Friday 28 May 2021


 ... is the enemy of the poor. 

I'll expand on this eventually. At the moment, I'm working.

Thursday 27 May 2021

Bambi Ate My Peas

When B.A. and I got home from Ely on Tuesday, I went at once to the garden to see how my plants were. Pauline (the blackcurrant) had flourished in our absence, so I was really very pleased. Paul (the other blackcurrant) was his quickly growing, sturdy self. The herb garden is coming along, without any sign yet of the chives, however. The broad beans in the veggie trug were looking a bit chewed; I should co-plant some marigolds, I believe, but fortunately the beans are far enough along not to mind bugs too much. The peas had sprouted but---at least two were missing, and there was an actual hole where they should have been.

The hole was odd, for the trug is high enough off the ground that cats can't get into it with a giant leap, and that would mean landing in plastic netting. It was also rather a large but shallow hole. The easiest explanation was a naughty squirrel. However, we learned the truth yesterday when B.A. was out in the garden and our downstairs neighbour called him to her kitchen door. 

Our downstairs neighbour showed B.A. photos on her phone--of a young male deer, but for his horns, barely a fawn. He had somehow found himself in our neighbour's back garden and then, after she had taken a number of photos, he squeezed through the gap between fences to our back garden. Our neighbour watched from her window as he wandered over to my veggie trug and helped himself. Sadly, she did not take a photo of that. 

The news is bad and good. On the one hand, a marauding deer has snacked on my peas! But on the other hand, we live in an area with so much greenery that fawns appearing in the garden are an actual possibility.  

I have never read Silent Spring*, but it was mentioned--along with a number of other interesting books--in Steel's Sitopia. I'm delighted to report that spring is silent neither in Scotland nor in Ely. In Ely the blackbirds were loudly yakking to each other, and the ring-necked doves were positively mooing. This morning I went for a walk and enjoyed all the real-life tweets and twittering. 

If you are interested in conservationism, eating and food, I highly recommend Sitopia. It is not a Christian book--the ending chapters on human mortality make that clear--but it has a goodly amount of Classical Stoicism which makes it at least mostly compatible with Christian reading. It speaks well of traditional meals and mealtimes, and as I mention every Lent, I think our ancestors in faith really knew what they were doing when they banned meat, milk, eggs and oil for six weeks and tightened their belts. (They often did this in Advent, too, which is why traditional Christmas Eve dishes are pescatarian.) 

Personally, I object to feeling helpless about matters that affect me and the society I live in, so I have taken a few radical steps to cut down on my own use of plastics, for example. The most dramatic one was stopping my contact lens subscription--throwing out the little single-use plastic packets every morning and the little one-day plastic lenses every night. My coarse hair, it turns out, has always hated shampoo (a product first invented in the 1930s), so I no longer buy that. Bath soap is still available in bar form, thank goodness, and I can live without shower gel (1865) and its plastic, disgusting shower puff.  My annual makeup splurge--over. Hair dye--never started.

As for the grocery shopping--it's a work in progress. I loved Bea Johnson's Zero Waste Home, and I was sad that our household of two produces more than a quart of rubbish and recycling every few days, let alone a year, until I reflected that cutting down that dramatically takes time and also, to a certain extent, relies on the nearby shops. Pre-Covid, Tesco promised to minimise its carbon footprint by 60% by 2025. Well, let's see. 

*Silent Spring was very influential, but it is quite controversial today. The late Kathy Shaidle frequently accused its author Rachel Carson of being responsible for the malaria deaths of millions. Others defend her.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Writing Joy

I was going to write something today about sustainable living--and how much I enjoyed Caroline Steele's Sitopia, which is about sustainable eating, one of my favourite topics--but the first thing I came across this morning, via Facebook, was Steve Skojec's cri-de-coeur expressing his disappointment in the Church. 

Long pause while you read Skojec's broadside against the Una Vera Fides. Maybe make yourself a cup of coffee first. 

The Church has been a disappointment to Steve from beginning (or by the time he was 14) to end (or very recently when an easily-recognised priest denied baptism to his youngest child). Steve writes that he is angry, which will not be a surprise to any of Steve's long-time readers. Steve has been angry for as long as I remember reading his tweets, and the mischievous have inspired Steve to new paroxyms of online rage for months, if not years, now. As you know if you read the article, Steve has reason to be angry, and he has the right to be angry---and yet I'm sorry that he's writing angry because I don't think it will help him become happy. 

The internet loves anger, mind you. I don't think I realised what an addictive drug online rage is until I started reading Mundabor. (Vox Cantoris to me in Toronto: "People admit to reading Mundabor now?") Eventually--after I met her, in fact--I even starting reading Ann Barnhardt. Yowza! Even spicer than Mundabor!

 If I were interested in building up a readership for readership's sake (or to get Substack subscriptions), I'd start a blog called "Reasons I'm Angry" and let rip every day. Although it might be good for our bank account, it would be very bad for me. When I was writing the "Seraphic Singles" blogs, I was often angry and depressed, but obviously I couldn't sound that way when I was calling myself "Seraphic Single", for heaven's sake. Therefore, I summoned joy into my brain and wrote cheerfully--or at worst just solemnly--about aspects of Single life.  Blogging was often the best part of my day, and it wasn't just because I was distracting myself or thinking about other people. It was because I was writing happy. 

My wellness journal has a daily space for writing out what I feel grateful for. When I'm in a rush, I skip it, but sometimes I take the time to write things like "B.A./parents both well/mortgage overpayment/Pauline [the blackcurrant bush] improving.'' It's a really good idea. And it's also a good pastoral practise. Once when I disclosed my pain about an unfortunate confession by my ex-therapist, a Jesuit friend asked me if she had helped me. That stopped my complaints short, for I had to admit that, yes, she really had. Was she a saint? No. Had she helped? Yes. I never felt as badly about her massive screw-up again, and so not only was I reminded to be grateful for her good work, I was grateful to my Jesuit friend.

This reminds me the the messiness of life is not all bad, for I sustain joy and gratitude for all kinds of disparate things and people. I'm grateful I can go to the Traditional Latin Mass every week, and I'm grateful that I had an enriching, happy time at a Jesuit theology school. I'm grateful that there are Benedictine monks celebrating the Old Mass in Norcia, and I'm grateful that there are Benedictine nuns singing the old Latin Office in Ryde (even if only the New Mass is celebrated in their chapel). One of my best friends is a leftie-lib agnostic feminist, and another is a devoutly Catholic traditional mother of five. One of my old mentors is such a fan of Pope Francis, he clearly isn't comfortable meeting with me anymore, and I remember to pray for his late parents every Sunday because--despite his religious beliefs--I am terribly grateful for his kindness to me years ago. 

Agonized by scandal after scandal, Catholics ask ourselves how our faith can survive all this. I think of my thirteen or fourteen year old self, in our beautiful old parish church (sold soon afterwards because the land under it was worth millions), wondering what martyrdom might look like in my lifetime. I thought it might involve being shot by Soviet invaders for sneaking off to church. Now I wonder if it doesn't simply mean hanging onto the mast, singing snatches of childhood hymns or even psalms set to tunes in the Bad Old Days, i.e. the 1960s and 70s, while the barque fills with sewage.

The funny thing about being a Catholic trad who grew up in mainstream Novus Ordo Catholicism is that I have a lot of 1970s and 1980s hymns stored permanently in my memory banks, and if I were languishing in prison, I'd be singing "And I will RAY-AY-se you UH-UP on the LA-AST day!" Yes, I have terrible taste, but that's what I've got, and I'm grateful for it and my elementary school music teacher. (Weirdly, he also taught us "Hava Nagila" in kindergarten, so technically I knew some Hebrew before even French.)

But my point is--in case you are wondering--is that the way through all this mess--the disappointing priests and the wrong-headed bishops and the usherettes in jogging pants gesturing at you to receive  Holy Communion--is to remember everything you love or have loved about your Catholic life (if you are Catholic). I shall now write a short list to prompt you to your own:

Catholic Book of Worship II.

Sunday Mass (either Form) on a very sunny morning, especially Easter.

The 1960s wooden Stations-of-the-Cross at St. Left-wing.

The 1940s stained glass windows at St. Right-wing.

Fr C and Fr L (crypto-trads, the both of them, I later discovered).

Heroines of God by Fr. Lovasik.

My First Communion dress and veil.

My mother cutting up my First Communion veil to make my wedding veil.

Doughnuts after Mass. 

Parish youth group.

Parish youth group dances.

All-girls Catholic school.

Catholic school dances at the all-boys Catholic schools. 


That time I helped served tea to the priests who had just heard up to 900 teenage girls' confessions, and the air was blue with cigarette smoke.

That time I ran away from an awkward social situation to get to Midnight Mass. 

That time the archbishop was coming at last, and so every Trad from here to Glasgow filled the pews. 

That time my husband was in surgery, and I went to the [Church of Scotland] chapel to argue with God, and the Lord was there with me. 

Those times friends walked with me on my pilgrimages to the local saint, interred five miles away.

That time our priest came to my husband's hospital room to give him Final Unction, and B.A. struggled to sit up and began beating his emaciated breast. 

That time my Protestant friend died of cancer and I went to the Cathedral to cry. 

That time during Covid we were so worried about our priest being sick and then there he was in the carpark, wan but alive. 

This morning's Polish class--live from Krakow--when my teacher explained why in Poland Whitmonday is dedicated to Mary.

Update: Dr. Edward Feser knocks it out of the park. 

Thursday 20 May 2021

The Vocation to Wait

A thoroughly depressing pair of articles about Single Life in Crisis this week.  In the debate about whether or not Single Life is a "vocation", the articles are firmly on the "NO" side. 

Back in 2006 when I began to blog about Single Life, I was sure Single Life had to be a vocation because priests said it was. When vocations directors gave us extra homilies about vocations after Mass, they always mentioned the vocation to the Single Life in passing. Naturally they were not particularly interested in the Single Life, for they were there  primarily to try to drum up vocations to the priesthood. Sometimes they would do this against a backdrop of pony-tailed altar girls, which is funny in a sardonic way, as the presence of girls on the altar discourages altar boys and therefore, 15-20 years later, new priests.  

This paragraph in the most recent Crisis article caught my attention for what it did not include:  

Prolonged singleness, for those who desire a spouse and believe they are called to marriage, is a painful trial. This is not a vocation to singleness as some folks now mistakenly say. It is a condition brought on by the actions of others, as stated by Jesus. It may also include one’s response to the sin perpetrated against him or her or it could be the culture of the society the person is living in. All these variables, plus others, can merge to keep a person single. 

The actions of others? Yes, of course. But let us admit it--and rejoice, actually, for who want to feel that helpless?--our own actions are also to blame. Naturally you don't want to hear about that when you are Single and feeling miserable about it. You need to be in a better place before you can take stock, examining your pattern of (choose one) carelessly flirtatious behaviour; drunkenness; conversation-hogging; aggressive man-chasing; treating dates as free therapy; treating dates as confessionals; shrieking; expecting reality to conform to your fantasies; and then choosing a more prudent path. 

"Shut up," I hear you shriek (watch out with the shrieking). "You smug married you! You've been married for 12 years!"

Yes, I have, and it's rather miraculous, really. I often think it was because as soon as I got to the U.K. and met Benedict Ambrose in person, God struck me down with a terrible cold so that I wouldn't talk too much. I sat around sounding exotically Canadian when I did talk, looking elegant in a blue silk and pearls, and above all looking like B.A.'s favourite singer, only 25 years younger. Men are visual, I looked right for the part, and B.A. is now trapped--ha ha ha HAAAAAA!

I also giggled an awful lot on that first visit because I felt very, very happy. My number one advice to any Single woman who is unhappy being Single is to find the joy in it--and everything else--as soon as she can. Men are attracted to happy people. Heck, people are attracted to happy people. Happiness, I am happy to say, is on you. You can do things to make yourself happy. Whatever they are, are unique to you--although Eat to Beat Disease suggests that regular consumption of dark chocolate has something to do with it. That's more good news. 

Meanwhile, becoming a man trap is a learned skill, one which some women I know have or have had in an enormous degree although this did not always solve their singleness problem, as they couldn't choose just one man. Committing to the one man must be super-tough when you are used to having many men dance around you like bees around a lilac bush. However, although the presence of a wedding ring may make them all buzz off, they often return anyway, perhaps a little relieved that you have now been rendered "safe". Buzz, buzz, buzz. 

The way to discover how women attract men is to watch how your most popular girlfriends do it. These must be girlfriends you actually respect. And I can almost guarantee that your popular yet respectable girlfriends never, ever talk about how they used to be boxers. It took me some years to learn to stop doing that. 

Anyway, I have to get to my exercise bike, but I just thought I would sprinkle some hope on the Singleness question. It is not all on other people, their sins, society's sins: there are actually some things you can do about it. I wrote a whole blog about this. Two, in fact. 

Oh, and let us not forget God's role in this. Let us entertain a theological hypothesis that, even if you don't believe there is a "Vocation to Single Life" (and to be consistent, as a trad Catholic, you can't believe in a so-called "Vocation" to Married Life either), you can believe that God has saddled you with the cross of Singleness for some mysterious purpose of His own. It could be to teach you something, like how to learn to make your own happiness. It could be to prepare you for proper gratitude in getting a spouse. It could be because God wants you to marry someone in Moscow, and you haven't learned Russian yet, but you will begin next year after God guides your steps to a Tarkowsky film. Mysterious are the ways of the Most High. 

When I was 36, I discerned that my "vocation" was to wait and see. So I did that, and two years later I was married, which still astonishes me, but there you are. I did not become a raving beauty overnight (which I always used to think was THE trick to pull off if I could manage it); all I had to do was meet the man who thought I was a raving beauty because I looked enough like Dame Emma Kirby to be her niece. I'm not even much of a singer, so--ha ha!

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Childhood Details

Last night I was thinking about my childhood home and was suddenly seized by panic because it was so far away and I couldn't get back to it. In this context, childhood home was a time as much as a place, and that time was about 1980, to which there is no return. 

Fortunately, although the house is gone, the street, the trees and many of the neighbours' homes remain, so I can recapture childhood a little just by walking down it. Although I am objectively short in stature, I always feel like a giant when I do. Walking around the neighbourhood now takes me no time at all. The thought that I can at least do that helped me get to sleep. This morning I ponder that 1980 rests safely in God, and that presumably in heaven, we will be able to "go home again" if God so wills and it is necessary for our happiness. 

I am also very lucky in that both my parents and all my siblings are still alive. At least three of them, perhaps four, remember the little white house with the red front door, the green side door, and the roses climbing up the west side of the house. Three will remember my beloved cat; I hope the fourth one does, too. It was believed in his infancy that he and the cat were in league with each other, the cat distracting my mother with various antics while my brother pushed toothbrushes down the bathroom sink. 

The cat--a beautiful, friendly orange-and-white creature--was eventually killed by a car, and my sister Tertia asked me if cats went to heaven. As an adult I know that the theologically correct answer is that they will be in heaven if they are necessary for our happiness. At the time I believe I cited Lucy Maud Montgomery (the authoress of the Anne and Emily books), who said they were. LMM was not theologically sound, but what a lovely surprise should my dear cat come purring up to me in heaven. 

The funny thing about this nostalgia is that as a child in Toronto I was already nostalgic. Having found myself in England at age 3, I wanted to return, and I spun out long, complicated daydreams about my romantic, adventurous life in London, a city I had seen only two days of my short life and knew mostly from Miroslav Sasek's This is London picture book, first published in 1959.  As a matter of fact, we lived in Cambridge, in an award-winning low-rise house/apartment complex that is still there although--like my childhood street--it is much smaller. The enormous field behind the deep woods has shrunk to a grassy strip and the woods are not so deep. 

Graham Greene once said or wrote that childhood was the "credit balance of the novelist", which is something I have tried to impress upon my writing students, who have the fortune of still being children. I seem to be always telling the youngest generation to keep detailed notes, but it might not be necessary, as the details of childhood stay with us longest. This has been awful for European survivors of World War 2 concentration camps, but will be nice for me, as long as I remember home, not school and not my piano lessons. Greene must have meant the sights, sounds, smells, sensations and tastes of childhood, though, for   I don't recall much plot. Plot is driven by misfortune, so it is just as well. 

The greatest misfortune of my childhood was that my only uncle died when he wasn't much older than 40, which plunged my brother Nulli and I into such great grief, I don't recall anything like it since. I have felt grimy, complicated grief for my own mistakes, gambles and sins, but the shock of the police-at-the-door Advent bereavement was incredible, in the sense that we could hardly believe it. We were too young to comfort our parents or be as conscious of their own sorrow although the memory of a long-closed bedroom door is firmly fixed in my mind. My father's mother wept at Christmas Mass that year, I remember. But, as I wrote for a Toronto Catholic paper many years later, my good parents and grandmothers did their utmost to make sure we children had a happy Christmas despite everything. Forty years later, I marvel at their emotional generosity.  

I have often wondered if my uncle knew how much he was loved by two small children up in Toronto. Well, presumably he knows now. It's a thought that makes me, the second-eldest aunt of a 10 year old, a little more careful in crossing the street and keeping my weight down. 

B.A. has wonderful stories about his very different childhood in Dundee, and he is determined to pump his uncle for more information about his colourful great-grandmother--who wore an orange turban with a fake jewel and was something of a neighbourhood celebrity. His childhood was a lot more chaotic than mine, but happily he was born with the resilience of a rubber ball and has always bounced back, smiling. 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Dating Advice from 1938

Never mind the prissy intro to this set of excellent 1938 American dating advice. It all stands. I would have added "Express happiness about your life, and don't complain about anything." Listen up, whippersnappers! If there's anything I've learned in this life, it's that men prefer happy women. For some reason, young women often prefer brooding poet types with horrible shadows under their eyes. That way madness lies, though. My dear husband sleeps for at least 9 hours at a stretch. 

The curious thing is that "dating" was on its way out in the 1990s--when young people "hung out" until they magically paired off--but came roaring back with the internet. At that point, the number one rule of dating was to meet in a public place. I think that by 2005 dating was seen as such an emotionally dangerous enterprise that it was best to start from absolute scratch--with strangers picked from a screen--than to risk the emotional and social pitfalls of going to dinner with someone you actually knew.  

One of the very nice things about being married, as all married people say when contemplating the subject, is that you don't have to go on dates anymore. The search is over: you can settle in and grow your relationship tree. After a year or so, you can be very firm about what you don't want for Christmas, and after about ten years you can agree to dispense with Valentine's Day trinkets (though I strongly recommend continuing with the cards). The interesting thing is, if you get sufficiently old and unglamorous and your husband doesn't mind, you can still go out for coffee with young men and listen to their problems. There is a type of young man who gravitates towards mother figures--although I cannot imagine that real mothers have time to have coffees with young men. 

The essential thing here, of course, is to continue to  prefer your husband to any other man in the universe, which reminds me of the time B.A. arrived at an afternoon swing-dancing workshop to say hello but did not stay to dance. I can still feel the disappointment. What a heart-breaker. (The chap I stopped dancing with the second B.A. arrived looked confused and cross.) There is really no point to swing dancing as a married lady if your husband won't dance with you. 

Meanwhile, I am reminded of foreign young male religious at theology school being spiritually adopted by married female students of late middle age, and the young male religious saying fond things like, "She's my second mother" or "She's my Canadian mother" which at the time I thought was a bit weird but sixteen years laters sounds perfectly reasonable. 

Right, so this has stopped being about actual dating and gone back to being about me, so I will stop. But I will say that I first heard about B.A. when I was chatting to an influential British Catholic over Skype while simultaneously looking his male Facebook friends and saying "What about him? Ooh, he went to Oxford." The influential British Catholic said, "Would you like to live in a Historical House?" and two years later I was married to B.A. and living in the Historical House. The moral of that story, I think, is to dispense with internet dating and to ask around.

Monday 17 May 2021

Dream homes can be toxic

Benedict Ambrose and I went for a walk along Edinburgh's Water of Leith yesterday afternoon, and at one stage we climbed back up into the city and toured a very elegant, wealthy neighbourhood. Elegant and wealthy in this context means three-storey (but not gross) houses built in the 1880s, which can be purchased today for a modest £900,000 or so. 

As an aesthetic experience, it was very good. These were the kind of houses I always imagined I would live in one day. But as a psychological experience, it was very bad--for exactly the same reason. Although I argued with myself that it is better to live in a two-bedroom flat in a modest (ahem) but not terribly crime-plagued neighbourhood than to have a massive mortgage on a house in Coltbridge Terrace, my heart did not agree.  

My heart is being dumb, though, for I have done the math, and even if I had begun working as a full-time journalist when I arrived in the UK and saved every penny for 12 years, we would be able to put down less than half of the starting price for the empty Coltbridge Terrace house we looked at yesterday. 

B.A. loves architecture and is a first-generation homeowner, so he can look at beautiful houses and flats all day without wanting to own one. I, however, can't do this indefinitely.  I tell myself that it is so much nicer to be on the outside of a beautiful house, looking at it and all the other beautiful houses, than to be inside one, having done heaven knows what to get there. However, one beautiful house too many--or fatally, hearing that a friend has bought a beautiful house--and I am back on the self-abdegnation treadmill. Why oh why did I not go to law school? Why did I spend so much time in graduate school? Why did I not try harder to find a job sooner? Why didn't I grasp when I was 11 that computers were the ticket to a high-earning profession? It's horrible to feel this way. 

Fortunately we have a big private garden, the apple tree, the veggie trug and a row of pots on the windowsill. I don't know which forward-thinking town official decided that each of the modest flats along our street should have its own garden, but I am grateful to him or her. (It was probably a man, though, as the flats were built in 1930 and first sold to tenants in the Thatcher era. B.A. thinks all the gardens began as a communal field and then, one day, the fences went up.)

Usually only people in big, beautiful, expensive houses have as much private garden space as we do. In wealthy Edinburgh neighbourhoods, flat-dwellers have keys to private communal gardens maintained by gardeners. In less wealthy neighbourhoods, flat-dwellers have--if they are fortunate--drying greens decorated with cigarette butts and dog poop. Therefore, having a two-bedroom upper villa with a big private garden (and productive tree) thrown in for free is nothing to sneeze at. 

Today I was feeling rather low about how far out of reach my Edinburgh Dream House is and probably always will be. Fortunately for my sanity, I had an Italian lesson a short green walk away and that took my mind off the issue. Then, when I got home, I discovered that some of the French beans on the window had sprouted while I was out. Seeing a new sprout has become, since the Corona-crisis began, one of my favourite things. That's really lucky, too, because seeds are about £3 a packet. 

In short, Dream Houses can be very ruinous--indeed toxic--to your happiness whereas an unexpected garden in a modest (not very crime-plagued, if you're not a shopkeeper) neighbourhood is an amazing gift--as is the sprouting of four of my eight French beans, plus one of the rhubarb seeds. 

Originally I was going to call this post "Planning versus Dreaming." My idea was that if you want a House of Dreams you have to have a plan sooner than later so as to Make Your Dream Reality. However, this led to a train of self-incriminating thought, so I decided just to warn against Houses of Dreams and to celebrate beautiful Gardens of Reality. 

"Only the concrete is good," said Fr. Bernard Lonergan, SJ, who may have been quoting or interpreting St. Thomas Aquinas, OP.  At any rate, I hope so, as Bernie was not (ahem) always terribly sound. 

Saturday 15 May 2021

Health and Wealth--a Worldly Digression

This week I haven't written much in my spare time, as I had a flare-up of overuse syndrome in my right arm. I was advised by a kind person not to wait for my NHS appointment but to "go private," and so I got an appointment with a physio the next day after her office called me back. 

I love to read penny-pinching blogs, and my favourite says to buy top-end tools that will last forever. Well, my arms are as top-end as tools get, I think. Thus, I happily spent £60 to talk to my physio, get a proper diagnosis and enjoy a very painful arm massage. I felt 20 years younger--because the last time I got that kind of arm massage was in 2000 or 2001, and it hurt like billy-o. 

Naturally I don't like throwing about £20 notes, but the brilliant thing about writing down absolutely everything we spend, down to the penny, is that it almost magically presents spare cash like that. At the same time, I am becoming more reasonable about how much we are able to save. For example, together we spent £60.97 on books in April, so I raised the budget figure from April's £35 to £60. Meanwhile, although this month's clothing budget is £0, I just cold-bloodedly bought £45 worth of made-in-England socks. 

My financial philosophy is finally taking shape in my middle age; my advice for all youngsters is to get with the program earlier, like the first time you ever get a paycheque. Try to save 50% of everything you make, I say, but at the same time buy quality stuff from your own country (or, at least, continent). (This may mean three great pairs of socks from England instead of ten rubbish pairs of socks from Primark plus a double-frappuccino.) Aim to possess these quality goods for the rest of your life, or to sell them when you don't need them anymore. Use your savings to pay down the mortgage (if you have one) early and to invest in legal tax-defeating ways, so that you are not working full-time at 70--unless you want to, of course. Make coffee at home and bring it with you in a thermos flask.

Meanwhile, I'm very excited by a new possibility, which is that I might live until 102. The women in my family generally cash in their chips around 87, which made me thoughtful when I was 44. However, if I live until 102, I have not yet climbed to the top of the hill (as it were), which is an amusing thought. Since I have at last got it together financially, if I get it together physically, I could have a delightful old age, doing the kinds of things I most like to do for longer. And naturally I want to bring Benedict Ambrose along for the trip. (B.A., to his credit, is unsure he wants to put off going to his judgement until he is 102.)

What inspired these worldly thoughts about long life and unusual geriatric health was the Fifth International Vatican [Health] Conference, which had so many mottos and titles, I was never really sure what the official name actually was. Possibly "Unite to Prevent." Possibly "Unite to Cure." Possibly "Body, Mind, and Soul." Body, you'll note, came first, and Soul, you'll deplore, came last. At any rate, I watched as much as I could and still have time to write about it for work, and I enjoyed quite a bit. I bought two of the books being subtly advertised--Eat to Beat Disease and The Blue Zones. The Eat to Beat Disease man interviewed Cindy Crawford for the Vatican Conference, and she was a very good advertisement for healthy eating, I must say. 

The Blue Zones has very big print but also many interesting stories about very old but healthy people around the world. All of them were deeply religious, either Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists or ancestor-worshippers. They were also very active, either doing vigorous workouts (the Americans) or walking for miles as part of their usual day or putting in hours of vegetable gardening every day. All the ones who weren't Americans didn't have a lot of cash. After belief in God or their ancestors, they took their greatest strength from their friends and families. They were all, the author noted, very likeable. I may have to work on that side of things, especially as I don't have any children to take me in when they're 80. 

Eat to Beat Disease is full of SCIENCE. The author insists that you read all about the body's five lines of defence before you go on to read about the disease-beating foodstuffs. It's very technical, and you cannot read it in a day. I couldn't find it for less than £11.95, so I was happy to see it contains 486 pages. I was also delighted that it is on the side of red wine, dark chocolate, cheese and beer, and although naturally it is very anti-smoking, it inadvertently shows what smokers can do to counteract at least some of the damage. B.A, and I don't smoke, but Polish Pretend Son, who might have to take me in when he's 80, smokes like a dragon. 

Therefore, although I didn't say bags of nice things about the Vatican Conference for work--work would prefer the Vatican to concentrate on teaching the Catholic faith as it was handed down by the Apostles and  explicated by the Fathers and Mothers of the Early Church, St. Thomas Aquinas and Sw. Jan Paweł II*--I must admit that I did enjoy the parts about food and living for a very long time. It's too bad that nobody at the Vatican spoke to the Blue Zones man about the role the Christian faith plays in the lives of Sardinian, Costa Rican and Californian centenarians, but there it is.

Gardening Note: Something has begun to eat holes in the leaves of my young broad beans. I spotted a bug on on of them, so I squished it. There may have to be more squishing. Meanwhile, Paul the Blackcurrant is flourishing, his wife Pauline is slowly unfurling leaves, and Goose the Gooseberry is speedily growing. I sowed French beans, rhubarb, peas, lettuce, kale, chard and chives this week, but the seeds are all still just thinking about it. 

*So would I, of course. But if the Vatican hands you Chelsea Clinton, make lemonade, is what I say. 

Monday 10 May 2021

12 years after Seraphic Singleness

Benedict Ambrose and I have celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary, and it was a very pleasant day indeed, featuring a nice breakfast at home, going to Mass, chatting with friends after Mass, going to Edinburgh's New Club for a gin-and-tonic as the guests of a member, a late-afternoon dinner at a French restaurant, and a great bout of gardening when we got home. The evening's entertainment included the "Kiss the Ground" documentary about soil health, and we wished my mum a Happy Mother's Day over Skype. 

"Kiss the Ground" was mentioned during the Pontifical Council of Culture's recent three-day health conference, which was by turns annoying, interesting, downright intriguing, entertaining, and boring. I volunteered to cover it for work because the theme of "Body, Mind, Spirit" was very interesting indeed. I particularly enjoyed the conversations about longevity and food, and even though I thought the product placement (usually carefully displayed books) was hilarious, I went on to buy two of the books--and to watch "Kiss the Ground" again. We realised part way through that we had seen it already. However, I didn't mind, and I would like to become a soil regeneration activist one day. I am currently doing my part by refusing to use weedkiller, even on the horribly invasive rosa rugosa.  

By the way, I'm not going to publish or reply to comments about my day job, so if you have a concern with the publication, you should direct it to its editor. 

Yesterday felt more peaceful and happy than even being on holiday and I think it was the combination of good food, friends, seeing family online, Mass, the rare treat of being at the New Club, and working in the garden. It was also warmer than it has been. Also, I was stumped for an idea for decorating an anniversary card until I was inspired to make a collage from various paper mementos of concerts, art exhibits and travels from that past 12 years. 

B.A. bought a card, but he also wrote a poem he glued inside once he perceived (from my card) that we did have a glue stick after all. We didn't do gifts because the French restaurant meal was treat enough, really. Also, we are thrifty these days. 

I'm not a scrapbooker, but I am definitely a saver of business cards from restaurants and tickets from art galleries and concerts, and today's marriage advice is to keep such things yourself and to look at them eventually to remind you and your spouse of the really great times you've had together over the years. The great thing about putting them on a card, B.A. observed, is that they haven't been destroyed, because the card can also be kept in a box. As a matter of fact, I keep all our cumulative valentines in a box and then decorate the flat with them on Valentine's Day. 

My mother reported that her parish priests mentioned during their online Mass (for public Mass is once again de facto banned in Toronto) women "who mother us" as well as biological mothers at yesterday's Mass, which was good news. Naturally Mother's Day is psychologically tough on many women who are Searching Singles and/or childless-not-by-choice. Thus, I am always happy when priests remember to mention or even preach about "spiritual mothers".  

As it happens, Mother's Day in the UK is way back in Lent, so for me North American Mother's Day is now 100% about North American mothers (spiritual and physical), so it doesn't make me feel gloomy. This Mothering Sunday didn't make me feel gloomy either, possibly because the restaurants were empty of mothers and their celebrating progeny, and thus a reminder that Other People Have Problems Way Bigger Than My Small Disappointments in Life. B.A. and I sent a lovely bouquet to his mother, and that was that.    

I suppose if the pandemic and lockdowns are good for anything they are at least reminders to be grateful for our blessings and forms of shock therapy about "peacetime" woes, as it were. 

Saturday 8 May 2021

the joy of pastry eaten outdoors

no the inner child isn't back. this is the outer adult typing with her left hand. b.a. sleeps long and late as befits a brain cancer survivor. my new laptop has a touchscreen though so I'll try using that too. 

one of the reasons children have so much energy and cheer must be all their sleep. man, to think I could get a start on the morning without a cup of coffee for over 20 years. I even worked in a coffee shop as a teen without developing the habit. hmm. what if I went back to living like a child, with work as school but no piano lessons. couldn't face that again. back to ballet! what a hoot that would be.

b.a. and I have both lost weight since Christmas thanks to Lent, the exercise bike and outdoor walks. but on our recent stay by the seaside we ate delicious French pastries from our favourite bakery. twice-baked almond croissants, pains-au-chocolat, chocolate and pistachio 'escargots' ... nom nom nom. Fortunately we were not greedy about this and averaged just one pastry each every second day.  I just checked the scales and I didn't gain a pound, so yay! (the 6 hour hikes may have had something to do with that.)

I learned an important lesson from the pastries, too. Eating a pastry in the open air e.g. after an hour's walk, on a bench outside an old country church, with steaming coffee from a thermos flask, was a gazillion times better than eating one while reading on the sofa. Although you would think my senses would have been overloaded by the warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze, the sights of grass, flowers, church gate and village, and the mad chirping of birds, they were not.  they all just enhanced the flavours, textures and scents of butter, chocolate, almond frangipani, pistachio ... On the sofa reading, however, I ate half a danish-sized chocolate-pistachio escargot without really noticing. What a waste of a glorious pastry!    

and not to brag, but a completely different but even more rarified joy was pulling on my old boy-shorts two-piece bathing suit and discovering it fit much better than it did in Poland last summer. in fact, it actually did fit. the reason why I had it with me, by the North Sea in early May, was that I was determined to get into the sea once no matter how cold it was. So one windy day after a seaside walk, I pulled off my outer garments, left them on the sand with b.a. and proceeded to run into the sea. 

I think I lasted 15 seconds before I ran back out again because the cold water stabbed at my legs like knives and I couldn't take it. the amusing thing, though, was that the short adventure left me euphoric and--mirabile dictu--I did not at all mind walking home in wet socks inside very sandy boots. 

Google still won't let me use my own combox, so thank you for your comment, sunnysaffer!

Friday 7 May 2021

Kinds of Rest

 Good morning, readers! Revolutionary new technology today. I am dictating, and BA is typing. My tendonitis has come roaring back after hours of note taking for work. Complicating blogging, Google won't let me leave comments. So thank you to the reader who made my day on Wednesday morning and to Anonymous for the respectful dialogue.

It is ironic to write about rest with my arm in a frozen wine-sleeve, totalled by work. However, I wanted to impart some of the lessons I learned on holiday. Principally, there are three types of rest: mentally agile physical rest; physically agile mental rest; and total rest.

For the first two days by the sea, I mostly lay on a sofa under a yellow blanket and read voraciously. It was the kind of deep reading The Shallows describes as an anomaly in human consciousness. Books literally made us more intelligent -- not the content as much as the form. Reading is work, but it's refreshing work. Normally I find blogging refreshing, too, but obviously not when I'm in physical pain. 

By Thursday, I felt it was time to go for a long walk, so BA and I walked for six hours to and and through the countryside. That was a great mental break. Seeing all the green and getting physically tired in a good way was a real restoration. On Friday, we had another country walk, lasting six hours, and on Saturday we took a six-hour circular route through the countryside and along the sea. On Sunday, we walked about five hours along the sea shore toward a ruined castle. After that, it got rather rainy, so our walks got a bit shorter.

At "home", before and after the walks, I studied Polish, finished reading Peter Kwansniewski's The Holy Bread of Eternal Life, wrote a review of it in longhand, wrote a Polish précis of Mulieris dignitatem chapter four, and read an Agatha Christie. That probably doesn't sound restful to everyone, but I would go out of my mind if I did no intellectual activity all day any day. In fact, doing my intellectual duty made me feel free to relax afterwards, and after supper, I had no problem falling asleep.

Total rest involves very good sleep. I noticed long ago that some TV shows interfere with sleep. On holiday, I began to wake up worrying about characters in a French drama we had started watching. Eventually, I decided not to watch this drama any more, but to watch Youtube episodes of a Canadian log cabin sensation, "My Self-reliance". 

We don't have a TV at home, and the rental flat had an enormous "smart" TV that played Netflix and Youtube, where "My Self-reliance" lives. BA is a big fab of Sean James, the self-reliant log-cabin builder, and I found his homespun wisdom wonderfully soporific. It was a great relief just to lie on a sofa after supper and watch Sean James pound nails or cook an extra pan of eggs for his dog. Falling asleep that way was total rest.

So those are my three kinds of rest. I asked BA what we had learned from our holiday and he said, "We like reading and walking and eating, and you still find television difficult." 

Many thanks to BA for typing out this post.

Thursday 6 May 2021

A Work Question and an Answer

Two posts today, I think, as I have been asked a questioning the combox that looks more like a cri-de-coeur than random criticism, so I answered it to the best of my ability.  

Here are question and answer, with my answer made more readable and slightly corrected.  

Anonymous said: 

I agree we need to be careful with what the Internet is doing to our brains. How do you square that sentiment with LSN sensationalism? My mom spends a couple of hours reading it every night and we barely speak anymore because she is so caught up in what I see as conspiracy theories. My aunt, who used to hardly be online at all, is caught up in it too along with apocalyptic sites. The fear and outrage really hook people and are dividing faithful Catholic families.


  1. Normally I don't respond to anonymous comments, and I try to keep this blog totally* separate from my work. However, I think you deserve a response. 

    First, it's the medium we need to be very concerned about, more than the content. "The medium is the message," as my fellow Canadian McLuhan had to say. One of the problems with internet news is that is it VERY hard for people to read all the way to the end, and often all they remember is the headline, the first paragraph, and maybe the most electrifying sentence or idea they perceive in the article. (I noticed yesterday that a reader in the LSN combox totally misremembered an article I wrote.) 

    Second, there are many voices out there, and different publications are giving space to different voices, just as the Toronto Sun (for example) has a different editorial stance on things than the Toronto Star (or to use a British example, the Telegraph vs the Guardian, and in the USA, WaPo vs. the New York Post.

    LSN definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer, as it were. It is one of the few online news sources that will, for example, refuse to recognise same sex legal arrangements as marriage. It is probably also the most-read online journal that asks uncomfortable questions about governments' responses to COVID-19, including the emphasis on mass-vaccination instead of on treatment. A free press means journalists and editors asking questions other journalists and editors don't want to ask. 

    Third, we are going through a very, very bad time--as Catholics, as Westerners, and as human beings, frankly. We've been frightened to death by governments and mass media for over a year and yet even a liberal literary magazine like The Atlantic has published evidence that we are very unlikely to catch COVID outdoors or from surfaces. A lot of the MSM (and governments) have simply got [some] things wrong and violated our rights in many places without need--or even evidence. In Scotland we were illegally (a court finally decided) stopped from attending public worship---openly, that is, since in Scotland as in other places some people simply went underground. 

    So. It's a bad time, and therefore I highly recommend not being part of the division. Listen to what your mother and aunt have to say, say that you are sorry that they are so frightened/upset, and ask them to go for a walk or do some other activity that will take their minds off what you see as conspiracy theories. 

    Personally, I do not discuss the controversies of the day with my family--and if we do talk about the Covid-19 vaccination program, I judge which information or opinion is least likely to upset a loved one. This is not as hard as it sounds, for in fact my family is "mixed"--my mother's parents were Protestants, and my sister-in-law is from the Orthodox tradition. Therefore, I am used to certain subjects being off the dinner table, as it were.

    *Not always successfully.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

The Aching Wrist

Hello! Benedict Ambrose and I have returned from the seaside. That is to say, we have been staying at a place far enough east along the Firth of Forth to count as a shore of the North Sea. My internet fast began a week ago last Saturday, but we did not go away for the first two days. First, residents of Scotland were not free to rent "self-catered accommodation" until Monday, April 26, and, second, my idea of a rest involved tidying our home and then getting the garden sorted. 

But a funny thing happened after sorting out the garden on Sunday, April 25. I woke up at 4 AM Monday with shooting pains in my right wrist. I first developed "overuse syndrome" in my right arm when my then-office got a new computer system in 2000, and sometime it comes back. Well, by Monday it was definitely back. I got out of bed, took the wine bottle sleeve out of the freezer, and popped it on my arm. And my part of Monday's cleaning and packing session mostly involved giving B.A. advice and instructions. 

It was another lesson in what "resting" means. My first lesson was on Saturday when I felt positively tearful that I had got so little cleaning done. The most I was able to do was clear off my desk, which I haven't been able to use for actual writing for months. It has been a combination bookcase and filing cabinet. We were having a walk, and B.A. suggested we have pizza for supper, and tearfulness gave way to barely suppressed rage. I had been trying to eat healthily for weeks, and the very first day I stop working, yada yada. 

Fortunately, it was a silent yada yada. Before the devil could take over my tongue, I  recalled that bad things usually happen to people early in their holidays from work. They cry a lot. They get sick. Their minds and bodies take revenge for all the abuse and neglect their owners have put them through. So I said "Yes" to supermarket pizza, and when we got home from our walk, I went for a little lie-down. I was dog tired. 

On Sunday my right arm felt a little achy, and as usual I ignored it until--We've been over that. My arm continued the freezy-sleeve treatment all Monday (including on our train) and Tuesday, and I was deeply, deeply grateful I would not have to type or scroll or do any fine hand movements for the next ten days. I read an amazing book about the problems with the internet, and it never once mentioned the damage constant tapping and scrolling does to our actual hands and arms. 

That said, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a must-read. It has scared me into pledging to be online only eight hours a day. I will also be taking a lunch-break from now on, plus two 15 minute breaks, as if I were back in ye olde government office again. I will go into the garden and stare glassily at the lawn and my veggie trug. 

In short (for my posts will be shorter from now on), surfing or just actually reading the web is the intellectual equivalent, author Nicholas Carr says, of doing a crossword puzzle while reading a book. You are constantly, subconsciously problem-solving ("Do I click this link or not?") when you are trying to read. Therefore, you don't really read. You skim. And that, brothers and sisters, is why you and I feel so frustrated sometimes when we use internet sources for our actual work. It is cognitively much harder work than just reading a book, making notes, and typing up a report. Also, you think you are taking it all in, like you do when you read a book, but you're not. Your working memory effectively transfer it to your long-term memory, for the internet is presenting, quite literally, too much information.

But I began The Shallows a week last Tuesday. On Monday evening, after we arrived at the seaside, we just went for a walk, listening to the rigging of little ships chime against the masts in the wind, and bought fish and chips. Although the walk to and from the railway with backpacks and folded canvas garden chairs hadn't been that onerous, I positively wolfed the fish and chips. 

As for the internet fast, I will cut to the chase and say that apart from a pronunciation recording on Facebook I used a few times, and the Youtube or pay TV that B.A. streamed into the rental flat's TV and the Skype app on B.A's computer to talk to Mum and Dad, I did not use the internet for ten days. Oh, I sent a Facebook message to Nulli on his birthday, too. But that was it for social media, and I did no surfing or staring at pretty things on Pinterest, eBay, etc.

Yesterday, to ease myself back into the modern world, I checked my work messages. One colleague has had a baby, another has successfully bought things in Virginia while maskless, and Milo Yiannapoulos has thrown a ring into the sea. I then checked my personal email. Of all the dozens of emails, only seven held any interest for me. Two were from our priest, one was from my accountant, one was from a friend in Canada, one was from a young friend wanting references, and two alerted to me to articles I actually wanted to read. Therefore, I have spent part of my eight-hour daily internet allowance today unsubscribing from various companies. 

Dear readers, be careful with your brains and, indeed, your wrists.