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Be Happy in Hope, and Let the Sun Shine Through You

“And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope which, though perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes will. Thus they were all cheerful, and many of them merry.” – Phase the First – The Maiden, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, by Thomas Hardy

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Let the sun shine through you (photo taken while out for a walk at a near by Canadian Lake)

To put this treasure of a snippet into context, the narrator is speaking about village country girls, sometime in the later half of nineteenth century England, as they dance in a May Day celebration. But as I read this, I thought how fitting it is for young Catholic women. We should all be warmed by some hope, rooted deep within us, that sprouts itself so high it’s peeping out through our faces, where everyone will see it. The specifics need not be known by others. But a dream, a hope, a love should be so firmly rooted in us that it’s as constant and immovable as the sun itself, and warms our whole being so that those whose paths we cross are warmed by the sun within us.

Sometimes it can be tough to hold on to hope in a dream we’ve been holding onto for a long time. But hoping when everything seems hopeless, is what it’s all about. That’s what hope really is. Hope doesn’t die when the road ahead seems too vast or treacherous. On the contrary, this should invigorate us to hold on and persevere with renewed strength, knowing that at some point the road eases, or we’ll finally hit the luscious valley. The key to hope is seeing the end in your mind’s eye, and keep walking to it no matter the ruts, dips and hills that we have to trudge through to get to it.

Sometimes it feels like it’s time to let go of one dream, and find a new one. And sometimes this is the right thing to do, depending on the dream or hope – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes our lives take a turn we didn’t see coming, and it changes the course of our path entirely, perhaps even away from the initial dream we had. It’s okay to let go of one dream, and pick up another. If a dream really has no chance of coming true, is it a good dream to have? Probably not. Real hope means there is a legitimate chance your dream can come true. To hold onto something that has no probable, possible chance of coming true, is not a dream that will foster healthy hope. If a dream will not foster true hope, it will be detrimental to the soul, since hope is a fundamental piece of the soul. If you’re not going up the hill, you’re rolling backwards. If there is no reasonable hope that a dream can come true if you persevere in prayer and action, it should probably be let go of, because it’s unhealthy to live in an irrational dreamland. But don’t mistake this with persevering in your hope or dream that seems like it won’t ever come true. Use the seemingly endless times, the strenuous times, the times when no matter how much you give it feels like you’ll never see your dream fulfilled, to strengthen your spirit, strengthen your resolve, and grow in love for Our Lord.

That hope or dream within you is the warmth carried through your being, that will draw others to you. Let it bring a smile to your face, let it keep you a merry and happy woman, even during the vast and treacherous times. As Catholic young women striving to be valiant, we should always be striving to bring others closer to Our Lord through our lives. And how better to bring others to him then through our own love, hope, dream, secret sunshine that we can use to show others His Love. Let the joy you find within your own hopes, dreams and desires, be magnified by His Love and shine right through you for others to see, always reflecting Our Lord’s Love.

 

The art of Housekeeping

“Well now, there is one very excellent, necessary, and womanly accomplishment that no girl should be without, for it is a help to rich and poor, and the comfort of families depends upon it. This fine talent is neglected nowadays, and considered old-fashioned, which is a sad mistake, and one that I don’t mean to make in bringing up my girl. It should be a part of every girl’s education, and I know of a most accomplished lady who will teach you in the best and pleasantest manner.” 

“Oh, what is it?” cried Rose eagerly, charged to be met in this helpful and cordial way. 

“Housekeeping!” answered Dr. Alec. 

“Is that an accomplishment?” asked Rose, while her face fell, for she had indulged in all sorts of vague, delightful dreams. 

“Yes; it is one of the most beautiful as well as useful of all the arts a woman can learn. Not so romantic, perhaps, as singing, painting, writing, or teaching, even; but one that makes many happy and comfortable, and home the sweetest place in the world. Yes, you may open your big eyes; but it is a fact that I had rather see you a good house-keeper than the greatest belle in the city. It need not interfere with any talent you may possess, but it is a necessary part of your training, and I hope that you will set about it at once, now that you are well and strong.

– excerpt from “Eight Cousins”, by Louisa May Alcott

Currently re-reading this novel, Uncle Alec’s house-keeping ideals couldn’t be more true, or better said.

All through the centuries, keeping house was a recognized position. A woman’s worth was not measured by her income, it was measured by her accomplishments and temperament. The upper class had time to spend on finer accomplishments – languages, painting, drawing, needlework, etc. The lower class focused on practical accomplishments – sewing, cooking, house work, etc. One was encouraged to also be an attractive personality, and grow in virtues of charity, patience, understanding, courage, perseverance, etc. But for both upper and lower class, was the art of house-keeping. Whether you were married to the blacksmith, or married to the Squire, you had a job to do in keeping house.

I remember my mom once saying on the phone, when asked her profession, that she was a “domestic engineer”. This answer was readily accepted, no further questions asked. But would the same response have been given if she had answered with “stay-at-home mom” ? Perhaps it’s the connotation that comes with the phrase “stay-at-home”, which I suppose could sound like a leisurely past time you choose instead of going out to an evening party. “Domestic engineer” does sound more like a pointed purposeful position.

Position titles aside, both come with the necessity of keeping-house, which is a far more complex endeavour then given credit for. A home should be the sanctuary of a family, a safe haven, where all the cares and worries of the world are wiped off your feet on the front door matt, and you are free to be loved, encouraged, and cherished openly and without reservation. With this care and attention come daily necessities, such as food, cleanliness, warmth, beauty in things surrounding you, etc. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, comfortable and nice things, may sound rather trite and odious to some, but there is so much more skill needed in doing these things then is realized. If these tasks aren’t done with love and care, they don’t mean half as much. Anyone can prepare food if necessary, particularly when Costco’s frozen food section is filled with such a vast variety. But real cooking takes time, energy, and a certain devotion in learning how to do things. Anyone can pull out a swiffer mop, dust, vacuum and call it clean. But cleanliness isn’t in the larger things, it’s in the details; grout groves, door jams, polished glass – strong arms and determination. Housekeeping – the key ingredient to a home – is so looked down on now, is it any wonder houses are no longer “homes”, homes no longer the centre, families no longer the root of an individual, and the world is so full of people who don’t understand true love.

If proper care and attention went into teaching girls the purpose and beauty of making a home, there would be happier and more fruitful homes and families. Housekeeping isn’t to be scoffed at, or seen as inferior, or for those incapable or undesiring of a “real profession”. On the contrary, it takes a truly conscious effort and willpower, backed by love, to effectually complete the task of housekeeper. And a housekeeper  is rewarded with the best of all – the satisfaction of knowing and seeing you’ve made others happy and content.

 

 

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true that

 

 

 

I didn’t steal it, God gave it to me: part I

Girls, this one’s for you.

Immodesty. The word so many Catholic girls cringe at.

I’ve grown up in an authentically Catholic home, where we were encouraged to grow and strive for virtue. Modesty is one of the virtues I was encouraged to cultivate. Basic principles I learned as a child – don’t show too much skin, no short skirts (short being above the knee), no painted on pants, don’t show you’re midriff, no bikini’s, etc etc, basic principles to achieve dignity and modesty in your dress. As a teen, I further learned some history of fashion. I was horrified at the idea that a prostitute was commissioned to model the first bikini because no other would dare do it. Also to learn that the flapper dress was initially designed to make the female figure more boy-like – the loose & low bodice intended to hide the curves of the bust & waist. I read an enlightening book on modesty and dress, entitled “Dressing with Dignity” by Colleen Hammond. Read it yourself to find out more details. I’ve always loved clothing. My mother will no doubt vouch for my exuberant tastes and wardrobe choices even as a toddler – changing my skirts and dresses three times a day merely so I could wear more then one awesome outfit. From a very young age my father would compliment my floral patterned dress, or comment on the drastically 90’s sweater I had paired with frilly socks and a scrunchy. If Dad liked my outfit, it was surely a success – ergo, my flair for dress took it’s flight from a very young age.

Modesty is a virtue we, as Catholics, are encouraged to cultivate. Not only in dress, but in attitude. Charity is also a virtue – the highest of virtues, in fact. Modesty and charity. You can be charitable to your neighbour by being modest, but you can also be uncharitable to your neighbour by putting modesty as the highest virtue. Yes, modesty is a virtue which women should strive for. It is one that should be encouraged, cultivated, should be second nature to us. Eventually it should be such a habit that we don’t need to think about it anymore. However, like two sides to a coin, there are two sides to modesty. There is external modesty (which is typically the stressed side of modesty) and internal modesty. External modesty would include dress and body language, while internal modesty would include the state of his/her soul. They do go hand-in-hand, but they are different and each require their own attention to ultimately form the full virtue of true modesty. The internal state of one’s soul comes first, and it will be reflected by the exterior of one’s body. External modesty means nothing without the internal. Without the interior beauty of a soul, the exterior quickly fades. One could be forced by her parents to dress like a frump (under the guise of “modesty”) but without the interior soul’s modesty and virtue, her actions and behaviour will counter that “exterior modesty” so drastically that it wouldn’t matter how much of her is covered because her mind, attitude and body language say the opposite. Just as a beautiful soul will cause an average face to be beautiful, if the interior is striving for virtue, it will manifest itself exteriorly. As one grows in virtue, one adapts and changes the exterior to fit what is happening on the interior. It is true that the outside will affect the inside. An ordered & cleanly home will encourage an ordered & cleanly soul, but it will not make one. The desire for order, cleanliness & virtue has to come from within the soul before it manifests itself on the outside, keeping an ordered & cleanly home on a consistent basis.

Modesty as defined by the ‘Catholic Dictionary’: the virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station in life.

Modesty as defined by the ‘Oxford Dictionary’: 1. The quality or state of being unassuming in the estimation of one’s abilities; 2. The quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level; 3. Behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency

Where the concept that modesty means “hide” or “cover” came from I will never know or understand. Neither of these definitions use either of those words, or synonyms of those words. “Moderate” comes from the latin word “moderari: to restrain, or control”. So where does this cult-ish idea of completely covering and hiding away what you’ve rightfully been given by God Himself come from? Where are it’s roots? Surely not from dogmatic teachings – never have I heard or read anything that demands these strict and objectifying rules.

That’s right, I just said “objectifying”. Because in my opinion this trad modesty cult is no better then the m*slims and their b*rka’s. I recently heard, while conversing about this subject, the phrase: “I didn’t steal it, God Himself gave it to me.” How brilliantly this stated exactly how I felt! Treating what you’ve been given by God Himself as if it is something to be shamed, is disrespecting and objectifying God’s creation. The tabernacle is not covered with ugly dirty rugs to hide it away from the public eye. Rather, it is adorned and locked safely to give glory and preserve what is contained inside of it. So the female body shouldn’t be hidden under unflattering clothing to hide away from the male eye. Rather, it should be adorned and protected to preserve the beauty within.

Yes, as women, it is our responsibility to preserve and protect the men from falling into sin because of our own negligence in properly adorning our bodies. If the tabernacle isn’t properly veiled and locked, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and Our Lord could be at risk, as the passer-by will be of committing a sacrilege. So too if the female body isn’t properly veiled and protected, curiosity could stir from a passer-by and result in sin for both the passer-by and the keeper.

In the true spirit of modesty, we should adorn our bodies in such a way that will be pleasing to Our Lord, as our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost. But to hide, cover, and pretend our bodies are not what they were created for, is to treat God’s creation & gift to us falsely. We should beautify our bodies through dignifying dress, attract the eye to admiration without fully revealing and exposing what is protected underneath.

More on this subject to come.

 

 

 

The Perks of being Nimble

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Stay nimble, ladies – you never know when it will come in handy. It’s also very good for your health. Go for walks, workout, hike, just on a trampoline, play at the park with your nieces and nephews, go swimming, anything that makes you use those muscles and keep them in tune. Don’t ignore them or forget about them. One day you might need to bolt across the street to save a toddler about to be hit by a car, or carry a solid wood bookshelf since there’s no man to do it for you, or you might need to pull a heavy piece of equipment out of a trapped child’s way, or climb the roof and squeeze through a window to let yourself into your home because you forgot your house key and everyone else is gone and locked up behind them. God gave us our bodies for a reason, and you never know when you may need the reflexes and agility that come with staying in shape. So always be prepared!

Meg & Amy: forgotten characters

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**WARNING: possible spoilers for those who haven’t read the book!

“Little Women”‘s Meg & Amy are, I think, characters not given enough credit. The boyish Jo is the one who, flying about, grasps everyones attention, holding all the dear on-lookers enthusiasm, quickly turning into an idol among young girls. The good Beth is praised by all as the saintly, pious giver of self. But what of Meg and Amy? Meg is admired by all as the beauty of the family, and Amy as the vain artist. Despite these seemingly shallow descriptions, there is so much to their characters, yet it’s tom-boy Jo who gets all the attention of young female readers. I don’t dislike Jo, I simply believe too much emphasis is put on her. Meg and Amy put such effort into becoming better women, and it goes unrecognized by girls in rapture with ambitious tom-boy Jo. So know that this post is not to criticize Jo, but rather to put some emphasis on Meg & Amy, in the hope of drawing female readers attention to these splendid female & truly feminine characters.

From when we first meet the sisters, Meg is the motherly oldest. She sees it as her duty to financially contribute to the family while her father is away at war, she takes it upon herself to tend to her youngest sister, she is the epitome of social etiquette, is kind, gracious, gentle, warm, cordial, if a little shy. She holds standards for the rougish Jo & Laurie. Certainly she has her flaws – she is too concerned with her social standing, and is materialistic, setting her desires on pretty and expensive things.

Amy is the spoiled youngest. She is too vain with her looks, headstrong and occasionally haughty. Yet at her tender age she is she sees the greater purpose in life. She sees the value in virtuous womanhood, and chooses to achieve it. She denies herself, understands that she must grow in love for Our Lord (and even strikes up a devotion to Our Lady via her great aunts Catholic French maid – ha HA!).

As the years pass, Meg marries the dashing Mr.Brooke, and we see her go through struggles and accomplishments. She looses her temper at John in frustration with her wifely duties, yet after consideration, she meekly apologizes and makes a firm resolution never to take the same steps that lead to her un-loving mistake. Self pity rallying up inside her, she allows her vanity to go un-checked and frivolously spends her husbands hard earned money. She immediately realizes her wrong doing, and feels atrocious when she witnesses the love and sadness in her husbands face when he discovers her lack of satisfaction. (Needless to say she sells the expensive fabric to Sally Moffat, her friend rich in money, but sadly lacking in love.) When her twins are born, months go by as she puts her husband aside to tend entirely to her babies. Eventually her mother tenderly and discretely steps in, and Meg learns yet another lesson for love. She makes adjustments and proves to John that he is needed and loved and wanted. Meg always tries her hardest to be the best woman, sister, daughter, wife, and mother, she can be. She makes plenty of mistakes, but she consistently strives to greater heights, to conquer her own self, and die to others.

Amy begins as a spoiled child and grows to be a dignified young woman. It’s when Beth is sick and Amy must stay at Great Aunt March’s when she begins to see the bigger picture in life. Her good, saintly sister is on her death bed, and Amy is heart-stricken as to what would happy if she died. She steps outside her own self, and longs to fill the void their family would have without good, gentle, pious Beth. Ultimately her sister is her inspiration, and she makes the conscious decision to grow in prayer and virtue. Her Catholic French maid sets up a little chapel for her (featuring a painting of the Blessed Mother!!), and she retires every day to pray while Aunt March takes her nap. She wishes to be a great artist someday, and drives herself to discipline and practise. She is popular with all of Laurie’s school mates, yet doesn’t allow this to play to her vanity. She goes abroad, and while there she learns about love, (looses her desire to marry rich), and aids Laurie in becoming a better man. She speaks her mind, yet knows when to bite her tongue. Without her, Laurie would not have become the man he does become – which is exactly right, for no man or woman is complete without their counter-part whom God has intended for them.

By the end of the book, both Meg and Amy have grown into beautiful women filled with love, consistently striving for virtue and loving others to the best of their ability.

p.s. Leave a comment on which is your favourite Little Women character, and why!

“Get Thee to a Nunnery!!”

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Oh the sighs that escape my being when I think of the blissful existence in a cloistered convent. Of course I’ve never experienced it, but there is something tantalizingly attractive to contemplate existence for the sole purpose of prayer and growing closer to Our Lord while we wait for the call to go home to Him.

As a younger teenager I used to fear the idea that God would call me to enter religious life. And I don’t think I am the only young women to have gone through that. It’s a scary thought – giving up all you know and love to devote your life in prayer for the Church, not to mention living with all women. ALL WOMEN. I used to think that was the scariest part. Generally getting along better with boys growing up than girls, I couldn’t imagine life where men weren’t an everyday interaction. I’ve never had time for unholy girlish dramatics, and the thought of spending all day everyday with only women was enough to make me turn the other way and run full speed!

But it might not be living with other women that is the hold back… it might be the idea of having to follow a mother mistress, always being “under someone’s thumb”… or following the same routine day in and day out, never doing anything “exciting”… or maybe it’s the boring meal menu because you love juicy buttery French cooking and can’t imagine eating beans everyday. Well my lassies, it’s time to move beyond such worries. I’ve come to realize over the past couple of years that living with all women in a convent certainly couldn’t be too bad. In fact, it would be incredibly lovely. Ultimately the whole group of women are striving for the same goal – to grow in holiness, humility, and charity – and, although they will have their disagreements and frustrations, would be far better off then the lot of us in “single land” where you have to deal with the general public at work or at school. In a convent, women are surrounded by women of the same faith, with the same desire to be close to Our Lord. In the world, women are surrounded by women not of the same faith, who are blindfolded to the True beauty of life. I, for one, am saddened by the lack of love shown to Our Lord and neighbour through the common everyday occurrence of blasphemy and unbecoming dress. Mention anything liturgical and receive rolling eyes, endure the jabs that you “need to get out of your shell”, turn the other cheek to the degrading comments made. It is difficult to live as a soldier of Christ in a world that is constantly at arms against us. We grow weary – for it’s simply exhausting at times.

For those of us blessed enough to be a part of a love-filled family, a thriving parish, a solid Young Adults Group, etc, it’s our tavern, where we can enjoy a hearty meal and a pint of beer after a long stretch of battling hard and strong. But imagine not having to face the foe directly on the battlefield. Instead you are in the castle towers sharpening swords, carving arrows, sewing bandages and packing supplies, sending out the tools needed by the soldiers to win their battles. Without you, the soldiers run short on weapons and supplies. They might turn and flee for fear, or be slaughtered on the battlefield. This is the job of nuns. They sharpen the weapons. They pray hard and fast for each and every one of us. They pray for our salvation. How beautiful a way to spend one’s life.

If the “convent concern” is apparent in your spiritual life, work to flush it out. To strive for God’s will in our lives means to be honestly open to any avenue He may desire us to take. And there is no reason to fear any certain path, since God will always take you down the most direct one to heaven for you personally.

* Recommendations of flushing out the Convent Concern:

1. Read “The Story of a Soul” (St.Therese’s autobiography).

2. Speak to someone who has spent time in a convent. Ask questions, listen to their stories.

3. Go on retreat to a convent.

The Art of Baking, with Whiskey

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A Friday of Bushmills Irish Whiskey and cake-baking

This Damsel enjoys cooking and baking. (Not because I’m trad…well, maybe it is because I’m trad. The general population of twenty-something females do not… too bad for them.) Cooking and baking are such satisfying works in both tastes and femininity. It’s often difficult to find time in a busy work schedule to cook or bake for enjoyment, let alone cook at all. Luckily I have a family and mother who loves me and I rarely ever go meal-less. And even if there is time, the kitchen of a large family is rarely, if ever, absent of others. But the busy kitchen of a large family must call a cease fire when I enter it on a mission to cook or bake.

I am inspired to cook by my own love and appreciation of all things savoury. But when I bake, I am inspired by others love for sweets and desserts. I rarely bake because I long to appease a sweet-tooth – I bake because I have an innate desire to enchant the sweets pallete of others. I also love to make things pleasing to the eye. And I take pleasure in doing something extra special for a group or one person in particular.

I am a detail orientated damsel, but when it comes to food I tend to throw things together and hope it all turns into what I want it to. Of course I know what I’m trying to make, but I’m not very good at following recipes. I take the general concept and start throwing things together. Measurements are uncommon in my world of cooking. And I am a firm believer in this theory, because it works for me. The art of cooking is affected by personality, nationality, upbringing, personal tastes, strengths, etc. That is why the same recipe can taste very different depending who makes it. It takes doing to know what your style is or where your strengths are.

Baking on the other hand, is very different. If you aren’t a baker, know that baking is very precise and the slightest mistake or mis-measurement can affect the entire result. In years past, the shrieks of horror from across the counter when I tossed in the rough amount of a teaspoon were many. Now I generally only bake when no one else is in the kitchen. And no one is the wiser for my measurement goings-on!

Today was a rare occasion in this large family – I found myself in the kitchen alone (kept company in part by the currently invalid youngest). Friday’s are usually my evening to relax after a long week of work, and it was the opportune time to spend an evening of baking. And so, after slipping my retro apron (I am a collector of retro/feminine aprons) over my camouflage cozies, I whipped a mixture of batter while sipping on my newest addition of Irish whiskey and singing along with Ella Fitzgerald. While the cakes cooled, it changed to Allegri’s Miserere as I sifted icing sugar and made my second favourite icing type (for alas, we were our of cream cheese!). And now that I have made one into a priestly collar for my parish priests approaching birthday, and the other is ready to freeze for next weeks bake sale, Barber’s Agnus Dei plays as I am settling down for the night.

There is something ever so satisfying and pleasurable about creating an edible arrangement. Maybe it’s my own enjoyment of deliciousness, or my love of creating things pleasing-to-the-eye, or my thrill in bringing happiness to others. But there is truly an art to cooking and baking, of which I am not yet a skilled master. It is an excellent skill to have, particularly for us traddish Catholic women who embrace our feminine role.

And some good Irish whiskey adds just the right touch to an evening of baking! (But not IN the baking… that would ruin the whiskey!)