Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Reviews

I was searching blogs for the names of some books I was considering mooching. One thing led to another and soon I found this site called Armchair Interviews which is full of all sorts of non-scholarly book reviews. You may have noticed that my taste in books is somewhat less than classical or scholarly. Anyway, you have to register, but the basic parts of the website are free and I've enjoyed what I've seen so far.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Meme

Sr. Anne tagged me for this one. Here are the rules:

Book Meme Rules

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences.

5. Tag five people.

From this chair the nearest books would be cookbooks, school yearbooks and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I decided to break the rules and grab the next book I'm going to read instead, which is going to be Debbie Macomber's Thursdays at Eight.

"What's the matter with you?" Karen asked agressively. "Are you the one who has been calling and hanging up? Why? You scared me, dammit!"

I'll tag Renee (my fellow bookmooch junkie), Carrie, Michelle, Janette, and Stina, who StatCounter told me links here (and someone comes from there to read)

Leota's Garden

A month or so ago I read, and wrote about a book called Redeeming Love. Today I read one by the same author, Francine Rivers, titled Leota's Garden. It was about a little old lady who is estranged from her family and waiting to die until her granddaughter breaks away from her mother and tries to get to know her. It is Christian fiction but not overly preachy. Actually among the authors in the genre, I'd say Francine Rivers is the best writer I've read. This is not formula fiction, it is a well-written novel with complex characters. It talks about family secrets, nursed grudges and how one person's willingness to love and forgive can change a lot of lives. I highly recommed it and if you want it, email me and I'll see what I can do.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Catholic Version

A while ago I wondered on this blog why no one published fluffy Catholic fiction. In other words, I know Flannery O'Connor is a Catholic writer, and if I search the classics I can find those mentioning faith and writing from a Catholic point of view, but there don't seem to be Catholics writing "Christian Fiction", a genre I'll generally describe as books in which the characters' Christianity (generally of the evangelical Protestant variety) is a major focus in their lives and in the plot of the story. For example, I just read Angel of Mercy which is about a female lawyer living in turn-of-the-century California who defends a police officer accused of murder. Besides the basic "who dunit" story, it also explores her relationship with a man she refused to marry because he wasn't Christian and shows her trying to convince her aunt, who has tried everything else, that Christianity will be her salvation. The book shows her faith as a major factor in making the main character who she is.

Janette sent me a book Murder Makes a Pilgrimage which is your basic old lady mystery novel (think Mrs. Pollifax, Murder She Wrote and the like). The main characters are two old nuns who win a trip (pilgrimage) to a shrine to St. James which is in Spain. The first night they are there a member of their party is murdered and one of the nuns finds the body in the cathedral. From there it is just a matter of figuring out which member of their party was the murderer, and of course, the nuns figure it out before the police do. The book is written by a nun and while it mentions going to mass and reading from her missal, there isn't anything in the story, other than the fact that the women are identified as nuns, to make you think faith has any great meaning in their lives.

I've always fancied myself as more of a journalist than novelist, but I wonder how hard it would be to write the kind of story I'm trying to describe--and if there would be a market for it.

Both books are on my bookmooch list.

Ceder Cove

Ceder Cove is a (I' m assuming) fictional small town across a bay from Seattle WA where Debbie Macomber sets a series of books, each titled after the address of one of the characters. As I suppose is true in many small towns, the residents' lives intertwine. The books reference things that happen in other books, so if you read them out of order (which I have) some of the suspense is gone, but if you like books where you "know" the characters and where, for the most part, the endings are happy, even if a bit unrealistic, you'll like these. The characters include a domestic court judge, a private investigator, a photographer and his gallery managing wife, a Navy man and his wife and kids, the local newspaper editor, the mother and daughter of the judge, a couple of hairdressers and a chess champion. Quite a mix--and frankly some of the story lines are a bit far-fetched. Classical literature this is not, but the books are fun.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Take on Attachment Parenting

Elena wrote about attachment parenting today. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, basically it is a theory of child rearing that states that a child must be securely attached to his/her parents, particularly his/her mother, in order to achieve appropriate independence later in life.  In order to foster that attachment, the theory goes,  parents, particularly mothers, need to be constantly physically and emotionally present to the baby. True believers in attachment parenting take this so far as to eschew the use of cribs, swings, pacifiers, and sometimes even strollers. They practice "baby wearing", toting their babies around in slings for much of the day.   A few even practice "elimination communication" foregoing the use of diapers and instead trying to pay attention to the child's cues so as to take him/her to the potty or other place when s/he was about to urinate or defecate. Elena  mentioned that one website suggested that those who reject this form of parenting aren't good Catholics. I agree with Elena, that idea is foolish.

Personally I think attachment parenting is a concept grasped onto by overachieving moms who have chosen to leave the workplace but haven't given up the competitive mentality that got (or would get) them ahead in the workplace. They choose an image of parenthood that the majority of parents couldn't achieve even if they wanted to. Not only can Mom not work full-time outside the home and leave the poor neglected baby in daycare, she can't work part-time on evenings or weekends (unless it is something she can do with a nursed-on-demand baby present). Mom can't work at home (at least not very effectively since she can't use things like swings, pacifiers or the TV to entertain the baby). She can't have a large brood of closely spaced kids because the baby doesn't get enough attention that way. In short, instead of selling more widgets, managing more people, or handling more projects than the person in the next office, I think these moms "achieve" by parenting "better" than the rest of us--though I haven't seen any research to indicate this form of parenting is any better than any other.

I find the term SAHM (stay at home mom) to be interesting in and of itself. In my mom's day, women who did what she did were called housewives. They took care of the house and kids. The cooked the meals, shopped, did laundry, ran errands and otherwise took care of the family. Yes, they played with the kids, read to them, helped with homework and did some chauffeuring, but when those of us who are baby boomers were kids, our moms were not our major source of entertainment. We played with the kids in the neighborhood. They came to our house or we went to theirs.  Doorbells were rung, and kids could either play, or not.  Our moms didn't take us to "playdates" they arranged in advance. Our bikes were for taking us places, not for riding in circles up and down the street under the watchful eye of Mom, or going for a ride with Mom or Dad at our side. In other words, women my mother's age took care of their kids, but didn't see being constantly within eyesight of their kids to be necessary.

My grandmother and I have something in common. We both utilized daycare when our kids were young. I used a daycare center and a sitter; she used a "hired girl". My grandmother didn't work outside the home--she had more than enough work at home. She got up in the morning and cooked a large breakfast over a wood-burning stove. After cleaning up from breakfast, she started cooking dinner. During the day, she gathered eggs, killed and dressed chickens (if on the menu), worked in a large vegetable garden, canned the products from that garden, washed clothes using a wringer washer and hung them on the line, made and mended clothes and cleaned house. Supper had to be put on the table daily too--and remember that cooking was pretty much from scratch. In short, I doubt my grandmother considered herself a mom any more (or any less) than my grandfather considered himself a dad. She couldn't have performed her chores with a baby strapped to her all day any more than my grandfather could have performed his.

I've read about a group of people in China who lived where there was a very fine absorbent type of sand. The norm for peasant babies was to be buried up to the neck in this sand during the day. The sand would function as a diaper and keep the babies where they were put. Mom would return periodically during the day to nurse them. It sounds awful and cruel to most of us, but the parents had been raised that way too. The parents needed to work or no one was going to eat, and mom couldn't work if she was holding the baby. Ever heard of a papoose board? Basically it is a board to which a baby (or in the modern medical setting, a child) can be tied securely. Again, someplace to put the baby while Mom worked. Mom not working--not being an economic producer, but rather focusing all her energy on the kids--is not historically normal. It is a product of modern affluence, and I think that attention, like many things, is wonderful in the right quantity and can even be harmful if there is too much of it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Maternity Leave

Elena mentioned Charles Wheelan's column about maternity leave in which he opined that maternity leave benefits were not fair to those moms who returned to work because of moms who didn't. Elena stated that she needed those six weeks to know if she was going to return to work. As a working mom who has had three maternity leaves and covered for people on maternity leave, I agree with him. I'd like to see better maternity benefits for women who return to work, but I know the firm for which I work, which had very generous maternity leave benefits for attorneys, scaled them way back because of the number of times they were burned. They went from offering six weeks paid leave to offering one week per year of employment, or per year since the last maternity leave. They still comply with the law requiring twelve weeks unpaid leave, if the mom wants it. I think his idea of deferred compensation or revokeable compensation for maternity leave is a good compromise. I think Elena is right, some women don't know until after they have a baby whether they want to come back to work or what they are willing to give up in order not to do so. However, part of choosing to be a SAHM is choosing to do without the income from your job, so why should an employer have to pay you to take time to decide? If employers knew that women who accepted maternity leave benefits would return, and for more than a month or two, they might be more generous with those of us who stick around.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ending Abortion

Catholic Exchange has an article today that calls the bishops to task for their lack of action against Catholics for Free Choice. It points out the CFC's latest campaign is "prevention not prohibition", which is basically the same as "Make abortion safe, legal and rare". The author suggests that one reason the bishops don't speak out more forcefully on the subject is that it would require them to address the subject of birth control, which they'd rather avoid.

I chose years ago to follow the Church's teaching on birth control, even though intellectually I didn't agree with it, because intellectually I saw no sense in a pick-and-choose attitude toward a religion that claims to have the truth. Over the years though I'm leaning more in the church's direction. I hear so many people speaking of their children as burdens and flatly stating "we're done". I've seen people insist that they can't afford more kids who then purchase fancy toys or otherwise lead a lifestyle indicating that they could if that was important to them. In short, while I haven't reached the point of intellectually agreeing that everyone who uses artificial birth control is doing something awful, I do think it is largely responsible for attitudes about children in our society which I don't like.

Regarding abortion, the organized pro-life forces would have us all voting for whichever candidate is most pro-life. Since I'm basically a conservative Republican in any case, that is no problem for me; however, I don't think that is how the abortion battle is going to be won. Mabye my faith is too weak, but I think that the number of women who have "used abortion services" is too great to think that it is going to be made substantially illegal by any great number of states. Before Roe v. Wade, there were lots of states where abortion was at least somewhat legal if you were willing to jump through some hoops. If Roe was overturned today, there would be a few states (like Louisiana) that would outlaw it completely, some that would maintain abortion on demand, and most would put in parental notification laws and a few other hoops to jump through--hoops that the "providers" would become experts at helping women jump through. In my opinion, the pro-life battle isn't going to be won in the legislature or the courts, if it is going to be won it needs to be won in the hearts. Look at PETA. They've convinced large numbers of people that there is something awful about wearing fur. Look at your cosmetic bottles. How many say "not tested on animals"? (a statement that is really meaningless). Most people I know think PETA people are cooky, but some of their messages are starting to go mainstream. We need to convice our daughters that they have value, and that all children, no matter whether planned or not, have value. We need to teach our sons that abortion is not the answer if a girlfriend gives them "news". We need to convince parents that abortion would not be the best thing for their daughter. If abortion clinics didn't have customers, they'd shut down. As long as the demand is there, someone will meet it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Janette Tagged Me

Janette tagged me, so here are my answers:
1. WHO WERE YOU NAMED AFTER? No one that I know of.
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? Just a few minutes ago. My rosary group met, and one of the guys there was the one who lost his mom last week. We got talking about death etc...
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? No. Handwriting was the subject that kept me off the honor roll in elementary school.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? turkey --but I'm not a lunch meat eater.
7. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?No. I don't think it is a smart thing for a mom to do, and by the time I'm done playing mom my stomach won't be able to take it.
8. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? I'm not fond of cereal.
10. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Yes...but I am a wimp when it comes to confrontation
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM ? B&R Pralines and Cream
3. RED OR PINK? Red, Red, Red
21. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? One of my daughter's friends.
23. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Football and gymnastics
44. HAIR COLOR? Some shade of light brown, have to check the box to be exact.
25. EYE COLOR? Green, sometimes look blue-green.
DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Sometimes, glasses more lately.
27. FAVORITE FOOD? Chocolate
29. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? All the way through? Beats me, probably something I took the kids to.
33. HUGS OR KISSES? both
34. FAVORITE DESSERT? Chocolate Mousse
35. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? I finished and the Shofar Blew this afternoon, haven't picked up the next one yet, but will probably be one of the Sisterchicks books I just got in.
39. FAVORITE SOUND? Baby laughs
41. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Tought question for an Air Force Brat. If home is where your family is, then I guess the furthest away I've been is San Diego, where I went on business a few years ago. If it is farthest from where you used to be, I guess Turkey, where we lived when I was a kid.
42. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? Reading aloud. I always get compliments.
43. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Kapuskasing Ontario Canada

Now who to tag? Well, if you read this and you haven't been tagged--you are.

and the Shofar Blew

My lastest read was and the Shofar Blew which is by Francine Rivers, the same author who wrote Redeeming Love. It is about a pastor and his family, and some friends. The pastor is the son of a famous mega-church pastor and televangelist. The story starts when the main character is hired as pastor of a small dying church in a medium-sized town in California. The congregation had been served by the same pastor for forty years and consisted of a bunch of senior citizens. Paul, the lead character sets out to revitalize the church and ends up buiding it up as a temple to himself, rather than to God. Given that the book is Christian fiction, I doubt I'm giving anything away by saying that in the end he realizes this and re-dedicates his life to serving God.

I have mixed feelings about the book. First is kind of a smug "at least that can't happen to us" feeling because as Catholics, I doubt that particular scenario would happen to us. Paul built that church the way a businessman would build his business--he found out what sold, and made that his product. He expanded, branched out, sold, raised funds and refined his product. He dropped products (like Bible studies) that weren't popular and added others, like aromatherapy classes, that were. He attracted large crowds and the larger the crowd, the less holy his preaching. I think our system of assigning pastors, a celibate clergy and geographic parishes largely protects against what happened in this book. However, as the priest sex scandle brought home, our leaders are not above sin, nor above choosing to protect their turf rather than to protect the flock. Of course there is a dig against Catholicism--one character is described as "a devout Catholic" but later in the book he says of a Bible study turned church "I learned more about the Bible in six months with you than in years of Catechism"

While I have problems with the idea of marketing religion in much the same way as one would market any other form of entertainment or education, I am impressed with the way Evangelical churches do reach out to others. There are a lot of people out there who don't have faith in their lives and we do very little as a community to reach out to them. While I'm sure that some of the growth in this fictional church was from people who left another church for Paul's; from what I've seen, those churches are good at reaching out to non-churchgoers as well. My daughter attends a public school I suspect there are more Catholics (at least in name) in that school than members of any other faith. However, it is the Evangelicals who bring pizza to those kids weekly and offer a friendly face, listening ear and invitation to church. Protestant churches post large banners inviting one and all to Bible school in the summer--at no cost. Catholic churches, if they offer such a program, offer it to members only, and only if they pay the fee. I guess we all need to be on-guard against building up temples to ourselves, but open to bringing others to His temple.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Memory Keeper's Daughter

I just finished reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter. It is the story of two families. The first family is a doctor, his wife and their son. The doctor delivered his son in his office during a blizzard in 1964, with the assistance of his nurse, who is secretly in love with him. After the healthy boy is delivered, a twin girl with Down's Syndrome is delivered. Since gas to put the mother out was a normal anesthesia in those days, mom didn't know that the girl was alive. The doctor gave the girl to the nurse and told her to take the baby to a nearby institution for the feeble-minded. When his wife regained consciousness he told her she had a healthy son, but that a twin daughter had been born dead. The nurse takes the baby to the institution but can't bring herself to leave the baby in that place. She decides to leave town and take the baby with her. They are the other family in the story. This is not a fluffy feel-good read. However, it does have a reasonably happy ending.

I have heard and read that institutionalizing special needs kids as infants was common in those days and that doctors advised doing so "before you get attached to the baby". Even so, especially to the mom of a special needs son, the doctor's actions seemed shocking or cruel. I was an education major in college and one subject we studied was special education because PL94-142 guaranteeing a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment had just been passed. We had to know about special education, even though we weren't going to be special ed teachers. Our class took a field trip to the North Mississippi Mental Retardation Center. This was a relatively new facility, clean and apparently well-kept. In other words, at least from outside appearances, as institutions go, it was a nice one. I have never wanted out of a place more in my life. I remember seeing a grown man wearing a diaper and not much more laying spastic in a crib. I remember seeing another sitting in a time-out booth, basically a rubber room, having a temper tantrum. I remember women sitting slack-jawed and drooling in wheelchairs. It wasn't a fun outing.

When I was pregnant with my youngest, someone asked me if I'd had a lot of pre-natal testing, given my age. I told her that I hadn't. Since I don't believe in abortion, and wasn't real thrilled to be pregnant anyway, I didn't think I needed anything else to make me unhappy, so I told the doctor that if he couldn't fix it, I didn't need to know about it. I also realized that I had left the hospital twelve years earlier with a perfectly healthy little boy who turned out not to be--and we survived. As I've noted here on other posts, sometimes he seems almost normal--and we are so used to him as he is that it is normal for him--and yet at other times his differences are brought forth front and center. I guess like most other things in life, his autism is both a blessing and a curse. He himself though is truly a blessing, and I can't imagine choosing to put him away because of who/how he is and I'm grateful that society and schools now suport keeping kids with their families rather than in institutions.

Amazing Grace

This song was played at a Lifeteen mass I attended recently. I really liked it and wondered who did it (and I must have missed the credits) but really didn't know how to go about finding it. Then I was surfing some blogs and ran across this, so I knew to check Youtube. This is the first video posted on my blog. Learn something new every day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Today's Bargain

As you have no doubt noted, I've become addicted to Bookmooch. It is so easy to browse through the offerings, push the mooch button, and have the book show up in my mailbox. The only downside is that I have to return the favor--I have to mail my unwanted books to others (and even that isn't such a downside since it keeps the shelves somewhat clear). Mailing out all those books requires packaging materials. I was perusing the after Christmas section at K-Mart the other day and found USPS bubble pack mailer envelopes, the big ones, originally priced at $1.39 for 10 cents each. I bought about 20 the other day and this morning, after using several of them (if you've mooched books from me they should be mailed tomorrow) decided to go back and see if they still had some. I try to recycle the packaging others send to me, but it is so much easier to use those nice new mailers. They had plenty, so I bought 50 of them. In other words, this week I spent $7.00 on mailers that would, if I went to the Post office, cost me over $70.00.

Power of the Real Presence

As noted in other entries, I've been reading Christian Fiction lately. Sometimes it takes a bit of a thick skin because there are veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) derogatory comments about Catholicism. I just finished SisterChicks Say Ooh La La! If you aren't familiar with the series, Sisterchicks books are about 40 something women who have been long-time friends who take the vacation of a lifetime together, and in the process learn about themselves and about God in their lives. They aren't conversion stories in that a character goes from dissolute sinner to self-sacrificing saint in one emotional experience but rather I'd say the experiences tend to be more "Catholic", more of a new take on things by an old Christian, which is the way we see conversion--as something we are all called to all our lives.

While reading this book I grimaced when the author described the character from France, as a girl, going to church with a doily on her head. The other main character's mother wouldn't let her attend that church with her friend and encouraged the friend to attend church with them. Later in the book we learn that the reason their friendship broke up when they were seniors in high school was an evangelization effort by the non-Catholic friend's mother--though it seems that the French girl as an adult has an Evangelical Protestant view of God and salvation. However, I had to smile when the conversion experience of the woman who was raised Protestant happened, in of all places, Notre Dame. I won't give you the details, but they were in the church to pray, not just to sightsee, and while there, she experienced God's healing. That Real Presence is powerful even if you don't believe in it.

I do wish someone would write fluffy fiction from a Catholic perspective.

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