Defamed priest makes Church Militant pay; Catholic outrage outlet shutters doors

By Damien Fisher

Church Militant is closing.

Weeks before the defamation trial was scheduled to start, Church Militant settled the lawsuit brought by the Rev. Georges de Laire and agreed to pay out $500,000 to the parish priest who serves as judicial vicar for the Diocese of New Hampshire.

The Michigan-based media non-profit, St. Michael’s Media, plans to shut down Church Militant by the end of April, according to a segment released Friday by Todd & Weld, the law firm representing de Laire.

“St. Michael’s Media has also represented that it will cease all operations of Church Militant by the end of April 2024,” said the statement.

Church Militant is a subsidiary of St. Michael’s Media, both founded nearly 20 years ago by Gary Michael Voris. Voris stepped down in November after acknowledging he violated the non-profit’s morality clause.

Voris was accused of living a homosexual lifestyle while being the face of a media operation that attacked the Church for being open to homosexual members. He allegedly sent half-nude selfies to staffers and potential donors, including Jets placekicker Greg Zuerlein, and is accused of grooming young men who worked at the Ferndale, Michigan office.

still from video: https://www.facebook.com/michael.voris.7/videos/255458450430632

Church Militant posted an apology to its website Thursday, acknowledging the January, 2019 story labeling de Laire as “emotionally unstable” and “incompetent” was based on unnamed sources whose statements could not be substantiated in any credible manner.

“SMM and Church Militant extend their apologies to Father de Laire for the publication of this story which has been permanently removed from the ChurchMilitant.com website. Additionally, we have resolved Father de Laire’s defamation lawsuit through a financial payment to him,” the statement reads.

The statement issued Friday by de Laire’s law firm, Todd & Weld, confirms Saint Michael’s Media/Church Militant paid $500,000 to settle the lawsuit after being unable to produce a single witness who could confirm the defamatory article.

“(T)he defendants were unable to identify a single source who said anything negative about Father de Laire,” Todd & Weld’s Director of Marketing Paul Boynton wrote in the statement.

Both de Laire’s legal team and Church Militant blame the story’s author, canon lawyer Marc Balestrieri.

A “manufactured controversy” 

Boynton claims Balestrieri wrote the article as a means to get leverage on de Laire in the dispute between fringe group, The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Diocese of Manchester, as well as to get money for himself. Balestrieri was representing the Slaves at the time.

Marc Balestrieri

“To the contrary, the evidence established that Father de Laire is highly regarded by all who know him, and that Mr. Balestrieri manufactured a controversy because at the time he was representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, NH,” Boynton wrote. “The group had been placed under Precepts by the Diocese of Manchester because of their nonobservance of Church law, according to the Church.  The defamation was used, apparently, as an attempt to discredit Father de Laire and the Diocese and to raise funds including to pay for Mr. Balestrieri’s services as a canonist. At Mr. Balestrieri’s insistence, his authorship of the article at issue was hidden from readers. Father de Laire’s lawsuit forced the disclosure of these facts about Church Militant and Mr. Balestrieri.”

Reached Friday, Balestrieri denied he wrote the article as part of any scheme.

“No sir, absolutely not,” Balestrieri said. 

Balestrieri’s been almost impossible to track down throughout the lawsuit, which was first filed in early 2021. Church Militant hid the fact he was the author for almost a year, and Balestrieri did not respond to calls or emails. According to court records, he evaded process servers, even running into the woods to hide from the lawsuit

But on Friday, Balestrieri, rather than an answering service, answered his business phone, though he declined to answer most of my questions, citing the “pendency of litigation.” In the few answers he did provide, Balestrieri stood by the facts of the article but refused to take credit.

“On February 20, 2024, I telephoned Saint Michael’s Media’s attorneys, Stephen Martin and Seth Hipple, and spoke at length with them both, informing them – prior to their entering into the agreement for judgment of February 27th on behalf of their clients – that all of the information I provided as a source was true and that there are witnesses, including myself among them, and documentation able to corroborate what Church Militant reported in the article,” he wrote.

Balestrieri did not answer directly if he actually wrote the article, but indicates he was not the author. 

“Attribution of the article in question, as indicated on the website during the entirety of its posting, was ‘Church Militant’,” he wrote.

Canon lawyer says he was threatened

Balestrieri claims he evaded the lawsuit, skipped a scheduled deposition, and stayed away from the trial because of the threat he received to stop him from telling the “truth.”

“On July 12 … within 20 minutes of agreeing in person in writing to testify to the truth, first by deposition and then in trial, I received a written threat not to go through with the deposition. For that reason and that reason alone did I not appear for the deposition. I was advised by law enforcement to take the threat seriously, decline politely to participate in the deposition, and, at the time, stay away from the trial,” Balestrieri wrote.

Evidence uncovered during litigation shows Voris threatened to somehow expose Balestrieri in June when it became clear Balestrieri planned to deny he was the story’s author. 

“We have all the receipts. You go through with this and we will rain down on you publicly. You are a liar, and a Welch,” Voris texted to Balestrieri on June 15, 2023. 

But so far, it is unproved Balestrieri was threatened in July as he told me Friday. Balestrieri was asked to provide evidence he received an additional threat on July 12, and asked for the name of the law enforcement agency that advised him, and if there was any report about the threat filed with any agency. He has yet to respond to those questions. 

Last year, Voris and Church Militant were exposed hiding Balestrieri-related evidence that was supposed to be turned over to de Laire. In response, Judge Jospeh LaPlante ordered them to go through their records and get the discovery, or face sanctions. In the weeks before the settlement was reached, Voris turned over 17 pages of text messages with Balestrieri. Church Militant handed over 30,000 documents at the start of February.

Where it all began

All of the drama started in early January of 2019 when the Slaves were issued a letter of precepts by the Diocese of Manchester. As judicial vicar, de Laire had spent years dealing with problems surrounding the Feeneyite sect, and he is the official who issued the letter of precepts.

After barely hiding their anti-Semitism and refusing to adhere to official Church teaching on the doctrine of  “No Salvation Outside The Church,” the Slaves were finally told to stop calling themselves a Catholic organization, and they were barred from having a priest celebrate Mass at their rural Richmond compound, among other measures.

Unbeknownst to the public at the time, the Slaves were represented by Balestrieri in their canon law appeals. Within weeks, Voris was in New Hampshire to interview Louis Villarubia, also known as Brother Andre, the current leader of the Slaves.

The subsequent reporting cast de Laire as the villain, an ambitious and out-of-control prelate, known to be unstable and incompetent. Church Militant’s reporting also raised questions about de Laire’s ethics, insinuating corruption due to the fact he purchased a million-dollar home close to his assigned parish.

Apparently, neither Balestrieri nor Voris was aware that de Laire is an heir to a wealthy French family that made a fortune in the perfume industry. The expensive home was purchased with de Laire’s private money for his elderly mother.

Voris never contacted de Laire for an interview prior to publishing the defamatory article.

Soon after Voris reported on the Slaves, the group started a website to solicit donations for their defense. They were seeking at least $50,000 to pay for their appeal of the precepts. Balestrieri did file an appeal on their behalf with the Vatican, but it was dismissed because he missed the deadline. 

Voris agrees to keep Balestrieri’s secret, lends him $65k of Church Militant’s money

Voris knew Balestrieri personally and had hired him for his own canon law cases, according to evidence uncovered in the case. According to the evidence and the settlement statements, Voris agreed to keep Balestrieri’s contributions to the reporting anonymous.

That meant Voris represented in court for more than a year that he was the author. When the ruse was finally found out through discovery, Balestrieri was made a defendant, and then found in default because he failed to appear in court or respond to the lawsuit. 

As the lawsuit was grinding down Church Militant’s finances, Voris pushed Balestrieri to come up with confirmation from his supposed sources. According to depositions, during a heated conversation in June of 2022 about the sources, Voris agreed to give Balestrieri an interest-free $65,000 loan from Church Militant’s accounts.

Meanwhile, Villarubia never knew that his canon lawyer was the author. Villarubia testified during a deposition that he discovered that fact after I reported it. This led to an awkward call in 2022 between the chief Slave and the canon lawyer during which Balestrieri denied he wrote the article.

“And I said this is a problem, that Michael Voris said you wrote the article and you’re our canon lawyer. And [Balestrieri] said ‘I didn’t write the article.’ He vehemently denied authorship of the article,” Villarubia said during his deposition. “I simply thought that that should be on the record. Obviously, Marc’s chosen not to defend himself, but I have this information, and I thought that this should be part of the record.”

Villarubia did not respond to a request for comment. 

Last year, Voris and his Church Militant crew, including Christine Niles and Simon Rafe, handed over reams of evidence they originally claimed didn’t exist in order to prove Balestrieri was the author. 

Multiple lawyers ended up quitting the defense citing conflict of interest rules. 

Church Militant apologizes and closes down, holds Lent Liquidation sale

On Friday, Church Militant’s website makes no mention of shutting down, though a video retrospective of Saint Michael’s Media and Michael Voris is the lead featured post.

The second featured post is the apology to de Laire. 

The video features clips of Voris’ program, The Vortex, and quotes from grateful viewers. It ends with the words “Stay Tuned.”

Church Militant was recently forced to sell both its Ferndale office building where it operates and records its shows. The estimated sales revenue was a little under $600,000, according to court records.

Earlier last year, the non-profit laid off dozens of employees in a cost cutting effort. This week, Church Militant is also advertising a “Lent Liquidation Sale,” offering 50 percent off everything in its online store which is also shutting down.

“The store has been running for longer than Church Militant itself – but all good things come to an end,” the advertisement states. “We need to liquidate the stock, and so this is your opportunity to get a hold of some wonderful Catholic books, DVDs and CDs, statues and more at fire-sale prices.”

What’s for supper? Vol. 368: Supper, like the wild shmoo, harsh and exciting

Happy Friday! The theme of this week’s meals was: Listen, pal. 

SATURDAY
Hot dogs and chips, Squirtle cake

Saturday was Corrie’s birthday party. She is a covid baby, meaning all of her social milestones have been messed up ever since she’s been old enough to have friends to invite; so this is the first year she actually had multiple guests over, and we could celebrate indoors and everything. Very happy for her. She was delighted by every aspect of her Pokémon-themed party, including the giant Pokéball

and the Squirtle cake 

and I did not get pictures, but Sophia made her a truly deluxe illustrated treasure hunt with rhyming clues which led to a Pokéball piñata full of candy, made by Irene. Pretty great party. We just had hot dogs and chips for supper. 

SUNDAY
Calzoni, cheesecake

Sunday was her actual birthday, so she requested calzoni and cheesecake for supper. She is not the only kid to consider calzoni and cheesecake to be a primo birthday combination, even though I have pointed out that calzoni have ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese in it, and cheesecake has cream cheese and sour cream in it, and . . . foods exist that are not dense and white. Not everything has to be Dairy Wad. But, birthday is birthday, so that’s what I made. 

I have a spectacularly luscious, mile-high baked cheesecake recipe that I’ve been sworn to secrecy about, but the keys are: put all the ingredients out to come to room temperature the night before; mixed it very lightly, so as to introduce as little air as possible, and scrape down the bowl often; and  bake it in a water bath, and then turn off the oven and let it sit in the cooling oven for a few hours before you take it out and chill it. 

But I wasn’t up for that, so I made Sally’s Baking Addiction no-bake cheesecake in the morning and let it chill all day. It was okay. It does say it’s best if you chill it overnight, but it says six hours minimum, and it got at least seven hours. It was just kinda, I don’t know, greasy. I also felt like there was way too much crust for the amount of filling, and I DID follow the recipe exactly. 

However, Corrie thought it was wonderful, so that’s what counts. I got strawberries and some of those weird pineberries, which are pale pink and supposed to have a pineapple flavor. They were on sale, and they tasted like they were on sale. But, as I said, Corrie was delighted. 

Here is my basic recipe for calzones, although I think I bumped up the seasoning a bit:

Jump to Recipe

They turned out kind of unlovely, for whatever reason, but they tasted good. 

That one in the foreground is an absolute shmoo

Here I would like to note that, although I sometimes say “calzones,” the better plural is “calzoni,” but the plural of “Shmoo” is either “Shmoos” or “Shmoon.”

You might think worrying about this kind of thing is how I spend most of my time, but you’d be wrong. I spend most of my time trying to trick my computer into letting me have the photos I just gave it. I don’t know if all computers develop this quirk as they age, but my particular device has an absolute mania for hiding downloaded images from me. I download an image. I save it in “downloads.” I label it in the most obvious way possible, and I glue my eyeballs to my fingers as I type the name, to make sure I’m not misspelling anything. I also copy the name, for good luck. I paste the name into the search field. Nope, my computer has never heard of any such thing. But wait! Here is a picture of a hike we went on in 2013. How would that be? Or maybe I would like to see fifty-three images of kielbasa, hmmmm? We get into a shouting match. I cajole, I whine, I plead, I insist. I manually scroll through thousands of “recent” photos that I took “earlier.” I pretend to be interested in other files, as a misdirect. I close tabs and coldly walk away. I dash back and do a lightning fast search, so maybe it will turn up before computer realizes what is happening. I sulk, I threaten. I search for typos, even though I know it won’t help. And then the computer saunters up and goes, “Oh, hey, I found this picture of Corrie decorating birthday cheesecake with strawberries. Dunno, maybe it’s what you wanted?” 

Anyway, this is why they say Macs are intuitive. 

If you are tired of computers and want to feel a certain kind of way about humankind, I suggest reading the “Eponyms” section of the Wikipedia entry for Shmoo, and then going away and taking a little fresh air, and then reading the “Etymology” section, and do not skip the footnotes. And do not skip this:

Revealing an important key to the story, Al Capp wrote that the Shmoo metaphorically represented the limitless bounty of the Earth in all its richness—in essence, Mother Nature herself. In Li’l Abner’s words, “Shmoos hain’t make believe. The hull [whole] earth is one!!”

If you told me the hull earth was full of three to five kinds of cheese, I would be zero surprised. 

MONDAY
Salad with chicken, cranberries, walnuts, feta

Monday I finally went grocery shopping, which I wasn’t able to do over the weekend because (a) it was Corries’s birthday and also (b) we had an oops no money situation. So I went shopping without a list or a plan and just kind of sadly grabbed things, and tried to pick at least a few things that were not white and chewy. 

I roasted the chicken with oil and plenty of salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano, sliced it, and served it on greens with dried cranberries, crumbled feta, and toasted walnuts.

Perfectly decent meal. I wish I had thought to include some green apples, but I did not thought. 

TUESDAY
Leftovers

On Tuesday, Damien took the Three Fates to Boston to see Ricky Montgomery, who is a kind of a singing shmoo with cheekbones who is sad and has been treated very poorly indeed by his parents, but the songs are kind of cute? I don’t know, the kids paid for their own tickets. 

At home, I suddenly realized that, because so many people were out of the house, I could just serve leftovers and no one would say anything about it in my earshot. 

I made myself some instant oatmeal and toasted a bagel and I enjoyed this meal more than any meal I have enjoyed in quite some time. After supper, we listened to Chopin and played Bananagrams, and when the little kids went to bed, Elijah and I watched the first Dune movie, which I haven’t seen. We all tried several times to read the book and just couldn’t make the soft animal of our bodies do it. Actually we just watched the first part of the movie, because I’m too old for any 2-hour-thirty-five-minute movie at the end of the day, but I really enjoyed it. Show me pretty pictures and cool stuff, and I’m happy. 

WEDNESDAY
Ham, mashed squash, pierogies

Wednesday I completely forgot I was going to need to make supper. Luckily I had bought a pre-cooked ham, so I cut that up and put it in the oven covered with tinfoil along with some water, and I cut open a butternut squash and threw that in, too. Then I cracked open baby’s very first bag of frozen pierogies. 

Right, I have never eaten or even seen a pierogi before. This despite the fact that I grew up going to a Polish parish. This despite the fact that pierogies are the most shmoo-like of foods, and you’d think I would be spiritually wedded to them since day one. I don’t know what to tell you. I wasn’t even really sure how to prepare them, so I sprayed a pan with cooking spray and then also sprayed the pierogies, and cooked them and sprinkled them with a little salt. 

Everybody liked them, of course, so we’re off on that journey. These were potato and cheddar. The ham was also fine, of course, because it’s ham. I completely whiffed the squash situation, though, and I don’t want to talk about it. 

I did save the squash seeds and plant them, though. I forget if I mentioned I am cold sowing this year. I also have a bunch of indoor seeds started. This on the theory that it’s possible the world will end before spring comes, but when are we ever that lucky? 

But nay, I shan’t. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft shmoo of your body have a few more pierogies, and then wonder why you’re so constipated all the time. 

THURSDAY
Carnitas with black beans and rice

Thursday morning I unwrapped the Shai-Hulud that had been lurking in the back of the fridge, and started carnitas going. 

Jump to Recipe

I did have a few oranges and cinnamon sticks in the house, but couldn’t find the bay leaves, and also suddenly got tired of the carton of guava juice taking up space in the mini fridge, so I used that instead of Coke. 

I also made some really slipshod beans and rice. Here’s my recipe

Jump to Recipe

which I did not follow, but just cooked up some rice and then dumped a bunch of cans in with it and then showered it with miscellaneous reddish-brown spices. It was fine. All manner of things shall be fine. 

The carnitas made with guava juice were, as expected, a little fruity, but not bad at all. 

Since the meat was in the pot and the beans and rice were in the Instant Pot, I realized I had time to make a pie, because the next day was going to be my friend Millie’s birthday. She loves lemon meringue pie, and I have a decent cheat recipe that comes together really fast. 

Jump to Recipe

I sometimes make this pie with one of those crusts made of graham cracker or animal cracker crumbs with melted butter and sugar, but this time, I made an actual pastry crust

Jump to Recipe

which I blind baked for like ten minutes, then filled with the cheater’s lemon curd and baked until it was set. Nothing prettier than a lemon curd in the sun, my word.

Then, rather than using the cheater meringue in the recipe, I made an actual French meringue. I followed the instructions in this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I used duck eggs in the curd and in the meringue, and felt pretty good about that. 

Then, when the pie was back in the oven and I had set a timer and was zoning out on Twitter, the dog shambled into the kitchen for the forty thousandth time and looked at me, wordlessly imploring me for the thing he was sure was going to happen, because obviously I had made the entire pot of carnitas for him. So I shouted, “GO AWAY!” to which the kitchen speaker cheerfully responded, “Got it. Timer cancelled.”

Sooooooo the pie was in the oven a little longer than I would have originally liked, and I blame the dog, and, I don’t know, Steve Jobs. It wasn’t burnt, just a little dark. Bah. 

Anyway, Millie also likes morning glories, and I did manage to sprout a bunch of them for her, so I’m going to bring over the pie and the seedlings in a bit. I was going to transfer the seedlings to a more decorative pot, but then I realized that a 90-year-old woman from New Hampshire would get much more pleasure out of seeing that I reused a milk and juice jug for my seeds. You gotta know your audience. 

Please say a prayer for Millie today! She’s hoping to go home soon, and hoping to be able to have some kind of garden this year. If you met her, you would love her like I do, probably.  

FRIDAY
??

I don’t know, I forgot to plan anything. Are Shmoos meatless? What about if you live in Venezuela? 

 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

 

Carnitas (very slightly altered from John Herreid's recipe)

Ingredients

  • large hunk pork (butt or shoulder, but can get away with loin)
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 4-5 bay leaves
  • salt, pepper, oregano
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 can Coke

Instructions

  1. Cut the pork into chunks and season them heavily with salt, pepper, and oregano.

  2. Put them in a heavy pot with the cup of oil, the Coke, the quartered orange, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves

  3. Simmer, uncovered, for at least two hours

  4. Remove the orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves

  5. Turn up the heat and continue cooking the meat until it darkens and becomes very tender and crisp on the outside

  6. Remove the meat and shred it. Serve on tortillas.

 

 

Beans and rice

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

Cheater's lemon meringue pie

I like a pie shell made from several cups of animal cracker crumbs whirred into a sandy texture, mixed with a stick of melted butter and 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a dash of salt. Mix well and press into the pan.

Ingredients

  • 1 pie shell

For the lemon layer:

  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

For the meringue:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350

  2. Mix together the condensed milk, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well combined. Pour the mixture into the pie shell.

  3. Bake 10-15 minutes until the mixture has a little skin.

  4. While it's baking, use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the egg whites until it has soft peaks. Then gradually add the sugar until it has stiff peaks.

  5. When the lemon layer comes out of the oven, spread the meringue over the top and make a little peaks all over it with a fork or spatula.

  6. Return the pie to the oven and bake for another ten minutes or so until the meringue is slightly browned.

 

Basic pie crust

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, FROZEN
  • 1/4 cup water, with an ice cube

Instructions

  1. Freeze the butter for at least 20 minutes, then shred it on a box grater. Set aside.

  2. Put the water in a cup and throw an ice cube in it. Set aside.

  3. In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Then add the shredded butter and combine with a butter knife or your fingers until there are no piles of loose, dry flour. Try not to work it too hard. It's fine if there are still visible nuggets of butter.

  4. Sprinkle the dough ball with a little iced water at a time until the dough starts to become pliable but not sticky. Use the water to incorporate any remaining dry flour.

  5. If you're ready to roll out the dough, flour a surface, place the dough in the middle, flour a rolling pin, and roll it out from the center.

  6. If you're going to use it later, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. You can keep it in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months, if you wrap it with enough layers. Let it return to room temperature before attempting to roll it out!

  7. If the crust is too crumbly, you can add extra water, but make sure it's at room temp. Sometimes perfect dough is crumbly just because it's too cold, so give it time to warm up.

  8. You can easily patch cracked dough by rolling out a patch and attaching it to the cracked part with a little water. Pinch it together.

The test of “Here I am”

It’s that second time that Abraham says, “Here I am” that gets me.

The first time, God calls his name, and he says, “Here I am,” and God says to him:

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”

What this means, I won’t try to tell you. You know as much as I do. Abraham waited his whole life for God to keep the promise he made, and then finally God does it, and Abraham finally receives his beloved, promised son. And then God says, “No, kill him.”

If he had known this is what God wanted, would he have answered so readily? Or would he have said something else besides, “Here I am”?

But apparently it is what God wanted, and Abraham is apparently finished with not trusting God. He already made all his mistakes in Egypt, telling them not once but twice that Sarah was his sister, apparently hoping they would take her but spare him; and then later he tried to force God’s hand by having a son with his servant Hagar. He does these things because the situation has gotten out of control, he’s afraid, and he doesn’t take God at his word; and because he is still learning who God is. But by the time he’s at the foot of the mountain, Abraham has changed. This time, when God calls him, he says, “Here I am,” and God tells him the terrible thing. 

He does it. He climbs the mountain with Isaac, and builds an altar, and gathers wood, and he raises his knife over the flesh of his son. And again, God calls him: “Abraham.”

To which Abraham replies, “Here I am.”

I wonder what he thought God might say this time. 

He himself has already said everything there is for a man to say: Here I am. The one thing he knows is that God is there, and Abraham puts himself there, too. For whatever. Whatever comes next. He doesn’t even ask, “What do you want?” He just says, “Here I am.” I can’t help thinking that being willing to sacrifice his son was the first part of the test, and saying “Here I am” the second time was the second part; and maybe the second part was harder.

This was the reading at Mass this past Sunday. The previous week, we heard about Jesus being tempted in the desert. That was not a test, like Abraham’s unspeakable ordeal was a test. This was a temptation, and I have been thinking about what the difference might be. 

In the desert, “the tempter” tries to get Jesus to do things. He tries to get him to turn bread into rocks, he tries to get him to jump off a high building, and he tries to get Jesus to bow to him. He is trying to get Jesus, who is God, to do things. To go places, to make things happen, to switch things around, in order to get something he presumably wants more, in return.

I cannot understand what could possibly be involved in the kind of struggle Jesus apparently goes through while being presented with these temptations; but in each case, he does not do the thing. He responds by reminding the devil who God is, according to scripture. God is the one who IS, and Jesus is his beloved son. You don’t go to God and tell him to do things. 

I have heard that the reason the devil approached Jesus in the desert is because he wanted to find out who Jesus really was. The devil clearly had his suspicions, but he tries to put Jesus through a series of challenges: He can see that this man is weak and hungry, and he presses that point, feeling out the boundaries of this strange new apparent disguise of the flesh and its limitations. He tries to get intimate with Jesus by making him do things, and in that way, he could find out who he really was.  

The devil is the devil because he has never accepted who God really is: The one who IS. Not someone you can bargain with; not someone who is manipulable by others. The devil tried and failed to change God when he rebelled against him before the world began; and he still fails to understand how IMMUTABLE God is.

Which is kind of understandable. How does an immutable God become man? I don’t have any words for that. 

But this is what makes Jesus’ ordeal a temptation, rather than a test like the one Abraham endured. A test is meant to clarify who is who, and who God is. But the goal of a temptation is to make God seem less God-like. That’s what sin does: It doesn’t really change God, of course, but it makes it harder for us to understand who God is, and harder to recognize him, and harder for us to see ourselves clearly, too. It blurs our perception of where we end and God begins. All sin does this. 

That’s what the devil wants: He wants Jesus, in the first two temptations, to enter into an entanglement, a tit-for-tat, a weird, complicated bargain where it’s not really clear who has the power and who stands to benefit. “I’ll give you this, if you give me that, and the thing you’re doing will actually SHOW how powerful you are, but it has to be the thing I say . . . ” This is not how you behave when you understand who God is. It’s how you behave when you don’t want God to be who he is.

But with the third temptation — and I’ve always thought he seems to be impatient, and frustrated with how little he has learned with his previous attempts — he just says, “Look, just bow down to me.” And of course Jesus will not. He swats away the temptation like the absurd thing it is. I almost wonder if it was the devil being tested, in the desert. Maybe, possibly, he was being given a second chance to see God for God, and to act accordingly? Maybe.

In any case, the first two temptations the devil attempts reminds me of how Abraham acted before he came to Moriah. He wants to be in a relationship with God, most definitely, but he wants to manipulate him. He’ll leave his home and family like God said, but he’ll keep himself safe by lying and throwing his wife under the bus. He’ll get that son God promised, but he’ll do it the tricky way, with poor Hagar. He is, maybe without realizing it, testing who God really is. He still believes that God is someone you can get things out of, and also that, in order to get these things, you have to manipulate him. He tries to make God less God-like, so he can be more in control.

This never ends well. It takes him a while (he is so old by this point!), but eventually he understands. God is God, and God does what he likes. I know people don’t want to hear that, but tell me what else could possibly be true? How does it end when we act otherwise? 

And this is why, the second time God calls Abraham’s name on that horrible mountaintop, Abraham just says, “Here I am.” He is done pretending he can have any kind of control over the situation, or even assuming that anything at all will come next. Maybe he will stand there with his dagger raised over his son’s neck forever, waiting for God to speak. He doesn’t know, or even try to find out. What he says is all he can say: “Here I am.” 

He passes that test. He lets God be God, even though he doesn’t know what that means, much less what it might mean for him and his son. What he knows is that God is there, and Abraham is allowing himself to be there, before God, and that is all. 

I don’t even know who God is, except that after this hard and horrible test that we all read about every year, we keep reading and eventually come to the part where Jesus also speaks from the weakness and limitations of his flesh, and he also says, “Here I am.” The knife is poised over the flesh of the son, and this time it goes in.

So, that’s what Lent is for. It is for learning how to say, “Here I am,” and letting God say what comes next.

 

 

 

****

Image taken from f. 93v of Haggadah for Passover (the ‘Hispano-Moresque Haggadah’).

Mandatory Lent Film Party, 2024: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Every Lent for the last few years, we’ve been watching a worthwhile, faith-related movie together as a family on Friday nights. (Full list at the end.)

The tradition continues! And, in keeping with tradition, right out of the gate we didn’t manage to do it on the first Friday of Lent, but instead started The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) on Saturday, had some streaming issues, and finished watching it Sunday. 

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “MY family would never watch a weird French black-and-white silent film from the 20’s, much less one that got broken up into two nights.” You may be surprised. This is an absolutely enthralling movie. My youngest kid is eight, and she sat there gripping my arm the whole time, and when it was over, she just said, “Wow.” 

It follows Joan’s last week or so of life, from her trial at the hands of her captors, until her execution. The historically accurate synopsis is simply: Joan is interrogated, threatened, and tormented as the English and their French collaborators try to get her to sign a document repudiating her actions leading a revolt against the English. She eventually breaks down and complies, and is sentenced to life in prison, but she regrets her moment of weakness, takes it back, and is burned at the stake. 

You might think of silent film as relying on exaggerated, histrionic facial distortions, with tossed heads and fluttering fingers, pantomime and rolling eyes meant to stand in for dialogue, but that’s not how this works. It does spend most of the film disconcertingly close to individual faces, with the camera at an odd, discomfitingly low angle, looking up at faces from about chin level.

At first I was reminded of the grotesque faces in so many paintings of Jesus being mocked — Hieronymous Bosch or many others.

 

But the faces of her tormenters are not actually grotesques. Instead, when you see them leering or smirking or looking outraged or disgusted, it’s just showing humanity at its recognizable worst.

Some pieces of dialogue are displayed on the screen, in French and in English, enough to keep you current with the story. An incredible complexity of emotion is displayed on screen, so although you often see the actors moving their lips and you don’t hear anything but the musical soundtrack, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. The story and dialogue are taken directly from the contemporary account of her actual trial. 

The backgrounds are very spare, with light and shadow making up the most important shapes on screen (although the sets and the costume are painstakingly accurate). Much is made of people passing by windows and in and out of shadow, and appearing in doorways. You could have convinced me the film, with its minimalism and startling angles, was shot in in the 1950’s, rather than in 1928. There is so little on screen besides human faces, every object that appears — especially the woven grass crown that follows Joan around —  takes on a gripping significance; and when she is allowed to hold a crucifix as she is led up to her execution space, she cradles it so gratefully and lovingly, and you FEEL that. 

You also feel how horrific it is when, previously, they try to coerce her into recanting, showing her the Eucharist — and then, when she refuses, they put the host away again, blow out the candles, and leave her to herself.  

I thought many times of people who believe they are following their conscience, and find themselves rejected by the Church, or with people who say they represent the Church. Joan is entirely focused on Jesus, her king; and as soon as her captors understand that she really is devoted to him, they use it against her, and try to coerce her literally with Jesus. It’s horrible. This movie isn’t anti-Church, I don’t think. It doesn’t seem to be trying to convey the idea that the hierarchy is by definition cruel. It does show what happens when you follow Jesus, and when you don’t. 

It includes the historically accurate charges against her, that she offends God by wearing men’s clothes, and that she must be guilty of witchcraft; but it doesn’t veer into territory that would surely be unavoidable if it had been made today: You don’t come away with the impression that these evil, patriarchal men are tormenting her because they can’t abide a strong female lead. It does show that they’re evil, but it’s because they don’t recognize holiness, and they don’t love or recognize the Lord. And they’re willing to use Jesus as a weapon. 

There are several different musical scores that accompany different versions of this film. The one we saw, from Criterion, had “Voices of Light” by Richard Einhorn, written in 1994, and I can’t imagine an improvement. It sounded both hauntingly modern and bracingly medieval, and it sometimes underscores the emotion on screen, but sometimes provides an emotional counterpoint or contrast that heightens the sense of seeing the action from a perspective perhaps beyond the natural world. Worth listening to on its own. 

In the first part, Jane is feverish and her eyes bug out in an unnatural fashion that is exhausting to watch, but after she has been bled, threatened with torture, and interrogated some more, her eyelids droop more and more, and you can’t help but internally mirror her. Although the camera isn’t from Joan’s perspective, the experience of the film is not a normal viewer experience., where the viewer watches a story unfold. It is an ordeal, in some ways, but a bracingly compelling one, that makes you feel like something is happening to you. You don’t want to look away, as you might during, for instance, The Passion of the Christ; instead, you find yourself straining all your senses so as to be as present as possible in what feels like a real encounter with something beyond a story. It’s not that it’s so realistic (although the camera seeks out every pore, hair, wrinkle, and tear on every face). It feels instead like something you remember or something you dreamed about: Not realistic, but more intimate than reality. 

Before and during her execution, the camera pans past the faces in the crowd, and you see there, as you did earlier with the judges, bald human emotion, frailty, pain, regret, and also foolishness, fear, perversion. The camera spends so much time on individual faces, not only on Joan’s but on everyone’s, that you come to realize everyone is on trial. Everyone is being searched, and is given a chance to either be faithful, or not. 

I wondered, as I always do when I think about Joan of Arc, why God chose to intervene in history in such an unusually political way. Joan apparently got direct orders to lead a military charge in order to bring about a specific regime change, and it really feels like God is rooting for one country over another, which seems . . . unusually Old Testamenty. But then I thought, maybe he does actually do this often, and the people he speaks to just decide not to respond! I just don’t know. In any case, this Joan is so singlemindedly fixed on her love of Christ, and her obedience to him, that you can see that that really is the main point — love and obedience — and anything else she does is merely the form her love happens to take.

That being said, she is terrified. She’s not brash or beyond human emotion. She trembles and weeps and struggles as she fights to stay true to Jesus, and you can see that she trusts God but is still terribly afraid of where that trust will lead her. She is holy, but also clearly only 19. Early on, they ask her if she knows the Lord’s Prayer, and who taught it to her. She says, “Ma mère” and a tear slips down her cheek.

Here is the “Has God made you promises?” scene.

Never ever have I seen such acting before. And it’s just her face. 

There aren’t a lot of tellingly clever lines or ideas, although Joan comes across as outwitting the judges a few times, just because she’s completely honest. When they hope to trap her by asking if she’s in a state of grace, she says, “If I am not, God put me there. If I am, please God so keep me.” When they ask if God has promised to free her, she says yes, but she doesn’t know the day or the hour.

This very simplicity, and the way she is both faithful and fearful, is the most memorable depiction of faith I can recall ever seeing. The movie pretty overtly shows Joan is walking in the same steps as Jesus in his final hours. It would make very appropriate viewing for Holy Week, and it would be perfect for kids of high school age.

Content warnings: It shows torture devices and many scenes where Joan is in terror; it shows her being bled to relieve a fever, and it shows her being executed. You see her alive and inhaling smoke, and then you see her burned, already-dead body through the flames, so it’s clear what is happening, but it’s not extremely graphic. The entire movie is tense and alarming, so even though you don’t clearly see the worst things that happen to her, I can imagine  this movie leading to nightmares for sensitive viewers. But she is so clearly triumphant at the end, it leaves you feeling — well, as I said, like something happened to you. Something good. 

***
Here is the list of movies we’ve watched in previous years, with link to ReelGood so you can see where to stream them, and my review (if any):

Lilies of the Field (1963) 
where to stream
 (My longer review here)

The Secret of Kells (2009) 
where to stream
 (My longer review here

Saint Philip Neri: I Prefer Heaven
available via Formed
 (My longer review here)

The Miracle Maker (1999)
where to stream
 (My longer review here

The Jeweller’s Shop (1989)
available via Formed
 (My longer review here)

The Reluctant Saint: The Story of Joseph of Cupertino (1963)
available via Formed
(My longer review here)

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
where to stream
 (My longer review here)

The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
where to stream
 (My longer review here)

Boys Town (1938)
where to stream
 (My longer review here)

Fatima (2020)
where to stream
(My longer review here)

The Song of Bernadette (1943)
where to stream
 (My longer review here

Ushpizin (2005)
where to stream
 (My longer review here

Calvary (2014)
where to stream

I Confess (1953)
where to stream
(My longer review here

The Robe (1953)
where to stream
(My longer review here)

The Trouble With Angels (1966)
where to stream
 (My longer review here

Babette’s Feast (1987)
where to stream
 (My longer review here)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
where to stream
(My full review here)

There Be Dragons (2011)
where to stream
(my longer review here

The Prince of Egypt (1998)
where to stream

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 366: CAN I EAT THAT ON A FRIDAY?

My annual dilemma: Do I keep posting What’s For Supper on Fridays in Lent? We eat so much meat, and isn’t it kind of awful to share all those food photos when people are abstaining? ISN’T IT?

This year’s solution: Yes, but hover over each picture to get additional information. This joke is not quite funny enough to justify how long I spent trying to figure out the plugin, but the sunk cost fallacy is a powerful force. 

Okay! so here’s what we ate:

SATURDAY
Roast beef sandwiches, chips

While I was shopping, Damien offered to shop for and cook Saturday’s meal, which, duh. I would have been happy with anything, but I was delighted with roast beef sandwiches. 

But the question remains: On a Friday in Lent, can you eat this meal? 

I really hope that effect worked, because the Chinese fellows who made the plugin seem really nice and I don’t want to disappoint them.

SUNDAY
Meatball subs, chips

Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday, and I usually make some kind of pub food, like bloomin’ onions, or hot wings, sausage rolls, or potato tornados. This year I was not feeling it, but did take advantage of cheap ground beef, and made a bunch of meatballs. 

Here is my recipe, for reference

Jump to Recipe

but I have taken to sloshing in a ton of worcestershire sauce, and that turns out to be the most important ingredient of all. 

Then I just dumped the cooked meatballs in a pot of sauce from jars, heated it up, and served them on cheap rolls with everyone’s favorite plastic parmesan cheese from a shakey canister. 

But on a Friday, can you have a meatball sub?

my dude, no

you cannot eat that meatball sub

I was pretty proud of having a hot dinner ready, because I spent most of Sunday installing my lovely new cabinet and marble countertop! I used a circular saw to trim off the short part of the L of existing laminate/whatever countertop, and dragged out the old open shelving and rickety cabinet thing. 

Here’s the before:

Then I cut up the wood that had been holding the countertop up, and used it to make little risers to lift up the new cabinet, which is shorter that what I had before. I decided to leave it slightly lower, because that’s a much easier height for me to knead dough on, and I know marble is great for making dough and pastry. 

Smart, right? I’m so smart! The less smart part was when I attached the risers to the top of the cabinet, rather than the bottom. 

Oop. But I just unscrewed ’em and turned it upside down and screwed them on the bottom and turned it right side up and shoved it into place and LOOK.

So much more work space! So much more storage space!

Obviously I need to fill up that gap on the right, where it meets the higher counter, and patch the piece of flooring that the old shelves ripped up, but I am SO pleased. The marble is so pretty

and I got it for an absolute song on Facebook Marketplace. If you don’t have a small and silly kitchen, you may not recognize the problems I solved, but before, for instance, for various reasons I had to store my food processor in three different spots (one for the base, one for the top, and one for the insides). Now I can just keep it all in one spot, plugged in and ready to go, right next to my standing mixer and all my flours and whatnot. Wonderful. 

My next trick will be to replace the rest of the countertop, which is similarly chipped, scarred, and generally horrible, but that will be more involved because I will need a cut-out for the sink. 

I also made a bunch of little improvements and rearrangements that I won’t bore you with, and I re-hung the little curtain that hides the missing doors in the island storage, and it just feels awesome. I’ve had open shelving for years and years, and that means it always looks cluttered in there, and I have to wash everything before I use it. Boo! 

But no more! Check it out: 

Happy day. 

MONDAY
Chili verde, quesadillas

On Monday I answered the periodic hankering I have for chili verde. I was in a big rush so I didn’t remove any seeds or membranes from the peppers, and I knew that would make it pretty spicy.

Jump to Recipe

My friends, it turned out EXTREMELY SPICY. 

So can you eat chili verde on a Friday in Lent? 

no

but in a very real sense, no

and what I mean by that is that, if you eat it on Friday, you’ll be sorry through much of Saturday. woof. It was delicious, but I guess my stomach is getting old. Oh well. 

I also made a bunch of plain quesadillas, because only about half the kids like spicy food. 

TUESDAY
Mardi Gras!

Our tradition for Mardi Gras is to go to the Winchester, a.k.a. Chili’s. You know what, we really like Chili’s. And they didn’t get hysterical when we showed up with twelve people, either. Most of the rest of the family ordered fancy burgers of one kind or another, but I got flustered and ordered some silly chicken on salad thing. Just as well, as I was still experiencing some Regret de Chili Verde. 

So . . . can you eat burgers on Friday? 

Image Hover Title

ok obviously not, but I forgot to take a food picture. But please also do not eat Damien and Simcha

Also on Tuesday, we made Valentine treats for Corrie’s class. Valentine oysters! Cute! Adorable! Funny! We used store-bought oatmeal cookies and spread the bottom with pink frosting, stuck a conversation heart in there, and then attached a second cookie on top using a dab of melted candy wafers. Then we used more melted candy wafers to attach eyeballs to the top. 

Now, some may say that it was a poor choice to buy bright red candy wafers. Some might even say the adorable cute funny oyster valentines took on a sort of . . . . Ebola look.

Still others will say that we definitely made a lot of them, and that’s what counts. 

WEDNESDAY
Spaghetti

Guys you know what spaghetti looks like. It was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is spaghetti day. Eat up! In moderation, whatever that looks like for you. (For me it looks like . . . kind of a lot of spaghetti. I tried.) 

THURSDAY
Omelettes, hash browns

Thursday, Damien took two of the kids to a concert in Boston, so I made omelettes-to-order for the remaining few. I had mine with ham, gouda, and spinach, with more spinach on the side. 

The burning question: Can you eat that omelette?

YES

if you skip the ham 🙁

Sad. But I didn’t burn the omelettes, anyway. 

FRIDAY
Pizza

Just cheese pizza! Which obviously you can eat on a Friday in Lent. But just to clarify, I have created this top-notch slider images, which shows a pepperoni pizza (“before,” if you will), and a pizza with all kinds of crazy shit on it, I don’t remember what, but I don’t think meat (dba “after”).

In conclusion, this was a stupid idea and I’m never doing it again. Also I grew out my fingernails, and now I can’t type. Stupid ideas all around! And no, I did not pray the litany of humility. What do you take me for. 

 

Meatballs for a crowd

Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs. 

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400.

  2. Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.

  3. Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.

  4. Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve. 

 

Spicy Chili Verde

You can decrease the heat by seeding the peppers, using fewer habañeros, or substituting some milder pepper. It does get less spicy as it cooks, so don't be alarmed if you make the salsa and it's overwhelming!

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs pork shoulder
  • salt and pepper
  • oil for cooking
  • 2 cups chicken broth or beer (optional)

For the salsa verde:

  • 4 Anaheim peppers
  • 2 habañero peppers
  • 4 jalapeño peppers
  • 4 medium onions
  • 12 tomatillos
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled
  • 1 bunch cilantro

For serving:

  • lime wedges
  • sour cream
  • additional cilantro for topping

Instructions

  1. Preheat the broiler.

  2. Pull the husks and stems off the tomatillos and rinse them. Cut the ends off all the peppers. Grease a large pan and put the tomatillos and peppers on it. Broil five minutes, turn, and broil five minutes more, until they are slightly charred.

  3. Take the pan out and cover the peppers and tomatillos with plastic wrap or tin foil for ten minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, pull the skins off the peppers and tomatillos. At this point, you can remove the seeds from the peppers to decrease the spiciness if you want.

  4. Put the skinned tomatillos and peppers in a food processor or blender with the onions, garlic, and cilantro. Purée.

  5. In a heavy pot, heat some oil. Salt and pepper the pork chunks and brown them in the oil. You will need to do it in shifts so the pork has enough room and browns rather than simmering.

  6. When all the meat is browned, put it all in the pot and add the puréed ingredients.

  7. Simmer at a low heat for at least three hours until the meat is tender. If you want thinner chili verde, you can add chicken broth or beer. At some point, if you don't want the pork in large chunks, press the meat with the back of a spoon to make it collapse into shreds.

  8. Spoon the chili verde into bowls, squeeze some lime juice over the top, and top with sour cream and fresh cilantro.

How to keep the LENT in Valentine’s Day

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow! Valentine’s Day is tomorrow! WHAT TO DO?

Last time this happened, the American bishops felt compelled to clarify that Ash Wednesday does, in fact, trump Valentine’s Day, even if overpriced teddy bears are a very important part of your spirituality. So you push up V-day to Tuesday, or to the weekend before. Easy peasy, shift your squeezy.

Or, you combine them. YASS. Both/and; so Catholic. Here are a few ideas for how to combine romance and suffering, sweetness and pain.

GIFTS OF FINEST CAROB  Remember carob?  It looks like chocolate that’s been sitting in a dusty corner for a while, and it tastes like a chocolately dusty corner.  Fasting just got that much easier! Give your significant other a satiny, heart-shaped box packed with an assortment of carob truffles, and you will be transmitting a powerful Lenten message:  we must not be seduced by the passing allure of temporal things, for the sweetness of this world is but a ackkkk, blech, ptui, what is this?

QUEEN VICTORIA’S SECRET  We’re required to abstain from meat, but other kinds of abstinence? Not obligatory. On the other hand, you don’t want to start your Lent too carnal-like.  So try this easy trick:  pick out something satiny or lacy, but at least four sizes too large.  As the lucky lady opens the box, you can wiggle your eyebrows suggestively while explaining, “You really put the gras in Mardi Gras this year, Marty!”  (This works better if your wife’s name is Marty.) I guarantee you, no sins of fleshly excess will threaten your evening.  Unless you count “stabbing” as a sin of fleshly excess.

SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE FLOWERS  Take a leaf from liturgical decorators around the country:  Go out back where the dumpsters are, pull up some dead grass, and add a few twiggy things and maybe a really scuzzy looking cattail.  Stick it in a pot, preferably one that looks like grandma got into the clay again.  Voila — Lent flowers!  In a similar vein, if you know your wife or girlfriend was hoping for perfume, you can substitute sand, because sand is symbolic and whatnot.

HEIRLOOM JEWELRY  Any unimaginative bozo can stumble into Zales and pick out a diamond this or a ruby that.  What you want is something that is not only decorative, but also saturated in spiritual significance.  So go ahead and rummage through the lost and found box on the radiator at the back of the church.  Maybe you’ll find a nice, broken-in scapular, already “seasoned” with the holy emanations of countless fervent necks.  Or maybe you’ll really luck out and find a miraculous medal that’s so well-prayed-on, it’s gone full manatee.  Jackpot!

A LOVE LETTER TELLING YOUR BELOVED HOW YOU REALLY FEEL. . . about the state of his or her soul.  True love doesn’t sit by and let other people wallow in sin.  Consider a hand-penned, calligraphic examination of his or her conscience.  Or you might assemble a “dream team” of hand-selected patron saints which you will be assigning to the cause of your beloved’s salvation (St. Drogo, St. Fiacre and, of course, St. Jude spring to mind).  Or simply borrow some lyric lines from scripture.  I suggest Jeremiah.  There are also some really exquisite passages in Hosea.

Good luck, hot stuff. You’re gonna need it.

***

A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2013.

What’s for supper? Vol. 364: Char who?

In haste! In haste! I am running out to buy a new (to me) cabinet and countertop from Facebook Marketplace. Where will it go? There are several reasonable possibilities, but I have my eye on this spot:

which is . . . fine. I JUST cleaned the floor a couple days ago, and it already looks like this again because of that huge gap, and there is an immobile piece of wood that makes it really hard to get pans in and out, and the open shelves mean everything is constantly filthy, and the whole thing wobbles, and SO ON. But it’s fine. 

The countertop itself is also kind of

. . .not the worst thing I have ever seen. HOWMEVER, I am pretty excited about the new piece! A cherry cabinet WITH DOORS and little sliding drawers on the shelves, and a marble countertop. Don’t tell me anything bad about marble. I cannot hear it right now. Tell me later. 

Okay, here’s what we ate this week!

SATURDAY
Turkey wraps, hot pretzels

Slightly weird combination of things that we either happened to have, or happened to be on sale: Turkey, salami, capicola, some kind of cheese, and lettuce. 

I guess that’s not actually that weird. I had mine with ranch dressing and it was pretty tasty. The wraps are allegedly spinach-flavored, but this was not discernible. 

SUNDAY
Jambalaya, corn bread

Kielbasa was on sale and I found a bag of shrimp in the freezer, and I thought there might be leftover chicken in the fridge. There turned out not to be, but I made the jambalaya anyway

Jump to Recipe

which is my own cobbled-together recipe, and is reasonably spicy and easy. I did start out with the “holy trinity” of onions, pepper, and celery, and here’s that with the kielbasa and shrimp added: 

Purty. 

I had a little corn meal, so I made a corn bread just following the recipe on the bag: 

Que bella luna!

Then I finished up the jambalaya and took a rather arty photo of it:

It was a little dry, but not bad. 

MONDAY
Bagel, egg, and cheese sandwiches with sausages, OJ

What’s not to like? 

and yes, American cheese is the correct cheese for this meal. 

TUESDAY
Oven fried chicken, mashed potatoes, terrible kale

Oven fried chicken delights again. I got the thighs and drumsticks soaking in milk, egg, and salt in the morning, and made a bunch of mashed potatoes and put them in the slow cooker to stay warm. Then I tried to figure out what the third thing would be. I settled on kale cooked in the manner of collard greens

This . . . should have worked. I sauteed up the garlic and onions and spices and added in the cider vinegar, and then started stuffing in the kale

and then I stirred in the broth and liquid smoke. Then my Instant Pot had a fit, and started exploding steam (I just about caca’d myself, let me tell you) and then started burning, so I had some doubts about how it would come out. I think it could have survived those things, but I made some kind of fatal error with measuring, and it tasted FOUL. Hard to believe, when it has such an exquisite appearance, I know:

but take my word for it, it was disgusting. It tasted like rotten greens soaked in penny juice, with gym socks. Bleh.  

However, the oven fried chicken turned out great. Did I put the recipe yet? Here it is:

Jump to Recipe

then seasoned the flour and dredged the soaked chicken in in. I put a pan in the oven with the oil and butter. I took a picture of this for some reason, so here’s that: 

and then you just lay the chicken down in the heated-up pan, and you have to turn it one time, but otherwise it just takes care of itself

Comes out really nice. Crisp skin, juicy meat. What’s not to like. 
The potatoes were good, too. I took this picture before I realized what I was in for, kale-wise:

Can’t win ’em all. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken burgers, guacamole and chips

I had a bunch of avocados I had bought for the wraps, but they weren’t ripe, so I made some guacamole

Jump to Recipe

and picked up some tortilla chips.

Boop, dinner. 

THURSDAY
Cheater char siu . . . bowls? 

I don’t know what to call this. The plan was bibimbap, but I just had this hunk of pork without a specific recipe in mind, and Thursday instantly revealed itself to b a crazy-go-nuts day. So I threw the pork in the Instant Pot along with this easy sauce I invented

Jump to Recipe

and cooked it for I think 25 minutes. I also cut up some cucumbers, dished up some raw sugar snap peas, and quick-pickled some carrots. 
Here’s my recipe for quick-pickled vegetables

Jump to Recipe

but I was rushing too much to look it up, so I did a cup of white vinegar, a cup of water, and probably 1/4 cup white sugar, and it turned out fine. 

I won’t bore you with the details, but we had an insane afternoon (the low point was me yelling into the phone in the hospital lobby, “Well, they must have somebody else’s blood, then!” [they didn’t]), so I asked Damien to take the meat out of the IP and start some rice cooking; and when I got home, I sliced/shredded the meat and put it in a pan on the stove along with most of the sauce, and simmered and stirred it until the sauce thickened up and coated the meat

it took probably 25 minutes. Would have gotten thicker and stickier if I had kept going, but everyone was hungry! I fried up some eggs for anyone who wanted one (including the dog, because we’ve had some sharp words lately, and I had regrets).

For an insane day, it was a really good meal!

I don’t know what it was, exactly, but I’m not going to argue with a hot bowl of tasty things. 

FRIDAY
Pizza

Oh, and Corrie’s box turtle came! In the mail! He’s just a baby, and is about the size of a half dollar.

This is her early birthday present, and she was and is absolutely smitten.

His name is Captain Cheez Whiz. 

Here he is getting a tender and loving bath:

He’s surprisingly charming! He marches around intrepidly and is quite alert and bright-eyed, and when he gets tired, he just goes into his corner and buries himself. We all agreed that he may be onto something. 

Okay! That’s it! 

bastardized jambalaya

completely inauthentic, just things that seem tasty to me

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 rope jambalaya, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp cajun seasoning
  • raw shrimp
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups raw brown or long grain rice
  • 10-oz can diced tomatoes with chilies

Instructions

  1. In a heavy pot, heat up the oil. Brown up the kielbasa. Add in the onions, celery, and green pepper and continue stirring and cooking over medium heat until the vegetables are somewhat soft.

  2. Add in the garlic and spices and cook a few minutes more. Add in the raw shrimp and stir.

  3. Pour in the chicken broth, rice, and tomatoes with any juice. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until rice is cooked.

 

White Lady From NH's Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 4 avocados
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Peel avocados. Mash two and dice two. 

  2. Mix together with rest of ingredients and add seasonings.

  3. Cover tightly, as it becomes discolored quickly. 

Oven-fried chicken

so much easier than pan frying, and you still get that crisp skin and juicy meat

Ingredients

  • chicken parts (wings, drumsticks, thighs)
  • milk (enough to cover the chicken at least halfway up)
  • eggs (two eggs per cup of milk)
  • flour
  • your choice of seasonings (I usually use salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, and chili powder)
  • oil and butter for cooking

Instructions

  1. At least three hours before you start to cook, make an egg and milk mixture and salt it heavily, using two eggs per cup of milk, so there's enough to soak the chicken at least halfway up. Beat the eggs, add the milk, stir in salt, and let the chicken soak in this. This helps to make the chicken moist and tender.

  2. About 40 minutes before dinner, turn the oven to 425, and put a pan with sides into the oven. I use a 15"x21" sheet pan and I put about a cup of oil and one or two sticks of butter. Let the pan and the butter and oil heat up.

  3. While it is heating up, put a lot of flour in a bowl and add all your seasonings. Use more than you think is reasonable! Take the chicken parts out of the milk mixture and roll them around in the flour until they are coated on all sides.

  4. Lay the floured chicken in the hot pan, skin side down. Let it cook for 25 minutes.

  5. Flip the chicken over and cook for another 20 minutes.

  6. Check for doneness and serve immediately. It's also great cold.

Quick Chinese "Roast" Pork Strips

If you have a hankering for those intensely flavorful strips of sweet, sticky Chinese roast pork but you don't want to use the oven for some reason, this works well, and you can have it in about an hour and a half, start to finish. You will need to use a pressure cooker and then finish it on the stovetop.

Ingredients

  • 4+ lbs pork roast

For sauce:

  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tsp Chinese five spice

Instructions

  1. Blend all sauce ingredients together. Put the pork in the Instant Pot, pour the sauce over it, close the lid, close the valve, and set to high pressure for 22 minutes.

  2. When pork is done, vent. Remove pork and cut into strips, saving the sauce.

  3. Put the pork in a large sauté pan with the sauce and heat on medium high, stirring frequently, for half an hour or more, until sauce reduces and becomes thick and glossy and coats the meat.

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

What’s for supper? Vol. 363: Do you reject garlic and all their little paperwork?

Happy Friday! Happy February, finally! Let’s get hoppin.

SATURDAY
Beer brats, fries

Saturday and Sunday were unusually busy for us. I went to one of Danielle Bean’s very fine You Are Enough day retreats in Plymouth and got home in the late afternoon, so I didn’t have time to shop. Damien bought and made beer brats (brats boiled in beer and onions and then grilled), which we haven’t had in quite some time. Yum yum. 

A retreat! A long chat with my friend! A dinner made by someone else! What a Saturday. 

SUNDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Sunday we had a QUITE long family “retreat” for the faith formation. Our parish has switched to the family model, which means that the parents come in for regular lecture and discussion sessions, and then we go home and teach our kids; and there are also all-family events. It’s good stuff, and I see the benefit, especially when there are parishioners coming from all different backgrounds and different levels of . . . having been catechized. (I can’t figure out how to say that better.) But man, some of the events are long. 

So we did get home late, but Damien had had the foresight to make burger patties the night before. So I just broiled them up, so that was easy. 

I was going to clear off the island for this picture, but this is how it be. 

MONDAY
Smoked pork ribs, coleslaw, salad, loaded baked potatoes; king cakes

Monday we had a GUEST. Fr. Matthew from Louisiana, who comes for an annual visit while visiting family up north. I briefly considered making an authentic Louisiana meal, but I remembered the video where Gordon Ramsey confidently gives some pad Thai to an actual Thai chef.

and I don’t need anybody looking at me like that, even internally. So Damien dug out the smoker and made some of those luscious ribs, which I would defend with my life no matter where you’re from.

Jump to Recipe

He smoked them for about five hours and then finished them in the oven. I baked a bunch of potatoes and kept them warm in the crock pot, which I forgot you could do. I mean, then I remembered, and I did it. I served them with crumbled bacon, shredded pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and scallions. I also made some simple coleslaw and a nice salad.

When we were eating. Fr. Matt (who loved the ribs) asked what I call the coleslaw. I said “coleslaw.” He said okay, because he was once at a Mardi Gras dinner where they served something they were calling “Authentic Louisiana Cabbage Salad,” and he wanted to know if I had ever heard of such a thing. I had not! But that’s why I decided not to make gumbo or étouffée or something! I know my limits!

OR DO I. I decided to make a couple of king cakes, because I asked around and learned that, even in New Orleans, there are a million variations, and sometimes real live cajuns will make king cake out of refrigerated cinnamon rolls.

So I made a triple recipe of just the dough for Alton Brown’s Overnight Cinnamon Rolls (which is the recipe I use at Christmas every year, so I know it turns out well) and also a triple recipe of just the cream cheese filling from this King Arthur king cake recipe. I divided the dough into two and rolled each one into a long rectangle. 

The first one, I made a very long, thin rectangle and just spread the cream cheese filling down the middle of it, and then sprinkled a bunch of brown sugar and cinnamon on top of that. Then I just sort of rolled it up into a big tube with the cream cheese in the middle and pinched the long seam shut, and uncomfortably wrestled the whole thing onto a greased pan and squashed the two open ends together, so it was a ring shape, sort of. It was leaky as heck and not round in any meaningful way. 

I was getting pretty strong “this can’t possibly be the way to do it” alarms in my head, but without any accompanying “you should actually look up how to do it” signals; so for the other cake, I rolled a less skinny rectangle, spread on the rest of the cream cheese filling and the contents of a can of strawberry pie filling I found, and then rolled it up in a spiral like I do with cinnamon rolls. This one, I rolled out on parchment paper, so I carefully squashed the open ends together and then just slid the whole thing on the paper onto a pan. This one was more respectable looking. 

I covered the cakes and refrigerated overnight, and took them out in the morning to get up to room temperature; and then I baked them at 350 for . . . a while. I lost track of how long they were in there, because I was so nervous they’d be doughy and underbaked, I kept adding 3-4 minutes. Probably 35 minutes all together. 

Then when they came out, I poured cream cheese icing over them and sprinkled on some colored sugar-sprinkles. The icing was not exactly a recipe, because I forgot to buy powdered sugar, so I ended up just whipping up a bunch of sugar, a little butter, some vanilla extract and a little lemon juice, a tiny bit of salt, and then a bunch of warmed-up cream cheese when I realized it was too runny. They came out so pretty!

The center of the ring disappeared, though, and it was really just a big dome that was kind of crinkly in the middle. To my vast relief, though, both cakes were thoroughly baked. 

ctually a little over-baked, as you can see by the browned bottom. But the somewhat dry crumb was rescued by the abundance of creamy filling, which was delicious. The spiral-rolled one didn’t turn out discernibly better than the one that was just a stuffed snake, except that the shape was a little more regular. 

So now I know how to make very respectable king cakes! At the last minute, I remembered to shove some “babies” in (what we could find was a couple of plastic figurines on loan from Elijah). We didn’t find them until the next day.

I guess traditionally, whoever gets the baby has to buy next year’s king cake, and I’m the one who found it anyway, so I suppose that can be arranged. Definitely one of those things that I got all worked up over for no particular reason. But with a happy ending, because we had cake. 

TUESDAY
Walmart pizza

Oh no, it was Tuesday and I still hadn’t gone shopping! I got some pizzas from Walmart because I developed a sudden aversion to going to Aldi.

WEDNESDAY
Nachos

On Wednesday I dropped off the van at the mechanic and was astonished to discover that I still hadn’t gone shopping? So I took Damien’s car and went to Aldi and did shopping for one day, because apparently I was determined to save myself the trouble of going shopping, and instead wanted to go shopping. 

For nachos, I usually make 2/3 spicy meat and 1/3 plain, in two separate pans; and I got two bags of “hint of lime” tortilla chips, and one bag plain. But then I was seized with a sudden doubt, and had a long, inadvisable, circular conversation with the kids about whether a desire for spicy meat matched up with a desire for seasoned chips, and if so, how many people experienced that desire, and if not, how many people felt strongly about not experiencing that desire, and so on. I’m not exactly a people pleaser, but I don’t like getting yelled at about nachos, so I really tried to narrow in on what they wanted. I was starting to get a pretty clear picture about what I should do, when the chief kid I was interrogating said, “Actually, I don’t like nachos.”

So I ran them over with my van! Just kidding, the van is in the shop. I made two pans of nachos, with jalapeños on the spicy meat and lime chip one

and ate mine in the kitchen.

Then I ate the last piece of king cake. 

THURSDAY
Chicken shawarma

Thursday, you’ll never guess what I did: I went shopping. But this time, I, genius, bought enough food for TWO days. We had chicken shawarma on Thursday, with pita, yogurt sauce, olives, feta, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

I was in a bit of a rush while I made the marinade, and my recipe

Jump to Recipe

calls for crushing an entire head of garlic. Which is fine if you have nice garlic with big, swollen cloves and loose skins. But what I had was that triflin’ little shrinky dink garlic from Aldi, which has puny, miniature cloves and tight, sticky skin. Then I remembered it was my kitchen and I could do whatever I want, so I put the head of garlic in a mug with about half a cup of water, microwaved it for two minutes, and then just pulled that garlic right out of its skin. It’s not really cooked, but it’s soft and loose that way. Then I put the skinned cloves in a sandwich bag and beat the hell out of them with a meat tenderizer. And that’s how you do it when nobody is looking. 

Oh, the title comes from a funny tweet I saw 

and that’s how I always think of it now. Sometimes it can be a satisfying, meditative little task; sometimes you just don’t have time for all the effing paperwork. (Yes, I know you can crush garlic with the skin on, and then pick the skin out, but I hate and resent doing this, for reasons I can’t really explain.) 

Then I remembered I also needed to put garlic in the yogurt sauce, as well, so I was like HEY GARLIC POWDER EXISTS. 

Anyway, the meat turned out great

and everyone was happy

Really no way to be unhappy with a plate like this. 

FRIDAY
Tuna noodle

This was actually Damien’s idea, even though he not only dislikes tuna noodle, he can’t stand the smell of it. But I did manage to buy the ingredients yesterday, so at least nobody has to go to the fwiggin store. As I write, the plan is for him to make himself a grilled cheese, but maybe I can pull rank and insist on some supermarket sushi or something. OR, I think there is a bag of shrimp in the freezer. So we shall see. 

I just remembered I also have a ton of egg whites in the fridge. The cinnamon bun recipe called for an awful lot of egg yolks, and I didn’t want to just throw the whites away. How long would you trust egg whites to keep in the fridge, and what should I do with them? Maybe a pavlova. Maybe a SHRIMP pavlova. Maybe I’ll ask Gordon Ramsey what he thinks.

sugar smoked ribs

the proportions are flexible here. You can adjust the sugar rub to make it more or less spicy or sweet. Just pile tons of everything on and give it puh-lenty of time to smoke.

Ingredients

  • rack pork ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • Coke
  • extra brown sugar

For the sugar rub:

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper

Instructions

  1. Coat the ribs in yellow mustard and cover them with sugar rub mixture

  2. Smoke at 225 for 3 hours

  3. Take ribs out, make a sort of envelope of tin foil and pour Coke and brown sugar over them. close up the envelope.

  4. Return ribs to smoker and cook another 2 hours.

  5. Remove tinfoil and smoke another 45-min.

  6. Finish on grill to give it a char.

Chicken shawarma

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
  • 4-5 red onions
  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 entire head garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425.

  3. Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). Cook for 45 minutes or more. 

  4. Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.

  5. Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.

Darwin’s immediate book meme! vol. ???

Just the other day, I was thinking Mrs. Darwin needed to do an immediate book meme, and lo: It came to pass!

Here’s my current reading situation:

1. What book are you reading now?

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge

This book is a delight. A delight! My first book by this author, and it pulls you in instantly, with fully rounded characters, beautifully crafted sentences, and an incredibly vivid sense of place. It does have a little publisher’s note in the beginning, which would have annoyed me at one point, but which I now think is useful and balanced:

PUBLISHER’S NOTE (2015) Elizabeth Goudge’s novels present us with many rich fictional worlds. The way in which these stories are told gives us insight into Elizabeth Goudge’s own life and the culture in which she wrote. Green Dolphin Street includes many passages that display oppressive attitudes in matters of race relations and the exercise of colonial power. We believe that offering this book to readers as Elizabeth Goudge wrote it allows us to see English literary culture in 1944 in a way that would be obscured were we to alter the text. Justice must be built on truth. We are sensitive to the fact that English colonial history is a subject more difficult to approach for some than for others, and trust that readers will appreciate the chance to encounter both the fictional world of Green Dolphin Street and the voice of the novel in its original form.

I could have figured this out on my own by reading the book, but it’s helpful context if you’re going to read the book with, say, high school students who are still forming their idea of the world. Anyway, if the choice is between adding a note like this and not publishing the book at all, or worse, sanitizing it like they did with Roald Dahl, I can live with a note. Anyway, tremendous book, and I’m looking forward to reading more by Goudge. 

Mort by Terry Pratchett

I think I’ve read this before, but I can’t remember if I finished it or not. It’s a Discworld book about a hapless young man, Mort, who is taken on as an apprentice by Death. Death is a wonderful, sympathetic character. Classic Pratchett: Cleverly written and conceived, likable characters, slightly insane plot, very funny with a splash of melancholy, thoughtful but not cynical. This is the fourth book in the Discworld series, but you don’t have to have read others to follow the plot. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Dude. I don’t know what I thought this book was going to be (probably influenced by the pop culturalization of psychology, making me halfway afraid it was gonna be some kind of “you go grrrrl, it’s not you, it’s your polyvagal nerve, so live laugh love!! Stanley cup of a book), but I’m finding it thorough, thoughtful, and captivating. Again, I only just started it, but it’s fascinating, and told vividly but with a respect for the subjects that reminds me of Oliver Sacks. 

Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy by Paul Türks 

This is my current Adoration read. The book was a gift from an Oratorian priest who visited last summer (or two summers ago?), who confirmed that I Prefer Heaven is a very nice movie indeed, but doesn’t actually have much in common with the actual life of Philip Neri. It’s maybe a tiny bit drier than something I would read on my own (I spoil myself with a steady diet of novels), but it moves along and is full of fascinating details not only about Neri himself, but 16th century Italy. 

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly

Bought this book solely on the strength of a string of tweets by author, recounting how he got his schedule confused and ended up alone in a room with his boss and the President of Ireland while he was on ketamine. This memoir is (so far) a wonderful read that starts with the death of his mother when he was five, which left his father to raise him and his ten siblings in rural Ireland in the 90’s. Sweet, affectionate, very funny, and a little bit harrowing, as you can imagine. 

1a. What is your current readaloud?

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Corrie (age almost 9) requested that I read this to her, but she keeps scampering away and doing other things, so I don’t know how far we’ll get. We just don’t real aloud like we used to! E. Nesbit is the author who inspired Edward Eager, the author of Half Magic (and I think I remember the characters in Half Magic speaking admiringly of E. Nesbit). It’s old fashioned enough to be interesting, but the kids are very recognizable characters, and it is a weird and satisfying story. 

The Genesis of Gender by Abigail Favale

I started reading this out loud to the teenagers quite some time ago, and we keep getting overtaken by events, but I’m holding out hope that we’ll pick it up again. If people are going to cotton to popular ideas about gender fluidity, they should at least know the history of how we got here as a society. I read this myself first, and learned a lot, and enjoyed Favale’s voice. I found the final few chapters to be a tiny bit weaker than the rest, unfortunately. I think the author allowed herself a little too much sarcasm, which the rest of the book is free from. Still extremely lucid and thought-provoking overall, a reasonable read for smart high schoolers.

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Damien and I started reading this aloud to each other (taking turns with chapters) last night. It is hilarious, and insane. If any book qualifies for a publisher’s note like Green Dolphin Street got, it’s King Solomon’s Mines (the first chapter contains the word “n*gg*r,” although it’s in the context of the narrator saying he’s not going to use that word anymore). But if you can deal with some indelicacy, this is an incredibly entertaining adventure story that wastes zero time. Includes several maps depicting two mountains called “Sheba’s Breasts,” and has directions about what to do when you get to the nipple. What indeed? 

2. What book did you just finish?

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I don’t even know why I re-read this (probably just because it had all its pages, which is not a given in this disrespectful house). The characters are all so frustrating. It was gratifying to see how thoroughly Emma Bovary’s actions are repaid in the final chapters — enough to almost make me feel sorry for her, almost. I guess if you’re looking for a “classic”to read that you can zip through pretty quickly, this is a good one. The writing is great. It’s just rough when, by the end, you feel a very grudging pity for the main perpetrator, and a guilty disgust for the main victim.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Maybe something by Stephen King. I haven’t read anything by him since I was a teenager. Damien is reading Salem’s Lot and enjoying it, so I’m interested to see how it hits me now. 

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Kristin Lavransdatter

I know I know I know.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski

You’d think this book would be [clears throat, straightens tie, checks the room] right up my alley, but I just haven’t started it yet. 

6. What is your current reading trend?

Taking other people’s recommendations, I guess! If you have the right kind of friends, this is a solid plan. 

Now your turn! Tell me what your book situation looks like. Yes, audiobooks count. Thanks to Mrs. Darwin for keeping this going. 

Also, to answer your question: Graphic design is still my passion, yes. 

I got yer spirit week right here

This time last year, I was trying and completely failing to make a breathable tortoise beak out of duct tape. 

My daughter wanted to dress up as a tortoise for the 100th day of school, because . . . I don’t know, tortoises sometimes live to be 100 years old, and it made sense to her. I was just so thrilled the kids were actually back in school in person, I was willing go along with any stupid project. 

My other child decided nothing would do but to wear a shirt to which someone (“someone”) had sewn 100 little bells, so I did that, too. (Yes, I packed an extra shirt on the off-chance that one of the long-suffering adults in her classroom somehow grows weary of the sound of 100 bells on  a child who could not sit still if it meant the difference between life and death.) 

If you’re thinking to yourself that the 100th day of school does not sound like a real holiday, you are so right. Some say it originated to encourage and celebrate teachers and students who have made it about halfway through the school year. Some say it’s just a great chance to sneak in some fun math lessons. Still others say that some school districts decided they would allot per-student funding based on how many kids were present on one particular day, and they chose day 100, so the school decided to plump up their budgets by luring in as many of the little scamps as possible with the promise of parties and fun; and that’s already sketchy enough, but then then Pinterest got wind of it, and now the day has taken on a horrible life of its own, completely unmoored from even its shaky origins.

It’s sort of like how Christmas has become entirely secularized and is now all about commercialism, except that 100 Day started out being about money, and now it’s just about making parents stay up until midnight sewing bells on a shirt, and whimpering, “Tell me this looks like a turtle shell.” 

Either way, now that I’ve gotten the requisite snarking out of the way, I have a terrible confession to make: I love stuff like this. I love special days, and I love spirit week.

I live to twist fruit rolls into sticky little rosettes and jam them on top of dozens of mini cupcakes for Valentine’s Day parties. I adore hot glueing bits of cardboard to other bits of cardboard to make elaborate armor for a kid who has decided she must be a glow-in-the-dark ostrich pirate for Halloween.  I’m totally in my element bashing hard candies with a hammer to make stained glass Christmas cookies for the bake sale. I don’t know if it’s because I can remember so clearly how thrilling it was to be a kid and to show up to school on A Day That Was Special, or if it’s just that my own adult life is just so dull that hot glue is enough to spice it up, but I truly enjoy making these dumb little crafts and projects and costumes.

I’m sorry. I know people like me are making life harder for people like you. I am what I am. 

That being said, even crafty people like me have our down days. There are weeks when I open my calendar and my spirit groans to discover that it’s spirit week. There are plenty of mornings when crazy hair day isn’t something to plan with giggles and anticipation; it’s simply completely unavoidable, and I’m less concerned about sharing it to Pinterest and more concerned that someone will share it with child protective services. And I know I’m not alone.

So for the parents who have no natural creative impulse, or who are just too dang busy to consider dealing with yet another special thing in the morning, I’m presenting this list of alternative, more humane special activities that most parents can manage, and I hope their schools will consider them:

Favorite Shirt Day Child must show up wearing his favorite shirt. Bonus points if his mother has no idea where this shirt came from, and it features a trashy, ghastly, tasteless design that makes her wither up inside like a little bug on a very hot day, but she lets him wear it all the time because it is the delight of his heart, and she loves him even more than she loves her reputation. Bonus points if it has jelly on it because he also wore it yesterday, because  . . . it’s his favorite shirt. 

Twin Day Dress up exactly the same as someone else in the world, probably. I mean, there are a lot of people in the world. Chances are pretty high someone else is wearing that same outfit. See? Twins. Fun. For academic enrichment, look up the word “doppelgänger.” Spend the day staring out the window in case he happens to walk by. 

Favorite Character Day Dress up as your favorite potential character, assuming somebody someday writes a book about a kid whose parents are TRYING, okay? Everybody has PANTS ON, okay? It’s not like we just dropped you off in a CORN FIELD or something. 

Thing Day Child must show up with a thing. Just any thing, as long as it’s something the child made completely on his own, using materials found on the floor of the car or bus, or on the ground outside the school door. Must be so weird and wretched that it’s manifestly clear that it was made without help or intervention from an adult. Kid loses points if an adult even has to know about it. Or, if the kid forgets to make a thing, it can be an invisible thing. Or it can be a stick or something. It’s fine. It’s whatever. Call it “child-led” if that helps you sleep at night. 

Name Day At some point during Spirit Week, when you pick your child up, you will be asked to state your child’s name. If you can’t immediately come up with it, you will be given a hint. If that doesn’t work, you will be given a cocktail and some warm socks and sent to bed. 

And there it is. Hey, we’re all 100 days closer to the grave, anyway. Some of us will be there with bells on.