Mere Motherhood: A Book Review

Are you exhausted?  Overwhelmed?  Feeling inadequate?  Did you yell* at your children today?

Have you ever heard of Cindy Rollins?  She recently wrote a book, and I think it’s the best thing that’s been written on homeschooling and motherhood in a good, long while.  I don’t remember the last time I couldn’t put a book down.  It took me about 24 hours to read.

And yes, I know I’m interrupting my series “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool.”  Don’t worry, I’ll continue with Part 3 later this week.

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Cindy Rollins.  Queen of Morning Time.

Her book is called Mere Motherhood.

Top Ten Reasons Why This Book is Worth Reading:

  1. Even though Cindy did not enjoy being pregnant, and feared labor and delivery, she had nine children – 8 boys and 1 girl, plus a few miscarriages.  (Birth stories are never boring to read about.  Click HERE for my mother’s account of me.)
  2. No, Cindy is not a Catholic, but she greatly esteems Stratford Caldecott.  (This man was a genius.  You should read him too.)  And she quotes Mary Eberstadt and Josef Pieper and G.K. Chesterton.
  3. She loves the Bible.
  4. She thinks everyone ought to thank God for Catholic hospitals and their pro-life stance.
  5. Her boys blew stuff up.  And started fires.  And wrecked 7 cars.
  6. She thinks Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the best poems ever written, which it is.
  7. She admits that she’s made mistakes, like trying to live on a old decrepit farm, infested with rodents.
  8. All kinds of animals make an appearance in her memoir – rats, snakes, bats, mice, hawks…these things are also never boring to read about.
  9. She once wore jumpers, until her daughter pointed out that they’re not very fashionable.
  10. She takes on tough issues like puberty and spending too much time on electronic devices.  (Mea culpa.)
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If you need a good book, I highly recommend this one.

If you’d like more on Cindy Rollins, I’d recommend listening to her podcasts done with Pam Barnhill.  There are three of them: Episodes 1, 27, and 43.  They’re all great and can be found by clicking HERE or on Pam Barnhill’s website, which I’ve linked on my sidebar.  Once you’re there, click on Podcasts, then on Morning Basket.  Rollins also does podcasts for the Circe Institute, if you’re interested.

*If you yelled at your children, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Click HERE for a post on that.

Toilet Day

Is anyone having a day like this:

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Looks like someone had the nerve to use the thing out here too.

You know, when stuff breaks because of kids messing around, and then the only solution is to just rip the thing out and start over.  Heck, why not chuck the piece of junk by the front door.  The kids can pay for that.

Oh, how I wish.

A few years ago I was whining in front of my dad about something, just wishing something else was reality instead of what was reality.  He stopped what he was doing and looked at me.  Now my dad might be a little rough around the edges at times, but he nailed it when he said, “Well, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up faster.”

It took a minute for that one to sink in.

And he was right!  I needed a good wipe and a strong flush.  It was time to start over.  It was time for Confession.

When’s the last time you went?

A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool: Part 2

Hello Dear Readers!  Welcome to “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool: Part 2.”

But before we begin, remember that the following routine is just what works for our family.  Of course your routines and daily schedules will be different, as your families are different!

8:15 am Breakfast

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The Toast Master.  He makes the toast every morning.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again.  One of the best decisions we’ve made was to Eat Breakfast Like a Prison Camp.  It works well for us.  Everybody eats breakfast at the same time; everybody eats the same thing; everybody cleans up their spot together.  We eat peanut butter toast every single morning, except Saturdays and Sundays.  (Saturday is generally oatmeal, and Sunday is cold cereal, which the children think is the best thing ever.)  I like this arrangement because it’s not stressful.  There’s no complaining because the children know what to expect.

While the Toast Master is doing his thing, Child #4 sets the cups, Child #5 sets the napkins, and I am putting the first load of laundry in.  Then we’re ready for action.

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Mmm, peanut butter toast, again.

Morning Time

After Meal Prayer, I read the Mass readings of the day while the children eat.  This is the beginning of what some call “Morning Time.”  If you haven’t heard of it, check out Pam Barnhill on my sidebar and look for podcasts with Cindy Rollins.  Rollins is the Queen of Morning Time, and later this week I’ll post my review of her great book, Mere Motherhood.

I have chosen to use breakfast as our Morning Time for two reasons.  1.)  We are all naturally gathered together anyway.  And 2.)  The children have food in their mouths, so it’s generally quieter.

After I read the Mass readings, we do talk about them, but only briefly.  Then I eat my food, and we finish with our Poetry.  The children are always memorizing something, and most of the time, I have them all do the same thing.  We just finished John 1 for the Christmas season, and now we’ve moved onto “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

After all the children have had a chance to recite, they put their dishes away, and we break up for the next part of the morning.

9:15am

At this point the children brush their teeth and take turns at the piano.  (Child #2 and Child #3 have usually finished their piano before breakfast.)  And I sweep the upstairs floors and switch out the laundry for a second load.

One-by-one, as they finish piano, they come back upstairs and begin Round Two of school.  The Eldest works on a Science workbook from Seton, a little history reading from RC History, and Latin from Classical Academic Press.  (Classical Academic Press, by the way, is now my favorite place for curriculum.  More on that later.)

Child #2 and Child #3 commence Spelling and Phonics from Seton.  Child #4 works on Math, also from Seton.  Child #5 “plays” with Child #6, which means, that Child #5 is supposed to keep the Toddler busy and distracted enough so that she’ll not destroy everything when my back is turned.

And during this time, I pull aside Child #3, my slow reader, and have him read to me.  Then Child #4 reads to me.

Then I pour myself a stiff drink* and get ready for Mid-Morning Prayer Time, which I’ll detail in Part 3 of “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool.”  Stay tuned.

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*Just kidding about the stiff drink!

The Latest Mess

Yesterday, while I was dutifully teaching the older children, Child # 6 did this:

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I knew something was going on because she was awfully quiet for about 20 minutes.  Looks like she had fun.

But really, tearing clothes out of a drawer is nothing.  Just nothing compared to what could have happened.  I remember Child #5 taking a tube of diaper cream during Nap Time and smearing its entire contents all over herself, the windows, the walls, and the door handle.  Now that was something.  That.  Was.  A.  Mess.  I wish I had a picture of it.

Anyone else have a Big Mess to share?  If so, please feel free to tell us about it in the Comments below!

By the way, “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool: Part 2” is still coming in a day or two.  Stay tuned.

A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool: Part 1

I might be a Crazy Fool.  After all, I have 6 children under the age of 12, I’m a Catholic, I homeschool, and I’m pregnant.  Goodness gracious!  To most in our culture, I am a crazy fool.  Why would I do such things?

The short answer?  Because my heart is full of love.  The long answer?  Uh, I don’t have time for that because I have 6 children under the age of 12, and I homeschool.

In any case, I was asked if I might elaborate on what a Typical Day looks like in my household, and so today is Part 1.  The other parts will come over the next week or so.

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This is where it all begins.  Note the candles.  Everybody likes candles because they’re fun and potentially dangerous.  We probably need more.

6:00 am

BEEP!  The alarm goes off, and my husband and I roll out of bed, grab our Liturgy of the Hours, and begin the day with prayer in the living room.  We do this in the semi-dark, with just a lamp and a few candles.  Why?  Because there’s something mysterious about flickering candlelight, and it’s cool.

We have 45 minutes set aside for this.  The first half is prayed aloud with Morning Prayer.  The second half is spent in silence.  During this time the children are also waking up, and slowly they join us.  They grab a blanket and crawl up on the couch in silence.  I’d like to think they’re praying too, but probably, they’re just zoning out.

So as not to worry when this time is up, and for very practical reasons, we program our coffee pot to be done at 6:45.  When it beeps, we’re done.

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Coffee’s done!  Let’s get this party started!

6:45 am

At this point, many things happen.  Of course my top priority is the coffee.  So, I grab my cup and head to the computer for a half an hour of work.  My husband, Blessed Saint That He Is, commences Math with the eldest.  (I hate math.  See HERE for that one.)  Children 2,3, and 4 begin handwriting and math facts.  Children 5 & 6 wander around and mess with stuff.  You know, like tear books off of shelves.

7:15 am

My husband showers, I shower, and the older children finish up their Early Morning School and begin their next task.  Child #2 makes the toast.  (Click HERE for an account of that.)  Child #3 practices piano.  Children 4 & 5 set the table.  The Eldest finishes her math.  And the toddler?  Uh, she’s busy wrecking something else.

8:15 am

Breakfast and Morning Time.  Stay tuned for more on that in…A Day in the Life of Crazy Fool: Part 2.

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“Quick, Mom’s not looking!”  Mom from the other room yells, “I heard that!  Get back to work!  Somebody get that baby away from the bookshelf!”*

*Hmmm, Yelling?  Guess I should reread my post about that…

 

My Sweet Ride: Top 7 Reasons Why My 15-Passenger Van is Awesome

Anyone need a bit of joy on this cold, cold day?  If so, check out My Sweet Ride, which should be enough to cheer any dreary heart.

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Here she is, This Beautiful Thing!

Top 7 Reasons Why My Van is Awesome

1.The Hail Damage.

We purchased our van very cheaply because there was hail damage on one side, which is awesome.  I recommend seeking out vehicles with hail damage.  They still run perfectly well and are easier on your pocketbooks.  Of course this is also educational because it teaches your children about How to Save Money.  When we were looking at this Great, Wondrous Van, I just asked myself, “Kim, would you rather have a respectable, good-looking van and drink no lattes for the rest of your life, or could you be satisfied with This Thing and feel free to cruise the Caribou Drive-Thru every now and then?”  Hmmm…not a difficult decision.

2.  The Seam Rip.

The seat on the driver’s side had a huge, 4-inch rip along it’s edge.  This was also awesome and educational because I had to dust off my sewing box to find a heavy-duty needle and thread, and then I had to actually sew it shut.  This was heroic and virtuous behavior on my part too because I hate sewing.  And it was great for my children to see their mother sacrificially laboring away.

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This is Child #5 pointing to my sewing job.

3.  No Interior Carpet Whatsoever.

Yep, there is no carpet to be found in our van.  This is great because then the children can spill all they want, on the floor anyway.  And what about vomiting?  No problem!  Easy, fast clean-up.

4.  The Extra Cup Holders.

When I cruise around town with my posse in tow, I have three cup holders all to myself up front.  One coffee for me.  One for my husband, to drop off to him at work.  And one for my Coffee-Loving Friend.  (Nothing for the children of course.  They can drink water.)  It’s good to teach your children to sacrifice and to share.

5.  The Cigarette Burn Hole.

No, I do not smoke, but yes, there is a gigantic cigarette burn hole on the passenger-side seat.  Come to think of it, it might be a cigar burn hole because it’s so big.  In any case, this is educational because I can point to it and tell the children about the hazards of smoking.  “Look, children, see this hole?  This is what happens when you try to flick a cigarette out the window, but the window is still up.  Always make sure your window is down before throwing things out of it.  Or you’ll wreck your interior.”

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Cig Burn.  Note also the staining on the seat…let’s hope that’s not urine.

6.  No GPS.

Of course this van does not have GPS.  You had better know where you’re going or how to read an Old-Fashioned Map, which we keep in the cubbyhole.  We are terribly behind the times, but this way the children can more easily relate to and understand what it was like for Charles and Caroline Ingalls, as they drove all over the prairie looking for a place to live because they didn’t have GPS.  Or cell phones.

7.  It’s Like a Public School Bus.

This van is so big that I can haul around all the neighborhood kids in addition to my own.  We are like a Party Bus, even though I’m convinced that most people think that my van is a Public School Bus, as I’m forever answering such questions as, “Are all those children yours?”  Yes, ma’am.  All of ’em.  And, “Don’t you have a TV?”  Uh, no, actually we don’t…why do you ask?

Conclusion

If any of you are out in the cold, cold dark, I hope that cheers you up a bit!  Please feel free to ask any other burning questions that you may have about our van.

Oh yes, and my husband’s favorite thing about The Van?  It’s hitch.  He uses it to drag stuff around, like huge telephone poles to make ice skating rinks in our backyard.

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The Hitch.

 

A Day of Not Yelling?

Today is Tuesday, and I have not yelled at my children at all.  So far.  Yes, I know it’s 6am, and they’re not up yet, but hey, I’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Last week I was listening to a great show on the Sin of Wrath, and it got me thinking that I should schedule a Day of Not Yelling.  And that’s today.  So, I came up with some tips for this special day.

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My son drew a picture of me yelling.  Flattering, no?

4 Tips For Not Yelling at Your Children:

  1. Begin the day with prayer.  Beg for the grace to be meek and patient.  For God will certainly provide opportunities to practice these virtues.  (Ugh.)  And we will need Him desperately.
  2. Drink lots of coffee.  After all, when I’m tired, I cannot think clearly, and so I yell more.  Therefore, if I drink an extra cup of coffee, I’ll should be very awake, and the day might go more smoothly.  (Just kidding, of course.)
  3. Make the decision to just not yell.  (Not kidding about this one.)  I’m just not going to do it.  Period.  (If you’re anything like me, this will take a lot of self-control.  And grace.  And prayer.  See Tip #1.)
  4. Let the consequences speak, not my loud rantings.  In the case of discipline, I agree with Dr. Ray Guarendi, actions really do speak louder than words.

 

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My other son drew this.  He says to note the baby in the background in his diaper tearing books off the shelf.  Can anyone relate to that?

 

Let me give an example of when I actually practiced the above-mentioned Tips.

Last week the three girls were happily playing house together in a fort they had made.  But then, Brother #1, obviously bored, rushed in and ransacked the thing.  Of course Sister #1 immediately jumped off the top bunk, ran after him, and tackled him.  She then held him down, while Sister #2 bit him, right on his bottom.

The result?  Complete Mayhem.  Crying.  Screaming.  And laughing.  (Brother #3 thought the whole thing was all very funny, especially the biting part.)

Well, I had a choice.  I could angrily yell and lecture away about any number of things – the inconsiderateness of destroying other people’s things, the irrationality of tackling and hitting siblings, or the inappropriateness of biting.  But they weren’t going to listen.  It would only be a waste of breath and time.  Besides, they already know that these things are wrong anyway.

Therefore, I knew it would be better to calmly hand out consequences, which I miraculously did in that moment.  So all those involved received one hour of Black Out.*  And you know what?  I felt pretty good about it all, even if they didn’t.

Conclusion

I’ve noticed that every time I do handle things calmly, I always feel better.  When I don’t handle things calmly, I feel terribly and struggle with black thoughts of what a terrible mother I am.

I’d like to say that I handle stressful situations at all times with grace and dignity, but that would be a big, fat lie.  Hence today’s Day of Not Yelling.  So I need to work on this.  How about you?

 

*Black Out:  A disciplinary action involving time spent on a bed with nothing.  No toys, books, or talking.  Just nothing.  It’s really boring.  And I find it effective.  I got the idea from Dr. Ray Guarendi.  Click HERE for his website that contains more ideas that your children will not like.

My Conversion Story

Have I always been a Catholic?

Yes, and definitely No.  You see, I was baptized a Catholic, and thankfully received all the Sacraments, but alas, during my late teens and early twenties, I fell into a Pit of Sin.  And yet, I still identified myself as a “Catholic.”

That, however, is another story, for another time.

Today, I’d like to direct you to Patti Maguire Armstrong’s blog.  She is a Catholic journalist and author of a number of books.  In her book, Amazing Grace for Families, which was published a few years ago, she wrote about my reentry into the Church.

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This book is a collection of short stories of faith and inspiration.  It’s a great read.

At that time, I was about 22 years-old, traveling in Greece, hit by a taxi cab, and happened to stumble upon Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, among other things.

With the grace of God, my eyes were opened, and I chucked the birth control into the garbage can, literally.

If you’d like a shortened version of what happened that fateful day, click on her blog at pattimaguirearmstrong.com, and read away!  For the longer version, you’ll have to buy her book, which I recommend.  For an even more detailed version, you’ll just have to wait, as I’m still working on that one.

Patti also has other books that might be of some interest to you.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers.

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Here are a few others I’ve read and enjoyed.  These books are all contain short stories about faith and life.

 

 

 

10 Things I’ve Learned From Parenting & Homeschooling

Update:  I originally wrote this list about a year ago, but I’ve been told that it has been very helpful.  And so, I’ve updated it for your perusal.

WARNING:  This post is long.  You may want to A) wait until later to read it or B) grab a beer and hunker down.

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I’ve been homeschooling now for almost six years.  This has been the hardest job I’ve ever had.  (Certainly harder than teaching sophomores at a high school.  Or the time I shelved books in a library.  Or the time I cleaned toilets at a state park.  Or, well, you get the idea.)  And I hate to break it to those of you just beginning, but it does get harder.  For example, six years ago, I only had a kindergartner.  Now I’ve got a fifth-grader, two third-graders, a first-grader, and a preschooler.  (Not to mention a toddler and another in the womb.)  But the good news is, it’s all worth it.

Well, to celebrate six almost down and about twenty-five more years to go, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned.

10 Things I Wish I Knew Six Years Ago

  1.  Get up before the children do.

Yep, you just need to do it.  You’d never stroll into your old job at the office without being ready for it.  I mean, praying, showering, putting on “real” clothes…  If you can do this, your day is set.  Now that said, there are seasons when this is not possible.  For example, the three-month-old baby screamed all night and Susie puked and Timmy wet the bed.  Prudence, mama.

But just because I think this one is really important, I’ll give you Jennifer Fulwiler’s thoughts too:

“It’s not always possible, but if you can make a habit of getting up an hour before everyone else in the house, it will change your life. (I say this as the biggest non-morning-person in the universe. There are vampires who enjoy watching the sun rise more than I do.)”**

**Click HERE for Fulwiler’s complete list of things she’s learned while parenting.  She’s hilarious.

 

  1.  It is a bad idea to compare yourself to others.

I will never be a crafty mother.  I detest finger-painting, gingerbread-house-making, and sticker charts.  If my children can’t do the project on their own, forget about it.  Now I know some of you are very talented in these artistic areas.  This is a good thing, and I’m genuinely glad for your family.  I’ve decided not to worry about my creative disabilities, however, and it’s freeing.

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This is the extent of my “craftiness.”  The children may draw whatever they want.  Then they can grab some tape and hang it on the Art Wall themselves.  Yes, this is the laundry room, where they have free reign to hang their “Art.”

 

  1.  Quit worrying about your children not learning anything.

This one’s absurd.  Anyone remember Andrew Pudewa relating his experience in a public prison, er, I mean in a public school?  How he would get so bored, he’d see how hard he could bite himself?  Then, when he’d get sick of that, he’d see how long he could hold his breath.  (I actually remember doing that one in public school too.)  The point is, our children are learning.  And in the very least, they shouldn’t have to resort to arm-biting and breath-holding.

 

  1.  Make a “Rule” or schedule for your days and stick to it.

This is really freeing–almost as much as not comparing yourself to others.   With my Rule, my priorities are set, and I know what I’m supposed to be doing at all times during the day.  If you’re looking for more about this, I recommend Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life.  She’s really intense, but insightful.

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This is my 3rd or 4th copy, as I keep giving them away.
  1.  Just because one child seems born to learn quickly, don’t think they all will.

I had a child who sat down and read the Old Testament for fun, at the age of five.  I can tell you, it was a piece of cake teaching that one to read.  And now, I’ve spent the last three years in purgatory, just sitting on my couch, praying to Jesus to give me the patience to not rip the book out of the kid’s hand, chuck it across the room, and storm out myself.  (May it please God to not test my patience any further with slow readers, for I may not make it.  Amen.)

 

  1.  Outsource those terrible subjects you hate.

I hate math.  And guess what?  When I attempt to teach math, my loathing for the subject comes out, no matter how hard I try to hide it.  But my husband loves math, so last year, he took it over.  (I will love him forever for it.)  In our household, math starts at 7am.  Yep, before breakfast, and it still goes well.  If there’s a subject you despise, think creatively.  Maybe switch a subject with another homeschool mom?  Or, budget for and hire a tutor?  Enroll in an online program?

 

  1.  Eat breakfast like a prison camp.

In our house, everybody eats breakfast at the same time; everybody eats the same thing; everybody cleans up their spot together.  We eat peanut butter toast every single morning.  We’ve done it for years.  There’s never any complaining about it because they know what to expect.  And I never have to worry about meal planning for breakfast.  (On the weekend, there is a reprieve.  Saturday is oatmeal.  Sunday is cold cereal, which is their favorite.)  You can imagine their excitement when my parents give them orange juice, as a present.

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I keep the bread and PB right where Child Number Two can reach it, as it’s his job to make all 13 slices of toast every morning.
  1.  Learn to say no.

You want to destroy your family life?  Then frantically run from event to event, never eat a meal together, and never pray together.  As a culture, we are far too busy.  Little Sally does not need to participate in gymnastics and tee-ball while playing on the soccer team and taking violin, piano, and voice lessons.  This is ridiculous.  Pick one.  And let your children experience a childhood of climbing trees with their siblings, reading a book on the grass, eating dinner as a family, and receiving Dad’s blessing at night.  This other Chosen Busyness is Satan’s great attempt to divide families.  And it’s crept right into Catholic and home schools.

 

  1.  Are you going crazy?

From time to time, I have to put myself in time-out.  As I have a small house, this gets tricky.  I mostly prefer to hide in the bathroom, but there isn’t anywhere comfortable to sit, unless I take a bath.  This year has been the Year of the Bath.  I bought myself some lavender epsom salt.  It smells nicely.  I also prefer to take a martini and my book in there with me too.  What do you do to get away?  Furthermore, I recommend instituting quiet time every afternoon.  And if possible, take a few Saturdays off a month, and go on a monthly date with your husband.  Life is too short to do otherwise.

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This is the equipment necessary for a Proper Bath.  And yes, it is best to take the shaker in with you.

 

  1.  Lastly, think of all you’ve learned!

Yes, I finally have a fifth grade education.  Whenever I feel poorly about my job as a mother and educator, I console myself with the thought that at least my children know more now than I ever did at their age.

 

If you’ve found this post helpful, send it to someone else who might appreciate it.

Anyone have other thoughts or ideas?  I’d enjoy hearing about them.

Michael O’Brien: Catholic Author Extraordinaire

Need a good read?

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Seriously awesome book.

My Book Club is reading one of Michael O’Brien’s novels for January – Strangers and Sojourners.   It’s excellent, and you should read it too.

Just check out this dialogue below, which happens between a woman named Turid and her husband, Camille.  Turid is helping her friend, Anne, give birth, while Camille tramps  in and drags off Anne’s husband, to spare him the whole birthing experience.

“Birthin’s fer wimmen!”  called back Camille.
“Birthin’s not fer cowards, that’s fer damsure!”  she yelled at the back of their heads.

All I can say is, that’s insightful.  But why should you read it?

  1. Because it’s a love story.  Anne Ashton, an Englishwoman, is teaching in the Bush in Canada and stumbles upon Steve Delaney, an Irishman lying fatally ill in his cabin.  She must care for him, or he’ll die.  And he hates the English.
  2. This book is about pain and suffering, which we can all relate to.  And it’s beautiful because beauty comes from pain and suffering.  We need only to look at a crucifix to realize this.
  3. And we can all relate to Turid L. O’Raison too.  (She’s the speaker of that above quotation.)  Well she might be a hard, crude woman, but she’s capable of making the most profound statements.  And she’s funny, and she gets it.  Giving birth is certainly not for cowards, as most of us know.
  4. This novel is mostly set in twentieth-century Canada, where it’s even colder and darker than here.  Man, do I feel sorry for those Northerners.  Just reading about them makes winter here seem like a Tropical Paradise.
  5. And finally, you should read it because it’s edifying.  Every time I read one of O’Brien’s novels, I am more human.
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In the end, consider reading all of O’Brien’s novels.  That should keep you busy for awhile.

Therefore, my suggestion is to get this book, pour yourself a big glass of wine, and if your house is anything like mine, lock yourself in the bathroom, so that you may read away undisturbed by the children.  You won’t regret it.