No more jerks for Jesus

St. Paul got knocked off his horse, and then he stopped persecuting Christians. Pretty dramatic. From that day forward, he stopped being the guy that helped kill Christians, and started being the guy who saved them.

Some people do experience a conversion so dramatic and easy to pinpoint, you could paint a picture of the exact moment it happened — and many people have, with St. Paul. And by all accounts, his behavior was dramatically different after he got up from the ground, and it remained different until he died.

But it’s far more common for Christians to undergo a conversion that drags on, un-picturesquely, for decades and decades, in fits and starts, with long spells of no progress, with several incidences of backsliding, and with such incremental progress that you can’t discern it at all unless your eyesight has been sharpened by the Beatific Vision.

The fits and starts and barely discernible progress? That’s me — specifically, regarding the one sin that I’m having the hardest time overcoming, which is uncharitable words and thoughts against other people. I’ve been trying to change. I’ve been trying to change for about 20 years now.

So far, no one has made any fine art depicting my conversion. Instead, countless people have gently or firmly objected to the uncharitable things I’ve said in public and in private; and countless people have showed me a more Christlike approach that looks so attractive, I feel the faint stirrings of wanting to imitate it. It’s hard, because it’s just so much easier to be mean.

I get rewarded for being mean far more than I get criticized for it. And I enjoy being mean. I’m really good at it.

But I still can’t completely ignore the words and witness of the people around me who have done a better job of conquering this sin.

Because of them, I have made . . . a little progress. I still lose my temper routinely. And even worse, I still lose my temper, recover it, and then deliberately and coolly choose to be uncharitable anyway, because it feels good, or because I came up with a really funny zinger, or because I tell myself it’s just a little thing and doesn’t matter much. Even though I have read and heard the words, over and over and over again, that it does matter. That if I have not love, I have nothing.

Charity toward others is not a little thing. It’s the biggest thing. But still I struggle, one step forward, ten steps back. It is discouraging. I would rather be knocked off my horse, but who knows? Maybe I would pick myself up, brush myself off, and go right back to being an unfettered jerk. It could happen.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Book of Hours, Walters Manuscript via Flickr (Public Domain

What’s for supper? Vol. 192: Paremsan paprika chicken! Gochujang bulgoki! Sesame broccoli! Cranberry muffins! And more

How is it Friday? How?

Here’s what we had this week: 

SATURDAY
Chicken burgers, Smartfood, string beans 

Nothing to report. Thank goodness for frozen chicken burgers.

SUNDAY
Bagel, egg, cheese, and bacon sandwiches; roast chili butternut squash 

I was the only one who ate the squash, but boy did I enjoy it, and it tasted fantastic with the bacon and eggs with a runny yolk. Jump to Recipe If you’re thinking you won’t bother reading it because butternut squash is so hard to peel, hang on! You cut off the two ends and jab it all over with a fork. Then microwave it for 3-4 minutes. When it cools, you should be able to peel it with a vegetable peeler and cut it without too much trouble. 

This is the time of year when I really lean into food prep as something to savor. I love eating, as my pants size will attest, but I also adore so many of the things that go into cooking. The secret patterns inside onions and Brussels sprouts and red cabbages. The hidden juices that emerge under heat. The gratifying sensation of sliding a knife into just the right spot to separate fat from flesh. It’s a whole thing, let me tell you, and when everything is brown and grey outside, I needs me some butternut squash. I eat up the color with my eyes long before it’s cooked and ready to eat with anyone’s mouth.

I made the squash with olive oil, honey, freshly-ground pepper and sea salt, and a little chili powder. 

Look!

Did I mention that a little runny egg yolk with bacon and roast squash is a thing? It’s a thing. 

Screw you, November. 

MONDAY
Beef barley soup, cranberry muffins

We just had this soup recently, but there were some bad feelings about how I used orzo instead of barley, so I made it again, with barley. Jump to Recipe

This time, there were bad feelings because I made cranberry muffins Jump to Recipeinstead of pumpkin muffins. Jump to RecipeIt’s a shame how I never put much effort into cooking for my family. I am ashamed. 

The truth is, the muffins were a bit of a flop, literally. I made the batter but got distracted by something or other, and didn’t bake it until later, and I guess it rose and fell before it hit the oven, so the muffins came out flat. 

Still a good flavor, though, even though the kids requested no walnuts.

TUESDAY
Paprika chicken with tomatoes and peppers

New recipe! I got this recipe from the NYT and went ahead and bought expensive smoked paprika for it, too. Solid choice. This is a gorgeous, fragrant, satisfying one-pan meal, and very easy to throw together. Jump to RecipeNext time, I might make a hearty bread like challah Jump to Recipeor maybe some buttered egg noodles, but it was good by itself, too. 

I simplified it a bit, so I’ll put my card at the end. You toss chicken parts in a simple little dressing including paprika and apple cider vinegar, and put them in a pan with lovely tomatoes and peppers

top with parmesan

and cook it all together. You can fuss with the sauce at the end, but I just sprinkled some more cider vinegar on top, and a little parsley, and it was yummy.

Sweet, bright, and moist, with that wonderful smoked paprika giving it some good depth of flavor. 

Easy and popular! The hardest part was cutting up all those tomatoes, but if you’re not cooking for a crowd, that won’t take long. Definitely going into the rotation. Jump to Recipe

WEDNESDAY
Hamburgers and chips, carrots and dip

Nothing to report, except that, for over twenty years, I’ve been making hamburgers in the oven, instead of on the stove top. I make nice, flat patties between two plates, season them heavily, and put them on a broiler pan with drainage, then slide them under a hot broiler, turning once. This way, I don’t get all greasy while cooking, a lot of the fat drains away, and the patties don’t puff up into balls. This is, as I say, how I’ve been doing it for over twenty years. 

So on Wednesday, I made a bunch of patties, seasoned them, and started cooking them in pans on the stovetop, for no reason at all. I didn’t even know I was doing it until I heard them sizzling and wondered where the sound was coming from. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now if you’ll stop hassling me, maybe I can get back to my RV and do another cook. 

THURSDAY
Gochujang bulgoki with rice and nori; roasted sesame broccoli

This was a sad day for me. I was so excited that the boneless pork ribs I forgot to freeze hadn’t gone bad, but once I got them all sliced up, and cut up a bunch of onions, and chopped up a bunch of carrots using the hand grater after ordering a new slicing disk for the food processor I bought at the Salvation Army, I went to make the gochujang sauce and discovered . . . we were out of guchujang. 

https://www.maxpixel.net/Statue-Venice-Ancient-Myth-Sculpture-Orpheus-3153008 (Creative Commons)

Last I knew, I was the proud owner of a one-pound tub of gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste) and a five-pound tub of gochujang. But all I could find was a pathetic little tube of gochujang sauce I had bought one time in a fit of weakness. It turns out I had paid one of the kids to clean out the fridge and told him to use his judgement about what to save, and this was the choice he made. 

https://pixabay.com/photos/eye-manipulation-tears-art-sad-2274884/ (Creative Commons)

Well. Sometimes these things happen, and you just have to pick yourself up and go on with your life, so that is what I did. I used the gochujang sauce in place of the gochujang in my gochujang sauce, and it bore a passing resemblance to gochujang bulgoki. I went ahead and ordered some more gochujang, and it arrived this morning. Sometimes these things happen. Jump to Recipe

It was actually decent meal, just not what I was expecting. You can take a piece of nori and use it to grab up a bite of pork and rice and eat it in little bundles. 

The broccoli is a nice, simple recipe. Cut broccoli into spears, drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce, sprinkle with pepper and sesame seeds, spread in a shallow pan, and roast. Delicious. Jump to Recipe

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese

I have gone back to making the cheese sauce in a pan and then adding it to the cooked macaroni and then baking it in the oven. The Instant Pot recipe is okay in a pinch, but we really prefer it the old fashioned way. I do like adding some hot sauce to the cheese sauce. Good stuff. Jump to Recipe

There are a lot of recipes this week, so I’m going to make them on a separate page. It might be a bit hard to find until I figure out a better way, so be sure to look for the little box with a 2 in it, and click on that! That will bring you to the recipe page. Happy Friday, cheese bags.

 

Magnificat Advent Companion app giveaway!

This year, Advent begins on Dec. 1, so all those chocolate and whiskey and novelty underwear advent calendars* will actually work out right for once! However, if you’re looking for a little boost to help you focus on spiritual growth, I recommend Magnificat. I am a subscriber and it’s a wonderful way to start the day.

In addition to their daily spiritual guide, Magnificat puts out an annual Advent Companion, available in print and digital form.

I have four codes for a free copy of the digital version to give away — two for iOs and two for Android. To enter into the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter forms at the bottom of this post. Please note: THERE ARE TWO SEPARATE GIVEAWAYS, ONE FOR ANDROID AND ONE FOR iOS! Be sure to enter the contest for the code you can use on your device! 

Good luck! I’ll pick a winner this weekend. If you don’t win, the book version is $4.99 and the app versions are $2.99.

*I assume these exist

***

 

Here are some screenshots of the digital version:

Here is their description of the Advent Companion:

This pocket-sized Companion follows a practical, page-a-day format and features original meditations on each day’s Gospel by one of twenty-four gifted authors.

Each year’s Advent Companion is different from the last, and contains these one-of-a-kind extras that you won’t find anywhere else:

– A variety of beautiful and practical blessings
– An Advent Penance Service
– Specially-commissioned poetry
– Advent Stations
– Praying the O Antiphons

Advent is that sacred season of anticipation and expectation in which we come to terms with the deepest yearning of our soul—a yearning fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. As we wait in longing for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, we turn over to him all the false satisfactions—the compromises—of our life. To live Advent is to live in the awareness of a Presence that changes us. 

Our Advent preparation is marked by vigilance—custody of the heart, in which we keep our soul fixed on the Lord. For what we see incarnate in the infant Jesus we desire for ourselves: purity, innocence, childlikeness restored. In the birth of this Child we know the promise of our own spiritual rebirth.

This rich spiritual companion will accompany you like a beloved friend through the four weeks of Advent with poignant scriptural reflections for each day of the season. You will also find a wealth of meditative prayers, essays, and poetry, an examination of conscience, and a unique feature:
the Advent Stations. If you long for the nearness of God in your life, this invaluable little booklet promises to bring you ever closer to the One who promised: I am with you always (Mt 28:20).

Rafflecopter entry forms below:

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Getting better

There are plenty of empty seats, vinyl and chrome, at the DMV. It’s a slow hour and a small town, so we don’t have long to wait. My daughter has an appointment for a driving test. She’s the first of my ten children to take the test, not so many years after I first got my own license. I know she is ready; I taught her myself. It will be different for her than it was for me. It has already been different.

I choose a spot and open the novel I am reading to review; but soon I fold down a page corner and settle in to judging everyone who comes in the door.

Here’s a couple who carry such a powerful stench of stale Marlboros, I want to invent a time machine just so I can go back to 1992 and kick my own ass for ever having been a smoker. I started smoking mainly to annoy my father, only to fearfully keep it a secret. But for heaven’s sake, I must have smelled. He must have known.

The man in line has a classic New Hampshire wood stove tan, which you get when you go all winter without hardly bathin cause it’s too damn cold, an the friggin wood stove keeps fillin the house with friggin smoke. So by January, all the pores you leave exposed are full of soot. It’s been a mild winter, though, so who knows. 

His companion, a silent woman the shape of a fire hydrant, wears pajama bottoms and a slithery blue jacket from an excavation company. Her hair is a pelt. They are here to straighten out some trouble involving the hasty purchase of a dirt bike by a nephew who’s since gone upstate. The paperwork went bad somewhere along the line, and all the desk clerk can advise is that the man put all his scenarios together on a piece of paper, come back again, and hope for the best. Impassive, he drops his crumpled number in a basket and they shamble out, empty-handed.

Once the heavy glass doors have closed behind the pair, the three front desk clerks confer with each other like the fates. It’s still quiet at the DMV, and as the waiting room monitor chatters on about how to get the new “Real ID,” they have the leisure to chat about how anyone might alter the fates of the man, his fire hydrant wife, the upstate nephew, and the illicit dirt bike. They all agree there is no hope. Any talk of scenarios and verifications was a fantasy, a dead end. The nephew is doomed. 

They also frown over the case of a mechanic who came in earlier. He wanted credit not only for his unused 2019 inspection stickers but also for his unused 2018 inspection stickers. He didn’t even friggin care if he got his money back, he said; he just friggin didn’t want them on his hands no more. One clerk, Angie, mentions what he does not: That the reason he’s there is because the police stopped by his shop, hunting down the missing stickers. The others are surprised that they would bother; but Angie briskly notes that someone has to keep track of these things, get people to do what they need to do.

Angie, who wears the loudest shoes, is knocking jobs off her list like a maniac. The others remind each other that she’s always this way after she goes up to Concord. They have recently discovered that Concord is watching them on the monitor, so every time Angie comes back from Concord, it’s like she’s in a friggin frenzy, gettin stuff done.

I look down at my hands, which are white and a little dry. I underline a few telling passages in my book. Then my daughter blows in with a huff of winter air. She has passed her test; she is pleased. I am pleased. I’m proud of her, but I’m even more proud of myself, because I’m the one who taught her how to drive. She is not me. I have made some changes. 

No one taught me how to drive until I was 24 and in my third trimester, and I passed my driving test two weeks after giving birth. There was a three-year-old and a two-year-old in the back seat as we lurched around the deserted parking lot in the evenings, practicing and practicing, trying to get better. They cried, and I cried, but I friggin learned how to drive. Nobody cried when I taught my daughter. She says with blithe confidence that now we’ll have to make her a copy of my key, so she can use my car whenever she needs it. If there’s anything she’s afraid to tell me, she hides it well.

I had plans to get myself a Real ID while here at the DMV. I have a license, but it’s not sufficient identification to fly. I have a speech to deliver soon in Chicago, but now, to get on a plane and fly out of the state of New Hampshire, you need a Real ID. I thought it would be easy, but looking over the paper work, I see it’s more complicated than I’d realized.

Angie snaps my beaming daughter’s picture, and the driving instructor slides into the seat beside me. “Mom?” he asks. I nod yes. “She did well,” he says. There were some rolling stops, and she didn’t always check her blind spot, but she did well. He says she is a safe driver, or will be.

I remember the look my own driving instructor gave me as I made one final stab at parking inside the lines. It was rough. Maybe he saw the three carseats crammed in the back seat, the dunes of pulverized graham crackers that lay between them, the impenetrable dust and grime on the dashboard that I tried to wipe clean but could not. I parked poorly, and didn’t try a second time, because I knew it wasn’t going to get any better than that. “That…” he said, “…was rough.”

“I know,” I said.

But he let me pass. And I did get better. I got so much better than I can teach other people how to drive without shouting, without making them feel like fools. I work hard; I pay my bills; my papers are in order. I shower. I wear appropriate clothing. I am clean. I have no discernible accent. I do not own a dirt bike. I keep busy even when no one is watching. No policemen come knocking at my door; and as far as I know, no one is afraid of me.

I run my hand over my hair, which is freshly cut. And I know how I sound: Like I think I’m better than everyone else. It’s not that. It’s just that I’m better than I used to be. My daughter has the paperwork to prove it.

But I still don’t have sufficient identification to fly out of this state. I still need a Real ID. Before the heavy glass door closes behind us, I snatch up a pamphlet that tells me what I still friggin need to do. 

***
Image by Circe Denyer (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 191: Chimichurri! Korean meatballs! Pomegranate salad! Challah! And more

I have some catching up to do! I didn’t do a food post last week, but I have a bunch of pictures which I shall now dump on you so I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my life. Yes, that is how it works. I don’t make the rules. 

Today’s post was so long, I split it into two pages, so be sure to click on “next page” or the little “2” at the end to get to this week’s recipes. There are some doozies in there. 

Last week was Halloween, which means I was inspired to transform regular meatloaf into SPOOKY MEATLOAF. Jump to Recipe

Whole other kind of scary when baked:

I eventually got around to roasting pumpkin seeds:

I like to leave a certain amount of pumpkin pulp in there, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle generously with kosher salt, put in a 250 oven, and then leave the house do to several errands and completely forget about the pumpkin seeds. *mwah*

I signed up for cookies for school parties this year, using my no-fail sugar cookie recipe with dough you do not have to chill. Any time you need cookies that will hold their shape, this is your recipe. Jump to Recipe

For the icing, I just used confectioner’s sugar and milk and food coloring. If you let the decorated cookies dry for several hours, the icing becomes firm enough to stack. I did use store-bought “cookie icing” for the details. Not my most deft work, and it’s possible I yelled at everyone kind of a lot, but those kids sure ate those cookies. 

Benny had her heart set on Frankenstein rice krispie treats for her class, so this is what we came up with. I made the first one, and then she made the rest all by herself!

For all you pedants who want to shove your glasses up your nose and explain that actually Frankenstein is the one who made the monster, I direct you to the photo on the above right, in which Benny is making monsters. 

Also last week we had a lovely chicken pomegranate salad: Roast chicken breast, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, and toasted pecans with wine vinegar. Yum.

I got ambitious and decided to make challah. I really rushed and didn’t measure properly, so it didn’t rise enough and was pretty dense on the bottom. It still got gobbled up. Jump to Recipe

I used “everything bagel” topping instead of poppy seeds, and I shall now do that forever. Here’s a picture of a past challah that turned out better, although I skimped a bit on the egg wash:

Let’s see, what else? Maybe you would like to see our Halloween costumes! I don’t yet have a photo of Clara, which is a shame, as she spent many hours sewing leaves and tulle onto a dress to be a lovely autumn fairy.

Moe was Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors:

Dora was Wirt from Over the Garden Wall (and learned how to use the sewing machine during the making of this costume):

Lucy and Sophia saved up money and bought themselves fancy costumes so they could be Naruto and Sasuke:

My contribution was to talk Lucy out of spending a lot of money on orange pants, and buying a pair of Merrells at the Salvation Army for $5 and stoically forcing myself to chop the toes off to make into ninja shoes. 

Corrie’s dream came true and she was Scooby Doo, and with only a little bit of sewing, Benny made a lovely Daphne:

And finally, Irene saved the universe as Star from Star Vs. the Forces of Evil:

She made the wand all by herself, completely out of foam sheets! I added the collar and octopus (?) to the dress with felt and made the boots. I am extremely proud of those boots. Duct tape, man. She wore them for three days before they started falling apart.

Whew! I think we’re all caught up. Here’s the recipes for last week. After the recipes comes page two! Please don’t skip it! There are some awesome recipes in there. 

5 from 1 vote
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No-fail no-chill sugar cookies

Basic "blank canvas"sugar cookies that hold their shape for cutting and decorating. No refrigeration necessary. They don't puff up when you bake them, and they stay soft under the icing. You can ice them with a very basic icing of confectioner's sugar and milk. Let decorated cookies dry for several hours, and they will be firm enough to stack.

Servings 24 large cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla and/or almond extract. (You could also make these into lemon cookies)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.

  2. Cream together butter and sugar in mixer until smooth.

  3. Add egg and extracts.

  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.

  5. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar and mix until smooth.

  6. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch. Cut cookies.

  7. Bake on ungreased baking sheets for 6-8 minutes. Don't let them brown. They may look slightly underbaked, but they firm up after you take them out of the oven, so let them sit in the pan for a bit before transferring to a cooling rack.

  8. Let them cool completely before decorating!

5 from 1 vote
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Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk

salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder or minced onions, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 

 

Challah (breaded bread)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water, stir gently, and let sit for five minutes.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  4. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid.

  5. Cover and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  6. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  7. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

Don’t forget to click on the “2” to see the whole other page! I need to work on a way to make it more obvious next time, because this is stupid. 

You can always come back

One Sunday afternoon, I posted on Facebook:

“Reasons the Fishers left their pew this morning:
Had to go to the bathroom.
Also had to go to the bathroom.
Had to check ketones and bolus.
Had to go to the bathroom after all.
Had to take migraine meds.
Had to get to work.
Had to leave the building entirely because, while the four-year-old could behave herself, her puppy Crystal could not.
BUT WE ALL CAME BACK EVENTUALLY.”

I’m not sure how the other parishioners feel, but I have no problem with this level of traffic during Mass. We’d rather keep a lighter grip on the reins, and let the kids do what they need to do, as long as they always come back. And we do always come back.

When I was a teenager, I also didn’t sit in the pew. I did come to Mass with my parents, because they expected it, but I never made it as far as the pew. I would lurk sulkily in the back of the church, glowering at the little red votive candles as they flickered in their cups. Sometimes I would sit on the steps to the choir loft, my head between my knees, hating every moment of it. I never prayed, I never went to confession. I chose the path of misery for years, rather than sit in the pew.

And you know, I eventually came back. Look at me now! I’m so Catholic, the Jehovah’s Witnesses barely even try. I’m sure my parents were worried when I started to stray as a teenager, but they knew they were playing the long game. They kept a pretty loose grip on the reins, and I think that’s a good principle.

Almost as if to illustrate this principle: During that same Mass I described above, where my family spent most of the hour coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing, the pastor made an announcement: An elderly couple in the parish would have their marriage convalidated. They’d been in a civil marriage for many years but had recently come back to the Church . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Public Domain

A cautious PSA about PANDAS and rapid onset OCD and anxiety in kids

‘Tis the season of strep throat and norovirus and other infections, and that is bad enough. But some researchers and doctors believe that infections can occasionally trigger a misdirected autoimmune response, especially in children, that causes sudden, alarming psychiatric symptoms: extreme anxiety, OCD, intrusive thoughts including suicidal ideation, tics, sudden difficulty with math and handwriting, and sensory problems.

The illness is called PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) or PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome). A child who’s otherwise healthy develops these symptoms literally overnight, and while the infection that triggered them can be cured, no treatment seems to alleviate the psychiatric symptoms.

I know that not all medical professionals accept PANS/PANDAS as a legitimate diagnosis, and that a lot of very nutty people have latched onto it. I am not a doctor or a scientist. I’m simply a mom passing along information about something that has helped other parents, and that is the entirety of what I know about it. I know three moms — sensible, educated people who accept modern, western medicine, not gullible, fearful, or prone to woo — who had run out of other explanations for their kids’ sudden change in behavior, and got no relief from the normal treatment (therapy, SSRIs). They talked to their doctors about PANS/PANDAS and then gave their kids n-acetyl l-cysteine (NAC), which you can get over the counter. NAC is normally used to prevent asthma attacks and treat rashes, but it truly seems to have cured these kids of their psychological symptoms. 

I am not making any claims about this hypothesized illness or this hypothesized treatment, as I’m not qualified in any way to do so (and I’m certainly not getting any kind of kickback or payment, other than what I normally earn from page views of this site). I’m just passing along what I have heard, because I know how it feels to see a kid suffering and to not know how to help. This is just one more thing to consider.

So if your kid develops anxiety or other inexplicable psychiatric disorders, please don’t immediately assume it’s PANDAS, and please don’t try to treat it without professional help. We have a few kids who suffer with severe anxiety, and it’s not PANDAS. Lots and lots of things can cause psychological symptoms, and sometimes there is more than one cause. But if you and your doctor have tried all kinds of other treatments and nothing is helping, and the kid did have an infection before a very sudden onset of the symptoms, this is something to consider. 

Image: Sherif Salama via Flickr (Creative Commons)

 

What are you looking forward to?

“What do you look forward to every day?”

Someone asked this on Facebook the other day. At first it seemed like one of those untaxing “get to know ya” questions. But when I went to reach for the easy answer, I discovered to my horror that I couldn’t think of anything.

It was absurd that I couldn’t. My life is full of pleasant and joyful things. I have 10 lovable, fascinating children and a remarkably good husband. I like my job; I like my house and garden. I have friends and family I enjoy being with. I have leisure time every day. My life is studded with pleasures large and small.

But what do I look forward to? What do I spend time longing for every day? I can clearly remember being a child, and always looking forward to something: For the end of math class, for the beginning of summer, for my turn on the swing, for my birthday, for Lent to end so I could eat the cherry sours I unwisely bought ahead of time. My mother used to sing (rather flippantly, I thought, in the face of my anguish): “Enjoy yourself! Enjoy yourself! It’s later than you think.” Her point was that it’s foolish to set all our store in some potential future bliss. All we really have is the present, and if we waste it with various yearnings and worries, we’ll soon be out of time.

So, yes, I used to look forward to things when I was young, but not in a way I want to replicate now. That kind of longing — the kind that robs the present of its charms — is no way to spend a life. I recall the story of the man who was given a spool of string, and every time he tugged on the end, he could skip past some unpleasant part of his life. He kept tugging and tugging, giving himself permission to skip over more and more, until oops! he was dead. He skipped it all. If all we ever do is look forward to some better time in the future, then we’ll miss every joy the present can offer.

But it’s also possible to be so caught up in reacting to the present that we never fully receive it. This is the trap I’ve fallen into.

I think mostly about how I’m going to get through the unpleasant and unavoidable things that plague my day: How will I get myself to wake up enough to do the morning drive? How can I get dinner prepped in time so we won’t eat too late? How can I express the news that it’s time to leave the playground so my four-year-old won’t flip out? I think a lot about how I’m going to manage difficult things, but hardly at all about how I’m going to enjoy the good — even though there is plenty of good. And so the pleasures flit through my arms and are gone again, and off I hustle, arranging myself to deal with the next trial, tugging on that string to get through my day, my year, my life.

Well, that’s no good.

So, determined to realign my life, I set myself to look forward to things I can reasonably expect to enjoy.

And I didn’t have much luck.

I tried to tell myself I can look forward to putting dinner on the table each night, because it’s the culmination of hard work, and I should be glad and grateful to be able to offer hot, nourishing food to my children.

That didn’t go well. I blame the kids, who are terrible.

Then I thought I could look forward to the day itself. Normally, I hear my alarm and groan with dread at the thought of emerging from my cozy cocoon. Instead, I proposed to myself, I could reframe the morning as something to look forward to, and maybe it would help propel me joyfully out into the cold morning air.

That didn’t go well, either. Because I’m not a psychopath.

But then I hit on something else . . . 

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly

Image by Darrel Birkett via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A hymn to household saints

For all the saints
Who’ve lost their arms and head;
For those whose poor legs
Are now duct tape instead;
For those long gone
Beneath my bad kid’s bed:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Whose words are super true,
Who labored hard
To preach to me and you:
Please try again,
Until your face is blue:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Whose names our babies bear,
Please take their hands
(And maybe brush their hair).
We’re working hard,
Not getting anywhere.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Up on those dusty shelves.
You see the pits
The human spirit delves.
Ask God for mercy.
We can’t save ourselves.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all our saints,
This day is just for you.
You’re with God now.
You need something to do?
Then pray for us!
We’re leaning hard on you.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Totally doable Halloween treats for your kid’s party

I’m having some kind of domestic spasm, so I’ll be making treats for Halloween parties tomorrow. If you’re still scrambling for ideas, here are some low-skill treats we’ve done in the past:

SCARY MOUTHS!
Photo by Jim Hammer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/14457177985 (Creative Commons)

Very easy, if somewhat time consuming, and the kids loved them.  Apple slices, peanut butter, mini marshmallows. You can also use Nutella for the sticky part, and you can use almonds for the teeth. If you have to go nut-free, you could use pink icing for the gums, but you’ll want to dry the apples thoroughly so it sticks. 

You could also use two almond slivers in between marshmallow teeth for a sort of vampire effect. The apples brown a tiny bit but the kids don’t care. If you care, you could dip them in lemon juice after cutting. 

PRETZEL ROD WANDS OR GHOSTS

Pretzel rods dipped in candy coating or melted chocolate can be ghost sticks or magic wands. I can’t seem to find a pic of the ghost ones, but here’s the basic idea. You dip pretzel rods in melted white candy melts, or else melt white chocolate and stir in a little melted shortening to make it smoother and harden better. While they’re wet, add mini chocolate chips or raisins or whatever else edible you can find to make faces; or let them dry and pipe face on with dark icing that hardens, such as royal icing

For magic wands, dip the pretzel rods in various colors of melted candy coating (white, orange, purple, and green are Halloweeny) and melted chocolate with a bit of melted shortening stirred in. While it’s wet, sprinkle on whatever fancy decorations you can find, including sugars, sprinkles, candy eyeballs, candy corn, etc. Kids absolutely love these, especially if you present a lot of different kinds to choose from. 

SKULL COOKIES with or without glowing eyeballs

Use this foolproof no-need-to-chill sugar cookie recipe and cut out a bunch of skulls. Frost in white, easy peasy. My kids made these one year entirely on their own. I thought the frosting job they did was terrifying. 

OR, you could get a little fancier and fill the eyes with crushed hard candies before baking, so they glowwww spoooooookily. But YOU MUST USE PARCHMENT PAPER TO LINE THE PAN.

GINGERBREAD SKELETONS

If you can’t find a skull cookie cutter, but you can find your gingerbread cookie cutter, you make make skeletons. Here’s a picture from someone who went all out with several layers of icing:

https://www.maxpixel.net/Pastry-Skeletons-Love-Cookies-Festival-Dead-2220291 (public domain)

but if you use a dark dough, like gingerbread, and pipe the white bones directly onto the cookie. Or you could make regular sugar cookie dough and mix some food coloring in. Pipe the bones on with white and you have cute pastel skeleton guys.

THROWING UP PUMPKIN

And one year, I’m not proud of this, but we did make the incredibly classy throwing up jack-o’-lantern, with a mini pumpkin and guacamole. You could also use queso instead of guac. Again, I cannot find the picture, but I think I even sprang for the fancy purple corn chips. 

How about you?  Did you make any rash promises?  Any disasters to report?