The time change this week means that I’ve snuck in a few fixed hour prayers before the boys wake up. The week’s appointed prayer is one I want to keep praying this week:
Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us: Preserve me faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from me the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirt, one God, now and forever.
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord.
I heard this quote the other day and I can’t stop thinking about it as my two 1-year-olds do laps with their walkers for as long as we can bear it:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Recently I read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, a memoir by Rod Dreher focused around his relationship with his sister, Ruthie, and their small town of Starhill, LA.
Ruthie is a home body who marries her high school sweetheart and builds a house on her parents property. Rod is writer and wanderer who leaves their rural Louisiana town as soon as he can. First, for boarding school and eventually to become a newspaper writer in NYC. The book is a contrast between their personality and choices.
Their simmering conflict over leaving and staying comes to a head when she is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Small town living is shown as its best: rallying around her in her treatments and around her family after she dies. Rod and his wife look at the social fabric of their lives in the big city. They decided that no one could care for them in a similar way if something terrible happened, nor do they have the depth of relationship to help others. In the end they move back to be with the grieving family and to benefit from all that is in Starhill, LA.
Overall I liked the book, Dreher is an excellent writer and his portrayals of small town southern living were vivid. I read it as I attended my grandfather’s funeral in small town Louisiana and it mirrored much of what I saw around me. While I don’t read Dreher regularly I appreciate his communitarian spirit: conservatism focused on the good of small community in the modern world. Sort of a non-Agrarian Wendell Berry.
While I appreciate his writing I’m left unsure about what to do in light of his diagnosis and his solution. Small town living and staying put is what creates community. It’s great that his job is portable enough to be done anywhere in America that has an internet connection but that isn’t true for me. Also, if you are from a place and your family has been there generations, then you can re-graft yourself onto those deep roots and draw the sustenance from them. But what if you’re not? What if there isn’t a home to go back to? What then is the secret to the good life in Dreher’s telling?
The book is about the culture shock they encounter while their kids eat at French schools and with their French relatives when it comes to food.
Three course preschool lunches might sound ideal to me but to their young daughter not having a choice about what to eat and having no snacks was a shock. As their year passes Le Billion gradually sees the wisdom of the French way and everyone adjusts. In the process she encapsulates French food culture into 10 rules.
Overall I liked the wisdom of the book quite a bit. These rules seem practical and healthful and are dosed out with a lot of charm and honesty about how this was not an easy process for a family with one girl who only ate white pasta with parmesan and a mother whose parenting shaped this eating.
I like that our kids would eat what I eat. I love the idea that they only eat four times a day with no snacking (which is our current schedule). I like the idea that I can gift my kids with the ability to enjoy amazing variety of food we’ve been gifted with. I love the idea that my kids could be table company rather than table nuisances.
However I’m still smarting and discouraged from the last chapter where the family moves back to Vancouver. There they encounter a culture of peers that are served junk food constantly. When Le Billon serves up a homemade apple tart her daughters friends ask for Oreos. When her daughter goes back to preschool she’s forced to wolf down her lunch in 10 minutes (literally), undermining their efforts to have the girls enjoy their food. Rather than lunch and no snacks, the kids snack 3 times a day in addition to lunch.
Le Billon’s attempts to change the food and service at her daughters’ schools are unsuccessful as the teachers think they shouldn’t be teaching about food. Nor can the family change the broader culture of the girl’s friends.
This reality struck a cord with me. How much we are shaped by our culture and how hard it is to reshape culture? For now I’m in charge of what the kids eat but when they are in school? When they visit other houses?
Overall the French system of eating seems almost ideal. But can you only live like this if you live in France?
I haven’t finished a book since February but I’ve finally finished The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray. Murray is a conservative writer whose keen eye for the social realities of elite institutions and life reminds me a lot of David Brooks. Even when I don’t agree with him I like the way he makes me think about the world I live in.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide is essentially a series of extended proverbs written by an unashamedly grumpy old white guy. Over the years his missives went out to his workplace via an internal listserv and now they are collected into a brief book with four sections: workplace presentation; thinking and writing; how to live in your 20s; and what it means to be happy.
The workplace section is probably the most practical of the bunch and reenforces much of what I’ve seen and learned since I graduated from college. His sage advice about the realities of cursing, dressing sloppily, sending poorly written office emails, sucking up, etc mirror my thoughts when I see these behaviors from students and (occasionally) colleagues. I don’t say anything but it definitely shapes my opinion about whether or not they are professionals. Murray is astute and honest enough to name these behaviors and say that these are real barriers to your success.
The writing and thinking section was brilliant, especially being unashamedly judgmental about sloppy writing. As I’ve worked on a team preparing a report and a presentation over the last two weeks I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve implemented the rules so that the Committee will take us seriously. I preach to my students constantly that they will be dismissed if they misuse fewer and less or use literally to mean figuratively. Murray agrees and has lots of specific suggestions.
His last two sections on life advice also seem very wise to me. Your 20s are a time to explore, form opinions and think about your career. He tells it like it is with bracing advice like “get real jobs” and “confront your inner hothouse flower” (chortle). Finally, his reflections on what makes the good life include advice about vocation, marriage and religion that isn’t heard very often in my circles. Consider marrying in your 20s? Take religion seriously? This is good advice and it makes me thankful again for one of my favorite college professors whose mix of life advice and political science shaped who I am today.
The book is a perfect gift for an upperclassman or recent graduate who is either wandering or is dead set on a specific version of success. I’m considering recommending it to my incoming graduate students as guide to the intangibles that our program won’t teach them as they focus on hard skills and policy thinking in their formal coursework.