The Catholic Weekly

Shh, there’s a baby nearby!

The speaker said that one fellow at the back of the line had his wife with him, and she was begging to leave the hall so they could get some lunch and see the sights before it was time to make the long drive back home. “Stop!” the husband hissed in a rage. “This is my only chance to talk to Dr LoveExpert!”

And the good doctor heard, and despaired. The fellow was so on fire to talk about marriage that he didn’t have time for his actual wife.

We all do stupid stuff like this …

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

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Image by Vera Kratochvil

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Let’s resist kneejerkifying history

Every few weeks, a group of enlightened teenagers, who have been raised since birth to believe such-and-such is wrong, will get together and demand that a long-dead man should be punished for not having been raised since his birth two hundred years ago to believe that such-and-such is wrong.

Sometimes, they’re onto something. I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoons bathed in the hues of a stained glass black man kneeling before John Calhoun. (I wouldn’t smash a window depicting slavery, but I would put up a fuss.) There’s a fine line between acknowledging the past and condoning its errors.

But it sure does get old to hear that Abraham Lincoln was “not the great emancipator” because his stated main goal was to preserve the union, and because he was against interracial marriage. No: Lincoln was a white man was born in 1809, and he thought like a white man born in 1809; and he was a great and good man.

Same thing for great thinkers of the Catholic Church. You refuse to employ your super-fine mind in the same room as Thomas Aquinas just because he had some dumb or hinky ideas about the ladies? Your loss. The rest of us don’t have much time to be offended; we’re too busy trying to keep up.

Just as irritating as the knee-jerk judgment of the past? The wholly unearned smugness that often goes along with that judgment. Let’s be fair: If I can’t blame Lincoln for thinking like everyone thought when he was alive, then why should I laud you for thinking like everyone thinks now? You’re not a courageous free-thinker for wearing an anti-racist T-shirt in 2016. You’re just someone who noticed that “NOH8” or “BLM” or whatever is trending right now.

Even worse than wagging our fingers at history is when we try to protect our paper-thin skins by blotting out the past altogether. What a horrible, self-defeating error. If our country is guilty of crimes, then there is one foolproof way to ensure that we repeat them, and that is to erase all evidence of them, to cleanse our living space of any exposure to them. Your body won’t fight back against a disease if you spend each day bathing in Purell, and the same is true for our collective soul as a country. You must endure some exposure.

Well, here’s an encouraging spot of sanity: Yale announces new procedure for renaming of university buildings. They’re not going to refuse to hear any argument against honoring a historical figure who held troubling views; but neither are they going to knuckle under to the mob and despise greatness when it comes dressed in historical clothing that clashes with current political fashion.

In an interview with NPR yesterday, Yale dean Jonathan Holloway said:

The fact is as human actors we’re all flawed. So I really wonder if you are going to be using the Oregon test [which applies strict, inflexible criteria] against historic figures who are operating in a world in which you – people did not even know or worry about the experiences or views of women or immigrants or minorities, you’re going to fail the test pretty quickly. And so I think any renaming test has to be mindful of the present and the past and also the future in trying to sort out what its litmus tests are going to be.

To my mind, when we wonder if we should honor someone who held views that most people now despise, there are four issues to be considered:

  1. Were these views widespread and unchallenged at the time? Would the person in question have to be an outrageously original and insightful thinker to even consider holding a different point of view?
  2. Are the unpleasant views he held even relevant to why he is being honored today? Are we honoring him for all aspects of his entire life, or can we say, “Even though he was terribly wrong about this issue, his achievements in that other field are immense and indisputable”?
  3. If he did do great things, were the bad things he did so bad (even if they were in an entirely different field from the great things) that they overshadow what was great?
  4. Have we done our research, really? Or have we just read a line or two off some Buzzfeed compilation of the Daily Snit?

Yale is apparently taking a measured approach to challenges from people laboring under what Halloway calls the “arrogance of your contemporary moment,”and is trying to slow down that locomotive of self-congratulatory outrage. He wants, if you can imagine such a thing in an institute of higher learning, for complainants to thoughtfully and dispassionately contextualize history, rather than just reflexively scratching whatever the current mob considers itchiest.

It’s especially admirable that Yale is choosing to do this now, in post election 2016. With Trump as president, and the alt right ascending, we’re likely to see more and more re-legitimization of historical figures who truly ought to be intolerable to everyone today — not because of current, changeable sensibilities, but because their views were intolerable to decent people even while they were alive.

I expect that a president who reportedly kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside (just for the articles, you understand. He doesn’t even notice the pictures) will breathe new life and vigor into old, deservedly condemned causes. We’ve already seen some efforts, from a population indispensable to Trump’s victory, to reanimate fetid corpses of egregious racism, anti-semitism, denial of Bosnian genocide, and more. Confederate flag sales skyrocketed in 2015Trump himself praised the “strength” of China’s response to Tianamen Square; and Trump openly admired Saddam Hussein’s efficiency in dealing with his enemies.

This man is now our president, our representative to the rest of the world.

Anticipating the battles to come, we might be tempted to suit up with an extra, protective layer of righteous indignation. If we’re going to be led by a man who dabbles in horrors, we might decide ahead of time that we’ll have a prophylactic zero tolerance policy against anything and anyone that smacks of his ugly ideals.

But let’s not. Let’s not respond to kneejerk politics by jerking the knee in the other direction. This country isn’t over yet. We’re still writing our history, still making adjustments, still figuring out who we are. Let’s take a clue from Yale, and slow down, do our research, think things through — and above all, not respond to unthinking rhetoric with more unthinking rhetoric.

In an absurdly awful election, where there could be no winning for the American people, we lost. Yes, we did. But that doesn’t mean we need to surrender. We still have time.

 

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Start with the Baby

Most years, we hear our priests gently (or irritably) reminding us that it’s still Advent! Not Christmas! Not Christmas yet! Stop with the “Merry Christmas,” because the Baby hasn’t been born yet!

So we’ve tried hard to keep Advent as a separate season: joyous anticipation rather than celebratory blow-out. It’s hard to hold off when the rest of the country is already whooping it up, but the restraint feels worthwhile when Christmas finally dawns.

So it landed with a bit of a thud last year when our bishop, Peter Libasci, issued a letter asking the Diocese of Manchester (NH) to make some changes in how we spend our Advent.

He encourages lively decorations that suggest life and hope, and calls for an emphasis on warm, personal hospitality, especially toward the poor; he exhorts us to “avoid whatever may encumber you during this time.”

These things are not too much different from what we already attempt, but this part is new:

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent, in every rectory, convent, Catholic school, diocesan institution and Catholic home, display the image of the Christ Child in a suitably decorated place of prominence and approachability. Not the crèche, just the infant.

and

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent and throughout the Advent Season, the music at Mass should include Christmas carols that enjoy the quality of a lullaby and center on the great mystery of the Incarnation and birth that did occur in history. (Away in a Manger, O Come Little Children, The First Noel, Little Town of Bethlehem.)

Huh! Really? Usually we stick to Advent music as much as possible, and if we put up a crèche, we keep the Baby Jesus packed away in tissue paper until Christmas morning. But I’m delighted to have a bishop who actually asks us to do stuff, so I’m game.

His directive to bring that baby right on in made me think of the Roots of Empathy program, which has teachers in poor, tough neighborhoods welcoming babies (real ones, not plaster statues!0 into their classrooms. They believe these visits, and subsequent discussions, teach the school kids empathy, rather than the lesson of “survival at any cost,” which is what they’re learning everywhere else they go. This story from the Washington Post says:

Roots pairs each classroom with a baby, who visits nine times throughout the year with his or her mom or dad, a volunteer recruited from the community. Each child has a chance to look the baby in the eye, squeeze its toe and say hello before the class settles into a circle around a green blanket.

They watch the baby respond to songs and games, and they talk about what he’s feeling and why he behaves as he does. The kids and the teachers have noticed a great change in the classroom: more peace, more respect, and better learning, too.

 The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

Our bishop is looking for a similar transformation in his flock, putting the Baby right in front of us before the altar, and having us sing lullabies before we head back out to the world on Sunday morning. In his letter, he says:

during the Advent season, we take the INFANT as our centerpiece, remembering that He came as one of us. When an infant is in the house, everyone must be conscious of that presence and speak more softly, be more attentive, welcome family and visitors, exercise patience, accept inconvenience—even in the extreme, for the sake of the fragile life entrusted to our care.

Okay, but . . . the Church demands a bit more than being caring and considerate, yes? It’s all very well to acknowledge that babies can teach us to be kind, but the Incarnation was not some kind of inner city niceness project, and “considering others’ feelings” is not one of the Ten Commandments.

Can we not, as a millennia-old institution, set the bar a little higher?

No. We can’t.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me! The older I get, the more I realize that God usually wants us to do very basic, mundane things — and the more I realize how hard it is to do those mundane things well, with my whole heart.

And here’s the main part: The older I get, the more I realize that the whole point of the Incarnation is that the divine and the mundane are now inextricably linked. There cannot be a meaningless act of service, because of the incomprehensibly great service God has performed for us. There is no longer any such thing as a small act of love, since God, who is love, became small and asked us to care for Him. There is literally nothing greater, more meaningful, or more transcendent we can do than to care for each other for His sake. All acts of love are great. All acts of love make us more like Him.

In his letter, Bishop Libasci says,

To be judged as having achieved a fuller awareness of human fragility and potential, is to be judged as growing more closely to “the full stature of Christ.”

Anyone can blaze with righteous glory for a moment. Anyone can get wrapped up in an exquisitely arcane theological puzzle. But just treating each other well, day after day, in and out of season, whether they deserve it or not? That’s hard, hard, hard. As hard as caring for a baby who won’t stop crying no matter what you do. As hard as being that Baby, when you didn’t have to be.

Step beyond your duty and be actively generous. Be gentle when you could justifiably be harsh. Acknowledge that you are “disadvantaged,” that you think too much of your own survival and not enough about the unreasonable needs of the helpless people around you. Fight down the battle cry and substitute a lullaby.

The Baby’s needs are simple and basic. Start with those before you consider yourself ready to move on to higher things. There are no higher things. Start with the Baby, because that’s what God did.

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(This post originally ran, in a slightly different form, on Aleteia in 2015.)

What's for Supper?

What’s for supper? Vol. 61: Mango Unchained

According to tradition, I didn’t do a food post last Friday, because it was the day after Thanksgiving and you already know the drill.

For the record, here was our menu:

Turkey with stuffing and gravy
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes stuffed with dates, bleu cheese, and walnuts
Roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with a honey balsamic dressing
Hobbit bread
Cranberry walnut bread
Hot rolls (from frozen)
Cranberry sauce
Olives
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, salted bourbon pecan pie, and chocolate cream pie with ice cream and fresh whipped cream
Wine and apple cider
Very nice meal, and the house was packed to the gills with family. We began with a prayer:
kids-table
I wasn’t on the ball enough to send people home with leftovers much, but my father did score a loaf of Hobbit bread, which pleased him:
abba-hobbit-bread
A few cooking tips from this year:

You can make the gravy ahead of time and keep it warm in the crock pot, but don’t count on the crock pot to heat up cold gravy in a few hours! Heat it up first.

My mezzaluna knife justifies its existence through cranberry bread alone. The mixing bowl from my KitchenAid (it’s narrow and has a handle) and this knife keep the nuts and cranberries from bouncing and rolling all over the place.

Also, I can never get zesters to work, so I zested the orange using the fine side of the cheese grater, and then got the zest off by using a pastry brush. Fine, I couldn’t find my pastry brush, so I used a paint brush.

To make light, supple pie dough, freeze the sticks of butter and then grate them into the flour using a cheese grater. It’s so much easier to lightly incorporate it into the flour mixture this way.

I’ve never made chocolate cream pie before, and I’m not a fan of slopping chocolate pudding into a crust, but this recipe was very different: immensely rich, thick, and wonderful. The stirring part takes some patience, but is worth it.

I can’t find the pics I took of our lovely pies, but my daughter made a very pretty effect. For one, she cut out dozens and dozens of simple leaf shapes and laid them out overlapping in concentric circles, so the pie looked like a chrysanthemum. For another, she used a flower cookie cutter and covered the pie with flowers, leaving a few gaps. For the pecan pie, I left a wide lip with the bottom crust, which she snipped into strips with scissors; then she folded the strips over each other in pairs, so they made little x’s all around the pie, like a basket. Here’s a short video with 20 ideas for pie crust:

Before baking the pies, I brushed the crusts with beaten egg yolks, for extra color and shine, and then sprinkled them with coarse sugar.

People with tiny kitchens and no storage space can always have recourse to the dryer.

desserts-on-dryer
I guarantee you, this is more sanitary than the kitchen of a typical four-star restaurant, which yes I have worked in.
My husband, who is usually the Thanksgiving turkey man, had to work part of the day. I hate having to baste the damn thing every half hour when I’m busy running around moaning, “I need another oven! I need another oven!” so I assigned the job to my sons, who are at the perfect age to be . . .
moe-basting
 . . . natural master basters.
Sorry.
As you can see, I cook the turkey breast down for 3/4 of the time, then flip it over and finish cooking it that way. You still get nice, pretty skin, but it’s jucier overall if you let it cook mostly upside down. It does have an “executed frog” look in the oven, though.
I can offer zero “what to do with all that leftover turkey” recipes, because I only bought a 21-pounder, ::shame shame::, so we only had enough leftovers for sandwiches the next day; and then I did what I always do with the meaty carcass: I lost track of it. I think it’s still lurking in the back of the fridge. That’s the smell of Advent in our house: Fresh pine boughs, candles burning gently, and somewhere, somewhere, hidden sheltered in the night, a rancid turkey carcass.
The rest of the week was our normal crazy schedule plus what I can only describe as an extended crisis in my extended family, so we didn’t try anything fancy in the kitchen. I would appreciate any prayers you could spare for resolution! It’s been a very tough year.
Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Aldi pizza

Thank God for Aldi.


SUNDAY
Korean beef bowl, rice, chopped salad

Korean beef bowl from Damn Delicious is such a reliably yummy recipe, and so simple.

Aldi had these chopped salad kits on sale for 75 cents, so I bought three. It had a bag with various chopped-up greens and cabbage, and separate packets of some kind of zesty citrus dressing, plus crunchy noodles and maybe almonds, I forget.

korean-beef-bowl-2

Very flavorful, and a nice change from the usual broccoli or string beans that I usually make for a side with this dish.


MONDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, frozen french fries

Once again, the crock pots are worth the purchase price and counter space just for pulled pork alone. Chuck it in the pot with a can of beer and some salt and pepper and garlic powder, and just walk away.

pulled-pork-crock-pot

I made about 4.5 pounds of pork in two crock pots, and let the kids add BBQ sauce if they wanted.

My cole slaw recipe is here.


TUESDAY
HAM NITE!!!!!!! Also mashed potatoes (we ate ten pounds of potatoes without batting an eye), spinach AND peas

You know what makes an easy meal even easier? Slice up the cooked ham before you heat it up.

ham-sliced-ahead

It warms up faster and you can just throw ham at people without them hounding you while you slice it. And then they go ahead and make Food Santa anyway.

irenes-food-face

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
It’s made from a slab of ham fat, you know.


WEDNESDAY
Giant pancake! Sausages, and mangoes.

To cut up mangoes! Here is how you do it: Make your best guess which way the pit is situated, and cut off the “cheeks,” getting as close to the pit as you can. Then take a glass or a metal cup with a thin edge, and use it to scoop the flesh out of the skin, rather than trying to get the skin off the flesh. Then you can trim the skin away from the rest and use a paring knife to cut the rest of the flesh off the pit. You get much more intact fruit this way.

Giant pancake is not something I’m proud of, but it’s an okay  meal in a pinch. Mix up one full box of pancake mix. Dump it into a greased pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so. You can add whatever you want: cut-up apples, raisins, chocolate chips, honey, cinnamon, etc. You could even stir in some jam, or maybe even sausage bits. Cut into wedges and call it a meal.


THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, carrots and hummus

Every time I make chicken burgers, I remember when I used to remove the breading from chicken burgers because I didn’t need the extra calories. Well, now I do. Winter is coming. It is nature’s way. I need chips, too.


FRIDAY
Ravioli and salad

I intend to boil the ravioli in a big pot of water. Bon appwhatever to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Women’s Wellness and Fertility Center in NH includes NaPro surgeon (and they’re hiring!)

I keep forgetting to tell you! There’s a new women’s wellness and fertility center opening in Manchester, NH, right inside Catholic Medical Center. They offer standard OB/GYN services  and well woman exams, and their new doctor, Dr. Sarah Bascle, is a surgeon who is trained in NaProTechnology.

As you may know, NaPro is not only ethically sound for Catholics, but it often has a high rate of success treating women suffering infertility, repeat miscarriages, endometriosis, PCOS, and other fertility issues, bringing healing where standard medical procedures fail. NaPro isn’t magic, but it’s real medicine, not woo, and it can be life-changing.

The Women’s Wellness & Fertility Center of New England opens in winter of 2017, and they are now pre-registering patients. Check out their webiste here, or call 603.314.7595.

They are also still hiring for a few positions, including an experienced Certified Nurse Midwife. Here’s some more info about that.

Best of luck to them! Many couples will travel for hundreds of miles to work with a NaPRO-trained doctor, so I’m thrilled to finally have one in New Hampshire.

 

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Name that neurosis!

My therapist has mentioned more than once that I have a “strong visual imagination.” (When he says “strong,” he means he’s quietly keeping one finger pretty near the button that makes the net come down on my side of the room, just in case.) Specifically, everything I see reminds me of something else, until the entire universe is so crammed with layers and echoes and memories that it’s a frickin’ miracle I can make it to the other side of the kitchen without emitting a memoir.

What’s my problem today? I can’t sit on the toilet without coming face to face with Roberto, the robot who will cut you.

roberto-hinge

Otherwise known as the exposed hinge where they swung on the cabinet door until it fell right off, just like I said it would.

Today I also discovered that our new AV doodad that makes the TV connect to the Wii and stuff is actually a long-suffering lactating mom:

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-12-39-06-pm

Everybody wants a piece of her, poor thing. And what if she has an itch, eh? Or what if she needs to go to the bathroom? (Wait, not the bathroom! Roberto’s in there!)

And then of course we have this little problem: Every time I open up my iPad and it turns out I left the front camera on, I see this

image1-1

and my first thought is, “Augh, that’s me!”

But that’s crazy talk. Another case of mistaken identity. In real life, I’m 26 years old tops, and I’m standing in a sunny kitchen, kneading bread dough while my children invent a song to help them remember their Latin declensions.

Ah, well. At least I haven’t cut anyone recently. But you may want to keep your finger near that button, just in case.