Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead

10 Books You Must Read to Your Son

After 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter, I thought the boys were getting rather left out. Having never been a boy, this list didn’t come as naturally. But, being the mother of a boy it seems equally important. Basically, I want my son to be a confident, thoughtful, compassionate, strong-minded, and virtuous man like Mr. Knightley, not a weak, desire-driven, selfish cad like Willoughby. So here goes (with some help from Daniel)…

1. The Once and Future King by T.H. White: I cannot wait to read this to Benjamin. This retelling of the King Arthur story is delightful and full of important questions of honor, justice, and manhood. Also, there’s adventure galore and falconry. So, what more could you want?

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings is the foundation for a huge amount of modern fantasy literature, movies and video games.  It would not be exaggerating to say that even the genre of “fantasy” became nearly synonymous with the general aspects of Tolkien’s world. Beyond the fantasy genre, LotR has influenced everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars. Despite this far reaching influence, Tolkien’s imagined world remains unmatched in depth, history, richness, and detail. But more important than all of this, The Lord of the Rings teaches virtue in an incredibly powerful way. Of course, there is Aragorn; wise, strong, courageous, and skilled in warfare. But, despite what the LotR movies would have you believe, Tolkien was not enamored with war. Battles make up a very small percentage of his books and he does not romanticize fighting.  The true heroes, Sam and Frodo, are neither physically strong or all that knowledgeable and they spend almost no time engaged in any sort of physical combat. Their great feat is their faithfulness to the task given to them, their courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for others.

3. Beowulf: Get yourself the Seamus Heaney translation and introduce your son to some epic Anglo-Saxon manhood. There are dragons, monsters, and really strong guys who can rip monsters apart with their hands. But it’s not really about brawn, it’s about honor, courage, responsibility, and sacrifice.

4. The Iliad by Homer: Just in case Beowulf didn’t thoroughly saturate your kid with epic poetry, read him the Iliad. It’s kind of a classic.

5. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: I’m not a huge fan of the YA Fiction “coming of age” story, but this one is pure gold. On the surface, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows Jody Baxter, a young boy living in backwoodsy Florida, and his friendship with a deer, but there are deeper themes of family, sacrifice, and the painful process of growing up. There are enough bear hunts and snake bites to keep any boy’s attention but this fine novel can wring tears from a grown man.

6. Anything Jane Austen: I know, I know, you think they’re just for girls, but you’re wrong. The heroes of Austen’s six novels don’t slay dragons or hunt bears but they are fighting everyday battles of self-sacrifice, honor, and compassion. I hope Benjamin grows up to be a chivalrous Mr. Knightley or a noble Colonel Brandon and I want him to understand the consequences of acting like a rakish Willoughby, Henry Crawford, or Wickham: everything gets ruined, especially the cad’s own soul. These novels aren’t about weddings, they’re about virtue. A thorough knowledge of Miss Austen’s novels also won’t hurt a young man’s ability to win the heart of his lady love.

7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: It’s no secret that these books are favorites in the Stewart household. When I was pregnant with our firstborn I said to Daniel in a horrorstruck voice, “What if our kids don’t like Harry Potter?!” We decided to just dismiss the thought because it’s too ghastly to consider. So, many fine male characters, friendship Aristotle would approve of, a view of evil that’s thoroughly Augustinian, beautiful depictions of sacrificial love, and a high view of family are just a few things that the series has to offer.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: First of all, I can’t believe I left this series off the girl’s list. They’re worthy of a place in every kid’s childhood. Benjamin’s almost three and I really want to give these wonderful books a try for reading aloud at bedtime.

9. The Boy Scouts Handbook: Daniel tells me that an old-timey version of this book about gaining cool skills was one of his favorites as a child. I think it’s important for young boys (and girls) to be outdoorsy savvy.

10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: OK, so I should confess that I haven’t read this one, but Daniel wrote his thesis on it and says it’s a must read, so it makes the list. The theme of Man vs. Nature is sure to appeal to your young man and the book also includes ships, whales, and sharp objects. Most boys really like the idea of going into the wild and being tested by the forces of nature, or at least that’s what I’m told.

Here’s some more titles highly recommended to me that I didn’t include in the list because it’s been too long since Daniel or I have read them: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (more man vs. nature), The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Montecristo is also really great), Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Got any suggestions? What would be on your list?

Hi, New Folks!
January 30, 2012, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Misc

My blog has gained a surprising number of new subscribers and followers in the past couple of weeks (the surprising part being that my mom isn’t the only one reading it anymore).  So thanks for subscribing and for sharing and pinning my posts!

For you new wonderful followers, I’m Haley. Lovely to meet you.

I’m a Catholic convert living in the bright, sunny, South. Things I love include bacon, the Middle Ages, okra, Harry Potter, coffee and tea, Jim Dale audiobooks, reading in the bathtub, Arthurian literature, Bon Iver, Masterpiece Theatre, ginger cookies, Miss Jane Austen, and celebrating the Christian Year. I teach ballet, and I’m married to this guy.

His name is Daniel.  We were high school sweehearts. You can read our Love Story if you’re in a sentimental mood. Daniel is good at mostly everything. You can read about how cool I think he is in this sappy post.

We’ve got two wee bairns, Benjamin, and Lucy. You can read about how we unexpectedly became parents in this post about My Unplanned Pregnancy. Benjamin is hilarious, adorable, and almost three. His interests include blueberries, construction equipment, his dinosaur slippers, and Friday when the garbage truck drives by our house. Check out his Birth Story if you’re into that kinda thing. Lucy is our newborn baby girl, full of sugar and spice and everything nice. Her interests include mama’s milk, snoozing, and charming everyone with her grin. You can read her Birth Story here.

We’re lucky enough to live in the same town with both our families and siblings after a 6 year exile to Texas (Texas, our Texas! All hail the mighty state!). And due to Daniel’s farming skills, we’ve got a pretty fantastic urban garden and three chicken ladies squawking around our front yard. Meet Feven, Daughter, and Gas Can (yes, Benjamin did name them).

You might also want to check out our blog about our attempts to celebrate the liturgical seasons: Feast! A Celebration of the Christian Year, the Lives of the Saints, and Good Food.

Thanks again for dropping by! You can contact me at haley.s.stewart(at)gmail(dot)com

10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Ending Up Like That Horrid Girl in Twilight)

So now we have a baby daughter. Look how she slumbers. She doesn’t even know that I stay up at night worrying about her self-image. And, oh horrors! What if someday she wants to read Stephanie Meyer’s literary atrocity, the Twilight series? You know the one, the books featuring a non-descript female protagonist who, in addition to having no interests or talents of any kind (other than smelling delicious to a sparkly 100-year-old vampire), is helpless, boring, and basically suicidal when her 100-year-old sparkly vampire boyfriend breaks up with her? Yeah, those books. So, I’m coming up with a reading list containing female characters that could put a smack down on Bella Swan any day of the week and reveal what a real woman looks like.

1. The Anne Books by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables and the 7 sequels that complete the series were a staple of my childhood. Anne is fantastic. She’s clever, charming, resourceful, imaginative (to a fault), and hysterically funny. And she goes to college and gets a BA during the Edwardian era. So that’s impressive. I actually saw the miniseries first and read the books later. IMPORTANT: Anne of Green Gables the film and Anne of Green Gables the sequel (Anne of Avonlea) are wonderful but for Pete’s sake DO NOT watch Anne the Continuing Story. Pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s an absurd and wretched thing that dishonors the very name of Anne. Really. Part of you will die.

2. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: I was probably a little too obsessed with the Little House books in my day. I may or may not have worn lace-up black boots, braids, and read under an old-timey quilt next to an antique hurricane lamp most of the time between the ages of 6 and 8. File this one under the category of “capable women doing cool stuff.” Laura Ingalls is awesome, obvi.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I have a distinct memory of finishing the last pages of Louisa May Alcott’s finest mere minutes before heading to the theatre to see the 1994 film on Christmas Day with my mom. What girl doesn’t adore the awkward and gutsy Jo March? I have to confess though that when I read it last year I realized I’m probably more like Amy—not because I have the slightest visual artistic talent but because we’re both selfish. I love that each of the four sisters are so different and yet each one exudes a positive kind of femininity, although, to be fair, Meg’s “I-don’t-worry-my-pretty-little-head-about-it” attitude isn’t quite what I have in mind for my daughter. Warning: after reading this I was rather bitter that I didn’t have sisters. Just a heads up.

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: You’d be hard pressed to find a book series with better female characters. There’s a quote swimming around the internet attributed to Stephen King: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” I concur. I love that Rowling can depict a strong, brave, capable, intelligent, and compassionate woman in such a variety of characters: a middle-aged stay-at-home mom of seven, a pink-haired dark wizard catcher, an elderly spinster teacher, and an overachieving teenaged student, to name a few.  If my girl emulates Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, Minerva McGonagal, or, of course, my beloved Molly Weasley, I’ll be a happy mama. And it doesn’t hurt that the whole plot pivots around the sacrifice of one amazing mother (Lily Potter) for her son. Anyone who’s down on these books can’t have read them.

5. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis: This complex book is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth and Orual, the main character (Psyche’s older unattractive sister), is an incredibly complex character. It’s not so much that Orual should be a role model, but her spiritual journey is worth reading and the book is sure to lead to some good discussions about what a good woman should be. It’s notable that Lewis had lots of help from his wife, Joy Davidman, when writing this book. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how a man could be so amazingly insightful about a woman’s mind.

6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: OK, so definitely not a girlie book (not that any book in this list has an exclusively female audience), and there’s very few female characters. However, the ones it depicts are fantastic. Galadriel? Eowyn? Yes, please. The book also exudes so many virtues that it seems hardly possible that having completed it your daughter will care two cents about Stephanie Whats-Her-Name. See? I can’t even remember because I’ve read Lord of the Rings. Also, it’s full of real men which is an important thing for a girl to be able to recognize. I’ll take Faramir, thanks.

7. Anything Jane Austen wrote: Want your daughter to know a thing or two about interesting women? Read all six of these novels to her. After reading them, one should know exactly what kind of woman to be and what kind of woman to avoid. Elizabeth Bennet has more clever things to say in one page of P&P than Bella Swan could mumble in her entire miserable existence. And none of Austen’s heroine’s decide to curl up and die when they’re “crossed in love.” Philosopher Alasdair McIntyre supposedly said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Jane Austen.” I quite agree.

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: A plain little orphan stands up to terrible relatives, survives a childhood of neglect and abuse, strengthens her mind with education, is the intellectual match of one of the most imposing and fascinating male characters in British literature, and makes the prettiest girl in the county look like a spineless nothing in comparison, among other impressive exploits. Supposedly, Charlotte Bronte bet her sisters (and fellow authoresses) that she could write a successful novel around a female character that was neither pretty nor charming. She won, obvi.

9. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter: Lesser-known book published in 1909, but a real treat. Stratton-Porter’s main character, Elnora Comstock, is so wonderful and endearing. Also she collects moths, so that’s cool (or at least Phillip Ammon thinks so). The prequel, Freckles, is also charming and delightful.

10. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: This three-part saga by Norwegian author Sigrid Undset won the Nobel prize for literature and is one of the finest works you will ever read with a female protagonist rarely paralleled. Kristin is an amazingly human character with as much depth as any female literary character I have encountered. Her spiritual journey is fascinating and the saga is set in 11th century Scandanavia which makes it way more awesome to my medieval-loving heart. However, there are some sexual themes which might make it inappropriate for younger girls. Absolutely worth reading and discussing.

At three months, I don’t think Baby Lucy is ready to dive into these, yet. In the mean time, this mama will be praying lots of rosaries. Anybody else have so many more worries about raising a girl?

Did I leave anything out? What are your recommendations? Any advice on how to raise strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, confident women? I’m all ears…

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son.


Ten Children’s Lit Titles on the Shelves of Downton Abbey Nursery
January 28, 2012, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Books, Children, Guest Posts | Tags: , , , ,

Guest Post today from the lovely Katherine Grimm Bowers! Katherine and her entire extended family of Bowerses and Grimms are favorites in the Stewart household. I begged Katherine, a fellow bookworm and a library studies expertlady, to come up with a little piece for Carrots for Michaelmas and she created something that combines some of my very favorite things: Edwardian Children’s Lit and Dame Maggie Smith. Enjoy! – Haley

I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey, lately, and I also wrote my undergrad thesis on Anne of Green Gables, so early twentieth-century children’s books hold a special place in my heart. And with Lady Violet’s sly children’s lit allusion in Series Two, quipping witheringly, “Edith, you’re a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall!” I feel all the more justified to associate the two in my mind.

The Edwardian era was a short reign that followed on the heels of the long Victorian period, lasting from 1901 to 1910, during the time the Grantham girls would have been growing up. Among children’s literature scholars (oh yes, there is such a thing!), it’s considered the Golden Age of children’s literature. These titles, on the whole, could easily have been on the sisters’ nursery shelves before the Downton Abbey story unfolds in April 1912.

Bernand Shaw claimed that Peter Pan was “really a play for grown-up people; for as you know, when we buy toys for children we take care to select the ones which amuse ourselves.” In this spirit, I offer up a few books for children most likely to amuse ourselves:

  1. The Wind in the Willows (1908). Well, we know at least Granny Grantham digs it. Another famous fan: C.S. Lewis, who famously turned to it whenever he caught cold. (Bonus: If you’re a fan of Narnia, you’ll definitely see influences.)
  2. Peter Pan (1902). If you’ve only seen the movie(s), you simply have to give this one a go. I know Haley’s particularly partial to the Jim Dale audio version.
  3. Anne of Green Gables (1908). A colonial interloper makes the list! OK, so I don’t know if the sisters would have had access to a Canadian novel, but I think we’ll all agree that Sybil’s optimism and idealism make her a total Anne.
  4. The Secret Garden (1911). Oh, man. I don’t even know if I can explain this. An ancient Yorkshire manor comes alive when impetuous Mary Lennox comes to stay. (I’m thinking we all know another quite contrary Mary, too.)
  5. The Railway Children (1906). E. Nesbit wrote 40 books for children in the course of the first two decades of the twentieth century. This one is a favorite of mine: a story of three children who live beside a railroad and make various friends while their father is accused of a crime he did not commit.
  6. Arthur Rackham’s editions of various Victorian classics. Rackham produces really lovely illustrations; the above is from his 1909 edition of the Grimms’ fairy tales.
  7. The Princess and the Goblin (1872). Earlier than the rest, but exemplifying the return to fairy tales and magic in Edwardian fiction. Another big influence on our main man, Mr. C.S. Lewis.
  8. A Little Princess (1911). If this book were by anyone but Frances Hodgson Burnett, it would make it on the list, no deliberation needed. Instead, I hesitate, because while I don’t love it like The Secret Garden, it’s completely wonderful in its own right. Virtue rewarded and a dash of magic. Sigh.
  9. Treasure Island (1882). Let’s not neglect boy books here. Though, like The Princess and the Goblin, another Victorian interloper, the Museum of Childhood assures me that Victorian favorites would have lived on upon the bookshelves of Edwardian children.
  10. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902), or anything Beatrix Potter, really. They celebrate the kind of country life Lord Grantham values.

Also, though it falls in roughly this time period, The Wizard of Oz (1900) is the pits. Seriously. Don’t bother.

When not musing on Edwardian children’s lit Katherine Bowers blogs about her adventures with an outdoorsy husband and bouncy dog at shouting hallelujah and as a librarian-type at The Cardigan Librarian.

This Week’s Miscellany: Vol. 5
January 28, 2012, 1:48 am
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , , , ,

Coming Up in the Liturgical Year: Candlemas, February 2nd! Get yo’ candles blessed! Check out last year’s Feast.

Listening: Gotye. You can listen to his new album Making Mirrors on NPR First Listen

Quote: “I do not want to be in a religion in which I am allowed to have a crucifix. I feel the same about the much more controversial question of the honor paid to the blessed Virgin. If people do not like that cult, they are quite right not to be Catholics. But in people who are Catholics, or call themselves Catholics, I want the idea not only liked but loved and loved ardently, and above all proudly proclaimed.” – G.K. Chesterton

Links: Bad Catholic: Why Twlight Sucks

Simcha Fisher: To the Mother with Only One Child

My post on Lovelyish about Why Downton Abbey is Better than Mad Men

A Picture Worth Sharing:

This one is going to be the venerable age of THREE in less than two weeks. Seems impossible.

I’m Excited About: Awesome guest post tomorrow by the likes of Katherine Bowers of shouting hallelujah. Get ready!

Sleep During the Newborn Stage: How to Get Some (Or, How to Survive Exhaustion)
January 24, 2012, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Children, Motherhood | Tags: , , , ,

After Benjamin was born I thought I would go mad from lack of sleep. I would sob from sheer exhaustion during the early morning hours when he would inevitably be awake–night after night after night. But this time it’s so different. Mostly because Lucy is such a champ at sleeping (up only once or twice a night) and doesn’t have the colic and reflux that plagued our boy, but also because I think my attitude is different.

So here’s a few tips I want to remember next time I have a newborn (particularly if they’re more like Benjamin) that might also be helpful to other new moms:

1. Don’t expect a full night’s sleep. I would get so frustrated when Benjamin wouldn’t sleep through the night (he really didn’t consistently until he was 1) making it only harder for me to fall asleep again once (if) he did. I would dwell on the sleep I was missing as the minutes ticked by. I would count up the scant, interrupted hours (or minutes) of sleep in horror. This time around, I expected to be up at least every couple of hours for the first few weeks and 2-3 times after that. Lucy surprised me by only getting up 2 times a night from very early on. Sometimes now (at 3 months) she will wake only once between 9ish and 6ish (AMAZING!).

2. Sleep close to your baby. Co-sleeping with Lucy is going great. I love snuggling up with her at night and never having to listen out for her or go to a separate room to make sure she’s still breathing. I don’t think our pediatrician supports co-sleeping but…oh well. It works great for us. Lucy never even fully wakes up. I just hear her rustling around a little bit and I nurse her on my side. She’s done snacking in 5-10 minutes and I hardly even have to wake up. I know all babies aren’t as easy as she is (Benjamin certainly wasn’t) but I think being close helps them settle back into sleep more easily. Having her so close helps me turn down my mommy radar that’s constantly listening out for my babies, allowing me to relax enough to go to sleep. Benjamin also co-slept with us for the first few months and then slept in a crib in our room after that. I so wanted him out of our bed that his inability to sleep by himself drove me nuts. This time around I’m enjoying it so much because I know it won’t last forever.

3. It won’t last forever. It feels like it you’ll be tired until you die of exhaustion. You won’t die. Probably not, at least. There really will come a day when you wake up in the morning and realize that your baby slept all the way through the night. I know it sounds crazy but try to give up control, resign yourself to exhaustion, and enjoy the sweetness of your baby. If your baby is extremely colicky and screaming through the night this is really really hard to remember. I understand. I’ve been there.

4. Be a team. Daniel and I were so tired and so new at being parents when Benjamin was born that we struggled with this. It started to be a competition of who was most tired and miserable. When Daniel was up with Benjamin and exhausted the next day, I felt horrible and guilty. And still tired. When I was up with Benjamin and exhausted, I hated Daniel for being asleep (which he probably wasn’t because of the aforementioned screaming). Oh, and I was even more tired. This time we’re a team. I do the night feedings (well, it’s not like he could help me out with that) and Daniel gets up with Benjamin early in the morning and takes Lucy, too, if she’s already awake. That way I start the day with, at the very least, a couple solid hours of sleep to get me going. When I start to lose it, Daniel helps out and I’m trying to learn not to feel guilty when he’s tired. He wants to help. When he gets really tired, I try to make sure neither babe wakes him up and I don’t resent him for a full night’s sleep. He tells me what a good mom I am when I gulp down my second cup of coffee with blood-shot eyes.  I tell him what a stellar dad he is when he sleeps in a sleeping bag in Benjamin’s room to help console the little sick and congested guy when he wakes up from coughing so that he doesn’t wake up Lucy and I (that was last night. Thanks, Daniel!) Anyhow, encourage each other. Appreciate each other. Lean on each other.

5. White noise. Having some white noise where the baby sleeps helps soothe them and keeps them sleeping longer because it makes them feel like they’re in the womb (who knew wombs were so loud?). It also keeps me from hearing every tiny baby sigh or every time Benjamin rustles his sheets across the hall.

6. Pray. Sometimes I can get through a whole rosary during one of Lucy’s feedings. Or I can start one and pick it up again the next time she wakes. Then I feel like I’m doing something important (as if feeding my baby wasn’t important enough). But you know what I mean, I pray for my family. I pray for my friends. I ask the Blessed Virgin to help me be a good mama. I ask forgiveness for flying off the handle when Benjamin asked me the same question 3,086 times the day before. You get the idea.

7. Swaddling. Swaddle. Do it.

8. Eat well. When I cut sugar and too many carbs from my diet, I am significantly less tired. When I take care to eat plenty of the delicious veggies that Daniel grows in his garden and have lots of protein at breakfast, I can avoid a horrible crash at 2pm.

9. Coffee. Let’s be honest. It’s hard to survive no sleep without coffee. But, to give hope to you non-coffee drinkers, I survived most of Benjamin’s first year without coffee because of health issues. Hot water with lemon does help jumpstart your day. But, it’s not really a substitute for that happiness in a cup: COFFEE.

10: Be thankful. If I recollect how thankful I am to have my babies, I can circumvent some of the frustration at being tired. Fighting some exhaustion is a small price to pay for these little ones and I can’t forget that.

How bout you? Do you have any sleep advice? Any suggestions for how to survive seasons of no sleep?



Hogwarts (Finally!)
January 24, 2012, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Husband | Tags: , , , ,

Last week Daniel took me on a little getaway to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter–a vacation we’ve wanted to take since the park opened. We were all geared up to go last January but postponed our trip when we discovered I was pregnant with Lucy and couldn’t go on any of the rides.

Anyhow it was delightful. The Hogwarts ride is pretty awesome and it’s great fun to meander through Hogsmeade.

I think the best part for us was just hanging out in the Hog’s Head. I had cider and Daniel had their house beer which was great.

We had lunch in the Three Broomsticks which looks fantastic but the staff and the food were less than ideal (well…the turkey leg was awesome, but the cornish pasties tasted like hot pockets.) It was really hard not to say constantly, “Disney would have done this so much better.” I mean, how hard is it to have staff with British accents?

But, we did have a wonderful time together and Lucy was the best little traveler.

One great thing about Universal is that they have a fantastic child-swap system. One parent can ride while the other holds baby and then the second parent can ride as soon as the first is done. And the little waiting rooms are great for nursing.

I just wore her in the baby wrap all day and she napped great. She was fast asleep outside of Owl Post.

I guess I was just a little disappointed that Dame Maggie Smith wasn’t there ready to teach me Transfiguration.