Category Archives: Beauty

Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!

The best part of my job teaching high school English is that I am forced to reread a handful of classic books every year. Without this incentive, I would rarely re-read the old favorites–with so many new books on the must-read list, who has the time? Fortunately, it’s part of my job to make the time for revisiting a few. Recently, my 9th graders finished Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

I first read this play in Mrs. Bye’s 8th grade English class. I still have my copy of the text from that unit, complete with mundane annotations in bright purple ink, but I’m afraid that the only instruction I can remember is an embarrassing conversation about how we mustn’t think that Romeo was up to no good when he wakes up in Juliet’s chamber in Act III scene v, because he did marry Juliet properly, even though that part happened off-stage. Overall, though, my first impression of this tragedy was dominated by a profound sense of doom. Those two kids had so much working against them: they didn’t stand a chance!

I encountered the play a second time just after the end of my sophomore year of high school. Taking the advice of a beloved history teacher, who swore by the mystical power of “Shakespeare Dates” to revive the magic in romantic relationships, my boyfriend and I went to a production of R&J performed in St. Louis’ Forest Park. The plan backfired, though. When faced with Juliet’s heart-rending display of devotion, I admitted to myself that I would NOT  commit suicide out of despair if my boyfriend died. Acknowledging that my feelings for him would never measure up to that tragic standard convinced me that the relationship was going nowhere. I dumped him after the show. (It would be some time before I understood that killing oneself is not, in fact, the ultimate display of affection.)

That was over ten years ago–(which means that my 10th high school reunion will be NEXT YEAR! So stressful!)–and I managed to avoid a serious rereading of the play until this recent unit. What a difference 10 years can make! My perspective on these characters has altered dramatically, as well as my understanding of Shakespeare’s overall message. Romeo and Juliet aren’t doomed:  they are agents of their own fates just as much as the rest of us. And the point isn’t that this tragedy was unavoidable and necessary for reconciliation between the Capulets and the Montagues; No, the point is that it COULD have and SHOULD have been prevented, and only a series of consciously wrong choices allowed it to happen.

Both Romeo and Juliet experience moments of foreboding and voice their concerns that “Gee, I get the feeling that if I crash this party/drink this sleeping potion, something really bad is going to happen.”  But they do it anyway! And did I mention that these star-crossed lovers spend a grand total of 20 minutes together before vowing eternal devotion and sneaking off to marry each other? An impulsive, rebellious  marriage smacking of a rebound (remember Rosaline, Romeo??) carefully orchestrated by the well-intentioned Friar who excuses multiple deceptions because he just wants everyone to get along: Can this be true love?

As an eighth grader, I found their declarations beautiful and inspiring. Ten years later, I find myself shaking my head and sighing “Oh, children…” as they cavalierly offer to strip themselves of their very names if only they can be together. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, all right, but for completely different reasons than I originally thought. I’d love to juxtapose this unit with The Crucible and assign a comparative essay on the significance of names.

How have your re-reading experiences altered your thinking about a certain novel or play?

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by | 01/31/2012 · 9:38 am

Merry Happy

One of the charms of living on an academic schedule is the frequent opportunities for a fresh start. Every August is a new beginning, complete with that bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and determined resolve to see the true potential in each student. Every January presents a chance for more changes, which usually start with the purchase of a new bathroom scale (the old one is, clearly, malfunctioning). And every June  provides an occasion for continued improvement (“This summer, I’m going to teach myself ARABIC! (No.)).  Throw in the inspiration of a birthday, and at least one good confession, and you can revive your motivation for self-improvement at least every other month.

In this light, it’s no wonder that educators are such vastly superior beings! We improve, on average, five times faster (…or is it five times more frequently?), than your average Joe.

The thing is, every time I NEED that kick in the pants, a reminder that, Yes–time marches on, but No, all is not yet lost. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again with a clean slate.

Isn’t it funny how the small things weigh us down? I don’t know about you, but my resolve is easily shaken. Tiny failures pile up so quickly. A chore ignored on Monday, a coupon left unclipped on Tuesday, the grading incomplete on Wednesday, and by Thursday I’ve decided to give up, order a pizza, and let the clutter accumulate like piles of broken dreams while I fade into the oblivion of poverty and filth, doomed to a lifetime of obesity and nauseating similes.

But, as the immortal Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

And so we begin again. Tomorrow is my first blogiversary: Breeding Lilacs is now an entire year old. I’ve posted 65 times in the past 365 days, and I hope to triple that number in the coming year. Hope to? No, PLAN to. Will.

Those of you who have been with me this whole time know that 2011 has been a big year for the Good family. You were with me during my last months of pregnancy, the arrival of Sam, the early weeks of motherhood and that very long hiatus there during the summer. Often during this past year, the combination of housekeeping, parenting, teaching and playing moderately challenging board games has left me with little time or inclination to write. I’ve missed it, though, and am hereby resolving to stop avoiding it and to stop blaming the baby when I do.

Since we’re still in the thick of the Twelve Days of Christmas, let me wish you a very merry one. And Happy New Year, dears. May 2012 be our best one yet.

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Filed under Beauty, Mothering, Writing

Happiness

While alone in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon, sipping a Fat Tire and waiting for my family to return from a walk, I had a startling revelation. Pleasantly heavy with a delicious birthday dinner, (prepared by my mother, who visited this weekend), refreshed from a peaceful nap, and warmed in my heart by messages of love and good will from friends all over, I realized, yesterday, that I am truly happy. And, moreover, I suspect that I have been for quite some time.

I don’t mention it much because I don’t remember it often. Somehow, I manage to avoid the pleasure of contentment by keeping frantically busy washing tiny socks and checking mundane chores off a never-ending list. I seek happiness in the tepid thrill of minor accomplishments, foolishly ignoring the pervading peace already here.

It is not, I’m afraid, very fashionable or even polite to profess happiness these days. People seem to assume that such a blatantly positive attitude betrays hopeless naivete about the myriad problems facing our generation or–worse–a lack of concern for the suffering.  Many also labor under the assumption that if we don’t have a litany of personal problems to share and suffer through, than, well, there won’t be much left to talk about. So we smile patiently, and explain how everything is fine, or would be if the mechanic didn’t charge so much or if this case of the sniffles would disappear or if our bosses didn’t expect us to do quite so much work. Graciously accepting the mild pity offered in return, we rest comfortably on our pillars of martyrdom and quietly dare our friends to trump our set of woes.

But I’m done with replying to the casual “And how are YOU?” with a list of difficulties that temper my happiness: none of the minor problems that crop up in daily life deserve to be first on my list of conversation topics. I can bear testimony to much greater, and vastly more interesting truths.

It’s easy to say that, I admit, when I’ve just received a bunch of lovely gifts and I’m well-rested and my fridge contains over half of a decadent chocolate Kahlua cake. (Cake which I will gladly share: yes, I’m talking to YOU, local pregnant friends. Chocolate glaze. Coffee ice cream. You know you want it.) But the glow of birthday bliss has, in this case, served as a much-needed reminder of the graces I enjoy year-round.

Some of you know that my perspective on aging is traditionally tainted by a measure of distaste and more than a little fear.  The gray hairs sneaking in around my temples and my complete lack of interest in trying on jeggings remind me that I’m slowly becoming decrepit and dead. (I know, I know–just bear with me). But this year I can honestly say that turning 27 is okay with me. Because, for the first time—thanks to my husband, my son, my parents, and my ever-loving friends—I actually believe that this will be the best year yet.

 

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Filed under Beauty, Faith

Neophyte No Longer

My term as a neophyte officially ends today.

The past year has been exceptionally rich in sacraments. Last Easter marked my first confession, my confirmation and my first communion. The months immediately following were devoted to preparing for the sacrament of marriage. And this year, on the Monday of Holy Week, we were able to celebrate the baptism of our first born son. We cannot, of course, maintain this pace of sacraments, or we’ll arrive at last rites far too quickly. But they’ve made for a wonderful start.

The ebb and flow of the liturgical year is becoming a more familiar mark of the passage of time than turning over pages on the calendar. I love the intentional focus of each season: the simplicity of Advent, the warmth of Christmastide, the stark solemnity of Lent, and the burst of joy at Easter. With all the solemnities and feast days in between, we never lack for reminders of the hardships and blessings of following Christ whole-heartedly.

While preparing for one of his recent lectures on the tragic Death of a Salesman, my husband remarked that the curse of Eve is not simply pain in child birth (though that one IS a doozy), but more so, the pain of passing on the curse, of seeing our children succumb to sin and suffer the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the community. It’s tempting, as a new mother, to let fear of all the “what-ifs” in Sam’s future overwhelm me: What if he gets sick? What if he becomes a rebellious teenager and hates his parents? What if he doesn’t like to read? Terrifying possibilities.

How grateful I am, especially now, that we have been provided with the sacraments, with these physical signs of the spiritual realities. Seeing my child blessed with holy water and anointed with the fragrant chrism oil was not just a comforting ritual: from that moment, he has been truly free from the curse of original sin. And as he grows in understanding, I pray he’ll come to claim that truth for himself.

Little Samuel, all dolled up for his first Easter Mass

And how grateful I am, too, for the communion of saints! My godmother, Eve, has been so encouraging through RCIA and this whole year of changes and celebrations. And now one of my dearest friends, Amy, has joined our little family as Sam’s godmother. Their prayers, along with those of our patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri and the prayers of all our friends and family, have certainly blessed Zach and I as we’ve adjusted to marriage, and now parenthood.

So, Happy Easter, dear friends and readers. May this joyful season nourish fresh hope and new life in your spirits.

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Filed under Beauty, Catholicism, Faith, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

Mesmerizing

A little celebration of talent in the arts for you this Friday morning:

Ain’t life beautiful?

Happy weekend, everybody.

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Filed under Beauty, Whimsey