Saturday, 19 August 2017

The New Life

I'd forgotten the importance of Saturdays to people with full-time jobs. Of course, not all full-timers have the luxury of Saturdays anymore, which is a doleful thought. However, speaking as a former freelancer, having a Monday to Friday job gives Saturday a golden glow.

Not that Saturdays are work-free. Saturdays are now for housework, but this has become easier since I began the Great Tidy, inspired by Marie Kondo. As usual, I have come late to a cultural sensation. Just as now I have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone, I have read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. That is, I skimmed half of it at the bookstore, and then listened to the audiobook on my new-to-me iPhone.

I am hoping for some life-changing magic, but so far I have only gone through my clothes and books and a fair number of papers. Miscellaneous stuff will be a challenge, but in the meantime, I pick things up and stuff them on the pile by the attic stairs (to go down and out; we live in an attic). Sometimes a kind friend with a car comes by and takes the stuff away to charity shops. This is wonderful, and worth the interruption of my work day, should the kind friend arrive mid-week.

My work day begins at 9, more or less. I had a lovely idea that I was going to work 11 - 7, which would reasonably overlap the editors' Eastern Standard time (a morning person, I drew the line at working 2 PM - 10 PM). I'm an early riser, so I looked forward to spending a few hours in the morning studying languages.

However, thanks to doctors' home visits, plumbers, electricians, medical emergencies, Holy Days of Obligation, and sheer exhaustion, I have finally worked out that it is better to start journalism at 9 AM and aim to finish around 7 PM, except on Wednesdays (Polish class 9 AM) and Thursdays (Italian class 9:30 AM). That way, it doesn't matter so much if there is an extensive mid-day interruption. (Language study has to be stuffed into odd corners of the day.)

"It's too late," said Benedict Ambrose yesterday when, at 7:30 PM, I rousted him out of bed for some exercise. An update on Joe Baklinski reveals that Joe, despite being in great pain, his muscles turned to mincemeat, gets out of bed constantly to see what his family is up to. Benedict Ambrose is the exact opposite. He would lie in bed all day long listening to BBC 4 in the dark if I didn't pop into the room at intervals to open the shutter; bring food; transmit news; bring the post; get him out of bed to exercise, to wash, to greet visitors. He responds to attempts to drag him from bed with complaints, then apologies and finally thanks. It's exhausting.

Exercise is usually walking around and around the front lawn, which is bounded by a big stone wall, a gateway delicately barred by a chain, and some woods. People walk their dogs in the woods and, if badly brought up, gawk at B.A. and me as we make our painful way around the quad. B.A. wears a thick white terrycloth bathrobe with a hood, so he looks rather like a Carthusian monk--to me, that is. I doubt the gawkers could pick a Carthusian monk out of a line-up.

B.A. hates being stared at, so the best time to go for walks is at 5 PM, which is when we know the House will be clear of staff and visitors, but the woods haven't yet filled up with dog-walkers. Naturally it is awful having to leave my desk when I am in the middle of an article I desperately want to finish, but that is the way it is--unless it is too cold. Yesterday afternoon was terribly cold, so after I went to the office in the Historical Stable Block for the post, my conscience allowed me to keep my head down until 7:30 PM, when I filed a piece about Cardinal Burke's proposed correction of Pope Francis, and went to see B.A.

B.A., a living skeleton, was curled up in bed under the duvet.

"It's too late," he protested when I told him it was time to get up.

"It's not too late," I said. "But you don't have to go outside. It's too cold. We are doing something else today."

"Something else" was a few very gentle warm-up exercises and the rowing machine. Complaining mildly and asserting that he couldn't even sit down in the rowing machine, B.A. sat down and, to our mutual amazement, rowed 20 strokes.  It turns out he has some strength in his arms (and back) after all, which is astonishing.

Having rowed, he then sat on the sofa wrapped up in a duvet and watching "Celebrity MasterChef" on BBC iPlayer while I went to the kitchen and made potato pancakes (aka latkes aka placki ziemniaczane). Then, as B.A. was still willing to eat, I made an almond flour cake and custard to pour over it. Finally, I washed the dishes and swept the kitchen floor. 

So yesterday worked out very nicely after all, and I was very moved to discover that more of you donated to the Joe Baklinski fund. I don't know why it is, but I am intensely sentimental about Catholic dads of eight who get hurt on the job. Maybe it's because my dad is a Catholic dad of five. If a wall had fallen on my dad, we kids would have been out of our minds with worry and fear---and he wasn't a self-employed stonemason. Until April, when he finally retired, he was a briefcase-carrying professor backed up by a fire-breathing union. 

Meanwhile, I have already taken out the trash and the recycling, so before I get back to my Saturday cleaning tasks, I will begin to memorise a beautiful list of Polish trees and flowers. Hitherto my tutor has given me useful "Catholic" words and phrases (objawienie, for example, means revelation) useful to my new job. Thus I am curious as to why she has prioritised trees and flowers. Still it's a nice treat, if impractical. 

Update: Although clearly married life has tremendous challenges when something goes terribly wrong--even when it is nobody's fault--it still feels better than being Single-and-unvowed-with-no-one-but-oneself-to-care-for because the point of Christian life is service, and when your spouse is chronically ill, it is almost impossible not to serve. Service is built right-in. 

Meanwhile, being too busy also feels better than not being busy enough. One thing that has fallen by the wayside since B.A.'s diagnosis is my anti-depressant pill. For whatever reason, my brain seems to be churning out serotonin like a luxury chemistry set. Although I occasionally feel lonely, I sleep like a baby. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

One Thing You Could Do

Hello, readers!

Thank you for your kind comments and the anonymous card that got to me today! It says "This too will pass"--you know who you are, even if I don't! :-D

Blogging will still be light for a while because I am essentially working two full time jobs--journalist and caregiver--and I have no idea how working mothers do it, to tell you the truth, especially if they work from home.

You can follow my writing (or reportage, not really the same thing) at LifeSiteNews for the time being. But also there is something very dear to my heart. We don't really need money, but back home in Ontario there's a Catholic father of eight (EIGHT!) who was hurt badly on the Feast of the Assumption and will be out of work for some time, probably all winter.

So if you would like to do something for Benedict Ambrose and me, for whatever reason, it would be really awesome if you would give to the fund for Joe Baklinski. If you do it, just leave an anonymous (if you like) "Done" in the combox, and then I will report it to B.A., who will be cheered and edified. I will say "Because people are sorry you are sick, they gave to a fund for a sick dad of 8."

As much as we mourn not having kids, at least we don't have to worry about feeding any kids--or providing them with a merry Christmas.

Thank you very much for your prayers and kind thoughts, and now I'm back to translating this interview by Przewodnik Katolicki with Cardinal Paglia.

Incidentally, it's true what that Google Memo guy said: 93% of workplace fatalities in the USA (and probably also Canada) happen to men. I looked it up after hearing about Joe Baklinski.

Monday, 14 August 2017

"What Can We Do?"

Yesterday kind people in my Latin Mass community asked what they could do. Someone asked if he or she could bring food, and I said we had food worked out. Really, the only kindness I have been able to think of is people with cars coming to take away bags of reusables to charity shops and boxes of rubbish to the local tip. Seeing our flat empty of useless stuff is one of my principal joys. I have very little time to clean, so the less there is to trip over, the better.

However, this morning I woke up deeply depressed after nightmares, and I have thought of something else. 

Greeting cards. 

Greeting cards are great because the feeling of being alone is really crushing right now. This is the dark side of moving across the ocean to start a "new life" (at the decidedly ripe old age of 38) in romantic Scotland: isolation. I have no family here, and B.A.'s family is... Well, it's complicated, but hasn't really been a problem until now.

(By the way, I think the day is coming--if it has not already come--when the British are astonished to discover that once upon a time people relied on their families and provided for their families, and it was assumed that family members both recognised and cared for each other materially--if need be--and emotionally instead of merely wishing each other well on their individual journeys towards self-fulfilment among "partners" and drinking buddies. At its very best, that's what the death of the British family looks like.)

Occasionally B.A. gets a greeting card from someone he knows through work, and I read it to him, and I feel that's really quite nice. But I don't know the person, so I don't get the lift that recognising a familiar name brings. 

Yesterday I got a wonderful email from Polish Pretend Daughter. She was in a lather of indignation at all B.A.'s doctors and wanted a list of all his drugs so she (bio-chemist) could check them out. She longs to cross-examine these doctors but feared they wouldn't talk to her because she wasn't family. 

I am so grateful she cares so much---and amused that she thinks British doctors, as a group, are that willing to talk to family.

Last week I got a letter from Polish Pretend Son (no relation to the above), in which he told me he was praying for B.A. every day. That meant so much, too. 

Then there was the email from our sister-in-law, informing us of a cash gift waiting to go into one of our bank accounts. Simply lovely---and repaired the financial damage of all the taxi rides to hospitals. 

The phone is mostly quiet, and I'm glad about that because from Monday to Friday, I am simply overwhelmed by work. But the brilliance of greeting cards from family and friends is that I can open them and read them when I am actually at leisure. 

Greeting cards--and letters--are also marvellous because they ask for nothing, e.g. a response. They are pure gift and a way of saying "Hey, you're not alone. We aren't avoiding you because we think your bad luck might be contagious." 

Now I know what to do when someone I know is long-term sick: send stuff: greeting cards, letters, flowers, whatever.  This will give the receivers (at least the one well enough) a little lift and help them not feel abandoned and alone.

(That said, when I had to be away for work, and therefore wasn't here to cook, it was absolutely fantastic that friends brought food.)

As for other things--like taking B.A. out for an hour--it's complicated because B.A. is in such rough shape that there are few people he actually wants to see: he's embarrassed by the way he looks, and he's in pain so often, he can't make the cheerful conversation he thinks guests deserve. (And grateful thanks here to Polish Pretend Daughter's husband, who is someone B.A. enjoy seeing, for his visits.)

I could hire a private nurse for an hour a day or a week, but B.A. is dead set against that. And actually the hour I take B.A. for slow walks around the front lawn--B.A. complaining bitterly half the time and very ill-bred members of the public staring at us--is incredibly important to me. 

"Thank you for doing this," says B.A. between groans and complaints.

"It's my job," I say, and it is. It really is. Nobody is allowed to take that part away from me. Same goes for the baths, and helping someone chemically stripped of body fat to take a bath is no picnic.

So I am very much the picture of "the dog in the manger" who won't let anyone (or almost anyone) help with B.A. himself while complaining inwardly about lack of help.

But it's not help I need. It's tangible greetings from friends and family I can touch and read and take to B.A.  Children's drawings would be nice, too. I once got a thank-you note from a courtesy nephew--it featured a drawing of a bush baby--and I still have it. It's so cute--rather like the artist!

So to friends wondering what they can do: that's what you can do. Thank you! 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Jestem Znowu Słynna w Polsce

Well. not as famous as Mary Wagner, obviously. But clearly someone in Poland reads LSN.

One nice commentator wants me to get honorary Polish citizenship. That might come in handy. Another commentator says that Poland's cultural strength is due not to Catholicism but to ancient Slavic customs that not even Catholicism could destroy. Yet another says that ...

Well, let's just say there seems to be a great diversity of opinion underneath the Polish report about my report about Poland. It reminds me of the Patriots' rally on Polish Independence Day (November 11), which ranged from ordinary patriotic families to a small number hardcore neo-pagan "white power" fanatics.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Poland and the Culture of Life

It's Friday night, and I am officially done for the week, although I didn't get much done yesterday after B.A.'s hospital visit, so I think I'll be working on a story or two tomorrow.

Here is one of two long pieces I worked on today. This is the Polish-comes-in-handy piece. The second piece (Update: now up) is the Italian-comes-in-handy piece. Toddle over to LSN and keep an eye out for it.

I read something very interesting the other day--an interview with Saint John Paul 2's great friend Cardinal Dziwisz. Cardinal Dziwisz observed that Poles send lots of money to charities helping refugees abroad (i.e. not in Poland), which is not something the Western press has thought fit to mention. Dziwisz was not in favour of Open Borders, which shows that he is sane. As we know, Poland's borders have been pretty vulnerable over the past 250 years.

The reason I didn't get much done after B.A.'s hospital visit is that we were both wiped out from the efforts of getting to the hospital and back again, especially as B.A. can't walk very much or see very well. At the hospital we were told that he wasn't going to lose the sight in his left eye after all. We didn't know his eye had been quite that bad, but apparently five weeks ago the back if it was a terrible mess of inflammation, haemorrhage and general nastiness.

Anyway, I think I was felled by the shock of the opthamologist's after-the-fact plain speaking. When we got home I whipped up a comforting pot of "stovies" (a kind of Scottish stew) made according to B.A.'s mother's recipe and cooked real custard and baked a real cake for a real strawberry trifle I assembled this morning for B.A.s' breakfast.

Marriage can be really hard. Have I mentioned? Marriage can be really hard because life can be really hard. Still, I am hoping we both come out of this brain-tumour misfortune better people.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Warsaw Uprising

August 1st marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August 1944 - 2 October 1944). This was the city-wide one, not the earlier, smaller Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19 April 1943 - 16 May 1943), of which you may have already heard.

So, yes, there were two Uprisings, and the second would have worked had the Soviets taken advantage of the situation and come on in. However, they sat outside Warsaw and cooly waited for the Germans to kill all the leaders and raze the place. You can read all about that here. As usual, the Polish experience of the Second World War was even worse than I thought before I learned a little more.  In related news, my new Polish textbook informs me that "feeder of lice" is "karmiciel wszy" in Polish.

When I was in Warsaw last November, I stayed in a priests' residence very near the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (lit: Museum of the Warsaw Uprising)  and so not only did I visit it, it became one of my landmarks. For once jagged contemporary bunker-like architecture was totally appropriate.

Inside, however, it was incredibly noisy and jarring, in part because my arrival coincided with that of young teenagers on a school trip. I seem to remember panels in English, but as usual I tried to read the Polish first, and felt badly when I couldn't understand them--which was foolish as "The Boy Scouts risked execution by carrying messages through the sewer tunnels" is not everyday conversation. Naturally, everything I read was terribly sad, and I felt like I was intruding on a private sorrow.

There was a cinema section with films; that was a relief as I could sit invisibly in the dark. The films were surviving footage of the Uprising, created to hearten the Varsavians themselves. And there was a small exhibit in honour of a Home Army poet Kristina Krahelska codenamed "Danuta": her "Hey, Boys, fix bayonets" song had been my Polish study club's anthem for a few weeks, so she was a familiar sight in the noisy mechanical wilderness of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Don't get me wrong: the Museum is fantastic and an absolute must-see, but possibly not a mentally healthy excursion for the solitary traveller. Go with a guide or a Polish friend and be prepared to say "Gracious, how sad!" or "Goodness, how brave!" every five minutes. No Pole would resent a foreigner being there because one of their national missions is informing foreigners just how awful the Second World War was for all the Poles, not just the Jews.

Here's a little video put out by the Museum to make everyone cry:

The one with the nurse makes me cry, too.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Roger Scruton on the Tyranny of Pop Music

I am sure I should understand this a lot better than I do. Some people can listen to music the way most people can read books. B.A. can. My brothers can. I can't. Alas!