What’s for supper? Vol. 103: Kitten pie, Mr. Tweedy

Sad story, short version: I was sitting in the bathroom, half-watching Corrie paddle around in the tub, half-writing something or other. Enter the kitten, who strolls in placidly, sniffs at my feet, checks out a little toothpaste smear on the cabinet, and then propels himself into my lap with the force of a rocket and anchors himself to my thigh with his claws. I jumped up, knocked over my seltzer, and killed my laptop dead dead dead.

I tried putting it in rice for 48 hours. No dice. Maybe I should have put it in dice.

Here is the kitten, by the way. I KNOW. He’s very cute.

“Please, please, master, don’t make me into pie! I’ll be ever so good!”
We’ll see, cat. We’ll see.

We’re working on getting a replacement computer. We have probably fourteen internet-enabled devices in this house, but I can’t get any of them to work well with WordPress or uploading images, and the hilarious podcast we recorded, using a new program on my husband’s notebook? It turned out it wasn’t recording. I’m setting up as much as I can on the weekend, and hoping it won’t be long before I get a replacement.

But food still fooded! Here is what we ate last week:

FRIDAY
Birthday party!

I think we probably had pizza. This was so, so long ago. I made my first and last gorgon cake

and magically transformed the dining room into ancient Macedonia by . . . tacking some leaves up.

Look, it was short notice. It definitely looked different from how it usually looks.

***

SATURDAY
Fish tacos

I forgot to buy limes, and I did buy cilantro, but I forgot to serve it. Oh well. Batter fried fish fillets on flour tortillas with salsa, sour cream, shredded cabbage, and sliced avocado. Still quite good.

***

SUNDAY
Italian Food in the Middle of October Day!

Suppli, pork ragù with fettucine, bruschetta with basil, tomatoes, and provolone, and many kinds of olives; garlic bread, pears with prosciutto, and cannoli with shaved chocolate and cherries, and lemon ices.

We briefly considered salad, but only briefly.

My husband used the fabulous Deadspin recipe for pork ragù.

This has milk in it, not tons of tomato, surprising carrots, and a kind of meaty fluffiness that you really have to experience to understand.

Here is my suppli recipe, which I have updated to include information on how many suppli you will actually end up with. I made thirty suppli the size of goose eggs, and we froze a dozen of them.

If our family keeps shrinking like this, we won’t even be able to drain an entire lake dry by each taking one little lap of water with our little pink tongues. Mew mew!

Well, they turned out quite lovely. I didn’t crowd them in the pot or rush to take them out, so they held their shape. Refrigerating the risotto is vital.

Nice and melty on the inside? This is why they’re sometimes called “suppli al telefono”: because the cheese looks like telephone wires.

I have been to Italy, and their telephone wires look very much like that.

I didn’t even try to find empty cannoli shells this year. I got some of those anise pizzelle waffle cookies and topped them with cheese filling, then shaved chocolate and a maraschino cherry. I used about 32 oz. of whole fat ricotta cheese, maybe 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, and a tablespoon or more of vanilla extract. You don’t want it too sweet.

Well, the food was fantastic. As you may have noticed, the photos get worse as the food gets better. So we’ll close with a day-after shot of the cat eating the cannoli my husband was saving for later.

And that’s how it goes.

***

MONDAY
Hot dogs? I think?

I think I put blue cheese and buffalo sauce on mine. I can never decide if it’s pretentious to write “bleu cheese” instead of “blue cheese,” so I alternate.

***

TUESDAY
Meatloaf, roast red potatoes, salad

I used dear old Fannie Farmer’s meatloaf recipe, and then vandalized the loaves with a lot of ketchup. Nobody wants to admit that they like eating chewy, hot ketchup varnish, but they do, they do.

I put things in the potatoes. Come on, you know how to make potatoes. Oil and spices, hot. Kinda burnt, oh well.

***

WEDNESDAY
Cuban sandwiches, cheez puffs

They lost the valve to my Instant Pot again, so I was reduced to cooking the pork in the oven like an animal. I forgot to get some of that nice Mojo marinade, too, so I just put some frickin spices on it and put in a shallow pan, fat up, at 425 for maybe 35 minutes.

Then I ate all the fat. You think this is disgusting, and I’m not saying it wasn’t, but it was also crisp, golden, savory, and sizzling, and some people’s destinies look like that.

I had some amazing sourdough bread from Aldi, and made ten enormous sandwiches with mustard, Swiss cheese top and bottom, sliced pork (I cooked it in the morning, then sliced and heated it in the microwave in the evening), sliced ham, and sliced pickles.This is one of those sandwiches that you lean into while cooking it, as well as while eating it. I put them in the oven for a bit to make sure the cheese was all melted.

It was. 

***

THURSDAY
Spicy pork with vegetables and rice

I had a little gochujang in the house, so I mixed it up with the other stuff I happened to have, which was a little soy sauce, a little sugar, and a lot of maple syrup. And garlic, of course. I will let myself run out of arms and legs before I run out of garlic.

I cut the pork into little nuggets and let it marinate all day, then cooked it up in a shallow pan with the sauce. I heated up frozen veg in the microwave and added that to the meat, and served it over rice. I don’t know why I’m explaining all this. You cook the thing. You eat the thing. It was fine.

***

FRIDAY
Penne with jarred sauce

My husband came home late and lightly sauteed the cooked penne in a pan with olive oil and minced garlic, and added just a tiny bit of sauce, and it looked fantastic. Gonna try it that way next time.

***

SO ANYWAY, now I have to give this computer back to my husband, who selfishly wants to take it to work with him, the swine. If you were a little bit on the fence about maybe you should or shouldn’t make a pledge to support my site, this would be a great time to YES YOU SHOULD. Or you could use my Amazon links! Or you could come over and kidnap this cat before he gets made into pie.

Homemade Halloween costume hacks for parents in a hurry

Halloween is in just over two weeks. How are the costumes coming?

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up. Please stop crying. Did you want me to call someone? You sure?

All right, I’ve been making costumes for kids for almost twenty years. I don’t really know how to sew, and I don’t want to spend a ton of money, and my kids often pick costumes that no one sells. So DIY it is.

Here are a few ways to make them . . . not easy, exactly, but much less hard. The most useful things I’ve learned:

MAIN BODY:

Giant adult t-shirts can be turned into all kinds of things, and they are already hemmed. Always always always use existing hems whenever you can! Tuck the sleeves in (sew or glue them if you like), and a little kid can wear a T-shirt as a skirt, using the neck as a waist. This is how I found a brown skirt for Avatar Kyoshi: brown t-shirt, $1, done.

You can also turn a T-shirt into a cape, using the already-existing neckline. Just cut off the back and sleeves of the shirt and “hem” the rest with hot glue or duct tape. This is not razzle dazzle, but will please a young kid.

Here are Zita the Spacegirl and Robot Zita, made with Daddy’s undershirts and some black plastic garbage bags:

Black duct tape would have been miles better, but this was an emergency “Mama, I forgot to tell you we’re supposed to dress up tomorrow for Whatever Day” costume.

Even cheaper: If you can’t find a plain shirt in the right color, get a shirt with a logo and turn it inside out and just cut off the tag if it shows. Here’s Wish Bear wearing an inside-out sweatshirt that had a different pattern on the other side, because we couldn’t find a plain light aqua sweatshirt.

I glued on a felt belly and decorated it with puffy paint. I can’t explain what was going on with those ears, though. This is a classic example of overthinking and over-engineering. I should have just cut two little ear shapes out of felt and clipped them to her head using tiny hair clips. As it is, she resembles Head Trauma Bear (which, come to think of it, would explain a lot about Care Bears in general.

Sometimes a good old paper bag gives you the look you want. Not recommended for masks if you’re planning to be walking long distances in the dark. This Strong Strong costume was for “favorite character” day:

Paper bags can also be converted into vests pretty easily — just cut a front opening and a neck and arm holes, and decorate however you like. You can bash in the corners to make it look more like clothing. You can also just cut a head hole and cut the sides off completely and make a boxy poncho, making the base for all kinds of square costumes (robot, Lego piece, iPhone, etc.).

Bathrobes bathrobes bathrobes. These are always abundant at the thrift stores around here. Manga costumes were a big deal one year, and I discovered you can take some quick hand stitches to make them fit the kid, then add trim (I glued on fur for one, and used metallic duct tape for another), then complete the look with a sash and sweatpants.

If you need a basic flowy dress or robe, turn the bathrobe backwards and do whatever you want to the neckline — trim it and hem it with duct tape, disguise it with a scarf, or hide it with a collar made of cardboard and tin foil. Using an already-existing article of clothing is always light years ahead of starting from scratch, and you can often find robes in fancy, silky fabrics.

Backwards button-down adult shirts also make good tunics or basic dresses. You can add high or low belts to vary the look quite a bit.  Check out this nice little prince in my shirt and my husband’s belt:

You can also use duct tape to cinch sleeves in wherever you like, which changes the look quite a bit.

If you need puffy upper sleeves and tight lower sleeves, cut the end out of long socks and put them on the kid’s lower arms. Over that, put on an adult long-sleeved shirt, scooch the sleeve up to the elbow and cinch them in place with duct tape.

If they’re the same color, it will look like it’s one top with fancy sleeves. Remember: nobody needs to know what it looks like underneath!

A giant cloak hides a multitude of errors. One of the few sewing projects I can manage is this basic hooded cloak. I’ve made six or seven of these over the years, but I find that you need to make the hood about 50% larger than what the pattern calls for. It’s a pretty forgiving pattern overall. Here is my daughter wearing a store-bought dress and the hooded cloak she made herself, with almost no sewing experience:

One year, a kid wanted to be Ash from Army of Darkness, and we just used a big wool blanket draped strategically and held in place with a giant safety pin. We made a tinfoil dummy clasp to cover the pin.

Guess what? You can spray paint some clothing. Search for items that are the right shape and style at the thrift store, and paint them the right color. It’s easier then dyeing, and paint will stick to, for instance, shoes and vinyl. It will crack eventually, but it’s good for a night.

I’m a fan of bath towel ponchos for costumes of things (rather than people). They are warm, easy to get around in, and the kid can wear something neutral underneath. Find a bath towel in the right color, cut a horizontal slit halfway up for the head, “hem” it with duct tape, and decorate it however you want.  Keep it rectangular and it can be a slightly floppy Creeper:

You can paint towels, I should say, but it takes forever because they are, duh, absorbent. I still think this is a good costume, but it was pretty time-consuming, if not difficult. It may have been easier to hot glue felt squares to the towel, rather than painting.

Fleece is also handy for these over-the-head, free-form costumes. You can cut it into all kinds of shapes and you don’t need to hem it at all. You can be, for instance, a piece of pizza (but you may need to reinforce the shape with strips of corrugated cardboard). Fleece is a little pricey, so I don’t often buy it from the fabric store.

If you can do a tiny bit of sewing, here are some tips from Elisa Low, who does stuff like this every day for the costumes she makes. Elisa says:

With a seam ripper and some minor sewing skills it is easy to remove the top part of a collar on a men’s shirt (the part that folds over) so you are left with only the round part that stands up, like they had in the Old West.

Boy’s colonial knickers are easy to make from men’s or women’s pants. Just cut off the bottom part, cuff them, and attach a decorative button on the outer side of each cuff.

As far as fabric, remember that clothes are made of fabric! So instead of going to the fabric store, go to the thrift store and look at the XXL clothes. Large dresses, skirts, coats… these have lots of fabric for low prices and you can make things out of them. Also look in the curtains and bedding sections for good fabrics.

For pics of some of Elisa’s projects, check out her blog.

HEADPIECES, HELMETS, CROWNS, and ACCESSORIES:

Pillowcases are awfully handy if you are making a medieval headpiece, a veil for a nun, a pharaoh costume, etc. They can also be folded lengthwise and used as sashes, if the kid is skinny enough; and they are fine as basic capes with a few safety pins.

Plastic milk jugs make great Greek or Roman or Medieval helmets for people with small heads. Find a picture of the helmet style you want, trace out the lines with a magic marker, and just snip away, using the jug handle side as the nosepiece. You can spray paint them any color you like. Here’s a Spartan helmet on Pinterest; here’s a knight’s helmet with visor. You could even make a Mickey Mouse headpiece this way by adding ears and spray painting the whole thing black.

Milk jugs turned the other way around (with the flat part in front, not the handle part) are also handy for the base of whole-head helmets (like for a Storm Trooper or a gas mask), as long as they’re for small heads. Pretty much anything that needs to fit over a small head can start with a milk jug.

If the kid’s face will be covered, let him wear the helmet plenty beforehand, so you can be sure it’s breathable enough and he can see well. Also, if you’re using glue or spray paint, let it air out for several days before the kid wears it! You don’t need him passing out from fumes.

You can also use milk jugs for bishops’ mitres. (The mitre is the hat. You’re thinking of “crook” — that’s the staff thing he holds.) Just find a clear picture and trim away. Add paint, ribbon, etc. to make it look authentic.

Milk jugs can also, sigh, be used to make an elaborate papier mache chain saw hand. Here are directions, if you insist.

If the paint does not adhere they way you like, or if you want more texture, rough it up with sandpaper before painting.

A round bottle, like for a large bottle of juice, can be cut into a crown or circlet, if the kid’s head is small enough Spray paint it gold and add some gems or whatever you like.

Those blank white masks from Walmart can be adapted in any number of ways. To make this Ichigo Kurusaki Hollow Mask,

I added paper plates to the top to make the skull round, and covered the existing eyes, nose, and mouth holes with paper plates and tape, and then re-cut the eyes in a different shape. Then I spray painted everything white and added the details with red and black Sharpies. Adapting something that’s already designed to be worn is almost always easier than starting from scratch.

Here’s a last-minute costume that began with a plain white mask, plus various items raided from past Halloweens:

I dunno what it is, but it got attention.

For some excellent, customizable masks, you can pay a small sum to download templates for 3D masks from Wintercroft. Friends tell me they are time-consuming to put together, but they turn out just as described. Really neat designs.

Disposable pizza pans from the dollar store make good shields that don’t get too heavy, and they’re already metallic, yay. You can also decorate them with hot glue and then spray paint it, for a worked metal look. Use duct tape to make straps behind. You can also color directly on foil with Sharpies.

Use the bottoms of small juice or soda bottles for excellent medallions or for crowns, dress trim, etc. Just cut the bumpy bottom off, maybe smooth the edges with sandpaper, and spray paint it gold. Lots of things look amazing when you spray paint them gold or silver. Here’s a handsome little vampire with a soda bottle Count Dracula medallion (I made a slit for the ribbon before painting, and glued on a plastic gem after):

Foam meat trays work well for stiff but light accessories. You want the kid to look good, but also to be able to get around; so keep weight in mind. Foam meat trays (washed thoroughly, of course) are great because you can cut them into all kinds of detailed shapes, spray paint them, glue things to them, and so on, but they won’t drag the kid down. BUT, some adhesives will dissolve foam! So test it first.

Pipe cleaners make decent last-minute glasses, if not especially comfy ones:

General rule for accessories: Keep it light. I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count: I forget how heavy everything is going to be, and the kid is overwhelmed. In this Rainbow Dash costume, I made everything way too big, and it was unwearable:

The following tools are your greatest friends to put on details that can really make the costume:

Colored duct tape, either to make easy hems or to add details, or both.

Puffy paint.

Felt. 

Foam craft sheets. These come with our without an adhesive side.

Sharpies. Sharpies can color on any number of surfaces, including foil and plastic. Elisa Low reminds us that you can color plastic gems, too. Brand name markers are much more brilliant and adhere better than cheapo ones from the dollar store. (Beware the treacherous “Sharple,” for instance.)

And of course hot glue.

Speaking of glue: I always root for glue before sewing, but I’ve ruined more than one accessory by using the wrong kind of glue. Check the label to see what materials it will work on, and test it if you can! Some adhesives will dissolve certain materials; others simply won’t stick. Some take days and days to dry completely. There are soooo many kinds of glue available in the craft aisle, so take the time to make sure you’re getting the right one.

And don’t forget glue dots. These are moldable, and are sometimes the only thing that will work.

And sometimes you don’t need glue at all. For Hellboy here (who made his own right hand of doom),

I ended up making small holes in a bald cap and poking spray paint can tops through for the sawed-off horns. The tension held them in place. (I covered the can tops with crinkled duct tape to give them more texture before spray painting them.)

It’s okay if it looks ugly halfway through. I get overly fixated on making things look pretty at every step, but you can always attach things with as much duct tape as you need and then spray paint over the whole thing. Spray paint does not adhere very well to packing tape, though.

MAKEUP:

Keep makeup basic unless you have experience with it. Trying to cover someone’s entire face another color is harder than it sounds, and you often end up with a patchy, diseased effect. Here is a successful attempt at full-face makeup (well, half face) which I’m including just because I’m thrilled without how it turned out. But it took FOREVER. Forever forever forever. So don’t think, “I’ll just smear on some make up right before we go out.”

Instead, pick the main features and just stick with those. Here’s a less-successful attempt at makeup. The child specifically wanted just the lower half of her face to look like a furry cat, and I tried to comply:

She was actually happy with it, which is what matters; but every time I looked at her, I thought, “Burl Ives!”

Beards on babies: I can’t decide if this is brilliant or stupid, but I also used Nutella to make a Paul Bunyan beard for the baby. I didn’t want to put makeup on the baby’s tender skin, but Nutella felt nice and safe. She did eat most of it before anyone saw her, though.

GENERAL INSPIRATION:

If you’re just starting to figure out how to make the costume, Google “character X costume” rather than “character X.” Even better, Google “character X cosplay,” because those will show you homemade costumes, not store-bought. Other people will have solved a lot of problems for you already, and other people will have picked out which features are really necessary to make the costume look right. I tend to get bogged down in details, but you can get lots of details right and still completely miss the overall look you’re going for.

Any time you can persuade a kid to be a person rather than a licensed character, you’re going to get off easy. Here’s a costume my daughter put together in about three minutes:

The only down side is that everyone now knows we’re horrible parents who let our kids watch Die Hard.

You don’t have to be literal. Do mashups of two characters, or make a nod toward the character, rather than tracking down every last detail. A serviceable, if slightly off-fleek Terminator here:

We forgot to spray paint the gun, but the Austrian accent and the attitude put it across.

Other variations: I had my heart set on dressing the baby as Paul Bunyan (above) for some reason, but I couldn’t find a plaid flannel shirt in her size; but I did find a red and black checked poncho, and did not hear any complaints:

The same goes for lots of other costumes: a ballerina pony might be even cuter (and easier!) than a regular pony; and you can make a meticulously accurate costume from the neck up, and then just wear a plain sweatsuit or a dressy suit, and it will still hit home.

Attitude goes a long way to making a costume work. This Raven costume was really just an approximation, but the way my daughter spoke and carried herself was dead on:

THE FINAL WORD ON APPROACHING HOMEMADE COSTUMES:

There are really two major mistakes you can make with costume-making:

One is making a costume that looks great, but the kid can’t move in it. I once made a “rider-riding-a-horse” costume, with false legs and all. It was adorable and amazing, but completely non-functional. Two steps and the kid was in tears. So make sure it’s walkable; make sure the kid can see; make sure it’s an outfit, not a prison!

If the kid is old enough, he can consent to wearing a costume that is extremely uncomfortable. I wish I had a better picture, but we did the old “severed head on a platter on a formally-set table” costume one year

and it was fabulous. Exhausting to drag around and keep stable, but fabulous. He went around saying “Alms for the bodiless?” instead of “trick or treat” and he got a lot of candy. (Oh, look! Behind him, there’s Ash with his milk jug chain saw hand.)

The other terrible mistake you can make is trying to make the costume look the way you want it, rather than how the kid wants it. Do it their way, whenever possible.

I had wonderful plans for Nightmare Moon. The four-year-old, however, had plans which were wonderful to her, including make up design. So those were the ones we went with. She got lots of candy, too.

And then sometimes the kid says she wants to be a Pink Mummy Ghost. What is this? We don’t know. We only hope that, by some miracle, the thing we come up with is the same as whatever it is that’s in her crazy head.

Happy costuming! Please share your tips and hacks in the comments. And seriously, if you’ve ever come up with a good way of making a cat tail that curls up but doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable when they wear it or see it, let me know asap.

How to celebrate World Mental Health Day like the crazy bitch you are

On a bus? It’s only courteous to apologize to everyone for the noise your head is making.

Primal scream therapy has been largely debunked. Instead, try emptying your mind, relaxing your muscles, opening your throat, and then, for as long as you can sustain it, make a noise like a wabbit*. I think you’ll find it immensely liberating (for other people).

Throw glitter on people, so they will understand what a strong person you are! Or something! I don’t know, I saw it on a meme.

If you can’t find your pants, simply stand in the middle of the house and shout, “PANTS! PANTS! PANTS! PANTS! PANTS!” until someone comes running with your pants. I know you’ll think I’m just saying this because it was on a TV show, and you’re right; but on the other hand, it actually works. It sometimes takes a while, e.g.. when no one else is home, but this is when persistence counts.

Hey, why don’t you smoke a lot of pot? That will help! Smart smart smart!

Those “hippe-dippie” calming mantras are actually surprisingly effective, and can really ease anxiety and restore your sense of peace and proportion. Just be sure you have found one that is completely unique to you. If you accidentally use someone else’s mantra, they will know, and — you know what, nothing bad will happen, probably. It’s just something to keep in mind. You know what, it’s probably fine. Don’t worry about it.

Break into your therapist’s office after hours and hang up all his friggin’ pictures. The Ansel Adams and the generic tree landscape, and that dreadful framed inspirational poster with the kayak, that have all been leaning up against the wall since your intake visit, marking the spot where they are supposed to be hung. And also the clock that always shows 9:53, with the unopened package of batteries balanced on top of it. Seriously. Is this just to make you feel more sane in comparison, or what? Is this some kind of social experiment? Is that even ethical? Why 9:53???

When did you last eat something? Fingernails doesn’t count. Geez, go have a spoonful of peanut butter and then we can figure out if existence is really empty and meaningless or not. I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just saying, have some peanut butter.

Always remember: It’s okay to shoot your TV screen for saying “Flappity flippers!” one more time. You warned it.

*(“WABBIT!!! WABBIT! WABBIT!”)

***
Image: Asiir at English Wikipedia (Asiir) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Give up your pride. Only God saves.

The central problem the fellow was grappling with wasn’t lust, it was pride. There’s no such thing as protecting your wife by sinning. The only way out of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum is to take yourself out of the center altogether, to admit defeat, to seek personal repentance, and to let God work out how to bring salvation out of that humility. The fellow couldn’t make any progress with his sexual compulsions because he was trying very hard to make sure he was still in charge — not only of his own behavior and his own soul, but his wife’s soul, as well.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.
**
Image: Daniel R. Blume via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 102: Barely soup

IT IS OCTOBER AND NOW WE CAN HAVE SOUP! I’m trying to pace myself, though. Just one per week. BUT OH BOY!

SATURDAY
Jalapeno chicken quesadillas, tortilla chips and salsa

I had tons of leftover chicken from last week, so I roughed it up a bit and added it to the cheddar quesadillas, along with some sliced jalapenos from a jar and some chopped scallions. Excellent, if a little difficult to flip intact. Jarred jalapenos are finding their way into more and more of our meals.

Also on Saturday, we harvested the last thing from our garden

and thanked the Lord of the harvest that we don’t have to survive on things we grow in our garden.

***

SUNDAY
Beef vegetable soup, pumpkin bread, caramel apples

This was supposed to be beef barley soup, but I lost my list

at the beginning of a 3.5-hour shopping trip involving five stores.

 

Guess what? I remembered every last damn thing on the list, except barley. So I threw some macaroni in the pot, instead, and it was fine.

This may be my favorite soup. First I sauteed up two diced carrots and a diced onion in olive oil, salt and pepper, then I added a few pounds of cubed flank steak and lightly browned it. A couple of cans of diced tomatoes with the juice, about a pound of sliced mushrooms, about eight cups of beef broth, a little water, and a bottle of hard cider (I usually use red wine, but I think the cider is even better), and let it simmer all day. I added the pasta twenty minutes before it was time to eat.

As I made the pumpkin bread, I thought happily to myself what a foolproof, reliable recipe it is, and how it never, ever comes out bad. So you know what happened next. It was flabby and dense, with a harsh, unpleasant taste.

I have no idea what I did. I think maybe the baking soda was too old, and . . . the pumpkin was cursed? I don’t know. I’ll make it again, because I’ve made it fifteen times before with great results. But I’m buying new baking soda first. Oh well.

The soup was so good, I ate it for lunch the rest of the week. Every time I reheated it, the macaroni got a little bigger. It was like an edible coming of age story.

After years of struggling with candy thermometers, I have discovered that those caramel wraps you can buy are so worth the money. The kids can make them almost unassisted, and there is no mess.

We put ours in the oven to soften up and then tried to press rainbow sprinkles in. That was probably the most labor intensive part, and they didn’t stick well. Next time, we’ll just leave them be.

***

MONDAY
Pulled pork, roast butternut squash, tater tots

Another excellent meal for fall weather (and also a good one to prep ahead, if you are going on a Girl Scout hike and coming home hungry from all that confidence-building).

I have a picture of this meal, but where? Well, pulled pork doesn’t look like much of anything anyway. The squash is so pretty, though.

I put a pork shoulder into the slow cooker with salt and pepper, a quartered onion, several cloves of garlic sliced, and a can of beer. Nice and easy.

I was feeling all cozy and nostalgic about the return of squash season, until I tried peeling the squash. Ten minutes later, I was out of breath, my arms were trembling, I had removed about three square inches of squash skin, and Corrie was looking at me anxiously, trying to figure out why I was so mad.

Happily, I found this cheat. You poke the skin with a fork, cut off the top and bottom, and microwave it for three minutes.  So easy! Then, it says, you “Delight at how easily the skin comes off.” That was the only part that didn’t work. I ended up cutting the squash into pieces and microwaving it several times. It became slightly easier to peel, but there was definitely no delight involved.

I eventually cubed the squash, mixed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and laid it on a shallow pan and roasted it at 400 for maybe 35-40 minutes. To me, the sweet, buttery taste of squash goes perfectly with pulled pork. To everyone else, there certainly was a lot of squash for Mama to eat.

(Dramatization)

***

TUESDAY
Frozen chicken, chips

We tried one of those bags of violently red, ludicrously spicy chicken things, plus a bag of some kind of batter fried honey chicken things. We ate them.

***

WEDNESDAY
French toast, sausage, grapes

That was for the kids. Damien and I went out to Applebee’s because did you know they have $1 margaritas all through October? Normally we avoid Applebee’s, because the food is shiny and limp, the service is indifferent, the music is worthless and way too loud, and the decor makes you feel like you’re inside a pinball machine. However: $1 margaritas. I had some kind of Asian shrimp and rice ladyfood vegetable nonsense, and Damien had a bacon burger, and we both had . . . kind of a lot of margaritas. Oh, we’ll be back.

(Reminder from a friend: If you send your waitress back and forth many times to fetch you lots of cheap margaritas, calculate your tip based on all that trotting, rather than on the artificially low bill.)

***

THURSDAY
Sausage spinach skillet

Almost good. It certainly is easy and cheap (recipe from Budget Bytes). It’s supposed to be a stand-alone dish, but I made fettucine to serve it over, because I can see into the future and I knew we’d need a back-up dish. My husband thought it would be better in some kind of garlicky sauce, possibly a light cream sauce. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Or maybe I’ll just sit on a mountain and watch my tail grow.

***

FRIDAY
Pizza

Birthday party! The theme is Clash of the Titans, so we’ll see how that goes. The one thing I know is if you invite a bunch of rail-thin teenage girls over for a party, there needs to be a lot of pizza. A lot.

***
Book illustration photos from Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel and The Funny Thing by Wanda Ga’g

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Operation Just-For-Nice: A little dancing

Today in Operation Just For Nice, my on-again-off-again project that attempts to make at least one little bit of one little day in at least our little house a little bit better instead of worse, we have been putting on dance music in the evenings.

Not dance music like club music, but music that the five-year-old and the two-year-old want to dance to, which I am happy to have them hear. We usually start evening chores at 7 p.m, but the little guys don’t have regular jobs yet, so they dance in the living room while the bigger kids work around them. Or sometimes I just put music on, and that’s pleasant, too.

One of the great disappointments of the last few decades is that I’ve never managed to get more than one or two of my kids listening to classical music. I wanted them to be able to say “Ah, Chopin!” or “Whoa, Mahler” while listening to the radio, and I wanted them to be able to identify whether they were hearing baroque, classical, romantic, or modern music. I wanted them to hum themes from Die schöne Müllerin while washing the dishes. This was how I grew up, and it may not have made me a better person, but I’m sure glad to have all that music in my head.

Anyway, that’s not how it worked out. We don’t get to concerts, and while my kids don’t resist classical music and are even kinda into opera, they never turn it on by themselves. Well, so I turn it on, in the car, and now in the evenings. I haven’t been pushy about naming composers or styles or form (although I recommend the delightful and accessible Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, if you’re looking for that). Instead, I ask the five-year-old what kind of music she wants to dance to, and then I pick something good and readily interesting that fits that description.

(That’s an invaluable parenting secret: Kids are 9,000% more receptive to things when they get to pick.)

If she says she wants ballet music, I feel like they will definitely come across The Nutcracker and probably Swan Lake on their own without help, so here instead is Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”:

Princess-at-a-ball music? You could do worse than “Wiener Blut” by Strauss, or just about anything by Strauss:

She asked for tap dancing music, so I did a search for tap dance music, and she danced along (not bad for her first time!)

but just about anything big band would do. Try Cab Calloway, unless you’re allergic to corn.

She requests fighting music? Here’s Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance:

or you could go with some Hungarian Dances by Brahms. Here’s #5, which has a lot of back-and-forth for two dancers:

Jazzy dancing music, you say? Here’s Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt being delicious with “Minor Swing”:

Maybe someone wants to be a lonely butterfly. Here is a little Chopin for that:

Forgive me, Bach, but I told my children you wrote vampire music:

We’ll get the Well Tempered Clavier later.

The other day she requested Ninja music, and I was at kind of a loss. What can you suggest?

Make me a channel of legitimately sourced quotations

Emily Stimpson, bless her, once swatted down a story I’ve heard my whole life.  Stimpson says:

[T]he election of our wonderful new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has triggered an avalanche of people talking about the first Francis and his injunction to, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

But see, here’s the thing. St. Francis never said that. We don’t know who did. But it wasn’t Francis. It’s not in any of his known writings. It’s not in any of his companions’ writings. It’s not in anyone’s writings about Francis for the first 800 or so years after his death.

Someone invented the quote and put it into poor St. Francis’ mouth. And ever since then, people have used it as an excuse to not evangelize with words, to not have the uncomfortable conversations or say the unpopular things.

I have also learned, to my great relief, that there is no compelling reason to believe that St. Francis ever wrote the spiritually flaccid “Make me a channel of your peace” prayer.

We can assume that these misattributions were honest mistakes:  somebody once upon a time said something that somebody else liked, and somebody else said, “Hey, that sounds like something St. Francis would say,” and somebody else took it to mean that St. Francis did say it, and so on, like a centuries-long game of telephone.  But no matter what the intentions, sloppiness with attributions can lead to real trouble, especially if the person to whom the quote is misattributed has some influential heft.

Even if you’re sure you have your attribution right, quoting people rightly can be tricky.  A few days ago, someone posted an inspirational image on Facebook.  Before a backdrop of cattails in the sunset, it said in golden script,

“It is in God’s hands. One must be content to leave it there. One must have Faith.” — C.S. Lewis

Something about that chewy use of the impersonal “one” made a gong go off in my head.  Did C.S. Lewis really say that?  The sentiment was too vague to be called false, exactly, but it sounded . . . chewy.  So I looked it up, and it turns out the quote is from Perelandra, where Elwin Ransom has been transported to an unfallen planet ruled by an unfallen Lady and her absent husband.  To Ransom’s horror, Hell has sent a representative to try to tempt the Lady into defying God.  It describes the thoughts that go through Ransom’s mind as he figures out what to do next — what God (Maleldil) wants from him. The quote in question is in bold:

He, Ransom, with his ridiculous piebald body and his ten times defeated arguments – what sort of a miracle was that? His mind darted hopefully down a side-alley that seemed to promise escape. Very well then. He had been brought here miraculously.He was in God’s hands. As long as he did his best – and he had done his best – God would see to the final issue. He had not succeeded. But he had done his best. No one could do more. “‘Tis not in mortals to command success.’ He must not be worried about the final result. Maleldil would see to that. And Maleldil would bring him safe back to Earth after his very real, though unsuccessful, efforts. Probably Maleldil’s real intention was that he should publish to the human race the truths he had learned on the planet Venus. As for the fate of Venus, that could not really rest upon his shoulders. It was in God’s hands. One must be content to leave it there. One must have Faith ….

It snapped like a violin string. Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. His journey to Perelandra was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in Maleldil’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours.

So, yeah, Lewis said that, in the same way that Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true”: through the mouth of a character who’s immediately proven wrong. It was not a recommended course of action; it was an illustration of the sort of lies we can tell ourselves when we’re trying to get out of something.  Attributing the shorter quote to C.S. Lewis without context is only half a step above the Hollywood promoter who prints posters that say, “Critics say ‘[Y]ou’ll love this movie!  It’s full of … good scenes!”‘” when the critic’s actual words were, “If you’re a grade A moron, you’ll love this movie!  It’s full of nonsense, and has no good scenes!”

And of course, some people don’t even bother to be technically accurate.  Have you heard the story that Pope Francis, when handed the papal mozzetta, said waspishly, “Wear it yourself!  The circus is over.”  That quote turned out to be made up out of whole cloth,  either by someone who really did regard Benedict XVI as some kind of bling-happy, medieval vulgarian, or by someone who maliciously wanted to portray Francis as someone who saw Benedict that way.  Either way, there is no evidence that Francis said it — and, more importantly, there is no evidence that he is the kind of person who would say something like that.

As Shakespeare once said, there’s the rub.  Consider the purported source.  Listen to your spidey sense.  If you see a quote by a famous person, and it either sounds the tiniest bit “off” to you — or, conversely, if it makes you think, “Oh man, that’s exactly the kind of thing I knew he was thinking all along, and now we’ve got him” — then think, and do a little research, before you forward it to all your friends!

As Marie Antoinette once said, “Famous people say enough stupid things on their own without you making stuff up.”  Well, I bet it sounds better in French.

***

This post originally ran in a slightly different form in The National Catholic Register in 2013.

Why this non-lover of animals is a great James Herriot fan

Today’s the birthday of James “Alf” Wight, better known by his pen name, James Herriot, author of the deservedly popular series that begins with All Creatures Great and Small. Last year on this day would have been his one hundredth birthday, and although I’m not especially interested in animals, I’ll never get tired of trying to get people to read his books.

He didn’t start writing until he was fifty years old, after much urging from his wife Joan (“Helen” in his books); and he continued working as a vet long after his books became bestsellers.

Most of his semi-autobiographical books tell stories from his career as a country vet and surgeon in rural England, beginning just before the advent of modern drugs, and continuing past the era of subsistence farms and into the day when he was called upon mainly to work with pets, rather than working animals. His stories betray a great tenderness toward animals, but even more so toward people, even as he delicately exposes their ridiculous and occasionally cruel sides.

I’m fascinated by his ability to write cozy, nostalgic, charming stories that somehow rarely even approach sentimentality. It was more evident in some chapters than in others that he was fictionalizing his experience (a more-fictional one that springs to mind is the chapter where he describes a wealthy man whose indolent wife and daughter despise him, and then contrasts it to a visit to an impoverished farm, where the father works his fingers to the bone and his bonny, smiling daughter cheerfully bikes down the mountain with a few precious coins to buy her beloved Da a bottle of beer); but you will forgive his blurring of fact when as you meet his enormous cast of brilliantly-drawn characters, some startlingly universal, some fascinatingly unique.

Although many of his anecdotes end in self-deprecating lessons learned (“Dinna meddle wi’ thing ye ken nuthin’ aboot!” shouts an angry coalman after he gets his comeuppance after taking liberties with a strange horse), not all of his stories have pat, tidy morals. He describes with real sorrow and helplessness the sensation of leaving a lonely pensioner alone with the body of a beloved dog he was forced to euthanize, and his awe is sincere when he remembers the time he met a farmer who worked so hard, his only luxury in life is waking up in the night and realizing he can go back to sleep.

A good many of his stories are of him trying to impress someone, and being utterly crushed with humiliation — a theme for which, I confess, I have an endless appetite.  I almost swallowed my own tongue laughing over the chapter where he and his boss Siegfried had high hopes of breaking into the upper crust by judging some purebred horses at a fair. They happen to meet an old school friend from years ago, and they happened to head over to the beer tent, and one thing lead to another until his high toned guests are tired of being ignored, and decide to leave. The pickled Siegfried tries to salvage the situation with gallantry, offering:

“The windscreen is very dirty. I’ll give it a rub for you.” The ladies watched him silently as he weaved round to the back of the car and began to rummage in the boot. The love light had died from their eyes. I don’t know why he took the trouble; possibly it was because, through the whisky mists, he felt he must re-establish himself as a competent and helpful member of the party. But the effort fell flat; the effect was entirely spoiled. He was polishing the glass with a dead hen.

Maybe the thing that defines Herriot’s writing and makes his stories so appealing is that, just as in his veterinary practice, he never gets bored. He describes the fascination of watching, perhaps for the hundredth time, a mother cow instinctively licking her newborn calf. He and the hard-bitten farmer stop for a moment, amazed once again at how she knows what to do. There’s a freshness and sincerity there that keep me coming back to these stories over and over.

He’s likewise endlessly fascinated by people, their folly, their resilience, and their unpredictability. Reading Herriot’s books is a restorative exercise. He has a rare gift for describing the world in a way that makes it look familiar, but also better than you remembered.

 

Hugh Hefner sacrificed the human person. Catholics, beware of doing the same.

Hefner is not alone in thinking we may feed as many bodies we like into the oven, as long as we tell ourselves we’re building a fire that benefits all of mankind (and never mind that mankind is made up of individual bodies just like the last one that passed through our hands).

It’s wrong when Hugh Hefner does it, and it’s wrong when anyone does it. If we catch ourselves feeding an individual human into the flames to fuel the fire of our just cause, then we are no longer just.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr (Creative Commons)