state. I feel a dosing of Donne coming on.

Dorothy L. Sayers: a literary biography by Ralph E. Hone. (Published 1979) which traverses through her life and works, including (oh, the  coincidence of it all) her translation of Dante. Long-time readers of The Lighthouse know my love for Peter Wimsey, Sayers' famous sleuth. He is my literary superhero, my ideal man - yes, even ahead of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I first came to know of Sayers from her essay on education, The Lost tools of education, about the classical approach to learning. The text is available online, and is an interesting, thought-provoking read.  I'm really looking forward to reading this book.  There goes the Great Reading Project off the rails once again. Ah well... c'est la vie when there are so many books to be read!

All in all, a fine and worthy haul.

14 September 2013

Bits and pieces.

The forgotten verses
Do you ever wonder about the verses that get left out of the readings? I do, and will sometimes look them up and read them anyway, just so they will feel included. I wonder about why they got left out. Was it that poor old David got it right for verses 1-3, 5-9, 11-17 but missed the boat with four and ten?
Sometimes you find a gem in the forgotten verses, like this one from yesterday:
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will  you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption. (Psalm 16;10)
I've been praying a lot lately for the grace to want to want God, and reflecting on whether my priorities are right. Am I living a life pleasing to God? How will I be judged at the end of it? I was worrying about being lukewarm, apathetic, and destined for unpleasantness. And not out of scrupulosity... it was a fair assessment of where I was at. Suffice it to say that forgotten verse 10 has given me substance to ponder and a dose of reassurance.

Yom Kippur
Yesterday ended the great Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of forgiveness, of being made right with God, and has to do with vows which bind us and keep us from Him. One of the most moving pieces of music, religious or worldly, is the Kol Nidrei. Turns out this is actually a legal document... and never has the law sounded so beautiful.


*If you are unable to play the video but would like to, this came from Youtube and is titled:
Kol Nidrey, Moscow Male Jewish Capella, Cantor J Malovany.

Heatwave to windchill
Our weather this week: Hot. Heatwave. Heatwave. Heatwave. Windchill. Nice. We went from it being 32 degrees, feeling like 42 with humidex, to being 14 and feeling like 11 with windchill. Today should be perfect, with it being 17, and feeling like 17.  Leave it to numbers to mess even with the weather.

Hamster balls. Introverts, personal space, and the lady who may as well have sat in my lap.
Some time ago I wrote about being an introvert and how a friend had shared that being an introvert was like being in a hamster ball. Introverts need personal space - physical, mental, emotional room. You know you're in the presence of an introvert when you lean over the desk toward her and she pulls back. Maybe even takes a step away. An introvert will 'accidentally' click out of a chat room when someone barrages her with personal questions, like a nosey, intrusive fusillade.
(Have you noticed how much is being written about introverts and introversion lately? Every week there is a new something or other on Facebook about 'introverts aren't gonna take it anymore'. I think the reason is that the built-in buffer of the internet has provided us a safe environment to reveal ourselves, speak for ourselves, whereas the in-person nature of yore kept us more tightly tucked in to ourselves.)
Last Sunday at Mass, I sat in my pew. This was at a fairly large church. There are two rows of pews off the central aisle, and each row is divided by a small 'arm rest' half way along - a helpful demarcation of 'my space' and ''your space'.
You know where I'm going with this, don't you?
With three empty pews around me in every direction, a lady chose to sit in my row.  But not just in my row. She sat right beside me. In fact, I had to pull my purse out from under her.
I moved.

Call the midwife, Christmas special.
Are you at loose ends while ever so patiently awaiting the next series of Downton Abbey? (Not, as some of our library patrons call it, Downtown Abbey. That would be a story of a different sort, yo.)
If you are, it's time to Call the midwife. This is a lovely series based on a real life story of nuns and nurses who serve some of London's poorest women as midwives. It takes place in the 1950s, and while that period isn't all that far behind us, the story feels like looking in on history.
I just watched the Christmas Special, included in the series two set. Charity, love, kindness, compassion, service... all acted out in entertainment. It was moving, beautiful, inspiring, edifying.
There is a scene between Sister Julienne and an old lady outside the clinic that jolts you wide awake, because you recognize you are seeing the Gospel portrayed right there on the screen.

You see, Hollywood? It is possible to entertain, to appeal to the masses, and still tell a good story. You can build people  up rather than numb them with banality or corrode them with slime!

I hope the sun is shining where you are, dear Reader.  I'm off hunting for inspiration at a local art and craft show.
A blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.

09 September 2013

Five sentence fiction: beauty


Photo Credit
I tried to be cool. The marvels of Pisa, the history of Siena, the glamour of Florence had all inspired and impressed me. It happened here, in this meadow not found on any map nor listed in any guide book, that it happened to me: I became a cliché. I could feel the moment overtaking me, yet was helpless to prevent it - it was inevitable. With arms out-flung, head thrown back, I let loose the full-throated cry: Beauty!

Five Sentence Fiction, hosted by Lillie McFerrin Writes

03 September 2013

In defense of food

Did you know that food needs a defender?

It does.

And we need our food to be defended.

I've read many books about food lately, from Anthony Bourdain's food travelogues, to books about untrained foodies learning to cook, to manifestos of slow food, local food, and bee keeping.

After reading so much about what we're eating and how - mostly in praise of food in one way or another - I was very surprised by how startling, appalling, and even enraging, Michael Pollan's In defense of food turned out to be.  I've watched Food Inc. more than once... I didn't think I could be more appalled or enraged when it comes to modern western food.  Well, Mr. Pollan refers to western food, western food culture, and western diet, but I wonder if he really means North American. Surely much of Europe keeps to its traditional food culture? I'll forgive him that rather American myopia, and accept that 'western' food is in dire need.

It is in need of being left alone by food scientists, nutritionists, lobbyists, and massive companies. It is in need of changes to industrial farming practices, monocultures, artificial intervention of fertilizers and pesticides. It is need of returning to being actual food.

To me, this book is common sense expounded over the course of some 200 pages: eat real food; eat food your grandmother would recognize; food, what we get from it and what we need from it, is much more complex than we fully understand, much as we tend to believe in the supremacy of science and believe in our grasp of that science.

Messing with food by extracting bits and then adding other bits is causing all kinds of problems we don't even realize are problems stemming from our interventions.

When I first started reading about the 100 mile diet, I sank into a funk. I live in Canada. Think of all you know about Canada, and then ask yourself: what would Canadians eat if tomorrow all international transport ground to a halt? We have such a short growing season with long stretches of frozen earth. People used to eat only what they could grow themselves, or trade with neighbours. (Thinking back on my only attempt at potatoes so far, I wonder if I could have traded short stories for spuds back in the day?) It didn't seem fair to me that we wouldn't have access to pomegranates or avocados or many other 'super foods' we're supposedly supposed to eat for optimum health.

'In defense of food' reminded me that food cultures all around the world are limited because no one area grows - or raises - everything edible. Each region, faithful to their food culture and traditions, thrives, whether they seem to use pounds of butter in their cooking, or consume only blood and milk, or eat mostly blubber. Each region, over the many centuries, has figured out how to best combine and prepare foods local to them, such as adding olive oil to tomatoes, or eating beans with corn and rice. We have gone wrong by over processing our food and over complicating our relationship with food. We now have to eat more of a thing in order to get the same nutrition from it compared to our grandparents' generation. We spend less money for, and less time preparing, our food than Italy, Spain, and France (I'd argue we also enjoy it far less, and have less healthy attitudes toward eating than they do.) but consume more and suffer more food-related health issues. We spend more time thinking about food - snacks, advertisements, shopping, calorie counting, diet-obsessing - but less time actually eating meals than other countries.

Oops. Got sidetracked there. I was going to say, way back at the top of the last paragraph, that the book reminded me that though we rely so much on our knowledge of science to be the answer to all things*, God is a master craftsman, and no detail has been overlooked. If the human body needed the Mediterranean diet for optimum health, we'd all be blessed with the Mediterranean climate and soil. God designed the body to work the way it works. He knows about the omega fats and antioxidants and the vitamin spectrum and how it all works together for our good. He provides it all... it just looks different, comes to us in different ways, from one place to another. And His way of providing nourishment for us doesn't upset the balance of delicate things we do not yet understand, the way that lobbyists, mega corporations, nutritionists, and food scientists have done.

Faith and reason, boys and girls, they do go hand in hand. In other words, do not let blind faith in science blind you to the understanding found in faith.

Eat real food.

*the answer to life, the universe, and everything just might be 42.

02 September 2013

Five sentence fiction: Thunder


Photo credit: Tess's Own
Black as pitch.
Flash of white tears the sky in jagged two.
Vicious claps attack in waves.

FSF is hosted at Lillie McFerrin Writes; I came by way of  K R Smith.