Saturday 24 April 2021

The Internet Fast

At noon, I am putting down tools for a multi-day break from the computer. I do not believe I will have  gone so long without the internet since 2006, so this has all the seriousness of an experiment. However, it is intended as a form of rest--a deep rest. I need it very much, especially now that "overuse syndrome" has returned to my poor right arm.  It will be interesting to see if I feel withdrawal symptoms.  

Meanwhile, I am not going to watch the news or anything but the most soothing of entertainments. In fact, I wish to return, for that period, to a state of innocence in which I am not conscious of any evil in the world. Let's see if I manage it.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from a walk Benedict Ambrose and I took yesterday. Speaking a state of innocence, we found a paradise not too far away. I was just thinking that it was close to my childhood idea of what Scotland must look like when, from somewhere nearby, we heard the whinnying of a horse. Definitely idyllic. 

Along  the route home.

Friday 23 April 2021

Childless versus "Child free"

My eye fell upon the expression "child free" today, and I felt the usual thrill of annoyance. In short, a man who saved and invested cleverly enough was able to retire at 45, and he believes his decision at 20 to remain "child free" was the best guarantor of his financial independence. This was not, I gather, a decision to practise chastity in continence, for although he is not married, he writes of a "lady friend." 

It seems to me that it is not particularly original for a 20 year old man to decide he doesn't want children. What 20 year old these days feels ready to have children? Of course, in another sense the decision is entirely original to the past 60 years, for pre-Pill, the only way anyone could be sure of not having children was not indulging in activities that invite them into existence. No wife or mistress for you!  A decision to be sexually active and yet perpetually frustrate the powers of generation is thus both banal and moderno-creepy. It is sterile in all senses. 

Meanwhile, the expression "child free" annoys me very much, for it implies that children are an encumbrance, an expense, an environmental catastrophe on par with mass-ownership of automobiles. (N.B. Mr Child Free has a car, new.) The adults who throw around the word were, ahem, children themselves, so this self-congratulatory rejection of children smacks of hypocrisy or, worse, a tinge of self-hatred. 

I wonder if children so unlucky as not to have brothers and sisters are more likely to long for this child-freedom? My love for children springs, I think, from my love for my brothers and sisters, who were all cute babies and then lovely children. We all lived lives strangely independent of each other--we often went to different schools, and when we didn't, we didn't much socialise there--but we still lived, always ate, and often played, together. (Outsiders thought we were bizarrely formal with each other.) At any rate, like Anglo-Canadian culture, our ties are subtle but real.  

Perhaps "child free" people don't like the expression "childless" because they bridle at the idea that someone might pity them for their (brave? bold? unnatural?) "choice." Speaking as a genuine childless-not-by-choice person, I don't mind. Go ahead and pity me--I can take it! Even better, say a prayer for your humble blogger that she may better rejoice in her spiritual children, her godchildren, and the younger generation of her family. Pray that post-Mass coffee in the parish hall may resume, so that I may once again amuse myself in rationing out Tunnock's Caramel Wafers to  children and lawyers alike, to save the rest for everyone else. 

One of the very real and valid worries of Christian singles (especially women) is that they might never have children, and they might never marry until it is Too Late. The only solution to this growing problem, I think, is to raise young people in such a way so that they are obviously marriageable, and also willing to take on the joys and challenges of married life, sooner rather than later. Eligibility implies not being blithering idiots, of course. Who among us does not look back on our 21-year-old selves with a certain amount of horror? 

But in the meantime, I can attest that eventually the pain of personal childlessness--which is more like the death of the hope of having children--goes way most of the time and only comes back at odd moments. There is, too, a sort of martyr's crown about it now, for there is an entire industry dedicated to making money off artificial conception for women like me. Rejecting it, though not as dramatic or satisfactory a decision, no doubt, as returning to marital relations after giving birth for the fourth time, is in its own way a victory of life over the culture of death. 

Update: Incidentally, some of the stars of the financial independence, retire early (FIRE) community have children. I suspect the trick is to bring up your children just as penny-pitching canny as yourselves. It brings joy to my east-coast Scottish heart to imagine a playground quarrel in which one child brags that HIS father has bought an expensive new car, and the other retorts that HIS dad says anyone who buys such a car new is a patsy, for its sale value depreciates by 40% the moment it is driven off the lot. 

Update 2: Technically, we are also "car-free" although this too is not really anything to feel smug about, since we can't afford one. Ha ha! 

Thursday 22 April 2021

Happy Surprises

Thursday already? The week has flown by with wings of coffee and lovely walks outdoors. When the younger generations ask, "What did you do in the pandemic, Auntie?" I will say, "I went for walks. I planned meals. I gained but then lost weight, and I took a lot of vitamins. In short, I tried to eliminate as much stress from my life as possible."

It has been a week of happy surprises although the first surprise was rather mixed. Great was the consternation of the congregation of St. Trad of Invertradling this Sunday when not our pastor but young Father Novus processed from the sacristy. I had heard rumours that Fr. Novus had been learning the Old Rite, but I did not expect to see the evidence so soon. It was Good Shepherd Sunday; where was our own good shepherd? Was he on holiday? Was he ill? Was he dead, and no-one had seen fit to tell us? 

Fortunately, there was a homily, always a reliable source of news at St. Trad of Invertradling. Fr. Novus revealed that Fr. Vetus had taken ill. The congregation's silence of curiosity turned into a silence of sharp concern. Naturally I thought first of the vile germ and then of my mother's explanation for the Reformation, which was that the Black Death had killed all the good priests who bravely ministered to the people and spared the bad ones who ran away to their country estates. The prayers of St. Trad of Invertradling went up and into eternity and helped get Fr. Vetus out of hospital, for--behold!--when we emerged from the church, there he was in the carpark under a beanie, looking wan and thin but most definitely alive. 

So that was the first happy surprise. 

The next happy surprise was that a Canadian accountant had vanquished the Canadian Revenue Agency on my behalf and wrested my 2017 money from them. Round two should see the return of my 2018 money, for valiant is my Canadian accountant. 

The third happy surprise was the sheer beauty of Edinburgh's Old Town on an April day. Benedict Ambrose and I have had no reason to be in the Old Town for months and months, and it is still largely untouristed, which means that the lovely streets and buildings are uncrowded. We went to the Princes Street Gardens to see the Polish Soldiers' Memorial, aka Wojtek the Bear. The Gardens were utterly lovely. 

B.A. and I were in the Old Town to make little videos for my workplace, for someone had the excellent idea of stressing our international reach. Naturally I didn't think our garden was quite as iconic as Edinburgh Castle, so that is where we went before visiting Wojtek. I borrowed Wojtek to stress my own international reach. On the way to the Castle, we stopped by another local monument. 

Here is Princes Street Gardens. So lovely! 

I now feel inspired to offer some life hacks I have found particularly useful this week: 

1. Wear the same hard-wearing skirt for ordinary daily wear and have one good suit for work occasions (like above).

2. Plan out meals for the week and write shopping lists. 

3. Spend an hour in inspirational reading and prayer before turning on the computer. 

4. Write down every penny you spend and make a note of why you spent it. 

5. Leave battles with the taxman to a good accountant.  

6. Conversations in foreign languages are really very relaxing once you know how--and with whom--to have them. 

7. Always leave time for a walk in the woods, especially on a sunny day. 

8. Foldable exercise bike. 

9. Wellness journal. 

Sunday 18 April 2021

A Simple Walk and a Funeral

Yesterday was sunny, both here on the east coast of Scotland and at Windsor Castle. I set the alarm on my mobile phone for 3 PM, so Benedict Ambrose and I could participate in the one-minute National Silence for the Duke of Edinburgh. 

This walk was along the south shore of the Firth of Forth to "Edinburgh's seaside", which means Portobello Beach. The shores of the Forth have rocky stretches and sandy strips, and on a lovely day like yesterday, families and friends rush to the beaches with their dogs to sunbathe, dig, cook meat with disposable BBQ kits and, very occasionally, run into the water. 

The most obvious wildlife in this stretch are the birds, especially the orange-billed sandpipers oystercatchers who sound like squeaky toys when they chat together. 

The colourful windscreens on the beach look amusingly old-fashioned, like something on postcards from early 19th century holiday towns like Brighton. However, if you want sun and no wind, on a springtime Scottish beach, a screen in necessary. 

There are many, many dogs. I'm not sure they don't actually outnumber the children. The dogs are almost invariably pure-bred and solidly recognisable as terriers, retrievers, bulldogs, etc.  Scotland's birthrate is something like 1.37 children per woman, which makes me nervous about the dog : children ratio.  An estimated 485,000 Scottish households have dogs, at 1.3 dogs per household. For me, the "perfect" home would spill over with riotous life: human children, a dog or two, a cat or two, spider plants, parlour palms, geraniums, a kitchen garden by the back door, a lawn, trees, perhaps a miniature pond with gold-fish, a small chicken run. 

Portobello Beach was full of riotous life but not crowded, as if everyone was at least acknowledging the outdoor social distancing advice. 

At 3:02 PM in Bellhill Lane, I realized that my phone had been too-quietly ringing for two minutes. We decided that we hadn't said anything in the past two minutes, so that counted as our participation in the National Silence.

Twelve Triangles, one of our favourite pastry shops, had been shut for an hour, so we stopped at the next most obvious pastry shop and bought a Turkish cheese bun and a Bakewell slice. We took them to the park next to the Catholic Church--whose 1960s wreckovation was, amusingly enough, stopped by the government department in change of preserving historical architecture. There we basked in the sun, were investigated by a snowy-white West Highland terrier, and ate our snack. The cheese bun was lacklustre; that £2 could have made me 12 p in the stock market yesterday, weep weep. 

We went home by bus and bought a week's worth of groceries according to our handy week's menu and shopping list. Then I made a baklava--not consciously to honour the Duke of Edinburgh's early life as a Prince of Greece, but I'm glad it could have done. Baklava turns out to be not all that hard to make (if you buy the phyllo), and it is absolutely more economical to make your own than to buy it from a shop, even given the cost of walnuts.  

After supper, at B.A.'s insistence, we watched the online recording of the BBC broadcast of the funeral ceremonies for the Duke. It was a very British thing to do.

"Nobody does funerals better than us," said B.A. several times, meaning the British, or the British Royal Family. 

"Look at that precision," he also said several times, meaning the massed, marching soldiers. 

It was actually very mesmerising, and I knew almost all the musical works the Duke, the BBC commentator reminded us, had chosen himself. It was a cheerful thought, to go with the sunshine, that the Duke had planned out all the details of his Windsor Castle funeral, and probably very much enjoyed it, too.

"He's chosen all the top Remembrance Day tunes," I said to B.A., who admitted this was true: "I Vow To Thee My Country", "O Valiant Hearts",  "Jerusalem", "Nimrod".

"I want "Nimrod" at my funeral," I said. 

B.A. seemed to doubt that I will get "Nimrod" at my funeral. He wants the "Flowers of the Forest" piped after his funeral Mass, maybe as his coffin is being carried (rolled, let's face it) out of the church. Well, naturally he will have the "Flowers of the Forest" He is a Scot.

The actual Funeral Ceremony (which included "Flowers of the Forest") was more than mesmerising, it was edifying. The Duke of Edinburgh had picked a reading and a sung psalm that were full of joyful meditation upon the natural world, as well as a Gospel passage proclaiming Christ as "the Resurrection and the Life." 

I forget that Anglican rituals can be really that beautiful, normally because when I am at one I am hot with embarrassment because there are women in clerical shirts standing around. This is a good thing because it means that, however gorgeous Anglican liturgies are, and however more impressive the Archbishop of Canterbury than various Catholic bishops, I will never be tempted to throw in my lot with the British schismatics Reformed tradition. Sometimes those ladies' clerical shirts are pink

Anyway, putting aside liturgical transvestitism (and there were no women in collars at the Royal Funeral), the Anglican Prayer Book is very beautiful and the Duke of Edinburgh has excellent taste. (I really don't know why we talk about the deceased in the past tense when human beings have eternal souls.) Meanwhile, the Royal Family was beautifully and tastefully dressed, and as always the Princess Royal, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Countess of Wessex looked impeccable. The Queen looked very elegant , too, and all I can say is that I hope I'm that mobile should I ever reach 94 myself. 

If you are 50-odd, you can't go wrong to emulate the Countess of Wessex in your attempts to look smart and stylish, and if you are younger than that, the Duchess of Cambridge should be your model.* 

Now I must scramble or we will be late for Mass.

*Update for ladies: Those stiletto heels, though. On the one hand, they are correct. My congratulations to those who really can stand and walk in them in comfort. But on the other, it is utterly ridiculous for human beings to totter along with their heels five inches in the air. 

Saturday 17 April 2021

Meaning and Purpose

Last Canadian Christmas (pre-covid)

I was intrigued and moved by this post by the talented but often irascible Steve Skojec of 1 Peter 5. It goes far to explain why ol' Steve roars like a lion at his critics instead of ignoring them, befriending them, or getting off Twitter. 

Many leaders among lay traditionalist Catholic men often express anger and disappointment in their writing, thus giving more fuel to the "mad trad" stereotype. But we live in difficult times, so it would be odd not to be angry and disappointed at least some of the time.  

By the way, I just thought of a priest-journalist's recent suggestion that children and young people be forbidden to attend the Traditional Latin Mass and laughed. I assumed, when I first heard about this, that he was either trolling or trawling for attention--or both. 

Western Civilisation is going through a very rocky time, largely because people want to get rid of the old certainties, which they blame for their disappointments in life. Sawing off the branch we sit on will not   make them happy although it has brought at least one of the founders of BLM a lot of moolah and some luxury properties Facebook does not want you to know about. 

There is also COVID-19, the lockdowns, the rushed vaccines, and the madness of people simultaneously trusting government propaganda and blaming governments for not solving the problems expressed in their propaganda. People are frightened of each other just for being--I flinch whenever I hear a cough on the bus--and families are being sundered into pro-vax/anti-vax, pro-lockdown/anti-lockdown, rule-following/rule-breaking halves. The trust between the police and the public must be at an all-time low in many countries. Worst of all, many of us cannot see our families and friends in person, which is a health disaster in itself. The number-one factor in living to a happy, healthy old age is strong, mutually fulfilling relationships. 

Therefore, we are living in very bad times, and I think we should go easy on ourselves and each other as much as possible. This does not mean binging on Netflix and food all day, for that is not true self-care. True self-care is reaching out to family and friends however one safely can, getting exercise, getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, going outdoors, reading enriching books, doing the most essential housework, cooking and eating three healthy, filling meals a day, and very probably taking vitamin supplements, especially the medically recommended dose of Vitamin D. (Caveat: I am not a doctor, and this should not be taken as a substitute for doctors' advice, etc.) 

True care of neighbour is cutting them slack for their own way of coping with the international crisis, trying to see things from their point of view, and not adding to their burden of worry. Reaching out to family and friends to see how they're doing is crucial. Soothing the worries of your children is probably crucial, too. I know nothing about parenting, but I imagine telling children inspiring stories about children's heroism during other international catastrophes (the Black P|ague, the Second World War) might be therapeutic for everybody. 

Children definitely give you meaning and purpose. Both Steve and I, his reader, were struck by his memory of his wife thanking him by voice mail for the house he had provided for her, himself and their children after a long financial struggle. Fatherhood is so meaningful--fatherhood of all kinds. I am reminded of a war account in which Polish men in a Siberian gulag found purpose in sacrificing to keep the youngest among them--the then-teenage future narrator--alive.  

My sense of meaning and purpose, which collapsed when I was told I'd never have children and was  kicked by rejection letters from editors, publishers and agents, got up again after B.A.'s brain tumour reveal party. B.A.'s tumour told me that I had to stop pretending to be Lady of the Manor, writing amusing trifles for pin money, and get a job. And when B.A. got really sick and no-one knew why, I had two absorbing new tasks: keep my husband alive and make doctors keep him alive, too. 

Sorry to be repetitive, but it was traumatic, and traumatised people return to their traumas. I feel like I have been fighting non-stop since May 2017, not only because I am still haunted by the intransigence of doctors, but because I left the hospitals to fight with, among other tyrants,  agents of Revenue Canada. (Possibly the reason I can laugh at Fr. Reece's modest proposal for the TLM is because I didn't laugh when I got Revenue Canada's most recent letter.) 

Anyway, fighting The System in two countries for my husband's health and our money has given me a lot of meaning and purpose although it has also been very hard. It has been much harder--and more important- than putting up with the occasional expression of cozy Scottish (or North Irish) bigotry against Catholics. Fighting for health and wealth has much more tangible consequences than, e.g., smacking down a smug old man at a funeral tea. It includes a live husband under a roof we (increasingly) own.  

So what am I trying to say in this long-winded post? 

First, we live in very bad times, and so if we're angry and disappointed, no wonder. 

Second, we live in very bad times, so we need to focus on keeping ourselves and helping to keep our neighbours sane and healthy. This means diplomacy, expressions of love and support, tolerance and forgiveness. 

Third, we can find meaning and purpose in these very bad times by focussing on the good of the weakest members of our families. If you have children, that means the children. If you're single, that might mean your parents. In my case, that has meant my ailing or convalescing husband, who is now, thanks to the lockdown-nuking of his industry, financially dependent on me. 

That said, it has dawned on me that, breadwinner notwithstanding, the weakest person in our household at the moment is poor old burnt-out me. Can one get meaning and purpose from tending to oneself? I'm really not sure, but I guess I'll try. 

Friday 16 April 2021

Bread and Shoes


On Tuesday evening I began making a loaf of bread. I have had good success in raising the dough overnight on the first prove, and so I thought I would try it on the second prove. This is not too hard to do, even in the evening. The tricks are to warm the flour-and-salt in a bowl in the not-too-hot oven before mixing in the yeast and lukewarm liquid and then to cover the warm buttered bowl in which you prove the dough with plastic wrap or a warm pie plate (or both) for an hour or more before bed. Then you need to punch it and knead the dough for 3 minutes and put it back in the proving bowl, plastic wrap on top, on the kitchen counter. Then you can go to bed confident of having fresh bread by late morning. 

When you get up, you merely punch the very swollen dough, knead it for another 3 minutes, and then tuck it in a buttered bread tin. You put the piece of plastic wrap (maybe put a little butter or oil on it now) on the bread tin and put the whole in the warmest room until the dough has risen into a "bread shape" over the tin. Into a very hot oven (425 F)  it goes for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400F for another 15 minutes, then take the bread out of the oven, shake it out of the tin, and put it back in the oven on its side at 350 F for the last 15 minutes. Finally, you put it on a wire rack on the counter and let it cool completely before cutting it open. 

I have been making bread this way once a week for a month. I've been adjusting the recipe to make it lighter and fluffier on the inside. First I cut the amount of whole wheat flour I had been using. Then I cut it again. Then on Tuesday I enriched the warm water with milk. The result made B.A. very happy this Wednesday, so I will stick to that.

We still had a third of a loaf of bread from the previous week in our larger cookie tin, and I was very unwilling to either throw it away (an obscene act in many cultures, including the Polish) or feed it to the birds, since I am unconvinced bread is good for birds. I decided to cut it into cubes and make big croutons.  I put the cubes in a bowl, poured in some olive oil, scattered in a teaspoon of garlic powder and toasted them in the oven for 20 minutes. Half way through I threw in some salt (having thought of it rather late) and turned them over. They have an ear-deafening crunch, are quite delicious, and are a great substitute for   commercial snacks. 

The third bread of Wednesday was filo pastry, which came from a supermarket. Nobody ever suggests you make your own filo pastry from scratch, but obviously Greek women must have done it for centuries, so I'll look into the technique. But on Wednesday I just took the filo out of the fridge to make spanakopita, cheese and spinach pie. This is a lovely way to have a meatless Wednesday. Naturally pious Greeks have recipes for eggless, cheeseless spanakopita for Lent, which they are still observing. 

On Wednesday morning, while my bread was proving, I began once more to read The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I promised to write a review months ago, and I feel rather bad I haven't done it yet. The thing is, I got a bit depressed. My days are full of anger and dismay--both feeling it and invoking it in others with my reportage--and so the anger and dismay in the Preface were too much. If you live a flat, peaceable existence, the Preface will probably perk you up and make you giggle. 

Also, I really love the rich yet scholarly tone of Kwasniewski's liturgical works--he is a splendid writer, employing all kinds of gorgeous and inventive imagery--and so the move to polemics and exhortation was, at first, a disappointment. This is not his fault, of course. But I had to put the book aside for a bit and get used to the idea of Kwasniewski the Thundering Preacher.  

On Wednesday morning I felt ready to pick up the book again, and so I did. I discovered I had read up to page 21, but I began from the beginning so I will have the whole fresh in my mind when I finally write the review. The writing is still good and original: chapter one begins with an invitation to imagine eating the sun. 


I wasted some time yesterday pondering good quality, made-in-England handbags and shoes. I also sinned against my budget by impulse-buying a pair of "only worn once" secondhand Elmdale ("Made in England") courts. The cost was only £16 including postage, thankfully, so I am not furious. Also, they arrived just now while I was writing about The Holy Bread of Eternal Life, which was amazingly quick. They are now on my feet and they will do for church. 

£16 is a fraction of the amount I was seriously considering spending on a pair of Joseph Cheaney Oxford brogues. I'm not sure if this would be a worthy investment or simply vanity. I had an image of myself striding through the countryside in country tweed and rubber-soled Cheaneys with a Labrador retriever and another of myself in town in city tweed and leather-soled Cheaneys with a pug. As I have never wanted a Labrador retriever, I began to doubt my motives.

Shoes are symbolic of identity and wealth, and having too few shoes reminds me of myself at my very poorest, during my undergraduate days when I couldn't afford boots for some reason. My dear friend Trish surprised me a pair of second-hand police boots, which was lovely and I will be eternally grateful, for there had been holes in my current shoes and my feet were often damp and cold.   

The problem with women's shoes is similar to that of women's clothes: they are not good value for money and they do not last. This may be because women-in-the-world like to buy a variety of clothes, whereas men do not. It is almost a secondary sexual characteristic that men dress exactly the same for the most formal events whereas women are embarrassed at the event when they see another woman in the same dress. ("Who wore it better?

However, I think "fast fashion" is terrible for the environment--and enriches the Chinese Communist Party  at the expense of its sweatshop slaves--and I would rather have a few good quality clothes and shoes that last for years and years than a closet of stuff. The question is, would they really last for years and years?  And, given that age is warping my poor feet, would it not be better just to buy a £55 pair of Josef Seibel velcro-strapped shoes every year?

It's the Battle of the Josephs. Please vote:

Josef Seibel £55 x 6  = £330 (Made in Hungary)


Joseph Cheaney £325 (Made in England)


By the way, aging-feet issues mean I can never walk in even mid-heeled shoes again, so I'm afraid it's a choice between the tweed-and-walking shoes, knee-length skirt-with ballerina flats, and maxiskirt-with-sandals versions of feminine dress for me from now on. No more amusing confections from Irregular Choice. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

It's a Journey

My brother Nulli called me up over Skype yesterday in response to my "Hours in the Day" post. He thought I was downhearted about my linguistic process. In reality, I was explaining to my most interested readers that I can't blog AND study languages every day. After all, I need to exercise and go out for fresh air, too. 

But that said, I can cut off quarter hours here and there, and I thought I'd write a few things about language learning that I have learned. 

1. Becoming fluent as an adult takes longer than you think. Really. Estimate how long it will take you  (unless you are one of those rare pick-it-up people) and multiply by two.

2. Backsliding erases gains in some areas. I am amazed today when I look at the feats of literature I attempted in Polish five years or more ago. Letters, short stories, translations of unusually popular essays or columns I wrote in English. Now banging out a request for comment to a Polish contact is a brain-crunching chore. But that said, my letters may have been rubbish, and my short stories and essays were usually corrected by a tutor before I wrote out the final draft. Also, I was underemployed then, so I had the time to laboriously tell Polish Pretend Son the parish news and write about Edith Stein po polsku

3. Reading. Writing. Listening. Speaking. They are four different languages on their own. Being able to read easily in Polish is most definitely not the same as being able to write fluently in Polish. And for me it is easier to speak Italian than to listen to it--which sounds like a moral failing, but is merely how my brain currently works. 

In a way, this is good news. If you're a graduate student in theology, and the task before you is to master enough German to read theological texts, you don't have to go to the trouble of learning to write, listen to, or speak German. You can just learn the grammar and the (limited) diction in a cold-blooded way. You don't need to go to Germany. You can study the grammar with a tutor (explaining that you're not interested in speaking right now--maybe later) and write down all the words you think you are going to know and memorise them on cue cards. Then you start reading short German theological texts, writing down the words you don't know, and memorising them, too. 

However, if you want to read, write, listen and speak fluently in German, you will have to dedicate four times as much time. If you are a woman or man of leisure--and you really want to become bilingual quickly--I recommend an hour of reading, an hour of writing, an hour of listening, and an hour of conversation every day. After your gruelling four hour session, have a nap. Maybe have this nap in the middle. 

4. Brains are lazy and do not want to study a foreign language for four hours a day. They don't see the point, especially if you don't need these languages to survive. Therefore, you have to train them. You have to remind them over and over that wówczas means "then" and invece means "instead." Brains like repetition. My brain likes Mulieris Dignitatem because St. JP2 keeps using the same words over and over.

5. The temptations to quit will be enormous. Your foreign friend will laugh because you used the wrong verb. Your tutor will laugh at your favourite foreign language band. Your classmates will burst into giggles at your terrible pronunciation. Most of your tutors will be beautifully fluent in English while in your target language you sound to yourself like a six-year-old. You will go back to a children's book you mastered over two years ago and understand only half. Welcome to my world of pain. 

6. The gains involve astonishing jumps. It's like losing weight. One day the scale suddenly says you have lost 5 pounds after being stuck on the same sad number for weeks. One day the wax falls out of your  ears and you understand that your tutor took his daughter to the beach. One day your tongue gets up and tells Catholic Poland via television that the Synod involved a cynical attempt to change the doctrine of the priesthood. It's an overnight success---after years of hard slog (and bouts of the inevitable goofing off).   

7. Watch out for rivals. This is a weird and sad one. There are people who, for whatever nefarious reasons of their own, will deliberately undermine your confidence in your linguistic abilities. Admiring the talents of your fellow learner, you may have asked them for advice or shown them a piece of writing you need perfected. You do this confidently, thinking everyone is as nice as your tutor, and this person tells you that you are completely incomprehensible and your work irredeemable. Well, some people torture cats, too. They slap babies. So don't quit. 

8. "You have to live there," said French-and-German-speaking Nulli, who is wondering why he is learning Japanese. Our sisters speak Spanish fluently because they lived "there" while teaching ESL--and they keep it up through Spanish-speaking social activities. I very reluctantly believe that, yes, to reach the heights of fluency, e.g. to pass the European Union C2 exam, does depend on a long stay in a country where everyone around you speaks your target language. But that said, you can get very far at home. 

9. A tutor with highly quirky English who is obsessed by the beauties of his own language is a treasure to be cherished. You can speak to such people in their own home countries--where they don't speak English every day--by Skype. The joy of speaking to someone who struggles to speak English as you struggle to speak his language is immense. You don't mind his mistakes, so you don't mind your mistakes, either.

10. It's a never-ending journey, but I think it's worth it. 

Tuesday 13 April 2021

The Hours in a Day

I have full schedule of things I would like to do every morning, but I discovered that if I do them all, I am exhausted by noon, which is when I begin actual work. Some mornings it's blog or read Polish, and most mornings it's Polish or Italian as you can see here:   

I attempted to explain to my therapist how important becoming trilingual is to me but seem to fail. I described conversing (reasonably) fluently in another language like moving into another world, into breaking through to another dimension, and like flying. I don't actually know what flying is like, mind you, so it would be more authentic to say it is like sledding down a snowy hill, hoping to make it to the bottom and not hit the fence at the end. 

The work at becoming a polyglot can be very gruelling, though, because I am simply not a language-absorber like the more linguistically-talented members of my family. So if I don't become very fluent--

"... It doesn't matter," said my (bilingual) therapist comfortably. 

Okay, one the one hand, yes. But on the other strony, nie.

Monday 12 April 2021


Well, I learned this rather late in life, but it is a very good thing to bank/invest 50% of what you make and learn to live on the other 50%. 

I wish I had made this connection when I was, you know, 14. However, it's not too late even for me (though still a work in project thanks to lockdown), and now I try to tell this to the younger generation. Unfortunately, they so far look dubious or--apparently--even laugh. Tact and timing is needed--and also understanding because the young have little dreamy dreams, and it is sometimes hard for them to understand that although life should be a bed of roses (shouldn't it?), it so rarely is. 

Young People are also averse to the idea of working a difficult job for 10 - 12 years, investing as much of their pay as possible and then retiring at (or before) 34 to do a super-fun, potentially ill-paid job--or start a risky dream-business--as their investments merrily pay their way.  

And, having looked at this from their point of view, I get it. If the teenager is female, she doesn't want to work a difficult job ever, but do something interesting and worthy of her precious youth--like get married and have children ASAP, or go to graduate school and become the next Edith Stein, or write short stories and then novels and become celebrated ...  

I'm sympathetic to this because, let's face it, the years between 20 and 30 (or, post Bachelor's degree, 22 - 32) are way more golden and interesting than the years between, e.g. 40 and 50---are certainly seem so when you are 18, and 40 is SO OLD!

If the teenager enjoys worldly stuff, the idea of living on only 50% of his salary (whatever it is, and it is always smaller than you think, thanks to taxes and other deductions) is going to be terrible. I am less sympathetic to this unless the teenager expects to be very poorly paid indeed. 

If so, why? When I was a teenager (so forgive me), I thought that only the dumb girls would leave school at 16 and study hairdressing, or some other trade. Then in my 20s I met a young salon owner, and she was not dumb at all. She was a good businesswoman, having taken management, etc., classes when her fellow beauticians were partying and saved money towards her own shop. These days I am not as interested in how much cache a job obtained by a young person has but how much they are able to save without becoming unhappy. 

Obviously the best thing of all would be for the Young Person (or the Young Person's Future Husband--although depending on the Young Person's Future Husband is a risk rivalling Bitcoin) to train for/be educated for a field that they will truly enjoy and will actually earn them good money--that is, enough for them to invest 50% without living like Uncle Ebeneezer in Kidnapped.

Sadly I grew up with a lot of expectations that everything would be magically handed to me on a plate (why?) and that I would never need to worry about money, really, because I would marry someone with a job as solid as my Dad's and I could just focus on developing my lovely brain and my precious art. It could actually have happened that way, but as history unfolded, it did not. But I think this "save and invest 50% of everything you ever make" is future-proof, and the difficulty is convincing the very young that this  really will pay off.  

Update: By the way, I too still have little dreamy dreams. The biggest difference between the dreamy dreams of my teenage years and of my middle years is that I now know exactly what steps to make them come true. Well, that is, some of them. Some of my little dreamy dreams involve being able to play with my Godling in Poland and my other Godling and her brothers in Canada and seeing my family in person. These, sadly, depend on various governmental fiats.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions, police beatings and proposed vaccine passports can be used as a Teaching Moment to the young that you never know what is going to happen, and therefore, save 50%. 

Sunday 11 April 2021

A Walk in the Country

My Papier wellness journal which I love--hence the plug--has a series of frowny and smiley faces in the top right corner of each day's journaling. This is useful for tracking depression or sorting out what really makes you happy. Well, I am happy to report I circled the smiliest smile yesterday for the first time, thanks to a really splendid walk in the countryside. Photos will follow.

It was all splendid--the sun shone, the sky blued, the birds chirped, the bunnies scampered, the cold wind blew but rarely--and one particularly memorable and brilliant moment was when B.A. and I sat on a bench in a suntrap by an old mill and had a snack. B.A. had brought coffee in a thermos, and when we alighted from the bus, we bought from a top patisserie* a slice of pecan tart (B.A.) and a hazelnut pain au chocolat that was the very height of gustatory decadence (I). Drinking the coffee and eating that pain au chocolat in that sun-trap, while looking at the greening fields, the old stone walls and the mill pond, was earthly heaven. 

Afterwards we continued our journey along the John Muir Way, reminiscing about the crops we had seen along that stretch before, and going off-piste along a river and through a flower-strewn forest to look at a grand country house B.A. had been told was now flats. There was a sign discouraging going the way we wanted to go, but B.A. called upon the name of the Scottish Countryside Access Code and ignored it. We saw a walled garden, sheep of many colours, gardeners' cottages and, in the distance, the red sandstone great house itself. The grounds were so well maintained, the sheep so striking, and the signs so frosty that we began to doubt the place had been sold and divvied up into flats. (B.A. looked it up when we got home, however, and it had been.)

This grand house had been our destination, so we turned back down the drive and headed for the town in which we could catch the bus, going through a pretty village whose for-sale houses we could not afford when we checked. We had planned to catch the 17:42, but it was already 17:30 when we turned around. Happily, this meant we had 70 minutes to get to the bus stop for the next one. We strode right along---well, I strode right along. B.A.'s rubber wells, so handy for marching through fields, are not suited to paved roads and so he hirpled along. 

We got off the country bus at a supermarket and bought the week's groceries. Very tuckered out, we returned home. B.A. shucked his boots and heroically made oven chips (fries) to go with our breaded cod, and so we had quite a delicious supper (after 21:00!) before we collapsed into bed.

The mill and world's worst haiku.

Flowers of the forest

Also in pale yellow and mauve

 A glamorous garden


*Yes, it is a bit odd that a top patisserie is just there in the countryside, but it has a carpark and people come from miles. 

Saturday 10 April 2021

Small Note Marking the Passing of the Duke of Edinburgh

American readers with any familiarity with Britain may now be somewhat startled by the effect the death of the Duke of Edinburgh has had on British media, if not on British life. However, the first important thing to realise is that, just as women are not men, and men are not women, Britain is not the United States. Having been drawn into a brief Twitter spat with a fellow Catholic journalist (American), I have been trying to imagine who, in the USA, has played the role of Prince Philip of Greece in public life. 

Oh golly. It has just hit me that it might have been Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Surely not? American Royalty is just not very royal, for there is usually too much party politics involved, which is why "senior statesmen" like the grubby Edward Kennedy (may he rest in peace) don't fit this bill. Also, the Royal Family is about continuity from one century to another, providing reassuring tradition and stability in a crazy, rapidly changing world.

Anyway, after the Duke's death was announced, the BBC newscasters (at very least) changed into black, and so did I, just in case anyone wanted me to opine onscreen on his passing. (So far, nobody has.) During work prayers, I asked for prayers for the repose of the Duke's soul and the sparking of a "national conversation about the truths of the Resurrection." As a matter of fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been very good in this regard, as the Duke of Edinburgh was a committed  or at least a believing Christian.

Meanwhile, the British (or BBC) TV and radio schedules were wiped clean of anything non-Philip. It was non-stop news bulletins about the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh all day, and I shall certainly take a photo of the newspapers at Tesco this morning, for they will certainly have "RIP PRINCE PHILIP"or "DUKE DEAD AT 99" all over them. The Queen has gone into mourning for eight days, and possibly government offices will, too.  The thing is, bewildered American readers, the Royal Family are not (or not just) celebrities but part of the historic fabric of British life.  

A Senior Royal has not died since 2002, so I have never been around to witness/participate in the national mourning from the ground, so this is very interesting. Of course, it is also sad because I first became acquainted, as it were, with the Duke of Edinburgh as a very small child waiting in the school entrance for the school bus to take me home: there were two portraits on the walls for me to look at: the Queen (circa 1953) looking very pretty, and her husband, looking very handsome indeed. At home we had a softcover book of all the Kings and Queens of England, right down to a photo of the Queen's third child, Prince Andrew's christening (1961). Not having much of a sense of time, I was under the impression that the Royal children were all still children, like me. This illusion was, naturally, dispelled by the hoopla around the Prince of Wales' engagement to Lady Diana Spencer. 

Speaking of the late Princess of Wales, one thing nobody ever tells you is that by the night of her sad and sudden death, she was a bit of a national laughing stock. Her numerous affairs and overly-painted eyelashes had made her a tabloid joke by 1996, as I witnessed, having been in England that summer. But then she died, and suddenly she was Saint Diana. Britain cried, and in the small Canadian city where I was then living, flowers were heaped around the statue of Queen Victoria as the most logical place to put them.  The inscription on Queen V's monument was "A model wife and mother," which I thought very funny, having emerged my deep sorrow the day the news broke. 

Ten years ago, people disapproved of the Duke of Edinburgh for his "outdated" remarks and certainly the worst 1 or 2 of the approximate 1 billion jokes he has made over the years have been repeated over and over again and sound rather worse as the years go on. However, yesterday was (and today and tomorrow and the rest of the week will be) rather different, for his antiquity was seen as a rather good thing: married to the Queen for 73 years, a war hero, a naval officer, a last link with the Greatest Generation, a manly man of the old school, a Stoic who just got on with it, et alia. 

I rather like the last identity, for the "celebrity" type of fame implies comfort and luxury, whereas the Royal Family sort implies pulling on rubber boots and going outdoors to be cold and wet in the pursuit of fish, fowl or game, or to ride horses or walk dogs, or to survey gardens and perhaps do some digging, and that's just when on holiday. Normally it's up at 6 to go out and be interested in what strangers have to say all day long, and write and give speeches, and spread comfort and cheer at hospitals. It is not looking fetching in a headscarf with your yoga-toned arms full of orphans, a la Angelina Jolie. 

My small note has become long, so I'll stop and cram some Polish in my head so I can speak reasonably fluently to my tutor in an hour. I'll just note that I will always associated the Duke of Edinburgh with my "practise" Duke of Edinburgh Award hike, and so I will forever associate him with gruelling (thus heroic) adventures in the outdoors, as well as  with the handsome man in uniform smiling down from the school wall.

Friday 9 April 2021

"Genuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity"

That, my friends, is the kind of thing that was drilled into me at Canadian theology school before I (and shortly thereafter my academic career) went South. It's a teaching of the late, great Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904 - 1984), and it contains an argument that things can really be known and there really is such a thing as THE truth. (By the mid-20th century, people were casting great doubt on this, and of course today there are ideologies presenting outright lies as "my truth.") 

According to Fr. Lonergan, the way to get to the truth is to examine your own mental processes. It's not navel gazing as much as stepping outside of your brain, for a moment, and asking yourself what you are experiencing, and what you think it is, and if you might be wrong about that. It's an incredibly useful exercise if you are prone to catastrophizing--as I currently am. 

Here is a sadly common train of thought for your poor cooped up correspondent:

"OMG, Revenue Canada has sent me another letter, and they think I owe them money, and I don't understand, and I pay taxes in the UK, and I'm going to end up in jail and lose EVERYTHIIIIING!"


"OMG, the investment platform doesn't like that I signed up with my maiden name when my married name is on the bank account. I'm going to lose EVERYTHIIIIIIIIING!"


"OMG, I didn't remember to cancel my free trial of Amazon Prime in time, and now I have lost almost NINE POUNNNNDS! HATE SELF! HATE SELF!"*


"OMG, I only got one article done today. I don't remember when I last got three done in a day. I'm going to be FIRRRRRED!"

This is obviously not unique to me, and I would not be surprised to find out that there is a genetic component, since in her last year at home my grandmother used to lie awake at night worrying. 

"What are you worrying about?" I asked.

"Everything!" said Grandma with a small sad giggle. 

Happily, Benedict Ambrose--who does not come from a "call a therapist" background--told me to call  a therapist. So I got a [Catholic, naturally] therapist, and he is very helpful, for he tells me that tax stuff and financial platforms sort themselves out and also that I probably have PTSD and need a long vacation. 

(Incidentally, there is also an accountant in Canada to whom I sent all the Revenue Canada paperwork who said what every frightened woman wants a man to say, i.e., "Don't worry about this. Leave this to me.")

Sometimes authentic subjectivity means you accept the view of people who really do care about you (either professionally or personally) that your reasoning process is sometimes (or often) quite faulty. And this is a good reason why you should, occasionally, ask proven-to-be-very-trustworthy people questions about yourself. It is just possible that they may know better than you do, since they see you from the other side of your eyeballs, if that makes sense. They are also more familiar with the up-to-date you than with the teenage you, which is when you may have taken onboard a lot of negative remarks (possibly justified but possibly not), which sank into your very marrow.

"Am I too hard on myself or too easy on myself?" I asked Benedict Ambrose, whose eyes bulged with concern at the naiveté of such a question. 

Recently I asked "What really makes me happy?", and I was surprised to hear that B.A. thinks I like being a guest better than being a hostess because when I am a hostess I get very distressed if the smallest thing goes wrong in the kitchen. (HATE SELF! HATE SELF!) 

I first learned the secret of asking the trusted person 14 years ago or so when I asked my dear friend Lily why I was still Single. Lily went away to think about it and then told me that it was because I wanted to marry someone more intelligent than me, and there were not actually a lot of men like that, so I was stuck. 

"Are you mad?" she quavered.

Naturally I was not at all cross, for that struck me as a highly flattering reason to still be Single. (And subsequent research has led me to understand even highly intelligent men are not as supremely interested in marrying highly intelligent women as vice versa.) I deeply intuited that she was quite right and subsequently married a fellow impractical, impecunious PhD-dropout. We lived happily ever after, despite brain tumours, PTSD, a catastrophic flood and other such recent disasters. 

However, you must be careful to limit these heavy questions about your precious self because otherwise you will bore and exasperate your loved ones. Asking someone to drop a truth bomb on you is rather a big deal for the truth bomber, who naturally doesn't want to blow up along with your faulty self-image. 

Here's another bit of advice about men, incidentally. Although men are definitely men, and should not be thought of as bigger, stronger, emotionally dumber women, men of your generation are not necessarily like men of your father's generation. In fact--astonishing thought--in some ways (if only one or two) YOU might be more like your dad than your husband is. When you figure this out and accept it, you may cut your husband more slack for not doing stuff you (however secretly) think is men's business, e.g. business.

"Look at you reading money blogs," said B.A.

"Arr," quoth I. 

*Happy ending to that story: I swiftly cancelled Amazon Prime and got back the almost £9.

UPDATE: Speaking of men, have you checked up on yours recently? I mean the brothers, nephews, grandsons, friends and colleagues. Whereas lockdowns are unpleasant for almost everyone, they seem to be particularly bad for the mental health of boys and men, young and old, and I saw one Facebook post--from a friend--that alerted me to the fact that some feminine sympathy was in order.

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Two Days (Mostly) Off the Internet

I stayed off the internet Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, checking only social media on my phone once an evening to see if there were messages from family and work. I read a bit of a Polish textbook and a couple of Agatha Christies I hadn't read in some years. Benedict Ambrose and I went on a long walk in the countryside with friends. We ate hearty Easter foods, like roast lamb and chocolate cake studded with bright candy-coated chocolate eggs. We had gone to Easter Vigil and, to our amusement, our priest sent us emails asking us not to come to Easter morning Mass, too: the demand was outstripping the places on the reservation list.

The great thing about being off the internet was knowing, really knowing, that there wasn't really anything I could do about World News or the Stock Market and that my only real responsibility, besides being nice to be around, was active resting. On Saturday I felt that if I didn't report the profanation by police of a Polish Catholic Good Friday service in London, it would not be sufficiently well-known and I would have betrayed (1) fellow Catholics in Britain (2) Poles in general (3) my employers (4) their readers. When B.A. came into my office/our dining-room to tell me that CNA had just published something, I began to cry. Until that moment I had not been worried about being scooped by CNA or anyone. In fact, I was delighted when Spiked got something out first. But suddenly I felt that I Had FAILED.  In fact, my brain was just being utterly overloaded.   

One of my colleagues had assumed that I would easily understand the Polish priest's address to his congregation, but hearing recordings has always been very hard for me. Thus, I listened to that recording over and over, and over and over the celebrant said, "Quickly leave the church" while his congregation looked and sounded reluctant to do so, and I longed for him to tell them to stay and risk paying the stupid £200 each/each child. (Not a small sum in pricey Britain, I admit.) But the way recordings work for me is that the more often I listen to them, the more often words pop out. (The interesting thing about listening to my Polish tutor is that he uses words that normally I never hear but only see written down. ) The sounds inspire printed words to appear before my mind's eye. But it's a long process and a gazillion times more difficult than reading. What an utter relief when I discovered wPolityce had a transcript and the priests' actual names. 

Anyway, I needed two days of no responsibilities and no internet to remind me of them, and that's what I had, so I'm happy. I'm also happy that I was advised to take a whole 10 days off  and go away with B.A. somewhere soon so as to have a total break. As foreign travel is forbidden, we are going somewhere where I will have no opportunity to stress out over declensions, conjugations and forced train route diversions in Lower Silesia.  Beforehand, I will take the computer to the repair shop. Amusingly, the seaside (Firthside) town where we are going could be likened to a Dorothy repair shop. 

I suppose we all need to go to a repair shop eventually, and the state of our computers may say something about our own inner states. 

I don't recall going anywhere for "March Break" or "Spring Break" as a child or teenager, except for epic hikes through Toronto's Don Valley ravines behind my mother, who sometimes led this expedition with a baby on her back. We scrambled along river banks, climbed over fences, looked up at soaring bridges, thought about what the now-gelded river had done in 1954 during Hurricane Hazel and how Toronto had been revenged upon it. 

Summers were different, for I was sent for a week or two to Girl Guide camp in somewhat wilder wilderness. And some years my family also went to a cottage by a lake for a week or two. This was sometimes in Ontario, and sometimes in the American Midwest, not far from our American relations. The beaches of the Ontario lakes were not particularly sandy, although I seem to recall the American beaches were. I had high expectations of beaches, thanks to comic books, so these beaches were a bit disappointing. (I must write about my new discovery of the Law of Low Expectations.) However, a beach is a beach, so there was swimming and looking at tadpoles. In addition, we were in the country, so sometimes there was getting candy at a country store (besides being frightened by snakes, stung by wasps, and checked for leeches). There was also sitting around for hours reading books and unfamiliar magazines (like Redbook) and playing such board games as Monopoly. There was badminton and writing letters and, in the USA, visiting relatives who might give us interesting presents--and I must say Aunt Jeanette covered herself with glory by giving me a wooly walrus one year. 

In the USA, there were exotic shops with unfamiliar brand names--and foodstuffs only seen on TV, but in both countries there was Junk Cereal. For one week (or were there two?) of the year, only at The Cottage (whichever cottage it was that year), we children were allowed the sugary, processed garbage so important to Saturday morning television advertising: Frosted Flakes, Sugar Corn Pops, Kellogg's Sugar Smacks, Fruit Loops and possibly Cocoa Puffs--although my mother may have drawn the line at Cocoa Puffs. (Or Count Chocula, as I now see Cocoa Puffs was in the Kellogg's Variety Pack.)

Although Junk Cereal was most definitely the sign that chaos and carnival now (temporarily) reigned and we were all on holiday, I was not totally dead to the beauties of nature. The most beautiful cottage in which we ever stayed was on the shores of Georgian Bay and had a wall that was almost entirely glass (I think) looking out at the water and the islands in the middle.* My family shared it with a Polish family--this is where it all gets exciting and amateur shrinks can take notes--consisting of my father's Polish work colleague, his Canadian wife, his very glamorous sister (who wore a BIKINI!!!!), his brother-in-law, and his nephew Paweł (whom we called Pavel, as ł was beyond the Canadians' ability to pronounce). This was the 1970s so goodness knows how and why Paweł and his parents were allowed to come to Canada on holiday. 

Paweł was a year younger than me, and was rather frustrated that I couldn't understand him. He was fond of me all the same, however, and was not only the first but the only boy to take any interest me for the next several years. I was very distressed later to discover that I was unlikely ever to see Paweł again and that he and his family lived in what we would consider grinding poverty (i.e. he lived in a Communist country). 

As a matter of fact, I did see Paweł again forty years later when it occurred to me to find him on Facebook. He had emigrated to Canada, was married and (with some reasonable accommodation for age) looked exactly the same.  

Thanks to the third person to order something from Papier in my name. Now I have enough credits to buy my next-to-next wellness journal, which is awesome, as it is a tad pricey. Fancy paper products are my financial achilles' heel--along with good coffee. If you are in the UK and also have a weakness for good stationary and beautiful notebooks--and would like to toss me some credits--just click here

*I rejoice that my brother Nulli's in-laws have a similar cottage, only on the shores of a lake in Quebec. The Canadian Dream.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Resurrexit Sicut Dixit!



I'm going to send Easter greetings to my family, and then I'll be off the internet for a solid 2 days. It's been a hard-working Lent--and thanks to a police action against Catholics in London yesterday--I was working right up until mid-afternoon on Holy Saturday. 

However, we went to a beautiful Easter Vigil--beginning with the New Fire--and it was not disrupted by the state, and now it is time to rejoice, give thanks, and let world events pass us by. 

Happy Easter!

P.S. It's a mazurek.

Friday 2 April 2021

The Dining-room


A blessed Good Friday to everyone. A bowl of hot cross bun dough is proving in the dining-room. Taking a tip from cookery genius Elizabeth David, I gave it a first proving overnight, so that the buns will be ready earlier today. David's advice is for bread, so I don't know what the end result will taste like. I'm hopeful. 

As a Good Friday penance, I will go out when the buns are baked and weed the lawn. Well, part of the lawn. But for now I want to think about dining, or rather dining rooms, especially the wonderful box of a room that was my childhood dining room. 

Someone told me recently that there are three altars in a marriage: the altar at church, the bed, and the table. When Lent began, Benedict Ambrose and I gave up our slothful habit of eating supper while watching a film. If you came from a family like mine, you may be shocked that we had fallen into such a habit. Alas. However, cheer up because every evening of Lent (save yesterday, when B.A. was at Mass and I was working), I cleared off the dining room table and we had a civilised, conversational supper, lately followed by a game of whist. 

Nowadays priests and psychologists suggest that families all sit down together for a communal meal at least once a week. When I was a child, my family had a communal meal at least once a day. Breakfasts for children of school age were in the kitchen, where my mother stuffed us with food: porridge (or, in hotter months, Cheerios), eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, orange juice. We positively rolled out the door (at exactly 8 AM) on our way to the school bus stop. However, she didn't eat with us, and my father was still comfortably in bed. 

Thus, the real communal meal, on weekdays, was supper--called dinner--always eaten in the dining-room. On weekends, there were two parents-and-children meals: brunch and dinner. I associate Saturday mornings with waffles and Sunday mornings with pancakes--the two things my father knew how to make--and brunch was eaten in the dining-room, too. Oooh---I just smelled coffee there. Waking up on a Saturday or Sunday, there was coffee in the air and my brother Nulli playing the piano. I think, however, that eventually Saturday brunch was abolished, thanks to a hectic schedule of ice hockey practise, ballet, etc. However, it still exists in our memories, which I image my mother hoped for. Should I ever find myself languishing in prison, I will keep my spirits up by taking refreshing holidays in the past. 

The dining room had been added to the house--which itself had once been a bungalow--by its former owner and, I think, creator. It was on the north-west corner of the house and had tall windows along the west and north sides. These were covered, at night, by thick woollen curtains of the most 1970s blue and orange tartan you ever saw. My mother made them, and when I discovered after I moved to Scotland that they were meant to be an approximation of the family tartan, I laughed heartily. 

I believe there was a blue wall-to-wall carpet, upon which many a pea or carrot square was dropped and into which they were trodden. In the middle of the room was a big shiny wooden dining room table, six smart wooden chairs, and usually a baby's high chair of painted wood. On the east wall of the dining room, there was a china cabinet with fancy plates and small glass ornaments. (I was rather more interested in the small glass ornaments at the time.) Above it was a long picture rail of some sort, on which stood a collection of fancy French mustard pots. There was also a doorless cupboard built into the wall on the south side, which held pewter tankards and christening mags. The whole dining room was lined with 1970s wood panelling, so it really was like a wooden box with windows. I think now it was a treasure box, for that is where all we children were civilised and educated with our parents' values and occasionally introduced to visiting scholars who were usually bearded but occasionally members of the Chinese Communist Party. 

I bring up the CCP members with glee because my parents thought it was amusing that these poor foreign students, survivors of the one-child policy, were probably for the first time in their lives sitting down to eat at a table with four or five children who were all siblings. Eventually one of them stayed in Canada and named his first child Canada Freedom. At any rate, eating with us may have been an education for them, too. If you really want to know a foreign place, sitting down for a family dinner is key. 

But actually what I remember best about the dining room is birthdays, birthday parties and birthday cake. This may be because the memories have been boosted by memories of photographs. That said, my strongest memories of the dining-room in the Historical House also involve parties. On the other extreme, I also remember surreptitiously feeding bits of "Spanish steak" to the cat because I loathed Spanish steak and did not know, in fact, that I could ever like beef until in my twenties I accidentally ordered filet mignon in a restaurant. So top points to my 20- and-30-something mother on cake, but not for beef. The cat may have disagreed, of course.

Curiously, I remember gifts from only one birthday dinner in that dining-room. These were very essential gifts, however, as they included a safe disguised as a book, a delicate coral-coloured rosary, and Prayer Book for Young Catholics by Fr. Robert Fox. Alas the safe and the rosary were soon broken, but Fox's book remained and as Fox was a crypto-trad (and as were, I now realise, my favourite parish priests), I was also a crypto-trad without knowing it. I was also a crypto-trad without practising it, as Family Rosary was not a thing in our house, presumably because my mother was a 1969 convert and the rosary was right out of fashion. However, another influential gift I received at some point was Fr. Lovasik's Heroines of God, so I was thoroughly indoctrinated and discovering the TLM was like returning to the barely-grasped, but essentially family, home of one's infancy.  

I can't remember what Good Friday meals were like then, which is probably a good thing. But that might not be fair, for I do recall hot cross buns from the supermarket, toasted with butter. I did not at the time like the candied fruit, but I did (for some odd reason) like the crunchy flour-and-water cross on top. 

Well, the buns have finished proving for the third time, so I must go turn on the oven. I was about to say that it is sad that I am not making memories for children myself, but this would have been foolish, for presumably our younger relations and friends will remember at least a few of my presents and jokes, and my writing students will no doubt recall my more colourful remarks. I hope one day my Polish Godling will be sent to me for English immersion in the summers, and then I will ply her with good Scottish cooking, so she can tell her own children that it is not true what they say about the British. 

Thursday 1 April 2021

"Vegetables aren't cheap"

Yesterday I totalled up how much we spent in March, and I tutted and sighed when I counted up how many times we really went to Tesco. In my fond imaginings, I thought we had gone only twice a week. However, it was more like three times a week, plus three forays into Waitrose. There was also a spontaneous trip to Lidl and a pop into Aldi. Also in my fond imaginings, we were spending only £40 a week on groceries.

Alas, alas!

"Vegetables aren't cheap," said B.A. in the slightly irritated voice of a man who thinks he is being blamed. 

I blame Berocca. No more Berocca, nasty expensive stuff. After Easter Sunday, I am putting the tubes at the back of the shelf to await October.  To be fair, cheese is also expensive, and as we had gone vegetarian for 5 days of the week, I did not stint. 

Finance blogs--especially FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) blogs--are great fun to read, and I always find the annual tally of the bravest and most transparent fascinating.  I am not so brave and transparent, so I'm showing you only food costs. For comparison and extra amusement, I will expose January and February, too. 

To keep North American readers from being shocked out of their minds, I should mention that the UK is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, and Edinburgh is the most expensive city in Scotland. Food just costs more here. 

For more fun, I have used a currency converter.  

January 2021

Groceries: £455.47  ($789.06 Canadian; $628.38 US )

Eating Out: £112.65 ($195.16 CAD;155.17 US)  

Total: £568.12

February 2021

Groceries £299.70 ($519.21 CAD; $412.82 US)

Eating Out: £45.15 ($78.22 CAD; $62.19 US)

Total: £344.85

March 2021

Groceries (including 3 month supply of Berocca)    £308.75 ($534.88 CAD; $425.85 US)

Eating Out: £25.30 ($43.83 CAD; $34.85 US)

Total: £334.05

Now I feel rather pleased, for we knocked over £223 off our food-and-toiletries costs just by paying attention--and, of course, observing Lent. 

At the same time I am rather appalled at how much food costs here. For example, that March £25.30/$43.83/$34.85 = 2 cappuccini & 2 French pastries; two Scottish pastries; and two ice-cream cones. How much is a top-quality ice-cream cone in Toronto?  

That said, we are talking top-quality ice-cream here. The French pastries were also top-quality--and beyond my skill set. The Scottish pastries were well within my skill set, however (see photo above), which is why there were so few of them in March. In short, the budget for our Sunday treat in Stockbridge went from £12 to £0 when we brought coffee in a thermos and homemade cake or pie in plastic tubs instead. 

Benedict Ambrose, being a contemporary Scot, is torn between love of eating out and love of saving money--and I must admit, I am too. I propose a compromise in which when we eat out we eat only those things that we could not have made at home just as well for a lot less money.  

FULL DISCLOSURE: This doesn't include my coffee subscription, which I will cancel when lockdown is over, saving us £2.95 a month. I have a weakness for good coffee. It is a thing. 

UPDATE: Thank you to whoever ordered something from Papier in my name. You have saved me 10% on my July to September wellness journal.  (I also have a weakness for good notebooks.)

STOP PRESS: Average food costs for two people in Toronto in 2020 were apparently $533.95 CA/month. Ah ha ha! (We spent $579.47 CA in March, which is not that far out.) Only $251.95 on Toronto groceries, though--but $282 on Toronto eating out & take out. Not that I'm judging. No. 

ANOTHER UPDATE: Our homeowner costs are a fraction of what the average Toronto homeowner pays. "O City, City!"