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A Guide to the Stock Market: How the [UK] Stock Market Works (Croft, off-putting, class-conscious, surely out of date & I couldn't finish it): Money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