Thursday, September 14, 2017

What's So Wrong With This Provincial Life?

Okay 90s girls, I know that you loved Beauty and the Beast and would pretend to be Belle belting out, "There must be more than this provincial life!" I know I did. It's a theme we see often in the modern Disney movie - a female protagonist wishing for more than what her current life is offering. Belle wants adventure and excitement, Mulan wants to be more than a housewife, Moana wants to explore the sea, and Ariel wants to be a different species all together. While I really enjoy these movies and I understand that great stories almost always have a call to adventure for the hero, (check out this video about the hero's journey, also known as the monomyth), lately I've been wondering, "Hey, what's so wrong with this provincial life?" 



First let's look at the definition of provincial. Dictionary.com says that provincial is an adjective meaning having or showing the manners, viewpoints, etc., considered characteristic of unsophisticated inhabitants of a province. Something provincial could be a rustic living space, or a narrow minded person. Ouch. For a movie that seems to be teaching a message about not judging others without getting to know them, Belle is being pretty judgy in her opening song. For the most part the inhabitants of this little town seem to be perfectly nice people living perfectly nice lives, providing for their families and offering goods and services to the other townspeople. Sure Belle, you may not be able to discuss literature with them, but does that make you better than them, somehow above living a simple life with your family in a quiet town? I know Gaston thinks you're better than everyone else, but he's the villain so...

Disney princesses of the past like Snow White and Cinderella are often viewed as not being as good of role models for girls as the modern princesses because of their passivity. The story happens to them rather than them taking the initiative to kick butt and take names. I find this comparison troubling. Saying that Snow White is a worse role model than Mulan is just replacing one stereotype of what a girl should be like and what they should want with another. If a girl wants to wear blue t-shirts, play with trucks, and take karate that's great! More power to her. By all means, go for it. But if a girl wants to wear pink dresses, play with dolls, and take ballet, that's great too. Heck, a girl can even do both! We need to stop thinking of  traditional expressions of femininity as inferior - but that could be another post altogether.


I think Snow White and Cinderella actually have some pretty admirable traits. In both stories they are treated horribly, forced to wear rags and basically used as slave labor. While they may hope that things get better they accept that this is the situation they are in right now and deal with it as best they can, facing the world with a positive attitude and treating others, including those who treat them poorly, with patience, kindness, and selflessness. To some this may seem provincial, but I think that this attitude is much more sophisticated than being aggressively rude to your parents and engaging in dubious dealings with witches just to get what you want - I'm looking at you Merida and Ariel!

Let's take a look at the most recent Disney princess movie, Moana, (I know her princess status is not official yet!). In the song "Where You Are" Moana keeps being drawn to the sea and her father explains how the island provides them with everything they need and that she can find happiness where she is. Hey Moana, I get it. I'm drawn to the water too. Looking out on the horizon of Lake Michigan is one my favorite things in the world, but your dad's song is actually incredibly wise! There is value in realizing that you have everything you need and being thankful for it. If you are always trying to find happiness outside of yourself and where you are, it is going to be very difficult to be happy. I like how even though it is difficult at times, Moana obeys her parents and does her best to find happiness on the island, only setting out to sea when it become necessary to save her people. She doesn't go just because it's what she wants. She goes when she realizes there is a purpose outside of herself for her desire.


 The truth is, we are all called to something more. But it's not a magical castle, becoming a war hero, or you know, legs. We are all called to union with God in heaven - we are all called to be saints. The way we get there will vary. Some of us may be called to set off on a grand, exotic adventure, and some of us may be called to love our husbands and raise our kids in a quiet town, and that's okay. Through the saints the Church gives us examples of warriors, scholars, spouses, parents, religious, royalty and peasants in grand variety who were all living out holy lives striving to be the best version of themselves. Remember that. Not the best version of someone else, but themselves. While St. Therese of Lisieux desired to be a missionary traveling the world, it was not what God had planned for her, and the impact she's had on the world by doing small things with great love inside the convent walls is awe inspiring.


Sometimes it's easy to break into song about how you wish your life was different when we feel more like that lady who needed eggs than the effortlessly beautiful Belle. But trust me, whatever else you do in your life, marriage and family is one of the greatest adventures there is. While my husband staying home to watch the kids while I work at an online school is certainly unconventional, our focus on faith and family and a desire to stay close to home may seem provincial to outside eyes.  Sometimes on a bad day I may wish for something different or more, but this is where our family is at right now and we are doing our best. Sure, camping in the next county may be our current idea of a big vacation and no one may ever make a movie of my life, but I find happiness in a loving husband and children, being close to my family, and the beauty of my faith. And if that makes me provincial, so be it.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Yesterday was the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in other words, Happy Birthday Mary!


A little family magazine we picked up at church had a few suggestions to celebrate including lighting a prayer candle, bringing flowers to an altar, and saying the rosary. We have recently started up praying a decade of the rosary a day using the Holy Heroes rosary CDs. It just so happened the mystery we were on yesterday was the Assumption of Mary, so the decade was filled with scripture passages about Mary - it worked out perfectly! I highly recommend the Holy Heroes CDs if you are struggling to say the rosary as a family, or you feel you need help getting started. It's led by children and each Hail Mary is preceded by a short scripture verse that helps you meditate on the mystery for the decade. My oldest, (7 years old), immediately took to it, asking to do entire rosaries instead of just a decade, reminding the rest of the family about prayer time each night, and taking the CD player up to his bedroom to pray on his own before he goes to sleep. He is definitely much more focused than when we would try it on our own before! I enjoy them as an adult as well. They do a great job creating a relaxed, meditative mood. We also really enjoy listening to the Glory Stories CDs about the lives of saints on long car trips.

Of course the last suggestion for Mary's birthday in the magazine was the kid's favorite; bake a cake and sing happy birthday! Using ingredients we had on hand I decided to make one of my absolute favorite cake recipes; a chocolate zucchini cake I found on allrecipes.com. It's the same recipe I used for my daughter's farm themed birthday last year. It is a very easy cake to put together, especially since we have a ton of shredded zucchini on hand in the freezer due to an abundance from the garden. It's probably the only thing I've been able to grow in abundance so far! The original recipe also calls for chopped walnuts, but I leave that part out.


I had my own idea on how to decorate the cake for the feast day, and the kids had another. I started with my design, and then let the kids take over. It was the last day of the first week of school so I didn't use any piping bags or anything, we all just had some fun with sprinkles. As I told the kids, Mary is a mom, so she would love whatever way they wanted to decorate the cake for her! My son also made the keen observation that if Mary is everyone's mother, and she's the queen of heaven, than all of us are princesses and princes! That certainly pleased the almost three year old who is currently very into princesses.

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother.' And from that hour he took her into his home." John 19:26-27

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups grated zucchini

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix in the eggs and oil. Fold in the zucchini and pour into the prepared pan. 

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a fork or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely before frosting and enjoy!
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