Saturday, May 28, 2016

Reflections on a Year Ago

Certain times of year bring back certain memories for me. For example, for many years after our semester in Austria in college, autumn leaves and cooler weather always brought back memories of the Kartuase and the emotional adventure that Europe was for me.

This time of year, late May, planting the gardens, working in the yard bring back my memories of being huge. I was enormously pregnant with a 10 lb baby boy last Memorial Day weekend. I did not know that the baby was a boy or that he was so big, but I was anticipating and waiting on his arrival.

This year is quite different. I have known that I am the mother of a boy for a year now. I have experienced his uniqueness for a year. And I have had so many things I wanted to say about this until I sat down to write and the children became restless.

The girls and I were perusing the blog of last May and the baby and I were pretty huge there together in that last bump shot. Oh, what a difference a year makes.

I am not sure if my experience of mothering T has been different because he is a boy or because he is number 4 or because I am older or because he took on the bad sleep pattern of his eldest sister. But I think that my fears last May of being tried beyond what I had been tried before with a baby were warranted. I felt throughout that pregnancy that this fourth baby was going to be a challenge for me. I wrote last May:
"My motherhood and wifehood is not about being blissful and comfortable day to day, it is about giving myself as a gift to others, so that one day I can have the ultimate human end of eternal happiness with my Creator and Savior. And it is hard. It will never stop being hard, but it is the gift I am called to give.

Our earthly vocation will not always make us happy now, but if we persevere in it, we will be happy forever. It is the same in any vocation, to priesthood, religious life, consecrated single life, and marriage; we will not always be happy."
And since T was born that has been a reoccurring theme for me. And the truth of it is that I have been happy in my day to day life, despite the sleepless nights, despite the stress of home schooling, despite it all, I have grown. I often feel guilty that I am too happy. I wonder what I have done to deserve the blessings that I have. And the truth of it also is that we do have our daily frustrations, faults, shortness of temper, and the occasional major argument; but we always come back to the happy state of the life we have. I will probably write more on this as the first birthday gets closer, but that is all the time I have for now.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Princesses In Fairy Tales

By H J Ford, L Speed - The Red Fairy Book, 1890., 10th impression 1907 Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912; Ford, H. J. (Henry Justice), 1860-1941; Speed, Lancelot, 1860-1931, ill. London : Longmans, Green, and Co. Copy held by Uni Toronto. Lib., scan made available at (online viewer). Convert to PNG, from JPG, and greyscale, with black and white point correction., Public Domain,

We do formal storytime twice a day: fairy tales at lunch time and the older two listen to a chapter book read by the professor at bedtime while the younger ones get a shorter story individually read by me.

Our lunchtime story has been from Andrew Lang's Fairy books.* Since September we have made our way through the Blue and Yellow fairy books and now we are in the Red fairy book.

As it happens most of the "fairy" stories involve princesses in addition to fairies, and the princesses that are heroines of fairy stories always are endowed with great beauty and the very best of virtues. They are all very good, despite their various upbringings.

Now, don't get me wrong, some of the nobility are evil. They are princes, princesses, kings, or queens and are very bad. It is always clear in the stories that these people are bad. Often a story will have it that the eldest two in a family of three brothers or three sisters will be more selfish or more foolish, and the third will be the most beautiful and most virtuous. And sometimes the oldest two in a family will be just bad.

One thing we have learned about princesses in fairy tales is that if she is married to a prince who is an unhuman creature by day, such as a pig, and a man at night, if she does anything to see him at night, which she most certainly will, then she will be separated from him forever, that is unless she embarks on an impossible quest which requires the aid of the sun and the moon and the west wind and the east wind and the north wind and the south wind to fulfill.

It should also be known that if a princess in a fairy story is told that she can do anything but one specific thing, then she will most certainly do the one thing which is forbidden, and then a consequence will ensue which will involve an impossible quest which requires the aid of the sun and the moon and the west wind and the east wind and the north wind and the south wind or perhaps the aid of a fairy.

Sometimes in the quest of a prince, he will help three animals out of various difficulties and they will come back to help him when he needs help to do whatever task he has to do to gain his freedom or his love. Often these tasks involve bringing a horse out to graze that runs away everyday, and if the prince cannot bring him home the witch or giant will eat him.

And while most princesses have happy endings, it does happen sometimes that the prince and princess will run out of magical resources at the end of the tale and the evil yellow dwarf who wants to marry her will slay both her and the prince with the prince's magic sword which he drops instead of listening to the advice of the dolphin who brought him to the island on which his princess was being help hostage.

*Andrew Lang's Fairy Books:  
The Blue Fairy Book
The Red Fairy Book
The Green Fairy Book
The Yellow Fairy Book
The Pink Fairy Book
The Grey Fairy Book
The Violet Fairy Book
The Crimson Fairy Book
The Brown Fairy Book
The Orange Fairy Book
The Olive Fairy Book
The Lilac Fairy Book

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

At the NCRegister Blog: A Eulogy for a Tree

‘They’ve cut it down!’ cried Sam. ‘They’ve cut down the Party Tree!’ He pointed to where the tree had stood under which Bilbo had made his Farewell Speech. It was lying lopped and dead in the field. As if this was the last straw Sam burst into tears. (J.R.R. Tolkien, Return of the King)

It began in the morning. I was instructing my daughter in adding multiples of ten to two digit numbers. The younger children were running in and out of our kitchen nook where we were working. The nook gives a full view of our backyard and the neighbors’ trees towering above their privacy fence.  And then I saw the cherry picker going towards the 50-year-old maple tree in our next door neighbor’s backyard. They had trimmed it back severely last autumn. It was a beautiful old maple tree, providing cool shade and beautiful yellow leaves in the fall. The tree trimmer began to take all of the budding branches off one of the big branches. I could not stand the tension. I closed the blinds, and made another cup of coffee. There was no way that I could teach my daughter and watch the destruction of the tree.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lazy Summer Days

It is summer break time here in the Spencer home. This means that we get to experience all the benefits of having a professor in our home. The grading is finished except for a few stray papers, and we can enjoy each and everyday as a family.

The professor likes to spend his summer weekdays working. He starts work in his study shortly after the kids are dressed and fed or after we go to morning mass, and the girls go to play. I am experiencing a new freedom in having older children. They are mostly self sufficient when it comes to entertaining themselves. They go outside or stay inside and imagine and play all together.

I serve up the occasional snack, lend a hand in the occasional bodily need, and serve out just punishments when necessary. The baby tags along with the girls or plays on the floor wherever I am. It is slow, lazy, and wonderful.

I have a long list of things to do that I did not get to over the past few months when school time was the priority. We have weddings to go to soon and vacations planned. But we also have the long lazy days of summer. We have the grilled meats and vegetables, the cool salads, the iced tea and cold press coffee. We have the hours for reading and writing. We have the joys of family activities. We have the green things growing in the garden.

I can't help but think of what the professor wrote about yesterday when he spoke of the end of lilactime.
"But it is also well that the lilacs die. There is something enervating about too much spring vitality. One longs at moments, even as summer swells its glorious fruit, for the hard angles of Winter. To be ever soft and rococo, to turn the good sentiments of love to the banalities of tenderness and sentimentality--this is intolerable."
The summer is only sweet because we have persevered through the winter. We had a lovely autumn, a cold winter, waited with anticipation at the bursts of warmth we had in spring and finally a final frost in mid-May, and now we can fully appreciate the glories of summer. But summer, too, will come to an end, as lilactime has. But for now, I am anticipating and savoring everyday of this warmth, and the joys of cold salads and cool drinks and lazy summer days.

Monday, May 23, 2016

When the Professor Started a Blog

My husband, aka "M", aka "the professor", started a blog this week. He has been talking about it for awhile. As I read his first two posts, I found something beautifully familiar. I found part of the reason I fell in love with him in the first place.

You see, I absolutely love to read his writing. It is so beautiful, the way he puts things, the way he describes things. And I am in absolute awe that he can write something so beautiful and flawless in 30 minutes. And he did it two days in a row! I expect that everyday will be beautiful and worth reading. I am excited to see the things he is thinking and feeling written down, day after day.

During our first year of college, we were in a weekly writer's group which had been organized by a mutual friend. We read things we had been writing or had written to each other. It may have been a bit too much for college freshmen to handle and not fall in love with each other; I think that we already were inclined to like each other. But in hearing what he wrote, I found a kindred spirit.

And when I read what he has to say about beauty and romance in the springtime, it reminds me of the sonnets we used to write for each other when we were falling in love the first time.

The summer which we both read the book Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken, which the professor mentioned today, we also wrote each other letters. He was walking across the country with other pro-life college students with the ministry Crossroads Pro-life, and I was taking five philosophy courses (to graduate a semester earlier) and working 40 hour weekends at Steubenville conferences.

It was that summer that we realized that we wanted to get married. We wrote each other letters. Mine arrived at the house I was living in for the summer and his were sent to host families who passed them onto him.

Those letters were wonderful to get. When one would arrive I would always take it to a quiet place and savor every word. And then I would read it again.

And the book, which is a memoir of a love story, gave us a guide on which to ground our relationship. It showed us that a purposeful planning of how to preserve our love was necessary if we wanted to maintain our "inloveness." I believe that we still have our "inloveness', and it grows deeper every year. And I wonder if as the professor writes his blog this summer and I read it that I will fall in love all over again.

At the NCRegister Blog: 4 Ways to Form a Sacramental Imagination in Children

When my husband and I began discussing ideas for our family life together, we wanted to develop the sacramental worldview in ourselves and in any children we would have. Now that we have four children, I think that we can safely say that some of our ideas are working: our children seem to have sacramental imaginations.

The place where humans process their experience of the world is in their imaginations. In the imagination, our sensory experience and our rationality meet. And it seems that having a well-developed, active imagination is essential to experiencing the true sacramentality of the world and living in a truly human way. With a good imagination, it is easy to experience God in our daily, mundane lives. And with a good imagination, a person is unable to reduce the world to a pure science, which the mentality that mainstream society has embraced.

Friday, May 13, 2016

At the NCRegister: It is Time to Pray for Our Country with a Fool's Hope

With the way the 2016 presidential election is going, things really do seem bleak when it comes to the direction of our country’s political future. Catholics are wondering is there any viable option of whom to vote for for president this autumn. My conscience will not let me vote for any of the two major parties. Neither likely candidate is worth the risk for my soul.

So, what is left for us? What can we do? I think the best analogy is that of a hobbit waiting on the edge of a battle that he cannot escape. He looks up at his friend the wizard, and asks if there is any hope.

There never was much hope, and there is just a fool’s hope now.

And I am ready to do something that seems foolish in the eyes of the world, because there is nothing I really can do beyond that.

Now is the time for prayer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Finding my Normal

There is that day after each pregnancy (well, besides the first one), that I have felt "normal" again. My mind is clear again; I feel like I have emerged from the fog that I was in since the beginning of pregnancy. And my old jeans fit again (the ones I got after baby #2).

It has been 11 months since T was born, and 11 weeks since my concussion, and the past few days I have felt myself again. I can't remember exactly when it happened after the other babies. I think with my third it took over a year. With my second, I am not sure, maybe 10 months? I ran a 5k when she was that age. And with my first, it was not until my second was 10 months, because, you can never go back to your pre-first-baby self.

Another thing about this post-baby time is that this is the first time we have lived three years in one home since we were married. This is the first time we are coming to the end of four school years in one place and we are not moving somewhere else.

We are here, in Minnesota. The roots we make here are not going to be taken up, if life continues as it has been going. The friends we have made we are not about to leave. We are here, and it is a little strange, but it is also good.

Life is moving forward, but we also have stability. The school year is coming to an end. The professor is on campus more than normal, but the end is in sight with last week being the last week of classes. It will probably be the last week of home school classes as well. Math and English are wrapping up.

And I feel like a normal human being (as normal as I can be when I my values seem to be radically different from most of the rest of the people in my country). I have had a four-plus hour stretch of sleep in the middle of the wake ups at night for the past week. I am functioning above baseline this week.

And despite all the things going on the world, I feel that life is good. It is good that we are here, and we are so blessed.
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