Custody of the Eyes, Revisited

Today’s topic is not a newsflash, but there might be someone out there who could benefit from hearing it again, this time with a little common-sense consolation thrown in.

***

So I’ve been running experiments on myself, and can confirm: Custody of the eyes works wonders.

You may recognize the term from chastity talks. For some of you, your introduction to the term was not during a kind of chastity talk you found very edifying; others may have had the opposite experience.  Anyhow, we aren’t talking about sex today.  Not even one bit.  Deep breath.

***

If you’re new to the term, “custody of the eyes” means taking steps to avoid leading yourself into temptation.  It refers specifically to choosing not to look at things that tempt you, but the concept expands to all the senses, physical and otherwise.

What kinds of things, other than sex since we are not talking about sex, might be tempting?

  • Eating that one kind of chips in the variety pack that your kids weirdly don’t like, even though they are the best flavor, and doing that eating despite the fact that there is no medical evidence your body would benefit, for any reason whatsoever, from eating another such chip again in your life.
  • Arguing manically with your beloved internet friend who is usually awesome, but happens to be horribly, horribly wrong about something. In your opinion.
  • Buying that perfect wardrobe item that you do not need because your closet is already full of other good-enough shoes and clothes and hats, ahembut it’s a really good deal and it is so cute/practical/snazzy/fantabulous, but seriously: You don’t need it, and that money would do more good applied someplace else.

Perhaps you face other temptations as well.  They could be temptations to do something that is always sinful under all circumstances, or they could be temptations that are sinful only because of how they affect you personally (example: a calmer spirit might be able to discuss that contentious issue without getting worked up into a frenzy), or they could be temptations that aren’t objectively sinful at all (buying that hat, if it’s part of your responsibly-budgeted splurge fund, and also it’s an awesome hat), but which sabotage your other, better goals.

We aren’t, on that last point, talking today about scrupling, where you obsessively worry that some harmless action is gravely sinful.  We’re just saying: For whatever reason you’ve determined that xyz action is not the way you want to live . . . and yet you’re tempted to do it anyway.

Enter one tool to include in your spiritual toolbox: Custody of the eyes.

***

“Custody of the eyes” means you take steps to change the way you are living in order to not be as tempted as you otherwise might be.  In emergency-mode, it means that if you’re walking past the hat store, look the other way.  My, what fabulous road work the city is doing this morning!

But you don’t want to live in emergency-mode all the time.

This is what it’s like living in the land of temptation, true story:

  • You’ve determined, for good, sound, scientific reasons, that you would be happier and healthier if you did not eat the chips.  Not the lousy chips, and not the fabulous flavor of chips that your children weirdly do not eat, even though the manufacturer has so generously included them in the variety pack that is the best price at your local mass-market merchant.
  • 99% of the time, you are able to practice amazing willpower! You walk by the chips, sitting out on the kitchen shelf where your children can easily access their school lunch supplies, and you don’t even think about grabbing just one tiny bag of chips even this once.
  • Alas, given enough minutes/hours/days/months, you must run the chip-gauntlet 100 times. Your 99% success rate in avoiding temptation is not quite enough.

You don’t need to beat yourself up over this.  It’s a tiny bag of chips.  You aren’t allergic.  They aren’t actually made of poison, despite the inflammatory rhetoric you read on that one healthy-eating website.  It’s fine. But why live this way?  Why constantly add to your already busy day that mental struggle?  You want to eat fewer chips because you are certain you’ll be happier and healthier that way, and yet having to constantly look at the chips and make yourself not eat them isn’t exactly filling you with joy.

You don’t have to choose between those two fates.

You can put the chips in your teenager’s ancient minivan and instruct her to take them to school and give them to her friends — the ones who have the sense to know what the good flavors are, thanks.

***

Practicing strategic avoidance is life-changing.

When you make small changes to reduce the number of times in a day you have to battle against yourself, you free up so much energy for other efforts.

When you don’t or can’t make those changes — we aren’t in control of the whole world and all that happens around us — you are left working harder to accomplish less.

So let’s talk about a healthy philosophy of can’t.

***

You are not the supreme ruler.

In your life there are many things you can control.  Maybe you can change your route to not walk past the hat store.  Maybe you can uninstall the social media app that’s always sucking you into the outrage machine.  Maybe you can move the deep freezer with the kids’ ice cream in it out of your new library in the old garage and down the hall to the laundry room you don’t visit nearly so often (sorry kids, I am not your ice cream bank; readers, we’ll discuss my laundry backlog some other time).

But you cannot necessarily always make the change you wish you could.

You might be able to convince your colleagues not to put the snack tray out in the hallway next to your desk, but maybe you can’t.

You might be able to automate some of the social media work you do, but maybe it’s impossible to carry out your career in a communications industry without actually, go figure, communicating with people.

You might be able to drop catalogs into the recycle bin without ever looking at them, but maybe you also have to sometimes purchase necessary items, and you really can’t help that the best vendor also sells hats.

You probably face a mixed bag of struggles.  Whether you’re working through serious addictions or just trying to live a somewhat more tranquil life, there is only so much reorganizing of your life that you can do.

Do the amount of temptation-reducing that you can, of course.  Be creative. Be willing to take drastic measures if you’re struggling with a danger to your spiritual, emotional, or physical health.

After that? Give yourself credit for the battles that are still left.

***

Living your life in emergency-mode temptation-fighting is exhausting.  If your choice is, for example, paying the bills by going to that job with the perpetual snack tray always sitting out, or serenely sinking into bankruptcy due to unemployment, you have to go do the job.  You have to spend all day passing the snack tray and telling yourself no and walking quickly and trying not think about it.

That stinks.

It’s hard work.

Realistically you are not going to have as much emotional energy for other spiritual activities after you’ve put so much willpower into avoiding the snacks as best you can using the only tool available to you at this time.

Acknowledge it.

Acknowledge that at this time in your life, you are running a spiritual marathon ten hours a day.  By fighting the good fight you are getting stronger — even if one time in a hundred you pass the snack table and cave — but you are getting stronger by working out.  Just like physical exercise, the spiritual and emotional exercise of resisting temptation is tiring.

Your capacity for that work can grow, but it can’t be instantly expanded to infinity.

So if your circumstances are such that you must constantly battle temptations you can find no way to avoid, applaud yourself for the work you are doing.

***

And of course, final note for those readers who aren’t presently dealing with this kind of practical struggle . . .

If you have been blessed with a low-temptation lifestyle, avail yourselves of the three pillars of the spiritual exercise regimen: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Otherwise your soul will grow flabby for want of spiritual work.

Horses grazing in mountain pasture at Parco Naturale Tre Cime.

I was going to find a good hat picture to illustrate this post, but today’s Wikimedia Image of the Day is too beautiful to skip.  Photo of horses grazing in Parco Naturale Tre Cime by kallerna, CC 4.0.  Click through and scroll down for some related close-ups.

How’s it Going, Jen? Mid-August 2020 News & Links

A few quick updates as I hopefully get back into the swing of things?  Maybe? Here’s all that’s been going on since I last fell off the internet:

(1) I took a leave of absence from social media because I had started losing my temper at people who were wrong.  The break was surprisingly beneficial — I say surprising because my primary mode self-correction consisted of watching Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. Best I can tell, it’s what happens if you cross C.S. Lewis with Tom Clancy with Hollywood Sci-Fi with an Evangelical Presbyterian. Season 3 is when it gets blatant.

Didn’t see that coming, though, tip: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. is a straight-up pro-life morality tale, except seedy and brilliant — if you happen to like campy sci-fi comedy-adventure infused with a potty-mouthed and hilarious Theology of the Body theme.  (Parental supervision strongly recommended.  None of this is for little kids.)

(2) Had to take a healthy, athletic teenager to the ER for extreme shortness of breath on exertion associated with a respiratory virus of unknown nature.  She’s fine now. Also, our ER experience provides a few theories on why certain minority communities might be experiencing a higher rate of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.  –> All is not well in public health, guys.

(3) I’ve got two more here at the castle who’ve succumbed to a respiratory ailment of unknown nature, possibly the same one as the teen, possibly something else. In the effort to keep those three distanced from the remaining residents, I was doing an awful lot of zig-zagging around providing food service and so forth.  That’ll keep you busy.  I finally gave two men a kitchen in the camper in the yard so they could do some of their own cooking.  Mr. Boy was appreciative, SuperHusband is not amused. Heh.

(4) Oh oh! and during all that?  Our 18 y.o. came back from college for the one week we get to see her until Thanskgiving, we think, and it was absolutely vital, if she wished to return to school, which she does, that she not catch any kind of respiratory ailment.  Huge thanks to the friends who housed her, fed her, and did airport shuttle so that she could limit her time with us to sitting outdoors and far away.  Fun times.  People prayed for us, though, and it was fine.

So that’s been most of it.  In writing news:

NCRegister: “On the Limits of Identity Politics” If you missed it, it’s up and some people liked it.  There should be another piece running soon on a Catholic approach to the problem of gender dysphoria, but I don’t see it yet?  Next in my queue is an essay I’ve been failing at pulling together for an embarrassingly long time, but which introduces Cathy Lins, who specializes in parish mental health ministry, and who has a brand new forum here: Trauma-Informed Parishes. Go say hello to Cathy and soak up everything, because she knows what she’s about.

FYI the rumor that I “started a new job” at the Register is a product of Facebook’s determination to turn everything, at all, ever, into click-bait hype for your friends.  What happened is that I realized I had put my blogging status at Patheos and here at the Conspiracy in my “about” details, but that the Register was missing.  Crazy me went to rectify that oversight and next thing we know everyone’s congratulating me on my new promotion.

Um.  I’ve been promoted to someone whose author bio is slightly more accurate? Kinda?

Books I finished reading, highly recommend, and plan to review in the days ahead:

Blorging: Ads aren’t functioning as well as usual (possible cause: widespread power outages?) so it’s a great time to wade through my latest entries at the mosh pit of religious plurality, if you haven’t taken the plunge lately:

  • “Speaking of Clerical Corruption” 

    We the laity are capable, if we work together, of investigating allegations like the ones above, and we are capable of creating landing places for discarded priests, seminarians, and religious to build new lives for themselves after they are persecuted for whistle-blowing.  It’s too big a job to be done by one person, and too important a job to be left solely to one faction or another among the increasingly fragmented faithful.

  • “Education vs. Childcare vs. Public Goods”

    Because of these harsh economic realities, there is tremendous pressure for schools to open back up, full-time as-per-usual. Parents need the low-tuition* childcare that schools provide, and to not provide that care is to leave parents in a serious bind.

    Catholic social teaching has a different answer, and yes I know when I say it most people will swear it’s preposterous, but here me out below. There’s another way, and its worth considering.

  • “Breathtaking Beauty in Church Controversies over Kinda-Boring Stuff”

    If you are like me, you never for a moment even considered the possibility that the I in “I baptize you . . .” was a make-or-break part of the baptismal formula. (I also never contemplated varying from it.) It was simply there, and it seemed logical, and what else was there to know? Now we have something to ponder. What’s going on with this one little pronoun the CDF is so worked up about? Turns out the answer is more interesting than I had guessed.

And today, prompted by this morning’s readings, and weirdly taking a twist into presidential politics (I didn’t see that coming even if you did): “How to Treat Gentiles and Tax Collectors”.

–> If you don’t care to think about the voting question, scroll directly down to the bottom to see the photo that inspired me to wrap up my meditation on what to do about terrible Catholics with a link to the Epic Vacation series here at the Conspiracy, because, top of page 2 of the E.V. category, I was reminded of my “What it Takes Not to Be a Nazi” photo tour and reflection on visiting a WWII cemetery, many memorials, and a concentration camp in eastern France.

Book reviews!  Spoiler alert: I answer the question of what to do about terrible Catholics in those 300 fun-filled pages of The Beast. So far there’s one review up at Amazon, which I dared read because the reviewer kindly gave the book five stars. I quote the review in full:

Jen Fitz’s clear, sensible advice for the modern evangelist is a must-read. She has years of experience with dealing with many situations a lay Catholic may experience in explaining their faith. The book is well-organized and helpful for anyone who wishes to learn more about how to spread the Gospel.

Thank you, anonymous reader!

FYI – if you’ve read the book and would like to say something good about it, I’d be most grateful if you’d say so over at Amazon, where book publicity ekes out its living these days.  Even more? I’d like you to loan your copy to someone who could use the inspiration or affirmation.

Thanks!

Ella the Snow Dog - adorable cream-colored puppy looking up at the camera in a field of snow

Today we illustrate our post with this photo of Ella the Snow Dog (CC 2.0) because:

  • Presently the 9th grader’s multi-year campaign to get a dog is gaining momentum but also hit a snag in the road called “Parents are doing their best to make sane, responsible decisions,” and
  • It’s mid-August in the Deep South, so even though it is unseasonably cool (low 90’s!?!!), “snow” is a very popular theme around here.

FYI because I love you, I scrolled through many pages of search results for “cute dog photo” in Wikimedia to bring you the very best.  You’re welcome.

PSA: Anaphylaxis for First-Timers

Thought I’d share a little mild excitement we had around our house yesterday (everyone’s fine), because if you don’t live in the world severely-allergic people, and you don’t have first-aid training on the topic, a sudden introduction to the world of severe allergic reactions (that’s what “anaphylaxis” is) can leave you responsible for making life-and-death decisions, and maybe not even knowing it.  Hence today’s PSA, while it’s on my mind.

#1 Anyone can develop a severe allergy at any time.

Let me tell you a funny family story, and then I’ll tell you about yesterday.

My maternal grandfather never in his life showed any sensitivity to poison ivy.  He grew up on a farm, he had plenty of exposure through out all his childhood and young adulthood, he was just a lucky guy that way. So the family — this was when my mom was a kid — was traveling cross-country from one Navy post to the next, and they stopped at various parks along the way.  They were out hiking and came across some poison ivy.  Someone, probably my grandmother, urged everyone to be very careful to avoid it.  And my grandfather, who could be like this, I suppose, was like, “Nah! I never get poison ivy! I’m not allergic!” and he made a point of proving it by intentionally rubbing the stuff on his skin.

Reminder: He’d done this before.  Whether as a boast or not, I don’t know, but it would not be inconceivable that as one of seven brothers he’d maybe pulled this party trick a time or two in the past.  Certainly, many times he’d known he’d been in contact and had no reaction.

Much in accord with my mother’s sense of poetic justice, that day was his day, and the bragging was rewarded with the worst case of poison ivy rash anyone in the family had ever encountered.

Morals of the story:

  • Pride goes before the fall, but also . . .
  • You can have a reaction to something that, until now, has never been a problem for you whatsoever.

Curiously, to my knowledge I’ve never had a poison ivy rash either, though I’ve never knowingly put that to the test. I’m hoping that humility and lucky genetics are quietly protecting me when I accidentally end up exposed (because: having never had the rash, I didn’t go through the phase the all other Scouts go through where they suddenly take a keen interest in that one plant-identification skill — though I think I’m caught up now).

***
My story, both from earlier this spring and then yesterday, topic now transitioning to bee/wasp stings:

I’ve never had any difficulty with insect stings.  I don’t seek out trouble, but also stinging insects don’t worry me much, because they’re an annoyance not a danger.  We do of course take action to eliminate potentially dangerous hives and nests as we identify them, for both comfort and safety reasons.  But also I delight in having bumblebees visit my garden.  Stinging things? No problem.

So. This spring while gardening I accidentally uncovered an underground yellow jacket nest in the flower garden.  I didn’t realize what was happening until after the first sting hit, and by the time I’d come to my senses and calmly exited, I had three or four stings on my wrist.

Not a problem.  Go clean up, apply miscellaneous home remedies for comfort (as if), take a Benadryl just to be careful, since it was multiple stings.  Affected area was painful and slightly swollen, and then it got better, and until then I wore my watch on the other wrist. Eliminated nest, since it was in a heavily-trafficked area and posed a potentially serious hazard if someone disturbed it. Done.  Not a big deal.

So.  Yesterday. Mowing the lawn.  I was just wrapping up the morning’s mowing, and finally dealing with an unsightly spot by the street that needed a few goings-over, because it can get a little Wild Kingdom around here.  At no time was I aware of any bees or wasps where I was mowing, because duh, I’m not going to mow over a yellow-jacket nest, we know how that goes.  (Tip: Kill the nest, live with long grass until times.  Mowing over an underground nest is courting death, that is not an exaggeration that is a fact.)

But, I did get stung by something.  Didn’t know what — possibly fire ants since it was on my lower leg, who knows — wait, no, that’s something for serious because the stinging continued.  I did that amusing-to-watch thing one does where you attempt to both exit the area and simultaneously find this moving creature or creatures, hidden, unidentified, who has turned your clothing into a guerilla outpost from which to wage war.

By the time I’d gotten to the bathroom to hose off whatever-it-was (the easiest way to get a swarm of fire ants off your body fast is via deluge), it turned out to be a yellow jacket now somehow safely dead in my shirt and having bitten my leg four times.

Okay.  Great.  Thank you yellow jacket, because three of those stings were under my shorts, and that is not a real pleasant place to have a week of misery.

Still, no reason to worry.  Took a quick shower (because just finished mowing lawn, however abruptly), took a Benadryl just to be careful, and then moved on to making lunch, since it was that time.

Remember: I am not allergic to insect stings, right?  I’ve got forty-some years of practice being stung by all-comers, not that often but often enough to know that this is not a problem for me.  I’m the person you send to deal with the stinging insect so the allergic person can stay far away.

We had a nice lunch on the screen porch, spouse and I made a mental note to locate the nest (we still haven’t found it, by the way — it’s good and hidden), and things were —

Whoa.  I happened to glance down at my legs and discovered I was completely covered in red spots.  Legs, arms, parts of my face and neck.

Now I had noticed my face felt a little hot earlier? But remember I was just out mowing the lawn in a bazillion-degree weather — being a little flushed for a while is par for the course.  Didn’t occur to me to check for hives or a rash or anything, because I have *No History* of allergic reactions to insect stings. None.

So what is our lesson #1 for today: Someone who has no history of an allergy to a thing can, at any time and without notice, suddenly develop a severe allergic reaction.

#2 So then what?

Anaphylaxis is the name for that massive, severe, allergic reaction that can happen to anyone at anytime, with no prior notice whatsoever.

A localized rash where you physically contact the thing you are allergic to is just a mild reaction.  When you suddenly get a rash all over your body, or in places far from the affected area, that’s when you’re seeing one of the (less dangerous) signs of anaphylaxis.  It’s a concern because less-dangerous signs can be the precursor to more-dangerous signs, and the more-dangerous signs are deadly.

So what do you do?

Here’s an infographic from FARE that lays it out: Recognize and Respond to Anaphylaxis Poster

Notice that they put skin reactions in the category of symptoms that call for administering epinephrine and calling 911.  That’s a little different from the protocol out of Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, which considers skin and digestive reactions to be part of the mild-to-moderate category, but, and here’s the money question: These milder symptoms (such as my rash) can be the lead-in to deadly anaphylaxis.

Note here: Because I have no history of severe allergy, we don’t have an Epipen sitting around the house.  There’s always a first time.

Note also: If you need to use an Epipen, you need to be transported. Even if you have one on hand and you use it and it works.  You still need to go to the ER.

So what did we do? We went Australian Rules.  (Here I am just telling you my story, not giving you advice.  See that story above about the guy who died in ten minutes even with paramedics giving epinephrine.)  I had my adult son drive me to the very-nearby urgent care affiliated with our hospital system, where as soon the nurses milling around caught a whiff of the word “Anaphylaxis” while I stood there calmly registering at the front desk, they pulled me back for evaluation and confirmed my airway was in good shape (it was, or I would have been at the ER getting my airway opened, thanks).

So, Noting Again: If you might need an Epipen, you need to get medical attention.

Since my reaction did not involve my airway, the physician overseeing all this went with a period of observation to make sure I didn’t segue into delayed-onset of breathing difficulties, and in the in meantime began a course of treatment for the symptoms I was having; after everyone agreed I was good to go, I was discharged with instructions and a follow-up plan.

This is where I copy and paste authoritative instructions . . .

These are the emergency guidelines from from Australia Allergy & Anaphylaxis:

If you believe someone is experiencing anaphylaxis you MUST GIVE the adrenaline (epinephrine) autoinjector (e.g. EpiPen®) according to instruction on the ASCIA Action Plan.

If you DO NOT have an adrenaline autoinjector:

Lay person flat – do NOT allow them to stand or walk

If unconscious, place in recovery position

If breathing is difficult allow them to sit.

CALL AN AMBULANCE

ADRENALINE IS LIFE SAVING medication for someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction/anaphylaxis.

Antihistamines DO NOT stop the progression of an anaphylaxis. Antihistamines only help to decrease itching and reduce mild/moderate swelling of the face, lips and eyes.

DO NOT SHOWER as this may contribute to a drop in blood pressure which can escalate the severity of an allergic reaction.

ALWAYS give adrenaline autoinjector FIRST, and then asthma reliever puffer if someone with known asthma and allergy to food, insects or medication has SUDDEN BREATHING DIFFICULTY (including wheeze, persistent cough or hoarse voice) even if there are no skin symptoms.

[FYI I removed the phone number for CALL AN AMBULANCE since that varies by country.  But if you were curious, in Australia its 000. Travel tip: Learn the local emergency number in places you are visiting abroad.  You could tape it to your cell phone, for example, since otherwise you’ll probably forget it.]

And now a few practical suggestions from my own brain . . .

If you’re not an “allergy person” the first time you experience a severe allergic reaction is gonna be a shocker.  The whole page from which I excerpted above has yet more suggestions on how to manage terrible situations.

A couple points I’d like to emphasize:

  • Don’t be alone.  If you are experiencing milder symptoms, you have no way of knowing what and then is going to be like.  Maybe nothing, but maybe something that requires someone helping you right away.
  • One of the realities of a milder allergy-emergency is that you could have a panic attack that mimics airway symptoms, especially if you are alone and worried.  Getting yourself not-alone and then into a place where you can get epinephrine if you need it is a good way to cause the panic attack to subside.
  • If you present at the ER with milder symptoms and probably you just need to be observed and plan a course of treatment and follow-up for your nasty rash, LET THE THE STAFF KNOW IMMEDIATELY ON ARRIVAL that at any time you might start with airway symptoms, because that’s how anaphylaxis rolls sometimes, and they need to know that so that if you are all the sudden frantically banging on the glass begging for help, that is what is going down, don’t mistake me for SuperKaren, get me to an airway.
  • You don’t have to shout.  Tell them nice and calmy and firmly and make them repeat it back so they definitely understand. Also write the word “Anaphylaxis” on your intake card, first thing before you even write down your name, so the nurses wake up and do their thing.  Don’t just write “weird rash.”  You’re not there because you’re worried your skin isn’t pretty.  You’re there because your milder-symptoms could turn into deadly symptoms in the next few hours, and these are the people who can keep you alive if that should happen.
  • Of course be calm and polite if your breathing is fine and the staff are doing what they need to.  But put that word ANAPHYLAXIS in front of their face so that they know to do all the things.
  • Don’t worry that you are bothering anyone by “overreacting” if your symptoms are confusing and you aren’t sure if your allergic reaction is serious or not.  This is what your local emergency-care providers are there for, and also they get paid, so it’s not like you’re interrupting tea time or something.

Okay, that’s today’s PSA.  Share it around if there’s someone you know who needs to see this.

Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis

Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 1.0. Here’s a link that gives you the text and more info re: Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis.

 

How’s it Going, Jen?

It’s been, oh, thirty-seven years since last I blogged?

Quick recap tonight of what you’ve missed, and then as soon as I finally complete the task that is constantly getting shoved to #2 on my to-do list, presumably blogging resumes.  Since last we spoke:

I had some form of minor plague. No opinion on what it was or wasn’t.  Sore throat, headache, muscle aches, world’s lowest fever that still managed to feel like a fever, mild cough, and award-winning fatigue.

That last one I would have chalked up to old-and-out-of-shape, except two days before the plague descended, I was out running sprints and felt just fine.  Within a week of plague lifting, went out and ran sprints and felt just fine.

In between? Found myself watching Samurai Cat (loved it in a cult-classic kinda way, until I got tired of waiting for better plot developments), and then Frozen (mmnn, no, wasn’t sick enough yet), and then at the nadir I came to love Twitter, because I had enough energy to hold my phone, but not enough to hold the laptop.  At worst, sitting up even a few minutes was too tiring.

At the worst.  Large parts of the plague were not that bad.  Other than being someone who really, really loved Samurai Cat for a while. Honestly I’m half considering going back sometime and finding out if our hero ever works through his marital problems, or if he’ll just continue to stare moodily at the cat for another season.

My family attempted to run the house without me.  If this were any other year, I might have begged out of chores on the most intently plague-ridden days, and otherwise slogged through the daily grind, albeit with a little more R&R than usual.  Cover that cough but don’t let it keep you from making dinner.

But this is not any other year, so into the designated isolation ward I went.  My people muddled through as best they could, but it turns out I do a few things around this place?  So on the one hand, my convalescence was the most relaxing on record as I was forbidden to get back to work until I finally mounted a rebellion and we all googled probabilities of on-going contagiousness; on the other hand, there was plenty waiting to be remedied when I was finally set free.

Oh look! 300 pages of typos! So I spent a couple weeks digging toward the light at the end of the tunnel, none of it bad, lots of good developments on the construction front, but blogging takes a back seat.  As I was working my way through the catch-up-with-reality list, the proof of The Beast came into my hands.  It turns out that some author we know put many, many, typos into her manuscript.

Ahem.

Also: Splits infinitives.  You may have noticed.

A beloved editor of mine has a ministry of reconciliation, bringing estranged infinitives back into couplehood.  I wish her well.  I do not claim to be cured of my affliction so easily.  Will probably require several more shock-treatments.

Now what? On the to-do list:

  • Help a friend with her taxes, and maybe another friend with her taxes, and also do my own taxes, ha.
  • FINALLY write up the awesome interview I did AGES AGO that has been sitting on my desk begging for attention.  Hoping to see it at you-know-where, but if not there than the blorg or here or some other venue.
  • Got another good one in the wings, and a gazillion more I’d like to hunt down.  We have a lot of people in Catholic world doing good work on the evangelization front.
  • Continued improvements here at the castle, where life is good and check it out: I sorta have an office!  Of my own!  Still sharing it with lumber and a few remaining tools.   Plus cats.  Can’t bring myself to kick them out, even though it’s warm enough.

FYI for those who are curious, the pink binder on the desk behind Mr. Purrkins contains my marked-up copy of The Beast.

Improvised desk and bookshelves made out of crates and boards, cat in foreground. Occupies old garage space.

Sorry, no selfie, my camera has apparently given up that work.  Lent must have been too much for it.  I suppose it was for most of us.

View from My Office: Social Distance

As of this morning we’ve got six people working from home in our 2.5 bedroom house — and one them is a child with a cough who’s taken over the master bedroom because she’s in quarantine.  Thus, picking back up with our intermittent penance, my office now looks like this:

Laptop on a shelf in a crammed-full workshop

Photo: Yes, I fled to a corner of our crammed-full “garage”, because it is the one space that no one else wants, and there’s a solid door separating me from the rest of the house.  I’m happy about the arrangement:

Me posing next to the water heater

Photo: Me just finishing up morning prayers in the warm, consoling presence of the water heater, perhaps a little too smug in having stolen the SuperHusband’s folding lawn chair from his exile in the camper (because: we’ve been evicted from our bedroom by the sick child).  I need a folding chair, not one of the good lawn chairs from the patio, because I need to be able to clear the emergency exit out the back door of the garage when I’m not using the chair, and we’re not working with the kind of spaciousness that lets you just put the chair somewhere else.

This would be why there’s a construction project in my yard.

***

At least until everyone starts remembering I can now be found hiding behind crates of books and a table saw in my 16 square feet of personal space, this move is game-changer.  I’ve been struggling for the last two years with no office space of my own, and due to construction the SuperHusband has been working from home several days a week all fall, therefore needing during the day the small, cluttered office we previously shared in shifts.  Many colleagues can attest that this has not had a winning effect on my productivity.

Hence my one recommendation for those now embarking on the everything-at-home lifestyle: Even if it means setting up your office in a closet or a bathroom or behind stacks of crates in the corner of the garage, get yourself your OWN space.

Think about the work that you do. When SuperHusband works from home, he has two needs.  One is the big computer with all the monitors (which I kinda need too, buuuut . . . some office chores are going to have to wait), and the other is the ability to pace around while he conducts phone calls in his booming made-for-the-choir-loft voice.  Our shared office is, acoustically, in the same space as our kitchen and living area — in which living area our college student is now going to be doing all his classes online, since the university shut down.

The boy is already a pro at claiming the 11pm-2am shift for getting work done, and since we have all teenagers now, SuperHusband can pace and exclaim on the phone all he wants before noon, the dead aren’t rising unless they absolutely must.  Once the kids emerge from their slumber and start needing to do schoolwork, though, we agreed that the Dad is gonna need to go out to the dried-in construction zone and do his phone calls there.

Just as well I cede that space, which I’d been using as a day office when too many people were home and I had a lot of editing to knock out, because it is possible for contractors to keep on keeping on without spreading contagion (not a real touchy-feely profession), so SuperHusband’s planning to take a few vacation days this spring to accelerate construction.

***

Notes on separating kids during illness: In the past, we didn’t strictly quarantine sick children for cold-type symptoms.  We did our best to keep actively ill children out of the kitchen, but beyond that to an extent we accepted the inevitable.  With COVID-19, however, the parents decided that if at all possible, we’d like to not have two parents sick at the same time.  Yes, our young adults living at home can run things in a pinch — we have two now old enough to wield a power of attorney if it comes to it — but it would be better not to have to lay that much responsibility on them.

For our kids, the decision to make the master bedroom sick-central is victory.  Many many years ago we did start strict quarantine for vomiting children.  We have the luxury of a second bathroom, and once we began the practice of setting up a camping mattress, portable DVD player, and a collection of easily-bleached toys in the spare bathroom, and insisting ‘lil puker stay put until the coast was clear, we stopped having stomach viruses run through the whole family.

That arrangement is just fine for a clearly-defined illness of short duration; a nasty cough, in contrast, can linger ambiguously for weeks, and COVID-19 is growing notorious for its waxing and waning.  So our current exile is thrilled to have her own bedroom for the first time in her life, with private bath, big bed, space for all the Legos on the square of open floor (I insist a path be cleared before delivering room service), and even a sunny window seat on top of a big ol’ storage box.

If our system works, corner of the garage is a small price to pay.

***

Related Links

The Darwins are blogging about many aspects of pandemic-living, including some pro-tips on homeschooling.  If you aren’t already a regular reader, that’s something you need to change in your life.

Looking through my years of homeschool-blogging, here are a few that may be of help:

And finally, Finding Writing Time, Homeschool Mom Edition. Two things to learn from this older post:

  • No, you really cannot work full time from home and homeschool simultaneously;
  • Scheduling is everything.

At the time I wrote this one my kids were younger, so the natural flow was kids in the morning, mom-work in the afternoon.  With teens, I’d say it’s the other way around.  If you’re Simcha Fisher and have it all? The job from home, the morning shift getting littles out the door, the  big kids trickling home in the afternoon, the babies hanging around all day, and the dinner on the table? I don’t care if your kids do wear odd mittens and think that’s normal. You’re my hero.

Listen people: You can’t fully-totally-amazingly homeschool and work a full time job from home with no adult help.  Childcare is work.  Educating people is work. Work is work. There’s no magic.  Pandemic season is going to be hard.  Drop your expectations. Hold together the absolute minimum and you’ll be ahead of the game.

On the Glory of St. Blog’s Parish

This is not a nostalgic look at the good ol’ days of Catholic blogging.  I first started blogging in late 2006, and sometime after that I met Dorian Speed, who gamely agreed to pose yesterday of our combined Monday-Tuesday penitential photo.  She is as fun in real-life as she is online, and since what we have in common is Catholic blogging, yesterday over coffee she posed the question: Do I miss the old days?

Yes and no.  I’m grateful for the old days.  There are things I miss about the old days.  But also I’m happy with Catholic online life in 2020.

***

I started the century by discovering an online discussion forum that was mostly Catholic-moms, and twenty years later that group of friends is still together and still periodically meeting up in real life.  The old discussion forums were a great place for people who like debating, and I am one of that breed.

With that in mind, here’s some irony: As Facebook and Twitter have become the preferred stomping grounds for Catholic pundits of a certain age and sensibility, I find myself less interested in debating, and appreciate that those platforms are better suited to other types of conversations . . . and simultaneously I see other people make themselves miserable by immersing themselves in conflict there where they could so easily avoid it.

I say ironic because what I love about Facebook, Twitter, and other popular platforms I don’t use but which are similar in this regard, is that you can choose your conversation partners.  The old discussion forums and blog comboxes didn’t afford that luxury.  Now I can customize my discussion experience to avoid the people who make me crazy and spend comparatively more time with the people who make my life better.  I wish I had more control (I would like to see more photos of my nieces and nephews, less sloganeering), but I definitely don’t miss the days of the all-or-nothing online social experience.

It puzzles me that other people don’t just hit the “mute” or “hide” button when they tire of some acquaintance’s constant ranting. Then again, my favorite part of blogging is that no one has to read what I write.  It’s there if you want it, but I’m not imposing on anybody.

***

One of the marks of a longtime internet presence is that you end up with all these weird artifacts of your changing use of the machines.  I like to read online.  There was a time when Google offered G+, a fantastic way of gathering and sharing online reading.  When that shut down I migrated to Feedly, but Feedly doesn’t offer a free tool for sharing your favorite things.  So I started @JenFitz_Reads on Twitter, not for the purposing of twittering, but just as a convenient way of keeping track of articles that I found useful in some way.  The feed sits in the sidebar of this blog, and it’s meant to be a source of interesting links for people who are bored.

BUT, guess what, it’s a pain to switch between Twitter accounts.  So over the past couple weeks as I have been entering into conversations on Twitter (which I do not normally do, but call it spring fever or additional penance or whatever you like), it’s been easier to use my “alternate” account rather than my “official” account (on which I do almost nothing other than automatically forward posts from a couple blogs).  So, um, that’s twisted and backwards.  We’re just going to live with that for a while.

***

Now let’s talk about those good ol’ days on St. Blog’s.

One thing I miss, as I told Dorian yesterday, are the days when Catholics of good will might be comparatively more liberal or conservative, but they were not quite so bitter. Angry? Oh yeah.  Outrage is the fuel that makes the internet go ’round.  We are not gentle people.  If we were peaceful souls, we’d clean our kitchens and paint landscapes and get dinner on the table on time for a change.  By definition St. Blog’s has always been the fortress and refuge of opinionated hotheads.  Over the past several years, though, unfortunately that superpower has taken on an unfortunate flavor for some otherwise decent folk who, I believe, do mean well.

I get the frustration.

It is hard to be a person who works for change — not just by writing, but by putting in hours of work on the ground in real life, day after day, year after year — and watches decades pass with large parts of the Church still locked up in the same old cluelessnees and corruption.  Good things are afoot in the Catholic Church, but if you don’t have a front seat on that work, or if you have too many dysfunctional (or in some cases even abusive) realities shoved in your face too often, it can eventually harden into jaded cynicism at best.  “Be the change you want to see” becomes the taunt of sacred overlords to their subjects.  It is a constant battle not to become bitter in such an environment, and far too many on St. Blog’s have surrendered to the temptation.  I get it.  I completely get it.

***

There is another topic that Dorian and other friends reminded me of in the last couple days: There was a time when people blogged for sheer love of it.  My favorite bloggers still do.

I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  Used to drive my grandmother batty with my constant scribbling in the notebooks I carried around.  On those occasions when I find myself without a computer, I resort to a spiral notebook.  If there is no spiral notebook, I write on scrap paper.  I am honestly unclear on how people survived before the ready availability of writing materials.  Did you just go insane?  Or probably got the chores done, I guess. Until you went insane.

***
I like the state of the internet in 2020. Some people make themselves miserable by failing to use the mute button.  Some people make themselves miserable by obsessing over their “success” on the internet.  But none of that is necessary.  I’m very grateful for the many friends I’ve made online over the past twenty years. I’m very grateful for the many “real life” friends and family I can keep up with online who otherwise live too far away to stay in touch.  Life is good.

Me standing with Dorian Speed.

Our Photo Penance for Today: Dorian Speed and I standing together after coffee yesterday, early in the day before I devoted the next ten hours to wrestling with the beast.  It’s back in my editor’s hands this morning, Alleluia.

 

7QT: Hoppy Lent

#1 It’s Friday, so double the penance.  Over at the Blorg I’m writing about the economic fallout of quarantine and what that means for the ordinary Catholic. Includes a photo of me and my red dinosaur plush toy.  I’m really getting into the penitential mood.

#2 It turns out I was wrong yesterday.  A week and some ago I wrote “5 Ways to Stay Sane During Lent” now up the Register.  Which includes the lines the Internet is not your spiritual director. But when I quoted it yesterday, I’d forgotten I’d written it, but remembered I saw it on Twitter spoken by someone else.  So that’s interesting.  Apparently I am not the only person getting tired of the annual scolding about how everybody’s doing Lent wrong.

#3 Advance praise for the book!  From a reader who shall remain anonymous, but FYI this a person who was forced to read the book, did not choose to read the book, and who admits to being rather worn out on the whole topic of evangelization:

This left me going “Hey, that thing over there – I could maybe do that.” So, kudos. You got me to actually like a book on evangelization.

Didn’t see that coming.  Woohoo!  It really is a good book, and in very good news, I’m done with major edits, unless on my final read-through this weekend I find something I desperately want to change.  So prayers, please, that if there is something that needs to be fixed I find it?  Yes?  Because this is a very broad-audience book, and y’all know just how ornery I can be, when I’m let loose with my words and things.

#4 I’ll just get ornery right now.  Read today about an American bishop who’s mandated communion in the hand. He’d like people to maybe quit holding and shaking hands during Mass, but he’s not going to insist, so I guess its up to people in the pews to withstand the glares if they decline to shake hands right before, you know, eating with their hands. Yikes.

So anyway, here’s what happened to me this week: I popped into daily Mass Thursday, and the Mass I attended draws a fairly traditionalist crowd.  Majority in attendance receive on the tongue habitually.  Father announced that he was going to distribute the sacred host only, no chalice, on account of infection risk.  No announcement about how one may or may not receive.

When I went up to receive, sure enough, Father’s perfectly capable of giving communion on the tongue without any contact between his hand and the recipient’s body.

It’s a skill, it’s a skill that can be learned, and sadly it’s not a skill I’ve ever observed practiced among people distributing hand-to-hand.

Thus for the moment, if you have significant reasons to be concerned about catching something, your only safe bet is to only visit ministers of the Eucharist who don’t touch people’s hands or mouths (or other body parts) when they distribute communion, and who also are particular about washing their hands thoroughly before Mass and not touching germy surfaces from there on out.

I’d like to see some parishes get serious about making that happen.

I’d very like to see some dioceses get serious about putting together a plan to protect our priests from highly contagious viruses that disproportionately kill older men and especially older men with various underlying health conditions that are extremely common in the USA, while still allowing those men to carry out their God-given vocations.

#5 Back to gratitude.  Earlier this month I was one of the moderators for the Catholic Quiz Bowl of South Carolina.  It was a ton of fun and I was thrilled to be able to do it, and considered the free lunch that came with to be all the more thanks required.  Still, the organizers not only arranged to have a Mass said in honor of each individual volunteer moderator’s intentions, they also had gift bags for us!

Mine contained this beautiful rosary, one of many prizes donated by The Catholic Company:

Blue and silver rosary with Sacred Heart medal. Blue and silver rosary with mother-and-Child medal

Which was what I’ve needed, though I didn’t realize it until I got home.

#6 The reason I need it is because ever since the death of my previous prayer partner, Rosary Dog, I’ve been struggling with getting my rosary prayed, or too often and too consistently just neglecting to pray it. So a shiny new beautiful thing half-enticed and half-guilted me into getting my act together.

It’s sorta working?

So tonight the sun was getting low in the sky and I had a chance to get out for a quick walk after supper, and grabbed that rosary and hit the road, but I woke up with a bit of a cough today and was ready to give up halfway through the Crowning with Thorns.  I know!

But then I got back to the yard and decided I’d just wander a little and maybe persevere.  I picked at a few weeds coming up in the mint, and before I knew it I’d prayed all the things and also gotten a nice fistful of greens for a rabbit I know.

Me with Miffy, a white Jersey Woolie rabbit

Photo: Me and Miffy, my new prayer-assistant.  Once you have a rabbit, your yard never looks the same again.

And that’s why I can write books on evangelization for people who hate evangelization, and I can write diatribes on shut up already and leave people alone to enjoy their Lent in peace, because I am a person whose prayer life depends largely on the presence of pets.

#7 All you holy men and women?  Pray for us.

***

Guys, I’m thrilled to be back on Seven Quick Takes, however inconsistently, because joining in reminds me to go look, and when I go look I find all kinds of good reading.  There are some super links posted this week.  Check them out.

When You’re Failing at Lent

Here’s an actual thing I prayed Sunday morning at Mass: “Jesus, please help me stop failing at Lent.”

I wouldn’t say I’m a pro at Lent any year, but this year is hitting new lows in the spectacular failure department.  One of the particularly depressing features is that things I used to be good at in previous years — this prayer routine, that bit of self-denial, those important tasks — I’m not hitting them like the imaginary composite “perfect Jennifer” does in my head.  Pick the best Jennifer features selected over 30 years of Lents, feasts, and ordinary times, mash her together into a collage called “You Should Be Able To Do This No Sweat,” and then stand back and despair.

That’s not the point of Lent.

For those of us on the Lent Failure Track, this is the point: Discover again how much you need God.

Hidden Years in the Spiritual Life

Over the last week I’ve been proofing the paperback version of the new book.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the book walks you through an examination of your life with respect to the four ways of loving God — heart, soul, mind, and strength. (There’s a review here — thanks Patrice!)  So here it is Lent and I’ve written this great retreat that is ideal for use during Lent, and I’m thinking to myself: If there is one thing Jennifer does not need to be doing right now, it is this retreat.

I have been thinking because my life is already very full, and I don’t need to think up new things.

But I’ve been proofreading the paperback version, and as a result I sort of ended up doing an abridged version of the retreat in my brain.  The abridged version consisted of me noticing select passages that scream JENNIFER LISTEN TO THIS!!!! and then me getting an extremely clear idea, after reading all the words in the book, of exactly what it is I need to be working on in my relationship with God right now.

What I need to be working on is not glamorous.  God asks us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and some corners of those four parts of ourselves are not impressive.  I don’t think, “Wow, I would be SO HOLY if only I worked on _[thing that needs attention]_.”  Foundational issues don’t amaze.  It’s like a building.  The bulk of the technical genius is hidden from sight.

The Things You’ll Miss If You Don’t Have Them

Yesterday was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon around here, perfect for getting out for a bike ride or a walk in the woods or doing something fun with the kids.  Instead, the Superhusband spent his few hours of time off work replacing the toilet in the kids’ bathroom.

He could have gone out and done some Dad-activity that was easy for everyone to appreciate.  If you’re the dad playing soccer at the park or pitching balls, everyone’s like, “Wow! What a great dad!”  Replacing the toilet is like, “Wow!  Look where the toilet used to be!  It’s another toilet!”  You do all that work and there isn’t much to show, because that work is an investment in nothing happening in the future.  You’ll know the new toilet was worth it because: Nothing.  There’ll be a lack of toilet-related drama and that’s it.

Lent-Lite

That’s what it’s like in Remedial Lent.  Lent is falling apart because you need to make some adjustments.  A good penance will bore and annoy you, but it works.  You suffer a little, but mostly you just suck it up and do fine.  When you’re failing at Lent, something needs to change.  Probably something you don’t really feel like working on, because if you felt like working on it, you would have dealt with it from the outset.

So God is good, and He lets you try your thing.  And then you start failing at Lent, and when you finally break down and beg for help, God reminds you of the other thing.  The more important thing.   You can’t believe it’s the more important thing, because surely something as small as that, or as ugly as that, or as intrusive as that, isn’t what Lent is all about, right?  But you were failing at Lent.  It’s because God needs you to work on loving Him in this other area you’d rather not.

When you decide to give your whole self to God, you have to give the not-so-shiny parts too.

 

File:Jeremias-de-Decker-Jacob-Aertsz-Colom-J-de-Deckers-Gedichten MGG 0570.tif

Artwork: Christ in the Garden, Jeremias de Decker, 1656.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

 

So How’s It Going, Jen? (Spring 2018 Edition)

I’m about a year overdue on a personal update.  Short version: It’s good.  Very, very good.

How good is it?  So good that if I don’t work and workout enough every day, I get restless.

And that’s about all there is to say.  About me, anyhow.

***

I thought I’d post an update now because the last of my homeschoolers is starting school next week, and that can make people think, “Something must be wrong,” or, “The mother must be burned out,” or stuff like that.  My close homeschooling friends are aware that L. & I were due for a change of format, and we looked into creating a multi-day hybrid school (which may yet happen a different year); both of us seem to do better when we’re working with a group of friends rather than just the two of us solo.  But I would have gladly transitioned that direction and kept on homeschooling.

What happened, though, is that A.’s 6th grade teacher got to talking about schools for next year (for A.). My 8th-grade homeschooler L. & I did the advance work scoping out a school the teacher suggested we look into, and L. loved the school.  It seemed ridiculous to tell a kid that she shouldn’t try a thing she really wants to do, that looks like it could be a good option for her in terms of her total formation, and which was a realistic option for our family.  Starting at the midterm in 8th grade (at the administration’s invitation) seemed like a wise idea, since it allows L. to give the school a try before the pressure of high school credit- and GPA-tracking kicks in.

Something fun: We were nervous about the school’s placement exams.  L. is a super-bright, extremely observant and creative kid, with an undeniable knack for problem-solving, but test-taking is not her strong suit.  She’s an outside-the-box thinker, and she doesn’t excel at working under pressure.  The school (small, church-operated) is not equipped to provide extensive learning support services, so they assess students prior to admitting them to make sure the students are coming in on grade level.

We were a little worried, because I grade that child’s math tests.  I know she can solve the problems (because she can explain how to solve them, teach other people, etc.), but her tests don’t always show it.  She sat through a day of 8th grade classes and said she was confident she could do the work, and I trusted her judgement on that — but wasn’t sure the tests would agree with her assessment.

Much to her surprise, even though she thought she did poorly on the math exam (and perhaps she did), she placed firmly at grade level.   Double surprise: She placed in a 12th+ grade level for reading comprehension.  (Spelling . . . not so much. But we knew that was coming.  Not a show-stopper.)

Sooo . . . guess that homeschooling thing was going okay.

She’s excited.  I’m happy for her.  And now I’m figuring out what my new occupation is going to be.

Here’s a nice hiking photo from France last summer.  By “Here’s a nice hiking photo  . . .” we mean, “Why yes, it’s going very well, thank you.”

The Advent Wars Escalate

We’ve reached a new low on the Battle for Advent: My house now sports an Ordinary Time Tree.

Christmas Lights on a fir tree, up close
Maternal Penance in Mixed Media, Detail

I told the children they ought to crown it for the feast of Christ the King, but they were too busy ignoring admonitions about liturgically-correct decorating schemes while they quick tied up all the cut limbs with red plaid bows.  In memory of the souls in purgatory, I’m sure.

***

Early last week my trusty Surface Pro (reliability rating: 7th Circle of IT Hell) spontaneously quit working, forever and ever amen, while I was using it.  I assume it was pre-punishment for my caving on the tree.  So I spent the week sharing one PC with a man who was home “on vacation” working all day at the one PC.

And that’s the story about how I became a Black Friday shopper.

Surreal part: No lines, no crowds, no traffic.  I gather that the “we’re closed on Thanksgiving (until 5pm)!” thing is causing all the crazy people to get their manic shopping needs taken care of on the vigil, leaving the daylight hours to those of us who don’t love the contact-sport side of holiday shopping.

Disturbing part: I purchased a laptop named after a deadly sin.

It was on sale, so it’s okay, right?

More disturbing part: It was not the right deadly sin.

If you told me I was blogging from a machine called wrath I’d consider it truth in advertising.  Sloth and gluttony come to mind as obvious runners-up. Were it a school chrome book, now the go-to way to avoid the hassle and expense of textbooks even though students don’t learn as well online, we could call it avarice.

But envy?  Nah.  It’s shiny, but not that shiny.  Envy is why we have the ordinary time tree.