Love is never wasted

Some time ago, I came across an anguished post by a devoted mom. She had spent an entire week teaching her kids an in-depth, hands-on, cross-curricular lesson on the major watercolorists of western art. Her kids were enthralled, and seemed to really internalize not only the beauty of the work, but also some of the history, the technical side, and even the biographies of the artists they studied.

Next week? They said, “Watercolor? What’s watercolor?”

Poor mom. Kids are crumbs, and that’s just a fact. But the thing that struck me is that the woman berated herself over having wasted so much time with the lesson.

How wrong she was! There is no such thing as wasted time with your children. There is such a thing as time spent badly — time you spend belittling them, for instance. But there is no such thing as loving, attentive time that is wasted. This is true even if the kids have no conscious memory of the event, even if it’s only five minutes later (see: Kids are crumbs).

As I’ve said before, kids are “not empty mason jars waiting to be filled up with the perfect combination of ingredients. We’re making people, here, not soup.”

There are two related mistakes we can make when we’re raising children. One is that we can imagine that it’s all within our control, and that if we simply add in all the right elements, we’re guaranteed to end up with a happy, confident, faithful, moral, self-sufficient, grounded, hard-working, honest human being. (It doesn’t help that a lot of self-styled experts make a tidy living by all but promising success if you just follow their guidelines.)  The truth is, we can do ev-ry-thing-right and guess what? Kid still has free will. Kid still has specific brain chemistry. Kid still runs into a unique set of experiences, and kid processes them in a unique way according to ten thousand unpredictable variables.

So the first thing to remember is that, when we make parenting choices, we’re not putting in a customized order. It’s a much more delicate and artful and hazardous and beautiful process than that, because it is an act of love, and love can’t be reduced to supply and demand.

The second mistake is to imagine that, if we don’t see the immediate, expected results, it was a wasted effort. This is the folly the mom above fell prey to. She thought, when she was teaching her kids about Winslow Homer, that she was just teaching them about Winslow Homer. I love me some Winslow Homer, but I know that it’s much more important for the kids to learn about other things — things like, “Beauty is important and worth spending time on.” “Your mother loves you and thinks you are worth spending time on.”

Please note that these are things that you can teach by following an intensive Montessori-based course on the history of watercolor, or you can teach it by hanging around on a trampoline telling stupid jokes, or you can teach it by driving the kid to all his hideously tedious T-ball games all weekend long, or you can teach it by . . . well, you get the idea. Time and attention. These are the two things that kids need, and there are a million different ways you can provide them. This is also because time and attention are acts of love, and you cannot count all the ways that love can be expressed.

The child may be the kind of person who accepts and recognizes your love and attention immediately, saying things like, “I had a nice day with you, Mama.” Or he may be the other kind of kid, who doesn’t seem to care at all.  He may not think twice about these things until he has children of his own. He may be the kind of kid who thinks you’re a terrible parent, until one day, at age 50, he had a sudden recollection of a thing you did, and realizes, “She loved me so much!”

There is so much mystery in the human psyche and how it develops. We can work ourselves into a panic fretting that we haven’t given properly, and that our children aren’t receiving properly; and half the time, we’ll be right. Truly, the only way we can be at peace is if, along with doing our best, we remember to turn our children’s lives over to God, over and over again. God’s generosity works both ways: He is generous in what He gives us, and He is generous in how He receives, as well. When we turn our children over to God, He will not let our efforts go to waste. This is because God is love, and when we show love to the people in our care, God will not let that love go to waste. 

***

This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2016.

Radio! Theology on Tap! Adult Faith Formation! Awards! Consent! BEARS!

Busy little week for me! 

Tonight, at 10 Eastern, I’ll be on my old friend Mark Shea’s new radio show. I have some bear stories to tell, so this is important! Listen here, and call in with your own bear stories. 1-866-333-6279
 
Second, tomorrow I’m flying to Princeton, NJ, where I’ll be speaking at the Triumph Brewery at 7 PM for a Theology on Tap.  The topic: Catholics and Consent! What’s the Deali-o! (working title) But seriously, Catholics are kind of allergic to talking about consent in sensible ways that acknowledge both our spiritual life and the actual fixes we find ourselves in, and I am to fix that.
 
Then Wednesday the 26th, I’ll be delivering a speech to the adult faith formation program at the St. Paul Spiritual Center at 7 p.m. at 214 Nassau St. in Princeton at 7 PM. It’s a sort of companion topic, building on what I discussed the previous night. The topic: When Women Say Yes: How Mary Invented Consent. I happen to love this speech, and last time I gave it, two theologians personally told me that they didn’t think it had any heresy in it at all!

Finally, I’m honored and delighted to announce that I won a first place award from the Catholic Press Association for my column in America Magazine this year. Here is what the judges said:

The author’s great gift is drawing up very lucid philosophical arguments and connecting things one might normally not. A lot of great imagery, too. “Jesus Knew” was one of the best columns in the entire competition. (And one of the best on the abuse scandal, as well.) “On Suicide and Abortion” was also excellent; very thoughtful and very sensitive, but also very strong.
 
It is an absolute joy to be writing for America. The editorial team is one of the best I’ve ever worked with, at every level. 
 
P.S. The picture is a picture of a dog in the sidecar of a motorcycle, waiting for the Blessed Sacrament to pass by. If your parish doesn’t have a Corpus Christi procession, tell your pastor you won’t stop crying until you get one. And then buy him ice cream afterward!

In which I answer anything, vol. 4

Off we go!

Why does everything in the house break at the same time?

It’s because of that thing you did. You know what I mean. 

Your take on Lino Rulli and the Catholic Guy Show. Would you consider appearing as a guest if asked?

I would consider appearing on anything, including a five dollar bill, an ass tattoo, and a special story hour designed to reassure children that even though they’ve been told repeatedly to listen to their gut and stay away from tricky people, they should make an exception for things with hashtags because we’re building bridges or something. How dare you. Jesus died for people like you, and you won’t even show the new girl where the terlet is!

What is the strangest game your toddlers have played?

I’m torn between Puppy Sacrifice and Scissor Toss.

What is a mother of littles and no bigs supposed to do when she’s sick? What did you do?

Just suffered. I remember crawling on my hands and knees to the bathroom to violent throw up while three kids watched, impressed. I’m sorry. I think it’s possible I could have called people for help, but it didn’t occur to me; so if there’s anyone you can call, do so. 

Have you considered coming to the Catholic Press Association convention? I ask because then I could meet you and fanboy out about it.

It literally never occurs to me to leave the house when I don’t absolutely have to. How press do you have to be to go to the convention? Do you get disqualified for doing AMAs and talking about throwing up when you’re completely out of stuff to write about?

Did you always feel like you were going to have a big family and be a writer or is this completely different than what you thought your life would look like when you were younger?

I definitely always wanted a big family. We were thinking eight kids, but I honestly can’t remember when we decided that number was adjustable. I did toy with the idea of being an author after I won an award for my first book, The Day It Rained Piano Keys, and was given a certificate and a kiss by Tomie DePaolo (I was seven). When I started having kids and I thought we’d homeschool forever and be desperately poor forever, I assumed with dread that I would eventually end up cleaning homes or driving a school bus to make ends meet. So I am immensely grateful that it’s turned out this way. 

What is the greatest city in the world?

The greatest city I’ve ever been to is Rome. Although the whole thing smells like poop, both dog and human. The cobblestones are worn to a kind of luminous pewter which fills the air with a light I’ve never seen anywhere else, and the Roman pines hang over the sky like giant fans. You feel like you’re in a palace all the time, even with the poop smell.

What’s for breakfast and who made/is making it?
I don’t eat breakfast. Corrie has whatever the hell she wants. The kids have cereal or make themselves eggs or french toast. My job, as I see it, is to bring home food and walk away. 
 
 I’ve been looking for a certain charging cable for two days now. Where is it?
 

Once I found a missing charging table in the giant toy bucket. One end was tied around a stuffed penguin’s neck, and it had been cut in half. I never found the other end. Here’s hoping the people in your house are less monstrous. 

How does life with kids in the summer look different for you than life with kids during the school year?
 
It doesn’t look like the inside of a car, which is how it looks during the school year.   
 
Why does that one eyebrow hair always grow longer than the other eyebrow hairs?
 
I don’t know, but I have often envied unwanted facial hair for all its wonderful qualities. It’s so vigorous, so glossy, so well-rooted, so bold. Why can’t anything else in my life or on my body function that way? Had I the ambition and singleminded purposefulness of that one hair that thrusts itself so confidently out of the side of my chin, I could rule the world. 
 
Tom Servo or Crow?

Tom Servo captured my heart forever when he hit that high note in the very beautiful “Patrick Swayze Christmas”

How did you manage to cook food when you had only little kids? I’m pretty sure 90% of our caloric intake at this point is crackers, fruit, and ice cream. And cooking ahead doesn’t work because the kids still live here on weekends.
 
When we had only little kids, we also had far, far less money to cook with, so I don’t know if it would have been different if we had had a bigger budget. That’s how I started the habit of planning out a weekly menu and buying exactly what I needed ahead of time: I would realize, “I have $23 for food this week. What’s my plan?” So we had a lot of hot dogs, pasta, English muffin pizza with cheese from WIC, eggs, and noodle-heavy casseroles, and occasionally things like oat soup, which costs about 4 cents per serving, and then I supplemented with vitamins and apples. 
 
My nutritional goal was the same as it was for our homeschool day: Three things, and one of them not brown. But having a bunch of little kids is just plain exhausting, and trying to make a nice meal while shaking weeping people off your leg is no way to live. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and settle for keeping people alive, and believe that this very intense season is truly just a season, and thing loosen up later. They really do. 
 

What’s your favorite movie?

Roadhouse. It’s my regular Saturday night thing.

Is this Simcha’s kids posting on her behalf?

No, but Corrie did manage to unlock my phone this morning. It has a six-figure lock code. I am alarmed.

We just came from a school Mass where the visiting priest took questions at the end. One kid asked, “have you ever sneezed during prayer?”

If he hasn’t, he’s not praying enough! I’m always baffled when people think it’s somehow not appropriate to pray while doing . . . anything. Like, is God going to be grossed out or offended that you’re using the body and mind he made for you? It’s just weird. Who are you trying to impress, and why do you think it will work?

How do you deal with, ahem, highly selective eaters?

I just let them be. I make reasonably tasty and nutritious meals, and I try to offer meals that you can pick and choose, whenever possible; but I don’t go out of my way to cater to fussy people, and I definitely don’t engage in battles over food. Cereal and milk is always available. 

What are you doing this summer, big plans, small plans, day to day, I wanna know everything!

I want to replace the kitchen floor, and if there’s any money left over, I want to hire someone to replace the subfloor in the laundry room so we can have [heavenly choirs] a second toilet again.

I want to watch some good movies with the kids and read Narnia with the little kids and Frank Sheed with the older ones. We may or may not do Totus Tuus this year, but I didn’t sign anyone up for any other camp (and three kids, and I hope soon four, are working, so they have their own schedules).  I think one kid wants to continue gymnastics, and another takes violin through the summer. We want to hit some Free Fun Fridays in Boston, including at least one art museum, this year, now that Damien works from home and we can actually make it happen. I want to start learning to play the piano.

I want people to turn off their screens and go outside, including me. I want to hit the town beach at least twice a week. I want the kids to play Dungeons and Dragons, and I want to drive out to the old section of town, with no streetlights, and go stargazing a least a few times. One of the kids has vowed to get me into Hamilton this summer.

MOST EXCITINGLY, back in January, with great terror, I pulled the trigger on something I’ve been wanting to do my entire married life, which is I rented a house by the ocean for a week! We got a wonderful deal on an AirBNB within walking distance of the beach, and I have literally dreamt about it, one way or another, every single week since then. I know it’s a terrible idea to pin all your hopes and dreams on a single week, but I can’t help it. 

 Is this 3?

Sure?

If you jump from an airplane and have a very long Slinky, can throwing one end of it upward while holding the other slow your fall so that you can hit the ground unharmed?

Trick question! I forgot to get a Real ID, so I’m not allowed on airplanes.

What do you think will be different about the Catholic Church in the US in fifty years?

Ever read Walker Percy’s Love In the Ruins? Like that. 

Who sleeps where? How do you arrange the bedrooms with many kids in a small house?

Inequitably.  We have the two boys in one room, the oldest kid in one room, the second and third in another room, and two sets of bunkbeds in the middle room, and one kid currently camped out on cushions in the hall with a sheet tacked across the corner. If they don’t like it, they’re welcome to figure out something better, because I sure can’t. 

Jennifer fulwiler 👍🏼👎
 
Love her. She helped and encouraged me so generously and enthusiastically when I was first starting out. I haven’t been following her lately, but I know she works hard and tells the truth, which is all I ever ask of anyone (except my husband, who also needs to bring me a drink).
 
What books do you recommend for talking to kids about the birds & the bees? Non-icky books that middle school age can read on their own (and then discuss with parents)
 
Will you feel better if I confess that I have completely dropped the ball on this in various ways with each of my kids? Damien has conversations with the boys. For the girls, I like The Care and Keeping of You, and then we just have conversations. 
 
***
Okay, that’s it! It’s the last day of school, and one kid took this final chance to forget her lunch at home, and guess what? I didn’t care. (It’s a half day. She can wait. We’re going to the beach.) 
 
 

The doctrine of the trinity describes love

So, how was Heresy Sunday at your parish? Maybe you know it better as “Trinity Sunday,” but, well, you know. One minute, you’re standing there sweating behind the pulpit, trying to give your flock something solid to chew on, and then next minute, you’re a modalist. Or an arian, or a partialist. (If you’ve somehow never watched St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies, take a few minutes! It’s funny and good.)
 
On the other hand, you also have people complaining on Twitter that they’re pretty tired of hearing from their pastors that they’re just too dumb to understand the trinity, so he won’t even try. 
 
On the other hand . . . wait, that’s three hands now, and we’re about to veer into heresy again. What I’m trying to say is that the theology of the Trinity is pretty intense, and I have a lot of sympathy for priests who are trying to steer a way in between teaching something false, and just performing some vague hand-waving about the mysterious mystery of it all.
 
However, the theology of the trinity is a lot more knowable than I was led to believe as a child. I had the impression that it was simply so far beyond our human experience, it would break my brain if I even tried to figure it out. This is false. If you want to know more about the Trinity — and you should! It’s VERY COOL — I most ardently recommend Frank Sheed’s Theology for Beginners. I intend to read it again this summer with my teenagers. It’s very lucid and exciting, and, surprise surprise, it leads to a better understanding of, well, everything. Because it’s about who and what God is.
 
However however, it would be hard to get into it in a single sermon. Some of the best sermons I’ve heard are less about defining doctrine and more about helping us understand why it’s important and what it has to do with us. As Chris Damian says in another context
 
We tend to think of arriving at belief as a straightforward process. We think of belief as something that exists on the level of syllogism, where my rational assent is always the result of a clear logic unfolding from the circuitry of my mind. But coming into deep belief does not involve a mere continuation of syllogistic progression. Rather, it involves the mysterious integration of a complex constellation of experience, context, affection, habit, longing, rationale, and choice. Often the assertion of belief is a last step, the articulation of something which already exists within the person but which has taken time to develop into words.
So yesterday, Trinity Sunday, we heard a sermon with less doctrine but plenty of the rest of that complex constellation, and I appreciated it. The pastor at this church tends to deliver shaggy dog sermons, and sometimes you never do arrive at the punchline. But when you do, it’s always about the immensity of God’s love, and how personal it all is. Which is why we keep going back to this church, even though it’s forty minutes away! Here’s how I remember it:

He described how his grandmother and grandfather met at a town dance in 1922. They spotted each other across the room, and she thought he looked like a troublemaker and he thought she looked stuck up. But somehow they got together anyway, fell in love, got married, and came to know each other as they learned how to love each other. They had children, and those children had children, including the pastor himself; and by the time they had been married for several decades, they could complete each other’s thoughts. Gradually, over the years, they revealed themselves to each other more and more.
 
We sometimes think God has changed since the Old Testament. It seems like God used to be so harsh and angry, always smiting and getting vengeance; but then Jesus came, and taught us about love, even loving your enemy — and this seemed like something so new and different. But then we heard in the first reading how God has always been:
 
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth. . . 
There are some intimations of the Trinity here, of a God who isn’t lonely and solitary, but is in a fruitful relationship. And it was a relationship not only of love between the persons of the Trinity, but between God and us:
 
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race.
 
The pastor reminded us that God was perfectly content in himself, perfectly complete. He didn’t need anything, certainly not human beings. But because of his overflowing love, he did want something . . . and so he made us. The responsorial psalm says:
 
What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
R. O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
 
God made us to love us — and, as you do when you are in love, to reveal himself to us.  That that is what you do when you love someone: You open yourself, you reveal yourself to them, just as the priest’s grandparents did with each other over the course of many, many years of fruitful marriage. And that is what God has done for us.  He is fruitful, and he reveals himself because He loves us. 
 
The Gospel reading from John was very short, and quite Greek:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”
 

To me, this speaks of the hope we can have of coming to know God more and more, as we become more and more confident in his love for us.

Knowing God better is . . . well, it’s not always a delight. Sometimes it’s terrible, for a while, just like marriage can be, as you come to know each other better and better. But unlike in a human marriage, we can know  with complete certainty that there is always delight on the other side, if we keep pushing through. Or at least we can hope, until we know.

 
So we should not be afraid of trying to understand mysteries. God wants to reveal himself to us. But we have to start by consenting to be in a relationship with him. Doctrine is simply the description of how it is that God loves us.
 
***
 
Image: Detail of 17th century Holy Trinity Russian icon, painter unknown, from Icon Museum Recklinghausen [Public domain]

My dear graduates . . .

Graduates, as I look out over your bright, eager faces, my heart wells with emotion and a single phrase springs into my mind: Better you than me.

Gee, I would give anything to not be you right now. What a horrible time this is for you. I mean, think about it: You’re on the verge of starting a new life. The possibilities are endless—what the future holds is bounded only by the limits of your imagination. You can be anything you want to be, if you only believe in yourself. You can shoot for the stars!

I’m so, so sorry.

Because that’s what people have been telling you, right? Isn’t that what your guidance counselor said—that there are no limits to what you can achieve?

You know that’s crazy talk, right?

I mean that literally: Only people with a mental illness would truly believe that you can achieve anything. People who actually get things done are the people who look at themselves and say, “Okey-doke. There are some things I’m good at, and many thousands more things that I am and always will be utterly unqualified to do. Starting tomorrow, my job is do the least amount of thrashing around and wasting of my parent’s tuition money as possible, while I figure out the difference between my very few strengths and my billions of weaknesses.

“Then, I need to figure out if there’s any possible way I can do what it turns out I’m good at, and also be a decent human being. If possible, it would be wonderful if the things I’m good at, and which allow me to be decent, are also things which will earn me a salary.”

And after you have that conversation with yourself, and preferably after you come up with a better plan than scrawling “FIX LIFE” on your memo pad, then you can go out drinking with your buddies.

Because here’s the deal, you poor deluded masses of inchoate ambition: Freedom is for something. Freedom is so that you can get something done. Yes, it’s valuable and precious in itself—but it’s not a resting place. Having potential is like being hungry: You want to resolve that in some definite way. All the best things in life come when you tie yourself down in one way or another, when you accept some limitations.

Think about all the things that make life worth living—all the things that people you admire are proud of. A huge project achieved? They neglected other things—fun things!—to get it done.  A happy marriage? They forsook all others to remain faithful. A vocation of any kind? Saying Yes to one thing always means saying No to a dozen more. It doesn’t mean that all the rejected opportunities are bad. It just means that you’re only one person, and are here to do one person’s work.

This doesn’t mean you have to rush into it. There’s nothing especially admirable about going whole hog for the wrong thing (just ask the guy with the Betty Boop tattoo on his forehead). So take your time, look around, and don’t be rash. But for the love of mike, remember that this stage of your life is supposed to come to an end some day. Even if you never end up with a career at all, you will eventually have some huge choices to make.

Or you know what? You might not even get to make a choice: You might find yourself faced with some horrible situation, and guess who’s the only one who can fix it? That’s right, the guy in the mirror, the one who fell asleep in a trash can and his friend drew cat whiskers on his face with permanent markers. The lives of others may someday depend on you, Mr. Fluffy. Try to make at least some of your current behavior reflect that fact.

So congratulations, graduates! You did it. Some of you worked moderately hard to be here today, and I applaud you. Now go forth, act decent, call your mother from time to time. And remember, nobody’s life ever got better after drinking Jägermeister.

***

(A version of this post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2011.)

Photo by beltramistudios via Flickr (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 174: Tiramisu! OH!!!!!! Tiramisu.

Another birthday! The birthday girl asked for Damien’s tiramisu. Without even having to ask, he got plenty of help from Corrie. Here, I ask Corrie about the ingredients she’s using:

And now you know. (If you need it to be more specific, here is the recipe he uses.) He made it without shaved chocolate out of respect for my migraines. I forgot to take a pic, but here is a slice from ages past:

We love tiramisu, not only for the heavenly taste, but because we get to sing the song. When Irene was little, she used to sing the Kalamazoo song from Wonderpets — only she would go, “Tamazooooo . . . OHHHHHH!!!!! . . . Tamazoooooo . . . ” and on the “ohhhhh” part, she would tip her chin up and close her eyes and howl like a little wolf. So all day long, there was a lot of happy howling. 

SATURDAY
Cumin chicken with chickpeas and tabbouleh

I’ve had a hankering for tabbouleh for weeks now. Unfortunately, this meal did not dehanker me. I couldn’t find any bulghur, so I used couscous. That would have been fine, but I didn’t drain it properly, and it was soggy. The flavor was good, though, and I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t have it for lunch the rest of the week. I made it with lemon juice, kosher salt and pepper, tomatoes and cucumbers, and lots of fresh parsley and mint. And yes, that was me saying “Wait a minute!” out loud in the produce aisle, quickly googling “is wild mint edible” and then thriftily putting back the store-bought mint. Take that, invasive species. 

I also put mint in the lemony onions, because I forgot to save back parsley; but I forgot to eat any onions, so I don’t know if it was good. 

The cumin chicken with chickpeas and yogurt sauce and pita is a reliably yummy meal, and once again I must emphasize that if you never have the chicken skin that’s been roasted after marinating in cumin and yogurt, your life has been a sham.

I also intend to roast many more chickpeas this summer. These chickpeas in the picture are a little less crunchy, which is how the kids like them, Little olive oil and whatever seasoning you like, and if you take your time and roast them until they’re crunchy, they make a wonderful snack. 

SUNDAY
Grilled ham and cheese pita pockets, strawberries, fries

This is an ideal childhood meal. Adorable round sandwiches, fried gently in butter, cheerfully patterned like a giraffe, and stuffed with melted cheddar and a slice of ham. 

So of course they all acted like I was serving them garbage stuffed with garbage. Ingrates! 

MONDAY
Hamburgers, chips, raw broccoli

As you can see, I was eating a hamburger in bed. I had a reason, but I forget what. 

TUESDAY
BIIIIIIIG SANDWICHES, party mix, tiramisu

One morning, when Clara was a toddler, she was having a bad day, feeling sick, screaming at everything. We finally just put her to bed, and she slept for hours and hours, all day long. Clara was this teeny, weeny little person. Her middle name is “Petra,” but her sisters used to call her “Clara Paper,” because she was so fair and slight, with enormous grey eyes, a heavy mop of dark gold curls.

When she finally woke up, it was almost dinner time, and we asked what she would like to eat. She said in her squeaky little voice, “I want . . . I want BIIIIIIIIIIIG SANDWICHES!” and pointed straight up to the ceiling. So that’s what we call it now, when we have sandwiches with everything possible on them. AND TODAY, THAT LITTLE GIRL IS GRADUATING FROM HIGH SCHOOL.

So this Tuesday was Dora’s birthday, and she modestly asked for Big Sandwiches, party mix, and tiramisu for her birthday meal. For my big sandwich, I had roast beef and capicola, provolone, tomatoes, and bacon.

It turns out I can’t eat party mix unless I want to spend the rest of the day listening to my heart try to escape from my chest, so that’s exciting. The bacon stays, though. 

Here is the birthday girl admiring how well her new salt lamp deionizes things and whatnot. 

WEDNESDAY
Faintly gingery pork, peppers, onions, mushrooms; corn on the cob

I cut up a bunch of pork, Corrie cut up a bunch of peppers, and then I called Clara and told her to cut up a bunch of green and sweet peppers and onions and mix it all together with a bottle of ginger salad dressing. This is how most meals get made at my house: as a group effort, over the course of many hours, with phone calls. It’s a miracle we don’t all just eat hamburgers in bed every day. 

So I spread it all in some shallow pans and stuck it under the broiler.

I had it in my head that everyone loves this meal, but it turns out I love it and everyone else has been barely tolerating it. OH WELL. To be fair, the marinade turned out to be extremely bland, and did not produce the gingery wonderland I was anticipating. 

I also boiled up some corn on the cob. Shucking the corn helped Corrie through that awful, painful transition between watching TV (happiness) and not watching TV (intense and intolerable suffering).

THURSDAY
Drunken noodles with beef

I’ve made this once before, after modifying a Jet Tila recipe. My recipe card is at the end.

I did all the chopping and stuff in the morning, and had it all laid out in separate bowls like on a cooking show

so it came together really quickly when it was supper time. You boil up the noodles and set them aside, then brown up some garlic, add egg and peppers, then add beef and onions, then put the tomatoes, sauce, and noodles back in, and heat it all through. I made TONS of it, because I can’t help myself. Happily, it’s good cold.

I’m not sure if it was better this time, or if I was just hungrier because I didn’t snack on a full meal’s worth of ingredients while I was still cooking. Either way, it was delicious. A really zippy, flavorful sauce, but not too terribly spicy (and some people added red pepper flakes). The fish sauce mellows out just enough and is right at home with the beef and tomatoes. 

A great all-in-one meal, and you could use different kinds of meat or seafood. One of my kids put parmesan cheese on it. I don’t even freaking know what to say. Don’t do that. 

FRIDAY
Tuna boats, smiley fries

According to tradition, we’ll be going out to eat with the graduating senior, while the people at home toil with tuna. I’m not sure what I will order, but she chose an Italian restaurant, which is always good, and someone else will be cooking, which is always always always always good.

Okay, here are the recipe cards!

 

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
  • 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. 

Drunken noodles with beef (after Jet Tila)

This is a less-spicy version. For more heat, use jalapenos or other hotter peppers, leave the membranes and seeds in and add red pepper flakes before or after cooking. 

Ingredients

Sauce:

  • 6 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 6 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 9 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Sriracha or hot sauce
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 oz fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade (sliced into thin ribbons)
  • 30+ oz wide rice noodles

canola oil for cooking

  • 8 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 8 eggs beaten
  • 6 serrano chiles or jalapeños, seeded and sliced thin
  • 2 lg onions, sliced thin
  • 4 oz fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 pints grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3-4 lbs roast beef, sliced as thinly as possible

Instructions

  1. Cook the rice noodles according to directions, and set them aside. 

    Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. 

    Heat a very large sauté pan with oil and brown the minced garlic. Add chiles and beaten eggs, and scramble in the pan until the eggs are in cooked bits. 

    Add onion and sliced beef and cook until beef is barely browned. 

    Add cooked noodles, tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, and sauce. 

    Keep stirring and combining until everything is saucy and hot. Serve immediately. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 173: The pineapple gets the works

Today, I bought dental insurance. That has nothing to do with what’s for supper. I just wanted to tell someone. I’m pretty excited, as this is basically me and Damien:

SONY DSC

(Image by William Murphy via Flickr )

Why dental heath is not included in regular health, I’ll never know. I guess it’s because teeth are just inside your head and your skull, so how important could they be. Anyway. Onward! 

SATURDAY
Regular tacos

This is my meal when I’m feeling merciful toward the kids. No fermented vegetables, no sprouts, no seasonings with diacritical marks in their names. Just ground beef with orange powder from a little packet, sour cream, salsa from a jar, and shredded cheddar cheese. Completely unchallenging food has its charms.

I had to put greens on mine because I am a mom and that’s the rule.

SUNDAY
Spiedies, raw peppers, blueberry tart

This recipe is really, really good if you have the time to zest lemons and chop fresh mint and such, marinate the meat overnight, skewer it, and cook it over the coals. It’s still quite nice if you just slosh in a bunch of stuff, chop some cheap pork into chunks, let it marinate for a few hours, and shove it under a hot broiler.

Serve the meat on toasted rolls with a lot of mayo. It comes out tender, juice, and a little spicy. 

The original recipe is a NYT one which is currently behind a paywall. The quickie one I threw together was olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, kosher salt, oregano, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes. Basically Italian dressing but with extra lemon juice and red pepper flakes. 

For dessert, Clara made a blueberry tart. Every single last damn time I go to write “tart,” I type “tard” first. I choose to believe this is because I have watched so much Dr. Who, and not because I don’t deserve to live in the 21st century. Anyway, here’s the picture.

If you zoom in, you can see that I accidentally sprinkled yarrow pollen all over it while trying to get an Instaworthy photo. If I could figure out the right SEO for this post, I could probably form a partnership with Gwyneth Paltrow and pass it off as a cure for yarrow allergies, uterine prolapse, and ennui. 

Clara and I worked on this together, and it certainly did highlight the difference between our cooking styles; it certainly did. She is more of a “wait, stop, what is seven eights of a cup times two and a half?” baker, and I’m more of a “just mash faster, no one will know” baker.

Between the two of us, we came up with something tasty, anyway, although it was reluctant to leave the pie plate. To appease the Visigoths, we chose the kind of whipped cream that comes squirting out of a can.

I’ll get the recipe link from her when she gets home.

MONDAY
Chicken enchilada rice bowls, corn chips, pineapple

This meal looked better than it tasted. I was going for a “all the ingredients you love in Mexican food, but without a tortilla, for some reason” kind of meal. So I cooked up a pot of rice, then roasted some chicken with lots of chili lime powder. Then I cut up the chicken and cooked it again in green enchilada sauce from a can. I mixed together some black beans, chili beans, and diced tomato with chili peppers in it. We had limes, cilantro, sour cream, and shredded cheese, and corn chips.

It was. . . fine. I will just go ahead and make enchiladas next time. 

The exciting part was I finally bought a pineapple corer from Aldi for like $3, and it was so cool! I thought it would just extract the core so you can peel it and get rings, but it cores and peels it, and leaves you will a continues spiral of pineapple. Corrie and I made a video, and we hope it blows your mind. 

This is my first attempt at including a food video, and I hope it’s not terrible, because people keep telling me this is the only way to make some money, and if you can’t make money sharing a video of yourself testing a $3 pineapple corer, than is this even really America? 

TUESDAY
Pizza

Tuesday was the final school concert of the year. If you wish to hear my views on school concerts, I can make that happen. This time, I dropped the kid off, nipped over to the liquor store and picked up some liquid courage in small bottles, and zipped back to my seat before the curtain. And now I have a brand new plan for school concerts.

I made a few pizzas before I left. There was a limited edition “everything dough” available, so I got some. It wasn’t everything, per se, but it certainly had poppy seeds in it.

Oh. You know about the “Make me one with everything” joke, right? This remains my favorite moment ever recorded on video. Especially the part where he leans in and goes, “Know what I mean?”

It’s so beautiful. 

Oh, here are the pizzas. I only made four, for some reason. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken burgers

What was I even doing on Wednesday? I think I was writing like a maniac while Damien brought Lucy to the pediatric endocrinologist and then rock climbing. And that’s what chicken burgers are for. 

THURSDAY
Deli sandwiches, fruit salad, chips, cookies

Actually, that was lunch. I had planned cumin chicken thighs, yogurt sauce, pita, and tabbouleh for supper, but in lieu of that, I took a nap, and everyone just ate more lunch. But what a lunch it was! One of my favorite families in the whole world, John and Aletheia Herreid and their wonderful kids were in town. The weather was great, Clara made a ton of cookies, we have a trampoline for bouncing and stream for floundering, John and my older kids swapped sketch books, Aletheia brought sunshine to the whole world as she so often does, and they brought cheese and beer and a luchador mask, and it was just swell. 

FRIDAY
Ravioli

Just frozen ravioli. Not one of my most thrilling culinary weeks, but it was a good week. And thorough. 

I’ve been to eleven thousand school concerts, and I have something to say.

My late father-in-law leaned over and whispered, “This is the hardest part of being a parent.”

We were all in pain, physical and psychological; we were all chilled to the bone and exhausted beyond all reason. We felt as though we were losing our minds, as dismal, unintelligible noises assaulted our senses. We were all trapped, and no one knew when release would come. Worst of all, we had to keep clapping.

Yes, it was a school concert. This was sometime during the third hour of our exile in a school gymnasium. We manually held our eyelids open toward three fourteen-year-old girls making vaguely soprano whispering noises to the accompaniment of a sweating pianist. It was, if I recall, part of a salute to rockabilly in medly form. A medly which should have been called, “When Will Death Come?”

Well, my husband and I have witnessed nine out of ten kids sing their way through an awful lot of schools. Some of them had sensible, humane, even brilliant music directors, some of them . . . did not. We are proud of our kids, and we like them, and all. We support them, basically. Some of them are even kinda musical. But I have a thing or two to say. 

School concerts should not be three hours long. Never ever ever ever. I don’t care if it’s an excellent program bristling with stunning performances of world-class masterworks. IT SHOULD NOT BE THREE HOURS LONG. Anyone who has a school aged kid needs to be buying groceries, drinking gin, or asleep, and three hours away from doing those things is three hours too long. 

Songs should be age-appropriate. Since these are school children performing for their parents, exactly zero of the songs should be about sex or lust. You can get away with some innuendo in high school, but otherwise, basta. Let’s all get together and demand not to be put in a position where we look like a jerk for not wanting to clap after a nine-year-old girl belts out an anthem about her burning desires. 

And “dance teams” should be illegal. Hell damn fart. Where are the adults?

Kids shouldn’t have solos unless they are pretty good for their age. I realize this is crushingly harsh, and when I’m done with this essay I am going to go out and hit some flowers with my cane, but I still insist a solo is something you earn by being a little bit better than the other kids. I will make an exception if maybe a kid has overcome tremendous obstacles and has found a way to shine despite overwhelming adversity etc etc etc, and even though it’s not an objectively good performance, it really moves you. Fine. I just find it really hard to believe that all eleven terrible soloist are this particular type of shining star. I know these kids. They’re just regular mopes. Off the stage, mope. You dun sound so good.

Kids should perform things they are capable of performing, with maybe one or two “reach” numbers. If it’s the day before concert day and the sounds they’re producing make your skin crawl even mildly, go ahead and cut that number. Nobody in the audience is going to stand up and shout, “I say, choir master, I object! This program simply wasn’t long enough!”

If you let anyone beatbox, you should be shot. I don’t make the rules. 

The teacher does not get to perform. I’m sorry, am I your mom? Are we all your mom? No?  Well then! I guess we’ll just have to spend a moment of silence contemplating how sad it is that you ended up teaching the mouthbreathers in East Flupping Middle School chorus instead of dazzling Broadway, and then we’ll leave it at that, rather than enduring another encore of “How High the Moon” by Ms. Coulda Woulda Shoulda and Her Rather Startling Dress. 

If you want to include an emotional ceremony commemorating the special relationship the students have with the teachers, and you somehow didn’t do this during the rest of the entire year that you had together, you get three minutes. THREE MINUTES. When this folding chair has been biting into my thigh for over an hour already, my last remaining bit of patience will be entirely transformed into white-hot loathing if we have to pause the program while forty-three girls in heels they absolutely cannot manage pick their way across the risers and totter over to receive a carnation and a hug and an award for some choir in-joke, and then totter back while everyone giggles and claps and sighs. It’s not that I’m cold-hearted. It’s just that I hate you all so much. 

And what about the audience? Don’t they have any responsibility? 
Yes. They need to not sit there slowly and sensually scratching their husband’s back all throughout the show. Gah. 
 
Oh, and you can do a standing ovation if you want. I’m sitting down. I’m sitting down. 

I’ll be in Princeton June 25 and 26 talking about Catholics and consent

I’m excited about these talks! On Tuesday, June 25, I’ll be leading a Theology on Tap evening hosted by Saint Paul Parish at the Triumph Brewery on 138 Nassau Street, Princeton. Doors open at 7 and the talk begins around 7:30, followed by a Q and A.

The talk will be a frank and practical discussion about how young (and older!) Catholics can navigate the idea of consent in romantic relationships. As Catholics, we reject the reductionist idea that consent is the highest good, but we must also acknowledge and prepare for the complicated situations we can find ourselves in as human beings who are not made of stone. 

Then I’ll be giving a more formal, sort of companion talk called “When Women Say Yes: How Mary Invented Consent” for the Adult Faith Formation program at the St. Paul Spiritual Center at 7 p.m. at 214 Nassau St. in Princeton. 

The description of that talk:

When the angel came to Mary, did he ask her to become the mother of God? Or did he tell her? It is called “the annunciation,” not “the invitation” or “the proposal.” If God didn’t give even the queen of heaven and earth a real choice about what would happen to her body, then how important can consent really be for regular old humans?

Hear how I worked through my distress over women’s apparent low standing in the eyes of God, and how I came out the other side understanding what consent really means, why it’s so important, how Mary basically invented it, and what the rest of us can hope for, including and beyond consent.

Hope you can make it! 

 

On Notre Dame, the seal of confession, and Esmerelda

Here’s some good news:

The French Senate voted to approve plans to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral and added a clause stipulating that it must be restored to how it was before the fire.

No greenhouses, no swimming pools, no holograms, no disco balls, just back the way it was, because the way it was was good. Even though the dreadful fire helped me remember that all temporal things will pass, and that Jesus is the remedy to all loss of every kind, I’ll be as glad as anyone to see good old Notre Dame restored. 
 
We’re certainly in need of some good news, some restorative news. As someone pointed out on Twitter, you know things are going poorly when America turns to a TV show about Chernobyl for escapism. 
 
As always, good news is where you can find it. As the never-ending misery of the sex abuse scandal never ends, but just keeps compounding and compounding, I’ve thought more than once: How good it is, how weirdly restorative, to be reminded so clearly what really matters. Jesus matters. The sacraments matter. The Gospel matters. Works of mercy matter. Everything else, no matter how entrenched and enmeshed it has become with our experience our faith — anything at all can become a distraction from what our faith truly is. So as painful as the 21st century has been, it’s also been clarifying, painfully restorative. It strips away the things we want so we can see clearly what we really need.
 
That’s what kind of century it is, not only in the Church. This is the year when a Texas woman, Teresa Todd, was driving along a road at night when, NPR reports, a young man ran out and pleaded for help for his sister, who was dying of dehydration and exhaustion. Todd stopped and let the man and his sister, Esmerelda, and their companion rest in her car while she texted a friend, who is legal counsel for the local U.S. Border Patrol, for advice on what to do next. 
 
Todd is now under federal investigation for human smuggling. Her phone was confiscated for 53 days, because of what she did.
 
“I feel like I did the right thing. I don’t feel I did anything wrong,” Todd said. And she is right. She was simply performing a basic corporal work of mercy. But her own government is telling her that, in order to be a good citizen, she should have kept on driving. They’re telling her it was wrong to stop and see what she could do for someone who was begging for help — that Americans obeying American law don’t do that kind of thing. That’s not who we Americans are.
 
 
This kind of law is clarifying. It’s the kind of law you cannot in good conscience obey — not as an American, not as a Christian, not as a human being. These laws help us remember who we are. The politics around immigration is just a distraction, and has nothing to do with your actual obligation when you have a live, dying human being named Esmerelda in front of you. 
 
There’s more. This is the year when laws that threaten the seal of confession may pass from rumor to reality. And dozens of priest and even, hallelujah, more than one bishop, have come out and said, “I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom.”
 
The proposed law is clarifying. It gets us to remember who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. Sometimes good times muddy the waters. Sometimes peace clouds our vision. So we have to have some restorative hard times to clarify things.
 
Can you not get me wrong, here? There are some things more cut and dried than others. Priests can never ever ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances. There’s no nuance, at all. Immigration is more unwieldy, and when we talk about how to manage it, sometimes good people come across as harsh and opportunists come across as merciful. It’s rare that it’s so black and white as a dying person directly in front of you begging for help. And the roof of Notre Dame is . . . a roof. Just a roof.
 

But as I said, good news is where you find it. It’s good practice to ask ourselves, “What would I do, if it were me? What should I do, and why?” If Notre Dame were remade into a temple to modernity, what would it do to my faith? If my son were a priest facing arrest, what would I tell him to do, and why? If Esmerelda’s brother staggered out in front of my car, what would I do?  Would I stop

This is what we’re talking about, when we talk about freedom of religion. It’s not the freedom to give political speeches in church, and it’s not the freedom to be tax exempt. It’s not the freedom to pass the laws we, as religious folk, think ought to be passed. It’s the freedom to follow Christ and to obey his commands, no matter what the cost. 
 
The truth is, we do have religious freedom. We always will. It’s just that we might be sent to jail for exercising that freedom.
 
And that is clarifying. 
 
****