Posted in Book Lovers Community, Practicing Paideia

Why Won’t They Read

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Some of my earliest memories are of my mom reading to my sisters and me. Raggedy Ann and Andy books are prominent in those memories.  I believe Mom chose the Raggedy books because she remembered them from her childhood.  I wonder what she would think of the stories if she read them now. I have gone back and tried to read them as an adult and couldn’t get into them. They seem syrupy and silly. I remember some of the cute characters from the illustrations, but I don’t remember much about what they did. It seems that Ann and Andy went around being nice to people and wishing cream puffs and soda water into existence. The antagonist of each story was cured by kindness. Though the lovely color illustrations of fairies and strange creatures in dreamy settings fed our fancies, I don’t believe they fed our moral imaginations at all.  

What did I feast on once I got into chapter books?  I may have bought all the books about animals published by the Scholastic Book Club in the late 1960s and early 70s.  101 Dalmatians, Kavik the Wolf Dog, Blaze, the Story of a Horse, Incredible Journey, The Black Stallion, and many others the titles of which I don’t remember and which haven’t survived the years that are rather hard on 25 cent paperbacks.  

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Why all the animals?  For one thing, I’m a girl, I lived in the country, and I really wanted a horse.  But what else was I longing for?  While it’s hard to look back and analyze the me of forty-five years ago, I think what I hungered for was a nobility depicted in these creatures that I hadn’t yet discovered in books about people.  The Dalmatians and their friends organize a daring rescue at great personal (animalial?) risk, Kavik is strong and loyal, Blaze bravely pulls a fire engine, The Black Stallion and the pets that make the Incredible Journey show amazing stamina and heart.  Most of these stories feature a strong bond of friendship between man and animal or animal and animal.

When I ponder why my child doesn’t like to read, I should probably start by asking what type of books I’m offering.  As I note the kinds of books that are being published by the ton for children today, it seems that often we are denying our children stories of characters who develop strong virtues.  Many of today’s children’s books can’t avoid the themes of the inherent wisdom of children, the serious want of wisdom in the adults in their lives, that any child can grow up to be anything he wants to be, and children, at least the main characters, are good enough just the way they are.      

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Perhaps our children are starving for healthy servings of virtue even as we keep offering them the latest, most popular brand of empty calories.  Children who are allowed to choose whatever they want to eat don’t usually choose the foods that are best for them unless they have been properly trained to choose well.  Maybe our children who won’t read are suffering from malnutrition while surrounded by food.  

A few years ago, I was commissioned to read and review all of the Time Warp Trio books then in print.  They were eye-opening for me. While I couldn’t point to much in them that is overtly objectionable, these are vapid stories masquerading as an entertaining introduction to history.  It would be possible for middling readers to gobble these books like potato chips. Are these the sort of books that will genuinely satisfy a healthy appetite?

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I also note the disturbing trend of bringing children, and at times animals, into historical settings to “help” our heroes.  Why do our heroes need the wisdom of children in order for things to come out “right?”  Ben Franklin got his ideas from a mouse?  The Wright Brothers needed help from a dog?  If children and animals are wiser than our most famous historical characters, where do children go from here?  They are wise enough to know that these scenarios are not truth.  Whence the idea that children can’t appreciate anything unless we bring it down to their level?  When we do this, we leave them nothing to which to rise.

Why the insistence that every new book be part of a series?  I assume that, first of all, it’s the current marketing ploy which creates an appetite then graciously offers to feed it.  Most of the popular series’ seem designed to be consumed in a binge. “No one can eat just one,” the publisher hopes.  I’m reminded of a chapter in C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy.  Toward the end of the book, he recalls having made it his goal to achieve a particularly satisfying state of mind and continually attempting to reproduce it.  He says, “To ‘get it again’ became my constant endeavor.”  Is this why we hunger for a series?  To continually get it again?  Are we so unwilling to turn loose of a desirable state of mind that we mistake quantity for quality?  Are we so eager for that state that we shy away from contemplation in favor of consumption?

We Christians are admonished to fix our thoughts on things that are true and honorable, right and pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  We are also warned against gluttony.  We are nowhere instructed to contemplate how good and worthy we are just the way we are.  While I hope there’s some room there for a bit of junk food, our standards must be higher than the average.  We can teach our children to be satisfied with fruit for dessert rather than training them to require continuous snacking.  It will be a full time job, but it is our job. And our sacred obligation.

 

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

Masarik Family Advent Resources 2016

I am not crafty. I am not musical. I am not patient. I certainly am not good at doing the same thing day after day. Like almost everyone I know, however, I long to have a meaningful Advent with the little people in my home. While Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, hope, and celebration, I often find it to be the season that shines the brightest light on my ineptitude. So many Advent related things seem to have crafty, musical, and routine oriented components to them. I come close to hating Advent because it is a season which is supposed to nurture holiness and yet it seems to always exacerbate my weaknesses, and then, I sin.

This year, I have scrupulously previewed Advent resources in an attempt to find things that would resonate with my family without asking things of me which I am simply incapable of doing reasonably well. I am willing to be stretched and challenged during Lent, but during Advent, I desire to be contemplative, peaceful, and full of good cheer.

In this post, I wanted to share with you the resources that we are going use this year. With the exception of the blessing prayers, all of them are new to me. In the new year, I will review each resource in detail to let you know how they worked out for us. In the interim, I thought that you might find one or two things to help your family on your Advent journey.

Advent Decor

My family is Catholic. For us, Christmas *begins* on Christmas Eve and runs through the Feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany): January 6th. For this reason, many of the Christmas decorations that adorn most American Christian homes are reserved until the Sunday before Christmas. Instead, we spend the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in Advent. Advent is traditionally marked with an evergreen wreath with four candles: 3 purple and 1 rose.

Advent Rituals

This Sunday, we will bless our Advent Wreath and begin doing daily Advent prayers after dinner around the wreath. To bless our wreath, we are using this blessing from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Advent Prayer Guides

During the Advent and Christmas Seasons, I will be reading Chesterton with Potato Peel Pie Book Club friends. We are using this resource. I plan to do this reading and prayer with my morning coffee.

Also with my morning coffee, my reading buddy and I are going to be using the Center For Lit’s A Literary Advent. We are not affiliated with Center For Lit, we just love some of their resources.

During school each morning, my kids and I will do this short Jesse Tree daily prayer.  

During our daily snack break, the kids and I will be reading through this study of biblical characters who made Advent possible: Bible Characters for Advent: The Stories That Brought Us Christmas.

Finally, the resource that I may be the most excited about for our family prayer is this historical, ecumenical, and thoughtful family Advent study. Heather from To Sow A Seed asked us if we might be interested in reviewing their beautiful Advent family guide: Experiencing Advent. I have previewed it and am really eager to rest in it during this hectic season.  

Feast of St. Nicholas

Catholics around the world celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. If you live in a part of the country that is heavily Catholic and was settled predominantly by Dutch, German, and other Germanic immigrants, you may celebrate St. Nicholas day too. In my part of the country, even the non-Christians celebrate St. Nicholas by leaving out stockings or shoes to be filled with by the kindly saint.

On the Eve of St. Nicholas, we usually read this gorgeous book by Aaron Shepard. It has been out of print for some time and so we read it on our Kindle.

This year we will be adding a new book to our routine: The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan.

When the kids were very little, we use to watch the Buck Denver: Why Do We Call It Christmas video from Phil Vischer. As Catholics, we take issue with some small things in it, but the section on St. Nicholas is pretty good.

Stockings

In our home we have always laid out our Christmas stockings on December 5th. After the kids are in bed, Greg and I fill them with an orange for the toe of the stocking, some gold foil wrapped chocolate coins and a special book.

Christmas Eve: Tree & Nativity

I know that most families put their trees and nativities up right after Thanksgiving. We, however, reserve those activities for Christmas Eve. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we make some yummy breakfast and then we gear up for a really fun day. While Greg and I sip coffee and map out our day, the kids watch the Brother Francis Christmas video.

After breakfast, we spend the day decorating the house with our tree, nativities, and other Christmas decorations while also making a feast to enjoy at dinner time. Once our tree is up and dressed, we bless it with this prayer. After dinner, we all snuggle on the couch and watch Silent Night.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day we mark the feast with simple presents, mass, and a day of family rituals. Each of our children receive three presents from us: a gift of something truly wanted (gold), a gift of something to strengthen their vocation (myrrh), and a gift of something to strengthen their prayer (frankincense).

After presents and mass, we spend the day resting, reading and making pasta. After feasting, we cuddle on the couch to watch Max Lucado’s The Christmas Candle

Christmas Season

During the Christmas season we read our stack of Christmas books and we leave our tree and nativities out until the Epiphany.

 

 

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Sabbath Schedule

A few months ago I wrote an article about our obedience to the spiritual principle of Sabbath-keeping. Since then, I have received a number of requests for an explanation of what a normal Sabbath looks like for us. Because I appreciate being able to peek into the lives of others, I am happy to share how we do things. We love our Sabbath. While every week presents its own variations on a theme, we do have a pretty consistent Sabbath harmony. What I love best, however, is that it is entirely our own plan.

Some readers have asked me to clarify what is and is not “allowed” on our day of rest. That just isn’t how we think of it. Instead, we think of how God desires to bless and rest us on a given Sunday and then we pursue those gifts. If you are discerning Sabbath-keeping for your family, let me encourage you to make it your own. Pray and seek Him. He will lead you to rest.

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As a family, we wake around 7a.m., then either have a quick breakfast before the early mass, or the kids have quiet play time while Greg and I drink coffee and read some spiritual texts before the late mass. As a general rule, I like to read the mass readings with my coffee so that I can meditate on them as I get ready and then really hear them when we are at church.

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After mass, we come home and have a brunch. Usually we try to have special and fun food for brunch like doughnuts or waffles, pancakes or omelets. This rich and “Sunday only” food requires labor from Greg and me, but we love cooking together and everyone loves the fruits of that labor. Usually the kids are sitting at the counter chattering away while we cook. As introverts, Greg and I would probably prefer to cook with classical music and relative quiet, but we also try to appreciate the tradition that is being formed with our children. Since I will want them to come for brunch when they are grown and gone, I have to appreciate them while they are here.

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Then, because kids who have eaten sweet and fatty foods cannot “rest,” we find something active to do. Usually we go for a hike. In the intense summer heat, we sometimes opt to delay that walk until late afternoon. In the winter we may go sledding or snowshoeing instead. Provided that the weather is decent, we try to do something in the sunshine and fresh air because it energizes us and helps us to appreciate God’s great gifts of family and nature.

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After our hike, everyone spends an hour in quiet, reading. Everyone chooses a room and curls up with a good book (or audiobook for the littlest guy). This is requisite for Greg and me to feel like we really have had a Sabbath. Going to church, making food for our family, going on a hike with kids… all of that is extroverted, and we crave quiet on Sabbath. By building this block of reading time into our schedule we communicate to our children that quiet is valuable and books are gifts.

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If we have gone to the early mass and there is extra time in the afternoon, I will usually write letters or catch up on email, etc., while Greg plays some sport with the kids in the yard.

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After our little rest, Greg and I make a hearty dinner. We hope it is one that will extend into leftovers for another day in the week. Again, the kids often sidle up the counter and ask to help in the prep. A hearty dinner really sets us up for a good sleep, and it just makes us feel good.

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After dinner we either play a board game or watch a movie before family prayer and the kids go to bed.

It really is a simple day with a focus on faith, family time, good food, and rest.

 

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Hospitality Recharge

In this article I wrote about Sally Clarkson’s A Life Giving Home and a beautiful weekend of hospitality when we were hosting our Gourmet group. In that article I explained that we anticipated the weekend with a gentle approach to our preparations and a sharing of the work.

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No matter how wonderful our call to hospitality is, it is taxing. Even more so because we are serious introverts with little children who still need the best of us.

In that article I explained that many times we cannot anticipate when God will send a guest into our home. But for the times that we can, we very consciously plan a recovery period after hosting anyone. While that gorgeous September weekend was life giving and meaningful, no small part of its success was the knowledge that my husband had taken a day of vacation on the following Monday. Sunday night, when we were washing linens, putting away the dishes, and snacking on leftovers, we were able to take a slow and relaxed attitude about the work because we knew that the next day would be a day of rejuvenation.

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A recovery day for us starts with a sleep-in, an easy breakfast, a lazy attitude while we read and drink our coffee, and then a low-key family meeting. After talking through our plan for the day, we take care of a few light chores and personal care items before heading off on a family adventure. By pairing our recovery day with a seasonal or annual tradition, we not only recover from hosting, but we make family memories that are precious.

This time, we went apple picking! Wandering through a delightful orchard, we munched on apples, dreamed about the things we were going to make with our fruit, and talked about the fruit picking that Ralph Moody did in Man of the Family. Our easy pace was good exercise and good fun.

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After we were done picking we did some shopping in the orchard store. As a family, we don’t celebrate Halloween. Instead, we created our own “Apple Fest” tradition and spend a whole weekend eating apples and appreciating our family culture. In the orchard store, we purchased mixes for apple pancakes and special apple cakes. (Yes, we do have our own recipes for these things, but in this case we purchased these mixes so that we would think back on this family day when we celebrate Apple Fest in a few weeks.)

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After enjoying the orchard and its farm petting zoo, we headed out to lunch. Fall is here and in Wisconsin that means that cold weather is just around the corner. Before it gets too cold to really appreciate cold treats, we took the kids to Titletown Brewing Company for some of their signature root beer. Par for the course, the kids ordered fish plates with their root beer while Greg and I had gourmet burgers and freshly brewed Oktoberfest beer.

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My standard order at Titletown is always the delicious PB&B Burger (Peanut Butter Bacon Burger). Paired with pub fries and a good beer, this burger is culinary heaven for me.

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A little groggy from the rich food, we headed out for a hike. On our way, however, I begged my husband to stop by St. Vincent de Paul Store (local charity shop) so that we could look for books as a team. St. Vincent de Paul must have been looking out for us (it was the eve of his feast day) because we left with a box of treasures.

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By the time we got home from our hike at the UWGB Arboretum trail, we had spent an entire day doing things we love with the people we love most. After a long and beautiful weekend with friends, we had a day of memory-making and restoration.

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

My Life Giving Home

Last winter I read Sally Clarkson’s newest book, The Life Giving Home, and experienced a sense of support and calling that profoundly deepened a calling that I was already wrestling with.

More than a year ago, my husband and I were called into a difficult and disorienting life-changing situation. Our natural introverted tendency is to tuck our heads in and run away from the uncertainty and stress. But God was calling us to radical obedience in the form of radical hospitality. When we were stretched in unsettling ways, when we were broken and hurting, when we were terrified of how we were going to steward our resources, we were convicted that God was calling us to do the opposite of what seemed reasonable. God was calling us to pour ourselves out for others – even when our own situation was precarious and nerve-wracking. Instead of calling us to guard our resources, pull in and regroup, contemplate our situation, reduce our commitments, and focus on our personal situation, God was calling us to set the table, break the bread, and welcome a multitude of guests with gracious hospitality.

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After several months of pouring out our oil from a jar that never seemed to empty, I discovered Sally’s book and my vocation was transformed. While I had been walking in hopeful obedience, Sally reminded me to find the joy. The Life Giving Home is a handbook for living out the call to hospitality that we all have. While this reflection is not a review of The Life Giving Home, I want to highlight some tangible ways in which Sally’s wisdom has helped me to make lemonade out of our lemons.

What I have come to understand about radical hospitality is that guests can be made to feel absolutely comfortable in almost any setting if we choose to serve them with the same kind of care and sincerity we would show to Christ if He were to appear in our home. In the slums of Calcutta, Mother Teresa taught her nuns to minister to the poor and unwanted as if they were Christ in His most distressing disguises. Our calling is so much easier than that! We have been called to love that same Christ in all those whom God sends into our home. In most cases, however, these are people we already love!

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

What I appreciate about Sally’s book is that it helps me to see how the smallest gestures of hospitality can communicate respect. While perfectly clean homes resplendent with sparkling bathrooms, fine china, and elegant candles can beautifully express welcome to visitors, authentically lived-in homes that are tidy and modestly dressed with small vases of wildflowers can also make guests feel utterly welcome and treasured. The Life Giving Home helped me make a short list of welcoming gestures that feel natural to execute. While guests are still often unexpected but always wanted, I now have a few things I can do to make planned-for guests know that we consider their visit a special gift.

Last weekend we hosted some of our favorite friends for a long weekend of food and fellowship. On Saturday night we enjoyed a gourmet dinner (prepared by all of us), attended mass, and laughed our way through a few rounds of “Settlers of Catan.” The next day we had a cozy brunch before tailgating through the Packer game. Each aspect of the weekend was carefully planned to express the best parts of our friendship. We delighted in the adventure of cooking new and exciting recipes together. We shared our faith. We played games that make us feel like a community. We had long and meaningful talks about real life. Most importantly, we celebrated authentic friendship through vibrant fellowship.

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The week before our friends arrived, I structured our school schedule so that I could take care of essential preparations in small chunks. The kids helped me with the cleaning and the cutting of flowers. Greg did the grocery shopping and most of the food prep. In this way, the weekend was not a burden because the stress was spread out and beautifully shared in communion.

While we dressed each room with mason jars of wildflowers and made sure to lay out little things that would make our guests comfortable, we did not do anything that felt unnatural or stressful. A Life Giving Home helped me to be at ease with who we are and draw from a well of helpful and natural rituals that made our home authentic and welcoming. The key to the success of our weekend was how normal everything felt and how everything we did was just a respectful expression of ourselves and our gratitude for our friends.

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One of the lessons God is teaching me in this season of life is that I have misunderstood hospitality for most of my life. I think I am naturally a Mary who believed that I had to be a Martha to please Him. As He has called us into radical hospitality, He has surprised us, stretched us, and humbled us. In each growth spurt, however, He has mercifully shown us that what our guests need and want most from us is some small respect and much great sincerity. If I can make the home welcoming on a basic level and pair that with authentic fellowship, that is what has the most impact. If I set up a dinner that invites long and comfortable conversation, that is what makes my guests feel heard. If I prepare all of our rooms so that our guests know they are wanted, thought about, and prayed for, they will be more likely to rest and be refreshed. If I prepare the family to appreciate our guests and delight in their visit, they will feel loved and truly welcomed.

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FYI: I do have a secret recipe to success. It is called a recovery day. Check it out here.

Posted in Book Lovers Community

GK Chesterton: Architect of Spears

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In my Potato Peel Pie book club we are reading a little Chesterton every week. And by “little,” I mean one essay every Sunday from
In Defense of Sanity. Each week we read and reflect on one short essay or article from G. K. Chesterton and play with the ideas he articulates. Some of the essay are hilarious, some astute, some poignant, and some artistic. Nearly all, however, pair well with a cup of coffee and seem to hit the spot on a Sabbath afternoon. In this article I am ruminating on “The Architect of Spears” from Miscellany of Men and my take on what he has said.

“It is said that the Gothic eclipses the classical by a certain richness and complexity, at once lively and mysterious. This is true; but oriental decoration is equally rich and complex, yet it awakens a widely different sentiment.” – The Architect of Spears

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I emphatically agree. I love how he says things that we intuitively know, but don’t notice as being true. It seems inappropriate to say that there is something about Gothic architecture that inherently communicates something spiritual. It seems as though the modern philosopher would say that if we have any religious association with Gothic architecture it is because we were trained to do so. Perhaps that is right. None the less, I cannot change the fact that as early as sixth grade I knew that there was a spiritual difference between the Taj Mahal, a Chinese pagoda, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

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In my sixth grade social studies class my teacher took us on a world tour. In each region of the world we studied religious architecture. I remember being impressed by the peacefulness of the Taj Mahal. That beautiful rounded dome sat beside a serene pool with a cool sky as a backdrop. I remember thinking that that religion must be one of quietness, stillness, peace, and contemplation.

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I remember studying a Chinese pagoda in detail so that I could build it out of sugar cubes. I remember thinking about how precise it was. How geometric. How organized it’s beauty was. I remember thinking that that must symbolize something organized and balanced and precise about the religion of those people. Something about order and the ordering of energy.

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My parents took me to Europe when I was at the very end of my second grade year. We walked through a lot of cathedrals. We saw a lot of gargoyles. We heard stories about a lot of peaks and spires. I remember walking away from that experience with the clear understanding that cathedrals represent the war between heaven and earth. As man’s soul tries to climb towards heaven, it does so in a garish and assaulting way. It must pull free of all of the earthly trappings and become smaller as it goes higher. The gargoyles remind us that the spiritual world is all around us and both beautiful and hideous. Gothic cathedrals have an ugly kind of beauty. A poetry that communicates that man’s very best effort at beauty will always fall short of the ideal but be better than no attempt at all.

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I really appreciate Chesterton’s short essays like this because they give me the opportunity to play with ideas. In this case, I was taken on a trip down memory lane. As he described the architecture, my mind was flooded with childhood memories of Cathedrals as well as other religious houses. Chesterton prompted me to revisit childish impressions with adult understanding. And exercises like that are satisfying on several levels. While he could not have known that this reader would be taken back to childhood, he probably assumed that many of his readers would be. Since Cathedrals are so commonplace in his homeland, this essay probably struck a childish nerve in many as it did in me. And that, really, is trademark Chesterton. Joseph Pearce’s biography of G.K. Chesterton is entitled Wisdom and Innocence because that was the hallmark of Chesterton’s writing. GKC put a high value on the wisdom and innocence of childhood that we, as adults, must strive to recover. Perhaps as we try to ascend to heaven like Gothic spires, we must become small again.

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