A Book in which Everything that can go Wrong does go Wrong

A few weeks ago I finished Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is a book where once you get about 2/3 through, you don’t really want to finish it, because there seems to be no way it could turn out right in the end.

It centers around a girl name Tess, who through chance encounters with certain people, bad luck, a lack of common sense, and people being jerks has just about everything go wrong for her (and her family). I guess the problems start with her obedience to her parents and end with her no longer being obedient to her conscience. Anyway, it was a depressing book, and what I got from it is that sometimes people never get what they really deserve and then they die.

So, a depressing post for a depressing book. Also, there is no sense of redemptive suffering at all in the book. I suppose if Tess had not lost her faith through the unkindness of those she trusted, she may have at least had hope. Jean Valjean did no get a chance to save this Fantine, and the Jean Valjean who should have, could have, saved her failed to take the opportunity. So, maybe we can remember that sometimes it is too late to help someone, and help them when we have the chance.

The Call to be Outcasts

I’ve been getting a lot of time to read lately, since I help the baby sleep by staying next to her. So, since mid-July I have been reading the unabridged Les Miserables. I’ve always loved the musical, and wanted to read the book in total which turned out to be about 1/2 social-political commentary and 1/2 plot. So if you want a republican, social justice view of 19th century France, this is your book! There also is a good amount of history, which I supplemented with wikipedia (lol). Anyway, I don’t know any French, but apparently “les miserables” translates into something like “the outcasts,” and if you look at each of the main characters, they are all some sort of outcast from society. You have Jean Valjean the exconvict, Fantine the former mistress of a wealthy student who was left with an illicit child, Cosette the orphan child being raised by the exconvict who is ignorant of the whole, the Thenardier family who spend their whole lives stealing from people, Javert who is a police officer standing outside society to keep order, Marius the orphan and republican student and so on.

The person I want to look at here is Jean Valjean. He spent 19 years in jail for things he realized he was stupid to do, but is filled with rage and hate. When he is on parole he discovers society’s terror of him because he is an exconvict and while the bishop shows him love and mercy, he always retains this horror of himself. So while he successfully disguises his former identity as a prosperous mayor and factory owner, he lives in fear of his former self. He knows it exists within him, and no matter how many good deeds he does and no matter how virtuous he becomes he is always aware of who he is, Jean Valjean the exconvict. It does not matter that all he did was break a window and steal a loaf of bread when he was starving, he is an exconvict. As soon as people know who he is they are afraid of him and think he is awful. Yet, when they do not know who he is they recognize his saintly deeds and virtue and admire him.

There are several turning points where Valjean struggles with choosing the morally right thing, after his meeting with the bishop his conscience always overcomes and the choice always leads to him exposing his true self and being condemned by those who respect him. So naturally he is terrified of his exconvict self as well. No one seems to believe that an exconvict can be any good, that is until at the end one person knows his criminal history, but also all the good he has done. This person recognizes that he is a saint.

Jean Valjean represents the life of a saint. He has a conversion, turns from his old life, never does a wrong thing again and is constantly running from his former sins. He seeks the life of virtue and union with God, but is always aware of his sinful nature. He constantly condemns himself when he is already so good. He continues to find his weaknesses and overcomes them until he has completely abandoned himself to the point of physical death. I think this is how we are called to overcome our sins, to become more and more selfless so that we completely lose ourselves in God. We need to be horrified at our ability to sin and our past sins. Fortunately, God is much more forgiving than society, and we must run to him.

If we truly live the call to sainthood, we will be cast out of society like Jean Valjean was, though not in the same way. He was legally an outcast, but the way he lived also set him apart. He lived on the bare minimum and his only luxury was his love for Cosette, and when he lost her, he died. We also need something to flourish on, and Valjean says that this is love–without love the human soul dies, the human dies. So we must live the lives of saints with those whom we love and not fear the call to be outcasts. Tough stuff…

The Tragedy of Prof. St. Peter

I recently finished reading The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I was on a Willa Cather kick after reading My Antonia while on vacation, and M. gave me two volumes of her writings for my birthday. I have read several other novels of hers about fairly normal people living the not so interesting life they happened to be in; this book was a bit different. It struck me as more tragic than the other stories I had read by her. Life did not always turn out as the people expected, yet they made the most of it, but Prof. St. Peter had a good successful life and then found it to be empty and became apathetic about it, choosing to not draw pleasure from life anymore. It’s like he committed suicide without actually killing himself, but just letting himself live as if he were dead.

In the novel he almost let’s himself die on accident and is saved by the Catholic lady who sews for his daughters and wife. He is intrigued by the way this woman lived. Augusta seemed to have more dreams for herself, but never made it beyond being a seamstress. She was a practical woman, devoted to those she served. On the last page of the book the professor goes through his depressing transformation:
“All the afternoon he had sat there at table where now Augusta was reading, thinking over his life, trying to see where he had made his mistake. Perhaps the mistake was merely an attitude of mind. He had never learned to live without delight. And he would have to learn to, just as in Prohibition country, he supposed he would have to learn to live without sherry. Theoretically he knew that life is possible, may be even pleasant, without joy, without passionate griefs. But it had never occurred to him that he might have to live like that.”

This is where he makes his tragic mistake, he looks to Augusta as an example of living life in this way without delights. For him this is what the Catholic life is like. Cather seems fascinated with Catholicism, but always emphasizes the sacrifices Catholics choose to make seeing them as a rejection of a pleasurable life. This seems to be the wrong view of Catholicism–she misses the beauty of sacramentality entirely. Her writing is very sacramental, but it seems she missed the point of it all–union with God. When one has union with God, it seems that life cannot be without pleasure (esp of the spiritual kind). Prof. St. Peter rejects the possibility of this union by choosing to be apathetic-lukewarm. And this my friends, is a tragedy.

Almost There

We are less than two months from the due date. Yesterday I was realizing certain things I will miss about it just being M. and me in our apartment together, but I was also missing things we don’t do anymore since we have been married. It is interesting how transitions change things—I do not mean to be redundant there.

More changed when we got married than us living together and moving. We had and still do have a “newly-wed” dynamic which is different from the crush stage, first dating stage, dating too long to count months anymore stage, and the engaged stage. They all have things about them that I have missed since I have moved on, but also things I am glad I will not experience again. I remember savoring the last few months before the wedding, eager to be married, but happy for the right time to move on. Now I am realizing the need to savor this time full of so much hope and expectation.

We are both really excited for the baby to finally come and to experience this new person beyond the waves it causes on my belly. There is also a special-ness of being a newly married couple in our cozy apartment without anyone there. Pregnancy has not really disrupted that. I think it has helped us learn how to be married in serving each other and realizing we have limits to what we can do for each other.

In just two short months, or even sooner-we can’t really predict-the baby will be here and we will discover new joy in our life together. We will find new ways to serve, new ways to sacrifice, and new ways to grow. We will also learn about what is most important, and what can wait or what we do not need. I am excited but nervous.

On Food During Pregnancy

Right now I am eating a spoonful of flax seed in 1/2 cup of applesauce with a lot of cinnamon. Why? For the sake of my brain. There are fatty acids called omega-3 which our bodies cannot produce and can only come from one’s diet. When a pregnant or nursing mother does not consume them they are taken from the brain where they are stored. The unborn and nursing child needs lots of these everyday. So I am forcing myself to eat flax seed, which contains these acids, for the sake of my brain and for the baby. The DoZers gave me a box of milled flax seed when I was in Steubenville for homecoming weekend. I started eating it with my grape-nuts in the morning, but learned after about a month that grape-nuts+flaxseed are very difficult for super hungry, pregnant me to eat first thing in the morning. So now I am trying them in applesauce.

Maybe it was just mental, but during the two weeks I was not eating flaxseed I became more absent minded and “spacey”. I really enjoy remembering things I need to remember and being able to think. So now I am going to try eating my flax in applesauce. Yum, yum! If anyone wants to try it, come on over and I will make you a bowlful.

In other news on food. I am also supposed to be eating 75 grams of protein a day, a whole lot of fruits and vegetables, and other things.

My brain is losing focus, I guess the flaxseed is not working yet. I am going to go find some chocolate.

Work, the Economy, and the Baby

I’ve been busier these past couple of weeks than I have been in a while. I finally got a job, which I am very happy with and will hopefully stay at once the baby comes. It is only 10-20 hours a week and generally on the lower end, so I am not working too much, but between that, exercise, house cleaning, cooking, and all the novels I have been reading I have not had much time for anything else.

One thing I have kept up with is my blog and news reading and am officially tired of hearing about the economy and the election. I just want the election to be over and am not affected too much by the economy crisis anyway. I have appreciated the lower gas prices and now lower food prices. Milk went down this week. I know this means someone else is making less money somewhere, but I cannot help but appreciate the break on the budget. I have realized that now is probably the best time in my life for the economy to turn downward. Being fresh out of college we have no investments to lose and cannot start a retirement fund yet. Our budget is perfect for cheaper everything; it was seriously getting ridiculous with how much things were starting to cost. I guess our lifestyle is not really that affected. Also, since the whole crisis started I got a job and our income actually went up a bit.

In other news, I have been feeling the baby a lot and Mark felt it the other night. The kicks are getting bigger. It is nice to know that the baby is still alive and moving every couple of hours, especially with stories I have heard about stillborn babies. This week the baby is supposed to be the length of a banana and can taste my food in the amniotic fluid, which is cool. We have 20 weeks to go, which means I am halfway there! It is very weird to think about being responsible for a tiny infant, but I am glad and pray I will be a good mother and that our baby will be holy and healthy. 🙂

Things I Miss About “Home”

Though I have not resided in the city on a permanent basis since the summer after my first year of college, I did not find myself missing St. Louis and officially mourning the loss of my connection to it in terms of it being home until I moved to Buftalo.

It all started when I began to go through my closet at my parents house to decide what to take with me to Buftalo, what to leave at my parents house and what to throw out or give away. I spent the last three years of college in Steubenville with only a couple weeks in St. Louis in the summer and at Christmastime. The four weeks I lived at home before the wedding were the longest stretch I had spent in St. Louis since the summer before I went to Austria (Fall 2005). I think I am skirting around my point. The point is that as long as all of my stuff besides that which I had at school lived there and that was the address I wrote on every form for my “permanent address,” I still lived there in some sense. I had hoped to live there while M. was in grad school as well, as long as he got into SLU. However, things worked out best for us to come to Buftalo, and as I left for the reception I bid my parent’s house farewell and have not seen it since. I am officially no longer a resident of the St. Louis area, but in many ways St. Louis still resides in me.

Now for the things I miss about St. Louis (I do miss my family as well, but in this post I am dealing with the city). I first noticed a difference in the state of the Catholic Church in Buftalo. Like St. Louis there are practically 20 Churches within 10-15 min of our residence, but unlike St. Louis the diocese itself and the bishop are not exactly favorable to Steubenville-grads calling themselves traditionalists–try finding a job with that classification! There are two Sunday Masses in the Extraordinary form, and we attend the one at a downtown parish. Many “young” families attend as well, but we’ve only found 2 people there our age. My hope of living in St. Louis had been largely influenced by the presence of the Institute of Christ the King at St. Francis De Sales, and I can say that the first thing I miss about St. Louis is the Institute. The second thing I miss about St. Louis is Archbishop Raymond Burke, who as M. pointed out to me is no longer in St. Louis, but I still associate him with my nostalgia. I pray that the pope chooses a good bishop for the diocese. As for this diocese, I just wish we had a bishop that was not unfavorable towards the Extraordinary Form, but I am thankful that we can go to it regularly. Plus, there are so many old beautiful churches being closed down, I just wish the Institute would start an oratory here.

Another category of things I miss about St. Louis: food that you can only get in St. Louis.
1. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard: You have to be from near South City to know the true value of this custard and to know the truth that it cannot be surpassed by any other form of ice cream or frozen custard. At least I can still get it when I visit my parents. 🙂
2. Toasted Ravioli: A St. Louis favorite. Ravioli breaded and deep-fried. I did not realize ravioli was served without the breading and frying until I saw it on a menu in a restaurant. You can buy this at any St. Louis grocery store in the frozen food section, bake it and have it ready in 5 minutes! You can also get it at basically any restaurant in St. Louis, even Applebees. The best is found on the Hill at any local Italian restaurant. My longing for this lead me to make homemade ravioli, bread it and fry and bake some. It turned out really good!
I discovered that at least one restaurant in Buftalo serves “Fried Ravioli” which is basically the same thing. Yay for them!
3. Provel Cheese: A mixture of provolone, white cheddar and swiss cheese. It is delicious. Our caterer for out wedding uses it in his house salad-the last time I had the cheese. It can only be found in St. Louis.
4. St. Louis style-pizza/ Cecil Whitakers: I really want to make this here in Buftalo, but I can’t get provel cheese which I need for it. So, I might make up my own combination of cheeses and try to imitate it.

Other things to miss about St. Louis which I missed before I moved to Buftalo include: the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, the Arch, the Cathedral Basilica, the trees (Buftalo needs more tall trees)… I am sure there are more. Maybe we will live in or near St. Louis again someday, but for now I can miss certain things about it and look forward to visits there. I am sure our kids will feel affection towards the city as well, as long as we bring them there to visit grandparents often and when there immerse them in the food.

After Three Months of Marriage

I attribute this inspiration to C. and L. Lol…I wonder if this phase will last.

So, many things have changed in my life in the past 5 months: I graduated from college, discovered there are things about Steubenville to miss, got married, got pregnant, moved to a completely new state 2 hours further from my family than Steubenville was, made a new group of friends, finally get to go to the Tridentine Mass every Sunday, tried to find a job, have not got one yet (though this is still developing).

My mom was worried about the possibility of me getting pregnant “right away” (we all knew that I would). She said all of the changes would cause stress that would affect the baby. Maybe that is why it is good that I do not have a job, even though it would be a great help for M. and I on the financial level. We don’t really want to have to depend on Emperor Obama for sustenance over the next four years. I think after I got over the fact that M. is okay with me reading novels all day, making creative dinners, baking for him, me, and the baby every week, keeping the apartment clean, and making new friends while he worked in a factory for six weeks and now spends the whole day with Lady Philosophy and her friends Greek and German, I realized that life in Buftalo is quite enjoyable! The stress is still there on different levels, but God’s grace and blessings are greater than any stress I have had.

Back to my mom (sorry Mom), she was worried about the financial situation of the young newly married couple attempting to survive grad school and be “open to life”. It turns out that most of the young married couples we have become friends with here are in basically the same situation, except the wives have to work as well to meet the basic needs. I see the way I am blessed all the time. I think this situation is that of the young, married, Catholics who will not contracept for five years before having children. And honestly how many of our parents were entirely financially stable when they got married and started having kids? I love you Mom!

I am constantly reminded of how not only did I marry M., but I also married “Lady Poverty.” I guess Lady Poverty and Lady Philosophy are sisters or something. I will only buy meat when it is on sale for 1.99/lb and then I buy it in bulk and freeze it. I’ve made beans are rice. Aldi is my new favorite place to shop and I supplement it with the amazing Wegmans. Besides the technicality of buying things it really has not been that hard to live this way, maybe I adapted to it in Steubenville. Basically the lifestyle M. and I have chosen does not require a lot of extra expenses. Maybe this blog will be an examination of the way we are living and the ideas of an expecting mother.