Book Review

New Biography of Michael O’Brien and Some Novelties of Summer

If you’ve ever read any of Michael O’Brien’s books, chances are you’ve wondered, just who in the blazes is this man who writes so well?  As soon as I discovered that his biography, On the Edge of Infinity, was for sale, I bought it and was not disappointed.

I couldn’t put it down.

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You need this book written by Clemens Cavallin.

Not only do I consider Michael O’Brien the greatest Catholic novelist since J.R.R. Tolkien, but I also wonder about this man’s sainthood.  He’s got an amazing conversion story, going from such things as Ouija boards and seances to being attacked by malevolent spirits and spontaneously reciting Psalm 23.

This book is not boring.  And the neat thing is, as one suspects from reading O’Brien’s fiction, many of his stories come straight from his own life.  For example, has anyone ever read O’Brien’s A Cry of Stone?  This book features the story of Tchibi, a boy who experiences abuse from his headmaster at his private school.  O’Brien modeled this boy on his own experience of abuse at Grollier Hall in Canada.  It’s excruciating to read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to On the Edge of Infinity.  Clemens Cavallin begins this biography of Michael O’Brien (born in 1948) with stories from Michael’s parents and grandparents.  Then Cavallin moves into detailing O’Brien’s childhood in the Canadian arctic and then chronicles the turbulent years following the Second Vatican Council wherein suddenly altars were stripped and destroyed, statues of saints disappeared, and families were discouraged from praying the rosary.  O’Brien’s family was deeply affected by these radical changes.

Naturally the book goes on to relate Michael’s conversion, his meeting of Sheila, their marriage, and his momentous decision in 1976 to devote himself wholly to God and to art – specifically icon painting.  (Writing fiction would come later.)

Probably what fascinated me the most in reading Cavallin’s biography, however, was Michael and his wife Sheila’s utter trust in God, to the point of downright poverty.  Seriously, at one point, Michael and his eldest son had to push the wheelbarrow to the local convent, because they didn’t have a working vehicle, to get the leftover vegetables from the sisters, just to eat for the week.

The other thing that I greatly appreciated about this book was its focus on art and beauty.  I’ll never get tired of this subject, because in our culture it is of extreme importance that we get it.  Art ought to be beautiful because it’s a reflection of the Divine.  Beauty matters!

Finally, if any of you have children and homeschool them, you will probably enjoy hearing about the trials and experiences of the O’Brien family.  Michael and Sheila homeschooled their 6 children.  And it wasn’t easy.

The Novelties of Summer

  1. I hope you’re all enjoying summer.  We are.  Normally the children start a little Summer School by now, but we haven’t yet.  For we’ve had this to contend with:
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This is our backyard.  We’re in the process of planting grass, trees, bushes, and a garden.  Oh, the work!

2.  We have had time for ice cream, however.

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3.  And we did just recently make a little pilgrimage to a beautiful rural church in Strasburg, North Dakota, named Sts. Peter and Paul.

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Here are the children on the front steps.

Even though this church is in the middle of nowhere, people still go to see it.  Why?  Because beauty is attractive.  The following is what one sees when walking in.  I apologize for the lack of lighting.  We didn’t know how to turn all the lights on.

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Check out those sweet confessionals flanking the sanctuary.

Of course you can see the high altar behind that newly inserted wooden table altar from the 1970s.  Here’s a closer look of both altars:

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And an even closer look of the high altar:

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Just look at that detail.

Question of the day:  Which altar speaks to the greatness of God?

 

Christ-Like Minimalism

Christ-like Minimalism: The Beauty of Hooks

Many of you know that I’ve got a large family – 7 children – which requires living minimally with a great amount of organization.  So for the most part, I like the rule, “You Get One” or “The Rule of One.”

For example, in the wintertime, each child gets one pair of boots and one pair of tennis shoes.  They also get one pair of snow pants and one winter coat.  (The three older girls do have a nicer Mass coat…it’s the exception to our Rule of One.)  In the summer, they get one pair of rain boots, one pair of flip-flops, and one sweatshirt.  They also get one swimsuit and one beach towel.

But the question is, how in the world do I keep track of all that stuff – 7 pairs of boots, tennis shoes, coats, sweatshirts, beach towels…  Just where does all that stuff go?

My solution is hooks.

Thankfully hooks are possible in our new house, as there’s room on the garage walls.  And since it’s summer, the children keep their life jacket, beach towel, and swim suit on their appropriate hook out there.  This way they always know where to find their things, and these things stay off the floor and out of the house.  (Mostly!)

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Everyone has their name on their beach towels too.  That way there can be no doubt about ownership.  If Johnny decided to leave his beach towel out in the yard to get muddy, then that’s his fault.

This is my first year of not allowing beach towels in the house, and it’s been lovely.  There are no more wet children tramping through the house to find a towel only to use it once and throw it on the floor.  Done with that.

We also have hooks on the other garage wall for their sweatshirts.

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Obviously the hooks lower down on the wall are for the younger children, who cannot reach very high yet.

Of course during the 9 months of Never-Ending Winter, their winter coats hang in those places.  But for now, it’s sweatshirts.  You’ll notice that the winter hats and gloves are in the basket sitting on the top shelf.  The boys also keep their Mass shoes up there too.  The gray bin on the floor is for their one baseball hat.  My husband’s winter gear, however, does stay on those hooks off to the right all year round.

Here’s a shot of both walls.

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There are two things that make this possible for us:

  1. We have the extra space in the garage
  2. We put cheap carpet down, so that the children do not have to stand on cold concrete to put shoes and things on.

As an aside, do you see the pencil sharpener above the white garbage can?  This was a genius move too.  No more are the children allowed to sharpen their pencils in the house.  Inevitably the little ones dump that container of pencil shavings all over the place.  Now, they can sharpen away, and spill it, and I don’t care.

Lastly, where do I put their winter gear?  Well, I don’t have a storage “room,” but I do have a little space under the basement staircase where we put more hooks.  (And dressers.)

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Here they are, waiting for the return of colder seasons.  Their snow pants are hanging underneath their coats.

In the background you might notice a few dressers?  I’ve got 5 of them hiding back there, which is were I keep the children’s clothing that is currently not in use.  Each drawer is labeled as either “Girl” or “Boy” and is also marked with a particular size.  This makes it very easy to find whatever clothing I might need.  It’s a lot easier to pull out a labeled drawer than to dig through a large tub.  In fact, I’m constantly in and out of these drawers every single season, and it’s lovely to be able to get in there so easily.

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Here’s a shot looking out of this storage area.

In the end, there are definite challenges to having a large family.  To all of you out there, living in the midst of it, I encourage you to keep at it!  Try to institute your own version of “You Get One.”  And experiment with some hooks.

Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday: Pull-ups & Kiddie Pools

How was your week?  Here are a few highlights from mine:

  1. The boys have been doing daily pull-ups on the swing set.  The other day, they challenged me to a contest to see who could do more.  I lost.  I mean, I lost big time.  I couldn’t even do one.  They made me start from a dead hang, and I couldn’t even pull myself up halfway.
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The twins can do six.  I was impressed.

2.  Speaking of pull-ups and other impossible things, apparently it’s impossible for my children not to put things in their mouths.  Do you remember how my son swallowed a penny a few weeks ago?  Well, my 2-year-old girl decided to do that too.

But now that I have experience with the matter, I’ll have you know that I completely kept my cool.  I observed her for a whole five minutes before I gave up.  The first minute she cried.  The second minute she started wriggling around again.   The third minute she was off playing.  And the final two minutes I just watched her from afar.  She’s fine.

3.  It’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

4.  Since the temperature rose above 80 degrees the other day, I thought I’d check out the kids’ pool in the backyard.  (This is what you do, when you live nowhere near anything cool, like an ocean.)

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It was a bit tricky trying to float on their little floaties, but I managed.  Does my neck look red?*

The children were so excited that I was joining them that they even promised to not splash me so that I could read.

And what was I reading?  Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate.  Mitford was one of Evelyn Waugh’s friends.  He even proofread her stuff for her.  But this book was marginal.  Waugh is a wayyyy better writer.  (If you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, pick up Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.)

Notice the brown water in the pool?  Yuck, huh?  But that’s just because the sandbox is a few feet away, not because, well, you know.

5.  The prairie roses are in full blown.  They are the best smelling flower in the whole wide world.  They also happen to be our State Flower.

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The children keep a fresh supply for me on the table.
*I’m afraid that floating around in the kids’ pool makes me a Red Neck, if you know what I mean.

 

Call Me Catholic

Slow Down This Summer

The children of their own accord made a little shrine in our trees the other day.  (They affectionately call these trees, The Wildness.)  They gathered lilacs and other flowers in bloom, made blue sashes with star badges, and used sticks for swords.  They also made a little flag.

It was all in honor of Mary, Our lady, Star of the Sea.  I have no idea why they chose this title, especially since we live nowhere near a sea.  (Does the Missouri River count?)

After making all their preparations, they marched my husband and I outside and made us all stand in a line with the 5-year-old leading the way with the flag.  Then, we sang their favorite Marian song, Regina Caeli, as we walked through the yard and Wildness to their prepared shrine.  Once there, the boys made us walk through their swords, which were meant to be something like the Knights of Columbus, and we solemnly knelt down and prayed, asking for Mary’s intercession for our family.

It was sweet and beautiful.

But you know what?  They wouldn’t have done this or had time for it, if we constantly shuffled them around from one activity to another.

Dear families, slow down.

Put the screens away.  Let your children play and use their imaginations.  If they complain of boredom, make them lie out on a blanket under a tree and stare at the leaves and the sky.  Give them a notebook and make them write down 50 things they can see.  Clouds?  Bark?  Ants?  Blades of grass?  Birds?

Maybe you will want to join them?

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Pray for us!

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This is their shrine in the Wildness.  Note the badges and “swords.”  The badges say, “Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us.”  The boys even put on blue shirts, in honor of Mary.