7Quick Takes Friday (vol. 159)

January 6, 2012 | 42 comments

— 1 —

You don’t even know the writer angst I spare you. I could have an entire blog where I wrote three posts per day transcribing the mercurial inner dialogue that runs through my head whenever I sit down to work on this book project.

I’ve been pondering the age-old question of why even the most basic creative pursuits tend to make people crazy. As Steve Pressfield would say, part of it is undoubtedly spiritual attack. But I think there’s also a natural frustration that comes with not being able to control your way into success. For example, if you have a vision of building a simple bridge across a small river, you can get it done. As long as you’re willing to learn and work hard, you’ll achieve your goal of having a way to get from one side of the river to another. But with anything involving the arts, it’s a different story. If a musician has a vision of creating a beautiful song, he may or may not be able to do it. Hard work and learning can certainly help, but they’re no guarantee that he’ll reach his goal of making something beautiful. I think it’s the unpredictable nature of alchemy behind creating decent art that makes it so maddening sometimes.

— 2 —

My toddler made me this sweet gift at our parish preschool. It’s one of those keepsake sheets where the teachers ask the kids about their parents and then record the funny answers. Her sister did one of these last year, and I noticed that there was something different about this one:

On the old form, there were questions about what Mommy likes to eat and drink. When I saw the line “My mommy likes to drink ______”, I was relieved to see the delightfully unremarkable beverage milk written down…but I kind of wondered how many tries it took to get that answer. The question is now off the sheet entirely, and I have this vision that it started with a staff meeting after the last time they did this project, the teachers complaining that the kids kept coming back with stuff like “scotch on the wocks.”

— 3 —

I met a new neighbor recently, and when I told her where we lived, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the homeschoolers!” It chills me to consider that we are the very embodiment of what it means to homeschool to the good people of our block. I tried to explain that there are all different types of homeschoolers, that we were already weird even before we took our kids out of elementary school, etc., but it had no effect. Subsequent comments have indicated that we are firmly entrenched in our neighbors’ minds as The Homeschoolers.

Yesterday I was sweeping ashes off the driveway from our testing different ways to start fires, Christmas lights still blinking behind me, a week after all the other houses have taken theirs down, when one of the neighbors asked if my son wanted to come out and play. I looked at the throng of children frolicking joyfully through the streets, then motioned toward my darkened house and said, “He might want to in a while, but I think he wants to finish something on Tux Paint first.” As I was explaining that Tux Paint is a free drawing game that comes with the Linux operating system, it occurred to me that we now looked not only like shut-ins, but nerd shut-ins who aren’t even cool enough to waste the afternoon on an Xbox or a Wii. I apologize to homeschoolers everywhere for perpetuating stereotypes.

— 4 —

DOWNTON ABBEY IS BACK!!!!!! The first episode of Season 2 airs Sunday, January 8, and you don’t even have to have cable to watch it! I don’t know what it is with me and this show, but it captivated me the way nothing on TV ever has before. I’m normally too distracted by writing projects to make much time for television or movies; even when my husband and I do put on a movie, I often end up going through email or organizing my Evernote files while it plays. But after I watched the first episode of the first season of Downton, I was ready to give up writing, eating, sleeping, bathing, and pretty much everything else until I finished it. The day I watched the last episode, I shuffled around the house in a daze, trying to wrap my mind around the awesomeness that I had just beheld, while simultaneously trying to figure out what to do with my life now that I’d watched the entire season.

I knew that I might have a slightly unhealthy relationship to the show by my reaction to this lukewarm review of Season 2 in the Huffington Post. Normally I am all about speaking respectfully and using my real identity when I comment on other people’s blogs, but this time I found myself overwhelmed with the urge to troll the post with anonymous comments from StopHatin saying stuff like “WHAT DO YOU KNOW?!?!? SHUT UP THAT SHOW IS AWESOME WHY CAN’T YOU JUST CHILL OUT AND APPRECIATE IT?!?!?!”…even though I have not actually seen Season 2 yet. Anyway, if anyone needs me on Sunday night at 8:00, you’ll find me drooling on myself in front of my television.

— 5 —

You guys have the best gift suggestions. When I asked what I should get for my cousin the hiphop DJ in Brooklyn, Melanie came up with the great idea of one of these bowls made out of a vintage record:

And Anna Mitchell from the SonRise Morning Show suggested one of these funky prints inspired by the New York subway system:
My cousin was thrilled with both of them.

— 6 —

It’s interesting how natural it has become for me to do my planning around the liturgical year. For example, when I was trying to decide on an exact deadline for the book, my first thought was that it’d be ideal to have it finished by Mardi Gras, so that I could be more relaxed during Lent. Knowing that the last couple of weeks of getting it together will be a high-stress time, I’ve been very motivated by the goal of making the most of Lent as a time to unwind and refocus. When we’ve been putting dinners and get-togethers on the calender with family and friends, it’s now second nature to think, “I’ll have to look up a good vegetarian recipe since that’s on a Friday in Lent, ” or “We’ll have to do something special since that’ll be on a Sunday during the Easter season.” I love how living by the Church calendar keeps me moving in unison with the Body of Christ, and puts elements of the life of Christ at the forefront of my mind, even when I’m doing something as mundane as planning a lunch.

— 7 —

Book lovers, I have a little New Year’s present for you: Over at the Register, I asked 19 bloggers to give me their top book recommendation for 2012. The result was a fantastic list (and don’t miss the comments!)



  1. Valerie @ Momma in Progress

    I am totally with you on feeling like the model for all homeschoolers. Why is that? It’s a lot of pressure and unfair. On a related note, when I first told my parents we were not sending E to Kindergarten, I was prepared for a lot of what the heck are you hippie nutty crazy, BUT . . . turns out my parents know one (ONE) homeschooling family who is totally normal so that was their reference point. Whew.

  2. Lisa Schmidt

    I am 9-months pregnant and have been experiencing mild contractions and cramping for several weeks now. My midwife friend tells me I should drink a small bit of red wine as the wine’s tannins will help relax my uterine muscles. ? I don’t know the science behind that, but I did indulge and delightfully savored a few sips of a delicious red wine on New Year’s Eve. My 3-yo said, “Mommy is drinking line.” I can only imagine how her preschool teachers would have reacted had she received a similar activity as your child and mentioned that! 🙂

    My husband Joel and I highlighted 7 Blogs to Bookmark and Read in our weekly 7QTs — our 2nd annual such thematic post.

    • Lisa Schmidt

      Oh, and related to your #6 QT . . . one of the bloggers we highlight in our post says he tries to keep his blogging close to the logic of the liturgical cycle since “theology is first and best done in the furnace of the divine liturgy.”

      Thought you might like that analogy.

  3. Bobbi

    I share your slightly obsessed love of Downton Abbey and have been counting down the days.(Although I almost feel the need to go to confession for despising Thomas so much.) However, one of my husband’s coworkers is from England and she’s already seen Season 2. She said it was lovely and that we’ll enjoy it very much. So no need to fret about the haters. (And I’ll be thinking of you Sunday night as I am glued to my own set.) 😀

  4. George @ Convert Journal

    #3 reminds me of how people are categorized by one aspect of their identity. We do it all the time, but it is such a limiting way to know someone vs. the mosaic they really are. It’s something I have been thinking about lately.

    My entry this week… Catvertising, a new paradigm for the advertising world. A girl who wanted only her daddy. Top 50 Saints’ Quotes. Top 10 reasons for hope in the new year. Promises not kept… the young wise-up. The entertaining antics of the Occupy Wall Street crowd, hypocrisy division. Stephen Colbert is an odd duck.

  5. Michael

    Hey, “nerd shut ins” can make some good money. 😉

  6. The Licensed Fool

    Downton Abbey?
    Yes, like Bobbi says we have already had the second series over here. I won’t spoil it for you but it was very good. It has a slightly different ‘feel’ about it to the first one but it doesn’t detract.

  7. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    Downton Abbey all the way! Yes, yes, yes to everything you said. There’s not room here for all the gushing I could do.

    And btw I am LOVING my brand-spanking-new Kindle Touch (NOT the Fire, as I was considering), per last week’s 7QT!

  8. Jennifer Fitz

    It’s possible you’re known as “the homeschoolers” because you are the people whose children are outside playing during the school day?

  9. Liesl

    I LOVE DOWNTON ABBEY! I can’t wait to watch the new season!!!!!!

  10. Kathleen Basi

    You are hilarious! I’ve been glorying in my glasses of wine at dinner postpartum. But I’m not losing any weight anymore, so maybe I need to cool it. Or maybe it’s just the cookies, cakes, pies, candy, ice cream, oh yes, and the cream-and-cholesterol-laden pastas…


    I love the homeschooling story, too. 🙂

  11. Susan

    Jen, I don’t know what it is with Downton Abbey, either, but I and two close friends have the same problem. Back before Christmas I was talking to one of the women while she told me about her really bad week. My response? Take heart, Downton Abbey is only two weeks away. My other friend had canceled her cable but is getting it back so she can be sure to see it. For my own part, I remind my husband at least three times an evening that no one can bother me on Sunday night after 9:00.
    So, you’re not alone. We’re all crazy. Does that help?

  12. Laura

    That is the way my family is with Dr. Who. Seeing as how we seem to like British TV (add the Sherlock Holmes series to the list) maybe we should give Downtown Abbey a try.

    I’ve also got a giveaway going on for a free unit study. If you’ve never tried one before, why not try to win one!

    God Bless.

  13. Stephanie

    Being honest here – I watched about 1/2 of the first episode of Downtown Abbey and couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t follow it all. All of the love for it here though makes me want to try it again.

    • EM

      Based on the recommendation from this blog, I made it through to the last episode of Season 1. I LOVED it…. until the last episode!

      Did anyone else feel like they tried to squeeze WAY TOO MUCH drama in one episode? My head was spinning. It felt contrived. Also, I thought the maid (can’t remember her name) who was mad at her lady and caused her miscarriage… way too evil! I just didn’t buy it. I mean, murder? I know she was catty and unlikeable but I felt that was too big a jump for me to buy. Am I alone on this?

      • Bobbi @ revolution of love

        Yes, the last episode did seem like they had a lot going on. I assumed it was to prep for Season 2. As for the maid O’Brien, she was pretty nasty throughout. (Remember how she knocked Bates down on his face when they were at attention in front of the house.) I don’t think she intentionally meant to cause the miscarriage. She was being cruely spiteful to allow her lady to slip but even she came to her senses and realized she’d gone too far. Unfortunately she realized too late and the damage was already done. I don’t think it was too much of a stretch. 

  14. Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace

    Sorry to hear that the book project has been such a trying one for you. It is amusing that you’re known on your block as The Homeschoolers. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You must be doing something right if you have other kids in your neighborhood coming over to ask your kids to play. Not traumatic scorpion experiences, mor heat waves, nor homeschoooling have kept your kids from making friends, so it’s all good in the ‘hood.
    Another Catholic blogger posted the following article about writing with the warning that the language is offensive. I think you’ll probably get something from reading it judging by your writing woes, but be warned the off-color language in this particular post is something quite atrocious and the sound of it isn’t exactly precocious. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/01/03/25-things-writers-should-stop-doing/

  15. Smoochagator

    One of the things I love most about you is your writerly angst! And your self-deprecating humor. You crack me up, all the time. Keep working hard, I (and many others) believe in you & this project!

  16. Roselady

    I’m so glad someone else shares my joy about Downton Abbey. I’ve blogged about it a little, and I think most people have no idea what I’m talking about…I watch that show, and I just feel transported back to chivalry, politeness, tea time…how I envy it! Regular life feels so less formal in comparison. I’m so looking forward to watching this weekend. I certainly won’t be answering my phone.

  17. Barbara

    Yes, I remember when they asked my daughter what my favorite thing to do was and she said, “Yelling at the dog.” Sadly, it was a true fact that the dog and I had a difference of opinion on furniture sitting at the time and I was always yelling at her. Luckily, she didn’t say “Yelling at my daddy.” since we used to have a bad habit of yelling conversations from one room to another instead of walking over to each other. That has since been rectified.

  18. Bobbi @ revolution of love

    I love that so many others commented on Downton Abbey. I’ll be visiting your blogs this weekend. 🙂

  19. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    My husband and I always talk about how we love that Catholics make such an impact on the fast food industry that they always advertise their fish sandwiches during Lent. Small victories…


  20. Michelle

    We don’t homeschool, but I feel like all the non-Catholics we know and interact with put the same kind of pressure on us as “The Catholic people” they know. I think it’s weird that I know so many people that don’t know very many Catholic people.

  21. Dreena Tischler

    I am still giggling over the notion of what made those teachers take that line off the form. So funny.

    I love your 7 quick takes. I think I will “take it up” for myself.

  22. Dwija {House Unseen}

    As soon as I finish our bedroom redo, I should probably start watching Downtown Abbey. Otherwise I might take on another renovation instead to take my mind off of this whole “being pregnant” thing, and that would just be bad. Bad and wrong. Badong.

  23. Karen Edmisten

    Jen, there is no such thing as a Downton obsession! Do you hear me?! I don’t need an intervention! I just need another season and no one will get hurt, okay?! So back off and hand over the remote.

  24. Maddy

    Ah. It all begins to make sense now. Won’t be joining in this time, but I certainly enjoyed yours. Love the bowl [worry about the hole]. I’m thrilled that Downton Abbey Season two is starting as this means I should be able to get a good deal on Season One. I’m always a little behind the trend.

  25. Jessica

    The frustration with art sounds similar to the frustration with science. All the time and effort in the world doesn’t guarantee significant results. Just because you have a good hypothesis, or creative vision, doesn’t mean you can make it a reality.

    Don’t let the process make you crazy; I know you have what it takes to write a great book.

  26. shwell

    Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack [Paperback]
    William M. Adler

    Here’s an interesting book I read last year, someone gave it to my husband, and I glanced through it and then couldn’t put it down.

    I see several books on the list at the register that I am interested in -great idea and I have already linked it to a few people. Thanks.
    But this is definately not a book about the Catholic Faith and figured I would just post it here.

    I just introduced my husband to your blog, your humor and his are a great mesh, where I tend to smile he is falling off the chair laughing. I think he will be back. we also are “The Homeschoolers” he especially liked the part where you tried to explain that you were weird before….

  27. Anna David

    Great post i like it very much. Catholic blogger posted the following article about writing with the warning that the language is offensive. I think you’ll probably get something from reading it judging by your writing woes, but be warned the off-color language in this particular post is something quite atrocious and the sound of it isn’t exactly precocious. Keep up good work.

  28. Katherine

    I only began watching Downton Abbey about a week or so ago. I enjoy it, but I must say the final episode of season 1 disturbed me a great deal. I won’t give anything away, but there seems to be no explanation for why Mary does what she does – other than some aunt we’d never seen before who doesn’t seem to take Mary’s love for him into any consideration. And then the thing with Mrs. O’Brien … I mean, forget fired…. how about arrested!?! I just hope they treat that incident accordingly or it will really tick me off.

  29. Karen

    Downton Abbey is back?! Bestill my heart! I just hope I get to see it. One TV with bunny ears in the middle of my very busy house with a lot of people who aren’t old enough to watch DA but think they are. :eyeroll: Hopefully I can con them into watching a video in my room or something (TV in there is only connected to Netflix and a DVD, no antenna)

    We’ve moved past being ‘The Homeschoolers’, that was us in our old town when we only had 4-6 kids. Now I am ‘the lady with the 9 kids’ or ‘that huge family on R______’ or more recently ‘the Duggars’. Due to the size of our family, which will increase in April, it is assumed in this rural area outside SA that we homeschool. We have lots of what we call ‘you are soooo hometeached’ moments.

    My two oldest fighting over who gets to read MacBeth on the way to church.

    My son choosing to do his physics paper on time dilation when everyone else in the class is doing gravity and inertia. (community college)

    A group of teen homeschoolers on their way to a teen night start discussing breastfeeding and the conversation ends up in the direction of ‘so when did you wean?’ and the average age was 3-5 years old 😀

    My daughter manages to make Mr.Darcy the topic of her philosophy paper.

    My younger children have these moments too but generally they aren’t as amusing as the big kids.

  30. Lacia C

    Hilarious post Jennifer, I too can’t wait for Downton Abbey, it’s up there with Mad Men as my two most favorite series. Maggie Smith is absolutely hilarious!

  31. Martha

    Really, Jen, I thought that you couldn’t get any more awesome. I watched ALL of season 1 of Downton Abbey in 3 days, then emerged, stupefied, from the TV room, also wondering how I would make it til this season. I rented it from the library (we don’t have TV!!!), and pretty much put life (and 7 kids) on hold while I watched. Well, I did keep the baby in the room with me. Something to do while nursing, right, people? Now the question is, do I invite myself to someone’s house and ignore them while I watch PBS tomorrow night, or do I wait and have a glorious 3 day bash again next summer??

  32. Melanie

    My friend’s daughter came home with one of those forms from school with bird juice as mom’s favorite drink. I don’t know if the teacher made the connection that she was referring to Parrot Bay Rum! 🙂

    Woot! Few things make me happier than knowing someone enjoyed a gift they had been given, so happy to hear about your cousin! Awesome!

    From your qt and the combox, it sounds like I will be checking out Downtown Abbey! Thanks for the book recommendations too!

  33. elizabeth

    Jen–I truly do feel your writing pain. I’m reworking my first novel and it is painful beyond telling. And it’s hard to describe to anyone not in it–I feel like I sound so self-absorbed when I talk about it with non-writers (and, gulp, perhaps I do?!) Anyway, I am on Countdown to Downton with you. Did you know Julian Fellowes (the writer/creator) is Catholic? I just had a hunch he was from the way he treats each character with dignity and the underlying optimism of the storyline.

    Prayers coming your way for smooth writing!

  34. Ashley

    My husband and I love Downton Abbey too! It is such an amazing show! I saw an ad for it in a magazine and it said it got 6 Emmy’s, so we aren’t alone in thinking that it’s awesome. The part I dread is when it’s over and I have to wait months for the next season….

  35. Holly Rutchik

    So many comments I want to make 🙂
    Re: #3 – today I walked out in the snow to get the mail, looked around the neighborhood and for the first time wondered if our neighbors wonder why our children don’t play outside and if maybe we are vampires. I know that sounds nuts, but the thought crossed my mind. See, I’m the whitest white person, ever, and I am also a shut in. I don’t go anywhere. The only place I go is to get the mail, and I may do that wearing the same sweatpants all week. Sigh. We’re the dorks around here as well 🙂
    RE: #4 – Downton! Maybe the best show, ever! I may or may not have watched the whole 1st season on Netflix in 3 days and then decided my hubby needed to see it so am now watching it again, with him, in 3 days.

    I realize these comments may make me look like I need to get dressed and get a life. It may be true, but I promise my children are well cared for (most of the time 🙂

  36. Karen

    It is funny to think that “milk” wasn’t actually your child’s first choice. I am glad you are doing well with your planning. I always find it hard going back to planning things after coming back from a long break. God bless on reaching your goals this year.

  37. Carol

    I feel the same way about Downtown Abbey. I learned from my mistake and make sure to watch the series when I know I am totally free. I am glad your doing great making your plans for the year.

  38. Nicole

    So after all the recommendations, we sat down to watch the first episode of season 1 of Downton Abbey….um….we couldn’t get past the gay kiss. Sorry. We thought it was great until that point. Anyone else have the same thoughts?

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