The Professor Goes West//Day 4//Sleeping Bags

Day 4—Wednesday, May 23, 2018

We arrived at our hotel in Moab, Utah late last night. The dark drive down into the valley on US-191 with the ominous ridges on either side filled me with a sense of dread. In the morning I read in On the Road about Sal’s dream of a shrouded traveler following him through the desert:

“Something, someone, some spirit was pursuing all of us across the desert of life and was bound to catch us before we reached heaven. Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven. The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sign and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. But who wants to die? In the rush of events I kept thinking about this in the back of my mind.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Pt. 2, Ch. 2, p. 124)

 This is what the desert stirs up in me—the awareness of death—but for every dead tree and bare branched bush there are hundreds of living sagebrush and juniper bushes, cactus flowers, red ants, and little lizards.

 The red rock of Arches National Park made my heart swell with emotion and a kind of ecstasy when we climbed up into the North Window, stood under it and looked out over the rocky canyons below. The full breeze swept through the arch and I simply felt my prayer of awe and praise and desire for God.

We lunched after a hike to view the less mighty but iconic Delicate Arch. Later we drove up the cliffside to the Island in the Sky. I have longed for years to go to the top of a mesa, mostly because of the story of Tom Outlander in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Tom falls for a mesa while cattle herding:

The hillside behind was sandy and covered with tall clumps of dear horn cactus, but there was nothing but grass to the south, with streaks of bright yellow rabbit brush. Along the river the cottonwoods and quaking asps had already turned gold. Just across from us, overhanging us, indeed stood the mesa, a pile of purple rock, all broken out with red sumac and yellow aspens up in the high crevices of the cliffs…It was the sort of place a man would like to stay in forever. (Pt. 2, Ch. 2)

Our mesa was a red-orange rock which they had cut a road in up the less steep side. When on top it just looked like normal range land except for the steep drop and the canyon beyond. We sped along through the park with mountains and canyons and mesas on the horizon. We hiked out to the mesa arch, and then just sat on the yellow rock in awe of the steep drops and the maze of canyons of black and red below. It was incredible. I think I will long for it even more now that I have seen it. With reluctance we left and returned to our hotel for showers and supper.


Besides having a good sleeping pad, a good sleeping bag is essential. The professor has a mummy bag from his scouting days rated to some crazy temperature below zero. I used it once sleeping outside in the Fall on a retreat college, and it was extremely warm (but as I did not have a good sleeping pad my sleep was not so great). He is super happy with it.

I asked the professor to pick out sleeping bags for the rest of the family. He did quite a bit of research and settled on the Coleman Palmetto Cool Weather Sleeping Bag. We decided on the adult size bag all of the children, since we figured it was worth the investment. It is designed to be used in 30-50° F. We do not currently plan on doing extreme winter camping as a family, but the Minnesota summer nights often drop below 50°, especially if we camp up the North Shore. This range was perfect for the high elevation camping we did at the Grand Canyon and Great Basin National Park, but also worked well for the campsites near the coast in California. The coldest night we slept out in was upper 20s in Custer State Park, South Dakota, and we all stay plenty warm.

In case you were wondering we used our own pillows. I put them all in washable pillow protectors to keep them free of outside dirt and bugs. The covers worked well—we still use them inside for the kids!

Tomorrow I will talk about nighttime sleepwear.

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NCRegister Blog: What I Learned From Victorian Literature about Priestly Celibacy

As I recently reread Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers I commented to my husband that one could use the events of the novel to argue for why the Catholic Church should not have married priesthood be the norm. The novel tells of the conflicts within the Anglican hierarchy of the fictional cathedral town of Barchester set in the fictional English county of Barsetshire in the mid-19th century. It shows what a hierarchical church looks like after nearly 300 years of mostly married clergy running the church from the curates to the bishops. I know that a church where the Queen is the head and the politicians appoint bishops does not perfectly show truths about the modern Catholic Church, but we can still learn lessons from their experience, even those expressed in novels. (I must confess from the get-go that most of my knowledge of the Church of England comes from my extensive reading of Victorian literature, so bear with me.)…

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister Blog: 15 Suggestions for Literature That Will Feed Your Soul

A couple of months ago I explained why fellow mothers in my situation in life (lots of little kids, lots of mundane tasks) should make an effort to exercise their brains through reading books on a regular basis. And while I was targeting moms in that post, all Christians need to take seriously the call to form our minds and seek truth. Yet, most of us do not realize the immense value we can draw from reading good literature in the form of novels and short stories.

I have always been a lover of novel reading, but as my reading has been largely self-directed I have always had trouble choosing good books to read. I came across a list of novels compiled by John Senior, a great professor of the humanities, which he called “the Good Books List” in the appendix of his book The Death of Christian Culture, and it is from this list that I have drawn most of my reading choices of late. Through reading these good books I have been slowly discovering how a novel forms one’s moral sense by allowing a reader to enter into various scenarios and seeing how characters are affected by those choices. This is helpful because we can learn so much about sin and the human condition through our imaginations to help us form our consciences without muddying our souls.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

At the NCRegister Blog: Sigrid Undset and the Hound of Heaven

I recently finished reading Sigrid Undset’s The Master of Hestviken, having also read Kristen Lavransdattar and Catherine of Siena, and I am struck once again by her ability to understand humanity. One of the overriding themes in Undset’s works is God’s continual pursuit of a soul to the very end. She narrates nearly perfectly the interior state of her characters in all of their thoughts, experiences, desires, and inability to see truth. And, since her characters are so much like real people, they fall from grace, and live long lives of wallowing in their sins, and fleeing from a pursuing God who wants only to love them and to be loved in return.

The way she shows God’s continual, steady desire for humans to turn to him is reminiscent of Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven, which begins with these lines:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
  Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

And ends in these:
Halts by me that footfall:
   Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
   ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
   I am He Whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’
Read more at the Register.

At the Register: John Paul II’s Advice on Using Media Well

One of the most frustrating things on a weekend night is finding something worthwhile to watch on television or a computer screen. There seem to be limitless options, but I know that most of them are not worth watching. Why would I spend that time watching something that will make me a worse person the next day?

Don’t get me wrong, relaxation and recreation are a good thing, and surely there is some moral benefit to be derived from taking in a good movie, play or book.

In fiction, we can understand and explore moral situations. We see a character make a bad decision, imagine the consequences and form our consciences against these bad decisions…

Read the rest here…

Books I Read in 2015

This post is inspired by Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas who reviewed her reading goals from the beginning of last year and let us know how she did. I don’t really set reading goals; I just read whatever I feel like reading, whatever M recommends, or whatever I think I should read. Reading is my way of bettering myself and I usually do it through literature and spiritual works.

These are the books I reread, read for the first time, and listened to while walking or running on the treadmill in 2015


Every pregnancy I have read the complete (completed) novels of Jane Austen.

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Mansfield Park
  • Emma
  • Northanger Abbey

I love them all, and I love her insight into humanity and her emphasis on virtue in her ethics. This time around it occurred to me that I really don’t like the character of Emma Wodehouse (Emma) and that I related most to Fanny Price (Mansfield Park). I probably should elaborate on that insight elsewhere so as to not make this post take forever.

The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien–I read this every couple of years as the whim comes, or pregnancy fatigue or new-baby fatigue requires the old and familiar reading. You know how that goes.

Father Elijah by Michael O’Brien–I read this in anticipation of the release of the sequel, which I think is out by now. I suppose we (M and I) should read the sequel.

Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales–My go-to spiritual reading whenever I need a reexamination of myself, cleansing of my bad habits, and fortification of my good ones.

The Divine Comedy by Dante–For some reason I thought that this would be good postpartum nursing reading. It was not, so I gave up in the 5th circle of Hell. I suppose I should finish eventually, since Hell is a dreary sort of place to stop off in.

New reads. These were ones I read for the first time in the order that I read them.

Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings–I started this at the beginning of the year, but never finished. She was a very intriguing and relatable modern women of the 19th and 20th century. She is a Servant of God. I liked her a lot, but I put the book down when my Christmas present arrived in late winter.

Pioneer Girl
by Laura Ingalls Wilder–M got this for me for Christmas. This is a beautiful book to look at, and very interesting to read. It was more of a historical look at Laura’s life, with lots of informative footnotes. It was very good, but I think I like her novels better. I also wish that she wrote more of her adult life beyond the babyhood of her children.
Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley–This was recommended to me by a friend, and I read it during Lent. I found it helpful and good for praying with.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky–M read this in the spring, and asked me to read it. Personally, I found it to be more accessible than The Brother’s Karamazov and Crime and Punishment largely because there is more conversation than interior dialogue which can make Dostoevsky extremely weighty. It also helped that M gave me all of Hans urs von Balthasars commentary on this book in his Glory of the Lord volumes. The Idiot/the clown is basically on important figure in Christian literature; he is able to be like the little children. Just read the book.

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope–Trollope is great for what I consider “light” reading, but I am told that my light reading is not light for most people. He is one of those writers with conservative sensibilities that subtly mocks every type of person he writes about.

Martin Chuzzlewhit by Charles Dickens–I started reading this a couple of years ago because I needed a good novel and it was on the shelf. It is about as Dickens as you can get with absurd /memorable characters and way too much description. I finished it because we watched a BBC miniseries after T was born. It has about the evilest villain I have come across in Dickens, but you have to be up for knowing when to skim Dickensy verbosity if you want to get through it.

Call to a Deeper Love Letters of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin–This is one of my favorite reads this year. I probably should be reading her letters daily for the rest of my life. Reading St. Zelie makes me a better mom and wife; it is consoling, inspiring, and so very real. And St. Louis Martin is the perfect compliment to her, though the book has over 200 of her letters and about 16 of his. If you are trying to be a holy parent and spouse, I can’t recommend this enough.

In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden–This after the saintly letters was also amazing. I loved the rhythm of monastic life portrayed in this book. For me, it was also spiritually edifying.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh–Satire. Full of it, and upper class mockery. But funny. Waugh is pretty great.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry–I finished this in 2016. I read A Place on Earth in 2014 in which we hear of Hannah’s first husband. This one is a beautiful looking back at her life and how the world has changed.

Audio Read. These are whatever I can get from the library app for free, and mostly classics/good literature that I have failed to read in my life so far. For me treadmill reading is free reading time, because I am going to exercise anyway:

War of the Worlds by H.G. WellsI started this in middle school and never finished. An invasion of Martians is quite frightening to think about, isn’t it? And I enjoyed it, though some might think it slow.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson–I should have been reading Stevenson instead of Babysitter’s club, my whole youth. A high-quality, youth oriented story.

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott–Once again, filling in the gaps of my failure to read good books in my youth. Gotta love Alcott even if she is a bit moralistic.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe–I kept waiting for things to go really badly, and I suppose that they did. It just was not as crushing to me as a Thomas Hardy novel.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton–A good book, which turned out differently than I expected.

Howards End by E.M. Forster–Recommended by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. 

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan SwiftHe is not exactly the most diverting while trying to get past 2 mile runs in my getting back in shape postpartum exercising. I know I am missing so many political references. Honestly, I prefer Waugh satire to Swift satire.

Any good books you loved in 2015?

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, Nov. 13

1. I have not done quick takes in over a month. The thing is, they are not exactly quick to write, but I have about 30 minutes if the baby stays asleep, so I am going to give it a go.

2. A month ago, I was dying of lack of sleep. Seriously. Well, not really, but since then the baby has popped in two teeth, we did a bit of sleep training/letting him learn how to fall asleep without being bounced vigorously (yes, it was that bad). And instead of waking every 90 minutes and taking 40 to get back to sleep, he is we are getting stretches as long as 5 hours, and I am only waking most nights 2 times to nurse him. Guys, it is amazing. I feel like a person again.

3. Now that I am no longer a zombie, I am thinking a lot more clearly. When we finish a school day I can manage a chore or two before lunch rather than just staring off. When we make it to quiet time I am actually able to write things instead of a mindless Facebook experience. And we are getting at least one long nap a day out of the baby, the other one is usually not as good, but still.

4. Someone woke up.

It is tricky to type with a baby on your lap, but I am going to give it a go. Also, here you see my haircut I just got literally an hour ago. I always say two inches and add some layers and I feel like after the layers they have shorn off at least 4 inches.

5. I realized that I was getting boring back when T would not sleep as I was only and always talking about it, so I am going to really try to think of something else to write about, like how G finally got that one math concept down this week that we spent three agonizing days on and I finally asked M to explain it to her and she got it in five minutes. Or how the kids stopped screaming as much, well for like two days. My mom and dad are coming next week. I have not seen them since June, so we are pretty excited to see them. I think they are excited to see this baby who has doubled in weight since they last saw him. Oh, baby again. Sorry.

6. I finished two books in the last week. The first was Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens which was about as Dickensesque as you could want. He has a way of describing grimy, dirty places that just makes me feel icky and gritty and sometimes even nauseated. M suggested that I write about our free system of English laws, but I am not going to. Second book, the letters of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin (A Call to a Deeper Love). It was soooo good. I am writing something up on it, so look for that soon. But really, just read it yourself, especially if you are married and a mom.

7. This week I started In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. We found it at Loomes over Labor Day weekend, and it is beautiful so far. I like books that make me a better person, and this seems to be one of them. So were the letters. M this week finished Emma by Jane Austen and has decided that it is one of the most brilliant English language novels ever, and then he started Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

And that about sums up life lately, baby, homeschooling, books, and writing projects. There are few coming out soon, stay tuned…

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!

9 Inspiring Married Couples in Literature Worth Emulating

I am over at Church POP today, writing about married couples in literature. This was a hard list to compile as most of my favorite novels are full of unmarried, widowed, or onesided marriages (one person good and the other not so good).

I tried to stick with classic novels or widely known novels for the list, but if you have a great example, please comment on the article.

Click on over to see the list!

9 Inspiring Married Couples in Literature Worth Emulating

Laura Ingalls Wilder on Freedom: God is America’s King

The South Dakota Prairie. Photo by J. Stephen Conn. In the Creative Commons.

Last summer on the way home from our long summer road trip, we heard in Little Town on the Prairieby Laura Ingalls Wilder about an Independence Day celebration out on the prairie in Dakota Territory. The whole town gathered together for horse racing, but first a citizen gave a speech and then recited the Declaration of Independence. Laura, of course, already knew the Declaration, but listened with great attention taking to heart the founding of her country. After the Declaration, this is how she understood its meaning:

“Then Pa began to sing. All at once everyone was singing:

‘My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing. …

‘Long may our land be bright
With Freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!’

The crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America’s king.

She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.

Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. “Our father’s God, to Thee, author of liberty…” The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.”

The book was published in 1941, but gave an account of the mind of a 15 year old girl in 1881. And the ideas are true. This is the kind of literature we all need to read, to remind us of the founding of our country, but also that our freedom is God-given. When we do not keep God’s laws, we are no longer free. We must remind our country that freedom is contained within God’s law, and when we do not live within His law, we are no longer free.

Ash Wednesday: A Little T.S. Eliot for You

Ash Wednesday

by T.S. Eloit

Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

I no longer strive to strive towards such things

(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)

Why should I mourn

The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again

The infirm glory of the positive hour

Because I do not think

Because I know I shall not know

The one veritable transitory power

Because I cannot drink

There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual only for one time

And only for one place

I rejoice that things are as they are and

I renounce the blessed face

And renounce the voice

Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again

Let these words answer

For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly

But merely vans to beat the air

The air which is now thoroughly small and dry

Smaller and dryer than the will

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

You can read the rest here or in a book.