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Beauty in the ashes.

I read this piece by Rod Dreher and it immediately resonated with me.

Dreher gets that there are many facets of life. He highlights how three dimensional living adds a richness to life which opens us up to rich, meaningful relationships with all kinds of people.

As I read it, I was reminded of several life affirming, beauty deriving,  uplifting moments spent with family or friends just in the past four weeks:

  • A mini road trip I took with our daughter to try out a great bakery.
  • A picnic in the park with SAM and our two youngest.
  • Great conversation with a group of other mothers over lunch.
  • Surprising my sister in a way that brightened her day.
  • Listening intently and enjoying something new as my husband shared the music of an artist he recently discovered.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg, but Dreher’s expression of moments like those juxtaposed against his professional presentation and reputation was masterfully articulated:

I’m serious when I tell you I thought about that catfish all day, and it made me so happy.

But I am limited as a writer, and cannot find a way to express in more than a few words how eating that catfish with my girl was pure sunshine. So I didn’t write about it. Instead, when I got home, I found in my e-mail queue several outrageous things that were happening. That’s easy to write about, in detail. The late Roger Ebert once observed that the worse a movie is, the easier and more fun it is to write about it. It takes a writer of rare skill to essay about how a platter of fried catfish in Manchac made the big mess that is our world seem farther away, and in fact reminded one that life, despite it all, is good.

I am not that writer. Alas. And this is why people who meet me for the first time are always surprised that I’m so easygoing, and want to do nothing but eat, drink, and sit around telling funny stories. I’m not playing a cynical role; I really do care about everything I post here. It’s just not reflective of who I am, deep down: a guy who thinks the world is probably going to hell, but who believes good food and the company of people he loves redeems it all.

Yes.

No matter how bad things are, and no matter what we think -or write- about them, beauty is available to appreciate and joy can be spread and shared.

Go, read, be encouraged:

Fish and chips as a guide to life.

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Summer’s Last Hurray.

Today begins my nutritional reset from a summer of excessive celebrations. I’ve written before that Whole 30 is my favorite reset and I will be doing that until Thanksgiving.

Actually everyone in our family is doing a reset of some sort for at least 30 days. Everyone except my husband. He’s not a bandwagon guy. Speaking of SAM, his birthday cake is the title reference.

While I have passed the baking torch to our daughter in many areas, when it comes to SAM’s birthday cake, no delegating is allowed. That is just fine with me, because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

He doesn’t like anything that is overly sweet, which includes lots of frosting, so I made him what is referred to as a naked cake:

As you can see, the caramel frosting is only on top and between the layers.

It was delicious, an apple pecan spice cake with caramel frosting topped with glazed apples. I know it isn’t quite fall yet, but it is exactly the kind of cake he likes.

Between homeschool, supplemental school, church,  homemaking,  and other activities there is no way to eat paleo without a meal plan and prep work. As a result Saturday afternoon is dedicated to meal prep for the week.

It may be September 2, but fall has come early to our house.

Just ignore the sweltering heat.

Common sense, Life hacks, real living in a virtual world, Uncategorized

Friday Frivolities 11: Proper focus edition.

I was thinking about modern life, and how to enjoy our novel conveniences and creature comforts without internalizing the worst traits modernity opens the door to.

For example, being healthy and fit is good. Health is not a frivolous pursuit. Being obsessed with health and fitness to the point of obsession, however, reduces it to vanity and creates a frivolous pursuit of perfection at the expense of dealing with weightier matters Hearthie dropped a few links in the comments sextion recently which brought this to the forefront of my thinking.

The Dreamstress offered two posts exploring the shifts in what was considered the “ideal figure” in generations past. You can take a look at those here and here. As I read through them, looking at the advertisements and pictures, it struck me that most every one of the body types offered as ideal were within striking distance of most of women simply through eating moderate amounts of real, fresh, food, and eschewing junk food. In addition, by just avoiding a sedentary life; not sitting around all the time.

Today’s ideal however, is out of reach for most normal men and women without copious amounts gym time and usually cutting out whole food groups (cookies are not a food group). In other words, it requires that we spend a lot of time thinking about things that we wouldn’t have had to think about so much in a different time and place.That’s not an indictment of any person’s chosen path to good health. After all I’m starting a Whole 80 myself this month. I am just as modern as the next person, but it still strikes me more and more recently.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the culture of distraction. It started as I read Magistra’s posts (here and here) on the book Deep Work, by Cal Newport. That book is on its way to my house as I type. I hope. I also picked up The Organized Mind during my recent library trip. I guess it’s obvious that clarity of mind is on my list of things to discover and/or recapture.

In the meantime, Hearthie shared this video with me which -in about 20 minutes- offers a Cliff’s notes version of Deep Work with strategies we can start today:

Have a great weekend!

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Book life, homeschooling, and a solicitation.

Because I’m soliciting suggestions of resources and don’t want to miss anyone who might know some good ones, two posts probably increases my odds of finding what I’m looking for.

El's Reading Room...

I still have a few book reviews in draft, which are being slowed down significantly as we adjust to our new homeschool workload. Sometime over the next two weeks, I expect to post reviews of the following books:

  • Captains Courageous
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • A Bear Called Paddington
  • Your Man is Wonderful

In the meantime, we are experiencing quite the challenge juggling the demands of homeschooling, the homework and readings associated with the supplemental classes our kids are taking, and regular homemaking necessities.

The positives are that our kids are getting top notch instruction from some amazingly gifted women (and a few men) in subjects I could never have tackled with the same depth of knowledge and enthusiasm. Latin, literature, drama, speech, visual arts, and art appreciation taught by teachers with passion for the subjects, years of studying them, and a wholly Christian worldview are pretty priceless. We are thankful to have…

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American identity, cultural absurdity, healthy living, Uncategorized

Don’t watch the news.

I grew up in a house where watching the news to stay informed was considered a mature and reasonable thing for an adult to do. My dad read the paper faithfully every morning, watched the 6 PM news faithfully every evening, and rounded it out with Peter Jennings at 6:30. I am not as faithful about the news as he was, but I always had at least a side eye on what’s happening. However, American news outlets are a one way ticket to CrazyTown.

Abandon American national news media via television or radio. Check local weather online (we live in a hurricane zone and it’s peak season here for the next six weeks, so…). Only read national news twice a week, and world news from non-American sources. Yes, the BBC is a liberal outlet, but it’s still better than ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/MSNBC, etc. And at least with them I can get news on what’s happening in Afghanistan, which I like to stay on top of for familial reasons. Other than that, it’s best to tune out.

Every person I know who seems sane and untouched by the crazy is a person who has no idea what’s happening in the news.

American identity, cultural absurdity

American stupidity is more like it.

This morning during the cool down after our run, our daughter told me about a  singer –Allen Stone– she recently encountered via Spotify. The lyrics to one of his songs follows:

American Privelege

Oh, it doesn’t seem right that I, I was born white
And my seven-stone fight told me they love me each night
I don’t lose sleep for kids sewing my sheets
Or the ones snitching my sneaks, as long as I can buy ’em both cheap

American privilege, is blurring my vision, inherited sickness
American privilege, is blurring my vision, inherited sickness

Everyday I piss money away, I’m the tip of your slave
Just tryna polish this ball and this chain
‘Cause I, I don’t think twice, just keep it out of my sight, oh
Bitch, don’t kill my vibe, no, bitch don’t kill my vibe

American privilege, keeps blurring my vision, inherited sickness
American privilege, keeps blurring my vision, inherited sickness

As long as I stay comfortable
(Cash that paycheck, spend it all)
(Build that house up big and tall)
Break the bank to build the wall
(Robbing Peter to pay Paul)
As long as I stay comfortable
(Robbing Peter to pay Paul)

American privilege, keeps blurring my vision, inherited sickness
American privilege, keeps blurring my vision, inherited sickness

 

She did some recon on this guy after encountering the song and…lo and behold! His dad is a pastor and his mom a nurse. In other words, with such parentage, he probably would’ve been fine no matter what color they were.

Her thoughts:

“I liked his music until this silly song played. He completely missed it when his privilege, as a straight white male, was revoked. Most of what he describes of his life is also my experience. The great life with the happily married parents is likely because he was raised in a Christian home rather than a white one. I’m as privileged -if not more- than he is. Only privileged white people left in America are white women, and that’s because they’re women. “

This current climate is easy to reduce to sound bites and sides but it really is complicated. 

I ran across this guy recently. Despite his misunderstanding of diversity and obvious affinity for BLM (Garvey’s Ghost echoes my thoughts on that movement) he is at least intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that white men are being demonized and denigrated by the liberal media as much as black men have been, even though the genesis and motivations are different.

 

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Zora Hurston confirms Solomon’s declaration.

Another reminder that what’s “new” is really old when you pick up a book, and the so-called sexual revolution- at least to Zora Neale Hurston- was old hat by the 1960s . You have to know in which books to look, though.

El's Reading Room...

There are a couple of book reviews being drafted, but in the meatime, I was reminded of this story from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

In 1935, ZNH laid bare what was obvious about relations between the sexes and where they were headed even back then.  It has only been amplified over the past 50 years. Totally worth grasping the dialect.

You see in de very first days, God made a man and a woman and put “em in a house together to live. ‘Way back in them days de woman was just as strong as de man and both of ’em did de same things. They useter get to fussin ’bout who gointer do this and that and sometime they’d fight, but they was even balanced and neither one could whip de other one.

One day de man said to hisself, “B’Iieve Ah’m gointer go see God…

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Beauty, wife stuff

Comfortable in our skin.

I saw this story and as a mother of many daughters, I was reminded of a recent encounter where conversations and thoughts were sparked. Namely, about authenticity and trusting that God knows what He is doing when He makes us the way He deems best.

At our daughters’ commencement, several of us got separated, going in different directions for different things. SAM to get better shots of his girl, me to the ladies room, etc. Upon re-entering the crowded venue I didn’t immediately notice a man looking at me, trying to get my attention. I was looking over him, as I always look a little higher when I want to find my husband in a crowd.

When I finally did notice on him, he walked up to me and told me he thought the way I wore my hair was “beautiful”. I thanked him just as my husband and I found our way to each other in the crowd. My husband later made a joke about my picking up strange men, and one of my daughters asked rather pointedly, “Black guy?” The majority of men who compliment my girls on their hair are non black men.

As it happened however, this gentleman was black. Her next query was one of his approximate age. He was about my age I said, and she figured as much. The older ones are used to and more comfortable with black women straightening their hair and the younger ones haven’t quite matured enough to appreciate a look outside of what they see as the dominant look qua Beyonce, Kerry Washington, etc.

 Sidebar: Those are generalizations, and not absolutes. There is always an exception to be found to any general statement. Without generalizations, communication itself becomes impossible and generalizations do not emerge from nothing. Now, where was I…

Another of the 1,000,001 things I love about my husband -contrasted with many other men we know- is that when I made the transition from wearing my hair chemically straightened to wearing it in its natural state, he never objected. He never complained or requested the chemically straightened tresses that I’d worn from when we met in 1992, even knowing I would immediately straighten it if he asked.  This was 18 months ago, in transition, but before that it was longer. He was still cool with the curls. Once again, his overall confidence made it easier to confidently embrace the natural me.

Confidence left unchecked can easily become a vice. Nevertheless, it takes confidence in this culture to walk confidently in our God-given states, particularly if you’re a woman. Everywhere we look, we’re implored to change and alter things about ourselves -big and small- to appeal to as wide a consensus of attractiveness vectors as we can. Whether it was me with 28 years of relaxing or the woman who faithfully spends exorbitant amounts to be blond, or at least not gray. Those don’t even include the massive uptick in the amount of money spent on cosmetic surgeries year after year. The barbie girl is just the most extreme example of a dominant trend.

Single women are in a particularly vulnerable state. I am blessed to have the task of meeting the preferences and desires of one man. One who, quite frankly, has a high standard threshold. If I had the task of most single women, it would seem incredibly overwhelming in this climate. Niche culture has eaten away at the things we should do “in general”.

In general, stay fit, dress and groom well, followed with being kind and competent, would be enough for any woman to tackle as she navigates the single life in hopes of finding a mate. Those generalities however, are just the tip of a massive and winding iceberg. General rules have been tossed aside.

For example, I tend to find large tattoos ugly things, detracting from a woman’s beauty. However for many men tattoos (even arm-length ones), are just fine and dandy. You can expand this to include colored hair, overdone makeup, too much skin, etc. I could probably fill a page with things that were considered gauche when I was a teenager yet are perfectly acceptable now. “Nappy” hair was also on the list though, so…

I don’t engage in modesty debates anymore, for a host of reasons, but one of which is that in the absence of a commonly held set of belief about what is and is not acceptable for a woman to wear, there’s too much subjectivity. Even women who preach modesty can find themselves on the wrong side of someone else’s scale, and one man’s modesty is another man’s slutty. Given my propensity to feel choked without a décolleté just shy of too low, I decided to let my husband mind my business and let other women’s husbands and fathers mind theirs.

One thing that I do feel strongly about, and which every week I find my conviction growing, is that our best bet is to be the best, as beautiful, and the most honorable we can be in our own skin, and let the chips fall where they may.

Disclosure: I spend money, and sometimes quite a bit, on my appearance. What does that mean exactly? I’ll answer if asked.

 

 

 

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For the love of food

Because this kid’s infectious enthusiasm helped to re-ignite my love of cooking, I’m sharing her thoughts on the difference between appreciating food versus mindless eating.

flour and parchment

“I love food!” I hear this on a regular basis. We live in a society that has a passion for food or so they say. Recently, I discussed the joy of food with an elder at church. I listened to her describe a a dish she prepared, and noticed that she described it with all of her being. As she went through the steps, she mimicked the mixing and pouring. As she described the smells, textures and flavors she closed her eyes visualizing it all as she told me about it. I was enraptured.

At that moment I thought to myself, “This is what it is to have a sincere appreciation for food. She handles her food with such care and is mindful of all that goes into it. Food for her is more than a source of nutrition but an experience”. I think about all of the self-proclaimed “foodies”…

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