Wednesday, April 29, 2015


“It is the best of humanity, I think, that goes out to walk. In happy hours all affairs may be wisely postponed for this. Dr. Johnson said, ‘Few men know how to take a walk,’ and it is pretty certain that Dr. Johnson was not one of those few. It is a fine art; there are degrees of proficiency, and we distinguish the professors from the apprentices. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good-humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much. Good observers have the manners of trees and animals, and if they add words, it is only when words are better than silence. But a vain talker profanes the river and the forest, and is nothing like so good company as a dog.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Country Life,” 1857


Winnie update

She's been a bit peaky in the last week or so, being a bit more wobbly than usual, having trouble jumping up onto the bed and the sofa, so I called Dr. B. and asked if he could please come and take a look at her. He gave me some surprisingly good news. Yes, she's a little low right now, and he gave me a prescription to help with her blood pressure which is low, but overall, she's actually a bit better. Her gastro-intestinal distress seems to have cleared up and she's put on a teeny weeny bit of weight.

She's not going to recover completely, of course, but I think we might be over the worst. He said she's found a steady-state.

The difference came when I started feeding her chicken livers and hearts, minced up fine and mashed into her special veterinary food, three times a day. Chicken livers are good food for anyone. I've loved them forever, since my mum used to make them into curry when I was a kid. They've been a staple. They're jammed with iron and vitamin A and probably all sorts of other stuff.

It seems to have made a huge difference for my ailing and ancient cat. Imagine what it could do for you.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015


William asks: "Do you have a hiking pole? I find it helps a lot. And tell us when you see some interesting animals."

Someone at the monastery is making hand chipped walking sticks. They'll be selling them soon, I hear. I'll take a pic when I buy one.

I saw a fox. It ran right across the country lane when I was walking home the other day.

And lots and lots of birds. On one of my Marcite walks, I sat down and worked out how many bird species I'd seen and it was over twenty. There is a travelling party of European goldfinches that visits the cherry tree currently blooming outside my front windows.

And a big very bright green lizard shot across my path while I was walking across a field. Much bigger than the little grass lizards you see all the time.

Ummm... sheep... cows... goats... horses...donkeys...

The garden centre guys keep a really great fishpond, and they have the cutest little terrapin, no bitter than a pocketwatch, in a basin on their cash counter.

I saw caddisfly houses and mayflies skittering across the surface of one of the millponds, and trout in the water, and this amazing spider that runs around on the surface tension of the ponds like its a big trampoline. That was pretty cool.

I have wondered why I'm not seeing any bunnies, but I figure they're mostly out at night. Also, most animals can hear/smell you coming a mile off and skedaddle.


Also, I was going to respond to William's question about local animals in the commbox, but it's doing something incredibly annoying and I'm effectively locked out of my own commbox.

One day this "reCaptcha" thing appeared, presumably a generous gift from the Google-gods, and started demanding that I click a thing to prove I'm "not a robot". Then it evolved into, "click this thing, and now answer some annoying bulls___ skill-testing questions..." and suddenly it was getting annoying to use.

Today, it's set up some damn thing like a puzzle where you have to match photos of street signs or some such... which has officially made it Too Annoying to be Allowed to Live.

I turned off comment moderation because it's a thing for cowards who don't have the spine to throw people out themselves. But now it's back and undermining my absolute and supreme authority as the god of this 'blog. I am quite capable of slapping down the misbehaving masses myself, thank-you Google.

Any of you computer-types know how to shut this damn thing off? I have done a little html tweaking, so I went into the template to try to find it, but no go.

Any ideas? aChristopher? Anyone?


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wild Orchids

My rubber wellies are really becoming my favourite footwear for hiking and walking. They're simply the most practical thing for all kinds of terrain. Which is ever so slightly annoying, since I just spent a hundred Euros on a fancy pair of hiking boots. But the wellies have deep grips on the soles, knee-high sides so you can slosh though anything from seas of nettle to mud and streams. The rubber seems to be completely impervious and shows no sign of wear, even after several years of hard stomping. And they were ₤8 at B&Q. Oh well.

So, facing a big load of housework yesterday, naturally I packed up the collecting gear, filled the flask with green tea and went out for a nice long stomp.

I never know quite which direction I'm going to take until I start taking it. This time, although I had intended to go back down to the Marcite for some more nettles and to see how the ducks were getting on, I couldn't resist the urge to climb up past the farmer's fields and to the ridge far above the valley on the hillside.

The terrain up there is completely different. It's very dry, and only a relatively small number of plants can live and thrive. There was a lot of soil erosion, and apart from a fringe of oaks along the edge of the ridge, and bordering quite a steep drop, there was little up there other than hazel and broom and lots and lots of juniper,

Juniperus oxycedrus, not J. communis that is more commonly used in food and booze-making (gin)

The species here is not the kind you eat, though, and the berries, though very flavourful, are toxic in any sort of quantity. Stick with J. communis. Easy to tell the difference, since the berries of J. communis are blue, not red, when ripe.

Juniperus oxycedrus fun-fact:
Decoction of Juniperus oxycedrus subsp. oxycedrus L. (Cupressaceae) (Joso)berries is used internally as tea and pounded fruits are consumed to lower blood glucose levels in Turkey... Results indicated that Joso berry extract and its active constituents might be beneficial for diabetes and its complications.
Also, from Wiki:

Juniperus oxycedrus have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs at multiple sites. J. oxycedrus is not known to grow in Egypt, and neither is Juniperus excelsa, which was found along with J. oxycedrus in the tomb of Tutankhamun.[14] The berries imported into Egypt may have come from Greece; the Greeks record using juniper berries as a medicine long before mentioning their use in food.
I stopped in a patch of mixed juniper and hazel, spaced so far apart that one might have thought they had been planted as a kind of orchard. The ground was rocky, but even so, there was life clinging to it all over.

Sweet little Globularia vulgaris flowers - that like a sandy, rocky soil and lots of sun, were sprouting up all over, almost carpeting the place in spots, and lots of wild mint and sage. I dug up a few samples of the mint and have them in a jar sprouting roots. On the way home, I also dug up a few sprouts and root samples of some wild periwinkle too, with the thought that if I could propagate them and plant them in plugs over my dry and eroding garden slope, it might help fix some soil.

This stuff is also all over the place along the sides of the fields in the more damp and rich soil. It's taken me ages, but I found it at last. It's Cruciata laevipes, or Gallium cruciata,  called in English, Crosswort for the cruciform shape of its sets of four whorled leaves growing from the stem with perfect fibonacci-esque precision.

This species though now practically unused, was considered a very good wound herb for both inward and outward wounds. A decoction of the leaves in wine was also used for obstructions in the stomach or bowels and to stimulate appetite. It was also recommended as a remedy for rupture, rheumatism and dropsy.

There was lots and lots of bunny-sign up there too, with many little shallow holes and plenty of bunny trails to follow. I keep thinking about the snare line idea.

But most spectacular of all were the orchids. At least one large Orchis purpurea in full bloom, with three others half way near by, tucked into sheltered spots between juniper bushes.

Not my pic. Never have I kicked myself so hard as when I spotted the gorgeous thing ten minutes after the cheap batteries I got for the camera had died. But at least now I know where to find them.

Also lots of these little fellows: Ophrys fusca

I was up there much longer than I had intended. I was able to sit for a lovely spell watching the early evening sun shining down on the town, and was placed exactly right to hear the bells, surprisingly loud and close-sounding, for Vespers, and so pulled out my book and sang along to the spiders and lizards and crows.

After that, I wandered along until I found the end of the ridge where what was left of the trail dropped steeply down, and the choice was either to scramble down the slope or climb further up towards the road. Not wanting to risk falling and getting stuck as the light was fading, I took the road, but soon found it very dull compared to the way I'd come, so after about ten paces or so, I just climbed back into the bush. On the way back I collected a small bag of juniper berries and will see what they're like with rabbit.

Also, a taxonomic update:
Below I said this was Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris.

Nope. Turns out it's Ajuga reptans. Common: Bugle. Also called Carpenter's Herb, Sicklewort, Middle Comfrey.

The Online Herbal says of it:
In herbal treatment, an infusion of this plant is still considered very useful in arresting haemorrhages and is employed in coughs and spitting of blood in incipient consumption and also in some biliary disorders, a wineglassful of the infusion - made from 1 OZ. of the dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water - being given frequently.

In its action, it rather resembles digitalis, lowering the pulse and lessening its frequency, it allays irritation and cough, and equalizes the circulation and has been termed 'one of the mildest and best narcotics in the world.' It has also been considered good for the bad effects of excessive drinking.

There are quite a few of these kinds of plants that produce a flower spike with lots of little blue or purple bract flowerets. One of them that I've been trying to identify since I got to Italy turns out to be Wild Clary, Salvia verbenaca. Another is Selfheal, and yet another is Purple Deadnettle, or Lamium purpureum. All totally different families of plants, and all having completely different properties. It's what makes this hobby so much fun. It's like sleuthing.

It's also an important lesson in how important the details are in taxonomy. And don't make a mistake. Hogweed and deadly Hemlock look very, very much alike.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday in the garden

From the front door the day after I moved in. Those were the pots from the balcony garden in S. Marinella. That little collection of a dozen has doubled.

A day spent digging in the garden, and all the troubles of the world just recede into the background.

I haven't actually turned earth and sod with a spade in... since... good grief, I don't even know, but it has been a damn long time. It might have still been the 90s.

My sitting-in-front-of-a-computer-all-day days have been cut down to three a week, and now that spring is here, I'm hoping that the other four days will be digging-in-the-dirt-and-getting-it-under-my-fingernails days. Or stomping-about-the-fields-watching-birds-and-collecting-wild-herbs days. Either way, I'm hoping that all the digging and stomping and generally being-outside is going to help my back and my brain, both of which have suffered somewhat from 15 years of staring at the little square Palantir.

I dug, pulled weeds, filled pots and transplanted seedlings, yanked and heaved out unknown root systems, heaved out big rocks and bags of earth, raked the last of the oak leaves and filled the first of many big planter boxes. Dug it down about five inches into the ground and will build up around it with stones and potting mix and plant out some of the leftover seeds around it.

Then I went to Vespers, then I went down to the garden centre to see what was on special, and got me my first climbing rose. Yessirree, the day of climbing roses has finally come. And sweet alyssum and some kind of purple-red flowering thing. Potted out my sunflower seedlings and transplanted another rose some friends gave me, as well as the potted herbs I bought, lemon thyme and salvia. The pansies I rescued half-dead from the garden centre are blooming mightily and the garden is spotted all around with sweet little bethlehem lilies.

I'm making plans. Most of the garden is on a steep slope, and the soil is the worst I've ever encountered. Calling it soil at all is being kind. The slope is so steep that most of the soil simply washes down, leaving sand and rocks. The weeds hold whatever's left in place. The solution, obviously, is terracing. And the way to do it is going to be the hard way. Which means a lot of spade work, and buying sturdy planter boxes and finding large stones and digging them in to the slope to create steps of flat to stop the erosion.

I have a four year lease on this place, and at the end of that, I'm thinking of buying a place (somehow) so everything I do here I want to have in boxes that I can dig up and take with me. But I want it to bloom in the meantime. You can do a lot with sturdy plastic planter boxes, and if you dig them in a bit, then pile up stones around them, lace the spaces between the stones with lots of potting soil and set up barriers pounded in deep to keep it all from washing down hill, you can make a rock garden where you can't see the ugly plastic boxes.

Anyway, at least I'll be getting a bit of upper-body exercise in.


Passport to Pimlico

In 1977, squatters in Freston Road, Notting Hill declared independence from the British state. Facing eviction by the Greater London Council (GLC), the community figured the best way to evade the constraints imposed on them was to just free themselves of those constraints altogether. So they lobbied the UN and established a 1.8-acre microstate - "The Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia" - complete with its own postage stamps, visas and passports.

If the same thing happened today (which it probably wouldn't, because squatting residential buildings is now something you can go to jail for), police would likely move in with eviction papers and battering rams. But back then, living in abandoned buildings apparently wasn't seen as the abhorrent transgression we now know it to be.

This story about the Notting Hill squatters in London in the 70s, coincides precisely with the story of a good friend of mine who became a famous journalist in Canada after a life of many adventures, wandering about the world. He dropped out of high school in Ontario and worked his way across the Atlantic in some grubby capacity on a commercial vessel. Then, more or less penniless, he fetched up in London where he occupied a squat, an unoccupied council house with no electricity. There he lived happily for four years surrounded by fellow societal misfits of various political and philosophical stripes.

He earned what money he had by buying and selling antique books, which he knew a little about, and spent a couple of quid a month purchasing a monthly subscription to the British Library where, he said, he had a crush on the beautiful librarian in the classics section. So beautiful and charming was she, that he followed her reading advice assiduously and thereby gained a thorough education in Classical literature, including picking up a little Greek and Latin.

He said the only contact he ever had with the forces of officialdom was when he was signed up against his will for the NHS. To correct this potentially disastrous infiltration of The Man into his idyllic life, he went to see his assigned "worker" and finally convinced him to burn his file, rendering him once again safely anonymous.

Alas, it was not to last. Britain has since become an almost parodic police state wherein the law-abiding, corduroy and flat-cap-wearing citizens live in terror of saying or thinking the wrong thing out loud on the underground, and violent psychotics wander the streets assaulting and murdering with impunity. But the late 1970s was only the start of all that.

My friend knew that the time of freedom was coming to an end when the city decided that everyone living free in the squats had to be "regularized" and made officially resident in their council houses, given numbers and assigned social workers, entered into the NHS rolls and forcibly inserted into the shiny new socialist system.

He sighed with sadness at the sight of all his hippie friends being herded into the workers' paradise. But he left, knowing that the forces of history were sweeping everyone into this sticky net and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

After a circuitous route that included a brief stint washing dishes and sleeping on the beach in an African nation that is now a seething mass of violence, he ended up in Thailand, where those forces would take a while to create their baleful results. He took a job as the ladies social columnist for the Bangkok times, and lived happily for some years in the little colony of ex-pat Anglos who had been left in the Far East, like debris on a beach at low tide, after the demise of the British Empire.

Freedom is getting harder and harder to achieve. Few are they who still even remember what it was.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015


The Marcite is a UNESCO world heritage site, a kind of wild park, the lowest point in the valley, where the water flows down the sides of the mountain and accumulates just below ground level making the "water meadows," and flows together through man-made underground stone channels to start the Nera river, for which the Valnerina is named.

The origin of these meadows marcitoi goes back to the V-VI century. AD, the monks of the Order of St. Benedict who, according to witnesses, dictated the first systems for the construction of the canal network and closed to harness the water and to allow the flooding of meadows.

A place of wild and ancient beauty, wildflowers, birds, trees and all manner of cute critters and interesting remnants from past ages. My favourite place to stomp about in my rubber wellies, collect wildflowers and watch birds.

Its taxonomic name is Prunella Vulgaris, and in English it's called "self-heal" and was used through the Middle Ages as an antiseptic for wounds.

A little while ago, a FB page, the Associazione Pro Marcite di Norcia, said that crayfish were starting to be spotted in the streams in the water meadows, first in many years. And sure enough... I hope I find some live ones. They're mighty tasty.

My favourite wild veg. urtica dioica.

Favourite spot.

The white flowers in the background are wild water cress, another of the many varieties of wild brassica. Quite edible, and very good for you. A bit too strong and peppery for my taste after it flowers. You have to collect it very early in the spring, which around here means early March. 


I live here

Sometimes I have to say it out loud, because otherwise it's really hard to believe.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

I like weird things

Oh! Oh. My. Goodness! Do I ever want this book!

But, whoosh!! £80!! Yoiks!


Friday, April 17, 2015

How to avoid becoming a zombie

If you don't know who these guys are, you may already be a zombie

One of the problems with being raised by hippies and other adherents of the New Paradigm is that it often takes you years, and even decades longer than it used to take to figure out how to conduct your life. Or at least, to conduct it in a non-self-destructive manner. Then you have to decide to break the mould. Two brothers I knew in my teens, both raised by New Paradigm Boomers: one instinctively knew that following the peace-luv-groovy path would go nowhere, did engineering, works for an international computer software developer, got married bought a house and is now a noted freediver; the other carried on the family tradition, got busted for a grow-op and in his fifties still lives in a run-down shared rented house with a bunch of other dopeheads.

Years ago, while still dabbling in university and still not really knowing what I was supposed to be doing with myself, I asked a working journalist whether I should enrol in the J-school they had at my uni, or whether the better way was just to start writing things 'on-spec' and sending them off to magazines and whatnot. Knowing what I know now, I am amazed she was able to so politely contain her contempt and loathing for J-school and the hordes of whiney little glassy-eyed, brain-dead, marxist minions it routinely produced.

"Yes," she said with remarkable restraint, "start writing and submitting. You can learn as you go, but focus at first on learning how to construct a decent sentence in English, because that is the least-available skill in the business. No one in journalism school is ever taught to write."

So, I saw a notice on campus for a meeting of people interested in working on the campus newspaper, and off I went into my destiny. Meanwhile, I was taking courses in Latin, attending lectures on Dante and hanging around the Classics House, eating sardine sandwiches and conjugating and declining in my spare time. I can't help but think that I got a much better preparation for my work in that atmosphere than I could possibly have gained by attending the J-school's daily Two Minutes Hate sessions and readings from the Little Red Book.

So, now when people tell me about their plans for university, I ask them how long they want to wait before they flee the country to avoid their six-digit student loans...

Learn a trade. Pastry cheffing was pretty fun. And I know a guy with a PhD in mathematics who got out of uni, immediately enrolled in a 12-week community college course in industrial underwater welding, and started his working life making $80,000 a year. Another guy I know did an undergraduate in political science, learned that the world had been taken over by Gramsciite marxists so, upon failing to find a monastery to join, apprenticed himself to a stonemason and is now in France helping to restore castles and cathedrals.

The reality is that there are literally millions of people who work in skilled labor jobs, and they’re paid well, especially compared to college graduates. The average starting salary for a college graduate is $45,000, while the average salary of someone who went through trade school is $42,000. Not much of a difference, and the trade school graduate is entering the workforce at least two years sooner.

In addition, you’re almost guaranteed a job coming out of school. There are numerous stories of large energy and construction projects that had to be canceled not due to money shortages, but due to labor shortages. Companies simply can’t find the skills to complete the work needed.

Unless you're doing STEM, and often even then, university is designed to make you stupid, passive, compliant and a willing partner in your own culture's destruction.

In terms of my actual paying work, the best money I ever spent on formal education was 80 bucks for a typing course at the Y. 85 words a minute and counting.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring wild foods

So, I've been doing up loads of nice fresh nettles.

While collecting, I saw loads of these things,

It's Alliaria petiolata, or wild "garlic mustard" (sometimes Sisymbrium alliaria, "Hedge-Garlic," "Sauce-Alone," "Jack-by-the-Hedge," "Poor Man's Mustard," "Garlicwort," "Mustard Root"...) a plant that is another of these super-greens, chock full of vitamins C and A. Nice peppery slightly garlicky taste. Good cooked or fresh. The roots make an excellent horseradish.

It's also very common in North American fields too, brought over by settlers for whom it was a standard vegetable. They soon escaped the gardens and went wild.

Wiki says, "Garlic mustard is one of the oldest discovered spices to be used in cooking in Europe. Evidence of its use has been found from archeological remains found in the Baltic, dating back to 6100-5750...In 17th century Britain it was recommended as a flavouring for salt fish. It can also be made into a sauce for eating with roast lamb or salad."

It grows abundantly in the same kind of conditions as nettles, and so they are often side by side. They also look quite similar at first glance, with their heart shaped toothed leaves. But the flowers are totally different, and come out much earlier than nettle flowers. Nettles aren't as nice once they've started flowering and I would only collect them for drying at that point. But the garlic mustard is lovely even in the midst of its flowering time, which happens to be right now.

It was valued by Oldfangled people across Europe for medicinal applications. It has excellent antiseptic properties and can be applied to cuts to prevent infection. That garlicky flavor comes from sulfur, which is one of the best natural anti-microbials. But the sulphur is lost when it is heated, so the antiseptic properties can be gained only with cold-processing. Cooking makes the plant taste milder for that reason.

The Modern Herbal webpage says the juice of the leaves is a "deobstruent," which can be added to honey (though I think that would taste a bit strange) is useful for treating dropsy. Dropsy is a quaint term for oedema, which I started to experience rather badly last summer. It's a common long-term side effect of the surgery I had, having a bunch of lymph nodes removed. I'm constantly in search of things that will help, so maybe I'll try making a tincture or something.

Someone suggests:
The roots can be added to fire water or fire vinegar as it is often called. This is a simple and well used tincture where garlic, onions, grated ginger, horseradish, and hot peppers are covered with apple cider vinegar and let sit for several months. Adding garlic mustard root just gives it that much more of a kick. Take a couple tablespoons of this in 8 ounces of water at the first sign of a cold. It will either knock that cold right out or shorten it considerably. People use fire water for so many different ailments it warrants a post all its own.

Even a garlic mustard root/apple cider vinegar tincture on its own will help with bacterial and viral infections. A steam of the leaves and roots can help loosen chest and sinus infections as well as warm up people who have a chill from being out in the cold too long without the proper gear.

As a member of the Brassica family, it's related to broccoli, cabbage and sprouts, and is loaded with the same nutrient group you find in those. But as a wild plant, it is much more nutrient-dense.

Someone out there in Innernet Land suggested making a pesto out of the leaves. I might try it.


Is this the Faith you'll die for? - Grooving with the Dominican Greyhead Sisters of Swing

I just can't imagine why they don't get vocations... can you?


I'm working on a thing about how failing in my vocation led to becoming a Trad. There's bits about gardening in it for some reason I can't yet quite figure out.

Did I ever tell y'all about the time I almost wrote a book about women's religious life?


Sunday, April 12, 2015

St. Mary of Egypt

I discovered an awesome new saint: Mary of Egypt. She had quite the riotous early life in Alexandria in the fifth century. She left home at 12 because she didn't like her parents' restrictions, (which beats my story by 3 years!) She lived the kind of life that is now, frankly, considered more or less normal for young women. She slept around town, making a living not as a prostitute but by spinning flax and occasionally begging. So the sleeping around thing was mostly because she just wanted to and no one stopped her.

Then one day she decided to go with a group of others to Jerusalem, and it was mainly to find not God but more men to sleep with. At the moment that her group went into one of the churches, she found she could not follow. She sort of bounced off an invisible wall.

At that moment, she realised her wretched moral condition and fell to her knees on the church's porch and prayed to Our Lady, asking to be allowed to do penance for her sinful life, who said to her, "Go over the Jordan (river) and you will find endless rest."... Interesting eh? A life of penance described by the Queen of Heaven as "endless rest." Not what one usually thinks, right?

Well, it sounded pretty good to Mary, and off she went to live from that moment in a cave in the desert with no clothes on, no baths and no haircuts for 47 years.

I read this story and I think, how come I'm still keeping one foot in the world, eating bonbons and drinking wine? I got loads of sins to expiate. How come we don't do penance anymore? Ten Hail Marys? Srsly?

Where's my cave?

And could we find one that you can't get to without being lowered down in a basket?
That'd be good, thanks.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Quid Petis?

Santa Scolastica,
ora pro nobis

Well, I did it. Honestly, I kind of went kicking and screaming. Or at least, sort of moaning and complaining and fretting. But I did it.

On Easter Tuesday, after Vespers, my friend Maria and I were received by the Monastery of San Benedetto as Oblates, after a year mainly spent being a slacker. I told Br. Oblate Master that I was a slacker, and presented credible evidence, but he kept just smiling and saying encouraging things like, "Oh, you can't wait to be perfect before you dive in and make a commitment. If I'd waited until I was ready, I'd still not be a monk," ... and stuff like that.

Even when we realised that in the last year we hadn't even really read the entire Rule... Well yes, bits of it, of course, but the whole thing? Ermmm... well... I meant to...I really did... Then when we got the little booklet of the ceremony, and read, "You have already sufficiently learned the rule under which you wish to serve, not only by reading but also by much practice during the time that has elapsed since becoming an Oblate novice..." I figured we would need to cram a bit.

Fortunately, our friend Julie - who is clearly much holier than either of us useless lay-abouts - read the entire thing to us out loud on Monday. It took more or less the whole day, but we got it all. We looked things up we didn't know, and everything.

I tried to convince them of my complete suckitude, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I guess they'll just take pretty much anyone.

Anyway, it was Tuesday, and I had to go back to work that day, so I spent the morning after Mass working, and when I was done, Julie helped me reorganise all my book shelves, and then it was time to go to Vespers... I think the book-reorganising was a distraction on Julie's part to keep me from getting cold feet.

Off we went down the hill, and into destiny. Or something.


The ceremony was rather cool, and though I had hoped we could be down in the nice quiet crypt, it was upstairs in the Basilica and there happened to be a humungous whack of people there. Mainly priests, seminarians and religious who had come for the Triduum and were staying for retreats.

First there was a bunch of stuff in Latin, invoking the Holy Spirit and whatnot... I don't have translations...

And then,

Prior: "Quid Petis?"

Us: "Misericordiam Dei, et participationem Oblatorum Sancti Benedicti."

Then the bit about how well we've already been living the Rule, then...

Prior: "If then, you are ready and willing to observe the salutary teachings of our holy father Benedict, according as your state in in life permits, and are resolved to persevere in your holy resolution, you may now make your Final Oblation.

Then one at a time we went through the promises and statement:

Prior: "Do you renounce the vanities and pomps of the world?"

Us: "I do."

Prior: "Will you undertake the reformation of your life according to the spirit of the Rule of our holy father Benedict?"

Us: "I will."

Prior: "will you persevere in your holy resolution until death?"

Us: "With the help of God's grace, I will."

Prior: "Thanks be to God. Since God has given you the good will, and you trust in His help, you may now make your act of Final Oblation."

Then we each read aloud the charter we'd copied out by hand and which the monastery will keep in their archives for all eternity.

"In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

I ____, of (your home town) ____, offer myself to Almighty God, to Mary Seat of wisdom, to our holy father Benedict, for the Monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia, and I do promise before God and all the Saints, the reformation of my life according to the spirit of the Rule of the same most holy father, Benedict, as an Oblate of this monastery.

In testimony of which, I have written this oblation chart with my own hand and now sign it, on this ____ day of _____, in the year of Our Lord, 2015.

Then there was a bit of Gregorian which we did rather badly, some nice liturgical concluding prayers, all in Latin, and a general "Amen."

All the monks came and gave us the Pax, and there was generally glowy feeling all 'round, many congratulations, and lots of grilled pork and beer after.

Of course, now the marriage starts, and the reality of it hasn't quite sunk in.

I haven't belonged to anything in anything approaching an ontological, familial way since I was 15. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do.

I suppose I'll figure it out. With the help of God's grace...


Dream home

I'll have this one.

It was built by Paulina Wojciechowska, a Polish architect living in the UK who gives workshops in natural building techniques in Poland.

She and her natural building buddies have a Natural Building foundation sort of thing in Britain, and also give workshops in Spain.

Straw Bale workshop near Gatwick airport, (believe it or not)

This workshop is a wonderful opportunity to gain hands-on experience of constructing and plastering a real straw bale building that will be used for visitor accommodation.

The straw bale workshop will be held in a lovely farm set in rolling english countryside 15 minutes drive from London Gatwick airport. Paulina has designed a dream home which will be built from natural materials at the workshop site of Oaklands Farm over the next two years.
What You Will Learn

Hands-on experience of all the stages in straw bale wall construction, and an introduction to the plastering of a real structure:

Straw Bale Workshop UK (5 days)

-Raising straw bale walls
-How to tie the straw bale walls together
-Making a wall plate and compressing a wall
-Installation of door and window frames
-Managing the use of bales to maintain wall strength
-Recognizing the clay found on our land and understanding how to use it for building
-Preparation and application of the first 2 coats of clay plaster onto the straw bale wall

And another "Planning your dream natural building home" that involves all the down-to-earth stuff like

Choosing your site
Preparation of a site plan
Dealing with the site’s characteristics such as earth types, ground topology, etc.
Creating a house design to suite your lifestyle
The balance of costs: money, time, quality.
How to find your balance point and cost your project in a realistic way
Working with architects, builders and volunteers
Fitting the project into your life.
A design example: the amazing 5 bedroom house being built at Oaklands Farm.

Technologies choices for the house structure:

Foundations: types of foundations, pros and cons, which to use in different site situations, relative costs and effort involved.
Roof structures: types of roofs, pros and cons, how to choose the best roof structure for your project, relative costs and effort involved.
Insulation: a discussion of different solutions and their relative effectiveness.
Walls: an overview of natural building wall technologies: straw bale, cordwood, earthbag, cobb, rammed earth, old tyres.
Floors: an overview of the different technologies, their pros and cons.
Guidelines for designing wall structures using different technologies
Balancing your idealogical ideas with your building inspector’s logical, legal ones.
Hands-on experience: building walls for the Oaklands Farm project from cordwood, earthbag and cobb.

An overview of planning and installing services, with an emphasis on specific considerations for houses built from natural materials:

Electrical systems
Plumbing systems
Heating systems.
Waste water drainage systems
Rainwater drainage systems
Internal shelving and structures.


I do rather wish that this whole thing weren't so inordinately tied up with silly hippie pseudo-spirituality... "Earthmother Dwelling: Listening to the elements, exploring inner freedom"..."earth mother"... Srsly?

"In my ‘Earthmother Dwelling’ that I built at Cal-Earth, these are some of the things that I aimed to achieve. The ‘Earthmother Dwelling’ was built in a close dialogue with the essence of the site. Listening to the elements, letting the earth tell me what it wanted to become. Being from the architectural icons of traditional cultures. Listening openly to my inner voices, letting them guide me to achieve coherence and happiness."

Um...Yeah, ok. Whatever.

But I don't suppose that you'll necessarily catch a case of Hippie-dum if you live in a straw bale house you've built yourself. And just imagine going to one of these workshops and being the only nice, friendly Trad Catholic these people ever meet. I find that with these kinds of hippies, they tend to be more innocent than mean about beliefs, and more open-minded than you might at first think. Sing the Divine Office in Latin and Gregorian three times a day in your off hours and see what they do. Might be an interesting experiment.

And it's pretty easy to get behind other aspects of the... err... philosophy (I suppose you could call it):

At the moment, my ideal house is one which lives in such harmony with its environment, a house that is difficult to notice, like an animal that blends into its surroundings. So many houses appear like warts on our landscape.

Though you wouldn't know it from all the (ahem) sharing I do online, I am actually pretty keen on that idea of Philip Neri's: "Amare nescire," to "Love to be unknown."


Thursday, April 09, 2015


Dropped off my two lovely friends from London at the early bus this morning and then went to Mass. Lovely story at Mass this morning; the meeting of the Risen Christ with Mary Magdalene at the tomb. She thought He was the gardener. I have always thought about His smile when He said, "Mary!"

Then, armed with wellies, a new pair of rubber kitchen gloves and the kitchen scissors, I went down to the Marcite and collected two more bags of nettles for the pot. On the way home up the country lane, spotted my first fox which just dashed out of the hedge right in front of me, and ran behind some of last year's hay bales.

It's been a weird week for weather. We woke to a winter wonderland of snow on Tuesday morning after a very wet Easter weekend. By the end of the day on Tuesday the snow in the valley and on the lower slopes was completely gone, but remains even now on the tops of the mountains. The sun came out for the rest of the week, but it's still been quite cold. My friend took a photo in the morning of a winter landscape, and another the same day of plum trees blossoming.

It was very chilly this morning, and I was bundled up like December on the way to Mass and after a sharp, cold wind was up, but by the time I had come back from my stomp, my coat and scarf were bundled up in the bike basket and I was unzipping my woolie cardie. My Mac says it's 13 now, but it feels like a lot more than that in the sun, and the high is supposed to be 18.

Almost all the seeds I started have begun sprouting, and if all goes well, we should have all sorts of lovely things coming up: menta, oregano, thyme, levanda, girasole, marjoram, salvia, rue, nasturtiums and calendula.

I went down to the garden centre to get some of Winnie's special food, and bought two books, one about "autosufficienza" that includes all sorts of exciting things about curing your own hams, drying fruit, smoking meat, making beer and wine and cheese, and canning, jamming, herbing and distilling; and another one all about "compostaggio".

Spring spring spring!!


The Fantasy of bitterness

A friend on Facebook wrote about a woman who is "bitter" at the disasters in the Church, and the evils it has created:

"A 61-year-old woman I've been corresponding with... has seen the faith of almost everyone in her life decimated by the post-conciliar Church. Her mother lost her faith after the changes (and I presume, is now deceased). She describes her own children as "godless". She is 'bitter and angry'.

"This is what the Church did. This is what men like Kasper and Maradiaga and Marx and the rest of them have done to His little ones. These are the stories that don't get told, because the people leave and are rarely heard from again. God forgive us for what -- and whom -- we have abandoned."

But, acknowledging the unimaginable losses the collapse of the Church has caused, there is something good to remember here. In the past people had the Faith handed to them, and it cost them little or nothing to accept and keep it. They were often given little instruction past that which is given to children. People followed the Faith because it was what their parents did, or because all their neighbourhood was Catholic or their friends or businesses were. I know nuns who said that the exodus from the convents really happened because they had been given no intellectual formation in the Faith either in their homes or schools or the novitiate. It was mainly about how to walk and hold your hands so you looked like a holy nun. She had been a Carmelite, and she said they were told they were not allowed to read Teresa, for fear it would give them airs.

The Asteroid wiped all that away, and the people who had received the Faith so easily dropped it just as easily. What you get for nothing is not valued, even if it is pearls.

And now the Faith is still there and can still be found, but it is no longer easy. The result of the post-Conciliar catastrophe has been as our friend above said, but it has also created a race of Catholic guerilla fighters of which we are the second and third generation, and who are now going to be called upon to carry the fight forward. The ferocity with which they have acquired and kept the Faith is going to be required by everyone.

There is no more cheap grace to be had for tuppence in all the shops. Now if you want to know what is true, you have to go looking for it, develop your mind and knowledge and exercise your intellect and will, which faculties had become nearly atrophied in the immediate pre-conciliar period. Now just getting to know what you need to know to be a merely practising Catholic requires almost heroic effort of will and powers of investigation, as well as taking the trouble to learn to tell the truth from the sweet lies nearly all the parishes and priests are peddling. Heroism has, essentially, become our baseline.

And then you have to exercise those muscles of will to hold on to it as the World turns on you like a horde of screaming savages. In a situation like this one, the people who know and hold to the Faith are the Charles Atlas of the Catholic world. And it is going to be true very soon that they are going to require all that strength to stand up to what is coming at us. Anger can be the fuel for much of the fire in the blood required to get this far, but indulging in bitterness is really just a means of avoiding the fight. "Bitterness" is really just a fancy word for sulking, and right now, if you are indulging it, you're sulking while everyone else is fighting a war. It's a variety of self-indulgence that we have no spare resources for.

It might not sound like I'm being sympathetic, but a great many of us have been forced to claw our way out of the Novusordoist fever swamps, and for a lot of us it has cost pretty dearly. I know someone who started asking awkward questions in her small working class town in eastern Canada, and eventually got to the point where she wanted to study at a small orthodox Catholic college. Her parents and family, all the friends she had grown up with, almost entirely disowned her when she came to the unavoidable conclusions.

She loves her family and her home town, but knows that there is no longer any place for her there and that she will probably have to spend the rest of her life living far away so she can receive the real sacraments. It was a horrible but ultimately heroic choice, and she made the right one, but it will never stop being hard.

One of the terrors of Traditionalism is that we learn at some point that the Faith makes a totally uncompromising demand. It is this choice that the happy-clappy Kasperian Church wants to hide and banish. But we are coming to a time in which heroism is going to be only the first rung, the bare minimum requirement to save our souls. Ours is a fearsome Faith, and the kind of choices my friend made are going to be forced on more and more of us. We can't expect everyone to make the right one.

We must get used to asking the question: "Which Faith are you willing to die for?" The religion of the Tango-Mass?

Or this one?

Our friend Ann Barnhardt offers a piece of advice that I think would be a good cure for a person's indulgence in bitterness:

"Our Lord Himself who has told many mystic saints and doctors of the Church the same thing: THINK AND PRAY ABOUT MY PASSION AND DEATH. Why? Because thinking about Our Lord’s torture, agony and excruciating death forces us to confront Him as a Person, True God AND True Man. Legal systems don’t sob until their capillaries burst. Philosophies don’t suffer the agony of unrequited love. Imaginary friends don’t lay down their lives. Bureaucracies don’t fight asphyxiation by pushing themselves up on their impaled feet.

Only a PERSON can do these things. Only a DIVINE PERSON did. And remember, He would go through His ENTIRE PASSION just for you alone, and He would go through it REPEATEDLY for you alone, in fact as many times as you assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even more. That is how much He PERSONALLY loves you, PERSONALLY.

And yes, I lost my mother to the Novusordoist revolution and the Sexual Revolution that Novusordoism is now embracing. She entered the Church in 1972 in Remi de Roo's Victoria, BC. They taught her that God wanted her to embrace the entire delusion, including the new sexual paradigm. In the end, it destroyed her life, and finally as she pursued what these evil people taught her, she contracted HPV and died of cervical cancer, estranged from me and everyone else in her family, addicted to and entirely engulfed in the post-60s Fantasy, refusing to the last minute to involve herself in reality.

One of the delusions of "bitterness" is that you alone have the right to complain. It whispers to you that your personal suffering is worse than everyone else's and that it absolves you of responsibility. But the War has left very few without scars.

Bitterness is a Fantasy. A life dedicated to the Real has no room for it.


Sunday, April 05, 2015


Exsúltet iam angélica turba cælórum:
exsúltent divína mystéria:
et pro tanti Regis victória tuba ínsonet salutáris.

Gáudeat et tellus, tantis irradiáta fulgóribus:
et ætérni Regis splendóre illustráta,
tótius orbis se séntiat amisísse calíginem.

Lætétur et mater Ecclésia,
tanti lúminis adornáta fulgóribus:
et magnis populórum vócibus hæc aula resúltet.

[Quaprópter astántes vos, fratres caríssimi,
ad tam miram huius sancti lúminis claritátem,
una mecum, quæso,
Dei omnipoténtis misericórdiam invocáte.
Ut, qui me non meis méritis
intra Levitárum númerum dignátus est aggregáre,
lúminis sui claritátem infúndens,
cérei huius laudem implére perfíciat.]

[V/ Dóminus vobíscum.
R/ Et cum spíritu tuo.]
V/ Sursum corda.
R/ Habémus ad Dóminum.
V/ Grátias agámus Dómino Deo nostro.
R/ Dignum et iustum est.

Vere dignum et iustum est,
invisíbilem Deum Patrem omnipoténtem
Filiúmque eius unigénitum,
Dóminum nostrum Iesum Christum,
toto cordis ac mentis afféctu et vocis ministério personáre.

Qui pro nobis ætérno Patri Adæ débitum solvit,
et véteris piáculi cautiónem pio cruóre detérsit.

Hæc sunt enim festa paschália,
in quibus verus ille Agnus occíditur,
cuius sánguine postes fidélium consecrántur.

Hæc nox est,
in qua primum patres nostros, fílios Israel
edúctos de Ægypto,
Mare Rubrum sicco vestígio transíre fecísti.

Hæc ígitur nox est,
quæ peccatórum ténebras colúmnæ illuminatióne purgávit.

Hæc nox est,
quæ hódie per univérsum mundum in Christo credéntes,
a vítiis sæculi et calígine peccatórum segregátos,
reddit grátiæ, sóciat sanctitáti.

Hæc nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.

Nihil enim nobis nasci prófuit,
nisi rédimi profuísset.
O mira circa nos tuæ pietátis dignátio!
O inæstimábilis diléctio caritátis:
ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!

O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum,
quod Christi morte delétum est!

O felix culpa,
quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

O vere beáta nox,
quæ sola méruit scire tempus et horam,
in qua Christus ab ínferis resurréxit!

Hæc nox est, de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminábitur:
et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.

Huius ígitur sanctificátio noctis fugat scélera, culpas lavat:
et reddit innocéntiam lapsis et mæstis lætítiam.
Fugat ódia, concórdiam parat et curvat impéria.

In huius ígitur noctis grátia, súscipe, sancte Pater,
laudis huius sacrifícium vespertínum,
quod tibi in hac cérei oblatióne solémni,
per ministrórum manus
de opéribus apum, sacrosáncta reddit Ecclésia.

Sed iam colúmnæ huius præcónia nóvimus,
quam in honórem Dei rútilans ignis accéndit.
Qui, lícet sit divísus in partes,
mutuáti tamen lúminis detrimenta non novit.

Alitur enim liquántibus ceris,
quas in substántiam pretiósæ huius lámpadis
apis mater edúxit.

O vere beáta nox,
in qua terrénis cæléstia, humánis divína iungúntur!

Orámus ergo te, Dómine,
ut céreus iste in honórem tui nóminis consecrátus,
ad noctis huius calíginem destruéndam,
indefíciens persevéret.
Et in odórem suavitátis accéptus,
supérnis lumináribus misceátur.

Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat:
ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum.
Christus Fílius tuus,
qui, regréssus ab ínferis, humáno géneri serénus illúxit,
et vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum.

R/ Amen.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Well, it's the sort of thing that makes you think...

Was doing the washing up and spilled some water on the kitchen floor. I went into the bathroom to fetch the string mop, and came back and the water had spread, and, not wearing my glasses, I didn't see it and my foot went out from under me. Down I went with a startled yelp.

Nothing worse happened than a pulled muscle in my shoulder as I grabbed the counter to stop my fall (unsuccessfully). But it has made me think; what if I'd hit my head? What if I'd fallen while holding one of my sharp kitchen things? What if I'd been carrying a glass thing and it had broken and I'd got a bad cut?

We think we're all self-reliant until something happens. I remember thinking about it a lot when I was having C-treatments and there was a spell when I really couldn't get around the house. There were brief periods when I had to have 24-hour care, had to have a chair in the bathroom to brush teeth and had to have the tea-makings down around knee height because I couldn't stand up in the kitchen. If I hadn't had friends who were willing to come round and, basically, give me 24/7 home-help, I'd have been sunk.

I like being all tough and self-reliant, but there's a difference between being self-reliant and being self-sufficient. The first one is something we all more or less try to do as much as we can in life, and it's a good and normal thing that we start doing as soon as we learn to walk. The second is impossible. People really aren't meant to live by themselves.

I've been thinking about these ideas quite a bit lately, along with my whole smallholding, market-gardening, sustainable living kick. I like being by myself. I find since I've come here, I like it quite a lot. But I also like having people to stay, which is why I got such a big place. Some years ago, I was going through a little period of insecurity, as one does from time to time, and a friend who knew about this, and worried about me spending too much time at home, would kindly call me several times a day to see if I was doing alright. It meant a lot. He said, "Remember, you're really not alone, even when you're by yourself."

We think of hermits, those bearded desert-dwelling chaps who sat in caves and did a spot of basket-weaving in between bouts of levitating and basking in ecstatic divine glory. But the reality is quite different. The Desert Fathers were smart chaps and fully grounded in the Real, part of which is due consideration for earthly necessities. They didn't live all off by themselves with absolutely no human contact. Indeed, most of them lived in these things called a "laura," a Greek word meaning a bunch of hermits living in caves within an hour's walk or climb to each other.

Even during his cave-dwelling days, St. Benedict was not totally alone. He was pretty inaccessible, and had to have things lowered down to his inconveniently precipitous cave from above on a rope. But someone, in the form of a fellow monk named Romanus, would come to see him every day, lower down some food, and, presumably, shout something like "Hey Ben! Everything OK?"

The other day, one of the monks gave me a ring on my cell phone. Didn't need anything, and didn't have much to tell me in the way of news. Just wanted to see if everything was OK.

We can't get on alone, is what I'm saying.