Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Chartres Pilgrimage in CWR

Just in time for Traddy Tuesday, my account of the Chartres Pilgrimage is up at Catholic World Report.

I left out the part where the Irish brought a flag commemorating the centenary of the Irish Easter Rising. It was the only overtly political symbol I saw there. The Scots marched beside a banner of the Queen of Peace.

Traditional Marrage

I like shoes. I suspect that for women shoes are a symbol of financial prosperity or at very least stability. There were times in my student life when I simply did not go adequately shod. I am still grateful for the small pair of police boots my friend Trish scared up for me when I was an undergrad.

Now that the bony deformity has asserted its presence in my foot, buying shoes has new, unforeseen difficulties. The principal one is finding comfortable shoes that don't look like "comfortable shoes." When I was in a charity shop the other day, I picked up a pair of England-made navy blue loafers. Although they were not overly feminine, they weren't exactly gender neutral either.  I thought I had a problem solved, and all for £5,

But on the way home from a dinner party--as soon as we left, as a matter of fact--the sole began to flap off my right shoe. At first it was just the toe section, but then the sole peeled away right down to the heel, leaving me taking huge flapping steps like a clown. As I was wearing nylons, just walking along the pavement--and through the woods--without my shoe was not a comfortable prospect.

Fortunately, B.A. was  with me, and he nicked a strand of ornamental grass from a front garden and made a thong for my shoe. This was tricky, slippery work--especially at midnight after a boozy supper---and the sharp grass cut his finger. Polish Pretend Son looked down pityingly at B.A. kneeling on the pavement trying to lasso together my shoe and said, "Today I was thinking, 'Should I get married? And now...."

"Hey," I protested. "This is a beautiful argument in favour of marriage. My gift of love was not to spend more than five quid on a pair of shoes, and B.A.'s gift of love is to mend them with grass when they fall apart."

The grass thong survived to the other side of the street, after which B.A. and PPS found a plastic tie affixed around a lamp-post, cut it off, and made it into a more durable lasso. This one worked much better, and did not come off until I had climbed a flight of the Historical Stairs.

I think it was rather like a story out of the oeuvre of the American author O.Henry (of 'she sells her hair, he pawns his watch' fame). All the same, I may  make myself buy some proper new dress shoes, somehow both feminine and comfortable at the same time. The sad thing about women's clothes and shoes is that quality--real quality, quality like in men's good clothes and shoes-- costs a small fortune.

Baking note: I entertained a lot this week, so I baked a lot this week, and I highly endorse the healthy recipes of Hemsley + Hemsley. Their peanut butter cookies, the ginger cookies, the apple crumble with ginger cream and, to throw in an actual meal,  "Pablo's Chicken" are all excellent. The very small amounts of sugar--i.e. maple syrup, date syrup or honey--may come as a disappointment at first, but I discovered I quickly grew used to the new taste. Everything is flour-free, which means both an increase in nutrition, but also in calories and in price. I may have to start buying ground almonds in bulk.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Light Switch

It's Polski Piątek a day late. Domestic duties took precedence. Fortunately Polish Pretend Son is here, so I got to practice speaking and listening to Polish. My lazy brain--apparently brains don't like to store new information we don't immediately need (which is why total immersion works best)--has been forced into Polish mode.

While tidying up, I found a postcard from Scotland's "National Poetry Day", and I felt a thrill of remembered pride. The poem is called "Pstryk", it is by Julian Tuwim (1894-1953), and when I first saw it in the Poetry Library, I felt sure it was too hard for me.

However, I was waiting for Benedict Ambrose and had time, so I sat down to puzzle it out. By slowly singling out the words I did understand, I began to understand what the other words meant. Thinking of words I knew that somehow resembled the words---for example, widno looked similar to widok (view)--also helped. So did the illustration!

Here is the poem, with my by no means definitive translation. As you will see, it was a very apt poem for the whole experience. The Polish mostly rhymes by the way. At the ends of words, Polish G is pronounced K, and Polish Z is pronounced S.

PSTRYK (Julian Tuwim)

The Light Switch

Sterczy w ścianie taki pstryczek
Mały pstryczek-elektryczek,
Jak tym pstryczkiem zrobić pstryk,
To się widno robi w mig.

Protruding from the wall a flick* 
A little  flick electric
What the flick with this flick does,
is to make light in a moment.

Bardzo łatwo:
Pstryk--i światło!
Pstryknąć potem jeszcze raz,
Zaraz mrok otoczy nas.
A jak pstryknąć trzeci raz
Znowu dawny świeci blask.

Very easy:
Flick--- and light!
Flick then another time,
At once darkness surrounds us. 
And flick a third time
Again the old light glows.

Takę siłę ma tajemną
Ten ukryty w ścianie smyk!
Ciemno -- widno --
Widno -- ciemno.

Such secret power has
this hidden fellow in the wall!
Darkness -- light --
Light -- darkness.

*Literally, a light switch, but  I don't think our verb "switch"really captures the clicking sound of pstryk.

I got most of that while sitting in a chair in the Poetry Library, no dictionary on hand, and I was delighted.  Then, after all that, I looked at the back of the postcard and found the poem translated--into Scots!

Here's the whole poem in Polish and in Scots as printed on the Scottish Poetry Library website.

Friday, 27 May 2016

"Nothing Good Happens Past 10 o'clock"

And other pearls of wisdom in "21 Lost Lady Traditions That Still Apply Today". A Facebook friend linked to it, and I was so entranced by the Duchess of Cambridge's amazing up-do that I had to click.

Actually, a lot good can happen after ten o'clock. Pillow! Blankie! Zzzzz!

Best Moment of the Day

'A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.'
Maybe it's my diet talking, but the best moment of the day comes when I eat my first spoonful of porridge. Ahhh! Carbohydrates! Ahhh! 3/4 of a cup of water-cooked oatmeal with 1/2 cup of blueberries and a big dollop of Greek yogurt.

After that it's all half avocado here and small tomato there, and how much supper can I eat, and I'm starving: time for another "small handful" of raw, unsalted nuts.

Apparently low-carbohydrate diet are not good for those with "active lifestyles" or are into endurance sports, which is indeed why I should not have started mine just before the Chartres Pilgrimage. As a scribbler, I most definitely do not have an active lifestyle, except very periodically when I do a massive in-depth Historical Flat clean or cook for a dinner party, or do both on the same day, plus grocery shopping. Yesterday was one such day.

Up at six. Tidy a bit. Off to Tesco. Back from Tesco. Bake gingerbread cake (without white sugar, very exciting). In-depth tidy of this room. Adequate tidy of that room. Scrubbing of the bathroom, including the tub. Desperate dusting of tricky place under the skylight. .Sweeping of ancient stone stairs. Cooking of traditional Polish  koperkowa soup, only with veggie broth instead of veal.

"I have never seen this so-called Polish soup," said Polish Pretend Son, who nevertheless had seconds.

By ten-thirty in the evening I was starting to flag. At about 11:45 PM, having slipped out of the masculine gathering to wash the dishes, I broke one of  the sacred cream jugs. B.A. rushed to my aid, and determined that the cream jug was the one I broke before, and all that had happened was the invisible mend had come unstuck. This was very good news, but all the same I thought I had better go to bed.

This morning I awoke at 7:12 AM, feeling excited that despite hosting a dinner party for six the night before, I would walk into a clean kitchen. And there would be oatmeal with blueberries and yogurt!

Cookie update: I have relaxed my anti-sugar scruples enough to use a little maple syrup, but I must say that as retrained as my palate is, I can't taste it in this recipe. I think next time I'll try an extra Tbsp. Of course, extra retraining may be needed, as I have preconceived notions of what peanut butter cookies are supposed to taste like.

By the way, the gingerbread recipe in Sugared Orange is the bomb. I used 80% cocoa chocolate and kept the honey but substituted xylitol for the caster sugar, It is pure spicy, plumy, gingery goodness.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Housework & Shopping

Today has not been so exciting. It has included packing up some clothes and unpacking other clothes. I took the bus to the town to drink coffee, as we were out, and to buy more coffee. (While in the café, I read further in my current Polish storybook,which was a nice workout for my brain.) I returned two library books. I bought a pair of sage-coloured sneakers in a charity shop (£4). I did some exotic marketing in Bona Deli (a polski sklep). After a lunch break (avocado & tomato), I went to Tesco with a very large backpack and bought £50 worth of groceries. Then I walked home with four bottles of wine, 2 Kg of potatoes, etc., etc., on my back.

This activity reminded me of a scene in a Canadian history book, depicting the arrival of the Filles du Roi, that is, a lot of French Single ladies who went to New France because the French settlers needed wives. The hero of the vignette passed over some Parisian beauty for a healthy and solid-looking country lass because he wanted the kind of wife who could walk a mile from Tesco with a big sack of groceries.

Okay, that's not exactly what he said, but that's what he meant. And whenever I am feeling a bit like a pack animal, to say nothing of distinctly odd for never having learned to drive, I am always cheered up by the memory of Pierre or Gaston or whatever his name was choosing a wife on how strong she looked.

Now to make gingerbread, do more dusting and hoovering and wash dishes. Oh, the joy.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Boo to 1963

Stylish Toronto women playing hockey in 1910.
I have a well-worked out theory that 1963 is to blame for our decadent age, or that society took a serious downturn that year. In this I am rather later in my calculations than people who blame the First World War for the decline and fall of Christendom.

At any rate, I have found fuel for my theory in this interesting website. 1963 burst into fashion and other aspects of culture like a bomb.

In madder moments,  I swear that I will never wear any fashion designed later than 1962. However, this is simply unworkable, especially as I am so dependent on my indestructible denim maxi-skirt of feminine traddery. And then there are all those other long skirts, which are surely relics of or inspired by the 1970s.

Oh, heavens. No, they're from the late 1960s! Eeek!

What I really want is for the 1910 look to come back, only without corsets.

Abstemious Living 2: Traddy Tuesday Edition

This morning I got up at 6 AM, for I knew B.A. would be trying to get up at 6:30 AM, and I wanted to shower first. Then I got dressed, had breakfast and drank a lovely cup of coffee while B.A. rushed around as if he really were going to catch the 7:13 train.  We took the next train together, and then he went to judge a student contest and I walked up Arthur's Seat. 

It was very windy and, despite the optimistic weather forecast, very cloudy and therefore a bit cold. Happily I once again took the advice in Survival and wore a cotton T-shirt under my long-sleeved shirt and fleece jacket. I didn't take any of the rough and fancy routes around the Salisbury Craigs that B.A. likes. Instead I just took the most obvious path ad followed it to Arthur's Seat and climbed on up. Since the hymns of the Chartres Pilgrimage started working in my head, I said the rosary on the way up. I popped in at the ruin of St. Anthony's chapel and sang the Regina Caeli. 

Amid all the preparations for the Chartres Pilgrimage, I read about the life of Saint Catherine of Siena and the first part of her Dialogues because I promised my Chapter Leader that I would give a meditation. I made a lot of notes on her life, but I didn't read from Dialogues until I was on the actual plane to Paris. And that's when I realized it would be better just to let Saint Catherine speak for herself.

The part of Dialogues that I read to the Scottish Chapter--rather breathlessly and with great screeches from the megaphone, alas--was about knowledge of self, love for God and sorrow for sin. I was impressed that she began with knowledge of self, as it reminded me very much of the philosophy and theology of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, who was very interested in how we come to know things, particularly our own thought processes. Also, as long as I have been blogging, I have been interested in the concept of being rooted in reality instead of in wishful thinking, where I spent too much of my youth. 

Saint Catherine examined herself and realized that she was a sinner, which disturbed her very much, for she believed her sins were an offense against God. Indeed, her sins seemed so dark to her, that she felt that she was somehow personally to blame for all the evil in the world, and she prayed that God would punish her for her sins. In her subsequent vision, God told her that there would be no point to this, for not finite punishment could make up for offending against the Infinite. However, what did please Him was Catherine's infinite love for Him and Catherine's infinite sorrow for her sins. 

Later in the Dialogues, Catherine reflects that sins against God were sins against neighbour, either as sins of commission (e.g. stealing from the poor) or sins of omission (e.g. allowing the poor to go hungry), and I reflected this morning that this is what Christianity is about, really:

1. Love for God.
2. Sorrow for One's Sins.
3. Care for One's Neighbour.

You don't have all three, you don't have Christianity. 

Love for God is easier when you reflect on all the good things and people you have in your life a lot more than you reflect on what and who you don't have. As a married woman, I have a lot more to be grateful for than I did when I was Single, but on the other hand, it was when I was Single that I learned to be truly grateful for my friends and family and to try to accept them as gifts enough. Of course, I have been very blessed and therefore am a spiritual wimp next to Job, who loved God even when he had nothing but boils and a nagging wife. 

Love for God is also easier when you are in the countryside or wilderness away from urban distractions and dangers. I wonder if the rise of atheism isn't directly tied to the rise of the cities. Is there something spiritually wrong with being more than a stone's throw from a field or a shore? At one of the worst times in my life, I went down to the shore of Lake Ontario, and asked Lake Ontario, as a fellow creature, to help me out. Hey, if the priest can talk to a bowl of water during Easter Vigil, I  can certainly talk to Lake Ontario. (It has not occurred to me to talk to the Firth of Forth, but then I'm from Toronto.)

Love for God is probably tied in some way to love for God's creation, so when you are in a landscape shaped by God, not by man, then perhaps it reflects Him more directly.

Sorrow for One's Sins hurts a lot and is that part of Christianity that everyone seems to want to skip nowadays. I took some ex-Catholic boyfriend or other to Mass once, and he complained that there was too much about sin. I was confused, for other than the "I Confess..." there hadn't been much about sin. One might conclude  that ANY reference to sin was too much for him. He told me later than he didn't believe in sin, which was quite a remark from someone whose grandfather was shot by an occupying army. 

Love for God naturally leads to Sorrow for One's Sins in the same way that love for your parents leads to grief for whatever heartaches you put your parents through. The better your parents, the worse it is that you were rotten to them or simply thoughtless, and God is infinitely better than even the best parents, oh--and as the Son also died for you on the Cross. Can you imagine your own dear dad giving himself up to be crucified to save you, even though you did that terrible thing that gave him grey hairs? Horrors. (This may actually be a lived reality for someone in Syria or Iraq.)  

When in the grip of Sorrow for One's Sins, penance may come as a relief. The above-mentioned ex-Catholic ex-boyfriend once confessed a mortal sin, and the priest gave him only three Hail Marys. The lightness of the penance so shocked the young man, it was a watershed moment in the loss of his Catholic faith. No, I 'm not blaming the priest for that; I wasn't there, and I don't know if he tried to move his penitent to real contrition. But I am thinking about the fact that the Chartres Pilgrimage was a penitential pilgrimage, which meant that it was supposed to hurt. I' m also reminded of how in The Mission, Rodrigo Mendoza (played by Robert de Niro) undergoes a frightfully heavy penance, and he hangs on to it until the survivors of some whom he has harmed free him from it. 

When thinking about Sorrow for One's Sins, too much luxury feels like nausea. Too Much. Too much food, too much drink, too much sleep, too much fun, too much leisure. And this brings us to the final consideration, which is Care for One's Neighbour.

Care for One's Neighbour can be really difficult and frightening because there are just so many neighbours nowadays. It's not like we live in a small village with a countable number of very poor who need help in being fed, housed, educated and moved to contrition for their error and sin. There isn't just one village atheist to be enlightened. Yesterday I couldn't decide whether it was a failure of charity to abstain from telling an Anglican woman who left a patronizing comment at the Catholic Herald that she is neither a deacon nor a priest (as she claims, not only because she is a woman, but because she is an Anglican and Anglican orders are  absolutely null and  utterly void. (I'm still worried about it.; what if no-one ever tells her?) 

Care for One's Neighbour is also difficult because whereas everyone agrees (in principal) that this includes giving food, drink, clothing and--perhaps--some form of social interaction (e.g. visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned)--to others, the spiritual works of mercy are left by the wayside.  The only Roman Catholic I know personally who regularly warns strangers that they are  in danger of hell--because she really cares, because she really does love her neighbour that much--is Ann Barnhardt, who has been condemned by the SPLC as a professional hater.  (No, I will not link to those so-and-sos. If Ann--one of the most generous people I've ever met--is ever killed, her blood will be on their heads.)

Advice on this tricky issue is best found from the saints, not from me. However, I am inclined to think that what is needed is attention to the people with whom one personally comes into contact as well as to some faraway, over-there group of people. Personally, I have always preferred  chaste (or trying to be chaste) Singles who read the internet as my "faraway, over-there" group, although I think any western Christian would have to have a heart of stone not to answer the cry of Middle Eastern Christians somehow.  

That reminds me: if you are feeling particularly enriched by my writings lately, would you hit the button in the margin and give a shekel or two to our brothers and sisters from Iraq? And would you pray for the conversion of  the world to Christ? Thanks very much. One of the Chartres Pilgrimage  meditations seemed to ask us to consider what we are doing right now for Christendom, and it seems to me that what I mostly do is blog. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Abstemious Living

I googled "abstemious living" yesterday and found very, very little. This is a shame. It would make a great title for a magazine. The magazine could feature such articles as "Arise at Five: a How-To" and "Only at Christmas: My 364 days Without Wine."

Yesterday I felt the need for a red cardigan and suddenly remembered my old red teaching suit jacket.  I bought the suit--and pricey it was--about twelve years ago, and it was my night school teaching uniform. It hasn't fit since I took refuge from my PhD program in a tub of Ben & Jerry's, but I thought I would try on the jacket.  To my satisfaction, it buttoned up.

It fit less well at the end of the day for we went to a 2:30 PM lunch party that ended (for us) at 8:30 PM. Heady stuff for a woman whose typical meal lately is half an avocado and an egg. It was a proper British Sunday Lunch with roast beef, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, Yorkshire puddings, carrots, peas, lemon pudding, bottles of wine and coffee. Guests were offered cold sliced meats and cheese straws while the roast roasted. Everything was delicious, but before pudding I felt extremely agitated: surely it was time to climb a mountain or two, or walk to North Berwick and back.

This goes to show how four weeks on the Eight Week Diet can change your attitude towards food. No longer is it a favourite recreation but a medicine to be taken in the proper doses. Of course, it can be hard to take  in the proper doses when it is the star of the afternoon.  However, I am consoling myself that one Sunday dinner hasn't destroyed all my careful work and sacrifice of the past four weeks. Meanwhile, feeling over-full has reminded me of how fantastic it feels not to be full.

Quite apart from the penny-pinching joy of being able to fit into old clothes, I have been feeling really well. Part of this is, of course, going for long walks in the fresh air in or near Edinburgh, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And part of it is getting up at 6 or 7, which has meant falling asleep very soon after I go to bed at 10 or 11. However, I suspect most of it is eating so carefully: good old porridge, beloved homemade fruit-and-nut bars, avocados, eggs, spinach, salmon, broccoli, yogurt, nuts. Developing a label-reading habit has brought some unexpected discoveries: the Co-op "scotch egg" is really not all that bad a snack, especially if you are on the last leg of  what has turned out to be a 19 mile walk.

My social circle is full of people who have food allergies and phobias and, when planning dinner parties, I have to tailor menus to the most delicate. When your guests include one with celiac disease, one with a mushroom allergy, one sensitive to onions, one disgusted by eggs and a vegetarian, it gets complicated. Therefore, I have decided not to complicate matters further by announcing to hosts and hostesses that I "cannot eat" white bread, potatoes and refined sugar. It strikes me as a better idea just to eat a few potatoes (if I really cannot resist) and a small helping of the pudding. Everything in moderation, I suppose--but not including moderation.

Meanwhile I am delighted by the energy and joy of getting up early, going for long walks in the fresh air, eating simply and cutting out the carbs, especially sugar and white flour.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Haymarket M & S as a Metaphor for the World

Simply food if you can see past the sugar
On Wednesday morning, I was still on a spiritual high from the Chartres Pilgrimage. My feet still ached, but I bounced out of bed, almost fell down, straightened up, and was at my local railway station in time for the 7:13 AM train and the 8 AM TLM.

Afterwards I retraced my steps to Haymarket station and popped into the  railway Marks and Spenser outlet so that I wouldn't have to go out again on my aching feet to buy groceries. I am, as regular readers know, on the Blood Sugar Diet, which means shopping carefully.

A railway M & S is small and naturally does not have the variety of foods of a big M & S food hall--which itself does not have the variety of a Tesco, Waitrose or Sainsbury's, come to think of it. It is a fast food joint of a supermarket, more of an upmarket convenience store. And although there are many more natural ingredients to be found than in your standard convenience store, and even healthy, calorie-controlled, 'superfood' salads for sale, it caters to the modern snacking habit. Suddenly I was struck by how many items for sale in Marks and Spenser are either composed of, or include, vast amounts of sugar--and if sugar isn't necessarily a poison, it certainly can be.

Row upon row, rack upon rack of delightfully packaged poison---so much poison and so ubiquitous that the shopper has to search carefully and read all labels so as to find a food that doesn't contain it. And suddenly I saw that the M & S was a microcosm of the world and all it has to offer--so much beautifully wrapped poison, so much work to screen it out and find the good stuff.


Once upon a time, there would not have been so much sugar on offer, or so visible, or so readily eaten. For one thing, before the 1980s, the British did not snack:  there was a strong cultural protocol around eating, which changed slightly from class to class, but always included a horror of spoiling your appetite for the next regularly scheduled  meal. There probably were no M & S's in railway stations, either.

High-fructose corn syrup became available only in the 1970s, and in the UK cane sugar was expensive and even, at times, unavailable. Thus, before the 1980s sugar-as-food was a rarity and a treat, generally confined to puddings, jams, and a lump in your tea, and it wasn't snuck into every prepared food, should you be eating prepared food. But today, of course, cake, chocolate and candy are staples of the British diet.

I don't care much for Emma Thompson's politics, but I was struck by her unpatriotic opinion that "Britain is a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island."  What made this clichéd self-hating British whine new was the mention of cake. Personally, I think Britain is delightful. It is not more misery-laden than, certainly, Toronto, and it isn't grey, it is green and gold and pink and blue and beautiful, and if it is as old as Arthur's Seat, it is also as young as the wee lambs gambolling on the hills. However, it certainly is cake-filled.

Does Britain appear so misery-laden and grey to Emma T because of the too-frequent cake? Yes, it rains a lot, but it is thanks to the rain that Britain is green, not grey. Too much greyness, of course, like too much sugar--and a culture of sin--leads to depression. I wonder if E.T. would have made such a gloomy denunciation of her homeland after a long weekend of hiking through the British countryside, far away from media, modernity and cake.

My feelings after a long tramp through a relatively small part of France--which included the sight of excited and curious little baby goats--is that the world, especially the European part of it, is an absolutely beautiful place, once you get away from the harmful things and the uglier aspects of modernity. (I'll say this for modernity: clean little hotel bathrooms with hot water, big towels and packets of soap.) There is so much nourishment to be found in European landscapes and cultures, as long as one stays away from the deceptively packaged sugar.

The Great Gifts of Our Otherwise Wicked Age to Human Happiness and Flourishing

1. Superior women's undergarments--so much better than before Vatican 2, not that Vatican 2 had anything to do with this, of course.

2. Clean indoor bathrooms with toilets, hot water, white towels, soap.

3. Relatively inexpensive hotel rooms with beds featuring clean white sheets, comfortable mattresses, locks on the door and no bugs.

4. Establishment of English as contemporary secular lingua franca. Controversial, but convenient for anglophones and an easier language to use than French, especially as anglophones don't mind what foreigners do to our native tongue. Mangle away, we don't care. (Naturally some of the most uplifting moments of the Chartres Pilgrimage was when 10,000 voices lifted together in our shared Christian Latin.)

Please add your own personal favourites to the list.

Friday, 20 May 2016

That Old Woman Deacon Trick

You know, the Anglicans used it and we saw where that led, so faithful Catholics aren't going to fall for it.  

Responsum ad Dubium

October 28, 1995

Concerning the Teaching Contained in
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: In the affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger
+ Tarcisio Bertone
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli

*  *   *  *  *  *  *  *
Quit with the goddess worship, people.

Native Talent vs Hard Work

Native Talent AND Hard Work
It is Polski Piątek, so let us complain about the unfairness of it all.

Why is it that some people are able to learn dozens of foreign languages while others try and fail to learn even one?

This is a very personal question for your scribe, as my whole family has a crack at languages now and again, some members succeeding more than others. When it comes to spoken languages, my sister-in-law wins the cake as she is completely fluent in French, English and her native Romance tongue. However, my sister Tertia is a French teacher who is also conversant in Spanish. My brother Nulli has been functional in French for his entire adult life. My mother reads massive German volumes while knitting. Benedict Ambrose has learned only a bit of high school Spanish (and Ecclesial Latin, of course), but he has the wonderful and annoying gift of mimicry, so his French, Italian and Polish accents are all better than mine, even though he usually doesn't have a clue what he is saying when he repeats--perfectly--what I am trying to say.  Like my brother Nulli, he has awesome listening powers.

My dad, who in his time has had to study a bunch of languages for academic purposes, e.g. Old Norse, is probably fluent in Anglo-Saxon, but he has spent his adult life pegging away, off and on, at his ancestral German. My Dad is my inspiration, for  he does not have an unusually gifted ear, like B.A. and Nulli, and he is not a German language whiz, like my mother. He is, like me, a Worker.

My mother might object that she is a Worker, too, but I would argue that she has a native facility for languages, and she can no longer expect a pat on the head for all the work she did in high school. I concede that she worked very hard in high school, but that was some years ago now, and I have never heard of anyone else taking up knitting in college so as having something to do with her hands while reading through the lengthy tomes of French and German classical literature.

I don't believe my mother has spent more than two consecutive weeks in a German-speaking country since 1965 and yet she can just whiz through German books, with occasional complaints about Bavarian dialect words. She had thoroughly wedged German in her brain by 1965, and not all that much of it seems to have fallen out.

I cannot say the same for me and French, which I was fed in school from the ages of 6 to 19, or for me and Italian, which I first studied between the ages of 15 and 18. The German I stuffed into my brain in 2006 has mostly disappeared, save for "kuehlshrank" (fridge), "fernseherraum" (TV room), a number of soccer terms and the all-important "Enschuldigung" (Pardon me, sorry).

Naturally I would like to know who or what is to blame, and I have come to the conclusion that the earliest culprit was childhood despair regarding the superiority of native talent. In short, I thought you either had it or you didn't, and there wasn't much point working if I didn't because I could only fail. (I'm looking at you, piano.) I suppose this was being rather like the chap with the one talent, who buried it in the ground. I have often felt that other people have been given the five talents, and I only have the one, but it now occurs to me that the chap with the one talent could have made even more talents than the one with five, had he been clever about his investments. To bad this did not occur to me thirty-five years ago.

Although I thought the author of Mezzofanti's Gift sounded like a right Charlie as he sat in an Italian library, not knowing any Italian, trying to find out if and why Cardinal Mezzofanti really knew so many languages, I found his book enthralling. Like him, I want to know the secrets of people who learn many languages. However, I got cross and almost gave up the book when he started looking at chopped up bits of German hyperpolyglot brain. If a few people are born with brains that can do languages and most others aren't, then that brings me right back to my childhood despair.  However, I kept reading, and it became clear that you can't tell from a hyperpolyglot's brain what it looked like BEFORE the hyperpolyglot learned all those languages. Learning anything, especially something as complicated as a language, creates new pathways in your brain. Scientists might scoff, but I could swear I could feel this happening when I dragged my eyes through Bernard Lonergans's Insight.

The book had a few useful tips right at the very end: chewing gum while studying, drinking coffee while or before studying, and using flashcards. The Mezzofanti's Gift author's big discovery about Mezzofanti is that he made stacks of paper flashcards. Even though Mezzofanti seems to have been the most supremely gifted hyperpolyglot ever recorded, he pushed his native talent beyond the limits of human achievement through a lot of  hard work.

In Polish class last night, the professor followed up on my request for listening training and played us monologues while we raced to fill  in the blanks in the transcript before us. It was really fun and really hard. The people best at this were a retired female half-Pole and a 30-something Frenchman. The person worst at this was a retired male Briton with a Polish wife. The rest of us fell somewhere in the middle, with the women doing better, I believe, than both male Britons, and I doing a bit worse than the women with Polish boyfriends/husbands.

Although I am not qualified to say, my guess is that the female half-Pole was so good at the test because she was in Poland last week, and so had been very recently speaking (and listening to) Polish in a Polish environment. (After a weekend in Kielce last October, my Polish listening skills were brilliant, if temporary.) As for the Frenchman, he has to operate in the foreign-to-him anglophone environment of Edinburgh day in and day out, so his listening skills get a workout every day.

Sugar Update: Speaking of brains, I think I have cracked the mystery of the fog that seemed to live in my brain from the ages of 12 to 26. Although clearly it had something to do with depression, now I don't think it was genetics, exactly. I think it was sugar. Almost no-one knew about the dangers of sugar back then, but we know now, so you may want to consider reading up if you are a parent.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Joy of the Pilgrimage

When I woke up at 5:15 AM (French time) in my pricey Paris hotel room, I could not have imagined I'd be writing the words "The Joy of the Pilgrimage." Never mind the physical hardships: quite a lot of the pilgrimage involved an interior battle against silently complaining, against worry, against annoyance at innocent fellow pilgrims. However, there were moments of joy I felt at the time, and there was an overarching joy I can appreciate only in retrospect. It was the joy of being completely out of the modern world of computers, newspapers and TV.

For three days, our lives were entirely concerned with the physical environment, each other and prayer. Apparently Michael Matt of the Remnant--to whom I introduced myself during Saturday lunch--blogged from the field, and I feel sorry for him--unless his blogging was just like writing letters. As I promised, I texted Benedict Ambrose every night to say I was safe, and that was like writing a quick letter. (I have a very basic phone; nothing like a smartphone, I suppose we could call it a dumb phone.) At the time I was unaware that anyone had access to the internet--the Latin Mass Society had sternly told its people in advance that personal electronic devices were forbidden, and our chapter definitely reveal any until someone hauled out his smartphone in Chartres.

It was a purely Catholic life, lived in transit, in which I was delighted when the rosary began again, for that meant singing, thinking about our Lord and our Lady, and distraction from the pain in my feet. To my surprise, I found the very traditional (i.e. conscience-pricking and militant) Catholic meditations fascinating, and people found my meditation--mostly a reading from St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue--fascinating, too. (St. Catherine, by the way, preached infinite love for God and infinite sorrow for our sins.)

Everyone around---thousands of people--were all tradition-loving Catholics. We were all on the same page. We had all temporarily escaped our (let's face it) blatantly evil times. Although there was occasional crankiness and irony and prickliness towards neighbours while pitching tents (mea culpa), there was no, er, worldliness. I didn't realize that we somehow all had the same unworldly look until I was in the queue at the airport and was taken aback by the facial expression--or general demeanor--of a slender young Canadian (or American) man in front of me talking to his mother. He's not a pilgrim, I thought. Generally I am not given to sudden interior knowledge about people, but the contrast between him and the young men of the pilgrimage was, well, palpable and even a shock. 

One of the most "Catholic" moments for me on the pilgrimage was the sight of a tall teenage Girl Guide helping a tiny child Girl Guide out of a ditch. Chartres Cathedral was visible on the horizon, and so it felt as if we were nearly there. (I think we were probably still an hour away, at least.) Naturally one of the worst privations of the pilgrimage was suffered by the women, who have much stronger inhibitions than men about urinating outdoors and in public. Many a time did I ponder how the women pilgrims of the Middle Ages could not have shared this taboo. In fact, it must have come in with modern plumbing, and Miss Jane Austen herself must have relieved herself in a field or in the woods when needs must. 

Anyway, this ditch, between the road and a field, was so deep and afforded such an opportunity for decent concealment that I had been eyeing it with interest when I saw the bigger Girl Guide leaning over a little Girl Guide in the ditch on the other side of the road and then hauling her out. They had the exact same uniform--blue skirt, blue beret--and the wee one looked abashed to the point of tears whereas the taller one was the very picture of spiritual maternity--compassionate, beautiful, more patient and kinder than a blood sister would be. 

The act of motherly kindness--and the need of the little one for help, combined with the almost military uniforms, the long parade of singing, praying pilgrims, the green and yellow fields, the wide blue sky and Chartres Cathedral on the horizon, struck me as the Most Catholic Thing Ever. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Mighty Denim Maxi-skirt & Other Pilgrimage Essentials

I finished my pilgrimage this morning with mass at the FSSP chapel and then reading along to a sung
Te Deum on YouTube at home. Naturally my papers get first crack at the stories, but I will write here a handy-dandy guide to surviving the Chartres Pilgrimage, which means, actually, getting to Chartres Cathedral on your own two aching feet, not on the emergency mini-bus or in an ambulance. There was a point where I let go of any other hope or expectation.


The pilgrims were supposed to assemble at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. We got up the next day at 5 AM, and the third day at 5:30 AM. This means that if you had jet lag, you were sunk. Sunk. Although the UK is only one hour behind France, and although I had practiced waking up at 6 AM for two weeks, I felt really rotten getting up at what was for me 4:15 AM.  I regret taking the later, cheaper Friday flight to Paris. I wish I had spent the extra £30 to take the earlier flight. That way I could have had a decent Parisian supper and gone to bed at 10 PM  France time (or earlier) instead of at 11:30 PM.

Lesson learned 1: Go to Paris early and get a decent night's sleep.

My hotel was ten minutes maximum from Notre Dame de Paris, which was excellent. Yes, it cost me $180 Canadian, but it was worth it to be so close. For one thing, my one-wheeled suitcase was a beast.

Lesson learned 2: Pay the price for the centrally located hotel.

Lesson learned 3: Don't take a one-wheeled suitcase.


My first morning began foully, for I forced myself to eat my homemade sugar-free muesli with coconut milk. I didn't much like it at home, and I absolutely loathed it in a tiny expensive Paris hotel room at 5:15 AM. Afterwards, I ate less than a third of all my carefully packed rations (and no more of the muesli) because I was so tired, I couldn't make myself eat them, let alone use a knife and fork. On Sunday night and Monday morning I had just enough energy and time to stuff some blueberries in my mouth, like a squirrel or a bear, if bears use their paws to facilitate eating. Believe me, on the Saturday and Sunday evenings by the time I had pitched my tent, I was like a bear crawling into its cave--a cranky bear with sore feet with not enough reason to know how to open a tin of herring, let alone wield a can opener. 

Lesson learned 4: Bring only food you can eat piece by piece, preferably out of small zip-lock bags, using only your hands, if possible.  Good food: nuts, seeds, berries, homemade fruit-and-nut bars, apples, small cans of John West tuna (for lunch), kabanosy (long, thin, dried Polish sausages), dark chocolate. Bad food: tinned herring, tinned salmon, little containers of tomato and spinach, avocados, lemon and lime. (I had a marvellous idea that I would make avocado-tomato salad with lime juice at the camp site, and eat it dantily from a plate with a knife and fork. Ah ha ha ha ha!) The pilgrimage organizers provided pilgrims with bottled water (lots and lots), apples (on the first day) coffee, hot chocolate, bread and soup. I was too tired to both queue up for the porta-loos and then get my cup and come back for soup, so I never had any soup. It looked and smelled nice... broccoli...

Lesson Learned 5: Take a cup and a fork. That's all you will use. 

Lesson Learned 6: When you get to camp, tie your cup to yourself and take it everywhere, so that you can get coffee/hot chocolate/soup on the way to or back from the loos and/or the Foreigners' Luggage Truck. 


One of the seasoned pilgrims told me that she just doesn't wash during the pilgrimage. I felt that as an old Girl Guide, brought up to strictest standards of camp cleanliness, I would certainly wash myself and brush my teeth. This did not happen, except for my feet. After pondering my podiatrist's advice to ice my feet at the end of each day--no fridge, no ice--I brought a plastic tub in my suitcase and a little squeezy bottle of antiseptic soap. After putting up my tent and crawling in, like a bear, I would take out my tub, strip my feet, put them in the tub, squeeze soap on them and pour over one whole litre of bottled water I had carried from the last rest stop. HEAVEN. 

Lesson Learned 7:  Enjoy your hot showers and teeth-brushing in hotel before and in hotel afterwards, for washing and teeth-brushing will not happen during. Let go of the expectation of washing or brushing teeth during. Won't happen. You will be too tired and it may be too cold. 

Lesson Learned 8: Bringing a tub for the feet is totally worth it. 

There are loos. The queues for the loos are long. Sometimes you have to give up hope of using the loo, or brace yourself to run a kilometre to catch up with your chapter after using the loo. There are no sinks (obviously), so you can not wash your hands afterwards.

Lesson Learned 9: Carry hand sanitizer in your pocket at all times or just accept that you have become, at best, pre-modern and, at worst, an animal.

Lesson Learned 10: Pray, sisters, that you not get your period on or just before the pilgrimage. Naturally you cannot help it if you do, but your life will be better if you don't. 

Lesson Learned 11: I brought wet wipes. Bring wet wipes.


Ah ha ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha! Excuse me while I wipe away a tear of mirth. 

Lesson Learned 12: Bring a sit-upon, for you will be sitting in mud during breaks, kneeling on gravel for Whitsunday Mass, and (if your group is luckily one of the groups allowed to hear Mass inside Chartres cathedral---you can't fit 10,000 people in Chartres cathedral) kneeling on a cold, cold stone floor for Whitmonday Mass. A sit-upon can be a piece cut out of an old yoga mat or a newspaper wrapped in a plastic bag and taped shut. 

Lesson Learned 13: You can't bring too many socks. Wool for the day's walking, cotton for camp, more wool (or bamboo fibre) to pull over the cotton for sleeping.

Lesson Learned 14: The north of France is naturally muddy. It doesn't have to rain; it's just muddy. As you tramp up to your ankles in mud, wondering why it is so muddy when it hasn't rained, you will suddenly remember everything you ever heard about the French battlefields of the First (and possibly also Second) World War. If Canadian, a Canadian near you will make reference to Vimy Ridge. 

Lesson Learned 15: The North of France can be cold in mid-May. All those images you have of warm, sunny France are of the SOUTH. Buy the warmest sleeping bag you can afford (as I did) and bring thermal underwear (as I didn't). 


Feet first was my motto. No matter how much you deny Mr Stomach and Mr Bowels, you have to take care of Mr Feet. By Monday morning, I was actually arguing with my feet, pointing out how I had been putting them first, washing them so lovingly, soaking them in my tub, and giving them fresh band-aids, blister plasters and socks instead of eating and before queuing for the loo. 

Lesson Learned 16: Have a well-stocked first aid zip-lock freezer bag and take it everywhere.

What almost felled me at the end was not my feet but an angelic-looking little blue-eyed blond boy who went down the loo queue during the Monday lunch break with a plate of French sausage bits. Instead of thinking "Don't talk meat from strangers when it is (for once) hot out", I thought, "Oh how nice" and took a piece. Two minutes later I was doubled over in agony, thinking something VERY BAD was about to happen in public, and when--thank God--a man gave me his place in his queue and  I was in the safety and privacy of the loo, my head swam, I saw spots, and I thought I was going to pass out right there in the loo. It was over.

Fortunately, I recovered sufficiently to be ministered to by the fathers and mothers of the chapter who offered to take me to the nearby doctor, offered me glucose pills and said "It was too fast for food poisoning. It must be low blood sugar!" The chaplain (Father Mark Rowe) threw me a bread roll from his Priest's Rations (see footnote below), and after I ate some, I felt much, much better.

Lesson Learned 17: Never take meat from a plate offered by a stranger on Day 3 of the Chartres Pilgrimage, even if he looks like a little baby angel. 

Lesson Learned 18: Being on a low-carb diet  for three weeks before the Chartres Pilgrimage is probably not the best idea ever.

One of our party got a throat infection, poor boy, and by Tuesday's flight home, the chapter had run out of paracetamol. 

Lesson Learned 19: Bring enough painkiller for both you and a friend.

Incidentally: I applied sunblock throughout, wore my wide-brimmed French Guide hat in all daylight hours and wore sunglasses. Therefore, I was never sunburned. Amazingly, the French weather can be cold and cloudy one moment and blazing hot and sunny the next. It was like this all through Whitsunday Mass: freeze, burn, freeze, burn. How both my Scottish great-grandfather and his Canadian son my grandfather survived the French weather alone--never mind the Germans--during the World Wars is now a wonder to me. 

Lesson Learned 20: Weather in Ile de France and the Loire Valley is weird and changeable. 


It's a Traddy Pilgrimage in France: there will be Latin and a lot of French. Not a minute I spent reviewing French prayers and tourist phrases was wasted.

Lesson Learned 21: It is worth reviewing your French, and even improving it for next time. 


I will save most of this for my newspapers, but this is above all a Traditional Catholic Pilgrimage, and unless you are a Catholic who loves the faith and its traditional theology and devotions, you will not get this pilgrimage. Not to trash the Camino, but it's not the Camino. Aging hippies love the Camino; aging hippies would not last the first day of the Chartres pilgrimage.

Lesson Learned 22: It's the real thing.


If I go again (and many a time as I walked did I think "Never"), I will bring the following:

Backpack (NOT suitcase)

Sleeping bag
Air mattress
Air pillow
Pillow case
Plastic tub
Small bottle of anti-bacterial liquid soap
Lamp (to hang from hook at top of tent) 
Flashlight (if you have aging eyes, you will also need this to read the Pilgrimage Missal in cathedrals during Mass, so keep it in your day bag)
Small knapsack
Garbage bag(s) for waterproofing (i.e. bundling the still-damp tent into before shoving it in my suitcase)

3 tins John West tuna
3-6 apples
12 (at least) homemade fruit-and-nut bars
3 packages (at least) kabanosy
100 g dark chocolate
Bag of mixed nuts and seeds
Granola bars (in case of another Low Blood Sugar Incident)
Easy-peel oranges (because if not easy, won't bother)
500 g water bottle 
Mineral replacement tablets

First Aid bag with antiseptic wipes, plasters, blister plasters, scissors (crucial), etc.
Ear-plugs (very important for remaining in charity with fellow pilgrims at night)
Small folded rain jacket (even though I didn't need it this time)
Tiny folded umbrella (ditto)
Money belt for passports, wallet, money (from which I received HUGE peace of mind)
Passport &  UK Resident Visa
Euros (esp. denominations of 5 and 10)

Toothbrush with head-protector (for hotels)
Toothpaste (ditto)
Wet wipes
Hand sanitiser
2 packages of paper tissues
Paracetamol (enough to share)

Meditation (if agreed to give a mediation again)
Chapter song & hymn book (with  "500 miles" glued in)

Guide (or other wide-brimmed) hat
Light quilted country jacket
4 cotton/linen long-sleeved shirts
4 T-shirts for under long-sleeved shirts (sounds crazy in May, but I am so grateful I took the hiking advice for temperate climates in Survival)
The Mighty and Indestructible Denim Maxi-Skirt of Female Traddery
Underwear without elastic around the leg-holes 
Four days' worth wool/special hiking socks
Three night's worth cotton socks (not for walking)
Two night's worth knee-length socks (bamboo fibre good)
Hiking boots
Tennis shoes (for campsite)
Cotton neckerchief
Warm shawl/scarf/pashmina
Woolly hat (for cold camp nights)
Woolly gloves (for cold, damp mornings, esp when striking tent)
Thermal underwear for sleeping in
Thin dressing gown for modesty's sake in loo queue

Cute outfit worthy of French restaurants

Naturally absolutely everything should be packed in plastic, waterproof, preferably zip-lock freezer bags. 

I was going to include a list of things I brought but never used, but that would be just too depressing!

*Priests' Rations: My friend Berenike once told me that "A fat priest is the pride of his [Polish] village." I have been thinking that over for years, and at last I understand it. Although too many priests deserve to have their bottoms kicked from here to Hereford, traditionalists are second to none in our respect for the Sacred Priesthood. Also, we naturally want them to come to our pilgimages so as to hear our confessions, lead the rosaries, read the meditations, say mass and throw us their bread rolls when we have low blood sugar (see above). Therefore, priests on the Chartres Pilgrimage do not share the some primitive lifestyle as the pilgrims but have camp beds in their tents, special snacks and meals laid on in special covered trays. It's very, very nice for priests, dear priests!. There are lots of priests there--some of them just stand with their breveries by the side of the road waiting for penitents--but I believe more would always be welcome. Priests who both love the Traditional Latin Mass and play the bagpipes would be particularly prized by the Scottish chapter. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

A Pilgrim Returns Home

I have returned from Chartres full of stories--and blisters. Blisters, aches and pains and weight loss. Sad to say, after three days of prayer and hymns of praise and mortification that you would hardly believe, plus masses in Notre Dame de Paris, in a  field of gravel and in Notre Dame de Chartres, the first thing I did when I got home was see if I fit into my blue Hobbs spring dress. And lo.

A plenary indulgence AND I fit into my Hobbs dress!

Seriously, though, it was an awesome experience. It really hurt, but it was amazing all the same. I learned a lot spiritually, that is for sure. I also learned about the human ability to adapt and survive in pre-modern conditions. Soon I will write a list of what to bring (and what not to bring) on the Chartres Pilgrimage.

Thank you for all your prayers. My cold never worsened, and it mostly went away after Saturday night. Possibly the freezing air of my tent killed it. Thank heavens I paid a little extra to get the (child-size, as I am apparently the size of the largest type of child) sleeping bag that is comfortable to 5 degrees C and keeps you alive at 0 degrees C.

The French revision (review) paid off, too, for this moring I saved myself a long walk on very painful feet by saying to a friendly looking older woman, "Bonjour, madame! Excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais oú est la gare?" (Good morning, madam! Pardon me for troubling you, but where is the railway station?"

The Polish came in handy for making peace with a neighbour who, despite being Polish, addressed me in German during a territorial dispute in the foreigners' section of the campground. It's a long story, but it has a happy ending, which was the Polish lady returning to her tent to tell her daughter all about our subsequent Polish conversation and how nice it was. Their tent wall was right up against my tent wall, so I could hear everything. Goodness, how they giggled.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Another Rare Prayer Request

Only photo on internet illustrating concept. 
I caught a cold!

Can you believe it? I train so much for the pilgrimage that I use up a whole pack of plasters (band-aids) and a whole pack of blister plasters (special blister band-aids), and two days before the pilgrimage begins, I catch a lousy cold.

Now even science has proved that long-distance prayers relieve illness, so please, dear readers, take a moment to pray that my cold disappears by tomorrow's dawn. Normally colds linger for a week, but I really object to having to walk  25 miles (40 km) tomorrow (and then sleep outdoors) with a cold. The cold must go. Death to the cold.

In contemplating the graces of this pilgrimage, I have remained unconvinced that deliberately seeking physical suffering is spiritually helpful. Fasting is one thing; an empty tum for a few hours is really no big deal. A few aches and pains from a relatively easy walk to a pilgrimage site are likewise no big deal. However, courting exhaustion, dehydration and pneumonia is something else entirely. I have been reading up on long-distance hiking, and not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a bad idea to walk more than 10 miles (16 km) a day without training and preparation. Chucking a few plasters in a knapsack is not enough. I am almost too afraid to look up the advice about hiking long-distance with a cold.

I do not want to dwell on this, to tell you the truth. However, I am haunted by the story of a pal who told me that when she went on the Chartres Pilgrimage she "almost died." Now, she was a reasonably fit woman in her late twenties/early thirties at the time, and I can't remember what it was that was so nearly fatal, but apparently she had to be dragged and/or carried by a male friend for some endless distance. (Oh Lord--I am adding to the Gloomy Tales of Chartres oeuvre.) She is a patient, accepting soul, so she was probably just grateful to her male friend, but if it were me I would have almost died of shame. I was a Girl Guide dammit! What's more, I sparred once or twice with Jessica Rakoczy (who, admittedly, could have killed me, but that's not the point).

You know, it's just a little cold: no coughing, no sore throat, just a runny nose and some sneezing. (Possibly my mother has started praying already.) Today I will drink litres and litres of fluid, eat low-sugar chocolate cake (see The Low-Sugar Cookbook) and think happy thoughts. I will imagine all my lovely readers praying devoutly for the end of my cold.

I am looking forward to returning on Tuesday and firing up the computer to tell you that the Chartres Pilgrimage was simply amazing and everyone exaggerates the terrible pain, exhaustion, etc.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Handing on Tradition Brings Joy

The EF starts in one minute, but I am not there. No, thanks to a hole in my sock, a challenging schedule became Too Much, and so I will be going to the village OF this morning.

Having some time freed up, I caught up with the Letters section of the Toronto Catholic Register, and lo and behold, I got a mention for once. The author of the letter noticed the strong difference in opinion between Robert Brehl and me on the subject of Amoris Laetitia. She seemed to agree with me.

Meanwhile, I had completely forgotten I had begun the piece with Amoris Laetitia and ended it with the Girl Guides. I had also forgotten how, er, vigorous it was. Here's what I submitted to the CR, whose website now seems to be down.

Sharing Faith, Tradition with Young Brings Joy
Dorothy Cummings McLean
[The Catholic Register*]
Nova et Vetera
April 11, 2016

Here’s how it went.  I was sent Amoris Laetitia hours before its official release. It arrived just before bed, so I left it until morning. I assumed it would take three hours to read—plenty of time to submit my first thoughts before Roman noon. Ha. On Friday I read the novel-length exhortation from morning to night, writing pages of notes and grumbling aloud. My opinion of Amoris Laetitia is that the faithful should print it out, remove Chapters 1, 4-7 and 9, put them on a table and set the rest on fire. Chapters 1, 4-7 and 9 contain wonderful pastoral theology that all families should read. They are written simply, with the homespun wisdom of a friendly parish priest.  Leave the introductory paragraphs, Chapters 2-3 and 8 for the clergy to sweat over. Incidentally, don’t forget to pray for them, especially the bishops.

By 10 PM I was in no state to write, so I decided to sleep on the topic. Unfortunately—or fortunately—my husband was so distressed by the exhortation that we were awake past midnight tutting, sighing and bewailing Paragraph 301.  On the one hand, this murdered sleep. On the other hand, I was reassured that my husband is not going to dump me in old age for a younger, sexier model in the hope that after enough tender pastoral accompaniment his parish priest will give him and the usurper Holy Communion.  One of the great joys of marriage is that [B.A.] is even more afraid of Almighty God than he is of me. Hooray!

I woke up at 5:15 AM Saturday mentally writing about Amoris Laetitia. At 5:40 I gave up on sleep and got up to write. I was due in central Edinburgh at 11 AM to go to Girl Guide camp, and I hadn’t packed. I wrote from 6 AM until 9 AM and then Yahoo Mail refused to send my work.  My kind husband, answering my shrieks, sent my article via his Gmail account and listened as I yammered that I couldn’t go to Girl Guide camp after all. I was too tired, too cranky, too useless, too weak to carry bag and bedroll all the way downtown.

“I’ll come with you,” said [B.A.], and it was as easy as that. Within an hour, my knapsack was packed, my bedroll was rolled and I was walking through the woods towards the bus stop, husband at my side. It was a sunny day and the forest was full of white wild garlic blossoms. Here and there bloomed bright daffodils and pale narcissi. Birds were singing. I was cheering up. [B.A.] was cheerful, too, contemplating a weekend of bachelor-style freedom, which in his case means long, luxurious hours reading in the tea room of the National Portrait Gallery.

His holiday began (i.e. he vamoosed) when we spotted the happy faces of the Girl Guides. The girls belong to an independent  Scouting company which emphasizes both the Catholic faith and traditional Scouting as it was envisioned by Lord Baden-Powell and not , ahem, cultural Marxism. The girls are Scots, their leaders mostly French, the devotions traditional and it’s all very sweet.  At the end of our jolly Saturday night campfire, we prayed the rosary in the drizzle and when our Redemptorist chaplain said he’d like to pronounce a blessing, the girls—aged 11 to 16—fell to their knees in the mud. Father was highly impressed.

There were many joyful moments during this camp, but I think my favourite happened after the girls proved to a leader that they had memorized the Guide Law. “I know a song version of that,” I offered shyly, and the leader left me to hand on this English-language tradition.

We were in a rustic cottage that Baden-Powell himself had visited. The dining hall looked positively mediaeval with its low timber ceiling and long refectory table.  I sang the song several times with the girls before recalling that it is a marching tune. I began to march jauntily around the table and at once the girls fell into step behind me. We marched and sang the laws at the top of our Girl Guide lungs.  And the girls—clever, creative, joyous, pious girls—began to add variations to the march. They marched tall, they marched small, they cried “Taran-tara!” Before my eyes, they made the grand old tradition fresh and new, their very own, without altering a word.  

“We attract people with our joy,” said the Redemptorist in his Sunday homily, and it’s true. The joy of the innocent Guides made me feel once again the intoxicating joy of Catholicism. Although we adults need to ponder the Church’s trials and suffering, we must remember to hang onto her joy.

*Not to be confused with the American "National Catholic Register"

Update: Here's my blogpost about the camp; there was a request!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Okay, French for "tent" is just "tente" and "namiot" is Polish. You have to admit that  namiot is more fun to say than plain old tente.

Here is an example my new tent, complete with videos. So far it takes me much longer than the chap to pitch it, at least in the sitting-room, and mine has a blue cover. B.A. made me take mine down before supper, so I have had practice striking it, too. That was easier, let me tell you.

The couple in the video are rather funny. They are slim enough for this tent, but I suspect they are actually too tall. B.A. and I crawled in, but we did not at all resemble these charming young people. Way too many clothes, for a start.

A French Rosary

Today was another multi-lingual day, beginning with the English of the weather forecast and Mezzofanti's Gift, which I read on the train into town. Mass was in Latin, and my listening skills were good enough to figure out that today is "Pip and Jim" even though my missal-flipping skills are lacking. Then I chatted in English with a German translator in the hallway about Mezzofanti's Gift. Next I was addressed en français by a French Guide/Scout leader in the garden. (I understood everything she said, and my first sentence was fine, but I then I got stuck.) Next the German translator and I discussed language-learning in English all the way to Haymarket Station, where I got on a train and opened Mezzofanti's Gift again.  I went straight to Brew Lab, where I reread a Polish letter and wrote a Polish reply. Finally, I went to St. Patrick's RC to say a rosary before Wednesday noon Mass.

Saying the rosary during a N.O. Mass always runs the risk of being interrupted by a woman who very badly needs to shake your hand during the sign of peace. You could be in such a deep meditation that you feel you have been transported into the seventh heaven, surrounded by choirs of angels, about to see some beloved sacred face, when all of a sudden a hand is stuck in your face. The message is not so much one of peace as "You're praying the rosary on your knees apart from the rest of the congregation during noon mass. How dare you???!"

The memory alone makes me very cranky and uncharitable. Fortunately, the Mary Chapel at St. Pat's is right up at the front of the church, up a marble step, and it would take a very, very determined woman to breach that sanctuary during Mass. Nevertheless, I got to the church  early enough to say my rosary while confessions were still going on (St. Pat's is very good about providing opportunities for confessions) although perhaps my speed was a little bit...er...fast.

However, one new aspect slowed things decently down, and it was that I prayed the rosary in French. This was not as difficult as it might seem, as I learned the dominant prayers of the rosary in French when I was a child in school.

Such is that magic of youthful brain plasticity that foreign language prayers drilled into you in elementary school stick for years and years afterwards. Of "Je vous salue Marie" (Ave Maria), the one word I saw that I had forgotten, when yesterday I copied it carefully from the internet, was 'toutes', as in "Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes" (Blessed are you among [all] women").  "Et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles est béni" was just as I remembered, even though last week I was second-guessing that 'vos'. (Surely it was votres? But no. Vos.)

Naturally my accent was that of childhood, which is to say, cent-pour-cent pur-laine anglophone Toronto schoolchild. I might be able to pray "Notre Père qui est aux cieux" with ease, but the Rs are not at the back of my throat where they belong. (Bizarrely, not once in thirteen years did anyone make a serious attempt to teach me how to pronounce French R.) The two stumbles are "que ton règne vienne" (May Your Kingdom come), which hitherto I half-thought was "ta règne" and the real tongue-twister "nous pardone nos offenses, comme nous pardonnons aussi/à ceux qui nous ont offensés." Every school day, for at least three years, my whole class stumbled over "à ceux qui nous ont offensés."  The stumble, along with the other words, has persisted through the decades, even though I rarely, but rarely, pray the Lord's Prayer in French.

Apparently Chartres pilgrims take turns leading the rosary through bullhorns, and so if I am asked to do this in French, I am now somewhat prepared.

Yes, preparing for the pilgrimage takes up most of my time. Thank you for asking. Yes, Benedict Ambrose is coping pretty well. I'll tell him you asked.

Actually, B.A. is being a real brick about it. Of course, he completely approves of the whole undertaking and when it comes to the physical challenges, he very much wants me to come home undamaged. (All the hiking guides I've been read warn strongly against doing a 20 mile hike--let alone 70 miles--without training for it first, something the LMS failed to mention on its website.) He is not as enthusiastic about our new tent as you might think; although he is a hiking person, he is not a camping person. I, however, am very excited about the new tent, and today I will practise putting it up and taking it down again.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sunshine on Leith

It's a wonderful day for a long walk: sunny, mild, not too windy, hardly a cloud in the sky.

"How was Mass?" asked Benedict Ambrose when I phoned him from the bus home.

"Was that today?" I moaned.

When you decide to walk seven miles to Leith instead of just continuing the final two miles to Fountainbridge, it kind of erases the morning. Besides, I can't believe that was just seven miles. At least two sections of the path were closed, and so I had to take detours which probably added to the tally.

Just so I can prove my mind has not turned to mush, here is what I did today.

5:15 Woke up naturally. Why, oh why?

6:00 Woke up again, to alarm.

6:50 Left the house.

7:13 Caught the train. Yay!

8:00 Mass in the Extraordinary Form. St. Antoninus today.

9:00 Coffee in  'Noir' while reading Kazio i szkoła pełna wampirów. I will not be upset if I do not finish this one. It is just wrong for Poles to take vampires lightly. I hope the book has been denounced on some church bulletin board in Wielkapolska.

9:38: Train to Edinburgh Park

9:50: Bought two-man tent. At last, at last B.A. and I have a home we can truly call our own. I paid for it myself, out of my own earnings. No mortgage necessary. That said, it comes with only a two-year guarantee, which is like buying a cookie cutter "dream home" in some ghastly Toronto suburb that was arable land with cows six months ago.

10:15: Reapply sunblock. Begin to walk along Union Canal, in direction of Edinburgh, with tent sticking out of my knapsack. Pray rosary for first twenty minutes, hoping not to encounter Orangeman, Hearts fan, or, worst of all, bitter ex-Catholic with scary dog.

11:00: Take break at Water of Leith Conservation Centre. Drink tea from thermos flask. Eat homemade fruit and nut bar with gusto. Reapply sunblock.

11:15: Decide to walk the 7 miles along the Water of Leith to Leith.

12:15: Realize I can just pop up a flight of stairs from the path and have a delicious salad, water and a rest at the Modern Art Gallery--all for £4. Eat, drink, reapply sunblock.

12:50: Continue march to Leith.

1:15 ish: Reach Stockbridge which has its usual distractions. Buy pretty rose-spangled skirt from favourite charity shop, 100% cotton, £5.49. Could not have fit into it two weeks ago. Let no-one tell me low-calorie diets do not work. Yes, will quit after eight weeks are up. (Looks shifty.)

1:45 ish. Canon Mills and the "Earthy Store". Buy big bag of Hummus Chips "for B.A."

2:00: Start wondering if I will ever get to Leith. Drink tea from thermos. Reapply sunblock. Sunblock has leaked into ziplock bag. Yay me, for having put it in a ziplock bag in the first place!

2:30: Shore! Shore!  Put out fire in cigarette butt section on top of trash bin with remains of tea. Toddle over to Martin Wishart to see how much the "Tasting Menu" costs. £80. Woo. Do not expect to be taken to Martin Wishart any time soon. The ordinary lunch looks quite reasonable, however.

2:35: Where is bus? There must be a bus to the Historical House around. Must find bus.... Walk around hopefully until see sign for Ocean Terminal. Walk with resignation to Ocean Terminal

2:45 ish: Ocean Terminal. Just take a bus going in the right direction and trust to luck, which turns out to be good.  Get out on street I recognize and take second bus.

3:30: Home! Strip off boots, socks. Grab water, hummus and handful of hummus chips. Fill plastic basin with cold soapy water and place beside sitting-room couch. Put in feet. Ahhhhhh!

Update: I completely forgot about Traddy Tuesday. Well, training for the Chartres Pilgrimage counts as traddy, I hope. Not being a fan of pain-for-pain's-sake, I sincerely hope it is not "more traditional" just to rush in and walk 40 km the first day with baby-soft feet.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Marriage and Diet Updates


Benedict Ambrose and I have been married for seven years today, and we are evidence that if you have a flash of really good luck--or get a sudden surprise blessing from God--marriage in haste does not lead to repenting at leisure.

As the years go on, I become less and less of an expert on the Single life and somewhat more knowledgeable (or pedantic) on the subject of Married life. Generally speaking, I learned how to be married from my parents, and B.A. learned how to be married from his grandparents, and the two philosophies of marriage are compatible. I am particularly grateful to B.A.'s grandfather for his doleful dictum, "Anything for a quiet life."  B.A. is no doubt grateful to my mother's hatred for clothes shopping. Do lower-income wives really go out and spend their breadwinner husbands' money on expensive clothes for themselves? It doesn't seem likely, but footballers' wives do it, so it must happen. I would die of shame, but on the other hand, Footballer's Wife is a sort of job in itself, so perhaps Colleen and the gang can be excused. Me, I stick to charity shops, one of my favourite British institutions.

Happily, we never fight about money. (East-coast Scottish stingy ad East-coast Scottish stingy loquitur.) We do, however, fight about housework. I do not remember my parents ever fighting about housework, but then I don't remember my parents fighting about much. I recall that they fought at least twice in forty years, but other than that, I draw a blank.  Maybe they were so blessed by the gift of children than we all brought them to a greater level of holiness. Perhaps when your lives are invaded by an army of children, you need to be at peace with the one adult ally in the house.

The secret to a happy marriage is telling your husband how brilliant he is as often as you can. Naturally this is easier and more convincing to the masculine ear if he actually is brilliant. Thus, it is a good idea to marry someone brilliant. Men don't change all that much, so start with brilliance and shine it up with your wifely praise.


Two weeks into the draconian two week no-sugar, low-calorie (800)  Blood Sugar diet. I am not sure I am strictly keeping to 800 calories since the Low-Sugar Diet Cookbook came into my life. The Fruit and Nut bars (which I did, however, cut into 12 portions for calorie-watching) are just too good not to have with ye olde after-breakfast coffee. Then there were this week's Spelt Episodes. I made the recipe for Spelt Bread for guests and then ate some. Well, that was probably not so bad, but then on Saturday I made a spelt pizza and ate the whole thing. La la la. Portion control was out the window, but at least the glycogen load was low.

Despite these lapses into dietary sanity, I have discovered that I have lost either one or two sizes where shirts are concerned. Oh, and the dress I shall wear to our Anniversary Lunch fits much better. Anniversary Lunch will probably max out my calorie allowance for the day, but that's okay. I suspect that as long as I don't eat simple carbs or sugar, I am ahead.

There is, of course, the training-for-Chartres factor. Really, this was not an ideal time to go on a low-calorie diet. However, I am not lacking in energy except after 6 PM, and that can be blamed on my 6 AM risings.  Benedict Ambrose forbade me to stick to the diet turning the actual Chartres Walk, which injunction I am obeying with full wifely submission as I am not actually crazy. My one assertion is that I will not eat simple carbs or sugar--except for a croissant when I wake up in a Chartres hotel on Whit Tuesday morning, of course, because....France.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Mothers' Day Shenanigans

This post is for childless women, so that we may vent. Women with children may want to give it and the comments (especially the comments) a miss. Mothers' Day is perhaps the most difficult day of the year for women who are childless-not-by-choice. Naturally, it is also difficult for mothers with nogoodnik children who never call or send flowers (or, more sadly, have died), but the mommy bloggers will probably have something helpful to say about that.

Tomorrow is dear Mothers' fine Day all in the morning betime
And I a maid at your window to be your valentine....

Er, no. But it is Mothers' Day in some countries in the world tomorrow, including Canada and the USA, and so there may be liturgical shenanigans at Mass. I have tried to spark a worldwide movement of childless women over 25 sobbing aloud and rending our garments when priests direct our more fortunate sisters to stand and receive our applause, but as far as I know, this has not stopped the priestly practice.

However, I am hearing more and more about priests' acknowledgement of childless women as spiritual mothers, and my mother contacted me on Skype to read me such a pastorally sensitive paragraph in her parish bulletin. Sadly, there was a terrible blooper about our dead mothers and grandmothers living forever in our memories, but I don't think this is necessarily a violation of the Nicene Creed, do you?

Anyhow, I forgot all about Mothers' Day because in the UK it was weeks ago, and it was both a shock and a relief when ye olde neighbourhoode flowershoppe in Toronto sent me an email saying my order had been completed. I had totally forgotten about it, so it's a good thing I ordered in advance.

You, however, if living in a country featuring Mother's Day tomorrow, may not have this luxury of forgetting, so this is my annual post to agree that being childless-not-by-choice sucks. Being overcome with terror that you may never have children also sucks. Being told (over the phone) that you will never become a physical mother is really, really terrible.  However, here I am still alive and counting my blessings. I have married-mothers-of-children friends who worry so much about what Modern Society will do to their children that they go grey or wrinkle before my very eyes. Let's face it: when it comes to crosses, being childless at in your mid-forties in a western country is not the worst one.

Mothers are important to society, and heaven knows how many times I have said "Whoever has the most children wins". Seriously, I almost had a meltdown last night every time this season's winner of Masterchef put herself down for being a stay-at-home mother of four. She said winning Masterchef was the most important thing she has ever done, and I almost rolled about the floor, frothing at the mouth. Every one of those four children is (or will be) a British voter, the inheritor and potential traditor  (i.e. hander-oner) of the great English history, heritage and language.

So mothers--super-important if not as important as contemplative nuns, whose prayers have kept total nuclear annihilation at bay. (That's my explanation for our mysterious continued survival despite the collective evil and stupidity of countless politicians.)  Contemplative nuns are a kind of spiritual mother, but so are all women, really. There are physical mothers who are quite obviously spiritual mothers to girls and boys who are not their own children.

Also, there are aunts.

Being an aunt, I am very pro-aunt. However, I am not merely an aunt to my siblings' children; I am an AUNTIE. An auntie is a woman who is a child's parents' (especially his/her mother's) friend. They say you cannot choose your relations, and this is true. However, you can choose your friends and that includes your friends' children. Nobody expects (or should expect) you to give gifts to children not-your-flesh-and-blood, but you can if you want to (and the parents don't mind), and occasionally I do. Whereas I always hope the child enjoys the gift, thinking it out, buying it and wrapping it up always give great pleasure to me.

This is one of the bright spots in childlessness. When you have no children of your own, you have more energy for the children of your friends and relations, who, if they like or love you, will be delighted that you share their interest in and good opinion of their progeny. Obviously you do not sulk if you don't get a thank-you note because almost nobody writes thank-you notes, except perhaps on Facebook. Needless to say, the thank-you not is not the point. You get your reward in advance through the high of hearing the cash-register go cash-ing! or through the fun you had making the present or imaging the child's joy.

Of course, I am lucky that I live far away, so I am never disappointed by a child's reaction, should it not be joy. Children can be brutal. When I was 14 or so, I was summoned to babysit a little girl, and her face fell when she saw me. "I thought you would look like a fairy princess," she said. Notice how that stuck in my memory. (As a matter of record, I did look like a fairy princess when I was about 10, so there.)

Besides children-children, there are teenagers to talk to, or influence, or mentor, or also to give presents, if their parents are okay with that. Teenagers are very interesting, and often very interested, and enjoy testing you and your ideas. I do not know many teenagers currently, but no doubt I will know more if I become a Girl Guide Captain, as is being plotted by women more strong-minded than me. Then there are university-age women, who should be introduced to other people (boys) their age and invited to parties with other people (boys) their age, and young brides, to whom can give tea, cake and a shoulder to weep on when aspects of their new life overwhelm them.  University-age men are easy to spiritually mother--you just feed them and house them when their roommates kick them out, etc. It's probably best  to house them only if you already have a man in the house, however, and they must never be given their own key.

Well, those are my thoughts on childlessness. If you have any, feel free to emote in the combox, but remember that long-time readers who are mothers are probably going to ignore my advice and read this post anyway. That reminds me: thanks again to Julia and others who have sent me Mothers' Day presents in the past. This is not a cadge for more presents (Amazon), but a reflection of how very touched I am when readers do things like that.