Monday 31 December 2018

Books Finished in 2018

This year I exceeded my annual 52 book target: 63  These are not all the books I dipped into, but they are  all (with one exception) the books I read from beginning to end.  (I recorded the exception so that I would not make the mistake of picking it up again.)

The first book I read in 2018 was  Home from the Vinyl Cafe by Canadian Stuart McLean, which made me laugh very much,  and the last was Life after Life by the British Kate Atkinson, which impressed me no end.

To amuse myself, I will now colour-code these books by category:

Blue for novels/fiction in English.
Red for works in Polish.
Black for non-fiction.

The books I wrote about for publications are in bold.

Life after Life (Kate Atkinson, great book, an astonishingly good writer)

The Tiger in the Smoke (Allingham, just the slightest bit overwritten for my tastes but very good)

Tradition & Sanity (Kwasniewski, see LSN review): Catholic interest

Podróż Wędrowca do świtu (C.S. Lewis, trans. into Polish by Andrzej Polkowski)

Goodbye, Things (Sasaki, inspiring): Minimalism

Horace and Me (H. Eyres, moving but apostate): Classics

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (W. Irvine, quite fun if ultimately atheist): Philosophy

Beowulf the Dragonslayer (R. Sutcliffe, satisfyingly Anglo-Saxon in its rhythms)

The Lovely Bones (A. Sebold, v. good)

A Long Way Down (N. Hornsby, v. good) 

The French Country Table (Washburn, better read than a cheap romance novel): Cooking

A Guide to the Stock Market: How the [UK] Stock Market Works (Croft, off-putting, class-conscious, surely out of date & I couldn't finish it): Money

The Geeks Guide to the Writing Life (Vanderslice, interesting): Writing

Self-Sufficiency: Hen Keeping (Hatcher, useful): Hens

Human Croquet (Atkinson, genius)

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua, gripping, painful, frightening, made me cry): Biography/Pedagogy 

The Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson, inspiring): Stewardship

The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism is Betraying Women (Nash, brilliant, see LSN interview): Women/Catholic Interest

The urban hen: a practical guide to keeping poultry (Paul Peacock): Hens

Family guide to keeping chickens (Anne Perdeaux): Hens

Make your own beer and cider (Paul Peacock): Cider

Booze for free: the definitive guide to homebrew (Andy Hamilton): Cider

Eat Move Sleep (Tim Rath, inspiring): Health

Grow your own vegetables (interesting): Gardening

French Women Don't Get Facelifts (shallow): Health

Murder is Easy (Christie, good--I guessed the murderer for first time)

Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories (Christie, good)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Haddon, brilliant)

Miss Moneypenny's Guide to financially independent women (McGregor, ok but blogs are better): Money

Low Cost Living (J. Harrison, interesting): Minimalism

Książę Kaspian (C.S. Lewis, trans. into Polish by Andrzej Polkowski

Escape Everything (Wringham, inspiring & fun): Minimalism 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Barbery; trans, Anderson, brilliant)

Marrying Off Mother (G. Durrell, dirty and disappointing)

The Sleep Revolution (A. Huffington, fun): Health

Authentic Happiness (Seligman, some use, ultimately atheist): Pop Philosophy

Eat that Frog (Tracy, v. helpful): Work Skills

Mad about the House (Watson-Smyth, informative & enjoyable): Home Design

Happy by Design (V. Harrison, excellent): Home Design

Girl's Guide to Decorating (A. Ahern, inspiring): Home Design

Patios & Courtyards (Royal Hortic. Soc., interesting): Gardening

Love Your Garden (A. Titchmarsh, interesting): Gardening

Poland: A History (A. Zamoyski, sweeping): History

Stamboul Train (G. Greene, sad)

Multilingualism: a Very Short Introduction (Maher, tooth-achingly PC): Languages

Crewe Train (R. Macaulay, funny & sad)

The Outcast (Sutcliff, master class on drama)

The Silver Branch (Sutcliff, brilliant)

Amore and Amaretti (Unintentionally but desperately sad): Biography

Better than Fiction 2: True Adventures from 30 Great Fiction Writers (Lonely Planet, v. good): Travel

The World My Wilderness (R. Macaulay, excellent)

Third Girl (Agatha Christie, genius at puzzles)

We Can't All be Astronauts (Clare, made me grateful for own lot): Writing

Jane of Lantern Hill (Montgomery, wonderful)

The Truth is Out There: Brendan and Erk in Exile, Vol 1 (Amadeus, good): Catholic interest

Why We are Catholic (Horn, very good; see LSN reflection): Catholic interest

Siostrzeniec Czarodzieja (C.S. Lewis, trans. into Polish by Andrzej Polkowski; see LSN reflection)

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (J. Peterson, awesome; see CWR review): Pop philosophy

A Short Guide to a Long Life (Agus, amusing pop medicine): Health

Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness (Phillips, not Russel, so disappointing): Pop philosophy

The Nursing Home Murder (N. Marsh, dull)

Każdy dzień z Jezusem "Each day with Jesus"

Home From the Vinyl Cafe (S McLean, laughed until I cried)

An amusing footnote to this year of reading is that Jordan Peterson's team felt my CWR review of his book worth noting in its Wikipedia entry. I suspect it was my perhaps unexpected reference to Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. 

German Techno New Year's Eve

Oh, Quietsche-Entchen nur mit dir
plansche ich so gerne hier
ich hab dich so furchtbar lieb

Quietsche-Entchen, so ein Spass,
wenn ich drücke, sagst du was
der beste Freund den’s gibt

Pitsche pitsche pitsch patsch

Sunday 30 December 2018

Happy Christmas!

It was a busy Christmas until I caught a fiendish cold and ended up in bed for two days. However, I am now up and on my feet (so to speak), and I have opened up my Assimil German language pack, a present from my parents. 

The first lesson contains, naturally, the phrase "Guten Tag" ("Good day")and the word "Heute" ("today"), so afterwards I absolutely had to listen to "Heut' ist mein Tag" and then a great number of Falco songs, the lyrics plugged into Google Translate. 

I have a lot of letters to write, so I do not know when I will get a chance to blog again. But for those who are interested, I have begun Lesson 18 ("Jazda do Pracy", "Trip to Work") of Daily Polish Stories and also Father Józef Tischner's Krótki Przewodnik po Życiu (Short Guide to Life).  I received the latter as a birthday gift last year, so I would like to have read at least half by my birthday this year. When that book is done, I will read Lalka, which will take at least a year.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Trim the Hearth and Set the Table!

After Mass today a parishioner mentioned that I had written many articles for LSN this week, which surprised him. He thought that perhaps we would slow down towards Christmas. Ho, ho, ho, as Santa Claus would say.

I don't remember what I wrote earlier this week, but I turned in three stories on Thursday and two stories on Friday, and then I danced a little Friday-at-7:15-PM jig and rushed off to the kitchen to make 3 dozen pierogi.

It is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, and your humble correspondent has been preparing for Christmas as much as I can, given my full-time job. I turned to Facebook to ask job-working mothers how on earth they do it, and they said (in sum) that they do what they can when they can do it. One suggested prioritising, e.g. writing Christmas cards instead of vacuuming.

I didn't feel I could give up vacuuming, and I prioritised pierogi over getting to the post office, so the Christmas cards didn't go out until yesterday. However (and more importantly), the big parcel of presents for my family in Canada has arrived intact. That was at the very top of my To-Do list, once B.A. and I discovered we wouldn't be going to Canada for Christmas ourselves.

We are going to our friends' place in the countryside of Fife for Christmas Lunch. But tomorrow we are having a Polish Wigilia (Christmas Vigil) supper, and I have enjoyed myself immensely making as many Wigilia dishes as I can ahead of time.

No matter which region in Poland you are from (and as PPS's Pretend Mother, I culturally appropriate from  Lwów), pierogis are crucial at Christmas time. They are tricky to make. Because I haven't made them in awhile, I asked my Polish tutor to come over and give me a refresher course. Frankly, the best advice I can give any non-Pole about pierogi making is to get a nice Polish woman to come over and make them for you. Even if she is only 20, she will have had 15 years experience in making pierogis with her grandmother aka My Babcia.

"This reminds me of making pierogi with My Babcia," enthused 20-something Anna on Thursday morning at 9:45ish, and then I thought about my own Scottish-Canadian grandmother off and on all day, even though I strongly doubt she ever ate a pieróg in her life, much less made one.

I was going to write a step-by-step guide to making pierogi, but I am too sleepy. Instead I recommend that you find a good tutorial on YouTube. Anna's favourite recipe is here, and it is a good one. (Paste it into Google Translate.)  It made the easiest-to-handle pierogi dough I've ever met.  Meanwhile, I will pass along some of Anna's tips, which were:

1. Don't put too much filling in the middle.
2. Wet the edges of every pieróg circle with warm water, using your finger.
3. Mash down the edges with a fork, and then flip over and mash the edges down with a fork again.

As a result of Anna's recipe and good advice, none of my uszki (soup pierogi) and only two of my pierogi leaked in the boiling water. I have made pierogi with cheese and potatoes and pierogi with mushroom and cabbage. They are now in the freezer. In addition to these, I have made kompot (stewed fruit) and kompot (juice from the stewed fruit) and kutia, which is a poppyseed pudding eaten from Warsaw to Moscow, I imagine, and in the households of those who were booted out of Eastern Poland when the borders changed in 1945.  I have also made two sweet little jam jars of herring salads, and at a certain point I realised that even though I promised B.A. I would not make the traditional twelve dishes for Wigilia, I am probably going to do it by accident.

So I confessed to B.A. and he said he didn't mind if I made all 12 as long as I didn't make myself miserable. And I won't be miserable, especially as he is going to make the salmon dish.

I have already made the cake to go into my British-Canadian trifle... and this is where I realise I probably sound a bit mad. But you have to understand that my mother makes hundreds of cookies of a dozen different kinds every Christmas before she makes all our traditional Christmas Day foodstuffs. Both my mother and I (and probably my youngest sister) both really enjoy Christmas baking, and it was a moment of great disappointment when I realised I just do not have the time to bake any more cookies before Christmas Day. Weep, weep.

As for the tree... Every year we put off getting the tree until the 23rd or so because, traditionalists to the bone, we don't like decorating for Christmas before Christmas Eve. Because Scots start buying their trees on December 1, there has always been a risk that B.A. and I wouldn't be able to find a tree on the 23rd. Today was that day. However, I said a prayer and lo: there were two small trees-in-pots in Aldi for £4.99. So now we have a small tree-in-pot, and apparently B.A. is going to decorate it tomorrow.

I will now respond to a few comments. Work has been so busy, I really haven't had the time to read comments, let alone write on the blog.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Always wanting more

I read this Atlantic piece with amusement. It concerns a study into a correlation between money and happiness, and the researcher became quite depressed as he realised that even the super-rich think they would be "perfectly" happy only if they had double or triple the amount of money they already have.

The researcher seems to have missed the forest for the trees, for what seems to make the super-rich he studies at least temporarily happier is winning high-states poker games or besting each other at charitable donations. Well, winning is always nice. I get quite excited when I win a free Lotto ticket or--yippee!--£25. That covers almost a quarter of our gambling budget for the year, and I mark it down in the Household Accounts as "Entertainment."

I think the secret of happiness is not to chase the emotion but to enjoy it fully whenever it comes. I am not actually sure what Maeterlinck's "Blue Bird of Happiness" is about, but if his point is that it flutters hither and thither and lands on your hand occasionally, then yeah. That makes sense.

While writing my annual Christmas piece for LSN, I was filled with gloom.

B.A. and I are going to have a perfectly nice Christmas, I hasten to say.  We're going to give a little Polish supper for Wigilia, and then we're going to Midnight Mass as usual. When we get home, I will roll up my Sacred Family Christmas Chelsea Bun and leave it to rise. On Christmas morning, I will bake the Sacred Family Christmas Chelsea Bun, and then B.A. and I will wash half of it down with coffee while opening our presents. Then we will find some sort of transport to Christmas III Mass, and after that we will go to the countryside, my Sacred Family Christmas Trifle wrapped in ice-cube filled dish towels, to stay with a friendly Catholic family for a few days. There will be a Christmas feast. It will be all very British Trad Catholic and jolly.

But this was the second Christmas we were planning to spend in Canada with family, and we can't. That is, we chose to follow B.A's oncologist's advice, to safeguard B.A.'s health. That doesn't sound as bad. Also, as Christmas-observing Christians all know, "Jesus"--not family-- "is the Reason for the Season."

Not all Christians observe Christmas, by the way. I am thinking primarily of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, of which I am fond because of our friend Calvinist Cath. The Wee Frees, as they are jocularly called, observe Sundays with great staunchness, vigour and trouble to themselves, but they don't celebrate any of the feasts of the Roman Calendar because they don't believe God asked anyone to do so. I think this lacks historical consciousness, but as this is an aside, I won't get into that.

Right. So although we are going to have a lovely Christmas, complete with two feasts (three if you count the Bun binge) and two Masses--possible three, if we go to Mass on the 26th, too, as the Poles think we are supposed to--I am still sad that we will not be in Canada with my family.  And I must say that is rather ironic to be a pro-life, pro-baby, pro-family crusader when I've never been pregnant, never had a baby, and see members of my family three times a year max.

The general idea of pro-family activism is that happiness comes not from money and career but from loving (I mean loving, not having sex with) people, accepting their love in return, and putting up with them in and out of season while striving to make it easier for them to put up with you. That is actually sound, in a sense, although it is important to concentrate on the family and friends you HAVE instead of the ones you don't. And a good chunk of that happiness might have developed from the sense of a duty done because loving does not always mean liking, especially if you come from a broken home.

Meanwhile, the Stoics would argue that happiness comes from developing satisfaction with whatever life brings. You can't control what life brings, but you can control your reactions to what life brings. If you are sad you don't have children, it is worth remembering that there are many people who have children but are utterly miserable all the same. Children are not a magic happiness wand.

And I really have no cause to complain about my lot. I have a kind husband who is in work, and his brain tumours have stopped growing and may be disintegrating. I have an interesting job which brings me into contact with many interesting people but still leaves me enough time for housework, language study, and culinary projects. We own (!) our own home. My parents and siblings and their children are all still alive and (D.V.) I will see them all in February.

That's enough.

Monday 10 December 2018

Advent 2: Black Currant Vodka

The Advent Candelabra is my Christmas present from B.A.! 
Some years ago, when Polish Pretend Son expressed unhappiness at being unable to smoke indoors at certain dinner parties, I rashly promised to buy a flat he could smoke in. It was, of course, a joke. However, now that Benedict Ambrose and I have our own home there is no ordinance forbidding PPS from smoking indoors, and it does seem inhospitable to forbid it, especially after years of promising PPS he could smoke indoors when we left the Historical House.

B.A. flip-flopped on the issue. First he said "No". Then, during the merriment of a Schola dinner party on Friday night, he said "Yes."  Then on Sunday he said, "Pipes only."  And, thus, PPS went out for his customary cigarette between meat and pudding, and then when pudding (piernik [gingerbread cake] & mazurek królewski  [ornate jam tart] ) was sufficiently demolished, no fewer than three guests lit their pipes.

Welcome to Traddieland.

The fact that we are no longer at the Historical House is most dramatically illustrated by fire. For nine years, we could not light a match indoors, lest Scotland's Treasure burn to the ground. Not only could no-one smoke indoors (and indeed had to go down three flights of old stone staircase to smoke outdoors), we could not light candles, not even on a birthday cake.

I bought my first box of matches in over a decade at Tesco on Saturday, and (excluding the gas hob) fire was introduced to our home yesterday evening when we lit two purple Advent candles on the dining-room table. And then, after the carrot soup, the roast chicken, roast potatoes, gravy and peas--and PPS's cold outdoor cigarette break--I lit two numerical candles on PPS's gingerbread birthday cake. From the expression on his face, I guessed PPS had mixed feelings about his age confronting him in candle form.

"Can you believe PPS is [redacted]?" I wailed later to the Schola Bass. "He used to be 23!"

"I never think that way," said the Schola Bass cheerfully and took his Hobgoblin beer to the sitting-room so I could clear up.

This morning I counted the bottles. We were expecting seven guests, but in the end we had only five. The seven of us still managed to get through three bottles of red wine, one and a half of white, three (four?) 500-ml bottles of homemade apple cider, three bottles of Hobgoblin , some blackcurrant vodka and some blackcurrant vodka liqueur. That's actually rather abstemious for Scotland. Oh, and five of us had gin-and-tonics before supper, naturally.

B.A. and I made the apple cider, of course, and the more he drank it, the more B.A. liked it. He usually thinks it is too dry, but I think it's lovely. It tastes beautifully of apples.

I made the blackcurrant vodka and the liqueur myself. It was easy. In July 2017, I picked a bagful of black currants from their parent bushes, washed and dried them, put them in a big preserving jar, poured over a big bottle of vodka, and left them alone until Saturday night. On Saturday night, I poured out the liquid, pulverised the swollen blackcurrants, and squished the rest of their vodka/juice through cheesecloth. Then I turned half of the result into liqueur by adding simple syrup and putting the sweetened liquid in two nice bottles.

"You're a real housewife," said Polish Pretend Daughter-in-law, and I felt very pleased. This is a development. I grew up in two of the only three decades in human history when being a housewife was considered shameful, so naturally I never wanted to be one. I was also highly annoyed with PPS on some advanced birthday of my own when I mourned not having a "proper job" and he suggested I make vodka cordials instead. But that was before I stayed a a friend's home in Poland and discovered how important cook/build/pick/brew/distill-it-yourself is in Polish culture.

Now that I have a "proper job" instead of freelancing,  I love all the super old-fashioned housewifely things--like making flavoured vodka and apple cider--I do in what's left of my free time after language studies. And annoying as dusting-and-hoovering is, it is less annoying now that I make an annual salary, too.

PPS and PPDIL both live in Poland now; this was just a weekend visit. The newlyweds were feted from the West End to the New Town to our humble neighbourhood, and at about 10 PPDIL fell asleep on the bed in the corner of our dining room. I found this perfectly sensible, for many a time have I crept away from Schola dinner parties, the men wreathed in smoke and shouting about clerical and musical personages from the halcyon days before their Tiber swims, to fall asleep on the coats on the Bass's bed. As far as I know, I was the only guest ever to do this, so I felt that PPDIL, covered in a beautiful Russian shawl under a cloud of pipe smoke, was a real chip off the Pretend Canadian Mother block.

The dishes were done by 1 AM, and unsurprisingly, I slept past 10 AM. Then I had much to do to stop the dining-room, which doubles as my office, from smelling of pipe tobacco, and I didn't quite manage it.

I thus hereby create a new ordinance called the Polish Pretend Son Privilege: no smoking anything unless PPS is here. After all, I never promised anyone else a flat he could smoke in.

Update: Traddies will be interested in my review of Dr. Kwasniewski's latest book, which I compare to piernik, not because he is Polish-American, but because I had gingerbread on the brain.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Advent 1

It's Advent, so I am in the mood for purple. I have ordered a purple tablecloth and purple candles. I have even recoloured my blog, as you can see. 

The music was extra-splendid at the Edinburgh Missa Cantata this morning. There was lots of singing in which the humble people in the pews were allowed to take part. We had the Advent Prose ("Rorate  caeli"), the Hymn of the Advent Office ("Conditor alme siderum") and the Advent hymn to Our Lady ("Alma redemptoris mater"). 

Is "Christe, redemptor omnium" for Advent, Christmas or Epiphany? Whichever one it is, I hope we get Monteverdi's this year. 

I love Advent music. When B.A. and I got home from Mass, I found a long album of Advent carols on youtube and began to wrap Christmas presents. Wrapping presents on December 2 is my all-time record for earliness. It's partly because I have to send the parcel to Canada sooner rather than later, and it's partly because I feel badly I didn't make the Christmas cake two-to-four weeks ago. I was hoping B.A. would be allowed to travel to Canada, and I didn't want to jinx it by making the cake.  Thus, there will be no proper Christmas cake this year.  I will bake every traditional thing else. 

Although the homily had nothing to do with martyrdom, I worried a lot about Audrey's assisted suicide. I read Lord of the World: I know what happens next. What happens next is that Catholics are called cruel for standing in the way of easy, painless deaths and not allowing them in our hospitals.  Then, just as I had to turn down offers of IVF almost every time I talked to doctors about my chances of having a baby, many of us are likely to be offered "medically assisted death" when we are at our weakest, most painful ebb. 

And that made me think about that lady in the Catholic religious articles shop in the US--and if you don't know the story, please don't look for it, for it is the most ghastly, grotesque, and horrid American atrocity story I've read in months, if not years. To make a horrible story short, a brave Catholic wife-and-mother looked down the barrel of a gun and decided she'd rather be shot than do what the gunman told her to do.  I hope and pray I would have her guts. 

But it might be even harder to say no to a caring nurse with the merciful needle than to a villain with a gun, which led me to my next thought: how does one train oneself to say no to the needle?

I suppose the way forward may be to not only to fast periodically so as to actually feel hungry as pain but to confront other kinds of pain, like getting up at 5 AM, doing one too many pushups every day, or learning how to do one's own outrageously complicated taxes. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola was very down on the idea of his Society overdoing it on penances, but it strikes me that penance might be a kind of training and as long as you don't do yourself a damage, it may bear fruit later. 

I have almost finished reading Peter Kwasniewski's Tradition & Sanity: Conversations & Dialogues of a Postconciliar Exile, so keep an eye out for my review. It should appear this week. 

Saturday 1 December 2018

Death of a Pagan Stoic

I just came across this via Josh Becker's blog, and I am quite surprised as I seem to recall that Josh is a Christian.

Not exactly a poster child for Stoicism, I had a meltdown this morning over writing my first British cheque ever---a hefty fee to the accountant who is going to sort out my confusion over being a Canadian working for a Canadian company but living and having to pay taxes in the UK.

I am literally frightened by anything having to do with accountants and taxes. It's irrational, but there it is. At a deep level, I am terrified of accountants, Revenue Canada, Her Majesty's Revenue, and the whole gang. It's probably connected with the utter despair of Grade 10 Math.

Anyway--and you won't believe how long it took for me to write the above--I read this very Stoic account of a woman approaching death, and it all sounded wonderful except for the arranging-to-be-legally-murdered part.

Update: I just had a comforting conversation with my mother. Apparently my housewife grandmother used to do my typesetter grandfather's taxes for him. While she figured them out, he would march back and forth yelling, "The feds are coming to get me! The feds are coming to get me!"

Friday 30 November 2018

Dreher's Advice for a Weary Ghost

Rod Dreher's columns in The American Conservative are my new must-reads, and I was moved this morning when I got caught up with his latest and found "Advice for a Weary Ghost." That was one self-serving agony aunt, I have to say, speaking as a former agony aunt myself.

Instead of yammering on about refusing to be blinded by shame and advertising her latest book, the agony aunt could have told "Haunted" to stop mourning the past and obsessing about the future but to take stock of what she has today and ask herself what she can do now to make tomorrow better.

I felt for "Haunted" because I felt that I had "blown it" in some cosmic way when I was 35, too. I also had credit card debt, which I paid off gradually, partly with the help of a family member, me paying back the family member before my father found out and just paid him/her the rest.

(If you don't have generous and solvent family members, apply for a low-interest bank loan, and pay off the credit card that way. Then buy nothing but food, rent, and utilities until the bank loan is paid off.)

There is no point telling a 35 year old American woman that moving around the country and creating different groups of friends to whom you eventually bid farewell and may never see again is not a recipe for lasting happiness. It MAY do some good to tell 20 year olds this. However, there is no guarantee that getting married to your most determined suitor at 25 is a recipe for lasting happiness either.

It is for quite a lot of women, however. I will say that. Anyone who thinks that becoming a published author is a comparable path to happiness hasn't read many biographies of writers--or their children's memoirs. Many of us book-loving girls got our expectations of what life brings from the Anne books, so it's salutary to know that Lucy Maud Montgomery committed suicide in the end. Sad but true.

By the way, Little Women is a very dangerous book, I now realise, for it is the first place we are likely to read about a girl who hates being a girl and wants to be a boy. It would have been nice if Jo March Bhaer had voiced remorse for this later and emphasised how wonderful it was to be a woman, for womanhood meant she could be a wife and mother, as well as the foster mother for the dozens of boys and girls at the school she ran with her husband. She might have observed that her I-should-have-been-a-boy fantasies had been silly. Tall girls are no less feminine than short girls, Jo March. Don't be an ass. But yes. Life for middle-class women in the 1860s was indeed rather more restrictive than it was for men. On the plus side, fewer women than men lay dead on the battlefields of the American Civil War.

But to get back to credit card debt, which is a truly horrible thing, it is SO easy to see how so many people get sucked into it because A. the minimum payments are so small and B. when you want to hang out with a gang of people, restaurants beckon. Single people are often lonely people, and lonely people long for companionship, and when single people live in cramped rented accommodations flung out across a big city, it seems easier just to meet at a restaurant and split the bill, even or especially when you can't afford it. When you don't make very much money, or you don't like your job (I'm looking at you Statistics Canada), the temptation to "treat yourself"  can be overwhelming.

The impulse to heal a hurt with a treat dies hard. A couple of hours after discovering that ONCE AGAIN I can not go home for Christmas, I was in a snazzy bar drinking a badly made Cosmopolitan beside B.A., and the bill was £15.90. Had I not been reading books about Stoicism, I would have had a second cocktail, too.

The solution to this problem is to find free medicine, which for me comes from the library. We're a generation addicted to entertainment, so thank God for the public library system--and the internet, although that isn't free at home.

Meanwhile, my advice for writer-wannabe "Haunted" (Dreher asked readers to supply advice) was to start a blog about finding meaning in her life with an eye to helping other women in the same boat. That's what I did when I was 35, and it worked out very well for me.

UPDATE: One incurable regret is the age-related loss of fertility. Although I am still adamantly against women settling at 25 or 30 or at whatever age, I recognise that  unintentional childlessness is crushing and the fear of remaining childlessness is worthy of honour. The only solution I can see to this is accelerating your character so that you are as wise about yourself and others at 20 as you would have been at 40. I haven't the slightest idea how a teenager could be expected to do that though.

UPDATE 2: Doing art is fun. Writing things is fun. Writing can even make you money although writing fiction rarely, or only after writing fiction for almost nothing for a very long time. But "being an artist/writer" in itself does not make you happy. It does not necessarily bring you into contact with great friends because artists and writers do not necessarily make great friends.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Won't Be Home for Christmas but...

"Normally the patient sits in that seat," said the doctor, or words to that effect, to me.

Yes, Benedict Ambrose and I were back at the hospital. This time we were there to hear the results of his most recent scan, the one that followed six weeks of radiotherapy to stop the resurgent tumour which, to add insult to injury, had brought along two friends. 

Fortunately it was my "retreat day" from work, so I simply brought along Peter Kwasniewski's Tradition & Sanity with me to the waiting room. I was at Mass dark and early at 8 AM, and afterwards our priest loaned me Michael Davies' Liturgical Revolution Volume II, so B.A. read that. 

I always go the hospital with B.A. to hear medical pronouncements because too often he doesn't come home afterwards: it's back to the ward with him. The news is usually bad although, come to think of it, this is better than whichever doctor saying B.A. is fine when I know he is NOT fine.

When B.A.'s name was called, we gathered our coats and books and sped off to the consulting room, where I chose the seat closest to the oncologist's desk as it was pushed farther back. However, it turned out to be the wrong choice, and I had a sense that the doctor was faintly surprised that I was in the office at all, which shows that she does not appreciate the implications of the Catholic marriage bond--or she is unaware that B.A. spent months of his cancer adventure delirious, increasingly blind and unable to remember much or ask important questions.

The news was good. The "tumour buds", which had rapidly doubled in size after being detected, have stopped growing. This is a great mercy, for apparently the radiotherapy was so aggressive, the doctor would not have done it a second time.  One of the tumour buds looks like it is "necrotising," too--a word doctors use instead of dying. Die, tumour buds, die--but without taking my husband with you, thanks. 

We looked at the latest interesting high-tech x-rays of the inside of B.A.'s head, which are almost amusing because some show his tongue, teeth and jaw, too. B.A. says he doesn't identify with these images; they seem completely apart from him. On one x-ray/computer image was a dark horseshoe shape representing where the oncologists had radiated B.A.'s brain, as close to his brain stem as possible without actually touching it. 

B.A.'s tumours, by the way, are technically "benign" even though, left untreated, they would kill him. The problem is that they are basically on the worst, trickiest and most sensitive part of his brain. Normally this kind of brain tumour doesn't appear there. And normally this kind of brain tumour appears in five-year-olds. The probability of B.A. ever being in this situation was low, but here he is. 

Slightly off-setting this misfortune is the fact that his neurosurgeon is a paediatrics neurosurgeon and so was probably one of the few people in the world who could have done the operation he did without leaving B.A. badly damaged---although famously I think the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima had something to do with that, too. And although the subsequent radiotherapy robbed B.A. of the ability to hear music properly, that turned out to be only temporary. Thank God for that. 

After making an appointment for B.A. to come in for another scan in a few months, the doctor asked if we had any more questions. B.A. politely said "No," thus proving the importance of my being there. 

"Can he go to Canada in [four] weeks?" I asked. "For Christmas? It's an eight hour flight." 

Actually, it's more of a seven hour flight, but I was thinking of snowstorms and airplanes circling around Lester B. Pearson airport for ages, waiting for their turn to land.

The doctor looked perturbed.

"Have you booked your flights already?" she asked. 

"No," we said. "We were waiting until we spoke to you."

That had been a good thing to do. To make a long consultation short, she thought it a very bad idea for B.A. to be on a long flight although if we had insisted she would have given him some sort of steroid to help him through it.

"No, no, no," I said, thinking of a disastrous flight to Pisa last year, so we don't know what this steroid would do, or why exactly it is a bad idea for B.A. to fly---quite apart from the cost of medical insurance for a cancer patient travelling to Canada, which is apparently astronomical. 

Then B.A. remembered that we have already bought and paid for tickets to Poland in late January, but then the oncologist perked up and said that it was a good idea to start with a short flight.  Therefore, we are still going to Poland although I am a bit frightened about it. If anything like what happened after we flew to Pisa happens in Poland, we are taking the train to Berlin in July. And now the Berlin trip is now even more about seeing family than it was about museums. 

The oncologist advised us to go to the cancer patients' clubhouse for travelling insurance information for our European travels, so off we went to find it. We were met at the door by a kindly lady who showed us seats and offered tea and coffee and brought us cookies, a list of companies that insure cancer patients, and a schedule of cancer clubhouse activities. B.A. observed that it's my clubhouse, too, because I'm a Caregiver, to which I thought, "Dear God. I'm a Caregiver again." 

A Caregiver (or "Carer") is the United Kingdom expression for a person--sometimes paid by the state--who does most of the in-home caring for a sick or disabled person. I think the expression is meant to encompass the vast variety of people who may fill this role. As a concept, it has positive and negative implications. 

The positive aspect is that Caregivers are seen as a group of their own, and have their own clubs and advisers, who recognise how difficult being a Caregiver can be and that Caregivers need help and support. The negative aspect is that this reflects a breakdown in marriage and family. Once upon a time it was assumed that a wife took care of her sick husband, and vice versa, and parents took care of their disabled children, or children took care of their sick or disabled parents, and now it isn't. 

But the implications regarding Broken Britain aside, I am grateful for the identity label and the  resources available to Caregivers because, although obviously being the one with brain tumours is much worse, caring for a cancer patient can be frightfully annoying and difficult.  

The most annoying part is being treated by hospital staff as if you don't belong beside your sick person. Believe me, just offering the sick person's spouse/'partner'/Caregiver a glass of water is an unusual act of kindness. Possibly the nurses don't do it very often because they're embarrassed when the spouse/'partner'/Caregiver bursts into tears of gratitude. 

The most difficult parts are 1. second-guessing doctors and nurses--and I will never forget how starving  B.A. was fasted a day longer than necessary because a nurse made a mistake, and I thought she had made a mistake, but she didn't--and 2. not knowing what to do when something goes wrong. 

So although I am sad that we are not going to Canada for Christmas, I am glad that we are not going on a seven-hour flight. When we went to Italy in May 2017, we expected a relaxing holiday in which both of us would recover from the horrors of B.A.'s March diagnosis. The doctors had assured us that post-operative B.A. was fine. Fine to travel. Good to go. All was well. Nightmare over. Cheap flight to Pisa. Cheap train to Florence ... 

And then when B.A. got off the train, he fell and could not get up. Somehow I carried him and all our luggage to a seat, but after that, I did not know what to do or what was going on and, God love us, we both preferred to believe the doctors couldn't possibly have been wrong and he just had "low blood sugar". Neither of us knew, then, what delirium looked like. Hint: not just someone raving on their pillow about a lost love. Most of the time B.A. was delirious, he spoke with complete conviction in an ordinary tone of voice. He passed basic cognitive damage tests with flying colours. He wandered off to central Edinburgh because he fancied a doughnut.   

Well, anyway. No Toronto Christmas, but just remembering what happened in Florence (and then everything afterwards) has cheered me up a little. Better safe than that kind of sorry.

Update: I will say this again and again, but it is very shortsighted of the National Health Service not to recognise appropriately the role the sick person's primary caregiver plays in the healing of the patient. First of all, the caregiver has only ONE sick person in her care and so is an incredible resource. Second, the caregiver may be under so much stress, she is in danger of herself falling ill. If the caregiver falls ill, that can have a deleterious effect on the original patient. It will also add to the work of the NHS. Therefore, it is in everyone's interest to spend a half-minute a day acknowledging the primary caregiver, smiling at her or even offering her a glass of water.

Update 2: Given my readership, should acknowledge that our financial situation would be terrible if we were Americans or we lived in the United States without adequate health insurance. Speaking as a Canadian who lives in the UK and travels often to the Continent, I firmly believe in so-called "socialised medicine." There are a lot of things taxes shouldn't support, but cancer treatment is high on the list of things it should. 

Sunday 25 November 2018

The Berlin Project

My brother has invited Benedict Ambrose and me to stay with his family when they do a two-week house swap with a family in Berlin. There may also be a weekend across the border and south to Zakopane, to which I said, "Yes, please."

But as we will be spending most of the holiday in Berlin, I am going to brush up my German, which was never that advanced to begin with. I went to Germany in 2006 to learn enough German to read Karl Rahner's theology, but instead I took conversational German courses, watched a dozen 2006 World Cup games, partied with seminarians, and wrote down much descriptive detail that ended up in Ceremony of Innocence. The nun-professor who graded my subsequent Theological German exam back in Boston was underwhelmed. Also, women are no longer allowed to live in that seminary. Fact.

Anyway, I am now collecting useful German-learning websites like The German Project although first I will start with Pimsleur's German, as Pimsleur's Polish was so good.

Because I need both Polish and Italian for work, I am not going to spend too much time on German: just half an hour a day. Also I am not going to spend a penny on German lessons because I am already spending many pennies on Polish. Besides, one of my brothers and both my parents are German-speakers. To practise speaking, all I'll have to do is call up my parents on Skype.

Of course, I may never be in a situation in Berlin where I'll actually HAVE to speak German, for I imagine we'll all be in either museums or restaurants during our waking hours. (I will, however, have to go to  club one night for as a child I was possessed by a great desire to go to a punk rock club in Berlin, and this will be my first opportunity to do so. The closest I have come was a Goth bar in Frankfurt-am-Main; I went there with a Mexican classmate whose flat I awarded to my fictional Catriona, and it was an awesome adventure. On the other hand, I can imagine neither B.A. nor my brother nor my sister-in-law in any kind of nightclub in Berlin. Hmm....)

That said, it is polite to know at least a little of the language of any country one inflicts one's touristy self on, and it will be fun to speak to my parents and brother in German. My father is a keen advanced German learner and recommends "Rocket German", so I have signed up for the free sample lessons.

So far I have done Pimsleur Units 1-4, and I am curious to see how much I can learn after seven months of only half an hour of German study a day. That's almost 200 hours, about a third of the time (allegedly) one needs to become fluent. Hopefully that is enough to recall what I learned in 2006 ("Tor!!!"), plus "Six tickets to Kraków, bitte."

The Berlin Project Resources

1. All the Pimsleur.
2. Free online stuff.
3. Self-made cards for everything in my Berlitz German Phrase Book and Dictionary.
4.  "Teach Yourself German" kit from Edinburgh library system.
5. School of Mum & Dad

Update: Current tally of family languages: Anglo-Saxon; English; French; German; Italian; Latin (reading and/or Church); Classical Greek (reading); Japanese (beginner); Polish; Spanish; Romanian; Russian (basic 1960s). Both my parents, both my sisters and one of my brothers is much better at language-learning than I am although I am catching up.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Hats vs Minimalism (+ Chocioły)

This week I read Goodbye, Things by a Japanese minimalist named Fumio Sasaki. It is an entertaining read, and I suspect it was cobbled together from his blog.  The photographs are inspiring, too: Saskaki shows what his bedroom looked like when he was a miserable materialist, then what it looked like when it was down to simple furniture, and finally what it looked like when he got rid of all furniture except a fold-away futon mattress and achieved tranquility.

I am somewhat envious of Sasaki--especially as his apartment has honey-coloured wood floors throughout. Our flat has wall-to-wall carpeting, and B.A. says it must stay for the sake of our downstairs neighbour. According to the internet, the noise of upstairs neighbours thumping around is one of the most niggling strains in British community life.

Nevertheless, I am doing what I can to rid ourselves of all unnecessary belongings. This week I made two trips on foot to a charity shop with bags of books, bedding and kitchen utensils. A suitcase of summer clothes now lives in the shed. The sitting-room is still, however, festooned with artificial owls: owl prints on the walls, owl cushions on the chairs, brass owls on the side table, ceramic salt-and-pepper shaker owls on the kitchen table, painted owl on the china coffee cup on the leather-topped side table I said we could keep after all.

That the leather-topped table survived the purge is evidence I love my husband more than minimalism. Meanwhile, he finally glued the pieces together so that the table would stop falling part every time I touched it, so I am feeling more friendly towards it.

I also seem to love hats more than minimalism although the fun of buying two new winter hats online (on special!) wore off almost as soon as the postwoman delivered the box this morning. Still, one must have winter hats, and I have a bad habit of losing at least one wool beret every year. For a less formal/old-lady look, I also bought an olive-coloured corduroy fisherman's/fiddler's cap. At 59 cm it is a bit snug, but "extra-large" (61 cm) was too big.

This morning I looked at the hats crowded in our bedroom closet with some dismay. They are as following:

1. pale-green and black bespoke mini-hat for cocktail parties and weddings;
2. large royal blue straw hat for weddings;
3. enormous brown "straw" (actually starched paper) hat for hot climes;
4. navy blue French Scout hat for hiking (at 60 cm just a touch too big), except it looks out of place everywhere except in France or at super-trad Girl Guide camp;
5. delightful confection of black straw, black net, and blue-and-green feathers for cocktail parties and weddings;


very posh-looking pink hat my youngest sister bought for a wedding in England and I am keeping for her in case there are other English weddings; and
white Panama hat I bought B.A. for hot climes

In addition, I have 6. an open-work crocheted beret which is totally unsuitable in wet or cold weather,  7. a blue beret my mother knitted and now 8. a new forest green beret and  9. this snazzy fiddler's cap.

B.A. has two green tweed caps, size 57 cm. I feel vaguely ashamed that my head is 2.75 cm larger than my husband's. My theory is that he was built along nimble Pict lines, whereas I am a lumbering (if short) Viking woman.

Meanwhile, it is very difficult to find women's hats that fit my large head, the principal reason why I am loath to get rid of any of my occasional-wear hats. I haven't been to a cocktail party in years, but there is a chance more of my friends and acquaintances will marry.

Come to think of it, I may rid myself of the bepoke mini-hat, for anyone with as big a head as I do, let alone the bizarrely thick hair, has no business wearing a mini-hat. The phrase "organ-grinder's monkey" comes to mind.

I am also reminded of the Chochoły from a Polish play called Wesele ("The Wedding Reception"*). Chocoły are either animated bushes wrapped in straw or living haystacks. I love the concept for they epitomise the strangeness of Poland and other countries east of the Oder: the unfamiliar kings and queens, the bizarre new monsters, Christmas trees hung upside-down, fearless mushroom-picking, etc. Wesele is pleasantly weird, too, as you will discover if you watch the film.

When Polish Pretend Son was planning his wedding, I asked if there would be a Chochoł to haunt the proceedings.

"You will be the Chochoł," said PPS, and so I was, only in blue, not straw.  

*This is usually translated as "The Wedding", but that is not strictly accurate.

Update (noted in hall cupboard): 10. Faux-fur winter hat for east of Oder--or west of Yonge Street--only.

Update 2: I have taken the mini-hat and enormous brown hat to a charity shop, along with a potato peeler, a silk Chinese blouse, a few owl figurines, and a large, rolled-up, deep-pile green rug. B.A. hated the rug, so he is delighted.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Dinner Party Reflections 2

I forgot, when I sat down at my keyboard this morning, that I meant to praise dinner parties as a great joy in life. Naturally I've done this before, but as it happens, the Stoics liked them, too. It wasn't for the food and drink, of course, that Stoics loved parties, but for the friendships.

The Anglo-Saxons thought of the after-life as an endless dinner in the celestial mead-hall, or so it seems in the Dream of the Rood.  There is quite a lot of feasting in the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but eating alone is frowned upon---even dangerous, if you recall what happened to Edmund after pigging out on Turkish delight.

(By the way, real Turkish delight is much, much better than that dreck you tried at your local candy store.)

Sometimes Benedict Ambrose fusses about the work involved in cooking dinner for six to eight people, and sometimes I respond by saying that my mother cooked dinner for six to eight people for over twenty years. When B.A. is on his game, he doubts that these were three-to-four course dinners, which is pretty accurate, except at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But my more profound point is that I  ate supper around a table with other people until my third year at university, when I moved downtown. Therefore, every dinner was, to a certain extent, a dinner party. And if (for various reasons) you don't have children in the house, the best substitute is a regular number of dinner parties with adults of varying ages but relatively uniform interests.

My last dinner party involved six adults aged between 18 and 50-something, and we were all interested in traditional Catholic and Orthodox liturgies and music to a certain degree. We had something fun and liturgical to watch on my computer after pudding, and occasionally someone burst into song, which was never allowed at my family dinner table, although G.K. Chesterton valued singing at the dinner table very highly. Two of the guests were Polish, so occasionally I was asked for the English word to some homely object (cooking pot, which I knew) or concept (being disabled, which I didn't). I asked them to name some ancient Slavic tunes.

Very often at our dinner parties I miss out on great slices of dinner party chat, for I'm away back in the kitchen, washing up the soup bowls and dinner plates between courses so that I'm not up too late afterwards. However, this time, I stuck around from soup to nuts (or, this time, soup to violet creams) and enjoyed the merriment wholeheartedly.

The joy of dinner parties occurred to me while reading A Guide to the Good Life, perhaps prompted by an invitation to ponder what I enjoy most in my ordinary life. I would have to include also visits to and from my family, and travel to and through Italy and Poland, and the Traditional Latin Mass. Then coffee, good books, and successful conversations in foreign languages. Letter-writing, sending presents to children, and conversations with unusually intelligent and/or personable children, too.

I prefer sending gifts to children to giving them in person, for children are terribly honest. If your present is a dud, they will not be able to hide their disappointment. But if you send a present, it is usually their parents who respond, and they are always politely enthusiastic.

Dinner Party Reflections

We had a belated Martinmass dinner last week (without the traditional goose, however, as they are raised hereabouts solely for Christmas) with four guests.  One  guest explained that he would not have seconds of soup because he followed Stoical practises, and I was delighted to have met a practising Stoic. I have been reading William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, and I think a return to Christian Stoicism is the way to go.

I think this in part because I complain much too much lately, but also because I have been battling some sort of eczema for the first time in my life, and it makes me feel like Job. Poor old Job lost everything and everybody except (irony) his annoyed wife and a few judgmental friends and THEN was afflicted with boils.  

For the first time in my life, incidentally, it occurs to me that Job's wife lost everything and everybody, too. She wasn't afflicted with boils, but she probably had to wake up to the sound of Job scratching away at his boils. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Horrible. 

Fortunately we have bought two nice secondhand bookcases and have finished putting all our possessions away and have hung up our pictures, so I have less to complain about. Also, I have been following the Stoic advice to imagine the flat burning down, so as to feel more grateful for it. In order to appreciate what you have, it is a good practice to imagine how much worse life would be without it. When my eczema clears up, I will think about having had eczema, so as to even more enjoy not having it. 

This negative visualisation works with people, too. On my father's 40th birthday, I was suddenly seized with a terrible fear he might die of old age at any minute. He's still going strong in his late 70s, but for over 30 years I have not allowed myself to take this for granted. My mother had a stroke at 50, so for over 20 years I have also not taken my mother's life for granted, either.  I hadn't realised that this was considered a healthy Stoic practise, however. 

In the 1980s, we were occasionally reminded by priests that we could die at any minute, and indeed we were all still alarmed by the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. Middle-age should therefore taste sweet to the children of the 1970s and 1980s, for it was not certain then that we would ever attain it.  Meanwhile, one of the most stupendous moments of my life was sitting in a Catholic radio studio in Warsaw being interviewed about Seraphic Singles (or, actually, Anielskie Single) because such a thing would have been beyond my wildest Iron Curtain-era dreams.

Another Stoic discipline suggested by A Guide to the Good Life is to eschew luxury and to value poverty. At the same time, however, you have to work hard serving humanity in one form or another, doing the best you can and becoming the best you can be, which often translates into having enough money for at least a simple existence. 

The emphasis is therefore on what you have, rather than what you haven't, with a primary interest in one's character. So I am going to try to become more Stoical by giving up complaining--which will be easier if this new steroid cream works and the dust mites, which I am currently slaying, really are to blame for these horrible spots. Scratch, scratch. 

Friday 16 November 2018

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law's Midnight Wedding Ritual

Polish Minimalism. 
After Polish Pretend Son's wedding service (ślub, pronounced shloop) and nuptial Mass, he drove off with his bride in the rented white Corvette they had arrived in and the rest of us followed to a charming 19th century palace-turned-hotel for the reception (wesele,  pronounced ves-SEL-eh).

The little hotel was for the "exclusive use" of the wedding, as adverts say, and it is very elegant indeed, having been lovingly restored by its Polish owners from the decrepit state the palace had fallen into after its former German occupants had fled westwards. There are lots of ruined little German palaces dotted all over western Poland, and as soon as B.A. and I win the lottery, we will buy and restore one ourselves. 

In keeping with the aristocratic nature of this dwelling/hotel, the wedding feast was a Polish-French hybrid, with a late afternoon, rather French, dinner served in the elegant dining rooms and a side room groaning with every Polish dish you can imagine in case anyone felt the slightest hint of a pang of hunger afterwards. 

What happened after dinner, however, was entirely Polish and very ancient, and even gave me goosebumps. First, the dining-rooms were invaded by Polish minstrels who bade us all perform the ancient Polish walking dance called the chodzony (pronounced hodZONE-ih). We walked out  into a field behind the palace where we were led in the various progressions of the dance as a violin scraped and a hurdy-gurdy groaned. It sounded and felt so ancient, we could have been in any era, were our clothes not so very, er, twentieth century.

Then we all processed back inside, and the bride and groom danced their first dance as wife and husband. As Polish Pretend Son is a tango fanatic and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law is very good at dances of all kinds, it was truly an impressive performance. 

At midnight, however, we were plunged back into the Middle Ages, or perhaps even further back, even before Christianity came to Poland, during the oczepiny (pronounced oh-chep-EE-nih). 

Nowadays, oczepiny are usually just a set of games that ritually humiliate the bride and groom in a mild and good-humoured fashion. They remind me of the dumb games American and Canadian women traditionally play at bridal and baby showers. At their worst they are as bad as garter-tossing and other stupid things we Anglos too often do at weddings. 

However the traditional oczepiny involve an elaborate ritual in which the bride is reminded that she is leaving the happiness of her youth and maiden fancy-free living behind and now has to knuckle down and be wifely. Everyone around sings cheerfully. 

Meanwhile, the bridal wreath is taken away from the poor girl and the traditional headscarf of the Polish married woman is forced on her head.  Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law seems to have second thoughts about this, for she threw her pretty scarf on the floor twice.  I believe rejecting the kerchief is traditional, but PPD-i-L said later that, swept up in the moment, she really meant it. 

The whole thing--including the climax---sent chills up my spine. It wasn't just the fact that the ritual was so otherworldly and ancient. It was also an unusually frank reminder that marriage, like life, is very hard and, in fact, a bit of a gamble, and that if she accepts the wrong man, a bride's life will be unhappy. 

Update: PPS doesn't want his wesele videos public, so I've put up a photo instead:

Update 2: There are no nice photos of me from the okay-for-public-consumption file. It's too bad, but  months of unrelenting stress does that to a woman my age. Now when I see a woman who's "let herself go", I realise that there may have been some inescapable reasons for that. One of the nice things about PPS's wedding, which happened shortly after we were told we couldn't go back to the Historic House, and they wanted their Historic Centre Flat back, thanks, was that we had three days' respite from worry.  

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Polish Pretend Son's Wedding Mass

Polish Pretend Son loves the Traditional Mass so much, he hopes this video of his and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law's wedding helps to spread devotion to the Rite.

If you watch carefully, you may even see me under an enormous blue hat. (Hint: I am not the pretty Welsh blonde who is also wearing a large blue hat.)

I will have more to post and much more to say about the wedding. Isn't the bride beautiful?

Caveat: There is not a word of English in this video. When it is not Latin, it is Polish. But it is so gorgeous, that shouldn't matter.

Caveat 2: The groom also has fond memories of his years in the UK, so there are some unusually British elements at this Mass. First, Polish women tend not to wear fancy hats to weddings; female guests were specifically asked to wear them. Second, the groom's attire is very Saville Row-ish, if not, as I fear it may be, actually from Saville Row. Third, the entrance antiphon sounds very British indeed.

The bride and groom arriving together to Mass is, however, the normal Polish custom.  The groom has already bribed the bridesmaids at the bride's door, and the bridal pair have been blessed by their parents.

Sunday 11 November 2018

A Sad Happy Anniversary or a Happy Sad Anniversary?

Great-grandmother Florence is why we're short.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War and also the 100th anniversary of Polish independence. This makes it a happy day for the Poles, who can spend it marching, eating, and squabbling about what Poland should be, but a sad day for just about everyone else I know. (In case anyone resents the fact Poland's independence was the byproduct of a war that cost millions of foreign lives, I'll point out that the Poles had to fight the Russians to keep it five months later.)

The First World War was otherwise a civilisational catastrophe, destroying a large part of a generation of  young men from the British Empire and Western Europe, impoverishing millions, ending many ancient Catholic monarchies, and shaking the world's faith in a good God. It also led to the destruction of countless historic buildings, even in the United Kingdom, because here relentless "death duties" (super-tax) on the landed class led to the razing of priceless country homes bereaved families could no longer afford to pay tax on. 

(Say you are the 9th Duke of X, and you lead your regiment to battle. You die childless, so your brother, the 10th Duke, pays your death duties. But he's also in the regiment, so he dies too. His eldest son, the 16 year old 11th Duke, pays the death duties on his father, and then goes into battle two years later. And so on. Even if you do not care about the English and Scottish aristocracy, you might care about the houses. The reason the National Trust and then the National Trust for Scotland were founded was to preserve the nations' architectural patrimony. )   

In Canada, whole villages were depopulated of men. Per capita, the First World War did more damage to our nation than the Second World War.  And although we can agree we had to fight the Second World War, there was no authentically compelling reason to fight the First World War. The Belgians may disagree, of course. However, the First World War led inexorably to the Second World War, and the number of deaths of soldiers in both these wars, let alone the civilian casualties, is much more than the current population of Belgium. 

My Scottish-Canadian great-grandfather didn't have to fight. He was over 30 and had a wife and four children in 1914.  However, he was so sickened by stories of the German invasion of Belgium, that he signed up. His regiment was at Vimy Ridge, whose name, to a certain kind of Canadian, has all the power of Henry V's "St Crispin's Day" speech.

When I was in elementary school, the Canada-is-Multicultural mind-set hadn't quite entirely replaced the infant nationalism that was born (I was taught) of Vimy Ridge. Before that, Canadians were just happy to be fortunate members of the British Empire (went the narrative). But by September 11, 1918, we were much more CANADIAN and a lot less British (especially the millions of those monolingual French-speaking British). 

This sense of being CANADIAN fell apart in the 1960s, when the intelligentsia started asking "What is a Canadian?" and a sense that whatever it was, it could not exclude anyone or anything, began to take hold. But that is a different story about a different era. For now all I'll say is that my interest in Polish nationalism (for example) comes from the sense (or mythos) that for the fifty years following November 11, 1918, Canadians were a people--a weird bilingual people, but a people all the same.  Like the Belgians.

Saturday 10 November 2018

A Day Out in Edinburgh

At the end of another stressful week--albeit with the enjoyable company of my brother Quadrophonic--I decided to have a bit of a splurge. Originally my plan was to break down cardboard boxes, hoover and nail some pictures to the wall. Ah ha ha ha.

My alarm went at 6 AM, and at 6:16 AM, Quadrophonic and I hustled out into the darkness towards the train station. I bought a return ticket to Edinburgh (£3.30).

After a mad dash down Princes Street for the airport-bound tram, I said bon voyage to Quadrophonic and retraced my steps towards the railway station. What in Edinburgh is open at 6:50 AM, I wondered.

The Balmoral Hotel was the answer.  I toddled in, glad to be wearing a tweed skirt suit, and asked if the brasserie were open yet. It was indeed. There a charming Continental waiter informed me that breakfast was £29 and kindly agreed to bring me a cappuccino instead.

So I sat at a chic brasserie table as light dawned on Edinburgh, writing a letter to a friend. The cappuccino cost £5, but it came with two cookies and the hotel was safe and warm. Then, since I was already there, I popped down to the spa to see if I could get a massage today to cope with my stress-damage. I could.

My next stop was the Brew Lab for some Hipster's Ruin  (aka avocado toast). Feeling the urge to splurge I got the version with smoked salmon and dill (£6.95). To the barista's surprise, I did not order any coffee. I explained that I had already had two coffees this morning. She was surprised again, for I had entered the hallowed portals of the BL no later than 9 AM. (I made my first coffee this morning at 6:02 AM and drank it from a portable cup on the train.)

Then I went to the Central Library, where I spent a happy hour browsing and reading David Lodge's The Art of Fiction. Then I went next door to the Children's section, and spent half a happy hour reading Rosemary Sutcliffe's take on Beowulf (£0).

Next I thought I had better replace some opaque tights now riddles with holes so I went back to Princes Street and struggled against the crowds towards the House of Fraser department store.   I was distracted from. my purpose, however, by the sight of Waterstone's Bookstore, where I would have bought one or two books on Stoicism, had B.A. not called my mobile at the psychological moment. So, despite spending a happy hour looking at all the gorgeous books for sale in Waterstone's, I spend exactly £0 there.

To my surprise,  the House of Fraser was having a 50% off sale as it is closing. There didn't seem to be any tights for sale, so I went out again. Thoughts of Beowulf lingering in my mind, I went to Oddbins around the corner to see if they had any mead. They didn't. (£0.)

I directed my steps through Charlotte Square and down Rose Street to Debenham's department store, and the route to opaque tights was so complicated, the limited selection of colours was a great disappointment. So again I spent £0, and ended up on Princes Street instead of  back on Rose Street, so I never passed my favourite shoe shop Rogerson's Fine Footwear, where I probably would have bought new black loafers. This means I continued to spend £0.

When I got to Frederick Street I resisted Hotel Chocolat because I have come down for the first time in my life with eczema, and sugar may be to blame. But I did end up back on Rose Street. Although they do have coloured tights, I scurried past Primark. I hate Primark.

I do not hate TK Maxx, however, so I zipped across the street to have a look for tempting discounts. I almost bought £3 worth of pumpkin-spice coloured ribbed tights, but they were for women of heights up to 5'10" and I am but a wee shrimpie.

So I went to the MAC counter of Harvey Nichols and bought my annual tube of Russian Red lipstick and a matching lip pencil. If I have not learned the lessons of history, I will forget them in various pockets and lose and find them again for the next 8 months before irrevocable losing the pencil and then two months later losing the stick (£31.50, the humanity).

And then I toddle back to Princes Street and returned to the Balmoral Hotel where I had a £60 Swedish massage in the Spa, which included all the water and tea I could drink, the opportunity to lounge by the pool reading the Financial Times (truly), plus the comfy slippers to take home if I chose, and I did. Although £60 seems like a lot of money to spend all at once, I don't begrudge it, for I am a firm believer in the power of massage to cure stress-related ills, and if I got a raise, I would have one a month.

So if you have ever wondered what an actual resident of Scotland does on a day off in the beautiful and very well touristed city of Edinburgh, that's my answer. I point out, however, that this is not Edinburgh on £10 a day. For that I recommend having your coffee at Brew Lab with the Hipster's Ruin and then spending  the afternoon in the library, the free art galleries, and window-shopping. But if you turn up at 6:50 AM, there is no hope for it: you either have to find a hospitable hotel or freeze in the railway station waiting room.