Summer book swap redux!

Last year, I had a pretty good idea that we followed through on in an okayish manner. The idea was to swap book recommendations with my kids over the summer: I’d give them a good book I think they’d enjoy, and they give me a book they like and that they think I’d enjoy. I said:

I like this approach for several reasons. They will read at least some good books, of course; but also, I’ll know more about what captivates them, and we’ll have more to talk about together. They’ll know I care about what interests them. And we’ll be doing something as part of a relationship, rather than just because I’m in power and I can make them do what I want.

As you will see, it was a less-than-howling success; but some of the kids still want to do it this summer, so I’m assembling a list. Here’s what I have so far, starting with the oldest kids:

Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Beowulf: A New Telling by Robert Nye
The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

How did it go last summer? Here’s what I optimistically called the “first” summer book swap list:

I was supposed to read:

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

And my kids were supposed to read:

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
The Space Merchants by C.M. Kornbluth and Frederick Pohl
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Arthur M. Miller
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Here are my thoughts on the books I was supposed to read:

 The Wee Free Men: I either read part of it and then lost it, or else read it all and forgot most of it. I do love Terry Pratchett, but vastly prefer the Discworld books. He’s a great writer for people who love alternate universes which are disturbingly like our own; bizarre, strangely compelling characters; and very witty, sardonic turns of phrase, but who have started to notice the Douglas Adams’ world is awfully dreary after a while. I wrote a bit about Pratchett here.

The Joy Luck Club I did a quick review of this book and the next one here:

Here’s a book I avoided my whole life, because something something Oprah something, bestseller ptui ptui. You know: Lit major reasons. Well, my older girls assigned it to me, and it’s great. It’s great! It’s miraculously light on agenda and heavy on well-conceived characters, searingly memorable scenes, and a beautiful melancholy that stays with you (because you needed that). Each chapter could stand alone as a well-crafted short story. It’s not Dostoevsky, but it’s worth your time.

I recently re-read this, and it was as good as I remembered.

The House of the Scorpion 
It’s a dystopian YA novel (I know. WHERE DID I EVER FIND SUCH A THING?). The author’s vocabulary has an oddly stunted, juvenile quality to it, but the way the story unfolds is pretty skillful, and the plot is a pretty good adventure. The action takes place in Opium, a country that runs between the US and the former Mexico, where super-wealthy drug lords control the lives of everyone else, even putting brain implants on some, to make them pliant, witless slaves, and making clones of themselves to use as ever-ready organ donors. But . . . dun dun dun . . . one clone is different. Not bad at all, and unexpectedly Catholic in its ideas and also explicitly in the plot, in places.

The scene in the whale graveyard is pretty pretty good. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I . . . never even checked this one out of the library. Sorry, Elijah.

The Luck Uglies: 
It’s written by someone who enjoys reading quirky, fascinating, fantastical story about scrappy kids solving mysteries and not even realizing that you can have anachronisms, but you have to earn them. There were pieces of good stories and good characters in there, like bits of good salami in a mushy, underseasoned pasta salad to which someone has added, for some reason, marshmallows. Still, the salami was there.

The Unwanteds: Also never got around to reading it. Sorry, Sophia.

The One and Only Ivan: It was okay. It’s a first person narrative by a captive gorilla in a very crummy zoo. It’s done skillfully, and I don’t have any actual problems with it, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. You wants a sad animal story, you reads Charlotte’s Web. The characters had enough depth to save it from being truly emotionally manipulative, but it sure waltzed right up close to that line.

Here’s the scoop on the books I gave to the kids to read last year. The number is the age of the kid when he or she read the book.

The Loved One. She (19) said it was “pretty good, kinda grim.” Can’t argue with that. Hoping she will read more Waugh.

The Space Merchants. She (18) claims I never told her to read it, and anyway, I made her read it several years ago when it was above her reading level, and she didn’t like it. She didn’t like the chicken. So there you are.

The Great Divorce. She (17) liked it! She said it was weird. She didn’t quite finish it, since we didn’t order it until near the end of summer, but she would like to get back to it. This is an accessible and entertaining but Very Important Book, and I’d really like all the kids to have it in their imaginations.

A Canticle for Leibowitz (15). He read the first part but got bogged down in the second part, which is definitely the boggiest part. I encouraged him to try again, because the third part will knock his socks off; and he says he will.

Tom Sawyer (13). He got up to the part where he got the other kid to paint the fence for him, and then he got bored and dropped it. Bum.

The Great Gilly Hopkins (11). She says she couldn’t find it. Another kid said, “I know where there’s a copy!” and the first kid said “Shut up.”

The Princess and Curdie (9). She says I actually told her to read Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aikin, instead, but she didn’t actually read that, either.

The Trumpet of the Swan (8). She didn’t like it. It wasn’t exciting enough. Humph! I thought it was a very exciting book, what with all the flying around, but I guess it missed the mark. At least she read it.

So it looks like either I did a better job of choosing suitable books for the older kids, or else the older kids are just better people, and the younger ones are jerks. You have to admit, I did a fantastic job of finding an image to illustrate this post, though.

Happy summer! And wish me luck as the kids assemble their list.

 

What I’ve learned from my mistakes as a writer

Someone recently asked me, “Did you even stop and think about what would happen if you wrote what you did?” Many years ago, the answer would probably be, “Nope.” It just popped into my head, so I wrote it.

Today, the answer is almost certainly, “Yes, I thought about it all night long.” And I prayed about it; I probably ran it by some trusted editor friends; and if it was a tricky subject, I probably shed some tears. It’s exhausting, but I consider it part of my job.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by stevepb via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Suicide and abortion stem from the same lie

Those looking from the outside can readily see that severely depressed people do not actually need or deserve death, no matter what they say. Instead, they need and deserve to be rescued from the dark lies that call death their only choice.

There is no easy answer to intense human suffering, but one thing is sure: We do not show love by enabling despair, by affirming the lies that make death attractive, by keeping other humans in a dark hole. Love is truth, even painful truth. Love never affirms lies.

But if we see this so clearly in the case of senseless, tragic suicides, why do we hedge when it comes to abortion?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image by Thom Chandler via Flickr (Creative Commons)

“IDK How But They Found Me” puts on a great, gracious show

What an exciting week I’m having! We just got back from the seacoast, 2+ hours away, where I was acting as chaperone for the third and fourth grade on a tide pooling expedition. My phone died without warning on the way home, and I had to get myself and four kids back to school JUST BY BEING SMART. This is a MAJOR triumph for someone who has spent most of her life either lost or about to get lost.

Yesterday, we went to the beach with my father and had a cookout; and the day before that, I drove three young parsons to The Palladium in Worcester, MA, to watch a show, which had VERY LOUD music and NO CHAIRS TO SIT ON. My college girls were looking for cheap shows for the summer, and came across this duo, I Don’t Know How, But They Found Me.

Was I expecting to enjoy myself? Nnnnnot really. I listened to a few songs, and they seemed like a fun band, kind of emo but with a sense of humor. I liked this song:

The lead singer and bassist, Dallen Weekes, used to be in Panic! At the Disco, which I have heard of because I have teenagers– specifically, teenagers who have discovered that life is too short to be too cool to listen to pretty okay music. I’m sorry, I can’t stop talking. I’m so tired. Anyway, Worcester more or less shuts down at 5 p.m., so we were tramping around looking for an open restaurant, and came across the other member of IDK How But They Found Me, Ryan Seaman. My daughter got up the nerve to ask for a selfie, which he cheerfully agreed to.

Nice guy, although rather blue around the hair. So then we got some sammiches, the waited in line for an hour while I cursed my shoe choice and worried about this girl ahead of us, who was wearing fishnet stockings under her skin-tight jeans. How itchy! Gosh. Then they patted us down, because it’s Worcester. I thought to myself more than once as we waited for a million years, “We, as a group, may not smell great.”

The opening band was pretty crappy. They could sing, but not well enough to justify their terrible attitude. Some kind of emo punk thing, but even more boring than usual. Then the guy’s shirt fell off almost immediately, and he was just this skinny little thing! My stars. My feet hurt so much and my purse was getting heavier and heavier (also I had brought my jacket because I thought it might be chilly. It was not chilly), but the floor was a little sticky, and the girl next to me was flailing herself around, so I just kept holding it. Hello, my name is Eunice, and I am 83 years old. Papa was a general in the war, and he told me never to put down my purse, and I never did.

So finally the headliner band came out, and instantly, the night was rescued. Really good stuff! The lead singer really worked for the audience’s attention every last minute. Here’s a little scrap one of my kids caught:

A post shared by ✨Lena ✨ (@missfortune1977) on

He had complete control of that room. It was kind of amazing. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but he was essentially telling emo dad jokes the whole time, and it was so much fun. He had me singing along to songs I’d never heard before. Here’s one of their songs that you’ve probably heard:

Solid song. The singer/bassist and the drummer were clearly having fun, and seemed to enjoy being together. It wasn’t just a concert, it was a whole act. They played a good, long set, and then came out for an encore, which was “Nobody Likes The Opening Band” (see above).

But, he made sure everyone knew he wasn’t talking about the actual opening band; but it was a song about how no one wants to get involved with new, unfamiliar things, but give them a chance, and maybe it’ll turn into something good. Then, halfway through the song, he stopped and called out the lead singer of the actual opening band, and had him sing a special verse, which was “nobody likes the headlining band.”

Wasn’t that nice? The opening band really did suck, but here was a roomful of a few hundred pierced, tattered, silly-haired young parsons who were very eager to be extremely edgy, all watching and adoring this undeniably very cool man going out of his way to be gracious and generous to someone who could be considered his competitor. Maybe it was the pain in my feet, but I was quite moved.

So they don’t have an album out yet, and only have a few original songs, but they are touring around, and boy those were some cheap tickets, so grab some if you can! It was a good performance in every way.

Then we drove home and I got pulled over twice. Humph. Nobody likes the lady with out-of-state plates driving maybe a little bit on the quick side after midnight.

I’ve come to save Father’s Day with this free, printable card!

Because you know and I know that you didn’t get a present, and here it is Wednesday. And no, he doesn’t want a report on the cat’s DNA for father’s day. Yes, I saw it had free shipping.

Instead, print out this heartfelt Father’s Day Blessing card:

fathers day card pdf

I even deliberately didn’t put “happy father’s day” anywhere on it, so you would have something to write on the inside. Print, fold, and sign with love and sincerity, you bum.

What’s for supper? Vol. 131: Paint with all the colors of the food!

Lots of pretty summer food this week! Here’s what we had (carbs at the end). I struggled mightily with the photos in this post. If they turned out sideways or upside down, it’s because WordPress is evil, and no other reason.

SATURDAY
Burgers, chips, salad

No pics, but mighty tasty, cooked on the grill.

SUNDAY
Grilled clams in wine sauce, grilled chicken, grilled corn; ice cream and berries

This was a glorious meal. Damien went out for chicken and corn to grill, and discovered that clams were a dollar a pound, so he bought many pounds.

Here cleaned the clams, then made this sauce:

Coarsely chop a big onion, and saute it lightly in a little olive oil and a small pinch of red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper. Once cooked, add a 1/4 bottle of white wine and two sticks of melted butter.

Then put the clams on the grill and let them cook, without turning them, until they pop open. Then put them in a bowl and cover them with the sauce.

You guys, they were so good. I’m predisposed to any kind of seafood, but the flavor of that sauce was out of this world.

The chicken was also fabulous! A sweet char on the outside, juicy on the inside, and the combination worked well. Really good outdoor food.

Here’s the rub he made, for 20 chicken thighs:

1.5 cups brown sugar 1.5 cups
.5 cups white sugar
2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs garlic powder
salt and pepper

Then he grilled it all!

 

The corn, you can grill right in the husks until they’re charred, and it comes out so very sweet and juicy.

We buttered it and sprinkled it with chili lime powder.

Look at the carnage. Look at that lake of butter and wine! I completely shamed myself with the number of clams I scarfed down.

We had it with cans of Narragansett Beer, Made On Honor.

Dessert: vanilla ice cream with blueberries and strawberries. Oh sweet, sweet summertime (almost).

MONDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, apple-cabbage-broccoli slaw, steak fries

This meal looked nicer in person, I promise. I put a pork shoulder in the crock pot with a can of beer, half a jar of jalapeno slices and juice, some minced garlic, and salt and pepper. Possibly an onion.

I really wanted to use my new used food processor, but all the recipes for broccoli slaw that I found online started with “take one bag of broccoli slaw,” and people who write stuff like that should feel bad about themselves. I guess they can follow up with a cake recipe, with first ingredient: cake. Then they can mentor some young people and advise them that the best way to find a job is to make up a resume in which they describe their current successful career. Bah!

So I took slaw matters into my own hands and made this:

I fed into the food processor:

Half a head of red cabbage
one pound of broccoli, stem and florets
two cored green apples with skin on

Then I mixed that up with:

1/3 cup mayo
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup white sugar
chili lime seasoning
It didn’t strictly need the sugar, with the apples in there, and I’ll probably skip it next time. I thought it went very well with the pulled pork, and Damien liked it, too. The rotten kids wouldn’t even try it, even though I told them about the sugar.
TUESDAY
Sausage, mushroom, and cheese omelettes; hash browns

Normally, I can make omelettes. The trick is not to turn it too soon, but the real trick is to have a decent pan, either nonstick or stainless steel. Then I go through a stage of self-recrimination where I demand to know why I thought it would be quick and easy to whip up twelve omelettes to order. But normally, I can make omelettes.

Well, not today! The damn things just wouldn’t hold together. This was the very best one I made, and it’s a tough little beast:

Then Damien came home and had pity on me, so he made his own. Guess what? This is how his turned out:

I think it was the eggs. I think they froze and then thawed, and they turned against us. We need this entire generation of eggs to die out before we can ever have omelettes again.

WEDNESDAY
Pork ramen

Chicken ramen with sliced pork, mixed vegetables, sriracha sesame seeds, soft boiled eggs, and a little dulse (seaweed), with crunchy noodles. Good stuff.

I took some boneless pork chops and sauteed them in olive oil. When they were almost done cooking, I gave them a good dousing with soy sauce, then finished cooking, and sliced them thinly.

THURSDAY
Chicken drumsticks; homemade tortilla chips with corn and bean salad

We had to be out around dinner time, so I made the food ahead of time and served it cold. The drumsticks, I just drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them.

 

I still have a ludicrous backlog of tortillas, so I cut them into triangles, tossed them with olive oil, and sprinkled them with chili lime powder. I spread the triangles in shallow pans and baked them for . . . I dunno, a while. A good idea, but the execution left something to be desired. These really need more room, and more shuffling around, then I had time to give them. Still, not bad. I made them as a delivery device for this pretty corn salad I made:

I mixed together:

12 oz sweet corn
a can of black beans (1.5 cups)
a bunch of chopped cilantro
a 10 oz Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chili, lime juice and cilantro
1/2 small red onion, diced (1/3 cup)
plenty of salt, pepper,  and chili lime Taijin seasoning
and probably 1/4 cup of lime juice
and set it to cool in the fridge for a few hours.
I thought it was really good! Lots of flavor and crunch, and a refreshing way to eat vegetables. Sweeter than I expected. I would not be ashamed to bring this to a potluck, either.
FRIDAY
Tuna noodle casserole

Shh, don’t tell the kids. We’re making steaks and eating them all by ourselves, in honor of the Sacred Heart.

Here come the carbs!

HAMBURGERS:

hamburger: 0

ketchup 1 Tbs 5g
mustard: 0
pickles:0
bun: 23
15 chips: 16
mixed greens: 1

PULLED PORK:

pork: 1

1/2 deli roll (L’Oven Fresh center split deli roll): 19.5
10 steak fries: 36
ketchup 2 Tbs: 10

OMELETTES:

2 Season’s Choice hash browns: 42

ketchup: 2 Tbs, 10
eggs: 0
butter: 0
sausage: 0
1/4 cup cheese: 1g

RAMEN:

1 package Top Ramen, chicken flavor: 26
Pork cooked in olive oil and sesame oil: 0

soft boiled egg: 0
1/4 cup mixed asian veg: 2

CHICKEN, CORN SALAD:

chips:

2 medium tortillas, 16 chips: 48

olive oil: 0
Tajin seasoning: 0
drumsticks:
chicken, oil, salt, pepper: 0
bean and corn mix:
12 oz sweet corn: 64
black beans,1.5 cups: 72
cilantro: negligible
10 oz Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chili, lime juice and cilantro: 15
1/2 sm red onion (1/3 cup): 16
salt, pepper: 0
lime juice: 0
Taijin seasoning: 0
Makes about 4.5 cups;
64 + 72 + 15 + 16 = 167
18.55g per half cup

TUNA NOODLE:

1-1/4 cups dry egg noodles: 38
tuna: 0
cream of mushroom: 1/2 c : 11
1 oz chips: 16
1-1/2 cups corn flakes: 39

mayo:0
ketchup,  1 Tbs: 5
vinegar: 0

In which I answer anything, Vol. 2

You’re too generous! I had to save about half the questions for next time.

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Q. Who was worse – Samantha Bee or Roseanne?

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A. This is like asking which is worse, the color of the carpet in the Hindenburg or the color of the barstool upholstery in the Hindenburg. There may be a legitimate answer, but on the other hand, KA-BLAMMO.
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 Q. Why a duck?

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A. According to Wikipedia,

The duck is a recurring reference throughout the Marxes’ and especially Groucho’s career. His signature walk was called “the duck walk” and on Groucho’s television program You Bet Your Life a stuffed duck made up to resemble Groucho would drop from the ceiling to give contestants money if they said the day’s secret word. Ducks are the only animals that perform lines in the song “Everyone Says I Love You” in the Marx Brothers’ fourth film, Horse Feathers. Their fifth film was called Duck Soup. 
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Though scholarly, this entry fails to mention that ducks are just intrinsically funny, and that’s why. Wikipedia also notes that the article contains original research. I also have my doubts about the construction of “Marxes’.”
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Q. You’re stranded on a desert island with your children. There is no food. Who do you eat first?

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A. Anyone without a summer job.
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Q. When you see FB requests for prayer, what sort of prayer do you offer up? I usually say a Hail Mary, but that’s if I stop scrolling…
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A. A Hail Mary if it’s a “stop everything and ask for a miracle for this person you know well.” Otherwise, probably a “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy” or “Jesus, so-and-so needs your help right now,” plus a mental note that this person is officially included in my evening intentions, whether I remember it then or not. I’m lazy, but I work with my laziness, rather than thinking I should be less lazy and then not doing anything at all.
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Q. Re: the yogurt marinated chicken with chickpeas recipe. Did the chickpeas actually get crunchy when I cooked it? There was so much chicken drippings that most of the chickpeas were soft and oily and none of them got crunchy.
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A. Occasionally they do, and I don’t know what kind of garbanzo voodoo that is. Usually I serve chicken and softer chickpeas to whoever’s hungriest, and then put the rest of the chickpeas back in the oven for 7-8 minutes to crisp up. We don’t even all fit in the dining room at once, so we have sort of a rolling dinnertime most nights.
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Q. Three men in a cafe order a meal the total cost of which is $15. They each contribute $5. The waiter takes the money to the chef who recognizes the three as friends and asks the waiter to return $5 to the men.

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The waiter is not only poor at mathematics but dishonest and instead of going to the trouble of splitting the $5 between the three he simply gives them $1 each and pockets the remaining $2 for himself.

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Now, each of the men effectively paid $4, the total paid is therefore $12. Add the $2 in the waiters pocket and this comes to $14.

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Where has the other $1 gone from the original $15?

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A. Well, friend-o, my SAT scores were as lopsided at a nursing mother whose baby doesn’t like the left side of the bed. I can divide grams of carbs by the current dinner ratio, and then I hit a wall. Luckily, I don’t care.
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Q. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
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Q. Where do you bury your Soros money?
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A. Directly under my altar to Bamophette, goddess of toxic feminism. Around it I keep a little mandrake root garden, which I water with the blood of gentiles once a year on Chuck Norris’ birthday. I got the idea on Pinterest.
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Q. Can blondes wear yellow?
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A. This is what my kids call “physically illegal.” They say this because (a) they don’t know what words mean and (b) they are trying to be annoying, so don’t listen to them. If it makes you feel awesome, then wear it, as long as your ass cheeks aren’t hanging out. That’s just stupid.
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Q. I have three kids. My mental health is taxed out anyway, and parenting as you know is hard. I’m remaining open to life out of obedience to church teaching, not a sense of love or internal belief. How do you remain open to life in such a real way, and what’s your advice for folks like me?
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A. Parenting is hard. I would say that doing something out of obedience is very much like doing it out of love. At any rate, you’re sure not going to get any closer to loving the Lord if you start out with disobedience; so you’re on the right track.
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As far as being open to life: As long as you’re not using artificial contraception, pursuing abortion, or abusing your spouse, your marriage is open to life. Being open to life doesn’t mean “hoping and praying to have more and more and more babies.” It means being honest about what sex is, acting accordingly, and making your choices according to the true needs of the people in your family. Very often, that looks like having three lovely, exhausting children.
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Q. What is the average air speed velocity of swallow laden with a coconut? (Both African and European)
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A. Same number as the odds I’ll ever do an AMA and not get this question.
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Q. What would you do for a klondike bar?
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A. I would buy two packs of them if they’re on sale, but my involvement ends there, as chocolate is a migraine trigger.
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Q. What are your favourite desserts?
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A. Make it with lemon or lime and I’m all over it.
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Q. What was the best online criticism of your work that you ever read? Not something crazy or mean but something that caused you to think “That person has a point. I will adjust accordingly.”
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A. I gave this question its own whole essay! Stay tuned.
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Q. Do you agree with Pope Saint John Paul II calling abortion a holocaust?
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A. I don’t feel strongly about it either way, and I have little patience for proxy arguments, which I think this one usually is. Many of those who object to the word “holocaust” are really objecting to the idea of being unequivocally pro-life; and many who defend the use of the word “holocaust” are not so much pro-life as they are anti-pro-choicers.
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Q. How do you get an almost-one-year-old to let you brush his brand new teeth, that took eleven months to cut?
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A. As a bad mother, I don’t bother. These things do get easier once you have a good supply of older kids for the younger ones to imitate.
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Q. Do you think we will eventually colonize Antarctica?
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A. It never occurred to me to wonder. I did recently find out that “arktos” means “bear” in Greek, and that’s where Antarctica got its name: by not having bears. I follow this same policy.
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Q. Scotch, Bourbon or Irish?
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A. I’m just not a big fan of yellow booze. If pressed, I’d have to choose bourbon, but never again will I drink bourbon out of a plastic Arizona Diamondbacks cup. Brr.
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Q. How do you convince/teach an 8, a 6, and a 4 y/o to not terrorize each other?
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A. You could try making the aggressive kid be the victim’s slave for half an hour, which redirects their energy. But really the only way to attack this problem is to address it consistently every single time it happens, no matter what else is going on, until the rotten kid gets the message; and once you start making headway, you should expect relapses.

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Q. Also, how do you teach an extremely curious 8 y/o with low impulse control to stop breaking everything?

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A. Sorry, I have no idea. Maybe start helping him to notice when he’s getting that “must mess with stuff” feeling, so he can do a self-intervention, and instead choose a pre-planned alternate activity, like popping bubble wrap or something? That sounds kind of lame. But I’m a big believer in teaching kids to be aware of what they’re doing and to get in the habit of making choices, rather than just giving them consequences afterward. It’s a lot of work, though.
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Q. Will you please pray for my children?
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A. Of course.
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Q. Any suggestions on how to help shy children actually play with kids other than their siblings? We’re starting regular playdates, but is there anything else I can do to help her?
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A. It’s not so terrible to be shy. If it’s making the kid unhappy, it’s okay to help him practice lines to say, like, “My name is Charlie! What’s your name?” or “That looks like a fun game. Can I play with you guys?” but if the child is happy on his own, and is not being rude to other kids, I say let him be.
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Q. Summer ideas that don’t require mom’s participation for the “I’m bored” crowd. Also, my kids…read too much. There. I said it. It’s still a form of passive entertainment & I want them to have a broader experience of summer that doesn’t require me to be an activities director.
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A. I cannot acknowledge this as a real problem. Reading is not passive entertainment, unless it’s a truly crappy, worthless book. It engages and nourishes the mind. Just think of the difference between being interrupted at scrolling through Facebook, and being interrupted while reading. It’s a totally different sensation, the difference between working in the sun and lying under a sunlamp. Unless their bodies are becoming unhealthy from too much sitting, let the kids read!
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Q. How the heck do you live with a three year old, without constantly giving in to tantrums, or making the kid basically live in his room?!? Asking for a friend.
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A. Four is better. That’s all I got.
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Q. Does Soros still pay by paper check or does he do direct deposit yet?
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A. He used to issue checks made from human skin, but then hipsters made that kind of passé, so now he transmits digital funds directly into the pleasure center of my brain, which gives me the confidence to demand credit, which I won’t have to pay back because I’m also working on hastening the apocalypse. He also sometimes sends JiffyLube coupons.
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Q. When my cat used to lick my arm, was she grooming me, or tasting me?
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A. Almost certainly not grooming. When my oldest was about three, she noted that she tasted like sour cream and onion. I always meant to mention this to the pediatrician.
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Q. Every time I bake a whole chicken or turkey, even though the bird tests done, when I lift it out of the pan, this gross, bloody-looking liquid drains out of the cavity. That can’t be right. What am I doing wrong?
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A. I have solved this problem by resolving never again to cook a whole chicken. It’s one of the most thankless tasks known to mankind, and I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing. That being said, you can probably just tip that sucker out, put it back in the oven for eight minutes, and when the smoke alarm goes off, tell your family that you did your best and you’re going to go lie down now, and you don’t want to hear anything about who gets the effing drumsticks.
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Q. Did you ever have issues being confident in your parenting choices? If so, how did you deal with it?

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A. Confidence has less to do with knowing you’re doing the right thing, and more to do with accepting that of course you’re sometimes doing the wrong thing, but you’re doing the right thing often enough that it’s okay; and plus you’re smart enough to change if it becomes really obvious that your current plan is a bloody disaster. Anyway, I’m drinking more.
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Q. How to earn a living from blogging about religion and philosophy.
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A. Expect to work for free for a long time, build up a loyal audience by being honest and interesting, and then put ads on your site.
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Q. Do you ever feel like you’re faking this whole adulthood thing?
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A. I’ve only met a few people who don’t feel that way, and they’re generally about to get sued for horrible behavior, and they’re the only ones who don’t know why.
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Q. What should I ask you?
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A. Reminds me of this:

 

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Q. If you could have any guest on the podcast, who would you get?
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A. My mother. I tried to interview her several years ago, and she felt her mind was already too far gone, so she backed out. She would have been good, though. Interested in just about everything. Except cooking.
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Q. why is it so so SO hot here in Eastern Ontario today .. like I know I shouldn’t complain, but I’m overweight and I have knockers so sweat is a real and uncomfortable reality.
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A. Nobody knows why anything is the way it is in Ontario, but if they sell Gold Bond Powder and Body Glide in Canada, I’d start there.
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Q. What are your favorite cocktails other than gin and tonics?
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A. If forced to branch out, I could go for a margarita (just a regular margarita-flavored one; no chocolate or watermelon nonsense) or a Long Island iced tea, even though I don’t like iced tea. It’s a puzzler. Dark and Stormies are also very fine for summer parties. I was into mojitos for a while, somewhat after everyone else was into mojitos, but then I got tired of them, just like everyone else. Here’s a bit more.
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Q. Should I get a cat?
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A. No.
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A. Who killed JFK?

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A. The cat. Actually he just bit JFK a couple of times, then stunned him, then bit him again, then lost track of him, then fell asleep on top of him, and then let America find him on the bath mat in the morning, with bare feet.

Podcast #58: Thank you, Chachi!

Who can even say what’s in this podcast? What isn’t in this podcast? Not Chuck Norris, that’s who!

And not a poem by Donald Justice.

Photo by Carlos Killpack via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Theology for Beginners is blowing my mind

This past Trinity Sunday, also known as Casual Heresy Sunday, I thought I’d dig up Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed (affiliate link) and read the kids a few passages of Real Theology™  to correct some of the dumb things we heard that day.

We had tried reading it several years ago and got terribly bogged down. The kids were just angry and baffled, and we couldn’t make any headway, so we quit.

I remember thinking, last week, that I knew a lot more about what the Trinity isn’t than about what it is, and this is certainly still true. But after reading only a few chapters of this book, I discovered we also can know a lot more about the Trinity than I ever imagined, and it’s blowing my mind.

So we’re making this our new project, and keeping on reading, a chapter or part of a chapter at night several times a week. We often stop and re-read a paragraph, sometimes more than once; and we keep looking up the beginning of the Gospel of John. It would not be unreasonable to read each chapter two or three times before going on to the next, but I want to keep moving, because we have such a poor record of finishing books.

I’ve been so desperate for something like this — not just for the kids, but for myself. Sometimes your spiritual life is flat and uninspired, and you just have to keep the faith and power through; but sometimes there really is something you can do about it. There may be things you didn’t know about God that you will be very glad to know! Going to Mass, making the sign of the cross, praying a Hail Mary . . . it all feels new and exciting, almost perilous! In a good way. There’s just so much there, and I’ve been so casual about it all.

Are the kids getting much from the book? I’m not sure. Their various responses seem to be more about personality and type of intellect than age. My nine-year-old is completely on fire about it. Damien and I are agog. Even some of the more jaded can’t-we-just-get-back-to-Mario-Kart kids have questions. And I do think that there’s value in seeing that other people are excited about the Faith, even if you aren’t feeling it yourself right then.

At very least, this book puts to rest for good the idea that you can plow through the Baltimore Catechism for First Communion prep and then you know all there is to know. Not by a long shot, hot stuff.

This book is a tremendous gift. Some people think that, when we call some article of faith a mystery, we mean that it’s just too huge and weird, and our brains can’t even handle it, so we just need to let it be. Instead, mysteries are, as my husband says, a deep, deep pool. You can dive in and never get to the bottom, but that doesn’t mean you should just linger on the shore, feeling thirsty and hot like a dummy. Sheed says we have an obligation to try to understand more about the God we worship. Why would we not? What are our brains for, if not that?

I bought the paperback and then the Kindle edition, too, because we managed to lose the physical copy but we need to keep reading. The concepts are incredibly dense but the language is crystal clear, and it doesn’t come across as dated. If you feel that your faith is stuck at an elementary level, I cannot recommend this book enough.

 

Still fat, still running, still bugging you to do Couch to 5k

A little over a year ago, I told you how great the Couch to 5K program is. I describe why I started the program, exactly what it entails, and how it helped me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here’s an update in our transformation from sad blobs to happier, somewhat more toned people with some blobby aspects.

It turned out that having a built-in babysitter was the lynchpin for regular physical fitness, and once those babysitters left for college, it got super hard to keep running regularly. We did try. We ran separately, and it was lonely. We tried running at night in the winter, and that was horrible.  I also tried these marching workout videos, and they were pretty good, but I slacked off after several weeks. In January, I consoled myself by writing a satirical news story about how I was fooling myself, but that only takes you so far. Then we got a Y membership so we could stow the baby hobbit in childcare and run around the track, but man, it is not the same. You have to make twelve circuits for a mile, and the air is dry and weird, and you can’t have loud, panting conversations about NFP when you’re running at the Y. And then some lady runs right in front of you wearing bright pink running pants with a thong-shaped pattern on it, as is her constitutional right, and you get mad your husband, which isn’t fair, but that’s how it is.

So, with less and less exercise, I slid further and further into blobby despond. Our whole household is terribly sad over the winter anyway, so it was not a good scene. People were making caramel popcorn with entire sticks of butter before 11 a.m. We were scrolling through Facebook with our noses, because it was too exhausting to move our thumbs.

Then the college kids came back home, and . . . now we can go running again. And that’s how it is! We’re running anywhere from three to seven times a week. To our delight, we didn’t have to start from zero, even after taking so much time off.  We’re not as fit as we were by the end of last summer, when we were topping four miles sometimes, but we’re well on our way, and can easily do two+ miles.

The kids, age 9 and up, will be starting Couch to 5K when school gets out in a few weeks. I highly recommend it!  And do get outside as much as possible. I’m glad we used the treadmill when we first started, because it was better than nothing, and I know the track at the Y kept us from losing too much ground; but being outdoors is fantastic. I’m trying to learn more about the ever-changing flora and fauna that surrounds us. So far, we’ve identified a pretty little friend called an arctic starflower

By Jason Hollinger (Arctic StarflowerUploaded by Amada44) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
we’ve brought home, looked up, and abruptly threw away some fascinating, luminous objects called spongy oak apple galls

which look like magical seed pods, but are made by gall wasps out of oak leaf tissue to cushion their developing larvae. Eek!

. . . and, with the help of friends, discovered that that weird sound that almost sounds like an alien toy, like one of those plastic tubes you whip around in a circle over your head, is actually the song of a hermit thrush:

We see wild turkeys, just birding around, and meandering deer, and flame-red salamanders. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to figure out what weed produces that intoxicatingly wild, dusky, spicy smell, but I can’t get enough of it. Best of all, Damien and I have regular time together that’s just for us. That’s my favorite part of my life right now.

I still eat too much to be losing significant weight, but getting regular exercise does so much to put food back in its rightful place, as fuel rather than hobby or master. I’m much happier with my shape, my posture, and my energy levels and confidence than I have been in many months. I bought a frickin’ two-piece bathing suit yesterday. Even if I never wear it, the fact that I thought I might is a big deal!

My blood pressure is great. I have zero back pain and haven’t had a single migraine since we started running regularly. Since my migraine meds were messing with my heart, this is a relief.

I’m not a great runner. I’m very slow, and my form is inefficient and silly. It’s hard to start, every single time, and I generally feel very strongly that the first 1/8 mile is bullshit, just bullshit. But sooner and sooner in each run, I’m hitting that moment where I feel strong, competent, and optimistic, and that feeling sometimes lasts for hours.

So if you’re feeling bad, this is me pestering you to try Couch to 5K. If I can do it, you definitely can. You guys know me. I’m not a go-getter or thing-achiever, but I’m telling you, this program changed my life.