Editing in black and white: On reparations, literacy, good intentions, and white saviorism, Part II

This is the second of two companion interviews. Please be sure to read the first one. Both interviews begin with the same introduction for context.
 
***
 
A week ago, an editor posted an announcement in a large editors’ group online. The editor, who is white, had organized a website where professional editors and proofreaders could sign up to donate their services to people of color, as a gesture of reparation. 
 
Editors in the group responded with enthusiasm, and nearly 200 signed up. Then a black editor brought the conversation up short. She asked if the organizer had asked any people of color for advice before launching such a project. She pointed out that it might take paying work away from black editors, and suggested that the entire project came across as white saviorism. 
 
There was a long discussion, and the white editor ultimately announced that she was suspending the project. She thanked those who participated in the conversation for their feedback and scrutiny. 
 
Having been a part of many frustrating and unproductive conversations about race, I was struck by how civil this exchange was, so I contacted both editors to get more clarity about how they perceived the interaction. My understanding of the issue changed considerably after I talked to both of them. Reading over the transcript, I am especially grateful to the black editor for being patient and courteous with my questions. Like many white people, I’m learning a lot of new things suddenly, and light is dawning slowly.  I am also grateful to the white editor for being so candid.
 
Both editors have asked to remain anonymous.  The black editor is a retired marketing and communications director with over twenty years of experience in editing; the white editor is in her 30’s and has been working as an editor and with publishers for several years. 
 
Here is my conversation with the white editor. Again: This second of two companion interviews. Please be sure to read the first one.
 
***
 
Is this the first time you’ve gotten involved in a project involving racial justice?
 
In terms of practical action, I’ve been reading, researching, donating, signing petitions, that sort of thing. This is the first time I’ve tried to do something with my time and skills.
 
What prompted this project? 

I was an idea I had a long time ago. It came from reading about white supremacy and anti-racism and trying to think what I could do in my own sphere of influence. So I did at that time raise it in my workplace, and we changed some aspects of our internship to make it more welcoming to black and minority people. But out of that same line of thinking, I had this thought that I could provide my own proofreading skills on a pro bono basis. I didn’t do anything with it at the time. I wasn’t sure if it would work. And I have a baby now, so I don’t really have time to do a lot of volunteer work. 
 
With everything that’s been happening in the last few weeks, it got me thinking what more I can do, and this old idea came back to me. I don’t have much time to volunteer myself, but I can coordinate a large group of volunteers. I felt certain there must be other people feeling the same way. 
 

How many people did sign up to volunteer?

Last I checked it was 195 people. So I was definitely not alone in wanting to do something. But as you saw in the discussions, it became clear there were some nuances I wasn’t appreciating as a white person.

 
How long did it take to organize and put together the graphics?
 
It took a few days. I spent a couple of evenings setting everything up. To be honest, that was probably one of my mistakes, rushing into it. I was so conscious there were so many people who were really waking up to these injustices. There was this real energy of wanting to do something, I felt like if i didn’t get this going as soon as possible, people would lose interest. So that did drive me to rush too much in setting out, before getting enough feedback. But I was glad I got that feedback very early in the project. 
 
About the people signing up, were they all white?
 
I didn’t ask, so I don’t know. Looking at that Facebook discussion, you can see most people’s faces, and it did seem like a lot of the enthusiastic comments were from white people, but I don’t have any data.
 
What did you think when you saw the first negative responses to the launch?
 
To be honest, it wasn’t entirely a surprise. When deciding whether to go ahead, I was aware it could potentially come across as white saviorism. I did talk to friends who are people of color, and so it was something I had already thought could come up as an issue. But I think I thought I could mitigate that if I present it in the right way. But what became clear to me is that it’s not something you can mitigate, because of the fundamental power dynamic.
 
Did you see their point when they made objections?
 
I initially started trying to put my counter point of view across, and counter those arguments, but it became clear to me there was strong feeling, and I needed to back off. I was very disappointed, obviously, and I had the best of intentions. I had been very hopeful it could be a really great project and could really help people. 
 
I felt I had to listen to those people. It would be ridiculous to ignore the offense I was causing to the same people I was trying to help.
 
I have seen other reparations groups where white people do make offers of help and money and services, and black people make requests, and they are matched up. It even includes some editing services. Do you have thoughts on what the difference is between what they’re doing and your project?
 
I’m part of a Facebook mutual aid group, and people do exactly what you describe, and I’ve participated in individual financial transactions. It’s hard to see the difference. I put it down to the fact that I’m a white person and by definition blind to the nuances of these race dynamics, because I haven’t spent my lifetime having to be aware of those things. So I could find it difficult to define the difference, but if someone who is black defines it for me, I have to listen to that. If they are telling me I’ve crossed a line, I have to stop, whether I see the line or not. 
 
One of the things that was raised was the difference between doing something out of a desire to help, as opposed to someone asking for help. That plays into it. Maybe my project could have done some good, but if that’s not what’s being asked for, maybe that energy could be spent in a different way. 
 
Also, because it’s editing related, it plays into the implications of levels of education, and that makes it more sensitive. Again, it’s not my place to define where that line is. 
 
Have you been exhorted to use your white privilege, and was this an example of trying to do that?
 
What I hear more is slightly different: The idea that [we’re] not necessarily using white privilege for good, but using your white privilege to mitigate the fact that other people don’t have that privilege. So, trying to level the playing field. 
 
But there is also the concept of reparations. I wasn’t thinking this would be something that’s means tested, or just for people who couldn’t afford it, but this is like a freebie, a donation — is “compensation” the right word? — for the imbalance that I’m complicit in. 
 
One thing the black editor mentioned is that sometimes white people go into these situations with certain expectations, and they need to examine what they are and why they have them.
 
I was genuinely hoping to do some good in the world, and to provide a service that would benefit people. For example, we could proofread university or job applications. I was thinking along the lines of: If you don’t have white privilege, you have to do everything twice as perfectly to get half as far. I was thinking along the lines of removing any excuse that a white employer could have for not interviewing a black candidate; that kind of thing.
 

I’m sure there was an expectation I would feel good. That’s a part of any form of volunteerism or philanthropy. That’s part of it. 

To be honest, part of it was I am currently home with a baby all day, and it was nice to have some project to do where I could use my skills and brain a little bit. And that was probably a factor of why I got caught up with this idea. 
 
Do you feel discouraged by this incident? Or how would you characterize what you are taking away from it?
 
I feel humbled by what happened. I have been thinking and reading about racism and white supremacy for quite a long time, and I thought of myself as someone who understood those principles and knew what to do. This was a wake up call that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. I’m still vulnerable to making those kind of classic mistakes, and I have more learning to do. It was definitely humbling. 
 
Is it discouraging? I’m discouraged that it didn’t work out how I wanted it to. It’s such a minefield, and as I white person who doesn’t have the same ultrasensitivities, it’s discouraging that it’s so difficult to find what’s right to do. But I don’t think that’s a reason to give up and do nothing; that’s a reason to learn more read more, get to a place where you can become better at judging these things. That’s what I’m trying to do at the moment. 
 
Do you have any plans to try to salvage this project?
 
I’m letting it sit for now. I’m thinking about it. I’ve had a few suggestions from the volunteers. I’m hoping to bring it back with a broader focus, one that doesn’t focus on race specifically, but I’m not sure what that could be. I’ve had suggestions of working with schools in underprivileged areas, or with adults with learning disabilities, or refugees. There are lots of different ways editorial skills can be helpful to people; it’s just about finding what could actually work. I’m resolved to take my time. That was one of my biggest mistakes. 
 
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
 
I did have the best intentions. It didn’t work out, but it was a good learning experience, and I’m grateful people took the time to explain it to me in a way that was mostly kind and patient, because I imagine they must have spent a lot of time explaining things like that to white people. I definitely benefitted from it, and I know other people did as well. Hopefully, good will come of it. 
 
What caught my eye about this situation was that everyone was unusually civil, which helped me to learn from it. I’ve seen similar conflicts where everyone gets angry and insulting, and it tends to drive people to more extreme points of view. In this case was struck by how patient and gracious the black editors were, and how humbly you responded.
 
I think what enabled me to respond in the way I did was my knowledge of white fragility. I’m as susceptible to that as everyone else. If any of my readers are planning to get involved or having discussions [about racial injustice], I recommend they take time to understand that concept. It’s so easy to become defensive and shut down the conversation or take it to an unhelpful place. If you know about these tendencies, you can prevent yourself from doing that. 
 
***
This is the second of two companion interviews. Please click here for the first interview with the black editor
 
 
 

Editing in black and white: On reparations, literacy, good intentions, and white saviorism, Part I

This is first of two companion interviews. Please be sure to read the second one. Both interviews begin with the same introduction, for context.
 
***
 
A week ago, an editor posted an announcement in a large editors’ group online. The editor, who is white, had organized a website where professional editors and proofreaders could sign up to donate their services to people of color, as a gesture of reparation. 
 
Editors in the group responded with enthusiasm, and nearly 200 signed up. Then a black editor brought the conversation up short. She asked if the organizer had asked any people of color for advice before launching such a project. She pointed out that it might take paying work away from black editors, and suggested that the entire project came across as white saviorism. 
 
There was a long discussion, and the white editor ultimately announced that she was suspending the project. She thanked those who participated in the conversation for their feedback and scrutiny. 
 
Having been a part of many frustrating and unproductive conversations about race, I was struck by how civil this exchange was, so I contacted both editors to get more clarity about how they perceived the interaction. My understanding of the issue changed considerably after I talked to both of them. Reading over the transcript, I am especially grateful to the black editor for being patient and courteous with my questions. Like many white people, I’m learning a lot of new things suddenly, and light is dawning slowly.  I am also grateful to the white editor for being so candid.
 
Both editors have asked to remain anonymous.  The black editor is a retired marketing and communications director with over twenty years of experience in editing; the white editor is in her 30’s and has been working as an editor and with publishers for several years. 
 
Here is my conversation with the black editor. Again: This is one of two companion interviews. Please be sure to read the second one.
 
***
 

What did you first think when you saw the offer?

I just wondered how familiar she was with the organizations or individuals who would become clients. It seemed to me there was an assumption that resources weren’t available to the organizations and individuals she wanted to reach out to. 
 
From my experience working with black organizations or individuals, they approach the person they want to edit. In our organizations and our churches and our circle of people, you usually know the person who is good at that type of thing, or has that skill set. The approach is based on who we know in our community and who we know is capable of doing that kind of work. It’s not limited to people who have been professionals in the field; it can be a retired teacher or someone like that. 
 
There are people who are just not comfortable with having their work edited or proofread, because it comes across as a critique. 
 
So I see that it’s not appropriate to make this offer unless you already have a relationship with the writer. But how are you supposed to have relationships with people outside your circle if you don’t approach them? 
 
It takes time to develop any type of relationship, especially relationships that may involve writing and editing. It’s not the type of thing we can just swoop down on. Everybody is sensitive about their writing and communication skills. There’s a certain rapport that has to be developed between editor and writer. It’s a relational issue.
 
A lot of editors will make corrections and edits in green or blue ink, as opposed to red ink, because of the emotional trigger of having a bleeding paper sent back to you. Even today, in electronic editing, you get all those flags all over your document, and that can make one’s blood pressure rise.
 
It’s very easy to make individuals feel uncomfortable. People make assumptions about education and ability, especially in writing. It can be a loaded issue. That’s why developing relationships would be important to that. 
 
Writing is very personal. A lot of judgment and perceptions are made based on one’s writing. It ranks very highly in terms of sensitivity triggers and cultural assumptions. 
 
Would there be the same problems if the service offered were not writing and editing, but something less fraught, like window repair?
 
I think a lot of this is individual-driven. Sadly, in the US at this point, there’s skittishness about race. In some cases, there could be a reserve or a hesitancy there. But when it comes to issues of literacy, measures of intelligence, writing definitely ranks up there. Those can be triggers. A lot of people are shamed because of the way they speak or write. 
 

Were you shamed in your career for those things?

Because of my education level, because of the fact that I could write, I never struggled with literacy or writing, so it took a different level. It was clear I was not illiterate, and I was capable as a writer, but sometimes individuals have a need to change things. That’s part of the game.
 
But you know how you can feel the tone of an edit? I’ve had documented cases where people were assigned to edit or even rewrite things I had written, that were perfectly fine. And we’re talking about people who were subordinates to my position, people who had absolutely no idea of what my job functions were, but they were assigned to alter my work. 
 

And it was just because you are black?

It was one of those things where everybody knew. Everybody knew. 

Is this pro bono editing offer intrinsically flawed, or is it there a way to reframe it so that it could be a good thing?
 
Let me ask you, what segments of the black community are you interacting with? Who are your potential clients?
 
I think the impetus was that the organizer of the project knew that black people applying for jobs or scholarships tend to get judged more harshly for making the same typos and errors that everyone makes, so this was an attempt to level the playing field. So that was at least part of the intended clientele. 
 
Unfortunately that does exist. That’s part of systemic racism. Black people get judged more harshly for the same errors white people make.  That’s part of the way we tend to be perceived. With black people, it becomes who we are. With other groups, it’s a mistake, and there are gentler ways of handling it. But I have been in a situation where the expectation is that there will be no mistakes. 
 
If the organizer had made it more clear that she saw this problem and was trying to level the playing field, would that have been less problematic?
 
I would have appreciated the fact that she was aware of the disparities she was observing. I would respect the reaction to it if it came across as something new, a new bit of information. To be able to recognize that disparity is out there is very important to creating the next steps. First you have to recognize that things are not the same for everyone. Things are not the same for everyone based on the color of one’s skin.
 
When a white person does become aware of a disparity like this, then what is the next step?
 

Is she acquainted with the person doing the writing? Is this someone she’s acquainted with? 

I can’t speak for her, but for me, I live in NH, where the population is over 90% white. I’m not going to meet many black people unless I make a conscious effort to do so. I’m assuming this was her attempt to become acquainted with the person doing the writing. 
 
I’m not sure writing is the right tool to become acquainted with someone. The relationship between writer and editor is built. It’s not something formed by a first impression or an initial meeting. 
 
I will admit that, not too long ago, I didn’t really see white privilege. I grew up poor, so I didn’t think I had privilege. But I do see it now. White people like me are often exhorted to acknowledge and use their white privilege. How can we do this in a way that doesn’t end up being offensive? 
 
Where things seem “off” to me is the fact that it’s being stated you have to use your white privilege. Maybe it should lie dormant until there is a real need that arises, or you’re asked to do something that would involve implementing your white privilege. 
 
Can you give me an example of what that would look like?
 

When you develop an acquaintance, and get to know a person as an individual, then everything evolves from there. What you will find is there are a lot of black people who don’t necessarily need the kind of help that whites perceive they need.

I say that being fully aware of the disparities between us. But at the same time, there is a likelihood that a white person could encounter a black person who really does not need anything from them. 

Or it may be the other way around. I really don’t know, not being white, what that would look like. But just to see people as they are, as individuals. Individuals will show you who they are.  
 
I recently became aware of a group for reparations, that offers a platform where black people can make specific requests for things they need, and white people can make offers of things they can give, and they are matched up. And white people are exhorted to make sure they’re offering things that people would actually want. It has about 20,000 members. Any thoughts on this kind of project? 
 
My immediate reaction is the success or failure of a venture is going to depend on the experiences of people from both sides. We’re talking about 20,000 human beings; anything can happen! 20,000 human beings defined by the histories that surround each of them. 
 
This [reparations group] is quite an interesting concept. It sounds like something I’d like to sit back and watch. Whenever people can get together for the common good and no one is hurt by it, it’s a good thing.  It speaks of alliances. Alliances are important to me. But whenever human beings get together, anything could happen. 
 
You mentioned people not getting hurt. I now understand better what a misstep it was to present the offer the way it was, but I know that some people who volunteered did feel hurt by the somewhat harsh response. 
 
It’s important not to be thin-skinned. To me it sound like that response could have come from any human being, depending on where their heart was at that time. The fact that it came from someone of another race, given our history and our current circumstances — it’s fraught with conflict.
 
I think people are going to be people.  Just chalk it up to humanity, and all the variations thereof — all the output you can expect from humanity. Sometimes it’s just because they had a headache or a bad day. 
 
But I don’t think it’s a good idea to go into an interaction with expectations. We can’t read people’s hearts and minds. It really causes some pain when you have expectations. We have to examine why we have that expectation. 
 
Is there anything you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
 
Being part of the Editors of Color has been very helpful to me over the years. I was still working when I joined, because I needed that other voice. I was working in a very difficult job environment, and yes, it was fraught with racism. Racism will meet a person of color at whatever station of life they find themselves in. It will reach the highest level, as low-level as that behavior is. During the Obama administration, we all witnessed some vile behaviors. It was America being America.
 

Racism is in effect at every level. So the question is to be able to navigate it all; but not only that, but to navigate it in a way where it doesn’t destroy oneself of the people we love. That’s where it really becomes challenging. 

***
***
This is the second of two companion interviews. Please click here for the first interview with the white editor
 
 

What[wa]’s for supper [last week]? Vol. 214: The highlight reel

I didn’t do a What’s for Supper? last week. I didn’t actually publish anything last week. Turns out I can actually be shut up! For a week. But that’s it. 

Here’s the yummiest meals we had: 

SUNDAY
Beef koftas and Jerusalem salad

Something new for us. Koftas are ground meat, onions, and seasonings formed onto sticks and then grilled. Wikipedia says “Kofta is a family of meatball or meatloaf dishes found in the Indian subcontinent, South Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Central Asian cuisines.” But that’s it! Nowhere else! I read a bunch of recipes from various regions and concluded that you could add anything but grape jelly and consider it an authentic recipe. (After I wrote this, I dreamed that I saw someone making koftas with grape jelly, and I thought, “Dammit, now I have to fix that paragraph.” But it was just a dream. If my father were here, he would comment, “I dreamt I was making koftas in my Maidenform bra.” There was always a Maidenform bra joke.)

Since it was our first time, I decided to keep them relatively bland. I used ground beef (I mean lamb is like $15 a pound), onion, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, nutmeg, paprika, and za’atar. It is bound together with, uh, wet toast.

FABOLOUS.

Sidenote: if you don’t have a food processor, may I suggest you slap on your mask and hop on over the Salvation Army and find yourself one? Don’t be a snob, get the one in Harvest Yellow with the missing foot, as long as it works. Having a food processor has expanded my cooking so much. If my brother Izzy read my blog, I’d made a coulis joke here, but he doesn’t, so I won’t. 

Anyway, for the koftas, I combined the ingredients very thoroughly, smooshed the meat mixture onto the skewers as tightly as I could, and refrigerated them for several hours, but many of them still fell apart when Damien grilled them. He ended up using an oiled cast iron griddle on the grill. They were EXTREMELY tasty and juicy, really bursting with flavor. The kids really liked them, which means I can probably get away with turning up the spice next time. 

There is a technique wherein you extrude the meat through the neck of a soda bottle, too. 

It’s not any uglier than me just smooshing it on with my hands, and probably somewhat less horrible than me inserting cheese into sausages. 

I have my doubts about the part where he puts some cheese on the grill and then just rolls the cheese up around the meat. I guarantee you, that wouldn’t work if I tried it. BUT, look at the part where he dips it in yogurt sauce and then rolls it in french fried onions! I don’t know. Maybe it would be a case of potato tornados all over again, and I’m not ready to relive that.

Anyway, the koftas we made were swell, if not exactly beautiful to behold. I made plenty of yogurt sauce, and a nice Jerusalem salad on the side.

Jerusalem salad is just tomatoes and cucumbers, parsley and red onions. I squeezed a few lemons over it and drizzled a little olive oil on it, and maybe some kosher salt, I forget. Maybe some mint. We have no end of wild mint in the yard, so I hope I put mint in. 

MONDAY
Chicken nachos

I’m including this meal because it was way more delicious than it should have been. I came up with it on the fly when I was at Aldi and discovered that the price of ground beef had gone up over a dollar a pound. They had some kind of frozen chicken tenderloins, whatever those are, so I bought a bunch. 

I honestly didn’t think anyone would like this meal, but it was quite popular. I cooked the chicken in the Instant Pot with WATER. I remember being tired at the time. Then I pulled it out of the water, shredded it up, and put a disgusting amount of Tajin chili lime powder on it. 

I put the chicken on chips and sprinkled a disgusting amount of cheese over that, and put it in a hot oven until the cheese was melted. I set out sliced jalapeños, sour cream, salsa, limes, and queso which I had microwaved. 

Look at that queso, glowing in the twilight. 

TUESDAY
Grilled sugar rub pork ribs, cole slaw, biscuits

Damien uses some variation of this sugar rub

Jump to Recipe

for all kinds of meat. He says the most important parts are the sugar, garlic, and chili powder, and then everything else is whatever he has on hand. 

These ribs turned out SO GOOD. Look at that lustrous caramelized sugar. It’s sweet and hot and charred, just magnificent, and comes out so juicy. 

I made this biscuit recipe again and it turned out just as good this time, so it’s definitely a keeper. It has eggs and cream of tartar, which I’ve never seen in biscuits before, but gosh, it works. I made twelve big biscuits and cut the rest of the dough into squares, which amused me. 

Very basic cole slaw, just cabbage, mayo, vinegar, sugar, pepper. Tastes like summer. Here’s a slightly more complicated recipe I use sometimes:

Jump to Recipe

THURSDAY
Chicken caprese sandwiches, pasta salad, tiramisu

It was Dora’s birthday, and this was her requested meal. I grilled the chicken and served it on ciabatta rolls with fresh sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and freshly-ground salt and pepper. 

She made herself a pasta salad using those Frankie’s Oils with some nice feta cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Damien made tiramisu, and we forgot to get rum, and the espresso pot was missing a part. Guess what? It’s just as good with whiskey and strong coffee. I only got a crummy picture, but it was creamy and lovely and delicious. 

Okay, that’s it for last week’s foods. Recipe cards below. 

Oh, and yesterday a kid asked to visit the newly re-opened Salvation Army, so we went. GUESS WHAT I FOUND FOR THREE DOLLARS.

AS SEEN ON TV. 

So, hold onto your butts. 

 

koftas

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 3 onions
  • 1 head (head, not clove) garlic
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 5 slices bread
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp zataar

Instructions

  1. Put the wooden skewers in water to soak for about thirty minutes before you plan to form the kebabs.

  2. Put the onions, garlic, and parsley in a food processor and chop it.

  3. Put the meat in a large bowl and add the chopped onion mixture to it.

  4. Toast the bread, then put it in a bowl with warm water to soften it. Squeeze the water out and add that to the bowl with the meat.

  5. Add in the seasonings and squish it up with your hands until all the ingredients are well combined.

  6. Using your hands, form logs of meat around the skewers. They should be about an inch and a half in diameter.

  7. Grill over coals if you can. If they fall apart too much, you can cook them on a hot oiled griddle, or broil them. Turn to brown all sides.

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked. 

 

 

Coleslaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 5 radishes, grated or sliced thin (optional)

Dressing

  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1 cup cider or white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Mix together shredded vegetables. 
    Mix dressing ingredients together and stir into cabbage mix. 

Please stop saying “my cycle” when you mean “my period.” It matters.

The following essay is about the menstrual cycle, and what I have to say is just as much for men as it is for women. 

I recently had the most frustrating visit with my OB/GYN. It’s probably not what you think. She listened to me carefully, treated me with respect, explained things thoroughly, and was interested and responsive when I told her how Marquette NFP works, even when I touched on the principle of double effect in medical care. She didn’t even poke me too hard; and my insurance covered everything. 

The frustration came in when she had to repeatedly clarify that when I said “my cycle,” I didn’t mean “my menstrual period.” They are two different things. My menstrual period — the days when I am bleeding — are part of my cycle. But a cycle is, by definition, “a series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order.” In female biology, a cycle means the repeating pattern of four phases: menstrual bleeding, the follicular phase leading up to ovulation, ovulation, and luteal phase, ramping down from ovulation. 

But this doctor regularly treats women who use “menstrual bleeding” and “cycle” interchangeably. This led to a frustrating conversation that went something like this:

Me: So, my period started on this day. That cycle was 22 days long. . .
OB/GYN: Wow, that is so long!
Me: No, I only bled for four days, but my cycle was 22 days. Then the next cycle was only 17 days . . .
OB/GYN: But you weren’t bleeding for 17 days? 
Me: No, the cycle was 17 days, but my period lasted five days. Then the cycle after that was 26 days . . . 
OB: Okay, just to clarify . . .
 
And so on, throughout the whole visit. 
 
It wasn’t her fault. She needed to make sure we both knew what we were talking about (and she had no way of knowing I literally wrote a book about this stuff).
 
Part of the reason this situation exists is just linguistic sloppiness. Most of the time, women only have reason to refer to their cycles when they are bleeding, so the shorthand is close enough.
 
The other reason is cultural squeamishness, or even shame, around women’s biology. “Menstrual bleeding” or even “my period” sounds too graphic and bloody, and it’s more socially acceptable to say “my cycle.” It makes it more abstract, like part of a machine, or something on a pie chart.
 
I hate that this feels necessary to so many women — that they feel the need to make their bodies seem abstract or mechanical. Men aren’t ashamed to talk about their involuntary bodily functions. Many men even seem proud of them, for reasons that remain obscure to me. But women, who suffer through a huge amount of tumult and pain that allows them to keep the human race in existence still feel shame about their menstrual cycles.
 
This is a larger problem than a linguistic one. I don’t think it’s necessary to run around free bleeding, but I grow more and more disgusted with the idea that women should be at pains to shield the world from knowing anything about menses. 
 

Because that really is what happens: women and girls are taught that it’s their problem to bear, and part of the burden is the obligation to make sure no one finds out what they’re dealing with. In very conservative circles, girls are often taught to think of their bodily processes as a humiliating, degrading stain on their personhood, evidence of their constitutional, inherent weakness inherited from Eve. In liberal circles, girls are often taught to think of their bodily processes as a hassle, or possibly a sign of oppression, something that, with modern technology, we will quash if we have any self resect or ambition. 

A young woman I know went to see her doctor because she has very irregular cycles. She says sometimes she goes many months without a period. The doctor’s response?

“Is this really a problem? Lots of girls would be thrilled to go so long without dealing with bleeding! Can’t you just learn to enjoy getting a break?”

Not even a speck of curiosity as to why the young woman’s body wasn’t doing what her body is supposed to do. And this doctor was a young woman herself.

On my advice, the patient pushed for some basic blood tests, but when these came back negative, the doctor shrugged and gave up. Happily, the young woman was able to find a specialist who takes a more humane view, and didn’t try to wave her disfunction away.

If mainstream doctors are so flippantly ignorant about what is and isn’t normal, it’s no wonder women, young and otherwise, have only a vague understanding of what it means to have a cycle. Because of this willful systemic ignorance, serious health problems will go undiagnosed, causing women to routinely endure overmedication, undermedication, and a whole host of physical and psychological problems that may be unnecessary. The fact that women are discouraged from even talking about it in plain language? This is telling, and it is intolerable. 
 

I don’t assume that every woman who carelessly says “my cycle” when she really means “my period” is ignorant or oppressed or suffering from internalized shame of some kind. People have all different reasons for using imprecise language.

But I do think women would do the world (not just each other) a service by making a point of being more precise in this one area. When I realized, “There is no reason to use vague language when talking about my menses,” I was astonished at how many little knots in my perception of myself started to come undone. Almost as if the thing that goes on literally in the middle of my body affects my psyche.
 
Strangely enough, it was my husband who led me to be less squirrelly about how I talk and think about menstrual issues. He made it clear to me, over and over again, that he’s not going to throw up or lose his mind if I talk about my period. He’s not a “It’s our nausea” kind of guy, but he doesn’t feel like he has some kind of masculine right to be protected from knowing about something that affects my life (and our relationship) so intensely and so often. He loves me, and doesn’t want me to be ashamed about something that’s not shameful. 
 

I’m not big on vulgar jokes about menstrual issues, and there are situations where it’s just courteous to be discreet. But if you do have a habit of always using euphemisms or imprecise language around your menstrual cycle, it’s not a bad idea to ask yourself why. What would happen if you got more specific? Are you protecting someone? Who, and why? Are you afraid something bad will happen if your speech is forthright?

And if something bad will happen, whose fault is that, and why shouldn’t they be pressed to be better? 
 
 

What’s for supper? Vol. 215: In which I get carried away with chickpeas

Hey, who wants to talk about food? I do! Here’s what we had this week. For goodness’ sake, don’t skip over the biscuit recipe. 

SATURDAY

Burgers and chips

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig from early morn till night.
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig up everything in sight.
We dig up diamonds by the score [not really].
A thousand rubies, sometimes more [actually not even interesting rocks].
But we don’t know what we dig ’em for [increasingly true].
We dig dig dig a-dig dig [accurate].

It seems unfair that this song should still be going through my head, but I suppose I deserve it. Damien made burgers on the grill, which is better than I deserve. 

SUNDAY
Lemon honey mustard drumsticks, broccoli and dip, biscuits

You’ll be surprised to learn that we spent Sunday digging in the yard. We’re almost done, though! Really!  

In the morning, we watched mass on Facebook Live, then drove to the church to receive communion. When we got home, I roasted up a bunch of drumsticks with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I made a sauce with lemon juice, honey, and mustard, and mixed up half the drumsticks with it, and left the other half plain, and put it all in the fridge. The longer the chicken sits with the sauce, the yuhmmier it gets. 

I really wanted biscuits, and I do believe I’ve found the perfect recipe. It’s a little fussy, with more ingredients than seems strictly necessary, but my goodness, those were some perfect biscuits.

Light and airy on the inside with a paper-thin crisp outside, and wonderfully buttery. 

I, uh, had five. They were small! (I made a quadruple recipe and got 48 smallish biscuits.)

This was a very pleasant, picnic-y kind of meal after a day of hard work.

We started moving some of the dug-up rocks to a different part of the yard, which is very disorderly and overcome with vicious blackberries, so I am very pleased. It almost looks like someone lives here now. And the hard labor is a good thing. A very good thing. Many, many times this week, I put down my phone and went out to the yard with a pair of clippers or a shovel and took care of a problem I could take care of. I don’t think I have solved racism yet, but anyway I’m sleeping better. 

We’re all sleeping better. Some of us in our parents’ beds, but whatever.

MONDAY
Chicken enchiladas, pineapple

We had a bunch of smoked chicken thighs left over from . . . something. So I shredded those up and added them to chicken I shredded after pan-frying it in oil with plenty of chili powder, salt, and cumin. I basically follow Pioneer Woman’s recipe

You know, my enchiladas are kind of gross. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but undeniably kind of gross. They’re just really flabby. Are they supposed to be flabby? I just don’t know. 

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, Bugles

All I have to say about this meal is that the Bugles had a A Quiet Place: Part II tie-in, for reasons known only to Bugles. I bought them to make Lena laugh, and it worked.

WEDNESDAY
Chicken burgers, pasta salad

And what a pasta salad it was!

Dora gave me a set of fancy infused olive oils for mother’s day. They are Frankie Muniz’ special olive oils, and very good they are, Frankie Muniz’ special infused olive oils for mother’s day. She went with the basil-infused one. 

She added cherry tomatoes, plenty of fresh garlic, parmesan cheese, and I guess salt and pepper, not sure what else. I advised her to use a ludicrous amount of whatever she added to the pasta, so it wouldn’t be bland, and she was listening. You could almost hear the flavor. So good. I ate so much. 

Oh, Wednesday was the day we went to the BLM rally

I was smiling in a friendly way in this picture, honest!

As a side note, Frankie and Paige Muniz say: “Learning about Ultra Premium Olive Oils is one of the best things to ever happen to us.” You might want to print that out and show it to a child who wants to be an actor when he grows up. 

THURSDAY
Pork, pepper, and onion skewers; roasted chick peas, sugar snap peas

I chopped up a pork butt and set it to marinate with my spiedie marinade, including fresh wild mint the kids went out and picked. This is an excellent, easy marinade. You want to add more stuff, but everything in it packs a big punch, and it’s perfect as is.

Jump to Recipe

The plan was just to broil up the meat and serve it on rolls, but it was a little skimpy, so I decided to add some peppers and onions, and then Damien offered to grill it outside, so I put it all on skewers, which takes a long time, but on the other hand, once the idea of meat on a stick comes into my head, it’s very hard to get it out.

So. 

Marinating is magic. I feel like not enough people realize this. The lemon juice breaks down the fibers in the meat and lets in all the other flavors, and it was like eating a . . . hot juicy meat cloud with charred edges. Delicious beyond all reason. 

The side dish situation had become confused, so I took the opportunity to roast up some chick peas, which the kids remember fondly from back when I was counting every penny and figured out that roast chick peas were marginally cheaper than chips. I drained and rinsed eight cans of chick peas and spread them out in pans, drizzled them with olive oil (Frankie Muniz’ garlic infused olive oil) and seasoned them heavily with pepper and kosher salt. Then I baked them in a 300 oven for about two hours, stirring occasionally. They came out very crunchy, but about half still had a little chewy center. 

The kids were not as thrilled as I expected to have their old friend toasted chick peas back in the game. I like chick peas so much. They are so straightforward. “Here,” they say. “I can offer you what I am, which is a pale legume, through and through. No tricks, no razzle dazzle, just some textured protein, plus a cute little skin just for fun.” They are like sitting on a couch in the afternoon, reading a book you have read so many times, you can almost recite it, and it’s kind of boring, but maybe you want to be bored, you know? They’re not too shabby with the manganese, either. 14% of RDA. Well done, chickpeas. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti

I bought a ton of canned tomatoes while under the impression that tomatoes go in enchiladas. So I guess I will make a big pot of sauce with onions and garlic and wine and olive oil.

And maybe, just maybe, we will dig.

Oh, I have some pictures of that mango coffee cake I made last week. It was good, not great.

A lot of trouble (lime zest! toasted pecan streusel!) for something that tasted like normal coffee cake; and I must regretfully admit that baking doesn’t do mangoes any favors. Now I know!

5 from 1 vote
Print

pork spiedies (can use marinade for shish kebob)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup veg or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4-5 lbs boneless pork, cubed
  • peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cut into chunks

Instructions

  1. Mix together all marinade ingredients. 

    Mix up with cubed pork, cover, and marinate for several hours or overnight. 

    Best cooked over hot coals on the grill on skewers with vegetables. Can also spread in a shallow pan with veg and broil under a hot broiler.

    Serve in sandwiches or with rice. 

Our first BLM rally, and what Catholics can do

We went to our first Black Lives Matter rally today. I was emboldened by our bishop, Peter Libasci, who went to a vigil last night. He brought with him the stump of the Easter Candle. No one was able to go to the Easter Vigil, because churches were locked down, but he brought a light with him, and shared it. 

A friend who was there gave me permission to share these photos:

So today we painted up some signs and went to our local rally, which my husband was covering. I wanted to make a point of being there as a Catholic, so black Catholics could see that they’re not alone. Here is what we came up with (on somewhat short notice):

We brought masks and hand sanitizer and parked several blocks away. We took three cars and arranged a secondary meeting spot if things got hairy. I didn’t expect any violence, but you never know, so we only brought the teenagers, no little kids. 

It was a pretty good crowd for our area. Maybe 600 people? I’m not good at estimating. Loud enough to make a real roar when we got going. We were in the commons that traffic was constantly circling, and people laid on their horns and made an enormous ruckus for about two hours. The city we were in, Keene, is 92.07% white, but I saw many more people of color than usual at the rally. 

Here is a pic my husband took of me and some of my kids:

The crowd was probably 60% people in their 20’s or younger, but there were many old men and women, and including some episcopal clergy and people dressed like, well, New England rednecks, with ill-fitting tank tops and neck tattoos. Nearly everyone had masks, although the social distancing left something to be desired. A few organizers were walking around handing out masks, and several people walked around offering bottled water.

I saw a few ACAB signs and a few calling for the police force to be dismantled. A few signs were profane and some that were just unintelligible, and seemed to be made by people working out their personal issues with cardboard and ballpoint pen. Most of the slogans were expressions of solidarity, calls for justice, and “black lives matter.”

 I was on the calmer side of the commons. We chanted “I can’t breathe” “Black lives matter,” and some call and response: “Say his name: George Floyd” and “Say her name: Breonna Taylor” and “No justice: No peace.” 

A sheriff and some police officers were walking around holding signs that said “We hear you.” I thanked one of them, and he seemed surprised. 

The only person I saw who was carrying anything that resembled a weapon was this fellow. 

He explained that he was there to defend local businesses. His services were not required, though. 

A white man kept circling the crowd waving a huge American flag with a Trump flag attached to the back. He was followed by a small group, but one protestor, Keene resident Tay Jennings, who is black, got in front of the others and held them back, repeatedly urging them, “Let him be, let him be.” 

I prayed, “Jesus, keep everyone safe.” Eventually the flag man left. When the flag man came around, the police officers folding up their “we are listening” signs and took out their radios. A drone hovered overhead and a helicopter kept circling. 

A whiskery old man in a backwards baseball cap cruised around the commons repeatedly, singing — something, maybe sea chanteys and gospel music, and shouting, “Keep it peaceful! Keep it peaceful!” leaving a wake of alcohol fumes. 

I couldn’t hear the speeches at all, and didn’t want to get into the middle of the crowd, so we stayed on the periphery.

There weren’t a lot of kids there. One was the four-year-old daughter of Tay Jennings.

Another child held a sign she had evidently made herself, reading, “I’m sorry that George died.” 

A white mother carried her black son with a sign that said, “When do I stop being cute and start being dangerous?”

I’m ambivalent about giving protest signs to children. 

My sign, “Jesus hates racism,” got some attention from passing drivers. A woman who looked to be in her fifties slowed down and snarled, “Why don’t you get down on your knees and shut your mouth?” I laughed, not knowing what else to do. One other woman had a sneer and some angry response, but several people nodded and called, “Yes, he does!” and one woman shouted happily, “I hate racism, too!” 

We left after about two hours. I don’t know how much longer people congregated in the park. I was glad my kids were there to see what there was to see. 

Now, we live tucked away far from danger. I want to stress: This was a very low risk, positive experience for us. I understand that many people, for various reasons, cannot participate in rallies, and there are rallies that are very different from this one. But if you are Catholic and if you can speak out, you should, somehow or other. You should let the world know, in a way that makes sense for your station in life, that Catholics reject and revile racism.

And speaking out is not enough. I know that. The whole time, I kept thinking, “This is the exciting part. This can’t be all we do.” It’s exhilarating to stand there screaming “Whoooooooo!” and “Yeah!” while trucks honk their horns and people grin and cheer. But this can’t be all we do.  

Here is a thread that collects video of police brutality at rallies

What else can we do? 

Here is a statement from Karianna Frey and Leticia Adams, Catholics who started the #rendyourhearts movement:

We are Catholics, and Catholics of Color, who are exhausted by the continued systemic, institutional, and implicit racism in the United States and at times in our Catholic Church and the effects on the targets of it.

We are broken-hearted for our Black brothers and sisters who for years have been ignored, dismissed, and marginalized by our Country.

We pray for justice for the victims of racism in all its forms, but especially, lethal, and their families and communities. We stand in solidarity with them as Catholic Christians and as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
We believe in the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, and sustained by the Eucharist.

We are one body in Christ and therefore we have a responsibility to fight against the demonic force of racism.
As such, we invite you to join us in observing a nineteen-day period of prayer and fasting as an act of reparation to God for the sin of racism in all of its forms.
From the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, on June 1 through June 19, Juneteenth Day and the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we will pray the Prayer to St. Michael for his protection from spiritual attack, and/ or join our Lady of Sorrows in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and will make daily sacrifices appropriate to our own circumstances for this intention.

This call to action is based on the words of Joel 2:12-13: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Believing in the longstanding Catholic concept of making Acts of Reparation, my friends @kariannafrey and @leticiaoadams have written this statement.

You can share your own words and/or images using the hashtag #rendyourhearts. You can also participate privately if you prefer.

#CatholicChurch #Catholic #antiracism #OneBody #CatholicsforRacialJustice #BlackCatholic #BrownCatholic

Returning to Mass after a long separation can be an emotional experience. Or not.

It’s been a long, dry spell. Many Catholics have never gone this long without receiving the Eucharist since before their first communion.

Now that more and more parishes are finding ways to safely offer public Mass or some form of communion service, many Catholics are taking to social media to describe what an overwhelming emotional experience it has been for them. Some are even sharing photos of themselves with tear-stained cheeks, overcome with emotion after receiving communion again.

Much of this emotional response is surely sincere, a spontaneous outpouring of joy and gratitude after a time of trial and deprivation. It’s understandable to want to share our delight in the Lord with people who will understand.

So let’s set aside the question of how spiritually healthy it is to take and share selfies of pious displays, and look instead to Catholics who aren’t coming to pieces over the opening of churches.

There are a lot of them. There are a lot of Catholics who most certainly want to return to the sacraments, but they aren’t feeling wracking pangs of longing as their separation continues.

They aren’t spending their days in misery and distress, ceaselessly imploring the Holy Spirit to open the church doors again. And when they do receive the Eucharist again after a long time away, they aren’t going boneless with spiritual bliss. They believe in the saving power of God with all their hearts, but they’re not getting very emotional about it.

I’m here to tell you that if that’s how it is for you, it’s okay. It doesn’t prove there’s something inferior about your faith. It doesn’t mean you’re lukewarm or spiritually mediocre. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the sacraments, and it doesn’t mean you don’t understand how precious they are. It might mean any number of things, but it’s certainly not automatically a sign that you’re the wrong kind of Catholic.

Emotions are just emotions. They are not nothing, but they are not the same as faith. Sometimes emotions come to us unbidden from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are given to us as a gift. But sometimes…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

What’s for supper? Vol. 214: Hot, hot, hot

Last week, it was snowing. This week, it was in the 90’s, so we went all in with the summer food. No ragrets!

SATURDAY
Double cheeseburgers! 

We had another long day of lugging rocks, and Damien grilled. I was so hungry, I almost ate my own hand along with the burger, so I didn’t get a picture.

SUNDAY
Cumin chicken thighs and chickpeas with lemony onions, pita, and yogurt sauce

We haven’t had this dish for a while! Very popular. Extremely juicy chicken with a fabulous skin, crunchy, flavorful chickpeas, and piquant onions.

It’s just an excellent meal.

 

Jump to Recipe

The yogurt marinade is just a few ingredients, but you want to set it up early so you can marinate the chicken for at least a few hours. That’s how the chicken gets so juicy and the skin gets so fabulous. Then you can walk away from it for the rest of the day, and throw the chicken and chickpeas on a pan to cook in the oven,

and make the yogurt sauce and lemony onions while it’s cooking.

So much flavor with very little effort. I actually only found the lemons in time to make the yogurt sauce, so I quietly used lime juice in the marinade and the onions, and no one noticed. 

MONDAY
Grilled meats

We usually have a big family cookout on Memorial Day. Sigh, sigh, sigh. Damien did make his excellent sugar rubbed smoked chicken thighs

 

Jump to Recipe

and beer brats with onions three ways on his amazing interchangeable cinderblock meat altar situation.

Delicious as always. I had my beer brat with onions boiled in beer and a sweet, hot mustard of some kind, and it was very tasty.

Dora made potato salad

 

Jump to Recipe

 

and I cut up the first watermelon of the year. 

TUESDAY
Grilled ham and cheese on sourdough, little pickles, cherries

A very fine summer meal. There was some consternation over the fact that I only bought one package of ham, so I offered to have salami in mine, which caused even more consternation. I’m not saying ham and salami are interchangeable, but they’re . . . you know what, I’m not on trial here. I took my plate outside, where only the birds were shouting

WEDNESDAY
Caprese chicken sandwiches, fries

Another summer favorite. The tomatoes are improving. I roasted the chicken breasts in olive oil and plenty of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and I had some sliced provolone instead of mozzarella. We had the sandwiches with ciabatta rolls, tomatoes and basil, chicken, and plenty of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and kosher salt. The pepper has mysteriously disappeared.

Someday, I will make a balsamic vinegar reduction, but on this day, easy was perfect. 

THURSDAY
Carnitas, beans and rice

J.R.’s Art Place carnitas recipe to the rescue again. Pork butt, salt, pepper, oregano, Mexican coke, oil, oranges, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves.

It’s so tasty and so easy, but I’m gonna adapt it for the Instant Pot next time I make it.  Summer is when I like this appliance the best, because you can make a hot meal without turning the whole kitchen into an oven. 

I also made some quick beans and rice.

 

Jump to Recipe

It was too dry, so I glopped in some Goya Culantro Cooking Base. It wasn’t the best beans and rice I ever had, but it was fine. Love the carnitas. Some salsa verde would have made this meal perfect. 

 

FRIDAY

Today I intend to make this mango crumb coffee cake, eggs, and something called “baby cakes,” which seem to be small, round hash browns. The only reason I bought them is because they are called “baby cakes.” 

Since I haven’t made dinner yet, I don’t have a picture. But I do have a picture of my menu blackboard.

I can see I’m going to have to start hiding the chalk. 

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • .5 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 20 chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Rub all over chicken and let marinate until the sugar melts a bit. 

  2. Light the fire, and let it burn down to coals. Shove the coals over to one side and lay the chicken on the grill. Lower the lid and let the chicken smoke for an hour or two until they are fully cooked. 

 

potato salad

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs potatoes, scrubbed (peeled if you like)
  • 3 ribs celery, stringed and chopped
  • 1 med red onion, diced
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

for dressing:

  • 1 cup mayo
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Put potatoes and the three eggs in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, cover loosely, and simmer until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork (15 minutes or so) 

  2. Drain the potatoes. Fish out the eggs, peel, and chop them.

  3. When they are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite-sized pieces and mix them up with the olive oil. 

  4. Add the chopped eggs, celery, onion, and parsley. 

  5. Mix together the dressing ingredients and add to potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate and serve cold.  

Cumin chicken thighs with chickpeas in yogurt sauce

A one-pan dish, but you won't want to skip the sides. Make with red onions and cilantro in lemon juice, pita bread and yogurt sauce, and pomegranates, grapes, or maybe fried eggplant. 

Ingredients

  • 18 chicken thighs
  • 32 oz full fat yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp cumin, divided
  • 4-6 cans chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 red onions, sliced thinly

For garnishes:

  • 2 red onions sliced thinly
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • a bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 32 oz Greek yogurt for dipping sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade early in the day or the night before. Mix full fat Greek yogurt and with lemon juice, four tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of cumin, and mix this marinade up with chicken parts, thighs or wings. Marinate several hours. 

    About an hour before dinner, preheat the oven to 425.

    Drain and rinse four or five 15-oz cans of chickpeas and mix them up with a few glugs of olive oil, the remaining tablespoon of cumin, salt and pepper, and two large red onions sliced thin.

    Spread the seasoned chickpeas in a single layer on two large sheet pans, then make room among the chickpeas for the marinated chicken (shake or scrape the extra marinade off the chicken if it’s too gloppy). Then it goes in the oven for almost an hour. That’s it for the main part.

    The chickpeas and the onions may start to blacken a bit, and this is a-ok. You want the chickpeas to be crunchy, and the skin of the chicken to be a deep golden brown, and crisp. The top pan was done first, and then I moved the other one up to finish browning as we started to eat. Sometimes when I make this, I put the chickpeas back in the oven after we start eating, so some of them get crunchy and nutty all the way through.

Garnishes:

  1. While the chicken is cooking, you prepare your three garnishes:

     -Chop up some cilantro for sprinkling if people like.

     -Slice another two red onions nice and thin, and mix them in a dish with a few glugs of lemon juice and salt and pepper and more cilantro. 

     -Then take the rest of the tub of Greek yogurt and mix it up in another bowl with lemon juice, a generous amount of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

 

 

Beans and rice

A good side dish, a main course for meatless meals, or to serve inside carnitas, etc.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1 15-oz cans red or black beans, drained
  • 1 20-oz can diced tomatoes with some of the juice
  • 1 diced jalapeno
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook rice. Add rest of ingredients, adjusting spices to taste. If it's too dry, add more tomato juice. 

Dr. Peter V. Sampo and what he built

Dr. Peter V. Sampo, photo courtesy of Kathleen Kelly Marks

Dr. Peter Sampo has died. He was already white-haired when we met him in the 1980’s, when he had recently founded a new little Catholic liberal arts college in the woods in New Hampshire. It was one of four colleges he founded. Most often, you would see him smiling a broad, genial smile, or gravely, intently listening from under his heroic eyebrows; or else he was throwing his head back and laughing his characteristic Dr. Sampo laugh: HAH-hah-hahhhhh. He loved to sit in the cafeteria, lingering with his teachers and his students, talking and listening after meals until he would stand up, push back his chair, and say, “Well, time to get back to work.”

He founded four colleges, as I said. But it was more than that. Over and over again, he told us that the education he wanted to give us was not for now, but for twenty years from now. That was over twenty years ago, and I remember how we would roll our eyes at his repetition. 

And he did have his favorite set of ideas that he would roll out, time and time again, over and over, to class after class of the young people he taught. But he was right. He knew that most of us didn’t then understand or appreciate the richness that he was laying out for us, but he trusted that someday we would. And I do. The things I learned in the school he made are the best, most important things I know, and he did his best to found a school that fostered freedom so his students could learn, if they would. It wasn’t until I started looking around for colleges for my own children that I realized just what an unusual, extraordinary thing Dr. Sampo had built. 

He was a hearty, vigorous man, never at a loss for words, never abashed. So many of his students have beautiful stories of his generosity, his gentle kindness, his concern. Apparently he would cook linguine for the whole school; apparently, when he saw that a student in Rome didn’t have much to eat, he quietly gave him a wad of cash. I was not close to him, and I didn’t like everything I saw him do; but I saw him grow kinder and more gentle with age, less willing to overlook sorrow, more willing to stop and find out how he could help. He was willing to adapt and change, even as an old man. What an amazing thing: Willing to change, even as an old man. And tirelessly teaching, and building, and rebuilding.

The college I was at was always in flux, always struggling to make itself into something better, always in danger of collapsing into chaos. Sometimes the college relocated temporarily to a hotel; sometimes the whole student body went to live in Rome, because (the story goes) they couldn’t afford to maintain two campuses at once, and it was more important to be in Rome. Sometimes the campus was home to kittens who hadn’t yet gotten the message that it was a college now, and no longer a barn.

His students dressed well for class, out of respect for each other and for the rock solid curriculum his school offered; and the women’s dressy shoe heels would sink quietly into the soft ground, because the great books were there, but paving was still a plan for the future. I was only vaguely aware at the time what tremendous effort and single-mindedness it must have taken to keep building, to keep breaking new ground, to keep putting food on the table in fat years and in lean, and to keep starting over, tirelessly spreading a rich table of ideas for a new set of freshmen, year after year.

Once there was a morning meeting with the whole student body, and the director of student life announced a new plan for the amorphous dirt parking lot, which was haphazard and dangerous. In the new system, there would be a one-way traffic flow, designed to maximize space and minimize chaos. We were supposed to park head in, diagonally, along both sides of a central oblong. It was a good plan, and it would work, as long as everyone paid attention and did what they were supposed to do.

 

Dr. Sampo stood up and thanked the student life director for explaining everything and for making such a good plan. Then he said, “It’ll never work,” and he laughed his Dr. Sampo laugh, HAH-hah-hahhhhh.

Imagine knowing what people are like, and forging ahead anyway. Imagine knowing how likely it is that your plans will pan out, and still going through with it, because it is a good plan, and eventually it will be worth it. Maybe in twenty years.

He and Dr. Mumbach came to my house a few years ago so I could interview them for an article.  As he passed by the table I had amateurishly restored with leftover bathroom tiles, he rapped it with his knuckles and said, with wonder and delight, “You made this?” As if I had done something spectacular. Much as I wrack my brain, I can’t recall him ever boasting about anything he had made himself. 

One more story. When I was at Thomas More, every student did a “junior project” — an intensive, months-long focused study on a single important figure. You were supposed to learn everything worth knowing about the body of work, and then, when your hour had come, you would creep into the library and take a seat at the head of a long, polished table, where all the teachers were waiting. They would ask questions, and you were expected to give a cogent, well-researched answer.

My junior project was on the poet Richard Wilbur. Dr. Sampo, who focused on political science, let the literature professors direct the conversation, but he did insist on bringing up one of the few Wilbur poems I never liked, “For the New Railway Station in Rome.” 

He asked me a leading question about the poem, which I veered away from. Then he asked me to recite the final stanzas, which I could not do. Then he asked me to recite the final lines, which, with increasing misery, I also could not do. So he leaned forward and asked, gently but insistently, “Simcha, what does it say over the doors of heaven?” and I bleated out, “HOMO FECIT!” Then he sat back and laughed his Dr. Sampo laugh, HAH-hah-hahhhhh.

Homo fecit: Made by man. When most men would have rested on their laurels, Peter Sampo looked around to see whether he could start building again. He was a great man. No one can number the good things that could rightly bear the words: Peter Sampo made it. 

 

Not dead yet! I feel happy!

Hello, just popping in to say I must be going. I’ve been writing a metric ton of stuff (I said “metric ton” in an effort to avoid saying “shit ton,” which I feel is vulgar), but it’s all for some mythical future publication date, so the tumbleweeds have been building up here.

I’ve also been doing so much gardening, because I don’t have any babies and I guess I’m just locked into this “must be nurturing” thing; and also May is usually stupid-busy with concerts and plays and graduations and field trips, but this year, it ain’t. So I’m gardening. And I’ve been descending into pool preparation madness, by which I mean digging a circle twenty feet in circumference in soil that is mostly rock, but which cannot have any rock, for the sake of the pool. 

So in the meantime, here’s a few things I thought you would like to know!

I don’t know who Blippi is, and I want to keep it that way. 

We finished The Magician’s Nephew and are about to start The Wind in the Willows. Here is Benny enjoying Uncle Andrew’s comeuppance:

If anyone cares, we read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, and then we read the rest in whatever order we feel like, as long as The Last Battle is last. You can get worked up over this if you want, but I’d rather go dig rocks.

A bunch of Australians formed a Russian men’s choir as an excuse to get away from their families, and it kind of got away from them

Mark Shea has finally broken free of Patheos and has his own site again.

One of the very finest things on social media today is a group called Animals In Perdicaments. It’s cheered me up so many times. Ha ha, those animals!

The origin of the phrase “crazy as a bedbug” is because bedbugs act crazy.

“Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes is an okay song

but three days of it on a loop in my head is just too much. And no, “Gardenia” by Iggy Pop is not really a step up.

Oh my gosh, shut up!

A Bolivian pan flute orchestra has been trapped in a castle in Germany surrounded by wolves and ghosts.

I almost bought the ground liner that had a picture of an elephant stomping on it, but ultimately went with the one that has a picture of a gorilla stomping on it, because it shows a broken bottle underneath the gorilla not poking through

Here is the most sane thing I’ve read about how to live in the next several months or year or whatever

Some lady decided to make sourdough bread using her own vaginal yeast, and that’s pretty bad, but the part that really pissed me off was this section of the recipe:

Get out of here.

Don Clemmer spent a lot of time thinking and writing about Fr. Pavone so you don’t have to.

Here is a photo of my great grandparents, Zelda and Feivel, my grandmother Hana, and two of my great-uncles, Gosel and Schloima. They left Kiev in 192o or so for the usual reasons (bolsheviks, pogroms). This is the visa photo taken in Bucharest. 

Zelda became Jenny, which is my middle name. Feivel became Phillip, which is my father’s name. Schloima became Sammy and, and Gosel became Jerry This one is my grandmother, Hana, who became Anne in Brooklyn:

And here is your face when you had to sell everything you own and leave your home with two children with less than 24 hours notice, and it takes so long to get off the continent, you have a whole other baby along the way, and you still have a whole ocean to get across before you can start your life over:

The story goes that they made their way a boat called the S.S. Madonna, which is lovely. The less lovely part is that someone on the boat told my great grandmother that, if she didn’t shut that baby up, they would throw him overboard. So after they got to Ellis Island, and when the child was growing up, if he ever acted up, his mother would say, “I SHOULD HAVE THROWN YOU OVERBOARD LIKE THEY TOLD ME TO.”

I guess that’s about all that’s new with me. How about you? How are you? Want some rocks? I have rocks.

Oh, one more thing. Here is a video I made for a What’s For Supper? post several weeks ago, but I forgot to upload it. It is me inserting cheese sticks into sausages, and odds are good it will end up on a fetish site within the week.

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I’m sure my great grandmother would be proud.